Book Review: Magic For Liars by Sarah Gailey



Ivy Gamble has never wanted to be magic. She is perfectly happy with her life—she has an almost-sustainable career as a private investigator, and an empty apartment, and a slight drinking problem. It’s a great life and she doesn’t wish she was like her estranged sister, the magically gifted professor Tabitha.

But when Ivy is hired to investigate the gruesome murder of a faculty member at Tabitha’s private academy, the stalwart detective starts to lose herself in the case, the life she could have had, and the answer to the mystery that seems just out of her reach.

Magic For Liars may be set at a school of magic, but we’re on notice from the very first page that this is not THAT kind of school:

Now they were all downstairs at the welcome-back dinner, an all-staff-all-students meal that marked the end of the first week of classes. They’d joke there about house-elves and pumpkin juice — or at least the freshmen would. By the time they were sophomores, that vein of humor was worn beyond use.

After a bloody murder at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages (located in the vicinity of Sunol, California — less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco or Oakland), private investigator Ivy Gamble is called in to help solve the case. Magical authorities have deemed it an accidental death due to a spell gone bad, but the school’s headmaster thinks there’s more to be discovered… and since Ivy is the non-magical twin sister of a professor at the school, she seems to be the right choice to lead the investigation.

The assignment at Osthorne is fraught with tension and high emotional stakes for Ivy. She and sister Tabitha have been estranged for years, really since Tabitha was selected to go to an elite magic school when they were teens. Their paths diverged sharply from that point onward, and the two have never managed to reconnect, especially in the aftermath of their mother’s death while Tabitha was away at school.

Now arriving at Osthorne, Ivy sets out to solve the murder while also trying to understand who Tabitha is now, and who she herself might have been if she’d had magic too. Ivy’s journey is painful to witness, as she drinks herself through her tumultuous feelings every night and lets herself become consumed by the mysterious death and the suspicious undercurrents at the school

I love Sarah Gailey’s writing — I loved it in the American Hippo books, and she’s totally on point here as well, conveying the otherworldliness of the magical world while rooting it in a grim and grimy reality that has more than a shade of noir to it. What magical school doesn’t have a library with weird and dangerous sections? Here at Osthorne, Ivy hears:

… the books murmuring to each other like a scandalized congregation of origami Presbyterians.

Isn’t that delicious?

Some other choice bits:

Across the bay, San Francisco bled money like an unzipped artery.

…. and

The drive through the Sunol hills was as beautiful as the novocaine that comes before the drill.

Certain magic school tropes makes appearances too — there’s a Prophecy and a Chosen One, for starters, as well as the more mundane clique of popular girls who flutter around the central Mean Girl and all sorts of relationship drama, both appropriate and not.

The plot zooms along quickly, and sometimes reality can be a slippery thing. Ivy’s investigations are often clouded by the magical elements around her, but even so, she applies her skills and street smarts to get to the shocking truth. The resolution is pitch-perfect, and even though I guessed at the outcome ahead of time, that did not detract at all from the impact and the shock when the answers are finally revealed.

Magic For Liars is, plain and simple, a terrific read. Don’t miss it!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Magic For Liars
Author: Sarah Gailey
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: June 4, 2019
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Thursday Quotables: Howl’s Moving Castle

quotation-marks4

Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
(first published 1986)

How is it possible that I’ve never read this middle grade magical tale before now? Howl’s Moving Castle has some very clever, quippy use of words that makes it extra enjoyable, even for an adult reader. Here’s a bit of dialogue that’s given me my favorite new insult:

For a moment it seemed as if he he [Howl] was going to lose his temper too. His strange, pale eyes all but glared at Sophie. But he controlled himself and said, “Now trot along indoors, you overactive old thing, and find something else to play with before I get angry. I hate getting angry.”

Sophie folded her skinny arms. She did not like being glared at by eyes like glass marbles. “Of course you hate getting angry!” she retorted. “You don’t like anything unpleasant, do you? You’re a slitherer-outer, that’s what you are! You slither away from anything you don’t like!”

Ha! Take that, you slitherer-outer!

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

391px-quotation_marks_svg1391px-quotation_marks_svg1391px-quotation_marks_svg1391px-quotation_marks_svg1391px-quotation_marks_svg1391px-quotation_marks_svg1391px-quotation_marks_svg1391px-quotation_marks_svg1

Thursday Quotables: The Magician’s Land

quotation-marks4

Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

Magician's Land

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman
(published 2014)

My progress is slower than I’d really like (crazy week), but I’m finally approaching the end of the Magicians trilogy! I’ve really enjoyed these books… but it’s hard to find meaningful passages that work for Thursday Quotables and which make any sense at all out of context.

I’ll give it a try anyway. Ever wonder what it would be like to experience the world as a blue whale? Main character Quentin gets the chance to find out:

He noticed everything but was concerned with nothing. Drake Passage had the worst weather in the world, literally, but all that meant was that when he surfaced for a breath, once every fifteen minutes or so, the waves broke a little harder against his wide, slick back. He and Plum were great blue gods, flying wingtip to wingtip, and everything around them paid homage to them. Fish, jellyfish, shrimp, sharks; once he spotted a great white, swaggering along by itself through the depths with its permanent shit-eating grin. It had so many teeth it looked like it had braces. Nature’s perfect killing machine! Go on with your bad self. No, really. It’s cute.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Thursday Quotables: The Magician King

quotation-marks4

Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

MAgician King 2

The Magician King by Lev Grossman
(published 2011)

I just finished this terrific book, book #2 in The Magicians series. It’s all wonderful, but it’s hard to pick out just one passage for Thursday Quotables!

More or less at random, here’s a little piece of a speech by a favorite character:

“I don’t mind telling you that I found the whole business more than a little provoking. I was being called, you understand, and I most definitely did not want to come. I understand the appeal this sort of thing has for you, quests and King Arthur and all that. But that’s you. No offense, but it always seemed a bit like boy stuff to me. Sweaty and strenuous and just not very elegant, if you  see what I mean. I didn’t need to be called to feel special, I felt special enough already. I’m clever, rich, and good-looking. I was perfectly happy where I was, deliquescing, atom by atom , amid a riot of luxury.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Book Review: Carry On

Carry OnIf you’ve read Rainbow Rowell’s absolutely adorable novel Fangirl (review), you’ll be familiar with the name Simon Snow. As in, the hero of the (fictional) bestselling series about a boy wizard who learns at age 11 that he’s the Chosen One, and embarks on a new life at a (fictional) school of magic. In Fangirl, the main character writes wildly popular Simon Snow fan fiction, entitled Carry On, Simon.

In Rainbow Rowell’s newest novel, Carry On, we have the continuation of Simon’s story — but not the canon version, from the (fictional) official series author, but the fanfic story, picking up where Cath’s tale leaves off in Fangirl.

Confused yet?

Carry On is set completely within the magical fantasy world of the Simon Snow series. Simon is the main character, and alternates narration with his best friend Penelope, girlfriend Agatha, roommate and archnemesis Baz, and a handful of others as well, including the Mage, the all-powerful but highly controversial headmaster of the Watford School of Magicks.

It’s the eighth and final year of their magical education, and Simon return to Watford determined to confront Baz and figure out how to defeat the Humdrum, the big evil who’s menacing the entire world of magic. But Baz doesn’t show up as expected, and Simon becomes consumed by the idea of tracking down Baz, searching the school and the Catacombs for him night after night.

Finally, when Baz shows up, Simon is forced to share with him a secret — that Baz’s mother’s ghost visited, and wants Baz to learn the truth about her death. Reluctantly, the two boys declare a truce, and set out to solve the mystery, along the way poking at the edges of the myths and prophecies of the magical community, defying the prejudices of the old families, and trying to figure out just why they’re so obsessed with each other.

As in the fanfic we read in Fangirl, the heart of Carry On is the relationship between Simon and Baz. Underneath the enmity that simmered between them for all the years they were forced to be roommates is a strong and steady and mutual attraction, which the boys finally acknowledge and explore in Carry On. It’s sweet and funny and tender, and well, complicated too. Baz hides the secret that he’s a vampire, which isn’t as much of a problem for Simon as he would have expected. Their differences are acknowledged, and they’re just so friggin’ cute together that we know they’ll figure it all out in the end.

The magical mysteries — where did Simon come from? what’s up with the prophecy? what or who is the Humdrum? — all get resolved by the end, although I’m not sure that every answer is 100% satisfying. I mean, the bit with the Humdrum and how he’s finally stopped didn’t totally work for me, and I wanted Simon to get more of an answer about his parents. As far as I could tell, even though we readers find out the truth, Simon doesn’t, and that doesn’t seem fair.

Overall, I loved this book. It’s just so gosh-darned cute! The spells that they cast aren’t faux-Latin as in a certain series that we all know and love — in the world of Simon Snow, words have power, and the more certain words are used, the more power they have. So, the spells are all cliches, from “up, up, and away” to “stay cool” to “suck it up”, and it never stops being funny to see how they work.

Carry On is great fun for anyone who’s read and enjoyed certain children’s fantasy series — especially Harry Potter, of course. There are all sorts of winking references to the world and lore of Harry Potter, and it’s done with such an air of excitement and amusement that it feels like an homage, not a parody. Having read Fangirl, I’m not really in a position to judge whether Carry On works as a stand-alone… although if I had to guess, I’d say it would still be enjoyable on its own. Still, if you’re going to read Carry On, I’d strongly suggest starting with Fangirl to get the background and flavor of the Simon Snow phenomenon.

__________________________________________

The details:

Title: Carry On
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication date: October 6, 2015
Length: 522 pages
Genre: Young adult/fantasy
Source: Purchased

Save

Shelf Control #27: The Witch of Little Italy

Shelves final

Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!

cropped-flourish-31609_1280-e1421474289435.png

My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Witch of Little ItalyTitle: The Witch of Little Italy
Author: Suzanne Palmieri
Published: 2013
Length: 320 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In Suzanne Palmieri’s charming debut, The Witch of Little Italy, you will be bewitched by the Amore women. When young Eleanor Amore finds herself pregnant, she returns home to her estranged family in the Bronx, called by “The Sight” they share now growing strong within her. She has only been back once before when she was ten years old during a wonder-filled summer of sun-drenched beaches, laughter and cartwheels. But everyone remembers that summer except her. Eleanor can’t remember anything from before she left the house on her last day there. With her past now coming back to her in flashes, she becomes obsessed with recapturing those memories. Aided by her childhood sweetheart, she learns the secrets still haunting her magical family, secrets buried so deep they no longer know how they began. And, in the process, unlocks a mystery over fifty years old—The Day the Amores Died—and reveals, once and for all, a truth that will either heal or shatter the Amore clan.

How I got it:

I bought it.

When I got it:

Two years ago (maybe).

Why I want to read it:

A book group friend swears by this book! She was encouraging us all to read it, and promised that I’d love it. I did pick up a copy based on her recommendation… now, to read it!

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!


For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control

Take A Peek Book Review: All the Birds in the Sky

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

All the Birds

 

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

From the editor-in-chief of io9.com, a stunning novel about the end of the world–and the beginning of our future

Childhood friends Patricia Delfine and Laurence Armstead didn’t expect to see each other again, after parting ways under mysterious circumstances during high school. After all, the development of magical powers and the invention of a two-second time machine could hardly fail to alarm one’s peers and families.

But now they’re both adults, living in the hipster mecca San Francisco, and the planet is falling apart around them. Laurence is an engineering genius who’s working with a group that aims to avert catastrophic breakdown through technological intervention into the changing global climate. Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the world’s magically gifted, and works with a small band of other magicians to secretly repair the world’s ever-growing ailments. Little do they realize that something bigger than either of them, something begun years ago in their youth, is determined to bring them together–to either save the world, or plunge it into a new dark ages.

A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.

 

My Thoughts:

What a weird and wonderful book!

All the Birds in the Sky mashes together magic and crazy science to create a whole that’s odd and unique and utterly engaging. We first meet the lead characters Patricia and Laurence as outcast kids — bullied, friendless, and with home lives that just scream abuse. When they finally meet, they provide each other with refuge and support, but ultimately part ways until a seemingly random reconnection as adults.

The story switches perspectives between both characters, showing us the life of Patricia the witch, cursing and healing people, always being cautioned against the #1 sin for witches, Aggrandizement… and Laurence, the genius mad scientist working on anti-gravity and the possible salvation — or destruction — of the planet.

The writing is often quite funny, although the subject matter can get pretty heavy, what with the impending end of the world and all. The witches and the scientists have plans to save everyone, but each plan may also bring the apocalypse. Patricia and Laurence battle their own factions as well as each others’ in order to avert disaster, even while dealing with their own inner turmoil and competing interests and emotions.

This book truly brings together science fiction and fantasy in a way very few do. As the author said in an introduction to the book on the io9 website, “A young witch and a wild science genius—the characters in my new novel All the Birds in the Sky don’t even belong in the same book together.” Read more from this piece, here.

If you enjoy oddball fiction with a science-y, magical flair, check out All the Birds in the Sky!

PS – Bonus points to Charlie Jane Anders for making excellent use of San Francisco — not just the obvious tourist attractions, but all the odd little corners and neighborhoods that make SF so SF!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: All the Birds in the Sky
Author: Charlie Jane Anders
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: January 26, 2016
Length: 316 pages
Genre: Science fiction/fantasy
Source: Purchased

Audiobook Review: Uprooted

Uprooted“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

 

This tale of magic and love is infused with an old-world fairy tale sensibility, and the entire experience is truly special.

Agnieszka is a simple village girl, but she’s well aware of the danger of the Wood. When she is chosen by the Dragon to be the next girl to be kept in his tower, she’s startled and resentful, and feels completely out of place. She’s always messy, unable to get through an hour without ripping her dress, snarling her hair, and coming out stained and mussed. This irks the fastidious Dragon no end. But as she spends time with him, Agnieszka slowly comes to realize that she has magic of her own — not the formal, “scientific” magic of the Dragon, but something uniquely hers, rooted in her beloved Valley and infused with the power of the earth, water, and sky around her, much like her inspiration, the legendary Baba Yaga.

Little by little, Agnieszka and the Dragon discover an ability to work together and combine their magic into something that’s greater than either can do on their own. Before they can get too far with their discovery, though, disaster strikes as Kasia is taken by the Wood, and it’s up to Agnieszka to find a way to reclaim her best friend before she’s consumed by corruption.

The Wood stared back at me out of Kasia’s face: an endless depth of rustling leaves, whispering hatred and longing and rage. But the Dragon paused; my hand had clenched on his. Kasia was there, too. Kasia was there. I could see her, lost and wandering in that dark forest, her hands groping ahead of her, her eyes staring without seeing as she flinched away from branches that slapped in her face, thorns that drank blood from deep scratches on her arms. She didn’t even know she wasn’t in the Wood anymore. She was still trapped, while the Wood tore at her little by little, drinking up her misery.

The stakes build and build throughout the story, as the entire kingdom is plunged into strife and ultimately war as the Wood’s influence extends to the capitol city and threatens the world beyond as well. Agnieszka and the Dragon have to lead the fight against the Wood, but more than that, they have to find a way to get to the source of the Wood’s malignant power if their home and their people are to survive.

Uprooted is a captivating tale, start to finish. Agnieszka is an unusual main character — strong willed, able to stand up for herself, and devoted to those she loves. It’s thrilling to see her develop from a young, unskilled girl full of self-doubt into a talented, capable, strong woman. She thinks on her feet, defies authority when she knows she needs to, and devotes herself to figuring out what’s right and what’s wrong.

The evil of the Wood is terrifying. At times, all seems lost. The descriptions of the Wood’s poisonous intent and seemingly undefeatable power are scary and haunting, creating a mood of despair and horror.

The story culminates with a battle between good and evil, but even there, there are nuances and shades of grey. There’s a deeply affecting story beneath the Wood’s awful terror, and Agnieszka has the wisdom to understand that finding out the past is the only way to see a path toward the future.

The language and imagery of the story is beautiful, especially Agnieszka’s growing magical powers and the descriptions of her spell-weaving and enchantments.

And what’s a good fantasy without a love story? The love story in Uprooted is mostly a quiet thread woven throughout the greater tale of good and evil, malice and redemption — but when it comes to a boiling point, it’s steamy and sexy in all the right ways.

I listened to the audiobook of Uprooted, which was both a great and frustrating experience. The narrator, Julia Emelin, is not (as far as I could tell) a native English speaker. Her Russian accent was an irritant at the beginning, as I found some of her phrasing and rhythm slightly odd and off-putting. But, as I got more into the story, I started to find the narrator’s accent a plus. The people and place names in Uprooted are all Polish and Russian-flavored (Dvernik, Marek, Rosya, Alosha, Marisha), and the voice of the narrator became, for me, yet another piece of the whole, creating a mood that felt magical and outside of the everyday.

As to why the audiobook was frustrating: If I’d had a physical copy of this book in my hands, there’s no doubt that I would have binge-read until all hours of the morning. Uprooted is the kind of story that I’d normally gobble up as quickly as possible. It was so difficult to go at the speed of the recording. I ended up listening in 1.25x speed, because I didn’t have the patience to listen at normal speed, but even so, I was so caught up in the story that I couldn’t wait to keep going. I came close a few times to switching over to a hard copy, but by then, I was under the spell of the narrator’s voice and didn’t want to lose the mood created by the audio, which made me feel as though I was listening to Agnieszka telling her own tale.

Ultimately, listening to Uprooted was a magical experience. The story itself is gorgeous, and the audiobook’s rhythms add to the total effect. I loved the narrative, the characters, and the folktale feel of the book, and know that it’s one I’ll want to read again… and perhaps again after that.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Uprooted
Author: Naomi Novik
Narrator: Julia Emelin
Publisher: Del Ray
Publication date: May 19, 2015
Audiobook length: 17 hours, 43 minutes
Printed book length: 435 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Library (Overdrive)