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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Review: Weather Witch by Shannon Delany

Weather WitchTitle: Weather Witch

Author: Shannon Delany

Genre: Historical, Alternate Universe, Steampunk, Paranormal

Publication Date: June 25, 2013

Source: Finished paperback from the publisher for review

Synopsis: 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 -Despite a myriad of problems, this is a lot of fun!

Delany’s werewolf series never caught my attention because werewolves don’t work well with me, but steampunk and Weather Witches? Now that sounded fun, especially after a copy of Weather Witch showed up on my doorstep and gave me the pretty-cover equivalent of puppy eyes. There’s a lot that needs improvement, but despite it all, Weather Witch is a really fun read and would be especially good for an airplane ride or similar trip.

Delany’s strongest suit in her novel is easily the ideas, especially the idea behind the Weather Witches. Their horrible treatment and how society is largely conditioned to be okay with it lends a little dystopian element to the novel, though it’s not strong enough to earn it the label. With a little more explanation of terms like Lighting Up, Drawing Down, and other ominously capitalized terms, the Witches could have been even more strongly characterized (though they’re pretty well-characterized as they are after the ultimate truth behind their origin is revealed).

I still have one question, though: if a Weather Witch is how the settlers made it safely to the New World and avoided being eaten by the vicious mermaid-like Merrow, why hate them so much and force them into slavery?

The society Delany builds is a little silly with its class system and how people say they’re Fifth of the Nine or another number to announce their class to others (First of the Nine being the highest, I believe), but the Victorian-esque society is an easy one to dive into thanks to its familiarity. Not even the sometimes-overwrought prose had the ability to shake me for long! What did shake me was how little time each POV got because there were simply too many POVs in this little book. Two of them really had my attention, but due to the split between those and the four or five others, they didn’t get all the attention they deserved.

Finally, I come to the characters themselves. Jordan’s story is the one most worth caring about because we’re never sure if she’s been framed or if she’s really a Weather Witch. There’s strong evidence on both sides and the eventual explanation of it? Pretty brilliant! I’ve got no clue if it’s even remotely possible, but due to the paranormal elements of it all, I’ll let it slide and take the explanation as it is. The Maker’s POV is predictable but still sweet. If only his relationship with his long-lost daughter had been incorporated into Jordan’s POV so we’d see their growing relationship through her eyes and have more time in her head…

Oh well! Besides all that, Rowen’s part of the story may have been the weakest. There’s not terribly much that happens in Weather Witch, but his story has the least progress of any of them. Jordan gets taken away, he kills a man in a duel, and goes on a journey to find and rescue Jordan. That’s all there really is to his and it’s not that necessary. Marion’s POV and his desire for revenge aren’t much stronger than Rowen’s sections, but they’ve got potential and there’s no doubt they’ll go somewhere delicious in the next novel!

It may sound like I didn’t like Weather Witch much at all, but it’s fun enough that I might keep an eye out for Stormbringer, the next novel in the series. Here’s hoping it trims down the POVs, focuses more on those few plot lines, and gives the characters the depth they deserve.

Review: “Born of Illusion” by Teri Brown

13000748Title: “Born of Illusion”

Author: Teri Brown

Genre: YA, historical, paranormal

Publication Date: June 11, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: Anna Van Housen has a secret.

A gifted illusionist, Anna assists her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen, in her stage show and séances, easily navigating the underground world of magicians, mediums, and mentalists in 1920’s New York. As the illegitimate daughter of Harry Houdini—or so Marguerite claims—sleight of hand illusions have never been a challenge for Anna. The real trick is keeping her own gifts secret from her opportunistic mother. Because while Marguerite’s own powers may be a sham, Anna possesses a true ability to sense people’s feelings and foretell the future.

But as Anna’s powers intensify, she begins to experience frightening visions of her mother in peril, which leads her to explore the powers she’s tried so long to hide. And when a mysterious young man named Cole moves into the flat downstairs, introducing Anna to a secret society that studies people with gifts like hers, she is forced to confront her past and rethink everything she’s ever known. Is her mother truly in danger, or are Anna’s visions merely illusion? And could the great Houdini really be her father, or is it just another of Marguerite’s tricks?

From Teri Brown comes a world bursting with magic, with romance, and the temptations of Jazz Age New York—and the story of a girl about to become the mistress of her own destiny.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – a great debut that takes us back to the 20s!

Review: Guys, I loved this book. So much that I’m willing to forgive the almost-love triangle in this story. I definitely can’t wait until the next book in the series, due out next year.  This book brings back the roaring ’20s (with its gin joints, speakeasies, dance parties and flappers) back with beautfiul, vibrant ease, so much so that when we came to the last page, I didn’t want to let go. If you’re looking for a new paranormal YA book that’s also historical fiction, you may want to take a chance on “Born of Illusion”.

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Review: “Star Cursed (Cahill Witch Chronicles #2)” by Jessica Spotswood

16101026Title: “Star Cursed (Cahill Witch Chronicles #2)”

Author: Jessica Spotswood

Genre: YA, historical, alternate universe/parallel timelines, paranormal

Publication Date: June 18, 2013 (Penguin – North America)

Source: Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: With the Brotherhood persecuting witches like never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate’s friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers—if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves.

Cate doesn’t want to be a weapon, and she doesn’t want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood’s schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she’ll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.

In the highly anticipated sequel to Born Wicked, the Cahill Witch Chronicles continue Cate, Maura and Tess’s quest to find love, protect family, and explore their magic against all odds in an alternate history of New England.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – an awesome continuation to the first book!

Review: Oh my god, those last two pages, you guys – DEFINITELY makes this book a candidate for my best of 2013 for that alone, but this book takes many risks, and I love that Spotswood wasn’t afraid to go into some of the darker places that other sequels would have avoided. It made me love this book, this world, these characters all the more. This one’s going to kick your feels right in the feels, guys, so hold on as we go into rocky territory in “Star Cursed”. I’m absolutely chomping at the bit for book three NOW.

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Review: “Another Little Piece” by Kate Karyus Quinn

12665819Title: “Another Little Piece”

Author: Kate Karyus Quinn

Genre: YA contemporary, mystery, thriller, paranormal, AWESOME

Publication Date: June 11, 2013 (HarperTeen – North America)

Source: Edelweiss Review Copy/ Publisher-provided ARC

Summary: On a cool autumn night, Annaliese Rose Gordon stumbled out of the woods and into a high school party. She was screaming. Drenched in blood. Then she vanished.

A year later, Annaliese is found wandering down a road hundreds of miles away. She doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t know how she got there. She only knows one thing: She is not the real Annaliese Rose Gordon.

Now Annaliese is haunted by strange visions and broken memories. Memories of a reckless, desperate wish . . . a bloody razor . . . and the faces of other girls who disappeared. Piece by piece, Annaliese’s fractured memories come together to reveal a violent, endless cycle that she will never escape—unless she can unlock the twisted secrets of her past.

☆: 4.5/5 stars – holy crap, definitely one of the best of 2013 so far!

Review:  Holy WOW, guys. This one blew me away. I wasn’t expecting anything of what I got, and…even now I can’t really put words together about this release. Why isn’t this release on the Dark Days tour? It deserves to be there for the summer 2013 batch for sure. “Another Little Piece” has something for everyone – mystery, the paranormal, dissociative identities (OR ARE THEY?) and so forth. I found myself drawn in, and I basically read it in one or two sittings, which is pretty rare for me. If you want a good YA standalone this summer that will literally make the hair on the back of your neck stand up, look no further than “Another Little Piece”.

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