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Review – Odd and True by Cat Winters

Odd & True

By Cat Winters

SummaryTrudchen grew up hearing Odette’s stories of their monster-slaying mother and a magician’s curse. But now that Tru’s older, she’s starting to wonder if her older sister’s tales were just comforting lies, especially because there’s nothing fantastic about her own life—permanently disabled and in constant pain from childhood polio.

In 1909, after a two-year absence, Od reappears with a suitcase supposedly full of weapons and a promise to rescue Tru from the monsters on their way to attack her. But it’s Od who seems haunted by something. And when the sisters’ search for their mother leads them to a face-off with the Leeds Devil, a nightmarish beast that’s wreaking havoc in the Mid-Atlantic states, Tru discovers the peculiar possibility that she and her sister—despite their dark pasts and ordinary appearances—might, indeed, have magic after all.

Source: I purchased a signed hardcover

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Review:

I am a fan of Cat Winters and have enjoyed her other books. I love that even with a darker sort of premise, it’s usually always about the problems of society and the way it treats women. I like how the author tends to blend fantasy and history in an enjoyable way, while also having a lesson or message of some sort.

Odd and True was a story of two sisters.

It’s difficult to review the book because I didn’t enjoy it as much as I’d hoped, but I also “get” the point and I liked the underlying themes. 

Still, I think that the problem with Cat Winters novels are that they are marketed in a way that conveys a setting or plot that really isn’t there. Even though they all somewhat deal with the dark and scary thing they are supposed to, they never fully “go there” with the plot points talked about in the synopsis and instead deal with everyday things like women struggling to gain a foothold in their society or learning to overcome, With this book and nearly all of her others, had I been more prepared for the actual plot, I would’ve appreciated it much more. I love the symbolism, but as someone who fully enjoys the supernatural, it’s kind of a let down when the scary thing is just a metaphor for another actual scary thing in society. (This is nearly always how I feel about Cat Winters books, but I still would’ve rated it higher had I enjoyed the book more.)

While Cat Winters books are always kind of different and can disappoint me if I’m not prepared, I have to admit that Odd and True was simply boring and that was the number one reason I didn’t throw out a 4 star rating for the cleverness of the symbolism. 

It took awhile for the plot to pick up and the historical setting didn’t provide a very clear picture like her other novels did. I felt immersed in the history in her other novels, whereas in Odd and True, it was more difficult to hammer down a setting or get a real feel for the world. Aside from the character having polio, it could’ve been set really at any time. It also bothered me that the plot took so long to move forward, which I associated with the fact that the characters weren’t really in a city and were more secluded, but when the plot finally picked up, suddenly it was no big deal to just galavant all over the country. Having taken a cross country trip myself recently, I just find it hard to believe that moving from one coast to the other, even on a train, would be quite so nonchalant for the characters to do, especially for Tru. Honestly, if they were going to end up searching for the Leeds Devil in Pennsylvania, the entire novel could’ve been more believable/relatable had the family maybe lived on a farm in Pennsylvania and their mother was from a neighboring state instead of having characters hop from CA to OR to the east coast and back like it was no big deal. 

If you want to read a book about sisterhood and family and understanding the past, Odd and True was good, but if you’re looking for a story about monsters and monster fighting, this isn’t the book for you.

Star 3

 

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Review – The Sweet Far Thing (Gemma Doyle #3) by Libba Bray

The Sweet Far Thing (Gemma Doyle #3)

By Libba Bray

SummaryIt has been a year of change since Gemma Doyle arrived at the foreboding Spence Academy. Her mother murdered, her father a laudanum addict, Gemma has relied on an unsuspected strength and has discovered an ability to travel to an enchanted world called the realms, where dark magic runs wild. Despite certain peril, Gemma has bound the magic to herself and forged unlikely new alliances. 

Now, as Gemma approaches her London debut, the time has come to test these bonds. The Order – the mysterious group her mother was once part of – is grappling for control of the realms, as is the Rakshana. Spence’s burned East Wing is being rebuilt, but why now? Gemma and her friends see Pippa, but she is not the same. And their friendship faces its gravest trial as Gemma must decide once and for all what role she is meant for.

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Source: I purchased paperback

Review:

 The Sweet Far Thing was the bittersweet, long, and well written conclusion to the Gemma Doyle trilogy. At over 800 pages, it completed the category of book over 800 pages for the 2017 POPSUGAR reading challenge, but it didn’t feel like it was super long. 

Gemma didn’t do as she was told (big surprise there) with the magic in the realms. She let it loose and bound it to herself rather than choose sides in the fight between the Order and the Rakshana. Unfortunately, she was on everyone’s radar and placed some of her trust in the wrong people. In The Sweet Far Thing, Gemma struggled to return to the realms, use her magic, make decisions, and she didn’t know what to do. Her friends started to turn their backs on her, her debut into society was coming up, and Kartik was nowhere to be found.

The book was deliciously creepy, too, as Pippa and her merry band of factory workers ruled their section of the realms and were super eerie. Felicity and Ann didn’t seem to see anything wrong, but Gemma caught the look of hunger on Pippa’s face all too often, even in the last book. I loved the horror aspect. The East Wing of Spence was being rebuilt, the workers feuded with the Gypsies, things would go missing, rocks got painted with blood, and Mother Elena kept warning everyone about the dangers of rebuilding the East Wing. Even Brigid was weird about it. Still, Gemma couldn’t quite figure out how to fix anything. 

Gemma struggled to keep her family and friends in check, too. It seemed everyone around her, including Gemma herself, made the wrong choices. Her brother was determined to feel important and ended up joining a mysterious gentleman’s club that Gemma swore was the Rakshana, her father was still ill, though much healed from his time in the opium den from the last book, and Gemma’s friends were a mess. Ann was constantly putting herself down and Felicity was determined to be scandalous, even though it meant certain social suicide. And neither of them seemed to trust Gemma anymore.

It was a mess, but an entertaining one. The ending was bittersweet and completely awesome and I feel that the large page number was worth getting through just to see it.

Star 4

Review – Rebel Angels (Gemma Doyle #2) by Libba Bray

 

Rebel Angels (Gemma Doyle #2)

By Libba Bray

SummaryAh, Christmas! Gemma Doyle is looking forward to a holiday from Spence Academy, spending time with her friends in the city, attending ritzy balls, and on a somber note, tending to her ailing father. As she prepares to ring in the New Year, 1896, a handsome young man, Lord Denby, has set his sights on Gemma, or so it seems. Yet amidst the distractions of London, Gemma’s visions intensify–visions of three girls dressed in white, to whom something horrific has happened, something only the realms can explain…


The lure is strong, and before long, Gemma, Felicity, and Ann are turning flowers into butterflies in the enchanted world of the realms that Gemma alone can bring them to. To the girls’ great joy, their beloved Pippa is there as well, eager to complete their circle of friendship.

 

But all is not well in the realms–or out. The mysterious Kartik has reappeared, telling Gemma she must find the Temple and bind the magic, else great disaster will befall her. Gemma’s willing to do his intrusive bidding, despite the dangers it brings, for it means she will meet up with her mother’s greatest friend–and now her foe, Circe. Until Circe is destroyed, Gemma cannot live out her destiny. But finding Circe proves a most perilous task.

Source: I purchased a hardcover

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Review:

Rebel Angels was a thrilling and magical sequel to A Great and Terrible Beauty that felt a little different than the first book because it delved into Gemma’s life and the society a little bit more as it didn’t take place in the boarding school. 

I felt like the book dealt more with Victorian society and how suffocating it was for women in it, especially as they masqueraded Ann around as someone she was not in order to spend time with her. Gemma desperately wanted to do the right thing for her friends, for her mother, for the realms… but she was never really sure what to do or who to trust.

Rebel Angels was better than the first book and held my attention more. I’m glad it took me out of the boarding school for a bit and explored the complex dynamics between various families, including Gemma’s own flawed family. 

Star 4

 

Review – A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1) by Libby Bray (REREAD)

 

A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1)

By Libba Bray

SummaryA Victorian boarding school story, a Gothic mansion mystery, a gossipy romp about a clique of girlfriends, and a dark other-worldly fantasy—jumble them all together and you have this complicated and unusual first novel. 

Sixteen-year-old Gemma has had an unconventional upbringing in India, until the day she foresees her mother’s death in a black, swirling vision that turns out to be true. Sent back to England, she is enrolled at Spence, a girls’ academy with a mysterious burned-out East Wing. There Gemma is snubbed by powerful Felicity, beautiful Pippa, and even her own dumpy roommate Ann, until she blackmails herself and Ann into the treacherous clique. Gemma is distressed to find that she has been followed from India by Kartik, a beautiful young man who warns her to fight off the visions. Nevertheless, they continue, and one night she is led by a child-spirit to find a diary that reveals the secrets of a mystical Order. The clique soon finds a way to accompany Gemma to the other-world realms of her visions “for a bit of fun” and to taste the power they will never have as Victorian wives, but they discover that the delights of the realms are overwhelmed by a menace they cannot control. Gemma is left with the knowledge that her role as the link between worlds leaves her with a mission to seek out the “others” and rebuild the Order.

Source: I purchased a paperback

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Review:

I enjoyed A Great and Terrible Beauty when I first read it back in 2014. Over the years, I’ve gotten my hands on the other two books in the trilogy, but it took awhile to find them and I never had the energy to reread the first one again. I finally got the urge (it always happens eventually) and decided to reread it. 

Most of my thoughts are the same as my original review. It was a good read with likable characters. I felt for their conflicts because I have always found the Victorian era a bit stifling. Gemma wasn’t a realistic character because I think she was too sassy for her time period, but I kind of appreciated it at the same time. I love the author’s writing and the plot. 

I’m so happy to have the sequel!

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Original review:

I loved the author’s YA novel set in the 1920’s that dealt with the occult, The Diviners, but it seems to be taking forever for the next installment to come out. When I saw A Great and Terrible Beauty at the used bookstore, I knew I had to have it. I love the author’s writing and the unique characters she creates in her novels. 

A Great and Terrible Beauty was interesting. Gemma was placed in a boarding school after her mother’s death in India. Strange things were happening to her and she was trying to make sense of it all. The boarding school was full of answers, strangely enough. 

The Victorian era is one that is completely suffocating for women and I almost always hate reading books set in that time period. However, I enjoyed this novel quite a bit. I loved how the small group of girls Gemma befriended were different in many ways and all hoped for more than life could give them. I don’t know that I could have read a book where the girls all wanted to be married off and obedient. I think the time period worked quite well for the book, as the girls longed to be more without constraints, which is what made the realms and the story of Mary Dowd even more appealing and enticing. The power and magic of the realms was intriguing to girls who were unable to be themselves in real life. 

There were a lot of twists and turns, making the novel enjoyable, mysterious, and quite unpredictable. I will definitely continue the trilogy and I recommend the first book to any fans of the supernatural, YA, and historical fiction.

Star 4

 

Review – Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Wolf by Wolf (Wolf by Wolf #1)

By Ryan Graudin

SummaryHer story begins on a train.

The year is 1956, and the Axis powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan rule. To commemorate their Great Victory, Hitler and Emperor Hirohito host the Axis Tour: an annual motorcycle race across their conjoined continents. The victor is awarded an audience with the highly reclusive Adolf Hitler at the Victor’s Ball in Tokyo.

Yael, a former death camp prisoner, has witnessed too much suffering, and the five wolves tattooed on her arm are a constant reminder of the loved ones she lost. The resistance has given Yael one goal: Win the race and kill Hitler. A survivor of painful human experimentation, Yael has the power to skinshift and must complete her mission by impersonating last year’s only female racer, Adele Wolfe. This deception becomes more difficult when Felix, Adele twin’s brother, and Luka, her former love interest, enter the race and watch Yael’s every move.

But as Yael grows closer to the other competitors, can she bring herself to be as ruthless as she needs to be to avoid discovery and complete her mission?

From the author of The Walled City comes a fast-paced and innovative novel that will leave you breathless.

Source: I purchased a paperback

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Review:

Wolf by Wolf was such a great book! The premise is what hooked me at the bookstore. I don’t read a lot of alternate history, but the idea intrigues me, especially when it comes to WWII. I love stories about Hitler, the Holocaust, and the various assassination attempts. 

This book rolled all of those ideas into one. In Wolf by Wolf, the year was 1956 and the Nazis won World War II. The Axis powers were ruling most of the world. Each year, the motorcycle race celebrated their victory. The year before, Victor Adele Wolfe stole her brother’s racing papers and entered the race as him and won. Instead of being mad, the Third Reich celebrated her victory. This year, Adele would compete again, but not as herself. Yael, a death camp survivor and experiment, had the ability to change her appearance. She studied Adele, practiced everything she’d need to know and do, and took her place in the race. If she won, she would be close enough to Hitler to execute him. 

The book took history and fact and morphed it into a thrilling alternate history story involving a little bit of fantasy, since Yael had such a unique ability. I loved the mixture and I loved being thrown into the chaos of the race. Yael occasionally thought about her past and we learned a lot about her as a character, her mission, and the importance of it all. We also got to know Adele, despite her not actually being in the race, because of the interpersonal connections between her and her brother, her and Luka, and even some of the other racers. Yael was a little out of her element because no amount of studying prepared her for the possibility that there were unreported incidents between her and the other racers and she had to struggle to maintain her identity and be believable as Adele.

I thought Wolf by Wolf was the perfect blend of history and imagination. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I can’t wait to pick up the conclusion, Blood for Blood. I highly recommend Wolf by Wolf. It ends in a satisfying way so that I crave the sequel, but don’t feel like I got a cliff hanger ending or anything, which is always a plus. It was imaginative in a realistic way. Despite Yael’s ability, it felt like a believable story. I could tell the author was well researched based on the setting he weaved. And while it wasn’t the first book to pull off a What if the Nazi’s won the war train of thought, it was unique. The motorcycle race was fast paced and ruthless, giving a little grit to the story. It was well done and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Star 4

Review – The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

 

The Historian

By Elizabeth Kostova

SummaryTo you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history…

Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.

Source: I purchased a paperback

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Review:

The Historian was a well researched and fascinating book that mixed history and legend together to weave a tale about Dracula. Part historical fiction, part horror, The Historian was very well done. The author did her research and was able to combine fact with the legends we know about Vlad the Impaler/Dracula and tie it together with a fictional tale about a daughter and her father. 

The story involved professors proficient in history and anthroplogy who happened upon a strange book that lead them to research more about the Dracula legends. For the characters involved, the research became highly dangerous. The main character, a sixteen year old girl, happened upon her fathers strange Dragon book and it prompted him to finally tell the story of his travels and his experiences with the book. 

The book shifted from present day, with the main character narrating in first person, to the father’s tale that he told verbally throughout many of their trips together. Then, a series of letters were introduced by her father’s mentor and colleague, another Profressor who disappeared many years ago. Other series of letters were introduced, so the reader was slowly introduced to the full picture and everything came together at the end.

The Historian was very long and slow. I’m glad I read the book during a time when I didn’t have much going on and didn’t have any reason to start the lofty 2017 reading goals I set for myself. In some ways, I feel like the length and the slowness were worth slogging through, as the story was well told. In some ways, I feel like the book was too long, too over the top, and the author could have told the same story and condensed in quite a bit, solving both the length and the issue of it being very slow and somewhat boring in some sections. But The Historian was a debut novel and one written by an author more geared towards the historical and academic aspect of everything. 

If you enjoy the idea of Vlad the Impaler, the Dracula legends, and the history surrounding all of it, The Historian is very enjoyable and worth the read. It’s sort of a combination of Dracula and perhaps The DaVinci Code, in that the main characters galavant all over the world in search of history and monuments, meeting just the right people at the just the right time in order to further their research, with a major threat hanging over them if they fail. I think the writing is likely a bit more intellectual than that of The DaVinci Code, but I still think it’s a fair comparison. For some, the coincidental convenience of the characters and their research will be too much and too unbelievable. I don’t know much about spending time in a dark and dusty archives and how plausible it is to happen upon people with similar research topics, but I was happy enough to let it slide by. After all, perhaps the history and location the characters were researching was one of those “small world” type of scenarios and they got lucky.

I recommend The Historian and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I do warn anyone that it is very very long. 

Star 4

Review – Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley

 

Worlds of Ink and Shadow

By Lena Coakley

SummaryCharlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne. The Brontë siblings have always been inseparable. After all, nothing can bond four siblings quite like life in an isolated parsonage out on the moors. Their vivid imaginations lend them escape from their strict upbringing, actually transporting them into their created worlds: the glittering Verdopolis and the romantic and melancholy Gondal. But at what price? As Branwell begins to slip into madness and the sisters feel their real lives slipping away, they must weigh the cost of their powerful imaginations, even as their characters—the brooding Rogue and dashing Duke of Zamorna—refuse to let them go.

Gorgeously written and based on the Brontës’ juvenilia, Worlds of Ink & Shadow brings to life one of history’s most celebrated literary families.

Source: I received a hardcover in an Owlcrate.

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Review:

Worlds of Ink and Shadow was a fictional story involving the Bronte siblings and the worlds they created before some of them became published authors. In the book, their fictional world of Verdopolis was a place they could visit through a doorway of sorts which allowed them to be a part of their world. I received the book in an Owlcrate box, but I’ve left it sitting on my shelf for awhile. I’m not a huge fan of the Bronte sisters and their literary works, so I was afraid that the story wouldn’t interest me.

Worlds of Ink and Shadow is great for fans of the Bronte sisters and those unfamiliar with them. While the story does involve the siblings and the actual works of fiction they created and historical fact, aside from those details, the story was just an interesting blend of fact and fiction and the author took liberties with the characters and created a great world.  

I can see why Owlcrate chose the book. It was unique and interesting. It was a bit like the Inkheart novels and Narnia in a way because the siblings jumped into a fictional world. I think I would have appreciated the book more if I was more educated about the Bronte sisters and if I enjoyed Jane Eyre a little more. I could see the way that Roque related to Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, but a lot of the Jane Eyre connections were kind of lost on me. As far as the idea of having a fictional world, being able to step into it, and having to pay a price to be there, I thought it was an awesome idea but the execution wasn’t as interesting as I felt it could’ve been. I think other books do it better and perhaps the biggest reason for that is that those books weren’t worried about tying history in with a fictional plot.

I recommend Worlds of Ink and Shadow, but it wasn’t as amazing as I’d hoped. It is a great book and if you have it on your shelf already, dive in, because it’s short and a standalone, and quite fun. I just don’t necessarily recommend seeking it out on purpose.

Star 3