Mini Reviews: Blackmoore + When the Moon Was Ours

MiniBless the mini review! There’s nothing like breaking up the monotony of full book reviews than a mini review. I’m on hiatus until the 22nd, but I thought I’d share a couple of mini reviews while I’m away. This week I have mini reviews for Julianne Donaldson’s Blackmoore and Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Blackmoore
Author: Julianne Donaldson
Series: N/A
Pages: 286
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Release Date: September 9th 2013 

      “Kate Worthington knows her heart and she knows she will never marry. Her plan is to travel to India instead—if only to find peace for her restless spirit and to escape the family she abhors. But Kate’s meddlesome mother has other plans. She makes a bargain with Kate: India, yes, but only after Kate has secured—and rejected—three marriage proposals.
      Kate journeys to the stately manor of Blackmoore determined to fulfill her end of the bargain and enlists the help of her dearest childhood friend, Henry Delafield. But when it comes to matters of love, bargains are meaningless and plans are changeable. There on the wild lands of Blackmoore, Kate must face the truth that has kept her heart captive. Will the proposal she is determined to reject actually be the one thing that will set her heart free?”

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“The ocean wet the air, flavoring each breath with salt and freedom and foreignness. The towering building loomed overhead, darker than the darkening sky. The moors stood like a stretch of barrier—an impenetrable wilderness hemming and shielding and pushing this building toward the ocean. It was wild and dark and grand and tall and fierce and haunting all at one.”

If Kasie West is my go-to author for a light and satisfying contemporary read, Julianne Donaldson may just be mine for when I’m in the mood for a quick, enjoyable historical romance. Donaldson’s second novel Blackmoore had me swoony from start to finish. Kate Worthington is determined to escape the caged life she knows awaits her through marriage, so makes an impulsive deal with her conniving mother. If she can get proposed to three times while visiting Blackmoore, her mother will grant her the freedom to go to India with her aunt. Of course, nothing goes according to plan, Kate isn’t quite sure how to persuade one, let alone three gentleman into proposing, and there is also the issue of her long-suppressed feelings for her childhood best friend Henry Delafield. These two completely tore me apart. There was so much chemistry between Kate and Henry. I loved how the author incorporated Kate’s flashbacks because it gave their relationship so much more depth. Because of them, I could not put this book down and ended up finishing it in a day. Donaldson’s writing took a leap forward between Edenbrooke and this one. I was immediately taken in by the beautiful and haunting atmosphere of Blackmoore and would love to have explored this manor more. If you haven’t checked out Julianna Donaldson’s novels Edenbrooke and Blackmoore, I encourage you to do so.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: When the Moon Was Ours
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore
Series: N/A
Pages: 288
Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Release Date: October 4th 2016

      “To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

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“All these things reminded her of his moons, and his moons reminded her of all these things. He’d hung a string of them between her house and his, some as small as her cupped palms, others big enough to fill her arms. They brightened the earth and wild grass. They were tucked into trees, each giving off a ring of light just wide enough to meet the next, so she never walked in the dark.”

Anna-Marie McLemore’s When the Moon Was Ours is one of the most stunning novels I’ve ever read. It’s a short novel, but I found myself pausing every few pages because McLemore’s writing was so beautiful, I needed a moment to truly appreciate it. Taking inspiration from the folklore of La Llorona, McLemore weaves a tale about a boy and girl trying to discover who they are in a world that doesn’t quite understand them. Miel’s past is a mystery, from the moment she emerged from the water tower, her past has been locked up deep inside her. Most people aren’t sure what to make of her and the roses that grow from her wrist, but she’s always found a companion in Sam, a transgender boy who’s always felt like an outsider himself. Sam is trying to understand his own gender identity while also trying to appease those around him. Though it was hard to read when people tried to take advantage of Sam and “expose” him, it was an honest display of how many believe they have more of a right to determine someone’s identity than the person themselves does. McLemore’s characters are a mix of vulnerability and strength; her story is both dark and whimsical; and her words are moving and breathtaking. It’s novels like When the Moon Was Ours that make me love the genre of magical realism even more. If you haven’t picked up Anna-Marie McLemore’s novels yet, I strongly encourage you to do so.

Rating: 5/5

★★★★★

Mini Reviews: Heartstone + By Your Side

MiniHave I mentioned how nice it is to write a couple of mini reviews during the month? I love writing reviews (mostly), but sometimes I don’t have the time to write down all my thoughts and sometimes I just can’t seem to find the words. It’s nice having this alternative way of sharing my thoughts on books. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Heartstone
Author: Elle Katharine White
Series: N/A
Pages: 352
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: January 17th 2017 

      “A debut historical fantasy that recasts Jane Austen’s beloved Pride & Prejudice in an imaginative world of wyverns, dragons, and the warriors who fight alongside them against the monsters that threaten the kingdom: gryphons, direwolves, lamias, banshees, and lindworms.
      They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.
      Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.
      Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers . . . something far more sinister than gryphons.
      It’s a war Aliza is ill-prepared to wage, on a battlefield she’s never known before: one spanning kingdoms, class lines, and the curious nature of her own heart.

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“My breath rattled in my ears. I stared at the creature twitching at my feet. Even deep in it death throes, its talons raked the ground, reaching for me to rend, to kill.

If there’s one kind of retelling that I find hard to resist it’s Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Elle Katharine White’s Heartstone reimagines the classic in a world filled with dragons, gryphons, and adorable hobgoblins. Aliza is brave and opinionated, not easily intimidated and I really liked how important her family was to her. Alastair Daired, dragon Rider and far too arrogant for his own good, is standoffish and rigid in his opinions, but still has an unmistakable charm that’s hard not to fall for. It’s hard not to compare White’s characters to their inspirations. There were several characters whose reincarnations I found a lot more enjoyable. Aliza’s sister Leyda still retained the silliness I’m used to seeing in Lydia Bennet, but unlike her counterpart, who’s obsession with marriage is both infuriating and understandable, Leyda’s ambitions lie in her desire to be a Rider. She longs for adventure, to not be the sister everyone overlooks and I really sympathized with her character. Overall, Heartstone was a fast-paced and fun retelling that I’d recommend to those looking for a different take on the classic.

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: By Your Side
Author: Kasie West
Series: N/A
Pages: 342
Publisher: Harper Teen
Release Date: January 31st 2017

      “When Autumn Collins finds herself accidentally locked in the library for an entire weekend, she doesn’t think things could get any worse. But that’s before she realizes that Dax Miller is locked in with her. Autumn doesn’t know much about Dax except that he’s trouble. Between the rumors about the fight he was in (and that brief stint in juvie that followed it) and his reputation as a loner, he’s not exactly the ideal person to be stuck with. Still, she just keeps reminding herself that it is only a matter of time before Jeff, her almost-boyfriend, realizes he left her in the library and comes to rescue her.
Only he doesn’t come. No one does.
      Instead it becomes clear that Autumn is going to have to spend the next couple of days living off vending-machine food and making conversation with a boy who clearly wants nothing to do with her. Except there is more to Dax than meets the eye. As he and Autumn first grudgingly, and then not so grudgingly, open up to each other, Autumn is struck by their surprising connection. But can their feelings for each other survive once the weekend is over and Autumn’s old life, and old love interest, threaten to pull her from Dax’s side?”

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      “A voice in the back of my head told me to calm down before I made it worse. Everything was fine. So I was stuck alone in a library, but I was safe. I could read and jog the stairs and stay busy. There were plenty of distractions here.
      In my new quiet state, I heard something behind me. Footsteps on wood.”

If there is one contemporary author whose books always seem to lift my spirits, it’s Kasie West. Her stories are entertaining and her characters enjoyable. Her latest novel By Your Side is fun, fast-paced contemporary that had me smiling throughout. Autumn Collins thinks she knows exactly what she wants, but when she ends up trapped in her school library for a weekend with Dax Miller, their connection throws her for a loop. Autumn is a people pleaser, her friends tend to be more outgoing than herself, and she often finds it difficult to say no to them. She also has an anxiety disorder that can sometimes interfere with her social life. In Dax, she finds someone whose personality she finds calming and who she wants more than anything to help. But By Your Side is more than just about Autumn trying to figure out what she wants for herself. She also learns how important self-care is despite outside pressure from her friends. I really liked Dax, despite the parts of his personality that can be called cliché, but once again with West’s love interests, I wish we could have learned more about him and his situation. On my wish list: a Kasie West book with dual perspectives.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: Nimona + Burn Baby Burn

MiniTime for another round of mini reviews. I’ve been lucky enough to pick up some really great reads this year, here are a couple that I didn’t have time to write full reviews for, but that I enjoyed a lot nonetheless. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Nimona
Author: Noelle Stevenson
Series: N/A
Pages: 266
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: May 12th 2015 

      “Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.
      But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona’s powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.”

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Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is my first graphic novel and it won’t be my last. Stevenson’s characters are incredibly lovable from the impulsive Nimona to the strangely ethical supervillain Ballister Blackheart. With a fast-paced story, Nimona was a hard one to put down. Nimona and Blackheart make quite the team as they seek to bring down the Institution of Law Enforcement & Heroics. With Blackheart’s archenemy Sir Goldenloin leading the fight against them, this story is full of humor and adventure with friendship and love at its center. If you enjoy superhero stories where no one is who they seem, where the line between the good guys and bad guys is blurred, be sure to check this one out.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★


Title: Burn Baby Burn
Author: Meg Medina
Series: N/A
Pages: 310
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: March 8th 2016

      “Nora Lopez is seventeen during the infamous year 1977 in New York.
      After a freezing winter, a boiling hot summer explodes with arson, a blackout, and a serial killer named Son of Sam, who is shooting young people on the streets seemingly at random.
      Not only is the city a disaster, but Nora has troubles of her own: her brother, Hector, is growing more uncontrollable by the day, her mother is helpless to stop him, and her father is so busy with his new family that he only calls on holidays.
      And it doesn’t stop there. The super’s after her mother to pay their overdue rent, and her teachers are pushing her to apply for college, but all Nora wants is to turn eighteen and be on her own. There is a cute guy who started working with her at the deli, but is dating even worth the risk when the killer especially likes picking off couples who stay out too late?”

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“They were eighteen and twenty years old, more or less like us. They went to the movies and found out that the city isn’t huge at all. In fact, it can shrink down to the size of a gun barrel, just like that.”

Meg Medina’s Burn Baby Burn is an emotionally gripping novel. Nora is a protagonist that is easily relatable as she struggles with an uncertain present and an even more uncertain future. It’s 1977 and the serial killer, the Son of Sam, is on a rampage. Nora and her best friend Kathleen are on the brink of adulthood and while this should be the best time of their lives, much of their choices are predicated on the fear that anyone, including themselves, can be the serial killer’s next target. Nora’s homelife is a constant struggle, if it isn’t financial issues that make it almost impossible to make rent every month, than it’s her younger brother Hector, who is spiraling out of control. Trapped between her brother’s rage and her mother’s impotence, Nora is constantly trying keep the peace and not drown in her own despair in the process. Medina does a fantastic job of transporting the readers to 1977 New York and made it impossible to not feel for someone like Nora who has so many unreasonable burdens placed upon her shoulders. It’s the story of a young women who finds courage to stand up for herself, to take control of her own life despite the awful hand she’s been dealt.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★

Mini Reviews: The Female of the Species + Like a River Glorious

MiniWith the end of the year just around the corner, it’s nice to be able to put together a couple of mini reviews instead of full ones. This week I have a few thoughts to share on two recent releases: Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species and Rae Carson’s Like a River Glorious. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Female of the Species
Author: Mindy McGinnis
Series: N/A
Pages: 344
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: September 20th 2016 

      “Alex Craft knows how to kill someone. And she doesn’t feel bad about it. When her older sister, Anna, was murdered three years ago and the killer walked free, Alex uncaged the language she knows best. The language of violence.
      While her crime goes unpunished, Alex knows she can’t be trusted among other people, even in her small hometown. She relegates herself to the shadows, a girl who goes unseen in plain sight, unremarkable in the high school hallways.
      But Jack Fisher sees her. He’s the guy all other guys want to be: the star athlete gunning for valedictorian with the prom queen on his arm. Guilt over the role he played the night Anna’s body was discovered hasn’t let him forget Alex over the years, and now her green eyes amid a constellation of freckles have his attention. He doesn’t want to only see Alex Craft; he wants to know her.
      So does Peekay, the preacher’s kid, a girl whose identity is entangled with her dad’s job, though that does not stop her from knowing the taste of beer or missing the touch of her ex-boyfriend. When Peekay and Alex start working together at the animal shelter, a friendship forms and Alex’s protective nature extends to more than just the dogs and cats they care for.
      Circumstances bring Alex, Jack, and Peekay together as their senior year unfolds. While partying one night, Alex’s darker nature breaks out, setting the teens on a collision course that will change their lives forever.

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      “Sometimes I forget for one second and it hurts.
      It’s a different kind of pain than the constant, the weight that hangs from my heart. It swings from twine embedded so deeply that my aorta has grown around it. Blood pulses past rope in the chambers of my heart, dragging away tiny fibers until my whole body is suffused and pain is all I am and ever can be.

I had really high expectations for Mindy McGinnis’s The Female of the Species after being so impressed with A Madness So Discreet. While the concept itself was really interesting and I found myself rooting for Alex despite her violent tendencies (or maybe because of them), I was hoping for a deeper exploration of this protagonist’s psyche. From the get-go, we learn just what she is capable of and slowly get a bit of backstory to help understand where she inherited these vicious impulses, but I wish the narrative would have slowed down when it came to her backstory. Much of the story focuses on Alex’s growing relationship with both Peekay and Jack. Of the two main relationships highlighted in this novel, Alex’s friendship with Peekay felt more genuine and significant. Jack was a character I wanted to like, but his character development revolved only around Alex and I just wanted more from him. I don’t want to diminish the important subjects this novel touches on like rape culture and gender roles, so if either of those subjects interest you, I’d recommend this one.

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: Like a River Glorious
Author: Rae Carson
Series: The Gold Seer Trilogy, #2
Pages: 398
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date: September 27th 2016

      “Lee Westfall survived the dangerous journey to California. She found a new family in the other outcasts of their wagon train, and Jefferson, her best friend, is beginning to woo her shamelessly. Now they have a real home—one rich in gold, thanks to Lee’s magical ability to sense the precious metal in the world around her.
      But Lee’s Uncle Hiram has survived his own journey west. He’s already murdered her parents, and he will do anything to have Lee and her talents under his control. No one is safe. When he kidnaps her, she sees firsthand the depths of his depravity.
      Lee’s magic is changing, though. It is growing. The gold no longer simply sings to her—it listens. It obeys her call. Will that alone be enough to destroy her uncle?”

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“A condor soars high above. It’s a giant of a bird, bigger even than an eagle, with magnificent black-and-white wings. Like everything else in this territory, it’s both familiar and odd, and it makes my old home in Georgia seem like a very small, distant place.”

Rae Carson proves once again in the second book in her Gold Seer Trilogy that she is a phenomenal writer. While I do think Like a River Glorious lacked the kind of focus found in Walk on Earth a Stranger, it was really enjoyable to read about Lee coming into her ability in this one. One of my favorite aspects of the first novel was Lee’s relationship with her best friend Jefferson. In this book, we see their relationship progress further, but I would have liked to have seen more of Lee’s feelings transition from friendly to romantic. With the way this Like a River Glorious ended, I’m unsure of Carson’s overall plot to this trilogy, as much of conflict seems resolved by the end of this one.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

Mini Reviews: The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind + The Forgetting

MiniIt’s been a while since I put together a couple of mini reviews. I’m seeing a pattern emerge with these mini reviews, that I’m more likely to write them when I’ve rated a book three stars. It’s always those books in the middle that are sometimes hard to find all the right words for. This week I’m reviewing Meg Medina’s The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind and Sharon Cameron’s The Forgetting. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind
Author: Meg Medina
Series: N/A
Pages: 256
Publisher: Candlewick
Release Date: March 13th 2012 

      “Sixteen-year-old Sonia Ocampo was born on the night of the worst storm Tres Montes had ever seen. And when the winds mercifully stopped, an unshakable belief in the girl’s protective powers began. All her life, Sonia has been asked to pray for sick mothers or missing sons, as worried parents and friends press silver milagros in her hands. Sonia knows she has no special powers, but how can she disappoint those who look to her for solace?
      Still, her conscience is heavy, so when she gets a chance to travel to the city and work in the home of a wealthy woman, she seizes it. At first, Sonia feels freedom in being treated like all the other girls. But when news arrives that her beloved brother has disappeared while looking for work, she learns to her sorrow that she can never truly leave the past or her family behind.

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“What would you do here in Tres Montes. Sonia? We both know that not even a magic girl can fill stomachs with wind and spells.”

Meg Medina’s The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is a story of a girl who learns to define herself when her entire identity has been defined by how other people see her. For people in Tres Montes, Sonia Ocampo’s birth was a blessing that brought peace to the town when they were sure it would crumble under a storm. Over the years, her prayers on their behalf have kept them safe and healed the sick. But this gift has become a curse to Sonia, she grows weary of shouldering the town’s burdens and it feels impossible to continue when she begins to doubt her gift. Although I found this story enjoyable, I couldn’t help but want more. The novel itself was very short and I would have liked to have spent more time with Sonia and her town before she chose to leave it. With family ties at its core, The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind is a beautifully told coming-of-age story that is both heartbreaking and hopeful.

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: The Forgetting
Author: Sharon Cameron
Series: N/A
Pages: 403
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: September 13th 2016

      “Nadia lives in the city of Canaan, where life is safe and structured, hemmed in by white stone walls and no memory of what came before. But every twelve years the city descends into the bloody chaos of the Forgetting, a day of no remorse, when each person’s memories – of parents, children, love, life, and self – are lost. Unless they have been written.
      In Canaan, your book is your truth and your identity, and Nadia knows exactly who hasn’t written the truth. Because Nadia is the only person in Canaan who has never forgotten.
      But when Nadia begins to use her memories to solve the mysteries of Canaan, she discovers truths about herself and Gray, the handsome glassblower, that will change her world forever. As the anarchy of the Forgetting approaches, Nadia and Gray must stop an unseen enemy that threatens both their city and their own existence – before the people can forget the truth. And before Gray can forget her.”

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“We run, hard, and the ground falls away, and then we are the ones falling, soaring, and I catch a glimpse of the sparkling canyon, the misty pool below, the spray of the waterfall, three moons cresting the peak of a mountain.”

I approached Sharon Cameron’s The Forgetting with a little apprehension. Dystopian novels have had their day in my mind and they all start to sound alike after a while. This novel really didn’t offer anything new when compared to other dystopian books. I will say that Nadia’s character was different from what I typically see in these kind of novels. She’s quiet and withdrawn, a reaction to feeling very alone in the world. But Nadia also keeps herself closed off from others as a matter of self-preservation. Her closest relationship is with her younger sister Genivee, and even though her older sister Liliya is determined to be rid of her, Nadia shows a deep devotion to both. Gray himself was a likable character, but there was nothing particularly unique about him. The Forgetting wasn’t necessarily a bad book, but not much about it felt very memorable.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

Mini-Reviews: How to Hang a Witch

MiniI love the month of October. I love when the colors of the leaves change and the promise of cooler weather (the promise of, where I live it doesn’t start to cool down until November), but above all I enjoy October because of Halloween. I usually like to include two mini reviews in the same post but after I started writing one of my mini reviews it turned into a full one, so I’ve only got one for you this time around. If you’re still looking for a Halloween read, this might be the one for you. Cover below is linked to Goodreads.

Title: How to Hang a Witch
Author: Adriana Mather
Series:
How to Hang a Witch, #1
Pages:
368
Publisher: 
Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: 
July 26th 2016

      “Salem, Massachusetts is the site of the infamous Witch Trials and the new home of Samantha Mather. Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam is not exactly welcomed with open arms. She is a descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those Trials—and almost immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?
      If dealing with that wasn’t enough, Sam finds herself face to face with a real, live (well, technically dead) ghost. A handsome, angry ghost who wants Sam to stop touching his stuff.
      Soon Sam discovers she is at the center of a centuries-old curse affecting everyone with ties to the Trials. Sam must come to terms with the ghost and work with The Descendants to stop a deadly cycle that has been going on since the first alleged witch was hanged. If any town should have learned its lesson, it’s Salem. But history may be about to repeat itself.

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“There’s a light creaking of old wood as I approach the burgundy bedroom. I peek inside and flip on the light. The rocking chair moves back and forth. I grab the arm and it stops. I scan the room, but everything’s still.

Adrian Mather’s debut novel How to Hang a Witch has a rich setting that works really well at bringing the story to life, but at times the novel felt like it dragged. After an accident that leaves her father in a coma, Sam and her stepmother move back to his childhood home of Salem, Massachusetts. It’s hard enough to adjust to this new life without her father, but Sam soon discovers that her family’s history makes her an outcast in this town. Then she discovers that her family may be caught up in a deadly curse and she must find a way to break it before it takes the life of her father. How to Hang a Witch draws a lot of parallels between Sam’s situation and the Salem Witch Trials in the 17th century, sometimes this works to enhance the novel and sometimes the comparison falls flat. Sam herself was a character that I sometimes found frustrating, her bad attitude grated on my nervous. I really liked some of the minor characters, but we only get tiny glimpses of who they are. There is a love triangle of sorts in this novel and one side really didn’t resonate with me, but hopefully this is cleaned up in the next novel.

Rating: 3/5

★★★