Review: “When My Heart Was Wicked” by Tricia Sterling

22749511Title: “When My Heart Was Wicked”

Author: Tricia Sterling

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Magical

Publication Date: February 24, 2015 (Scholastic – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided finished copy

Summary: “I used to be one of those girls. The kind who loved to deliver bad news. When I colored my hair, I imagined it seeping into my scalp, black dye pooling into my veins.

But that was the old Lacy. Now, when I cast spells, they are always for good.”

16-year-old Lacy believes that magic and science can work side by side. She’s a botanist who knows how to harness the healing power of plants. So when her father dies, Lacy tries to stay with her step-mother in Chico, where her magic is good and healing. She fears the darkness that her real mother, Cheyenne, brings out, stripping away everything that is light and kind.

Yet Cheyenne never stays away for long. Beautiful, bewitching, unstable Cheyenne who will stop at nothing, not even black magic, to keep control of her daughter’s heart. She forces Lacy to accompany her to Sacramento, and before long, the “old” Lacy starts to resurface.

But when Lacy survives a traumatic encounter, she finds herself faced with a choice. Will she use her powers to exact revenge and spiral into the darkness forever? Or will she find the strength to embrace the light?

☆: 4/5 stars – a great magical realism debut!

Review: This one was a pleasant surprise, though I wish it had been longer. “When My Heart Was Wicked” is a snapshot of what can happen to someone as a cause of an unstable, dangerous childhood trying to become an adult – but through the lens of Francesca Lia Block-esque magical realism. I loved this one, and it makes me feel like Stirling will be one awesome author to watch. If you’re looking for a little magical realism in your tough stuff YA issues book, “When My Heart Was Wicked” is definitely the one you want to pick up.

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Review: “Snakeroot (Nightshade Legacy #1/Nightshade #4)” by Andrea Cremer

17372472Title: “Snakeroot (Nightshade Legacy #1/Nightshade #4)”

Author: Andrea Cremer

Genre: Fantasy, YA, PNR

Publication Date:  December 10, 2013

Source:  Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: Fans asked for it, and now they’ve got it!

Andrea Cremer is continuing the story she began in in her internationally bestselling trilogy: Nightshade, Wolfsbane and Bloodrose.

Bosque Mar haunts the dreams of both Adne and Logan, trying to escape for the Nether, where Calla, Shay and the other Guardians trapped him in the final battle in the War of All Against All…

Will he turn Adne to the dark side? Will Logan reclaim his birthright? And will darkness take over our world?

☆: 4/5 stars – Will definitely satisfy hardcore fans of the series!

Review: Fair warning here, folks: this review is going to have a lot of spoilers for the “Nightshade” trilogy (and its novellas/prequels). I thought and thought on how to do a review for this book without spoilers and then realized that it just wasn’t going to happen. So, fair warning, folks. “Snakeroot” is apart of the new “Nightshade Legacy” continuation series (not sure if “Captive”, “Rise”, and “Rift” are in this continuation/expansion but I’ll throw them in there anyway), not focusing on the main characters of our trilogy, but instead on the fringe characters we met throughout the journey of the trilogy. While “Snakeroot” definitely satisfies, it leaves us on a cliffhanger with no definitive promise that this series will continue. And I sincerely hope it will.

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Review: “The Beautiful and the Damned (The Hollow #4)” by Jessica Verday

17334497Title: “The Beautiful and the Damned (The Hollows #4)”

Author: Jessica Verday

Genre: YA Contemporary, PNR, Paranormal

Publication Date: October 1, 2013 (Simon Pulse – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: Cyn’s blackouts have deadly consequences in this sexy, suspenseful spinoff to the New York Times bestselling Hollow series.Cyn and Avian are far from a perfect match. She’s a witch who casts spells on men so she can steal their cars. He spends his time being judge, jury, and executioner to the truly evil in the supernatural realm.

When the blackouts Cyn’s been having ever since her time in Sleepy Hollow start escalating, she finds herself unable to remember where she’s been or what she’s been doing. Frightened, she seeks guidance at a local church, and it’s there she meets Avian.

The unlikely pair soon discovers that her blackouts are a side effect of what she truly is—an Echo—a conduit for souls of the dead. The only way to prevent Cyn from losing complete control is to return to Sleepy Hollow and vanquish the source of her power—but she may not survive the process. And if she does? She won’t ever be the same…

☆: 3.5/5 stars – A good standalone, but may lose people who haven’t read the original trilogy.

Review: Fair disclosure – I haven’t read the original “Hollow” trilogy, to which this book is a companion. But even so, “The Beautiful and the Damned” is a tightly-written, nice, short, companion book which gives the audience a small taste of the original “Hollow” world while creating an entirely new world with elements that were introduced or hinted at in the original text. Even if you haven’t read the original trilogy, if you’re looking for a read to devour in a short amount of time, I recommend “The Beautiful and the Damned”. Even if you may get a bit confused.

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Review: “The Dream Thieves (Raven Cycle #2)” by Maggie Stiefvater

The Dream ThievesTitle: The Dream Thieves

Author: Maggie Stiefvater

Genre: YA contemporary, Magical Realism, Mystery, Paranormal

Publication Date: September 17, 2013 (Scholastic Press – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Synopsis: Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…

☆: 4/5 stars – Not quite as amazing as “Raven Boys”, but still pretty damn good.

Review: If “Raven Boys” was Gansey’s book/the intro book, “Dream Thieves” is definitely Ronan’s book,  100%. We also get a lot of juicy details about backstory about Ronan and his brothers, as well as some new characters, and new mysteries to solve in order to get the boys back together, and back to business at hand. Yes, while “Dream Thieves” had a little more introspection than its predecessor, it’s still a really good sequel, and it’s making me froth at the mouth for book three.

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Review: Witchstruck by Victoria Lamb

WitchstruckTitle: Witchstruck

Author: Victoria Lamb

Genre: Historical, YA Paranormal, Witches

Publication Date: September 24, 2013 (Harlequin Teen)

Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley

Synopsis: If she sink, she be no witch and shall be drowned. If she float, she be a witch and must be hanged.

Meg Lytton has always known she is different;that she bears a dark and powerful gift. But in 1554 England, in service at Woodstock Palace to the banished Tudor princess Elizabeth, it has never been more dangerous to practice witchcraft. Meg knows she must guard her secret carefully from the many suspicious eyes watching over the princess and her companions. One wrong move could mean her life, and the life of Elizabeth, rightful heir to the English throne.

With witchfinder Marcus Dent determined to have Meg’s hand in marriage, and Meg’s own family conspiring against the English queen, there isn’t a single person Meg can trust. Certainly not the enigmatic young Spanish priest Alejandro de Castillo, despite her undeniable feelings. But when all the world turns against her, Meg must open her heart to a dangerous choice.

The Secret Circle meets The Other Boleyn Girl in Witchstruck ,the first book of the magical Tudor Witch trilogy.

2.5/5 stars – The longer it goes on, the more the romance takes over

Witchcraft alongside the intrigue of Tudor-era England sounds fun, right? According to most of the reviews, it is. I can agree with that! Sadly, the most entertaining elements of Witchstruck fall by the wayside and can do very little to redeem this ultimately frustrating novel.

Most Tudor-era YA historicals are set during King Henry VIII’s reign, but Lamb sets it during Princess Elizabeth’s confinement  in 1555/1556. I honestly thought this was AU at first because I had no idea about it! A good Tudor-era scholar I am not. Despite the frustrations that slowly built up as the novel went on, it’s easy to care a lot about where Meg and her story are going, especially since female friendships/the powers and rights of women are thoroughly emphasized. Most of the characters are merely okay, but Elizabeth shines in all of her appearances. If only it were the same for Meg and Alejandro, our main characters.

Alejandro is by far the more grating of the two as he falls in love with Meg over the course of 70 pages and a handful of conversations. After that, a choppy time-skip tells us Meg has gotten closer to him, she loves how he’s such a good conversationalist, etc. and we’re expected to take this poor relationship development as-is. Not in this house! The development he gets closer to the end is appreciated, but it’s not enough to make up for everything that bothers me about his character.

Meg is the textbook “okay” heroine. She has something of a personality, she doesn’t hate other women, she’s admirably loyal to Princess Elizabeth, and all the mistakes she makes are forgivable. Sounds good, right? Yet her heavily flawed first-person narration makes it easy to let the flaws of the prose reflect back on her.

One of her worst narrative sins is how maddeningly repetitive she is. She thoroughly details why she hates Marcus Dent twice in a single chapter and tells us a few details about a person but then proceeds to repeat those few details about them almost every single time they come up. It almost seems like she thinks the reader has about as much memory as a dead bird. As if we could easily forget Marcus is a cruel, wealthy man and Joan is the simple girl who called Meg a witch after bringing them up so many times!

The ending’s deus ex machina with Meg’s sudden superwitch powers after surprisingly little witchery beforehand eased few of my issues and doesn’t encourage me to stick around for Witchfall. It’s easy to recommend to fans of Jessica Spotswood’s books and anyone who unabashedly loves witches, but others may want to be cautious.

Review: Untold by Sarah Rees Brennan

UntoldTitle: Untold

Author: Sarah Rees Brennan

Genre: Gothic, YA Paranormal

Publication Date: September 24, 2013

Source: ARC I found in a used bookstore

Synopsis: Free from bonds, but not each other

It’s time to choose sides… On the surface, Sorry-in-the-Vale is a sleepy English town. But Kami Glass knows the truth. Sorry-in-the-Vale is full of magic. In the old days, the Lynburn family ruled with fear, terrifying the people into submission in order to kill for blood and power. Now the Lynburns are back, and Rob Lynburn is gathering sorcerers so that the town can return to the old ways.

But Rob and his followers aren’t the only sorcerers in town. A decision must be made: pay the blood sacrifice, or fight. For Kami, this means more than just choosing between good and evil. With her link to Jared Lynburn severed, she’s now free to love anyone she chooses. But who should that be?

2.5/5 stars – Occasionally shines like a gem, but it’s often dulled by forced humor

Well now, this is odd. Unspoken was a five-star read back when I originally read it, but looking back, the enthusiasm of my review seems foreign. I remember writing every last word and know why I felt that way, but my opinion of the book has changed drastically since then. This is a rare occurrence and it’s never a good sign, but I still went into the second book of Brennan’s trilogy hoping for the best. Did I get it? Well… Untold is a little like cat fur because it’s all over the place, though the book is easier to get out of surfaces nine times out of ten.

As over-the-top and transient as my enthusiasm was, it wasn’t entirely unfounded then and still isn’t now. The story itself is entertaining, has makeout scenes that will appease fans who have been waiting a long time for them, and there are some genuinely funny moments in these pages. The passage in which Ash nonchalantly explains a pretty horrifying ceremony to Kami because he doesn’t know any better is beautiful and produced one of the only genuine laughs the novel earned from me.

This is the sixth novel I’ve read of Brennan’s (the others were her Demon’s Lexicon books, Team Human, and Unspoken) and multiple short stories from her too, but this is the first time where the humor feels forced and real laughs are few and far between. This is something some of my friends have complained about in regards to her other works, so this may just be the first time I personally noticed it. Some lines are supposed to be funny, but they simply aren’t.  Others treat the readers like children by telling us things we can easily figure out on our own. One of the most noteworthy examples of the unfunny “funny” lines is this one:

“Kami picked up a pen from the desk and put it in her pocket, because she was now a kleptomaniac for great justice (ARC p. 153).”

Had all the forced humor been cut out, this would have been a stronger, more streamlined novel; the apparent need to have humor in a scene even when it’s not actually funny and doesn’t need to be there kills more than a few scenes or otherwise good passages. Sure, it won’t speed up the pacing of a book that’s mostly made up of character drama and planning because Untold hits second-book syndrome hard, but it would make the novel a little less of a chore to read, along with fixing how the novel tends to talk down to us readers are if we’re children.

The characters, rather than being talked about on a scale to most well-developed to least, are more easily classified on a scale of most annoying to least annoying because to one degree or another, they’re all kind of annoying. Holly and Ash have the least irritating points of view, least ridiculous lines, and best conflicts, so they come off as the real stars of the book. The twist concerning Holly is a great one, but it loses all its oomph because it has no importance whatsoever. There’s literally nothing that changes as a result of her revelation. What was the use?!

Angela and her trendy outlook of hating the world because it’s how she is and how she responds to life remains the most annoying cast member. Kami and Jared, who are the actual stars of this book, lean toward being more annoying than not because they’re the ones that give us ridiculous lines when the third-person narrator isn’t able to throw them at us like we’re the bad performers they’re booing off the stage.

Me staying around for the third book of the series looks unlikely, but who knows what will happen? At the very least, it’s not one to wait on with bated breath the way I wrongly did with Untold. Fans who loved the first book and haven’t seen their enthusiasm diminish are sure to love this solid second installment, but those who are like me will find an entirely different story.

“A Darkness Strange and Lovely (Strange #2)” by Susan Dennard

13624584Title: “A Darkness Strange and Lovely (Strange #2)”

Author: Susan Dennard

Genre: YA, alternate history/parallel universes, zombies, steampunk, paranormal

Publication Date: July 23, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Following an all-out battle with the walking Dead, the Spirit Hunters have fled Philadelphia, leaving Eleanor alone to cope with the devastating aftermath. But there’s more trouble ahead—the evil necromancer Marcus has returned, and his diabolical advances have Eleanor escaping to Paris to seek the help of Joseph, Jie, and the infuriatingly handsome Daniel once again. When she arrives, however, she finds a whole new darkness lurking in this City of Light. As harrowing events unfold, Eleanor is forced to make a deadly decision that will mean life or death for everyone.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – a sequel that shines brighter than its first book!

Review: I think I can honestly say that this sequel(and what looks to be a middle book in a trilogy?) is stronger than its initial first book in this series. Seriously. “Strange and Lovely” builds upon everything set up in book one, but it also has a lot more tension (almost tension on every page), and we get more worldbuilding, more new awesome characters, and a sea change in everyone we got to know in love back in book one. If you’re looking for one of the best sophomoric efforts this year in YA, look no further than “A Darkness Strange and Lovely”.

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Review: “Weather Witch” by Shannon Delany

Weather WitchTitle: “Weather Witch”

Author: Shannon Delany

Genre: YA, alternate universe/timeline, PNR, UF, steampunk, paranormal dystopia

Publication Date: June 25, 2013 (SMP – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided finished copy

Summary: In a vastly different and darker Philadelphia of 1844, steam power has been repressed, war threatens from deep, dark waters, and one young lady of high social standing is expecting a surprise at her seventeenth birthday party–but certainly not the one she gets!

Jordan Astraea, who has lived out all of her life in Philadelphia’s most exclusive neighborhood, is preparing to celebrate her birthday with friends, family and all the extravagance they might muster. The young man who is most often her dashing companion, Rowen Burchette, has told her a surprise awaits her and her best friend, Catrina Hollindale, wouldn’t miss this night for all the world!

But storm clouds are gathering and threatening to do far more than dampen her party plans because someone in the Astraea household has committed the greatest of social sins by Harboring a Weather Witch.

☆: 3/5 stars – a solid first book in a new series!

Review: Oh, “Weather Witch”. What to do with you? While absolutely awesome in basic concept, plot, and worldbuilding, I couldn’t entirely get on board with this book. This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy it – I did, and quite a bit. But I guess it’s another case of blurb seduction, but I just expected a whole lot more than I got. But it is a solid first book in a new series, and while I haven’t made up my mind as to whether I’m going to read book 2 yet or not, it’s still a great summer read, and a whole lot of fun. If you’re looking for something a little more original in your steampunk/alternate history PNR YA genre stories, definitely check out “Weather Witch”.

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Review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood

Born WickedTitle: Born Wicked

Author: Jessica Spotswood

Genre: Alternate History, Historical, YA, Witches

Publication Date: February 7, 2012

Source: Bought

Synopsis: A gorgeous, witchy, romantic fantasy by a debut author! Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and the Beautiful Creatures series!

Everybody thinks Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they’re witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship–or an early grave. Then Cate finds her mother’s diary, and uncovers a secret that could spell her family’s destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra. But if what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe–not even from each other.

4/5 stars – A fun, diverse, female-friendly fantasy, but it needs more of a plot and more witchery

Without Usagi’s recommendation, Born Wicked never would have made it onto my radar. Love triangles and Blob-like romance that swallows all it touches aren’t my thing and reviews assured me both were out in full force with this novel despite the tantalizing premise and promise of sisterhood offered by Cate, Maura, and Tess. What I found in its pages was a pleasant surprise! The criticisms are right and I understand exactly where they’re coming from, but despite that, this was fun and tapped into my feminism–which is good, in this case.

Cate and her sisters are all beautifully developed and pop off the page as if they were real and arguing right in front of me about whether or not to use magic. Cate as the protective older sister who has seemingly internalized all the Brotherhood has to say about girls like her, Maura as the more independent-minded, rebellious sister, and Tess as the youngest sister who has yet to show much of how her life has affected her are memorable and had everything else about the novel fallen flat, they would have remained vivid to me.

Spotswood’s setting in which witches have always existed and once ruled but were deposed by the Brotherhood is also vividly drawn. It would have been easy for it to fall into the same homogenous casting so many other historical novels–realistic and fantasy alike–fall into, but her cast of characters is as diverse as it is well-drawn. Asian families are just as much a part of this New England as any other racial-ethnic group and there are no issues with it at all. One could contest how race isn’t treated realistically due to the lack of racial tension, but it works somehow and in any case, it’s a joy to see a diverse cast like this in a genre that often falls into the same trap over and over again.

Something sad about Born Wicked is how the plight these girls face in an alternate-history, circa-1900 New England isn’t always that different from what we as girls and women have to deal with in our own world. The rhetoric the Brotherhood spouts about how women are sinful, wicked creatures who must be tightly controlled for their own good is still preached in our world to this day, be it just as openly or more subtly.

You remember Texas, right? The legislators who recently passed a draconian abortion bill there seem to believe women’s bodies are so dangerous that what women do with them must be more tightly regulated and controlled than even guns. That’s right: our reproductive organs are more dangerous than weapons. The Brotherhood may be fictional, but their rhetoric–that girls are guns waiting to go off and must be kept from doing so by any means–is all too real and are exactly what we girls and women must fight every day of our lives even if we don’t realize we’re fighting it all the time. Realizing this made me sad and angry and in awe of Spotswood all at once. I LOVE subtle feminism in YA.

What keeps Born Wicked from making it into my collection of favorite books is the lack of plot, poor pacing, and how little witchery actually happens within the novel. Every now and then, Cate discovers something that advances the plot, but for the most part, it’s all about arguments with her sisters and the romance. The love triangle is barely a bother because one suitor is so rarely present that it’s clear he’s not going to win Cate’s heart. The other suitor isn’t any better because it’s insta-love all the way between the two of them. Later in the novel, their scenes become cloying and baffling in either measure because how they got to where they are so quickly is a mystery to me.

Though the lack of their powers being used is understandable to due to Cate’s vehement orders to use them as little as possible, what little magic we get from this witch novel is a bit disappointing. I love witch books, but I’d like to see them being witches and embracing their gifts for more than a handful of pages!

Not two hours after I finished Born Wicked, I picked up Star Cursed (there’s a good, long story behind it involving my car, a heavily backed-up drain that nearly gave the poor thing water damage on its first day, and more) and it’s just a little ways down in my admittedly massive TBR pile. Here’s hoping it can improve on Born Wicked‘s flaws and deliver an unabashedly fun story of witches, women, and the Cahill sisters’ destinies.

Review: “Shadow of the Mark (Marked #2)” by Leigh Fallon

12543750Title: “Shadow of the Mark (Marked #2)”

Author: Leigh Fallon

Genre: YA contemporary, PNR, UF

Publication Date: July 9, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Megan knew she was destined to be with Adam from the first moment she saw him and now they are determined to be together. But Megan and Adam are Marked Ones, and a romance between two Marked Ones is strictly forbidden…and could cause worldwide devastation.

☆: 3.5/5 stars – a great follow-up to book one!

Review: I did enjoy the first book in this series, “Carrier of the Mark” quite a bit, so I was excited to hear there’d be more books coming out. So far it looks like it’s going to be a quartet, so that’s going to be interesting. While “Shadow of the Mark” won’t let fans of book one down, I feel like it could have been a lot better than it was. Maybe this is middle book syndrome coming in a bit, but I just was kind of irritated at some of the stuff I’ll be talking about in the main review. However, I do definitely want to read book three now. Like, yesterday. Damn you, cliffhanger hook ending!

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