Book Review – Gilded Cage by Vic James

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Title: Gilded Cage

Author: Vic James

Publisher: Del Ray Books

Release Date: February 14, 2017 (a lovey-dovey Valentine’s Day book, this is not!)

Genre: YA Fantasy, dystopia, alternate history

 

 

 

 

 

Book Blurb:

Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

*This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Wow. What Gilded Cage turned out to be when I started reading is not what I expected! That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I truly enjoyed this novel.

Gilded Cage takes place in an alternate England. A world in which power is often determined by whether or not you possess Skill (i.e. Magic). In this slightly dystopian England, the aristocrats are not descended from royalty, but gifted with Skill, and are known as Equals. Everyone else is deemed commoners, and must submit themselves to a decade-long period of slavery at some point during their lives.

The story primarily follows the young-adult aged children in two families. Luke and Abi, whose whole family has just started serving their slavedays. And the Equals: Heir Gavar, his unskilled brother Jenner, and mysterious Silyen. Gavar, Silyen and Jenner are part of the Parva-Jardine family. The Jardines are one of the most powerful families in England, and most of Abi’s family has been sent to their estate, Kyneston, to serve as slaves in the household.

All except Luke. Luke is separated from his parents and sisters at the beginning of the novel to serve his slavedays in Millmoor, one of the slavetowns. Millmoor is absolutely horrendous, with deplorable conditions, inadequate shelter and food, and excruciatingly long workdays.

Chapters alternate between the POV of Abi, Luke, Gavar, Silyen, and Bouda Matravers – Gavar’s fiancée.

What I liked:

  • It’s dark and mysterious. Chattel slavery in a modern setting? Pulling ten-year olds and teenagers out of school to do their slave days? A sprawling estate in the British countryside with a mysterious son who wields extraordinary magical powers? Yep…Gilded Cage definitely set the right tone for a dark and delicious storyline.
  • Silyen. Silyen, the youngest Jardine son and wielder of extraordinary powers. The extent of his powers remain unknown throughout much of the novel, and I loved the suspense of finding out just what he can do, and what his motives truly are.
  • Nuance. Thank you, thank you, Vic James for giving your characters nuance and subtlety. There is unflinching cruelty, and lovely acts of kindness…and sometimes the cruelty and kindness come from the same person. Morality, and doing something kind for the wrong reasons (or vice-versa), is definitely a theme in Gilded Cage worthy of analysis.
  • Millmoor’s version of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. Parts of the novel feel as if it takes place in the 19th century. And then you have the Millmoor revolutionaries: hackers and tech geniuses. Awesome-sauce!
  • Multiple points of view. The best parts of the novel, in my opinion, were the POV from Abi, Luke and Silyen.

What I didn’t like:

  • Multiple points of view. Yes, I have this in both categories. It worked really well in some ways, and not so much in others. There were too many, and I felt like Bouda’s especially, was too much.
  • The only time swearing was used was when a guy was calling a strong, powerful woman a bitch. This really bothered me. I don’t mind when there is a lot of swearing in novels, in fact, I have a bit of a sailor’s mouth myself. And the majority of the “bitching” came from Gavar, who could definitely be a sexist jerk on a regular basis. Many of the women in the novel: Bouda, Hypatia, the Overseer of Millmoor, are not very likable characters. And here are some of the words used to describe them: Overbitch, bitch-queen fiancée, harpy like Bouda, and sanctimonious old biddy. That last one is in reference to Armeria Tresco, one of the few Equals with abolitionist tendencies. Okay, Gavar is a sexist jerk, as are some of the other men. But why isn’t it called out by any of the other characters? Or even acknowledged, anywhere? Did Vic James realize how this can sound to a reader? It really did not sit well with me at all, and is one of the main reasons why the novel does not get a 4-star review from me.
  • In the same vein, only two characters were people of color, and one of them was actually referred to as looking like a thug at one point. The poor guy is beat up to the point that he is unrecognizable, yet he is described as having a “thuggish aspect”. Seriously? In a novel about slavery and oppression? Not cool.

Would I recommend Gilded Cage? Yes, especially if you are a fan of dystopias and alternate histories. However, the above negatives make this a hesitant recommendation, instead of a “go out and read this now!!” review.

Rating: 3/5 stars

TTT Tuesday: Halloween Freebie – Witches

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week is a Halloween freebie, and I’m choosing to focus on books and movies about witches.

America is gearing up for Halloween, one of my favorite holidays, and many of my Wiccan friends are getting ready to celebrate Samhain. As many of you probably already know, there are very little similarities between those who are Wiccan, and the stereotypical ways that witches are often portrayed in books, television and movies. They may be downright funny, and sometimes a cult classic, but often Hollywood portrays a witch in one of three ways:

  1. An evil hag.
  2. Sexy evil.
  3. Suck the life out of children evil (can anyone say Hocus Pocus).

When witches appear in supernatural or fantasy fiction alongside vampires, werewolves, and other fantastical creatures, it may be easy to forget that unlike the other characters in the story that are purely fictional, so many real women have suffered over the centuries under the label of witchcraft. And to this day, loads of stereotypes abound in regards to those who follow pagan religions, especially Wicca.

“What a culture has to say about witchcraft, whether in jest or in earnest, has a lot to do with its views of sexuality and power, and especially with the apportioning of powers between the sexes. The witches were burned not because they were pitied but because they were feared.”  ~ Margaret Atwood, in her review of John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick.

None of this is to say it is wrong to enjoy books and movies about witches! As you will see in the list below, books and movies involving witchcraft is one of my favorite sub-genres. I do, however, believe it is wise to read critically, with an awareness of when a story is pulling out all the stops on witchy stereotypes and turning a witch into a caricature.

Top Five Books with a Witchcraft Theme

Books based on historical fiction and witch trials:

  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  • The Witch of Cologne – by Tobsha Learner

Books based on supernatural or fantasy elements

  • Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy, #1) by Deborah Harkness
  • Wicked: The Life and Times of The Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire
  • The Witching Hour (Mayfair Witches series) by Anne Rice

Top Five TV/Movies with Witchy Elements

  • Just Add Magic – Reminds me of Sabrina, the Teenaged Witch. An Amazon original series, this is currently M’s favorite TV show.
  • Charmed – I loved this series when I was younger!
  • Hocus Pocus – a completely ridiculous, yet hilarious cult classic, that pulls out all the tropes on witchy caricatures.
  • Practical Magic – so much better than I thought it would be when I watched for the first time. Of course, Nicole Kidman can do no wrong in my eyes.
  • The Craft – another cult classic I adore.

Are you ready for Halloween? A read-a-thon update.

I happen to live in a country that celebrates Halloween, and it is one week away!! I love Halloween, and all of its creeptastic, spooky accompaniments. Halloween…and all the side dishes at a Thanksgiving feast, were the things I missed most when I have lived outside of America (sorry to my family and yes, I missed Halloween more than I missed you, LOL), and I embrace it wholeheartedly every year!

When I say we love Halloween, what I mean is we go so overboard on our Halloween decorations that our neighbors think it is freaking amazing. Or…they think we’re freaks but are too nice to say so. Either way, it’s a fun time.

Just take a look at my reading companion this morning…

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I can tell him all about my reading adventures of the moment and he listens so sweetly. He’s a pro at the whole active listening thing. It’s just too bad that his brain found its way outside of his cranium…

With one week to go until the end of the month, I thought it would be a great time to update my progress on the Halloween Read-a-thon, hosted by Lauren @ Wonderless Reviews!

Update Time!

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I am right about where I thought I would be for this challenge. I picked out six books, but I would be amazed if I finished six that fit into the theme. You can find my original challenge post right about here.

Costume Party: Read a Book with a Creepy Cover

  • Original selection: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. While I have read a few selections from Scary Stories during read-aloud time with M, I have decided to substitute…
  •  What I read: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. It was spooky and mysterious, and I will never look at forests around Asheville the same way again.

You can find my review here.

Haunted House: Read A Supernatural or Paranormal Book

  • Original selection: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • What I read: Nothing yet. But Neil Gaiman’s graveyard mystery is up  next on my reading list, just as soon as I finish my ARC of The Gilded Cage by Vic James. Which I will hopefully wrap up today!

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Urban Legends: Read a Horror or Thriller Book

  • Original selection: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 
  • What I read: I finally, finally got around to reading Jekyll and Hyde! This book has been on my TBR shelf for years. Dark secrets in the Victorian era? Yes, please!

You can find my review here.

Witching Hour: Read a Book After Sunset

  • Original selection: Nothing, really. I was lazy. In my complete defense, lots of reading happens after sunset, anyway. Especially in the fall and winter!
  • What I read: I am going to plug-in The Gilded Cage for this category. Mysterious, brooding aristocratic brothers with deep, dark family secrets? Alternate history and fantasy rolled into one? Yes, this fits the category!

You can find my review up on Wednesday or Thursday. And if you don’t read it, I will cast a spell on you! Mmmwwwwahahahahahaha!

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Trick or Treat: Scary Book You’ve Been Putting Off or Treat: Free Choice of Any Genre

  • Original selection: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It’s just not going to happen. I failed utterly and miserably. Back to the procrastination pile it goes. Till next October!
  • What I read: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. I read this on October 6, and I declare it a perfect match for this category. Woohoo for free choice!

You can find my review here.

All Hallow’s Eve: Read Six Books

  • Original selection: The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
  • What I read: Yeah, this isn’t happening, either. It was tough to squeeze in six books with delicious, tantalizing, chilling fare. I did finish watching the first season of Stranger Things, which definitely fits all of the above adjectives. Does that count? Because the woman below…

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Only Eleven could mess with her.

Are you reading any Halloween themed books this month? What books would you recommend for a spooky October read?

 

 

 

 

OwlCrate – October 2016 Review

My first OwlCrate arrived this week! I was so excited to find it sitting sweetly on my front porch two days ago.

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OwlCrate is a YA monthly book subscription box that sends newly published YA novels and assorted goodies tied in to each month’s theme. Past themes include Diversity, Steampunk, and Dystopia. The October 2016 theme was ONCE UPON A DREAM, and it was certainly filled with dreamy, wonderful things!

Do not read any further if you don’t want to be spoiled as to the contents in October’s box!

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The first thing you see when you open the box is this cute postcard that gives you a hint as to which fairy tales will be referenced this month. The once upon a time theme comes to life with items that reference Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, and The Wizard of Oz.

There are so many wonderful items in this box, so I have absolutely no remorse whatsoever over splurging on a subscription box! The folks behind Owlcrate did an excellent job of curating quality items that fit in well with the monthly theme.

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Here’s what this box contained:

  • The first thing I picked up was an adorable beanie from Whosits & Whatsits, inspired by the Lost Boys of Neverland! I have a small head, so it is a tiny bit too big, but not so much that I won’t wear it. The Neverland beanie is super, super cute, and would make the perfect accessory for the daily walks to and from M’s school. Added bonus: every time I look at it, the Lost Boys song by Ruth B pops into my head. I am a lost boy from Neverland, usually hanging out with Peter Pan….
  • A gorgeous bracelet by The Geeky Cauldron, exclusive to Owlcrate! Inspired by Sleeping Beauty, it has a small spinning wheel charm, and a pendant that says Once Upon A Dream.
  • Wizard of Oz passport notebook from The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild. There are lots of cute details, including a passport photo page on the front inside cover, and a little footnote in the back, “Click your heels together to go home. Only valid when wearing ruby slippers.” How adorable is that? It’s the perfect size to jot down book recommendations – or a grocery list – when you are out and about.
  • A fabric button bookmark from My Heart My Tribe. Different fabrics and styles were sent out, unfortunately I received a pastel pink that is probably my least-favorite color, ever. Oh, well, you can’t win them all! I can never have too many bookmarks, so it will still be used!
  • Fun odds and ends: A button inspired by this month’s theme – it shows the spinning wheel from the postcard – and a bookmark advertising The New World Series by Jennifer WIlson.

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  • Finally, but most importantly, is the book included in this month’s box! Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter came with a signed bookplate, note from the author, and temporary tattoo. An urban-fantasy take on the Russian folk tale “Vassilissa the Beautiful”, it sounds like a very interesting read!

Vassa in The Night by Sarah Porter

Published by Tor Teen

Genre: YA fantasy

Release date: September 20, 2016

Book Blurb:

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair… 

Next month’s OwlCrate…has a Wonderland theme! I am biting my nails in excitement, as it happens to coincide with the release of Heartless by Marissa Meyer!! I don’t know if that is the book or not, but whatever book is included is going to have an EXCLUSIVE Limited Edition cover!! Oh, please, please be Heartless!!

If you would like to give OwlCrate a try, please use my Referral link here!

Have you ever tried OwlCrate, or another book subscription service? What did you think? Have you read Vassa in the Night?

Book Review – Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

Asheville is one of my favorites cities in the American South. It kind of defies the odds, and is unlike anywhere else here in the South. Its mix of worldliness and mountain charm renders it quaint, hippy, metropolitan, and rustic…all rolled into one. It’s truly incredible, really, how Asheville pulls it off.

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The Biltmore Estate is one of the most well-known destinations in Asheville, a place we have visited in the past, and when Disney-Hyperion first released the book trailer for Serafina and the Black Cloak, it spread like lightning across Charlotte and the rest of North Carolina (well, across the whole country, to be honest!). Like many others, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book.

Then it was published, and I asked M, 7 years old at the time, if she wanted to read it. NOPE! No interest whatsoever. This kid is not swayed by marketing efforts at all…a trait I admire, until it conflicts with my own opinion. Ha!

So, I held off. Until last week, when M asked the children’s librarian at our public library for a book recommendation. She was in a reading rut, and was looking for a new mystery or fantasy book, something that would appeal to a kid who loves stories like Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series. A book with a strong female lead, and not too scary. The librarian led her too…Serafina and the Black Cloak. And her eyes lit up at the cover! Hooray!!

This is why I stopped suggesting books to her. Coming from mom, it never works.

So we checked it out, and both of us read it independently of the other.

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Title: Serafina and the Black Cloak

Author: Robert Beatty

Genre: Middle-grade, fantasy, mystery, historical fiction

Serafina secretly lives in the basement of the Biltmore Estate with her Pa, a maintenance worker for the Vanderbilt family. She roams at night, although she always listens to her Pa’s warning to never venture into the forest that surrounds the estate, and to never be seen by the other staff or the Vanderbilt family and their guests.

Then one night, children start disappearing, and Serafina is the only one who has seen the culprit, a man in a black cloak. She sets out to uncover the identity of the Man in the Black Cloak, with the help of a few friends along the way.

In the beginning, I was quite annoyed with Serafina’s Pa, and couldn’t understand why he treated her the way he did. His perspective and outlook on things starts to make more sense when you learn the back story of their family and why they live in the basement. I also had to put aside a pretty large dose of skepticism at the idea that Serafina could live for years in the basement of the estate and not once, even as a baby and toddler, ever be seen by other workers.

Serafina and Braeden’s relationship forms a large part of the story, and Braeden is interesting in his own right, but it is Serafina that truly makes this story sing. She is curious and solitary, charming and awkward, eccentric for a child so young. Both her and Braeden are unique in their own way, and I am happy to see an author of children’s literature explore and honor the uniqueness of children, and how that uniqueness is what makes a person special.

It’s a fast read, even for kids (or at least for my kid). Serafina and the Black Cloak is aimed towards 8-12 year olds, but I definitely enjoyed it as much as my 8-year-old did. M and I both loved Serafina, and I’ll leave you to guess which one of us figured out her secret first. It would make an excellent selection for a mother/daughter or parent/child book club. Having been to the Biltmore, and frequently hike in the mountains and forests surrounding Asheville, I may never look at those hiking trips the same way again.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Read Because of Someone Else

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Happy Tuesday!  Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we’re talking about books you have read that were recommended to you by someone else. My list is made up of books recommended to me mostly by other people in my book club, and blogs.

I decided to go with books that I have read in the last two years that were first recommended to me by someone else. You will notice this isn’t exactly a top ten list, but a mixed bag. I think it’s fun to sometimes talk about books that didn’t “wow” me. 

Guests on Earth by Lee Smith

It’s 1936 when orphaned thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint is admitted to Highland Hospital, a mental institution in Asheville, North Carolina, known for its innovative treatments for nervous disorders and addictions. Taken under the wing of the hospital’s most notable patient, Zelda Fitzgerald, Evalina witnesses cascading events that lead up to the tragic fire of 1948 that killed nine women in a locked ward, Zelda among them. Author Lee Smith has created, through a seamless blending of fiction and fact, a mesmerizing novel about a world apart–in which art and madness are luminously intertwined.

Recommended by: A friend of mine who works at Davidson College. We later went to hear the author speak on campus.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars. I would definitely read more by this North Carolinian author.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam—a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion—a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.

Recommended by: My neighborhood book club.

My rating: 4/5 stars. I really enjoyed this one, even though quite a few of my fellow book club members didn’t.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

First of all, I just have to say, holy batman run-on sentence! I just noticed that now. It’s a good thing the book was much better written than the blurb!

Recommended by: Many bloggers, but I first saw it reviewed by Cait at Paper Fury (via Goodreads) and Carina at Carina’s Books.

My rating: 4/5 stars. My review is here.

Isle of Palms by Dorothea Benton Frank

Anna Lutz Abbot considers herself independent and happy, until one steamy summer when she must find a way to deal with the secrets of her unpredictable family-and her past.

Oh, my beloved Lowcountry, which has taken quite a beating from Hurricane Matthew. I read this book on the beach this past summer at Hilton Head Island visiting my parents. They have been staying at our house in Charlotte since they had to evacuate last week, and haven’t been allowed back on the island yet. We don’t know how severely their home has been damaged.

Recommended by: My mom.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Virginia, 1852. Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell decides to run from the failing tobacco farm where she is a slave and nurse to her ailing mistress, the aspiring artist Lu Anne Bell. New York City, 2004. Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that could make her career: she must find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.

Recommended by: Book club.

My rating: 3/5 stars. Probably on the lower end of 3 stars. It was okay.

Cataloochee by Wayne Caldwell

Against the breathtaking backdrop of Appalachia comes a rich, multilayered post—Civil War saga of three generations of families–their dreams, their downfalls, and their faith. Cataloochee is a slice of southern Americana told in the classic tradition of Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner.

Recommended by: A friend.

My Rating: 4/5 stars. This was a surprise gem! I read it while we were vacationing in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains last summer, which made it even better to be immersed in the setting.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

Recommended by: Book Club.

My Rating: 3/5 stars. I was a bit disappointed in this book, I was expecting to like it more than I did.

Euphoria by Lily King

Inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, Euphoria is the story of three young, gifted anthropologists of the 1930s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives.

Recommended by: A friend who knew I studied cultural anthropology in college.

My Rating: 3/5 stars. It was okay. Another one low on the 3-star spectrum.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

Recommended by: Book Club.

My Rating: 3/5 stars. I really enjoyed the second half. Liane Moriarty books are usually a delight to read!

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Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time. 

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Stevenson into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Recommended by: A friend from the local social justice advocacy group that I belong to.

My Rating: 5/5 stars. Excellent. I learned a lot of new things about the capital punishment system in America, particularly how it has been applied over the last few decades in the South.

Read Watch Play #4

Read Watch Play is my own version of a Sunday Salon: a round-up of bookish and non-bookish entertainment going on in my home this week. Feel free to join in and let me know what fun you have had this week!

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What I’m watching: 

I still haven’t finished Stranger Things, TV time these days is rare, indeed. I have two more episodes to go. I am really loving Eleven’s backstory, she is such a fascinating kid. I hope she finds some peace and happiness by the end of this season!

I watch Once Upon a Time every Sunday, and I have to admit, I relish this season’s return of the Evil Queen! Lana Parilla must have so much fun playing the part, and the Queen’s costumes are always amazing! Do you think Regina and/or her sister will succumb to the Evil Queen’s tactics? Emma’s premonition is certainly setting up an interesting arc for the first half of this season, but part of me thinks this season is too busy. Between Mr. Hyde, the Evil Queen, the entrance of the Aladdin characters and other untold stories, Emma’s premonition, and whatever Rumple is getting up to these days, there is a lot going on in Storybrooke right now.

I will also be watching the Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump debate tonight. That should be an interesting one. Will you be watching?

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What I’m playing:

I mentioned last week that I am participating in a virtual triathlon this month. I don’t usually like to toot my own horn, but…toot, toot! I am so happy with my progress so far this week.

The Jimmie Johnson Foundation Virtual Triathlon runs from October 1 – October 31. It is a 140.6 mile virtual race that involves a 2.4 mile swim, 112 miles cycling, and a 26 mile run/walk/jog. It is not done at once, but broken up into however many workouts you need to get it done.

Right now, I am ahead of schedule, and might be on track to complete the triathlon a week early! My biggest achievement this week was my first swim. I love swimming, but I haven’t actually swam as exercise in years. I jumped in the pool on Tuesday with a goal of as many laps as I could do in a one hour period. I stepped out of the pool 1 hour 15 minutes later having swum 70 lengths (35 down-and back laps) in a 25 yard pool. That’s a freakin’ mile, people! Amazingly, I wasn’t sore the next day either! Although I did have horribly matted hair. I bought a swim cap on my way home.

JJF Race Stats (October 9)

1.7/2.4 mile swim (71% complete)

42.64/112 mile bike (38% complete)

8.1/26.2 mile run (31% complete)

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What I’m Cooking: 

Meatballs. This batch almost didn’t make it into the oven without losing a few to a curious cat! This is Hello Kitty, lover of tuna, goldfish crackers, and meatballs.

Our meatballs change depending on my mood, but here is the base recipe I build upon.

Italian Style Meatballs

  • 1 1/2 pounds grassfed beef
  • 1 1/2 pounds mild italian sausage
  • one thick slice of firm bread of your choosing (sourdough, whole wheat, baguette…I think I have used them all).
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup parmesan, finely shredded
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1-2 tablespoons italian seasoning (I use salt-free Catazano herbs from Savory Spice Shop. It contains garlic, lemon peel, marjoram, European basil, Mediterranean thyme, rosemary and Greek oregano).

Directions:

Have your sauce of choice ready to go on the stovetop.

Turn on the broiler. Pour the milk over the bread until it is saturated, and let it soak for a few minutes. Squeeze out the excess milk, and quickly pulse in a food processor. Gently combine all of the ingredients with your hands until just mixed together. Form into medium-large size meatballs (about the size of a Ping Pong ball). Broil in the oven for about 5-7 minutes, until the outside has browned, then transfer the meatballs into your sauce and finish cooking in the sauce on the stovetop, about another 15 minutes or so.

Bon Appetit!

What I’m Reading:

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. I just finished reading Serafina and the Black Cloak this morning. I think I will count this for Wonderless Review’s Halloween Readathon, even though it is not on my original list. A review will be posted tomorrow! It was interesting to read a book set at the Biltmore Estate, near Asheville, a place I have visited many times!

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. I’m starting this one today! It looks like it will be a quick read. I have been meaning to read this book for ages. There are so many cultural references to Jekyll and Hyde, I have always felt remiss about not reading the original!

What are you up to this week? Let me know in the comments!

Book Review – A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

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Title: A Gathering of Shadows

Author: V.E. Schwab

Genre: Adult/Young adult fantasy

Holy batman, cliffhangers! Argh, waiting till next year to see what happens next in the story will be agonizing!

A Gathering of Shadows picks up only a few months after A Darker Shade of Magic left off. If you haven’t read the first book, you might want to stop reading this review!

“Oh yes, your relationship with Miss Bard is positively ordinary.”

“Be quiet.”

“Crossing worlds, killing royals, saving cities. The marks of every good courtship.”

Did you see my note about spoiler alerts for the first book? I will say it one more time. Do not read any further if you don’t want the first book spoiled!

Okay, for those still with me, let’s continue onwards. So, it has been four months since an evil, vicious black stone came into Kell’s possession, and he and Delilah had to run here, there and everywhere trying to get rid of it. Four months since Rhy was gravely wounded, and Kell created a life-binding spell that does what it says, linking Rhy’s life to Kell’s. Four months since Holland was pushed into Black London, and the Danes fell. Four months since Delilah Bard exceeded all odds and crossed out of Grey London and into Red.

A lot can happen in four months.

Rhy is haunted by nightmares and guilt, and we see a side of him in this novel that didn’t come through in the first one. I am a full-fledged Rhy fan now, and I am so happy Victoria Schwab brought more depth to his character. Kell is restless and angsty, and feels as if he is being treated even more like a prisoner, after losing the trust of the king and queen. Delilah is out enjoying life on a privateer ship with the mysterious Alucard Emery. I love Alucard!! When a major new character is introduced in the middle of a trilogy, it can sometimes go horribly wrong. Not with Alucard. He is fascinating, and I can’t wait to get his full backstory.

In the midst of all this angst, is the Essen Tasch games, and Red London is filled with celebrations and preparations for the magical Games. But all is not as it was in the other Londons, and beautiful Red London is about to have its bubble burst.

“Everyone thinks I have a death wish, you know? But I don’t want to die – dying is easy. No, I want to live, but getting close to death is the only way to feel alive. And once you do, it makes you realize that everything you were actually doing before wasn’t actually living. It was just making do. Call me crazy, but I think we do the best living when the stakes are high.”

Although slow to start, it was such an interesting story, and I can’t wait for the third book in the series to be released! Delilah Bard is one of my favorite characters right now. She is wicked smart, quick on her feet, witty, and wild. She also yearns for power ,and her internal battle with herself is breathtaking to read. Almost everything she does is unexpected. And [small spoiler here]…the thing, Osaron, that comes out of Black London, it scares the bejesus out of me!

Book Review – A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

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Title: A Darker Shade of Magic

Author: V.E. Schwab

Genre: Adult fantasy

I loved this book! It was exactly what I needed to read right now. A Darker Shade of Magic is clever, and brilliant, and captivating.

She looked at him as if it were a strange question. And then she shook her head. “Death comes for everyone,” she said simply. “I’m not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here.” She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

V.E. Schwab is a powerhouse when it comes to world-building, and I was impressed at how effortless it was for the reader to become immersed and quickly understand the ways of the world she was building. Schwab’s backdrop involves four parallel worlds, all with parallel London’s. However, each London, like the world surrounding it, has a different ruler, history, and even scent. There is Grey London, the magic-less city; Red London, the healthy empire; White London, the starving world; and Black London, the world that was destroyed.

Only Antari can travel between the London’s, and Kell is one of the last of the Antari’s. He is the personal ambassador (and adopted Prince) of Red London’s Maresh royal family, and carries the personal correspondences between the royal family’s in each world. Kell, however, smuggles on the side, and one day he smuggles something out of White London that could wreak havoc on all of the worlds.

“Aren’t you afraid of dying?” he asked Lila now.

Bad magic, Kell had called it.

No, thought Lila now. Clever magic.

And clever was more dangerous than bad any day of the week.”

There are so many things I loved about this book. The invented language, the magic, the epic adventure with a female cut-purse from Grey London – Delilah Bard – and the stubborn but loyal Antari – Kell. It is dark and violent, but also filled with small humorous asides. The type of magic in Scwab’s created world is fun and jealousy-inducing….well, at least in Red London!

The two main characters are fantastic. First there is Kell. A rare blood magician, I squirmed a little everytime he had to slice his palm or arm to travel between the worlds. His coat that is more than one coat that he uses to blend into the surroundings of the different London’s was such a marvelous touch. Kell is a force to be reckoned with, but with sentimental weak spots: his brother Rhy, and later in the story, Lila Bard.

Delilah Bard. Lila. Badass, pickpot, adventure heroine extraordinaire. She is tough, and she does what she has to do to survive. I loved her. She comes into Kell’s life after helping him in a dangerous situation, and strongarms him into letting her tag along for the ride. Which is good for Kell, because she ends up helping him out of trouble so many times that I lost count.

“I apologize for anything I might have done. I was not myself.”

“I apologize for shooting you in the leg. I was myself entirely.”

The humor and easy banter between these two was wonderful, without being over-the-top. I like a fantasy book that does not become overwhelemed by the romance angle. I look forward to seeing what further adventures are in store for these two!

Favorite supporting characters: The Dane twins, Astrid and Athos. Those two are evil! They use magic to control and/or possess others in body and mind – it reminded me a bit of the Lunar ability from the Lunar chronicles. Those two can really mess with your mind.

Least favorite supporting characters: Rhy. Heir to Red London’s throne, and a bit of a jerk, albeit with a good heart buried in there somewhere. I felt he was the least developed of the primary characters, so I hope that changes in the next book.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

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WWW Wednesday – 28 September 2016

 

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Welcome to this week’s WWW Wednesday post, a meme hosted by Sam over at Taking on a World of Words. Don’t forget to go take a look at what everyone else is reading! You can post your own WWW in the comment thread here.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading:

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A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab – I sped through ADSoM, but the beginning of AGoS has slowed me down somewhat. I love tough, badass Lila, but the story of how she spent the four months since the end of ADoM has not been holding my attention as her solo parts in the last book. The coup on the pirate ship was fantastic, but now the storytelling is dragging just a bit. And Rhy at the beginning of this book is incredibly annoying. What has gotten in to him? I hope there is an explanation for his weird behavior later in the book.

Just Finished:

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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – I am working on writing the review today, and will be posting it tomorrow!

Up Next:

Wherever There is Light by Peter Golden – I may have to put AGoS on hold to read this one in time for my book club next week.

Little Girls Can Be Mean by Michelle Anthony – Yes, little girls can be mean. My daughter stands out a bit in the Bible Belt for not being Christian, and she has already had a few kids say some not so nice things to her about that. We are working with her on formulating the a way to respond to mean behavior in general (not necessarily just bullying) in the elementary years, and I am hoping this book has some helpful advice.

What are you reading this week?