The Case on a Cliff by Orr Agam

***DISCLAIMER*** The author is my best friend’s boyfriend so I may be biased.

The Case on a Cliff follows Bay Area detective Jacob who’s out of money and has no current job to keep him paid. That is, until a beautiful woman comes into his office to find her missing brother. What follows is a wild, drug-fueled journey from San Francisco to the South Bay to Las Vegas and back. Along the way, Jacob discovers that this case isn’t what it seems to be and everyone involved isn’t who they say they are.

Agam does very well as a Crime Noir writer. He’s very good at making the characters appear mysterious. The story was well-written too. There ended up being a lot of twists and turns that I was not expecting at the start of the book. The writing that Agam does the best though is the description of Jacob’s feelings and thoughts during a drug bender or especially rough hangover. I know Agam, so I know it comes from personal experience and that’s what makes it so authentic.

The only critique I have, and really it’s a compliment, is that Agam could have made this book so much longer. At 101 pages, it;s the shortest book I’ve read in a while. He does such a good job at creating twists that he could have made this story much more convoluted, like a true crime thriller. Perhaps this is just me not used to short novels anymore after everything I’ve read.

Congrats on the publish Ori! I hope to see more from you!

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A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

The conclusion to Schwab’s series about the three Londons is nothing short of breathtaking. Five hundred pages and it took me only 72 hours to finish because I was so enthralled.

Kell, Lila, Alucard Emery, Prince Rhy Maresh, and Holland embark on a journey to save Red London from a dark force from Black London called Osaron. The ghost-like demon tried to take over the Maresh empire by infecting all of its inhabitants, but the royals of the empire are hard to control and hard to kill. The group must find a way to beat a force that can control different hosts and promises mercy.

The writing of Schwab is beautiful. The story is woven through several different points of view including that of our villain. We get to know what each character is feeling at the same moment because her chapters are broken down into each character’s mind. I was  a big fan of the choice of villain in this finale. Osaron thinks himself a god, but the hero crew knows that he needs more than he is willing to admit to himself. They take advantage of the fact that to fight, he needs a physical body. I also enjoyed that Schwab makes Holland a more complicated character. All he wanted was to save his White London from a terrible fate, but he brought death and destruction to Red London and nearly to Grey London. He knows his mistake and therefore is the one to sacrifice everything to right his wrong. There is also a lot of betrayal within the castle during the fight with Osaron that made the story all the more entertaining.

Schwab did a beautiful job with the series and I’m glad to have gone on the journey. IMG_1525

Fire and Blood by George R. R. Martin

First and foremost, I think I speak for all of the Song of Fire and Ice readers in saying, George, what the hell? Why write this instead of finishing The Winds of Winter. We’ve been waiting literal years for you to finish that book only to learn that you’ve been spending your time writing this Targaryen history?!? That being said, thank you George for writing this Targaryen history!!! We’ve all been wanting to know how the ancient Valyrian family took hold of Westeros and held it for hundreds of years. And let me say this book did not disappoint.

Beginning with Aegon the Conqueror and his two sisters coming from Dragonstone to conquer all of Westeros and make it one, united kingdom, spanning until King Aegon III came into manhood and took the realm under his control. We readers are taken on a journey through time to see just how the Targaryens became the dynastic reigning family of Westeros. It is a tale of war, peace, loyalty, deceit, split family lines and marriages that bond it back together. The fact that this book reminded me so much of medieval Britain had me enthralled from the start. The coming of Aegon the Conqueror mirrors William the Conqueror coming to England to claim it for his own. The Dance of Dragons, the war of two different lines of the Targaryen family tree mirror The War of the Roses in which two factions of the same family warred for many decades on English soil. Y’all this was one of my favorite reads this year. I love history, but it seems I love fictional history even more. I think because it is so much more impressive to invent such an elaborate history of events rather than just record actual happenings.

The only wish I have after reading this book is that it went further on to recount ALL of the reigns of Targaryen kings. But the fact that we stopped halfway through the dynasty tells me that there will be another Fire and Blood to continue where this one left off. Again I think I speak for all of Martin’s fanbase when I say, please George, finish The Winds of Winter before you release the second half of the Targaryen history. We would much appreciate it.

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The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

I found this title in a list titled “Books You Won’t be Able to Put Down,” and boy were they right. This book had everything I love within it. History, legends, travel, romance, and plot twists.

The narrator takes us on a journey through time and through most of Europe. She finds a strange book in her father’s study that leads him to tell her the story of how, first, his university mentor, and then he himself took on the hunt for Vlad Dracula, the ancient Wallachian ruler. Told through a series of letters from the university mentor Bartholomew Rossi, and then her father Paul, the narrator must solve the puzzle that led both scholars into Eastern Europe during the Cold War. What they, and she, find is a dramatic turn of events through history.

I think my favorite part of the book what the descriptions of all of the different cities and countries the characters visit. We get to travel through Amsterdam, Istanbul, England, Budapest, and rural France and Bulgaria. All visits include making a trip to historical churches like the Hagia Sophia. Thinking about what these characters must have seen took my breath away. There was a point in the story where I thought I would get turned off by it because it almost became a horror story, and I don’t do horror. But the history within it was amazing, too amazing for me to care about how scary it got.

If there is any bit of a historian within you, read this book. Travel. Learn. See if you can solve the puzzle before the author tells you.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Terrifying. Powerful. Frankly…. a little disappointing.

A dystopian future in which healthy, fertile women are used for their ovaries. They aren’t allowed to read. They are constantly watched. They are owned by men and the Wives. Sex is obligatory and every woman must pray that she gets pregnant or else face exile or even death. We follow the main character Offred as she negotiates her way through this new world as a handmaid to a powerful Commander. We see her memories of the world before, of the fall, and of her time at the Red Center where she learned to keep her head down and ears open.

The story itself is beautifully written. It has an amazingly powerful message to the world. It’s exhilarating to read. I get nervous when Offred gets nervous. I get angry when Offred gets angry. I cry when she cries. The events within the story are horrifying. One can only imagine what would happen if religious nut-cases ever got that powerful. There is little character development, but the events seem to only happen within a month or two, besides the flashbacks. The only aspect that disappointed was that I feel the story was cut short. We don’t get to find out what happened to Offred. There is no rebellion that takes place. I don’t even really have a clear picture of how that world came to be. I do appreciate the “Historical Notes” because they tell me that the Republic of Gilead remains and is thriving. But, in a way, that makes the ending even more of a bummer. It’s almost as if Atwood was leaving it to continue as a series. Now I have to watch the series on Hulu to help me out.

Although a little short, I recommend to those looking for a good story.

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Creation by Gore Vidal

Where did we come from? How did this world come into being? Most of the world’s population would answer those questions with some kind of deity or deities. Gore Vidal’s main character Cyrus Spitama goes further and asks, well who or what created God? Usually when this question is asked the asker will get a very long explanation of the religion in question. Creation is no different. Cyrus Spitama travels all over the ancient world, meets Confucius and the Buddha, and is the highest power in the religion of Zoroastrianism, but even he cannot answer the hardest question.

I like this book for its historical musings. We get to go back to ancient Persia and finally learn about the world through the eyes of a Persian instead of a Greek. That was a novel idea by Vidal. I also enjoyed the different parts of the world that the main character got to visit. I got to learn about more ancient cultures than I thought I would. The religion aspect of the book was enjoyable as well. Getting to hear about said religions from them very men who introduced them was interesting. And I liked that the main character was not swayed one way or another. In fact, the more beliefs he was introduced to, the stronger he favored his own.

There were two things that I was bummed about in this book. One, that it took place so far before the birth of Christianity that the main character did not get to meet any of those religious characters. But I get it. Vidal had to choose what era of history he was going to write in. He could not introduce every religious person. There other thing that bummed me out was, there was so much talk of war in the book, and so many famous battles were alluded to, but we never got to dissect those in detail. I realize that the book is about religion mostly, but why mention the Battle of Marathon if we are not going to hear about it from the men that fought in it?

Overall the book was enjoyable. If you need to read something that takes up a bit of time, this is one for you. I moved fairly slow, but the information was very interesting to soak in.

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Citizens of London by Lynne Olson

First and foremost, this is not a biography like I thought it was going to be. This is a history book about World War II. Which was kind of a surprise since the description of the book makes it out to be more biographical about the three most important American men in London at the time of the war. Now, this did not make me like the book any less. I thought it would honestly, but it was so well-written that I didn’t really care in the end that the book was more about Roosevelt and Churchill than the American liaisons in London.

From the description of the book, it was supposed to be about Averell Harriman, John Gilbert Winant, and Edward Murrow, the three most influential Americans in London at the time of World War II. Winant was the American envoy to the United Kingdom and every Londoner’s favorite person. He was all about the people at the height of the war sometimes avoiding other officials in favor of speaking to soldiers. Harriman was the U.S. representative sent to London in order to oversee the distribution of Lend-Lease funds for England. He managed to get more attention that Winant by befriending Churchill and getting in on many private meetings. Murrow, the most famous voice from World War II, was the U.S. CBS news correspondent who brought the sounds and descriptions of the war into American and British homes.

The first half of the book read like I thought it would. We got backgrounds on all three men and their experience in London during the Blitz. We learned how each man was received by the London population and how their experiences helped them influence President Roosevelt into entering the war to aid England. The second half of the book read more like a history book. We were mostly told about military men and military strategy. We did get to meet more influential Americans such as Dwight Eisenhower and Tommy Hitchcock and we were told about their experiences in the war as well. Near the end, however, the book kept alluding to the three main men and how they adjusted to the end of the war. I just thought that it was kind of a weird mix reading about Roosevelt and Churchill’s own strategies while also learning about the personal lives of these men after the fighting ended.

Overall the book was extremely well-written. Olson was able to capture the passion of the London citizens as well as the passion of the American men that they welcomed into their lives during their darkest period in modern history. IMG_1084

Past Imperfect by Julian Fellowes

I think it’s safe to say that Julian Fellowes has become one of my favorite authors. Not only because he writes about my favorite subject: British nobility; but because he writes about them so well and in a way that I have not read from other authors. I read his book Snobs and thought that it was a good read. Very detailed and telling about the gentry families of England. Past Imperfect is very different. He still writes about the high families and their posh lifestyle, but this book gets psychological about the nobility.

The story follows the narrator on a quest for a former enemy to find his illegitimate child by a woman from their youth. Of course, the narrator is reluctant at first to relive the Debutante Season of 1968, but when he learns that Damian Baxter is a dying man, he gives in to his whims to track down the child. Our narrator must travel back in time and he takes us readers on quite a journey.

The description on the back of the book tells me all of this and I expected a well-told life history of debutante balls, fancy dinners, and teenage shenanigans. I got what I was expecting, but with a little twist in which the narrator also describes the current lives of the women he revisits which are less than happy ones. We visit a woman with a husband who cannot be trusted with money; a woman with a bully banker for a husband; one who’s been the love of the narrator’s life for forty years; a Californian, plastic-surguried woman who has had more than her fair share of husbands; and a husband of one of the women who died a tragic death. Our narrator goes on an emotional roller coaster trying to find the child in question to satisfy a dying man’s request.

I already knew I would like the book because Fellowes writes really well. Every manor house we visit is described in perfect detail. Every instance of well-born routine is perfectly executed. His writing is part of the reason I want to be a part of that world so badly. I appreciated, though, that he wrote about less-than-perfect situations. It opened my eyes to a world I want to be a part of so badly, and made me realize that it’s not all fancy parties and exquisite balls. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that these people don’t have their own problems, but I rarely get to read about them.

I hope Julian Fellowes keeps writing. There are still other books of his I need to get my hands on. Other noble families that need their stories told. Even if they are fictional.

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A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

How could you do that to me Schwab? Leaving me (and other readers of the series) on a cliff-hanger like that. It’s just cruel.

Kell and Lila are four months past their defeat of the Dane twins in White London. Kell struggles with his new life as the prince Rhy’s personal vessel. Lila sails the Arnesian Sea with Captain Alucard Emery aboard the Night Spire. They will all come together in the Arnesian capital for the Essen Tesch. The Element Games. Meanwhile, something foreboding is brewing in White London, preparing to wreak havoc on the unsuspecting Red and Grey Londons.

Schwab’s writing is riveting. I can feel my own pulse quickening with all of the action that goes down in this book. I can feel anger when characters get mad. I feel anxiety when characters get nervous. Luckily Schwab ‘s books aren’t ultra-vivid, otherwise I would be in an immense amount of pain throughout reading them. The story in this second of the series is great. The idea of games for those that can wield elements with magic is intriguing (and very like the Tri-Wizard Tournament, so I approve).

That cliff-hanger ending though. In a moment when people are dying, but not saying they’re actually dead yet. A moment where someone is about to discover what they really are, but not telling readers the result. It’s maddening. Now I have to wait until I purchase the third book. I feel like a caged lion. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?!?!?!

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Daughter of York by Anne Easter Smith

Here we are again diving into the world of British nobility/royalty. Only this time, it’s better because it’s The War of the Roses. My favorite time period in English history. Brothers betrayed brothers. Uncles betrayed nephews. Husbands betrayed wives. It was a mess that spanned 30 years, four kings and ended one of the largest dynasties in royal history.

This particular book is about Margaret York, sister of Edward IV and takes place just as Edward seizes the throne in place of the mad king Henry VI and his wife Margaret Anjou. Most of this book actually takes place during a relatively peaceful lull in the War of the Roses. Margaret grows up in her big brother’s court learning from her mother, the great Cecily Neville, about how to be a gracious host and fierce diplomat. She falls in love with Anthony Woodville, brother to King Edward’s wife Elizabeth. Then, Margaret is married to Charles Duke of Burgundy and must hide her love for Anthony. She watches the events in England from afar as she cares for her stepdaughter Mary. She watches as her brother Edward loses the throne and gets it back again. She watches her two other brothers George and Richard betray and stand by Edward respectively. All of this while serving England to the best of her ability.

It’s a large book. It took a while to get through. Anne Easter Smith is so detailed in describing the surroundings of the characters. She beautifully describes the palaces Margaret visits, the cities she frequents, and the people around her. I feel like I know royal court personally.

Obviously Anne Easter Smith did not live during the time period so she had to invent some things. The one thing she invents that I though I was going to have a problem with was the dwarf Margaret comes to own. Fortunata was a strange choice of confidante to give Margaret. At first I didn’t like it because I thought Smith made her far too important for an invented character. But as the story wore on, she grew on me. Finally, at Fortunata’s death scene, I found myself bawling like a baby at the loss of the character.

Books like this are hard to criticize because a lot of it actually happened and no one alive today was there to see it. I can’t really be critical of the author without being critical of the events. It was a good story and Anne Easter Smith told it very well.

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