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Billy Boyle: A World War II Mystery
James R. Benn

Great world building and characters!

The Last Magician - Lisa Maxwell

The Last Magician by Lisa Maxwell is full of surprises. Every time I thought I had the plot figured out the author would throw me another curve ball. By the end of the book I was wanting more. I want to know all about this world and more about characters, such as Dolph Saunders and Harte Darrigan. Their stories are begging to be told.

 

However, this story is about Esta. She is one of the few people remaining that have an affinity for real magic, one of the Magues, and a talented one at that. She can manipulate time. She is also a first class thief, she can steal anything. Her teacher and mentor has sent her back in time to steal the book Ars Arcana.  It is the definitive book on magic that contains the secret to destroy the Brink, the magical barrier around New York that lets Magues in, but not out.

 

The Brink has trapped Magues for over a century now and today magic is almost gone. With the help of the book, the Brink can be brought down and the Magues freed. Of course, things are never as straight forward as they sound. The Ars Arcana is kept under lock and key in a stronghold of the Order, the sworn enemies of the Magues. As great a thief as Esta is, she will need help from Dolph Saunders and his gang. Unbeknownst to her some of Dolph’s people have their reasons for getting the book. In the end, she may have to betray the ones she has come to love in order to complete her mission.

 

I loved all the characters in the book, even the bad ones. This is what sold me and makes me want more. The story was excellent too. There is a lot going on and the reader could have easily gotten lost in the details. Yet, the author was very good about not throwing information at you all at once. Each tidbit revealed seemed to come at just the right time. It is obvious that careful thought when into the details.

 

The pace of the plot was perfect. It never felt rushed or forced and there was enough action and tension to keep any reader interested. There was a good balance of all things: characters, plot, setting, etc. I could not have asked for more.

 

If you are a fan of Leigh Bardogo, author of Six of Crows, you will love this book. I highly recommend with no reservations what so ever. Also, if you enjoy time travel stories and books with badass heroines this is a must for your TBR list.

 

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

For more of my reviews, and author interviews, see my book blog at www.thespineview.com.

Thought provoking story

My Name Is Venus Black: A Novel - Heather Lloyd

My Name Is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd is a thought provoking story of how a young girl commits a horrible crime and yet in so many ways is innocent.  The story is told from two points of view. First and foremost Venus and then secondary by Tessa. At the heart, the story is about family, love and forgiveness.

 

Venus Black is just thirteen when she is convicted of killing her stepfather. She escapes being tried as an adult – barely. She is sent to a juvenile correction facility to serve her six year sentence. Her brother Leo, a high functioning, autistic child, is kidnapped just days after the crime. He is never found. Once Venus serves her time and is released, she wants two things. First, to start over with a new identity. Second, to find her brother.

Unbeknownst to Venus, a young girl, Tessa, and her father have found and taken in Leo. They have raised him as their own. They have nurtured Leo and he has come to love them as much as they love him. You can imagine what happens when the two worlds collide.   

 

The author did a fabulous job with the character of Venus. There was a lot of depth to her and I empathized with her despite the terrible crime she committed. I also liked Tessa. She was an outstanding supporting character and I found her to be rather profound for her age. No doubt this is what the author intended. Another thing I liked about the story, you do not know exactly why Venus killed her stepfather until the end and the suspense was one of the things that made me want to keep turning the page, even after bedtime.  

 

The pace of the plot could not have been better. It never felt rushed at all. The only qualm I had was with the ending. It came together in this nice, neat, little package and that just does not happen in real life. On the flip side, I get that readers want a story that is all tidy in the end. Regardless, the story was well executed and I look forward to more from this author.

 

The story brings up a lot of difficult issues. For example, how does the justice system handle crimes committed by children? Where does the system fail in helping children like Venus? What does it mean to forgive someone or yourself?  These are just a few of the questions that come to mind. Because of this, My Name Is Venus Black would make an excellent book club pick.

 

I received an ARC, from the publisher, via Library Thing’s early reviewer program. Thank you!

 

For more of my reviews, and author interviews, see my book blog at www.thespineview.com.

Source: http://www.thespineview.com/genre/fiction/my-name-is-venus-black-by-heather-lloyd

Not a sappy romance

Keturah (The Sugar Baron's Daughters) - Lisa Tawn Bergren

I am not big on sappy romance, but love historical romance when the history has an important presence in the story.  This is exactly what I got with Keturah by Lisa Tawn Bergren, a beautifully written historical romance about women of strength in the 18th century.

Lady Keturah Tomlinson, a recent widow, and the oldest of Lord Banning’s three girls, has just received word of her father’s passing, on the Caribbean island of Nevis, where he was overseeing the running of the sugar plantation, Table Top, which provides the wealth for his family. She soon learns that the plantation’s sugar crop has been declining in recent years and that her father has mortgaged the plantation, as well as her family home in England, on a gamble to revive it. If she wishes to save all she has ever known, and provide for her sisters, she must get to Nevis, hire an overseer, and get the next harvest is the ground as quickly as possible. It may sound simple, but for a woman in the 18thcentury practically impossible.

As chance would have it, her childhood friend Gray Covington is also headed to Nevis. He has a small inheritance and plans to use it to revive his family’s own small acreage on Nevis. He is asked by a friend of Lord Banning’s to watch over the Banning girls and provide assistance as best he can. He quickly discovers that Lady Keturah is headstrong and does not trust or want anything to do with him or any other man for that matter. He will have to earn her trust quickly if he is to honor his promise and help her save Table Top.

What made me want to read this book is the setting of the story. I love the Caribbean and have been all over it, including St. Kitts and Nevis. The Caribbean islands are dotted with the remnants of sugar plantations and both English and French forts. Therefore, I was delighted to find that Ms. Bergren accounts where true to the period. In addition, the reality of slavery and women’s rights of the period are never easy subjects to write or read about, yet her story was truthful without being degrading. Keturah is, in short, a thoughtful written fictional account of life on the islands during that time.

While the main story line is the relationship between Keturah and Gray, the subplots worked well with the whole and added more depth to the overall work. Given that the book is at heart a romance, there is not a lot of action; nevertheless, there is enough intrigue and suspense to keep the reader wanting to turn the pages. There is a religious element to the story but it is subtle and not in any way off-putting.

I recommend Keturah to readers of romance and historical fiction both. It is a well done historical fiction and well worth adding to your TBR list.

I received a free copy via Library Thing’s member giveaway.

Source: http://www.thespineview.com/genre/fiction/keturah-by-lisa-tawn-bergren

Well researched historical fiction

As Bright as Heaven - Susan Meissner

As Bright as Heaven by Susan Meissner is a poignant story about a young family who moves from a small town in Pennsylvania to Philadelphia to begin a new, and hopefully better, life after the death of their youngest child. The story is told from four points of view, Pauline Bright and her three daughters, Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa.

When Thomas Bright’s Uncle, a permanent bachelor, asks him to move to Philadelphia to learn and take over his funeral pallor business, Tom sees it as a chance to lift his family out of poverty. With much hope, the family relocates and starts their new life. As everyone settles in to their new home in Philadelphia, the Great War in Europe is raging and the United States enters the conflict and Tom is called to serve his country. Not long after, the Spanish Flu makes it way to North America and to the city the Bright’s now call home.

Pauline begs her parents to let them return to Quakertown until the flu has passed. They refuse her, because they fear she will bring the flu with her and give it to her sister’s new born. Forced to stay, Pauline watches as the number of dead from the flu arrive at the funeral parlor in staggering numbers. She is careful to keep her mouth covered and those of the children. Yet as careful as she is, tragedy strikes the Bright family and Willa, the youngest, is the first to fall ill. Then just as she turns the corner toward recover, Pauline becomes ill too. Pauline fought hard against the flu in little Willa and she has no reserves left to fight her own battle with this enemy. In the end she succumbs and not long after their Uncle dies too.

Amidst all the tragedy, Tom and the girls open their home and their hearts to an orphaned boy.  How can they not, when the city is now full of children that have lost their parents to the flu epidemic? Little do they realize that this one selfless decision will give them the hope and courage they will need to face the future.  

As Bright as Heaven is an elegantly written, well researched, historical fiction. Ms. Meissner, knows how to write a story that pulls at your heart strings. The characters are portrayed with a realism and authenticity that is hard to find.  The story flowed so nicely and the end came much too quickly. So quickly in fact, that it felt a little rushed. That aside, it is well worth reading. I recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction and women’s fiction.

For more of my reviews, and author interviews, see my book blog at www.thespineview.com.  

Source: http://www.thespineview.com/genre/as-bright-as-heaven-by-susan-meissner

Love is magic!

The Rules of Magic: A Novel - Alice Hoffman

I could not wait to get my hands on this book. Therefore, I was super excited to see it was a selection at Book of the Month. I loved Practical Magic and just knew that The Rules of Magic would be the same. I was right!

 

The Rules of Magic is the prequel to Practical Magic and in it we meet Jet and Franny, when they are young, along with their brother Vincent. The story starts in New York when the three siblings are still children living under what they consider harsh parental rules. They can’t wear black, red shoes, or have any books on magic, among other things. They know they are different but their parents refuse to discuss their heritage with them. Then one day an invite from their Aunt Isabelle arrives and the trio sets off to Massachusetts on their summer break for a visit.

 

While with their Aunt the three discover who they our and their heritage. They learn about a family curse dating back to the early 17th century that was invoked when a family member fell in love with the wrong person. Because of the curse, when any member of the Owens family falls in love they threaten the very life of the person they love. Of course, life never works the way we have planned and bad things happen to good people. The siblings experience love, heartbreak and tragedy as they grow up and grow older and must learn to accept who and what they are.

 

The story is not about magic in the sense of witch craft, though there is some of that, it is really about the magic of love. Love as in love for your family, love for your partner, and love for humankind. It is so well written and the prose is outstanding, which made for a quick read. Ms. Hoffman did an excellent job making characters that everyone could empathize with. You will be drawn into the story from the very beginning.

 

I thought it was especially nice that both books are stand alones so you can read in any order. I can see people who are fans of Nora Roberts or Nicholas Sparks loving this book; as well as, fans of fantasy and general fiction. All in all, it is just an excellent story.

 

For more of my reviews see my blog at www.thespineview.com.

 

Unique plot and characters

The Devil And The Muse (The Creatives Series Book 2) - Joshua Sindell, Mandy Jackson-Beverly

The Devil and the Muse by Mandy Jackson-Beverly is the second book in the Creatives Series. I did not read the first book in the series, while I would have liked to, I found it not necessary. The author did a good job of catching the reader up to date. It helped that a description of the characters was included in the very beginning of the book. I referred to it several times until I got caught up on the cast and their roles in the story.

 

The Allegiance is a group of individuals headed by immortals under the protection of the goddess The Lady and the Rose. Their purpose is to protect and nurture Creatives and other magical beings from those who would do them harm. Creatives are those individual that have a unique gift of being able to see events that lie hidden underneath a painting. In the past, Creatives have been hunted down and killed as witches. Now the Creatives are using their power to help a group of girls who have been kidnapped, raped, tortured and killed by the soldiers of an evil vampire named Kenan who is the devil incarnate. The Allegiance must work quickly if they are to save these young girls.

 

The book is the classic tale of good versus evil. Yet, the plot and characters are unique. I have read a lot of fantasy and paranormal books and cannot recall anything like it. The author gets lots of kudos for originality. The plot moves rapidly and the sittings change quickly form Washington D. C. to Italy and other places, and time periods, several times which will keep the reader on their toes. This is a book you can’t skim over or you will miss an important action sequence that is critical to the plot.

 

Overall, it a good story and will appeal to readers of paranormal, vampires and fantasy.  As I stated already, it is not necessary to read the first book in the series but I recommend you do. If I had read the first book, I suspect I would have gotten more from the story. Also, when I start a series in the middle and like it, I always find myself going back and reading the book(s) that I skipped over. Therefore, I am going to add book one to my TBR list and I hope you do too. It is worth a read.

 

I received a free copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

 

See mopre of my reviews on my blog at www.thespineview.com.

Love is magic

The Rules of Magic - Alice Hoffman

I could not wait to get my hands on this book. Therefore, I was super excited to see it was a selection at Book of the Month. I loved Practical Magic and just knew that The Rules of Magic would be the same. I was right!

The Rules of Magic is the prequel to Practical Magic and in it we meet Jet and Franny, when they are young, along with their brother Vincent. The story starts in New York when the three siblings are still children living under what they consider harsh parental rules. They can’t wear black, red shoes, or have any books on magic, among other things. They know they are different but their parents refuse to discuss their heritage with them. Then one day an invite from their Aunt Isabelle arrives and the trio sets off to Massachusetts on their summer break for a visit.

While with their Aunt the three discover who they our and their heritage. They learn about a family curse dating back to the early 17th century that was invoked when a family member fell in love with the wrong person. Because of the curse, when any member of the Owens family falls in love they threaten the very life of the person they love. Of course, life never works the way we have planned and bad things happen to good people. The siblings experience love, heartbreak and tragedy as they grow up and grow older and must learn to accept who and what they are.

The story is not about magic in the sense of witch craft, though there is some of that, it is really about the magic of love. Love as in love for your family, love for your partner, and love for humankind. It is so well written and the prose is outstanding, which made for a quick read. Ms. Hoffman did an excellent job making characters that everyone could empathize with. You will be drawn into the story from the very beginning.

I thought it was especially nice that both books are stand alones so you can read in any order. I can see people who are fans of Nora Roberts or Nicholas Sparks loving this book; as well as, fans of fantasy and general fiction. All in all, it is just an excellent story.

For more of my reviews, and author interviews, see my blog at www.thespineview.com.

Source: http://www.thespineview.com/genre/fiction/the-rules-of-magic-by-alice-hoffman

Great world building

Clockwork Angel - Cassandra Clare

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare has been on my to-read list for a very long time. I do not entirely know why it has taken me so long to get to this book. After all, the book has all the elements I enjoy, strong plot, memorable characters and excellent world building.

Tessa Grey arrives in England not long after her grandmother dies. Her brother, Nathaniel, has arranged for her passage and upon arriving at the dock she is meet by the Dark Sisters.  Her brother has been unavoidable detained and has sent them in his stead or so Tessa is lead to believe. The Dark Sisters quickly imprison her in their home and set about teaching her how to use her powers that she herself did not know existed.

Tessa soon discovers she is to be given, upon completing her training, to a person known only as the Magister. Fortunately, Will, a Shadowhunter, rescues her and brings her to the sanctuary of the Shodowhunter’s residence. There with the help of the other Shadowhunters Tessa will attempt to rescue Nathaniel. As the group tries to discover the whereabouts of Nathaniel a plot, involving a clockwork army, is discovered. Now they must rush to discover out who is behind the plot to take over London.   

The author has created an intricate steampunk world filled with magic and mystery. She most definitely does not suffer from lack of originality in this series. My favorite part of this book is the characters. Yes, there is lots of character development but it went beyond that. I identified with the characters and their circumstances in such a way that it elevated the story from good to great. Then the plot drew me in from the very beginning and moved along in such a fashion that I was never bored or pulled along too quickly.  I am already looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

In hind sight, I can honestly say I wish I had read this one sooner. I believe Clockwork Angel will appeal to readers of both fantasy and steampunk.

 

Source: http://www.thespineview.com/genre/fantasy/clockwork-angel-by-cassandra-clare

Great coming-of-age story!

The Impossible Fortress - Jason Rekulak

Vanna White in Playboy that is how it all started. All Billy and his friends, Alf and Clark, wanted was to get their hands on a copy. Simple… not at all. You have to be eighteen to purchase Playboy and they are always kept behind the counter at Zelinsky’s store. After several failed attempts to lay hands on the coveted prize, they hatch a plan to steal a copy. All they need is the code to the security alarm. The plan involves Billy cozying up to Mary, the shop owner’s computer nerd daughter, and getting it from her. Billy, a computer geek himself, ends up falling for Mary. What is a guy to do? Betray his friends or betray Mary?

 

Oh, the nostalgia! The Impossible Fortress, by Jason Rekulak, brought back a lot of memories for me. The story was great and I kept rooting for Billy even though I could see he was heading for trouble. The characters were flawed but in a good way. The story was paced well so you never got bored and it did not feel rushed either. Great coming-of-age story and thoroughly enjoyable! I received a free copy in exchange for my honest review.

Source: http://www.thespineview.com/genre/ya/the-impossible-fortress-by-jason-rekulak

Great start to a trilogy.

A Plague of Giants - Luke Daniels, Xe Sands, Kevin Hearne

A Plague of Giants is the first book I have read by Kevin Hearne and I fell in love with the story and the author.  It is high fantasy, and the first book of a proposed trilogy. The author used a unique way to tell the story, one you will either hate or love, and it worked so well.

The story is about two invading forces of Giants, one in the north and one in the south. They invade the land of Teldwen, made up of six nations.  This invasion has become known as the Giants’ War. The story is told by Fintan, a Raelech bard, who has been gifted with magical powers (called a keening) that allows him to project his voice across vast distances and gives him an eidetic memory to be able to recall all the details of an event so that he can accurately relate the event.

In addition to his keening, Fintan uses a seeming stone that allows him to take on the persona of anyone he wishes. He uses this technique to hold his audience spell bound as the story of the Giants’ War unfolds from the view point of the various individuals he has meet during his travels.

Each new persona has a different story to tell that makes up the whole of the Giants’ War. Fintan tells the story over numerous days to the people who have lived through the war and are now assembled on Survivor’s Field.  Some of the personas the bard assumes are not always cast in the best possible light. This has created problems for himself and the scribe, Master Dervan, which accompanies him in order to record and preserve the story.

There is a lot going on in this book since it has many points of view (11 in all… I think) and you must read carefully to fully understand what is going on. At first, it was a lot to absorb, but as I got deeper into the story all the pieces started to fit together and I could not read fast enough. I loved the complexity of the story though I acknowledge that it will not appeal to everyone. The world building is outstanding and this is a must for me. The prose was also really good and despite the length (over 600 pages) it read like a much shorter book because I become so immersed in the world that it felt like the pages turned effortlessly.

In short, this is my kind of book. I am already looking forward to the next book in the series. I hope it is not a long wait. I recommend this to all loves of epic fantasy. The story is sure to entertain you.

I received an ARC from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Source: http://www.thespineview.com/genre/sci-fi-fantasy/a-plague-of-giants-by-kevin-hearne

Mystery/Thriller with a dash of romance

Beneath Copper Falls (Rock Harbor Series) - Colleen Coble

Beneath Copper Falls by Colleen Coble is a crime thriller/romance for lovers of fast paced novels. This is the sixth book in the Rock Harbor series, but fear not, it can be read as a stand-alone. Since I have not read the others in the series, I can honestly say that I suffered no ill effects.

After leaving an abusive relationship, Dana Newell has returned home to the UP of Michigan and has a job waiting for her as a 911 dispatcher. She is excited to see her brother, her friends and have her life return to normal. She moves in with her brother and starts the process of rebuilding.

It appears nothing is going to work in Dana’s favor and a normal life is looking like a pipe dream. Especially considering that as soon as she arrives home in Michigan, her ex-boyfriend shows up and starts stalking her. Then on Dana’s first day at work she handles the 911 call from her friend Allyson an investigative reporter. She immediately dispatches the sheriff but it is too late. Allyson’s death is ruled an accident; but, Dana suspects otherwise. Allyson was working with Boone, a close friend of Dana’s brother, to solve the murder of his sister. Is there a serial killer about? Could Dana’s ex be mixed up in this somehow? Dana and Boone will have to learn to trust each other and work together if they are going to solve these crimes before someone else is murdered.

I loved that the opening grabbed me and willed me to keep reading from the get go. The pace was fast but not rushed and even though I figured out who the killer was early on; I found this did not detract from the story. There was enough other stuff going on to keep me reading. The intertwining relationship interjected a sense of realism I sometimes find lacking in thrillers. In addition, thrillers sometimes use action as a cover up for poorly developed characters, which is not the case here.

Beneath Copper Falls is a solid crime thriller that begs to be read in one sitting. It is perfect for those readers who love crime thrillers with a light touch of romance.

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

Source: http://www.thespineview.com/genre/fiction/beneath-copper-falls-by-colleen-coble

I should have fallen in love.....

The Queen of the Night - Alexander Chee

The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee is one of those books that I should have fell in love with from the opening pages. From the synopsis it sounded to me like most everything I love about historical fiction. Sadly, I was disappointed.

Lilliet Berne is a famous Paris opera singer with a checked past. She has survived untold hardships to arrive at the place she is today. There are only a few people who know the whole truth of who Lilliet really is, a sum total of four, and it seems one of them is out to expose her. She knows this because a new opera has been written just for her, the crowning glory for an opera singer, and her life is the story. All her secrets will be exposed to the world.

Who would do this? As Lilliet works to find the answer to who the perpetrator is, she narrates her life for the benefit of the reader starting as a young girl growing up on a farm in Minnesota. Then how she tragically becomes an orphan and ends up in New York where she is hired as an equestrian acrobat and tours Europe which leads to being a courtesan and a spy, among other things, before her career as an opera singer even began.

The story suffered from several problems. First, the plot felt a bit over worked for my tastes. I like complex plots, when they make sense, but here it felt like the author was trying too hard. I think less would have been more here. Second, I never got the sense that I really understood Lilliet. The reader was told why she did what she did, etc. Yet, I never felt a deep connect to her and I missed that, badly. Then there were times the pace was so slow I struggled to get through it. I lost count of the number of times I had to just quit reading and pick up something else.

On to the good things, the writing was noteworthy. I love thoughtful descriptive prose and I got that here. I also liked the character of Lilliet, even though I was not totally taken with her.  The author did a superb job of intertwining the real historical facts with the fiction. The overworked plot aside, over all I liked the story. It is unfortunate that the bad over shadowed the good.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy in a giveaway.

Source: http://www.thespineview.com/genre/fiction/the-queen-of-the-night-by-alexander-chee