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Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians (The Magicians #1)For most of his life, Quentin Coldwater has used the Fillory (think Narnia) books to escape the doldrums of his everyday life. Now at the age of seventeen, Quentin has been given a chance he never dreamed he had — magic is real and he can become a magician.

Instead of heading to a mundane, normal college, he enlists at Brakebills, a university of magic and begins training. The one thing the books never included was that becoming a Magician is difficult, tedious work and nowhere nearly as exciting as depicted in the novels.

Lev Grossman’s The Magicians follows Quentin and a group of students during the course of their studies at Brakebill’s. Rather than having one book equal one year of Quentin’s life, we’re treated to the highlights of his magical training — from the semester spent in Antartica to the rather odd magical game played among his school and others. The episodic nature of Grossman’s novel ensures that Quentin and the reader never get entirely comfortable with how things are going, including when Quentin and his love interest Alice test out of some of the first year and are moved up to second year early. Continue reading

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Review: Kept in the Dark by J. Ronald M. York

Kept in the DarkFor eight weeks in the fall of 1955, J. Ronald M. York’s father was held in a Miami jail on charges of sexual abuse of a minor. For those two months, York’s father and mother corresponded with each other with almost daily letters.

Close to sixty years later, York was cleaning out his parent’s garage after their passing and found a box with the letters and some press clippings about his father’s accusations and time in jail. York never knew about the time his father spent in jail and as he began to read the correspondence, he had some questions about that time in his family’s life.

Kept in the Dark is the story of that time in the life of the York family. York offers readers the context of the letters as well as the letters themselves. The book serves as an interesting memoir as well as the power of love, forgiveness, and understanding. It’s a powerful story that will not only make you think but also run the gamut of your emotions. Having this unique look into the heart and mind of York’s parents is what makes Kept in the Dark stand out from other memoirs on the market today.

In short, this is a compelling true story and one that is fully worth reading.

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Review: A Study in Charlotte by Brittay Cavallaro

A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes, #1)A Study in Charlotte?

I see what you did there.

Clever title aside, this Sherlock Holmes homage is an interesting and entertaining story that features the great-great-great-great grandchildren of the original Holmes and Watson. Being a young adult novel and requiring the requisite romantic angst, this time around it’s Holmes’ descendent Charlotte and Watson’s descent, Jamie.

Brought together at a private school in Connecticut, the duo soon finds themselves at the center of a series of murders that take a page from some of Holmes and Watston’s most stories chaos. As the prime suspects in each of the cases, Holmes and Watson must join forces to try and figure out what’s going on and who the real culprit it.

As a way to introduce a new generation to the Holmes universe, A Study in Charlotte works extremely well. Both Holmes and Watson have some of the traits of their famous literary descendants and the connections between the two families and their shared history are just some of the interesting aspects of the story. The fact that a Holmes has moved from using cocaine to crystal meth is an interesting development in the story and the fact that Watson has a temper that sometimes get the better of him is another.

Brittany Cavallaro knows her Holmes-lore and sprinkles it judiciously. As the first novel in a trilogy, I’m intrigued enough by some of the larger plot threads and the characters to want to pick up another volume and continue to read more about the modern Holmes and Watson.

The book also makes me eager to dust off my original copies of the Holmes story and visit them again as well.

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Review: The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

The River at NightLooking for a different kind of vacation, Wini, Pia, Rachel, and Sandra book a whitewater rafting trip in an isolated region of Maine. Each of the women is seeking to escape an aspect of her life, whether it’s Wini coming to terms with the dissolution of her marriage and the death of her brother or Sandra never quite getting over how quickly Pia jumped into bed with one of her ex-boyfriends. Maybe a long weekend away from the modern world will help things.

Or everything could go horribly, horribly wrong.

What starts out as an adventure vacation soon becomes a fight for survival among the four friends.

Taking a page from Deliverance, Erica Ferencik’s The River at Night delivers a taut, page-turning tale of survival among the four friends (and their tour guide). Stuck out in the middle of no-where the group must overcome nature and each other to find their way home. And it won’t be easy because there are a number of obstacles along the path standing between them and civilization.

If I’m being a bit vague with this review, it’s for a reason. There are some nice surprises and turns of the story that you’re better off discovering for yourself. And like the bend of a river, it’s more fun to be surprised about what’s ahead than have every moment of the trip mapped out. The novel spends a good quarter of its length establishing the characters and the details of their lives before beginning to put them through an emotional and physical ringer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I received a digital ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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Review: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zetner

Goodbye DaysCarter Briggs knows about the power of the written word. Not only can he entertain and touch his three best friends with his stories and jokes but a simple text message to them could have been a factor in the auto collision that took their lives.

Wracked with guilt and hurting from the loss of the fellow members of the Sauce Crew, Carver faces the difficult task of trying to move forward with his life. It doesn’t help that the twin sister of his one his friends and a high-powered judge and father to another friend hold Carver responsible for the death of his friends. And both want to see Carver “pay” for his actions.

Jeff Zetner’s Goodbye Days chronicles Carver’s journey to come to terms with the death of his friends and the impact it has not only on him but those around him. Carter’s witty, self-aware narration is honest, authentic and, at times, utterly raw. Zetner ably captures the conflicting emotions Carver experiences, including several panic attacks that send Carver looking for help beyond what his family and friends can offer. Continue reading

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Review: The Godfather by Mario Puzo

The GodfatherThe book is always better than the movie, right?

Most of the time, yes. But there are those exceptions to the rule where a movie can be better than the source material.

Such is the case with Mario Puzo’s The Godfather. The overall plot of the novel is similar to the classic, epic movie. I’ll even admit that reading the novel helped clarify the identity and role of certain minor characters with the Corleone organization. But this is still one of those cases where the screen version comes out as vastly superior to the original printed version.

I’d even argue that if not for the screen version, The Godfather might have gone out of print a long time ago. Continue reading

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Review: Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia

Everything You Want Me to BeHenrietta Hoffman (better known as Hattie in her small town) wears a lot of hats. Whether it’s honor’s student near the top of her senior class, the loving daughter of her parents or the dutiful girlfriend. But does anyone really know the REAL Hattie Hoffman?

Mindy Mejia’s Everything You Want Me to Be examines a year in the life of Hattie Hoffman as she struggles to find out the role she really wants to play in life. The big problem is that just as Hattie is figuring out who she wants to be, she meets an untimely end under suspicious circumstances. Continue reading

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