Safiyya: For February’s buddy read, Hailey and I read Magic for Liars, by Sarah Gailey, an urban fantasy/mystery set in modern-day America.

 

Private investigator Ivy Gamble is called in to investigate the mysterious death of a teacher at Osthorne Academy for Young Mages. Although Ivy claims to hate everything to do with magic, she secretly longs to be a magician like her talented sister. She decides to take the case, live out her inner fantasy of belonging to the magical community, and reconnect with her estranged sister. In the course of her investigation, she comes across snotty teenagers, prophecies, secret relationships, and impossible magic.

 

I will get straight to the point – I did not particularly enjoy this book. It had an engaging mystery plot, side characters whom I found interesting, and fascinating world-building with regard to the magic. Nonetheless, I almost DNF’ed Magic for Liars because I was so utterly exasperated with the main character Ivy. Since everything after the prologue was written in first-person POV from Ivy’s perspective, there was really no way to escape her. As such, I mostly spent the book quietly seething at this annoying brat and her increasingly poor decision-making.

 

Just to be clear, Ivy is a fully adult woman in her mid-thirties, with a fairly good life:

 

  • She is a white, American, heteronormative, upper-middle-class woman. As far as we know, she has never experienced abuse, oppression, or discrimination or any kind.
  •  She has never been deprived of anything for her basic needs. She didn’t have any worries about food or shelter through her childhood, and her parents apparently paid for her college education.
  • Speaking of which, she has a loving family, and if she was ever in need support, or a home, or really anything, she could always go to her father or sister for help.
  • She has no physical or mental health conditions that would potentially restrict her abilities or life choices.
  • She seems to like her work as an investigator, and it seems to pay well enough that she still doesn’t have any concerns about money.

 

Ivy has more than most people will ever have, and yet she spends twenty-seven chapters of a twenty-seven-chapter book complaining that her life is ruined forever because she doesn’t have magical powers.

 

(Incidentally, Ivy doesn’t actually need magical powers. Most of the people around her don’t even believe in magic. She just wants to have magic powers, because her sister Tabitha got to have magic powers, and it’s not fair that Ivy can’t also be gifted, and she deserves to have magic powers too. Basically, this book felt like it was all about Petunia Dursley from the Harry Potter series.)

 

Aside from Ivy’s constant obsession about not having magic powers, she pursues a relationship by constantly lying to her romantic interest, tries to reconnect with her sister by accusing the latter of de facto killing their mother, and just generally spends a lot of time complaining about how teenagers are so ungrateful for all of the things they have. Blegh.

 

Protagonists are not always likeable, and I don’t need a protagonist to be likeable in order to appreciate a book. But a protagonist should at least be compelling enough to draw the reader through the story. I think the author meant to portray Ivy as a compelling and somewhat sympathetic character, and I think the reader is meant to root for her success. Unfortunately, I was not able to do so, and that is why I would struggle to recommend this book.

 

In spite of my overall feelings about Magic for Liars, there were some positive points:

  • Sarah Gailey has a good writing style and sense of pacing
  • She sets up the murder mystery and revelation of suspects quite well. She also plays with some classical fantasy tropes in an interesting way.
  • I liked several of the side characters, including Ivy’s sister Tabitha, the school nurse Mrs. Webb, and the practical magic teacher Rahul. I rather wished the book had been told from Tabitha’s POV, in fact.

As such, I would certainly be interested in reading some of Sarah Gailey’s other novels.

 

It is also worth noting, Magic for Liars has a pretty high Goodreads score, so a lot of people were able to connect with the story and the main character. If you aren’t sure where you stand after reading this review (which is fair, the ambivalence vibes are strong), I would suggest that you try the first three or four chapters, and see how you feel about the rest from there.

 

For my part, if you want to read a fantasy/mystery story featuring a compelling female protagonist who is determined to solve a mysterious murder, I would recommend Olivia Atwater’s Longshadow.

Title page of Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This time was going to be different. This time was going to be better. This time, I was going to be enough.

Sarah Gailey

 

I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Alex Michaelides’ writing, so I knew I had to read The Maidens. It did not disappoint! This was such a gripping thriller and I loved the inclusion of themes from Greek tragedy and mythology.

Mariana is awash with grief after the sudden death of her husband Sebastian. Struggling just to make it through the days, Mariana’s cocoon of solitude and loss is disrupted when she receives a frantic call from her niece Zoe at Oxford. Zoe’s friend Tara has gone missing and she fears for the worst. When Tara’s body is discovered, brutally murdered, Mariana quickly becomes embroiled in a sweeping conspiracy involving enigmatic professor Edward Fosca and his unnerving group of acolytes, known as the “Maidens”.

Filled with loads of twists, red herrings and astonishing revelations, The Maidens was a wonderfully written tale of love, loss and betrayal. The ending was absolutely astounding – I’m honestly still reeling and trying to wrap my head around it. If you want to be shocked and awed, this is the book for you!

 ‘It was written’ is the Greek expression. Meaning, quite simply, from that moment on, their destinies were sealed. 

– Alex Michaelides

On a whim I decided to take a chance on the audiobook, however, I now wish that I had chosen a print copy instead. As much as I admire Louise Brealey as an actress, (her voice-work was objectively excellent), I just don’t feel like audiobooks are the right format for me. I enjoy ambient noise and regularly go about my day with headphones in, but I tend to tune out the specifics of the music/sounds etc. and I simply could not break that habit when listening to an audiobook. I would actively try to listen but soon enough I’d filter out the words and end up having to rewind entire chapters. I also missed the actual act of reading a book and seeing the words set down on paper (or screen in the case of ebooks). I’m sure that people who regularly enjoy audiobooks will love this recording, I just think I’ll try to stick to print in the future.

Thank you to NetGalley and Macmillan Audio for providing a copy of this audiobook for review. It was certainly a wild ride!

– Hailey

 

Wendy Darling’s life was irrevocably altered when she and her two brothers were swept out of their bedroom window and spirited off to an island of pure fantasy. When they returned home to London, John and Michael were able to move on with their lives, but Wendy could not forget Neverland nor the impossible boy that brought her there. Refusing to deny Peter and Neverland has fractured Wendy’s relationships with her family and even resulted in her institutionalization in an asylum.

Many years later, Wendy is married with a daughter of her own and trying to finally put the past behind her. Until one fateful night when a boy who does not age, a boy with no shadow, slips through her daughters bedroom and carries Jane off to Neverland in Wendy’s place. Now Wendy must confront the unsettling truths about her past, in order to save her family and her future.

Wendy, Darling was exactly what I hope for when reading a fairytale retelling. I’ve always thought there was something sinister lurking behind the shiny veneer of Neverland and Peter Pan and A.C. Wise exploits that ominous undertone in dark and delicious ways. Decay, death and eldritch horrors replace mermaids, magic and childhood naiveté.

The book had a wonderful cast of strong and empowered female characters as well as queer and aro/ace rep (we don’t see a lot of this so it was very exciting!) I was also really impressed by the way that the author addressed trauma and trauma recovery in a very raw and realistic manner.

Thank you to NetGalley and Titan Books for providing a copy of this book for review. It was an incredible read that I highly recommend!

– Hailey

 

 

 

You have to stand up, even when you’re scared, because if you let the monsters frighten you and take away the things you love, then they win.

A.C. Wise

 

The Lights of Prague was such a delightful read! The story follows Domek, a lamplighter who secretly protects the city from the monsters that roam the streets at night, and Lady Ora, a wealthy and seemingly eccentric widow. Despite their vast differences in class, the pair are inexplicably drawn to each other, though Domek does not realize that Ora is a pijavica – one of the creatures he is sworn to destroy. While Domek and Ora attempt to keep their secrets from each other, they both become embroiled in foiling a plot that would allow the monsters of Prague to overtake the city.

I love mythology and fairytales of all forms and I had not yet read anything featuring Czech myths so I really enjoyed reading about pijavice, bubáks and vodníks. I do wish that there had been a glossary of the mythological creatures at the end of the book that the reader could refer to, however, a quick google search of the Czech terms was easy enough.

I loved how Nicole Jarvis used the history and architecture of Prague as a part of the story – the setting was so vivid that the reader feels completely transported in both place and time. The characters were well written and there were also some plot twists that I had not anticipated. I was fully absorbed by the book and I sacrificed a good night’s sleep so that I could finish reading because I just had to know what would happen next. I haven’t read a vampire novel in a while and I’d honestly thought I was no longer interested in the trope, but The Lights of Prague was a fresh and thoroughly enjoyable take on the genre. I’m excited to see what else Jarvis has in store and I’d definitely read more of her books in the future.

Thank you to NetGalley and Titan Books for providing an eARC of this book for review.

– Hailey

When Domek had first started working as a lamplighter, he had been frustrated by all the people who continued to venture into the night. Didn’t they realize the danger? If everyone stayed home, Domek wouldn’t have to risk his life to protect them.  Over time, though, he realized that life couldn’t be contained to daylight hours. For every human or pijavica that used the dark to prey on passersby, there were a dozen people just trying to make it home. Prague belonged to all of them, and Domek would be damned if they would be made unsafe in their own city.

Nicole Jarvis

 

Wow! This book was fantastic! I’m

 honestly a bit of a book snob when it comes to mysteries so I tend to stick with Agatha Christie and I don’t stray from that much, but Girl, 11 sounded intriguing. I’m so glad I gave this book a chance. I was a bit unsure at the beginning because I’m not overly fond of the whole transcript/oral history style of writing, however this book is mainly prose and the podcast transcripts interspersed throughout are actually a great stylistic choice to help advance the story.

The story centres around Elle, the host of a true crime podcast investigating cold cases in Minnesota. The new season of her show is focused on TCK, 

 

The Countdown Killer, who had terrorized the Twin Cities in the late 90s but has been inactive for over 20 years. When an open police investigation begins to align a bit too closely with TCK’s methodology, Elle must try to convince colleagues, friends and family that she’s not merely projecting her podcast research onto a new case.

The book is very gripping and the tension that builds as Elle delves deeper and deeper into the mystery keeps the reader hooked and not wanting to set the book down. I read the book in one sitting (staying awake into the wee hours), because I simply had to know what would happen. There was a really fantastic twist, that I didn’t see coming until halfway through the book. I highly recommend Girl, 11 to any mystery fans especially those like me who often find themselves frustrated by the predicability of many mystery stories. I really hope that  Amy Suiter Clarke will write more novels in the future, I’m very eager to see what else she can come up with.

Thank you to NetGalley and Text Publishing for providing this eARC for review.

– Hailey

 

Sorrowland was certainly an interesting read. At the tender age of 15, flees from Cainland, the isolated compound where she has spent her entire life, and makes a life for herself and her twin children in the woods. The spectre of Cainland and its dark secrets continues to threaten Vern, Howling and Feral even in the wilderness and they find themselves in a fight for their very survival.

I was really taken with the beginning of the book, I was intrigued by Vern’s story and eager to learn the truth about Cainland. I was also incredibly impressed by the diverse representation in the book – albinism, disability, LGBTQIA2S+, BIPOC. I adored the characters especially Howling and Feral, and I was so happy when Vern and her twins built a “found family” with Gogo and Bridget.  Rivers Solomon  created empowered characters that faced racism, abuse, homophobia, transphobia, religious indoctrination, and yet refused to accept oppression or succumb to circumstance. I really wanted to give the book 5 stars … and then the big reveal. 

Warning – Spoilers ahead.

For more than half of the book I had assumed a supernatural/haunting theme to the story and then suddenly the book switches gears and we’re into government conspiracies, human experimentation and hybridization with sentient fungi.  That’s where Solomon lost me, it just seemed very disjointed and I just couldn’t suspend disbelief a as Vern turned into an immortal, psychic, exoskeleton covered fungus creature.  It became hard for me to remain engaged in the story and I almost DNF’d the book. It was unfortunate because Sorrowland had started out so strong. Maybe other people will appreciate the book’s twist, but it simply wasn’t for me. I did really enjoy the author’s rich storytelling and character building though, so I’d still be willing to try reading more of their work in the future.

Thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for providing an eARC of this book for review.

– Hailey

 

She was a girl made of aches and she flung her body at the world in the hopes that something, anything, might soothe the tendernesses.

Rivers Solomon

 

The End of Men was, in a word, phenomenal. I wasn’t sure how I would feel reading a book about a global pandemic whilst in the midst of a global pandemic, but if anything it only made the story more compelling because the worldwide response to the “Male Plague” seemed highly believable. 

In 2025, a startling medical anomaly emerges in a Scottish hospital. Dr. Amanda MacLean tries to alert public health services and relevant branches of the government, but her cries of alarm are ignored and soon a terrifying virus is sweeping across the world – a virus that only affects men. Narrated by various women (and a few men) in the UK and other parts of the world, The End of Men is a thoroughly engaging debut novel that explores family, grief, motherhood, gender dynamics, and how a catastrophic event affects the human race both on a personal and global scale.

The book was an interesting thought experiment about how deeply gender and sex shape our societies and how removing nearly half of the world’s population from the equation truly highlights the lack of equality and balance across the political and professional landscape. In addition the book was so emotionally gripping that you simply can’t put it down. From the incomprehensible grief of suddenly one’s sons/husband/father/brothers all in quick succession, to the relief of having female children that are not at risk of dying, to the guilt of being an asymptomatic female carrier of the virus and unwittingly passing the disease on to your loved ones – there was such raw and palpable emotion that you couldn’t not be moved.

There were however, some aspects of the book where it became difficult to suspend disbelief, namely when it came to “scientific” discourse about the virus. I find it extremely improbable that it would take months of round the clock research by all the world’s greatest scientific minds before someone would realize that a virus that affects individuals on the basis of biological sex might have something to do with XY chromosomes. Honestly, I’m no geneticist or virologist but I thought that as soon as I read the words “male plague”. The explanation about immunity was similarly unlikely, but if you wave away the questionable science it’s still a fantastic reading experience.

I have never felt so powerful. This must be what men used to feel like. My mere physical presence is enough to terrify someone into running. No wonder they used to get drunk on it.

Christina Sweeney-Baird

Could there have been more diversity in the narration? Sure. Most of the key characters are educated and middle-class, and there is minimal racial diversity, however, to give the author the benefit of the doubt this is a fairly accurate reflection of the scientific community and political leaders. Could there have been more commentary on gender vs. sex and LGBTQIA2S+ issues? Perhaps. There was one chapter briefly addressing the affects of the plague on Trans individuals and gay men, and there was some speculation on the nature of female sexuality (women who had never before dated other women doing so after the majority of the male population has died). Again, to give the author the benefit of the doubt, perhaps she does not feel it is her place to speak on behalf of an entire community when she is not an expert. All authors write what they feel comfortable talking about and not every novel can fully address every issue. So, while in the spirit of objectively I have laid out some possible “short-comings”, I thought that the book did a great job of what it set out to do – explore the impact on the human race if a disease only affected one sex.

I thoroughly recommend this book for any fans of The Power or  Y: The Last Man. It’s one of my favourite reads of 2021 so far and I’m very much looking forward to exploring more of  Christina Sweeney-Baird ‘s work in the future.

Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday Canada for providing an eARC of this book for review.

– Hailey

 

The Space Between Two Deaths had a fascinating premise, very little modern literature focuses on Sumerian culture, religion and mythology. I thought that the story started off very strong with the sack of Uruk by the army of Nippur which throws off the balance between the land of the living and the netherworld. As a result of this imbalance a rift opens up in the earth leading down into the netherworld. Here is where I felt the author missed an opportunity – though the rift did play a role in the lives of the main characters, the larger implications of the rift on Sumerian society was ignored, it was as if no one else was affected by this supernatural event. It had seemed as though the author had set the scene for the dead to rise and overwhelm the living, for mythological creatures or deities to assert their influence, but none of this occurred.

The rest of the novel was, in essence, a family drama. Though some aspects were interesting, I personally found all the main characters to be rather unlikeable and as such I felt it difficult to become emotionally invested in the tale. Temen, Meshara and Ziz were all callous and self-interested without a sense of care or concern for the other members of their family. Temen was violently abusive and lacking in work ethic, Meshara was deeply resentful and happy to abdicate any sense of maternal duty, and Ziz thrilled in carrying out theft and violence with little sense of consequence. Themes of physical and sexual abuse, child marriage, slavery, mutilation and even cannibalism seemed to be casually thrown into the book without much commentary or critique.

I think my favourite parts of the book were the chapters narrated by the crow, who was the least problematic and most interesting character. I did really enjoy the ending, (at least for Ziz and the crow). Overall the book beginning and ending of the book are very strong, its just the muddle in the middle that I’m not sold on.

Thank you to NetGalley and GenZ Publishing for providing a e-copy of this book for review. 

– Hailey

 

 

So much had gone unsaid between them – to tease out one thread risked unraveling the entire tapestry.  Perhaps a story was for the best, one in which the outcome was predetermined.

Jamie Yourdon

 

Objectively, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev is a great book. I really wanted to love it, but personally, I had a very difficult time getting past the writing style. I truly did not like the “interview” style narration of the story. I don’t mind multiple narrators, I often like that style of writing, but something about the transcript format of Opal & Nev kept taking me out of the story – I found it distracting and hard to engage in the story.

As a reader I was already at a disadvantage as I know next to nothing about three of the main themes of the book – the music industry, the 1970s, and life in the United States; there was no personal connection that would have made it easier for me to relate to the story at hand, so when that was compounded by a narration style that I really did not care for, the entire reading experience was rather lacklustre. There also seemed to be a lot of references to the American music scene and politics in the 70s which were totally lost on me.

I did really like Opal and Sunny, both strong women in their own right, forced to confront racism, sexism and character assassination. It was fascinating to compare the two characters, the similarities and differences in the way they approached their lives, careers and society at large.

I think many people will really love this book, the actual story is very good and themes are incredibly relevant to current events. The style simply wasn’t a fit for me, something that’s bound to happen from time to time when reading.

Thank you to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing an e-copy of this book for review.

– Hailey

 

 

How did I not just let life run me over? I’m sorry, I don’t usually use this word, but it’s because fuck that. I believe in myself above all.

Dawnie Walton

 

A Million Things is a heart-wrenching story told from the perspective of ten year old Rae who forms an unlikely friendship with her elderly neighbour Lettie. Rae’s always taken on more responsibility at home than most children her age, but with her mum suddenly gone she’s got to keep everything together on her own. Rae must care for herself and her dog Splinter, buy groceries, cook meals, clean the house and pay bills all while trying to avoid drawing the attention of nosy neighbours, school administrators or officials from the housing council. Her one source of comfort is taking long walks with Splinter through picturesque neighbourhoods, where she can envision a different kind of life.

Lettie has been consumed by grief for decades; her life and home have gotten so out of control that she’s reported to the housing council as a danger to the health and safety of the neighbourhood. When Lettie has an accident in her home one evening Rae comes to her aid, and so, after years of living side-by-side with minimal interaction, the pair unexpectedly become each other’s support system.

Both humourous and tragic, A Million Things is a riveting novel that I read all in one sitting. Emily Spurr’s prose was very well written and the characters exuded such raw emotion. I also loved the delightfully snarky banter between Rae and Lettie, (“kiddo”/”goat-o” had me in stitches). I liked how each chapter was a day in Rae’s life after her mum leaves – as the days continued to pass you could feel the increasing amount of strain on Rae as she tries to keep it all together, until it all just gets too much for her. Watching the count of the days increase also really highlighted how traumatic it would be for a young child to be on their own for such a long time.

Overall, it was a great debut novel and I look forward to reading more from Emily Spurr in the future.

Thank you to NetGalley and Text Publishing for providing an eARC of this book for review.

– Hailey

 

 

 

Time stops. I hang in the dark between then and now. It’s soft here. I can smell you. The you before. The you that smelled of citrus body cream and shampoo. I can feel your fingers on my hand. We’re all we’ve got.

Emily Spurr