BOOK REVIEW: The Glass Magician, by Caroline Stevermer

BOOK REVIEW: The Glass Magician, by Caroline StevermerTitle: The Glass Magician by Caroline Stevermer
Published by Tor Books
Published: April 7th 2020
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 288
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

A gilded menagerie rules a Gilded Age: Bears and Bulls are not only real, but dominate humanity in The Glass Magician, an amazing historical fantasy by Caroline Stevermer

What if you could turn into the animal of your heart anytime you want?
With such power, you’d enter the cream of New York society, guaranteed a rich life among the Vanderbilts and Astors, movers and shakers who all have the magical talent and own the nation on the cusp of a new century.

You could. If you were a Trader.

Pity you’re not.

Thalia is a Solitaire, one of the masses who don’t have the animalistic magic. But that is not to say that she doesn’t have talent of another kind—she is a rising stage magician who uses her very human skills to dazzle audiences with amazing feats of prestidigitation. Until one night when a trick goes horribly awry…and Thalia makes a discovery that changes her entire world. And sets her on a path that could bring her riches.

Or kill her.

The Glass Magician is set in an alternative Gilded Age New York City in which magic exists beyond the stage performance. Thalia is a stage magician who realizes after watching a trick go horribly wrong for her and again on stage for someone else that there is more to her world than she knew before. It is a world of shape shifters tied by bloodline, and she is one of them after thinking she was a Solitaire (a human who doesn’t shape shift) for her entire life.

I ended up feeling rather so-so about the last third of the book because it felt both melodramatic and rushed at the same time. The magic trick at the end to reveal the true killer and motive didn’t seem to flow as well with the story as I would have liked, but I think that’s also to do with the world building. However, it did leave me hopeful that there would be more books set in this universe because the foundation has been laid for a lot more exploration and examination.

I enjoy “quiet” novels, stories that are a bit slower and softer than the usual fantasy fare of high-octane action. I loved the setting of an alternate New York City in the Gilded Age, and I imagined magic and magic tricks revealed and performed in gas-lit rooms and lush dresses of mint and lilac and rose contrasting with the darker elements of this society and the magic therein. Most of these thoughts were more of my own projections of my enthusiasm of the era, but I enjoyed this book for what it was. I think I was left wanting because I knew there could be more – from world building to character development to character interactions. So much of it felt like a superficial magic trick. Pretty to read and to look at, but I felt like I could see right through the tricks.

Thank you to Tor Books and Netgalley for the advance reader copy; all opinions are my own.

Little List of Reviews #8

Welcome to another little list of reviews! I have a little backlog of reviews that I’ve been wanting to post, mostly for me since these are ones that I bought myself (and one free arc from my old job). They’ve been sitting as empty drafts since like… May, maybe, and it’s time to get those written and move on so I can write about other things!

Little List of Reviews #8Title: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
Series: The Invisible Library #1
Published by Roc
Published: June 14th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 341
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Collecting books can be a dangerous prospect in this fun, time-traveling, fantasy adventure from a spectacular debut author. One thing any Librarian will tell you: the truth is much stranger than fiction...   Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, a shadowy organization that collects important works of fiction from all of the different realities. Most recently, she and her enigmatic assistant Kai have been sent to an alternative London. Their mission: Retrieve a particularly dangerous book. The problem: By the time they arrive, it's already been stolen.   London's underground factions are prepared to fight to the death to find the tome before Irene and Kai do, a problem compounded by the fact that this world is chaos-infested—the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic to run rampant. To make matters worse, Kai is hiding something—secrets that could be just as volatile as the chaos-filled world itself.   Now Irene is caught in a puzzling web of deadly danger, conflicting clues, and sinister secret societies. And failure is not an option—because it isn’t just Irene’s reputation at stake, it’s the nature of reality itself...

FEATURING BONUS MATERIAL: including an interview with the author, a legend from the Library, and more!

Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library is the first in a series of books that involves libraries, special books, and dragon-shifters. I loved the world-building and desperately wanted to become a Librarian while reading it, and this novel serves its purpose as a set-up for everything else because it was a lot more telling and description than it was character-development and depth. That doesn’t deter me from wanting to continue the rest of the series (and I’ve got most of them, as far as I can recall), so I’m looking forward to seeing where the adventure goes next. I’m a little weird about steampunk as a genre because it can get confusing in its setup, depth, and exploration, but I thought Cogman’s delivery and worldbuilding led to in-book plausibility and created a solid foundation.

Little List of Reviews #8Title: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
Series: The Crescent Moon Kingdoms #1
Published by DAW
Published: December 31st 2012
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 367
Format: Mass Market
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

From Saladin Ahmed, finalist for the Nebula and Campbell Awards, comes one of the year's most acclaimed debuts: Throne of the Crescent Moon, a fantasy adventure with all the magic of The Arabian Nights

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, home to djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, are at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. But these killings are only the earliest signs of a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn the great city of Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

Saladin Ahmed’s The Crescent Moon is one of the most engrossing fantasies I’ve read in a long time. The second I picked it up and started reading it, I fell in love with the atmosphere, the language, and the story. It sank deep into my soul, and I’ve not been able to stop thinking about it since I read it. I felt like I was right there in that world, standing just off to the side as everything unfolded. It features a ghul hunter, a magnificent shapeshifter, and a holy warrior dervish, and each of these characters felt so refreshing and real that I forgot sometimes that this was pure fiction and not based off of something that had once happened once upon a time. But perhaps it did… If you’re looking for something incredible and breathtaking, pick this one up. I do hope one day he’ll continue on with the series, but this also functions as a completely perfect standalone.

Little List of Reviews #8Title: Exhalation by Ted Chiang
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
Published: May 7th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 350
Format: ARC
Source: Work
Goodreads

alternate cover for this ISBN can be found here

The universe began as an enormous breath being held.

From the acclaimed author of Stories of Your Life and Others — the basis for the Academy Award-nominated film Arrival — comes a ground-breaking new collection of short fiction: nine stunningly original, provocative, and poignant stories. These are tales that tackle some of humanity's oldest questions along with new quandaries only Ted Chiang could imagine.

In "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate", a portal through time forces a fabric seller in ancient Baghdad to grapple with past mistakes and second chances. In "Exhalation", an alien scientist makes a shocking discovery with ramifications that are literally universal. In "Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom" the ability to glimpse into alternate universes necessitates a radically new examination of the concepts of choice and free will.

Including stories being published for the first time as well as some of his rare and classic uncollected work, Exhalation is Ted Chiang at his best: profound, sympathetic — revelatory.

Contents:- The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate (2007)- Exhalation (2008)- What's Expected of Us (2005)- The Lifecycle of Software Objects (2010)- Dacey's Patent Automatic Nanny (2011)- The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling (2013)- The Great Silence (2015)- Omphalos (2018)- Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom (2018)

I can’t sing enough praises about Ted Chiang’s writing. He’s one of my all time favorites, and I was so excited to see his newest collection of stories on the arc shelf at my old job. These are mostly reprints, I believe, but each one is fantastic. There are very few writers who can like… make me straight up cry with the magic, scope, and depth of their writing, but this is a collection you’ll not want to miss.

BOOK REVIEW: The Beast’s Heart, by Leife Shallcross

BOOK REVIEW: The Beast’s Heart, by Leife ShallcrossTitle: The Beast's Heart by Leife Shallcross
Published by Berkley
Published: February 12th 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 416
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

A sumptuously magical, brand new take on a tale as old as time—read the Beast's side of the story at long last.

I am neither monster nor man—yet I am both.

I am the Beast.

The day I was cursed to this wretched existence was the day I was saved—although it did not feel so at the time.

My redemption sprung from contemptible roots; I am not proud of what I did the day her father happened upon my crumbling, isolated chateau. But if loneliness breeds desperation then I was desperate indeed, and I did what I felt I must. My shameful behaviour was unjustly rewarded.

My Isabeau. She opened my eyes, my mind and my heart; she taught me how to be human again.

And now I might lose her forever.

Lose yourself in this gorgeously rich and magical retelling of The Beauty and the Beast that finally lays bare the beast's heart.

It feels like it’s been forever since a I read a fairy tale retelling that was set in its traditional time period. The Beast’s Heart is a Beauty and the Beast retelling set in 17th century France that evokes a lot of the style and magic of what I associate with the fairy tale. Shallcross manages to retell a familiar tale set in a familiar landscape and somehow make it entirely infused with a fresh magic. This retelling is told from the Beast’s perspective, and Shallcross does a fantastic job of letting us into the mind of the beast, showing us the arrogance and the assumptions that the young woman should love him just because he saved her. She shows his growth from “the beast” to “the prince” in a sympathetic and true way, and I liked seeing the Beast’s growth from his own perspective.

While this does stay true to the original tales, as I get older, I realize and recognize some of the weird behaviors that are often swept aside for the romance. As someone in her 30s now, I do find it generally off-putting for men to continually ask someone else out even after she’s said no, find non-consensual voyeurism strange, and think that the whole “woe is me, please love me I’m alone” deal to be tired. You’ll find all of this in the book, and on one hand it is grating and off-putting. I found myself thinking “just leave her alone!” several times when the Beast kept making his advances. I thought some of the scenes where the Beast was watching Isabeau and her family through his magic mirror to add a depth to the story, but there were times he watched Isabeau for the sake of watching her (and in one scene watching her undress). The Beast also bemoans his lack of humanity and the horrors of his beast self, and the consistency with which that happens gets old after a while. But there are people out there in the world who behave this way, and the Beast does come to his senses, matures, and begin reversing a lot of those thoughts and behaviors by the book’s end.

I thought the descriptions of the chateau and its surroundings were beautiful, the dialogue is sparkling, and the pacing is just right for a story like this. It reminded me a lot of the fairy tale retellings I read ages ago by Robin McKinley, Donna Jo Napoli, and Gail Carson Levine, so it left me with good feelings by the end.

Little List of Reviews #7

Another little list of reviews so soon because I have a few digital ARCs that I’d like to chat about! These are either relatively recent releases or will be releasing soon!

Little List of Reviews #7Title: The Big Book of Classic Fantasy by Ann VanderMeer, Jeff VanderMeer
Published by Vintage
Published: July 2nd 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 848
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Unearth the enchanting origins of fantasy fiction with a collection of tales as vast as the tallest tower and as mysterious as the dark depths of the forest. Fantasy stories have always been with us. They illuminate the odd and the uncanny, the wondrous and the fantastic: all the things we know are lurking just out of sight--on the other side of the looking-glass, beyond the music of the impossibly haunting violin, through the twisted trees of the ancient woods. Other worlds, talking animals, fairies, goblins, demons, tricksters, and mystics: these are the elements that populate a rich literary tradition that spans the globe. A work composed both of careful scholarship and fantastic fun, The Big Book of Classic Fantasy is essential reading for anyone who's never forgotten the stories that first inspired feelings of astonishment and wonder.

INCLUDING:

*Stories by pillars of the genre like the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, Mary Shelley, Christina Rossetti, L. Frank Baum, Robert E. Howard, and J. R. R. Tolkien *Fantastical offerings from literary giants including Edith Wharton, Leo Tolstoy, Willa Cather, Zora Neale Hurston, Vladimir Nabokov, Hermann Hesse, and W.E.B. Du Bois *Rare treasures from Asian, Eastern European, Scandinavian, and Native American traditions *New translations, including fourteen stories never before in English

PLUS:

*Beautifully Bizarre Creatures! *Strange New Worlds Just Beyond the Garden Path! *Fairy Folk and Their Dark Mischief! *Seriously Be Careful--Do Not Trust Those Fairies!

I received an ARC for this via Netgalley and yo, you’re going to want to read this. I only read the intro and about twenty-odd stories and already preordered it so I can savor the rest of it in my hands. This is fantasy at its core, original and weird and more than unsettling. It showcases the history of the fantasy genre and how it’s evolved throughout time. It’s a great companion to their Big Book of Science Fiction. The VanderMeers know what they’re doing, and they’re amazing at it. Also, look at that cover. Once I have the physical copy in my hands, I’ll write a more in depth review regarding the actual stories!

Little List of Reviews #7Title: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: The Poetry of Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers, Luke Flowers, Josie Carey
Published by Quirk Books
Published: March 19. 2019
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 144
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

For the first time ever, the beloved songs from Mister Rogers' Neighborhood are collected here in a charmingly-illustrated treasury, sure to be cherished by adults who grew up with Mister Rogers, and a new generation of children alike.

Mister Rogers' Neighborhood had a revolutionary impact on children's television, and on millions of children themselves. Through songs, puppets, and frank conversations, Mister Rogers instilled the values of kindness, patience, and self-esteem in his viewers, and most of all, taught children how loved they were, just by being themselves. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood reimagines the songs from the show as poetry, ranging from the iconic ("Won't You Be My Neighbor?") to the forgotten gems. The poem are funny, sweet, silly, and sincere, dealing with topics of difficult feelings, new siblings, everyday routines, imagination, and more. Perfect for bedtime, sing-along, or quiet time, this book of nostalgic and meaningful poetry is the perfect gift for every child--including the child in all of us.

This is a wonderful collection of the poetry and songs from the Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood series. It brought me back to my childhood and all of those memories watching Mister Rogers on TV, and the illustrations inside modernize and bring it to life all over again for old and new audiences alike. This would make an amazing gift for all ages, and the poetry in this book remind us of all the lessons and goodness Mister Rogers taught us over the years.

Many thanks to Quirk Books and Netgalley for a review copy! All opinions are my own.

Little List of Reviews #7Title: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee
Published by Rick Riordan Presents
Published: January 15th 2019
Genres: Science Fiction, Middle Grade
Pages: 312
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Goodreads

To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.

When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.

Dragon Pearl was everything I had hoped for in a middle grade science fiction book, and it made me want to read more middle grade science fiction. I feel like I haven’t seen much mainstream middle grade science fiction as a lot of it tends to skew to the fantasy and the weird, but I think I need to dig a little deeper (or start writing it myself!). Dragon Pearl captured my attention immediately, and I didn’t want it to end. It’s a great story about family and what one must do for yourself in order to survive, especially in a cold, harsh environment like space. Definitely check this out if you’re looking for a fun sci-fi summer read.

Little List of Reviews #6

It’s been a while since I’ve done a little list of reviews! I tend to do this when I only have a few thoughts about a book, it didn’t excite me much, or a myriad of other reasons. Sometimes I also just like to get reviews done and get them off my to-do list! I also am the sort of person who sometimes prefers the shorter review. Give me thoughts, not the plot! These are all super backlist books for me because I’ve had them on my shelves forever.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry
Published by Penguin Books
Published: January 26th 2010
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 278
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

"This debut novel weaves the kind of mannered fantasy that might result if Wes Anderson were to adapt Kafka." --The New Yorker

Reminiscent of imaginative fiction from Jorge Luis Borges to Jasper Fforde yet dazzlingly original, The Manual of Detection marks the debut of a prodigious young talent. Charles Unwin toils as a clerk at a huge, imperious detective agency located in an unnamed city always slick with rain. When Travis Sivart, the agency's most illustrious detective, is murdered, Unwin is suddenly promoted and must embark on an utterly bizarre quest for the missing investigator that leads him into the darkest corners of his soaking, somnolent city. What ensues is a noir fantasy of exquisite craftsmanship, as taut as it is mind- blowing, that draws readers into a dream world that will change what they think about how they think.

One of my professors used this book in one of her mysteries English courses and since I had already graduated, I really wanted to read it after she spoke about it with me over lunch. However, it sat on my shelves for almost three years until I finally picked it up in one of my “I’m going to choose some books I’ve been meaning to read since forever and actually sit down and read them” phases. (If you’re curious, I picked four and have since read three!) I appreciated this for what it does. I hesitate to call it magical realism because that’s Latin American in its roots, so it’s probably more along the lines of fabulism. The Manual of Detection plays with the mystery genre and all its tropes and twists them up and around. I enjoyed it while I was reading it and I read it in a day, but I ultimately found something weirdly lacking with it.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff
Published: October 27th 2015
Genres: History, Non-Fiction
Pages: 498
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Work
Goodreads

Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff, author of the #1 bestseller Cleopatra, provides an electrifying, fresh view of the Salem witch trials.

The panic began early in 1692, over an exceptionally raw Massachusetts winter, when a minister's niece began to writhe and roar. It spread quickly, confounding the most educated men and prominent politicians in the colony. Neighbors accused neighbors, husbands accused wives, parents and children one another. It ended less than a year later, but not before nineteen men and women had been hanged and an elderly man crushed to death.

Speaking loudly and emphatically, adolescent girls stood at the center of the crisis. Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem witch trials represent one of the few moments when women played the central role in American history. Drawing masterfully on the archives, Stacy Schiff introduces us to the strains on a Puritan adolescent's life and to the authorities whose delicate agendas were at risk. She illuminates the demands of a rigorous faith, the vulnerability of settlements adrift from the mother country, perched--at a politically tumultuous time--on the edge of what a visitor termed a "remote, rocky, barren, bushy, wild-woody wilderness." With devastating clarity, the textures and tension of colonial life emerge; hidden patterns subtly, startlingly detach themselves from the darkness. Schiff brings early American anxieties to the fore to align them brilliantly with our own. In an era of religious provocations, crowdsourcing, and invisible enemies, this enthralling story makes more sense than ever.

The Witches is Schiff's riveting account of a seminal episode, a primal American mystery unveiled--in crackling detail and lyrical prose--by one of our most acclaimed historians.

The Witches is one dense book, in content and in pages. I grabbed this off the ARC shelf at work forever ago because I enjoy reading about the Salem Witch Trials, but as usual life and other books got in the way. Now that I’m seriously weeding my shelves and my ARCs, I told myself I had to read this one now or let it go. I read the first few chapters and got sucked in to the bizarreness of it all, but it’s very dense and difficult to read at times from a technical standpoint because it almost expects you to have a solid knowledge of Puritan American history. I do find the parallels fascinating though because so much of it is still in practice today in regards to the treatment of women.

Little List of Reviews #6Title: The Girl from the Savoy by Hazel Gaynor
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Published: June 7th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 419
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Presenting a dazzling new historical novel … The Girl From The Savoy is as sparkling as champagne and as thrilling as the era itself.

Sometimes life gives you cotton stockings. Sometimes it gives you a Chanel gown …

Dolly Lane is a dreamer; a downtrodden maid who longs to dance on the London stage, but her life has been fractured by the Great War. Memories of the soldier she loved, of secret shame and profound loss, by turns pull her back and spur her on to make a better life.

When she finds employment as a chambermaid at London’s grandest hotel, The Savoy, Dolly takes a step closer to the glittering lives of the Bright Young Things who thrive on champagne, jazz and rebellion. Right now, she must exist on the fringes of power, wealth and glamor—she must remain invisible and unimportant.

But her fortunes take an unexpected turn when she responds to a struggling songwriter’s advertisement for a ‘muse’ and finds herself thrust into London’s exhilarating theatre scene and into the lives of celebrated actress, Loretta May, and her brother, Perry. Loretta and Perry may have the life Dolly aspires to, but they too are searching for something.

Now, at the precipice of the life she has and the one she longs for, the girl from The Savoy must make difficult choices: between two men; between two classes, between everything she knows and everything she dreams of. A brighter future is tantalizingly close—but can a girl like Dolly ever truly leave her past behind?

I love historical fiction, the Jazz Age, and Hazel Gaynor’s writing, but this story took a while to gain momentum and really pique my interest. I mostly read it on my phone in slow times while out of the house, so I took a little while longer to read this than I do other books. The voices were charming, life at the Savoy and in London were richly described, but the ways in which the characters intertwined with each other just seemed a bit too perfect.