‘The Ravens’ – Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige

 

The first in what promises to be an exciting series, exploring witches in the modern era and chucking in a strong dose of college-based life too.

Vivi has always felt different. Used to moving regularly she is fed up of living with her mother and her fascination with tarot cards and predicting the future. Vivi is set to go to college where she can finally be who she wants to be. But what if the things her mother talks about aren’t complete nonsense?

Vivi arrives at her new college and immediately feels out of her depth. Yet she ends up invited to a party at the most exclusive sorority group…and is invited to join them. The girls are known across campus for their poise and strong bond…but what if there were more to this?

What Vivi quickly learns is that the group she has joined are witches. They have power the likes of which you can only imagine-and, of course, Vivi has strength she was unaware of. She has to come to terms with the responsibility this new power brings, and with learning her mother isn’t quite what she thought.

During a tense time it’s clear that someone is desperate to get their hands on a powerful talisman. They’ll stop at nothing to get it, and the girls are all at risk unless they can trust themselves to do the right thing.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this, and I think this sets up for an intriguing series.

‘The Graveyard Book’ – Neil Gaiman

 

The Graveyard Book opens by plunging us into the horror surrounding a young toddler. His family are murdered by a sinister man known only as Jack, but he is saved by his curiosity because earlier in the night he escaped his cot and made his way outside and to the graveyard at the top of the hill near his house. Marked from the very start as a rather unusual character, our young toddler is saved by the Owenses…who just happen to be dead.

From his unlikely beginning our young toddler – Nobody Owens – is granted the right to live in the graveyard and to learn their ways. He is very much alive, but is given these magical skills to enable him to escape detection. His guardian, Silas, protects him and ensures someone is always available to look after him.

We watch Bod grow. He makes a tentative friendship, examines the world around him and is privy to many of the mysteries surrounding the dead. His curiosity develops as he learns about the world around him – and all too soon he shows a dangerous (yet very understandable) desire to learn how to navigate the land of the living.

Going to school causes problems. Bod can’t help but draw attention to himself, and so we watch the noose tighten as those who started by trying to kill him return and attempt to finish their task.

There was a wistful tone to this as we know Bod has to live his life, but his life with the dead was so positive it felt awful that he had to make this step.

‘Kingdom of the Wicked’ – Kerri Maniscalco

 

From the moment Emilia and her twin sister, Vittoria, are introduced to us at eight years old we know the amulets they wear are significant. These are girls whose family are part of a hidden group, witches who work in secret and who are well-versed in prophecies. However, no matter what knowledge they have they could not be prepared for what transpires here.

Early on, Vittoria is murdered, her heart ripped out and her body left for Emilia to discover. Understandably, Emilia wants to find out what happened and for whoever is responsible to pay. But nothing comes easily here and Emilia ends up in a situation that heralds great danger.

To cut a long story short, Emilia decides to take matters into her own hands, and to summon a demon. The one she ends up summoning is Wrath, one of the seven Princes of Hell. Determined to get answers and avenge her sister’s murder, Emilia ignores much of what she has heard and enters a bargain – the possibilities of which are only hinted at here.

Maniscalco creates an interesting character in Wrath. Obviously intent on a higher purpose it is blindingly obvious that he is not to be trusted. Yet there is something hinted at under the surface, something that definitely suggests Emilia has got under his skin and offers something he wasn’t quite prepared for. While I’d have been quite content if we’d seen this side through to its conclusion, I actually liked the fact that Wrath kept his eye on the main goal and set up a much more intriguing scenario (which I imagine we’ll see in the sequel). I can’t wait to see what happens now Emilia has her own endgame in sight.

Huge thanks to NetGalley for allowing me to read this prior to publication.

‘A Deadly Education’ – Naomi Novik

 

A Deadly Education had me hooked from the moment it mentioned a school where strategy was all…where you graduate or die. I was expecting something dark, and wasn’t wholly disappointed.

This was a school like no other, where danger lurks round every corner (and on the ceiling and behind doors) and if you make it through the year you either have power of the magnitude others should be scared of or you have friends in high places. Our main character is El, daughter of a renowned healer, who is not particularly sociable or likeable, who has skills she wants to keep hidden and who is sick to death of being rescued by the school hero Orion.

From the opening I liked El. Rather abrasive but well-meaning, she is easy to empathise with. Watching so much from the sidelines, she is a rather reluctant main character who realises that sometimes you have to adopt a different strategy to win the long game.

In their final year the power being shown by the dark creatures attacking them is of concern. Orion is doing what he can to keep people safe, but our unlikely alliance offers a different approach. It felt strange to have a book set in a school where there is little adult presence, and where we can see the stakes are so high.

The story itself built as expected. Slowly we see the rising threat and watch as they work out how to tackle it. I was more intrigued by the message from her mum at the end warning her to stay away from Orion – a little late, and of course I want to know what is in store for them in what I imagine will be a dangerous senior year.

‘Cemetery Boys’ – Aiden Thomas

This is a review I had to return to as when I finished the book I had tears in my eyes and couldn’t think straight. Emotional with some great comic moments, and characters that jump off the page with their vibrancy. A tale of love, acceptance and a healthy dose of sass with some magic thrown in…will be recommending this to so many!

Update

Yadriel is part of a family who can see the dead. Their talents have been nurtured over many years, and Yadriel is desperate to be part of the Brujx community. What we quickly learn is that Yadriel’s family are reluctant to accept him into the rituals because he is trans, and it goes against their traditions. A conflict that, for me, came to represent the challenge that seems to be common to many…that need to be accepted for who you are, and perhaps validated by those you love (even if they don’t seem wholly supportive of you).

Yadriel and his best friend, Maritza, definitely forge their own way. Determined to find a way to prove their skills, Yadriel carries out his own ritual when his cousin Miguel goes missing. There’s no sign of a body – but when Yadriel brings back another dead boy, Julian, he gets more than he bargained for!

From their first meeting Julian and Yadriel are great together. They have an instinctive need to support one another and they can’t always articulate what they’re feeling, but it’a a bond to treasure. It’s hardly surprising that Yadriel is not wholly pleased at the prospect of having to send Julian’s body to the afterlife.

The book follows Yadriel and Maritza in their journey to learn what has happened to Miguel and Julien. Eventually they get answers, though they’re not what they would have wanted. This culminated in a dramatic moment that had me crying, but the aftermath mopped things up nicely and left me with good feelings (albeit with tears in my eyes).

I can’t wait to recommend this to people and discuss it.

‘The Only Good Indians’ – Stephen Graham Jones

My first experience of this author, and listening to a book rather than physically reading it. That, I’m sure, impacted on my ability to settle into the story as it is such an unfamiliar way of reading for me.

When I started this I really didn’t know what to expect. I, like many, have heard the rest of the phrase this title is taken from, and the pre-release info makes it clear this is not a book for the faint-hearted. I have little experience of the background of the characters this book focused on, so I was definitely nervous about missing something or doing the author a disservice through my own ignorance.

The book opens with a frankly unsettling scene, resulting in the death of an Indian man outside a bar. There’s mention of elk, and I really did have to go back and listen to the start again as I thought I had misheard something! We then switch our focus to another character, Lewis, who we learn was part of a close-knit group of four young men who did something so awful that even after leaving his reservation he lives with the guilt. We learn this event took place ten years previously, and it’s something to do with the strange and unsettling experiences of him imagining he now sees an elk-headed woman in his front room.

Initially I have to say I found the narrative of this quite hard to follow. We jump from event to event and there’s a muddling of time-frames that left me quite confused and even wondering if I could get through this. I don’t honestly know if this would have been any different reading…and looking at other’s responses to this, perhaps not.

If you’ve decided to pick this up and read it then you’re likely to have done a little research. We know the story focuses on the awful events that took place ten years before our book opens – where Lewis and his three friends venture onto a section of the reservation that is only meant to be accessed by elders and butcher a number of elk. They are punished, and alongside their feelings of guilt they have to contend with the expectations of others because of who they are. Now, ten years on, something has returned to get revenge.

The book was dark. We had graphic descriptions of dogs being mutilated, elk being shot and people being killed. As the book progressed and there was talk of the elk-head woman I wasn’t sure if this was going into supernatural territory or whether some kind of breakdown was being described. During the narrative we switched viewpoints from Lewis to the elk as well as the daughter of one of the men involved in the original event.

Once we were back on the reservation and following Cassidy and Gabe, I was surprised at how funny parts of this book were. Thought I’m no basketball fan, I was completely gripped by the character of Gabe’s daughter who really made this into something more than I was expecting. The final scene, though definitely not one I want to dwell on, was also more uplifting than I was expecting.

Thanks to the publishers, Saga Press, and NetGalley for granting me access to this prior to publication.

‘Midnight Sun’ – Stephanie Meyer

Twilight from Edward’s view…yes, at the time, I read the leaked version that made its way on-line and, yes, at the time I thought it seemed a little pointless. When this project seemed to be shelved, life went on and I didn’t think of it again…until we got the news it was releasing this summer. No matter what I thought of it, I knew I’d read this because it counted as unfinished business and my curiosity would win out.

The first thing to make clear is, as so many point out, this is over-the-top, riddled with cringe-worthy similes and there’s still very little to make Bella a particularly endearing character. I have to say I expected this. The second thing to comment on is the story is the same. We know what’s going to happen and it really is a step-by-step rehash of the story we already know, so there’s little added for us. Again, no surprises.

What we did get with this story from Edward’s view was an attempt to poke beneath the surface of what still seems a very odd and unhealthy relationship. I actually found myself liking some of the big scenes coming from this perspective – things were fleshed out and it was easy to see why events were organised as they were. Learning a little more about the Cullens and their backgrounds was good. Some will kill me for saying it, but I also liked the fact there was surprisingly little focus on Jacob and the wolves. My only concern now is the somewhat cynical fear that we’re now going to get another book…this time telling us Jacob’s story. I truly hope not, as I feel this would be too much and definitely exploiting all those readers (myself included) who probably could have done without this but who read it for the nostalgia fix.

 

‘The Damned’ – Renée Ahdieh

In this second instalment of the series, we start to get answers to some of the questions that so niggled me in the opening.

This time round we begin with the aftermath of what took place with Celine and Bastien. Celine has asked for her memories to be removed in exchange for letting Bastien live. He has been turned into a vampire, thus breaking an old agreement that looks as if it’ll cause trouble. She seems to be settling into her new life, even looking forward to a future with Michael Grimaldi, but we soon learn she is not fully unaware of her past experiences.

The answers behind Celine’s immunity to the mind-altering came as something of a surprise (I wondered if there were details I’d missed from earlier). I enjoyed her determination to be true to herself, in spite of what those around her say, though it didn’t really seem that we were in a particularly different time.

It won’t come as any surprise to see Bastien and Celine are more closely linked than people might like them to be. We get hints of a much bigger picture, and the references to the past and the other worlds suggest that there could be exciting times ahead.

Thanks to NetGalley for letting me read this prior to publication.

 

‘Chain of Gold’ – Cassandra Clare

Cassandra Clare…you’ve done it again.

Another group of characters tightly bound by their bonds/expectations and desires…where things aren’t always quite what they seem, and where we end up in dangerous situations with nobody batting an eyelid.

There’s a lot of characters in this, and it was a bit confusing to start with. However, as we start to focus on the main group it became a lot easier to follow.
The story is one of those that seems to become more complex the more we learn. It focuses on our Shadowhunters trying to learn who might be responsible for conjuring demons that are killing Shadowhunters. There’s clearly some link with key Shadowhunter families – and we do get some answers.

Once I felt the characters we were focusing on were little more established, I got quite taken in by this. There were enough hints of action to come and suggestions of potential plot strands to make me curious to see what comes next, and I was definitely in turn amused and upset by/for Cordelia, James, Anna, Matthew and Alistair – amongst others.

 

‘The Boneless Mercies’ – April Genevieve Tuchoike

A fantasy that has echoes of Beowulf and set in a world that seemed familiar, yet also unnatural.

We follow a group of four called The Boneless Mercies. Frey, our narrator, is their leader and as they travel we learn how the four (Frey, Ovie, Juniper and Runa) come together. We watch their journey across a strange and troubled land, bringing death to those who pay for it. It is a harsh and brutal living, but there is compassion in these women as they fulfil their service to those that live”
Frey is determined to end their way of life, and she dreams of doing something heroic. Hoping to follow in the footsteps of the heroes of the old stories, Frey leads her group on a journey to kill an unstoppable monster.

Along the way she is part of a plot to restart a witch war. She is tasked with killing a young witch queen. She thus learns of a secret that might prove useful and then, as we’d hope, gets her battle with the monster.

While the story is described in one way I felt this led to rather unfair expectations. The women are brave and do fight, but they are not fearless. They have compassion in spite of the death they bring. They deliver what they promised, but it has the slightly unreal feeling of being simply part of a bigger story that we are not yet ready to be told.