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Recommendation: A Court Of Thorns And Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses

by Sarah J. Maas

” Be glad of your human heart, Feyre.

Pity those who don’t feel anything at all. ”

Feyre knows nothing but survival.

Since the financial collapse of her family’s fortune and livelihood, she has had to step up — especially as no one else in her family has risen to the challenge.  Week after week and month after month, she has taken to the dense woods surrounding the meager cottage she and her family lives in, set to forage and hunt for food and anything that can garner a coin. Pelts she can sell for a premium price to the right vendor and meat they can dry or cook immediately, although there never seems to be enough to a sate the hunger that permanently resides in her belly. Feyre knows nothing but hard work and the burden of supporting three other people. Her sisters, the quiet Elain and opinionated Nesta, consider themselves too gentile and fragile for such common work as hunting, preferring instead to tend gardens and clean the interior of the shack they call home.

Feyre’s dreams are full of color. Sunny yellows and rich blues, vibrant reds and soft-as-petal pinks. If she had it her way, the golden-haired beauty would spend her days painting every surface in her home and beyond, creating an imaginary cocoon full of the whimsy and the fantastic. But if it wasn’t for her arduous struggles within the depths of the forest almost every day, her sisters simply wouldn’t eat. And as there is never any money left over to buy paint anyway, she must be content with putting her dreams on the back burner, allowing them to fester and build only in the recesses of her imagination.

” Once it had been second nature to savor the contrast of new grass against dark, tilled soil, or an amethyst brooch nestled in folds of emerald silk; once I’d dreamed and breathed and thought in color and light and shape. Sometimes I would even indulge in envisioning a day when my sisters were married and it was only me and Father, with enough food to go around, enough money to buy some paint, and enough time to put those colors and shapes down on canvas or the cottage walls. 

Not likely to happen anytime soon — perhaps ever. So I was left with moments like this, admiring the glint of pale winter light on snow. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done it — bothered to notice anything, lovely or interesting. “

One day while on the hunt, she spots something out of place. The  huge and hulking beast before her would mean food on the table for days, possibly even weeks. But there is something in the beast’s eyes that gives her pause. . . something, not quite human — but also not completely animalistic. Drawing on her suspicions and well-regulated fear, Feyre draws a special arrow from her quiver. This arrow is made from ash wood and is carefully crafted, it’s only purpose is to kill a very specific target — that of the fairy persuasion.

The Fae have lived on their side of the wall for as long as Feyre has walked the human side of their world. The treaty that included creating the wall was signed centuries before she was even born, and she has grown up hearing the tales of the evil and maniacal Fae —  how they sneak in through cracks in that wall to prey on human flesh, satisfying their disgusting and vengeful appetites via murder and mayhem. Coming face to face with one in the human territory results in her making a choice that will have consequences that stretch over her entire life, and those lives around her; spreading out like a thick web of sticky silk.

” Our territory was too small and poor to maintain a standing army to monitor the wall with Prythian, and we villagers could not rely only on the strength of the Treaty forged five hundred years ago. But the upper class could afford hired swords, like this woman, to guard their lands bordering the immortal realm. It was an illusion of comfort, just as the markings on our threshold were. We all knew, deep down, that there was nothing to be done against he faeries. We’d all been told it, regardless of class of rank, from the moment we were born, the warnings sung to us while we rocked in cradles, the rhymes chanted in schoolyards. One of the High Fae could turn your bones to dust from a hundred yards away. Not that my sisters or I had ever seen it. “

Days after her kill in the woods, her world is shattered. A second beast comes barreling into her home, demanding retribution for the Fae he believes to have been murdered in cold blood, breaking the rules of the treaty. Feyre steps up and takes responsibility, bidding her sisters and father a hastily made farewell. In killing one of the Fae, her life has become forfeit, and she must journey to the other side of the wall with the beast of a man who is calling in the bargain of her human predecessors.

The Spring Court is an eerily quiet place, full of bountiful gardens full of beautiful blooms and greenery, but there is an umistakable shadow that lingers upon the land. Upon arrival, Feyre spends her time struggling to come to grips with her new situation and the somewhat convoluted navigation around the lavish mansion’s inhabitants. Tamlin, the beast who procured her from the human side of the wall, is the High Lord of the Spring Court and as such, intent upon cultivating his lands in the midst of a tenuous political situation between the counts in the land of Fae. Lucian, his emissary and transplant from the Autumn Court, is wily and mischievous, and while Feyre chooses to view him as a potential ally, she must tread carefully as she begins a dangerous game of cat and mouse while trying to garner information about her captor.

” I’d be better off persuading Lucien to speak to Tamlin on my behalf — and soon, before any of the others whom they’d mentioned appeared, or this blight of theirs grew. Tomorrow — I’d speak to Lucien then, test him out a bit. 

In my room, I found a small satchel in the armoire and filled it with a spare set of clothes, along with my stolen knife. It was a pitiful blade, but a piece of cutlery was better than nothing. Just in case I was ever allowed to go — and had to leave at a moment’s notice. 

Just in case. “

While Tamlin suggests that Feyre is not his prisoner, but rather a means to an end in regards to satisfaction within the treaty, she is physically bound to the lands of the Spring Court. Curiosity pushes her to test these boundaries and exploration of the woods and gardens lends itself to meetings with lesser fairies and creatures that have deviant intentions, putting her into danger that is the stuff nightmares are made of. But Feyre is able to gather some information about the world she is now living in, and does her best to use it to her advantage – ever on the offensive.

Despite her best efforts to the contrary, Feyre finds herself drawn to the brooding and handsome Tamlin. Moody and temperamental he may be, she is also privy to a quiet kindness that remains hidden behind a mysterious mask of propriety and ancient custom. The mansion is all but deserted, and as Feyre continues to ferret information from the remaining inhabitants, she learns of a curse put upon the lands and it’s High Lord. Little does she know, she plays a large part in that curse, but the breaking of it will require skills Feyre may not possess in her arsenal.

When  a chance meeting with a peculiar and sharp-tongued stranger leaves Feyre unnerved, she chooses to withdraw into Tamlin’s embrace rather than go with her instincts and push for more information. The stranger, however, continues to plague her thoughts and when he shows up again with clear news of an immediate threat, Feyre is haunted. The blight upon the Spring Court’s lands is spreading and the only way to break the curse is to go to its source — to a wicked queen named Amarantha, who resides Under the Mountain, in the bowels of darkness and despair. To protect the woman he now cares for, Tamlin spirits Feyre back across the wall to her abandoned family, attempting to hide her among her own people so that she may be shielded from the fight that is sure to come. But soon after arriving back home, Feyre realizes that her feelings for Tamlin have shifted from soft affection and instinctual lust into something more akin to . . . love.

After rushing back to the Spring Court to declare her newfound feelings, Feyre is dismayed to find the mansion deserted and torn apart. With the aid of a friend, she makes her way Under the Mountain to confront the evil temptress and retrieve what has been stolen from her.

” ‘Take me to her,’ I insisted.

If Amarantha ripped out my throat, at least I would die doing something for him — at least I would die trying to fix the destruction I hadn’t prevented, trying to save the people I’d doomed. At least Tamlin would know it was for him, and that I loved him. 

Alis studied me for a moment before her eyes softened. ‘As you wish.’ “

A Court of Thorns and Roses is the first installment of a series of books by New York Times bestselling author Sarah J. Maas. There are currently three Court books in publication. While these three are centered around Feyre and her adventures within the High Courts, her story is assumed to be wrapped up at the end of the third book. The series will continue next year with spin-off stories from other beloved characters featured in the books. Maas earned renown for her epic Throne of Glass series set in a fantasy world that runs parallel to the Court’s Fae-ruled society, and the fandoms surrounding both series are extensive and seriously supportive. A Court of Thorns and Roses is a modern-day take on Beauty and the Beast, but with a lot of clever twists and turns.

While the age of the main character often dictates the genre of the book and A Court of Thorns and Roses is typically classified as a Young Adult novel, I do not recommend this series to anyone under the age of 16, due to the nature of hot-hot-hot graphic sex and some violence. I give A Court of Thorns and Roses 4.5 out of 5 stars, and I have to tell you — if you even remotely like this book, you must read the sequel, A Court of Mist and Fury. The sequel is one of the best fantasy books I have ever read and kept me neatly enthralled for days. I highly recommend it. The latest book, A Court of Wings and Ruin recently came to bookshelves and fans going crazy for it.

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Review: Alice – The Wanderland Chronicles

Alice : The Wanderland Chronicles

by J.M. Sullivan

” ‘Rule number one: Always protect your queen.’ “

Alice Carroll is desperate.

A plague has been sweeping her city for an incalculable amount of time and although she and her sister have been able to avoid it up until now, death has now come knocking on their door. Trapped in a town that was once the flourishing and active site of a suburb set outside of Phoenix,  Alice has spent months watching as the people around her have fallen into complete complacency about the impending doom lurking right outside the walls that surround their metropolis. The population of her sector has fooled themselves into believing that the plague cannot darken their doorsteps, and that becoming one of the dreaded “momeraths” could not possibly happen to them.

” Like Dinah says, ‘We can only play the cards we’ve been dealt. It doesn’t do any good to wish about things you can’t change.’ “

After a scouting expedition leads Alice and her older sister Dinah outside of the confines of the sector, Alice is forced to helplessly watch as her sister falls victim to the fearful sickness that has been claiming lives all over the state. The MR-V virus attacks every system inside of their host, turning them into bloodthirsty violent killers who cannot be contained or satisfied. When Dinah begins to exhibit the signs of being a carrier for the fatal virus, Alice knows she has to do something. She’s heard whispers of a doctor miles away who is working towards a cure, and her mission is clear – she must find this man and beg for his help. Dinah is all she has left in this world and she refuses to lose her.

Leaving her precious Dinah in the care of a friend inside the sector, Alice sets out for the place that was once the thriving city of Phoenix, determined to find answers. Soon after arrival she is accosted by one of the terrible monsters that give her nightmares – a momerath set on tasting her blood and claiming her life in the process. Lucky for her, a chance encounter with a handsome (if somewhat erratic) young man named Chess leads her to temporary safety where she can formulate the next phase of her plan. But once she eventually finds the doctor she is looking for, Alice is dismayed to discover that he is scatterbrained and in a near constant state of confusion — and he insists that there is no cure for the disease that her sister is suffering from.

” ‘How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tale, and pour the waters of the Nile on every golden scale.’ His eyes flicked meaningfully from the book to Alice before he continued. ‘How cheerfully he seems to grin, how neatly spreads his claws, and welcomes little fishes in , with gently smiling jaws.’ Bug set the journal on his desk and gazed at Alice intently. Unable to decipher anything, she felt dumb. Clearly, it wasn’t the reaction Bug was hoping for. He sighed, then stood to pat her on the shoulder. ‘You’ll figure it out. but remember to be vigilant. Momerath can show up at any moment, and they’ll be hunting you.’ “

Alice finds herself wrapped up in the curious mystery surrounding Borogove Industries, a scientific research lab that sanctioned the creation of the drug that was eventually turned into the virus and subsequent plague. Her hunt leads her to the threshold of a woman thought to be sponsoring the creation of an antidote,  a woman reverently named The Red Queen. But while Alice hopes to find help and guidance from the woman in charge, she instead faces yet another challenge — mostly in controlling her temper. Alice doesn’t agree with the atrocities she experiences while under the Red Queen’s care, and fights to escape the false safety of the camp. After proving her worth and striking a bargain, Alice sets out once again, this time with the assistance of a team of elite soldiers that work under the tyrannical and deviant Queen’s employ. Alice storms the lab of Borogove in search of answers and a cure and as she unravels the convoluted riddle of the momerath disease, Alice finds herself plunging deeper into the heart of the matter than she ever intended. The path to salvation is wrought with puzzles and horrors, including an enlightening meeting with Dr. Matthew Hatta, creator of the drug, and Alice is forced to make some difficult decisions that will cling to the edges of her nightmares for years to come.

” ‘What about family?’ she asked. ‘And love?’

A wistful look flitted across Hatta’s features before he carefully arranged them back in place. ‘People get too invested in emotions,’ he said briskly. ‘It hinders them from processing information objectively and responding accordingly.’ 

‘But without emotions, what’s the point?’ she asked. Though she rarely got caught up in emotion, it didn’t mean she didn’t recognize their   value.  “

When the truth comes out, Alice is more confused than ever but stays the course — her eyes on the prize. She must get back to Dinah as soon as she can. Her sister’s life and Alice’s future depends on it. But sometimes going down the rabbit hole leads to more twists and turns than one may expect, and finding your way out of the darkness can prove to be nearly impossible.

Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles is the debut novel from American author, J.M. Sullivan. As far as debuts go, Sullivan has gotten off to a great start in a series that is sure to be a curious addition to any mid-grade to YA reader’s library. Twisted tales are all the rage and while Sullivan could stand to push the envelope more with cleverness and parallels, the story was fresh and inspired. With the exception of a few out-of-place curse words, this novel is appropriate for those ages 10+. I give the book 3 out of 5 stars; I was hoping for a bit more expansion on the characters and there were more than a few plot holes. It is my understanding that this is set to be a series of books (if the cliffhanger is any indication) and am hoping for a bit more depth in the next installment. Readers who enjoyed Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles are encouraged to give this novel a try.

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Recommendation: Outlander

Outlander

by Diana Gabaldon

“ Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone,
I give ye my Body, that we Two might be One.
I give ye my Spirit, ’til our Life shall be Done. ”

 The Second World War is at an end and British Army nurse Claire Randall can finally pick things up where they left off with her husband, Frank. On a second-honeymoon spent in cozy Inverness, she spends her days gathering interesting herbs and flowers along the rich hills and lush valleys while Frank becomes immersed in the task of researching his family lineage. After hearing of an ancient ritual involving a secret cult of women around a set of standing stones on nearby Craigh na Dun, Claire decides to sneak down and have a look, finding herself mesmerized by the dancing and traditions of years long past. But when she backtracks to the area to recover something, she gets more than she intended, essentially falling through the stones into another era.

Dazed and confused, Claire rushes through the thick trees in a panic, trying to find some semblance of normal. She runs into a man who looks uncannily like her husband, putting her even more off balance. Claire can tell by his uniform that he is from no time period even close to the one she came from, and she begins to suspect that she is stuck in some crevice of history. Captain Jack Randall spends the few moments they are together showing Claire that he and her husband, while they may look the same, have absolutely nothing in common. How her gentle Frank could be related to this brute of a man, she has no idea. Before the Captain can arrest her, he is knocked out by what appears to be some sort of band of Scottish bandits, and while she is initially grateful for the help, she is unwillingly taken as a hostage anyway.

Upon arrival at a secluded shack in the woods, her nursing skills are put to the test. One of the bandits has an arm out of socket and various other injuries. Under the tough and intense scrutiny of the rest of the supposed outlaws, she mends the man as best she can, all while trying to ferret information out of her captors. But as they suspect her of being a British spy, she does not get far in her queries, and is spirited off instead to their Laird’s home, Castle Leoch, despite her pleas to the contrary.

” ‘You’re hurt!’ I exclaimed. ‘Have you broken open your shoulder would, or is it fresh? Sit down and let me see!’ I pushed him toward a pile of boulders, rapidly reviewing procedures for emergency field treatment. No supplies to hand, save what I was wearing. I was reaching for the remains of my slip, intending to use it to stanch the flow, when he laughed. 

Nay, pay it no mind, lass. This lot isna my blood. Not much of it, anyway,’ he added, plucking the soaked fabric gingerly away from his body. 

I swallowed, feeling a bit queasy. ‘Oh,’ I said weakly. 

‘Dougal and the others will be waiting by the road. Let’s go.’ He took me by the arm, less as a gallant gesture than a means of forcing me to accompany him. I decided to take a chance and dug in my heels. 

‘No! I’m not going with you!’

He stopped, surprised at my resistance. ‘Yes, you are.’ He didn’t seem upset by my refusal; in fact, he seemed slightly amused that I had any objection to being kidnapped again. 

‘And what if I won’t? Are you going to cut my throat?’ I demanded, forcing the issue. He considered the alternatives and answered calmly. 

‘Why, no. You don’t look heavy. If ye won’t walk, I shall pick you up and sling ye over my shoulder. Do ye want me to do that?’ He took a step toward me, and I hastily retreated. I hadn’t the slightest doubt he would do it, injury or no. 

‘No! You can’t do that; you’ll damage your shoulder again.’

His features were indistinct, but the moonlight caught the gleam of teeth as he grinned. 

‘Well then, since ye don’t want me to hurt myself, I suppose as you’re comin’ with me?’ “

While under house arrest, Claire can think of nothing but finding a way back to the standing stones that brought her here – back to Frank. She is able to ascertain that she is trapped in the year 1743, in a precipitous and politically-charged Scotland. But although getting back to Frank and the 1940’s is occupying the better part of her mind, Claire is drawn to the russet-haired man she helped back in the shack. His name is Jamie Fraser, and in addition to being a resident horse-breaker at the castle, he is also the Laird’s nephew, a fugitive from the Crown, and a bit of a ladies man.

Because of her skills as a nurse, she is ordered to accompany Dougal MacKenzie and his men to collect rents around the area. Although she thinks this will finally be her opportunity to escape back to the stones, Claire cannot deny there is a hold on her here in the past. The trip to collect rents is an arduous one and full of all sorts of interesting characters. But Claire is not a fool; she can see that on top of the rents collected, Mackenzie is also soliciting funds for a Jacobite rebellion against the Crown. His tactics are, in her opinion, barbaric, and again she is drawn towards the young and roughy handsome Jamie Fraser. Much to her digress, Captain Jack Randall floats back into her life and begins to try and cause trouble, insisting that she is a spy that needs to be dealt with accordingly. While it is again disarming how much his face resembles Frank’s, their demeanor and character could not be more different. Jack Randall is cruel and sadistic, and to escape his evil clutches,  Claire is forced into a position that she does not want – she must marry a man for protection. Namely, she must marry young Jamie Fraser.

” It was a ‘warm’ Scottish day, meaning that the mist wasn’t quite heavy enough to qualify as a drizzle, but not far off, either. Suddenly the inn door opened, and the sun came out, in the person of James. If I was a radiant bride, the groom was positively resplendent. My mouth fell open and stayed that way. 

A Highlander in full regalia is an impressive sight — any Highlander, no matter how old, ill-favored, or crabbed in appearance. A tall, straight-bodied, and by no means ill-favored young Highlander at close range is breath-taking. 

The thick red-gold hair had been brushed to a smooth gleam that swept the collar of a fine lawn shirt with tucked front, belled sleeves, and lace-trimmed wrist frills that matched the cascade of the starched jabot at the throat, decorated with a ruby stickpin. 

His tartan was a brilliant crimson and black that blazed among the more sedate MacKenzies in their green and white. The flaming wool, fastened by a circular silver brooch, fell from his right shoulder in a graceful drape, caught by a silver-studded sword belt before continuing its sweep past neat calves clothed in woolen hose and stopping just short of the silver-buckled black leather boots. Sword, dirk, and badger-skin sporran completed the ensemble. 

Well over six feet tall, broad in proportion, and striking of feature, he was a far cry from the grubby horse-handler I was accustomed to — and he knew it. Making a leg in courtly fashion, he swept me a bow of impeccable grace, murmuring ‘Your servant, Ma’am,’ eyes glinting with mischief. 

‘Oh,’ I said faintly. “

Back at the castle as a newly married woman, Claire attracts not only new friends but also her share of enemies. While Jamie is keeping her occupied in most arenas, she finds time during her days to journey down into the village and make acquaintance with Geillis Duncan, a peculiar and somewhat eccentric woman, the two bond over their collected knowledge of herbs and natural remedies. There is more to Mrs. Duncan than meets the eye, and when the two women are accused of witchcraft, Claire learns something shocking about her red-haired friend.

After the unfortunate incident, Jamie and Claire flee to his childhood home of Lallybroch, and there stay under the care and judgmental eye of his older sister. Jenny is happy to have her little brother home for the time being, but she cannot help her suspicions about his new wife – Sassenach that she is. Jamie struggles with his desire to be man of the house and the ever-watchful eye of his stubborn older sister. He is eventually taken by British soldiers and in a reversal of roles – Claire must save him. . . from none other than Captain Jack Randall.

What comes next is a story not just of romance, but of deep-rooted love and genuine affection, of undeniable courage and the upmost honor, and of the understanding that using your wits and intellect is imperative. Claire finds herself thrust into an unknown and initially unwanted world, but she soon finds that the past can bring you to your future in more ways than one.

The Outlander Series is a set of novels that reach epic proportions, spanning 8 (and counting) novels and several companion books. They are not easy reads due mainly to their size (the debut novel clocks in at over 625 pages, in the large paperback version, with each novel growing larger and larger) and also to their somewhat elevated vocabulary. It is very obvious that the author, Diana Gabaldon, is an educated and intelligent woman, and the fact that she has spent many hours doing extensive research on each historical fact is extremely clear. Over the year that it took me to read all 8 of the novels and the Lord John Grey accompaniments, I did occasionally find myself groaning at all of the intricate detail. But my grumbling wasn’t enough to ever cause boredom or make me put the books down. It is very easy to fall under the spell of Claire and Jamie, and the rich history that surrounds them. It’s also very easy to stay trapped in that spell.

Outlander has been made into a popular television series by the Starz Network, and is currently filming it’s third season, on location. The first two seasons followed the path of the first two books closely, with few adjustments. The costumes are beautiful and the scenery is impressive, making it difficult for anyone to not want to book a plane ticket straight to Scotland in an attempt to fall through the stones.

The order of the Outlander books can be found on Diana Gabaldon’s website. Lord John Grey’s books are wonderful additions to the world that any fan will come to love, and I highly recommend them as part of the series proper. I also recommend the few novellas featuring other characters from the books, and they can be found separately or in compilation form on Amazon.

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Review: Dream Magic

Dream Magic

by Joshua Khan

” The six legendary princes who’d brought magic into the world and founded the great houses of magic. Her ancestors.

Djinn, the master of fire.

Coral, lord of the seas.

Typhoon, ruler of the endless winds.

Herne, the antler-headed sorcerer who commanded the earth and the beasts.

Solar, the great shining one. 

And Solar’s twin, Prince Shadow. The first and greatest of the lords of darkness, and the founder of her family. “

When Dream Magic was sent to me for review, I was intrigued. The cover art by Ben Hibon is stunning, and after a quick flip through the pages, I was delighted to find that more of the superbly intricate and uniquely dark illustrations were included. My only complaint about these drawings is that there are so few – they are spread throughout the book almost like the tease of freshly baked bread wafting from a French bakery as you pass by, leaving my mouth watering as I craved more. The talented illustrator has many impressive credits attached to his resume; most notably for readers is his contribution to the animation direction of The Tale of The Three Brothers in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The cover is as alluring as it is mystical, with shadows oozing from every corner and crevice, and an eerie white light hovering over the character’s heads. I was hooked.

I was eager to crack this book open and reveal the secrets hidden within, already curious about the archer and apparent witch featured on the front cover, who seem to be teaming up against something that appeared to be spiders made from crystal. But before I entered into the world of Dream Magic, I did my due diligence, as I do with any book I am about to begin, and discovered that this was actually the second book of a mid-grade fantasy series.

I have to admit, learning that this was a series made me even more excited. I know that series that are not already published in their completion can sometimes put readers off, as they are afraid of getting caught up in a story only to have to wait an undeterminable amount of time for the next book to be published, but I’m hoping that’s not the case with this particular set of books. The first book, Shadow Magic, came out in April of 2016 and this second book is due to be out for general sale next Monday. So here’s hoping that the trend continues and author Joshua Khan can crank another book out by this time next year.

My goal this year with my blog is to feature a review and a recommendation each week and not repeat authors all year long. I’ve found that this is going to be a lot harder than I’d originally thought. While, yes, I’ve read literally 1000’s of books, I’ve noticed that what I love most is getting caught up in a series and falling into a deep and meaningful cadence with a set of characters. I love watching them grow up and evolve. I love the transitions of relationships and the familiarity that serial books can lend. And as a result of my attachments to serial literature, I tend to read the same authors over and over. I was happy to have a new author thrown into my mix. I’m always on the hunt for a good book in this age bracket, as I have two children in it.

Shadow Magic is the tale of two characters set on a parallel path. Thorn is the 12-year old son of an assumed outlaw. But don’t let his age fool you. Thorn has grown up rough and tough, and he has a mouth to match. After his father took the blame for a crime Thorn committed, he had to leave the family home and strike out as far away as he could, leading the law away from his wife and children. Thorn waited as long as he could after his father’s hasty departure, but his guilt and shame over what he’d done to break up his family overtook his sense of reason and he had to follow. Instead of catching up to his dad, he is instead captured and sold into slavery – but not for long. He’s bought by a man named Tyburn, the executioner of House Shadow, rulers of the people in the faraway land of Gehenna. Thorn reluctantly travels with the quiet and esteemed executioner to a city that celebrates and honors their dead, and he tries not to become too offended at the strange customs of this dark land. But as is his lot in life, Thorn’s mouth keeps landing him in trouble.

Lily Shadow is an orphan, and has gone from being a typical and, moody 13-year old girl to the ruler of the land. The role of Lady Shadow was never one she intended to have, as she was the youngest child. But since her parents and brother have been murdered by a team of bandits and her family line ends with her, it is up to Lily to take command over everyone and everything, and it is not a task that is to be taken lightly. She’s feeling daunted by the task at hand – her impending marriage to a son of a rival House, but there are problems much closer at hand.

Thorn and Lily’s adventures in Shadow Magic are fast-paced and richly written, and I cannot say enough good things about it. I was thrilled to find a book that I know my son will bite into this summer. Dream Magic picks up right where its predecessor leaves off, throwing us into yet another set of obstacles wrought with magic and deception.

It looks like trolls are beginning to attack the citizens of Gehenna, or are they? Several houses have been broken into and their inhabitants carted off. But the work of trolls is usually a lot messier and with a lot less mystery. Thorn and his band of squires are in the midst of investigating the ongoing problem, but there’s another issue surrounding the castle and it’s lands – zombies. Ever since Lily performed the forbidden art of magic weeks ago, more and more of the dead are becoming UN-dead, and it’s becoming a cumbersome dilemma. What is Lily supposed to do with all of these “new” subjects? Where will they live and how will they make a living when they are literally falling apart around themselves?

And if Thorn doesn’t have enough on his full plate already, the constant train of suitors lining up for Lily’s affections are a burr in his side. Not that he’s into her that way – of course not! – but he’s getting tired of having to appease and bow down to yet another lord around the castle. With every “m’lord” that comes out of his mouth, he is reminding of his peasant lineage. And now Gabriel Solar – everyone’s favorite brat – is back with a new set of grievances, not to mention  the curious alchemist from another distant land that’s poking around. Everything is complicated, including the unspoken feelings swirling around and between Thorn and Lily, but the problems around the castle are taking up too much of their time for any exploration.

” Thorn shoved Devil off. Then, wearily, he dragged himself back out of the mass of twigs. ‘Thanks. You got here quick.’

‘You’ve a talent for getting into trouble, so I had to keep an eye on you.’ Old Colm tapped the snow off his peg leg. ‘And I can move on this if I have to.’ He looked over at the dead dog. ‘I thought you Herne folk had a way with animals.’

Thorn grimaced. The pain was really kicking in. ‘We do. Usually.’

‘So we’ve got the parents.’ Old Colm gestured at the two dead bodies. ‘What about the boys?’

‘Vanished.’ Thorn stood up and regretted it instantly, as a spell of dizziness struck him. He sucked in the fresh air and tried to clear his head. Blood dripped down his sleeve and decorated the snow with small crimson petals. 

He stared at the farmer and his wife. What had happened here? There was a way of finding out secrets even from the dead. ‘Lily will want to see these two.’

‘Will she?’ asked Old Colm suspiciously. He inspected the pair. ‘And why’s that? Seems to me we should bury them here, by their homes.’

Thorn bit his lip. He knew Old Colm had heard the rumors regarding Lily.

She was his friend, and while only thirteen, she was the ruler of Gehenna. She was also a Shadow, descended from the lord of darkness himself, the greatest necromancer the world had ever known. 

And death itself could not stop a Shadow. . . “

Lily knows she’s not supposed to practice magic. She knows it’s forbidden. But there has never been a ruler of the Land of Shadows who wasn’t a sorcerer, and she feels like it’s an important trade to learn. And now that she knows she’s halfway good at it, there really is no turning back. She spends night after night holed up in the Shadow Library, practicing her skills under the careful and encouraging eye of her father’s ghost. But it’s scary to think of how her people would treat her if they knew the truth. Women who are caught conjuring enchantments and illusions are historically put to the stake to burn, and she can’t imagine that she would be considered any different – even if she is the current Lady Shadow.

” The country was suffering a plague of the undead. On Halloween, the dead had come out of their graves, no one knew how many. First the people had been happy, overjoyed at seeing loved ones they’d lost and missed. Families had thrown resurrection parties. 

Now, three moths later, things were different. The undead had come home to roost and would not leave. There was no place for them here alongside the living. 

And not just zombies, but also ghosts and even the odd vampire. One bloodsucker had caused a lot of trouble in Witch Glade, draining livestock and attacking villages until he’d been captured and reburied, this time with an iron stake through his chest. The price of garlic had tripled. 

Lily gazed at the hour candle, wishing it would burn faster. She wanted his over and done with so she could get down to the castle library. A shiver of excitement went through her at the thought. Her studies were going well, learning what it really meant to belong to House Shadow. . . “

But after a strange encounter with a disfigured Court Jester in disguise, Lily is left locked out of the library and sealed off from her teacher and father, pulling her carefully maintained magical teachings up to a screeching halt. Why did the stranger care so much about the box of her father’s old and random correspondence he stole from the library? And why did he steal the key, locking the door to the library for who knows how long? Lily hardly has time to process the incident; news is traveling across Gehenna of a Troll King and an army making their way towards the castle, and she knows she doesn’t have enough guards and military to withstand a fight like that. Especially not with their leader, Tyburn the feared executioner, out of commission.

Thorn’s suspicions were correct. It wasn’t a band of trolls who have been carrying on in the countryside and terrorizing the folk of Gehenna. The culprits are actually crystalized spiders who upon biting their victim, send the fated person into a deep and dreamy sleep. But who is so desperate to put the citizens of the land to sleep, and why? Where are they being hidden, and how can he rescue them? Can he do it before the trolls bring war?

Fans of Harry Potter, How to Train Your Dragon, and Hotel Transylvania will be delighted with this new fantasy series. In a land full of magic, a giant flying bat, a hero with a smart mouth, and a determined female ruler, Dream Magic will keep readers of all ages turning the page in an anxious quest for more. What I loved most about this book was how it spoke to so many ages AND to both boys and girls. I have a 13 year-old daughter and never have a hard time finding books for her to read, but my 11-year old son is another story. We’ve flown through Percy Jackson, The Jedi Academy, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but he always needs something more, and doesn’t latch onto books that are solely female driven. Dream Magic is unique in that it has both a boy and a girl starring as the hero; both with equal billing and equal page time. The story is vividly written and thrilling, with no lull in the plot (which means that the young readers aren’t going to get bored, which I appreciate). I especially loved the scenes featuring Thorn riding his bat – the ever-opinionated Hades –  and how both Thorn and Lily were always so quick to think of things from different angles. Any time a problem came up, they would combat it with a mixture of common sense and ingenuity, always using violence as a last resort.

I recommend this book for readers ages 8 and up, and for boys and girls alike. I give Dream Magic 5 out of 5 stars. Look for it next week when it hits bookstores, libraries, and online markets near you.

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Review: The Music Maker Series – Inharmonic

The Music Maker Series – Inharmonic

by A.K.R. Scott

” Nadja’s eyelids fell shut once more as his breath washed over her. The room spun, threatening her ability to remain standing. She slid one hand down across the hard plane of his chest. She could feel his heart racing and knew hers beat just as quickly. Their chests rose and fell together as Pax’s voice joined hers in the final refrain. 

‘The waves may crash and roll and roar

But I am my love’s forevermore.’ “

A.K.R Scott is an emerging fantasy author and is sure to make a splash onto the scene with her debut novel.  Inharmonic, the first installment of the Music Maker Series,  is full of all of the makings of a successful fantasy novel – a complex setting, cloaked figures with special powers, and a quest to find out the truth. The fictional world of Amrantir is peppered with deep woods filled with mystical trees, busy cities where music is in the forefront of culture and considered the most highly-valued trade, and creaky docks lined by wooden ships carrying precious cargo. Inharmonic transports readers into the depths of a land full of magic, all wrapped in a symphony of the sweetest composition.

Nadja is a girl sitting precariously on the cusp of becoming a woman –  but not in her manner of choosing. Instead, she will transition into her next phase of life by way of a marriage to a fellow member of her tribe, the Wanderers. She has grown up knowing the customs and traditions of her patriarchal society, but she has also been a reluctant participant, albeit silently. The partner that has been chosen for her and whose ways she shall adopt is a good man, and a handsome one to boot. But this does nothing to assuage the feelings that live deep in Nadja’s gut – the feelings of certainty that she is more than capable of forging her own path and making her own decisions without the express permission of a husband.

As the evening of her betrothal celebration unfolds, Nadja’s life begins to take a set of unrepairable turns. She comes across her young cousin, Kizzy, struggling against the nefarious and unwanted advances of an elder tribal leader, and in her haste to save her, Nadja commits what she believes to be murder. This one act spurs the bride-to-be to pack a bag and flee the confines and security of her camp, and she strikes out towards the city of Cantio in search of her uncle, with whom she has been told she can find sanctuary.

” There, the shock of the night dissipated, and the weight of everything she had been through hit her like a blow to the head. And now, with her meager supplies being looted by a pack of wolves, she truly had nothing and no one. To return to her tribe was suicide and continuing on her journey meant almost certain death. Nadja’s heart broke, and she wept as one mourning the loss of a loved one. But for her, it was the loss of everyone she had ever loved. Her body racked with sobs, and she stuffed the edge of her cloak into her mouth in a feeble attempt to muffle the noise. She cried until exhaustion overcame her and swept her away into a fitful slumber. “

When her Uncle Tau suggests enrolling in the local music conservatory as a further cover for the story he’s concocted for her, Nadja is trepidatious. She has some skill with a flute but doesn’t feel she is quite up to par with the elite members of the community who are also competing for a coveted spot in the illustrious school. Fate is on Nadja’s side, however, and she is accepted. The conservatory will provide her a much-needed place to hide from any of the tribal members attempting to hunt her down. It will also allow her to hone her musical skills and learn a thing or two.

Also accepted into the conservatory is Pax, an aspiring wood craftsman that she met while on her journey into the city. He is mischievous and full of flirtation, but for now, Nadja tries to push him to the background of her mind as she focuses on blending in the shadows. Unfortunately for her, Pax has other ideas. No matter how she tries to push him away, he always seems to find a reason to be around. Much to her growing digress, Nadja finds Pax becoming her hero in more ways than one, as he firmly inserts himself into her life.

” A heavy hand landed on Nadja’s shoulder. 

‘I’ll be partnering with Miss. Machinal.’

Nadja spun to face Pax, knocking away his hand. She stared at him in stunned silence for a moment as the amusement in his eyes belied the mask of innocence he wore. She opened her mouth to say something, but closed it again when her mind refused to cooperate with her lips. 

Instead, she whipped back around to tell the grandmaster there was a mistake, and she would most certainly not be partnering with Pax. However, by the time her instructor was halfway across the room, speaking with Petrin and a beet-red Helaine, Nadja desperately scanned the rest of the class, now only a handful of people since most of the students had already left. Finding everyone else paired off, she faced Pax, her eyes blazing. 

‘I did not agree to be your partner.’

Pax feigned surprise. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry. I thought that was why you were standing over here clearly not looking for a partner. You seemed to be waiting around for someone to come over and claim you.’ 

‘You have some nerve,’ she seethed.  “

As her time at the conservatory unfolds, Nadja begins to learn more about herself and her supposed heritage, and the questions that begin to appear, are at times, more than she can stomach. Her mind is at war with her beliefs of the balance of nature and the magic running in her veins, and soon she becomes embroiled in a situation that she is afraid she cannot fight her way out of. When her past finally catches up to her, she is not as prepared as she originally planned to be, and Nadja must rely on her instincts and emerging talents to carry her on.

Inharmonic is the first in a set of novels, and if the author’s website is any indication, there will be at least three. You can track the author’s progress with a clever widget on the blog portion of her website. This series has the makings of a trilogy at the very least, with possible spin-off stories involving minor but equally interesting characters. Readers who enjoy Inharmonic can sign up at the author’s website (www.akrscott.com) to receive a free copy of a novella entitled Heart of the Wood, featuring the heroic and engaging character, Pax.

I found the premise of Inharmonic to be original and intelligent, and while I have not read a weighty amount of fantasy books, I believe the underlying storyline to be unique. The story is about Nadja and her journey of discovering who she is outside of tribal tradition and law, but it is also centered around music and the power that sound has on the environment in which it lives. Cultivated melodies have the power to call on rain, can literally move mountains, and grow crops that would otherwise be laid waste by pests and disease. The author is obviously very well-versed in the language of music and while it does lend itself to the story well, at times it can be a bit much. If you don’t know a lot about music and its terms (like myself) you may find yourself lost and a bit bored with lengthy descriptions of the inner workings of song and harmony.

I was also confused as to the audience the author was writing for. I’ve found it nearly impossible to “write for the masses” in the literary world of today. The genres of the modern-day reading circles are very distinct and the lines clearly drawn as certain styles of writing invoke cult-like followings. The Young Adult genre is taken very seriously by the readers involved, and while the ages and subject matter suggested this was a YA book, the language was heavy-handed and almost too elegant and complicated for the average YA reader to understand and navigate without a dictionary. That being said, adult readers would find this intelligently written and appealing. However, the storyline was lost more than once in the face of overly-worded paragraphs full of detailed descriptions and dialogue was slowed to a turtle’s pace in the midst of formality.

I’ve found that most books involved in a series can be wordy with their first installment, as the author is excited to set the world up for their reader and also so that in future books, they are able to focus more on plot than setting. I am looking forward to the rest of the books in this series, as Inharmonic left me in a state of desperate wanting as it came to its close. I also appreciated the map in the front of the book, showing all the points of interest clearly marked. The author’s website has a fantastically interactive map with further detail and descriptions that I found delightful. I’m a fan of a good map, as the wife of a cartographer, and fantasy worlds are always made better with a pure path laid out.

I give Inharmonic 4 out of 5 stars, and recommend it for music-lovers and fantasy-lovers alike. I recommend this for readers over the age of 15, as the language overall is advanced and may be confusing for the average mid-grade or YA reader.

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Recommendation: Wicked

Wicked

The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West

by Gregory Maguire

“ ‘I shall pray for your soul,’ promised Nessarose.

‘I shall wait for your shoes,’ Elphie answered. “

Most everyone has heard of the Tony Award-winning musical, Wicked. It is a world-renowned production that has been performed in both domestic and international theaters for over 16 years, to increased delight of audiences of all ages. However, what I am surprised to find, is that most of the patrons of the arts have no idea that their favorite musical is based upon a book – and not just loosely. The successful musical is the creation of a heavily adapted script born from the novel by Gregory Maguire. The author’s alternative telling of the much-beloved tale surrounding two witches in Oz and a curious brown-haired girl who comes for a visit, is captivating in both forms of art.

Each of Gregory Maguire’s books are unique. He is a master of taking a story that readers feel comfortable saying that they know inside and out, and then spinning it in a provocative manner, leaving the reader both bewildered and beautifully stunned. He has spun gold from confessions of ugly stepsisters and rewritten the perspectives of evil queens with sympathy and caring. Many authors have taken their turn at twisting a fairy tale or two, but none do it with the depth or finesse of Maguire.

Good and evil cannot always be taken at face value, and Wicked, the novel, proves that point. The story is centered around Elphaba, a girl with emerald skin and an untidy outlook on the world around her. The narrative begins with her unconventional conception and birth, and continues it’s chronicles of a hard childhood wrought with jealousy and insecurity. Elphaba is not what her parents had intended in a child and she reacts as such to their constant undercurrent of disappointment, becoming surly and almost savage in her growing years.

“ People who claim that they’re evil are usually no worse than the rest of us. . .

It’s people who claim that they’re good, or any way better than the rest of us, that you have to be wary of.”

As a teenager growing up in “the good part of Oz,” Galinda had expectations for how her life would turn out. She’s pretty, she’s popular, and she has a knack for getting what she wants. To her horror she finds herself having to become roommates with a common green girl, but is surprised when a friendship slowly begins to blossom. Elphaba is a thinker and an activist, and she soon begins to bend the flighty Galinda to her ways. The girls become enraptured by the teachings and fierce cause of a specific professor, but when he is found murdered, both girls spin a bit out of control in their own individual ways. Galinda adopts a new name, Glinda, and throws herself into the studies of sorcery and magic. Elphaba secretly continues the professor’s research, attempting to gain new knowledge in the genetic similarities between animals and humans – which subsequently was the cause for which the professor was murdered.

As it so happens with teenage girls, a couple of boys are thrown into the mix. Boq is an addition to the small group from Elphaba’s hometown, and he hopes that his connections with the green girl will help him get closer to her attractive blonde counterpart. Fiyero is a boy who will have a lasting connection in the veins of Elphaba’s life (throughout the entire The Wicked Years Series, of which there are four novels), and play an important part in the intricately intertwined branches of her future.

Graduation nears and job prospects come to the friends and Elphaba’s younger sister. Nessarose. They are asked by the college’s mistress to travel to different corners of Oz as “ambassadors of peace.” But while something just doesn’t seem right to Elphaba and she begins to fight against the intimation of nefarious magic that seems to be twisting it’s way through her life, Glinda does just the opposite. After further disagreement, it is obvious that the once unlikely friends are closer than they ever thought possible, but also that they cannot agree on the very basic aspects of good and bad. They decide to choose their own paths and depart from one another’s lives.

“ And girls need cold anger.

They need the cold simmer, the ceaseless grudge, the talent to avoid forgiveness, the side stepping of compromise.

They need to know when they say something that they will never back down, ever, ever. ”

The story continues to follow Elphaba, who is five years older and fully immersed in an underground group trying to garner rights for animals and overthrow the corrupted Wizard of Oz. After a reconnection with a man from her past, the two become embroiled in a heated love affair, the fruits of which will not be fully revealed until many years later. But when the love of her life is kidnapped and murdered, Elphaba throws herself into sanctuary and is despondent, relying on the kindness of strangers to keep her going.

In a strange turn of events, Elphaba comes to live with her lover’s abandoned family, bringing with her a young boy. As time passes and the emerald-skinned woman grows in her powers and research, she battles with the internal struggles of being good while also having evil tendencies. She cannot navigate the waters of loving and being kind, and she has no idea how to show her true feelings. The scars of her unhappy childhood have stayed with her and she is unable to trust or believe in the good in people. Perhaps this is because almost everyone in her life has always had such a hard time believing that there is good in her – a green-skinned atrocity.

“ People always did like to talk, didn’t they?

That’s why I call myself a witch now: the Wicked Witch of the West, if you want the full glory of it.

As long as people are going to call you a lunatic anyway, why not get the benefit of it?

It liberates you from convention. ”

When Dorothy eventually makes her appearance, readers will find her nearly insufferable. She is but a pawn in the larger game of chess and as such, plays her part to a productive end. The Wizard pulls all of the strings, after all.

Wicked, the novel, is a richly woven tapestry of mystery, political drama and intrigue, complicated love, and the battle within one’s self between good and evil. It is truly Maguire’s masterpiece, and each book is as enjoyable as the one before it, pushing readers deeper and deeper into the strange recesses of Elphaba’s world and it’s spurs. The land of Oz is not as it seems, and the twists and turns throughout the land of Munchkins, witches of East and West, and talking animals is paved in yellow brick – only to be broken apart by a wayward tornado from Kansas.

I give Wicked 4 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to anyone who has a love of Oz and it’s mysteries but I also forewarn fans of the movie and L. Frank Baum books to keep an open mind. This book takes some attention, so readers should be sure to have time and energy to devote to reading it. The story is wrought with new words, new characters, and new places to visit, and as such is a bit heavy at times.  I do not recommend this book for readers under the age of 18, as there are several sexually deviant situations and highly suggestive scenes.

” And there the wicked old Witch stayed for a good long time. 

And did she ever come out?

Not yet. “

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Review: The Alchemyst – The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

The Alchemyst – The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

by Michael Scott

” I am legend.

Death has no claim over me, illness cannot touch me. Look at me now and it would be hard to put an age upon me, and yet I was born in the Year of Our Lord 130, more than six hundred and seventy years ago. 

I have been many things in my time: a physician and a cook, a bookseller and a soldier, a teacher of languages and chemistry, both an officer of the law and  a thief. 

But before all of these I was an alchemyst. I was the Alchemyst. 

I was acknowledged as the greatest Alchemyst of all, sought after by kings and princes, by emperors and even the Pope himself. I could turn ordinary metal into gold, I could change common stones into precious jewels. More than this: I discovered the secret Life Eternal hidden deep in a book of ancient magic. 

Now my wife, Perenelle, has been kidnapped and the book stolen. “

I often wonder about the real-life heroes.

The ones that authors pluck from history as any random climbing rose in an English garden or a dandelion swaying in the wind of an open meadow. Many authors will find their inspiration hiding in an old history text, choosing to build their epic romances, arduous tales of war, or their harrowing adventures around real-life figures.

One such figure that creeps into a lot of modern day writing is the elusive and mysterious Nicholas Flamel. Readers have followed his legacy through Harry Potter’s quest to find the Philosopher’s Stone, they have heard him described as a supposed Grand Master of the Priory of Scion while on a journey with Robert Langdon as he sought out the Holy Grail, and even the famed Indiana Jones has spent time searching for Flamel’s ancient text that is said to describe the process of how to alchemically produce the elixir of everlasting life.

History says that Nicholas Flamel stumbled upon a puzzling and peculiar book while traveling as a scribe and bookseller sometime in the 1300’s. Flamel was assumed to already be a student of the sorcerous art of alchemy, the medieval forerunner to what we now accept as modern day chemistry, and his interests pushed he and his wife Perenelle to read every book on the subject that they could get their hands on, often traveling to distant lands in search of translators and often meeting up with curious characters much like those that they are paired up with in later literature for entertainment value.

Shortly after coming into possession of The Book of Abramelin, a veritable grimoire that is said to hold the secrets for turning ordinary metal into gold, Flamel departed the city. When Nicholas and his wife returned from a sabbatical that took nearly twenty years, their wealth was immeasurable. Rumors over their considerable and somewhat overnight wealth swirled the city despite his best efforts to lead a quiet and unassuming life,  and the Flamel’s took care to donate much of their wealth to charity: sponsoring hospitals, churches, and orphanages around the Paris area where they took up residence in a stone house that still stands to this day.

After the couple died, their home was torn apart as scavengers searched for the secrets of their wealth, but nothing was ever found. Their tomb was eventually invaded by the same type of predators in the hopes of recovering something of substance, but to the criminal’s surprise, the graves were empty – spurring the legend of the immortal Flamels and further instigating the fire that surrounded their mysterious alchemical connections. As the days after their deaths turned into years and decades, reported sightings of the Flamels continued to emerge and to be recorded, leaving one to wonder – were they actually immortal? Does the Philosopher’s Stone actually exist?

The Alchemyst is a mid-grade level book written by Irish author Michael Scott. While he has written other series for the same age group, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series is definitely his shining star.

The story is set around a colorful collection of characters:

  • Nicholas and his wife Perenelle, who are former historical alchemists now living in modern-day California as booksellers.
  • Sophie and Josh Newman are a pair of teenaged twins; Josh works for Nicholas in the bookshop and Sophie works across the street at a coffee bar.
  • Dr. John Dee, a curious historical figure best known as his role in Elizabeth I’s life as her chief doctor, trusted personal advisor and astrologer, is our clear villain.
  • Mythological creatures Scathach (a Celtic warrior), Hekate (a three-faced goddess of Greek lore who is known for her protectiveness of family), Bastet (the Egyptian goddess of warfare), the Morrigan (an Irish symbol of fate), and The Witch of Endor (the Biblical mistress of the air) all make an appearance – but while it may seem that some figures are on the right side of peace and others are on the wrong side of evil, readers are encouraged to not trust anyone.

Nicholas is alarmed to become involved in a magical shootout when Dr. John Dee and his nefarious cohorts pop into the bookshop, searching for the elusive Book of Abraham the Mage, a book that Dee has been searching for over the centuries. Flamel has been able to outsmart and outrun his previous pupil in the world of alchemy so far, but it seems that the run is over. Or is it? Flamel is able to sneak his way out of the shop with his employee Josh, a terrified teenager, at his side and after learning that his wife Perenelle has been subsequently kidnapped by Dee, Flamel grabs Josh’s twin sister Sophie and they set out on the road searching for sanctuary.

Flamel is pained to be separated from his precious wife and he is inflamed to realize that Dee was able to procure the book from him. If Nicholas and Perenelle do not create and ingest the alchemical formula for immortality once a month, they will begin to age at an alarming rate – one year per day they do not have their elixir. His attempt at flight brings them to a hidden dojo where they end up bringing an ancient goddess of war into the fray with them – Scathach, better known as Scatty. While the red-haired warrior may look like a teenager herself, she is actually one in a line of Elders, albeit of the Next Generation, meaning she is not as old and powerful as some of the creatures out there. She agrees to help guide the twins and Flamel to the refuge of Hekate, where they hope to regroup and regain their strength before formulating a plan.

” At the mention of the word twins, Scatty looked up from her packing. “They’re the real reason you’re here, aren’t they?”

Flamel suddenly found something very interesting to stare at on the wall. 

Scatty strode across the small room, glanced out into the hall to make sure Sophie and Josh were still in the kitchen, and then pulled Flamel into the room and pushed the door closed. 

“You’re up to something, aren’t you?” she demanded. “This is about more than just the loss of the Codex. You could have taken Dee and his minions on your own.”

“Don’t be so sure. It’s been a long time since I fought, Scathach,” Flamel said gently. “The only alchemy I do now is to brew a little of the philosopher’s stone potion to keep Perenelle and myself young. Occasionally, I’ll make a little gold or the odd jewel when we need some money.”

Scatty coughed a short humorless laugh, and spun back to her packing. She had changed into a pair of black combat pants, steel-toed Magnum boots and a black T-shirt, over which she wore a black vest covered in pockets and zippers. She pushed a second pair of trousers into her backpack, found one sock and went looking for its match under her bed. 

“Nicholas Flamel,” she said, her voice muffled by the blankets, “you are the most powerful alchemyst in the known world. Remember, I stood beside you when we fought the demon Fomor, and you were the one who rescued me from the dungeons of An Chaor-Thanach and not the other way around. ” She came out from under the bed with the missing sock. “When the Rusalka were terrorizing St. Petersburg, you alone turned them back, and when Black Annis raged across Manitoba, I watched you defeat her. You alone faced down the Night Hag and her Undead army. You’ve spent more than half a millennium reading and studying the Codex, no one is more familiar with the stories and legends it holds –” 

Scatty stopped suddenly and gasped, green eyes widening. “That’s what this is about,” she said. “This is to do with the legend. . . “

Flamel reached out and pressed his forefinger to Scatty’s lips, preventing her from saying another word. His smile was enigmatic.

“Do you trust me?” he asked her eventually. “

But Dr. John Dee and his impatient clients, the Morrigan and Bastet, have a different idea. While Dee was able to snatch the book off of Flamel before he fled, he is furious to learn that several of the pages have been snatched out – in fact, they are the single most important pages of the entire book. Dee and his clients devise a plan to attack the Flamel group in Hekate’s haven, which will result in the deaths of things that have been alive since the beginning of time.

While visiting the enigmatic and curious Hekate, Flamel has begun to formulate some suspicions. The twins, Sophie and Josh, seem to have more to them than meets the eye. The Book of Abraham speaks of a set of magical twins and predicts that they will either save the world or end it, and Flamel has to wonder. . . are these the ones of which the foretelling told? Hekate is able to see their auras which burn a bright gold and silver, confirming what Flamel is equal parts afraid of and excited about. The twins become even more precious commodities now, and it is his mission to Awaken their powers and to keep them safe until their paths become clear.

When Dee, Bastet, the Morrigan, and a slew of their demented creatures descend onto Hekate’s home, war breaks out. And although one twin has been Awakened, the other has not, and contempt and jealousy begin to take root as the group escapes and begins another journey.

” Hekate fell silent, watching the twins punch and kick next to Scathach.

“Silver and gold. The rarest of all auras,” she muttered, and for a single heartbeat, the auras bloomed around the twins. “If I do this and it kills them, will you be able to live with it on your conscience?”

“I am old now, so old,” Nicholas said very softly. “Do you know how many friends I’ve buried over the centuries?”

“And did you feel their loss?” There was a note of genuine curiosity in Hekate’s voice.

“Every one.”

“Do you still?”

“Yes. Every day.” 

The goddess reached out and placed her hand on his shoulder. “Then you are still human, Nicholas Flamel. The day you stop caring is the day you become like Dee and his kind.” “

The Alchemyst is a book that can be enjoyed by all ages, but is truly geared toward both male and female readers between the ages of 10 and 15. Readers who enjoyed the Harry Potter series and the Percy Jackson books will enjoy this series of 6, becoming enthralled by a magical world within a world, and following along with likable characters through their tribulations.

While I found the beginning of the book started off with a splash of adventure and fast-paced excitement, the middle portion stalled a little. I think it was to produce some character development since the beginning missed a lot of that due to the exploits, and I am hoping that as the book ended much as it began, that the rest of the books in the series will remain as thrilling.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars, knocking off points for the stall in the middle and for the onslaught of mythological creatures that got a little convoluted at times. I didn’t feel the descriptions were clear enough for the targeted age group, but that is not to say that it will not be enjoyed. Readers may want to have their computer or iPad at the ready to look up the creatures to formulate an accurate description in their mind.

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Recommendation: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches

by Deborah Harkness

” It begins with absence and desire. 

It begins with blood and fear. 

It begins with a discovery of witches. “

I usually seem to have the luck to stumble upon serial books at the end,  when all of the books in the set have been published and are in readily available circulation. I cannot imagine having started and fallen in love with a book only to realize that it’s part of a series that will take years and years to come into fruition (uh, hello – Game of Thrones?). I don’t like to wait. I’ve always been extremely impatient. So as a general rule, I try not to begin a series unless all of the books are out or unless there are at least 80% of the series already in publication. My memory is very poor when it comes to books and television shows and so I like to devour a story in it’s entirety before moving along to the next. This is why Netflix is probably my favorite thing ever – tons of shows with ENTIRE seasons means I don’t have to wait (and inevitably forget) week by week to see what happens to characters I am invested in.

So again, I was lucky when I came across what is commonly referred to as The All Souls Trilogy, a set of three books written by a newcomer to the mainstream literary scene – the enigmatic and old-worldly poised Deborah Harkness. After spending a year immersing myself the acclaimed Outlander series by well-educated Diana Gabaldon, I had become familiar with her intelligent style of writing and with the academically detailed way in which she writes. When a writer is educated and an intellectual, they can at times approach their writing in a way that can be cumbersome to read.  Because the majority of readers do not have time to really sit with a book and also due to modern-day society’s predilection to  churning things out and turning things over as quickly as possible so they can be on to the next, heavier books are not read as often as their shorter, less verbose counterparts.  It’s not necessarily the story subject but more the detail and sentence structure that can make it decidedly more difficult for the average reader to get through. Gabaldon, in my opinion, writes heavier books that can take a bit of a moment to get used to, and I was thankful to have spent that year with her before transitioning into the All Souls Trilogy because Harkness writes in a very similar style.

Deborah Harkness is most definitely a scholar, her academic resume boasting honored degrees from Mount Holyoke College and Northwestern, as well as a Ph.D. from the University of California where she is a professor of history.  She is highly regarded in the world of histrionic knowledge and literacy, having based her educational career on becoming a historian of both science and medicine, delving into the world of nature and magic. She is a well-versed authority in the world of alchemy, the occult, and their counterparts. Harkness spent time deep in the libraries at Oxford, researching and expanding upon her favored path, and as such, her debut fiction novel A Discovery of Witches, reads like an entertaining textbook of the science surrounding the supernatural world of witches, vampires, daemons, and magic in general.

And so the story begins.

When Diana Bishop calls up a manuscript during her research as an alchemical history professor at Oxford, she unknowingly pulls a book that holds the secrets of life – an elusive book that has been missing for centuries. In doing so, Diana evokes a song in her blood that reaches out to the otherworldly creatures around her, drawing them closer to her than she ever would have preferred. Witches aren’t supposed to mix with daemons, and certainly not with vampires – but the underground supernatural society around her won’t leave her alone until she concedes to call the book again -the mystical, and thought lost, Ashmole 782 – so that they may procure the secrets of their creation and purpose.

One of the creatures drawn to the professor is Matthew Clairmont, an ages old vampire who spends his days working as an distinguished and notable geneticist and his weekends unwinding with serious bouts of yoga and the finest wines to be found around. He is a slow-burning mystery with a serious penchant for Darwinism and is drawn to the secrets of the book from a scientific standpoint. He is as curious about Ashmole 782 as he is Diana, surprising himself as he begins to ignore the taboo that is the  vampire-witch relationship. He allows her to bewitch him, her unassuming feminine wiles taking the place of the emotional barrier that he’d originally intended to have. Matthew’s arrival into the attractive historian’s world begins to complicate things to an extreme degree,  not the least of which is that any relationship between them is strictly forbidden and unfortunately for them, the attraction only intensifies.

” In front of the fireplace, drinks in hand, Hamish could at last press his way into the heart of the mystery. “Tell me about this manuscript of Diana’s, Matthew. It contains what, exactly? The recipe for the philosopher’s stone that turns lead into gold?” Hamish’s voice was lightly mocking. “Instructions on how to concoct the elixir of life so you can transform mortal into immortal flesh?” 

The daemon stopped his teasing the instant Matthew’s eyes rose to meet his. 

“You arent’ serious,” Hamish whispered, his voice shocked. The philosopher’s stone was just a legend, like the Holy Grail or Atlantis. It couldn’t possibly be real. Belatedly, he realized that vampires, daemons, and withes weren’t supposed to be real either. 

“Do I look like I’m joking?” Matthew asked. 

“No.” The daemon shuddered. Matthew had always been convinced that he could use his scientific skills to figure out what made vampires resistant to death and decay. The philosopher’s stone fit neatly into those dreams. 

“It’s the lost book,” Matthew said grimly. “I know it.”

Like most creatures, Hamish had heard the stories. One version suggested the witches had stolen a precious book from the vampires, a book that held the secret of immortality. Another claimed the vampires had snatched an ancient spell book from the witches and then lost it. Some whispered that it was not a spell book at all, but a primer covering the basic traits of all four humanoid species on earth. “

Diana has done her best to deny the witch inside of her, pushing her illustrious lineage to the side and putting science and the foundation of her education in its place instead. But by calling that book, she has inadvertently set herself on a path that is irrevocable. She is the progeny of a powerful witch and an even more powerful warlock, the union of which has been strongly discouraged ever since due to the combination of powers her parents had that resulted in just. . . too much magic.

When Diana finds herself unable to call the book again, she and Clairmont begin a quest for the truth about the book, its origins,  and its properties. The situation  proving to be more dangerous than they originally bet on as more and more supernatural beings find out that she has access to the long-lost book. Some of these beings are willing to kill for the chance to Ashmole 782’s secrets, forcing a protective Matthew to spirit Diana away into modern-day France for her safety,  where she is immersed into the lives of his ancient vampire family. Much to their digress, his vampiric kin can see that Matthew is falling in love with Diana, becoming rapt by her spellbinding intelligence and the witch’s song in her blood.

” “I needed to get away from a witch.” 

Hamish watched his friend for a moment, noting Matthew’s obvious agitation. Somehow Hamish was certain the witch wasn’t male. 

“What makes this witch so special?” he asked quietly.

Matthew looked up from  under his heavy brows. “Everything.” 

“Oh. You are in trouble, aren’t you?” Hamish’s burr deepened in sympathy and amusement. 

Matthew laughed unpleasantly. “You could say that, yes.” 

“Does this witch have a name?” 

“Diana. She’s a historian. And American.”

“The goddess of the hunt,” Hamish said slowly. “Apart from her ancient name, is she an ordinary witch?”

“No,” Matthew said abruptly. “She’s far from ordinary.” 

“Ah. The complications.” Hamish studied his friend’s face for signs that he was calming down but saw that Mathew was spoiling for a fight instead. 

“She’s a Bishop.” Matthew waited. He’d learned it was never a good idea to anticipate that the daemon wouldn’t grasp the significance of a reference, no matter how obscure. 

Hamish sifted and sorted through his mind and found what he was seeking. “As in Salem, Massachusetts?”

Matthew nodded grimly. “She’s the last of the Bishop witches. Her father is a Proctor.” 

The daemon whistled softly. “A witch twice over, with a distinguished magical lineage. You never do things by half, do you? She must be powerful.” “

When the pair returns to Diana’s childhood home and her own family, Aunt Sarah and her partner Em, she discovers more about her parents and the secrets that they fervently held under lock and key until their dying breaths. What Diana grew up believing about her parents comes into question and confusion, forcing her to answer the call to her lineage and supernatural race. When she is given an inheritance of one of her parent’s must treasured secrets, a page from Ashmole 782 itself, she must begins the quest for answers. Diana, along with a faithful Matthew by her side, make plans to strike out to search for Ashmole 782 through the ages of ancient history and culture, hoping to discover and analyze the mysterious book’s birth.

” Matthew bent and picked up the dropped sheet of stationery. ” ‘My darling Diana,” he read aloud. “Today you are seven — a magical age for a witch, when your powers should begin to stir and take shape. But your powers have been stirring since you were born. You have always been different.’ “

My knees shifted under the image’s uncanny weight. 

” ‘That you are reading this means that your father and I succeeded. We were able to convince the Congregation that it was your father — and not you — whose power they sought. You mustn’t blame yourself. It was the only decision we could possibly make. We trust that you are old enough now to understand.’ “

Matthew gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze before continuing. ”  

A Discovery of Witches is full of the scientific mystique of alchemy and the better known properties of magical lore and the supernatural. The pace can at times seem a little slow but in retrospect, it is simply because the author is building you up with character analysis and introducing you to the subject matters that will become important as you reach the second and third books in the trilogy.  A television show based upon the books is currently in the works, with filming set to commence in the summer of 2017. Harkness is in the midst of writing a book called The Serpent’s Mirror that is centered around Matthew during the Tudor era. It’s estimated publication is in 2017. A detailed guide and companion book is also in the works for fans of the series.

Harkness is also involved in a convention called All Soul’s Con, where historians and fans can come together to explore the world of magic and science for a day of adventure and reading. This year’s convention is scheduled for Saturday, September 23 in the charismatic city and vampiric Mecca of New Orleans.

I give A Discovery of Witches 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to readers who have a bit of time to sit down with a novel and the patience to allow a story to bloom slowly. the last quarter of the book moves very fast and the other two books in the trilogy also move in speedy plot changes as the duo hops from one time period to another on their magical quest. Readers who enjoy time travel, subtle romance, and strong female leads will enjoy this book.

Don’t forget to pick the other two up in this series if you enjoy the first. They read as follows:

 

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Review: Lost in a Book

Lost in a Book

by Jennifer Donnelly

“The second vulture screeched. He shook his head, and then his wings. Death’s pale cheeks flushed with indignation. 

“I know there are rules, Truque!” she said. “I know I cannot go to the girl before her time. But what if she comes to me? What if I can bind her here? That changes things, doesn’t it?”

The vulture considered his mistress’s words, then dipped his head and grabbed the book with his sharp talons. Death opened a window, and the two birds swooped off into the night. As she watched them go, her sister’s words came back to her.

You have no idea how the story ends. 

Death’s bloodred lips curved into a grim, determined smile. 

“Oh, but I do,” she purred. Because I intend to write it!” “

Lost in a Book is a Disney sanctioned novel that I came across via FaceBook. The marketing for the book must be very good because ads for it popped up onto my feed multiple times a day! I follow several Beauty & the Beast groups and I guess those cookies are working in my favor. I am so glad I came across this sweet little book. It was really fun to read and a great perspective.

I don’t know much about Jennifer Donnelly other than she is very involved on her FaceBook page. I love it when authors take the time to interact with their fans, and she has many. There is something very charming about the back and forth between a fan giving a compliment and an author receiving it and responding. Social media is a great platform for celebrities and their adoring masses to come together, and the praise for this novel has been substantial.

Lost in a Book is the tale of Belle’s time as an unintended guest of the Beast’s enchanted castle. The time period (if you are going by the movie) is after she has arrived and tried to escape, only to be set upon by a pack of wolves in the forest and saved by her captor, the Beast. The Beast has gifted Belle with her very own library and she is determined to begin the task of tidying it up, along with the help of her friends and familiar faces – Cogsworth, Lumiere, Mrs. Potts and Chip. The library is a disaster of dust and grime and they spend a few days and many hours cleaning things up so that it can be a place for Belle to find sanctuary. Books have always helped Belle escape the tribulations of her life and she needs them now more than ever; being separated from her father is heartbreakingly difficult.

” “Reading became my sanctuary,” Belle continued. “I found so much in those books. I found histories that inspired me. Poems that delighted me. Novels that challenged me. . .” Belle paused, suddenly self-conscious. She looked down at her hands, and in a wistful voice said, “What I really found, though, was myself.”  “

What Belle doesn’t know is that a trap has been set for her. Two sisters, Death and Love, have been playing with her life on their chessboard of fate, watching her from a veritable distance. Love, of course, is hoping that Belle will begin to see the good in the Beast, allowing the spell to be broken and for the both of them to live happily ever after. Death on the other hand is hoping to claim Belle’s life as part of her collection. They place a bet on Belle’s life, each hoping that their wish will become reality, but what Love doesn’t know is that Death has decided to cheat. She places an enchanted book in Belle’s library, one that will come to life and tempt her into another world. If Belle takes three things from this magical world inside the book titled Nevermore, and leaves three things in return, then she will be bound to the world forever and as such, meet her eternal end.

Belle finds the book in secret room within the library and cannot hold herself back from entering. In it, she finds a world that is amazing and all that she has ever dreamed of. Inside the book of Nevermore is the city of Paris and it’s outskirts, parts of her country that Belle has always dreamed of visiting but never had the means. She also encounters a handsome duke named Henri and a startlingly curious Countess who offers to take Belle under her wing and show her the lays of the land.

” Belle was taken aback by the countess’s title. “Terres des Morts. . .” she echoed. “Land of the Dead? I’m not sure I wish to meet her!”

The young man laughed. “It’s a horrible title, I agree. It was given to an ancestor of the countess’s. After he’d won a particularly bloody battle. It is much more fierce than she is, I promise you.”

Belle hesitated. “What is this place?” she asked.

“A bit of magic, like all good books,” the man replied. “An escape. A place where you can leave cares and worries behind.” He smiled. “At least for a chapter or two.” He offered her his arm. 

Belle bit her lip. She cast a glance behind her. It wasn’t too late to leave. It wasn’t too late to run out of the chateau, down the drive, through the portal, and back to the Beast’s castle. 

But there, she could only read stories. Here, it seemed, she could live one.  “

Belle comes back from the book and is torn. She loved her adventure while visiting the magical land inside the book with the Countess and her new friends, but she also is finding a particular fondness for the inhabitants of the enchanted castle and the Beast. His behavior and demeanor are no doubt mercurial, but she is slowly beginning to see the good inside of him. He is making an effort and although it often feels as if he is taking one step forward and three steps back, everyone is hopeful that the Beast will honestly and valiantly earn Belle’s trust and eventually, her heart.

Belle had stood there for a long moment, staring at the empty doorway. 

The gift the Beast had bestowed upon her was so incredibly generous, it was almost unbelievable. She felt as if the Beast, who had caused her so much sorrow, was now doing everything in his power to undo it. 

Everything, that is, except letting her go. 

“What are you?” she’d whispered. 

Was the Beast the snarling savage who’d imprisoned her father, then herself? Was he the cultivated reader who could recite lines from a sixteenth-century poem? Was he her adversary? Her friend?

Or was he somehow all of these things? “

Despite the Beast’s best efforts, something always seems to go wrong in his attempts to woo and romance Belle. He plans an outing to take her ice skating and ends up coming down with a cold. He tries to hold a polite conversation with her and he cannot control his temper. The enchanted objects of the castle try to smooth things over but between the Beast’s rages and the sorrow Belle is feeling over the absence of her father in her life, she has a very hard time resisting the temptation that is the magical book and world of Nevermore. The Beast however, continues to try and connect.

Something was wrong — very wrong. The Beast could feel it. 

“Why aren’t you eating, Belle? Are you not well?” he asked. 

“I’m fine, thank you. Just not terribly hungry,” Belle said, giving him what was clearly a fake smile. She laid her spoon down. “I didn’t sleep well last night. In fact, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll take my leave.” 

The Beast raised an eyebrow. “Where are you going?”

“To the library.”

“Would you like to go for a walk through the grounds instead? The brisk air will put some color back into your cheeks. You look so pale this morning. Surely you’ve noticed.”

“How could I?” Belle asked. “There aren’t any mirrors here.”

“True.”

“Because you broke them all.”

The Beast cleared his throat. “Also true,” he said. “Personally? I like books better than mirrors,” he added, trying to lighten the mood. “Mirrors only show us what w are. Books show us what we can be.” “

Little does she know, but her new best friend inside the book is none other than Death herself, working her own brand of magic against any love Belle may feel in the real world. She is able to persuade Belle into tasting several things from Nevermore which half binds her to the book, and she cunningly begins to try and find ways to steal things from Belle which will finish the trap. Belle is finding so much joy and solace in what she believes to be the perfect world that she ignores the warnings that Love has sent her way. She continues to go back and forth between the worlds and ignores the physical attachment she is beginning to form to the book. Each time she goes back and forth it proves to be more difficult to get back into the real world.

” “Goodbye, Madame Comtesse,” Belle said as they stepped into the drive. “And thank you again for everything.” 

There was a note of melancholy in Belle’s voice. The countess noticed it. “What’s the matter, child?” she asked. 

“Nothing,” Belle said wistfully. “At least, nothing that doesn’t make me sound like a complete ingrate. I just. . . I wish I didn’t have to leave. Ever. I wish Nevermore was real.” 

The countess smoothed a stray piece of hair off Belle’s forehead. Her touch was as cool as marble. “Does it matter if it’s not?” she asked. “Life can be so difficult, and stories help us escape those difficulties. It’s all right to lose yourself in one, Belle. Isn’t that what you’ve always done? And this one is your own story, for goodness’ sake! What harm can there possibly be in that?” “

Belle is being further manipulated by Death each time she enters the book and finally, things come to a head. She has bound herself to Nevermore by leaving three things and taking three things, and she must embark upon a perilous journey to escape if she wants to keep her life intact. Relying on Love’s emissaries and her own wits, she struggles through puzzles and problems to try and find her way out and back to her Beast — someone that she now realizes she cares more for than she did before.

Jennifer Donnelly brings a bright and appropriate new story to the beloved world of Beauty & the Beast; one that can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages. The narrative is such that a 10-year old and a 30-year old can each enjoy the story and appreciate the addition to a world they already love. I especially loved the nod to the original author of Beauty & the Beast’s tale, Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. The author wrote the story of Beauty and her Beast in the 1700’s and although it has been cut down and penned under other names as well, Donnelly used the original author’s last name Villeneuve as the name of the village Belle comes from.

Please note that Lost in a Book follows the storyline of the live-action film and not the cartoon. As a result, if you have not seen the live-action movie, you may find a few discrepancies. I really enjoyed this addition to my favorite fairy tale. I give Lost in a Book 4.5 out of 5 stars, and recommend it for any and all age groups interested in learning more about Belle’s time in captivity at the Beast’s enchanted castle.

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Review: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

by Douglas Adams

” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been complied and recompiled many times over many years and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travelers and researchers. 

The introduction begins like this:

Space,’ it says, ‘is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts in space. Listen. . . and so on” “

 

I’ve never been one to pick up a fantasy novel on my own. I have always much preferred fairytale fiction and the popular “chic-lit” style of writing. I’ve noticed lately how much I’ve become attached to historical fiction and how much I naturally move towards series as a preferred way of reading. Nothing intrigues me more than a good set of books. Characters I can sink my teeth into through book after book and the slow unraveling of their layers. . . getting to know them on deep levels and forming attachments. I strongly feel that it is incredibly difficult for an author to truly know the in’s and out’s of their main character(s) through the writing of just one novel.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a book that my husband (shall we call him, The Beast?) brought to me last week on our date night at the bookstore. It’s something we have done literally since our first date – combing the aisles independently for something that catches our eye, scoping out the hardcovers to see if they have come down in price yet, perusing the clearance section to see what treasures have been added. We come together every so often and reveal our finds and sometimes we have something for the other. The Beast already owns a well-worn copy of Hitchhiker’s at home, but because he once loaned it to a previous girlfriend (let’s call her Fat Anaka, shall we? A totally random name, I promise) I consider it tainted and refused to read it when he offered it a few years ago. He decided I should give it another try and bought me my own crisp copy (brand new for $4 at the Half-Price Book store).

So, I’d heard of it. But again, picking up a fantasy book is not my first choice. It’s not even my second. I’ve devoured all of the Game of Thrones books and have spent many a time in lands of witches and warlocks, vampires and immersed in other dimensions, but it’s only after I’ve dragged myself away from the sordid and melancholy lives of all of Henry’s eight wives that I will willingly choose a book of fantasy.

I’ll say, while it took me a little while to understand what was going on in Hitchhiker’s, but it did have me giggling  just a few pages in. We are introduced to the unassuming Arthur Dent, who is somewhat in denial of the fact that a highway is about to be built right through his house – until the bulldozer shows up quite literally at his door. He is automatically affronted and of course the only way to deal with this problem is simply to refuse to take it lying down. . . except that’s what he um, does, kind of. . .when he lies down in front of the bulldozer so they can’t demolish his home. Not that he particularly likes his home, but it’s the principle, you see.

His friend, the ambiguous and cleverly disguised Ford Prefect decides that he must rid Arthur of this situation and take him out for a drink – or two, or three. The end of the world is happening in oh, say 4 and a half minutes or so, and the best way to be blown up is while mightily intoxicated. Ford is an alien of sorts, if you can call him that. It’s all a bit ironic to call anyone alien in this book, especially once the truth about Earth is revealed, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Ford is an avid reader of and researcher for The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, an enormous collection of snippets and articles about every planet and system in the….galaxy. Where to get the best cocktail, how to play a certain drinking game, and what to do if you’re trapped on a Vogon spaceship is all right there in the electronic book. Ford has been stuck on Earth for a lot longer than he’d anticipated and he’s gathered so much research that he’s now completely agreeable with expanding upon the entry for the planet in the Guide.

” ‘If you’re a researcher on this book thing and you were on Earth, you must have been gathering material on it.”

“Well, I was able to extend the original entry, a bit, yes.”

“Let me see what it says in this edition, then. I’ve got to see it.”

“Yeah. OK.” He passed it over again.

Arthur grabbed hold of it and tried to stop his hands shaking. He pressed the entry for the relevant page. The screen flashed and swirled and resolved into a page of print. Arthur stared at it.

“It doesn’t have an entry!” he burst out.

Ford looked over his shoulder.

“Yes it does,” he said, “down there, see at the bottom of the screen, just under Eccentricia Gallumbits, the triple-breasted whore of Eroticon Six.”

Arthur followed Ford’s finger, and saw where it was pointing. For a moment it still didn’t register, then his mind nearly blew up.

“What? Harmless! Is that all it’s got to say? Harmless! One word!”

Ford shrugged.

“Well, there are a hundred billion stars in the Galaxy, and only a limited amount of space in the book’s microprocessors,” he said, “and no one knew much about the Earth, of course.”

“Well, for God’s sake I hope you managed to rectify that a bit.”

“Oh yes, well I managed to transmit a new entry off to the editor. He had to trim it a bit, but it’s still an improvement.”

“And what does it say now?” asked Arthur. 

Mostly harmless,” admitted Ford with a slightly embarrassed cough. “

Ford is by chance able to save Arthur from being included in Earth’s complete destruction by way of becoming stowaways on a Vogon spaceship – the very people who have just blown up the planet to make way for a galactic speedway. Their adventures continue as they are caught upon the ship by it’s grumbling yet poetic Captain and ultimately and ceremoniously tossed out, presumably to their untimely death in the deep, dark depths of space itself.

” “Oh, er, well the hatchway in front of us will open automatically in a few moments and we will shoot out into deep space I expect and asphyxiate. If you take a lungful of air with you, you can last up to thirty seconds, of course. . .”said Ford. He stuck his hands behind his back, raised his eyebrows, and started to hum an old Betelgeusian battle hymn. To Arthur’s eyes he suddenly looked very alien. 

“So this is it,” said Arthur, we are going to die.” 

“Yes,” said Ford, “except . . . no! Wait a minute!” He suddenly lunged across the chamber at something behind Arthur’s line of vision. “What’s this switch?” he cried. 

“What? Where?” cried Arthur, twisting round.

“No, I was only fooling,” said Ford, “we are going to die after all.” “

To their complete and utter amazement, they are saved by a passing spacecraft. This particular ship is full of surprises, one being it’s pseudo captain and President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox, who happens to be Ford’s “kind of cousin.” In any event, they know one another and there is immediately an undercurrent of trust on board. Arthur is both horrified and exalted to find that the other passenger in attendance is a woman with whom he previously tried to hook up with a party (and was subsequently rejected by) – a fellow dark-haired Earthen named Trillian.

As they travel through space together a few revelations come to light and it culminates with the “discovery” of a legendary planet – Magrathea. This planet’s sole purpose was to design and build luxury planets for the rich and famous. Anything you could desire in a planet can be made here, for a price of course. The planet was thought to have been destroyed or lost but in fact, has only gone into a sort of hibernation since the economy began to falter some years ago.

The foursome lands on the planet and split up to explore. Arthur ends up on his own and meets up with a native of the planet, who begins to tell him the real reason that Earth was. . . built — to discover the true meaning of life. A machine named Deep Thought  previously handed the answer over but the consensus was that the answer simply wasn’t good enough. In actuality, Deep Thought believed that “mankind” actually did not know the real question they were trying to ask.

The path by which this question shall be answered is a tenuous one and is riddled with intrigue and humor. Not everyone agrees that we should know the meaning to life, or rather, not everyone agrees as to who should be the one to unveil the true answer.

” “We demand,” yelled Vroomfondel, “that demarcation may or may not be the problem!” 

“You just let the machines get on with the adding up,” warned Majikthise, “and we’ll take care of the eternal verities, thank you very much. you want to check your legal position you do, mate. Under law the Quest for Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers. Any bloody machine goes and actually finds it and we’re straight out of a job, aren’t we? I mean what’s the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machine only goes and gives you his bleeding phone number the next morning?” 

“That’s right,” shouted Vroomfondel, “we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!” “

The foursome eventually meets back up and has to flee the planet unexpectedly – for reasons that I won’t spoil, but I promise they were entertaining and quite unexpected.

This book is very short, clocking in at 180 pages. It’s a quick, fun story that has a lot of clever humor. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy originally began as a talk radio show and is a widely popular and beloved British written work. The series has a cult following and I am anxious to read the remaining books to carry on with Arthur’s travels. I found him to be the most interesting character in the bunch. A feature film was made in 2005 and Arthur’s character was played by the brilliant Martin Freeman. I could *hear* him speaking as I read Arthur’s dialogue and it fit so perfectly, it makes me very excited to see how things pan out for him and the group of misfits he has gotten himself caught up with.

The books are available in a collective format, meaning all books in one *or* you can buy them individually. They are as follows:

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  2. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe
  3. Life, the Universe and Everything
  4. So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish  
  5. Mostly Harmless
  6. And Another Thing. . . 

There are also several companion books and short stories and published radio scripts that relate to the omnibus.

I give The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy 4 out of 5 stars. I would have rated it higher had the author explained just a tad bit more about the fantasy world we were so violently thrown in to very early on. I spent a few chapters confused and I personally need more of an explanation. But that’s just me. Pick it up if you’re looking for a quick, charming, funny read.