Waiting on Wednesday: Toil & Trouble

Waiting on Wednesdays spotlights highly anticipated upcoming releases, and was originally hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. Since Jill is no longer hosting, I’m now joining up with Can’t Wait Wednesday at Wishful Endings. Check it out, and leave a link to your “can’t wait” book of the week!

This week for Waiting on Wednesday, I’m doing something I haven’t done before – I’m highlighting an anthology! Anthologies aren’t usually my go-to reading material because if I really enjoy a story, I want to live in it for so much longer than a short story. However, there are plenty of reasons to look forward to this exceptional young adult collection…

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RELEASE DATE: AUGUST 28, 2018

Summary (via Goodreads)

A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era.

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth.

History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations.

Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.

A bruja’s traditional love spell has unexpected results. A witch’s healing hands begin to take life instead of giving it when she ignores her attraction to a fellow witch. In a terrifying future, women are captured by a cabal of men crying witchcraft and the one true witch among them must fight to free them all. In a desolate past, three orphaned sisters prophesize for a murderous king. Somewhere in the present, a teen girl just wants to kiss a boy without causing a hurricane.

From good witches to bad witches, to witches who are a bit of both, this is an anthology of diverse witchy tales from a collection of diverse, feminist authors. The collective strength of women working together—magically or mundanely–has long frightened society, to the point that women’s rights are challenged, legislated against, and denied all over the world. Toil & Trouble delves deep into the truly diverse mythology of witchcraft from many cultures and feminist points of view, to create modern and unique tales of witchery that have yet to be explored.

 

Why I’m Waiting:

Like many other women, I really enjoy stories about witches. Whether it’s Hermione Granger or the Sanderson Sisters, I’m all about magical and mystical characters. From those just discovering their powers to those who wield power like a sword, these women are intriguing, complex, and they reject the ordinary. I can remember reading and rereading Roald Dahl’s The Witches as a child, and instead of rooting for the main character as he took on an entire gathering of witches, I just wanted to figure out how I too could become a witch and turn boys into mice.

Witches tend to be very strong, female characters, and an entire collection of diverse stories that delve into their myth and legend sounds right up my alley. Luckily, I was just granted an ARC copy from the publisher, so if you’re looking forward to this one as much as I am, go ahead and subscribe to Among the Authors (at the top of this page on the right) so that you’ll be updated when I post my review a little closer to publication time. I can’t wait to get started reading it!

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Off the Shelf: A Review of A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

It had been a little over a week since I closed the final book of the Shades of Magic series and talk about a book hangover. I seriously don’t know what to do with myself right now. I’m just not ready to move on and leave this world (and its magic) behind.

And it looks like I won’t have to…

While marking A Conjuring of Light as finished on Goodreads, I happened to stumble upon a trio of untitled projects from V.E. Schwab. The description of the first untitled book currently reads, “The start of a brand-new trilogy called the Threads of Power, which will be set in the same world as the Shades of Magic series, featuring new leads, plus the entire cast from Conjuring of Light”.

Yes. YES. YES!!!

While it may be awhile before I get to visit again, I’m thrilled that the door to Red London will remain open. I can’t say enough what an incredible journey this series was. It has quickly found itself among my favorite reads of all time, and A Conjuring of Light is a fitting ending (at least for now). 

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Summary (via Goodreads)
“Witness the fate of beloved heroes – and enemies.

THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED…
The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

WHO WILL CRUMBLE?
Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari – begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

WHO WILL RISE?
Lila Bard, once a commonplace – but never common – thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL?
And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.”

 

Things I Liked:

V.E. Schwab did something amazingly unexpected in this book — she made me care deeply about a character that I had pretty much ignored in the first two books. Knowing this was the last book in the trilogy, I went into it expecting death and devastation. I clung to my every moment with my favorite characters, wondering which of them Schwab would rip away from me in a bloody instant. I held my breath, page after page. And while we see more death in A Conjuring of Light than the rest of the series, there was only one death scene that brought actual tears to my eyes (though there were multiple deaths that really tugged at my heartstrings). I actually had to take a slight pause from reading to reflect on it. How did she do it??? In a matter of a few exceptionally well-written scenes, I went from not caring about (and maybe even disliking) a certain character, to weeping at that character’s death. Now THAT takes skill. And from what I can tell from comments Schwab has made about this character, we might actually be seeing more of this person’s backstory sometime in the near future (yay!).

And just so you don’t think everyone in the main cast gets to live – nope. A character I had grown to love throughout this series does ultimately leave us, but in a way that was bittersweet and gentle. Tragic and beautiful. It was emotional but exactly what it needed to be. Anoshe.

As for Alucard, in my review of A Gathering of Shadows, I couldn’t make up my mind about him. I wanted to like his character, but like Kell, I considered him to be trouble and worried what kind of pain he could cause Rhy. I expected him to really “show himself” in this book, and he did… but not in the way I expected AT ALL. I’ll just go ahead and let my Alucard and Rhy flag fly, because the way their story comes together in the end is SO. DAMN. HEARTWARMING.

I don’t typically get caught up in romances in stories, but I really did enjoy the chemistry between Lila and Kell. I think it played out at just the right pacing to make me really fall in love with this pairing. Things definitely heat up in A Conjuring of Light, so much so that I felt a little embarrassed that I’d recommended the series to my young niece before reaching this book. “Read this series!” I’d said. “It’s written for adults, but I haven’t found much that would be considered too adult for you.” And while I’m sure she can handle the content (it’s not that graphic), I did have the awkward moment of blushing through a particularly steamy scene and then remembering who all I’d recommended the series to. XD Oh, well! Kell and Lila forever!

Things I Didn’t Like:

There is nothing that I can fault this book for. NOTHING. Hell, there was hardly anything I could fault the series for overall, other than a slight dip in pacing during book two, but you better believe that this book is a nonstop, action packed, wild adventure from start to finish.

Overall Rating:

How could I give it anything other than 5/5 stars? 624 pages of pure delight. It’s the perfect end to a perfect series, and I’m still emotional about it actually coming to a close. In fact, I can already picture myself giving the whole series another read, especially with another trilogy coming out set in the same world. One thing is for sure though, Victoria Schwab has to be one of the most talented writers of our time. I want to immerse myself in everything she has written and find out how she does it, because this is genuinely good writing and is not to be missed. Go see for yourself!

 

My Reviews of Books 1 & 2 in the Shades of Magic series:
A Darker Shade of Magic
A Gathering of Shadows

 

Side Note:

While I was stuck in my book hangover still hanging on to just how good this series was, all I could think about was Kell, Lila, and all of the others that made this a magical experience. So when I saw this adorable pupper up for adoption, I thought he bore a striking resemblance to a certain black-eyed prince. Now, I don’t use Twitter as often as maybe I should, but I couldn’t resist the urge to show this adorable doggo to V. E. Schwab. I never expected that a retweet from her would lead to this tweet being viewed almost 22,000 times (as of my last check before writing this). Wowza! Now, if only we had room in our pack for one more doggo… Just look at those eyes!

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Side Note x2:

If you consider yourself a writer, particularly a writer of fantasy, I can’t recommend Victoria Schwab’s Pembroke College Tolkien Lecture, “In Search of Doors”, enough. I watched it hungrily in search of guidance for my own work and found exactly the insight I was hoping for (–as well as finding out that she and I have a lot in common when it comes to authors we consider inspiring). Do yourself a favor — clear your schedule for the next hour, and give it a watch:


 

It’s hard to say goodbye to this series that I’ve so thoroughly enjoyed, so I won’t…

“Arnesians had a dozen ways to say hello, but no word for good-bye.
When it came to parting ways, they sometimes said ‘vas ir’, which meant in peace, but more often they chose to say ‘anoshe’ – until another day.

Anoshe was a word for strangers in the street, and lovers between meetings, for parents and children, friends and family. It softened the blow of leaving. Eased the strain of parting. A careful nod to the certainty of today, the mystery of tomorrow. When a friend left, with little chance of seeing home, they said anoshe. When a loved one was dying, they said anoshe. When corpses were burned, bodies given back to the earth and souls to the stream, those grieving said anoshe.

Anoshe brought solace. And hope. And the strength to let go.” –A Conjuring of Light

 

Anoshe.

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.

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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.

Off the Shelf: A Review of A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

This is one of those times where you might say, “That series has been popular forever! Why are you just now reviewing it?”

To be honest, I don’t have a good excuse, and I deserve a swift kick in the rear for not getting around to it sooner.

I loved Victoria Schwab’s The Archived and The Unbound, and it has always been in the back of my mind that I need to read more of her work (I keep seeing rave reviews for Vicious, so that needs to move further up my to-read pile). When I say she’s ridiculously talented, it’s an understatement. I think it’s even safe to say that she was destined to write. Her workload is impressive, and it seems like she always has a new project (or two…or three…) in progress, but the fandom that has been built around the Shades of Magic series is a force to be reckoned with. I knew one day, sooner or later, I’d need to find out what all of the hype was about. It just so happened that now was that time.

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Summary (via Goodreads)

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

 

Things I Liked:

I’m not sure why, but I struggled to get started with this book. It’s not that it was boring – not at all – but I found myself only reading a few pages before bed and quickly falling asleep. I wanted to savor the language and the author’s beautiful descriptions, but I felt like I kept losing focus. You might be wondering why this is listed under “Things I Liked” – well, that’s because it actually turned me on to something that I thought I severely disliked: audiobooks. As much as I love podcasts, I have always struggled to listen to an audiobook all the way through. It hardly ever happens. But, when I found myself struggling to stay focused in the first few pages of ADSOM, I decided that maybe I would give the audio version a try. Instantly, I was hooked. If I dislike a narrator’s voice, it often dooms the audiobook for me, but Steven Crossley was magnificent in most regards. I could easily sit back with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and just listen to him weave the story for hours (and that’s exactly what I did). I listened to the book over the span of two days, and I just couldn’t get enough. Schwab’s writing style is so cinematic that every glance, slight movement, and atmospheric difference to the different Londons was completely visible and real in my mind. I plan on enjoying the rest of the series on audiobook as well (something I never thought I would say).

Kell is one of the most intriguing characters that I’ve read in a long time. I love his demeanor, his Antari magic and language, and his devotion to his brother – Rhy (who I’m really looking forward to learning more about in the rest of the series because what little we did see of him is ADSOM was fun and fabulous). Lila wasn’t my favorite at the beginning, but (and this is my one complaint with the audiobook) I want to partially blame that on the narrator making her sound a little too over the top, and maybe she is, but I would have likely read her differently if I wasn’t listening to the audiobook. As the story goes on, and softer sides of Lila are shown just slightly, she started to grow on me.  Her insatiable desire for adventure redeemed her casual thievery and near constant snark to me, and by the end of the story, I couldn’t wait to see what next great adventure was in store for Lila. Also, I fully expect to see more of Holland, the only other Antari, in the rest of the series. I wanted to dislike him, but I just couldn’t, and instead I want to know more about this mysterious, haunting villain (but is he really?).

Huzzah! This deserves a mention – I love a book that can stand on its own without a romantic element being a driving force! I love that, although there are moments that will make you ship certain pairings, there’s really zero romance here. Lila and Kell are present together throughout most of the book, but instead of sticking them in romantic situations, they’re too busy using their ingenuity to save the many Londons. But hey, if that happens to come later in the series, I’d welcome it.

 

Things I Didn’t Like:

There is one thing I will say about the audiobook version…I wish there was a second narrator. Female characters start sounding a bit Monty Python-esque, and I think that factored in to why I disliked Lila at first.

There are parts that may seem a bit draggy and slow, but I’m torn in saying that, because there’s not a single line that I would cut. The world and the characters were so expertly crafted that you end up craving all of the little details and exposition.

Overall Rating:

5/5 It’s an easy five stars from me. I was hooked on everything about the world that Schwab created, and I can’t wait to delve further into its story. ADSOM is strange and beautiful, and it is everything a good fantasy should be. My only regret is not reading it sooner.

“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

Add A Darker Shade of Magic to your To Be Read List on Goodreads.

Off the Shelf: A Review of A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

It’s a wondrous feeling when a book burns so brightly in your mind that it’s all you can think about for days and days. I’m especially drawn to books that combine fantasy and magic, and in particular, books that can do so with an exciting and unique premise. A Shadow Bright and Burning is exactly that kind of book. It has a wealth of intriguing characters, hair-raising battles with terrifying monsters, and an abundance of twists and turns which are sure to make this a series you won’t want to miss!

 

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RELEASE DATE: September 20, 2016

Summary (via Goodreads)
I am Henrietta Howel.
The first female sorcerer in hundreds of years.
The prophesied one.
Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames.
Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she’s shocked when instead of being executed, she’s invited to train as one of Her Majesty’s royal sorcerers.
Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the chosen one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.
But Henrietta Howel is not the chosen one.
As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, what does it mean to not be the one? And how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Things I Liked:
There are several things about Henrietta Howel that I absolutely admire. She’s strong, passionate, and will do anything to protect her friends. A lot of this book is Henrietta finding herself and coming to terms with who she really is. She also has to deal with a lot of discrimination based on her gender, her magic, and her low birth. Henrietta handles all of these with a head held high and efficiently puts those who look down on her in their place. Her interactions with the other characters are both witty and clever, and I found myself taking a screenshot of quite a few humorous quotes from Henrietta and the other characters just so I could giggle at them again later. I think I fell in love with every scene where Henrietta truly used her power, setting herself ablaze, because you get a sense of how fearsome yet beautiful she is, and you feel the passion behind her desire to save people. She’s obviously one of the only females in a cast of characters that’s mostly male, but while the interactions with her fellow trainees are fun (especially the charming and sarcastic Magnus), I really enjoyed her conversations with the older characters like Master Agrippa, who first discovers her power, and the magician Hargrove, who at first I thought I would dislike but then rapidly became one of my favorite characters.

There’s also what some might call a love triangle. In my opinion, I foresee it being a love square, but we will get to that. The romance doesn’t take a leading role in this book. There’s so many other things going on, that I would have been turned off to the book if Henrietta was solely focused on a boy(s) and his opinion of her. Luckily, the romantic moments take a backseat to the story, and what moments are mentioned actually do a lot to further the plot and Henrietta’s motivations. As for it being a love square, I have to say that there’s one of Henrietta’s fellow sorcerer trainees that stands out above the rest to me –  Blackwell. While the relationship between the two right now might not seem more than just a strained friendship, I picked up on some heavy Pride & Prejudice vibes between the pair. I think this is something that will play out more in the next book (hopefully), and it’s definitely the ship I’ll be rooting for.

The world building is another excellent factor to this book. From the first page to the last, I felt like I was living inside this alternate world in Victorian London, plagued by demons known as the Ancients. The descriptions are vivid, and the author makes clear distinctions between the types of magical people and how those inside/outside the protective ward live. I’m looking forward to exploring this world further in the next book.

Things I Didn’t Like:

I’ve seen a few people complain that this book uses the same old tropes, and if you’ve read one fantasy novel, you’ve read them all so you may as well forget this one. FALSE. I’ve read so many fantasy novels that take the idea of a “chosen one” and it plays out on repeat across the board. Nothing new or exciting. A Shadow Bright and Burning took that idea and twisted it, something I rather enjoyed, because it shows you don’t have to be “chosen” to do great things.

So, sorry, not going to hear any complaints from me. I loved this book the whole way through.

Overall Rating:

I reserve 5 star ratings for books that truly deserve it, and this book is a well earned 5 star for me. It’s exactly the book I’ve been waiting for, and it’s a magical adventure from start to finish! It’s exciting, empowering, and absolutely enchanting. You’ll race to the finish, be left stunned by the twists in the ending, and then we can all commiserate about how long we have to wait until the next book in the series comes out.  Add this one to your TBR list IMMEDIATELY. Seriously! You don’t want to miss out.

Add A Shadow Bright and Burning to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads
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