A Darker Shade of Magic

A Darker Shade of MagicA Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1) by V.E. Schwab, Victoria Schwab
Published by Tor Books on February 24th 2015
Pages: 400
My Rating: three-stars

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.

Shades of Magic series
A Darker Shade of Magic
A Gathering of Shadows
A Conjuring of Light

I enjoyed the combination of magic, medieval, and parallel worlds that the book introduces. I like Kell, Lila, and Rhy in the story, but felt that they each were too flat as characters on their own.

Kell as the melancholy reluctant hero, Rhy as the richie-rich party boy, and Lila as the street rat with a heart of gold. It was all too thin.

The parallel Londons construction was very interesting. The “fighting with magic” part came up more WWF than actual feats of strength.

This was book number 1 of 52 for 2017.


Slaughterhouse-FiveSlaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
on January 1st 1970
Pages: 275
My Rating: five-stars

Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden.

Don't let the ease of reading fool you - Vonnegut's isn't a conventional, or simple, novel. He writes, "There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick, and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the main effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters."

Slaughterhouse-Five is not only Vonnegut's most powerful book, it is also as important as any written since 1945. Like Catch- 22, it fashions the author's experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut's other works, but the book's basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy - and humor.

I read Slaughterhouse Five for three reasons: 1) I had recently read a few fiction books with stories about magic, 2) I wanted to know what the title meant and 3) I had some faint memory of seeing Kurt Vonnegut in a movie and wasn’t sure if it was true. Note: it was the 1986 Rodney Dangerfield classic “Back to School” where Vonnegut makes a cameo as himself.

The book often shows up on “banned books” lists so this added to my interest in reading it.

*** Spoilers ahead ***

All I knew about the book was the phrase “Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time” and I had no idea what that meant. As I continued reading the book it became clear and when the time-travel showed up as a plot device I was hooked.

The parts of the book that made the biggest impact on me were when people would die and the narrator would say the well-worn words “So it goes.”

When Mrs. Pilgrim dies of carbon monoxide poisoning because she kept driving her car after getting in an accident while on the way to see Billy in the hospital after he was in a plane crash, :deep breath:, there are so many emotions going in opposite directions I think it represents how ridiculous death is and seemingly how random and unfeeling the Universe can be.

And when people die around Billy during his time in World War II either in battle, the POW camp, or in the fire bombing of Dresden, the same random+unfeeling music starts to play.

The book eventually described the reason behind it’s title and it’s devastating. A few days after I finished the book Amanda and I watched a Rick Steves travel show where he visits Dresden. In Rick’s upbeat narration that plays over video of a sunny city with beautiful buildings and city squares he mentions the WWII fire bombing. It was a nice follow-up to the book to know that the city and people were able to rebuild.

This was book number 25 of 52 for 2017.

The Alchemist

The AlchemistThe Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Alan R. Clarke
Published by HarperCollins on May 1st 1993
Pages: 197
My Rating: four-stars

Paulo Coelho's enchanting novel has inspired a devoted following around the world. This story, dazzling in its powerful simplicity and inspiring wisdom, is about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from his homeland in Spain to the Egyptian desert in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids. Along the way he meets a Gypsy woman, a man who calls himself king, and an alchemist, all of whom point Santiago in the direction of his quest. No one knows what the treasure is, or if Santiago will be able to surmount the obstacles along the way. But what starts out as a journey to find worldly goods turns into a discovery of the treasure found within. Lush, evocative, and deeply humane, the story of Santiago is an eternal testament to the transforming power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts.

This book was on the “always available” list at my library so I grabbed it. I didn’t know anything about it when I started to read it.

After I read the book I saw all the polarizing reviews on Goodreads. There were condemning 1 star reviews and lauding 5 star reviews. I can see why there is such a divide and I think the problem with either side of the review spectrum is they want to apply the book as a blueprint to their lives.

I didn’t read the book as a self-help manual, but just as a story. Santiago’s story is interesting and there are some parts to be inspired by and some parts that are eye-roll worthy. I do see the hints of other stories showing throughout.

Overall I’m glad I read it, and I enjoyed the experience, but I won’t be highlighting and memorizing any passages to apply to my life anytime soon. I get that type of inspiration in other places.

This was book number 27 of 52 for 2017.

At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe

At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the GlobeAt Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider
Published by Thomas Nelson on April 18th 2017
Pages: 288

As Tsh Oxenreider, author of Notes From a Blue Bike, chronicles her family’s adventure around the world—seeing, smelling, and tasting the widely varying cultures along the way—she discovers what it truly means to be at home.

In her late thirties and as a mom to three kids under age ten, Tsh Oxenreider and her husband decided to spend a rather ordinary nine months in an extraordinary way: traveling the corners of the earth to see, together, the places they’ve always wanted to explore. This book chronicles their global journey from China to Thailand to Australia, Sri Lanka, Uganda, France, Croatia, and beyond, as they fill their days with train schedules, world-schooling the kids, and working from anywhere. Told with wit and candor, Oxenreider invites us on a worldwide adventure without the cost of a ticket; to discover people, places, and stories worth knowing about; to find peace in the places we call home; and to learn that, as the Thai say, in the end, we are all “same same but different.”


My wife and I have some experience crossing continents and living abroad with small children and that might be why the book didn’t resonate with us. We’ve already embraced the concept of work, school, and travel existing together instead of one or two of them pushing the others out of the realm of possibility. The thought of selling everything we own and living out of a backpack makes our heart rate faster in a good way.

That might be why this book was such a struggle to finish.

The author and her family spent the (school not full) year of travel either being exhausted because scheduling too much travel, drinking coffee, stating how expensive travel is (duh), or just “hanging with friends in exotic locations” which is the equivalent of subjecting the reader to a slideshow of boring vacation pictures.

Modern nomadic life isn’t a novelty anymore so I expected either a deeper understanding of the world or at least details on the feasibility of long term location independence with kids.

There was hardly any insight into the people or places they traveled to unless it was the people serving them in some way. If you choose to read the book don’t expect to gain any understanding about any of the countries you couldn’t gain from a travel brochure.

The author says she feels dissatisfied when she’s in America and not traveling, but also feels dissatisfied when she’s traveling and doesn’t have a home. I’m only dissatisfied with the time I spent reading this book.

This was book number 26 of 52 for 2017.

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