Tag: thrillers (Page 2 of 4)

The Paper Magician

‘The Paper Magician’ Begins Charming Book Series

I’m always looking for another good book to read. I find it very frustrating to endure reading a book that’s just not keeping my attention, or that’s written so poorly my eyes are in danger of falling out of my head due to heavy eye-rolling. Luckily, I have several friends who are also voracious readers on the hunt for a good book, and who share my tastes.

Several months ago, a good friend recommended The Paper Magician to me. The premise was intriguing. Set at the turn of the 20th Century, the book is about Ceony Twill, a young girl who is training to be a magician, of which there are many kinds. She is assigned to be a paper magician, the kind of magician that the magical community has nearly written off because that branch of magic is seemingly useless. She moves in with her mentor, Magician Emery Thane, who is considered eccentric, even among magicians. In short order, Ceony discovers that paper magic is much more interesting, and useful, than she had realized. The same goes for Mg. Thane. Just as their studies, and their friendship, is taking off, a magician who practices dark magic, an Excisioner, breaks into Thane’s house and rips his heart from his chest. Ceony takes it on herself to recover his heart and save his life. In doing so, she learns even more about Mg. Thane, and grows closer to him because of it.

Author Charlie N. Holmberg‘s bio says that she wrote eight novels before getting The Paper Magician published. That may be true, but reading the three books in this series shows that her writing is still improving. In fact, there were several places in The Paper Magician that felt as if they had been dashed off without much research or thought. But, by the final book, The Master Magician, her writing and the story solidified into a very satisfying final installment.

Because The Paper Magician has to do with magic, marketing folks and public relations reps reference the Harry Potter series in every blurb they write. The two series of books are not similar at all, so don’t go into The Paper Magician looking for a deep mythology, a thorough rendering of a different world, or an overarching message about loyalty, friendship and good vs. evil.

What you will find in The Paper Magician are fun new characters, a fascinating new take on morphing the real world into a magical one, and a gentle romance to root for. The cast of characters isn’t huge, but, for the most part, they are a lot of fun. Curious enough, Ceony isn’t the most interesting character in the series, even though she is the protagonist. Emery is much more interesting, and becomes the star of the show. (It helped that I pictured him as Robert Downey, Jr., because he had a large streak of mischievousness that seemed to make the actor a natural choice.) Ceony can be enfuriating, petulant and grating. One could argue that she matures by the end of the series, but it isn’t by much.

Ceony and Emery live in a London that really existed, with some shifts and changes to establish their magical world. Magic isn’t a secret practice in The Paper Magician. Magicians are actually a vital part of how the world operates. Magicians are responsible for a lot of inventions, like what would have been electric light, and various weapons and ammunition.

The romance between Ceony and Emery develops very slowly, very gently. This isn’t the tortured romance of the Twilight novels, and there certainly isn’t any NSFW scenes. Nevertheless, their budding romance is one of the pleasant pulls of the book series. Their developing relationship is written as the B story, but many times it takes center stage and propels the events of the book along.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Paper Magician. I tore through it and moved on quickly to The Glass Magician. After finishing the sequel just as quickly, I had to wait several (frustrating) weeks to read the final book, The Master Magician. Lately it’s become rare that I have trouble putting a book down, but these books were enjoyable enough that I lost sleep on several nights.

Did you read The Paper Magician series? Let me know what you thought in the comments below.

Into the Darkness / AM Rycroft

Review of ‘Into The Darkness’ by A.M. Rycroft

Presented as a combination horror/fantasy story, debut novel Into The Darkness by A.M. Rycroft delivers the fantasy goods.

The novel is quick paced and a quick read, following young Aeyrn Ravane on her self-imposed quest to discover the secrets of the Black Caverns, a legendary abode of a long ago adventurer. Along the way she gathers companions, including a magic-using shade of the adventurer himself, a very young want to be thief, and a vampyre, as well as the prerequisite enemies who want to do away with her. And her world, of course. Although she has doubts and her own dark secrets, she’s the one who can save them all.

Rycroft has built a world populated with twists on standard fantasy fare. Her characters, while young, have enough flaws to be believable. There is sympathy for them and their struggles—even if their struggles are against a power-mad demon god. She created backstories and myths for this place called Cathell, paying homage to the genre along the way. She’s obviously an author who is familiar with fantasy.

It is lacking a little to call it a horror novel. The idea of world-wide destruction is horrifying. The idea of a force so alien that it drives people to madness, violence, and eventually involuntary submission (alive or dead!) is certainly a well-known horror element, but it didn’t invoke the sense of dread or disquiet that a straight-up horror novel would. As a fan who seeks out horror on a consistent basis I just wanted more.

As a matter of fact, that was a major feeling I had while reading Into The Darkness. I’m a greedy audience. I wanted more. I wanted a deeper history of Cathell. I wanted more of the mythos of the land. I wanted the action to take longer, be more drawn out. I wanted the struggles to be more arduous, so my own feelings could be stronger. I wanted more information on the characters: I wanted to really get inside their heads. The story is straight-forward, but the teasing hints of backstories for the main characters were there, and that presents the opportunity to revisit and make their world and lives richer.

I’m not sure if this is the first of a series. I hope it is, because then my selfish wants of more, more, more! can be fulfilled.

Into The Darkness by A.M. Rycroft, available through on-line sellers in digital and print formats.

Luckiest Girl Alive

‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ Book Review

Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll, is a smart, funny, surprising well-written book that keeps you reading and guessing until the very end. Maybe “guessing” is the wrong word. Although the narrative twists and turns, every surprise is earned and reasonable. The easy, lived-in, realistic voice of the narrator marks Knoll as the kind of writer who can blur the lines between popular and serious fiction. With a little less plot, this could have been a modern The Group via the most unlikable Ann Tyler narrator. But I get why it didn’t go that way. Mary McCarthy inspired a thousand The Group clones over the years and we don’t need another. And Luckiest Girl Alive is anything but sedate. Knoll takes on class, sexual violence, actual violence, relationships with parents, and, perhaps most interestingly, the idea of expectation and what we want for ourselves. Luckiest Girl Alive, pick it up for the characters, stay for the plot.

(By the way, I mean The Group as a compliment. I loved that book. You rock, Mary McCarthy!)

(By the way, I know McCarthy’s dead.)

Books like Luckiest Girl Alive are always troubling for me because it’s sometimes difficult to separate the author and the first-person narrator, who in this case is a successful Manhattan twit who is so class conscious that she can sum people up by what kind of handbag they carry (Hint: the expensive ones aren’t necessarily good). Are we criticizing the shallow pursuit of adult beauty and popularity, which is always a little more sad and desperate than the high school pursuit of beauty and popularity? Or are we celebrating it? And the book is so of the time, continually overestimating my knowledge of Kate Middleton and making me wonder how long it will be before the word “uber” is virtually meaningless. If I hadn’t read a few good reviews, I might have pitched it aside as too glib, blasé, and everything that is wrong with Manhattan — the unwritten rules of dress, action, and class that cast people into the very opposite of what New York promises. Instead of renewal and freedom, they try to live up to the expectations of unimportant nimrods who think they know how you should dress, act, and purchase. And I might have thought that the author actually believed those things. Trust me when I say that, by the end, you realize that the author has a lot to say about shallow pursuits.

The narrator, TifAni FaNelli, is damaged by her tragic, violent past, to say the least. But she seems to have been just as shallow before that, so perhaps she is in a state of actual arrested development. But most of the other people around her, the ones she respects, seem to be just as class and status conscious– part of it is not appearing to be class or status conscious, but noting all the while the way one, say, discards an oyster. In short, the book is about a bunch of assholes and, in flashback, a bunch of evil assholes… for a while. Again, the first 100 pages was a little difficult to get through. But read assured, Jessica Knoll is in complete control of this book and every issue that the narration brings up is dealt with.

Luckiest Girl Alive is told in alternating chapters, the “Present” and then high school. In the Present, TifAni is planning her wedding to a shallow rich boy, working at a woman’s magazine as the sex article girl, and contemplating taking part in a documentary about an event in her past that isn’t quite clear at the beginning of the story. In the flashbacks, TifAni has just transferred to a new school and is trying to make friends.  Those chapters start out all about clothes, labels, and all the body image problems one has in high school. But there is a lot of narrative drive and it would have been very difficult to throw the book away just because everyone in it is so awful. You want to know what that awful thing was.

By the way, yes, TifAni has one of the worst names I’ve ever read in a book. I know it was supposed to be that way, but yikes. And I also feel like there aren’t really many people out there with names like that. Could it be a Philadelphia thing?

In the “About the Author,” it mentions that Jessica Knoll was a magazine editor at Cosmopolitan and it makes me wonder if that’s what got this book published. Often, the beginning of the book has to be better than the end to get agents and editors reading. Of course, the beginning is well written, but not likable. Someone had a lot of well-deserved faith in Knoll. And it works to the reader’s benefit. I’m not complaining! This seems like old-school publishing. I like to picture William Faulkner sending The Sound and Fury to an editor today and getting a letter back that he should maybe read a grammar book.

Luckiest Girl Alive has been compared to Gone Girl in every review I’ve seen, even on the cover of the book. Don’t get me wrong, Gone Girl was a fun read and I really enjoyed it (come to think of it, Gone Girl was also by a former magazine editor), but the hook for that book was very different. Instead of “unreliable narrator and the press,” I picture Knoll saying, “I know a lot about the psychological aftermath of violence.” To carry on the Gone Girl comparison, for me GG falls apart in the middle and I felt like I could feel an editor tapping the book and saying, “We need a complication here,” the couple who rob Gone Girl in the motel. No such issues with Luckiest Girl Alive.

I’m always uncomfortable with the idea of saying that a book about awful things is a good read (A Light in August, a great summer read!), but in the case of Luckiest Girl Alive, it is absolutely true. Too often, popular books succumb to wish fulfillment rather than realistic drama. And don’t get me wrong, some of those books are great. But sometimes books can surprise you by making you like twits, understand them a little better, and root for them. Luckiest Girl Alive is well worth spending the initial time with the twits.

Quick Note: That’s right! Two Faulkner jokes!

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