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 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.

A Darker Shade final for Irene

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.

Favorite Reads Friday: Good Omens

I normally review ARC copies of books or books that I’ve recently discovered, but I have realized that there are so many other books that I’ve read in the past that I would love to encourage you to pick up – thus, Favorite Reads Friday.  These books may have been published awhile ago, but in my opinion, they are among some of the best of the best. So, check back each Friday for a look at one of my favorites and tell me about/share a link to one of your favorites in the comments!

Today, I want to talk to you about Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett. You’ve probably been hearing a lot about it lately since it’s currently in production to become an Amazon Prime Video television series in 2019 staring David Tennant and Michael Sheen. I can’t remember when exactly I first read it (I’d say probably 8-10 years ago), but I remember discovering a small paperback copy in a bookseller’s booth at a local flea market. The full title, Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, sounded quirky, so I forked over a couple quarters, not realizing then that I was discovering what would soon be one of my favorite books of all time. What I find especially amusing now that the television show is coming, is that from the first time I read Good Omens, in my head, the character Crowley sounded exactly like David Tennant. I still read it that way today, and so I don’t believe his casting could have been any more perfect.

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Summary (via Goodreads)

According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.

So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon—both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle—are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.

And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .

 

Why it’s one of my favorites:

This was my first introduction to both Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and my love for them grew from this fantastic co-authored work. Their wit and humor had me literally laughing out loud, giggling uncontrollably in public, and repeatedly quoting lines to friends. I don’t normally gravitate towards “funny” books, but Good Omens is so brilliant in its comedy that I often found myself rereading certain lines and laughing even harder. What’s not to love about an apocalyptic comedy starring a demon, an angel, a young Antichrist and his hell hound, and of course the four horsemen bikers. What makes it even better is that the humor also tends to have a philosophical leaning and will keep you reading and rereading throughout the book, savoring every word. I’ve even tried the audiobook (I reread Good Omens regularly when I need a pick-me-up), and you don’t want to attempt listening with any sort of distractions around, or else you might miss some of the more subtle jokes.

Good Omens is the book I’ve probably recommended most to friends over the years. It never gets old. Funny enough, I recommended it to my now fiancé when we were first dating. As he was reading it, he turned me on to a little show called Supernatural – which quickly grew on me, partially because of another character named Crowley. Both the Good Omens Crowley and the Supernatural Crowley are meant to be a reference in name to Aleister Crowley, but one can’t help but think that with all of their similarities and with show creator Eric Kripke being a big Gaiman fan, that maybe there’s a little nod to Good Omens in the show.

So, be sure to add Good Omens to your To Be Read list, and check it out before it becomes a hit television series in 2019.

Off the Shelf: A Review of The Life & Death Parade by Eliza Wass

Two years ago, I discovered Eliza Wass through her debut YA novel, The Cresswell Plot. While the book didn’t necessarily hit one out of the park for me, its author did, and I became somewhat entranced by Eliza and her story. She grew up in a strict, religious community and didn’t meet anyone outside of that religion until she interned at Disney at the age of 22. She talks more about that part of her background in this article from the Guardian, and it’s clear where her inspiration for The Cresswell Plot (here titled In the Dark, In the Woods) came from. Her bio claims “she has thousands of friends, all of whom either arrive inside dust jackets or post obsessively on Twitter”, and following her on Twitter gave me a deeper look into her writing, her whimsical personality, and her devotion to her late husband, Alan Wass of Alan Wass and the Tourniquet.

So, when I spotted the beautiful cover of The Life and Death Parade while I was at PLA, I had to snatch it up. It became one of my first must-read ARCs in a massive book haul, and it delivered the type of hauntingly eerie story that I’ve come to expect from Eliza Wass.

 

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Release Date: July 12, 2018

Summary (via Goodreads)

One year ago, Kitty’s boyfriend Nikki Bramley visited a psychic who told him he had no future. Now, he’s dead.

With the Bramley family grieving in separate corners of their home, Kitty sets out to find the psychic who read Nikki his fate. Instead she finds Roan, an enigmatic boy posing as a medium who belongs to the Life and Death Parade–a group of supposed charlatans that explore, and exploit, the thin veil between this world and the next. A group whose members include the psychic… and Kitty’s late mother.

Desperate to learn more about the group and their connection to Nikki, Kitty convinces Roan to return to the Bramley house with her and secures a position for him within the household. Roan quickly ingratiates himself with the Bramleys, and soon enough it seems like everyone is ready to move on. Kitty, however, increasingly suspects Roan knows more about Nikki than he’s letting on. And when they finally locate the Life and Death Parade, and the psychic who made that fateful prophecy to Nikki, Kitty uncovers a secret about Roan that changes everything.

 

What I Liked:

Eliza Wass has a beautiful and delicate way of tackling topics like death and grief. She has a way with words, particularly her rich imagery that paints her settings. I longed to know more about the characters, Nikki especially, because he has such a fun persona that steals every scene.

At the beginning of each chapter are featured lines from the author’s late husband, which help to set the tragic tone as Kitty searches for answers to what happened to her boyfriend and how the psychic’s prediction of his death came to pass. A variety of different relationships are explored, each shedding a little more light on how each character grieves, and I was glad that the romantic elements weren’t your typical sugar-coated YA romance tropes. The loss of Nikki haunts the entire story, and in turn the reader aches along with each of the characters in the family.

It’s a quick, enjoyable read that you can finish in just a few short hours, but it can be said that the story will end well before you want it to.

 

What I Didn’t Like:

About halfway through, I started feeling like I was missing something. Specifically, I felt as if this book had been over-edited and scenes that would have helped me to better connect with the characters and their stories had been cut. Looking back at my review of The Cresswell Plot, I wasn’t surprised to see that I’d felt similarly about that title. The Life and Death Parade is a very short, quick read, but the fast pacing will have you wishing there were slower moments to help the story build. I’m beginning to wonder if this is just Wass’s writing style or if she has an editor that prefers it this way. Either way, I wish we got to know the characters a little bit better because they seem so quirky, unique, and mysterious.

 

Overall Rating:

I was torn on how to rate this book, but I ultimately decided on 3.5/5 stars. The premise has so much potential and the cast of characters were eccentric and wonderful, but the plot falls victim to an overly fast pace. I still have so many questions and things that I want to know, which makes me wish there were at least another fifty pages or so to tell the full story. Eliza Wass continues to be an author to watch for me, and I look forward to seeing what comes next from her.

 

Off the Shelf: A Review of The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager

I have other reviews that I should be writing – BUT STOP THE PRESSES! We need to discuss The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager RIGHT. NOW.

It doesn’t come out until July, but I was fortunate enough to meet Riley Sager while attending PLA, and I snagged myself a signed ARC copy of The Last Time I Lied. His debut, The Final Girls, has sat on my to-read shelf since its publication. I’m wary of overhyped books though, so its initial popularity right out of the gate scared me off picking it up. Trust me, I will soon be correcting that mistake.

As I’ve been dealing with some health issues recently, I’ve had plenty of time to read, but any book I’ve picked up, I’ve struggled to get into. Either it’s not interesting at all, interesting but just not that great, or definitely interesting but not the kind of book that’s going to hold my interest right now. It’s been disappointment after disappointment.

I wanted NEEDED a page turner. So, I went to my to-read shelf, selected one book at random, and decided to see if the first line would hook me.

Enter: The Last Time I Lied.

And that’s how I found myself unable to put it down until I’d finished reading the very last line.

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Summary (via Goodreads)

RELEASE DATE:  JULY 10, 2018

“Two Truths and a Lie. The girls played it all the time in their tiny cabin at Camp Nightingale. Vivian, Natalie, Allison, and first-time camper Emma Davis, the youngest of the group. The games ended when Emma sleepily watched the others sneak out of the cabin in the dead of night. The last she–or anyone–saw of them was Vivian closing the cabin door behind her, hushing Emma with a finger pressed to her lips.

Now a rising star in the New York art scene, Emma turns her past into paintings–massive canvases filled with dark leaves and gnarled branches that cover ghostly shapes in white dresses. The paintings catch the attention of Francesca Harris-White, the socialite and wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale. When Francesca implores her to return to the newly reopened camp as a painting instructor, Emma sees an opportunity to try to find out what really happened to her friends.

Yet it’s immediately clear that all is not right at Camp Nightingale. Already haunted by memories from fifteen years ago, Emma discovers a security camera pointed directly at her cabin, mounting mistrust from Francesca and, most disturbing of all, cryptic clues Vivian left behind about the camp’s twisted origins. As she digs deeper, Emma finds herself sorting through lies from the past while facing threats from both man and nature in the present.

And the closer she gets to the truth about Camp Nightingale, the more she realizes it may come at a deadly price.”

 

Things I Liked:

HOLY ROLLER COASTER RIDE, BATMAN! The number of twists packed into this plot left me dizzy. Just when I would think I was on the right track, this cart would jump the rails. It kept me guessing the whole way through, and the ending is one you will not see coming. When you think it’s over, it’s most definitely not.

I was never a summer camp kid. I don’t know if there just weren’t many camps around or if my parents didn’t want me out of their sight for that long, but either way, a sleep away summer camp is something that I’ve only ever read about. Goosebumps set me up from a young age to think of summer camps as inherently creepy (thanks very much, Welcome to Camp Nightmare, The Curse of Camp Cold Lake, The Horror at Camp Jellyjam, etc.), so Camp Nightingale really meets the mark for dark, spooky camps – haunting campfire stories, suspicious counselors, and s’mores! Pack this book on vacation, maybe take it camping…because I can guarantee it’s going to be one of the biggest books of the summer. I found myself falling in love with Sager’s writing style, and how much description was packed in to every last word. I could picture Camp Nightingale, particularly Lake Midnight and the ghost stories of its past, so clearly. Beautiful work.

I’ve said it time and time again, but if you give me a good, believable, unreliable narrator, that will sell the story for me every time. And boy, is Emma good. There were a few moments where I found myself annoyed with her, but overall, I found myself absorbed in her interactions with those at Camp Nightingale, past and present, particularly Vivian. Vivian and Emma bonded quickly when they first met at Camp Nightingale, and there a several moments in their conversations where they go beyond your typical “Mean Girls” teen girl interactions and Vivian delves into the true psyche of her behaviors to teach the life lessons she believes Emma needs. She’s twisted, enigmatic, and her motivations add to the mystery of her disappearance.

Things I Didn’t Like:

I don’t have much to report in the way of things that I didn’t like about The Last Time I Lied. There were times, like I said, that I found Emma annoying – she wouldn’t ask the questions that I thought would be natural to ask given the scenarios she was facing or she may say too much in parts where I felt it would be natural to hold back. Overall though, she was an interesting character and the story kept me guessing as to whether I should trust her or not.

I believe there was one red herring that got thrown out (and there are quite a few in this story that will have you wondering what the truth will really be), but was never resolved. However, this is a story I plan on rereading (it was THAT good) to see if perhaps I missed its resolution somewhere along the way. The story follows a crooked path, so it can be easy to get lost in the woods with all of the possibilities.

 

Overall Rating:

Without a doubt, this book is a 5/5 stars for me. It was everything that I needed it to be and more, and I couldn’t get enough. I raced through it in a matter of hours, and days later, I still can’t stop thinking about it. Go ahead and preorder it from your favorite bookstore or online retailer, because you are going to want to get your hands on this title the moment it hits the shelves. While you’re waiting, check out Sager’s debut novel, Final Girls.

Two Truths and a Lie:
1. I will definitely be picking up Final Girls in hopes that it’s even half as good as The Last Time I Lied.
2. The Last Time I Lied is one of the best books that I’ve read so far this year.
3. When I’m camping this summer, I doubt that this story will cross my mind.

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Click here to add The Last Time I Lied by Riley Sager to your To Be Read Shelf on Goodreads. 

Off the Shelf: A Review of Silent Victim by Caroline Mitchell

First and foremost, I just want to thank the readers who have stuck around during my hiatus. It was really something to log in and see that there were so many visitors each day checking out my reviews even without me posting regularly. It was due to that confidence booster that I decided to upgrade a few things around the site, and I hope you like the new look! Once things calm down a bit, I’ll get back to posting regularly and more importantly READING regularly (*sigh* I can’t wait…). Now – on to the review!

I’ve been a bit overwhelmed lately between work, my last semester of grad school, and planning a wedding, so I’ve been trying to sneak in a little stress-relief reading whenever possible. What’s my kind of stress-relief reading? Anxiety-ridden, high intensity thrillers, of course. I’ve read so many lately that I wish I had time to review them all. Pretty Girls Dancing by Kylie Brant kicked off my new year and my thriller-spree on a positive note with a creepy, dark suspense story set in my home state. The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn provided the pulse-pounding rollercoaster ride I’d been looking for and quickly became one of my most recommended titles to friends and fellow Rear Window fans (seriously, read it – NOW). The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor was an impressive debut that turned the creepiness dial up to eleven. All of these were worthwhile reads in my book.

And then we have Silent Victim

A psychological thriller from former police detective Caroline Mitchell, Silent Victim was offered on KindleFirst as one of the February selections. With a summary that sounded right up my alley, I couldn’t wait till the March 1st release date, and so I jumped on getting to read it early. But did it live up to the other thrillers in my recent reading spree?

 

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Silent Victim by Caroline Mitchell
Release Date: March 1, 2018

Summary (via Goodreads)

Emma’s darkest secrets are buried in the past. But the truth can’t stay hidden for long.

Emma is a loving wife, a devoted mother…and an involuntary killer. For years she’s been hiding the dead body of the teacher who seduced her as a teen.

It’s a secret that might have stayed buried if only her life had been less perfect. A promotion for Emma’s husband, Alex, means they can finally move to a bigger home with their young son. But with a buyer lined up for their old house, Emma can’t leave without destroying every last trace of her final revenge…

Returning to the shallow grave in the garden, she finds it empty. The body is gone.

Panicked, Emma confesses to her husband. But this is only the beginning. Soon, Alex will discover things about her he’ll wish he’d learned sooner. And others he’ll long to forget.

 

Things I Liked:

The summary sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? I won’t lie, I got giddy the first time I read it. Dark Secrets? Dead bodies? Correction: MISSING dead bodies? I’m all about this, and I want to know MORE. Enter: Emma. It doesn’t take long to figure out that we are probably working with an unreliable narrator here. Is she actually crazy or is someone just making it look like she is? I LOVE unreliable narrators, so I should probably love Emma, but I just never made the connection with her. To be completely honest, she actually annoyed me. BUT – she’s only ONE of the three POVs that this story is told from. We also journey inside the head of her husband, Alex (he had potential, but I ended up not caring for him either…he comes across a little too self serving and just as secretive as his wife) and Luke, the teacher that seduced Emma when she was a teenager. To be honest, Luke kept me reading. His chapters were creepy and uncomfortable to read, but being able to see inside such a sick mind was like a train wreck – you just couldn’t look away. Probably not the best promotion of a book to say that the best chapters are from a pedo’s POV, but I will say that it kept things interesting, especially seeing the same scenes depicted from both Emma and Luke’s POVs.

I typically try to find a few things (however small they may be) that I like in books that don’t win me over. Maybe it’s just that it has been a couple weeks since finishing this book, but I can’t quite remember much that stood out as redeeming. I at least finished the book…that’s something, right?

 

Things I Didn’t Like:

Looking through some other reviews, I feel like there’s an elephant in the room. Anyone going to talk about it? Anyone? Ok, just me then.

*SPOILER ALERT*
I’m pretty sure I can’t be the only one out there who has problems with that particularly rape-y scene. So, get this… Emma is cornered by her abuser who offers to leave her alone forever, if only she will just have sex with him one more time. She even says she knows she should run, grab her phone, and call for help. But wait! An idea occurs to her – the sex will last only minutes, and it’s not like she loves Luke, so maybe some good can come of this situation! She could use her attacker as a means of impregnating herself with the child that she and her husband can’t conceive….wait….what??? Yep. You read that right. This chick is justifying her own rape. “Perhaps something good could be salvaged out of all this mess. It was not like I was being unfaithful. I loved my husband. A baby would make our marriage complete, and with Luke out of my life for good there would be nothing to threaten our happiness.”  How can you read that and NOT find it problematic? It still makes me cringe.

There were several times I wanted to just put this book down and give up. That moment in particular was almost enough to seal the deal, but at that point I had to wonder if it could get any worse (ehhh, the ending is pretty contrived, but this is the part that stands out to me as I-Want-to-Throw-this-Book-Across-the-Room-Level-Bad).  

I will also issue a word of caution for anyone who feels triggered by depictions of eating disorders. I was not prepared for that subject to come up and play such a prevalent role in Emma’s life throughout the story, and perhaps if I had known that, I would have selected a different Kindle First book. I won’t comment on how it’s portrayed, but it was a struggle for me to read those parts. Fair warning.

Overall Rating:

I guess I’m just the odd man out on this one, because as popular as it seems to be, Silent Victim was not a winner for me. I’d give it 1.5 stars, and that’s mostly because there was at least enough of a story to keep me wondering how it all would end (and boy, did I keep wishing for it to end). Spoiler alert, even the ending is disappointing. I’m sorry, folks. I just don’t get the appeal to this one. I didn’t care about any of the characters, the “twists” were eyeroll inducing, and it just really missed the mark of being suspenseful to me. The only thing killed by this book was my thriller reading spree. Oh well, guess it’s time to switch to something different…

Off the Shelf: A Review of By a Charm and a Curse by Jaime Questell

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Although my reading list has stayed consistently full, Among the Authors has been on a bit of a hiatus while I finish up with grad school (the end is in sight! Come on, May!). However, an enticing email from Entangled Teen recently popped up in my inbox and promised a dark carnival story full of mystery and mayhem. Even with a growing to-do list (major life update since my last post: I’m engaged and getting married this year!), I couldn’t resist the call of the carnival. You all know how much I loved Caraval, and while I went into this thinking that By a Charm and a Curse would be similar, I found it to be nothing like Caraval, yet still a uniquely fun read.

I received an eARC from Entangled Teen in exchange for an honest review.

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Summary (via Goodreads)

Le Grand’s Carnival Fantastic isn’t like other traveling circuses. It’s bound by a charm, held together by a centuries-old curse, that protects its members from ever growing older or getting hurt. Emmaline King is drawn to the circus like a moth to a flame…and unwittingly recruited into its folds by a mysterious teen boy whose kiss is as cold as ice.

Forced to travel through Texas as the new Girl in the Box, Emmaline is completely trapped. Breaking the curse seems like her only chance at freedom, but with no curse, there’s no charm, either—dooming everyone who calls the Carnival Fantastic home. Including the boy she’s afraid she’s falling for.

Everything—including his life—could end with just one kiss.

 

Things I Liked:

By a Charm and a Curse is a very, VERY quick read. I picked it up and didn’t sit it back down until I was finished, only a couple of hours later. The 300 pages seemed more like half that. It’s a great book for an after-work-wind-down, when you really need something light and easy to escape the stress of the day. What better way to do that than by visiting a mysterious carnival?

The setting is a major strength to this book. It is well-written, and even though the closest thing I had to a carnival growing up was the county fair, I could clearly imagine this whimsical, enchanting circus. Speaking of circus, you might see this book compared to The Night Circus as well as Carnaval, but let me reiterate that all of these books have very different stories. They merely share a similar setting. The setting is vibrant and makes an interesting playing field for a diverse cast of performers.

Telling the story in dual points of view between the two main characters, Emma and Benjamin, was a wise choice on the part of the author. Emma was an interesting enough character, and I thought her struggles with the marionette-like transformation were uniquely creepy. Between the two of them though, I found myself looking forward to the chapters told from Benjamin’s perspective because I feel like he had a bit more depth. However, Sidney, the former Boy in the Box, easily stole the show for me. He was fun, engaging, and I wanted so much more from his character. Had the book been a little bit longer, that might have been possible.

 
Things I Didn’t Like:

There’s not much that’s surprising about By a Charm and a Curse. I think you’re meant to be shocked by the true nature of the curse, but most readers will see it coming from very early in the story. I actually was surprised by a dark and deadly moment towards the end, but unfortunately, I feel that it was unnecessary and didn’t really do anything to further the plot. While the story can get predictable, there are other parts that get rather confusing, like how certain characters don’t react to things the way people normally would or they don’t ask questions that should have been obvious.


To be completely honest, after the first few pages, I was a little concerned that this was not the book that I expected it to be and that I was going to completely dislike Emma. She complains a lot about having to stay with her dad and brothers while her mother is out of the country. She’s stuck in this place that is just soooo awful and the only thing her one friend in town wants to talk about is setting her up with boys. Then, she meets a complete stranger who, after only a few moments, Emma believes completely gets her, and all she wants to do is hold hands with him and maybe kiss him (her first kiss! *gag*). It’s all a little bit eyeroll-inducing. But stick with it! I promise the story does get better from here, although even the real romance portion of the book does feel pretty rushed and without any real conflict (other than an overprotective mother).

 
Overall Rating:

I’d give By a Charm and a Curse a solid three stars. This book is a fun escape, and one that can be easily read in one afternoon or evening. The premise is intriguing and the setting full of whimsy. The cast of characters, while sometimes lacking in depth, are memorable and add to the mystery of the carnival itself. Although it will leave you wishing it was a little longer, it’s a fairly impressive debut for Jaime Questell, and it makes me look forward to the possibilities of what she may write in the future.