Wizarding for Beginners – Book Review

By: Elys Dolan
Published on: July 7, 2020

The fun never stops with Dave, who is now part of a book club, and Albrecht – Dave’s “trusty steed and life coach.”

In Wizarding for Beginners, Dave and Albrecht are at their book club when a post card is delivered to Albrecht. It is from his family, but is also a sad moment for Albrecht because ever since a wizard put a spell on him giving him the ability to talk he has never been able to communicate with his family. One thing leads to another and soon Dave and Albrecht are off to become wizards themselves, but there are so, so, so many rules about who can be a wizard and what a wizard must or must not do that it becomes a bit too much. What’s even better is when they begin to find all the ways their fellow wizards are either following or not following the rules.

Continue reading “Wizarding for Beginners – Book Review”

Battle of Britain, 1940: The Finest Hour’s Human Cost – Book Review

By: Dilip Sarkar
Published On: July 8, 2020

In the summer of 1940, Germany began developing plans to invade Britain. Every other nation they had invaded had fallen so quickly how could Britain not fall as well? Their first task to accomplishing this goal would be to dominate them by air. Beginning ‘officially’ in July 1940, Germany waged war over certain objectives like air fields, radar, and other essential infrastructure. Many books have been written on this four month period of WWII that includes strategies, timelines, or even recollections from those who survived. This particular book focuses on the war from the perspectives of those who fell during this period of time. Those who never made it home.

In The Battle of Britain 1940, Dilip Sarkar uses each chapter to introduce us to an individual who gave the ultimate sacrifice during this period of the war. The chapter begins with the individual’s name, squadron or group, and date they were killed in action or went missing. But instead of taking the reader straight to the date in question we first learn of who they were, their family and what brought them into the war and into the service they were part of. Later we hear in their own words, through official documentation, recounts of their encounters with the Luftwaffe where they safely made it back home. For the day when they did not make it back home we read someone else’s official account of what transpired.

As easy as it would be to stop at just the pilot’s sacrifices, the author pays homage to others individuals who lost their lives during this battle but whose sacrifice isn’t as well documented as the pilots may be. During the events convoys going from America to Britain were often a target of attack. What may not be as well known is that a significant number of the sailors or merchant seaman were not British. Many who crewed these ships were part of the Indian Merchant Navy or were from China or Hong Kong. Another ‘hidden history’ as the author calls it was that of the sacrifices made by those who on the ground, such as ground crew or women in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.

Overall, I liked how personal these stories were. A lot of photographs were included that were given by their families or from other sources. I suspect many history buffs will be happy to read these stories too, especially since it includes detailed accounts of what happened in the air during these fights against the Luftwaffe.

Thanks to Netgalley and Pen & Sword for an advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

The summer of 1940 remains a pivotal moment in modern British history – still inspiring immense national pride and a global fascination.

The Fall of France was catastrophic. Britain stood alone and within range of German air attack. America, with its vast resources was neutral, Hitler’s forces unbeaten, the outlook for Britain bleak. As Britain’s wartime leader, Winston Churchill, rightly predicted, ‘the Battle of Britain is about to begin’.

Famously, Churchill mobilized the English language, emboldening the nation with rousing rhetoric. In this darkest of hours, Churchill told the people that this was, in fact, their ‘Finest Hour’, a time of unprecedented courage and defiance which defined the British people. Connecting the crucial battle with Shakespeare’s heroic Henry V and Agincourt, Churchill also immortalized Fighter Command’s young aircrew as the ‘Few’ – to whom so many owed everything.

The Few comprised nearly 3,000 aircrew, 544 of which gave their lives during the Battle of Britain’s sixteen weeks of high drama. Arguably, however, the official dates of 10 July – 31 October 1940 are arbitrary, the fighting actually ongoing before and afterwards. Many gave their lives whose names are not included among the Few, as of course did civilians, seamen, and ground staff – which is not overlooked in this groundbreaking book.

In this unique study, veteran historian and author Dilip Sarkar explores the individual stories of a wide selection of those who lost their lives during the ‘Finest Hour’, examining their all-too brief lives and sharing these tragic stories – told here, in full, for the first time. Also included is the story of a German fighter pilot, indicating the breadth of investigation involved.

Researched with the full cooperation of the families concerned, this work is a crucial contribution to the Battle of Britain’s bibliography. 

Her Final Words – Book Review

By: Brianna Labuskes
Published On: August 1, 2020

While only my second book by this author, it’s clear that the setting and mood are important characteristics to the stories she tells.

Her Final Words centers around a small town in Idaho called Knox Hollow. Within its borders is a church known for its strict doctrines and tight control over its members. While FBI Agent Lucy Thorne investigates the murder of Noah Dawson, this church and their beliefs are woven into the story. None moreso than their belief that there should be no medical intervention when someone is sick or hurt. The state’s Shield Law protects parents in these instances, but it is no less controversial. Throughout the story we learn how difficult it is for the small police department to coincide with this church.

One of the fascinating aspects of the book is how little we know of our main character, Agent Thorne. Often, this genre will provide a detailed character description along with a list of their flaws and demons. Instead, Agent Lucy Thorne enters the story with very little background given. As the story progresses we learn about who Lucy is not by her history, but by her actions and by how she interacts with Sheriff Hicks and Deputy Grant.

While Lucy’s narrative is the central POV, mixed in are chapter’s from the events leading up to when Eliza confesses to FBI. Initially, I feared I would get bored of seeing only one person’s flashback. So I was pleasantly surprised when the past events were told from multiple points of view. By doing so we are given an incomplete picture of what transpired that helps to keep us guessing until the pieces finally start to fit together at the end.

In general, Her Final Words comes across as a straight mystery/suspense story with no alternating story lines told. For me, this approach worked as it allowed me to focus only on the story at hand. Once started, I became engaged rather quickly and am glad I picked it as this month’s First Reads choice.

Rating: 4 stars

Description:

It seems like an open-and-shut case for FBI special agent Lucy Thorne when Eliza Cook walks into the field office. The teenage girl confesses to murdering a young boy. Disturbingly composed, she reveals chilling details only the killer could know. Beyond that Eliza doesn’t say another word, leaving a vital question met with dead silence: Why did she do it?

To find the answer, Lucy goes to the scene of the crime in the small Idaho town of Knox Hollow. But Lucy’s questions are only mounting. Especially when she’s drawn deeper into the life of the victim. Then a combing of the woods yields unsettling evidence that Eliza isn’t the only one in this close-knit rural community with secrets.

Getting to the truth is becoming Lucy’s obsession. And it’s a dangerous one. Because for the good folks of Knox Hollow, hiding that truth will take more than silence.

The Bone Jar – Book Review

Detective Lew Kirby #1 By: S.W. Kane
Published On: July 1, 2020

I loved it. As I write this review, I’m already plotting how to put in my request to ensure Connie and Raymond both make it back to the next book in the series.

The Bone Jar mystery begins when the security guard of an old, dilapidated asylum discovers an elderly lady dead in one of the rooms. Soon DI Lew Kirby and his partner Pete Anderson are called to the scene to investigate. What they discover is the building is due for construction with limited access so the question isn’t just who is the lady and why was she killed, but how did they get in.

The story is primarily told from two POVs: DI Kirby and Connie Darke. DI Kirby is a bit unusual for detective novels these days in that he has a fairly normal life. He has a new girlfriend and he gets along with his family. He’s also a competent detective who gets along decently well with his coworkers and during the investigative process finds himself having some rather interesting interviews. Connie is someone we don’t meet until several chapters in. She has ties to the investigation and assists it effortlessly. Every time she entered the scene I knew to read carefully because something was going to happen. But as a reader I sincerely appreciated how she wasn’t a character who did stupid things, such as getting herself into danger without calling the local DI on the case. Nothing more frustrating than a character walking into a bad situation with their eyes wide open and doing nothing about it.

The plotting and pacing of the unraveling of the mystery seemed spot-on, which is what keeps me hooked in suspense novels. Always moving forward steadily until we get to the ‘thrill’ part where they catch the villain. And unlike other books I’ve read where the story feels over once the villain is caught, this one spent time giving the reader closure on several fronts to give a satisfying conclusion along with the hints of what may pop up in future books.

As much as I enjoyed the book, I do have two issues I wanted to bring up: 1) There is a splattering of curse words in the story. They are not everywhere and you can go long sections without seeing them, but some of them felt unnecessary. 2) There’s an unanswered question in my mind about an alibi that was being looked into that I don’t remember seeing the final result of. However, it’s also very possible that it was answered and I just missed it while reading.

Overall, a terrific start to a new series.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Description:

Two murders. An abandoned asylum. Will a mysterious former patient help untangle the dark truth?

The body of an elderly woman has been found in the bowels of a derelict asylum on the banks of the Thames. As Detective Lew Kirby and his partner begin their investigation, another body is discovered in the river nearby. How are the two murders connected?

Before long, the secrets of Blackwater Asylum begin to reveal themselves. There are rumours about underground bunkers and secret rooms, unspeakable psychological experimentation, and a dark force that haunts the ruins, trying to pull back in all those who attempt to escape. Urban explorer Connie Darke, whose sister died in a freak accident at the asylum, is determined to help Lew expose its grisly past. Meanwhile Lew discovers a devastating family secret that threatens to turn his life upside down.

As his world crumbles around him, Lew must put the pieces of the puzzle together to keep the killer from striking again. Only an eccentric former patient really knows the truth—but will he reveal it to Lew before it’s too late?

Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows – Book Review

The Elandrian Chronicles #1 By: J.M. Bergen
Published On: February 2, 2019

“Magic is real, Thomas. No matter what happens, always remember that magic is real.”

Thomas Wildus is living an ordinary life. He has friends, a crush on a classmate, a good relationship with his mother, and is learning Kung Fu. But one day a musical note from an unknown source and a mysterious man lead Thomas to a unique bookstore that changes everything for Thomas. While in the bookstore, the owner gives Thomas the Book of Sorrows, but only after promising to follow a few strict rules. Eager to learn about magic and everything the book has to offer, he starts reading one chapter at a time.

What I was immediately drawn to was how much the world came to life in the background of the story. While Thomas walks down a street, I can almost hear the car horns blaring. He visits his friend Enrique’s house and can feel the liveliness of activity in the home. I can see a chess set waiting for players. All together, it adds to the ambiance of the story that not every middle grade story can capture as well.

The story hums along with Thomas receiving the book, to going to school and interacting with friends, and to learning about magic. The pace is quick and even and before you know it your at the end.

The characters are fun – especially Enrique and Professor Reilly. With Enrique, there was always a wave of activity around him that captured my attention. While Professor Reilly was almost always at the center of a funny scene. Also, Huxley played the part of the enigmatic shopkeeper well with his ‘many rules to agree upon’ before letting Thomas have the book.

While I found the story a fun adventure read there were a few points that bothered me that I am certain the younger me would not have even noticed. To move the narrative along Thomas gets taken without warning by people he trusts. As an adult, it concerned me that no one told him what was going on. How difficult could it have been for those around him to give Thomas a heads-up to keep him from getting scared? Later, these same adults whom Thomas trusts also lock him in a room without warning. As a reader, I understand what was transpiring, but once again couldn’t they have mentioned this part of the plan to Thomas ahead of time? Then last, I found Enrique’s travel explanation a bit implausible considering where he had to travel from and to. Would his mother believe that story and destination? But as I said – the younger middle-grade me would not have noticed any of this at all.

Overall, Thomas Wildus and the Book of Sorrows is an engaging book that kids will find humorous, entertaining, and filled with the wonders of magic.

Description:

Thomas thinks he’s an ordinary twelve year old, but when a strange little man with gold-flecked eyes gives him an ancient text called The Book of Sorrows, the world he knows is turned upside down. Suddenly he’s faced with a secret family legacy, powers he can hardly begin to understand, and an enemy bent on destroying everything he holds dear. The more he reads and discovers, the deeper the danger to himself and the people he loves. As the race to the final showdown unfolds, Thomas must turn to trusted friends and uncertain allies as he seeks to prevent destruction at an epic scale.

Bob’s Saucer Repair – Book Review

Bob and Nikki Book #1 by Jerry Boyd
Published On: June 20, 2019

I’m not sure I’ve seen a book like this before and I’m not sure sure what to make of it. There are no chapters and it is 90-95% straight dialogue. There are no descriptors. No internal conversations that provide you with insight into characters motivations. No background information on any character. For example, Bob mentions to Nikki he knows someone who can help out. A few sentences later he is calling John and a few more after that John is at the house. We are never told what John looks like, history, hobbies. He’s called and then he shows up.

Bob’s Saucer Repair begins when Bob pulls up to his house one day and sees an alien trying to fix her spaceship. The spaceship needs some coolant and few other broken parts fixed and Bob is more than happy to help Nikki (the alien) out. She has to leave sooner than expected and Bob feels her absence because he rather liked her company – a lot. But as it turns out Bob’s help is so invaluable that the aliens come back and offer him a business opportunity to provide saucer repair to other aliens. Almost immediately upon accepting the job the real adventure starts happening.

The main characters are Bob and Nikki, but the group grows and John becomes an integral part to the space repair shop too. Although there are several different characters, I found their personalities were a little too similar to each other. As a result, there weren’t many distinguishing characteristics between them other than a few examples here and there. I also found that the human characters all accepted the idea of aliens and spaceships a bit quicker than one might expect.

While the novel does have some flaws, there is also a sense of joy that comes across in the writing. The story offers humor, romance, and a sense of sci-fi fun.

Description:

Ride along as Bob’s life goes from ordinary to out of this world. Helping a stranger in need changes everything. Spend a little time on a fun romp with Bob and Nikki.

The Unready Queen – Book Review

The Oddmire #2 By: William Ritter
Published On: June 23, 2020

To be honest, I was not a big fan of the first book, Changeling. There were moments of action or adventure that I found a little boring or underwhelming. And while I liked most of the characters there was one I didn’t like: Fable. Why am I saying what I didn’t enjoy about the first book? Because I rather enjoyed the second book in this coming of age story featuring Fable.

The Unready Queen starts off soon after the events of the first book. Tinn is receiving Goblin lessons and Fable is receiving magic lessons from her mom. Tinn’s lessons are going well. Fable’s are not. Fable would rather spend time in town with Tinn and Cole and even make new friends, such as Evie. While Fable is spending time in town, odd incidents involving fairy folk/forest creatures begin to manifest in town. Things start to escalate after new townsfolk start cutting down forest trees. As a result, tensions rise between not only the forest creatures and townspeople, but also between the forest inhabitants themselves.

Like the first book, the children’s mothers play a important role. But instead of Annie it is Raina, Fable’s mother, that is more central to this narrative. The story explores the relationship between Raina and Fable and parallels what many mother/daughter relationships struggle with. A mother trying to hold on. A daughter wanting more freedom.

What won me over to this book is how multiple story lines are interwoven together to create an overarching plot about the forest vs townspeople. Instead of a single story like last time, Tinn and Cole begin to have their own separate story lines. Fable begins to spend time outside of the forest and is able to learn more about the world. She is still naive, but the experience can only benefit her personal growth. Then various forest creatures, such as spriggans, take a more prominent role that is sure to continue into the next book.

The story ends with a feeling of foreboding and a cliffhanger that immediately makes you want to grab the next book.

Rating: 4 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and Algonquin Young Readers for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

Human and goblin brothers Cole and Tinn are finding their way back to normal after their journey to the heart of the Oddmire. Normal, unfortunately, wants nothing to do with them. Fable, the daughter of the Queen of the Deep Dark, has her first true friends in the brothers. The Queen allows Fable to visit Tinn and Cole as long as she promises to stay quiet and out of sight—concealing herself and her magic from the townspeople of Endsborough.

But when the trio discovers that humans are destroying the Wild Wood and the lives of its creatures for their own dark purposes, Fable cannot stay quiet. As the unspoken truce between the people of Endsborough and the inhabitants of the Wild Wood crumbles, violence escalates, threatening war and bringing Fable’s mother closer to the fulfillment of a deadly prophecy that could leave Fable a most Unready Queen.

A Judgement in Stone – Book Review

By: Ruth Rendell
Published On: May 2, 1977

By the end of the first sentence we know that Eunice Parchman is the murderer. In truth, the first sentence is one of the best first sentences I have read in a book. It is clear, concise, and straight to the point. I love the first sentence because not only do we learn who the murderer is we also know who she murdered and why. This novel does not question her guilt because that is clear. Nor does it question whom she murdered. What it does do is take a closer look at what led up to that moment.

This is a true psychological thriller that takes a look at the makeup of the killer – her motivations, what shaped her life, and what she did to hide what embarrassed her. Who was she when no one was looking or cared to look? But there is more to this story than the murderer. There is a family involved and this book also lays out all the choices the family made along the way. Those moments of hesitation they felt about her character, but never acted on. Moments when they had a clear choice to change the direction their life was about to take in ‘what if’ conversations.

Judgement in Stone at times feels like a mix between an in-depth TV murder investigation and the narration of the Twilight Zone with its hindsight commentary of specific events that might have prevented their deaths. At times the narrator even implores the character to take another course of action. But they can’t change the past; instead the narrator can only show us how the character failed themselves. We can only see where the victims should have listened to their own doubts about incongruous behaviors.

The majority of the book leads up to the murders, but equally fascinating were the events following. The narrator once again tells you what her downfall is, but until there is an arrest doubts linger in my head. Eunice is so smug and self-satisfied in her belief that she’ll get away with it. She has taken care of everything and the investigators are none the wiser. This is the smallest part of the book, but is one of my two favorite sections. The other favorite being any time the narrator breaks the fourth wall.

A Judgement in Stone is one of Ruth Rendell’s best, if not the best work. The psychological motivations of both the Eunice and the family were expertly portrayed. The in-depth discussion within the story at what Eunice considered a weakness was fascinating. All in all, this is a thought-provoking book that will stay with me for quite a while. I am also certain that I will be hard pressed to find another equal to it.

Rating: 5 stars

Description:

What on earth could have provoked a modern day St. Valentine’s Day massacre?

On Valentine’s Day, four members of the Coverdale family–George, Jacqueline, Melinda and Giles–were murdered in the space of 15 minutes. Their housekeeper, Eunice Parchman, shot them, one by one, in the blue light of a televised performance of Don Giovanni. When Detective Chief Superintendent William Vetch arrests Miss Parchman two weeks later, he discovers a second tragedy: the key to the Valentine’s Day massacre hidden within a private humiliation Eunice Parchman has guarded all her life.  A brilliant rendering of character, motive, and the heady discovery of truth, A Judgement in Stone is among Ruth Rendell’s finest psychological thrillers. 

A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians – Book Review

A Shadow Histories Book 1 By: H.G. Parry
Published On: June 23, 2020

Blending real historical moments with fantasy and magical realism, H.G. Parry creates a story spanning the abolitionist movement through French Revolution set in the late 18th century. Taking historical facts and altering them just enough to fit inside a world where the governance of magic is established by laws and where men such as William Pitt argue on behalf of the commoners who should have more rights and freedom in regards to magic use.

The breadth and scope of the what the author is undertaking is amazing. To research such a political span of time in European history and to adjust it in such a way to where parts of known history are now integrated with magic was truly phenomenal to read. Undeniably A Declaration of Rights of Magicians is an intelligent and well-thought out the book and I am left wondering if my knowledge of the actual subjects will forever be changed.

Preview(opens in a new tab)

However, merging the two together also comes at a cost. At times, I was drawn into an incredibly intriguing story and other times I felt like I was back in history class waiting for the bell to ring. It was during these times that I felt the story dragged a little or at least my excitement for the story diminished as we saw things occur off screen, but not on. I thoroughly love and appreciate the concept of the book, but there are other historical events or points in time I enjoy more than than the late 1700s. Maximilien Robespierre, William Pitt, Toussaint Breda, George-Jacques Danton, William Wilberforce among others were names learned long ago – mostly for a test.

Politics can be quite an intriguing subject none more so than the events leading up the French revolution and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction from an alternative world perspective or at least one that is slightly altered. But unfortunately for me, this story didn’t work out as much as I had hoped.

Rating: 3 stars

Thanks to Netgalley and Redhook Books for the advanced reader copy and opportunity to provide an honest review.

Description:

A sweeping tale of revolution and wonder in a world not quite like our own, A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians is a genre-defying story of magic, war, and the struggle for freedom in the early modern world.

It is the Age of Enlightenment — of new and magical political movements, from the necromancer Robespierre calling for revolution in France to the weather mage Toussaint L’Ouverture leading the slaves of Haiti in their fight for freedom, to the bold new Prime Minister William Pitt weighing the legalization of magic amongst commoners in Britain and abolition throughout its colonies overseas.

But amidst all of the upheaval of the early modern world, there is an unknown force inciting all of human civilization into violent conflict. And it will require the combined efforts of revolutionaries, magicians, and abolitionists to unmask this hidden enemy before the whole world falls to darkness and chaos.