Tammy’s Top Ten Books From the Last Three Years

Top Ten Tuesday new 7-14 copy

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Hop on over to find out more about Top Ten Tuesday and maybe even join in the fun, as they give us a new theme each week! This week’s theme was very hard to narrow down, but even though I wanted to choose more than ten books, I decided to stick with the program. Since I’ve been blogging for about three-and-a-half years, it was easy enough to choose books I’ve read and reviewed on this blog. To that end, all the links go to my reviews. (You’ll also note that I made up a *special* designation for books I loved above and beyond the usual love. I did that for a while, but I’m no longer using that award.) Here they are, in no particular order, my top ten books from the past three years:

1. Vicious by V.E. Schwab. This book has everything I look for in a perfect story: awesome characters, a rip-roaring plot, emotional connections and a deliciously complex story construction. Read it if you haven’t!

2. Red Rising by Pierce Brown. The first book in Brown’s series was a hell of a ride, and a debut novel too! It only gets better in the second book, but I wanted to highlight this one since it was such a memorable read for me.

3. The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig. This book! This is still my favorite Chuck Wendig book to date. Although I haven’t cracked his Miriam Black series, and I know a lot of people love those books. Just read it, OK?

4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandell. I know this went on to be a bestseller and an award nominee, but I read it before all the hype, and I can tell you it’s well deserved. A quieter, more introspective read than most of the other books on this list, it was magical and dazzling.

5. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. Beukes is a new “auto buy” author for me, and I’m catching up on her backlist as well. This is her latest, and it’s so well written and plotted and paced, that I can’t imagine how she can get any better.

6. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey. This zombie tale was unexpectedly emotional, and once again, it’s a book that reflects my mantra for my most favorite books: “It’s all about the characters.”

7. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This was another surprise book, one I didn’t expect to love so much. But Cline is a born storyteller and I clung to each and every word. I can’t wait for Armada, which comes out this year!

8. The Martian by Andy Weir. Here’s another bestseller on the list, and again, I like to think that I read it before it became one. I’ve never had so much fun with only one character! (For the most part. Of course, there are more characters in the story than the MC, but his scenes take up the bulk of the book.)

9. Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff. I love the entire series, but this is where it all began. Jay’s books are emotional and sad and wondrous. You really should read this series if you love fantasy!

10. Three by Jay Posey. This was an amazing start to a fantasy series, and it’s also Jay’s debut. I wasn’t as crazy about the follow-up, Morningside Fall, but I know there is a third book on the horizon, and I’m dying to read it:-D

There you have it, my top ten books from the last three years. Have you read any of these?

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Beware: You’ve Just Entered White London! Blog Tour + Giveaway: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab

Darker Shade Magic Web Banner

I’m thrilled to be a part of V.E. Schwab’s blog tour for her latest fantasy for adults, A Darker Shade of Magic, presented by Tor Books! I devoured this book recently, and you can read my review here. The story centers around a magician named Kell who is one of the last of his kind, people who can travel among the three different Londons that exist in Schwab’s magical story. Red London is the seat of magic where the river runs red and everyday magic is the norm. This is Kell’s home where he spends most of his time with his family. Grey London has lost its magic, and is a harsh place full of desperate people. And White London is the scariest, a place where magic is wielded as power and those who rule took the throne by murder. By stopping here today, you’ve set foot in White London:

White London Tour Button

Scorched metal and settling ash.
A dying city, a desperate people, a defiant magic.
There is no future for the weak, and power bends only to those who take it.
The ruthless twins perch on marble thrones, their lips red with blood.
They give orders—
and a magician in chains obeys.

Victoria is doing a whirlwind tour through 36 different blogs, and each blogger got to ask her one question. Here’s what I asked:

BB&B: If you could be a character in any of the books you’ve published so far, which book and which character would you choose?

 

Victoria: It’s honestly a tie between Victor Vale in VICIOUS and Lila Bard in ADSOM, the reason being that Victor is my supervillain alter ego (he is the character most closely modeled on my own headspace, make of that what you will) and has my favorite superpower (I mean, come on, the ability to cause or cancel pain), but Lila is a truly aspirational character for me. She is who I WANT to be, fearless, reckless, willing to risk her life in order to feel like she’s truly living.

Here’s  more about the book:

A Darker Shade final for IreneKell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London – but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.

Here’s what people are saying about A Darker Shade of Magic:

Find the book: MacMillan | IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books A Million | Powell’s | eBooks | Google Play | Kobo

In this short video, Victoria takes us on a walk around some of the places in London that inspired her to write the book!

About the author:

V. E. Schwab author photoV.E. SCHWAB‘s first adult novel, Vicious, debuted to critical praise and reader accolades. Schwab is the author of YA novels The Near Witch, The Archived, and The Unbound, and the Everyday Angel series for middle grade readers.

Find Victoria:
WordPress | Tumblr | Twitter | Goodreads | Instagram | Facebook | YouTube

Fun places to visit:
Darker-Shade.com – A special website for A Darker Shade of Magic that is full of information and materials for readers!
A Buzzfeed Quiz that will sort you into one of the three Londons!

Click here to visit all the stops on the blog tour for A Darker Shade of Magic! Many blogs have their own giveaways, so check them out:-D

And now, the giveaway! One winner who is reading this blog post will win a finished copy of the book, plus a SIGNED double-sided poster:

Giveaway is INTERNATIONAL! Please fill out the Rafflecopter to enter. Winner will be selected on March 14th. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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What’s On My Plate – March 2015

On My Plate

Wow this year is going fast already! I know February was a short month, but come on! How can it be March already?? This month I have really overextended myself, as you’ll see by the huge pile of review books I have on tap. Not sure how this is all going to pan out, but I’ll do my best:-D Here’s what I’m planning for March:

For Review:

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman. This short middle grade novel is Hoffman’s first, and because I love her fantasies for young adults, I can’t wait to read this one.

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach. I’m looking forward to checking out this debut, which is getting lots of attention.

Dark Star by Oliver Langmead. This will be my second book from small UK press Unsung Stories, and I’m quite looking forward to it. Plus, pretty cover!

Throne of Darkness by Douglas Nicholas. This is the third book in Nicholas’ fantasy series, and even though I didn’t read book #2, the publicist assures me that this reads as a stand-alone.

Flex by Ferrett Steinmetz. Yay, Angry Robot is back! This is my first AR title I’ll be reading since their hiatus, and I hear it’s really good.

Harrison Squared by Daryl Gregory. I was (happily!) just approved for this title on NetGalley, and I also just found out that the character of Harrison is based on a character in Gregory’s book We Are All Completely Fine, which I just purchased! Super excited to read both books. (Note: I just finished We Are all Completely Fine and WOW. Loved it! I’m looking forward even more to Harrison Squared.)

Broken Skies by Theresa Kay. The author kindly sent me a digital review copy, and I’ve been seeing lots of great reviews on Goodreads.

Sing Me Your Scars by Damien Angelica Walters. This is a collection of short stories and one of Apex Books’ “Apex Voices” authors. I love discovering new authors from Apex!

Strangers by David Moody. I accepted this review book on the recommendation of Wayne Simmons, an author I adore. Sorry it’s taking me so long to get to it, Wayne!

Blog Tours:

Oh boy, lots of blog tours this month, I think I’ll take a break from them in April! In any case, I’m beyond excited for my stop on the A Darker Shade of Magic tour, which is tomorrow! Stop by for an international giveaway of a copy of the book and a signed poster!

I’ll be on the Unchained Memory tour on March 9th. I’m trying out a new small press for this one, INK’d Press, and I’ll be reading the book very soon.

Lastly, my stop on the Vostok tour is March 31. I’m taking a chance on this new-to-me publisher/author, so stay tuned for my review, and hopefully a giveaway of the book.

Giveaways:

My monthly book review giveaway starts on the 15th, so check back soon! As usual, this giveaway is INTERNATIONAL, and one winner will receive a book that I reviewed during the month of February.

I’m participating in the annual Spring Cleaning Giveaway Hop (which used to be called “Clear Your Shelf Giveaway Hop”) which starts on the 20th. I had great fun last year with this hop, giving away a secret box of books. Don’t worry, I’ll leave you some clues as to what’s in the box! Due to shipping costs, this giveaway must be U.S. only.

And that’s what’s on my plate this month! Let me know what you’re up to:-D

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Cover Reveal! THE REBIRTHS OF TAO by Wesley Chu

I’m thrilled to be part of Angry’s Robot’s cover reveal today for the last book in Wesley Chu’s Tao series, The Rebirths of Tao! The book will be released on April 7th, and because I’m such a big fan of this series, you can bet I’m very curious to see how it all winds up. So what are we waiting for? Let’s get to the cover reveal, shall we?

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TheRebirthsOfTao-144dpi

Cover by Stewart Larking
Published by Angry Robot Books

About the book:

Many years have passed since the events in The Deaths of Tao. The world is split into pro-Prophus and pro-Genjix factions, and is poised on the edge of a devastating new World War; the Prophus are hiding; and Roen has a family to take care of.

A Genjix scientist who defects to the other side holds the key to preventing bloodshed on an almost unimaginable scale.

With the might of the Genjix in active pursuit, Roen is the only person who can help him save the world, and the Quasing race, too.

And you thought you were having a stressful day…

Pre-order the book: Amazon | The Book Depository | IndieBound | Barnes & Noble

Need to catch up on the rest of the series?

The Lives of Tao | The Deaths of Tao

What do you think of the cover? I think it’s a perfect addition to this series!

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Backlist Burndown Review: ZOO CITY by Lauren Beukes

BacklistBurndownBanner-TR

It’s my first official Backlist Burndown review! Thanks to Lisa @ The Tenacious Reader, on the last Friday of each month we get to link up with other bloggers who are participating. The goal is to read a book from an author’s backlist that you’ve been meaning to read, but just haven’t been able to get to. I could honestly spend all my time reading backlist books, since I’m so behind, LOL! But trying for one a month is a good start.

This book is also part of my Women of Genre Fiction challenge, hosted by Worlds Without End.

This month I read Zoo City by the immensely talented Lauren Beukes, author of Broken Monsters and The Shining Girls.  I believe this is her second published book, and it couldn’t be more different from Broken Monsters!

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
Genre: Adult urban fantasy
Publisher: Angry Robot
Release date:  2010
Source: Purchased
Pages: 416

The nitty-gritty: A highly imaginative, gritty, dangerous romp through a fantastical Johannesburg, with non-stop action and a unique and unforgettable heroine.

The tea tasted like stale horse piss, drained through a homeless guy’s sock.

Lauren Beukes’ Broken Monsters was one of my top ten reads of 2014, and I was eager to read more of her earlier works. I decided to choose Zoo City for a couple of reasons. First, I just love the cover and the fact that animals play a big part in the story, and second, I wanted to read something that could count toward my Women of Genre Fiction challenge. Zoo City won the Arthur C. Clarke award in 2011, and it’s not hard to see why. The writing sizzles with electricity and is the perfect style for Beukes’ story of magic, political upheaval, and survival in a futuristic Johannesburg, South Africa.

The setting alone should clue you into what kind of story this is. Beukes, who lives in South Africa, clearly has first-hand experience with the political and social landscape of the country (although she does credit many sources for helping her with research). This book was a rough read at times, with graphic violence, terrible living conditions, and nasty characters. But there were also moments of beauty (though fleeting!) and compassion, and man did I love the animals!

Zinzi December lives in Zoo City, a block of decrepit apartments where those who have been “animalled” huddle together. In this future society, a mysterious plague has created a most unusual side effect to murder: anyone who commits it suddenly finds themselves with a personal animal companion. Their animal is psychically attached, and the two can never be separated or they experience excruciating pain. Zinzi’s animal is a Sloth who mostly clings to her back and communicates with her not in words, but with gestures. Zinzi fears what all animalled people fear: the Undertow, a devilish entity from Hell that comes to take them away when their animals die.

When Zinzi acquired Sloth, she was also saddled with a magical ability to “find” lost things, like rings or car keys. One day, she’s about to return a lost ring to its elderly owner, but when she goes to the house, the woman has just been murdered. At the crime scene, Zinzi is approached by a pair of animalled people named Marabou and Maltese (with a Stork and a Dog attached to them) who want to hire her to find a missing teen pop star. Zinzi takes the job, but her life is about to take a turn for the worse.

You may recognize the idea of having an animal companion that is tied to you, if you’ve read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (The Golden Compass, etc) trilogy. When I first realized where Beukes was going with her story, I was a little indignant, thinking “Hey, you’re copying Philip Pullman!” But then, one of the characters actually references the book, and I realized she is only paying tribute to his books, not copying them. What I loved about the animals in Zoo City is that they act as a scarlet letter of sorts. You can immediately identify society’s criminals because they all have animals as their badge of shame.

Beukes’ Johannesburg, or “Jozi” as it’s affectionately called, is a bleak and crime-ridden city full of drug dealers, magic spells, grunge music and of course, animals. Her descriptions of the city are so vivid, that I felt as if I were right there in the middle of the stink of the slums. The writing is sharp and calculated, each word meticulously placed, and the beat of African pop music is ever-present in the background, which gave this story a relentless rhythm. Lauren Beukes’ writing reminds me so much of Chuck Wendig, that if I had to guess, I’d say the two are twins who were separated at birth!

Despite the animals that populate the story—and if you’re thinking this is a light and fluffy animal story, you need to reset you expectations—most of the characters are not very nice, and even the ones who are occasionally do nasty things. Zinzi is a girl with a horrible past (which I won’t divulge here, but you can imagine something bad must have happened in order for her to be animalled), but she’s trying to turn over a new leaf. Unfortunately, she owes a dangerous drug dealer lots of money and gets involved in an email scam in order to pay down her debt.

Zinzi’s boyfriend Benoît (whose animal is a Mongoose) has quite the interesting story, and their relationship was one of the most honest and poignant ones I’ve seen in quite some time. Benoît lost his wife and three children in a war, but when he finds out that they might actually still be alive, he knows the right thing to do is to try to find them and bring them back, even though he wants to stay with Zinzi. Their relationship was complicated and real, and I loved it.

I couple of things didn’t work as well for me. Although I did come to love all the African words and dialect that Beukes liberally sprinkles throughout her story—they give a wonderful authenticity to it—all those foreign words tripped me up occasionally and slowed things down.

I also thought the plot was a bit of a mess at times. A lot happens in this book, maybe too much. Zinzi is trying to solve some murders. Then she’s meeting with a completely vile man named Vuyo who pays her to participate in email money scams. And she’s taken on the job of finding Song, the spoiled teen pop star who is missing. During all of this she’s trying not to get shot or stabbed by the denizens of Zoo City while keeping her Sloth safe. It was almost too much for me at times.

And yet I loved this book. Once again, Lauren Beukes convinced me that she is one of my favorite authors. She doesn’t shy away from tough subjects or unlikable characters, but underneath all the social commentary and metaphors about how people carry their burdens around with them, is a story with a big heart. Luckily I still have two backlist books of hers to read: Moxyland and The Shining Girls. I suspect I’ll be reading them very soon.

Rating: 8/10

Find the book:

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Waiting on Wednesday [138] SLASHER GIRLS & MONSTER BOYS Edited by April Genevieve Tucholke

WOW 2014 copy

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine, and is a fun way to share the books we’re excited about with other bloggers and readers. This particular book has been on my Goodreads TBR shelf—without a cover, I might add—for almost a year! And I’m thrilled that the cover has finally been revealed:

Slasher Girls and Monster Boys

Slasher Girls & Monster Boys edited by April Genevieve Tucholke. Releases from Dial Books in August 2015. This is a short story collection with horror and thriller stories from some of YA’s biggest names! Just take a look at the roster up there, and I’m sure you’ll be familiar with at least one of them. I’m very excited to see Jay Kristoff’s name on this list, as well as Cat Winters and A.G. Howard:-D Here’s the description from Goodreads:

For fans of Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Lois Duncan, and Daphne Du Maurier comes a powerhouse anthology featuring some of the best writers of YA thrillers and horror

A host of the smartest young adult authors come together in this collection of scary stories and psychological thrillers curated by Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’s April Genevieve Tucholke.

Each story draws from a classic tale or two—sometimes of the horror genre, sometimes not—to inspire something new and fresh and terrifying. There are no superficial scares here; these are stories that will make you think even as they keep you on the edge of your seat. From bloody horror to supernatural creatures to unsettling, all-too-possible realism, this collection has something for any reader looking for a thrill.

Fans of TV’s The Walking Dead, True Blood, and American Horror Story will tear through tales by these talented authors.

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Let me know what you’re waiting on this week!

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Tammy’s Top Ten Favorite Heroines in Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday new 7-14 copy

 Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and each week they give us a Top Ten theme to blog about. This week it’s heroines! We all love our heroines, right? It seems there are so many great heroines these days, that it was hard to narrow this list down to only ten. But I did, and here are my choices (in no particular order):

1. Yukiko from The Lotus War series by
Jay Kristoff

I mean, just look at her! She’s a small girl with a big sword, not to mention a big heart. Yukiko stole my heart in Stormdancer, and she never lost her charm throughout the entire series.

2. Sydney from Vicious by V.E. Schwab

Vicious is a very special book, it’s probably one of my all-time favorites, and Sydney was one of those characters that you hope you’ll find again someday, in a different book. I just adore her. I don’t want to tell you too much about her, if you haven’t read Vicious yet (and why haven’t you??), but let’s just say she has a dog she loves, and her special power is bringing back the dead.

3. Nora & Skelly from The Blue Blazes by
Chuck Wendig

The Blue Blazes

Chuck Wendig always writes strong and interesting female characters, and The Blue Blazes has two of my favorite heroines ever. Nora is an angry, unpleasant woman and has a very complicated relationship with her father, Mookie Pearl. But I fell in love with her anyway. (Wendig seems to have a talent for that!) Skelly belongs to a girl-gang called the Get-Em-Girls, gets around on roller skates, and was an all around fun character to read about.

4. Elizabeth Barnabus from The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter by Rod Duncan

The Bullet Catcher's Daughter

This book was such an unexpected surprise! If you love steampunk and characters with moxie, you should read this if you haven’t already. Elizabeth leads a secret dual life that I can’t tell you about here, so you’ll just have to pick up the book! She’s a mistress of illusion and carries a battered suitcase around with her. I mentioned in my review that Duncan has perfectly captured a female protagonist’s voice, unlike any male writer I’ve ever come across.

5. Maude from the Golgotha series by R.S. Belcher

I loved Maude for her Buffy-esque characterization. She’s a warrior with a great burden who will eventually pass her knowledge and skills on to her daughter. Such a great series, I hope Belcher is working on Book #3!

6. Widdershins from the Widdershins Adventures by Ari Marmell

I just recently read my first Widdershins book, and I fell in love with her! Of course, I didn’t start at the beginning of the series like I was supposed to, but that didn’t really matter. Widdershins  has a charming sense of humor, not to mention she uses some very quirky swear words, and I loved her relationship with her own personal god, Olgun.

 7. Lila from A Darker Shade of Magic by
V.E. Schwab

U.S. cover, Tor Books

U.S. cover, Tor Books

I just finished this and reviewed this yesterday, and I couldn’t leave the wonderful character of Lila out of this top ten list! Lila is a thief who wants to be a pirate and live a life of freedom, a life full of adventure. She’s sarcastic (all my favorite heroines are!), a terrific fighter, and she doesn’t take crap from anyone. Plus she’s got a soft spot for fashion!

8. Persimmon Gaunt from Gaunt and Bone series by Chris Willrich

Willrich’s entertaining and wonderfully written fantasy is about a married couple, Persimmon Gaunt and her husband Imago Bone, but Gaunt is certainly not the type of wife to let her husband do all the dirty work. In the first book she’s pregnant, but still manages to hold her own during a perilous journey.

 9. Cass from The Legends of the Duskwalker series by Jay Posey

Cass is a mother to Wren and is determined to protect him, in Posey’s post-apocalyptic world. She’s also a drug addict, which makes her a refreshingly human character. I loved the way she grew throughout the two books, becoming increasingly stronger and able to defend the people she loves.

10. Atlanta Burns from the Atlanta Burns series by Chuck Wendig

Atlanta

I just couldn’t leave Atlanta off this list, even though I had so many other heroines to fill this last spot. Atlanta truly is the definition of “heroine,” and even though this book was tough to read, and made me all kinds of mad at times, Atlanta is a character you’ll never forget.

How about you? Who are your favorite heroines in fiction?

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A Magical Journey Through Londons: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V. E. Schwab – Review

 

 A Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab
Genre: Adult fantasy
Publisher: Tor Books
Release date: February 24 2015
Source: Finished book from publisher
Pages: 400

Note: With this review, I’ve decided to change my rating system from a five-star system to a ten-point system. It gives me more flexibility for the subtle nuances I find in books, and also gives me a reason to justify why I would normally give this book five stars, when I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as Vicious.

The nitty-gritty: A unique world (or should I say worlds), a fascinating magic system, and characters I want to follow from world to world, and beyond.

“The bones are the same in every world,” he said, gesturing to the city, “but the rest of it will be different. As different as this world is from yours.” He pointed across the river, and toward the center of London. “Where we’re going, the castle is there. Athos and Astrid will be there, too. Once we cross through, stay close. Do not leave my side. It is night here, which means it is night in White London, too, and the city is full of shadows.” Kell looked at Lila. “You can still change your mind.”

Lila straightened and tugged up the collar of her coat. She smiled. “Not a chance.”

Schwab’s second novel for adults gave me everything I loved from Vicious (which to this day remains one of my all-time favorite books) and brought new wonders to the table as well. That being said, I subconsciously compared it to Vicious as I was reading, and I ended up enjoying A Darker Shade of Magic slightly less, which is to say I still loved it immensely! Because “slightly less” than perfect is still pretty damn good. I’ll get to my reasons for this later in the review, but first I want to assure you that this book is everything you hope it will be, if you are a V.E. Schwab fan like I am. Schwab’s imagination is endless, and even though the idea of creating doorways to other worlds has been done before, many times, she puts such an original spin on it that I was mesmerized.

One thing that Schwab does so well is that she knows how to construct a story. I’m not privy to her personal writing process, but I’m almost certain that she must do lots of outlining, either as a written outline or a visual one, because each element of the story is so perfectly placed. It’s something that only seasoned writers can pull off, and it’s hard to do. But she makes it seem easy, the way everything comes together, each element finding its place in the story. Her storylines are complex and intricate, but she manages to juggle each piece, seemingly effortlessly.

The story goes like this: Kell is an Antari, one of only two magicians in the world that has the ability to travel among the three different Londons: Red London is Kell’s home, a wondrous world where magic enhances lives and joy and beauty are everywhere; Grey London where magic is scarce and people live a hardscrabble existence, doing what they can to survive; and White London, a land of terror where bloodthirsty rulers wear the crown and punish anyone who uses magic. There is also a fourth London, Black London, that used to exist but doesn’t anymore, after the people who lived there let magic get so out of control that it destroyed them. Kell’s official job is to travel from London to London, through magical doors that only he knows about, and deliver messages between the rulers.

But Kell also has a secret business on the side, smuggling magic from Red London to Grey London in exchange for artifacts, which he collects and hides, since it’s illegal to transfer objects from one London to the next. One day he unwittingly takes a highly dangerous stone back to Red London and sets off a chain of events that will leave all the Londons in peril. He reluctantly accepts help from Lila, a thief from Grey London who only wants to escape her miserable life and go on an adventure. Both characters get more than they bargained for, and it will take all their wits to survive.

As usual, Schwab creates unforgettable characters that you’ll fall in love with. Kell is a man of mystery, one of the last of his kind. He’s an extremely powerful magician, and yet he yearns for a normal life with a loving family—which he mostly has, as he has been “adopted” by the royal court in Red London, and is as close to his “brother” Rhy that you can possibly get without being related by blood. He wears a most marvelous coat that can be turned inside out numerous times to become many different coats.

Lila is also a wonderful character (and she’s making an appearance in my Top Ten Tuesday tomorrow!), a scrappy, skinny fighter of a girl who lives by her wits and is hell on wheels with a weapon. She has big dreams and will do anything to break out of her miserable life. When she meets Kell—and I love the way they meet!—she begins to see what her life could be like. I also love that she doesn’t let a man stand in the way of what she wants. When Lila and Kell are together, their dialog practically crackles and sparks, it’s so good.

Rhy is the prince of Red London, and I adored him as well, although I wanted more of him in this story. He’s the opposite of Kell, and yet their bond was so special. And Holland! Oh how I felt for him, even though he’s evil, I just wanted to give him a hug!

Schwab’s Londons are glorious creations, similar to each other yet completely different. In Red London a river called the Isle runs through the city, a red river that is the city’s source of magic. But in Grey London it’s called the Thames, and in White London it’s something else entirely. Likewise, a tavern sits in the exact same spot in each London, even though each has a different name and appearance. All of this is described in Schwab’s lyrical writing, which has the rhythm of music about it that makes me want to read passages of the text aloud.

Where the story faltered a bit for me was the ending, which was not at all what I was expecting. (Nor should it be! Clearly Schwab did her job well by not going where readers expected her to go.) Because this is the first in a trilogy, I wanted to have something to carry me forward to the next book, some mystery that remained unsolved to puzzle over while book two is being written. And while she does give us small mysteries, like where Kell came from before he was part of the Royal Court of Red London, and why Lila has an artificial eye, the story mostly wraps up very cleanly with no cliffhangers whatsoever. I know many readers will be rejoicing over this fact, and I must say I’m usually relieved not to come face to face with a cliffhanger, but this time I predicted a certain ending that never came to pass, and I was just slightly disappointed.

And yet—the ending was actually perfect the way it was. Schwab concludes her story on a lovely beat that made me smile, and I am happy that I will get to meet these characters again very soon.

Final rating: 9/10

Cover Love: I love both the US and the UK covers! They both use the bold red, white and black color scheme that the story is base on. If I had to pick a favorite, I think I’d pick the UK cover, simply because it’s so graphically appealing. Which cover is your favorite?

Big thanks to Tor Books for supplying a review copy! Don’t forget to stop by next Monday, which is my stop on the blog tour. I’ll have an international giveaway for a copy of the book and a signed poster!

Find the book:

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My Rating System: Why I’ve Decided to Change It

no more stars

I’ve been thinking about doing this for quite a while, and it’s only after finishing A Darker Shade of Magic that I’ve decided to finally go for it. I’ve seen other bloggers use a number rating system, rather than stars, and I quite like the idea of being able to dig deeper into stories and fine-tune my ratings. I often give two books the same star rating, when I actually feel quite differently about them, but not different enough to award one more stars than the other.

With a numbering system of 1-10, I can now rate my books more honestly, and I’m hoping this system will make more sense to my readers. In the past, I’ve reviewed books in a series and said things like “I enjoyed this even better than the last book,” but I’ve rated them with the same star rating, which really doesn’t make any sense! I’m frustrated by this inconsistency, and I think the 1-10 system is going to work much better for me.

So for now, here’s what those numbers will mean for a book:

10/10:
The Best. Book. Ever. One of my all-time favorites.

9/10:
Nearly the Best. Book. Ever. With one or two very minor flaws.

8/10: I loved it and highly recommend it. But I did have a few issues with something in the story.

7/10: A really good book. Probably has some small problems with the writing and pacing.

6/10: I enjoyed parts of it, but it had lots of issues for me.

5/10: This book has potential, but it just wasn’t executed very well.

4/10 and below: I probably won’t have many of these ratings. For me, anything under 5/10 would be the equivalent of a one- or two-star rating. Either a DNF or a book with so many problems I don’t know how I’m going to review it.

I anticipate most of my reads will fall into the 7-10 range, because I do try to choose books very carefully. My first review using this system will be posted tomorrow, and after you read my review of A Darker Shade of Magic, I think you’ll understand why I’ve decided to do this.

And how will I translate these ratings to Amazon and Goodreads, you ask? Well, for now at least, I’m thinking of 9-10 as five-star books, 7-8 as four stars, 6 as three stars, and 5 and below as 1-2 stars. (And I rarely give out those ratings anyway.)

I know everyone’s rating system is slightly different. I’d love to hear what you think! Do you use stars? Or do you use numbers? Or do you just write a review and not give it a rating at all?

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Over-Booked [19] – A Book Haul Post

Over booked banner

Welcome to Over-Booked, my twice-monthly book haul post! I’m linking up with Stacking the Shelves over at Tynga’s Reviews and The Sunday Post at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. Check out their links and you can see other book hauls. Despite my efforts to dial down review requests, I always end up with something new to share. How does that happen?? In any case, of course I’m thrilled with my new books. Here’s what I have this week:

Physical pile:

over booked 2-21

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab & signed double-sided poster. I was SO EXCITED when this came in the mail! I’ve been salivating for this book since I finished Vicious in 2013 (it probably hadn’t even been announced at that point, but I wanted to read her next book). I’m reading this now (and may be finished by the time this post goes live) and I’m loving it with the ferocity that I save for my favorite authors! Don’t miss out on my blog tour stop next week March 2nd, when I’ll be giving away a copy of A Darker Shade of Magic as well as one of those cool  signed posters you see up there. Thank you Tor Books!

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman. I didn’t request this, but I may have entered a giveaway. In any case, I’m thrilled to get this, even though I need to catch up on the first book. Everyone I know loves this series:-D Thank you Random House!

Vostok by Steve Alten. I accepted this for review from a new publisher (to me) and I believe I’m on the blog tour (but I don’t have a firm date yet). Big thanks to Rebel Press!

Purchased:

Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I’ve been hearing nothing but raves over this book, so I bought myself a copy. It takes place in the 80s, in Mexico, and it involves teens who learn how to cast spells using music!

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. I’ve been dying to read this for the longest time, and now I can:-D

We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory. Here’s another book that’s getting lots of love from readers. And it’s MY kind of book, about a support group for people who have had…weird experiences happen to them.

For review from NetGalley/Edelweiss:

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach. I’m thrilled to have been approved for this YA apocalyptic novel! It was on my Top Ten Debuts of 2015.

The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey. Here’s another YA I’ve heard really good things about. People are comparing it to City of Bones, one of my all-time favorite books, so of course I’m going to read it!

The Rebirths of Tao by Wesley Chu. So, I NEVER highlight books on this blog that don’t have a cover design yet, but oh what the hell, instead I have a photo of the very handsome Wesley Chu for you to gaze at! And I hear there will be a cover reveal very soon for this title from Angry Robot Books…

Big thanks to Simon & Schuster, Delacorte Press, and Angry Robot!

Digital review books from Night Shade Books:

I was approached by a very nice publicist from Night Shade Books, who sent me three review copies. I’m not sure I have time to read them all, but I will at least read the first two:

King of the Cracksmen by Dennis O’Flaherty. Steampunk! This one sounds like bunches of fun.

Evensong by John Love. This is a near-future political thriller that sounds great.

Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher. I’ve also heard really good things about this book, and even though there’s a military SF vibe to this, I may read it if I can find the time.

 Thanks to Night Shade Books!

Won:

Transmuted

Have you ever heard of the Holy Taco Church? No? Well, if you love authors like Kevin Hearne, Chuck Wendig, and Karina Cooper (among others), you should definitely subscribe. It’s sort of a combination of random recipes and book news, and each month they give stuff away. Last month my name was randomly drawn for an e-book of Cooper’s latest, Transmuted! I do need to catch up since this is a series (story of my life!) Has anyone started this series yet? Big thanks to Karina Cooper for my copy!

As you can see, I’m completely OVER-BOOKED:-D What’s new with you?

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