Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Darker shade of magicOh my gosh. I love this book. This was the first book I had read in a long time–months, years–that I enjoyed on a level comparable to that of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. This is big, people!

Anyway, on to serious review stuff. A Darker Shade of Magic is Victoria Schwab’s second book (her first being Vicious). It follows Kell, one of the last Antari, a race with the ability to walk between parallel worlds, and Lila Bard, a no bullshit cutpurse with aspirations of being a pirate. (Does it not already sound cool?) Officially, Kell, and his totally amazing coat, is a messenger between the royal families of Red, Grey and White London. Not so officially, he is a smuggler, mostly providing magical knickknacks to Grey Londoners who are fascinated by the magic of Red London.

After Kell is robbed, then saved, by Lila, and Lila discovers what Kell can do, the two get wrapped up in an adventure neither of them was expecting to have. And it just gets more awesome from there! (I’m realizing now that what I just wrote is vaguely similar to the description on the back of the book…oh well.)

Victoria Schwab’s characters are vibrant and diverse and just wonderful. She’s created a fantabulous new world and a unique system of magic. There’s fighting and deception and torture and clever humor and more magic, and the tiniest bit of chemistry. It’s got everything!

Okay, I’m fangirling here. It was hell of a fun read for me and I fangirled even more when I found out there is going to be a second one!

So yeah. I highly recommend you check it out.

~Ren

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Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab

ViciousThis is the second Victoria Schwab book I’ve read. I fell in love with A Darker Shade of Magic, so I was eager to pick up her first adult book, Vicious. 

To put it simply, Vicious is a super villain novel with its own unique twist. Super heros, or super villains, known in Vicious as EOs (ExtraOrdinaries) aren’t born or get their powers from radioactive goo. Instead, they are the result of NDEs (near-death experiences).

Our two main villains, Victor and Eli, were old school friends; young, brilliant, arrogant, and a little too impulsive when they decide to test their EO theory. To avoid spoilers, some shit happens, Eli betrays Victor, Victor goes to jail, Eli begins this self-righteous mission to rid the world of all the “unnatural” EOs. But then, Victor escapes from prison after 10 years and is hell-bent on finding Eli and putting an end to him.

Victoria Schwab does a great job with characterization. She really gets into the heads of her characters and allows the reader to be privy to their thoughts and feelings and fears in a way that makes you feel connected. Even with Victor and Eli, both of who are completely messed up in one way or another and have done plenty of terrible things in their life, you can’t help but feel some sympathy and relate-ability to each of them. It’s sort of a ‘character you love to hate’ kind of thing. Schwab gives her secondary characters their time in the spotlight as well, which I always appreciate.

The plot is always moving forward at a good pace, not too slow, not too fast, and even when you jump back in time to when Eli and Victor were in school together the momentum keeps going, you aren’t jarred out of what was just happening. All the time jumps and location jumps and shifts in character view are all very seamless.

Vicious touches on the more philosophical aspects of mortality, morality and the nature of super heros/villains than most books. I think this gave it more depth and didn’t just let the book fall into the already vast pool of books more solely focused on good vs. evil. It shows that, even though Victor (who I think is really the main character) has had a traumatic life and is clearly infected with a good deal of revenge and anger and indifference to other people, he is still capable of compassion and has some idea of the distinction between right and wrong.

There is an amount of talk about second chances in the book, and while second chances can be very important, I think something even more important, which also plays its part in the book, is giving people a first chance.

~Ren

Review: Kerfuffle by Karla Oceanak and Kendra Spanjer

kerfuffleI feel compelled to say that I am the teensiest bit biased when it comes to this series as I work with its creators. But! I am also committed to keeping my review honest. So there you have it.

Kerfuffle is the 11th installment in the Aldo Zelnick Comic Novel series. Now that Aldo is a 5th grader, he gets to participate in the Dana Elementary Medieval Faire along with his friends, Jack and Bee. The three of them decided to adopt their own knights code in preparation for the coming festivities. Aldo finds his knightly qualities put to the test by his brother’s knavish new friend.

As an adult reading a book way below their reading level, I can honestly say reading these books is never boring. They are smart and clever and the added vocabulary element sometimes makes me feel like a dolt ( I mean come on, who ever uses the word kvetching or kammererite?). I find the Aldo books are kind of like those movies that are supposed to be for kids but there are plenty of those adult jokes that kids won’t really get for the right reason but adults love.

We see Aldo grow up through these books and Kerfuffle finds Aldo in a situation where he is definitely forced to grow up a bit. These books do a great job of touching on tough issues without shoving a moral down your throat or being too preachy one way or the other. They are a nice balance of fun and learning.

~Ren

Review: Naked by David Sedaris

NakedI’ve steadily been making my way through all of David Sedaris’ novels. Naked is my fourth, if memory serves. I usually pick them up when I’m in between genres. They are quick, funny, and provoke just the right amount of rumination in the reader.

Naked focuses primarily on Sedaris’ younger life up until his college years (even though most of those years weren’t really spent in college). Reflecting on the book as a whole, I found myself enjoying the earlier stories more than I did the later ones. Through my reading of David Sedaris, I’ve noticed that each of his stories tends to have a moral of sorts, some lesson or truth that is being explored or exposed. And Naked was no exception.

The stories, of course, are ridiculous and slightly hyperbolic. They put a microscope up to a different time in our society, when things were talked about and handled differently. But the observations Sedaris makes on the human condition and the way we interact with one another still apply quite well to our society as it exists today.

I think that may be my favorite thing about David Sedaris and his writing. He is blunt an unapologetic about his past. He unashamedly shares his experiences and at the same time he is entertaining the reader he is also brining attention to those things people usually pretend aren’t an issue. His honesty provides comfort to those who may feel isolated by their bizarre ways of thinking. He’s as crass as he is thoughtful, and the two work side by side to create a perplexingly enjoyable read.

~Ren

Review: The Accidental Highwayman by Ben Tripp

Accidneatl highwayBen Tripp’s The Accidental Highwayman took a little while to bring me in. I think part of it was the writing. The book is set in England in the early 1900s (I think) so the language and way people speak is understandable but different enough to what I’m used to that some of the more subtle quips and jokes are rather lost on me. But after I got maybe 50 pages in I started to take it in better and things livened up for me.

The Accidental Highwayman is essential a story of the reluctant hero. Kit Bristol, a young man who has found a nice job as servant to a wealthy man who can’t hold onto his money, finds himself swept up in his master’s secret doings as a highwayman. As a result, he ends up meeting Princess Morgana and suddenly becomes immersed in the magical world.

There was a lot of hype around this book when it first came out and I won’t say that it totally fell flat but it wasn’t anything super spectacular either. There’s chases and battles and camaraderie and little awkward flirtations. It’s a fun story. Vaguely Princess Bride-ish.

I think I’m actually more excited for the sequel. In the first book there was a lot of exposition type stuff being developed and the driving plot behind the story was a little nebulous. Exciting and action-filled but nebulous. And the stakes weren’t really that high so I didn’t feel super invested. At the end of this first book, Kit finally embraces the new life style that has been forced upon him and he seems ready to kick some ass.

My expectations are a little higher for the next book so we’ll see what happened!

~Ren