Fantasy

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: 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: 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

Book Review: Heartfire

Heartfire
Author: 
Card, Orson Scott
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

It’s been a while since I read this far into a series, and I can start to see why I like trilogies and stand-alone books. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think this series had evolved into a courtroom drama instead of a historical fantasy. At this point, the whole premise of this series seems to have veered off course and has lost its focus to tackle unrelated issues that were somewhat prominent at the time. Or, at least it’s merely acting as a chance to name drop historical figures and take the side of history against well-known issues that haven’t aged well over time. If anything, Heartfire could have easily been the fourth book in the series, since Alvin Journeyman added nothing to the story. Even so, Heartfire didn’t feel as strong as earlier books in the series. It almost seems like there’s more of a focus on world-building. There is less focus on actually progressing the story—like the path toward the Crystal City. Certain plot elements were almost entirely forgotten as well, even if there was a whole legal battle in the last book to re-hash how Alvin came into possession of a sentient golden plow (which itself is still unclear why it’s important).

By now, I’m merely reading the series on autopilot just to see if there is any conclusion to the alternate history presented here. I still think there are clever takes on historical figures, but by now, they seem added in as a heavy winking nod to the reader, most of whom will already know the referenced individual. Perhaps the lack of overall character growth in this book is what made it such a so-so read for me. Sure, there were baby steps toward some redemption arc, but in the end, nothing ended up changing the drive of the overarching story.

Another weak link in the Alvin Journeyman series, I give Heartfire 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Author: 
Rowling, J.K.
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the last book of the series that follows the adventures of Harry Potter. As Harry and his crew have evidently aged to a more mature level of both wisdom and wizardry, they have no choice but to face Voldemort. Harry, alongside his two best friends, Ron and Hermione begin to destroy Voldemort's army piece by piece. As Voldemort takes control of the Wizardry world, Harry prepares for the ultimate showdown.

The Deathly Hallows is an extremely enticing story that brings an end to the Harry Potter series. Renowned for its fantasy and lore, the Deathly Hallows collectively groups it all into one story for an action-pact and romantic story.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: 
Nam T

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince book jacket
Author: 
Rowling, J.K.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the 5th book of the Harry Potter series. In this, it embarks upon the adventure of Harry Potter, switching in between the Muggle and Wizard worlds to combat the upcoming villain, Voldemort. As safety is becoming more of a concern, Potter must find a way to combat this new danger that lurks around his home.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is one of the better books of the series, as Harry and the rest of the characters have had an in-depth insight of their character. Now, it can focus upon the story, interesting those who are involved with action-pact novels.

Reviewer Grade: 11

Reviewer's Name: 
Nam T

Book Review: Inkspell

Inkspell book jacket
Author: 
Funke, Cornelia
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Inkspell, the second book in the Inkheart trilogy is perfect for you if you enjoyed the first novel. Although it seems quite repetitive to be read immediately after enjoying Inkheart, new characters are still involved, thus leading to new plot twists. The antagonist in Inkheart to Inkspell has changed, again and again with every new task deemed "impossible." To me, it was a little predictable and things went slowly... until the end. In this book, the main character, Meggie, is now a 13-year-old girl who experiences many new things: love, loneliness, and a deeper meaning to sorrow. The vocabulary outlined in this book is also perfect for readers 12-15 and the plot is very dramatic if I may say so myself.

Reviewer's Name: 
Jaime P

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