Saturday, September 30, 2023

REVIEW: Light Mage (The Black Witch Chronicles #1.5) by Laurie Forest

Light Mage
My Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Taking a quick detour between books 1 and 2 of the Black Witch Chronicles, we have Light Mage, which tells the back story of Sage Gaffney and The Wand of Myth, and how the wand eventually comes to be in Elloren Gardner's possession.

Fleeing the cruel ministrations of her betrothed fastmate, Sage sorrowfully leaves behind her home and family to hide out amongst her supposed enemies, quickly discovering that she must abandon her indoctrinated prejudices as she forges a new path for herself.

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Friday, September 29, 2023

REVIEW: The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

The Black Witch
My Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

I found The Black Witch to be a fantastic read. I read it before I was even aware of all the backlash it had initially received back in 2017 when originally published, having only heard about all that once I read the Goodreads reviews. And while I clearly recognized the fascist xenophobia apparent in the Gardnerian race right from the start, it was obvious that this extreme view was meant to negatively portray the kind of bigoted, closed-minded culture that Elloren grew up in. As a reader, you're meant to feel disgusted by it, and I quickly learned to abhor the strict Gardnerian views and prejudice. But then we get to see Elloren grow as an individual and question these same beliefs, while she learns that much of what she's been taught are fabrications or outright lies meant to indoctrinate and form impressionable young minds. What emerges is a girl who's finding her own mind and forming her own beliefs and impressions of the world based on the truths she's learned.

With all that out of the way, I have to say this is one of the best books I've read this year and I enjoyed it immensely. The fantasy world pulled together by the author is vast and vivid. Characters from many diverse races grace these pages—several of them unique to this series. The Gardnerians for example, are like a combination of Witch and devout Christian, if that's even possible, but Laurie Forest makes it believable and it works together wonderfully. The lush characters and world building drew me in to the story, making me feel as if I was right there and kept me glued to the pages. Definitely looking forward to the rest of this series!

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Monday, September 25, 2023

REVIEW: Wandfasted (The Black Witch Chronicles #0.5) by Laurie Forest

My Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

After reading an excerpt of The Black Witch at the end of Shadow Study, I was immediately intrigued. And since the next book in the Study series wasn't yet available to borrow from my library, I thought I'd dive into this new series instead, starting with the prequel novella. (Although at 200+ pages, this novella was no slouch!)

This novella details the story of Tessla Harrow, mother to Elloren Gardner, the main character in The Black Witch. Here we learn the back story of the Mages prior to The Realm War. The author paints a unique and richly drawn world, lush with magic, fantasy, and various races of beings. As Tessla is drawn to a handsome and powerful Gardnerian Mage, she begins to feel the depth of her power and the strong prejudices and injustices that have haunted her people for ages.

This novella just barely scratched the surface of what's to come in The Black Witch, and while I'll miss these characters, I'm already deeply enthralled in this world and anxiously looking forward to reading more. The Black Witch is up next!

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REVIEW: Shadow Study (Study #4) by Maria V. Snyder

Shadow Study
My Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Yay! Yelena, Valek and Janco are back for more adventure! And this time it's Yelena who's gonna lose her magic. But as the group struggles to determine what caused it, Yelena has now become extremely vulnerable to the danger around her—for magic can be inflicted upon her, but she can't react with her own. What's a girl to do? Investigate of course!

All the usual troupe is here and we're introduced to a mysterious new character, Onora, whom I've very much dying to read more about. She's an assassin like Valek and claims to be after his job. Maybe that's exactly what Valek needs so he and Yelena can spend more time together instead of always being apart on their own adventures.

And I won't give it away here, but Yelena ends the book with a surprise! I'm looking forward to reading Night Study next.

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Friday, September 22, 2023

REVIEW: Spy Glass (Glass #3) by Maria V. Snyder

Spy Glass
My Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

In this final installment of the Glass series, Opal is attempting to get her magic powers back by trying to track down vials of her blood that were previously siphoned from her. Traveling all over Sitia, attacked several times in the process, she is at the mercy of those who will do whatever they can to stop her.

As usual, the action is non-stop, the pace and storytelling superb, and I enjoyed seeing a lot of my favorite characters from the Study series here—Yelena, Valek, and Janco in particular. But it's Opal and her story here that keep me from rating this too highly. Because Opal is just a train wreck!! What was otherwise a great read was ruined for me by several of the things that happened with her, or to her.

For a good portion of the book, I was pleasantly surprised to see Opal gain more confidence and assertiveness (goodbye doormat!) and become better about not withholding important information from others—the Master Magicians, her friends, and family. I actually started to like her! And then, lest we get too used to that behavior, let's completely take away all her self will and make her a blood slave to this Galen/Finn guy! Because Opal isn't Opal if someone isn't taking advantage of her!

And then there's the fact that she decided to hook up up with Devlin instead of Kade in the end!! Yup, the dude that tortured her, not just once but twice! Addicted to blood magic as he was at the time... Okay fine, addicts don't always have control over their actions, and when they're getting clean, usually seek forgiveness from the people they've hurt. But forgiveness is one thing; actually marrying her abuser is another! *shakes head* And then poor Kade—beautiful, tormented Kade whom Opal managed to save from himself—is relegated to nothing in this book!!

Overall, I'm still happy I read it (and the rest of this series), just so that I can remind myself why I dislike Opal so much in case she decides to show her face in the Soulfinder series, which I'm going to start on next. I'll be so happy to revisit Yelena and Valek again!

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Saturday, September 16, 2023

REVIEW: Sea Glass (Glass #2) by Maria V. Snyder

Sea Glass
My Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Opal Cowan has just discovered a terrifying and substantial new power that can render any magician powerless. Despite being ordered to house arrest by the Council and Master Magicians, Opal defies these orders and sneaks out in an attempt to find Ulrik, whom she believes to have been deceived by blood magic. But as she heads deeper and deeper into hostile territory, and the people she once trusted turn their back on her, Opal must shift alliances and reevaluate her choices if she's to survive.

Sea Glass picked up right where Storm Glass left off, with Opal leaving the Northern territories of Ixia. Like previous titles, there was a whole lot of action going on, but Opal is still as frustratingly idiotic as before—withholding information, making incredibly stupid choices, and basically putting herself and everyone around her in danger.

The whole incident with the sea glass was kind of anticlimactic and didn't add anything to the story. Stormdancer Heli had been so intent on attempting to decode the hidden message in the etched numbers and letters, only to have her and Opal later dismiss the etchings as the rogue magician's way of categorizing his collection. I can only hope this seemingly meaningless plot line is a foreshadowing of something that will become more relevant in the next book.

I was sorely disappointed to see Opal relinquish her powers at the end. Which is leaving me to wonder how I'm going to feel about Spy Glass, the final book in this trilogy. But I'm holding out hope for a turnaround and a good outcome for Opal, because although she's not my favorite character, I'm still a sucker for a happy ending.

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Thursday, September 14, 2023

REVIEW: Storm Glass by Maria V. Snyder

Storm Glass
My Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Opal Cowan became known as the Glass Magician after helping Yelena capture the evil souls of the Warpers during the Daviian War. Now several years later, and in her 5th year at the Magician's Keep, she's still no closer to discovering what else she can do with her magic other than trap it in glass. But all that's about to change when she's called upon for for a mission to help the Stormdance clan. The orbs which they use to trap storms have been shattering and killing Stormdancers, and her expertise with the molten glass should help them determine the problem and how to fix it. Of course, she runs into plenty of other trouble along the way, and even discovers some additional powers laying dormant. But whether these new powers will put her life into even more jeopardy remains to be seen.

Obviously, this trilogy centers on Opal Cowan and is told from her POV. It should be read after the first three Study Books—Poison Study, Magic Study, and Fire Study. At first I thought I'd miss Yelena and not like these as much, but yay! Yelena is still referenced often and makes plenty of appearances here.

Opal is okay, but not nearly as badass as Yelena. She managed to piss me off with her stupidity several times in this book, particularly when she refuses to listen to her intuition or pay attention to the warning bells going off in her head. For example, after everything that she went through, taking direction to go on a mission from Ulrick instead of directly from Zitora??!! What's up with that?? Towards the end, she's learning to become a little more confident in herself, and I seriously hope that trend continues because I don't want to end up throwing my Kindle across the room again! 🤣

If you didn't read the first three Study books, a lot of this series may be lost on you. While the author does share about past events through Opal's thoughts, it's not really enough. But because I did, and am reading them in the order MVS recommends here, everything flowed together nicely for me. And I know I'll have more Yelena-specific titles to look forward to as well after this trilogy.

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Monday, September 11, 2023

REVIEW: Leigh Howard and the Ghosts of Simmons-Pierce Manor by Shawn M. Warner

Leigh Howard and the Ghosts of Simmons-Pierce Manor
My Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

Leigh Howard is simply a wreck after the murder of her parents sent her on a downhill spiral. Orphaned, she's sent to live with distant cousins at Simmons-Pierce Manor, a large sprawling estate, where she's welcomed into the family by her "aunt" and "uncle", her ebullient cousin Myra, and an ancient ghost with a personality disorder. Unfortunately, not much is known about the circumstances surrounding Leigh's parents murder, and as Leigh struggles with her grief, she's determined to find the answers herself since the investigation seems to be going nowhere. But just what can a 16 year girl with a mental health condition accomplish on her own... or with the help of her new friends? The answer might surprise you!

I simply had to read this after all the fuss, so here's my thoughts:

The story itself was interesting and entertaining! It had a good premise and strong characters. I appreciated that Leigh was headstrong and determined, despite being a bit emo due to her seemingly insurmountable depression, and her cousin Myra was the perfect counterpoint to that. The relationship between Leigh and Myra was sweet and loving, with Myra being a loyal companion to Leigh from the start.

The ghost, or ghosts in this case, also made for quite a bit of fun. Especially Little Bodie who was as mischievous as any 11-year-old boy.

It started off a bit boring and cliché, and the writing style was a bit hard to get into. Perhaps it was because I'd just finished a book by Sarah Waters prior to this, her writing style so very emotive. But here, I felt the author was continually telling—she saw, she felt, it was, it looked like, etc.— instead of showing or describing. But alas, this is the hallmark of many newly published authors, so I attempted to overlook this when I could. Hopefully Mr. Warner can tighten up his style as he continues to publish because he has a good story here; the writing of it could just use a bit of polish.

While I hate to dwell on the negative, I also didn't think that Leigh really sounded like a 16 year old girl, especially one who just attempted suicide. I believe this is the author, an older gentleman, attempting to project how he thinks a 16 year old girl thinks and talks, but he was pretty far off the mark in many respects. Some of her thoughts sounded as if she was 20 something, while others like she was 12. Again, I attempted to overlook it as I read.

I believe this book should've come with a trigger warning. Suicide is a very serious mental health issue, and I don't think it was handled properly in this story at all, kind of blown off as if it's something every 16 year old has done or attempted to. At the very least, a warning at the front of the book and a public service message at the end with a number to call. As this book is directed to teens and young adults, the author needs to keep in mind that there are impressionable young minds reading it too.

Overall, I'm glad I read this, despite my misgivings stated above. Every author has to start somewhere and I believe this is a promising start, and that with proper guidance, Mr. Warner's fanciful imagination can conjure up some great stories!

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REVIEW: Affinity by Sarah Waters

My Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Margaret Prior is a proper lady in 1870's Victorian England. After her Pa dies, she becomes a "Lady Visitor" at Millbank women's prison to help deal with her grief. And while visiting the various inmates there, becomes quite taken with a spiritualist named Selina Dawes, whom she comes to feel was wrongly imprisoned.

The atmosphere was very dark and gothic, and Ms Waters has a great talent for writing that really pulls you into that place. While the first 50-60% of the story was rather slow and plodding, the next half, once Selina began to pull Margaret in, began to pick up the pace. Unlike one of my other friends who reviewed this book, I didn't see this ending coming and was quite surprised and distraught by how things turned out.

If you like dark tales of Victorian England, then you'll probably like this, even the slower beginning which help to build a very strong atmosphere. While I didn't like it as much as some of Waters other novels like Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet, I still found it quite worth the read.

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Saturday, September 09, 2023

REVIEW: Fire Study (Study #3) by Maria V. Snyder

Fire Study
My Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Yelena is again fighting for her life! Now that she's been told she's a Soulfinder, her new Sitian friends are afraid of her. There hasn't been another Soulcatcher in the last 125 years and that one was wicked to the core! As a new threat descends upon Sitia—or same threat, different book really—Yelena travels through various realms, including some not of this plane, to go up against some very strong magic—so strong that just might kill her!

I loved that this book explored the Sandseed culture—it was something I was hoping for after reading the previous book, Magic Study. However, to my dismay, it wasn't long before most of the peaceful Sandseeds were killed off, and only their offshoots, the evil Daviian Clan, remained. 😢

Yelena seemed a little less brash, and wasn't always flying off to wage battles without proper consideration this time around. (They had a funny name for it in the previous book, though I can't quite recall it exactly.) So to that end, I found her behavior less annoying than the previous book.

However, and it's only because I enjoyed Poison Study so much that I have to make this critique, but did MVS switch editors for this book? Little things like misplaced semicolons, or dropped pronouns, prepositions & articles irked me, sometimes forcing me to go back and reread a sentence or paragraph several times. A few plot inconsistencies—like I could've sworn Valek previously told Yelena that he helped to smuggle young magicians out of Ixia, not kill them—yet that's exactly what she thought he did. There were a couple others... I can't recall now as I didn't write them down.

Overall, still a very good read, and what was initially supposed to be the end to the Study series... though further books were later added. I look forward to reading more!

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Monday, September 04, 2023

REVIEW: Magic Study (Study #2) by Maria V. Snyder

Magic Study
My Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Yelena is trying to settle in after her emigration from Ixia to Sitia. She's met her family, including an angry, spirited older brother, and begun her lessons at The Magician's Keep in the Citadel, where she's treated with wariness and suspicion. It's definitely not smooth sailing! Especially as a rogue magician is kidnapping young girls and straining her magical limits because yup, she just has to jump in to be the savior!

Magic Study picked up right where Poison Study left off. The world building of the Sitian Zaltana and Sandseed clans was really unique and interesting. I hope we get a deep dive into some of the other clans in future novels because I really did prefer the magical, Sitian landscape of this book as opposed to the military structure of Ixia.

Character-wise however, Yelena really bugged me quite a bit with her rash decisions, ignoring the Master Magicians, and constantly jumping into dangerous situations on her own without regard for anyone or anything else. As if after only two seasons in at the Keep in Sitia, she suddenly knows better than all the Master Magicians. Often times, her lack of foresight just gets her into trouble until someone else has to come to her rescue. Definitely not a very accommodating team player!

Despite my aggravation with Yelena, I did enjoy the story as a whole. The action was pretty intense and there were a few twists that I didn't see coming. I really hope that Yelena goes to spend some time with the Sandseeds in a future book though... she could really use some of their influence.

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Friday, September 01, 2023

REVIEW: The Study of Poisons by Maria V. Snyder

The Study of Poisons
My Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆

Having just started on the Study trilogy, I read this right after Poison Study and LOVED rereading the story from Valek's point of view. Everything fit together so perfectly. A few times when reading particular scenes, I even jumped back to Poison Study to remind myself what Yelena was thinking (or doing) at the time. Since Poison Study was still fresh in my mind however, I only did that a couple times, and never once did I find any inconsistencies in the story between the different points of view. Well done! On to Magic Study next!

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