“The Best Kind of Magic” by Crystal Cestari

There is so much that I loved about this book!! ‘Windy City Magic #1’ felt like a cozy mystery for teens and it was my JAM!!! Or you could look at it as Urban Fantasy/Romance for teens just the same. A couple of my little pet peeves showed up and made my eyeballs twitch a bit, but overall, I can’t wait for the second book! Or third or fourth! Let me first give a brief synopsis, and then I’ll cover my opinions:

25436641The Best Kind of Magic gives us a tour of all kinds of magic in the Windy City of Chicago. We see goblins, fairies, leprechauns, werewolves, vampires, sirens, and of course, witches. Amber Sand is a not a witch. Her mother is, but Amber is a matchmaker, meaning that she can look into people’s eyes and see their true love. One day, the mayor’s son (who is also the most talked-about boy in school) comes in to visit Amber at her mother’s shop, Windy City Magic, and requesting her help in finding his father’s missing girlfriend. Thus begins an adventure with romance, humor, bad guys, a twist and a turn and a to be continued in book 2!! (not a cliffhanger! This book wraps up nicely…..mostly.)

The first thing I liked about this book was the genre feel. I am a sucker for a cozy mystery, I enjoy paranormal romances, and then put those things in a YA format….have I died and gone to heaven?! Almost too good to be true. I loved it. I wish there was more of this writing out there. So with this genre comes the characters. There was a good mix of humans and paranormals. I liked how Amber and her mother, and even their coven, had a certain struggle with Amber’s matchmaking talents. It was a very different and clever spin on the traditional “coming of age story” that you usually get in YA books and I really liked that. Amani (Amber’s best friend) has her own struggles with her magical gifts of being a precog. Their friendship in the book is wonderful, by the way. I just saw a meme the other day that went something like this:

Friend: Oh, I’m so sorry, what can I do?
Best friend: 1/2 price shakes at Sonic. Get your butt in the car, I’m driving!
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That’s the kind of friends Amber and Amani are. Partially because of their mystic powers and partially because they are comfortable and secure in their own selves (which other high school students find “weird” and “different” of course), the two friends are outcasts and have a very close friendship. Back on track. Charlie is a human and he does a great job taking in everything in the PRN world. You almost wonder every once in a while if he and his father have trace amounts of supernatural in their blood somewhere. Of course, the biggest wrench in the story comes when Amber sees that Charlie’s match is not her, but could she be wrong? That’s why we’re eagerly awaiting book 2!

Ok, I will speak of my one biggest pet peeves that occurred in this book: immature language. I hate when authors frequently use immature language. If you want to call it that. To me, its almost Valley Girl…rich snob…Pretty Little Liars…I barely hear kids talking like that and I work in a private high school myself. Granted, not in Chicago, but in Northern Illinois within 60 miles of Chicago. I do not hear students commonly using the words “natch” instead of natural (I’ve never heard that), or “cas” for casual (I have heard this, but not frequently). In the first 100 pages of the book when we are first meeting the characters, this kind of abbreviated language is EVERYWHERE. It DEFINES Amber’s personality and sense of humor. Toward the middle, it fades out and she is more just sarcastic and witty with Charlie but in the beginning, we are NOT talking to a lowly girl. I just didn’t see her as having that much of a consistent attitude. Ivy, the blonde cheerleader mean girl? For sure. But Amber? No. I hated that. I like to read full English words and sentences. Maybe that’s the adult in me reading a YA novel so excuse this paragraph if so. But I’m just saying. I HATE abbreviated teen-speak. Ugh! Not appropriate for books, IMO.

I received an ARC from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Soundtrack: “Dancing in the Street” by Martha and the Vandellas

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“All Things New” by Lauren Miller

Title: All Things New

Author: Lauren Miller

Publication Date: August 1, 2017

Publisher: Three Saints Press

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Lesson learned: Never judge a freebie book based on its “freebie” status! So not only did I receive a copy of this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, it was also a ‘download now’ free copy, meaning that I didn’t have to be approved or anything in order to read it. I usually equate these books–in my mind–to the freebies of the ARC world. That aside, I thought that this book was a really good read and I very much enjoyed it.

Jessa has suffered from an anxiety disorder since her father left her mother when she was just twelve years old. Now, at 17, she is barely getting through school living with her mom in L.A. and clinging to her prepster boyfriend. Until one night at a party changes everything. A near-fatal car accident leaves Jessa’s face scar-ridden, and her brain nearly as damaged, she decides to leave everything behind to live with her dad in Colorado. Here she meets new people, reconciles with her father, and learns about the true measure of healing both inside and out.

On to the nitty-gritty opinionated part of my review. First off, I was surprised at the intelligence level of this book. Now, I am no doctor, psychologist, or philosopher and I have no idea what an actual practicing physician or thinker would say about the topics in this book, but for someone at my level of knowledge, it was awesome! I mean, we got deep about Dorian Gray and van Gough! We were talking about heart surgery and brain surgery and the reflections of the soul! Plus, that ending though!! Secondly, I did feel that the book had a bit of a rough start and sometimes it is difficult and not for everyone to read books from the POV of a main character who has a panic disorder. But guess what? Having a panic disorder is rough. This book deals with a tough issue. In all honesty, this book deals with a LOT of tough issues. Jessa isn’t the only person who goes through trials. She has her panic disorder and gets in a car accident, but then she meets Marshall who has a heart defect, and Hannah who isn’t perfect, and she is basically in a community of not perfect people and this is basically her new life. So the final point I will make: a lot of the reviews I have read talk about how much people like Marshall. Yes, I really like Marshall as well. But who really comes through as an amazing character is Super Dad. My favorite moment is when Dad is encouraging Jessa to drive to school again because she can’t live in fear forever; can’t let the fear control her life and he says:

“Because there’s something I want for you even more than safety. I want you to be free. Free from the panic and worry, free from all that terrible self-doubt I see in your eyes and blame myself for. But you have to want it too, Jessa. You have to decide not to let fear win.”

So yeah. I loved this book. I tend to like books where characters have to find their light. I love strong, powerful moments of tenderness and strength. They all still have their scars but they have found some consolation or some way through them and I think that this book did a good job of doing that. I recommend.

Listening to: “Numb” by Max Jury

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Hook’s Tale by John Leonard Pielmeier

Full Title: Hook’s Tale: Being the Account of an Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written by Himself

Release Date: 7/18/17

Publisher: Scribner

“Hook’s Tale…” is probably my new favorite Pan retelling. In fact, it might just be my new favorite retelling. And its a debut novel!! Seriously, the writing is captivating, the perspective is unique, and overall the reading is pretty easy. In the Introduction, the book proclaims itself to be the Peter Pan/Hook version of The Wizard of Oz/Wicked Witch tale and I’d say that’s pretty accurate. I actually am not a big fan of the Gregory Maguire books, but this was much easier to read.

James Cook (aka the character “the Scotsman” JM Barrie writes as Captain Hook) basically writes his own autobiography from his life as a young boy in school, to his voyage to Neverland, to his quest for a full life. It was really fun to hear the “real truth” behind James’ family, how aging/not aging in Neverland works, what all of the pirates are like (hint: they’re hilarious), how Hook really got his hook, the story of the crocodile, and several other Hook-isms.

This was a great fantasy read. Just a heads up, though: every time I started to think that this book could be for younger (middle grade?) readers, something violent or mildly gory would happen. So just be warned that there are a few descriptive scenes in the book and some very mild swearing. Overall if you like Peter Pan, if you are a fan of retellings, if you enjoy fantasy books, or just need a quick and fun read, give this book a go. I definitely recommend it!

Listening to: “Perfect Places” by Lorde

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The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

32197111This book took me a while to finish because it dragged on. And on. And on.

And on.

And on.

We are hearing the story from Lalla’s point of view. Lalla (short for Lallage) is the daughter of the ‘revolutionary’ who basically bought, founded, organized, and coordinated The Ship. In these dystopian times, the safest place to be is in the middle of the ocean (so these people believe). There are 500 people on the ship–each one of them selected by Michael himself for being good, worthy people–and the ship is equipped to sustain them for twenty years. They have a plan to ‘go peacefully’ at the end of these twenty years, but they are also optimistic that within those twenty years, they will have engineered new ways to grow things or sustain their lives, etc. The degree to which the people on the ship are happy is almost scary. Michael is portrayed as nearly god-like and the ship is almost heavenly. To everyone except Lalla.

So here comes the fun part of the review. Lalla’s inner dialogue. Lalla’s mother is killed early on in the story and she spends the entire book mourning over it. Yes, I know its heartbreaking to lose your mother, but everyone on that ship lost someone. Many people, in fact. They all give their testimonies, as you’ll see. Next point: being the daughter of the founders of the ship, Lalla was very sheltered. She didn’t see hardly any of the conflicts happening on land and she was very young. Since she wasn’t exposed to much of the horrors of the conflict (I mean, we’re talking famine, murder, prison camps, cannibalism, starvation, the list goes on….) all she talks and thinks about is *LAND*LAND*LAND* “ARE WE THERE YET?” “ARE WE THERE YET?” “ARE WE THERE YET?” So its a pretty hard situation, and I understand to an extent because a) she associates the ship with her mother’s death. b) she is literally the only person on the ship who didn’t willingly choose to be there. Her parents chose it for her. BUT, its not like she doesn’t have any friends or companions because she is given a job and finds a friend/mentor there AND she finds a boy who, of course, she begins to fall in love with.

At this point, if I talk about the book anymore, I will give away huge spoilers, but my general overall thoughts are that the book is okay. It really has some points that make you think, but they are buried within a lot of parts that I wish I could just fast forward through.

Listening to: “Shallow Brown” by Sean Dagher

“Carnivalesque” by Neil Jordan

34432289“Carnivalesque” is a fantasy book about a boy named Andy who enters Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors at a travelling circus. He becomes trapped in the mirrors and an identical-looking stranger exits the hall and goes home with his parents. Thus begins the tale of Andy/Dany.

This book is a little difficult to rate. It started off reading like an old classic or fairy tale. Think Peter Pan or Alice in Wonderland. “The boy did this and then he went to wherever and the boy was sad. But the boy’s mother held his hand and entered the carnival where the air smelled of caramel and candy.” bla bla bla. We literally do not find out “the boy’s name” until about page 75. Then the writing style completely changes to a more contemporary feel for most of the book and then the last 75 pages or so is back to the classic/fairy tale feel again.

The middle part of the book has some interesting action. In the middle of the action, there is a ton of written word. Most of it is history, and some of it seems slow, and some of it seems a little irrelevant or maybe just out of order. I enjoyed hearing a new perspective on carney mythology and most of all, this legend of ‘Burleigh’s Amazing Hall of Mirrors,’ which is really how the whole Andy/Dany duology originates to begin with. Some parts of the book are fun and fantastical, while others are freakish and almost scary. I like the polar opposites and think that every fantasy needs some of that. It gave the book depth, whereas the wordiness robbed it right back.

So for these reasons, I had to go with a middle of the road rating for this book. Loved the cover and the concept, but several things fell short. I like a good carnival book but this does not come close to the top for me.

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

Listening to: “Half Jack” by The Dresden Dolls

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“You Were Here” by Gian Sardar

32940733I have unfortunate news. I wasn’t a huge fan of this book. It was good, but not mindblowing. Here are my thoughts:

Let me start by stating that the Goodreads description of this book claims that “Readers of Kate Atkinson will delight in this suspenseful debut novel about a woman haunted by nightmares and her grandmother’s role in a doomed love triangle almost seventy years before.” I’m a fan of Kate Atkinson and in my opinion, this is why she doesn’t write suspenseful novels. Pick one genre or another and commit. There was just SO MUCH DESCRIPTIVE WRITING going on that I often found myself confused or bored or indifferent. Especially in the first half of the book. BUT THEN…..

Everything picked up in the second half and everything was magnificent. I was ready to call it quits and apologize to NetGalley and the publisher and then all of a sudden WHOA! Now we’re getting started here! The characters were fascinating. There were twists and turns I did NOT see coming. And the writing remains strong all the way until the end. So ultimately, if you have the patience to wade through at least 120-150 pages of reading before a plot really thickens, then this book will really satisfy you and you will not regret picking this up. However, if you are someone who needs a beginning to end page-turner (i.e. Dan Brown or the likes?)…..move on.

Listening to: “Witness” by Katy Perry

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“Quinsey Wolfe’s Glass Vault” by Candace Robinson

c_-w5rluiaaya_eVery late last night, I finished a creepy upper YA book entitled Quinsey Wolfe’s Glass Vault. The book begins in a small town in Texas with two best friends and cousins, Perrie and Maisie. All is not serene in the town, however, because for the past several weeks, people have been going missing. One day on their way home from school, Perrie, Maisie, and their mutual friend (and Perrie’s crush) August, notice a strange sight: a huge, creepy, dark mansion/museum that was never there before but that claims to be hiring. Maisie takes interest and the day after going in for her first day of work work, goes missing. Perrie and August go looking for her and the rest is a horrific history.

I think I would rate this at a really, really high 3.75 stars that I’ll round up to 4 because I LOVE the cover and there are just so many retellings–both classic and fairy tale–that its just so cool. Plus the characters were pretty decent so overall, I dug the book. Plus, its set up for a sequel so…I need to read on!

The biggest thing that ruined the book for me was the ending. ((Spoilers ahead so readers BE WARNED!!!)) Specifically how Perrie ‘gave herself’ to August and then he wasn’t who he thought she was. In my opinion, that is especially awful considering that this is a YA book. Maybe in an adult book it would be a little more acceptable but I would hike up the rating a bit.

Overall, this book is definitely in the horror genre. The cover looks beautiful but it is bloody and there is some gore and graphic descriptions. I like that type of thing though, but just a heads up.

Also, as I alluded to before, the book does end on a big of a cliffhanger. In my opinion, the book is really half of a book. The Kindle edition is only 168 pages and the paperback is 242. For a YA book, that’s pretty short. The author could have just kept writing and finished it out I think. Maybe there is much more to the story and it would have tipped the scales as a door stopper to put 2+2 together? But right now its pretty darn short. Even as it is, I felt there could have been a few more details in the book. It felt pretty thin.

Things I really did like though: I keep raving about the cover art so that’s huge. I love the retellings. We’ve got everything from Sleepy Hollow to Rapunzel so there is literally something for everyone. I think there are five or six total in the book? Plus references to a few more but they travel through five or six worlds so that’s pretty cool. The characters are interesting and no one drove me crazy so that was good.

Listening to: “Sweet Satan” by Beck

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*SNEAK PEEK* : “The Dire King” – Jackaby Book 4!

31438747August 22nd. My calendar is marked for this release!! I have already enjoyed the Jackaby series so far, but this preview blew me away. Honestly, I anticipate this fourth (and sadly, final) book in the series to be the best one yet. In just the first five chapters of The Dire King, we are seeing more returning (and new) characters, more of London and fantastic other-world building, AND more supernatural creatures and descriptions than we’ve gotten in any of the other books!! Plus the setup is electric.

I am so ready, ready, ready for this one! If ever I was praying for an early copy of a book, its this one! Everything William Ritter has written about characters leads up to what happens in this book and it will be apocalyptic. I have my popcorn, my tea, and my comfy pillow fluffed, I am ready to read this baby! Bring it on!!!

Soundtrack: Be still my beating heart!!

“The Book of Summer” by Michelle Gable

33323269Happy Publication Day! All aspects of this book called to me immediately and made me want to read it–the title, the cover (look at that pretty cover!), and the description. Now that I have finished it, I can say that I have no regrets, for it was a book that was so charming and perfect for a warm day’s read. I just want to sit on a porch swing, or lay by the beach, or sip a fruity cocktail….*sigh* Sounds good, doesn’t it?? Summer, I’m ready! Take me away!

The Book of Summer tells two stories: one of the modern-day Bess and Cissy Codman who, in their packing to move out of the once grand Cliff House on Nantucket Island due to erosion, find “The Book of Summer” where all the guests have written about their stays; the other of the family of (grandma) Ruby Packard during WWII, who reveals a shocking family secret.

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Source. Pictured is an actual house on Baxter Road, where the fictional Cliff House is located.

There are many characters in the book, both in the past in the present, who are so unique and relatable. Evan (present-day) and Topper (past), in particular are sweethearts. Hattie is an absolute riot who gave a very unique perspective on women’s roles in that era, I felt. And I really enjoyed hearing and learning more about homosexuality in wartime. I don’t know of many books that address that topic so it was interesting to read a bit about that. There is nothing graphic, so don’t let this scare you away. Also, I appreciate that the author did actual research on the Sconset Beach area and the erosion problems affecting the bluff. Hats off, Ms. Gable! If you want to check out the website she cites to “learn more about the erosion, and what folks are doing to combat it” (I did!), here’s that link: Siasconset Beach Preservation.

Soundtrack: “Beautiful Day” by U2

“The Light We Lost” by Jill Santopolo

32956365Whatever you are doing right now, STOP. Go get this book (once it is officially released on May 9th) and read it. Seriously. Oh, and buy a box of tissues as well, because you are going to need them because….ALL. THE. FEELS.

Lucy and Gabe are two binary stars rotating around each other in a love that is out of this world; the kind of love that poems and sonnets are written about, and artists find inspiration in and musicians compose from. The book is all from Lucy’s point of view as if she is talking directly TO Gabe….but why? Very unique for an entire novel to be written from this perspective and it definitely takes a little getting used to.

Eventually, Gabe wanders away, following his passion for photography to the Middle East, leaving Lucy shattered. She finds new love that isn’t quite the same, but she settles down nevertheless and starts a family, still occasionally keeping in touch with Gabe. Without ruining the full story, we follow Lucy’s journey for thirteen years and through it all, the author does an amazing job of keeping the characters and the story real and so beautiful.

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Hundreds mourn Associated Press video journalist killed in Gaza. (credit)

I absolutely recommend this book to anyone who reads fiction, who likes a good cry, who appreciates contemporary fiction, women’s fiction, or romance. Jill Santopolo’s writing absolutely shines so bright in this book and even brings honor to those in the field of photojournalism. That is not a piece of cake artistic line of work. Beautiful book!

Soundtrack: “The Fault in our Stars” by Troye Sivan