The Brothers’ War

51wkpf6aryl-_sy344_bo1204203200_by Jeff Grubb
Review by KM

Let’s do a throwback here, okay?

I have been spending the last month buried in Magic: The Gathering cards as I try to catalog my collection. I own a lot more than I expected, that’s for sure.

I had heard a lot about the novels that they used to release in the Fat Packs of older sets, but I had never gotten a chance to read them — I got into Magic around 2010 (my husband had some of the books from previous blocks, but he’d gotten rid of them by the time we got together).

I decided a few weeks ago I was going to read all of the Magic books that were released, but I was immediately hit by a roadblock. All of these books that had once been in my library system had either been withdrawn or stolen. They’re from the 90’s, it’s not like I could easily walk into my local bookshop and pick one up. Hell, not even the gaming shops around here had the old ones I was looking for. It was awful trying to track down these books. I couldn’t even start at the first ones released; the furthest back I could get was The Brothers’ War. I have to say, I think this one may be the best of them all.

Summary

The Myth. The Magic.

Dominarian legends speak of a mighty conflict, obscured by the mists of history. Of a conflict between the brothers Urza and Mishra for supremacy on the continent of Terisiare. Of titantic engines that scarred and twisted the very planet. Of a final battle that sank continents and shook the skies.

The saga of the Brothers’ War.

Musings

There’s something so awesome about being familiar with the Magic cards and then finding all the lore about them in the book. I loved the discovery of the ornithopers, the history of the Koilios caves, and especially, the sibling rivalry between Urza and Mishra. The backstory is so in-depth and it’s one of the aspects I love most about Magic. For someone who has been playing a long time without reading these, it was great to link the original Phyrexian lore to what is happening currently with the Planeswalkers.

Before this trek into 90’s fantasy novels, I’d been spending a lot of time in current YA. In current YA, it seems there’s always a romance that is pushed. Always. Please contridict me; I was starting to lose hope. There isn’t romance in The Brothers’ War. There’s a marriage, yes, but I promise no romance. I actually believe that Urza is asexual, though it is never stated in the novel. It was kind of refreshing to see a story so hinged on battle and familial bonds, rather than anyone just wanting to be back with their girlfriend.

I did a casual Google search on the author too and I can say he clearly owns my life, even though he doesn’t know it. He was one of the people who established this lore than runs (mostly) true to the current story. After getting done with Magic, he moved onto Guild Wars and helped create the other game that takes up all my time. He’s moved past GW2 recently and I have no doubt his new project will end up controlling me as well.

Whether you’re an old Magic player or have no idea what tapping mana means, this book is awesome. It drags me into a new plane where artifacts, cyborgs, and magic all exist.

The Invisible Library

by Genevieve Cogman
Reviewed by SA

I’ve found this review very hard to start; there’s is just so much I want to tell you about this book! In the first few drafts, this first paragraph was a gibberish of eager words and a few garbled noises of excitement. Pretty impossible to read, but capturing exactly how I felt about this novel: this novel is too good to put into words!

Summary27209460

Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

Ok, to recap: Librarians, check. Librarians who are also spies? double check. Alternate dimensions? Reality check. Dragons? heck yes. Bring it on!

There is just so much that makes this book enjoyable. First and foremost, Irene, the protagonist, a young librarian whom we follow closely. So closely, in fact, sometimes I would get surprised when there weren’t first person pronouns: we’re so deep in her head, I forgot we were in third person. Irene is smart, mature, and pretty badass. I mean, she’s a book loving spy, so the reader falls madly in love with her pretty instantly. She’s also a brilliant protagonist, with clear motivations and a heck of a lot of spunk.

Overall, I think it’s the premise itself that makes this novel so endearing. The library connects all alternate realities, and the librarians who work there gather books from different worlds, acquiring them by any means necessary. Sometimes that means months of undercover work, sometimes that means fighting some giant steampunk insects. It’s all relative. The worlds are sometimes at a different point in history, which means there’s access to Victorian London, modern day earth, some worlds with magic and others with steam… Any universe you can think of.

The author could literally spend all day telling me about a librarian stacking books in that place, and I would read it. The world she had created is just so fascinating, I could read about it for hours.

And this novel is just so thrilling, so exciting! Sure, at times, it’s a little exposition heavy, which makes the pace slow down a little, but I’m convinced that in the sequel we won’t have to worry about that. The adventure we’re thrown into offers a great mystery, sets up a terrifying villain, and leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions. Which means I just can’t wait for the sequel to come out!

I certainly can’t end the review without bringing up our other favorite character, Kai. Kai’s story itself is fascinating, and I can’t wait to know more. He’s smart and loyal, able to follow orders even when he thinks he knows best. After a huge twist I won’t spoil for you, Irene could badger him with questions – which I’m sure every reader wants to ask – but postpones this until after the danger has passed. Which leaves us eagerly waiting for more! We must know more about Kai!

So if you’re looking for Doctor who meets the Librarians, then you need to pick up the invisible library. It’s a book about books (Bookception!) which is bound to make the book lover find love once more.

Check it out on June 14th!

Uprooted

by Naomi Novik
Reviewed by SA

Put down everything and grab this book. Basically, that’s what I’m going to be saying in this review, so if you’re in a rush, just take that advice first. put down everything and pick up this book.

I have been hearing amazing things about this novel over the course of the past few months, and my curiosity was peaked. Well, once it was in my hands, it stuck fast like glue, and I could not put it down. As a matter of fact, I was reading it on the plane, and wished the flight would last longer so I could finish it!

Alright. That’s me rambling. Let’s get down to business. (To defeat the huns).

Summary27827627

“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 novel reads like an old fairy tale. The kinds where magic and life intertwine completely, the kinds where every word grips you and holds you tight. There even seems to be magic in every word you read. The prose itself is just so beautiful. The novel feels like a folktale told in Russia, or Poland, even without those countries ever being mentioned once.

The story centers around Agnieszka, a young woman from a valley town, chosen by a wizard to live in his tower for ten whole years. Slowly she discovers that she was chosen for her knack for magic, and begins to learn how to wield it, her talents growing as she becomes more confident in herself.

The amazing thing is that the summary only gives you a small peek into the novel: there is just so much more going on. The Dragon tried to protect the people of the valley, and the entire country as well, from the dangerous, mysterious Wood. It contaminated people, driving them mad. It makes food poisonous and animals rabid. Sometimes Walkers will slip out from between the trees and steal people away. It’s dangerous, and it’s growing.

There is just so much going on in this complex novel that I could never summarize it all here. As I said – you just have to read it. But I’ll let you know about the reasons I loved and devoured this book. First, you have Agnieszka, and her character growth through the tale. Then, you have her relationship with Kasia (honestly, I ship them so bad), and their deep friendship and love for each other. Top it off with the mystery of the wood; the amazing world building; the use of magic. And voila: a perfect novel.

And the resolution is incredible. Every question you ever ask is answered, and the reader cannot help but be completely taken away by the explanations. You might wonder, for example, why The Dragon takes women every ten years; or maybe why the wood was corrupted in the first place. Yes, yes you will know, and you will love what you find.

If you have not get read uprooted, read it now. I won’t say any more.

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My Mad Fat Diary: A Memoir

by Rae Earl
Reviewed by SA

For some of you, this book needs no introduction – I keep hearing about the show! So naturally, when the book became available on Netgalley, I jumped on it (thanks for approving me, St. Martin’s Press!). It turns out this is a new edition, so it’s not exactly a new book, but it was new for me so I think i can get away with reviewing it!

Summary 29102624

It’s 1989 and Rae Earl is a fat, boy-mad 17-year-old girl, living in Stamford, Lincolnshire with her mum and their deaf white cat in a council house with a mint green bathroom and a refrigerator Rae can’t keep away from. She’s also just been released from a psychiatric ward. My Mad Fat Diary is the hilarious, harrowing and touching real-life diary Rae kept during that fateful year and the basis of the hit British television series of the same name now coming to HULU. Surrounded by people like her constantly dieting mum, her beautiful frenemy Bethany, her mates from the private school up the road (called “Haddock”, “Battered Sausage” and “Fig”) and the handsome, unattainable boys Rae pines after (who sometimes end up with Bethany…), My Mad Fat Diary is the story of an overweight young woman just hoping to be loved at a time when slim pop singers ruled the charts. Rae’s chronicle of her world will strike a chord with anyone who’s ever been a confused, lonely teenager clashing with her parents, sometimes overeating, hating her body, always taking herself VERY seriously, never knowing how positively brilliant she is and keeping a diary to record it all. My Mad Fat Diary – 365 days with one of the wisest and funniest girls in England.

Funny and witty sure covers it: the author had me even before the novel itself started, when she was still explaining Britishisms and slang. Even though I knew the words themselves, her definitions shed new light on them and had me roaring in laughter. So when the book itself started, I was happy to see that the author’s past self has that same voice: snarky, witty, and above all, incredibly engaging.

The plot itself wasn’t as exciting as I expected. When people call it a fateful year, or talk about having a whole show about this, I wonder what actually happens, because honestly, to me, it was a girl living her life, and looking for love. There are a few dramatic moments, but I guess it was the feeling of watching a year slide by in less than a three hour read that made the novel feel like not much really happened.

Even so, I still enjoyed the book: largely because of just how relatable Rae Earl is. She’s got the same insecurities we all do, worries the same worries, and has some seriously awful friends who are just making it all worse. The diary is a lens into a life some of us have shared, and somehow, her witty comments help validate the struggle in all of us. You can’t help but wish her well – or want to give her a hug and tell her she can make it through this.

But this is a diary: it’s real life, it’s not been made into a nice bundle for us to digest. There’s not always the resolution we want as a reader, not always the wish fulfillment. Life is messy. And this diary is a beautiful way of looking at life and capturing how difficult it can really be. How trying, and stressful, how maddening: how nothing always goes according to plan. Rae’s Diary is just so stinkin’ relatable.

This novel is definitely well worth the read!

UnBound

51gsurfcltl-_sx329_bo1204203200_by Neal Shusterman 
Review by KM

I spent last weekend reading the entire Unwind series. Five books — it took me forty eight hours (including the twelve that I spent sleeping). Seriously, these books are that addictive.

I remember reading Unwind for the first time as a fourteen year old. There is one particularly chilling scene that left me in pieces in homeroom. (Oh my gosh, I didn’t even mean to make that pun, but it’s perfect so I’m leaving it. Feel free to judge me.)

Last Friday, we received UnBound at the library. It was an insta-memory trip for me and I knew I had to read the entire series before I hit this book.

Summary

Find out what happens to Connor, Risa, and Lev now that they’ve finally destroyed the Proactive Citizenry in this collection of short stories set in the world of the New York Times bestselling Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman.

Connor Lassiter’s fight to bring down Proactive Citizenry and find a suitable alternative to unwinding concluded in UnDivided. Now Connor, Risa, and Lev are free to live in a peaceful future—or are they? Neal Shusterman brings back his beloved Unwind characters for his fans to see what’s left for those who were destined to be unwound.**

Musings

Now this summary that Amazon so kindly provided me? This summary is crap. I can actually understand the reviews on the book from readers who were left confused. UnBound is not at all about Connor, Risa, and Lev. Thankfully, the actual book revealed the true nature.

This is an anthology from the point of view of all different characters from the series, some that were mentioned a lot and some that were never mentioned at all.

To be honest, the best comparison I have for this is when you’ve finished a book series, but you’re still so in love with the universe that you write the stories of OCs on Archive Of Our Own. Except this is all canon; it’s Neal playing in his own sandbox because he loves that damned sandbox just as much as the rest of us do.

More than anything, this reveals the twisted mindset that wasn’t limited to only unwinding, but the mindset of other ethical issues that accompany it. The most heart-wrenching story had to be the one about a child who was rejected for unwinding, but I’d hate to give away the reason why.

Please, oh, please go read this book. It makes a hell of a lot more sense when you read the entire series, but I really need some more people to nerd out with me as I wait for the movie that will undoubtedly be made.

**Thanks for the summary, Amazon.

The Star-Touched Queen

by Roshani Chokshi
Reviewed by SA

Sometimes we all need a little magic in our lives, a captivating myth that reminds us of just how much a story can mean. The Star-touched queen is one of those stories: a novel unlike any I’ve ever read before, much more like a story passed on from generation to generation, of a powerful woman fighting for her place in the universe. It is a novel touched with magic!

Summary25203675

Cursed with a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, sixteen-year-old Maya has only earned the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her world is upheaved when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. But when her wedding takes a fatal turn, Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Yet neither roles are what she expected. As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds friendship and warmth.

But Akaran has its own secrets – thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Beneath Akaran’s magic, Maya begins to suspect her life is in danger. When she ignores Amar’s plea for patience, her discoveries put more than new love at risk – it threatens the balance of all realms, human and Otherworldly.

Now, Maya must confront a secret that spans reincarnated lives and fight her way through the dangerous underbelly of the Otherworld if she wants to protect the people she loves.

Maya is a princess who lives in a Harem with her father’s other wives and daughters. A smart, headstrong girl, she does not want the life expected of her: she’s much rather study than marry. When her father shares with her his plans for her marriage, which involve a sacrifice on her part, she is ready to do her duty – that is until Amar shows up, and whisks her away as his wife to the mysterious land of Akaran.

Amar is insanely in love with her, and proud to call Maya his wife. He wants to win her love over gently, and so those who like romance in their novels will be all over this swoon-worthy king. However, in an unusual twist, it is Maya who has to save her husband, and not the other way around, leading her on an epic quest across realms and worlds, with a snarky demonic horse by her side (can’t leave home without one!).

The book says it is inspired by indian mythology, which is a great way of saying that it feels like an indian myth but never claims to be one. In that way, it manages to grab you into the fiction: the kind of tale that takes place in a mythical, far away land, with heroes and deities. Almost like a western myth in an Indian setting.

So imagine if you will that you’re sitting with your friends and one is telling you the most engrossing story. That’s how this novel feels. Any flaw you find, whether you find one character unrealistic, or a plot point too predictable, will be shushed away: we’re trying to enjoy the story here! And it makes it impossible to find anything to dislike in it. You are transported somewhere else entirely.

The world building in this novel is AMAZING. The depth of it! There are realms and other worlds, people and deities, an elephant that knits clouds for the sky!I was completely captivated, completely taken away.

Honestly, I could go on and on and on about this amazing novel. You NEED to read it as soon as you can! Thankfully there’s not too long to wait – it comes out April 26th 2016 by St. Martin’s Griffin.

 

 

My Kind of Crazy

by Robin Reul
Reviewed by SA

Hold on to yours hats, ’cause here comes a fun novel that will whisk you away! If you need a good YA in your life, one that runs deep and stays with you long after you’ve finished the last page, then you’re going to love “My Kind of Crazy”, a sweet, thoughtful, wonderful novel about fire and friendship.

Summary25695607

Despite the best of intentions, seventeen-year old, wisecracking Hank Kirby can’t quite seem to catch a break. It’s not that he means to screw things up all the time, it just happens. A lot. Case in point: his attempt to ask out the girl he likes literally goes up in flames when he spells “Prom” in sparklers on her lawn…and nearly burns down her house.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Peyton Breedlove, a brooding loner and budding pyromaniac, witnesses the whole thing. Much to Hank’s dismay, Peyton takes an interest in him—and his “work.” The two are thrust into an unusual friendship, but their boundaries are tested when Hank learns that Peyton is hiding some dark secrets, secrets that may change everything he thought he knew about Peyton.

When I first started this novel, I thought it was a comedy: as the book begins, Hank has just failed his promposal in the most epic dimensions… by lighting a garden on fire. The sparklers were a good idea when he saw them online, but now the dry grass has caught fire, and he’s been seen by Peyton, the girl across the street. So immediately, I thought this was going to be a ‘haha’ kind of book, where Hank needs to somehow make amends and keep his secret… but instead, it grew into something much more.

It is a story about growth. While it starts off funny, slowly you begin to realize how much depth these teenagers have, and how much they begin to grow up and deal with their conflicts. It’s a book about family, a book about crazy, a book about facing your issues. And it’s also a book about love, thought romantic love comes last.

Hank is crazy about comics, and has been working on one for years, but dealing with his father’s alcoholism and the loss of his mother and brother has left him thinking he has no real future. Peyton is an outsider with a love of fire, with a mother who doesn’t care for her, and a mother’s boyfriend who’s borderline abusive. Neither have good home lives. But the friendship that grows between them is beautiful.

The supporting characters are fun, but not as well defined as Hank and Peyton. Nick is Hank’s friend, and crushes hard on Peyton. You have Hank’s dad, the alcoholic, and his Dad’s girlfriend, Monica, whom I love so much for being the most badass stripper I’ve ever seen in YA. You have a joint smoking teacher, possible mafia families, and of course, Amanda Carlisle, the girl Hank set the promposal off for in the first place.

What impressed me was how quickly the plot I expected quickly sank into the background: Amanda wanting to find who set off the sparklers through a not-very-accurate online quiz, Hank not wanting to come forward even though he has a witness… All this became secondary when Peyton came along.

Though some of the action seemed unrealistic – like Hank’s reaction to most of the things that Peyton does – this novel includes also some of the most down to earth moments in YA to date. The entire friendship that builds between Hank and Peyton before either of them actually realized it’s love is just fantastic, healthy, and human. It felt incredibly relatable.

My Kind Of Crazy comes out April 5th from Sourcebooks Fire. I highly recommend it, and think it might be some of the best High School YA I’ve ever read!

Mr. Eternity

by Aaron Thier
Reviewed by SA

Drop everything and grab this book at once. This book is a vortex that will suck you in and grab you tight, and won’t let you go even after you’ve read the last page and put it down. This is a beautiful, epic novel that I’m seriously so excited to tell you all about.

Summary26072970

Key West, 2016. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying. In short, everything is going to hell. It’s here that two young filmmakers find something to believe in: an old sailor who calls himself Daniel Defoe and claims to be five hundred sixty years old.

In fact, old Dan is in the prime of his life. It’s an incredible, perhaps eternal American life, which Mr. Eternity imagines over a millennium: a parade of conquistadors and plantation owners, lusty mermaids and dissatisfied princesses, picking up in the sixteenth century in the Viceroyalty of New Granada and continuing into the twenty-sixth, where, in the future Democratic Federation of Mississippi States, Dan serves as an advisor to the King of St. Louis. Some things remain constant throughout the centuries, and being on the edge of ruin may be one. In 1560, the Spaniards have destroyed the Aztec and Inca civilizations. In 2500, we’ve destroyed our own: the cities of the Atlantic coast are underwater, the union has fallen apart, and cars, plastics, and air conditioning are relegated to history. But there are other constants too: love, ingenuity, humor, and old Dan himself, always adapting and inspiring others with dreams of a better life.

There is just so much substance to this book that it’s difficult to lay it all out for you without giving away spoilers. The gist of it is this: five different people, spread from the 1500s to the 2500s, each gives us a window into their lives, surrounding their meeting of Daniel Defoe (or the ancient mariner), a man who seems constant across the centuries. He cannot die, though we don’t know why, and in every time he searches for his lost love, Anna Gloria, an obsession on his.

1560: a native Indian Pirahoa girl sold to the Spanish. She travels with Daniel de Fo and the Christian conquistadors on the search for her home town, which they call El Dorado.

1750: John Green, son of a slave and her master, is living a lie as a gentleman. When Dr. Dan joins him at the plantation, they hatch a plan to steal the landowner’s collection of Spanish coins.

2016: a college drop-out in 2016 worries about global warming, pops pills, and tries to make a documentary about the Ancient Mariner of Key West, who claims to be 560 years old, and together they hunt for treasure.

2200: The seas have risen and the world is no longer the same. Jam, a poor young orphan with barely any education, gets hired to work on a boat alongside Old Dan, who tells him stories and takes him under his wing.

2500: Jasmine Roulette is the daughter of the King of St Louis and president of the Democratic Federation of Mississippi States. Though born to a life of luxury, she is a self proclaimed ‘anachro-feminist’ obsessed with the lost American civilization. Her father buys a slave who calls himself Daniel Defoe, and who has many stories to tell about the past she yearns for.

Consider this novel as a combination of Cloud Atlas, Station Eleven, and Big Fish. When it comes to the man’s stories, telling fact from fiction is nearly impossible, and the characters themselves don’t know for certain that he is what he says he is, a centuries old man. Everyone always asks him about the past, and the stories he tells are compelling, believable, but also fantastical: does he himself believe what he is telling us, or is he having an extremely senior moment?

The novel also addresses the issue of climate change, and our involvement in global warming. However, the author does not get preachy, which is an incredible feat. Daniel Defoe has seen the Americas before the cities we cling to were even thought up, so for him they are just a blip. It reminds us of the cyclical nature of history, how we are doomed to repeat our mistakes. In fact, sometimes old Dan himself seems to state the future as the past, making us wonder just what he’s seen, if time works for him the way it works for us.Every character is dealing with a changing world, in some way or another.

I could spend hours talking about this book: I want to get all my friends to read it, so we can talk about the complexities, the little details slipped between the pages, the questions the book makes ourselves ask. What is truth? Is History true? Why are we doomed to repeat our mistakes? What is worth valuing in this world?

For fans of David Mitchell, in search for another gorgeous book to devour, Mr. Eternity is beautiful, gripping, and deeply complex. Trust me: you need to read this book as soon as it comes out, on August 9th.