the bookish life

my geeky love for books and bookish things

Tag: fantasy

Book Review – The Witches of New York by Ami McKay

I love when random library picks turn out to be total gems. I downloaded The Witches of New York based on the cover – it’s pretty and a little mysterious. And happily, the book itself is a solid bit of historical fiction.

Witches of New York

The year is 1880. Two hundred years after the trials in Salem, Adelaide Thom (‘Moth’ from The Virgin Cure) has left her life in the sideshow to open a tea shop with another young woman who feels it’s finally safe enough to describe herself as a witch: a former medical student and “gardien de sorts” (keeper of spells), Eleanor St. Clair. Together they cater to Manhattan’s high society ladies, specializing in cures, palmistry and potions–and in guarding the secrets of their clients.

All is well until one bright September afternoon, when an enchanting young woman named Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment. Beatrice soon becomes indispensable as Eleanor’s apprentice, but her new life with the witches is marred by strange occurrences. She sees things no one else can see. She hears voices no one else can hear. Objects appear out of thin air, as if gifts from the dead. Has she been touched by magic or is she simply losing her mind? – Goodreads

McKay hit the nail on the head for all of the important stuff: the plot was quick, entertaining, and full of engaging characters (with a rather unsettling villain). I loved her descriptions of the setting and time period – I could picture it all easily. And much of the story is centred around Cleopatra’s Needle, which was freaky timing! A couple months ago, I received a box from The Mysterious Package Company that focused a lot on Cleopatra’s Needle – it even included a tiny model of it (see the picture above). The Needle came from Egypt and was brought to New York in the late 1800s – the history of the obelisk (and it’s sisters) is fascinating and fun reading if you’re at all inclined. Ok, backing off from the slightly off-topic tangent!

The three witches central to the story practiced witchcraft that seemed closer to modern day Wicca than any fiction I’ve read before. It was actually pretty refreshing to see a positive and nature-based portrayal of a witch – I’ve gotten a bit tired of today’s pop culture interpretation (especially in YA fiction). It’s funny, I’ve been leaning more toward adult/literary fiction lately – perhaps I’m in need of a YA break.

This book is one of those solid reads that leave you wanting a sequel. It actually ended with a bit of a mystery so that McKay certainly could pull it off. If she does, I’ll definitely read it.

3.5/5

Book Review – RoseBlood by A.G. Howard

RoseBlood came in the January Owlcrate, with the theme Classic Remix. It’s marketed as a retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, but I would call it more of a sequel.

RoseBlood

In this modern day spin on Leroux’s gothic tale of unrequited love turned to madness, seventeen-year-old Rune Germain has a mysterious affliction linked to her operatic talent, and a horrifying mistake she’s trying to hide. Hoping creative direction will help her, Rune’s mother sends her to a French arts conservatory for her senior year, located in an opera house rumored to have ties to The Phantom of the Opera.

At RoseBlood, Rune secretly befriends the masked Thorn—an elusive violinist who not only guides her musical transformation through dreams that seem more real than reality itself, but somehow knows who she is behind her own masks. As the two discover an otherworldly connection and a soul-deep romance blossoms, Thorn’s dark agenda comes to light and he’s forced to make a deadly choice: lead Rune to her destruction, or face the wrath of the phantom who has haunted the opera house for a century, and is the only father he’s ever known. – Goodreads

I saw the stage show of The Phantom of the Opera when I was young, before I really understood what it was. So I was looking forward to getting reacquainted with it through this book. And I will admit that RoseBlood has sparked an interest in the original book, but unfortunately, that’s the only good thing to come out of this.

Although Howard’s world is very descriptive, with a gorgeous setting, the story itself could use a lot of help. Simply put, Rune is a Mary Sue surrounded by flat, stereotypical characters: a bitchy female enemy, an inquisitive best friend and a stalker/broody soulmate. I was able to tolerate this kind of storytelling a decade ago (i.e., Twilight), but I’ve since lost all patience for it. Pacing was also off, with unexpected forward jumps in the story, and Rune giving a quick recap of what happened in between. It was jarring, and took me right out of the narrative at times.

I finished the book feeling like it was mildly entertaining, but not memorable.

2/5

Book Review – Caraval by Stephanie Garber

Caraval has been getting a lot of attention and love on Instagram right now. Some are comparing it to The Night Circus. While I don’t think Caraval is quite up to that caliber, it is still really good. Spoilers ahead!

Caraval

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner. – Goodreads

Garber has created a beautifully detailed world that is both dark and magical. It has these layers that are slowly peeled away as Scarlett delves further and further into the mystery of Caraval. And it really is a huge mystery, which left me guessing and questioning right until the very end.

Characterization was a bit weak, but still pretty good. Scarlett is really the only character that is fully explored, while the Caraval players, her sister and father are a bit more 2 dimensional. And quite a few characters were able to cheat death – they literally came back to life at the end of the game. I feel like that lessened the emotional impact and really was my only issue with the book. But it’s a testament to Garber’s story telling skills that it really didn’t bother me that much overall.

Fair warning – this book has a heck of a cliffhanger, and is the start of a series. But it’s an extremely good story to kick it off. In this case, the hype is definitely warranted.

4/5

Book Review – Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst

Of Fire and Stars was the book included in the December Owlcrate – and I was really excited when I received it. It’s an LGBT fantasy, set in a fictional kingdom. There’s magic, princesses, and political intrigue – fun stuff!

Of Fire and Stars

Betrothed since childhood to the prince of Mynaria, Princess Dennaleia has always known what her future holds. Her marriage will seal the alliance between Mynaria and her homeland, protecting her people from other hostile lands. But Denna has a secret. She possesses an Affinity for fire – a dangerous gift for the future queen of a kingdom where magic is forbidden.

Now, Denna must learn the ways of her new home while trying to hide her growing magic. To make matters worse, she must learn to ride Mynaria’s formidable warhorses—and her teacher is the person who intimidates her most, the prickly and unconventional Princess Amaranthine – called Mare – the sister of her betrothed.

When a shocking assassination leaves the kingdom reeling, Mare and Denna reluctantly join forces to search for the culprit. As the two become closer, Mare is surprised by Denna’s intelligence and bravery, while Denna is drawn to Mare’s independent streak. And soon their friendship is threatening to blossom into something more. – Goodreads

For the most part, this book was a quick and enjoyable read. The plot was interesting, although I had figured out who the villain was early on, which put a damper on things. The two teen protagonists were well developed, but the rest all seemed to fall under the ‘clueless adult’ stereotype. But the romance was cute, and the story ended on a sweet note. I don’t know if this will develop into a series, but I think it has the potential to. Thankfully though, it did wrap up nicely enough that this could also be a stand alone.

I don’t sound enthused, but I am! Characterization was a bit rough, but the story itself was great. And I have high hopes for Coulthurst’s future novels (this was her debut).

3.5/5

Reading Wrap Up – August 2016

I read 9 books in August. Books with reviews have their titles linked. Enjoy!

Total Books Read in 2016 (from my Goodreads page): 70

Books Read in August:

  1. Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley  5/5
  2. Ghosts from Our Past by Andrew Shaffer  3/5
  3. The Master And Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov  2/5
  4. After Alice by Gregory Maguire  1/5
  5. After You by Jojo Moyes  4.5/5
  6. No Place Like Oz by Danielle Paige  4/5
  7. The Witch Must Burn by Danielle Paige  3/5
  8. The Wizard Returns by Danielle Paige  3/5
  9. The Boy Who Fell from the Sky by Jule Owen  3/5

August Wrap Up

I’ve decided to hold off on the Danielle Paige reviews, as I’m still making my way through the prequel novellas for her Dorothy Must Die series. I’ll write a review once I complete the novellas and the first book in the series. I will say this: The Wizard of Oz is a dear favourite of mine, and Paige’s series is leaving me a bit unsettled.

As always, pictures, plus shorter reviews for some of my reads are also on Instagram.

Book Review – After Alice by Gregory Maguire

Gregory Maguire is well known for his retellings of classic children’s stories. By far his most popular is Wicked – it was even made into a stage play. I’ve read some of his books in the past and I definitely enjoyed them, so I had high hopes for After Alice.

After Alice

After Alice focuses on Alice’s friend Ada, and the other people in Oxford that she left behind while exploring Wonderland. Ada is a sickly, unlikeable little girl who runs away from her nanny and ends up following Alice down the rabbit hole. From there the story becomes split between Ada’s search for Alice, and those looking for them both back in Oxford.

I liked the premise, but it really failed to deliver. Maguire has attempted to write in the style of the original classic, but it comes off as satiric rambling. There are pages of Ada’s thoughts that are almost incoherent. Because of this, it was extremely difficult to become invested in the characters or care about their storylines at all.

The secondary plot line in Oxford felt really unnecessary, and ultimately made the story feel very fragmented. I was tempted to skip past those chapters, to get back to Ada and the actual Wonderland part of the story. I think the book would have fared better had the second plot line been dropped entirely.

This book is a mess; honestly, that’s the best way I could possibly sum this up.

Still thinking of giving it a shot? Really, just pass on this one.

1/5

Book Review – Unbound by Shawn Speakman

I have really struggled to write this review. Not because the book is bad (far from it!), but because I’m not doing that great right now. I suffer from depression (I hate that word – suffer) and when I’m at a low point, all my creativity and drive just flies out the window. So for the last few weeks I’ve typed out a sentence or two, deleted them, typed them again etc etc. Mostly I’ve been trying to read, and posting pictures on Instagram that I thankfully took before I started to feel crappy. So this post may be shorter than usual, but I am determined to bring you lovely people new reviews. Onwards!

I won this behemoth in a Goodreads Giveaway, and I felt like I won the jackpot. Unbound is a fantasy anthology, which is right up my alley. The collection of twenty-three stories have been curated by Shawn Speakman, who also contributed the final story in the book.

Unbound

There are some pretty big-name authors in Unbound, so I was expecting some great fiction. It didn’t disappoint – I enjoyed every single story in this book. That’s pretty rare for me with anthologies – there’s usually one or two stories that don’t quite cut it (but not in this case). The writing is tight, fast paced, with excellent world building. Some of the stories are spin-offs of that author’s fantasy series, which I’ll admit has sparked an interest in reading more of their work.

I think the best part about this anthology is that it doesn’t have an overarching theme. The authors were free to submit whatever they wanted, and it has resulted in this rather large book staying fresh and new right to the end. Speakman has done a great job, and I look forward to reading his other collection.

4/5

Reading Wrap Up – May 2016

I read 9 books this month. It’s funny, I read all the time, but my TBR stack is still huge!

Total Books Read in 2016 (from my 50 Book Pledge page): 44

Books Read in May:

  1. Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (read my review here)
  2. Fairest by Marissa Meyer
  3. Winter by Marissa Meyer
  4. Stars Above by Marissa Meyer (read my review here)
  5. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye (read my review here)
  6. Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley (read my review here)
  7. Superman: The Last Son of Krypton by Elliot S. Maggin (read my review here)
  8. Grendel by John Gardner
  9. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

May Reads

May Book Haul:

  • Everland by Wendy Spinale (from Owlcrate)
  • Superman: Last Son of Krypton by Elliot S. Maggin
  • The Wander Society by Keri Smith
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
  • Zero G by William Shatner (ARC)
  • Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Pictures, plus shorter reviews for some of my reads are on Instagram.

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