Book Reviews · Reading Challenges

Netgalley Review: Toil & Trouble edited by Jessica Spotswood and Tess Sharpe

36426163Summary:  A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era.

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?

Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth.

History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations.

Bold. Powerful. Rebellious.

A bruja’s traditional love spell has unexpected results. A witch’s healing hands begin to take life instead of giving it when she ignores her attraction to a fellow witch. In a terrifying future, women are captured by a cabal of men crying witchcraft and the one true witch among them must fight to free them all. In a desolate past, three orphaned sisters prophesize for a murderous king. Somewhere in the present, a teen girl just wants to kiss a boy without causing a hurricane.

From good witches to bad witches, to witches who are a bit of both, this is an anthology of diverse witchy tales from a collection of diverse, feminist authors. The collective strength of women working together—magically or mundanely–has long frightened society, to the point that women’s rights are challenged, legislated against, and denied all over the world. Toil & Trouble delves deep into the truly diverse mythology of witchcraft from many cultures and feminist points of view, to create modern and unique tales of witchery that have yet to be explored.

My Thoughts: What a cool book.  As everyone knows, I love witches, so I snapped up the chance to read this collection of short witchy stories as soon as I saw it on Netgalley.  It is a collection of 15 short stories, all written by different women, involving magic, witches, and femininity.  The most amazing thing about this collection is the diversity.  Every story is vastly different from the one before, including the characters, writing styles, forms of magic, concepts, etc.  We got so much variety, and yet they all worked well together as a cohesive collection.  There were definitely some stories that I enjoyed and connected to more than others, but I think there is truly something for everyone in this collection.  My favorite stories were “The Gherin Girls” by Emery Lord, “Beware of the Girls With Crooked Mouths” by Jessica Spotswood, and “Why They Watch Us Burn” by Elizabeth May.  “Beware of the Girls With Crooked Mouths” was so captivating, and I loved the system of magic and the plot of the story.  I could have easily read (and want) an expansion of this story into a novel.  “The Gherin Girls” I loved because of the sisterly relationship (I really connected to these characters) and the subtle, yet well developed magic in it.  “Why They Watch Us Burn” was an incredible way to end the anthology.  It was completely haunting, terrifying, and scarily relevant.  I rated each story with a star rating and then averaged them to get my overall rating for the collection and it came out to a solid THREE STARS, but some of these stories are worth so much more to me.  There was a quote from “Why They Watch Us Burn” that really resonated with me, and I’m sure will with a lot of women.  “The most terrifying thing in the world is a girl with power.  That’s why they watch us burn.”

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Cleaning Up My TBR: Down the TBR Hole #4

I joined Goodreads a few years ago, way before I started blogging, so my profile is kind of a mess.  I really want to clean it up so I can make better use of it.  I thought what a better way to do that than to join the Down the TBR Hole meme started by Lia @Lost In a Story! I am going to do it once a month instead of weekly, and hopefully make my Goodreads a pleasant place to be again. 🙂

Here is how it works:

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?

Down the TBR Hole #4

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy 151

Acclaimed by many as the world’s greatest novel, Anna Kareninaprovides a vast panorama of contemporary life in Russia and of humanity in general. In it Tolstoy uses his intense imaginative insight to create some of the most memorable characters in literature. Anna is a sophisticated woman who abandons her empty existence as the wife of Karenin and turns to Count Vronsky to fulfil her passionate nature – with tragic consequences. Levin is a reflection of Tolstoy himself, often expressing the author’s own views and convictions.

Throughout, Tolstoy points no moral, merely inviting us not to judge but to watch. As Rosemary Edmonds comments, ‘He leaves the shifting patterns of the kaleidoscope to bring home the meaning of the brooding words following the title, ‘Vengeance is mine, and I will repay.

My Thoughts: This one is actually on my TBR for this year, and I have wanted to read it for so long.  This one was easy for me.  Verdict: KEEP


128029A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a breathtaking story set against the volatile events of Afghanistan’s last thirty years—from the Soviet invasion to the reign of the Taliban to post-Taliban rebuilding—that puts the violence, fear, hope, and faith of this country in intimate, human terms. It is a tale of two generations of characters brought jarringly together by the tragic sweep of war, where personal lives—the struggle to survive, raise a family, find happiness—are inextricable from the history playing out around them.

Propelled by the same storytelling instinct that made The Kite Runner a beloved classic, A Thousand Splendid Suns is at once a remarkable chronicle of three decades of Afghan history and a deeply moving account of family and friendship. It is a striking, heart-wrenching novel of an unforgiving time, an unlikely friendship, and an indestructible love—a stunning accomplishment.

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed The Kite Runner, but for some reason I really don’t have any desire to continue on with A Thousand Splendid Suns… I know I would probably like it if I read it, but there are so many other books that are going to take priority. Verdict: TOSS


Life of Pi by Yann Martel4214

Life of Pi is a fantasy adventure novel by Yann Martel published in 2001. The protagonist, Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry, explores issues of spirituality and practicality from an early age. He survives 227 days after a shipwreck while stranded on a boat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

My Thoughts: I added this because everyone seems to love it, but to be honest I’m just not that interested in reading it.  Verdict: TOSS


1103Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

My Thoughts: I think I added this because my mom had it at home… It’s definitely not something I am particularly interested in anymore.  Verdict: TOSS


Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult14866

In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five….In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world, or you can just jump off it. In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge. 

Sterling is a small, ordinary New Hampshire town where nothing ever happens — until the day its complacency is shattered by a shocking act of violence. In the aftermath, the town’s residents must not only seek justice in order to begin healing but also come to terms with the role they played in the tragedy. For them, the lines between truth and fiction, right and wrong, insider and outsider have been obscured forever. Josie Cormier, the teenage daughter of the judge sitting on the case, could be the state’s best witness, but she can’t remember what happened in front of her own eyes. And as the trial progresses, fault lines between the high school and the adult community begin to show, destroying the closest of friendships and families. 

Nineteen Minutes is New York Times bestselling author Jodi Picoult’s most raw, honest, and important novel yet. Told with the straightforward style for which she has become known, it asks simple questions that have no easy answers: Can your own child become a mystery to you? What does it mean to be different in our society? Is it ever okay for a victim to strike back? And who — if anyone — has the right to judge someone else?

My Thoughts: I like Jodi Picoult most of the time.  This book sounds like it would probably be really good, but I just feel like I have so many other books that I am more drawn to.  Maybe I’ll get to this eventually, but as of right now… Verdict: TOSS


What do you think about my decisions? Was I too ruthless this time?  Did I toss some of your favorites? Let me know in the comments!
Book Reviews · Reading Challenges

ARC August Review: The Last of the Firedrakes by Farah Oomerbhoy

25781691Summary: 16-year-old Aurora Darlington is an orphan. Mistreated by her adopted family and bullied at school, she dreams of running away and being free. But when she is kidnapped and dragged through a portal into a magical world, suddenly her old life doesn’t seem so bad.

Avalonia is a dangerous land ruled by powerful mages and a cruel, selfish queen who will do anything to control all seven kingdoms—including killing anyone who stands in her way.

Thrust headlong into this new, magical world, Aurora’s arrival sets plans in motion that threaten to destroy all she holds dear.

With the help of a young fae, a magical pegasus, and a handsome mage, Aurora journeys across Avalonia to learn the truth about her past and unleash the power within herself. Kingdoms collide as a complicated web of political intrigue and ancient magic lead Aurora to unravel a shocking secret that will change her life forever.


*I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review*

My Thoughts: I so wanted to love this book.  It had everything that I love about high fantasy, and yet something was missing.  This book moves fast.  Too fast.  There was never enough time to establish a scene or a relationship, and all of the action felt very rushed.  A lot happens in this book, and while the concept and plot are entertaining and engaging, I needed more development to become fully invested.  Because of the speed of events, I didn’t believe any of the relationships, be it friendly or romantic, and I wasn’t able to fully grasp the vast world in this book.  There was no relationship or character development, very little world building or explanation of the systems of magic in place.  As far as the characters go, I hated the heroine, Aurora.  She was weak, whiny, pathetic, and moronic.  I constantly wanted to scream at her when she would go do ANOTHER stupid thing, against all advice and common sense.  She constantly had to be rescued, which would have been fine if she grew from that and actually had a character arc, but she doesn’t really.  The rest of the characters were there to support and guide her, but all they did was tell her it was okay, and never gave her any resistance or ACTUAL support.  I think I would have liked the supporting characters more if we had more time to establish their depth.  I loved the idea of  her love interest, Rafe’s, character but all of a sudden she was in love with him with nothing behind it at all.  I can’t even call it insta-love.  One moment she has a crush, and the next she has madly fallen for him.  It just doesn’t make sense and there isn’t much to support their relationship.  There were some really nice moments in the plot, and the ideas had SO much potential.  It left off in a cliff hanger, and I admit that I am intrigued to see where the story is going to go.  I just wish that the development of the characters and events matched and supported the very exciting plot, because it has a lot potential to be an amazing story.

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Book Reviews · Reading Challenges

ARC August Review: The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

37007910Summary: Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it.

Take this as a warning: if you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences, but those around you, as well.

New Oldbury, 1821

In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall.

The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.

All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…

My Thoughts: This book caught my eye immediately on Netgalley because I love witches and the 1800’s.  The cover was so beautiful, I had to see what it was holding on the inside.  With Fox’s writing, I was immediately transported to the world of Lydia and her family.  The dark, creepy, and Gothic atmosphere of this novel is perfection.  In fact, the atmosphere was my favorite thing about this book.  I also really liked the characters.  They were multi-dimensional and their relationships were so interesting and complicated, especially the relationship between Lydia and her sister, Catherine.  While I really liked and rooted for Lydia, Catherine was the most interesting character and I only wish we could have learned more about her.  The novel starts out with a secret scandal involving Catherine, which sets the mood for the rest of the story, and keeps you guessing as to what she could have done that was so disgraceful.  Their sisterly relationship is full of toxicity, and yet Lydia still feels a sense of duty to her blood.  The plot almost felt secondary to the characters and atmosphere.  It was pretty slow moving, and I expected there to be a lot more magic and supernatural elements.  We don’t really get to see much of Lydia’s abilities until the second half, and up until then there isn’t that much action.  There was a lot of build up, and I didn’t think the release at the end was big enough after how long we had waited.  I wanted more excitement and more magic.  The love story was sweet, and I thought the pace of it worked really well.  There were a couple plot twists and elements that I really enjoyed, but all of them seemed small and I wish we would have had a grander plot to go with the incredible atmosphere and intriguing characters.

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Book Reviews · Reading Challenges

ARC August Review: The Canary Club by Sherry D. Ficklin

cover117283-mediumSummary: “Bad Luck” Benny is a fella from the wrong side of the tracks. Recently released from jail, he has vowed to keep his head down and stay out of trouble. But he also needs to care for his ailing sister and the rest of his struggling family, and he’ll do anything to make that happen—even if it means taking a position with a notorious crime boss. He soon finds himself in over his head—and worse still—falling for the one dame on earth he should be staying away from.

Masie is the daughter of a wealthy gangster with the voice of an angel and gun smoke in her veins. Strong-willed but trapped in a life she never wanted, she dreams of flying free from the politics and manipulation of her father. A pawn in her family’s fight for control of the city, and with a killer hot on her heels, she turns to the one person who just might be able to spring her from her gilded cage. But Masie is no angel, and her own dark secrets may come back to burn them both.

Two worlds collide in this compelling story of star-crossed lovers in gritty prohibition-era New York.

My Thoughts: I don’t know what it is, but there is something about the Roaring 20’s that always gets me.  There is such a dark glamour that I can’t get enough of.  I found this book on Netgalley when I was doing the musical Bullets Over Broadway, which is also about 1920’s gangsters, and I knew I had to read it.  I was not disappointed.  I really enjoyed this book.  It immersed me into the dark world of mob life in the 1920’s and it was so entertaining.  I liked the two main characters, Benny and Masie, right away and I loved their chemistry together.  There were a bunch of interesting side characters as well, like Masie’s brother and his girlfriend, and Vinny, Masie’s fathers hit man.  While Vinny certainly was an antagonist in the story, “the life” as they call it, was the biggest one.  It was the main obstacle for everyone involved, and it was really interesting to see each different character struggle with their place in that world.  The plot is engaging, but I wish it would have been a little meatier.  I was very much invested in these characters and the world, so I wanted more.  The ending seemed a little too convenient, and I was hoping for a little more of a dramatic explosion.  Still, it was a super quick read and I was definitely entertained by what did happen.   There was a set up for another book, which made me excited, and I look forward to seeing what is going to happen next!

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Book Reviews · Reading Challenges

ARC August Review: Full Circle by Regina Timothy

37706656Summary: Eight years after the 9/11 attacks, Samia-Al-Sayyid an Iraqi immigrant is living a quiet life in New York City after she fled her home to avoid imminent death.

She works hard for her cold, heartless, high-strung boss, loves her seventeen-years-old-son, and cherishes the close friendship she has formed with her best friend Susan.

Nothing can go wrong, or so she thinks – until the estranged brother she left back in Iraqi shows up on her door step. Then she finds herself in a cab, on her way to the hospital to identify her son, a terror suspect who has blown the city, and with it her boss’ husband, and her best friend’s son. With everything lost, she is forced to flee to Iraq where she confronts her past. Will she make peace with her past? Can she get forgiveness for all the damage she has caused?

Full Circle is a contemporary fiction tale of friendship, family, and hope. It explores the devastation of loss, the great capacity to forgive and the lengths our loved ones will go to protect us.


*I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review!*

My Thoughts: This is a powerful story.  I went into this book with no idea what to expect, and I was surprised by how invested I became in these character’s lives.  The story follows Samia, an Iraqi immigrant living in America with her son, her best friend Susan, who is maneuvering life as a single mother after the loss of her husband, and their boss, Melisa, a fashion mogul with a brother fighting in Iraq.  The story begins 8 years after the 9/11 attacks in NYC, and we see how the aftermath of this event has affected the lives of these three very different women.  What I loved most about this book, was that it showed all sides of the conflict and didn’t shy away from anything.  It showed a very realistic picture of society and the tense relations in such a turbulent time.  Samia lived a rough life, and I felt sympathy and anger for her situation immediately.  It was a very interesting perspective to read from, especially since I don’t know much about the Iraqi culture.  Some of her story was difficult to read, and definitely brought out some strong emotions in me.  Melisa was not a likeable character at first, but throughout the book you get glimpses into what makes her tick.  Does it make how she treats people acceptable? No, but you understand her pain and it gives her a lot more depth.  Susan’s story is really sad, and just shows how much strength she has.  I know that I would not have had the strength to react to everything in the way Susan does.  I can’t imagine going through what any of these women deal with in this book.  The ending doesn’t tie up the way I expected or wanted for these characters, and I admit that I was a bit frustrated with the way things turned out, but it is haunting and I can understand why it ended this way.  While I loved the plot and was fully engaged in the story and the characters, the writing was a little choppy for me which took me out of it at times.  There were a bunch of grammatical errors and a couple continuity discrepancies that I noticed as well, but overall it was a haunting, different, and emotional story that I fully enjoyed.

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Book Reviews · Reading Challenges

ARC August Review: Strange Secrets by Mike Russell

38815196Summary: Discover the mystery of the two-headed rose and many more Strange Secrets in this new collection of extraordinary stories by Mike Russell. ‘It can’t be real.’ ‘But it is.’ Strange Secrets invites you to discover the magical and the marvellous. Startlingly inventive and constantly entertaining, these unique, vital and vividly realised stories will take you to places you have never been before. Strange Secrets is Mike Russell’s third short-story collection.


*I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review!  Thank you StrangeBooks and Mike Russell!*

 

My Thoughts: Strange Medicine by Mike Russell was the first review request I ever received after starting my blog a little over a year ago, and I loved it.  It was super weird, emotionally engaging, thought provoking, funny, and sad all at once.  I was really excited to get back to this kooky world of Russell’s when they reached out with Strange Secrets.  Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with this collection of short stories as much as I did with the Strange Medicine.  The stories were interesting, and I love Russell’s voice and writing style, but for some reason I couldn’t get as invested in them.  Most of the stories were a little too strange for me to fully grasp, and I definitely feel like I missed something important.  My favorite story was “Missing Persons” which is about a young girl finding out about death in a society that refuses to talk about it and considers dying to be a shameful act.  I thought it was such an interesting concept and held a harsh mirror up to our society and the things we are taught to value.  Mike Russell is such a special and unique voice and I would love to understand how his brain works and where he comes up with the ideas for his short fiction.  Once again he has opened my mind to a different type of literature from what I normally read, and even though this one was harder for me to connect to, I still got something positive out of the reading experience.

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Reading Challenges

My First ARC August Sign Up and TBR

ARC-August.pngI have been feeling overwhelmed by my TBR lately, JUST in time for this year’s ARC August hosted by Read. Sleep. Repeat.! ARC August is a month-long reading challenge to help and inspire us to get through our pile of Advanced Reader Copies and Review Requests.  This is the first ARC August that I am participating in, and I am hoping that it will hold me accountable and help me get through my list!  I’ll be posting updates, and participating in the Bookish Bingo and readathons (even though the idea of a readathon stresses me out… AHHHH) that they have for this month as well.

My ARC August TBR

 

Wish me luck!

Book Reviews · Reading Challenges

Review: Blackout (The Color Alchemist #3) by Nina Walker

blackoutSummary: Trembling in the wake of devastating treachery, can the Loxely sisters finally bring down the Royals?

United in the cause of saving their kingdom and bringing their family back together, Jessa and Sasha will face their greatest tests yet. Jessa’s wedding is coming at her faster than she can stop it, but it’s Sasha who is running out of time. Things aren’t as they seem in the palace, and the one person who can save them is the one they’ll never trust again.

 


My Thoughts: I wish more people knew about this series because it really is fantastic.  At the end of Book 2, the world is kind of in shambles, and we pick up right where we left off.  Lucas and Jessa’s relationship is very strained (for good reason), and I started to get annoyed with Lucas and his not understanding her feelings.  It did taint my view of him for a while, but I came back around to him towards the end.  Sasha is my favorite character, and my love for her grows the more we see and learn about her.  I really enjoy the love triangle between her, Mastin, and Tristan.  I think it’s well done and understandable why she would be torn. *Cough Team Mastin Cough*.  We got a glimpse of West America in Book 2, but it was great to get a more in depth experience with it, and I love where we’re going with this plot line.  I still find the whole system of magic in this book very interesting. Jessa’s growing ability with purple alchemy makes it even more so –There are so many possibilities.  The villains in this series are despicable and I can’t wait for them to get theirs because I am getting frustrated with them and can’t take it anymore.  While I found this book a little slower moving than the others, there was still a ton of action and cliff hangers, and the ending was insane!  I can’t wait for Book 4!

 

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Book Reviews · Reading Challenges

We Other by Sue Bentley Blog Tour

We Other Banner

We Other with quote V2Summary: Family secrets, changelings, and fairies you never want to meet on a dark night.

Jess Morgan’s life has always been chaotic.

When a startling new reality cannot be denied, it’s clear that everything she believed about herself is a lie.  She is linked to a world where humans- ‘hot bloods’- are disposable entertainment.  Life on a run-down estate — her single mom’s alcoholism and violent boyfriend — become the least of Jess’s worries.



*I received a copy of this book in return for an honest review!*

My Thoughts: There have been so many faerie books coming out recently, and I was excited to see the take on them in this book.  We Other started out really strong.  The opening grabbed me, and I loved the transition from the past into the present.  Our heroine, Jess, was a spunky and angsty teen, with too much responsibility on her shoulders, due to her mom’s drinking and abusive relationships.  I think her mom’s history, that we find out in pieces and flashbacks, was my favorite part of the story, and it was cool to put all the pieces together.  The introduction of Caleb and Ivy was a surprise, and the weaving and connecting of all the story lines was really well done.  Jess and Caleb’s relationship felt very inta-lovey to me, and I didn’t buy it 100%.  I liked each of their characters individually, but I didn’t feel a spark between them.  The plot was a little slow moving and anticlimactic, but it was easy to read.  The beginning and the end felt like two different books with where the narrative progressed, and this whole book felt like a set up for the next part of the story.  There were some good reveals, and some exciting moments, but overall it was pretty low-key.  The afterword definitely sets you up for a sequel, and I while I’m not dying for the next book, I would like to see how it turns out.

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About the Author: Sue Bentley

Sue Bentley discovered a love of books at an early age.  She worked for We Other - Sue author pic 5Northamptonshire Libraries for many years, while teaching herself the craft of writing.  She is the author of the worldwide, bestselling Magic Kitten, Magic Puppy, Magic Ponies, Magic Bunny series for age 5-9 years.  She also writes for children and adults under various pen names.  A lover of English Folklore, her books often contain elements of the otherworld and the darkness within the every day.  Her books have been translated into around 20 languages.  We Other is her first book for Young Adults. www.suebentley.co.uk

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