Tag Archives: witches

Laurie Forest’s The Black Witch

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Laurie Forest’s The Black Witch

Laurie Forest’s The Black Witch got some rotten and unfair reviews.  I suspect that anyone who slammed this book as racist didn’t read the whole book.  Perhaps they are just so stupid they missed the very clear point.  In life, we all start out believing whatever we have been taught.  When we hit a certain age and venture out into the bigger world, most of us come to the realization that some of those values we were raised to accept are worth holding on to, but others are the result of fear and a limited world view.  This is a fantasy read that incorporates that experience.  If you stick with the book beyond the first few chapters, it is obvious that this is all about learning to accept and even cherish differences.  I gave this book four stars, and I think readers who give the book a real chance will agree.


Goodreads Summary
A new Black Witch will rise…her powers vast beyond imagining.

Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the last prophesied Black Witch, Carnissa Gardner, who drove back the enemy forces and saved the Gardnerian people during the Realm War. But while she is the absolute spitting image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above all else.

When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecary, Elloren joins her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University to embrace a destiny of her own, free from the shadow of her grandmother’s legacy. But she soon realizes that the university, which admits all manner of people—including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of all Gardnerians—is a treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.

As evil looms on the horizon and the pressure to live up to her heritage builds, everything Elloren thought she knew will be challenged and torn away. Her best hope of survival may be among the most unlikely band of misfits…if only she can find the courage to trust those she’s been taught to hate and fear. 

My Thoughts

The Black Witch is an easy book to fall into, and I apparently raced through 600+ pages this evening without realizing it!  I quickly recognized that this was going to be a fairly predictable read, and I wasn’t wrong, but I still found myself drawn into the vast world populated with characters I became attached to – Diana was surprisingly my favorite.  I was a bit disappointed that such a big book didn’t move me a little closer to more resolution, but I will be quite happy to luxuriate in a couple more volumes to get those resolutions.  A lot of the book is spent in pairing off couples in romances, which I thought slowed the pace and watered down the story, but I imagine many YA readers will appreciate the forbidden kisses and the longing.  Themes are timely and address prejudice, friendship, and standing up for what is right.  I know my high school readers will enjoy this book, especially those who liked Harry Potter or who have ever felt like they just didn’t fit in with the crowd.  I’m adding it to my classroom library wishlist.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 7+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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If you enjoyed Virginia Boecker’s The Witch Hunter, definitely check out the sequel, The King Slayer 

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If you enjoyed Virginia Boecker’s The Witch Hunter, definitely check out the sequel, The King Slayer 

Virginia Boecker’s The King Slayer definitely improved my opinion of this series.  I enjoyed the first book, The Witch Hunter, well enough, but it was a bit of a lightweight entry in a genre that grows more impressive every day.  The second installment adds some much needed oomph.

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Goodreads Summary

An action-packed and suspenseful sequel to The Witch Hunter, perfect for fans of Graceling and the Grisha Trilogy.

“I think, in time, you’ll either be my greatest mistake or my greatest victory.”

Former witch hunter Elizabeth Grey is hiding within the magically protected village of Harrow, evading the price put on her head by Lord Blackwell, the usurper king of Anglia. Their last encounter left Blackwell ruined, but his thirst for power grows stronger every day. He’s readying for a war against those who would resist his rule–namely Elizabeth and the witches and wizards she now calls her allies.

Having lost her stigma, a magical source of protection and healing, Elizabeth’s strength is tested both physically and emotionally. War always means sacrifice, and as the lines between good and evil blur once more, Elizabeth must decide just how far she’ll go to save those she loves.

“[Filled] with everything a good fantasy book needs: swords, poison, black magic, and betrayal.”–April Tucholke, author of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, on The Witch Hunter

My Thoughts

Picking up shortly where the first book left off, The King Slayer doesn’t waste much time before introducing new conflicts and revealing some surprising fallout from Elizabeth’s somewhat disastrous confrontation with Lord Blackwell.  Relationships old and new continue to evolve in this story, and, while they may not have been what I expected, I found myself very pleased by the conflicts and resolutions that The King Slayer offered.  I particularly enjoyed the fact that Elizabeth’s character was forced to struggle with limitations she never expected to face again, and that struggle made her a much more relatable character this go round.  I honestly believe this is the stronger book of the two because, though I enjoyed The Witch Hunter well enough, it felt a little lacking in complexity, and I remember thinking the climax came a little too quickly.  The King Slayer does not suffer from those issues.  Overall, fans of The Witch Hunter are going to be delighted, and those who were a little less impressed by it will certainly be glad they gave this series another chance.  Language and situations are appropriate for grades 8+.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Reading Hollywood Witch Hunter by Valerie Tejeda felt like a bad road trip with an impatient dad 

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Reading Hollywood Witch Hunter by Valerie Tejeda felt like a bad road trip with an impatient dad 

People touted this book as a read for fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other television shows that you are probably too young to have watched.  Enough of them did it that it sounded like they were looking at the same Cliffs Notes, and you know what?  I wouldn’t blame them.  I really, really struggled to read this book.  It felt like being on the road with a dad who has a timed agenda and doesn’t care if you need to go to the bathroom or develop characters or whatever – we are making it to our destination on time, no matter what!  I gave it two stars and filed it under nightmares, but it is a Bloomsbury Spark read, so if you don’t want to take my word for it (and lots of folks on Goodreads gave it a four or five stars ???), you can download this ebook for under $3.

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Goodreads Summary

From the moment she first learned the truth about witches…she knew she was born to fight them.

Now, at sixteen, Iris is the lone girl on the Witch Hunters Special Ops Team.
But when Iris meets a boy named Arlo, he might just be the key to preventing an evil uprising in Southern California.
Together they’re ready to protect the human race at all costs. Because that’s what witch hunters do.
Welcome to Hollywood. 
My Thoughts

Plot killed this book.  It literally did a hit and run on both character development and world building in its race to the resolution.  Iris, who is suppose to be the character who readers connect with is hard to connect with because we know so little about what makes her tick beyond her desire to prove her ability despite her gender.  Readers do know she feels something for Arlo, but it is mostly via the jealousy she spews through half the book.  Little time is given to develop her, him, or their relationship beyond a few training exercises.  Secondary characters are only given a stock personality trait and an identity based on their genetics and abilities.  I will admit that Belinda’s stock personality amused me, and I was really sad the author didn’t take her character and really run with it because there was potential for fun there.  These decisions really hurt the story the most when the author wanted us to feel surprised or shocked by the way the characters “change” at the end, but, really, we didn’t know them to begin with, so it was just an um, okay moment instead of a revelation.  The lack of strong world building was also a problem.  After setting up a scenario where the witches and hunters were supposedly mortal enemies,  including a scene of torture, the scenario shifted to feel more like a mean girls versus Iris concept.  This included the snippy insulting banter and the requisite moment where they realized they didn’t have to be enemies.  Look, I’m not opposed to a plot driven book. I actually enjoy them often, but remember the journey can be just as important as the destination, and in this case, the lack of journey really devalued the arrival at the destination.  Seriously, the plot even had to take a pit stop to get directions from a stranger from Wales since it got a little lost near the end.  I think there was a lot of potential here for a witty commentary on society or frenemies or celebrity. Several of the characters grabbed my interest initially.  Pacing could have made all the difference, and I’m disappointed that no one took the time to force the plot to slow down.  

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sight by Juliet Madison is a sweet (maybe overly sweet) YA paranormal romance

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Sight by Juliet Madison is a sweet (maybe overly sweet) YA paranormal romance

I was really drawn to the cover of this book, and the premise didn’t sound bad either.  The problem for me was that it came across as a little too far fetched, even for a work of paranormal fiction.  That sounds like a stupid thing to say, but if you’ve ever been annoyed by too many coincidences or a deus ex machina, you may know exactly what I mean.  I won’t steer you clear of it because it is basically a cute, sweet romance but it challenged my suspension of disbelief sorely.  

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Goodreads Summary

I spent my birthday fast asleep. In a coma to be exact.

When Savannah wakes up after two months in the hospital, she sees a whole lot more than expected, things that could put those close to her at risk.
The five Delcarta sisters have never believed in the paranormal, not like their woo-woo mother. Instead they believe in the power of sisterhood, of romance, and rebuilding their lives after their father’s mysterious disappearance nine years earlier. Starting anew in the small town of Iris Harbor, they see potential in all.
But Savannah’s awakening after having surgery on a life-threatening aneurysm brings a unique ability to the Delcarta sisters–together, each can predict the future with one of the five senses. And Savannah has the gift of sight.
A serial arsonist has been terrorizing the tight-knit community, and the Delcarta sisters have their suspicions on who could be to blame, including a boy who starts as an adversary to Savannah and then very quickly becomes her whole world. Investigating these crimes, trying to stop them before the next flame is sparked will call upon Savannah to use her newfound abilities with the help of her sisters, and will put each of their lives in danger.
This stunning new paranormal series blends the sweetest of romances with breathless suspense, and introduces five young women who share a haunted past, an extraordinary gift, and an uncertain future. 
My Thoughts

This was a gentle, clean YA paranormal romance.  Savannah, her five sisters and her mother make up the bulk of the characters, and they manage to give off a warm and inviting family atmosphere, which is nice to see in a YA book.  Savannah’s romantic interest is a teen dream, if a generic one, and he manages to draw Savannah into a nice bantering relationship before sweeping her off her feet.  I liked the reveal about why he didn’t really use her name, but felt drawn to her because of her name at the same time. That was a perfect moment! The plot was easy to follow, but it wasn’t one that juggled subplots with ease.  Often one conflict would become the focus, and the others disappeared into the background until it was time for their spotlight. It made the plot feel a little choppy, especially towards the ending when the big element was trotted back out for the resolution.  This resulted in an uneven sense of threat and suspense as well.  The ending was satisfactory, if predictable, but the motive for the big villain wasn’t very believable and felt contrived.  While this book is entertaining enough, it is a little too sweet, and many will find certain elements over the top (twins +triplets, each has one sensory power and they connect, their names begin with the letter of their “power” sense, etc.).  It might not be a problem for some, but discerning readers can only take so much coincidence before the book feels too artificially engineered and hinders the suspension of disbelief.  Also, the use of names that began with the same letter made it hard to distinguish the sisters.  I know the author was trying to make them distinct, but the truth is that most readers don’t actually read character names – they read the first letter and their brain fills in the blank.  So, if half of the characters have the same initial, it is almost impossible to tell them apart.  Overall, I think the target audience will be much less bothered by my perceived “flaws” than adult readers.  

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik will lure you in with fairytale charm and insist you stay for an epic battle between good and evil

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Uprooted by Naomi Novik will lure you in with fairytale charm and insist you stay for an epic battle between good and evil

This is an old world fairytale for the grown up princess in you.  And if you’re not a princess, there is enough battle and bloodshed to get that inner beast thumping as well.  Familiar elements twist and unfurl into an unexpected and deeply satisfying coming of age journey that will leave you breathlessly uncertain of the outcome until the end.  This is a book I actually purchased instead of receiving from a publisher, and I have to say that it was definitely worth the price and the lost sleep.

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Goodreads Summary

“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.

My Thoughts

There is a lot of action, adventure, friendship and romance packed into this unassuming tome.  It was actually pretty epic, something the blurb didn’t prepare me for.  Agnieszka’s journey goes beyond a simple change in life plan.  She will battle an insidious evil in farmyards, castles, tombs, and corrupt woods.  She will go from being the disasterous woodcutter’s daughter to being one of the strongest female protagonists you will encounter, not because her experiences change who she is, but because they bring out the attributes she has always carried within.

The pace is designed to enhance the lulls that Agnieszka experiences as a character, and it serves a purpose.  The down time gave me a breather between intense action sequences, but it also gave the enemy a chance to lay traps and hidden eggs that would fester and burst just when characters began to let their guards down.  I thought it was pretty brilliant, but some readers may view it as just an uneven pace. In doubt someone who crafted something this thoughtful and complex just accidentally didn’t bother with purposeful pacing, but I can understand how someone who doesn’t analyze the stuffing out of a book might think that.

I do think some readers will be turned off by the romantic interest.  He isn’t anything to brag about, and he is certainly not my idea of a reward.  I think the reason I wasn’t particularly upset by this aspect of the story is because I wasn’t reading this for the romance, and if you are, I’m just warning you that you might be disappointed.  The more important relationship for me was between Agnieszka and her best friend.  There was a real depth to their friendship that felt honest and real, and it came with a loyalty that meant they might not always like each other, but they always loved and protected each other.  It is that relationship that really allows Agnieszka to complete her journey.

The suspense in this book is well done.  I honestly couldn’t feel out what was going to happen next, and sometimes I really wondered what kind of madwoman would write a book that was so obviously going to end in despair.  I’m glad I didn’t desert Agnieszka because, in the end, I was satisfied by the resolution.  It wasn’t the ending I predicted at all, but it was the one that felt right.

While this is an adult book, it isn’t “adult.”  There are scenes of sensuality and some threatened assault, but it isn’t something you have to hide from a young adult reader.  As a matter of fact, I think this is exactly something high school readers could enjoy if they were looking for a more complex version of the fairytale offerings that are everywhere in the YA book world right now.

One determined witch and one powerful curse fuel the magic in Katie Cross’ Miss Mabel’s School for Girls 

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One determined witch and one powerful curse fuel the magic in Katie Cross’ Miss Mabel’s School for Girls 

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls reminded me a little of Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle books, not because they had similar plots but because they shared similar elements: boarding school, family secrets, dark and forbidden magic, and of course, a group of girls vying for power.  It was also reminiscent of the Harry Potter books with its ever mysterious faculty,  its coming of age storyline, and its trio of supportive misfit friends.  I was a little underwhelmed, but fans of this sub genre of YA should give it a try.

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Goodreads Summary

Never underestimate the power of a determined witch.

Letum Wood is a forest of fog and deadfall, home to the quietly famous Miss Mabel’s School for Girls, a place where young witches learn the art of magic.

Sixteen-year-old Bianca Monroe has inherited a deadly curse. Determined to break free before it kills her, she enrolls in the respected school to confront the cunning witch who cast the curse: Miss Mabel.

Bianca finds herself faced with dark magic she didn’t expect, with lessons more dangerous than she could have ever imagined. Will Bianca have the courage to save herself from the curse, or will Miss Mabel’s sinister plan be too powerful?

Miss Mabel’s School for Girls is the first novel in The Network Series, an exciting new fantasy collection. A gripping tale about the struggle to survive, it will take you to a new place and time, one you’ll never want to leave.

My Thoughts

Magic is dangerous in this book, and the delights are few.  Bianca is a strong female protagonist.  She is smart, kind, and careful, but she does have enough doubts about her path to make her feel like a character with dimension and depth. Her adversary is certainly worthy of the title and probably unhinged, but other secondary characters are primarily flat.  The plot moves quickly and is engaging, but initial trials and challenges come across as too easy and less deadly than all the warnings and build up lead me to expect.  Nothing really feels threatening until the very end of the book.  There is a very tense action sequence at the climax, which hints of good things to come in follow up books.  Essentially, it waffles between a middle school read and a high school read for the first half before really reaching the complexity level to satisfy most discerning readers.  I would certainly be interested in continuing the series, but I wasn’t convinced of that until nearly the end.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Virginia Boecker’s The Witch Hunter should definitely be on your YA wish list

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Virginia Boecker’s The Witch Hunter should definitely be on your YA wish list

I haven’t seen much publicity for The Witch Hunter, but this is certainly one book that should be on your radar.  It is probably going to be overwhelmed by the biggest book publishing on the same day, Daughter of Deep Silence by veteran zombie queen, Carrie Ryan.  I got a chance to read both of them early, and I honestly believe that The Witch Hunter will be more of a crowd pleaser (at least among my crowd of people).  Elizabeth Grey is a strong female protagonist who enjoys her role as a witch hunter for the King until the tables are turned and she must seek the protection of those she once helped capture.  Readers who like to root for the underdog will enjoy this adventure, and the universal conflicts at the core of Elizabeth’s character add a nice depth.   *apparently Daughter of Deep Silence published a week earlier than expected, so no conflict (May 26).

Goodreads Summary

Your greatest enemy isn’t what you fight, but what you fear.

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.

Virginia Boecker weaves a riveting tale of magic, betrayal, and sacrifice in this unforgettable fantasy debut.

My Thoughts

Elizabeth may be one of my favorite female characters ever.  Initially I thought her belief system ruled her actions, but as the story progressed, it became clear that her loyalty and inner conflict are truly ruled by the universal desire to belong.  This made her vulnerable in ways she never could have predicted, and that is what made her feel so real.  The cast of secondary characters was just as carefully crafted, and they were a delightful mix of good and bad, you know, like real people who are driven by both desire and fear.  The plot was just as well done as the characters.  It moved along at a fairly consistent clip and, when things did slow down to develop characters, those moments still felt essential to the overall story instead of feeling like embellishment.  There was a little romance with a nice conflict built into it, but it wasn’t the focus on the story. Overall, this is a carefully crafted and well edited book that I didn’t want to put down.  I gave it a solid four stars, but many readers will consider this a solid five star read.

This book is available in the MHS library.

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Witch’s Curse and a Girl’s Dreams Collide in Stolen Songbird

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A Witch’s Curse and a Girl’s Dreams Collide in Stolen Songbird

Stolen Songbird is a book that I took some time to warm up to.  In my defense, it was rather too long, but it did have several unique elements that have me championing it now.  First, the protagonist is not special — don’t you get tired of all those special girls plucked from obscurity?  Everyone thought she would be “the one,” but, nope.  Ordinary.  Second, the romantic element in this book is not insta love/lust.  These characters hate each other on sight, and that snarky prince’s handsome face isn’t so hot when he opens his mouth.  That makes it all the more interesting when we, and our leading lady, start seeing past the surface and instead recognize this incredible balancing act that the prince is shouldering.  Third, there is a great cast of secondary characters that are really more likeable than the primary characters.  If you ever watched Labyrinth on a loop, or if you enjoy the strange characters and dangerous politics of Alice in Wonderland, this recommendation is for you.

Goodreads Summary

For five centuries, a witch’s curse has bound the trolls to their city beneath the ruins of Forsaken Mountain. Time enough for their dark and nefarious magic to fade from human memory and into myth. But a prophesy has been spoken of a union with the power to set the trolls free, and when Cécile de Troyes is kidnapped and taken beneath the mountain, she learns there is far more to the myth of the trolls than she could have imagined.

Cécile has only one thing on her mind after she is brought to Trollus: escape. Only the trolls are clever, fast, and inhumanly strong. She will have to bide her time, wait for the perfect opportunity.

But something unexpected happens while she’s waiting – she begins to fall for the enigmatic troll prince to whom she has been bonded and married. She begins to make friends. And she begins to see that she may be the only hope for the half-bloods – part troll, part human creatures who are slaves to the full-blooded trolls. There is a rebellion brewing. And her prince, Tristan, the future king, is its secret leader.

As Cécile becomes involved in the intricate political games of Trollus, she becomes more than a farmer’s daughter. She becomes a princess, the hope of a people, and a witch with magic powerful enough to change Trollus forever.