Magic for Liars isn’t what I expected it to be. I had impressions from other early readers that it would be along the lines of a murder-mystery in Hogwarts, which turned out to be less-than-accurate. Instead, Magic for Liars is about the lies we tell ourselves, and each other. It is about the disastrous things that result from these lies, no matter how well-meaning they were, or how innocent they seemed.
It begins with the gruesome death of a staff member at The Osthorne Academy for Young Mages. After an investigation by the authorities concludes the death a suicide, the heads of the Academy are unsatisfied. Enter Ivy Gamble, PI. Ivy isn’t like her sister- she isn’t magic like Tabitha and she doesn’t want to be. Though she spends most of her days following cheating spouses or investigating insurance fraud, she is reluctantly convinced (namely, by a large sum of cash) to re-investigate the death at Osthorne.
Ivy Gamble is a hot mess and an absolutely fascinating character. She is morally grey from head to toe and maybe a little bit out of her depth, but at her core intelligent and trying her best. The story unfolds entirely from her perspective as she sleuths around Osthorne, allowing herself to slip in to Tabitha’s world. There is some time given to the magic in this world as Ivy peaks into classroom and gets to know staff, but there isn’t a deep dive into its limits and intricacies. This seemed to be a sticking point for some readers, but I never found myself bothered by it. The narrator of this story is non-magical, so it felt right that we only had topical glances at the various subjects via Ivy’s encounters with them. Their relationships and interactions drive this plot forward without losing any of the atmospheric tension you’d hope for in a good mystery. It beckons you forward page after page and doesn’t let go until the very end. I found myself hanging on as I came approached to the conclusion thinking there was no way it was possible, skimming through previous pages making sure I hadn’t misread the the final discoveries because I couldn’t fathom how it could be. This book doesn’t give you that feeling of satisfaction that comes at the end of a typical mystery novel: the evil-doer unmasked, justice is served, our grizzled protagonist reflects with contentment on another case solved. No, the end of Magic for Liars is fucking devastating. It is devastating and brilliant.
While this book sits firmly in both the realms of mystery and fantasy, it subverts both. The evil in this book does not manifest in the form of a sadistic killer, nor is it a dragon to be slain. Ivy Gamble is not our hero, nor is this the story of her redemption. She arrives at Osthorne Academy as a deeply flawed person, and eventually departs in similar form. We don’t get to see her redemption. The choices she makes throughout her investigation are not always good, sometimes even amoral, and some of them will even make you uncomfortable. You might even see a little of yourself in their choices. Continue reading “Review: Magic for Liars”
This is a difficult book for me to review. Not because I have mixed feelings, but because there is so much I loved that I only hope I can do it justice. Birthday is the story of two best friends, born on the same day, in the same hospital. On the night they were born a freak snowstorm struck the area and stranded their families together. From then their fates were sealed: friends for life. Their story is told in snippets, starting on their 13th birthday and continuing until they turn 18.
By 13, Morgan has realized that something is wrong. Between the loss of her Mom, a struggling with a distant relationship with her father, and being the subject of her rural town’s torment, Morgan can’t imagine losing her best friend. She’ll play it safe, even if it means hiding here true self from the person she cares about most.
When my copy of Birthday arrived I picked it up with the intent of skimming the first few pages to get an idea of Meredith Russo’s style. I read a page, and then a couple more, and then all of a sudden I was 100 pages in. Without exaggeration, this is easily the best YA book I have ever read, and certainly one of my favorites of this year. This own voices story is equal parts powerful, uplifting, and heartbreaking. I have so much appreciation for the way Morgan, a trans girl, is represented in this book and I cannot wait to pick up Meredith Russo’s books in the future.
Going off initial impressions I don’t think I would’ve picked this for myself, but I couldn’t be more thrilled that I did. Even if you’re on the fence, give Birthday a try. Let it surprise you in all the best ways.
Continue reading “Review: Birthday”
Let me just say it outright: I loved this book. I was pining for weeks before it was gifted to me for Valentine’s Day and I was thrilled to finally begin. I haven’t read Karen Thompson Walker’s first book, The Age of Miracles but it has jumped far up my TBR after this.
In The Dreamers Walker transports you to the cozy town of Santa Lora, California where a mysterious illness descends has descended upon the local college. Told for the perspectives of a several of residents of Santa Lora, The Dreamers is an intimate portrait of a town in crisis.
This is not a fast-paced thriller, but something to bask in. There is a certain magic to the world Walker creates and the delicate way the lives of each character overlaps and intertwines. Even though this book succeeds in giving a full overview of Santa Lora in the midst of an epidemic, I felt like I had enough time to connect with each character and I cared deeply for all of them. No point of view felt unnecessary of wedged in, every life contributed to the story effortlessly. This book is simply mesmerizing. Continue reading “Review: The Dreamers”
David Tran is dead. The young doctor was poised to revolutionize immunology with his miracle drug, but just as the first clinical trial is set to begin, he dies under mysterious circumstances. Eight Lives begins in the aftermath as those close to Tran recount their intertwined histories, trying to piece together the truth of this tragedy, unprepared for the secrets they’ll uncover about the “Golden Boy” of Australian medicine.
Eight Lives is Susan Hurley’s debut novel, and what an spectacular debut it is. One of the aspects of this novel that captured me the most was the technical detail interwoven. Fear not, the impeccable pacing isn’t slowed a bit. Instead Hurley enhances every turn of the plot with expertise, her decades of experience in medical research shining through as she shines light on an industry so vital, but so little known.
But this is more than a thoroughly researched thriller, Eight Lives is woven together with incredible precision. The story is told from the perspectives of David’s sister, his childhood friend, his lab assistant, his long-time girlfriend, and a “fixer” employed by his investors. Their stories, though many of them have nothing in common besides their relation to David, come together elegantly. Each holds a crucial piece to the puzzle and it is a thrill to watch realizations coalesce between parties that are, at times, completely at odds with one another. The truth of David’s death comes together slowly and painstakingly. It took my breath away as the truth was finally realized and Eight Lives has been in my thoughts for days since I finished. I’m certain this is one of those books you’ll have to read twice to truly appreciate. Continue reading “Advance Review: Eight Lives”
Alright, I’ll admit it. The Themis Files series has been gazing at me from my to-be-read shelf for over a year now. I’ve heard Sylvain Neuvel’s praises sung endlessly by friends and fellow reviewers, but I still haven’t made it to his debut novel, Sleeping Giants. I was thrilled at the announcement of The Test, his first novella, something for me to fly through quickly on a late night. The biggest takeaway for me: wow, I’ve been missing out.
I think this is one of those books you’re better of diving into yourself with as little foreknowledge as possible, so I’ll keep this brief. In order to become a citizen of Britain, you must first pass the twenty-five question British Citizenship Test. Idir Jalil, an Iranian immigrant hoping to secure his family’s future in this country they’ve come to know, will pass this test or he and his family will be deported immediately. The stakes are high enough before the day goes awry, forcing Idir to make decisions of life or death.
The Test flies by at breakneck speed. I like, many other readers, tore through this in a single sitting. Neuvel does not mince words. He quickly sets the stage as he introduces Idir, and just as promptly turns the world on it’s side less than twenty pages in. This is a masterfully written story that explores the value of a human life, and it rocked me to my core with each twist and turn as the plot unfolded.
The Test by Sylvain Neuvel
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopian
Length: 112 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Pub. Date: February 12, 2019
Source: Personal copy
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