Category Archives: Book Review

Odd Child Out

For a while, I’ve known Gilly Macmillan was an author I wanted to check out. In searching for thriller recommendations for a customer, her name popped up, and I’ve been biding my time ever since. When the advanced copy of her upcoming book, Odd Child Out, was up for grabs, I didn’t waste a minute snagging it.

Odd Child Out is the story of two teenage boys, Noah Sadler and Abdi Mahad, best friends, at least until Noah is found unconscious in the canal and Abdi, the only one who knows what happened, isn’t speaking. His silence and Noah’s condition makes for the perfect sensational story for an unethical cop turned crime reporter, who paints the situation as an inverted racial crime perpetrated by Abdi, a Somali refugee, and Noah, born and bred Brit.

Detective Jim Clemo, just back from mandatory leave prompted by another case involving minors and tragedy, is dedicated to finding the truth, even though it tries his new-found patience, and requires limited interaction with his ex, the unethical reporter.

While the tragedy at the canal is the catalyst for the story, within the lives of Abdi and his family, so much more is going on. And as everyone chases the truth about what happened at the canal, Abdi is caught up in his own pursuit, chasing the truth about his own life.

Macmillan’s book was an enjoyable read. Not quite as suspenseful as I would have liked, as I guessed at most of the ending, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable to read. And for many, the twists will still come as surprises, there wasn’t much information, just a lucky guess on my part, I guess.

Macmillan writes in present tense, from everyone’s perspective, which makes for a little bit of a different style of read, but I think it worked for her, allowing the reader to feel different emotions in “real time,” as it were.

The book also touches on, and handles very well, several different sensitive subjects, including suicide, immigration, stereotyping, and backgrounds. As Macmillan writes about these different things, it’s clear she’s done her research to know how her characters would react, given their history and background, and she finds the right ways to articulate the emotions–sorrow, anger, and fear.

Conclusion: Gilly Macmillan is still on my list of authors to read more of– especially since this seemed like a second novel about Detective Inspector Clemo. I can also recommend her in full confidence, having read something of hers myself. If you enjoy suspense thrillers and investigation books, look for Odd Child Out, coming in October.

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Manhattan Beach

I’ve always found something inherently intriguing about the Great Depression and World War II era. So Jennifer Egan’s book immediately caught my attention.

Manhattan Beach begins by showing Anna Kerrigan’s childhood in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. She accompanies her father on a trip to visit a business associate.

Years later the memory is stuck in her mind. Her father has disappeared and the world is in the midst of war. Anna, working in the Brooklyn Naval Yard and dreaming of being a diver, provides for her mother and her severely disabled sister. But when she starts to step out from her normal routine, Anna finds herself once more introduced to Dexter Styles, her father’s business associate from so many years ago. Anna thinks Dexter must know what happened to her father, and Anna finds herself drawn toward a different kind of lifestyle that promises excitement and ruin.

While the book was engaging and well written, I definitely expected a little more intrigue from this story. It was certainly more about Anna learning to make her own choices and deal with the consequences, as well as a story of achieving a dream through hard work and dedication. But with her father mysteriously disappearing, I thought perhaps this would be more of a plot anchor, a piece that drives the story forward. Instead, more than anything, Anna stumbles onto pieces of information related to her father’s history. Finding the truth isn’t something that really drives Anna, but it felt like it could have.

I wanted more of the “noir thriller” promised in the synopsis. While I enjoyed reading it, the book was still a disappointment, in terms of what I thought I was getting. For historical fiction, it was excellent. For intrigue, it was lacking. Even still, when this book comes out in October, it’s worth the read if you’re into historical fiction.

The Martian

The Martian has been on my reading list for quite a while, especially after having seen the movie. All I can say is, the book was even better.

The Martian is the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who ends up stranded alone on Mars when the rest of the crew is forced to do an emergency mission abort. Believing him dead, the crew is forced to leave him behind.

Naturally, Watney turns out to be not dead, and thus ensues his story of survival. Watney has to fight against the elements of Mars, as well as make modifications to everything he has in order to make it last until help arrives. Back on Earth, when NASA quickly discovers Watney survived, everyone is pulling together to try to bring him home.

Before I knew a whole lot about the book, aside the premise, I was a little uncertain how interesting it could be. It’s the story of one guy all by himself. But author Andy Weir uses a log entry format to tell Watney’s story in first person, without making it boring or seem like he’s talking to himself.

I also loved that, despite being stranded, Watney is still pretty snarky. I relate to that on a very deep level.

While the movie was slow in parts, the book flies by. Weir does an excellent job of knowing when to give details, and when to allow “I drove 90 kilometers today” to cut it.

The Martian is an excellent book for when you want something sci-fi, but you want it to feel realistic. For some people, Mars is still the space goal, and this book could turn out to be historical fiction ahead of its time.

Either way, it’s still just a good read. The only thing missing was my favorite quote from the movie, which, despite not being canon, was utterly in keeping with Mark Watney’s character. He would totally have said, “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

A Conjuring of Light

The final piece of V.E. Schwab’s series, A Conjuring of Light was almost everything I wanted it to be.

In this final book, White London is awakening, but not as innocently as it seems. Kell, taken captive in the end of the second book, is quickly rescued by Lila, but they are catapulted into chaos as Osaron, the sentient, rogue magic from Black London, attempts to take over Red London.

Kell and Lila find themselves paired with unlikely allies as they set off to find the once thing that they hope can contain Osaron and save all the Londons.

This book has a lot more deaths, and meaningful, painful ones at that. But, it also has the long-awaited romance too. I’m not sure if I love or hate books and authors who leave two characters locked in romantic tension until the end. I think it must be both, because there’s something fun about crying in exasperation, “just kiss already!”

This action-packed finale wrapped up all the loose ends, except one. Kell decides he doesn’t want to know his past, even though he has a spell to find out– and is told that the memory-repressing mark on his arm is held in place largely by his unconscious desire not to know. It’s great and all, but some of us are curious and want to know, even if he doesn’t.

The series, as a whole, was excellent. The characters had depth and grew throughout the story. They felt like real people, and wrestled with real emotions, even in the midst of everything else. The writing moved the story along, and I didn’t feel like it got bogged down by fluff or filler. Even when Schwab was using the second book to develop characters and set the stage for the finale, it moved at a good pace and the development was interesting to see.

It’s a fantasy series readers will want to return to again and again. I know I will.

A Gathering of Shadows

When V.E. Schwab wrapped up A Darker Shade of Magic, she left plenty of questions without answers, which means plenty of content for additional books. A Gathering of Shadows is book two in the series, and while I enjoyed it, pretty much every question remains unanswered.

This second book focuses a lot more on Lila and her new life in Red London. Spoiler, she doesn’t stay with Kell, instead, she heads out on her own and takes up with a ship captain. During this time, Lila begins to learn how to tap into and control her magic.

Kell, on the other hand, is extremely restless from tiptoeing around in order to keep Rhy safe. Additionally, the king and queen distrust him, and Kell recognizes that his home has become a prison.

Kell and Lila finally come face to face again during the Essen Tasch, a competition that pits the best mages against each other to find out who is truly the best. Meanwhile, in White London, someone has taken the throne and begins slowly weaving a web to catch Kell.

A Gathering of Shadows is definitely a character building, plot building book. When you finish all 500 pages, you realize very little has changed since you began the book, in terms of where the storyline is. But several small, powerful things have happened that set the scene for book three. Kell, tired of being trapped and distrusted, is willing to follow a stranger to White London. Lila, during the games, has proved that she has more power than anyone thought, and though she doesn’t quite understand it, and she is learning to control and balance it, we know she will be capable of coming to Kell’s rescue in the third book.

I’m a little torn, when it comes to this book. I enjoyed it, and I appreciate how Schwab shows her characters’ growth, instead of a little aside, “oh yeah, Lila learned to use magic.” But part of me feels that, as a middle book that was mostly setting the scene for the final showdown, maybe it was a little long and drawn out. Not that it wasn’t well written and enjoyable to read, but with a book of this length, I just expected a little more action relevant to the overall story, or at least a few more answers, or even hints, for all the questions still floating around.

What I can say is, I expect the final book to be packed full of action and revelations. And I’m excited to get to read it.

A Darker Shade of Magic

Lately I’ve been sticking more to plain fiction and nonfiction, because that seems to be what I have the most of right now. So dipping back into fantasy was a nice break from reality.

V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic is the first installment of a story about three Londons, each in its own world. Two have magic and one has forgotten magic all together. The only way between these Londons and their worlds are doors, opened and used by two special magicians called Antari. Kell is one of these Antari, in the service of the royal family in Red London, the most thriving and magical of them all.

But Kell finds trouble and a very sinister magic when a poor woman thrusts a talisman upon him–one from Black London, the fourth London that was destroyed long ago by corrupting magic and power lust. Now Kell has to return the talisman before it can wreak havoc on the rest of the worlds. And naturally, the power-hungry rulers of White London would love nothing more than to get hold of it.

The story starts out a little fragmented, narratives of a few characters’ lives as Schwab weaves them all together into one cohesive narrative. It’s clear from the reading that she put a lot of thought into her worlds, and into the rules of her magic, which can be one of the most frustrating things for a reader (magic that just does what it wants with no clear rules). Her characters also developed well and had clear, distinct personalities.

Overall, it was a fun book to read. No grand plot twists, but the story itself was engaging enough that it didn’t suffer the lack.  As the first installment in a series, it draws readers in. And while it ties up the loose ends relevant to the plot, it leaves enough mystery that I’m ready to dive in to the second book to find answers to the underlying questions.

Love and Other Consolation Prizes

The main reason I picked up Jamie Ford’s new book was because it’s set in Seattle, Washington, and in the 100 degree weather, I needed a little bit of home.

In the year 1909, at the World’s Fair in Seattle, a young, half-Chinese boy is offered as a raffle prize, and for Ernest Young, it’s a chance for a new life away from the stuffiness of boarding school.

Ernest quickly loses much of his naivete once he arrives at the Tenderloin, a high-class brothel where he is the new houseboy. He befriends Fahn, a bold scullery maid, and Maisie, Madame Flora’s daughter, and finds his heart pulled in opposite directions. But as everything they’ve come to know and love threatens to fall apart, each one makes painful choices in the name of love–love of self and love for others. Told in a mix of present day and recollection, Ernest’s story is uncovered by his daughter, a journalist working on a then and now story on Seattle’s World Fair, which returned again in 1962. In sharing his own story, however, Ernest is trying to protect his wife, Gracie, who’s history is linked to his.

The first thing about this book is that, for being largely set in a Brother and Seattle’s red light district, it’s surprisingly PG, probably because the characters, as we meet them, are quite young, barely even teens.

The story keeps you guessing, which of the girls will Ernest choose? Or will it turn out to be someone completely different? And what will the girls do, when faced with awful choices? It’s not necessarily a story that glorifies that kind of lifestyle, but paints it in such a way that shows why some would easily choose it over their other options. And it’s a story of leaving behind innocence, despite hanging on for as long as possible.

The title is, perhaps, a little more irreverent than the story itself, but it’s a good story and a quick read. With underlying tones of politics, suffrage, vice and virtue, Love and Other Consolation Prizes is almost reminiscent of The Notebook in it’s gentle romance and dedicated love.

It’s certainly one to keep an eye out for when it comes out September 12.