Tag Archives: witches

UKYA Review: Red Witch by Anna McKerrow

Red Witch, Anna McKerrow, (Quercus, March 2016)

Sequel to Crow Moon (with a third in the series to come next year) – you might want to skip this review if you haven’t yet read Crow Moon, in order to avoid spoilers for the first book.

Red WitchGenres in the mix: Fantasy,  Dystopian

Age target: YA

Goodreads Summary: Seventeen, heartbroken, powerful; Melz has run away from home, run away from the safety of the Greenworld. In the cities of the Redworld, Melz discovers she’s special, desired. And not just for her magical talents.

When Melz meets the young but influential Bran, their attraction is instant and electric. In the Redworld, with Bran by her side, unrestrained by the customs of her former life, Melz knows she can reach her true potential. But the world Bran wants to give Melz is ravaged by war and violence. Oil is running out, and people will do anything to gain control of the remaining resources. Melz may be more powerful than ever, but even great power can be a curse when used against you.

Review-in-a-tweet: Sparkling, easy to engage with sequel to the fab Crow Moon. Magic, identity, power: a heady combination!

Hot buttons: Paganism, magic, environmentalism, responsibility

Narrative style: The first person present tense narration allows for close-up immediacy, plus we are treated to excerpts from Melz’s diary contextualising events with details such as moon phase and season. Each chapter is also headed with a quotation that also helps with the world-building.

The emotional ride: A real strength of this novel. After Crow Moon, told from Danny’s perspective, it was great to see Melz’s point of view as someone who’s always lived the Greenworld way more fully. As with the first in the series, there were plenty of ‘don’t do that!’ moments, so I was definitely gripped and rooting for Melz. It was a definite roller coaster of a novel, with plenty of emotional depth behind all the action.

Main character: Melz doesn’t get such a good press in Crow Moon and after her dramatic cursing at the end of that story, it’s great to see her perspective here. The close narration and opportunities to get a bit of her backstory made it easier to understand and ultimately sympathise with her, but it’s fair to say that she does a lot of growing and maturing across the two books. I personally prefer her as a character to Danny (not to say that I didn’t love Crow Moon, of course!) and have really enjoyed the first two instalments of their adventures. I can’t wait to read the third next year, with a different narrator again.

Hearthfire rating: 10/10 Smoking hot!

Speed Reviews (5-star UKYA Fantasy Edition)

Today in my speed reviews series, I’ve got two brilliant UKYA fantasy novels for you. Both are recently published, both open trilogies and, although their plots and characters are quite different, they both exemplify great world-building and plotting. And since I can’t resist it, I’ll also be linking to a couple of other fab UKYA fantasies that I’ve reviewed previously. I rate all books in this post 5 stars on Goodreads (“It was amazing”), as I feel they all represent top-quality examples of their sub-genres.

jkt_9780545810623.pdfThe Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury

is one of 2015’s big UKYA novels. A classical high fantasy in many ways, this novel introduces the character of Twylla, who has been taken from her family and installed in the palace as an incarnation of the goddess Daunen. Like all deities, she is treated with a healthy dose of fear, due to her poisonous skin (only those with royal blood can touch her and live). Although the novel is clearly set in a traditional high-fantasy medieval-style society, the writing is very contemporary and the narrative style is very engaging and accessible. This is not a novel that requires a glossary or for you to keep checking who’s who due to all the names being unfamiliar.

Twylla is a well-rounded character, reacting realistically to her bizarre life. I really enjoyed the ending of this one and was not initially sure whether there was going to be a sequel. As regular visitors here will know, I am not a fan of open/cliffhanger endings, and I am pleased to say that this closes like a standalone, but I definitely want to see more of Twylla.

The Sin-Eater’s Daughter is out now from Scholastic.

crow moonCrow Moon by Anna McKerrow

is another of 2015’s big UKYA releases. This is a much more contemporary fantasy, combining dystopian themes with the idea of magic. Protagonist Danny lives in the Greenworld, conceived as a Pagan utopia and consisting of Devon and Cornwall. Everywhere else is the Redworld, where capitalism, individualism and hate seem to be the ruling forces. Initially, Danny is sceptical about all this Pagan stuff, despite his Mum being an important witch, and is focused almost exclusively on chasing girls.

One of the things I love about this novel is Danny. He’s very representative of teen boys in terms of their sex drive, something  you don’t often see in YA novels. At times this tendency to be shallow and self-centred made me frustrated with him, but in a way that enhanced my reading because I was willing him to do better and notice what he needed to. I was certainly highly engaged in reading this book and will absolutely be reading the next in the series.

Crow Moon is out now from Quercus.

While I’m on the subject of 5-star UKYA fantasy, here are a couple more recommendations for you. Both of these are also trilogy-openers, and in both cases the second book is also now out (and equally good).

the night itselfThe Night Itself by Zoe Marriott

is an urban fantasy combining elements of Japanese folklore into a contemporary London setting. Her characters, plot and settings all contribute to a greater diversity in YA novels, and if any of the following appeal, you should definitely give this a go: a mysterious inherited sword, huge good-versus-evil battles, gorgeous toying-with-reader-emotions romance, fabulous fox spirits. Check my original review for more info.

banishedBanished by Liz de Jager

kicks off her urban fantasy trilogy focusing on a fae world. Her hero, Kit, is easily one of the most compelling YA protagonists I’ve read, and the world-building and use of folklore are superb. Read this one for lots of action, brilliantly-realised characters, a healthy dollop of snark and cynicism and (yes, I’m saying it) hot boys. Check my original review for more info.

Review: The Witch of Salt and Storm by Kendall Kulper

The Witch of Salt and StormMy initial thoughts:

Loved the atmosphere of this one – so tied to the coastal landscape and the community’s dependence on the ocean. A really lovely book about identity, power and loyalty. Felt quite ‘literary’ a lot of the time – reminded me of some aspects of Margaret Atwood or Jeanette Winterson. Definitely recommended for YA readers.

 

This is a story about 16-year-old Avery, who is desperate to take up her rightful place as official Witch of the island. Her grandmother currently has the role, but Avery’s mother swept her away so she couldn’t develop the necessary skills and knowledge.

The characterisation of Avery was complex and strong and I found her very easy to sympathise with. I also really liked the character of Tane, the tattooed and mysterious boy who wants her to interpret a notebookful of dreams for him. Their developing relationship is intriguing, even if at times I wanted to give each of them a slap/nudge – always a sign of convincing characterisation, I think!

As noted at the top of the post, this novel has a lyrical quality that I found beautiful and that reminded me of novels like The Handmaid’s Tale or Sexing the Cherry. The ‘salt and storm’ aspect of the title is thoroughly developed and a definite strength of the story.The sea atmosphere is pervasive, as is the claustrophobic influence of the small island community, making this a tense and evocative novel, with several unexpected twists.

Although it’s not an important point in selecting a book, it is nice to have a standalone read once in a while, particularly in the fantasy genre which is somewhat trilogy- and series-heavy. All in all, this was a satisfying and luxuriant read – very much a sensory experience.

I strongly recommend this one for those who enjoy any or all of the following aspects in their reading: YA, witches, sea-related settings, identity and/or family issues, secrets, tension and lyrical writing.

The Witch of Salt and Storm is available now, published by Orchard Books, to whom I am grateful for a review copy via NetGalley. More info on Goodreads.

Review: Witch Finder by Ruth Warburton

witch finderRichly evoked historical fantasy with adventure and romance. A treat of a read.

Having enjoyed Ruth Warburton’s first series, the Winter trilogy (A Witch in Winter, A Witch in Love and A Witch Alone), I was excited to read this. Like that series, this novel revolves around witches, but where the first was set in the contemporary UK, this novel reaches back into the past and is set in nineteenth century London. I was delighted to find that organisations from the Winter series are also part of the universe for this story. Having said that, if you haven’t yet read the Winter novels, this would not be a problem as everything is perfectly clear (and of course, chronologically this series comes first!) Yes, I did say series – there will be more to come, much to my delight.

I loved Luke the blacksmith (and Malleus Maleficarum initiate) from the very beginning. Young, determined and eager to please, he has our sympathy easily. His world is dark and the people around him lead difficult lives. Ruth Warburton conjures up the Victorian world in crisp and grimy detail. Although firmly in the fantasy genre thanks to its witches, this is a gem of a historical novel which fully immerses you in a realistic setting. At the same time, Rosa Greenwood, the young witch who is Luke’s first challenge, rapidly gained my sympathy. I also enjoyed the contrast between Luke’s Spitalfields world of poverty and dirt and Rosa’s life in finer society. As I’m sure you can see, the novel has plenty of tension focused around the central conflict.

Overall, I enjoyed the book for its development of Luke and Rosa’s characters and their relationships  -which is clearly the primary focus of the novel. I also found a lot of pleasure in the way Ruth Warburton expands and refers to the universe created in the Winter trilogy. I would absolutely recommend this novel to readers of fantasy, witchcraft and historical novels.

From the Book Description:

London. 1880. In the slums of Spitalfields apprentice blacksmith Luke is facing initiation into the Malleus Maleficorum, the fearsome brotherhood dedicated to hunting and killing witches.

Luke’s final test is to pick a name at random from the Book of Witches, a name he must track down and kill within a month, or face death himself. Luke knows that tonight will change his life forever. But when he picks out sixteen-year-old Rosa Greenwood, Luke has no idea that his task will be harder than he could ever imagine.

*************

Out now from Hodder Children’s Books – see their website for more information. My grateful thanks for allowing me a review copy via NetGalley.

Review: Witchfall by Victoria Lamb

More Tudor Witch romance, intrigue and danger 

If you enjoyed Witchstruck at all (as I definitely did), even the slightest bit, you must read Witchfall. Victoria Lamb has ramped things up for the second instalment of her YA Tudor Witch trilogy: more complexity to the romance, more shadowy danger to our beloved protagonist as well as more historical reference.

The settings in this novel are great and beautifully done. The politicised atmosphere at court and the more rustic country setting are both rendered clearly for the reader, as well as the dreadful vision which plagues poor Meg more and more through the novel. Dangers are definitely lurking everywhere, and this is a very tense read.

It’s difficult to say much for a sequel without giving away spoilers, but you should know that the plotting in this novel is first rate. The tension is managed exquisitely, and even when you are sure you know what’s going to happen next, there are surprises and twists in store. I am also enjoying the cast of characters created in this series and am very much looking forward to seeing how it is all tied together in the end.

I think the second book in a trilogy must be quite difficult to get right and I am always grumpy with a book which leaves too many loose ends. Witchfall skilfully draws together threads that were introduced in Witchstruck without them having felt like loose ends, and also weaves in (and ties off) new ones effectively. There is clearly mileage to explore and conclude in the next novel, but this is no irritating cliffhanger.

Overall, if you enjoy historical fiction and/or witchy books and/or YA romance, I would definitely recommend this series.

Goodreads Summary

London, 1554. At the court of Mary Tudor, life is safe for no one. The jealous, embittered queen sees enemies all around her, and the infamous Spanish Inquisition holds the court in its merciless grip. But Meg Lytton has more reason to be afraid than most – for Meg is a witch, and exposure would mean certain death. Even more perilous, Meg is secretly betrothed to the young priest Alejandro de Castillo; a relationship which they must hide at all costs.

In the service of the queen’s sister, Princess Elizabeth, Meg tries to use her powers to foretell her mistress’s future. But when a spell goes terribly wrong, and Meg begins to have horrifying dreams, she fears she has released a dark spirit into the world, intent on harming her and those around her.

******************
Out now from Corgi Children’s Books
Visit the author’s website for more info or check out this blog tour interview from last year
My grateful thanks to the publisher for allowing me a review copy via NetGalley

Review: Museum Mayhem by Sara Grant (Magic Trix 4)

More delightful witchery from the Magic Trix series for young readers 

This series is really just lovely. If it’s new to you, don’t despair, there’s time to catch up. Here are my reviews for the earlier titles: The Witching Hour, Flying High, Birthday Wishes.

In this instalment, Trix gets witching cough, which leads to all manner of mayhem on a trip to the Natural History Museum with her family and Holly. As ever, Sara Grant’s gentle storytelling emphasises the traits Trix will need to be a good Fairy Godmother one day, offering sound messages about friendship and kindness to her young readers.

I was happy to see Jinx – Trix’s magical kitten familiar – getting a good portion of the action in this story. I always enjoy the portions of the story told from his perspective, and it was great to see him more actively involved in the plot.

I really can’t recommend this series enough. It will definitely appeal to little girls, offering them funny stories, magic and the chance to see girl characters doing things and having an impact. Great stuff!

From the Back Cover

The three signs that you may be a witch . . .

  • You occasionally see witches flying across the midnight sky on their broomsticks.
  • Rhyming spells pop into your head at the drop of a (witch’s) hat!
  • You love planning magical surprises for your friends.
When you’re a witch, coughs and sneezes can have surprising special effects – as Trix finds out when a trip to the museum leads to spotty mammoths and lively dinosaurs! Can Jinx the magic kitten help Trix find a cure before her witchy secret is revealed?

**********
Published 4 July by Orion Children’s Books
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy (which seems to have migrated to my daughter’s shelves…)

Blog Tour: Student Bodies by Sean Cummings – I’m All About the Ass-Kicking (plus GIVEAWAY!)

I’m really excited to have Sean Cummings here at the Hearthfire today, having loved both Poltergeeks and Student Bodies (links to my reviews).

Click here for more tour links

I’m All About The Ass-Kicking

My thanks to Beth Kemp for inviting me to do a guest posting today.

I write urban fantasy – it’s kind of my passion because there’s something liberating about the entire genre. Yes, there are similar kinds of characters with similar kinds of story arcs, but what I really love more than anything is the serious ass-kicking that goes on.

Because slamming evildoers is really something we all might like to do deep down inside. So I tend to live vicariously through the heroes and heroines in books by Jim Butcher, Simon R. Green, Nancy Holzner … I could list all the UF titles I’ve read and probably pick out the best ass-kicking scenes in each one. So when I set about to write a young adult urban fantasy, I really wanted to create a character who epitomizes the kinds of qualities that I’ve found in protagonists by my favorite authors. I also wanted to write a book that was starkly different from what’s currently on the YA shelves at your local bookseller.

In POLTERGEEKS, teen witch Julie Richardson has something to prove to her mother. She’s cocky, snarky, independent and utterly fearless. Unfortunately for her, Mom winds up on the receiving end of a dark spell that rips her soul out of her body and leaves her in a coma. Voila! A hero’s journey. And what kind of hero would you be if you didn’t have a “chosen one” aspect to your life. Julie isn’t really chosen in the sense that she’s messianic – but she does have a magical heritage and part of her journey is to discover what it all means.

In STUDENT BODIES, I’ve really ramped up the tension and raised the stakes. Julie now knows what her place in the world is supposed to be and there’s a threat to every person at her school. She must also balance our the normal teenage mother-daughter conflict in a way that doesn’t make her come off sounding like she’s a petulant teen. Because Julie, like it or not, needs her mother. Mom is her anchor and in this second book, she still has a lot to prove. Her mother also has to begin to let her daughter figure things out for herself – Mom’s challenge is every parent’s challenge: letting go.

Did I mention there’s a lot of ass-kicking going on in book two? Because, you know, there is. We’ve got new friendships – Twyla Standingready, an aboriginal magic slinger in her own right. If Julie’s going to solve the threat to everyone at her school, she’s going to need allies because the danger is very real, very dark and it gets very big very fast.

Marcus is still there, but even he’s not safe. Julie has to deal with the fact that her newfound role places her boyfriend in danger. She’s learning that even with her great power, she can’t always protect those who are closest to her, no matter how much she tries.

STUDENT BODIES is a dark, book. Where POLTERGEEKS was light, fluffy and thrilling, STUDENT BODIES deals with some very dark themes that make all the characters much more believable. There’s a ton of magic being thrown around throughout the book and an ending that I promise you simply won’t see coming.

Well, there you go. An ass-kicking teen witch, a threat to basically everyone at her school and the clock is ticking. Do get a kick out of STUDENT BODIES, won’t you?

About the Author:

Sean Cummings is a fantasy author with a penchant for writing quirky, humorous and dark novels featuring characters that are larger than life. His debut was the gritty urban fantasy SHADE FRIGHT published in 2010. He followed up later in the year with the sequel FUNERAL PALLOR. His urban fantasy/superhero thriller UNSEEN WORLD was published in 2011.

2012 saw the publication of Sean’s first urban fantasy for young adults. POLTERGEEKS is a rollicking story about teen witch Julie Richards, her dorky boyfriend and race against time to save her mother’s life. The first sequel, STUDENT BODIES is due for publication in September 2013.

Sean Cummings lives in Saskatoon Canada.
*Author Links*
 photo iconwebsite-32x32_zps1f477f69.png  photo icongoodreads32_zps60f83491.png  photo icontwitter-32x32_zpsae13e2b2.png

About the Book:

Student Bodies (Poltergeeks #2)

Release Date: 5 September 2013

Summary from Goodreads:

Whoever said being a teenage witch would be easy? For fifteen-year-old Julie Richardson and the city’s resident protector from supernatural evil, the Left Hand Path doesn’t give a damn if you’ve found true love for the first time in your life. There’s someone lurking the halls of Crescent Ridge High School with enough malice to unleash an epidemic of Soul Worms – supernatural larvae that feed on the very fabric of a victim’s humanity.

After witnessing the death of one of the most popular kids at school, Julie and über genius boyfriend Marcus are in a race against time to find out who is behind the attacks. All the evidence points to a horrifying plot at the City Weir during the Winter Solstice; the place where icy waters of the Bow River and a thunderous spillway will mean the deaths of more than a hundred of Julie’s classmates.

If she has any hope of saving their lives, she’ll need a little help from a coven of white witches and an Aboriginal mage whose snarky attitude is matched only by her magical prowess.

GIVEAWAY
STUDENT BODIES GIVEAWAY:
UK Prize Pack
1 Signed Copy of STUDENT BODIES
1 Signed Copy of POLTERGEEKS
1 Signed Copy of FUNERAL PALLOR
1 Signed Copy of SHADE FRIGHT
1 Amazon Kindle
CANADA/US Prize Pack:
1 Signed Copy of STUDENT BODIES
1 Signed Copy of POLTERGEEKS
1 Signed Copy of FUNERAL PALLOR
1 Signed Copy of SHADE FRIGHT
1 Amazon Kindle

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Student Bodies by Sean Cummings

Great follow-up to Poltergeeks: more sass, more action, more magic! 

I greatly enjoyed Poltergeeks, the first in this series and would absolutely recommend this title if you did too. If you haven’t read it yet, stop here – this review has spoilers for that title (but not for Student Bodies).

The characters are again the key strength here for me: Sean Cummings really does know how to create realistic characters who interact and react in ways that we can easily relate to, even while they’re involved in a full-on urban fantasy plots involving witches, evil spells and coven politics (yes, that is what I meant). It’s clear from the tone of the writing and the emotional realism here that Sean is expert in understanding people, and that really is the heart of this successful series, I think. Yes, there’s a cracking plot with plenty of action and some fabulously original ideas (look out for the ultra-creepy soul worms!), but none of that would work as well without the undercurrent of realism lent by the strongly-constructed characters.
As a development from Poltergeeks, this novel is brilliant. There is a complete story here, whilst the world-building and overall story arc is developed, so it doesn’t have that flat feel that some ‘second/middle of a series’ books can. Julie’s knowledge and understanding of her own powers and the magical world generally expand here, taking us along with her. Her relationship with Marcus has evolved since the start of the first book and this is a major subplot now, as her mother worries about his involvement in Julie’s life as a witch. It’s clear that there is more to learn about witchcraft generally, and about Julie’s family history and her powers specifically (but not to the point where you feel like stuff is being artificially kept back for the next book), so I’m looking forward to the next instalment.
Overall, I’d absolutely recommend this as a strong urban fantasy which is a perfect example of how to continue a series.
Do come back on Friday for a guest post from Seah Cummings as part of his blog tour (for more on the tour, click the link top left).

Summary from Goodreads:

Whoever said being a teenage witch would be easy? For fifteen-year-old Julie Richardson and the city’s resident protector from supernatural evil, the Left Hand Path doesn’t give a damn if you’ve found true love for the first time in your life. There’s someone lurking the halls of Crescent Ridge High School with enough malice to unleash an epidemic of Soul Worms – supernatural larvae that feed on the very fabric of a victim’s humanity.

After witnessing the death of one of the most popular kids at school, Julie and über genius boyfriend Marcus are in a race against time to find out who is behind the attacks. All the evidence points to a horrifying plot at the City Weir during the Winter Solstice; the place where icy waters of the Bow River and a thunderous spillway will mean the deaths of more than a hundred of Julie’s classmates.

If she has any hope of saving their lives, she’ll need a little help from a coven of white witches and an Aboriginal mage whose snarky attitude is matched only by her magical prowess.


***************

Publishing in September from Strange Chemistry

For more info, visit the author’s website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy via NetGalley

Review: Flying High by Sara Grant

Second in the cute new witchy series for young readers 

I am loving this new series and will absolutely be looking out for more instalments in Trix’s magical adventures. The first title, The Witching Hour, introduced us to Trix just at the point where she discovered her magical potential (my review here). In this story, Trix is going to start flying lessons. How exciting is that? It’s hard to imagine a young reader not wishing they could also learn to fly on their very own besom.

My 9 year old, in fact, was so inspired that she wrote her own incantation for flying, just like the trainee witches have do in the book. See how inspiring these sweet little books are:

Drift up,
Drift up,
Wait for me there.
As soon as we’re ready
We’ll fly through the air!

Isn’t that cute?

Again, as in the first book, there are strong core values of being a good friend and acting selflessly – clearly essential for fairy godmothers, but pretty sound advice for anyone. This series is shaping up to be a lot of fun, with a valuable and gentle message at its heart.

I would definitely have loved these as a child, and I’m sure they’ll be gaining many young fans. I strongly recommend them for young readers, and they would also make good bedtime reading for those not yet reading independently.

From the back cover

There’s a big surprise in store for witch-in-training, Trix Morgan, but first she must learn to fly ehr very own broomstick – with a little help from her magic kitten, Jinx.

There are lots of thrills and spills – will Trix ever get the hang of flying? And can she help Pippa overcome mean-girl Stella’s nasty tricks?

*********************
Published 7 March by Orion Children’s Books

Find more information on the series homepage
My grateful thanks to the publishers for providing us with a review copy

Review: The Witching Hour by Sara Grant

Great witchy fun for young and middle grade readers!

This is the first in the charming new ‘Magic Trix’ series aimed at the younger reader (shelved as 5-8, I believe). The main character, Trix, discovers on her tenth birthday that she is, in fact, a witch and can aspire to one day being a fairy godmother.

There are, of course, difficulties. This is a secret identity thing, so she can’t share her newfound powers with friends and family, and some of the other new witches are not entirely nice. There are strong values of being unselfish running through the story – fitting with the ultimate ‘fairy godmother’ goal, and plenty of gentle danger and humorous magical mishaps to entertain a young (and not so young!) reader.

Something that I particularly appreciated was that, although it’s clearly starting off a series, there was no sense of the story being incomplete or being left on a massive cliffhanger, which has made me annoyed with some  series for this age. It is a discrete story, with characters that you’ll want to revisit. Just how a series should be!

I really enjoyed this sweet little book – and the second in the series, Flying High, which I’ll be reviewing on Friday. My 9 yr old was very keen to read them too, and she absolutely loved them. She read them during the Easter holidays from school and they inspired no end of witch-related play. I can definitely say that this series captures a kid’s imagination!

My daughter’s verdict:

I find them very exciting and I particularly like the twist in the second one. I like that it’s also a bit about friendship too. I thoroughly enjoyed them both! 

So there you have it! I’d say this is a lovely example of series fiction for this age group, and would absolutely recommend them.

From the publisher’s website:

Magical mayhem as little witch, Trix, begins her journey towards becoming a real ‘fairy’ godmother!

Trix wasn’t expecting to develop magical powers when she turned ten, but it was definitely her best, if most surprising, birthday present! Now she’s taking witching lessons and has an invisible kitten of her very own – but how can she keep it all a secret from her best friend, Holly?

****************
Published 7 March by Orion Children’s
Find more information on the series homepage
My grateful thanks to the publishers for providing us with a review copy