Saturday, September 30, 2017

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors by Curtis Craddock

Title: An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors
Author: Curtis Craddock 
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Risen Kingdom # 1 

Hardcover, 416 Pages
Publication: August 29, 2017 by Tor Books

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.


A polymath princess and her faithful musketeer must unravel the plot of a thousand-year-old madman in order to save an a foreign kingdom from a disastrous civil war.

Caelum is an uninhabitable gas giant like Jupiter. High above it are the Risen Kingdoms, occupying flying continents called cratons. Remnants of a shattered world, these vast disks of soaring stone may be a thousand miles across. Suspended by magic, they float in the upper layers of Caelum's clouds.

Born with a deformed hand and utter lack of the family's blood magic, Isabelle is despised by her cruel father. She is happy to be neglected so she can secretly pursue her illicit passion for math and science. Then, a surprising offer of an arranged royal marriage blows her life wide open and launches her and Jeane-Claude on an adventure that will take them from the Isle des Zephyrs in l'Empire CĂ©leste to the very different Kingdom of Aragoth, where magic deals not with blood, but with mirrors.

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is a book I didn’t know I was looking for and unquestionably a breakout hit (at least for me) and an underrated gem of 2017! Never have I read a book that perfectly blended multiple genres together and done so well. I thought the world building was fascinating as it was complex, the characters were well developed and fleshed out from the main protagonists to the tertiary characters, and every word written was eloquently prosed; captivating me from the first page till the very end.

The world that Craddock created is extremely unique, multifaceted and rich. Imagine a world of sky landmasses and flying airships thanks to the outset of science and alchemy. Craddock’s world is massive, comprising of different empires and families of blood-borne sorcery that dated back thousands of years. And in this first installment of The Risen Kingdom, readers barely touch upon the surface as Craddock introduced us to our main protagonist Princess Isabelle, who came from the Sanguinaire line, an ancient line that dealt in blood magic/shadows. Isabelle was the bane of her father existence. Born with a congenital anomaly of her right-hand, no blood magic ability and a woman nonetheless; Isabelle has always been looked down upon by her father,the court and The Kingdom of Zephyrs. But what Isabelle lacked (in the eyes of others) she made up for with a lot of heart, intelligence and bravery. I absolutely adored Isabelle from the moment I saw her as the precocious child that she was. Forward a decade and some years; readers see Isabelle blossomed into a woman that she never thought she’d be; risking everything for a kingdom and it’s people that despised her as much as they feared her..hoping to bring about peace, an idea many thought silly, dubious and unattainable. I found Isabelle admirable and I loved that Craddock showed us how capable and intelligent Isabelle was versus telling the reader she is so. From her Nom de Plume as Lord DuJournal a well-known and versed Mathematician with many publications to her outwitting would-be assassins, Kantelvar a member of the Seven Great Guide, and an evil Countess.

Another great standout character was Isabelle’s trusty and loyal musketeer, Jean-Claude who is more like her confidant and father. When Isabelle was born, they tried to snuff her out but thanks to Jean-Claude’s intervention her life was spared. And it was under the direct order of the King Le Roi that Jean-Claude keep Isabelle safe from harm and danger for as long as he deemed necessary. So what initially started as an obligation transformed into a father-daughter relationship over the course of Isabelle’s life. I loved Jean-Claude as much as Isabelle. Jean-Claude played a drunken-fool so that everyone around him underestimated him; little did they know he was sharp and clever as they come and was always two steps ahead of his enemies. I thought their bond and relationship was heartwarming. There wasn’t anything Jean-Claude wouldn’t do for Isabelle, he would’ve traveled through hell and take on Lucifer himself if he had to. Jean-Claude was pragmatic and serious when the time called for it but he definitely kept me laughing and smiling with his silver-tongue throughout the entire book. I thought Jean-Claude and Isabelle made the perfect duo and loved that Craddock showcased their ever evolving relatonship, and kept that as the main tone when so many underlying threads were going on simultaneously.

An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors is hands down the best Fantasy novel I’ve read in a long time and certainly the best book I’ve read so far this year. I loved, loved Craddock writing style. I thought everything flowed perfectly, every word he chose just fit and made sense. I also loved how he incorporated French and Spanish influences into his story; thought that was different. The plot at a glance looked fairly basic, a princess marrying a rival prince to escape her evil father…however, it was so much more complicated than anything I could of imagine. There were twist upon twist and I loved that I kept getting surprised…even when the clues were all right there! An Alchemy of Masques and Mirrors has everything you’d want in a story. I LOVED this book (think I over killed it with using the word loved) and I can’t wait till the sequel comes out! Craddock is a writer to watch and has just landed on my auto-buy author list. Do yourself a favor and go to the store and get this book A.S.A.P., you won’t regret it! I see great things coming from Craddock and this new series opener. I'd rate it more than 5 stars if I could!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

Title: Ban This Book
Author: Alan Gratz
Genre: Fiction, Middle Grade
Series: N/A

Hardcover, 256 Pages
Publication: September 5, 2017 by Starscape

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.


An inspiring tale of a fourth-grader who fights back when her favorite book is banned from the school library--by starting her own illegal locker library!

It all started the day Amy Anne Ollinger tried to check out her favorite book in the whole world, 
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, from the school library. That's when Mrs. Jones, the librarian, told her the bad news: her favorite book was banned! All because a classmate's mom thought the book wasn't appropriate for kids to read.

Amy Anne decides to fight back by starting a secret banned books library out of her locker. Soon, she finds herself on the front line of an unexpected battle over book banning, censorship, and who has the right to decide what she and her fellow students can read.

Ban This Book was a wonderful surprise. Then again, when a book is about books, you can’t go wrong with it. And in this case, fourth grader Amy Anne discovered her favorite book of all time got banned from the library which prompts her and her friends to take matters into their own hands by launching the B.B.L.L. (Banned Books Locker Library); to make sure that their first amendment isn’t being restricted and that books are readily available to all those that want to read it.

I don’t read many middle grade books due to the target audience and when I do, they’re normally sci-fi or fantasy. However, like I said when a book is about a book, you just don’t pass it up. And I’m so glad I read it because the characters were realistic and the book had important messages. Which is, no one should tell you what you can and cannot read and to stand up for what you believe in. Both I wholly agree with. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a fan of Amy Anne at the start of the book. She was very timid and never spoke her mind. The first third of the book was riddled with what she wanted to say but never did. And at first it was kind of funny, but after a few pages it just got tiring. Thankfully Amy Anne learned to voice her opinion, and even challenged the school board. And in voicing her opinion and for standing up for what she believed in, she and her fellow classmates were able to overturn the rule on the banned books! The ending was definitely my favorite scene in the entire book, when she pulled out that old library cataloging card!

I really enjoyed Ban This Book. It had me smiling throughout and I even shed a little tear at the end. While this book is targeted for readers age 13 and younger, I think it will appeal to adults and teens as well. I am very much way out of the target group but found myself liking it more than I thought I was going to. Ban This Book should be a reading requirement in class and should be in every single library. You’ll like this one, I guarantee it!

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell

Title: The Last Magician 
Author: Lisa Maxwell
Genre: Young Adult
Series: The Last Magician #1

Hardcover, 512 Pages
Publication: July 18, 2017 by Simon Pulse

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for a honest review.


In modern-day New York, magic is all but extinct. The remaining few who have an affinity for magic—the Mageus—live in the shadows, hiding who they are. Any Mageus who enters Manhattan becomes trapped by the Brink, a dark energy barrier that confines them to the island. Crossing it means losing their power—and often their lives.

Esta is a talented thief, and she’s been raised to steal magical artifacts from the sinister Order that created the Brink. With her innate ability to manipulate time, Esta can pilfer from the past, collecting these artifacts before the Order even realizes she’s there. And all of Esta’s training has been for one final job: traveling back to 1902 to steal an ancient book containing the secrets of the Order—and the Brink—before the Magician can destroy it and doom the Mageus to a hopeless future.

But Old New York is a dangerous world ruled by ruthless gangs and secret societies, a world where the very air crackles with magic. Nothing is as it seems, including the Magician himself. And for Esta to save her future, she may have to betray everyone in the past.

The Last Magician has been on my radar since the cover reveal months ago. After seeing it and reading the synopsis I knew it was going to be one of 2017’s most wanted/anticipated novels. And it certainly was, staying on the NYT Bestseller List for weeks! The Last Magician had a lot going for it involving magic, politics, societal issues, time-traveling, heist/con, well-thought out world building, great characters and so much more. Unlike most YA novels on the market, The Last Magician was pretty hefty in terms of page number and had a complex world-building. I thought Maxwell did an amazing job capturing New York during the 1900’s. The vivid imagery/details clearly showed the amount of time and research that went into the story. I truly felt as if I was there and that the characters were realistic, made whole/fleshed as if they were alive. I love the whole Gangs of New York feel with Magic (Yes, I know the movie is set in the 1800’s)!

At a glance, you’d expect or assume The Last Magician to be some sort of boarding school novel with magical users dealing with adolescent issues. Nope. The Last Magician was more dark, gritty and it had a whole lot of street smarts involved. I loved Maxwell’s take on magicians and the magic system. Maegus, are those born with magical powers and are feared by the common man who put up a magical/aetheral barrier “The Brink” to severely damage/kill those who posses any hint of magic because they believed it to be evil and feral. I liked that the majority of our characters are also approximately eighteen-years-old to late twenties, and back then the times made one grow-up even quicker than they wanted to. Our heroine, Etsa is seventeen but from a young age she was taught to be a weapon, using her training and ability to make her a undetectable and uncatchable thief. I adore Etsa, she’s independent, a quick thinker, resourceful and smart. Dolph’s crew was an eclectic bunch, all Maegus of varying abilities with the common goal of taking down the order, bringing magic back to it’s former glory and to protect those that cannot protect themselves. Each member was distinctly unique and had an interesting back story that I wouldn’t mind exploring more of like; Jianyu and Viola, both related to rival gangs, but find themselves in the employment/gang of Dolph Saunder, an enigmatic character (it’d be awesome to see his rise to power, I see a story or novella in the future!)

While The Last Magician is part time-traveling, the majority of the story is set in the past in the year 1901. Which I didn’t mind, I am quite fond of this century. All in all, The Last Magician lived up to the hype and was way better than what I expected. I love everything about this book. I am so glad this is part of a duology because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the characters.Despite the book clocking out at over 500 page, it was a quick read that had me from the very first page! The beginning was a bit confusing jumping back and forth from the past and present, but it was a good surprise when all the thread came together. And that ending! I was so engrossed into what was happening that I didn’t even see it coming, talk about a shocker! Loved it! If you haven’t read this new series starter, go out and get it now. I highly recommend it!