Off the Shelf: A Review of A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

I think it’s safe to say I’m hooked on this series. After reading A Darker Shade of Magic, I couldn’t wait to get started on the second installment in the Shades of Magic trilogy. V.E. Schwab/ Victoria Schwab is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors and someone whose writing style I can’t help but idolize. I returned to the series with the second audiobook (my new addiction!) and fell in love with this world all over again.

A Gathering of Shadows Final

Summary (via Goodreads)
“It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift–back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games–an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries–a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.”

Things I Liked:
If you read my review of A Darker Shade of Magic, you know that one of the only problems I had with it had nothing to do with the story at all. It was that I was listening to it on audiobook (something I didn’t expect to like, but ended up loving!), and the narrator, while perfectly engaging and entertaining, did both Kell and Lila’s chapters. This might’ve been fine had his female voice not sounded a bit Monty Python-esque. But HALLELUJAH! Things vastly improve with the audiobook of this sequel, as there are now TWO narrators, Michael Kramer and Kate Reading. And just as I expected, with Lila sounding less like a parody, I really grew to respect and love her as a character more so in this book than the first.

As I said, I really developed a love for Lila in this one. Her coldness from ADSOM is starting to chip away. She’s still just as witty as ever and to blame for quite a few of my literal laugh-out-loud moments, but I feel like there’s far more depth to her character explored here, and I like what I see. “She had heard men praying at sea, not to God, but to the world, to magic, to anything that might be listening. A higher power, a different name. Lila hadn’t believed in God for a very long time—she’d given up praying when it was clear that no one would answer—and while she was willing to admit that Magic existed, it didn’t seem to listen, or at least, it didn’t seem to care. Lila took a strange pleasure in that, because it meant the power was her own.”

It felt like I was waiting forever for Kell and Lila to reunite, but when they did, it was everything that I wanted it to be. Seriously, their interactions and grab bag full of emotions were perfection. I’m not one who typically gets caught up in the romantic elements of a story, but I was practically giddy when they were finally in the same place at the same time. It’s emotional, moving, and I can’t help but ship it.

This is a turning point for the series. It reminded me in a few ways of my favorite book in the Harry Potter series, Goblet of Fire. Of course, there’s the tournament happening – and it’s even a magician’s tournament! But while the Element Games tournament is entirely different in setup from Harry’s Triwizard Tournament, it still provides a lovely background for part of the story to unfold upon. I LOVED the amount of detail that Schwab uses to craft this world, its language, and even its customs – including the games and Rhy’s inventiveness with the decor. But what I really mean is this– Goblet of Fire was the turning point of the Harry Potter series because it took it into deeper, darker territory. Especially with the first big death of the series, you knew you were no longer reading a book intended for children, and you knew you needed to prepare yourself for how bad things could possibly get. It’s the same with AGOS, particularly its ending which shows us that if we thought the Dane twins were as bad as it got, they were nothing in comparison to this new evil and what is to come.

Alucard. Lord have mercy, his character has become a guilty pleasure, and I want more. More snark. More banter. More backstory. And coming from someone who read A Gathering of Shadows AFTER the Alucard/Dracula twitter debate on V. E. Schwab’s feed, while Alucard most definitely isn’t a vampire, it does make you wonder what Schwab could do if given the chance to turn the usual vampire trope on its head.

Things I Didn’t Like:

Alucard. –but wait, isn’t Alucard in the “Things I Liked” category? Yes, yes he is. BUT. Part of me feels bad for enjoying his character as much as I did. Some of his behaviors towards Lila made me cringe. I find myself identifying with Kell more and more, and so I trust Kell’s judgment. I fully expect Alucard to really show himself in the third and final book, perhaps not in the best of ways. Although, maybe part of me will be rooting for him. I’m torn. –but is that really a thing you didn’t like? No, not really, but when the series is this good, you have to start somewhere.

There is a bit of a second book slump in this trilogy with a whole lot of build up and not much action, so some parts (particularly those with someone who isn’t as dead as he should be) may be slow. But just sit back and enjoy this incredible world and all you are learning about its cast of characters. I don’t think the story could have been told any quicker and still held the same amount of tension. Think of this story as a roller coaster, and book two is your steady climb up the hill. You can see how terrifyingly far off the ground you are, and that terror grows with every passing second. You’ll finish at the top of the hill and be fully aware of most the falls, twists, and turns racing towards your face in book three.

Overall Rating:

4/5.
I’m admittedly hooked on this series, and I can’t get enough. While A Gathering of Shadows didn’t quite live up to the quick pace and relentless action of A Darker Shade of Magic, I was entranced by how much more about the world and its characters was uncovered. The Element Games were incredibly fun and refreshing to read, and gave a much closer look at how the magic in this realm works. I already have the third and final audiobook downloaded, but I for one am not sure that I’m ready for all of the chaos and heartbreak that’s sure to come.

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Off the Shelf: A Review of Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

There are two things out of the ordinary about this review:
1) It’s not a Young Adult book.
2) It’s not a new or upcoming release.

So why would I write a review about a thriller that was released in 2006? Because I’m late to the party, and I simply can’t stop recommending it to everyone I come in contact with.

Let me start by saying this – I have always assumed Gillian Flynn was a hack. I tend to avoid books or authors that get a lot of hype because too often they end up being a disappointment. I watched the movie of Gone Girl and wasn’t impressed; however, I do remember thinking “this probably made a better book”. Even if it did make a better book, I still didn’t plan on reading it. Didn’t seem like the sort of book I’d be into. Then, my best friend (who also expected Flynn to be some over-hyped hack) picked up Sharp Objects on a whim and immediately had to recommend it, saying that it was a must read and that the author’s writing was vastly better than what she had imagined. She was so surprised by how much she liked it, that she actually wanted to read all of Flynn’s other works as well. “Meh,” I thought, “Maybe I’ll read it if I get some time.” Knowing full well that my to-be-read list was and is getting a little out of hand. Then, by chance, I stopped by a warehouse book sale while out of town, and Sharp Objects became one of several books purchased that day. It looked fairly short, and we had a long drive home, so I figured why not?

I was pages away from finishing the book by the time we got home.

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Summary (via Goodreads)

Fresh from a brief stay at a psych hospital, reporter Camille Preaker faces a troubling assignment: she must return to her tiny hometown to cover the murders of two preteen girls. For years, Camille has hardly spoken to her neurotic, hypochondriac mother or to the half-sister she barely knows, a beautiful thirteen-year-old with an eerie grip on the town. Now, installed in her old bedroom in her family’s Victorian mansion, Camille finds herself identifying with the young victims—a bit too strongly. Dogged by her own demons, she must unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past if she wants to get the story—and survive this homecoming.

 

Things I Liked:
At the most recent meeting of my writing group, I recommended this book as one of the best books I’ve read recently in regards to characterization. I was almost worried at how easy it was to slip into the mind of Camille Preaker, which is a rather dark and unsettling place to be. She will leave you feeling raw, having experienced the unravelling of both the mysteries behind the murders and Camille’s own secrets. And it’s not just Camille that is a crystal clear character. This was one of the books where you can easily see it play out like a movie (and I believe it is starting filming for a tv series this year), and I couldn’t help but cast a few of the characters in my head. My personal cast would have included Ellie Kemper as Camille, Jessica Walter as her mother, and Dakota Fanning as Amma (Camille’s sister). While two of the three mostly do comedic roles, for some reason they just fit the image of what I wanted the characters to look like. I’d love to hear who you think fits each role!

You might be waiting for me to tell you about some positive, uplifting thread to this story.  Instead, I’ll caution you that, if you’re looking for something happy, look elsewhere. There’s really no place for it in this book, and I think if the author had tried to add anything positive it would have felt forced and out of place. For example, a lot of mysteries and thrillers might include a romance to lighten things up. While there is a little bit of flirtation and sex in Sharp Objects, through Camille’s eyes it feels more like she’s using the other person – whether it’s for information or just a momentary bit of comfort. If you’re like me and enjoy a truly dark and disturbing read, this book will definitely live up to that.

Things I Didn’t Like:
The only thing that I disliked is that there’s a bit of a time jump at the end that feels disjointed from the rest of the story. The big reveal comes in two parts, and it’s obvious that time needed to pass between the two events. Unfortunately, once the author makes the time jump, her writing becomes a bit choppy, as if she’s racing through the ending, tossing out details, and trying to make the big reveal come full circle. I enjoyed the ending immensely, but this is one part of the story where I found the author’s writing to be a bit lacking.

Overall Rating:
5/5 I finished this book a month ago, and I have a million reviews I need to be writing right now for ARCs I’ve received. Instead, I HAD to tell you about this one. That’s how you’re going to feel when you close the final page – like you need to talk to someone about this book. I find myself still thinking about all of the complexities to the story and just how much I truly enjoyed Flynn’s writing style. I would go so far as to say that this is the best book that I’ve read so far this year, and having already read a couple other Gillian Flynn titles in the month after reading Sharp Objects, I’d be willing to say that Sharp Objects is her best work overall.

Add Sharp Objects to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads