Tag Archives: Book Review

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.

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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.

Looking for Alaska

I took the plunge into the world of John Green, and though I knew what to expect from him (tragedy), I’ll admit, I wasn’t quite expecting that.

In Looking for Alaska, a Florida high schooler decides to transfer to a boarding school in Alabama in search of “a great perhaps.” Once there, he makes fast friends with his roommate, the Colonel, and Alaska, a tempestuous, impulsive girl who thrives on mystery and drama.

Naturally, Pudge, as he quickly becomes christened, falls in love with Alaska, who, rather surprisingly, stays very loyal to her boyfriend, despite the long-distance nature of the relationship. But Pudge and his friends have a splendid first half of the school year, getting up to all kinds of shenanigans and pranks. Then one night, Alaska convinces them to stage a distraction so she can leave campus, and nothing is ever the same.

John Green writes in such a way that you really do expect things to end happily. Despite knowing his track record, I still felt myself lulled into believing things were going to work out. Ha. I didn’t know there would be so many unresolved questions, though, in light of everything, answers would have been too convenient.

All in all, Looking for Alaska is, I believe, probably a pretty accurate snapshot into the lives of teens. The drama, the pranks, the rebellion, and the tragedy. Even as I rolled my eyes at certain things (I outgrew high school in about 9th grade), I recognized them as traits of my generation.

It additionally poses some rather deep philosophical questions, ones I think every one is searching answers to, even if we don’t recognize it. How do we escape the labyrinth? How do we find our great perhapses?

Despite being a teen book, I did enjoy Looking for Alaska.

I know, I know, I say that every time.

The Woman in Cabin 10

Since Ruth Ware just had a new book out, I decided it was the perfect time to check out some of her other stuff, since I recommend it often even though I haven't read it. She writes thrillers along the lines of Paula Hawkins and Gillian Flynn, so I knew it would probably be good.
Lo Blacklock is a British journalist who is invited to be on the maiden voyage of a new luxury cruise ship. Lo thinks it will be the perfect way to recover from a recent burglary incident in her flat, but instead she finds herself caught up in what she believes is a sinister plot against a woman no one but her has seen.
Her journalist instinct pushes her to keep digging, despite the danger and her fears and when she finally reaches the bottom, Lo isn't sure how things are going to end for her.
The Woman in Cabin 10 was every bit as exciting as I thought it was going to be. It was a fast, engaging read with lots of logical red herrings along the way. I found myself coming up with various elaborate theories for what was going on. Turned out to be much simpler than I had thought, which of course is the best way for these kinds of stories to work out. But the ending didn't come out of no where. Ruth Ware keeps you guessing, but when she finally reveals it all, it makes perfect sense.
If you're looking for your next exciting thriller, be sure to check Ruth Ware out, she won't disappoint.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

While Neil DeGrasse Tyson may have written this book for people in a hurry, it’s not meant to be read in a hurry. In fact, I read it twice in a row, because I thought I read it too fast the first time to get a good grasp.

That said, this book doesn’t disappoint as a quick introduction into the field of astrophysics. You won’t be able to go out and get a job as an astrophysicist after reading it, but you will know some of the history and the science behind it.

Tyson writes in a fun and easy to understand way, making science seem much less intimidating that it’s otherwise presented. And, authors always earn brownie points from me when they throw in appropriate but snarky comments, so the book is extra good because of those.

Tyson presents basically a consice history of the field of astrophysics, using the framework to explain how science has reached its conclusions for various things, such as the Big Bang, dark matter and dark energy. He also explains how these things interact with gravity to influence stars, planets, galaxies, and possibly even our universe itself. In this book you’ll also find plenty of particles, elements, various kinds of light waves and some references to aliens (but nothing outlandish, this isn’t science fiction).

I’ll admit, a few times as I was reading, I came across passages that I felt could have used some better transitions And information that, though interesting, didn’t quite seem to belong where it was, but sometimes that is personal preference.

On the whole, Tyson’s book, I believe, does what he wanted it to, per his introduction: give you a basic understanding of the field, and leave you hungry for more.

So whether you’re in school, out of school, busy or bored, if you’ve ever looked up at the sky and wondered, this book is for you.

The Book Thief

I’ll just come right out and say it, The Book Thief is a classic of our era. I don’t know how often I get kids coming in for it as part of their required reading for school.

Having now read it, I understand why. Not only is it an excellent story for exploring Workd War II history, but the writing style gives plenty of content for literary study.

The Book Thief, written by Markus Zusak, is the story of a young girl, Liesel Memminger, and her new life with her foster parents on Himmel Street. Though Germans, Liesel and her family don’t fit the standard mold. With her loyal friend by her side, Liesel finds herself addicted to a thievery, especially of books. Her story is narrated by Death, a mixture of observations from Death and knowledge gathered from Liesel’s own autobiography, which Death managed to obtain.

Liesel’s story revolves around books– the ones she’s given and the ones she takes. Each book is related to a scene or time of her life: her family harboring a Jew in the basement, war-time hardships making themselves known in Liesel’s house, Liesel growing up and forming her own opinions about the Fuhrer’s ideals.

Mixed in with the defining moments are the everyday habits of Liesel’s life, her adventures with Rudy, school, and growing up in general. Together, these form a powerful and heartbreaking narrative.

Zusak uses a unique style to tell Liesel’s story. Death, as could reasonably be expected, idea not always use the English language as humans are accustomed to. This allows for some interesting descriptions that provide a new way at looking at things, from the sunset to a feeling. But for this story, it works, creating a unique and memorable style that would be hard to match.

All in all, the book is worth the read, even if it makes you cry.

The Return

When I saw that Buzz Aldrin had written (or co-written, at least John Barnes authored the book also) a sci-fi book, I couldn’t pass it up.

The Return was written and set in the 2000s. It follows the lives of four people who are inextricably linked. Kids together, Scott, Nick, Thalia and Eddie called themselves the Mars Four and dreamed of going there after growing up in the ’60s. In their adult lives, each one has been individually working toward commercial space travel.

When a routine mission goes fatally wrong, it’s just the beginning of a chain of events that make it seem like someone wants to keep the everyday folks out of space. A bomb set off in the upper atmosphere, putting the crew of the International Space Station in deadly danger, and now only the Mars Four and their individual expertise can save the crew.

The Return is all adventure and action, with a dash of nostalgia. And as it’s written by someone who’s been there, it actually does not read like sci-fi, but more like a fiction book. This isn’t Star Trek or Star Wars, this book reads like something that could happen today, with no magic high-tech gadgets required.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and not just because I love just about anything associated with space. It was fun, the characters felt real and relatable. It had action and intrigue. It was about everything you’d want in a book. Plus, when they did talk about science, it was explained clearly, no fancy jargon and complicated terms, just plain English.

The Return is, however, one of those books that just might turn you into a believer again. Surely the technology is out there, both for commercial space travel and, eventually, for Mars. Some people already firmly believe in that future and are working toward it. After reading this book, you might find a bit of that passion has rubbed off on you too. And even if you’re not signing up for a Mars mission, you might find that you hope we have enough people around who will.