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Book Review: The Vine Witch (The Vine Witch #1) by Luanne G. Smith

Book Blurb:

A young witch emerges from a curse to find her world upended in this gripping fantasy of betrayal, vengeance, and self-discovery set in turn-of-the-century France.

For centuries, the vineyards at Château Renard have depended on the talent of their vine witches, whose spells help create the world-renowned wine of the Chanceaux Valley. Then the skill of divining harvests fell into ruin when sorcière Elena Boureanu was blindsided by a curse. Now, after breaking the spell that confined her to the shallows of a marshland and weakened her magic, Elena is struggling to return to her former life. And the vineyard she was destined to inherit is now in the possession of a handsome stranger.

Vigneron Jean-Paul Martel naively favors science over superstition, and he certainly doesn’t endorse the locals’ belief in witches. But Elena knows a hex when she sees one, and the vineyard is covered in them. To stay on and help the vines recover, she’ll have to hide her true identity, along with her plans for revenge against whoever stole seven winters of her life. And she won’t rest until she can defy the evil powers that are still a threat to herself, Jean-Paul, and the ancient vine-witch legacy in the rolling hills of the Chanceaux Valley.

Published October 1st 2019 by 47North

My Review:

Can we just take a moment to appreciate that cover? Gah, I think it’s so flipping gorgeous! I mean, just look at it! Earthy, mysterious, almost decadent in a way with those dark hued colors–whoever came up with that cover deserves a raise.

Anyway! On to the book itself!

The writing was masterfully done. Lyrical and elegant, in a way. It was definitely an instance of the form serving the narrative, because I’d go so far to say the writing was pastoral. And the celebration of earth–and of living simply with the earth, appreciating its beauty and gifts–was definitely a strong theme throughout. I’ll be honest, it made me long to get out and visit a vineyard, go hiking in the woods, spend the day at a lake–anything related to nature. So, mission accomplished, Vine Witch!

Elena’s character was such a delightful one to follow, thanks to her flaws. Her need for revenge clouded her judgement, which I could respect (after all, if I’d been cursed and spent seven years working to undo it, I wouldn’t be a happy camper either). And her recklessness contributed to some of the problems she encountered. Those mistakes made her feel like such a relatable person, drawing me deeper into her conflict and investing me in her story.

My only critique would be the romance plot. It could have, in my opinion, been fleshed out more. I couldn’t exactly see the sudden shift from awkward, to wary, to love that the narrative followed. It felt more like it was tossed in simply because a love subplot was needed. But I think the seeds were there, they just needed more attention to flourish.

Overall, I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down until I finished, only taking a quick break to shoot of a text to one of my reader friends telling her to drop everything and get this book! It’s such a captivating read! 4.5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: Twinned Shadow (The Shadow Series #1) by Candice Bundy

Book Blurb:

A Foothold In Two Different Worlds, And No Safety In Either…

I, Becka Rowan, live in a time of uneasy peace. A fragile truce stands between humans, shifters, and the fae-touched—those who turn inward to their Houses for loyalty and protection and live in isolation from the outside world.

For an ungifted like me, that’s impossible to do.

Born of the fae but not blessed with their powers, I’ve grown up as an outcast within the human world. Humans don’t trust people like me with fae heritage, and the fae don’t bother with the ungifted. I said screw it and embraced college, determined to make my own fate.

Just when I thought I could start a prestigious internship and continue my quest to address interspecies conflict, someone murdered my twin sister, an adept illusionist and heir to our family lineage.

So, I’m going back home to say goodbye. Back to House Rowan. I take a deep breath, knowing after a short few days I’ll return to the city, free again from the melodrama of the House I was raised in.

There’s just one hitch in my plan—Quinn, a fae-touched member of the Enforcer’s Guild assigned to investigate the killing. Quinn doesn’t let the typical fae prejudices against the ungifted prevent him from staying close to me. Uncomfortably close. Besides, he needs my help to figure out what happened to my sister.

How can I refuse?

Published January 13th 2020 by Lusios Publishing LLC

My Review:

The premise of this book was an excellent hook. An outcast diving back into the world she’d been banished from to find her twin sister’s murderer? I’m down for supernatural mysteries and this one promised to deliver.

Especially after the first few chapters, when we get to meet Becka. I loved her fierce independence and adoption of human culture. Denounced by the fae-touched, she embraced the Other, which was humanity in this case (humans and the fae-touched had a war a while back and the hostilities and prejudices are still trickling down to Becka’s time). While I loved that refusal to associate with anything tied to the people that banished her, I would have loved to see more bitterness come as a result of it. Or even bitterness toward humans, who might have tolerated her living among them, but still didn’t truly accept her. Candice Bundy goes to great pains to express how limbo-locked Becka is, not belonging to either group, but her personality doesn’t seem to reflect it truly. Sure, she has a few mean things to say to her family, but at the end of the day, it felt like she wasn’t truly messed up by their abandonment. She played nice (even though her family treated her horribly because of her ungifted status), slid back into the role of a dutiful daughter, and only made a few snappy retorts.

Quinn was similarly another character I had a few issues with. He seemed to be on the ball with everything. A revelation in the case was made to Becka, but then we had Quinn in the background, admitting that he knew that revelation already. It made him seem too perfect. Aside from his dark reputation (which actually wasn’t that dark as his reputation was as someone who seemed to value fairness over bigotry) he was the perfect book boyfriend: attentive, hot, mysterious, and charming.

The plot itself, at the beginning, was very engrossing. I followed along with the mystery, eager to uncover the clues and meet with the suspects. But when the culprit was announced, I felt disappointed. I won’t go into too many specifics, as I don’t want to spoil anything, but the stereotypical motivation and lackluster climax didn’t live up to the expectation I’d set from the stellar beginning of the book.

With all that said, I definitely encourage reading this book! I enjoyed it immensely and the only reason I’m drawing attention to these points is because after reading the author’s work, I feel like she can do better. I see great potential in her and I’m excited to see her skills progress as she keeps writing! 4 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: Demon Magic and a Martini (The Guild Codex: Spellbound #4) by Annette Marie

Book Blurb:

When I first landed a bartending job at the local guild, I didn’t know a thing about magic. These days, I’m practically an expert on the different magical classes, but there’s one nobody ever talks about: Demonica.

Turns out they have a good reason for that. My guild is strictly hellion-free, because who wants to risk life and limb to control the biggest bullies on the mythic playground?

Well, some people do, and now a demon has been loosed in the city. My three best friends are determined to slay it, but even badass combat mages are critically out-magicked. And that’s not all. The monster they’re tracking—it’s not hiding. It’s not fleeing. It’s not leaving a trail of corpses everywhere it goes.

The demon is hunting too. And in a city full of mythics, it’s searching for deadlier prey.

If we can’t unravel the demon’s sinister motivations, more innocent people will die, but finding the answers means digging into dark secrets … and learning truths I never wanted to know.

Published April 12th 2019 by Dark Owl Fantasy Inc.

My Review:

How on earth does Annette Marie write books that I simply can’t put down? It’s the darndest thing really. I start one of her books and all too soon, hours have skated by without me realizing and I’m flipping that last page.

She hits it out of the park once again in her fourth installment of her Guild Codex: Spellbound series. The plot hits the ground running, thrusting Tori and the Crow and Hammer Guild into the center of a demon hunt. Scary stuff, given the expert world-building and characterizations both in this novel and leading up to it in previous books.

The world-building, once again, is one of my favorite parts. I love how magic doesn’t always make things easier for the characters occupying this world. It’s a love-and-hate relationship, just like with social media for example, that has it’s good parts and it’s bad ones. The complexity of guild interactions, how the laws are set up by the MagiPol, and the prejudices and taboos all give this novel a very real feel.

That level of detail and imagination bleeds over to the characters as well. We learn more about our favorite Crow and Hammer mythic trio, the elements teased out expertly in the narrative. And, in the center of it all, we have Tori’s spunk, sass, and flaws prevalent as she tries to navigate this demon hunt.

What can I say? 5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: Long Witch Night (Red Witch Chronicles #2) by Sami Valentine

Book Blurb:

Lights, Camera, Poltergeist. A Hollywood dream becomes a nightmare.

Called to a movie set, Red investigates a haunting that threatens to turn a Christmas flick into a slasher film. Allied with a soulmancer, she has to save the Hollywood A-Listers from a phantom that wants souls instead of autographs.

Busting ghosts is easier than laying her own personal demons to rest. With a paralyzed mentor, a sexy vampire playing hard to get, and petrifying anxiety about her own mysterious origins, Red is struggling to find the holiday spirit.

Everyone wants their fifteen minutes of fame in Los Angeles, Red has to find out who is willing to kill for it.

…Before the poltergeist takes her out first.

Published December 20th 2019 by Pocketmaus Publishing

My Review:

Just like with its predecessor, I got some serious Buffy vibes coming from this book. Though it definitely took one a more ghostly vibe as the story progressed. In this installment of Sami Valentine’s Red Witch Chronicles, we find Red and Vic working to exorcise the Bell Witch from a Hollywood set.

But things aren’t straightforward when you’re dealing with ghosts.

And soon Red finds herself fighting for her life against dark forces hellbent on vengeance.

It was a fun read–especially if you adored Buffy or The Vampire Diaries. Exactly the kind of supernatural cozy you might be looking forward if you need a little romance, a lot of action, and spades of spooks. The characters kept true to their first installment, which I loved, and I seriously felt for the trauma they experienced in the first book. I appreciated that immensely–it wasn’t just something that was dealt with and hardly brought up again. There were lasting repercussions from the first novel that made themselves apparent in this one, giving the story more oomph in my opinion, especially in terms of world-building.

The writing felt sharper and cleaner too. Though there were some parts that felt too stylized, at the expense of clarity. It was beautiful writing, don’t get me wrong, but I found myself rereading the parts and trying to puzzle through what the flowery prose meant. That being said, it was definitely cleaner and felt generally more professional, which just goes to show how dedicated to her craft Sami Valentine is.

I loved my second jaunt through the supernatural LA of Sami Valentine’s imagination. 4.5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: The Runaway’s Homecoming by JF Lee

Book Blurb:

Li Ming is a disgraced swordsman searching for the man who killed his family. Shu Yan is a runaway serving girl from the pleasure houses. When she hires the swordsman to take her to her hometown, she sets off a chain of events that could topple the Southern Kingdom.

My Review:

This novella promised action, epic settings, and a wuxia hero I couldn’t help but become endeared to. And…drum-roll please…it definitely delivered.

To be honest, I had no idea what wuxia meant when I first stumbled across this story. But thanks to the author’s very helpful website (check it out here!) I learned everything I needed. And, turns out, I already knew a healthy chunk about the wuxia genre–I just didn’t know the name of it. According to the author’s website, “wuxia is a genre of Chinese fiction that features itinerant warriors of extreme (almost supernatural) martial arts skill in ancient China.”

Turns out, I’m a fan of wuxia! And I didn’t even know it.

JF Lee definitely knows his niche though, as seen in his writing. You’re immediately drawn into the aesthetic, complete with sprawling, mist-covered landscapes and run-down villages populated with war-weary survivors. The characters are engaging, the conflict ends satisfyingly, and the tension amps up as the hero and villain dance around meeting. The only thing I would have preferred was more of an interaction between Li Ming (the swordsman) and Shu Yan (the runaway). Those interactions are glossed over in the story, and by the end of it, we can see the result of all that time spent together, without the effort put in. I would have enjoyed watching them getting to learn about one another, seeing them interact so as to better understand their characters and their relationship. As this is an introductory novella, I’m sincerely hoping the first full-length book will cover that more, because I did find the characters fun and interesting.

If you’re a fan of the genre, I’d definitely recommend this teaser. And yes, it’s absolutely a teaser. As a novella, it’s a short-read (I finished mine in less than an hour), so don’t go looking to be entertained for hours on end when you download your free copy of this story. However, it’s a wonderful appetizer to what I’m sure will be a phenomenal first course when Sword of Sorrow Blade of Joy is released. 4.5 out of 5 stars!

Oh, and if you want to get your free copy, click here!

Book Review: The Hazel Wood (The Hazel Wood #1) by Melissa Albert

Book Blurb:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away-by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Published January 30th 2018 by Flatiron Books

My Review:

Dudes, this is one creepy book.

I mean, yes, I was prepared for the dark, twisted fairy tales (thank you book cover!), but the unsettled sensation of seeing these characters in the real world? Watching them plucked straight from the gruesome fairy tales they inhabited and plunked down in our world? Yeah, that left me wigging.

Wigging, I say.

Which segues nicely into my favorite part of this story: the fairy tales themselves and how they were presented. I absolutely loved how Melissa Albert wove the fairy tales into Alice and Finch’s story–something about having a character tell the stories orally really hooked me into them. Especially if the story-telling was interrupted and I was left waiting for the ending. The tales themselves were wonderfully creepy, if not downright unsettling, and I found that I enjoyed that immensely. I know a good chunk of fairy tales have dark endings (have you read the original Little Mermaid story? Yikes!) but so often nowadays, fairy tales generally have this light and airy connotation ascribed to them. And it felt refreshing to read a book about unique fairy tales that refused to fit into that category.

However, the book did have its pitfalls. I wasn’t a fan of the main character, Alice. Her anger never seemed rational to me, and even though it was explained later, it was too late–I’d already spent hours with her and decided I wasn’t a fan. She never achieved that emotional resonance so important for main characters to have. I felt bad about her mother, and that helped motivate me to keep reading, but I wasn’t as invested because of her unexplained anger issues and the demeaning way she interacted with other characters.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. I loved the meta concept of the fairy tales invading the real world and the tales themselves. The writing flowed smoothly and the world-building of the Hinterland was phenomenal. Sadly, I just didn’t like the characters. 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: A Symphony of Echoes (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #2) by Jodi Taylor

Book Blurb:

Book Two in the madcap time-travel series based at the St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research that seems to be everyone’s cup of tea.

In the second book in the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, Max and the team visit Victorian London in search of Jack the Ripper, witness the murder of Archbishop Thomas a Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, and discover that dodos make a grockling noise when eating cucumber sandwiches.

But they must also confront an enemy intent on destroying St Mary’s – an enemy willing, if necessary, to destroy History itself to do it.

A-Symphony-of-Echoes
Published August 20th 2015 by Accent Press (first published October 22nd 2013)

My Review:

Once again, Jodi Taylor knocked it out of the park with a witty, hysterical, and action-packed installment in her The Chronicles of St. Mary’s series.

Once again, Max races against Time (ironically enough) to finish the missions assigned to her by St. Mary’s.  Without dying in the process, if she can help it.  Like with the previous book, this one hops around between numerous time periods.  And again, I found that I enjoyed that immensely.  Visiting Victorian London in the same novel as taking a stroll through the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (well, kinda of)?  The snapshots of history kept me thoroughly engaged, giving me a taste without completely submerging me into the time period.  There’s something to be said about that deep immersion, but with the fast-paced, action-packed rhythm of this particular novel, the hopping around does a credit to the story-telling.

The characters were truthful to their roots, and the chaos was as charming as ever.  My only problem was a teensy-tiny one.  The Victorian London bit felt disjointed from the remainder of the novel.  Everything else seemed to tie into the over arching plot, but the quick jaunt through the swirling London fog felt disconnected from the rest.  I’m hoping it’s just groundwork being laid for subsequent novels, but I couldn’t help but feel that slight pang of dissatisfaction at reaching the conclusion with some questions left unanswered.

Still, it was a delightfully entertaining story, and I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone looking for a quirky read.  4.5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: Just One Damned Thing After Another (The Chronicles of St. Mary’s #1) by Jodi Taylor

Book Blurb:

“History is just one damned thing after another.”

Behind the seemingly innocuous façade of St Mary’s, a different kind of historical research is taking place. They don’t do ‘time-travel’ – they ‘investigate major historical events in contemporary time’. Maintaining the appearance of harmless eccentrics is not always within their power – especially given their propensity for causing loud explosions when things get too quiet.

Meet the disaster-magnets of St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research as they ricochet around History. Their aim is to observe and document – to try and find the answers to many of History’s unanswered questions…and not to die in the process. But one wrong move and History will fight back – to the death. And, as they soon discover – it’s not just History they’re fighting.

Follow the catastrophe curve from 11th-century London to World War I, and from the Cretaceous Period to the destruction of the Great Library at Alexandria. For wherever Historians go, chaos is sure to follow in their wake….

Published June 2016 by Night Shade Books (first published June 1st 2013)

My Review:

Is it too late to change my major? Go back, chuck English, and go with History instead?

Ok, no, I probably wouldn’t actually do it. But I do love books that bring me right close to that edge, and this one gets gosh-darn close in making me love history as much as literature.

The humor in this book had me doing more than the snort-giggles-puffing-out-air thing most people usually do when they get to a funny bit. I actually laughed out loud when reading this book. Courtesy of the wonderfully created characters working at St. Mary’s.

More than just their dry British humor–which should be reason enough for you to pick up this book–the cast feels real on a more complex level. Especially our brash heroine, Max. There’s a history there, complete with trauma, that motivates her actions. In fact, all the characters have deeply personal motivations that drive them. We see villains acting out of pettiness, friends turning jaded, rivalry department bravado, the long suffering voices of reason trying to wrangle their more rambunctious coworkers…you know, just like your typical work environment.

Another thing I loved about this time-hopping narrative was that they actually hopped through time. So many stories around time-travel center on a specific date and time. Not so much here. The characters talk about visiting dinosaurs in the same breadth as they discuss going to see the Library of Alexandria–the reader actually gets a jaunt through history, sight-seeing in a manner that most narratives don’t.

But the quality doesn’t lack for it. If anything, the expert writing and fast-paced narrative structure make it all the more engaging. There’s this undercurrent of “too many places, too little time,” which I think compliments one of the problems St. Mary’s faces: with the whole of history open before you, how do you pick where to go first?

I loved this book. And was so glad it was recommended to me. If you’re looking for an entertaining, hysterical, bad-ass story to lose yourself in for an afternoon, I recommend this one. One-hundred percent. 5 out of 5 stars!

Book Review: The Near Witch (The Near Witch #1) by V. E. Schwab

Book Blurb:

The Near Witch is only an old story told to frighten children.

If the wind calls at night, you must not listen. The wind is lonely, and always looking for company.

There are no strangers in the town of Near.


These are the truths that Lexi has heard all her life.

But when an actual stranger, a boy who seems to fade like smoke, appears outside her home on the moor at night, she knows that at least one of these sayings is no longer true.

The next night, the children of Near start disappearing from their beds, and the mysterious boy falls under suspicion.

As the hunt for the children intensifies, so does Lexi’s need to know about the witch that just might be more than a bedtime story, about the wind that seems to speak through the walls at night, and about the history of this nameless boy.

Part fairy tale, part love story, Victoria Schwab’s debut novel is entirely original yet achingly familiar: a song you heard long ago, a whisper carried by the wind, and a dream you won’t soon forget.

Published March 12th 2019 by Titan Books (first published August 2nd 2011)

My Review:

Does anyone else think audio-books give you a different reaction when you first hear a story? That some books are made for being read aloud while others do infinitely better when you sit with the actual book in your hands, reading silently?

Because this is definitely a book that needs to be heard.

I don’t do audio-books that often, but I had a drive coming up, and this one had been on my To Read list forever, so I downloaded it (thank you, public library!) and was good to go.

The fairy tale cadence of the writing, that breathless, almost whispered rhythm, lent itself so beautifully to the story. It enhanced it, actually, drawing me in deeper. Which was weird, because when I arrived at my destination and tried to finish the last few chapters by reading them on my Kindle, I lost some of the magic of the story.

Not to say the ending was disappointing. It wasn’t, by any stretch. But the allure of hearing this particular story aloud had been such a powerful force, that with it gone, I felt it powerfully.

Especially in instances where the magic happened. Most notably, with the wind.

You could hear the wind in the writing. Could feel it, and while I listened to the story, I was even more conscious of the wind whistling past my car.

Which I freaking loved.

Because the story itself felt a bit obvious. You have a witch, with a witch-hunt, and fear spiraling through the town of Near. The story was masterfully crafted, but it was a story I’d heard before: fear of the other and the unknown. I would have enjoyed it more, I think, if it hadn’t been so cliche in some of its instances and if the characters hadn’t fallen so completely into the molds that all witch-hunt stories inevitably have.

Still, I adored this story, and I was so glad I got the chance to listen to it. And even with the the straightforward flow of the narrative, the writing was so compelling, so captivating, that I was memorized while I listened. It deserves a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: Heroine Complex (Heroine Complex #1) by Sarah Kuhn

Book Blurb:

Being a superheroine is hard. Working for one is even harder.

Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to Aveda Jupiter, her childhood best friend and San Francisco’s most beloved superheroine. She’s great at her job—blending into the background, handling her boss’s epic diva tantrums, and getting demon blood out of leather pants.

Unfortunately, she’s not nearly as together when it comes to running her own life, standing up for herself, or raising her tempestuous teenage sister, Bea.

But everything changes when Evie’s forced to pose as her glamorous boss for one night, and her darkest secret comes out: she has powers, too. Now it’s up to her to contend with murderous cupcakes, nosy gossip bloggers, and supernatural karaoke battles—all while juggling unexpected romance and Aveda’s increasingly outrageous demands. And when a larger threat emerges, Evie must finally take charge and become a superheroine in her own right… or see her city fall to a full-on demonic invasion.

Published July 5th 2016 by DAW

My Review:

Ok, this book starts off with super-heroines fighting demonic-possessed cupcakes (which I don’t think counts as a spoiler, because look at those little buggers on that phenomenal cover).

I didn’t realize how much I needed a book to start off with super-heroines fighting demon-possessed cupcakes until this book.

And boy howdy, it just ramped up from there. I loved the over-the-top comic style nature of things, I loved the action, the drama, the romance. This book mashed all my favorite buttons so hard and fast it was like I was playing a round of Super Smash Bros.

Let’s start off with my favorite bit: the relationship between Aveda and Evie. Sadly, It’s a dichotomy I’m all too familiar with. In high school, I felt like I went through something similar, so seeing the angst of their situation unfold resonated strongly with me. And I think it will for a broader audience in general, even if they haven’t lived through something similar. After all, how many people have felt underappreciated? Or gotten so angry with a loved one that they exploded?

And that’s what I loved about it–the explosion. Because yes, we get into fights all the time with loved ones. But usually, as in the case with a majority of the young adult/urban fantasy books I read, the emotions are swept aside in favor of the “big picture” problem: Having feelings about a boy? Trouble with your parents? Feeling misunderstood or alienated? Well tough–bottle that up and put it on the back-burner because the fate of the world is at stake here. Wherein, magically, the personal problems disappear as the fate of the world is saved.

Not here.

Here, we see Evie forced to deal with her problems before. She had to suss out her emotions, confront them, and deal with those demons before, you know, the physical, cupcake-possessing kind ruin everything.

Which leads me to the characters. They were a glorious cast of misfits. Sure, their characterizations seemed over the top, more like caricatures of people, but somehow, that worked with the comic book vibe. I mean, Tony Stark is the epitome of over-the-top, so, you know, it worked for me.

I deeply loved this book. It’s one of those gems that I won’t be able to keep to myself–if I so much as get a whiff of a potential what-are-you-reading conversations with any of my friends and family, I’m going to recommend it. 5 out of 5 stars!