Posts Tagged ‘Magic’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Keith H’s Picks

December 31, 2014

They say too many books will spoil the broth, but they fill my life with so much, so much love.  I read primarily science fiction and fantasy, with a dose of comics and science fiction/fantasy for kids and teens.  I’m pretty well rounded.  These are my favorite science fiction and fantasy books that were new to me this year.

MMistbornistborn: the Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
Vin is a street urchin who gets wrapped up with a gang attempting to overthrow the imperial Lord Ruler. She lives in a world  divided into  commoners and  allomancers, who are sorcerers able to ingest certain metals to give them a specific power.” Coinshots” can use steel to propel metal through space. “Tineyes” use tin to enhance their senses. “Thugs” use pewter to enhance their strength. Most allomancers can only use a single metal but the most feared are Mistborn, who can use the powers of all metals. Sanderson’s writing became increasingly well-known after he was selected to finish Robert Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” series. I prefer Sanderson’s own works, which are still epic fantasy with thorough world-building, but considerably less sprawling. (Trilogies instead of 10+ book epics)  Mistborn: The Final Empire is the first book of the Mistborn trilogy.

The Hundred Thousand KingdomsThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
After Yeine Darr’s mother dies, she is called to the imperial city by her grandfather, the emperor. Her upbringing as a barbarian leaves her outcast in imperial society. She soon finds that she has been chosen to compete for the throne against two cousins who are immeasurably more well-versed in magic and backstabbing than her. To top it off, gods made incarnate are also meddling with the competition. I read this initially because it was compared to Octavia Butler, but Jemison creates her own unique universe in this innovative work. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is the first book in “The Inheritance” trilogy.

The Knife of Never Letting GoKnife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
Todd lives on a planet recently settled by humans. Unfortunately, a native virus has killed all of the women and given men the curse of “Noise”, constantly hearing each other’s thoughts. Todd learns a secret which causes him to flee their settlement with his dog, Manchee. Todd can also hear his dog’s thoughts. Manchee’s dog voice has replaced the voice of Dug, the dog from “Up”, in my imagination of what dogs sound like while speaking English . This story is told in a dialect that takes some initial getting used to, but becomes second nature quickly. This brutal, face paced story was published as a teen book but due to some disturbing themes, I wouldn’t give it to anyone under 15.

The Golem and the JinniThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
A historical fiction, immigration story with a fantastic twist: the immigrants are magical beings. Chava is a Golem, a lifelike woman made of clay by an outcast rabbi who practices Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a Jinni, a fire spirit born in the deserts of Syria, recently released from being trapped inside a copper flask. They meet while trying to find their places in the chaos of late 1800s New York City. The details of Jewish and Arab mythology and culture are well-researched and intriguing. Watching Chava and Ahamad become friends and soul mates was a pleasure straight to the end.

Among OthersAmong Others by Jo Walton
A seemingly unreliable narrator describes her life as the daughter of an evil fairy. After fleeing to her father’s home, Morwenna is promptly sent away to a boarding school in the English countryside. As an avid reader, she finds solace by joining a science fiction book club at the local library. Any speculative fiction fan will enjoy the club’s discussions of the great authors of SF:  LeGuin, Delaney, Heinlein, Asimov, et al. This book is like a love letter to SF combined with an awesome to-read bibliography.  Among Others was the winner of the 2012 Nebula and Hugo awards for Best Novel.  Read another review.

Advertisements

Best New Books of 2014: Allison D’s Picks

December 9, 2014

These are some of my favorite books that were published this year. You will probably notice that I not only love a well-written series, but that my reading interests vary across many genres. I enjoy juvenile books, graphic novels, romance, science fiction, fantasy, and I have a love-hate relationship with vampire novels.

Born of FuryBorn of Fury by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Born of Fury is the seventh installment in Sherrilyn Kenyon’s science fiction romance series, The League, and is one of my favorites. Like J.R. Ward, Kenyon picks up where she left off, catching you up on your favorite characters while also focusing in on a particular couple. Hauk is a trained warrior from his planet of Andarion. He is also a member of the Sentella, a group now openly in war against The League, along with friends whom he considers his family. Sumi Antaxas, a League assassin, is assigned to target Hauk. What she believes to be a simple task becomes increasingly entangled as she becomes a captive of her target. There is intrigue, adventure, action, and romance in this fast-paced fantasy novel. In any science fiction novel, there is a thin-line that an author must walk in order to build a believable world separate from our own while also retaining some mystery and not boring the reader from minute details. Kenyon demonstrates this in her League series by having a perfect balance of both.

Escape from LucienAmulet, Vol. 6: Escape from Lucien by Kazu Kibuishi
This may be a graphic novel series, and intended for a younger audience, but there is something in it for everyone. The Amulet series is a fast-paced, exciting adventure; each volume of which I devoured in one sitting. Emily, her brother Navin, and their friends are hurtling on a journey towards battling the Elf King. In order to survive, Emily has to keep her wits about her, find a way to trust the other Stone Keepers she meets along with way, and keep her family safe. In the most recent edition, Escape from Lucien, Emily has to team up with an enemy while attempting to get her friends and brother out of the city of Lucien alive. It ends with a huge cliff-hanger but, in a series that is so fun to read, I cannot find it in myself to be miffed.

Shadow SpellShadow Spell by Nora Roberts
Nora Roberts is known for her romance trilogies, and this particular series has a little bit of everything; romance, of course, as well as close-knit families, Irish lore, magic, and friendships. If you have read anything by Roberts before, I found it to be a knitting together of the best parts of what I enjoyed about her Sign of Seven and Three Sisters Island trilogies. In this second installment, Connor O’Dwyer and his sister’s best friend, Meara Quinn, realize that there is a bit more between them than just friendship. They have taken their relationship for granted but when their budding romance is put to the test by the evil Cabhan waiting in the shadows they find there might be something more than just chemistry. The best part of reading a book by Nora Roberts is that I felt like I had been whisked away to small village in Ireland, with its history and long-standing inhabitants. The worst part? Having to wait seven months for the final installment to come out!

The KingThe King by J.R. Ward
The King is the 12th book in J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood series. If you’ve never heard of the series before, I would start with the first book called Dark Lover. In The King, Ward revisits the couple from Dark Lover, Wrath and Beth. It is a different take on the vampire story and there certainly are no sparkly, vegan vampires to find in J.R. Ward’s Black Dagger Brotherhood. That being said, Ward has well-developed characters that come to life as you read further about their lives.  The King may center on Beth and Wrath, but Ward writes about the story lines of all of the other characters you have come to know and care about over the course of the series. What I love most about J.R. Ward’s series is that, in every installment, it feels as though I am stopping in for a weekend trip to check up on some friends of mine. There is a familiarity to it and a real character depth that you don’t find everywhere, especially not in romance series, which is one of the reasons I keep coming back for more!

The Mark of the Midnight ManzanillaThe Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig
I have been reading the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig for what feels like forever, each year eagerly awaiting the next addition to the series. The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is the 11th book in the series, not counting various novellas related to the assortment of colorful characters. If you are a fan of historical fiction set in the Napoleonic Era, with a dash of romance, some intrigue, spies, and lots of absurd humor then read this series. This book is, according to the author, the second to last book in the series. It follows the mysterious Duke of Belliston, Lucien, and Sally Fitzhugh. When a vampire novel that is all the rage in society sparks a rumor that Lucien is, in fact, a vampire, Sally must help Lucien solve the murder of a woman found dead at a party with the appearance of vampire bites on her neck. I enjoyed the absurdity that such a rumor sparked in the stuffy society setting and the hilarity that ensued as the two of them were thrown together to solve this strange murder mystery. The fact that Willig was making a jab at the current vampire craze in literature was an added bonus.

Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician by Daniel Wallace

November 7, 2014

There is precious little that can be said about this book without spoiling some or all of it. But if Vertigo taught us anything it’s that sometimes, even if you know where you’re going to end up, you still want to know how you get there. Here we go.

Henry Walker, an African-American magician (who may or may not be African-American) now fallen on hard times, is haunted by the Faustian deal (if that’s really what it was) he made as a 10 year-old boy with a mysterious man man who introduced himself as Mr. Sebastian (who may or may not have been the devil incarnate). This is a story about magic–stage magic, tricks with cards and doves and fire–so nothing is as it seems. Not even the magic.

In true Daniel Wallace fashion, the story is not so much told as it is shaped out of things done and left undone. The truth of Henry Walker’s life probably (possibly) lies somewhere between the different versions of the story of his life–stories he told and which are now retold. Rudy the Strong Man’s story parallels and overlaps with JJ the Barker’s story and Jenny the Ossified Girl’s story, which shape out some of Henry’s past, and a late-arriving private detective with a story of his own succeeds in clearing away the last of the fog and mirrors. But it may be too little too late, as Henry himself has disappeared (so think, then, of the tales told at a funeral).

It’s a Southern gothic fairy-tale, told in many voices, complete with a traveling circus, magic (which may or may not be real magic), and a deal with the devil (maybe). But this is no magic trick itself. There is no illusion at its end.  Rather, we learn how the trick was done, which breaks the spell.

Then there is only a stripping away, a sad decay that reveals plainness and ordinariness under peeling paint.

The illusion is that there was an illusion at all.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Daniel Wallace will be visiting the West Regional Library on Thursday, November 13 @ 7 p.m.  Click here to register.

Rogues edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

October 21, 2014

RoguesThis collection includes 21 Fantasy short stories from authors such as Neil Gaiman, Connie Willis, Joe Abercrombie, Gillian Flynn, and Patrick Rothfuss. As my coworker Keith mentioned in his review of this book for LibraryReads,

“This anthology is worth reading for the Rothfuss story alone! ‘The Lightning Tree’ follows Bast spending a day outside the tavern, which left me anxious for Kingkiller Book 3 to come out.”

I couldn’t agree more! Some of the other stories are also set in worlds we know and feature characters we love – such as Neil Gaiman’s follow up to his popular novel Neverwhere, “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back.” So there you go, read this book and get a couple of very amazing stories from two of the masters of modern fantasy, Rothfuss and Gaiman. What’s that? You want more? Okay, how about these:

Joe Abercrombie’s story “Tough Times All Over” in which a package is stolen from a courier, only to be re-stolen and appropriated over and over as it changes hands multiple times during its journey across the city. We’re treated to multiple viewpoint shifts of the colorful cast of ne’er-do-wells and blackguards as the package shifts from one person to the next. Action, world-building, and witty dialogue are among Ambercrombie’s trademarks demonstrated here.

Carrie Vaughn‘s story “Roaring Twenties” is set in a hidden watering hole and gambling den frequented by villains and scoundrels. In this magical speak-easy one old practitioner of nefarious magic has come to confront a rival and hopefully reach an understanding. However, as with any gathering of rascals, magical or otherwise, everyone is looking out for themselves and watching their own backs, and when the fur starts flying, understandings are hard to come by.

Garth Nix‘s story “A Cargo of Ivories” features his knight and sorcerer duo Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz. In this entertaining story, the pair are sent to recover ivory figurines which contain energy anchors for minor gods. When we meet them here, Sir Hereward and his former teacher Mister Fitz – who happens to be an enchanted puppet – are doing a bit of burglary to recover the figurines from the magically protected home of a rich collector. Naturally, their plans go awry. They meet another thief ransacking the house and the trio pair up to pursue one of the escaped godlets before it can wreak havoc.

One of the best things about short story collections is that they expose you to newer authors or authors you just haven’t gotten around to reading yet. After reading Scott Lynch‘s story “A Year and a Day in Old Theradane” I decided to bump his novel The Lies of Locke Lamora higher on my “to-read” list. If you like short stories by Fantasy authors, also check out the Martin & Dozois edited Dangerous Women, released last year.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

July 30, 2014

The Night GardenerMolly and Kip are a brother and sister who have had a hard go of it in life. Ireland in the 1850s is a difficult place for children – famine and hard work are all they’ve ever known. In search of a better life, they’ve come to work for the Windsors in rural England, but nearly everyone in the surrounding village is telling them to turn away from the family’s decaying home on a secluded island whose centerpiece is an enormous, gnarling tree. But what else are two youngsters without a penny or a caring adult in the world to do? There are whispers that the Windsor home and family are cursed, which Molly dismisses as hogwash. Surely curses are the stuff of stories – as an amateur storyteller, she ought to know. But then she notices that the Windsors, from nervous patriarch Bertram to little Penny, grow paler and weaker with each passing day. There are the muddy bootprints that appear every single morning, the bad dreams that torment Molly night after night. And then there’s the tall, skinny man in the top hat that Kip says he’s seen outside…

I love children’s horror because it’s less about grisly details and more about haunting atmospheres and moral themes. If that’s your bag, then The Night Gardener is as fine an example as you’ll ever find. Themes of human greed and discontent permeate the story, and it’s just as engaging a read for adults as it is for children. Kip and Molly are brave and feisty in distinct ways, and the Windsor family is easy to sympathize with even as their problems are mainly their own fault. I loved the slow burn and the dramatic reveal of each element of the story, and Auxier‘s pacing couldn’t be better – I was on the edge of my seat during the action scenes. Are you ready to be creeped out, or to creep out your children? The Night Gardener is worth a look.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

July 16, 2014

The Magician KingConsider the smartphone. It can be used to stay in touch with people who are an ocean away. It can store an enormous library of books and the works of thousands of musicians. It can show the path to distant lands, record sounds, and capture images. Yet, is it considered near magical or is it taken for granted?

What if a reader could actually learn magic and enter a fantasy world? Would this bring boundless joy or would it all soon enough seem bland and uninspired?

In Lev Grossman’s The Magician King (a sequel to The Magicians), magic and discontent mingle and meet. After graduating from Brakebills, a secret college of magic, Quentin and some of his fellow magicians rule the magical realm of Fillory. This should be the happily-ever-after, but to Quentin, constantly dissatisfied, it is not. Something is missing, even as his wildest dream has come true.

He decides to go on a quest. Not a very dramatic one, but still. He commissions a ship and sails to the Outer Island to collect back taxes. While Quentin is there, he comes across a fairy tale about seven golden keys. The search for one of the keys accidentally (?) sends the king back to the miserable home of his parents on earth. He is not alone, though. By his side is Julia. She is a creature who once was a gloomy woman, desperate to attain the magician’s skills she felt entitled to (even though she had narrowly failed her entrance exam to Brakebills).

Julia has already paid the price for her quest – what will the price for Quentin’s quest be?

The Magician King is a journey to the heart of darkness of the fantasy genre. It is in part a tale of a desperate need to belong and the search for meaning. Lev Grossman may not be the heir of C. S. Lewis (as he is sometimes described), but he is certainly an author for our time.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

May 28, 2014

strangebookcover.phpThis book has been on my “to read” book for at least two years, but I kept putting it off because of how long it is. At about 800 pages, it’s not a book to pick up on a whim! Finally this past winter, as the holidays died down and the cold kept me in more and more, I lugged this tome home with me for a read.

An alternative history set in England during the Napoleonic Wars, author Clarke’s debut novel follows the separate and intertwining stories of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, the two men who have brought magic back to England. Although the study of magic has remained prevalent among certain societies of men, practical magic, that of actually conducting spells and affecting change, has been absent from England since the disappearance of the Raven King several hundred years before.

From writing articles expounding their beliefs on the Raven King to assisting the British government in outmaneuvering Napoleon’s armies, the two men reach the height of London society for their magical knowledge. As Strange tires of his role of pupil to Norrell’s of tutor, and Norrell fears that Strange’s practical skills will surpass his own, the two men fall apart, each to pursue their own directions in life. When magic not produced by either of England’s two practical magicians begins to occur, the two men’s  paths again intertwine.   It’s not a book you’ll consume in a weekend, but if you have some time, this one is well worth a read.

Find and reserve this book in the library.

Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

April 10, 2014

Libriomancer by Jim C. HinesWhat’s not to love in a book about magic wielding librarians versus evil vampires?! I’m a sucker for a good Urban Fantasy novel with plenty of action, and this one delivers. I also enjoy books about books and books that make me laugh out loud. It’s rare that I find a book that hits all three of these, but that’s what Jim C. Hines has done with the first book in his Magic Ex Libris series.

Isaac Vainio works as a librarian and cataloguer at the Copper River Library in Michigan. He catalogs books for the local library, but also for a magical group of libriomancers, known as the Porters. Libriomancers are people who have the magical ability to draw forth objects from inside books. This branch of magic was founded by none other than Johannes Gutenberg, the man who invented the printing press. But what happens when Gutenberg goes missing and vampires start attacking the Porters, leading to an all-out war which could expose all magic to the rest of the world?

Oh, and did I mention that there are as many different types of vampires as there are authors who have written about them? Yup, because in addition to the real vampires that the folklore was based on, there are breeds with different characteristics and abilities who have come from the fictional words of authors from Bram Stoker to Stephenie Meyer. Other magical creatures from books also exist in our world, such as Lena Greenwood, a motorcycle riding dryad, who helps Isaac in his adventures battling vampires and trying to figure out what’s really going on to cause this war. Fans of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series will certainly appreciate Isaac’s witty banter and one-liners, as well as the much larger story of book based magic.

I had heard of Jim Hines from reading about his blog posts addressing the misogynistic depiction of women on Sci-Fi & Fantasy book covers. Jim brought attention to this issue in a rather ingenious and funny manner – he posed in the same outfits and positions that the women on the book covers did. He’s even followed it up with several other “cover poses” including some with other authors and has raised money for charity. I’m so glad I finally picked up one of Jim Hines’ novels and will definitely be reading the sequel, Codex Born.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog

Jinx by Sage Blackwood

March 18, 2014

Young Jinx knows that the thick forest called the Urwald is full of danger. Anyone foolish enough to leave the path is likely to meet a hungry werewolf or elves or, even worse, an evil wizard. So when Jinx’s stepfather decides that he has too many mouths to feed and leads Jinx off the path, he knows things aren’t going to end well. Sure enough, they meet both a wizard and a troll. But much to Jinx’s surprise, he leaves the encounter alive – and with a new home, with the mysterious wizard Simon Magus.

As time passes, Jinx begins to question what he’s heard about wizards. Simon is short tempered, but he doesn’t seem evil. As Jinx grows up in Simon’s home, he gradually learns a lot more about his world: magic is more complicated than he had thought, there is much more outside the Urwald than he would have guessed, and he himself is more unique than he knows at the book’s start. Jinx is a classic fairy tale character: the orphan with more power than anyone expects. He’s also smart, brave and immensely likeable. Simon is also a fascinating character, far more nuanced than he seems at first.

His motives keep the reader guessing as he tries to balance his grudging affection for Jinx with his ambitions as a powerful wizard.

Jinx is written for a middle grade audience, but would appeal to anyone, adult or child, who enjoys a mix of powerful magic, peculiar wizards and witches, unique fantasy worlds and well-written characters at the center of it all. Even better, Jinx’s world is much bigger and more complex at the end of the book than at the start, and Blackwood‘s sequel, Jinx’s Magic, introduces still more to the story. This is shaping up to be one of my favorite fantasy series in years, and I can’t wait for the third book!

Find and reserve this book in our catalog

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Melissa O’s Picks

December 20, 2013

I read a wide variety of books, both fiction and nonfiction. Ask me for a suggestion and I most likely have read something that would appeal to you. But I still enjoy wandering the library stacks. Stumbling across a fabulous book is like finding a gem in a pile of costume jewelry. Costume jewelry is fun and fleeting, but some books are treasures that become friends for life. These are some of the new friends I made this year. Some have been out there a long time, others are more recent arrivals, but they are all worth checking out and passing along for more to enjoy!

When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time To Go Home by Erma Bombeck
I am a huge fan of Bill Bryson. One day while lamenting I had read and reread all his books the title of this book caught my eye. Intrigued, I picked it up. I am so glad I did! I laughed so hard I was sore the next day. I found out Erma Bombeck had a syndicated newspaper column and was a well known humorist. Somehow she had flown under my radar. But no more! In this collection of humorous writings she describes her travels around the world with her family.  And a word of warning: I had this on audio book and had to pull over because the tears of laughter were blinding me.

Variant by Robison Wells
If you thought surviving high school was hard, then this book takes it to a whole new level. Benson Fisher thought he was escaping an intolerable foster care system when he made it into the elite Maxfield Academy. He arrives excited for his new future, but something just seems not quite right. And then students start to disappear.  At this boarding school breaking the rules can literally kill you and escape is impossible.

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb
When I think of dragons I imagine powerful creatures to be admired or possibly feared. This is the first of Robin Hobb’s Rain Wild Chronicles, and these dragons are pathetic and sickly. They cannot survive without their human keepers and as sentiment grows against them they are driven out on a perilous journey. But will they reach safety? Or will the enemies surrounding them doom the dragons forever?

High Country Fall by Margaret Maron
Since I was heading into the mountains for a vacation, I thought what better book to take along then one set in the North Carolina Mountains. And I fell in love with Judge Deborah Knott. Not just because the books are well written, or because the setting was so perfectly described I felt I was there, but because she is so ordinary and believable I felt I was her as I was reading. Judge Knott escapes the pressures of a recent engagement by subbing for a fellow judge in Cedar Gap. There she stumbles into a murder mystery and danger, and what about that handsome DA Lucius Burke! This book is the perfect mix of action, mystery, humor, and romance.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
If you thought writing restaurant reviews was easy, just wait until you read this biography!  Ruth Reichl was the New York Times restaurant critic for most of the 1990’s. With humor and wisdom she draws you not only into the restaurant world, but into her world as well. This book is so well written you will feel you can close your eyes and be sitting in a top steakhouse, or a tiny Chinatown sushi bar, eating along with her.


%d bloggers like this: