Review: The Witch Hunter

The Witch Hunter, Virginia Boecker

Published June 2nd 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Hardcover, 368 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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From Goodreads

Elizabeth Grey is one of the king’s best witch hunters, devoted to rooting out witchcraft and doling out justice. But when she’s accused of being a witch herself, Elizabeth is arrested and sentenced to burn at the stake.

Salvation comes from a man she thought was her enemy. Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful and dangerous wizard in the kingdom, offers her a deal: he will save her from execution if she can break the deadly curse that’s been laid upon him.

But Nicholas and his followers know nothing of Elizabeth’s witch hunting past–if they find out, the stake will be the least of her worries. And as she’s thrust into the magical world of witches, ghosts, pirates, and one all-too-handsome healer, Elizabeth is forced to redefine her ideas of right and wrong, of friends and enemies, and of love and hate.

Witches, ghosts, pirates, and handsome young men?  Sign me up for this book!  Elizabeth Grey is an orphan.  She’s found her family in her best friend Caleb and in the Witch Hunters who took her in and gave her a purpose in life.  She searches out witches in this alternate England and turns them in for punishment by the crown.  When Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself her whole world is shattered.  She’s rescued from imminent death at the stake by an infamous magician and she feels even more lost about what is happening to her.  She only wants to get back to the Witch Hunters and is willing to make any deal and take anyone down to make that happen.  The more time she spends with these magicians, pirates and ghosts Elizabeth begins to wonder if the truth she’s always known is the only truth out there.  

This book kept me totally entertained when I sat in a hospital waiting room for 18 hours of a day and I think says a lot.  It was a fast and engrossing read.  Elizabeth opened her mind and I liked how she developed as the book went on, the friendships had great potential and the romance was cute.  Maybe some things were a bit predictable, but it didn’t keep me from enjoying the book.  I really liked the world that Boecker created out of historic England and I will look forward to seeing where Boecker goes with the series.  I hope there’s more magic!

3.5 stars

Thank you Little Brown Books for Young Readers and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

OMG The Invasion of the Tearling

So, we’ve finished – one of us more slowly than the other – The Invasion of the Tearling.

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Catch up on our first two posts here and here.

As we resumed reading, our texting returned to the previous pattern.

Amanda: I am scared for the choices Kelsea is making!  But some of them I think I love.

Really glad there is a third book coming!

10% left. I am glad we didn’t stop at each 30% because I wouldn’t have waited for you sister.

Holly: This book is crazy. I am at 65%.

Amanda: [expectantly] Crazy good?

Holly: Crazy crazy. And icky.

[Many many days later]

Amanda: Please tell me you are off today pal.

[This because working has seriously interfered with Holly’s ability to blog/read/be-a-good-sister-pal/enjoy life]

Holly: Yessss! And I finished the Tearling in bed this morning. That is a weird book.

Amanda: But did you like it?

Holly: [Avoiding] You first. Did you?

Amanda: Not as much as #1, but totally. The [removed spoiler] was genius.

Holly: I do not understand why [removed spoiler]. I am so full of confusion.

Amanda: In the end, I really like how much we got about the pre-Crossing world – just wasn’t expecting it to come through flashbacks. [Or fugues]

Holly: [borrowing my niece’s go-to expression] It’s not my favorite.

Amanda: What I like is that Kelsea isn’t all pure bravery and goodness.  She’s clearly really got a dark side. I’m scared at how dark she’s going to go and whether she’ll be able to pull herself back.

Holly: What I didn’t like was the weird cutting phenomenon, the focus on Kelsea’s level of attractiveness and how that changes her, the combination of fantasy/magic and future/dystopia, and any and all romantic impulses and relationships among these people.

Amanda: Yes, clearly the cutting creeped me out. It breaks my heart whenever I read on that topic.  I didn’t like the physical changes at all – until we understand why.  Even then, I got it, but that certainly didn’t do a lot to further the story for me.  I wonder if Kelsea could have made the decisions she did for her personal life without those changes though?  I really hope there is some mutual love in the 3rd book! No loving anyone unattainable! I’m over that.

Amanda’s bottom line: I loved this, though not quite as much as the Queen of the Tearling.  I am kind of dying to see how it ends.  How does Kelsea pull it off?  WILL she pull it off?  She has to right?

Holly’s bottom line: WTF?

Have you read The Invasion of the Tearling?  Tell us what you think!  I know I’m going to be rereading both of these books before the end of the year – and buying the Australian editions because the covers are WAY better – anyone else?

Review: Uprooted

Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Amanda

Published May 19th 2015 by Del Ray Spectra

Hardcover, 448 pages

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley

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“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

Oh Agnieszka.  The Dragon.  The mother-effing WOOD.  I can’t think of any other book I’ve read recently where there was such a malevolent and discomforting presence as the Wood.  

So we have another Beauty and the Beast retelling – and while it could have been hard to follow ACOTAR for a fantasy I fell completely in love with this book.  The Dragon takes one young woman every 10 years from the valley to serve him in his tower.  Let’s be clear, the Dragon is a man, a wizard in fact.  In return for service from these girls the Dragon does whatever he can to keep the Wood from encroaching on the towns beneath him.  He fights the good fight, but he doesn’t always win against the Wood.  Men are lost, livestock, whole villages are swallowed.

I admit I was more than a bit suspicious of the Dragon at first.  Why must he take a girl for 10 years?  On return they all claimed he doesn’t touch them but all the townspeople have their suspicions.  Why is he such a jerk to poor Agnieszka at first?  Agnieszka was trying so hard for a life she never thought she would have! I was actively rooting against a romance in the beginning between these two.

BUT

Then I totally fell for the Dragon.  I loved the slow pace of this book.  It took a while for Agnieszka to even like the Dragon let alone to love him – it was a fantastic slow burn.   And while the romance is there and it was important, this book is about the magic and the evil and not about the romance.  Agnieszka is a loyal friend, daughter, a student and basically all around bad ass.  There were all kinds of twists I wasn’t expecting and most of all the Wood which basically gave me nightmares.

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If you want an awesome standalone fantasy with a kick-ass heroine and some sexy romance read this!  Then come back and tell me what you think.  Definitely one of my favorites I’ve read this year and one I will be rereading.

5 stars!

Thank you Del Ray Spectra and NetGalley for this advance copy in exchange for an honest opinion!

Also if you like fairy tale retellings as much as I do Kat Kennedy at Cuddlebuggery did this awesome post all about Beauty & the Beast retellings!  I have to say I didn’t love Cruel Beauty as much as she did, but I am definitely adding the rest of these to my TBR!

Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses

A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses #1), Sarah J. Maas

Amanda

Publication: May 5th 2015 by Bloomsbury Children’s

Hardcover, 416 pages

Source- Galley from ALA MW meeting

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From Goodreads…

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

A Court of Thorns and Roses was described to me as a retelling of Beauty & the Beast with fairy elements.  This was not your Disney version of Beauty & the Beast!  Feyre and her family are starving.  They live in hovel and she hunts to get what little food she can.  She points her bow at a wolf in the woods with the knowledge she could be killing a fairy – but she is so full of hate towards the fae that she does not care.  In the world Maas has created the fairies are the former slave masters to the human race and it took a war for the humans to be freed.  They live with the knowledge the fairies can really return at any time and slaughter them.  When Feyre learns she did indeed kill a fairy she must pay the price- to be killed or to give up her life in another way by returning to the fairy lands with Tamlin.  She goes, but plans to try to escape as soon as possible.

Feyre is not a quiet Beauty that goes to her Beast.  In fact, something that struck me while reading this is how long it takes before any suggestion of Feyre’s appearance even comes up.  Yes, she becomes beautiful but at the beginning of her story she is not a beauty inside or out.  She has a lot to learn about herself, her own family and the world she moves into.   Maas builds beautiful worlds when she writes – if you’re a fan of fantasy and not reading her Throne of Glass series you’re missing out!  She creates hard and sometimes cruel worlds for sure, but as a reader you are immersed where she wants you to be.   Feyre is accustomed to being responsible for her own survival so by her constant questioning of Tamlin and his court she learns a mysterious sickness is plaguing the fairy lands and putting her human world at risk.

I appreciated how smart Feyre was – and she recognized her own weaknesses.  She knows she can fight and she can hunt, but she knows her odds against the fairies especially in their own lands are not good.   She soaks up information to try to find her way home.  This was definitely a story of hate to love — but it was a slow development.  I was glad Feyre didn’t fall quickly head over heels.  I really loved the dynamic between Feyre, Tamlin and his emissary Lucien as well.  The banter and the action was great.  Feyre is really a sad character at first – she’s lonely, she’s bitter and she needs someone to love her.  I was really glad she started with finding friends, even if she didn’t trust them fully.  And back to the love to hate- wow.  This romance gets HOT.

I really can’t think of why you shouldn’t read A Court of Thorns and Roses!  Kick-ass heroine, deadly villains, mysterious blights to fairies, great friendships, and a sexy “Beast”.  I am really excited to see where Book 2 goes and I hope to learn more about the other lands and about the history of the fairy courts.

Other than my slight obsession with Seanan McGuire and her October Daye series I don’t really read a lot of books about the fae.  No matter how much I love the books I always feel a little lost in the mythology- and I felt the same while reading A Court of Thorns and Roses.  I think that’s going to be my homework while we wait for both of Maas’ next books.  Any suggestions out there where I can about the Tam Lin?  Or things like puca and the other fairies out there?  Maybe that will get me ready for whatever awaits Feyre and Tamlin!

5 stars!

Thank you Bloomsbury for this advance copy in exchange for an honest review!

Review: Little Big

Little, Big, John Crowley

Published 1981 by Harper Collins

562 pages

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I was not actually going to write a whole post on this book, but I was trying to find a way to sum it up and I just decided it could not be done succinctly.

I was gifted this book at my 8th grade graduation by one of my dad’s business partners who I adore. However, 14 year-old Holly just could not get into this book, though it remained on my bookshelf all these years.

Little, Big won the World Fantasy Award in 1982, so I knew there was an element of fantasy coming, though it took a while to figure out the setting of the book. We are introduced early on to Smoky Barnable, who works in The City, and he is on his way to marry Daily Alice Drinkwater. He is given specific instructions for the wedding, so the first chapter finds him: “walking not riding to Edgewood, with a wedding-suit in his pack old not new, and food made not bought; and [looking around] himself for a place to spend the night, that he must beg or find but not pay for.”

At that point, I thought the whole book might be an epic quest to get to his bride, but Smoky does indeed succeed in his journey and he and Daily Alice are married. From there, we get glimpses into the past with Alice’s ancestors and into the future with stories of Smoky and Alice’s children, and all the while, the family remains and Edgewood and retains a special connection that the Drinkwater family has to the realm of magic.

You guys, this book is wacky. There is a fish named Grandfather Trout, and, eventually, the reincarnation of a Holy Roman Emperor. There’s a stork and a changeling and a folding bedroom and naps lasting for years. I still don’t really understand what happened – but I will say I have no regrets about reading this book, and I may even pick it up again in another 18 years or so.

Smoky also does not understand everything that happens in the Tale, but he does get some of my favorite lines:

“No,” Smoky said. “No, but there are things in the world that aren’t made up but which aren’t exactly true either, not true like the sky is up and the ground is down, and two and two make four, things like that.”

And

He had after all never been more than a minor character in that destiny, he had always expected to be left in some sense behind: but that fate had been for so long in abeyance, causing him no grief, that (without ever quite forgetting it) he had chosen to ignore it; had even sometimes allowed himself to believe that he had made it go away, by his goodness and acquiescence and fidelity, go away. But he had not. Here is was: and, as gently as she could consonant with there being no mistake about it, Alice was telling him so.

“Okay, okay,” he said. “Okay.” That was a code-word between them, meaning I don’t understand but I have come to the limit of my strength to try to understand, and I trust you to this point anyway, and let’s talk about something else.

2 Mini Reviews: The Red Queen and The Darkest Part of the Forest

Amanda

The Red Queen, Victoria Aveyard (Red Queen #1)

Published February 10th 2015 by Harper Teen

Source: ALA Midwinter Meeting

Hardcover, 320 pages

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The poverty stricken Reds are commoners, living under the rule of the Silvers, elite warriors with god-like powers.

To Mare Barrow, a 17-year-old Red girl from The Stilts, it looks like nothing will ever change.

Mare finds herself working in the Silver Palace, at the centre of those she hates the most. She quickly discovers that, despite her red blood, she possesses a deadly power of her own. One that threatens to destroy Silver control.

But power is a dangerous game. And in this world divided by blood, who will win?

I had a lot of hope for the Red Queen!  With that amazing cover and this quote I was ready to love this book:

In school we learned about the world before ours, about the angels and gods that lived in the sky, ruling the earth with kind and loving hands.  Some say those are just stories, but I don’t believe that.  The gods rule us still.  They have come down from the stars.  

AND THEY ARE NO LONGER KIND.

Then I started reading and it kind of felt like the Hunger Games.  Silvers vs. Reds, rich vs poor, magic vs. non-magic. I loved the idea of the silver bloods and their magical powers.  Aveyard created a world where basically anything is possible which I was super cool.  Silvers can be the fastest, the strongest, start fires, deflect light — you can think of it and someone can do it!

I suspended my disbelief and I went with the story that got Mare living in the palace and mingling with the Silvers.  But then I kind of went back to feeling I was reading something too much like the Hunger Games.  Now there was no direct competition between Silvers and Reds a la the HG here, but some facets of the story felt too familiar.  The childhood boyfriend left behind, the rebellious faction basically looking for a Mockingjay…  Basically the romance sucked in this book for me.

There were some giant plot twists- some I expected and some totally took me as surprise.  I really have hope for Mare and I do want to see where the next book takes her.

3 stars!

The Darkest Part of the Forest, Holly Black

Published January 13th 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Hardcover, 328 pages
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From Goodreads…

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

Thank you so much Sarah from What Sarah Read for sending me this ARC!   This was my first Holly Black book and it will not be my last.  This book was dark in a way that I wasn’t expecting- which was awesome.  I loved that Hazel is the sword bearing sister trying to protect her brother.  I loved the diverse characters and the wider span of sexuality amongst them.  There was something weird for me with the town vs. the forest where the fae live. This just didn’t work for me but it did not hinder my enjoyment of the book!

I will say that Hazel shocked me in the end which I loved.  I did not see the way she handled herself coming at all.  Last-this was a standalone-hallelujah!  Sometimes it just feels so good to wrap up everything with one book!

4 stars!

Did Not Finish: The Barrow

The Barrow, Mark Smylie

Reviewed by Amanda

Prometheus Books, released March 4, 2014, 613 pages.

18050226From Goodreads..

Action, horror, politics, and sensuality combine in this stand-alone fantasy novel with series potential. Set in the world of the Eisner-nominated Artesia comic books.

To find the Sword, unearth the Barrow. To unearth the Barrow, follow the Map.

When a small crew of scoundrels, would-be heroes, deviants, and ruffians discover a map that they believe will lead them to a fabled sword buried in the barrow of a long-dead wizard, they think they’ve struck it rich. But their hopes are dashed when the map turns out to be cursed and then is destroyed in a magical ritual. The loss of the map leaves them dreaming of what might have been, until they rediscover the map in a most unusual and unexpected place.

Stjepan Black-Heart, suspected murderer and renegade royal cartographer; Erim, a young woman masquerading as a man; Gilgwyr, brothel owner extraordinaire; Leigh, an exiled magus under an ignominious cloud; Godewyn Red-Hand, mercenary and troublemaker; Arduin Orwain, scion of a noble family brought low by scandal; and Arduin’s sister Annwyn, the beautiful cause of that scandal: together they form a cross-section of the Middle Kingdoms of the Known World, brought together by accident and dark design, on a quest that will either get them all in the history books, or get them all killed…

Thank you Prometheus Books and edelweis for this advance copy for review.

I just could not finish this one.  I thought the premise of this fantasy sounded great.  I don’t think I’m particularly prudish in my reading nor am I all that squeamish about violence.  I don’t go seeking extremely violent books, nor do I read erotica, but some gore and some kinky sex aren’t going to turn me off a book.

I can say without a doubt I’m a feminist and I really don’t have the time or interest in reading misogynistic violent fantasies. So this is where The Barrow lost me and lost me early.

Erim-our young woman masquerading as a man and following Stjepan the fearless leader-is in a cave used for blood magic and sacrifice.

The statue they have found has nipples that are “two large spikes jutting out from its chest, and behind the brazier its long thin phalli emerged from its lap like a thick curved spear.  Given the broadness of the idol — it was probably twenty feet wide at its base– the thinness of the phalli struck her as almost comical; but the bronze phalli had to be almost eight feet long, curving upward over the brazier to a sharp, barbed head.”

So naturally Erim “stared at the phallic spear.  She couldn’t help but wonder what it would feel like to be suspended spread-eagled in the air and lower onto that evil-looking tip.  Which hole would they use as their entry point?  Would it feel good at first, then turn to pain?”

Really?  Ick. So we go on, Erim definitely having more kinky sex thoughts and feeling ashamed of her wickedness…

But as I read on and read Erim thinking “But there were none but the Damned that would take the likes of her, so the temple priests had assured her when she was young and they had played with her in the dark.”

WTAF.  So she’s basically a survivor of sexual molestation as a child which makes her want to be impaled on an 8 foot spear for her turn ons?

The next character we follow is Gilgwyr, “brothel owner extraordinaire”.  Okay, so he owns a brothel, fine, not going to turn me off a book.  He does go on for pages and pages about the joy of his “freshly sucked cock”–way more than I needed, but hey, I’m a woman, maybe this is totally appropriate to the male mind.   Where Gilgwyr lost me and I gave up on the Barrow was this image:

his beautiful Palatian acrobat getting the wildest, hardest ride of her short, sweet life from a rutting, bellowing golden bull.”

And with that, I’m out.

Anyone with an opinion on this?