Book Review: The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow (eARC)

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy    

Publishing Info: eARC from Orbit

Pages: 528

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

In 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

Thank you so much to Orbit and NetGallery for the eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Once and Future Witches is a well-written and expertly crafted exploration of magic and feminism. Alix E. Harrow’s debut novel, The Ten Thousand Doors of January, made a big splash, so there have been big expectations for her follow up. I haven’t yet read The Ten Thousand Doors of January, so The Once and Future Witches is my first time reading her work. I have to say I was impressed by the quality of the writing. It’s lyrical and captivating, perhaps like a magic spell, which is why it suits this story so well.

The historical setting, the women’s movement and witches are woven together so well. It really works. I loved how magic is done through words from rhymes and stories passed down from mother to daughter through the generations. There are also some subtle and clever changes to history and literature, such as the Sisters Grimm instead of the Brothers Grimm. The rights of witches and the rights of women are tightly connected in this book and shows the struggles women faced in the 1890s. It isn’t just a story of witches and magic, it’s also deeply thought-provoking.

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Book Review: Burn by Patrick Ness

Burn by Patrick Ness

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: June 2020 by Walker Books  

Pages: 384

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

In 1956 Sarah Dewhurst’s father shocks her by hiring a dragon to work the farm. The dragon is a smaller blue rather than the traditional larger reds, though even the reds are now scarce. When the blue dragon, Kazimir, unexpectedly saves Sarah and her friend Jason Inagawa from the attentions of the racist police deputy, Kelby, everything changes. Sarah is part of a prophecy and she must escape the clutches of Malcolm, an assassin from a Believer Cell, the dragon-worshiping cult. When Sarah, Malcolm, and Kazimir eventually converge, they are thrown into another universe, where dragons seem never to have existed. Can they save this world and the one they left?

Patrick Ness’s latest book, Burn, took me on a journey I was not expecting. This is my second Patrick Ness book and I can’t quite put my finger on how to describe his work. He has a unique style and his books always seem unpredictable. Although they do sometimes use tropes (e.g. a prophecy in this book) they seem different to most YA books. This time, he’s taken dragons and put them in 1950s America. That concept alone had me desperate to read it.

Burn imagines a world where dragons are real and are a normal part of life. There has been a truce of sorts between humans and dragons, meaning dragons mostly stick to their own areas. There is a lot going on in this book. We have dragons, the Cold War, FBI agents, a cult and a prophecy. And it works. Patrick Ness has created a world where dragons wandering round rural America seemed totally normal. I don’t want to say too much more about the plot as I think this is one of those books where it’s best going into it not knowing much. At the midpoint it went in a direction I wasn’t expecting and kept me on my toes. There were so many twists and I loved that I never knew what was going to happen next.                                                                                   

There were a lot of characters packed into a short book, so we don’t get to know them in that much depth. But I felt I knew enough about them to be invested in their stories. Kazimir was my absolute favourite character. Patrick Ness does such an amazing job of showing his personality through his body language and facial expressions. Plus, he has some of the best lines. Although this is mostly a serious save the world kind of book, there are also some lines that had me chuckling.

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Mini Book Reviews: The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White and Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

As I mentioned in my June Wrap Up, I’ve been suffering from back pain the last couple of weeks so haven’t been able to spend much time at my computer. I was going to miss doing reviews for these two books as I have lots of things to catch up on now that my back is a bit better. But I really wanted to share my thoughts on them so decided to just write some mini reviews.


The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: November 2019 by Delacorte Press

Pages: 352

Star Rating: 3/5

Back Cover Summary:

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot. To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur’s knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

I was super excited to read this book as it’s a retelling of King Arthur legends. The concept of Guinevere not being the real Guinevere was very intriguing. I liked the idea that Guinevere is there to protect Arthur and how the book puts her character in the spotlight.

While I enjoyed it, I could only give it 3 stars. The writing style was quite simplistic. I think it perhaps just wasn’t to my taste. Arthur seemed a bit one-dimensional to me. The depiction of his character was quite typical and seemed to rely on the concept of Arthur as a great person and king, without really showing that much of his personality.

I also found it frustrating that a lot of the mysteries introduced weren’t solved by the end of the book. It’s a series, so not every question will get an answer, but I’d have liked if we’d got more of a hint at who Guinevere really is by the end of this first book.

Despite this, I did really enjoy the book and will definitely be picking up the sequel, The Camelot Betrayal, which comes out later this year.


Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction 

Publishing Info: October 2016 by Rock the Boat 

Pages: 659

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Hanna Donnelly is the station captain’s pampered daughter and Nik Malikov is the reluctant member of a notorious crime family. Together they struggle with the realities of life aboard the galaxy’s most boring space station, blissfully unaware that Kady Grant and the Hypatia are headed right toward Heimdall with news of the Kerenza invasion.

Picking up about five minutes after Illuminae ends, Gemina is the electrifying sequel to the hottest YA novel of 2015.

Illuminae was my first read of 2020 and I gave it 5 stars because it absolutely blew me away. It is absolutely one of my favourite books. The second book in The Illuminae Files series is just as thrilling and captivating. However, I only gave it 4 stars because it didn’t knock my socks off quite as much as the first.

The novel is once again told through instant messaging, CCTV camera footage, diary entries etc. which is such an interesting way to tell the story. The events follow on from Illuminae but from the perspectives of two new characters – Hanna and Nik. I can’t say much more without spoiling Illuminae.

Gemina is full of lots of twists and turns. Though the science did confuse me a bit in the latter section of the book. It’s a lot to get your head around but I think I understood it in the end.

The Illuminae Files has become one of my favourite series and I will absolutely be reading the final book in the trilogy, Obsidio.

This style won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but if you haven’t read these books yet, I really recommend them, even if you don’t think they are for you, as you might just be surprised by them.

Book Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas  

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: May 2017 by Bloomsbury Childrens Books

Pages: 699

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s manoeuvrings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit – and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords – and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

In this thrilling third book in the #1 New York Times bestselling series from Sarah J. Maas, the earth will be painted red as mighty armies grapple for power over the one thing that could destroy them all.

A Court of Wings and Ruin is the third book in this series and concludes the main original trilogy. And wow was it a good conclusion. While I didn’t enjoy A Court of Mist and Fury as much as the first book, I absolutely loved A Court of Wings and Ruin. People seem to rave over ACOMAF, but it was too slow in places for me and I felt that book was dragged out a bit too much (although I still liked it, just not as much as the others!). ACOWAR on the other hand kept the pace and suspense up all the way through. The stakes were high, I was invested in the characters and I was hooked from start to finish.  

This book has a huge cast and I loved most of them. I loved seeing Feyre as High Lady and adjusting to her new role (also it was really satisfying seeing other characters, especially High Lords, react to realising she’s High Lady). Then there’s the inner circle, Mor, Amren, Cassian and Azriel, and the addition of Nesta and Elain. I liked seeing Feyre’s sisters have a bigger role in this book as we got to see her interact with them more.

The amount of twists and turns in this book was unbelievable. It’s building up to the final climactic battle between Prythian and Hybern, but along the way there is plenty of suspense and twists. I devoured the last 100 or so pages, with my moods shifting from elation to tears and back again over and over. When I closed the book, I felt satisfied with the conclusion. ACOWAR is a great ending to this trilogy.

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Book Review: A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: January 2019 by Bloomsbury  

Pages: 496

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

In a lush, contemporary fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Brigid Kemmerer gives readers another compulsively readable romance perfect for fans of Marissa Meyer.

Fall in love, break the curse.

It once seemed so easy to Prince Rhen, the heir to Emberfall. Cursed by a powerful enchantress to repeat the autumn of his eighteenth year over and over, he knew he could be saved if a girl fell for him. But that was before he learned that at the end of each autumn, he would turn into a vicious beast hell-bent on destruction. That was before he destroyed his castle, his family, and every last shred of hope.

Nothing has ever been easy for Harper. With her father long gone, her mother dying, and her brother barely holding their family together while constantly underestimating her because of her cerebral palsy, she learned to be tough enough to survive. But when she tries to save someone else on the streets of Washington, DC, she’s instead somehow sucked into Rhen’s cursed world.

Break the curse, save the kingdom.

A prince? A monster? A curse? Harper doesn’t know where she is or what to believe. But as she spends time with Rhen in this enchanted land, she begins to understand what’s at stake. And as Rhen realizes Harper is not just another girl to charm, his hope comes flooding back. But powerful forces are standing against Emberfall . . . and it will take more than a broken curse to save Harper, Rhen, and his people from utter ruin.

I have to admit, this is one of those books I picked up because of the hype. I passed it time and time again in the bookshop and considered buying it, but changed my mind (that shiny spine on the paperback edition catches the eye!). I’m not a big Beauty and the Beast fan, so that wasn’t a particular selling point to me, although I do love retellings. Eventually, I bought it, and I’m glad I did.

Although it’s a romance, it also explores the people of Emberfall and the conflict with a neighbouring kingdom, so there was a good blend of romance and fantasy. The writing style is easy to read but also vivid and at the end of each chapter I was eager to turn the page and continue reading. It’s told in the alternating first person perspectives of Harper and Rhen. It often takes me a while to settle into this kind of style, but I didn’t have that problem with this book. The story gets going right from the start, with Harper being transported to Emberfall, so I was hooked from the off.

I immediately took to Harper, Rhen and Grey. I’m so glad that Brigid Kemmerer decided to include a main character with cerebral palsy. There needs to be more characters with disabilities and chronic health conditions in YA books. I loved that Harper’s cerebral palsy doesn’t hold her back. She’s thrown into this fantasy world from DC and quickly adapts, using her fearlessness to fight bad guys and stand up for others. Harper has to be one of my favourite YA heroines.

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Book Review: The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

The Shadows Between Us by Tricia Levenseller

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: February 2020 by Feiwel and Friends, Fairyloot Edition

Pages: 326

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Alessandra is tired of being overlooked, but she has a plan to gain power:

1) Woo the Shadow King.
2) Marry him.
3) Kill him and take his kingdom for herself.

No one knows the extent of the freshly crowned Shadow King’s power. Some say he can command the shadows that swirl around him to do his bidding. Others say they speak to him, whispering the thoughts of his enemies. Regardless, Alessandra knows what she deserves, and she’s going to do everything within her power to get it.

But Alessandra’s not the only one trying to kill the king. As attempts on his life are made, she finds herself trying to keep him alive long enough for him to make her his queen—all while struggling not to lose her heart. After all, who better for a Shadow King than a cunning, villainous queen?

The Shadows Between Us is a standalone fantasy novel and my first introduction to Tricia Levenseller’s writing. I wasn’t sure this book would be for me, but it came in February’s Fairyloot box in the most gorgeous edition, so of course I had to give it a go. It’s described as a Slytherin romance, and I’m very much a Hufflepuff, so that selling point didn’t speak to me personally. But I ended up loving it! It also makes a nice change to read a standalone fantasy, as this genre is so often long series.

Alessandra is such a determined character. Right from the start, we get a sense of her personality. She’s not afraid to be herself and she fights for what she wants. Her eyes are set on the throne, and she’s willing to kill the king to get it. Alessandra also designs and makes her own dresses and the descriptions are divine. She bends the rules of what women can do in this world, and uses her power to change things for the other women of the court too. She’s ambitious and scheming and she stands out from other young adult protagonists for that reason. From that perspective she’s quite an unusual protagonist really. This sort of character is often the antagonist, so I loved seeing a story told through the eyes of a different kind of character.

Kallius is an equally interesting character. He’s not a noble hero. We see him kill a guard for failing to keep watch. He wants to conquer more of the surrounding kingdoms. But since Alessandra isn’t your typical protagonist either, they are very well suited. They’re both ambitious and driven.   

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Book Review: Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Romance  

Publishing Info: September 2019, kindle edition, Harper Teen

Pages: 518

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle:
thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.

I have heard so much about this book that I just had to read it. I was curious why it was being raved about so much. At first when I started reading, I wasn’t sure about it. I thought I might find Lou annoying, but the characters and story grew on me. Shelby Mahurin really pulled me into their story and I ended up being hooked. It was an addictive read and even though I only recently finished it, I know I’m going to want to read this book again.  

Enemies to lovers romance seems really popular right now. I hope we’re not going to get flooded with these types of stories like we did love triangles years back. The romance was gradual and not forced in anyway, their growing chemistry was written really well. I can see why enemies to lovers romance is appealing to readers, and I did enjoy the romance in this story, even though I don’t usually enjoy romance-focused stories as much as plot/action focused ones.

Lou and Reid really grew on me and I loved seeing how they changed over the course of the book. The supporting characters were great too, especially Ansel and Coco. Although Beau felt a bit randomly thrown into the group at the end and I wanted to know more about him and why he didn’t seem fazed by the magic. Maybe he’s just a rebellious prince. But I hope we know a bit more about him in the next book so his presence doesn’t seem so random.

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Book Review: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas  

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy

Publishing Info: May 2016 by Bloomsbury Children’s

Pages: 626

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Feyre is immortal.

After rescuing her lover Tamlin from a wicked Faerie Queen, she returns to the Spring Court possessing the powers of the High Fae. But Feyre cannot forget the terrible deeds she performed to save Tamlin’s people – nor the bargain she made with Rhysand, High Lord of the feared Night Court.

As Feyre is drawn ever deeper into Rhysand’s dark web of politics and passion, war is looming and an evil far greater than any queen threatens to destroy everything Feyre has fought for. She must confront her past, embrace her gifts and decide her fate.

She must surrender her heart to heal a world torn in two.

As I loved A Court of Thorns and Roses so much, I was very excited to read the sequel. Lots of new characters are introduced as Feyre enters the world of the Night Court. It didn’t take long for me to become invested in all of them. I loved meeting Mor, Amren, Cassian and Azriel, and I also enjoyed discovering other parts of Prythian as A Court of Thorns and Roses was focused on the Spring Court.

Maas does a such a good job with Feyre’s character, showing the impact the events from A Court of Thorns and Roses has on her. At the beginning of the book she’s haunted by what happened to her, and the lives she was forced to take to save Prythian. Feyre grows and develops over the course of this book, coming to terms with what happened Under the Mountain and gaining new perspective of her time with Tamlin. Speaking of Tamlin, I really don’t like his character. I didn’t like him in the first book and I didn’t like him in the sequel either. He’s a very boring character who just comes across as moody and lacking in personality. So I was glad he wasn’t a main character in this book!

Unfortunately I did feel it was longer than needed to be. If it had been a bit shorter, just trimmed in a few places, it would have had better pacing. However I appreciated the time taken for character development, as I felt I really got to know all the central characters, not just Feyre, which made me more invested in their fates. I also loved the slow development of the romance. It was predictable who would end up together, but there was no instalove here.

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Book Review: The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Paranormal            

Publishing Info: April 2019 by Titan Books

Pages: 400

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

After the death of her sister, seventeen-year-old Violet Saunders finds herself dragged to Four Paths, New York. Violet may be a newcomer, but she soon learns her mother isn’t: They belong to one of the revered founding families of the town, where stone bells hang above every doorway and danger lurks in the depths of the woods.

Justin Hawthorne’s bloodline has protected Four Paths for generations from the Gray—a lifeless dimension that imprisons a brutal monster. After Justin fails to inherit his family’s powers, his mother is determined to keep this humiliation a secret. But Justin can’t let go of the future he was promised and the town he swore to protect.

Ever since Harper Carlisle lost her hand to an accident that left her stranded in the Gray for days, she has vowed revenge on the person who abandoned her: Justin Hawthorne. There are ripples of dissent in Four Paths, and Harper seizes an opportunity to take down the Hawthornes and change her destiny-to what extent, even she doesn’t yet know.

The Gray is growing stronger every day, and its victims are piling up. When Violet accidentally unleashes the monster, all three must band together with the other Founders to unearth the dark truths behind their families’ abilities—before the Gray devours them all.

The Devouring Gray really surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I did. Christine Lynn Herman does an amazing job of creating a spooky and suspenseful atmosphere throughout the book. The opening drew me in and the book held my attention the whole way through. The writing has a good balance of description and I found her writing to be very evocative and engaging. I’ve seen The Devouring Gray repeatedly compared to Stranger Things, but I haven’t watched that show so can’t say if that’s an accurate comparison.   

The book switches between the perspectives of several different characters, but I found it easy to follow and didn’t get any characters mixed up. Violet’s grief for her lost sister and the difficult relationship she has with her mother is really well portrayed. She has been brought up away from Four Paths and doesn’t know anything about the Gray or her family’s role as founders. In books there is often a main character who is brought unknowingly into a magical world of some sort, but what I liked about this book is that we also see the perspectives of characters who already live in that ‘world’. This made a change from solely seeing the perspective of the ‘newcomer’. It was interesting to see how Violet learned about Four Paths, but also to see through the eyes of characters seeing a ‘newcomer’ arriving to their town and how that shifted things for them.

Each of the characters has their own story, conflict and secrets. I loved Harper’s character and her determination to overcome what’s happened to her in the past and the prejudice she now faces. Justin, despite from the outside appearing to be the perfect founder, is actually struggling with his own problems and secrets too. I felt a connection to all the central characters and enjoyed seeing how their individual plot strands came together.   

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Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy  

Publishing Info: June 2016 by Orion Children’s Books (first published 2015)

Pages: 494

Star Rating: 4/5

Back Cover Summary:

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price–and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

When I started reading this book, I wasn’t into it at all. It took me quite a few chapters to start enjoying it. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood at the start, and perhaps I had ridiculously high expectations because of the insane amount of hype around Six of Crows. Also I loved Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone from the first chapter, which kind of added to the pressure on this book to be brilliant. Despite my reservations at the start, it is a brilliant book.

Each of the central characters are well developed with back stories that are slowly revealed over the course of the book. I got more into it as I gained more understanding of each character’s backgrounds and motivations. The characters are also neither ‘good’ nor ‘evil’ and I liked that they have different views on the world (for example attitudes towards the Grisha) depending on their backgrounds. The interactions and relationships between the characters is one of the strongest parts of the book. They drive the narrative and make it the great book it is.

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