Monthly Archives: May 2013


Fated (An Alex Verus Novel)11737387

Benedict Jacka

Ace Books New York, NY  2012


This book is a promising start to the Alex Verus series.  Alex is a mage whose particular talent is ‘diviner’, or more accurately a probability mage.  He can see the potential timelines into the future and so make choices to increase the probability of particularly beneficial timeline.  He can see disaster coming, if he’s looking, and avoid it.

This series is set in what could be the London of Harry Dresden’s Chicago.  I have been a fan of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden for years and Fated is very much in the same vein.  The characters share a common history of escaping the clutches of a Dark Mage and walking in that grey area always striving for the light.  Both characters are looked down upon by the council of wizards.  Both characters have friends in odd and unexpected places.  Both characters have ‘mundane’ jobs.

Harry Dresden gets a nod from Alex when he says “I’ve even heard of one guy in Chicago who advertises in the phone book under “Wizard”.”  Alex himself runs a magic shop, the New Age/Wiccan variety rather than the David Blaine or David Copperfield type.  He has a sometimes assistant who finds actual magical items for him.  She suffers under a family curse that affects ‘luck’.  The people she gets close to tend to die from horrible accidents.

Diviners are a rare breed among mages.  Because they have little combat abilities of their own they tend to be looked down upon as ‘lessor’ by most other mages.  However Alex seems to have honed his abilities in unusual and rather useful ways, as well as studying more mundane forms of self defense.  When someone in the magical world needs a diviner, and the job is too dangerous or politically messy for anyone more reputable to get involved, there is always Alex.

Like the early Dresden novels, this book stands alone.  I appreciate that in a series.  I hate waiting for the next installment on a cliffhanger.  I want my stories to either end or to sit with the entire series at one go.  I’m looking forward to more about Alex but I’m not under a compulsion to get to it right away before I lose the story flow.

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Posted by on May 19, 2013 in Fantasy


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Flavia de Luce Mysteries

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieFlavia

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag

A Red Herring Without Mustard

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

Speaking from Among the Bones

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

by C. Alan Bradley

These are a series of mystery novels centered on an eleven year old girl.  Flavia is the youngest of three and her older sisters insist that her deceased mother never wanted her, that she was adopted and they keep trying to return her to the agency.  Typical sister torment.  In spite of the concerns her sisters have created Flavia is actually very self aware.  From The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag she says: “Eleven-year-olds are supposed to be unreliable.  We’re past the age of being poppets……   And yet we’re still not at the age where anyone ever mistakes us for a grown-up.  The fact is, we’re invisible – except when we choose not to be.”     p112

These novels take place in post WWII England and are very British in tone and language.  Flavia rattles off chemical compounds for poisons like a modern American girl might talk about the latest American Idol contestants.  Language issues may come up when for example Flavia casually refers to the folly on the property.  British girls don’t need an explanation, American girls might.  Still this is a charming series and Flavia, odd as she may be, is a great role model for girls aspiring to science.

The family De Luce lives on an estate in a small town in England.  This is the maternal family home and the girl’s single father is struggling to keep it afloat.  His distractions leave the girls to fend for themselves and they have their distinct interests.  One of the girls is a reader, the other is serious about boys and of course Flavia has her chemistry.

Apparently an old uncle equipped a wing of the house with a chemistry lab, early 20th century.  Home science at this level was not uncommon in the days of H.G. Wells.  Flavia has taken chemistry on as her passion, with a particular penchant for poisons.  Her curiosity finds her investigating the odd deaths in the community (the first of which was on the family property).  Her scientific mind has her noticing things and finding explanations for them that confound the local constabulary.

Because this is a small town the young girl knows everyone, and everyone knows her.  She is given a great deal of leeway because of her age and sex.  This “explains” how she often comes by clues before, or in spite of the appropriate law enforcement.  Her efforts are appreciated even as she continues to be discouraged from interfering.

Perhaps I should have started right off saying I’ve not read all the books in the series.  I’ve only recently been introduced to Flavia on the recommendation of a friend.  It doesn’t matter to me at all where the series goes, I’m hooked.  The language, Flavia’s charming “devil may care” attitude, her science, the setting in the British countryside all serve to make these very satisfying little reads.


Posted by on May 8, 2013 in Fiction, Teen Fiction


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B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy)

B.U.G. (Big Ugly Guy)Unknown

by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple

Penguin Group New York, NY  2013

ISBN: 978-0-525-42238-9

Sammy Greenburg starts this story with his head in the toilet.  This is Junior High at its finest and in the midwest it’s the Jewish kid who’s being racially profiled by the class bullies.  This is a madcap adventure exploring themes of spirituality, friendship, music, and dealing with those bullies.

Not only is Sammy Jewish, but he has a passion for music.  Specifically he’s crazy about Klezmer bands.  He plays the clarinet – the voice of Klezmer – and is rather talented.  He also has an incredibly smart mouth and a fondness for words.  He collects them, which gives the authors a great excuse to define them for their readers who might find their vocabularies stretched.

Sammy is at that age where he needs to have Bar Mitzvah.  The rabbi his parents have found we’ve already met in the prequel at the beginning of the book.  His story revolves around the recreation of the Golem.  This is not Tolkien, but rather the story of Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late-16th-century rabbi of Prague.  When Sammy hears the story it captures his imagination, and since his father is a potter……..

Eventually the school misfits all find each other.  We have our hero Sammy, the clarinetist;  Skink, a mixed race black/korean military kid with a keen hand at guitar; Julia who can make a violin cry and who it turns out is also Jewish, and eventually Erik, the smart kid who got caught up in the bad crowd, on drums.  They manage to create a Klezmer/jazz/pop/rock fusion band that rocks the school.

The golem is also at the heart of Sam’s story.  Like his namesake Samson, from his Torah section, Sam has to learn what it means to be strong.  He needs to learn about sacrifice and about giving back.  He needs to find a way to embrace the best of who he is.  Isn’t that what coming of age is all about?

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Posted by on May 6, 2013 in Fantasy, Teen Fiction


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