Saturday, July 31, 2021

The Midnight Library - Matt Haig

Title: The Midnight Library
Author: Matt Haig
Publisher: Harper Avenue, 2020 (Paperback)
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Adult; Science Fiction
Started: July 29, 2021
Finished: July 30, 2021

From the inside cover:

Between life and death there is a library. 

When Nora Seed finds herself in the Midnight Library, she has a chance to make things right. Up until now, her life has been full of misery and regret. She feels she has let everyone down, including herself. But things are about to change. 

The books in the Midnight Library enable Nora to live as if she had done things differently. With the help of an old friend, she can undo every one of her regrets as she tries to work out her perfect life. But things aren't always what she imagined they'd be, and soon her choices place the library and herself in extreme danger. 

Before time runs out, she must answer the ultimate question: What is the best way to live?

Yet another recommendation courtesy of TikTok, never say social media is completely useless. This book is insanely popular, with two million sold worldwide, and after reading it I can say the hype is well deserved. However good it is though, this could be a very triggering read for some people due to the subject matter (suicide).

Nora is thirty-five and has regrets over her life choices. As a teenager, she had the potential to become an Olympic-level swimmer but didn't. The band she formed with her brother could've been huge, but she left it. She could've been a scientist or a professor, but never pursued it. She was supposed to marry her fiancee Dan, but called it off. She just lost her job at a music store, her elderly neighbour doesn't need her help anymore, and her cat just died. After attempting suicide, she wakes up in a library reminiscent from her school days, complete with a figure who resembles the librarian from her youth. 

Mrs. Elm tells Nora that she is between life and death, and has a chance to undo the regrets she has in her current life by exploring one of the infinite alternate universe versions of herself, represented by the never-ending books on the library's shelves. She can explore the lives where she did become an Olympic swimmer, married Dan, became an internationally known singer, and many more. When she finds the life she likes most, she can become part of it and her journey will end. As Nora moves through numerous versions of herself, she comes to a few realizations that literally brings the library crumbling down around her. Nora's final choice will seal the fate of not only the library, but herself too. 

I'll admit that based on the summary I was expecting something a different story from what I actually got. Granted, I still enjoyed it, but I envisioned a tale based in magical realism with a magical library as the setting, some sort of ode to literature and stories in general. And this book is not that. However...

This book is perfect for anyone who's ever questioned their choices and wondered, "what if I had done this instead?" I think all of us have done that, to a degree. I know I have, though on a much smaller scale and with less consuming regrets than Nora. The author himself is very open with his struggles with depression and mental health in general, you can tell he poured a lot of his personal experiences into Nora and her story, so I give him tons of kudos for that. 

Long ago, I came to the same realizations that Nora hits at a few different points in the story (don't want to go into too much detail to avoid spoilers), so I knew exactly how the book was going to end before hitting the hundred-page mark. This didn't make the story any less enjoyable in my opinion, I had a really fun time exploring the philosophy from Nora's point of view. Other enlightened people might not feel the same though, and might find the story boring if they don't connect with Nora as a character. 

If you enjoy the premise of a person exploring alternate-universe versions of themselves, then you'll enjoy The Midnight Library. Anyone triggered by suicide will want to skip this book, though. 

Thoughts on the cover:
Simple, yet effective. I really like how this version has a little tiny Voltaire (Nora's cat) in the lower corner. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

The House in the Cerulean Sea - TJ Klune


Title: The House in the Cerulean Sea
Author: TJ Klune
Publisher: Tor, 2020 (Paperback)
Length: 396 pages
Genre: Young Adult/Adult; Fantasy
Started: July 12, 2021
Finished: July 15, 2021

From the back cover:

A magical island.
A dangerous task.
A burning secret. 

Linus Baker is a by-the-book caseworker in the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records for company. But his quiet life is about to change. 

Linus is summoned by Extremely Upper Management and given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to an orphanage on a distant island and determine whether six dangerous magical children are so dangerous, in fact, that they're likely to bring about the end of days. 

When Linus arrives at the strangest of islands he's greeted by a series of mysterious figures, the greatest mystery of which is Arthur Parnassus, the master of the orphanage. As Linus and Arthur grow closer, Linus discovers the master would do anything to keep the children safe, even if the world has to burn. Or worse, his secret comes to light. 

The House in the Cerulean Sea is an enchanting love story, masterfully told, about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place - and realizing that family is yours. 

I have TikTok to thank for a massive surge in my reading recommendations, this being one of them. So many people have posted about this particular book with the description that it "made your cold dead heart feel something for the first time in years" and "simply brought joy to your soul." I concur with both of those statements wholeheartedly. 

Linus Baker lives in a world (reminiscent of 1984 and X-men combined) where those born with powers are kept under control and monitored by the government. Many of these magical children are orphans and live in government-controlled institutions. Linus is his world's equivalent to a children's aid caseworker, visiting these orphanages and determining whether they should remain open or be shut down. Linus genuinely cares about his work and the children he's tasked to look in on, but his life has otherwise become a bit stagnant. 

He's ordered by the higher ups of his organization to observe the Marsyas Island Orphanage due to the unique abilities of the six children that live there. When they include the literal Antichrist, a wyvern, and a child that defies all explanation, he's not sure what to expect. This is made even more confusing when the master of the house, Arthur, doesn't always abide by the organization's rules. As Linus learns more about the house's inhabitants and bonds with them, he has to decide what should become of the place, and what to do when his one-month stay is over. 

Reading this book is like being wrapped in a cuddly blanket. There are some pretty dark and relatable themes of government control, prejudice, abuse, and hatred towards the "other", but those are tempered with humour and some of the most adorable moments that will just make your heart melt. 

The plot of the book is not overly complicated and it's pretty clear early on how the story will play out, but that's not the point of reading this book. The beauty is in the details. 

The characters are immediately relatable and endearing. Linus is just precious in how he cares about people in spite of his adherence to rules. Arthur is soft and fatherly, you just want to hug him. The kids are both adorable and hilarious, my favourite being Lucy, the devil himself, because his lines made me laugh so hard. All the other characters are amazing too, there honestly wasn't one that failed to capture my interest. 

The writing is simple, but nonetheless beautiful. The setting is described evocatively to the point where I, like Linus, was enchanted by the beauty of the island. There are so many beautiful quotes in this story that will make you laugh and cry, possibly at the same time.

I can't recommend this book enough. It's become an instant favourite of mine, similar to everyone else who's read it (there's a reason it's so popular). If you want a book to enrapture you, go read this. 

Thoughts on the cover:
Simple, but good. The art style almost makes this seem like a children's book, but I find it charming.  

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Breaker: Tales of the Outlaw Mages - Amy Campbell

Title: Breaker: Tales of the Outlaw Mages (Book One)
Author: Amy Campbell
Publisher: Independently published, 2021 (Paperback, ebook)
Length: 433 pages 
Genre: Adult Fantasy
Started: June 30, 2021
Finished: July 5, 2021

From the back cover:

Walking Disaster. Ruiner. Spook. Sorcerer. The reason we can't have    nice things. 

The citizens in the of Bristle have called Blaise every name in the  book. Born a Breaker, his unbridled magic wreaks havoc with a touch. As his peers land apprenticeships, Blaise faces the reality that no one wants a mage who destroys everything around him. When enemy soldiers storm the town hunting for spellcasters, he has no choice but to escape and rush headlong into the unknown. 

A chance encounter with a pegasus sets Blaise on the path to a new life. Despite the machinations of a surly gunslinger, he finds a place to belong in the hardscrabble world of the outlaw mages. 

But even an outlaw mage can't outrun his past, and Blaise's returns with a vengeance, threatening his chosen family. Can Blaise find the grit to harness his volatile magic into a saving grace, or will his most dangerous challenge be his last? 

Now that the school year is done and I can finally breathe, it's time to read for pleasure once again and thanks to TikTok I have plenty of recommendations to rebuild my TBR pile. This one was the first and it was a great way to kickstart my summer reading. 

In Iphyria, those with magical abilities are rounded up and controlled by the Salt-Iron Confederation, and there's very few places where mages can live without being forced to use their powers against their will. Blaise lives with his family in Desina, one of those few few hold-outs. Although he hasn't had to worry about the Confederation, Blaise still struggles because his magic isn't supposed to exist. Blaise is a Breaker, an untrained one at that, destroying everything he touches. 

When the Confederation comes calling in Desina, Blaise is forced to flee. He finds himself, alone, in the Gutter, a harsh region populated by outlaw mages that the Confederation doesn't control. When he rescues a Pegasus named Emrys, he discovers a community in Itude that accepts and welcomes him. But when the Confederation tracks him down even there, can Blaise control his magic to protect his newfound family?

This author had me hooked with "Asexual magic cowboys." 'Cause if that's not a reason to read a book, I don't know what is. Add in the Pegasi characters and you really can't go wrong here. 

This book pulls you right in from the start, and I attribute that to the excellent characters. Blaise is a sweetheart and you just want to hug him and tell him everything's going to be okay. Jack is perfect and prickly, adding just enough conflict in the beginning to make his character development throughout the book nice and satisfying. And the Pegasi, oh, the Pegasi are the best part of this book, they totally steal the show. Emrys and Zepheus have a fair bit of range, their telepathic communications with their riders varying from sweet to sarcastic and a bit scathing, and their little business venture selling Blaise's baked goods to the other Pegasi had me laughing. I haven't even touched on the rest of the characters that populate Itude, but they're all endearing to say the least. 

The world building is nicely done throughout the book rather than all at the beginning, and the magic system is unique in that each person born with magic (not everyone is) having their own particular specialty, and I'm not talking basic elemental magic like your average fantasy book, there are actually some types described that are quite impressive in their originality. 

When the book you're reading has subtle Community references and librarian humour, you know it's going to be good (go read this!). There's an intriguing universe and magic system, and the characters are just phenomenal. I've already put book 2, Effigest on my list to buy when it comes out. 

If anyone wants to check out the author and her works, you can do so here: Amy Campbell
If anyone wants to read the book, you can find links to various retailers here: Breaker
If anyone wants to check out the cover artist, you can do so here: EerilyFair Design

Thoughts on the cover:
It's so pretty. I never thought I'd say that about a cover with obvious western motifs (that usually aren't my thing) but it's so stinkin' pretty.