Spellbook of the Lost and Found by Moïra Fowley-Doyle

Title: Spellbook of the Lost and Found
Author: Moïra Fowley-Doyle
Series: N/A
Pages: 357
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books
Release Date: August 8th 2017

      “One stormy summer in a small Irish town, things begin to disappear. It starts with trivial stuff—hair clips, house keys, socks—but soon it escalates to bigger things: a memory, a heart, a classmate.
      Olive can tell that her best friend, Rose, is different all of a sudden. Rose isn’t talking, and Olive starts to worry she’s losing her. Then diary pages written by someone named Laurel begin to appear all over town. And Olive meets three mysterious strangers: Ivy, Hazel, and her twin brother, Rowan, secretly squatting in an abandoned housing development. The trio are wild and alluring, but they seem lost too—and like Rose, they’re holding tightly to painful secrets.
      When a tattered handwritten spellbook falls into the lives of these six teenagers, it changes everything. The spellbook is full of charms to conjure back that which has been lost, and it lists a part for each of them to play in the calling. It might be their best chance to set everything back to rights, but only if they’re willing to pay the price.”

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“Moss became fur became dead animals on the floor of the forest. The trees became the spaces between the trees. We three held hands and made noises that weren’t words, but that Holly said later were a calling. A calling for the lost to be found.”

Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s Spellbook of the Lost and Found has a great cast of characters, but at times becomes convoluted because of said characters. After the night of the traditional bonfire, Olive wakes up unable to remember the night before. She isn’t the only one, her best friend Rose can’t remember either. Then important items begin to go missing around town. Whispers of a thief in town is the first conclusion everyone reaches. For Laurel and her friends, the world begins to shift beneath them when their diaries go missing. In a desperate attempt to get them back, they cast a spell to find what was lost, but it may have unforeseeable and lasting consequences. Hazel and her brother Jude are running from their pasts, but secrets don’t always stay hidden and these teens’ lives are about to collide.

The first thing that struck me about this book was the amount of characters involved. There are three separate stories unfolding at once, three separate narrators, and three groups of characters needed to keep track of. Early on, it was almost impossible to tell which characters were essential to the plot and which I could dismiss. Not only is it important to create narrators with distinct voices, which I discuss next, if you have a large cast of characters, it’s important to show early on who the readers should spend time investing in. Olive, Laurel, and Hazel narrator this book in alternating, first-person chapters. Their voices however are far too similar, especially early on. I had to often turn back to the beginning of a chapter or refer to my notes to remind myself which character was narrating.

I did really like characters like Olive and Rose, who felt more fleshed out than the others. More minor characters like Ivy and Holly, who did ultimately have roles to play, did not feel quite as well-rounded. I loved that this novel features so many female characters. There are arguable two relevant male characters compared to seven essential female characters. I also appreciated the different female relationships found in this novel. There are close friendships that are put to the test. Loyalty is tested and sometimes characters fail to do what is right. There are unrequited crushes where wandering gazes only end in broken hearts. And then there are characters who experience love for the first time, where the giving of oneself is both scary and exhilarating.

Moïra Fowley-Doyle’s writing is just as lyrical as her debut The Accident Season, but didn’t quite cast a spell over me like the first. Still, if you enjoyed her previous work, you may find yourself charmed by Spellbook of the Lost and Found.

3/5

★★★

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Mini Reviews: The Hearts We Sold + The Women in the Walls

MiniI didn’t plan on putting together more than one set of mini-reviews for this month, but ended up with these ones. The Hearts We Sold is a mini-review from last month and The Women in the Walls is one of my final reads of October. They both have a horror feel to them, so they’re perfect for my final reviews of the month. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: The Hearts We Sold
Author: Emily Lloyd-Jones
Series: N/A
Pages: 381
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 8th 2017 

      “When Dee Moreno makes a deal with a demon—her heart in exchange for an escape from a disastrous home life—she finds the trade may have been more than she bargained for. And becoming “heartless” is only the beginning. What lies ahead is a nightmare far bigger, far more monstrous than anything she could have ever imagined.
      With reality turned on its head, Dee has only a group of other deal-making teens to keep her grounded, including the charming but secretive James Lancer. And as something grows between them amid an otherworldy ordeal, Dee begins to wonder: Can she give someone her heart when it’s no longer hers to give?

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“Magic was just another fantasy. It was something she created to comfort herself. There were no fairy tales, no knights in shining armor. Just herself and her own wits.”

The first thing about Emily Lloyd-Jones’s The Hearts We Sold that caught my attention was the premise. The idea that demons have not only made themselves known to the world, but that they grant wishes in exchange for part of a person is potentially horrifying. Despite the unique premise, the world-building still left something to be desired. The ending really threw me for a loop. The “twist” could have been established earlier on and its consequences explored which would have help with the world-building. I really appreciated reading about Dee. I’d like to see more protagonists who have to deal with their parents’ addictions. As the child of alcoholics, Dee feels incredibly isolated. She internalizes a lot of negative thoughts about herself and others. This is a theme that runs throughout the entire novel and affects all of her relationships. At first, it’s easy to scoff at the idea of giving up your heart to a demon for anything, but Dee’s desperation really comes through and it’s hard not to in some ways support with her decision. The side characters in this one were enjoyable, but never felt fully realized. Aside from Dee, James was the one character that stood out. It’s always nice to get a love interest that isn’t a clichéd brooding male. He’s so full of life and lent a dose of levity to the Dee’s world. The Hearts We Sold is good novel for those looking for a darker fantasy with an unusual premise, but probably won’t blow you away in the end.

Rating: 3/5

★★★


Title: The Women in the Walls
Author: Amy Lukavics
Series: N/A
Pages: 278
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: September 27th 2016

      “Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.
      When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

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“Lucy,” I suddenly hear, a pleading, muffled voice coming from the wall. “You won’t believe how much it hurts to be dead.”

Amy Lukavics’s The Women in the Walls is one of the creepiest books I picked up this October. I went into this not expecting too many thrills as the reviews for this one have been on the negative side. I’m a big fan of build-up and think tension is essential for any horror story, so I was put off at first when we are thrust head first into this story. There is also a lot of telling rather than showing and while I do think the book improved as it went on, this was one of its shortcomings. I do want to mention that this novel does deal with suicide and self-harm, both of which I was not expecting. The protagonist is already buckling under familial expectations when the people around her begin acting strange. Lucy’s aunt disappears into the woods surrounding their estate and her cousin Margaret’s behavior becomes erratic. With her aunt gone, her cousin Margaret pulling away, and an emotionally absent father, Lucy begins to come apart. The pacing really picked up once I was halfway through. Once Lucy starts to hear voices from the walls herself, I had to continue reading. If you do decide to pick this one up, there are plenty of spine-tingling scenes that will both terrified and delight the horror fan.

Rating: 3/5

★★★

ARC Review: The Hollow Girl by Hillary Monahan

Title: The Hollow Girl
Author: Hillary Monahan
Series: N/A
Pages: 272
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: October 10th 2017
*I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review*

      “Five boys attacked her.
      Now they must repay her with their blood and flesh.

      Bethan is the apprentice to a green healer named Drina in a clan of Welsh Romanies. Her life is happy and ordered and modest, as required by Roma custom, except for one thing: Silas, the son of the chieftain, has been secretly harassing her.
      One night, Silas and his friends brutally assault Bethan and a half-Roma friend, Martyn. As empty and hopeless as she feels from the attack, she asks Drina to bring Martyn back from death’s door. “There is always a price for this kind of magic,” Drina warns. The way to save him is gruesome. Bethan must collect grisly pieces to fuel the spell: an ear, some hair, an eye, a nose, and fingers.
      She gives the boys who assaulted her a chance to come forward and apologize. And when they don’t, she knows exactly where to collect her ingredients to save Martyn.”

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Hillary Monahan’s The Hollow Girl is one of the few books that I would strongly suggest reading the synopsis of before diving in. The storyline involves the rape of the protagonist and how this dramatically changes her, as well as following her quest for retribution. Knowing the inevitable assault was coming did not make the beginning of the story any easier to read. There’s a lot of building tension that is both frustrating and representative of what the character is about to go through. The reader knows what’s coming, but is powerless to stop it. So many times we see the rape of a character used to shock audiences or propel another character’s arc forward. In The Hollow Girl, rape isn’t used for shock value and thus the author is able to approach it with sensitivity to the victim by centering Bethan.

Bethan has been raised as the eventual successor to the drabarni in her Romani clan. As drabarni, “Gran” functions as a healer to her people and is well respected within the community. Bethan has spent a considerable amount of time learning herbcraft, but has always been more interested in Gran’s other magical talents. To outsiders, the most that is shared is a cure for common ailments or a charm for dreams, but Bethan knows that Gran has greater power than this. After Bethan is raped, Gran offers her the opportunity to learn the craft in order to save the life of her new friend Martyn by taking something from the individuals responsible. Bethan learns that this kind of magic is costly. It not only demands sacrifice from these violators, but also demands her to do things she never thought herself capable of.

Bethan’s strongest relationship is with Gran. Though the older woman is harsh at times, she looks out for Bethan in her own way. Gran is a character who I won’t soon forget. She’s fierce, strong, and with a few words can induce fear in others. Bethan slowly begins to understand what it truly means to be drabarni by following Gran’s lead and in so doing gains a more complete understanding of her mentor. Bethan has always believed she will follow in Gran’s footsteps, but the accumulation of her experiences, has her calling this belief into question. I’m a big fan of fictional witches, but am mostly drawn to darker depictions. I loved the details in this one when it came to the witchcraft. It was messy and gruesome, but by making it so the author is able to show that these facts take a toll on the wielder of magic.

The Hollow Girl is not an easy read. It can be an emotionally exhausting experience. It is however an important story about a girl who endures a horrific trauma, but who takes back control of her life.

4/5

★★★★

ARC Review: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie C. Dao

Title: Forest of a Thousand Lanterns
Author: Julie C. Dao
Series: Rise of the Empress, #1
Pages: 384
Publisher: Philomel Books
Release Date: October 10th 2017

      “An East Asian fantasy reimagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress–and the darkness she must unleash to achieve her destiny.
      Eighteen-year-old Xifeng is beautiful. The stars say she is destined for greatness, that she is meant to be Empress of Feng Lu. But only if she embraces the darkness within her. Growing up as a peasant in a forgotten village on the edge of the map, Xifeng longs to fulfill the destiny promised to her by her cruel aunt, the witch Guma, who has read the cards and seen glimmers of Xifeng’s majestic future. But is the price of the throne too high?
      Because in order to achieve greatness, she must spurn the young man who loves her and exploit the callous magic that runs through her veins–sorcery fueled by eating the hearts of the recently killed. For the god who has sent her on this journey will not be satisfied until his power is absolute.

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Julie C. Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns delights with its dark imagery and compelling protagonist. Raised under the watchful eye of her stringent aunt, Xifeng has been raised to believe she is destined for more than her humble roots. Fate has foretold that one day she will become the Empress of Feng Lu and Xifeng will do whatever it takes to make this come true. When an opportunity to go to the Imperial City presents itself, Xifeng takes hold of it. But her lofty ambitions may cost her the only bright spot she’s had in her life. Inside the Imperial Palace, Xifeng discovers that she isn’t the only one who seeks to be Empress. She finds herself in the midst of a power struggle and the new target of one who will also do anything to take her place next to the Emperor of Feng Lu.

Xifeng is one of the most complex and interesting protagonists I’ve come across. Her beauty has set her apart since her birth. She’s used to being flattered, being on the receiving end of lingering looks, but also being resented by those who can only dream of being so beautiful. Her aunt Guma has fed into her vanity, teaching her that her beauty can be used as a weapon to get what she wants. Her lessons have taught Xifeng to tie her self-worth to her beauty and throughout the novel, we see the lengths she will go to to keep it. At the beginning of the novel, Xigeng is equally eager yet afraid to embrace her destiny. There is a darkness inside her that she has kept hidden, but with each passing day, the evil inside her grows stronger, calling her to take what rightfully belongs to her.

For years, Xifeng’s only refuge in the world was her childhood sweetheart Wei. She has sought to forget about her aunt’s prediction in his arms, but can’t help but hold herself back from giving him her entire heart. Wei wasn’t a character that I felt particularly strongly about. He often puts Xifeng on a pedestal and she grows frustrated with him for not seeing her for who she really is. Any darkness he sees in her is because of her aunt and not a part of Xifeng herself. I actually found myself leaning toward another love interest for Xifeng. I won’t say who it is for spoiler’s sake. There’s no promise of a happy ending for Xifeng in this series and there very likely won’t be, but I still found this newer romantic relationship to be entirely captivating.

Aside from Xifeng, the women in the Imperial Palace are the most compelling characters. The current Empress was not seen fit to rule with her kind heart, but she has other strengths that those around her underestimate. I really enjoyed Empress Lihua’s relationship with Xifeng, as the former desires a daughter and the latter a mother. Lady Sun is another player in this political world that Xifeng must outwit if she has any hope of becoming Empress, but the concubine is both ruthless and powerful. Her personal war with Xifeng will push the protagonist to her limits, but Lady Sun has no idea the dark power lurking underneath Xifeng.

Though Forest of a Thousand Lanterns starts off a little slow, it isn’t long before I was wholly absorbed into Dao’s world. Xifeng’s descent and transformation into villainess is a strangely satisfying journey that has me desperate for more.

4/5

★★★★

ARC Review: Black Bird of the Gallows by Meg Kassel

Title: Black Bird of the Gallows
Author: Meg Kassel
Series: N/A
Pages: 300
Publisher: Entangled Publishing
Release Date: September 5th 2017
*I received a copy of this book through NetGalley which does not influence my review*

      “A simple but forgotten truth: Where harbingers of death appear, the morgues will soon be full.
      Angie Dovage can tell there’s more to Reece Fernandez than just the tall, brooding athlete who has her classmates swooning, but she can’t imagine his presence signals a tragedy that will devastate her small town. When something supernatural tries to attack her, Angie is thrown into a battle between good and evil she never saw coming. Right in the center of it is Reece—and he’s not human.
      What’s more, she knows something most don’t. That the secrets her town holds could kill them all. But that’s only half as dangerous as falling in love with a harbinger of death.

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Meg Kassel’s Black Bird of the Gallows is your average, run-of-the-mill fantasy novel with a predictable plot and lackluster characters. Angie Dovage’s life takes a turn when Reece Fernandez moves in next door. Almost immediately, strange occurrences begin to happen. The closer Angie gets to Reece, the more she begins to realize that these strange events are tied to her new neighbors. As a harbinger of death, Reece can sense when death is near and he’s come to Angie’s town because disaster is imminent. But there are even darker players who have descended upon Cadence with their own nefarious plans and Angie is about to be caught in the middle.

When it comes to fantasy novels and especially ones that showcase a romance, I always feel that it’s better for an author to establish the world and protagonist first before introducing a love interest. This was not the case with Black Bird of the Gallows and it was difficult from the first page to care about Angie and Reece as a potential couple when there was no time to grow to like them as individuals. While I wouldn’t necessarily class this as an insta-love story, Angie is taken quite suddenly with Reece that I almost put down the novel. In one conversation, specifically with one look, Angie already thinks she can understand him on a “deep level.” She notes a couple of lines later that it was a six minute conversation. If there relationship had progressed rapidly from this point, I wouldn’t have been surprised. The story saves itself somewhat by allowing these two characters to be in each other’s presence for a more appropriate amount of time before a relationship between them begins.

Harbingers of death are really interesting entities in this world as they don’t cause calamities themselves, but they feed off the energy of the dead. There was apt opportunity to explore these creatures more in the novel, but readers are limited to only learning about Reece at length. Because of this, I never felt like the world-building was fully realized. The Beekeepers are another nonhuman creature in Cadence, one more diabolical than harbingers of death. Using a bee sting to infect humans, Beekeepers cause chaos by driving those stung into doing horrendous things. What bothered me the most about the Beekeepers is the fact that the story seemed to rely on them only preying on the “mentally unstable.” The text does not make it clear if this is in reference to those with mental health problems or just those who have problems controlling their anger. Either way I found it be a really unsettling premise, especially when later the Beekeepers proclaim that they don’t like to sting strong people.

Black Bird of the Gallows fails to really delve deep into its characters, its relationships lacked the kind of emotional depth that would allow me to feel invested, and the world-building felt too small when it came to its imaginary creatures.

2/5

★★

Mini Reviews: Three Dark Crowns + Song of the Current

MiniI decided to do something a little different in July and wrote mini reviews for all the books I read. This week I have two mini-reviews for fantasy novels, one of which I enjoyed way more than the other. Covers below are linked to Goodreads.

Title: Three Dark Crowns
Author: Kendare Blake
Series: Three Dark Crowns, #1
Pages: 398
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: Septemebr 20th 2016 

      “In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born—three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.
      But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

      The last queen standing gets the crown.

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“Looking into the mirror, she imagines her body in pieces. Bones. Skin. Not enough blood. It would not take much to break her down to nothing, to strip away scant muscles and pull the organs out to dry in the sun. She wonders often whether her sisters would break down similarly. If underneath their skin they are all the same.”

Kendare Blake’s Three Dark Crowns starts off promising, but its muddle storylines in the end left a sour taste in my mouth. I really appreciate novels that focus on sisters because it’s a great opportunity for an author to explore these complex relationships. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly what I got with Three Dark Crowns. Every generation triplets are born to the queen and they spend their formidable years apart until their sixteen birthday when they must fight until only one of them is left standing. Katharine, Arsinoe, and Mirabella have been raised apart under the influence of some of the most powerful players on the island of Fennbirn. Though one of them is destined to become queen, who they are and how the navigate the world has been influenced by people who have their own interests in mind. In many ways, these three girls are the least influential players in their own lives. I loved how distinct each sister is from one another and in the beginning, what held my attention was the character study of each. Katharine, though weak in many people’s eyes, is surprisingly ruthless; Arsinoe hides behind a mask of indifference, but has earned the unshakable loyalty of many; Mirabella who is one the most powerful elementals to be born has a very soft heart. About half way through the book, I began to lose interest. At times the novel spent far too much time on its minor characters and although I appreciated this scope, it was at the detriment of its main characters. There was one particular romantic relationship that really derailed this novel for me, both figuratively and literally. I’m still shaking my head at how little preamble there was and wished this novel had focused more on the relationship between the sisters.

Rating: 2/5

★★


Title: Song of the Current
Author: Sarah Tolcser
Series: Song of the Current, #1
Pages: 373
Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens Books
Release Date: June 6th 2017

      “Caroline Oresteia is destined for the river. For generations, her family has been called by the river god, who has guided their wherries on countless voyages throughout the Riverlands. At seventeen, Caro has spent years listening to the water, ready to meet her fate. But the river god hasn’t spoken her name yet—and if he hasn’t by now, there’s a chance he never will.
      Caro decides to take her future into her own hands when her father is arrested for refusing to transport a mysterious crate. By agreeing to deliver it in exchange for his release, Caro finds herself caught in a web of politics and lies, with dangerous pirates after the cargo—an arrogant courier with a secret—and without the river god to help her. With so much at stake, Caro must choose between the life she always wanted and the one she never could have imagined for herself.

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“Once we reached the murky dark of the opposing riverbank, I didn’t stop. I rowed so hard it sent up a swirling wake behind our stern. My heart pounded and my blood rang hot. The rain fell in torrents, trickling down the collar of my jacket and into my sleeves. The knit cap kept my ears warm, but my fingers were clammy and half-numb.”

Sarah Tolcser’s debut novel Song of the Current is a swashbucking adventure where a young woman discovers that fate has more in store for her than she ever imagined. Caro Oresteia grew up on the water. The Cormorant isn’t just a wherry, it’s her home and her destiny to take over for her father as captain one day. Her life takes a unexpected turn when her father is taken captive and Caro agrees to deliver a mysterious box in exchange for his release. Caro’s resolve is tested throughout her journey. She discovers more about herself and what she is willing to sacrifice for the people she cares about. I really enjoyed Caro as a character and loved that so much of the novel focused on who she was, her complicated feelings when it came to her mother and heritage, and the internal struggle she has with accepting her fate. I don’t want to give too much away when it comes to her romantic interest, but I loved that although the two characters immediately clash, they eventually develop a mutual respect for one another and they both challenge the other to see the world differently. I was really impressed by Tolcser’s writing considering this is a debut, her descriptions really brought this one to life. The minor characters were also really interesting and I’m particularly curious to learn more about Caro’s cousin Kenté. Song of the Current is a fun fantasy with a touch of romance and magic that’s sure to intrigue fans of the genre.

Rating: 4/5

★★★★