Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, is a gripping read full of magic and mystery.

There are four distinct worlds, some full of magic, some almost devoid of it – and the only thing these worlds have in common is London. Once upon a time, travel between the four worlds was possible and frequent. These days, only the Antari – a rare people born with magic in their blood – can travel between the worlds and serve as liaisons and messengers for the rulers of the four Londons.

The world-building in this novel is extraordinary. At first glance the idea seems simple, four versions of the city of London stacked on top of each other. But each comes with its own culture, customs, names for landmarks and language, which makes the set up really quite complex.

Black London was the most powerful of all, brimming with magic until it turned destructive and its portals were closed off. White London has barely any resources left, including magic, making its sibling rulers brutal and power-hungry in a cold world. Grey London is mundane and its magic is scarce. It is also the most recognisable London for its resemblance of the real London in our world. And then there is Red London, a warm place in which magic is still abundant and which is home to an Antari named Kell, who moves between the worlds in his official capacity as royal messenger – as well as for his side-business as a smuggler of other-worldly trinkets.

Until he unknowingly takes a token across the worlds that contains a magic not seen in centuries and which could destroy everything he has ever known. His troubles really start, however, when the street-smart Grey London thief Delilah Bard decides to pick the wrong pocket.

Lila is a delightful character. She’s savvy and fierce, stubborn, adventurous, longing for freedom, and doesn’t mind giving the men-folk hell. So tagging along with a traveller like Kell is her ticket to the world. Lila’s perspective proves ideal for the reader, as Lila is just as wide-eyed and experiencing new worlds that are just as unknown to her as they are to the audience. The characters of Kell and Lila are incredibly layered and polar opposites of each other. Combined with the amazing magical worlds they inhabit, they make for a very compelling and intriguing story.

A Darker Shade of Magic is a story that draws you in immediately and keeps you under its spell.

 

“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.” – Delilah Bard

 

Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥

Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Publisher: Titan Books
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Pages: 400
ISBN:  978-1783295401

Advertisements

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books Set In Australia

Top Ten Tuesday is the brainchild of The Broke & the Bookish. Every Tuesday, we compile a list of our literary Top 10, and then add it to the blog hop.

This week is all about our Top 10 With X Setting – I chose Australia.

To be fair, I could have filled this entire list solely with Tim Winton novels. And maybe I will, someday, in another Top Ten Tuesday.

Menschen mit Meer – Interview with author Alex Hofmann #tbt

Throwback Thursday to a December 2014 interview with my good friend and former colleague Alex Hofmann.

A German version of this interview was published on December 18, 2014 on my other blog Study.Read.Write.


It’s nearly 9pm when my door bell rings and Alex Hofmann stands grinning in my hallway. The author of Menschen mit Meer (lit.: People with Sea), a book about people with autism that was published by Kleine Wege in 2013, gives me a hug, gets comfy on the couch – and pulls a thermos out of her handbag.

“I totally forgot I’d made tea and I didn’t want to let it go to waste,” she explains while I go and get mugs and she pulls something else out of her bag.

“There are a few homemade Christmas cookies in this box. Help yourself!”

We talk about this and that; about space and psychology, autism and Menschen mit Meer, and our interview is almost an afterthought.

Continue reading

Bookish Things: Book Lovers’ Soy Candles by Frostbeard Studio

 

Book Lovers' Soy Candles sample packs from Frostbeard Studio on Etsy ©Literati Girl

Book Lovers’ Soy Candles sample packs from Frostbeard Studio on Etsy ©Literati Girl

You know that Old Book smell you wish you could bottle? Well, it hasn’t been bottled, per se, but you CAN get candles with that particular scent!

Frostbeard Studio in Minneapolis, USA, specialises in Book Lovers’ candles made out of soy wax, which are infused with bookish scents.

Most of their candles come in 8oz jars and 3oz packs of wax tarts/melts, but they also offer themed tealight sample packs. How do you choose between such scents as Hatter’s Tea Party, Oxford Library, and Reading at the Café? I couldn’t is the easy answer, so I ordered the sample packs that intrigued me most, as well as one 8oz candle scented Don’t Panic (Fresh Towel).

So what did I get?

The Don’t Panic (Fresh Towel) candle smells just like fresh laundry. The scent is a blend of fresh laundry detergent and green tea. And even unlit, it fills the room with that fresh, clean scent!

The Bibliophile Sample Pack includes:

Old Books – which smells mildly of paper, dust, vanilla and fresh grass. It’s a lovely smell, even though I am not a fan of vanilla.
Oxford Library – which combines oakmoss, sandalwood, amber and leather for a pretty masculine but pleasing smell. Apparently, one customer called it “Freshly showered Sherlock.” Let’s go with that.
Book Cellar – which smells mildly of a combination of basements, dirt and vanilla bean. Again, quite a pleasing smell that captures that book cellar atmosphere, but once again, it contains vanilla.
Bookstore – which has a divine smell of driftwood, mahogany, coffee and a hint of leather. It smells like standing in line at the local bookstore’s coffee counter, at the end of a Saturday afternoon, behind an outdoorsy guy dressed in a leather jacket. Yes, it’s that specific. At least for me.

 

The British Sample Pack includes:

Sherlock’s Study – which has a smokey, masculine scent of pipe tobacco, cherrywood and fresh rain, and does kind of smell the way I’d really imagine Sherlock Holmes’ study to smell like  – you know, minus the mold cultures and rotting body parts.
Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey – admittedly, I didn’t really picture the TARDIS to smell like driftwood, blackcurrant tea and juniper, but it is a lovely, mild, timeless scent that fits a madman in a box.
Through the Wardrobe – which smells of Aspen winter, apple wood and spruce tree, and reminds me of winter and white Christmas spent wrapped in a blanket.
Hatter’s Tea Party – which is so simple it’s brilliant, and combines the scents of Earl Grey tea and sugar cookie. Very British indeed.

 

The Fantasy Sample Pack includes:

The Shire – which smells of oakmoss, clover, aloe, and pipe tobacco and the combination makes for a down-to-earth scent I can imagine in Bag End. Anyone for a pint of South Farthing at the Green Dragon?
Wizardy Buttery Drink – a heavenly mixture of butterscotch, crème brûlée and buttered rum which is perfect for afternoons spent reading and apparating in and out of the Three Broomsticks .
Headmaster’s Office – which smells of cedarwood, vanilla, fireplace, and lemon drop. Again a fairly masculine, slightly smokey smell but not unpleasant, even though I don’t think this should have vanilla in it.
Winterfell – the North, wherever you go, seems to be defined by the smells of scotch pine and firewood. While this reminds me more of Scotland and highland men, I’m sure the men of the North of Westeros are surrounded by similar scents.

The Book Nerd Sample Pack includes:

Gatsby’s Mansion – which smells of champagne fizz, daisies and sea mist. I’m not particularly fond of this scent, but if I ever imagined what the Golden Twenties smelled like, this would be a pretty close approximation.
Cliffs of Insanity – which smells of sea mist and Caribbean teakwood and reminds me of white beaches and clear seas.
Reading at the Café – a scent for rainy afternoons or warm summer evenings, bringing the café to your favourite reading nook. It smells like roasted coffee and chocolate pastries and makes me crave a large cuppa and a pastry from my favourite café.
Bookworm – a fairly fruity scent of apple, newsprint and crayons. This scent reminds me of study sessions and all-nighters spent highlighting pages, copying books, colouring in graphics and doing homework.

All in all, these packs give a brilliant combination of scents. Frostbeard Studio does even more, including Pemberley Gardens, Hero’s Nectar, Sassenach, Lallybroch, Sexy Librarian and Trashy Romance Novel, but to be honest, they sounded too flowery and sweet for my liking as I could never stand the scents of rose and potpourri.

I think the idea of book-themed candle scents is a brilliant one, especially for people who’d rather have something more down to earth than the traditional fruity and flowery scents. But they do come at a price. An 8oz jar will set you back $18, while the sample packs are $12 each. Plus international shipping and customs, this is a once-in-a-blue-moon indulgence. The 8oz jars are a decent size, but I was disappointed that the sample packs are mere tealights – as a German I don’t use oz as measurements, so I was unsure of the size but expected slightly more.

The sample packs are still good value if you can’t decide which scent you’d like, but you can’t mix and match. They come themed, so you’d have to find one pack you like the sound of. Single candles only come in the large size, which is a bit of a shame, as you are forced to buy the whole thing even if you’d just like to sample it.

There are some really nice scents in these bookish packs, though.

Happy Towel Day

Do you know where your towel is??

Celebrating Towel Day 2016 ©Literati Girl

Celebrating Towel Day 2016 ©Literati Girl

You don’t know what Towel Day is? Well, DON’T PANIC!

Every year on May 25, fans of Douglas Adams and the Trilogy of Five (aka Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and sequels) carry a towel around to remember the author and spark conversations.

Douglas Adams passed away on 11 May 2001, and has fans decided to celebrate his life and works a fortnight after his death – Towel Day was born. Many dress up as Arthur Dent, the protagonist of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, who runs around in his pyjama, bathrobe and – because his extraterrestrial friend Ford Prefect tells him to – a towel.

“A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapors; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to ail a miniraft down the slow, heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it around your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblater Beast of Traal (such a mind-boggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal; and, of course, dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough. More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: nonhitchhiker) discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, washcloth, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet-weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have “lost.” What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the Galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.”

I do love Douglas Adams’ way with words, and his descriptions and observations are hilarious. There are way too many example to mention them all, but just remember, that the answer to the big question, the question of Life, the Universe and Everything… is 42.

Happy Towel Day!

Friday 56 Vol. 1: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

The Friday 56 is a blog hop by Freda’s Voice and the rules are simple:

  • Turn to the nearest book.
  • Open it on page 56.
  • Post a sentence or two.
  • Join the linky.
  • Go crazy on the linky.

“He had thumbed through the magazine more than once, put it down and picked it up again, and he kept returning to a full-page, dramatically lighted fashion photograph whose caption began ‘A frankly flattering, definitely feminine dress to go happily wherever you go…’ and whose subject was a tall, proud girl with deeper breasts athan he’d thought fashion models were supposed to have.”                                – Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Leave This Song Behind – Teen Ink Poetry Collection

Poetry is not just for grown-ups or those trying to woo a lover. The Leave This Song Behind collection of teen poetry by Teen Ink is proof that poetry can be found everywhere in life.

The collection features some of the best teen poetry of today. Reflecting teen culture, many of the poems adhere to a more free-verse style as is evident in modern slams.

This collection contains some real gems of poetry, like Bluebells, Dear Michaelangelo, Don’t Fall In Love, and A Letter To The Past, Present, and Future Selves.

What really becomes evident is that this generation deals with some real and uly problems, deeply human flaws and raw emotions – and sometimes the best way to express all of these feelings is through poetry. With a collection of poems by several different authors, it is only natural that not all poems are to a reader’s individual tastes.

Because while there are some really beautiful and touching works in this collection, there are also a few which come across as overly pretentious. One run-on sentence in a weird format – like every wors in a new line – does not necessarily make a poem. And even though many of the poems deal with depression, selfworth issues, and unrequited love, the teen angst seems to be a red thread throughout the whole book.

It is a nicely edited book. The poems are split into different sections, which makes it easy to find a poem you are in the mood for. There are even notes by the poets, but unfortunately, these are at the very end of the book. Personally, I would have prefered to have the notes close to the poems they relate to, as the flipping back and forth does get tiresome. Another issue is that the best poems are towards the middle of the book, and the beginning of the collection is not as powerful as it should by rights be in order to draw the reader in.

Leave This Song Behind is a nice poetry collection which gives a unique insight into the problems teenagers of today have to deal with, but it could have made even more of an impact than it does.

 

Leave This Song Behind  was provided to me as an
Advance Review Copy in eBook format by NetGalley

My Rating: ♥♥♥

Title: Leave This Song Behind
Author: Stephanie & John Meyer (Editors)
Publisher: HCI Books
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Pages: 216
ISBN:  978-0757318962

Last Tango in Buenos Aires by David Marsh

Last Tango in Buenos Aires – Sketches from the Argentine by David Marsh is a raw and honest account of one man’s travel through small-town Argentina. From the very north of the country, the author travels by foot, bus and train to the End of the World

From the very north of the country, the author travels by foot, bus and train to the End of the World and meets the local residents along the way.

This book goes beyond a simple travelogue – it brings the South American country to life. With added facts about Argentinian history and how those periods affected and continue to affect the population, the story becomes thought-provoking.

Luscious descriptions of the landscapes, and honest encounters with the people along the way, from road-side acquaintances to those he meets in city centres, make Last Tango in Buenos Aires incredibly real.

This is a book that shows Argentina from all its angles, highlights the cultural and geographical diversity of the country, and emphasises Argentina’s beauty. It’s the people David meets, however, who are the soul of the book. Their anecdotes and opinions provide a lesson in Argentinian history, politics and culture that has not been glossed over by newspaper or textbook editors, and showcases lived history and the opinions of the people instead.

Last Tango in Buenos Aires by David Marsh was provided to me as an
Advance Review Copy in eBook format by NetGalley

My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

Title: Last Tango in Buenos Aires
Author: David Marsh
Publisher: Matador  / Troubador Publishing
Release Date: January 28, 2016
Pages: 192
ISBN:  978-1784625221

Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig #AtoZ

This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge.

Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance embodies that 70’s spirit of road trips and the search for enlightenment.

The story follows the narrator and his son on a motorcycle trip across the North-Western USA. It’s a very personal and moving account, which is not only testament to their father and son bond, but also feels incredibly raw and real.

Along the way, the father and son duo have many philosophical discussions which they call Chautauquas, ranging from ethical emotivism to the philosophy of science. Unfortunately, the son, Chris, does not often get a word in edgeways. His father, or Phaedrus as he refers to his past self, has a lot to say. And while his teachings are solid, they are a mere introduction to philosophy and touch on the great philosophers who should be explored more after reading the book.

Despite the name, there is not as much Zen Buddhism, or motorcycle maintenance come to think of it, as one would expect. That being said, the explanation of the scientific method and how we as a society and as individuals go about discovering the truth, and the analogy of working on a motorcycle is beautifully written.

Road trips have this habit of serving as time for contemplation and finding oneself. The open road can do that to you. And discussing philosophical aspects and teachings with a fellow traveller is a valid past-time. Towards the end of the book, Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance really tips over into preaching, though. It’s no longer a discussion or an anecdote seen for its philosophical value. And that’s when the reading turns from being fun into being tedious. The search for enlightenment has turned into a lesson.

As a road trip story between father and son, during which the father wants to share some life advice, this would be great! But the author apparently could not resist temptation to turn absolutely everything into a philosophy lesson, which takes away from the story at the heart of this novel.

 

My Rating: ♥♥♥

Title: Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
Author: Robert M. Pirsig
Publisher: Vintage Classics
Release Date: June 6, 1991 (originally published September 1974)
Pages: 416
ISBN:  978-0099786405

Young Sherlock Holmes – Death Cloud by Andy Lane #AtoZ

This post is part of the 2016 April A to Z Challenge.

Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud (as it is known in English) by Andrew Lane takes place in the 1860’s with a fourteen-year-old schoolboy Sherlock Holmes solving his very first mysterious case.

As someone who has grown up with the original Sherlock Holmes canon and more recent TV regenerations of the sleuth from Baker Street, I was intrigued by this book.

Sherlock is meant to spend the summer with his aunt in the country, and the teenager couldn’t be more bored by that prospect.

The case Sherlock comes across involved a mysterious cloud, which descends on people and leaves them dead and covered in boils. However, at age 14, Sherlock’s world-famous deductive skills are still seriously lacking. His sidekick is not a teenaged version of John Watson but a boy called Matty. And while Matty is a great character and their friendship is nicely written, Sherlock is disappointing for fans of the sleuth.

Young Sherlock Holmes is not at all what I expected. While I find the concept of a teenaged Sherlock really intriguing, it is hard to reconcile this young boy who suggests rather than deduces and has a love interest with the well-known adult Sherlock Holmes everyone knows. If the premise of a book is the childhood of one of the best known fictional detectives ever, I would expect that at least some part of the story hints at what shaped this teenager into the aloof, friendless and highly analytical sleuth people know.

A Sherlock Holmes story – no matter how old the protagonist happens to be – should be clever, witty, interesting, and at the end baffling. Unfortunately, this novel is none of that. Granted, the plot is original, as are most of the characters, but the character of Sherlock feels wrong for true fans.  It reads like sophisticated fanfiction, and  – dare I say it? – there’s more convincing fanfiction out there which explores Sherlock’s childhood in Victorian England. If the protagonist had any other name, I doubt I would have recognised that he’s meant to be the detective.

 

My Rating: ♥♥

Title: Young Sherlock Holmes: Death Cloud
Author: Andrew Lane
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s
Release Date: June 4, 2010
Pages: 313
ISBN:  978-0330511988