Posts Tagged: 5 stars

A Darker Shade of Magic
by V.E. Schwab

January 31, 2015 Book Reviews, Books 0



A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab | February 2015 | Tor | Hardcover $25.99

Here’s a quick summary of the book from the publisher, via Edelweiss (where I was delighted to obtain an e-ARC):

Kell is one of the last Travelers — magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes — as such, he can choose where he lands.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, with one mad king — George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered — and where Kell was raised alongside Rhys Maresh, the rougish heir to the throne. White London — a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London… but no one speaks of that now. Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, he’s a smuggler, a dangerous, defiant hobby to have — as proven when Kell stumbles into a setup with a forbidden token from Black London.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations, who first robs him, then saves him from a dangerous enemy, and then forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure. But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

Parallel universes. An interesting magic system. And a cross-dressing aspiring pirate.

What’s not to love?

This is actually the first Victoria Schwab book I’ve read. She’s written several YA/MG books, but this is her second adult novel published under the “V.E.” semi-pseudonym. (Is a semi-pseudonym even a thing? Well, it is now.) I moved it up to the top of my virtual to-read pile after seeing Nikki of There Were Books Involved and Angie of Disquietus Reads rave about it all over Twitter.

Here are a few things that I really liked about A Darker Shade of Magic. . . .

The world building is fantastic. I don’t mean just the concept of parallel universes layered over one another and traversable at certain magical places, which makes for fun fantasy but has been done in a great many variations (I got some major Through the Looking Glass vibes at one point, but that may have just been a side effect of staying up until 2:00 AM reading). I’m talking about the “flavors” of the different Londons, the way they aren’t just described in a stage-setting way but seem to come alive in discovery for the reader over the course of the book.

Death is death. Or is it? What I mean by this is that, yes, some characters will die. And not just the bad guys, either, I’m talking about characters that I was rooting for and maybe got a little attached to, though I hesitate to say too much for fear of spoiling the story. So the reader gets the sense that death is a very real danger to the main characters, that not everyone is guaranteed to make it out of the plotline alive. There are 2 major exceptions: a character who sort of dies but who is definitely alive by the end of the book, and a character who is sort of dies but who is maybe alive at the end of the book and who could maybe come back to haunt us later on. And that’s as much as I can say without spoiling everything!

The balance of humorous banter, thrilling action, and angsty introspection is superb. The whole thing was just so dang clever. I wasn’t bored for a single minute while reading, which often happens when an otherwise good story is heavy on just one of those things.

Interesting, intimidating villains are always delightful. And the thing is, there’s not just one “bad guy” in A Darker Shade of Magic. I mean, sure, there’s a primary set of antagonists, though it is notable that their identities and motivations aren’t 100% obvious to our protagonists right from the start. There’s one villain in particular who is particularly complicated, even sympathy-inducing to a point, and yet still rather terrifying and dangerous.

The reader is left to figure some things out for his/herself. I want SO BADLY to talk about my suspicions for what’s going to happen in the next book in this series (and I want it nowwwww) but I also really, really don’t want to spoil it for anyone! In any case, I do very much like it when authors drop hints about things but don’t resolve all the problems or questions at the end of the book, tied up in a nice neat package. Leaving a little room for the reader’s imagination is nice.

Also, Kell’s coat is fantastic. Here’s the opening lines, which just happen to feature it:

Kell wore a very peculiar coat.
It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.

This book comes on in late February, so if you’re interested, NOW is the time to place that pre-order or purchase request at the library!


Publication information: Schwab, Victoria. A Darker Shade of Magic. New York: Tor, 2015. EPUB file.
Source: Provided by publisher via Edelweiss.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

by Garth Nix

October 27, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

It’s here! It’s finally here!

★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Clariel by Garth Nix | HarperCollins | October 2014 | Hardcover $18.99

Sixteen-year-old Clariel is not adjusting well to her new life in the city of Belisaere, the capital of the Old Kingdom. She misses roaming freely within the forests of Estwael, and she feels trapped within the stone city walls. Clariel can see her freedom slipping away. With the discovery of a dangerous Free Magic creature loose in the city, Clariel is given the chance both to prove her worth and make her escape. But events spin rapidly out of control. Clariel finds herself more trapped than ever, until help comes from an unlikely source. But the help comes at a terrible cost. Clariel must question the motivations and secret hearts of everyone around her – and it is herself she must question most of all.

OK, so maybe reviewing a book that I’ve been looking forward to for ages isn’t quite fair. I haven’t finished my “super secret” committee reading homework and there’s still a small stack of ARCs and hot-off-the-press titles awaiting my attention. But come on — when you’ve been waiting this long for another book in a beloved series, isn’t it totally acceptable to drop everything and devour it as soon as you get your hands on it?

Clariel is a prequel of sorts to Garth Nix’s popular Abhorsen series. I first read Sabriel, the first book in this series, about a decade and a half ago. “What is this?!” I can hear you ask. “A teen book series from the 1990’s? Pish-posh! The youths won’t like a thing like that!” You are apparently an elderly British man who doesn’t understand kids these days, in my head. In any case, I think it is a mistake to dismiss Clariel as simply an addition to a too-old-to-be-hip series. Though in recent years YA SF/F trends have veered away from so-called high fantasy towards paranormal and fantasy lite, there are still plenty of “classics” that’ve stood the test of time (perhaps Tamora Pierce is the most obvious example) and new titles that buck the trend and still manage to come out on top (Seraphina by Rachel Hartman comes to mind). I think the Abhorsen series isn’t going to be forgotten, and in fact it is ripe for rediscovery by this upcoming generation. Clariel is a great gateway for that rediscovery.

It isn’t necessary to have read the previous Abhorsen books to get what’s going on in Clariel. I had every intention of rereading the series prior to the newest book’s release, but that didn’t happen and as soon as I had this pretty new hardback in my hands I had to dive right in. Since it is set prior to the events of the rest of the series, there aren’t any major plot points you’ll miss out on if you choose to read Clariel first. There’s plenty of world-building too, which I can definitely appreciate (I love, love, love some good world-building) — and maps galore! MAPS. Maps are so awesome.

That said, I do think you’ll enjoy it more if you’re already at least a little familiar with the series. As it turns out, the title character does make an appearance in previous books in the series. We also get to meet a certain mischievous feline-ish character again, whom fans of the series will certainly recognize. I don’t want to post spoilers here, though, so that’s all I’ll say about that.

This story is a kind of “slippery slope” narrative, with a focus on the consequences of taking away a person’s choices. What happens if a strong-willed and talented young person isn’t allowed to choose her own future? What happens when the hunter begins to feel pity for the trapped but dangerous creature she hunts? What happens when someone tries to use an unpredictable, chaotic power in the pursuit of saving the very thing that keeps that power under control? These are some of the questions that Nix explores in Clariel.

That said, it is practically inevitable that an addition to a series after so long a gap (the 3rd book having been published about a decade ago) is going to be at least a little bit controversial. Even though I loved Clariel, I admit that I may be viewing it through rose-colored glasses because Sabriel was one of the first SF/F I read and Nix was partially responsible for my lifelong love of the genre.

I also want to specifically thank a friend of mine (you know who you are) who ever so kindly picked up a signed copy for me! The author came to Houston a couple of weeks ago. I wasn’t in town and couldn’t make it to the event, but my friend was kind enough to grab this book for me.


Publication information: Nix, Garth. Clariel. New York: Harper, 2014. Print.
Source: Purchased for personal collection.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Empire of Sin
by Gary Krist

September 21, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Empire of sin: A story of sex, jazz, murder, and the battle for modern New Orleans by Gary Krist | October 2014 | Crown Publishers, a division of Random House | Hardcover $26.00

Empire of Sin re-creates the remarkable story of New Orleans’ thirty-years war against itself, pitting the city’s elite “better half” against its powerful and long-entrenched underworld of vice, perversity, and crime. This early-20th-century battle centers on one man: Tom Anderson, the undisputed czar of the city’s Storyville vice district, who fights desperately to keep his empire intact as it faces onslaughts from all sides. Surrounding him are the stories of flamboyant prostitutes, crusading moral reformers, dissolute jazzmen, ruthless Mafiosi, venal politicians, and one extremely violent serial killer, all battling for primacy in a wild and wicked city unlike any other in the world.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that I hadn’t read any Gary Krist books before now. In my defense, my TBR pile is a pretty intimidating mountain and there are only so many hours in a day. But that TBR pile just got a little bigger, because I now feel compelled to add the rest of Krist’s books to it!

I opened this book without any preconceived ideas of the history of New Orleans. Oh, I knew the basics: it was a French and Spanish colonial city, a major port for immigrants and trade, and rather infamous for the level of debauchery tolerated in certain districts. And really, that’s all you need to know before jumping into Empire of Sin — it’s a book for anyone who’s curious about crime, politics, music, and big personalities in  “The Big Easy” after the Civil War, not just already well-versed historians.

Empire of Sin is written almost like a true crime novel… if you count “playing jazz music” or “being Italian” as a crime, which apparently many powerful people in New Orleans did. There are plenty of sordid details about prostitution and gambling in the city’s legally specified sin district, but Krist also writes about racial tensions, class and wealth and social mobility — or lack of it, murderers and serial killers, and the birth of a new kind of music on top of it all. There’s plenty of tension when the author treats the reader to detailed narrative walk-throughs of particular crimes or incidents, but the scope of the book is actually pretty broad and covers quite a lot of ground. Also included are several photos and other illustrations as well as quotes from newspapers and eyewitness accounts (which I simply love). The author obviously did plenty of research.

One of the things I really liked about this book is its careful avoidance of outright moral judgement. For example, Josie Arlington, prominent madam of a relatively high-class brothel, is treated as not just an ignorant slut or pathetic “fallen woman” but as an actual person with complicated motivations and practical business sense.  The author doesn’t shy away from the problems that were caused or intensified by the rise of Jim Crow laws in the city, either. Black and mixed race merchants, craftsmen, and artists who had enjoyed comparative economic and social freedom even during and immediately after the Civil War began to be denied privileges and even basic human rights as institutionalized racism became more common. Members of the white upper classes aren’t necessarily villainized, though; Krist is careful to explain their motivations from their own points of view, in terms of protecting their families from vice and making their city a safe place to live and conduct what they thought of as ethically acceptable business. It’s an old story, and one that continues in a modern form to this day all over the country.

All in all, this is definitely a book I’d recommend to anyone who is used to reading fast-paced thrillers and mysteries but is looking for a little nonfiction for some balance in their reading diet. I think it’s also an obvious choice for folks who are interested in Southern history, especially post-Civil War social problems and even the history of jazz and associated forms of music. It’s also a good starting point for anyone who needs to do some serious research into this particular time and place, as it includes a lovely bibliography and plenty of helpful source notes.


This is a partial draft version of a full review that was submitted for publication to the Galveston Daily News in October 2014. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer.

Publication information: Krist, Gary. Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. New York: Crown, 2014. Print.
Source: This review is based on an ARC that I received from the publisher via a Goodreads giveaway.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

by Anne McCaffrey

July 13, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey | Originally published 1968 | Originally published by Ballantine Books, now an imprint of Random House | Trade paperback (2005, pictured) $15.99

To the nobles who live in Benden Weyr, Lessa is nothing but a ragged kitchen girl. For most of her life she has survived by serving those who betrayed her father and took over his lands. Now the time has come for Lessa to shed her disguise — and take back her stolen birthright.

But everything changes when she meets a queen dragon. The bond they share will be deep and last forever. It will protect them when, for the first time in centuries, Lessa’s world is threatened by Thread, an evil substance that falls like rain and destroys everything it touches. Dragons and their Riders once protected the planet from Thread, but there are very few of them left these days. Now brave Lessa must risk her life, and the life of her beloved dragon, to save her beautiful world….

What, exactly, counts as a “classic” when a certain genre, as currently defined, has been around for barely more than a century and a half or so (depending on whom you ask)? When the bulk of works that fit this genre have been published since WWI, or even since the 1950’s? And what about “modern” classics — how old does a book have to be, really, to be considered truly classic?

People who are much smarter than I have attempted to answer these questions. I tried to keep things simple for the sake of my Classics Club picks. Essentially, for my purposes, the book has to be widely considered a must-read and can’t have been published in the past 20 years. I think most of the books I picked are much older than that, but I knew if I wanted to focus on SFF and YA, I’d have to try some relatively recent stuff.

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey is one of those relatively recent books. It was originally published in 1968. I was surprised to find that it was published in the same year as Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (previously reviewed for Classics Club as well). I think that’s because Wizard fits my idea of “old” style fantasy, but Dragonflight seems more like the “new” style to me — see my review of A.M. Dellamonica’s Child of a Hidden Sea for more discussion on this topic. Wizard is also much more commonly included on lists of “classic” fantasy novels — for good reason, I think, but that’s not the point.

I think I read this book for the first time when I was in middle school, a bit over a decade ago. I read most of the rest of McCaffrey’s Pern series over the next several years. I think the last one I read was All the Weyrs of Pern as an undergrad. I remember curling up with it on our shitty futon in our shitty apartment after a shitty organic chem class followed by a shitty swing shift, being transported to another world and taking comfort in the fantasy.

It’s always a little bit of a risk, returning to previously-beloved books after several years’ worth of life + reading experiences. A book that spoke to you at a certain point in your life may have lost some of its appeal with age (yours or its). Thankfully that was mostly not the case for me with Dragonflight.

I love, love, love all the thought that went into building the world of Pern. It’s not just a nice map and a complicated political system — although those things are certainly important. The entire world has its own backstory. How did dragons come to exist and how do they function? What is Thread and how does it work? Why is there a whole extra abandoned continent and what sort of undiscovered stuff is going on over there?

McCaffrey didn’t just plop down some random dragons and dream up an extra-dangerous version of acid rain; pretty much every aspect of Pern is well-planned and I am SUCH a sucker for a unique, detailed setting. I can usually forgive a few undercooked characters or predictable plots as long as the world in which those things are happening is a really interesting place that provides for lots of fruitful daydreaming. The more I read, the more I realize that a so-called high fantasy with a really fantastic setting is my genre kryptonite (to borrow a phrase from Book Riot).

That’s not to say that certain aspects of Dragonflight aren’t problematic. It’s very obvious by the way women are portrayed and treated — even the best, “strong” main women — that this book was written in the 1960’s (and it’s worse in the next book in the series, Dragonquest, which I’m reading again right now). As a middle schooler who hadn’t yet thought much about feminism or any other social issues, much less about how those things might apply to the books I was reading, this didn’t phase me. Now, though, certain character descriptions and scenes (the hero of the story actually shaking his leading lady several times like some kind of naughty child?!?!) were jarring enough to snap me completely out of the story. If I was reading these books for the first time as an adult I think I’d be much more irritated.


Publication information: McCaffrey, Anne. Dragonflight. New York: Ballentine Books, 2005. Print.
Source: Purchased for personal collection.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

All Four Stars
by Tara Dairman

July 9, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★ ★

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman | July 2014 | Putnam Juvenile (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin) | Hardcover $16.99

Gladys Gatsby has been cooking gourmet dishes since the age of seven, only her fast-food-loving parents have no idea! Now she’s eleven, and after a crème brûlée accident (just a small fire), Gladys is cut off from the kitchen (and her allowance). She’s devastated but soon finds just the right opportunity to pay her parents back when she’s mistakenly contacted to write a restaurant review for one of the largest newspapers in the world.

I devoured this book during my lunch hours over the past week or so. It was pure torture.

Here’s the thing: you MUST have something delicious to snack on and/or drink while you’re reading this book. And it has to be something good… munching on a low-cal cardboard granola bar or picking your way through a small paper bag of wilted lukewarm fries is not going to cut it. Trust me, I tried. I wanted to weep.

OK, so we’ve established that this book is cute and drool-inducing, but I think it has other merits. Gladys is a smart, rather geeky and endearingly precocious young girl, and I think kids (especially introverted kids with unusual hobbies) will find her relatable even if they aren’t really into cooking or exploring obscure little hole-in-the-wall eateries. She loves her parents and doesn’t want to disappoint them, but she just can’t give up doing what she loves… even after she accidentally sets the kitchen on fire in the first chapter.

Though Gladys commits most of her energy to being a foodie behind her parents’ backs, they are never really painted as outright villains, which I liked. Her struggle isn’t against evil adults who never want her to have any fun; it’s against rules her parents put in place for her protection because they care about her (ill-advised and silly as those rules may be). This is the sort of loving struggle that all kids have with their grown-ups at some point.

Gladys’s newfound friends, a doting aunt, and her “weird” but encouraging teacher, Ms. Quincy, make up a great supporting cast for our gastronome heroine. Actually, the development of her relationships with these other characters was really a strong point of this book. Even though Gladys is painted as something of a misunderstood loner at the start of the story, it’s other people — kids her own age and supportive adults — who end up enabling her adventures.

There’s plenty of middle grade-level comedy going on, too, which I think balances well with all the insanely amazing food descriptions. Plus, the reviews that Gladys writes in her little journal about everything she eats are adorably funny.

An e-ARC of this book was provided by the publisher via The Midnight Garden website for participants in the book’s blog tour (including LSoaL)! Head over the book’s official blog tour page to read some other reviews, go on a “foodie tour” of New York City with the author, and enter for a chance to win a copy!

If you haven’t already, you should definitely check out some of the other reviews and interviews and stuff happening over at The Midnight Garden, a blog for/about grown-ups who read YA and MG books. It’s a pretty cool place to hang out for a while.


Publication information: Dairman, Tara. All Four Stars. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014. EPUB file.
Source: ARC provided by Putnam.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

The Parasol Protectorate
by Gail Carriger

March 19, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Carriger_Blameless Carriger_Changeless Carriger_Heartless Carriger_Timeless

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Parasol Protectorate boxed set by Gail Carriger| October 2012 | Orbit | Paperback $39.99

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire–and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

Based on the reactions of most of my friends, both online and IRL (admittedly too small a sample size to be scientific), it seems to me that a reader either loves or hates this series.

I’ll be up-front about it: I come down on the love side. I didn’t really expect to. Based on my lukewarm feelings towards Gail Carriger’s YA series and the descriptions of Soulless et al. as “paranormal romance” and “urban fantasy” I didn’t expect to care much for these books. But I did care for them, so much so that I returned my library copy of Soulless early and bought the entire boxed set for me to own and devour all in one gulp.

(I’m also going to admit that I was completely biased against these books because of their covers. My bad, yo.)

The scene is set: Victorian London, where supernaturals and a single preternatural (our heroine) live more-or-less openly and more-or-less (in this case, less) peacefully alongside regular folk. Oh, and we mustn’t forget the slightly mad scientists and their extremely steampunk-y inventions. And the tea. There’s plenty of tea to go around. And really, you can’t help but brew a pot or two while reading. It’s better if you can find some nice little floral patterned porcelain cups and saucers to go with, but we can’t be too picky.

A small caveat: I’m a bit of a prude, and so found myself blushing at a few scenes. The “romance” parts of this series are more along the lines of what you find in Fabio-emblazoned bodice rippers rather than the fade-to-black sorts of scenes that I prefer. But the story as a whole was soaked in such a nice mix of winking/dry/exaggerated bits of humor that the love scenes came across as more naughtily playful than flat-out pornographic. And really, these scenes did lean more towards the fade-to-black method as the series developed (thank goodness things didn’t progress in the opposite direction).

Oh, all right, another caveat: all of the -isms. Racism, and its close cousin Colonialism. And Sexism, though of a slightly less jarring form than the previous. I suppose these things might be unavoidable in an historical fiction set in England of the late 1800’s, but still. I wonder if certain small things might not have been handled with more sensitivity? The passing mentions are buried in piles of more pleasing stuff, but, you know, microaggressions make me sad.

5 stars for sure, though I’m waffling about whether I want to give this a spot on my “favorites” shelf. Would that be a move that I would question later because right now I’m on a book high and can’t be trusted to make rational decisions? Or is this a series that I’ll return to again and again because it really is just that fun? Time will tell.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I simply must track down some more tea.


Publication information: Carriger, Gail. Soulless. New York: Orbit, 2009. Print. ; Carriger, Gail. Changeless. New York: Orbit, 2010. Print. ; Carriger, Gail. Blameless. New York: Orbit, 2010. Print. ; Carriger, Gail. Heartless. New York: Orbit, 2011. Print. ; Carriger, Gail. Timeless. New York: Orbit, 2012. Print.
Source: Purchased for personal collection from
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

by Brandon Sanderson

March 18, 2014 Book Reviews, Books 0

Sanderson_Mistborn Sanderson_WellofAscension Sanderson_HeroofAges


★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Mistborn boxed set by Brandon Sanderson| November 2009 | Tor | Hardcover $24.97

Once, a hero arose to save the world. A young man with a mysterious heritage courageously challenged the darkness that strangled the land.

He failed.

For a thousand years since, the world has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor known as the Lord Ruler. Every revolt has failed miserably.

Yet somehow, hope survives. Hope that dares to dream of ending the empire and even the Lord Ruler himself. A new kind of uprising is being planned, one built around the ultimate caper, one that depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the determination of an unlikely heroine, a street urchin who must learn to master Allomancy, the power of a Mistborn.

Why did it take me so long to get around to reading this series?!?!

Loved it. Practically every piece of it. Loved trying to guess at the mysteries — who is ___? and what is ___ playing at? and will ___ make another appearance? Loved the plot twists, even when I anticipated them — though the most important twists were true surprises, which is something I definitely appreciate. There were two things that really kicked this series into “favorite” shelf territory.

First, I loved loved loved the really organized magic system and its accompanying religious elements. Which, honestly usually I’m not a fan of too much religion in my fantasy, especially when it feels arbitrarily shoehorned in OR when religious mythology is clumsily alluded to but never directly referenced. But Sanderson managed to avoid those issues. And of course the author is well-known for his sensical magic systems for good reason. (Is “sensical” even a word? I might not actually care.)

I was also really impressed by the obviously well-planned overarching plot. You know how sometimes it’s just so obvious that the author maybe wasn’t planning much for the future of his/her series? Or how sometimes the 2nd book in a trilogy just feels like filler that could have been better managed? Or how sometimes you stumble across those gaping plot holes and chronological inconsistencies and you wonder how no one noticed this before the final product hit the shelves? Yeah, none of that here.

Funny thing is, I picked up Alloy of Law first. It’s sort of a stand-alone book, not really part of the original trilogy even though it is set in the same universe. And I do think it could be read on its own — no need to be intimately familiar with the Mistborn ‘verse. But I’m glad I waited to read the first 3 first. It didn’t take me long, anyway; I practically inhaled this series.

I know a book is going on the “favorites” shelf when my immediate reactions upon finishing it are (1) to insist that my spouse read it NOW so we can talk about it and (2) to spend far too much time browsing Tumblr, looking for fellow fans and (3) to immediately go shopping for more stuff from the author.


Publication information: Sanderson, Brandon. Mistborn. New York: Tors, 2006. Print. ; Sanderson, Brandon. The Well of Ascension. New York: Tor, 2007. Print. ; Sanderson, Brandon. The Hero of Ages. New York: Tor, 2008. Print. ; Sanderson, Brandon. The Alloy of Law. New York: Tor, 2011. Print.
Source: Purchased for personal collection
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

by Rachel Hartman

December 1, 2013 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman | Random House Books for Young Readers | July 2012 | Hardcover $17.99

Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty’s anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.

Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen’s Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.

One of my new favs! I checked it out from the library, but I think I’ll be buying a copy of my own as soon as I can.

Seraphina is the first book in a new young adult fantasy series by Rachel Hartman. The story is set forty years after the end of the war between humans and dragons in a kingdom where both species must attempt to share both space and knowledge. The peace is tenuous, though, and the particularly gruesome murder of a member of the royal family seems to indicate rising dragon aggression. Tensions between the species are mounting despite the best efforts of the leaders on both sides. Titular character Seraphina suddenly finds herself in the middle of it all when she is thrust into the spotlight as the court’s most talented young musician and confidant of the heirs to the throne, despite her attempts to avoid attention in order to guard the terrible secret of her true heritage.

This is a book that can easily be enjoyed by both teen and adult fans of fantasy fiction. It might also be a great story for parents to share with their younger kids, though the reading level is definitely most appropriate for middle to high schoolers. It has all of the expected elements of a classic fantasy tale: looming war, royal drama, a bit of magic, and, of course, dragons. However, the story itself is anything but expected. The reader will be delighted by little surprises throughout and will finish each chapter wondering what will happen next and trying to guess who did what.

The plot wraps up nicely at the end, though the reader is left wanting more – not in the way that one is left unsatisfied after eating a bag of chips, but in the way one hopes to return to a restaurant after enjoying an exquisitely perfect meal. Hartman’s fans will be happy to know that her next novel, tentatively titled Shadowscale, is expected in early 2014. Readers can also enjoy her short story, The Audition (a prequel to Seraphina), in ebook form for free at Scribd, an online library/publishing platform.

Winner of both the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and the Cybil for Fantasy & Science Fiction, Hartman’s first novel is highly recommended by professional critics and recreational readers alike. Seraphina is also included in this year’s Teens’ Top Ten list, which is put together by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) each year. The list is released on Celebrate Teen Literature Day in April and teens have all summer to read as many of the 28 nominated titles as they can. Teens can then vote for their favorites when nominations open in August. Winners will be announced during Teen Read Week in October. The list can be found online on YALSA’s website.


A version of this review originally appeared in the Galveston Daily News in May 2013. My opinions do not reflect the views of my employer.

Publication information: Hartman, Rachel. Seraphina. New York: Random House, 2012. Print.
Source: Public library
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

The Rithmatist
by Brandon Sanderson

August 31, 2013 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson | Macmillan – Tor Teen | May 2013 | Hardcover $17.99

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing — kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever.

Brandon Sanderson is well known amongst sci-fi/fantasy fans as a prolific source of imaginative epics packed with never-a-dull-moment storylines on top of complex settings and backstories. Sanderson, who is only in his late 30’s, is already the author of 82 distinct works. He is perhaps best known for his Mistborn series and for completing the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, who passed away before he could complete his 14-book behemoth.

Most recently, Sanderson was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Novella for The Emperor’s Soul. He is currently working on 3 different projects and has several more on the backburner; fans will be happy to hear that his next novel, Steelheart, is due out in September. Though his works generally appeal to SF/F genre enthusiasts of all ages, The Rithmatist is his first work to be specifically targeted to middle-to-high-school readers.

The Rithmatist follows the story of a young man who goes to school with people who possess a magical power – but he himself does not possess that same ability. The idea for this story came to Sanderson as he contemplated the possibility of non-magical students attending a magic-focused school, such as the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. Sanderson, of course, puts his own spin on the rules of magic. The book is illustrated by Ben McSweeney with examples of typical chalk drawings. Sanderson has clearly put quite a bit of thought into the mechanics of this world’s distinct magical system. The power to animate simple lines of chalk is extended to only a select few students during a one-time initiation ceremony. These young rithmatists are trained to draw chalk circles and lines that can attack enemies, defend positions, and act as small helpful creatures called chalklings.

Joel, our “muggle” in this case, missed out on his initiation ceremony and wishes for nothing more than to be allowed the chance to train as a rithmatist. He jumps at the rare chance to study with a rithmancy professional alongside a particularly apathetic rithmancy student named Melody; they are soon pulled into an investigation of mysterious kidnappings committed by improbable chalk creatures. What he and his new companion discover could change the way rithmancy is used forever.

Though distinctly Sandersonian, The Rithmatist is not an intimidating brick of a book. Younger readers who are just beginning to test the waters of the fantasy genre should definitely get their toes wet with this story. Fans of the aforementioned Harry Potter may recognize and enjoy some familiar elements, but this is in no way a “copycat” series (and yes, Sanderson has indicated his intentions to continue Joel’s story – the 2nd installment is expected sometime in 2015). This book is recommended for teen readers who enjoy detailed magical systems and fantastic plotlines tempered with doses of realistic coming-of-age character development.


This is a partial draft version of a full review that was submitted for publication to the Galveston Daily News in August of 2013. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer.

Publication information: Sanderson, Brandon. The Rithmatist. New York: Tor, 2013. Print.
Source: Blue Willow Bookshop
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
by Deb Perelman

December 7, 2012 Book Reviews, Books 0


★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman | Knopf | January 2012 | Hardcover $35.00

Deb Perelman loves to cook. It’s as simple as that. She isn’t a chef or a restaurant owner—she’s never even waitressed. Cooking in her tiny Manhattan kitchen was, at least at first, for special occasions — and, too often, an unnecessarily daunting venture. Deb found herself overwhelmed by the number of recipes available to her. So, she founded her award-winning blog,, on the premise that cooking should be a pleasure, and that the results of your labor can — and should be — delicious… every time.

Deb is a firm believer that there are no bad cooks, just bad recipes. And now, with the same warmth, candor, and can-do spirit her blog is known for, Deb presents her first cookbook — more than 100 new recipes, plus a few favorites from her site, all gorgeously illustrated with hundreds of Deb’s beautiful color photographs.

I recently acquired a copy of Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. The author has been writing about food/cooking over at “The Smitten Kitchen” blog for years now, and her expertise is evident in this long-awaited book.

First, and most obviously, the book is beautiful. Ms. Perelman did all of the photos herself in her tiny little kitchen. And every single recipe has at least one photo — the more involved/complicated ones have more. Plus, I love that the cover looks great with or without the dust jacket. Oh, yeah, and it opens flat on your kitchen counter. Details like this make me so happy.

I do want to make it clear that this is not a cookbook for beginners. The instructions are all clear and the author has included plenty of little asides and tips, but if you can barely boil an egg this book is not for you! And it isn’t for folks who only like simple, meat-n-taters type meals, either. Ms. Perelman was once a vegetarian, and that comes across in her creative use of produce (and relative dearth of heavy meats) in these dishes.

But if you think cooking is a fun hobby, if you like trying new ingredients and combinations, if you want to try something different but not unrealistically complicated, if you appreciate recipes that have been tested and perfected by a foodie who knows what she’s doing — this is the cookbook for you.

I’ve already tried a couple of recipes from the book: a fancy sort of grilled cheese (which involved caramelized onions, and which made me seriously ecstatic) and a cucumber dill ‘slaw. Planning on trying the latkes this weekend (it is Hanukkah, after all).

This is one of the few cookbooks I have that I know will get lots of repeated use. And that’s probably the best recommendation a cookbook can get.


Publication information: Perelman, Deb. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. New York: Knopf, 2012. Print.
Source: Blue Willow Bookshop
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.