Book Review – A Darker Shade of Magic (Shade of Magic Series)

I didn’t feel right to review just one book, when I was reading the series. I finished A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC last year, but had editing commitments that prevented me from diving in and finishing the series until now. Now that I have finished, I will still be focusing on the first, with the reach of the other two in the series.

I met V. E. (Victoria) Schwab last year at Salt Lake Comic Con 2017, back when it was called that. I get more excite about authors I admire than big-time celebrities. I actually dressed up as her character Delilah Bard – tweeted at her with a picture – she hearted it, it was fun.

She remembered my costume. She was waiting to meet me and found out I was an author too. We talked for a bit, and of course I gave her my card. She’s with TOR! It was REALLY a fun moment.

Cool. Calm. Collected.
Super goofy grin.

I got the chance to see her again on her tour a few weeks ago. Out of all the cities, she decided to stop at quaint, little Salt Lake. And she again, totally remembered me, even after a year of meeting countless other Bards. I wasn’t even wearing the mask. I was so impressed by the sincerity and funny candidness. It felt truly special to have a level like that with someone I admire so much.

REVIEW

It’s very hard for me to put this reading experience into words. One of the things I look for in books I read is “Mind-blowing creativity,” something I admire in style and envy as a writer. I state this a lot because I hunger for it, and when something surpises me or takes me off my guard, I can’t help but smile. Ms. Schwab has done that very thing in A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC.  I stepped into reading this book without any prior knowledge of the books. I followed Ms. Schwab on twitter and I liked her online persona. I looked into her books and I FREAKING LOVED the covers and how graphically intriguing, and yet, how simplistic they were. And when I started reading it, I knew within moments, that this book did things right.

A first page is critical in setting up EVERYTHING. I learned that at my very first writers event I went to, where praised authors Shannon Hale and Dan Wells gave feedback on my first page before I even became a published author. THat experience changed a lot of the way I view first pages and writing style, I personal imprinted it on my writer soul. So, when I looked at this first page, I picked up very quickly that this was something new.

It starts with a very simple line, “Kell wore a very peculiar coat.” That’s the first line, a line that told me so much about the story without telling me anything. It turns out this coat as different identities, depending on where it was and what Kell needed it to be. This coat had its own character and story before I even knew anything about the plot. I was very intrigued. I immediately was thrown into a rich world, not of fantasy, but one with dimensions – ALL London.

RED LONDON – Rich and vivid, smelling of roses and deep with magic.

WHITE LONDON – Cold and colorless, where the magic has nearly vanished from the world.

GREY LONDON – OUR London, or the one from King George VI, industrial grey-sooted London.

BLACK LONDON – We do not speak of it, it’s that bad.

The idea of dimensions added with magic, blow me away. Antari can travel through different Londons as long as they carry something from the world, and as willing to use their own magical blood to create a portal. And what happens when a clever Londoner thief, Delilah Bard, picks Kell’s pocket from his magnificent coat? The beginning of a great adventure.

The series as a whole was unpredictable and clever. It continually surprised me. It’s not like anything I’ve read before, and that was so refreshing. Each character is well-developed and has their own purpose and drive. Ms. Schwab writes gender-fluid characters, both hard and soft, light and dark in their own way, and stays true to their flaws. I found myself not rooting for just one character, but more rooting for the magic to win. In A CONJURING OF LIGHT, Kell says Delilah Bard is “…one of a kind,” which is so true. She is fearless, determined, daring, and lethal. Kell’s character is sacrificial and honorable, everything Bard wasn’t. It was a great juxtaposition. The whole cast did a great job, though I gravitated to Kell and Holland.

It was a brilliant idea, told in a brilliant way. And again, it was a story done right.

Schwab set out to tell a complicated story, from several POVs, and delivered a magnificent work of fiction. It’s hard to rate the two books after, because I look at it as a whole piece. Just like any continuing story, the first magical sparks of imagination can’t be duplicated. Fans are the ones coming back to read the stories of these characters. I feel it ended perfectly well, though it was hard to guess who would die (because I thought everyone would). I had a hard time wrapping up the series. I’m excited to go back there with her continuing fiction in this world. I leave the series feeling better than when I started, a better reader and a better writer. I’m so tremendously grateful I found this series and this author, because it changes my view of what fiction can be, and that has a magic all its own.

Well done, Ms. Schwab. Anoshe.

Book Review – A Piece of Sky

A Piece of Sky by Ann Hunter

This delightful, scrumptious re-imagining of Chicken Little is one of the best pieces of magical fiction I’ve ever read. I don’t say that lightly.

I met my dear friend Ann Hunter at a meeting of like-minded authors a few years ago. She has seen me at my best… and my worst, and she still thinks I’m cool, which I will always love her for.

Her book, A PIECE OF SKY, caught my eye when we were in a booth together at Salt Lake Comic Con…. I mean, it’s gorgeous, but I didn’t buy it. I remember her being super excited that JoBe Cerny (THEE Pillsbury Doughboy) recorded the audio version of the book. I thought that was so very cool to hear, and my heck, I have some really cool author friends. But…… I had a lot of projects happening and didn’t listen to it.

We ran into each other at other various events and still I didn’t buy her book. Why? I was busy with finishing up my series and a myriad of other excuses. And I tend to shy away from reading things my friends write, a principle I am repeatedly breaking lately, because curiosity has bitten me (and they are all so brilliant).

Then Ann did something I didn’t expect, she contacted me this past fall asking to buy my trilogy. How awesome! Of course I wasn’t about to tell her no. I met her on the side of the freeway, like some illegal drug deal, and gave her my books. She later chastised me – I completely forgot to sign them.

This last month, at Salt Lake FanX, I got the privilege to team with her again in our fantasy author booth. And there sat that little book, staring at me with a cute, chicken eye. But I still didn’t buy it. WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME?! I planned to, but yet again, it was another busy con and everything was packed by the time I returned to the booth. Ann also told me that Vivatera, MY VIVATERA, was the next in line for her book club read on for her newsletter. I was so touched.

I tell you all these facts to illustrate my bad character and highlight Ann’s thoughtful gesture, one that I couldn’t shake. I have a very strong community of author support, and I have always been there encouraging their creativity and success, but I wasn’t prepared when someone wanted to help me.

So….. in-between books and adding a boring commute, I decided to look what I could get on my Audible. A strange remembrance sparked in my brain and I looked up A PIECE OF SKY. and WHAT? It was only $5. I immediately downloaded it.

And with my long explanation, here is my review…

I loved it. Loved is not a strong enough word for it. It wrapped its arms around me, seeped into my soul and enveloped every fiber with its magic. And I found myself in awe, still struck with the fact that this is Chicken Little… CHICKEN LITTLE! And I was so in love with it that I didn’t want to stop listening. It was joy, pure joy to experience it in audio form. But, the book is just as illuminating, with the different playful fonts illustrating the story for you.

Ros is your Little Red Hen, who gets struck with a golden acorn, fallen from the God Oak – the Tree of Life. And she knew, from the moment it struck her, that this was something special – not an acorn, but a piece of sky! .

Ann brings in such a strong, magical core to the story I found myself scratching my head at how she came up with such wonder in a story about a chicken. The imagery is absolutely beautiful and enchanting, the characters are so lovely, and it still follows the formula you would expect in Chicken Little, taking the acorn to the dog, a mare, a fox, a kelpy, and then to a griffin, cause…. MAGIC!

I laughed out loud several times, and may have shed a tear at the end. And the points of the book, the parts that keep rolling around in my brain, are these:

  • How great acts can come from the smallest things.
  • How having faith in yourself and belief that what you are doing is important, can make you stronger than you ever imagined.
  • …And last, that there is a piece of sky in all of us – the potential to grow and be what we dream of being.

Bravo Ann! Truly beautiful work. 

You can DOWNLOAD A Piece of Sky for FREE on Instafreebie right here:

A PIECE OF SKY BY ANN HUNTER

Book Review – Storm Front (Harry Dresden #1)

Last year at Salt Lake Comic Con 2015, I had the privilege of attending a panel with some talented authors like Terry Brooks, Jim Butcher, R.A. Salvatore and James Owens. And I was so excited to hear, with my own ears, what one of my writing influences, me being a small time author, had to say… that’s right… Terry Brooks!!!

Cool authors being cool. Jim Butcher is second in – Terry Brooks is at the end. Another cool author Aly Grauer at the end of the question line

 

But seeing Terry is cool, but what about these other authors? I knew of them, and I really liked what they had to say during the panel. I walked back on the con floor and saw the signing line wrap all the way down the aisle for this Jim Butcher guy. Of course, I’d HEARD of Harry Dresden, but figured it’s a guy read. Right? Probably a “Richard Castle” type of read that really doesn’t interest a fantasy girl like me.

A year past – A FULL YEAR – a very busy, hard year of writing, editing, and growing as an author. Finally, the moment I turned in the FINAL edit of my FINAL book in my fantasy series, I thought it was time to start reading again. But, oh, what a dry spell. I feel like I haven’t read in ages. The pile of books had grown so high I felt overwhelmed with where to start.

This is when friends and recommendations come in. An author friend of mine, Ben Ireland, listed Harry Dresden as one of his biggest influences. I knew this already, so when I asked him if he had recommendations for something to read, he nearly screamed, “READ HARRY DRESDEN!”

Okay, universe, I guess I should have listened last year, when my curiositystorm front piqued. So, I went into this blind, not really knowing anything about the stories, only with recommendations and word of mouth.

My answer to the universe, “I wish I would have read this sooner.”

“My name is Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden. Conjure by it at your own risk. I’m a wizard. I work out of an office in midtown Chicago. As far as I know, I’m the only openly practicing professional wizard in the country. You can find me in the yellow pages, under “Wizards.” Believe it or not, I’m the only one there. My ad looks like this:

HARRY DRESDEN — WIZARD
Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations.
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment

You’d be surprised how many people call just to ask me if I’m serious.”
Jim Butcher (Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1))

I must fall for wizards, because Harry Dresden is as bad-ass wizard as you can get. I’ve grown up with Potter, but I’m an adult now and I’m so glad I found Dresden.

Fiction for me needs to have elements of the fantastical. Take Harry Dresden – unabashed wizard, barely scraping by on solving unexplained cases for the Chicago Police. Me, a fan of Castle and Limitless, caught on rather quickly to the story’s energy and format. Intrigued by the supernatural quality and charmed by Dresden himself, I slowly found I was falling in love with this book. It’s witty, smart, visual, laugh out-loud funny, and an all-around great read.

But the thing I picked up the most, and this is the writer in me, is the wordplay in which Butcher used to explain the world and its characters. His eyes were the green of well-worn dollar bills. This line struck me, a clever wordplay and simple description that completely encapsulating everything I needed to know about this baddie. The language was fresh and easy, and the magic wrapped around me, sweeping me away in this fun nod to a detective noir.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“Tequila?” I asked him, skeptically. “Are you sure on that one? I thought the base for a love potion was supposed to be champagne.”
“Champagne, tequila, what’s the difference, so long as it’ll lower her inhibitions?” Bob said.
“Uh. I’m thinking it’s going to get us a, um, sleazier result.”

Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean there isn’t an invisible demon about to eat your face.

Santa is a much bigger and more powerful faery than Toot, and I don’t know his true name anyway. You’d never see me trying to nab Saint Nick in a magic circle even if I did. I don’t think anyone has stones that big.

This book is fun. Plain and simple. It was the little things that delighted me. The sweats and the cowboy boots, the situational comedy with the love potion and the demon and Harry not wearing a stitch, the beloved Toot Toot the fairy, and my favorite – naughty, inappropriate Bob the skull. This book did not pretend to be anything other than a good time. And, though I tend to lean toward YA, it was refreshing to read something Adult, something with legs and arms and confidence, something without angst, and to say this, something with a little spice.

Now I understand the line that wrapped around the aisle at Comic Con. I wished I would have paid more attention to Butcher’s advice.

Book Review – Kingdom City: Resurrection

KC

Kingdom City: Resurrection

by Ben Ireland

Back in February, I had the privilege of eating waffles and frites with Ben Ireland at the LTUE Writers Symposium. As a friend, I wanted to know more about his writing style and complicated mind. We share space in the Fantasy Anthology MOMENTS IN MILLENNIA, but his gentle story FAIRYKIN did not prepare me for the action-packed adrenaline high I would receive with KINGDOM CITY: RESURRECTION.

This book is a lot of fun! It read like anime, like I was reading Miyazaki or binge-watching Full Metal Alchemist – so visual in description I could see it when I closed my eyes. It’s Urban, Dystopian, Super-Hero Action, Horror, Zombie lit – all packed into one series. But at its core, it is tender – about love and trust amid a world in chaos.

A terrorist attack buries most of the police force, including the Chief of Police, killing them all – six months later they all return with no memory of what happened. Now the mystery of what happens begins to be reveals in intense layered action.

Awesome. And the sequence of events after kept me awake at night, effecting my dreams, until I got up and finished the book.

Characters rule RESURRECTION. Plenty of rich, complex characters, sub-cultured within their surrounding mountain city, where no one leaves or questions, just co-exist.

I love that the main character is a bad-ass chick, Autumn Stevens, Kingdom City’s Whisper, which makes her the toughest ninja assassin on the planet – total Linda Hamilton type from Terminator 2. I’m all in for tough women leads. Her hollowness at the beginning grasps me with both hands. I was immediately drawn to her. She only bugged me when she was too motherly. Me, “Stop worrying about their veggies and go kill some bad guys.” But, how can she help it? She’s there to protect her family in every way – EVERY WAY.

Really enjoyed the pace. It’s sliced into scenes, revealing like a graphic novel, so the reader gets more of the plot than the players. I love reads like this. When the story wound back to the planning in the gymnasium, I thought of screaming at the characters, blowing the whole plot… “Listen, guys, stop talking about it. The city is in riots. There are hostages. Stop being so smart and go ninja kick them in the face!”

The tone and emotion is vital to the story. Through out there is a crafted balance of emotion is every scene, playing delicately with the environment, so to not overwhelm the reader, which is not easy for a writer to do.

RESURRECTION is really fun. If you like high-intensity thrillers, this won’t disappoint you.

And I want to thank Ben for introducing me to his intense style of writing, helping me understand a little more of how he thinks. And a gentle reminder that he still owes me that Hot Cocoa.

Book Review – Fangirl

FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell hit dangerously close to my fanatica. I understood Cath’s character TOO well, as many fangirls would. This was a lot of fun to read, an escape from my normal adrenaline fueled YA fantasy. I was surprised at at the real story – a heart-aching family drama, the first taste of college, a delicate romance, and the different threads that makes us who we are.

It was a fun read, a little young for me, but still fun. Cather is a writer of fan fiction, playing in a world of Simon Snow magical mage extraordinaire. I could feel the author Rainbow Rowell’s fan love drip in nearly every mention of the orphan boy with magical gifts. This part was extremely enjoyable for me, a borderline spastic HP geekgirl. The voicing of both the book from “Gemma T. Lesley” and “Magicath” we different enough I could tell when I was reading the real books and Cather’s fan fiction creation. I think that is tremendously tricky and commend the author for it. The excerpts from the books were fun and my inner nerd wanted these books to be real, a fun tidbit that helped the book move.

I gave it four stars, not because the writing a characters weren’t awesome, just because it typically was not my kind of read and I don’t have much to compare it to.

(For my conservative friends, there is language, but harmless in every other respect.)