Magic for Liars

Magic for Liars

Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey was provided to me by Macmillan-Tor/Forge and Tor Books via NetGalley as a digital ARC in return for an honest review. Magic For Liars went on sale on June 4, 2019 and is currently available for purchase.

Magic For Liars is the story of a pair of sisters, one magical and one not, who took very different paths in life: one a Theoretical Magic teacher at a prestigious magic school and the other a beat-down private investigator. When Ivy gets the call to investigate a magical murder at the school where her sister Tabitha teaches, the story takes us through Ivy’s struggle to connect past with present to solve the mystery.

It has a promising start. That dark, down on your luck kind of opening that any private eye kind of flick might have. I settled in, ready for a dark and dingy kind of tale. What I got was a whole lot of nothing through 75% of the book, where I finally decided to stop and move on to something else.

This book stays at one volume level the entire time. Ivy is endlessly interviewing students and then nothing happens. She confronts her sister and seems to make headway about their past as rivals and their magic/non magic issues, and then nothing happens. A teacher is dead, and while we meet many interesting characters and might have suspicions about a few, the tension never ratchets up enough where you feel like we might be headed toward a solution, which would then keep you reading to find out more. I have other things to read, other things to do, either give me something to nibble on or stop wasting my time.

It was really disappointing. It was a cool idea but difficult to pull off without any reveals or wrong turns or accusations in a world where Harry Potter already exists. Sorry fam, it’s a thumbs down from me out of sheer boredom.

The Wedding Party

The Wedding Party

The Wedding Date (The Wedding Date #1)

The Proposal (The Wedding Date #2)

The Wedding Party was received as a physical ARC from the publisher at the 2019 AWP Conference Book Fair. Scheduled date of publication is July 16, 2019 and preorders are currently accepted wherever books are sold.

There are four main elements to a Jasmine Guillory novel: an unexpected meeting, an intense physical connection, a miscommunication/makeup resolution, and some form of comfort food.

The Wedding Date had Alexa and Drew and doughnuts. The Proposal had Carlos and Nik and cupcakes. The Wedding Party presents us with Theo and Maddie and pizza.

The formula worked well in the first two books, mostly because the sex scenes were so hot and intense, and there was a pretty clear obstacle to the that the protagonists would need to eventually overcome to get to their happily ever after: Alexa and Drew had distance, and Carlos and Nik had Nik’s issues with safety and commitment. Plus the comfort food, there to give the audience another sense of connection and luxury, was more of a snack or dessert nature, something that we have as a guilty pleasure or as accompaniment to a meal. The cherry on top, as it were.

With the third and final installment of the trilogy, Maddie and Theo already know each other and have been rivals for Alexa’s attention. It’s an enemies to lovers type story that kind of deflates as it goes on. When they spend more meaningful time together and help each other out, it takes the teeth out of the enemies thing and just makes it a relationship. They decide to hide their escapades from Alexa, which seems really disingenuous considering they carry on for something like 8 months (spoiler alert, she notices).

The sex scenes in this book were really lacking. We see the start and the morning after, but none of the creamy center. Kind of ‘he spread her legs and dipped out of sight and she moaned – CUT TO THE NEXT MORNING THEY ARE MAKING COFFEE’ and I was disappointed. There was one scene where he went “in to the hilt” on the first thrust and then the scene ended and we were waking up the next morning. Also, Theo seems to have condoms stashed EVERYWHERE: his car, his desk, his bedside table, the kitchen, his pocket, in his ear, his wallet – I mean I get representing safe sex but this has got to be believable and it was NOT believable that in the middle of the livingroom Theo found a condom between the couch cushions, waggled his eyebrows, and then went to town. I found myself thinking, wait, where could that condom possibly have come from and why would he have had it stashed there? – and that really takes one out of the action.

Not only was the sex lackluster, the frequency with which they order pizza gave me heartburn and I wasn’t even the one eating it. “I’ll pick up a pizza!” “Let’s order a pizza!” “OMG I’m so hungry, let’s have Theo pop over with a pizza!” It was repetitive and only made me feel sorry for all of them. Honestly guys, your body starts to break down in your thirties and there was no way these characters, all in their thirties and gainfully employed, were eating this much pizza.

The ending was pretty formulaic, which was fine, but overall this last book did not wow me for all the reasons I’ve listed. If you’ve already read the first two you should read this one too, it has its enjoyable moments, but honestly if you haven’t read any of them yet you could read the first two and be fine skipping the third.

Under the Table

Under the Table

I have to be honest with everyone here. I may have confused Stephanie Evanovich with Janet Evanovich, writer of the Stephanie Plum series where she becomes a bounty hunter. When I was perusing Edelweiss+ for ARCs I saw this book and went “I remember liking those bounty hunter books, it’s cool she wrote some standalones! I’ll try it!” but my subconscious just combined the Stephanie from Stephanie Plum and Evanovich from Janet Evanovich and I got stuck with this turd of a book.

Zoey is on a one year legal separation from her husband and leaves his verbally abusive ass behind in Cleveland, Ohio to live with her sister Ruth in New York City. She starts a cooking service for small groups and personal chef needs, and is doing pretty well about 3 months into her New York separation. She puts a Craiglist ad up for her services as a personal chef, and a man answers it asking for a Creole-themed meal for a small business gathering at his home.

Tristan turns out to be a grown man-child who grew up with his grandparents in the US Virgin Islands after his parents died when he was 3. He was homeschooled until he was 16 and was completely sheltered from all things pop culture and also how to take care of himself apparently. His home is spotless but he doesn’t know how to dress himself and he doesn’t own a tv. Zoey focuses in on his “cute buns” but I couldn’t quite get over the descriptions of this man who came into great wealth by writing a governmental computer spying program who dresses himself like a golf champion all the time because that’s all he ever saw his grandfather do.

I want to be very clear about something. I have been close to men who are assholes and men who are babies and while the former might be more immediately dangerous, the latter is like a parasite who will suck out your will to live from the inside until you don’t have the strength to leave and you feel the obligation to take care of them forever. Zoey jumps from the frying pan into the fire when she falls for Tristan in New York – she buys him a Playstation 3 for crying out loud. The “I’ll take care of you/Mom”-vibes should be a cautionary tale and not something to aspire to.

The one good thing I can say about this book is that the brief sex scenes are pretty good, but not anything to write home about when there are so many better options out there. One of the two scenes involves Tristan letting Zoey buy an outfit at the golf store and she giggles through buying an outfit that she describes as “Catholic schoolgirl – golf edition.”

All of this happens over the course of like, a week. As I’ve written before, I have a real problem with fast love stories. Fast sex, sure. But “change my life for this guy I just met and basically had a fling with instead of staying single and figuring my life out post-divorce from this asshole I left” is a story I just do not find compelling in the year 2019.

Please just go read Jasmine Guillory. She’s new and fabulous and her stories are based on real relationship struggles over real-world timelines with believable attraction and conflict that make you interested in the story and invested in the characters. Under the Table was not believable and kind of cringey. Skip it.

Note: I need to remember to avoid books set in New York. I don’t know why, but I never like them and they tend to frustrate me.

Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He was provided to me as an advanced digital reader copy by Albert Whitman and Company via NetGalley in return for an honest review. Descendant of the Crane is available for purchase as of April 9, 2019.

Something that I have become a little tired of is reading story that could be a full, adult fantasy novel, or even just a murder mystery novel like this one is (with fantasy elements) but someone along the way said it might survive better in YA. This isn’t to downtalk YA, keep in mind that much like ‘millennial’ is misused to describe teenagers, people assume YA is meant for teenagers too, and it is, but it is also for young adults such as people in their early to mid twenties. So I get that YA can be adult, I expect that. The elements that tire me about YA is that the main characters have to be 16-18 years old. I’ve mentioned before that the kind of YA I like the best is when the story is compelling and interesting and I forget all about how old the main characters are – it’s mentioned so infrequently and everyone acts so maturely that the story and characters stand on their own independent of the YA indicator. I haven’t been requesting many YA ARCs because of this. I’m tired of reading the same beginning of every book: “She was only 16 when she faced this terrible choice/journey/job” or “She had just turned 18 with her whole life ahead of her when…” and now that I’ve read too many, I see it everywhere and I can’t get past it.

This story escapes this particular criticism through the clever use of royal succession. Hasima’s father the king dies, and the royal doctress rules it a natural death and sends a decree out to the people of this, but Hasima discovers poison during his autopsy and decides to use her new powers as queen to call for an investigation into his death. Only problem is that her kingdom works under strange rules based on a history of fearing soothsayers and magic wielders. In an attempt to make society safer and more just, her kingdom is ripe for misuse and corruption, especially after the king’s death. Many people have knowledge of how the system works, and can therefore take advantage of its loopholes and dark places.

Many of the decisions made in this book are based on a set of Tenets written by the Eleven, a group of revolutionaries that overthrew the soothsayer Emperor and “freed” the people from the “evil” influence and oppression of magic. The philosophy behind these tenets is questioned, discussed, and sometimes ignored, but I really enjoyed thinking about how such clear teachings could be used to oppress and scapegoat a people in favor of saving a separate people. I like to think about how people can take advantage of things and about whether or not those actions are justified.

The major reveal, which I won’t spoil here, comes in several parts. More people are involved than you think, and the truth isn’t anything you could possibly have guessed until it happens and you’ll be like “oh right, duh, of course.” I was very sick for the past week and a half or so, and it’s possible that my usual instincts weren’t up to snuff here, but Joan He did a great job keeping me interested and reading, and unfurling the truth slowly enough that reading the entire book was worthwhile and rewarding.

I am confused about how a sequel might address the ending. There is a lot left undone, and only vague indications of how it’s going to get dealt with. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything because most of the charm of this book is its mysteries, but I’m not aching for a sequel. Honestly the way this book ends just made me say “yeah, that’s what happens. Now everyone can get what they want and live their lives.” Maybe I feel this way because this story was more plot-driven than character-driven, and I feel less connected to the characters so I don’t care as much about what happens to them. My only loyalty was to the mystery, and now that I know the answers, the characters don’t seem to mean as much.

You should definitely pick this one up if you like murder mysteries. The magic that would make this a fantasy novel is ancillary, the real action is in the whodunnit and overall it is masterfully done. Go get you some.

Suddenly Single

Suddenly Single was provided to me as an eARC by Canelo via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Suddenly Single is a story about a writer in the UK who has just left her husband, published her debut romance novel under a pseudonym, earned a hefty advance and is now moving to the country to write in peace and quiet. She also has some kind of social anxiety.

I don’t read a lot of romance, but what I do read has to be GOOD. Nora Roberts is my steady go-to, but recently I’ve also fallen in love with Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date and The Proposal were excellent, and I’ve already preordered The Wedding Party out this July).

Suddenly Single reads like Carol Wyer is writing a book report about a romance novel. The characters are one dimensional, the setting is bland and centered around barns and cow pats (which the MC’s dog eats a ton of – you are treated to a lot of descriptions of her dog eating, escaping, farting, and vomiting). I made it 25% into the book and I WAS SO BORED. There is one scene where she seems to be watching porn for research on her next book (she has writer’s block because of all the stress of relocating and getting over her last relationship) and the man who might be the love interest comes in to do something (he’s the son of the man she bought the house from and they are doing work on the property) and catches her watching porn and he’s like “sure, research” and leaves.

There is no chemistry at all in the first quarter of this book, and I don’t feel like it’s unreasonable to expect that there be an inkling of desire or interest or tingling or something. She just goes out and does things, takes her dog out, and sits at home trying to write. If you’re going to market this as a rom com book then I should either be enjoying the Rom or laughing at the Com, but neither were happening in the first quarter of this book.

I chose this book on a whim when I was logging into NetGalley. I should have checked the publisher or the other reviews before I based my request on the cute cover and premise. You probably won’t encounter this book in the wild, it appears to be ebook only or self-published, and if you are in the mood for a rom-com I would strongly suggest that you pick something else and not this.

Stay Up With Hugo Best

Stay Up With Hugo Best was provided to be as an eARC by Scribner via NetGalley in return for an honest review. SUWHB is scheduled for publication on April 2, 2019.

I’m gonna be quick with this review because I feel like this book insulted my intelligence and doesn’t deserve the full Angry Angel treatment.

This is the most boring, pedantic book I have ever read in my entire life. Oh my god. I got to about 20% on the Kindle and almost threw the small black brick across the room out of frustrated boredom.

A writer’s assistant loses her job when the late night TV show she helps write for has its last episode. She is resolved to going back to stand up but when she finishes her set at the local Comedy Cellar-esque dump, she finds herself face to face with the host of the now shuttered show, Hugo Best. He invites her to accompany him to his house in the *someplace I don’t care about outside of New York City* as a way to pass the time while the reality of the show being over sinks in.

Oh jesus the whole first quarter of this book is them talking to each other. CONVERSING. First in the chauffeured car to his house, then at his house. We’re treated to a description of an empty fridge with mustard jars that have crusted on caps and an unopened Sodastream in the cabinets. My brain is melting just thinking about it. This mundane bullshit just absolutely misses me by a mile. WHERE IS THE STORY IF I WANTED TO READ DIALOGUE THAT GOES NOWHERE I WOULDN’T BECAUSE I DON’T WASTE MY TIME WITH NON-STORY STORIES.

NO. Just…no.

After the Eclipse

After the Eclipse was provided to me as an eARC by Titan Books in return for an honest review. After the Eclipse has a publication date of March 5, 2019. 

After the Eclipse is Fran Dorricott’s debut novel. As I began to read I was surprised to find that it begins with the the point of view of the first kidnapped girl, Olive. We see her being a rebellious little girl and shaking off her older sister Cassie to go buy a snack and a soda. They are attending the town’s celebration of the solar eclipse, and have gathered to watch it happen. On her way back to the gathering, Olive encounters someone she seems to know, a man who drives up to her in a van and offers her a ride back to the celebration. She hesitantly accepts, and realizes her error as they drive away.

The story is then told between Olive’s captivity and her older, now adult, sister Cassie’s experience in the present day. Another girl has gone missing, this time about a week before another solar eclipse, and sixteen years after Olive was taken. Cassie blames herself for Olive’s disappearance, and as a recently unemployed journalist who has returned home to take care of her grandmother, she sees it as her duty to uncover the truth behind the newest disappearance. 

I love how the setting of a small town in England creates a different kind of atmosphere. It reminds me of the cozy, small town, murder mystery shows on the BBC. Please come in and have a cuppa while we watch the retired grandma travel around town in her frumpy coat asking questions about the murders, which people answer because she’s just a grandma after all, until she solves the mystery! I mean, 10 people had to die before she figures it out, but it’s adorable! And Cassie isn’t an old lady, but the feeling is the same. Is it the gardener? The local doctor? The guy we all think beats his wife? The fisherman that talks too much at the pub? Find out next week on BBC One! I loved it. Coziness amidst the thrill of the hunt. Tea everywhere.

It’s a small town, so everybody knows everybody, but I really appreciated how Dorricott brought a feminist eye to the search for answers. Dads and stepdads were looked at with high suspicion, their aggressive and possessive natures questioned and suspected, and I really appreciated that. Most kidnappings and abuse cases happen between kids and someone they know, and we get glimpses of the man who has taken Olive in her POV chapters.

I guess the only thing I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around was why the eclipse was necessary. There is a line early in the book that said something to the effect of “another girl kidnapped sixteen years later on the even of an eclipse. It couldn’t be a coincidence…” and my mind was like, yes it could totally be a coincidence. How many kidnappings have there been in the past sixteen years? One kidnapping every sixteen years doesn’t seem like it would raise a bunch of eyebrows, terrible yes, but not a lot of connections besides an eclipse(?) to make it seem weird. What is weird is that the kidnappings didn’t happen during or after the eclipses. The first happens just before, and this more recent one happens like a week before. Why is the eclipse such an important thing? Why is it the title? After the Eclipse? I mean…I’m just confused. It seems like an unnecessary detail added in to create a sense of uniqueness that the story did not need.

This is an electric debut. The suspense is so amazing and you’ll be holding your breath without realizing it. In some parts I found that I couldn’t read fast enough to keep up with my desire to know more, to find out what happened next, to make sure everything would turn out okay. The child abuse stuff was creepy and gross, so if that’s something you can’t read about you should be warned right now that it’s there and it will make your skin crawl. If you’re looking for an excellent thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat until the very end, you need to pick up After the Eclipse.