Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman tells the story of Maria Owens – a young witch, afraid to fall in love, afraid to let anyone have power over her being.
I remember watching Practical Magic with my mom and my sister, thinking – obviously – how cool it would be to be able to do magic.
And did anyone else think those pancakes looked amazing??
I haven’t read Practical Magic, but I did previously read The Rules of Magic (which I also highly recommend). Honestly, I don’t know how I haven’t read PM yet… This will be my one and only 2021 new years resolution.
Love is fickle, they say. Love is patient and kind.
I don’t know what I believe about love at this point in my life. I’m grappling with some personal things, so if I may be fully transparent, it was difficult for me to get into Magic Lessons because I did not want to think about love when I started reading it. It’s not a traditional romance novel, but the emotion of love in this story feels very strong to me. Any talk of heartbreak makes me want to bury my head in the sand, yet I persevered.
(I recently did two romance novels reviews and while I only briefly mentioned the above in one of those reviews, my sentiment holds true. It is very difficult sometimes for me to read about love. In a Holidaze was funny and The Right Swipe let me get out some of my online dating angst.)
But my favorite parts of this story would not exist without love – when Maria falls in love, when she is so tormented that she casts the now-famous (dare I say infamous?) curse on the Owens women, when her love for her daughter consumes her.
This tale takes the reader from England to Curacao and eventually Massachusetts and New York, meeting a slew of interesting characters along the way – some good, some bad.
Ultimately, this story reminds us that we must all decide to use our gifts for good or evil, for love or vengeance. Even the gifts that some people can’t see.
Alice Hoffman has written TONS of books that all look simply magical! Learn more about Alice Hoffman and her other works at her website.
Vicious tells the story of Victor and Eli: college buddies, roommates, handsome and intelligent, and striving for excellence.
And it presents an ultimate question – What will you do to be a hero?
Victor and Eli are ambitious. Their experiments in near-death experiences lead them down a path of no return. Will they go beyond the brink or will it be too late to stop each other?
This story was a fast read. The science-made-relative aspect reminded me a little of Michael Crichton and I liked that the chapters alternated storylines so we got to learn about each of the primary characters.
This book makes you think about what it means to be a hero or an anti-hero. Good vs evil and wrong vs right have a lot of grey area. Something that starts with the best intentions can still turn sour, and the worst situations can prevent interesting opportunities.
I am not a huge “superhero” fan. I like the old Superman movies and the Batman ones with Christian Bale, but I don’t own any comic books. Vicious was still a comfortable read to dip a toe into the proverbial waters of that world.
Learn more about V. E. Schwab and her other works – including Vengeful, the sequel to Vicious – on her website.
Happy 2021 to friends old and new! Oak + River Books’ first post of 2021 features historical fiction-meets-low fantasy novel The Binding. The author, Bridget Collins, has over a decade of published writing under her belt. Exploring more of her work is on my 2021 list of to-dos (note: not resolutions 🙂 ).
I purchased The Binding by Bridget Collins back in October, intrigued by the bookbinder aspect (which I am unfamiliar with) and, as always, lured by a pretty cover.
Emmett Farmer is taken to a bookbinder’s home/shop to become their apprentice. The storyline twists and turns as we meet an assortment of interesting characters. The premise of the story is that books are off limits – telling you why would be a spoiler so you’ll have to dive in to find out.
Imagine being told books are bad then suddenly being sent off to learn how to make them. How confusing that would be!
In full transparency – I felt that the beginning had a few slow moments but the plot picks up and before I knew it, I was sucked in!
Collins definitely did some research on the details which makes the story come to life. I appreciated that the characters had very distinguished traits and some I wanted to see more of.
Dare I say it: there is totally room for a sequel and I will not be upset if that happens! I would love to learn more about what happens to Emmett as he emerges from being a young man into full-fledged adulthood.
The Binding is Collins’ first adult novel. To learn about her young adult works, I recommend visiting her author page on Goodreads and exploring from there. Learn more about her adult works – including the upcoming novel The Betrayals (not related to The Binding) – at HarperCollins.
In a Holidaze by the duo known as Christina Lauren was part of my December Book of the Month box. I chose it to be my Christmas day read for obvious reasons. (The holiday theme? The need for romance in 2020? You get it.)
I tend to find every romance novel somewhat “cringe” because they make me roll my eyes. This book had a few cheesy moments but it was so not cringe – it hits the notes of nostalgia, old love, what it means to be family, and incorporating change into our lives.
In a Holidaze has all the best parts of your typical Christmas romance WITHOUT the over-the-top cheesiness.
Plus, it’s HILARIOUS! I bust out laughing multiple times.
Maelyn is stuck in a very relatable “what do I do with my life” and “universe give me a sign” mindset. Wish granted, she finds herself reliving the week of Christmas over and over.
Can Maelyn right her wrongs and break the spell? Will she learn how to be true to herself? Dear readers, please go find out!
Christina Lauren’s next novel is about a single mom – and as a single mom, I am definitely looking forward to that!
Learn more about this duo and their other works over on their website.
Are you a fan of dating apps? Has internet dating become your bff during covid? The Right Swipe might restore your faith in the dating app scene.
The Right Swipe was in a stack of pink books I picked up at Target.
Pink and I were a vibe that day.
My love life has been less than non-existent lately and sometimes it’s hard to read romance novels because I get all in my feels but The Right Swipe I really enjoyed.
First of all, the main character, Rhiannon, is 37, proud of her success, and not afraid to wear what she wants. (Sweatshirts/hoodies? Can I get an amen!)
Second, Rai incorporates some important topics such as friendship, evolving life circumstances such as having kids, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy. (Here’s a helpful link if you are unfamiliar with CTE.)
Lastly, the intimate scenes were wooooh! It makes sense since Alisha Rai has over a dozen romance novels under her belt.
It would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention that the love interest, Samson (former pro football athlete), sounds like a total dreamboat! Like Rhiannon, I don’t know much about who the professional athletes are these days (or any days), but also like Rhiannon, I’m secretly very interested in a hunk with intuitive hands.
I wish I was more like Rhiannon in one aspect – not forgiving ghosters. It gets better as I’m getting older but always a work in progress. So when Samson ghosts her and they end up meeting again, will she forgive him?
Check out The Right Swipe and let me know what you think!
To learn more about Alisha Rai, check out her website.
I first heard of Matthew McConaughey’s memoir a few months ago and mentioned it in my post of anticipated releases of late 2020/early 2021. Looking for something different to listen to on my morning commute, I recently downloaded Audible. Greenlights was my first audiobook choice.
Audiobooks have quickly become a godsend, and Greenlights was a reminder to live my life. My life. Explore my passions and seek my truths.
One theme I enjoyed that particularly resonated with me was being involved in your success. What does this mean to me? Am I putting in enough effort? More importantly, am I putting effort into the things that actually matter the most? What does success mean to me?
McConaughey welcomes us into his life, sharing stories from all ages and imparting how to be our most authentic selves.
Have you read or listened to Greenlights? Let me know what you thought!
Learn more about McConaughey’s current role as a faculty member at The University of Texas at Austin here.
“One more hour until I prove to Visidia that I’m meant to be their heir… Two more hours until I’m engaged to a man I’ll never love… Three more hours until I give the command to ready a ship to set sail tomorrow, and demand to know every secret about this kingdom that’s ever been kept from me.”
In what I can only describe as a magical turn of fate, I happen to work with one of Adalyn Grace’s brothers. Upon learning of my obsession passion for books, he informed me that his sister was the author of All the Stars and Teeth. Within the past year I have been developing an appreciation for young adult/fantasy books so I decided to add it to my list.
I ended up forsaking everything else I was reading to finish this one first.
All the Stars and Teeth is a high fantasy novel that explores the very real boundaries of curiosity and corruption, and the choices we make when caught between power and the desire to do what’s right.
(What is high fantasy, you ask? Click here for Goodreads’ description.)
I was captivated by the mystical Kingdom of Visidia and at least a little jealous of the adventure that Amora, Princess of Visidia, embarks upon as she sets sail to save herself and her kingdom – and not just because she finds herself in the company of the handsome rogue Bastian! Who hasn’t daydreamed about going on a heroic and life-changing quest?
Amora’s character really resonated with me. She has so many qualities I wish I could see in myself: brave and adventurous with a self-confidence I fail to muster on a regular basis. She is unafraid to go after what she wants most.
In this interview, Grace describes Amora’s character as “morally grey”. I liked this about Amora; it made her realistic and relatable. No heroine should be pristine; I would argue that our “flaws” are often what make us the most human.
The story itself was fresh yet comforting because it reminded me of things that I already liked. While reading, I got vibes of Children of Blood and Bone, Pirates of the Caribbean, and The Hunger Games. But don’t be misled – this story stands alone, too.
I’m looking forward to seeing how the characters continue to develop in the next installment, All the Tides of Fate, set to release in February of 2021.
Have you read All the Stars and Teeth? Let me know in the comments!
Winter is approaching quickly! The last part of 2020 seems to be flying by and the holiday season is almost upon us.
The Enchanted Sonata by Heather Dixon Wallwork is a perfect addition to this winter’s TBR.
It’s a music-laden and intriguing twist on the nutcracker story. I was going to wait until December to read it – but I couldn’t help myself! Once I started, I didn’t want to stop.
This magical tale follows young pianist Clara as she experiences not only the bewitchment of her first crush on another piano protégé, but also the enchantments of Prince Nikolai Volkonsky’s kingdom of Imperia.
In an article on NPR, we learn that the original author of The Nutcracker was E. T. A. Hoffman, and at the time he titled it Nutcracker and Mouse King. At one time, Hoffman also wrote that music “reveals an unknown kingdom to mankind: a world that has nothing in common with the outward, material world that surrounds it, and in which we leave behind all predetermined conceptual feelings in order to give ourselves up to the inexpressible.”
In The Enchanted Sonata, music literally reveals an unknown kingdom. Music plays a very special role in the story so I won’t give away everything. Just know you’re in for a treat. 🙂
(There are a couple grisly moments that I would be hesitant to share with very young readers but all-in-all The Enchanted Sonata is a family-friendly story.)
What are your favorite holiday and winter reads? Let me know in the comments!
Learn more about Heather Dixon Wallwork at her website and view her adorable artwork on Instagram.
Where Light Enters is a powerful and moving debut by emerging author Noel Silvia. Read on for my review and a mini Q+A with the author where he shares his inspiration for the novel and his favorite authors!
After a lifeless body is discovered by the river, readers are led back in time to meet multiple characters and the struggles they face in childhood and as adults, culminating in the final events that bring us back to the discovery of the body.
Throughout the book, we are reminded of the hope and light inside of us that keeps us alive and that we can share with others.
This book is unique for multiple reasons. Those interested in linguistics will enjoy seeing the lesser-known but widely spoken Esperanto language interspersed in the dialogue – lending to the international feel of the book. (Learn more about Esperanto here.)
The Esperanto language is accompanied by the novel’s open-to-interpretation setting. The book has no specific setting, allowing the reader to picture the story taking place where they feel fits best. Where you picture the story taking place may be entirely different from where I picture it. There not being a specific setting does not mean the story lacks one; there is plenty of detail for readers to draw their own conclusions.
Most of the characters remain unnamed and are referred to by a nickname or their distinguishing features (“The Matron” or “the man in the purple suit”). I did not think this detracted from the story. The sections of the book each center around one character while maintaining the theme of interconnection, which helps readers avoid getting the characters confused with each other.
There is also an emphasis on color and music throughout, with the idea that music is magic. Lovers of the violin, rejoice!
Caution: The text deals with some very weighty topics – war, suicide, human trafficking, drug abuse, and addiction. I would not recommend this novel to young readers.
10% of the profits from this book will go to charities that work to combat human trafficking and work to help individuals suffering from trauma, two of the big themes in the story.
Lastly, readers will notice various Christian elements but I would not classify this as a Christian novel. It is what the subtitle claims: a novel of hope. We all have a choice to follow the light and to help others in what can be a cruel, unfair world. When we cannot find the light ourselves, it can still find us.
Congratulations on completing and publishing your first novel! What inspired you to begin working on Where Light Enters? Music has always inspired me. Even an instrumental piece can tell a visual story. A good song makes me want to explore that world. I keep a log of all of my story ideas, and enough threads started emerging where I saw how I could weave them together in a cohesive narrative tapestry. The COVID lockdown was when I finally decided, “it’s now or never”, and I had to do something to feel functional. That need to be productive inspired me to write. I may not have lost weight during this time, but I gained a book that I’m proud of.
What was the most challenging part of the writing process for you? As da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Knowing when to stop tinkering with the text was primarily the most challenging thing for me. I felt like a parent sending their child off on the first day of school; I had to trust that it was ready, and would be fine on its own.
Was there anything that surprised you about the writing process? I was surprised how short/long it took to write certain things. There were some chapters that I wrote the entire first draft in less than an hour, and then there were some singular sentences that I spent several hours on, trying to find the perfect words to use in the right arrangement.
Why did you decide to self-publish? For this book, I wrote to write. My goal was to write a book that I was proud of and would be something that I would want to read. I wanted to try and find my voice as an author, and I did not want to have that altered by someone trying to sell books that were more marketable. My greatest fear would be waiting a year to get signed, only to have the publisher want me to add sparkling vampires and change the setting to a dystopian future. Not that there’s anything wrong with those stories, but they’re not the kind of stories I felt comfortable telling.
What can you share about your upcoming novel Ricochet Day? I love the theme of interconnection and the ways people are brought together. It was something that I explored in Where Light Enters, but in Ricochet Day, I really want to push those ideas. It’s (hopefully) going to be a lot lighter tone, but still explore these concepts as we follow a group of seemingly non-connected characters over the course of one day. I’m having fun right now arranging the plot, as the narrative will be very “Rube Goldberg”-esque.
What’s your favorite genre to read? Do you have a favorite author? I love books that make me have an emotional reaction. Authors like Christopher Moore or Tim Dorsey have a great comedic flow that always make me laugh. Then there are authors like Amy Tan or Khaled Hosseini who always make me cry, even in the triumphant moments. There’s nothing worse than art that doesn’t move you.
Many thanks to special guest Noel Silvia!
Purchase a paperback or e-book of Where Light Enters on Amazon.
To learn more about Noel Silvia’s insights and future projects, visit his author page on Goodreads.
Happy reading, friends, and “may the light find you.”
*I received a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. I am not an affiliate marketer therefore do not receive compensation for purchases made through links on this website.
The Maiden of the Storm by Michelle Deerwester-Dalrymple is a fast read full of depth, developed characters, and researched content. Historical fiction is my favorite genre and this story really delivers with the historical details, such as clothing, vocabulary, and scenery. As someone who isn’t normally a romance reader, I can say this story has me hooked on Michelle Deerwester-Dalrymple. She has taken tremendous care to put the best in her books and her words stirred something within me. The tale of Riana, daughter of the village chieftain, and Horatio, captive Roman solder, combines passion, pleasure, and pride – and I will be reading it again!
*I received a free copy of the ARC in exchange for an honest review.*