Review – Dreams and Shadows

Dreams and ShadowsWhat happens when a wish comes true? What happens when that granted wish is cursed? Colby Stevens and Ewan Thatcher meet as children, and what seems on the surface to be a needed friendship for both, actually turns out to be a harbinger of death and destruction. When Colby and Ewan reach adulthood, the world hidden behind a magical veil appears for a battle on the streets of Austin, Texas.

In Dreams and Shadows, Austin, Texas is a strange place. A place where the magical and non-magical worlds collide and where knowing where a path will lead is invaluable knowledge. This version of Austin is where we pick up the story of Ewan Thatcher and Colby Stevens, two children who meet at the fairy court in the Limestone Kingdom and whose lives are forever changed by a wish Colby made.

Ewan Thatcher was the perfect baby, wished for and loved like no other — his doting parents wanting only the best for him. When Ewan is kidnapped and replaced with a magical child doppelganger, his parents’ lives come to a dramatic close on Earth. Ewan, safely stolen away and cared for in the fairy realm, is meant to live out his fate as a sacrifice for the everlasting lives of the fairies that rule in the Limestone Kingdom.

Colby Stevens is a forgotten child of an alcoholic mother and long gone father. With no friends to speak of and little family life, he spends his days playing by himself in the nearby woods. It’s in these same woods that he meets a djinn named Yashar, and a cursed djinn at that, and makes a wish to see all there is to see. After much discussion and unsuccessful convincing by Yashar that another wish would be better, Colby gets his way and a whole torrent of problems rain down.

Colby wants to meet a fairy and as it turns out Ewan is that fairy. When the powers that be in the Limestone Kingdom find out about Yashar and Colby’s visit, they ban them from the realm but not before Colby finds out that Ewan is to be sacrificed. Going back to rescue Ewan sets off a battle that will be played out long in the future on the street of Austin. A time in the future when Colby is a hardened 22 year-old wizard working in a vintage bookstore and drinking his evenings away with fallen angels in a basement bar and shortly after Ewan finally meets the girl of his dreams and becomes the rock star he always wanted to be.

Colby starts off so innocent, but with a cursed wish, all that is gone and he spends the rest of days attempting to protect Ewan from a fate he doesn’t know about. The mythical world fears Colby not only for what he knows but what he can do and has done. Those fears have kept Austin, Texas and the Limestone Kingdom separate but that could all change with thought and a bit of meddling. And Ewan, he’s a shadow of his former magical fairy self, a self he didn’t even know existed until he was told about it. The intersection of these two lives becomes a battleground where no one is willing to concede.

To readers of fantasy I say, read this now. If you don’t think you like fantasy, read this because it will change your mind. Dreams and Shadows is thoroughly engrossing. It’s fantasy full of all the gritty details you want and need from a story like this. The setting, which seems ordinary on the surface, is perfect because it allows reality to seep into a story that brings together so many mythical elements and characters that it feels grounded. That might sound odd, but I happen to like my fantasy mixed with reality. It makes it more enticing for me as a reader. Really, I want to tell you all about this story, but this is one you need to read to see how brilliant it is.

Dreams and Shadows
C. Robert Cargill
Harper Voyager
ISBN: 9780062190420

Review – Ashenden

AshendenAshenden is an old, yet still grand, English country house. Falling into disrepair over the years, it can still impress, even if it’s just by the enormous cash reserves needed to heat the place. When Charlie and his sister inherit the crumbling estate, the stress of how to care for the place takes a toll on their already distant relationship. The two begin consulting engineers and surveyors to determine what needs to be done and whether or not selling or renovating is in their best interests, or the house’s.

While a decision is made about the house’s future, its past begins to unfold giving the reader a glimpse of the people it has sheltered, the sorrows and joys felt in its rooms, and the memories that have seeped into its walls. We are introduced to the people that have walked the halls of the house from the architect who envisioned the grand space, to the staff who kept the fires burning, and the families that owned the property.

What I enjoyed about this book was the way all of the stories were tied together, each flowing smoothly into the next. It wasn’t about the people but how the house was transformed by the years from a money pit that was wanted more for the prestige it bought, but was ultimately unaffordable, to the original builder, the individuals that toured the house, and the sick it protected. The people come and go but the house itself is the one constant that brings everything together.

Ashenden is a mixture of short stories about the people that admired the grand house, found love and heartbreak inside its walls, and those that recovered in the green expanse that was part of the property. Its residents, owners, builders, all make and break the house and while the reader sees the past, it’s the current owners that are struggling with the future. I liked the way Wilhide smoothly moves the story along while it remains in place at the same time. It’s a very effective way to tell the story of the house and make it more than simply a structure of bricks, glass, and wood. It becomes a living part of the story, in fact, the story itself. With each new chapter, I wanted to know how it was holding up and what it had become in its new reincarnation as it does change with each new generation that walks through the doors. From the start, you know it’s not a simple home but something built and imagined to be more than that.

Many of the stories told here are very sad but overall I wouldn’t say that about the book. It made me smile many times, and even though the individual stories being told were not on the whole always happy, it was an honest look at the people who passed through the halls and that I could appreciate — nothing too sad but not all that happy either, a nice equilibrium of stories.

Wilhide is a writer who cares very much about the details and it is those details that make this story. Without the finer points and the clear image she creates of the house, this story wouldn’t work. The particulars create an invisible web that lets the story meander, but always bringing it back home. It’s such a lovely story and a satisfying read for a winter evening.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Ashenden

By Elizabeth Wilhide

Simon & Schuster

ISBN: 9781451684865

Review – City of Dark Magic

City of Dark Magic

I have a soft spot for urban fantasy. I don’t know if it’s the paranormal haze that overtakes the story or if it’s the ridiculous quality that some stories take on when fantasy and paranormal mix, but in this book, it’s the latter. That ridiculous quality is the draw for me.

Sarah Weston is a talented music student in Boston but a student with few lucrative prospects in her path. When she’s offered a very profitable summer job in Prague cataloguing Beethoven’s manuscripts for a new museum, she jumps at the opportunity. Sarah arrives in Prague and is immediately hit with bad news — her mentor, the man who most likely recommended her for the position, is dead of an apparent suicide. She has trouble believing the story which gets even stranger when odd things begin happening to her. Weird symbols start appearing in unlikely places, she accidently stumbles on a Cold War conspiracy involving a very prominent U.S. Senator, and then there’s the time travel inducing drug she takes without knowing what it does. Throw in a romance with a prince and you’ve got a very busy summer that also includes putting together an exhibit on Beethoven.

A standard rule I have when reading a book such as this — remove all sense of reality then enjoy at will. City of Dark Magic is a fast read, silly, yet entertaining. It’s campy and you want to keep reading because it’s compelling in its strange way. I wanted to know what else could be thrown in the mix. This book is a huge mashup of genres: paranormal, mystery, thriller, time travel, and romance. Prague, with its long and sometimes dark history, is a good setting for it all but I do wish the city itself had played a larger role in the story. It’s a location and not much more.

Sarah’s the center of everything weird going on but she’s not the most interesting character for me. There are two others: Pollina, a blind musical prodigy who keeps warning Sarah with cryptic references about Prague, and Nicolas, a little person with a penchant for stealing valuable objects and who hints at being alive for close to 400 years. Pollina and Nicholas play scant parts in the story but they also made it for me. You don’t know much about either but each time one of them shows up, something interesting happens. I like characters like that.

Then we have the romance, which is more like sex in weird places rather than a straight forward romance. Sarah falls for Max, the heir apparent of the Prague royal family and also heir to an enormous fortune. Frankly, I had no idea what Sarah saw in him. He gets slightly more interesting as the story goes on but he’s sort like a light bulb — on one second, off the next but the two work as a couple.

I gravitate toward books with any time travel element. Here, it’s a bit different, less actual travel to the past and more watching the past thanks to a drug that allows users to see the remnants of history but not interact with it. Think of it as watching a movie. The concept is cool. In fact, it works extremely well and is one of the best parts of the book. Points for creativity need to be awarded for this.

Sometimes you want a book that simply entertains and City of Dark Magic does that. There’s a bit of everything and when one scene seems impossible, know that the next will top it. Go with it. It’s a good ride and a great way to escape reality for a bit.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

City of Dark Magic

Magnus Flyte

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780143122685

3.5 stars

 

Review – Island of Bones

There are some books you finish and want more of, immediately. For me, this is one of those books. I loved the setting, the characters, the mystery — everything. I’ve been reading a lot of historical mysteries lately, and oddly, they’ve all been series and I’ve started all of them somewhere in the middle rather than from the beginning. The same is true for this book; it’s Robertson’s third book featuring the characters of Mrs. Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther. Surprisingly, this hasn’t dulled my enjoyment one bit.

Mrs. Harriet Westerman is a woman still mourning her husband, even after her mourning period is officially over. Now, rather than be a spectacle to pity, she is trying to move forward with her life. When a request arrives to investigate the discovery of an extra body found in a crypt that had been supposedly untouched for many years, the idea of an adventure appeals. Mrs. Westerman, and Gabriel Crowther, a reclusive anatomist, set out for the Lake District to investigate the circumstances surrounding the skeleton. Crowther, also known as Lord Keswick, a title he has shunned and has done all he could to distance himself from not only the title but also his family, meets his past head on when they arrive in the Lake District. Not only is there a dead body and a mystery surrounding it, but Crowther’s sister and nephew are also in residence at Silverside Hall, a place once owned by Crowther and his family until he sold it. A happy family reunion it is not.

While the mysteries mount, a strange thing begins to happen — long held beliefs of the townspeople start taking center stage in the investigation. A lost relic called The Luck, a gold cross embedded with jewels, becomes part of the discussion and makes its way into the investigation of Mrs. Westerman and Crowther. More than one person’s hidden family history comes to light before the mystery is solved.

There’s something so very likable about Robertson’s writing. She writes great characters. They’re frank, smart, and surprising. I loved how she took a very relaxing setting and overlaid it with death, local folklore, and a mystery of family proportions that only seemed to grow larger by the day. It all fit so well together. When the story started coming to a close, I wanted more even after the satisfying conclusion. And, yes, there is a satisfying conclusion. I like that in a mystery.

Going back to the main characters, Mrs. Westerman and Gabriel Crowther — I said they were likable but it’s more than that. The two are a strange combination but a combination that works brilliantly. Crowther is a grump of a man, a recluse who takes no pleasure in people except for the few he can tolerate, and yet, his scientific analysis is a fascinating attribute. In fact, it’s an interesting aspect of the story itself and slightly morbid as he does care to spend more time with the dead than the living. Mrs. Westerman is a great counterpoint to his standoffish qualities. I also like unconventional women in historical fiction and she’s certainly unusual for her time. I should point out that the story is set in 1783 and a woman investigating murders is far from the norm.

Now that I have used one too many laudatory words in describing what I liked so much about this book, I leave you with this — read Island of Bones. They’ll be no regrets. I had high hopes for this book and those expectations were met.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Island of Bones

By Imogen Robertson

Pamela Dorman Books

ISBN: 9780670026272

4.5 stars

 

Review – Death in the Floating City: A Lady Emily Mystery

Lady Emily Hargreaves, accompanied by her husband Colin, is on her way to Venice to help a childhood friend named Emma Callum. A better description would be a childhood nemesis — Emily and Emma were not exactly the best of friends as children and Emily did her best to distance herself from Emma whenever possible. However, Emma has asked for her help and Emily can’t turn down a plea for help, even when that plea comes from Emma Callum. Years ago, Emma ran off with an Italian Count and caused a bit of a scandal at home, but is now in desperate need of Emily’s detective skills. Her father-in-law has been murdered in the home she shares with her husband, and her husband, who is a suspect in his father’s murder, has disappeared making the case against him look even more telling. She needs Emily to find the murderer and clear her husband.

Weary of her Emma’s motives but still willing to help, Emily and Colin begin their investigation and Emily soon finds herself fascinated by Venice, a city she’s never visited before. With few clues besides an old ring to go on, Emily enlists the help of a Venetian historian and his daughter, Donata, to help her navigate the city and open a few palazzo doors for her to ask questions. With the help of Donata, Emily stumbles upon a centuries old love story that tore two individuals, and their families, apart. The same feud is still going strong which doesn’t help Emily when she needs questions answered. She begins searching frantically through libraries and family trees for any clue that will help solve the case while Colin begins a search for Emma’s missing husband.

This is my second Lady Emily mystery and I’m becoming addicted. I need to plan some reading time to go back and start this series from the beginning. Even though this is a series, these books do stand on their own but the characters and settings are so good I want to go back and spend more time in this world. Emily and Colin are incredibly likable characters and the settings, especially this particular book’s setting of Venice, are so lovely you want to step into the pages. Alexander does a fantastic job with the crumbling palazzos, dusty old books, and gondolas gliding along the canals.

Let’s talk about the mystery for a moment because there is one here. What I liked most about the mystery was the way it was wrapped up in a love story a la Romeo and Juliet style. Told through letters interspersed throughout the story, the centuries-old love story starts to show up in Emily’s mystery in unexpected ways. In the end, Alexander wraps this one up nicely with a little sneak peek of what’s ahead for Emily and Colin.

What I really enjoyed about this book was the way I was able to fall into the story and get lost in the mystery, the romance, and the city of Venice. I was pulled into the story very early and I didn’t want to leave. There’s just enough of everything in this book to make me a happy reader. Obviously, I’m waiting for Emily’s next adventure.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

Death in the Floating City: A Lady Emily Mystery

By Tasha Alexander

Minotaur Books

ISBN: 9780312661762

4 stars

 

Review – The Map of the Sky

H.G. Wells is an unhappy man. His latest work, The War of the Worlds, has a sequel that he didn’t write. Having agreed to meet with the American author who he believes has unjustly made money off his idea, Wells grumbles his way through the streets of London to the pub for the meeting. This author, who impresses Wells more than he cares to admit, tells him incredible tales of monsters and aliens and when Wells fails to believe, he offers to show him. In a locked room at the natural history museum, Wells gazes upon what he believes to be a true Martian — just like the creatures he created in his latest book.

At the same time, in America, young socialite Emma Harlow is once more declining the attentions of almost every eligible man in her social circle. When one of the men, Montgomery Gilmore, manages to annoy her to the point of a challenge, she tells him what it will take to win her hand in marriage. A fan of H.G. Wells’s latest book, she wants him to re-create the Martian invasion from The War of the Worlds. Gilmore, a man with money to burn, accepts the challenge and sets out to construct the invasion in the hope of winning Emma’s heart.

When the day arrives for Gilmore’s event, people gather around a supposed space ship in a field outside of London. Among the onlookers are Emma and Wells who was drug there by an inspector from Scotland Yard believing Wells would know what is going to happen. What happens is beyond them all and has them running for their lives.

Palma takes several different stories and weaves a tale that starts in London, travels to the Antarctic, heads to America, and then lands back in London. I have to admit that starting this review was daunting simply because I didn’t know where to start. There is so much going on in this book but Palma manages the story well, tying up loose ends and making each part of the book feel complete.

The Map of the Sky is the sequel to his first novel, The Map of Time. While I want to say this book can stand alone, there are some characters that return, in new incarnations, and having the entire back story does help in reading this one. Palma obviously has a special regard for Wells’s work and even though his works are prominent aspects of this book, I don’t think one has to have read the books — in this particular case it is Wells’s The War of the Worlds — to enjoy the story.

Time travel, aliens, historical figures — it’s a nice mix. I enjoyed the odd historical figure thrown in, Edgar Allan Poe for example, and Palma does a good job of not making you feel as if he’s tossing out names but creating enough back story for that character to make sense in the full context of the book. I appreciate that. However, I will caution that this isn’t a book that lets you come and go; there’s a lot going on for it to be a leisurely read. It’s more the type of book that sucks you in with the small hints buried in the story and twists and turns that don’t seem to have an ending until the entire scheme is played out.

Palma is an appealing writer and I have to say I enjoyed both of his books. He’s into the details which make his stories come alive.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Map of the Sky

By Felix J. Palma

Atria Books

ISBN: 9781451660319

4 stars

Review – The Map of Lost Memories

Irene Blum has spent her life studying the Khmer Empire and acquiring knowledge of ancient civilizations and artifacts. She’s an expert in her field and fully expects to be running the Brooke Museum of Oriental Arts in Seattle, which houses a collection she helped to build, in due time. When the curatorship is given to another, it devastates her. Still reeling from the death of her father a few months earlier, she turns to Henry Simms, a close family friend and the man who helped raise her after the death of her mother. He is also the person who instilled in her the intense interest she has in the Khmer Empire. Mr. Simms is dying of cancer, and knowing it will be the last great adventure of his life and the start of one for Irene, he shares an unknown diary with her that talks about lost copper scrolls containing the history of the Khmer. The scrolls are supposedly hidden in an ancient Khmer temple in the Cambodian jungle. With nothing left for her in Seattle, Irene leaves for Shanghai to convince a woman named Simone Merlin to join her on the trip to Cambodia. Both women have much to prove — to each other and themselves — and the trip to discover the lost scrolls becomes a test of wills.

While the big draw for me was the setting, Shanghai and the Cambodian jungle in 1925, it was the characters that surprised me. Everyone has secrets so deeply ingrained it drug them all down and each and every character fought out of desperation; each not wanting to admit being wrong or to give in. The setting amplified every single flaw these characters carried.

Irene and Simone are bound together in horrific ways that neither woman wants to think about — murder, drugs, and a personal history neither knew existed until Irene found Simone in Shanghai. Their interactions are sometimes painful to witness but that’s what I enjoyed so much about this particular relationship. In 1925, two women struggling to be more than what society has deemed appropriate was great to see. Their efforts to regain some sense of themselves, understand their dreams, and deal with how those dreams have changed made for notable characters.

The Map of Lost Memories is full of mystery and suspense — some of it brought on in the course of the discovery of an archeological gem in the jungle and at other times it’s complete human folly. I adored the mixture. I feel like I’ve skipped the brilliant setting in favor of discussing some flawed but captivating characters. The setting and the discovery of an ancient Khmer temple deep in the Cambodian jungle was what made me want to read this book and it turned out to be a book full of characters looking for and waiting for redemption in different forms.

Historical fiction is a favorite of mine and the thing that keeps me reading this genre are books that make me want to know more about an event, a person, or discovery after I finish the book. This book did just that. I found myself wanting to know more about the Khmer Empire and the forgotten temples covered by moss and vines.

A setting that’s fascinating, thrilling, and dangerous, and characters that are in turn annoying and absorbing with strong personalities but are flawed and human. Together these elements made it difficult for me to put this book down. Fay obviously has a love for Asian culture and history. If she decides to write more books with this setting, I’ll be reading.

In addition to this blog, I also do reviews for The Book Reporter website. The above review was done for the Book Reporter which can be found here. The book was provided to me by the publisher.

The Map of Lost Memories

Kim Fay

Ballantine Books

ISBN: 9780345531346

4 stars