Fiction

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: 
Schwab, V. E.
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

A co-worker of mine suggested I check this book out, and I have now finally gotten around to it. While he gave this series of books a glowing review, I can only hope that the other books in this trilogy fare better than this one. For what it was worth, A Darker Shade of Magic didn’t seem to be original enough for me to care much about what happened in it. It’s filled with so many fantasy and YA tropes that I could almost swear I’d read the same book somewhere else before.

Perhaps part of my problem comes with the audiobook production of this story. I generally liked Lila, except when she was particularly annoying. There were quite a few times the narrator made her sound like Audrey Hepburn in the early part of My Fair Lady (1964), and that’s not much of a compliment. Overall, though, I can understand how the first book in a series can be dry just based on the fact that it has so much exposition and world-building to do to lay a foundation for the next books.

And maybe the “generic” feel of this book comes from the logical nature of a magic system closely tied to blood? I like the concept of the parallel Londons, and the action sequences near the end were reasonably exciting, so there is some merit to this book. It’s more that everything felt so flat and uninteresting, even with a compelling topic like blood magic tying everything together. While I wasn’t necessarily impressed with this book, I’ll continue to be my stubborn (or perhaps masochistic) self and continue with the rest of the series to see what all the commotion is about.

A generic YA fantasy with a few shining moments, I give A Darker Shade of Magic 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Shadow of the Hegemon

Shadow of the Hegemon
Author: 
Card, Orson Scott
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

It’s almost fitting how the follow-on book in the spin-off series to Ender’s Game takes the same tactic as Speaker for the Dead and transforms itself into a completely different genre. While Speaker for the Dead and its sequels still maintained a level of science fiction for the Ender saga, Shadow of the Hegemon pivots into a political thriller with almost no hints of sci-fi to be seen. The strength of the characters helped make this transition relatively smooth, but it still highlights how these child-aged individuals hardly have any child-like qualities.

While the Shadow saga certainly needed to start out focusing on Bean, I did appreciate how Shadow of the Hegemon developed many of the supporting characters. For the first time in both series, I felt like the reader was able to know Petra and Peter while also seeing what Achilles was capable of accomplishing. The results of bringing back children war heroes to Earth had a logical feel to its progression, even if I didn’t really care much about southeastern Asian politics to really engage with the politics of the plot. That’s not to say the whole “cat and mouse” between Achilles and Bean wasn’t interesting; it just wasn’t what had brought me to this series in the first place.

Of course, having read the Ender saga first, I can already see the early ripples of how this side-series will start to wrap up. Now that Ender is less of a presence in the Shadow series, other characters finally have a chance to show what they can do. While I’ll reserve my predictions might change with what actually happens, I get the sense that Peter’s tenure as Hegemon changes the world just as Bean changes into some super-intelligent giant. I will admit that some of Orson Scott Card’s predictions from 2000 still seem plausible today, given the political climate, it’s clear that the author did his research before playing with the ever-important sci-fi “what if” scenario.

A political pivot from a well-known sci-fi series, I give Shadow of the Hegemon 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.
Awards: 

Book Review: Woven in Moonlight

Book Cover
Author: 
Ibanez, Isabel
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Ximenia Rojas has been the decoy for Condesa Catalina ever since the usurper Atoc overthrow the Illustrarians a decade ago. Ximenia's family, along with the Condesa's, perished during the civil war, and Ximenia and her fellow Illustrians want revenge. When Atoc summons the Condesa to the palace to be his bride, Ximenia goes in Catalina's place and uses her weaving magic to send messages to the Illustrians via tapestry. With only eight weeks before the wedding, Ximenia must find intel about a magical gem that is the Illustrian's only hope.

My literary 2020 is off to a great start with this gem of a historical fantasy YA novel! I went in with fairly low expectations as 2019 was, on the whole, not a great year for YA fantasy. This was very good and felt like something of a course correction. The "historical" aspect covers Bolivian politics and the introduction of cocaine, at least somewhat (I know nothing about Bolivia and the eARC didn't have an author's note at the end, but the author does reference her two Bolivian parents) and deftly weaves a story of magic, moonlight and betrayal. The moon magic is subtle, but well utilized. Ximenia's ability is, for lack of a better phrase, quite cool. The author took a familiar story of rebellion and a headstrong girl and combined those seemingly stale tropes with magical realism and Bolivian flavor to create a book that felt like something new. The romance was earned. The main character grows a lot throughout the course of the book. Ximenia's story is tied up by the end, but there's an intriguing jungle based thread that's left dangling (not a spoiler!) that I'd be willing to bet will be a second book. I'll read it.

Also, I dare you to read this book and not want some tasty Bolivian treats. The food sounds amaaaaaaaaaaazing and it's mentioned a lot.

TLDR: Woven in Moonlight takes a familiar tale of revolution and spices it up with excellent character development and creative magical realism. I'm having trouble thinking of something to compare it to, because I like it better than most books that I've read that are similar (The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson for example - this is in the same zone, but I enjoyed it a lot more). Recommended for readers who like their fantasies to be revolutionary (ha) with a strong female lead and a touch of magic. 4 stars - I really liked it.

Thanks to Netgalley and Page Street Books for the eARC, which I received in exchange for an unbiased review. Woven in Moonlight is available for purchase or you can put your copy on hold today!

Reviewer's Name: 
Britt

Book Review: The Martian

Book Cover
Author: 
Weir, Andy
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

After a NASA crew member is left behind on planet Mars, he has a huge to-do list. First, come in contact with NASA to prove he is alive, don't starve, don't die, then make it home alive. I'm not a huge fan of any science fiction type book, however, this was indeed an exception. I loved the perspectives the author chose to include, and the humor he shot into his characters gives the story personality. I suggest this book to an eighth grade audience; there is some inappropriate language and all of the science attributes are complex to understand. I strongly suggest to you this book if you want to be left on the edge of your seat with every new chapter, right up until the end.

Reviewer's Name: 
Jaime P.

Book Review: Clarity

Book Cover
Author: 
Harrington, Kim
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Clarity, by author Kim Harrington, is a gripping mystery novel about a sixteen-year-old young woman named Clarity, or "Clary". A normal teenager on the outside, Clarity possesses a talent for seeing the stories in objects: merely touch one and she sees visions related to the owner and what circumstances the object has been in. When a murder occurs in the small seaside town in which Clary lives, she teams up with the police and must dig deep into her own talents and the town's secrets in order to solve the mystery.

I enjoyed this book. While the writing is more of a middle-school level, the themes are for older teenagers. Thus, I would recommend this book to any reader over sixteen. The book is not overly long, and I finished it in under a day.

Reviewer's Name: 
Rebecca D.
Awards: 

Book Review: Light

Book Cover
Author: 
Grant, Michael
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Michael Grant has written a thrilling conclusion to his Gone series. Light is the perfect ending to a phenomenal series. Over the past five books, Sam, Astrid, Edilio, and all the others have survived every obstacle the FAYZ has thrown at them. However, will they be able to survive a final epic battle with the Gaiaphage itself? With suspense around every corner, Light brings the same energy and intensity found in all of the other Gone books. I thoroughly enjoyed Light and highly recommend it to any high school aged reader.

Reviewer's Name: 
John B.

Book Review: Fear

Book Cover
Author: 
Grant, Michael
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Michael Grant continues the Gone series with another spectacular novel. The kids of Perdido Beach have survived many obstacles thrown at them by the FAYZ, but now they must face their biggest fear yet: complete darkness. Will these kids be able to survive when they can't see what's coming for them? Fear is another hit by Grant. With twists and turns around every corner, Fear is a suspense thriller you won't be able to put down.

Reviewer's Name: 
John B.

Book Review: Rise of the Evening Star

Book Cover
Author: 
Mull, Brandon
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Kendra and Seth are rushed back to Fablehaven, their grandparent's preserve for mythical creatures for another adventure. The Society of the Evening Star is on the move trying to collect the artifacts. The Sorenson's call in three allies but are they really on their side? Will they be able to stop the society before the artifacts are gone? As the second book in the Fablehaven series this one is even better then the first. There is tons of action and many new characters. You won't be able to put this book down!

Reviewer's Name: 
McKenna B

Book Review: Fablehaven

Book Cover
Author: 
Mull, Brandon
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Fablehaven is a book about siblings, Kendra and Seth. Their parents send them to their grandparents house where they find out it's actually a magic preserve for mythical creatures. When Seth's mischief gets out of hand will they be able to save the preserve, and the world? Fablehaven is my favorite book series and I know you will enjoy it too. Once you read the first book you won't be able to stop until you've finished the series. As a teen I was able to relate to the characters and I just couldn't stop reading!

Reviewer's Name: 
McKenna B

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