Tag: magic

Book Review: Spells for Forgetting, by Adrienne Young

Image belongs to Random House/Ballantine.

Title: Spells for Forgetting      
Author:  Adrienne Young  
Genre: mystery, fantasy   
Rating:  5 out of 5

Emery Blackwood’s life changed forever the night her best friend was found dead and the love of her life, August Salt, was accused of murdering her. Years later, she is doing what her teenage self swore she never would: living a quiet existence on the misty, remote shores of Saoirse Island and running the family’s business, Blackwood’s Tea Shoppe Herbal Tonics & Tea Leaf Readings.

But when the island, rooted in folklore and magic, begins to show signs of strange happenings, Emery knows that something is coming. The morning she wakes to find that every single tree on Saoirse has turned color in a single night, August returns for the first time in fourteen years and unearths the past that the town has tried desperately to forget.

August knows he is not welcome on Saiorse, not after the night everything changed. As a fire raged on at the Salt family orchard, Lily Morgan was found dead in the dark woods, shaking the bedrock of their tight-knit community and branding August a murderer. When he returns to bury his mother’s ashes, he must confront the people who turned their backs on him and face the one wound from his past that has never healed—Emery.

The town has more than one reason to want August gone, and the emergence of deep betrayals and hidden promises spanning generations threaten to reveal the truth behind Lily’s mysterious death once and for all.

This book was absolutely engrossing! Young’s writing always draws me in immediately, and this was no exception. Her writing is atmospheric, and Saoirse Island definitely has a vivid and memorable atmosphere. I’m not sure what to say about this novel. It was a compelling read and also quite dark, with only a few glimmers of hope in the darkness, but everything was so vibrant I experienced it right along with Emery.

Adrienne Young is a bestselling author. Spells for Forgetting is her newest novel. (Galley courtesy of Random House/Ballantine in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  A Venom Dark and Sweet, by Judy I. Lin

Image belongs to Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends.

Title: A Venom Dark and Sweet      
Author: Judy I. Lin   
Genre:  Fantasy, YA  
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

 A great evil has come to the kingdom of Dàxi. The Banished Prince has returned to seize power, his rise to the dragon throne aided by the mass poisonings that have kept the people bound in fear and distrust.

Ning, a young but powerful shénnóng-shi—a wielder of magic using the ancient and delicate art of tea-making—has escorted Princess Zhen into exile. Joining them is the princess’ loyal bodyguard, Ruyi, and Ning’s newly healed sister, Shu. Together the four young women travel throughout the kingdom in search of allies to help oust the invaders and take back Zhen’s rightful throne.

But the golden serpent still haunts Ning’s nightmares with visions of war and bloodshed. An evil far more ancient than the petty conflicts of men has awoken, and all the magic in the land may not be enough to stop it from consuming the world…

I loved the first book in this duology, A Magic Steeped in Poison, but I don’t think this book quite lived up to that first one. I still loved the characters and the world, but the last half of the book felt a bit rushed and almost superficial, like the author was describing what happened—but not actually letting the reader experience it.

 Judy I. Lin lives in Canada. A Venom Dark and Sweet is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blot Tour:  Small Town, Big Magic, by Hazel Beck

Image belongs to Harlequin/Graydon House.

TitleSmall Town, Big Magic     
Author:  Hazel Beck  
Genre:  Fantasy  
Rating:  DNF

Witches aren’t real. Right?

No one has civic pride quite like Emerson Wilde. As a local indie bookstore owner and youngest-ever Chamber of Commerce president, she’d do anything for her hometown of St. Cyprian, Missouri. After all, Midwest is best! She may be descended from a witch who was hanged in 1692 during the Salem Witch Trials, but there’s no sorcery in doing your best for the town you love.

Or is there?

As she preps Main Street for an annual festival, Emerson notices strange things happening around St. Cyprian. Strange things that culminate in a showdown with her lifelong arch-rival, Mayor Skip Simon. He seems to have sent impossible, paranormal creatures after her. Creatures that Emerson dispatches with ease, though she has no idea how she’s done it. Is Skip Simon…a witch? Is Emerson?

It turns out witches are real, and Emerson is one of them. She failed a coming-of-age test at age eighteen—the only test she’s ever failed!—and now, as an adult, her powers have come roaring back.

But she has little time to explore those powers, or her blossoming relationship with her childhood friend, cranky-yet-gorgeous local farmer Jacob North: an ancient evil has awakened in St. Cyprian, and it’s up to Emerson and her friends—maybe even Emerson herself—to save everything she loves.

Emerson got on my very last nerve with her constant assurance that SHE was right and everyone else was wrong. I was intrigued enough to read 20%, but then I realized I’d been annoyed by her the entire time, so I just stopped reading.

Small Town, Big Magic is the first novel in a four-book series.

(Galley courtesy of Harlequin/Graydon House in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  Violet Made of Thorns, by Gina Chen

Image belongs to Random House Children’s.

Title: Violet Made of Thorns     
Author: Gina Chen  
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  4.5

Violet is a prophet and a liar, influencing the royal court with her cleverly phrased—and not always true—divinations. Honesty is for suckers, like the oh-so-not charming Prince Cyrus, who plans to strip Violet of her official role once he’s crowned at the end of the summer—unless Violet does something about it.

But when the king asks her to falsely prophesy Cyrus’s love story for an upcoming ball, Violet awakens a dreaded curse, one that will end in either damnation or salvation for the kingdom—all depending on the prince’s choice of future bride. Violet faces her own choice: Seize an opportunity to gain control of her own destiny, no matter the cost, or give in to the ill-fated attraction that’s growing between her and Cyrus.

Violet’s wits may protect her in the cutthroat court, but they can’t change her fate. And as the boundary between hatred and love grows ever thinner with the prince, Violet must untangle a wicked web of deceit in order to save herself and the kingdom—or doom them all.

I enjoyed this story, but I have to say, Violet and Cyrus are both kind of unlikable jerks. Especially to each other. Cyrus’ arrogance is almost overwhelming at times, and Violet is just rude and hateful at least half the time. I enjoyed the culture and mythology, but their personalities were almost enough to make me DNF this. I’m interested in reading more about them—probably—but this isn’t a warm and fuzzy tale.

Gina Chen lives in California. Violet Made of Thorn is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Random House Children’s in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  This Vicious Grace, by Emily Thiede

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:   This Vicious Grace   
Author: Emily Thiede
Genre: YA, fantasy  
Rating:  5 out of 5

Three weddings. Three funerals. Alessa’s gift from the gods is supposed to magnify a partner’s magic, not kill every suitor she touches.

Now, with only weeks left until a hungry swarm of demons devours everything on her island home, Alessa is running out of time to find a partner and stop the invasion. When a powerful priest convinces the faithful that killing Alessa is the island’s only hope, her own soldiers try to assassinate her.

Desperate to survive, Alessa hires Dante, a cynical outcast marked as a killer, to become her personal bodyguard. But as rebellion explodes outside the gates, Dante’s dark secrets may be the biggest betrayal. He holds the key to her survival and her heart, but is he the one person who can help her master her gift or destroy her once and for all?

This was such a fantastic read! Alessa’s snark is so much fun—and it only gets better when Dante shows up. I really loved their interactions and banter. The world and culture were quite unique to me, and, while it isn’t really a culture I’d want to live in—or visit—the world-building was vividly realized and fascinating to read. I highly recommend this, and I can’t wait to read what happens next.

Emily Thiede lives in Virginia. This Vicious Grace is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:  Ordinary Monsters, by J. M. Miro

Image belongs to Flatiron Books.

Title: Ordinary Monsters   
Author: J. M. Miro
Genre:  Fantasy
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

England, 1882. In Victorian London, two children with mysterious powers are hunted by a figure of darkness —a man made of smoke.

Sixteen-year-old Charlie Ovid, despite a lifetime of brutality, doesn’t have a scar on him. His body heals itself, whether he wants it to or not. Marlowe, a foundling from a railway freight car, shines with a strange bluish light. He can melt or mend flesh. When two grizzled detectives are recruited to escort them north to safety, they are forced to confront the nature of difference, and belonging, and the shadowy edges of the monstrous.

What follows is a journey from the gaslit streets of London, to an eerie estate outside Edinburgh, where other children with gifts—the Talents—have been gathered. Here, the world of the dead and the world of the living threaten to collide. And as secrets within the Institute unfurl, Marlowe, Charlie and the rest of the Talents will discover the truth about their abilities, and the nature of the force that is stalking them: that the worst monsters sometimes come bearing the sweetest gifts.

This took me a long time to read. It’s long, and I didn’t find it very fast-paced, even though there’s a lot going on. I thought it was fairly dark and a bit depressing, and there are echoes of other books I’ve read in there. There were a few loose threads, too, like Alice’s backstory, that just kind of stopped and I didn’t feel were resolved. Possibly for the rest of the trilogy?

J. M. Miro is from the Pacific Northwest. Ordinary Monsters is the first book in The Talents trilogy.

(Galley courtesy of Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:   Kagen the Damned, by Jonathan Maberry

Image belongs to St. Martin’s Press.

Title:    Kagen the Damned
Author:    Jonathan Maberry
Genre:    Fantasy
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Sworn by Oath

Kagen Vale is the trusted and feared captain of the palace guard, charged with protection the royal children of the Silver Empire. But one night, Kagen is drugged and the entire imperial family is killed, leaving the empire in ruins.

Abandoned by the Gods

Haunted and broken, Kagen is abandoned by his gods and damned forever. He becomes a wanderer, trying to take down as many of this enemies as possible while plotting to assassinate the usurper–the deadly Witch-king of Hakkia. While all around him magic–long banished from the world—returns in strange and terrifying ways.

Fueled by Rage

To find the royal children and exact his vengeance, Kagen must venture into strange lands, battle bizarre and terrifying creatures, and gather allies for a suicide mission into the heart of the Witch-king’s empire.

Kings and gods will fear him.

This book took me a long time to read. Like, two entire weeks. The different cultures were so vivid and realistic, and I very much enjoyed that part of the story. The first third or so seemed to drag on a bit, although I liked Kagen enough to keep reading. I liked Tuke and his colorful language the most, though. Kagen spent a solid amount of time drinking himself into oblivion and feeling sorry for himself, so he kind of got on my nerves at times. I’d definitely keep reading this series though, just to find out how it all plays out.

Jonathan Maberry is a bestselling author. Kaen the Damned is his newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review and Blog Tour:  A Forgery of Roses, by Jessica S. Olson

Image belongs to Inkyard Press.

Title:   A Forgery of Roses
Author:   Jessica S. Olson
Genre:   Fantasy, YA
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

She’s an artist whose portraits alter people’s real-life bodies, a talent she must hide from those who would kidnap, blackmail, and worse in order to control it. Guarding that secret is the only way to keep her younger sister safe now that their parents are gone.

 But one frigid night, the governor’s wife discovers the truth and threatens to expose Myra if she does not complete a special portrait that would resurrect the governor’s dead son. Desperate, Myra ventures to his legendary stone mansion.

 Once she arrives, however, it becomes clear the boy’s death was no accident. Someone dangerous lurks within these glittering halls. Someone harboring a disturbing obsession with portrait magic.

 Myra cannot do the painting until she knows what really happened, so she turns to the governor’s older son, a captivating redheaded poet. Together, they delve into the family’s most shadowed affairs, racing to uncover the truth before the secret Myra spent her life concealing makes her the killer’s next victim.

I enjoyed this! Myra was a great character, and her relationship with her sister was just wonderful, and made the book really shine. This book is fairly dark from the first page, but there are spots of brightness. August is another of them. The author portrayed his debilitating anxiety so well, and I was never sure if he would conquer it, or it would conquer him. His family, meanwhile, was absolutely horrible. A lovely read!

Jessica S. Olson lives in Texas. A Forgery of Roses is her newest novel.

(Galley courtesy of Inkyard Press in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Review:   A Magic Steeped in Poison, by Judy I. Lin

Image belongs to Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends.

Title:    A Magic Steeped in Poison
Author:    Judy I. Lin
Genre:    Fantasy, YA
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

For Ning, the only thing worse than losing her mother is knowing that it’s her own fault. She was the one who unknowingly brewed the poison tea that killed her—the poison tea that now threatens to also take her sister, Shu. 

When Ning hears of a competition to find the kingdom’s greatest shennong-shi—masters of the ancient and magical art of tea-making—she travels to the imperial city to compete. The winner will receive a favor from the princess, which may be Ning’s only chance to save her sister’s life.

 But between the backstabbing competitors, bloody court politics, and a mysterious (and handsome) boy with a shocking secret, Ning might actually be the one in more danger.

I really enjoyed this read! The culture and world were fascinating, and I loved all the sensory details that brought it to vivid life. The characters were believable, and I really loved Ning and the friendships she formed—and the intrigues she landed in. I can’t wait to read the second book in the duology!

Judy I. Lin grew up in Canada. A Magic Steeped in Poison is her debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Macmillan/Feiwel & Friends in exchange for an honest review.)

 

Book Review:  The Shadow Glass, by Josh Winning

Image belongs to Titan Books.

Title:   The Shadow Glass
Author:   Josh Winning
Genre:   Fantasy
Rating:  4.0 out of 5

Jack Corman is failing at life. Jobless, jaded and facing the threat of eviction, he’s also reeling from the death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, but the film flopped on release and Bob was never the same again. 

In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying childhood home, where he is confronted with the impossible — the puppet heroes from The Shadow Glass are alive, and they need his help. Tipped into a desperate quest to save the world from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with an excitable fanboy and a spiky studio exec to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy and ignite a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do Bob proud.

I should say, first of all, that I love the movie The Labyrinth. Yeah, it’s terribly cheesy, but still, magic. Not sorry. I found The Shadow Glass to be a lot of fun, frankly, even while being totally unbelievable (of course). It was just pure fun! It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it actually sees character growth and change, too. Spend a fun few hours reading this!

Josh Winning lives in London. The Shadow Glass is his debut novel.

(Galley courtesy of Titan Books in exchange for an honest review.)