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ARC Review: The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

Book Review blog header

Published: July 18th, 2017 by Simon Pulse | Series: Book #1 in The Last Magician duology | Length: 512 pages | Genre: YA historical fantasy | Source: Edelweiss | Possible Triggers: sexual assault, racism

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Summary from Goodreads:

Stop the Magician.
Steal the book.
Save the future.

In modern day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.

Esta is a talented thief, and she’s been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta’s training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.

But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.

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ARC Review: Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh Book Review blog header

Published: May 16th, 2017 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers | Series: Flame in the Mist #1 | Length: 368 pages | Genre: YA fantasy, retelling | Source: I received an early copy from Penguin’s First to Read program. | Possible Triggers: violence (with some pretty graphic descriptions at times)

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Summary from Goodreads:

The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place—she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor’s favorite consort—a political marriage that will elevate her family’s standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the ranks of the Black Clan, determined to track down the person responsible for the target on her back. But she’s quickly captured and taken to the Black Clan’s secret hideout, where she meets their leader, the rebel ronin Takeda Ranmaru, and his second-in-command, his best friend Okami. Still believing her to be a boy, Ranmaru and Okami eventually warm to Mariko, impressed by her intellect and ingenuity. As Mariko gets closer to the Black Clan, she uncovers a dark history of secrets, of betrayal and murder, which will force her to question everything she’s ever known.

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ARC Review: Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis

Given to the Sea by Mindy McGinnis Book Review blog header

Published: April 11th, 2017 by Putnam’s Childrens | Series: Given Duet #1 | Length: 352 pages | Genre: YA fantasy | Source: I received a free copy from Penguin First to Read in exchange for an honest review. | Possible Triggers: Sexual assault & harassment, racism, ableism

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Summary from Goodreads:

Khosa is Given to the Sea, a girl born to be fed to the water, her flesh preventing a wave like the one that destroyed the Kingdom of Stille in days of old. But before she’s allowed to dance – an uncontrollable twitching of the limbs that will carry her to the shore in a frenzy – she must produce an heir. Yet the thought of human touch sends shudders down her spine that not even the sound of the tide can match.

Vincent is third in line to inherit his throne, royalty in a kingdom where the old linger and the young inherit only boredom. When Khosa arrives without an heir he knows his father will ensure she fulfills her duty, at whatever cost. Torn between protecting the throne he will someday fill, and the girl whose fate is tied to its very existence, Vincent’s loyalty is at odds with his heart.

Dara and Donil are the last of the Indiri, a native race whose dwindling magic grows weaker as the island country fades. Animals cease to bear young, creatures of the sea take to the land, and the Pietra – fierce fighters who destroyed the Indiri a generation before – are now marching from their stony shores for the twin’s adopted homeland, Stille.

Witt leads the Pietra, their army the only family he has ever known. The stone shores harbor a secret, a growing threat that will envelop the entire land – and he will conquer every speck of soil to ensure the survival of his people.

The tides are turning in Stille, where royals scheme, Pietrans march, and the rising sea calls for its Given.

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Review of The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

15993203Rating: 3.5/5

Published: December 14th, 2015 by Viking Books for Young Readers

Length: 482 pages

Genre: YA, historical fiction, fantasy/paranormal

Source: Borrowed from the library

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New York Times bestseller Alison Goodman’s eagerly awaited new project: a Regency adventure starring a stylish and intrepid demon-hunter!

London, April 1812. On the eve of eighteen-year-old Lady Helen Wrexhall’s presentation to the queen, one of her family’s housemaids disappears-and Helen is drawn into the shadows of Regency London. There, she meets Lord Carlston, one of the few who can stop the perpetrators: a cabal of demons infiltrating every level of society. Dare she ask for his help, when his reputation is almost as black as his lingering eyes? And will her intelligence and headstrong curiosity wind up leading them into a death trap?

As a big fan of both historical fiction and fantasy, this book obviously was quite appealing to me. I definitely enjoyed it, but it wasn’t perfect.

I had a bit of a problem with the pacing. There were a few stretches that seemed really slow to me. It takes quite awhile for all of the fantasy elements to start up in the beginning. I didn’t mind this too much as I was really enjoying getting to see the setting and getting a feel for what Helen’s life was like. Even after the fantasy elements do start up, there are sometimes pretty decent-sized stretches where nothing (or very little) related to the Dark Days Club or being a Reclaimer happens. I think this could have been avoided if the book was a bit shorter. At almost 500 pages, I think it definitely could have been cut down even just a tiny bit and the pacing would have been improved.

I will say that Goodman did a great job of helping the reader learn about the Dark Days Club and what it means to be a Reclaimer. Helen is learning about it for the first time too and through her receiving explanations about all of it, the reader gets a good explanation that’s easy to follow and keep track of.

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Another problem I had with this was that there didn’t seem to be a consistent plot other than Helen learning about what she is and what is expected of her. When I started reading the book, I was expecting the plot to focus around this and around Helen’s missing maid, but the maid doesn’t play as much of a role as I thought she would. I don’t want to spoil anything so I won’t say much else other than about halfway (maybe two-thirds of the way) through the book, the plot shifts to a completely different thing that focuses much more on Helen’s role as a Reclaimer. I would have liked for there to be a more consistent plot or for those two plots to blend together better.

I really loved the role that the setting played in all of this though. Setting a fantasy story in Regency London with a high-class main character was a great idea of Goodman’s. She has to sneak around because no one is supposed to know about the Dark Days Club other than the people who are in it, but the rules about propriety and women during this time period added a whole new layer of complexity to it. For example, the person who is pretty much in charge of introducing her to everything and teaching her about things is a man, but in this time period it’s not considered proper for a man and woman to be left alone unless they’re related or married.

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I also thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between Helen and Lord Carlston. He’s accused of having murdered his wife in the past so naturally everyone, including Helen, is really wary around him and no one trusts him. But Helen also feels as though he’s the only person who can really help her understand what’s happening, so she feels really conflicted on whether or not she can (or should) be around him.

All in all, this is a solid story but definitely has some imperfections. If you like historical fiction and/or fantasy, check it out. It’s an entertaining read and I think fans of the genres will enjoy it despite its flaws.

3.5 stars


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Review of From Gods by Mary Ting

184626431Rating: 4/5

Published: October 7th, 2013, self-published

Length: 380 pages

Source: Received a review copy from Barclay Publicity

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Did you just see a flash of lightning across the sky on a clear sunny day?
Don’t blame Mother Nature.

Skylar Rome can’t wait to spend her last summer before college with her cousin, Kayla. Everything changes when they meet the Grand brothers. Skylar is sure she should stay away from Mason Grand, but their attraction is undeniable. Then Skylar’s life erupts into turmoil. She steps into a world where descendants of ancient gods have super powers, evil beings chase her, and questions arise about her own identity. She is running out of time and running for her life, while trying to unravel the mystery of what they want from her.

Forced into a battle set into motion long before she was born, will Skylar find the answers she seeks, or will she die trying?

I feel like I shouldn’t have liked this book as much as I did, but that doesn’t change the fact that I really, really enjoyed this. It’s definitely not a perfect book, but it was  entertaining and had enough great things about it that I didn’t care very much about the flaws.

Let me talk about the things that I didn’t like first. First of all, I think this definitely could have used a bit more revision. There weren’t many mistakes (meaning there weren’t many grammatical errors), but there were some bits that definitely could have (and should have) been improved. For example, towards the beginning of the book, there’s a part where the same conversation is repeated almost exactly:

“Mason gazed around too, but he mostly stood by the door. ‘Did they take anything?’ he asked. Skylar sniffed and wiped her tears. ‘I don’t know. I’m afraid to go upstairs.’ She turned to Kayla, who was also wiping her tears away. ‘Do you know if they took anything?’ ‘Nothing down here that I can see, but I didn’t go upstairs yet. I’m afraid to.'”

Granted, it is two different people saying that, but it’s very repetitive and I think it could have been changed to make the two conversations more distinct. There was another scene that seemed very “listy” – it came across as “these characters did this, then this, and finally did this.” Not really an error, but definitely something that could have been improved. Luckily though these are the only two sections that really stood out to me as needing improvement, so it’s not as if the whole story is written like that.

That’s all for things that really annoyed me though. There are some things that were kind of in between – they annoyed me a little bit, but I also kind of liked it. For example, Mason is your typical broody male love interest. He’s very hot and cold. He’s nice to Skylar one second, making sure she’s okay and being really sweet to her, and then the next second he’s pushing her away, telling her not to get close to him. I admit I kind of like the “broody love interest” trope so I didn’t mind much, but it did get frustrating at times.

After reading the blurb, it seems like this is your typical fantasy/paranormal story where the protagonist finds out all of a sudden that she’s special and not the boring old human she thought she was. Although this is what happens, trust me when I say it has a little bit of a twist that makes it more unique than you’d expect.

I really liked the incorporation of mythology. I thought it was interesting and was pretty unique, although I would have liked mythology to be a bit more present in the story. It seems that its only real impact on the story was to explain why people had the powers that they had. I don’t know exactly what I would have liked to see with it, but I just wish there had been more of it.

I realize this review ended up sounding pretty negative, but I have to say that I really enjoyed this immensely. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was about this book that I loved so much. I think I liked this as much as I did simply because it was exactly the kind of book I needed at the moment. It wasn’t perfect yet I had such a hard time putting it down and I genuinely really enjoyed reading it. I will definitely be picking up the other books in the series.

Don’t let my complaints deter you from reading this! It really is a fun book that will have you feeling all kinds of things. You’ll be excited, nervous, happy – you name it. If you like paranormal, fantasy, and/or romance, please give this book a try! It’s included with Kindle Unlimited too, so if you have that you have no excuse not to give it a shot. 🙂

A big thank you to Barclay Publicity for sending me a review copy!

4 stars

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Review of A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for IreneRating: 4.5/5

Release Date: February 24th, 2015

Length: 400 pages 

Source: borrowed from library

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Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.

After seeing this book everywhere and hearing nothing but good things about it, I decided I needed to finally read it for myself. Although I didn’t seem to love it as much as some other people, I still really enjoyed this book and will definitely read the rest of the series and will check out some of Schwab’s other books.

My biggest complaint about this book was that there were a fair amount of errors that I picked up on. There were several times where you could tell the structure of the sentence had been changed through revisions because one part of the sentence was structured one way and the rest of it structured another. For example, on page 83, one sentence reads “Kell didn’t realize how much he badly he wanted that drink.” As I said, there were quite a few errors like this which annoyed me.

I have nothing but praise for the rest of the book. I loved the idea of different worlds and different Londons. I really liked how distinct each London was as well. In the beginning of the book, I was having a bit of a hard time separating them, but once Kell explains them to Lila, it really helped clear it up for me.

The characters were a big reason why I found this book so captivating. The characters are really unique and different from each other. Lila was my favorite. She’s sarcastic and a total badass which I absolutely loved. Her and Kell together were great. Kell was a pretty good character, but I’ll admit at sometimes he fell a little flat for me. It seemed at times that his character was just there as a way to move through the worlds and to have knowledge of magic. Towards the end, readers get to see more of his personality though and I especially liked his devotion to his brother, Rhy. Some of the other side characters, especially the Dane twins, were really fascinating to read about as well.

ADSOM

One other aspect that I really loved was how magic was portrayed. I liked it being portrayed as its own living thing rather than something that is just there to be manipulated by and for humans. It added an extra layer of complexity to the plot and made things more challenging for Kell.

The plot itself was really interesting and captivating. It does take a little bit for the main plot to start up, but once it does, things stay interesting throughout the rest of the book. I don’t want to give much away because the blurb doesn’t give a whole lot of information on what the plot is and I actually really liked that so I don’t want to take that away from you guys. 😉

A Darker Shade of Magic was a really great book that had me captivated early on. With an interesting plot, great world-building, and complex characters, it has something that every reader will enjoy. If you like fantasy, this is a must-read and although it’s not YA, it feels very similar to a YA novel so don’t be deterred by the fact that it’s not labeled as such. I can’t wait to get my hands on A Gathering of Shadows and see what’s next for Kell, Lila, and everyone else.

4.5 stars

 

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ARC Review: Justice (Oleah Chronicles #2) by Michelle Johnson

29744031Rating: 4/5

Release Date: May 15th, 2016

Length: 248 pages

Source: eARC from the author in exchange for an honest review

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After discovering the truth about her Oleah origins, Angel thought she could still have a normal life, consisting of normal things – like her seventeenth birthday party. But there is no such thing as normal for Angel anymore. She learned that the hard way after Sindrell – the most powerful sorceress in the universe – crashed her party, destroyed the city, and took her best friend, Julie, captive. Determined to defeat Sindrell for good, Angel must risk her life, along with the fate of the entire universe to get Julie back…alive. The only way she can do this successfully, is to embrace her Oleah instincts and learn what it takes to become a true warrior. Problem is, Sindrell has an insurance policy of her own that will put millions of lives in danger – including Zander’s – to ensure her quest for power is brought to fruition. One way or another. In order to protect Zander, and save Julie, Angel has to make a choice… but will it be the right one?

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed the first book in Michelle Johnson’s Oleah Chronicles series, Truth. Although it was a bit of a cliche plot, I really enjoyed it (you can find my review here) and so Michelle sent me over an ARC of the sequel, Justice, to review as well. Thank you Michelle!

Justice picks up right where Truth leaves off. Angel has just found out that Sindrell captured her best friend Julie and has been given an ultimatum: turn herself in to Sindrell or Julie dies.

In the beginning we get to see Angel receiving a “crash course” in Oleah training. I enjoyed this so much. As she discovers more and more about her abilities as an Oleah, she becomes more confident and sure of herself. Seeing Angel not only accept her identity, but embrace it was great and something that I thoroughly enjoyed. Getting to see what she’s capable of was very entertaining and interesting as well.

I can not say enough good things about the pacing. As I was reading this, I felt like there was so much going on and found it pretty hard to put the book down. But once I started reflecting on the book, I realized there wasn’t as much going on as I thought, it’s just that the pacing makes it seem like there’s a lot going on and stops you from getting bored.

I mentioned in my review of Truth that I really liked the relationship that Angel had with her parents and this is still true in Justice. Her parents are incredibly supportive of her and willing to listen to what she has to say instead of just overpowering her and making all of her decisions for her. With that said, they still act as parents: they don’t let her do whatever she wants and they do whatever they can to protect her and help her.

In general, the relationships that Angel has with the other characters are something that I enjoy reading about. I liked seeing the lighter moments between Zander and Angel and really liked that he helps make her stronger and more confident. He also helps her deal with everything that’s going on as it is predictably very hard for her to deal with the fact that her best friend has been kidnapped by an evil sorceress.

I liked seeing Angel get to know some of the people from Uforika, the world where Oleahs live. I liked that despite feeling as though they idolized her a bit too much, Angel still was kind to and liked being with Kovu and Coral.

I can not finish this review without mentioning the ending. Holy crap. It was really great although extremely heartbreaking. I want to cry, scream, and read book 3 right now.

Justice is a great second installment in the Oleah Chronicles that has me eager to continue the series. Even if you’ve read Truth and weren’t a huge fan, I would definitely recommend continuing. I can’t wait to see what happens next.