Spellbreaker

January 11th, 2021

By Charlie N. Holmberg

The Short Take:

I did not appreciate finding out at the end that it would take a second book to finish this story. And, frankly, this one didn’t impress me enough to want to read another. But you might feel different.

Why?

To be fair, the Amazon listing did include a line of type reading “Book 1 of 2.” A line of type I failed to note. But there was nothing in my ebook. Not even at the end to push you towards the next volume.

Holmberg’s gaslight fantasy/romance is set in a world where magic is real and those born with magical ability must register with the authorities and go through proper training.

About two-thirds of the book is repetitive, with Elsie breaking spells when others demand and trying not to get caught. Over and over. Then the plot twists and turns like an agitated rattlesnake. Good guys become bad guys become good guys. Phew! Maybe if the author had taken less time setting things up the reader could have gotten a whole story with an ending in one volume.

A Little Plot:

Young orphan Elsie only realizes she has spell breaking power when she accidentally causes her orphanage to burn to the ground. Afraid of being punished, she keeps her power secret. However the Cowls know her secret and draw her into a world of intrigue. Elsie struggles to balance her two lives. Then things get really complicated.

For more about Charlie N. Holmberg and her work, click here.

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The Invisible Life of Adie LaRue

December 22nd, 2020

By V. E. Schwab

The Short Take:

Make a deal with a devil and you’re sure to be sorry. Ask for more time and freedom to live as you wish, and you might live forever but no one will remember you. That’s Addie’s predicament and it makes for a fascinating read.

Why?

On the surface not being remembered doesn’t sound so bad. But think again. Imagine a kindly woman invites you into her house for a cup of tea. She turns away to pour a cup and when she turns back screams to see a complete stranger in her house. Or you spend the night with a man and when he awakens he is either shocked out of his mind or tries to act like he remembers you. Not being remembered can be a big problem. And so Addie discovers as the years grow into decades and then centuries.

It’s an interesting spin on the challenges of a lifetime that stretches on forever and the author does a good job of painting a daunting picture of the problem inherent in every-day survival. But her heroine is resilient and exceedingly stubborn.

Of course things don’t go on this way forever. One day someone does remember her. That’s when things get really interesting.

A Little Plot:

Addie wants to escape her little village and the marriage that’s being forced on her. In desperation, she prays to the old gods and one of them answers, offering her time and freedom in exchange for her soul. She jumps at the offer, not thinking about what interpretation her “liberator” may make of her request.

For more about Schwab and her books (her others are aimed at young adult and middle age audiences, this one is absolutely not) click here.

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The End of the Day

December 16th, 2020

By Bill Clegg

The Short Take:

This novel of friendships gone awry and family secrets is interesting. It would be more interesting if those secrets weren’t so easy for me to figure out.

Why?

Told from various points of view, the overriding themes of this well-written novel are “don’t tell me what I don’t want to know” and “I’m just going to ignore that.” Which make for good story-telling but not necessarily a good life.

The plot revolves around three families: the very rich Goss, their servants, the Lopez, and the middle class Howland. Some relationships between members of these groups are intense. Others are fleeting, but life-changing. Misunderstandings, willful ignorance, and bad assumptions underly everything.

It’s not exactly uplifting material, but Clegg manages to help the reader actually feel relieved when hurtful secrets are relieved, even if his characters aren’t.

A Little Plot:

Dana decides to finally reveal something to a once-dear friend, Jackie, who shut her out 40 years ago. Meanwhile, half-way around the world, Lupita studiously continues to avoid any contact with her family. The story of their younger days holds the secrets that still haunt them.

For more about Bill Clegg and his writings, click here.

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Piranesi

November 11th, 2020

By Susanna Clarke

The Short Take:

This dream-like fantasy explores an alternative universe where a man lives in a world of grand halls filled with marble statues and a living ocean. Another person visits him twice weekly and calls him Piranesi, which he believes is not his name. He has questions but can get no answers from his visitor. Mystery abounds.

Why?

Clarke has created a world of incredible beauty, wonder, and complexity then populated it with a solitary man, Piranesi, who appreciates it to the point of worship. Another person, called the Other, consults him for help in finding a great power supposedly hidden within this labyrinth of halls. However, things are not as they seem.

The intricate descriptions make reading this novel an ethereal experience. The countless halls, unique statues, and the birds and fish that fill this universe enchant. Piranesi loves his world but cracks appear when evidence of a third person appears.

What starts as fantasy becomes a mystery which revolves around Piranesi, who is beset by eroded trust and unknown dangers. It’s a fascinating read.

A Little Plot:

Piranesi knows the halls and statues of his hall well. He even knows the patterns of the ocean’s tides. That is why the Other values his help. But while Piranesi willing provides assistance, he begins to wonder what the point his efforts might have. And who, exactly, he is.

While Clarke seems not to have a website this article in the New Yorker tells you all about her. You can reach it by clicking here.

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Daughters of Chivalry

October 31st, 2020

By Kelcey Wilson-Lee

The Short Take:

This non-fiction book focused on the five daughters of England’s King Edward I who survived to adulthood. Unlike Disney, historians have largely ignored princesses–unless they went on to marry kings. However, Wilson-Lee’s book shows that they had more influence than you might think.

Why?

Eleanor, Joanna, Margaret, Mary, and Elizabeth were distinct individuals. Though the courses of their lives were supposed to be dictated by their kingly father and the men they were betrothed to, they each faced challenges that required personal initiative.

Wilson-Lee largely avoids speculations and makes it clear when she does make a supposition. That can make the reading a touch drier but these women are so interesting you should still enjoy the read. Mary was pledged to the convent at the age of six but lived a life of rich privilege. Prestigious matches were arranged for the other four, though the outcomes were not as expected. Rebellious Joanna did as she wished. Eleanor and Elizabeth were both intellectually curious. Several of them faced moments of crisis where their influence and abilities had important impacts on the lands their husbands ruled. All knew that when they married they would still represent their father’s interests whether at home or abroad and did so willingly.

While focused on more practical matters, the author doesn’t neglect the pomp of Edward’s court, with descriptions of bejeweled dresses and lavish banquets. However, it is the preparation of these young princesses for the important (if often forgotten) roles they would play that takes center stage.

A Little Plot:

Wilson-Lee picks up her tale when Edward I and his wife return from a crusade, bringing a new daughter to join the children the pair left behind. She then follows the lives of the five daughters up to their deaths.

For more about Kelcey Wilson-Lee and her books click here.

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The Midnight Library

October 18th, 2020

By Matt Haig

The Short Take:

Nora already felt like her life was a mess then it got worse. So she decides to end it all but instead of becoming dead she winds up in a library with countless books describing other lives she could have had–and that she can now try out.

Why?

This starts out as a very depressing read but quickly perks up. The protagonist has burdened herself with numerous regrets over the course of her 35 years. Now she is given a chance to try out those could-of-been lives and see if one of them suits her better than the disappointing one she attempted to leave.

In a way this is a self-help book in the form of a novel. As Nora learns about herself readers can apply those lessons to their own lives. It’s a clever way to reach people who might never visit the self-help section of a store and it nicely follows Haig’s memoir Reasons to Stay Alive.

This insightfulness does not get in the way of the novel’s charm. The writing is lively and bright. The various lives present highly diverse experiences, ranging from rock star to glaciologist; occupations which hold a lot more interest than most people’s lives offer.

I’m sure this is going to be a huge book club book, and deservedly so.

A Little Plot:

Nora’s life is a ball of regrets. Then she gets fired and her cat dies. She decides to commit suicide but the process delivers her to a strange library with a librarian like Miss Elm from her high school days. And Miss Elm offers her the chance to find her best life.

For more about Matt Haig and his books click here.

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Troubled Blood

October 12th, 2020

By Robert Galbraith

The Short Take:

Another engaging Comoran Strike mystery but at over 900 pages, it was far too long. This complex mystery features a lot of characters. And the plethora of horoscope/astrological references could get old. But if you’re a Strike fan, the developing relationship between he and Robin made it worthwhile.

Why?

Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed the book, though I did find myself skimming the astrological stuff. Investigating a disappearance that took place 40 years earlier required some heavy lifting from our fictional detectives (as well as the author). Many associated with the original disappearance had died or disappeared. Except for the daughter of the missing woman, other family members wanted to let the past be past. It posed a major challenge for Comoran and Robin,

As a side note, there were several other cases the detective agency also had to resolve. These largely involved the stake outs typical of most investigative work. I have always appreciated that this series puts the monotony and deep research private investigators engage in on full display. These are not glamorous jobs–except when that exceptional case comes along.

Determining if this disappeared woman was another victim of a serial murder or had met some other fate was one of those exceptional cases.

A Little Plot:

Margot Bamborough disappeared in 1976. The police assumed she was the victim of a serial murderer but the case was never solved, her body never found. Her daughter has a chance encounter with Comoran Strike which leads her to hire him to investigate. Even though he knows the chances of learning anything are slim, he is intrigued enough to take the case. He and Robin Ellacott have a year to figure things out.

For more about Galbraith (an alias for J. K. Rowling) and this series of books click here.

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Squeeze Me

October 5th, 2020

By Carl Hiaasen

The Short Take:

Hiaasen’s Florida-focused mysteries are always a wild romp. This one is no exception, featuring gigantic snakes, the Florida presidential compound, and the rich and powerful snobs of Palm Beach.

Why?

Be ready for one crazy read as Hiaasen takes you from a drunken charity ball to the Winter White House to the Everglade swamps and back again. It’s outrageous, irreverent, and pure fun; a perfect respite from the real world.

Of course, if you are like the members of the (fictional) Potussies, who worship everything about the president the Secret Serve refers to as Mastodon, you might take umbrage. But in that case, Hiaasen’s probably not for you anyway.

A Little Plot:

At an exclusive charity ball, ultra-rich dowager Kiki Pew disappears. The next day Angie Armstrong gets a call from the manager of the ball’s venue to collect and remove a huge python. Angie puts two-and-two together. But when the president gets wind of Pew’s disappearance/death he decides a group of violent immigrants have targeted his supporters and makes it a major part of every speech. Mayhem ensues. As does the appearance of more pythons.

For more about Carl Hiaasen and his many books, click here.

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Pretty Things

September 30th, 2020

By Janelle Brown

The Short Take:

What’s better than one unreliable narrator? Two! Well maybe not better, but certainly more entertaining. One narrator in this novel is a some-what reluctant con artist. The other is a rich heiress. It’s inevitable their paths should cross with a resounding clash.

Why?

This tale of revenge, betrayal, and a thirst for money is not the most elegant or witty book around but it is great fun. The story unfolds–and overlaps–through two first-person narratives. One is delivered by Nina, a young woman brought up in poverty who now steals “just some and from those who deserve it” with a male partner. The other narrator, Vanessa, is an heiress who is also a globe-trotting Instagram influencer.

Their family’s paths crossed when the girls were in their teens. That interaction sent both families in a tailspin. Now Nina desperately needs money and Vanessa is one person she does not mind taking for all she is worth.

What makes this book interesting is that it records many of the same scenes from both points of view. Words vary. Emphasis varies. Reactions vary. Noting what is presented differently take you inside these two damaged women, who both present themselves to the world as other than their realities. However, this novel could have been vastly improved if written with a black comedy slant. As the situation develops, the plot becomes more and more ludicrous and really needs that leavening, but you still can’t look away.

A Little Plot:

Nina’s mother needs a fortune to pay for an experimental cancer treatment. Nina, who has long nursed a grudge against the filthy rich Liebling family, thinks their daughter is the ideal mark to obtain that money. She enlists her con artist partner, Lachlan, in her scheme and they head to Lake Tahoe where Vanessa has holed up after experiencing some let downs of her own.

For more about Janelle Brown and her books, click here.

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Migrations

September 20th, 2020

By Charlotte McConaghy

The Short Take:

I seldom come across a book that moves me so much. This beautifully written novel about a damaged woman and her passion for the animal victims of our abused planet breaks your heart but also mends it.

Why?

In a not-so-distant future most wild animals are extinct, from the great cats to common crows. Franny Stone–who has a passion for water, birds, and personal flight–is determined to trace what is probably the very last Arctic to Antarctic migration of the last arctic terns.

She has no resources to call on but is determined to get from Greenland to Antarctica, even if means never coming back. Her determination is matched only by her low self esteem. Her pain is deep but its many sources are revealed bit by bit over the course of this heart-wrenching story.

However, I don’t want to give anyone the idea this is depressing. You’ll also find great beauty, moments of kindness, and sparks of joy that brighten the read. This is McConaghy’s first book for adults. I hope she stays with us.

A Little Plot:

Franny Stone has been searching for a boat to take her Antarctica–for free. She finally succeeds with the captain of the fishing boat Saghani, convincing him that her tagged arctic terns will also reveal where the last few schools of fish swim. It’s a dangerous journey, and Franny’s past is nothing like she presents it to him.

For more about charlotte McConaghy click here.

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