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The Shadow: The Last Illusion by Cullen Bunn

Title: The Shadow: The Last Illusion
Author: Cullen Bunn
Series: The Shadow, Vol. 2
Publish Date: June 7th 2016 by Dynamite Entertainment
Genre: Graphic novel
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: The Shadow infiltrates the sanctum of The Society of United Magicians, an esoteric enclave of illusionists who are hellbent on escaping the ultimate trap: death itself!

Learning the secret of the so-called -Last Illusion- from the spirit of escape artist Harry Houdini himself, The Shadow becomes the next target of their murderous scheme. To thwart their plans, he must evade twisted traps and solve spellbinding puzzles, while simultaneously evading the deadly skills of Sandman, the magician assassin. A good (or evil) magician never reveals his secrets… but the Shadow knows!

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Percy Procrastinator says…

A great idea that didn’t work on me.

If I hadn’t read the previous two Shadow books, especially Shadow Year One before reading this one, I would have been more impressed. The problem I had was due to my liking the Shadow and buying into the previous background given. The idea is that the Shadow is being trained by Harry Houdini, which should make me happy as I do like Houdini. But, I think it took too much away from the Shadow’s training I had read before.

The rest of the adventure is well done. The usual suspects are there, backing up the Shadow as well as his own disguises to get information. And the conclusion of the adventure works.

I couldn’t get past that background, though, which didn’t feel like the Shadow’s background. I think if I had read this first, I might have liked it more. As it is, I give it a three. It probably deserves more, but that’s all I can give it.

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In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

New York Times and worldwide bestselling “dazzling storyteller” (Associated Press) Isabel Allende returns with a sweeping novel about three very different people who are brought together in a mesmerizing story that journeys from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil.

Title: In the Midst of Winter
Author: Isabel Allende
Publish Date: October 31st 2017 by Atria Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Library

Publisher’s Description: In the Midst of Winter begins with a minor traffic accident—which becomes the catalyst for an unexpected and moving love story between two people who thought they were deep into the winter of their lives. Richard Bowmaster—a 60-year-old human rights scholar—hits the car of Evelyn Ortega—a young, undocumented immigrant from Guatemala—in the middle of a snowstorm in Brooklyn. What at first seems just a small inconvenience takes an unforeseen and far more serious turn when Evelyn turns up at the professor’s house seeking help. At a loss, the professor asks his tenant Lucia Maraz—a 62-year-old lecturer from Chile—for her advice. These three very different people are brought together in a mesmerizing story that moves from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil, sparking the beginning of a long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia.

Exploring the timely issues of human rights and the plight of immigrants and refugees, the book recalls Allende’s landmark novel The House of the Spirits in the way it embraces the cause of “humanity, and it does so with passion, humor, and wisdom that transcend politics” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post). In the Midst of Winter will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

I usually try to read anything that Isabel Allende writes because I’ve enjoyed all of her books.  I don’t think this particular book is her strongest.  I enjoyed the characters and the different backgrounds they reveal as the book progresses.  The choices they make to deal with what has happened in their current situation seemed a bit unrealistic.

I also didn’t become as attached to the characters as I have in Allende’s previous works.  I thought the backstories were more interesting than the present day circumstances, and the slow reveal as the characters got to know each other was well done.  I particularly liked the part in which Lucia recognizes that, through the sharing of their stories, what “a strange healing power words had… how important it was to share one’s pain and discover that others, too, had their fair share of it, that lives are often alike and feelings similar.”

I would give this book 3 stars.

Other recommendations…

If you liked this book, you might enjoy anything else by Isabel Allende, including her young adult fiction trilogy, Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario, or The Madonnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean.

War of the Staffs by Steve Stephenson and K.M. Tedrick

High fantasy mixed with vampires and adventure? What’s not to love?

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

War of staffsTitle: War of the Staffs
Author: Steve Stephenson, K.M. Tedrick
Series: War of the Staffs #1
Publish Date: July 6th 2016, Black Rose Writing
Genre: High Fantasy
Source: Provided by Publisher

Publisher’s DescriptionThe goddess Adois brings a powerful vampire warlock named Taza through the void to turn Muiria into a planet of evil using her powerful staff. Needing an army, he turns a race of dark elves into vampires, but Prince Tarquin is born to fulfill a prophecy to stop Taza.

The prince cannot do it alone. The Wizard Celedant sends him to the Borderers, an elite group of dwarves to learn how to fight, while the wizard begins his search for the Staff of Adaman, the only thing capable of thwarting Taza and Adois’ Staff.

War of the Staffs is the search for two pieces of the ancient Staff of Adaman to counter Adois’ plans. The darkness is rising and using the black power of the Staff of Adois and his army of dark elves, giants, and orcs, Taza will begin a reign of terror the planet will not soon forget.


Luna Lovebooks says…Luna_Lovebooks_100

While most of the book was centered on classic fantasy elements such as wizards, elves, heroes, prophecies, and good versus evil, there are a few elements that make it original. I don’t think of vampires as a fantasy element but they play a central role in this novel. So does the alternate planes of existence and other planets. These elements put a unique spin on this novel.

I really enjoyed the young Prince Tarquin’s storyline. I like that he must prove himself in the Dwarven army and gains their respect. Along with Tarquin is the Wizard Celedant who must thwart attack after attack from the Warlock Taza and get Tarquin where he needs to be. Although the vicious attacks can get a little repetitive.

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There were parts in this novel that were easy to read and I could make it through. However, there were parts that were slow and I struggled to get through. I had to set it aside a couple of times and come back to it. For this reason, I give this novel 3 dark elves. I am not sure if I am up for reading the second installment, but if it sounds like something up your alley then go for it!

Other recommendations…

Check out these other great fantasy reads!  The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Reign of the Fallen by Sarah Glenn Marsh, Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Rending and the Nest by Kaethe Schwehn

A chilling yet redemptive post-apocalyptic debut that examines community, motherhood, faith, and the importance of telling one’s own story.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

Title: The Rending and the Nest
Author: Kaethe Schwehn
Publish Date: February 20, 2018, by Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic
Source: Provided by the publisher

Publisher’s DescriptionWhen ninety-five percent of the world’s population disappears for no apparent reason, Mira does what she can to create some semblance of a life: she cobbles together a haphazard community named Zion, scavenges the Piles for supplies they might need, and avoids loving anyone she can’t afford to lose. Four years after the Rending, Mira has everything under control. Almost.

Then Mira’s best friend, Lana, announces her pregnancy, the first in this strange world and a new source of hope for Mira. But Lana gives birth to an inanimate object—and soon other women of Zion do, too—and the thin veil of normalcy Mira has thrown over her new world begins to fray. As the community wrestles with the presence of these Babies, a confident outsider named Michael appears, proselytizing about the world outside Zion. He lures Lana away, and when she doesn’t return, Mira has to decide how much she’s willing to let go in order to save her friend, her community, and her own fraught pregnancy.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

Hmmm, I’m not sure what to say about the book. It feels like all the pieces were there for me to think this was amazing. It took place in a post-apocalyptic civilization, the main character was gritty and brave, there were interesting supporting characters, a really creepy bad guy, and something new—the birthing of inanimate objects.

Unfortunately, I just couldn’t quite get into the story. The story had some graphic descriptions that seemed jarring in comparison to the rest of the book. The main character, Mira, mused about religion and the god her Christian father used to preach about. There were some very deep conclusions that Mira comes to, for instance: “The problem with love is that it craves an outlet. Love is a verb, as my father said, and so love makes us act: notes scribbled, roses purchased, hair brushed, ointment administered. Simple acts and tremendous ones.” Normally, this would really affect me, and I would connect with the characters and draw something from the story that would stay with me. This just wasn’t the case, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Perhaps, it was the speed in which the narrative moved. I expected something really terrible to happen, and it never did. Everything seemed to be not quite as bad, not quite as creepy, not quite so much loss as I would have expected. The stage was set for incredible emotional growth out of the depths of horrible circumstances, but it just seemed so average.

I would give this book an average rating, 3 stars.

Other recommendations…

If you liked this book, I recommend Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (one of my favorites) or California by Edan Lepucki.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

A Plague of Giants by Kevin Hearne

The author of the beloved Iron Druid Chronicles delivers a high fantasy series rich in magic, history, and culture.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

A plague of giantsTitle: A Plague of Giants
Author: Kevin Hearne
Series: Seven Kennings 01
Publish Date: October 17, 2017, Del Rey
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Provided by publisher

Publisher’s DescriptionFrom the author of The Iron Druid Chronicles, a thrilling novel that kicks off a fantasy series with an entirely new mythology–complete with shape-shifting bards, fire-wielding giants, and children who can speak to astonishing beasts.

MOTHER AND WARRIOR
Tallynd is a soldier who has already survived her toughest battle: losing her husband. But now she finds herself on the front lines of an invasion of giants, intent on wiping out the entire kingdom, including Tallynd’s two sons–all that she has left. The stakes have never been higher. If Tallynd fails, her boys may never become men.

SCHOLAR AND SPY
Dervan is an historian who longs for a simple, quiet life. But he’s drawn into intrigue when he’s hired to record the tales of a mysterious bard who may be a spy or even an assassin for a rival kingdom. As the bard shares his fantastical stories, Dervan makes a shocking discovery: He may have a connection to the tales, one that will bring his own secrets to light.

REBEL AND HERO
Abhi’s family have always been hunters, but Abhi wants to choose a different life for himself. Embarking on a journey of self-discovery, Abhi soon learns that his destiny is far greater than he imagined: a powerful new magic thrust upon him may hold the key to defeating the giants once and for all–if it doesn’t destroy him first. Set in a magical world of terror and wonder, this novel is a deeply felt epic of courage and war, in which the fates of these characters intertwine–and where ordinary people become heroes, and their lives become legend.


Percy Procrastinator says…

I was very nervous about reading this series. The reason is quite simple—authors that I like for one series rarely catch me with their other series. Butcher’s Codex Alera and Cinder Spires didn’t thrill me as much as the Dresden Files, and Armstrong’s Cainsville series didn’t quite live up to the Women of the Otherworld series for me. While there are a few exceptions to this, this seems to be the general rule in my experience.

Kevin Hearne defied my expectations. This was an excellent start to what I hope is a gripping series, as gripping as his Iron Druid Chronicles.

Hearne manages to weave a tale of six peoples in six kingdoms that pulled me into their story. Each one has its own kenning, or magic, they practice. The titular giants make up the only nonhuman group, but the diversity of the humans astounds. Not so much in speech, as the story is recounted by a bard to a group of refugees, but in culture and appearance, each kingdom comes alive. When the bard mentions the Canopy, I knew he spoke about Forn. The best stone workers hail from Rael, while water kennings are from Brynlon. Only Ghurana Nent, or Nentians, stand alone with no kenning.

The title quickly comes into play as the giants of Hathrir, with their fire kenning, come to invade Ghurana Nent while at the same time, the other side of the continent sees Brynlon and Rael invaded by Bone Giants. Both deal with giants but in very different ways.

We learn about all of this from the bard Fintan as he entertains refugees of Byrnlon with what happened during all the “plagues.” Fintan gathered journals from people close to the events and shares with everyone. He then weaves a tale, switching back and forth from character to character. This allows us to learn about each people and their kenning and also how each invasion progresses.

I was hooked after fifty pages. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. Would one giant invasion succeed while another failed? Would Abbi take up the spear to honor his family? Will Tallynd keep pushing herself beyond her limits? I wanted to know!

I did get this book as a physical book, and I appreciated that a lot due to the map in the front cover and the cast of characters in the first pages until I got to know them all. While I could have read it on an ebook, I think having those things available did help.

If I have any complaint about this book, it’s where it ended. Not everything was wrapped up, and I expected that, so that was fine. I do think that a few smaller things could have been explained in only four or five more pages, and that would have been more satisfying. That is not going to stop me from giving this a five-star rating! If you are a fan of Hearne, run out and get this now!

[Editor’s note – please don’t run as we would hate for you to fall and get injured.]

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Luna Lovebooks says…

I must admit when I saw the cover, even after reading the synopsis, my mind went straight to Vikings. I am not sure why. But what I got instead was one wild ride and a great start to a series with myths all its own.

The story is told from multiple points of view. All these views contribute to the overall story of how the giants came to the different lands. To be honest there are almost too many points of view. While each is distinct, I still found myself wondering who was who and what magic they could possess.

It took me a while to get intrigued and drawn in. I am not sure if this is because there were so much world building going on or the fact that I struggled to keep everyone straight, even with a little guide at the beginning as to who was who. Each character has his/her own nation, customs, language, and magic or kenning.

badge3v4I think I will have to rate A Plague of Giants at 3.5. The beginning didn’t flow well since there were so many characters but once I got used to the way the story was progressing it smoothed out. I haven’t decided if I want to continue the series yet but I hope my fellow readers will give it a try for themselves.

Other recommendations…

Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne, Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series, Raymond Feist’s Riftwar Saga, Feist and Wurts’s Empire TrilogyThe Glass Spare series by Lauren DeStefano, Swords & Fire series by Melissa Caruso

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

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