[Review] House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)

image0Title: House of Earth and Blood (Crescent City #1)
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genre: fantasy; new adult; adult; romance; mystery; series
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Bryce Quinlan had the perfect life—working hard all day and partying all night—until a demon murdered her closest friends, leaving her bereft, wounded, and alone. When the accused is behind bars but the crimes start up again, Bryce finds herself at the heart of the investigation. She’ll do whatever it takes to avenge their deaths.

Hunt Athalar is a notorious Fallen angel, now enslaved to the Archangels he once attempted to overthrow. His brutal skills and incredible strength have been set to one purpose—to assassinate his boss’s enemies, no questions asked. But with a demon wreaking havoc in the city, he’s offered an irresistible deal: help Bryce find the murderer, and his freedom will be within reach.

As Bryce and Hunt dig deep into Crescent City’s underbelly, they discover a dark power that threatens everything and everyone they hold dear, and they find, in each other, a blazing passion—one that could set them both free, if they’d only let it.


Review
: 3 Stars

Spoiler content warning! Proceed with caution!

Like many others, I preordered this book and waited with bated breath. Then tore into it the moment it arrived. And then. I wasn’t dazzled? Like, it took over 100 pages for me to get into it and even then, the only reason I kept reading at all was because it was an SJM book. Here’s the good news— it got better over time!

While I never truly fell in love with any of her characters (maybe a few side characters) I did really enjoy the plot by the middle. I loved the bare bones of it: a murder mystery whodunit. I liked that SJM gave us little pieces that kept coming back up throughout the book (Bryce going to the Istros and seeing something creepy, Danika and Bryce getting caught up in something scary when Danika says she loves Bryce, Hunt’s backstory with Shahar, Jesiba’s whole character in general, Fury) that kept the plot moving.

There were a few plot twists that I definitely expected:

  • Micah — duh.
  • Hypaxia, obviously.
  • “What blinds an Oracle?” (471)

But I found that I didn’t care too much that I saw them coming because it kept the story going, just like the little clues. It was well done.

I really liked the world building in this book. SJM wrote unique and distinct subsets of Lunathion and it was brilliant.  SJM’s writing style changed depending on where we were in Crescent City. I really loved that. My heart raced when they were in the Meat Market. Sentences seemed shorter. When Bryce and Hunt were at the shooting range, there was a carefree feel to the writing that made me feel like the characters.  The energy and time put into this element of the book is clear. Moonwood, FiRo, the Gallery — each territory is its own space, and it’s so wonderfully done.

Another thing I love about SJM is how she goes about creating a new mythos in each book series. It’s clear she’s setting her readers up for a new series too. Before even jumping into the book, readers are given a preview on the “Houses of Midgard” so we’re aware that we’ll be diving right in. At the very bottom of this page, it says, “Sprites were kicked out of their House as a result of their participation in the Fall, and are now considered Lowers, though many of them refuse to accept this.” This preview lets us all know that we’re in for something bigger, but I for one, didn’t expect the amount of the Fall storyline that we got in this book too.

Overall, in terms of worldbuilding, I felt like I was thrown into the deep end — (literally every mythical beast will appear, any animal can be a shifter — can we talk about the magpie shifter at the market? omggg — every scary creature you’ve ever heard of is in there too, and angels, fae, and mermaids will be in here also) but I knew how to swim, so… I dealt with it.

That being said, her characters were not fun. Like. From Bryce to Hunt to all of them, it was tough to care about literally any of them. I get that SJM wanted to write an adult fantasy book but having her main heroine be the jaded party girl was not easy to read. I think I understood the intention — hide who you truly are and watch people show you their true colors — right?  But in my opinion, that went on too long. Bryce’s grief was palpable and parts of that felt so real and so raw, and I truly go that. Those pages were tense and hard to read for the right reasons. But so much of Bryce was hard to read for the wrong reasons.

And don’t get me started on Hunt. With his brooding “tortured soul” thing? It was just really rough to read for SO MANY pages.

Bryce is very anti- alphahole the whole book, but then, on a DIME, she turns around and attempts to give up everything for Hunt. Her entire character is built on this idea of not giving up herself for a man, and then she sells herself to Jesiba for him? Tries to sell herself to Sandriel for him? After everything he did to her — it’s like antithetical to her character. I still don’t understand it as a plot point.

Some of the other characters were also like… kind of like character cliché shells to me. Like Ruhn, Bryce’s overbearing-yet-essential-skill-having parents, the friends who just give up on her when everything with Danika goes down.

It was almost like the plot took all of SJM’s attention and then she just pulled character cards that she started working on but hadn’t finished yet. It’s almost like she plans on filling out the character traits in the subsequent books in the series.

At the end of the day, I still:

  • read all 800+ pages

still enjoyed:

  • the banter between Bryce and Tharion
  • Bryce telling off Ithan and the wolves
  • Hunt telling off Amelie
  • Bryce’s dynamic with Lehabah and Syrinx

still cried when:

  • “My friends are behind me, and I will protect them” (702) and “My friends are with me and I am not afraid” (703).
  • “I forgave him a long time ago… I just didn’t know how to tell him” (735).
  • “Light it up, Bryce” (764).

and will still buy the next one.

[Review] Save the Date

image0Title: Save the Date
Author: Morgan Matson
Genre: contemporary; ya; romance; realistic fiction; family
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Charlie Grant’s older sister is getting married this weekend at their family home, and Charlie can’t wait for the first time in years, all four of her older siblings will be under one roof. Charlie is desperate for one last perfect weekend, before the house is sold and everything changes. The house will be filled with jokes and games and laughs again. Making decisions about things like what college to attend and reuniting with longstanding crush Jesse Foster all that can wait. She wants to focus on making the weekend perfect.

The only problem? The weekend is shaping up to be an absolute disaster. There’s the unexpected dog with a penchant for howling, house alarm that won’t stop going off, and a papergirl with a grudge.

There are the relatives who aren’t speaking, the (awful) girl her favorite brother brought home unannounced, and a missing tuxedo. Not to mention the neighbor who seems to be bent on sabotage and a storm that is bent on drenching everything. The justice of the peace is missing. The band will only play covers. The guests are all crazy. And the wedding planner’s nephew is unexpectedly, distractedly cute.

Over the course of three ridiculously chaotic days, Charlie will learn more than she ever expected about the family she thought she knew by heart. And she’ll realize that sometimes, trying to keep everything like it was in the past means missing out on the future.

Review: 3 stars

I had a hard time with this rating. I waffled between a 2 and a 3 star. It wasn’t that this story was bad, but it wasn’t my favorite read either, and there were points where I wanted to DNF it.

So. The not so good:
Charlie as a narrator is annoying and narrow sighted. I guess that comes with being a teenager (I feel like a broken record saying this) but I was so fed up with reading her perspective. I have read so many books with teenager narrators and can read page after page without being 1. Bored to tears 2. Rolling my eyes or 3. Mad as hell. But Charlie was infuriating. She wanted everything to be just so, and if it didn’t fit her perfect vision, she didn’t handle it well.
I think it frustrated me the most because people try to warn her but she doesn’t listen. I hate obstinate narrators. Like, you don’t have to be perfect, but dang girl, give the people around you a break when they aren’t either.
The good:
I laughed out loud at some of Morgan Matson’s clever writing. She had some really sweet family moments and some really funny family dynamic moments that hit. Very well written. The GMA interview in particular made me actually laugh… like, legit out loud, so I think that’s saying something.
When Charlie does eventually learn her lesson (it’s not a spoiler, every protagonist learns SOMETHING), that’s where I felt like i could get behind her character a little.  Matson writes, “but now, in this moment, she no longer seemed Perfect, the one who knew everything, the one who was always right. Because he wasn’t. He was in the wrong with Brooke —and what’s more, I could see it and he couldn’t. It was the latest revelation in a night that had been chock-full of them. But it felt like it had tilted the world on its axis a little. Because who was Danny if he wasn’t my big brother, the one who could fix anything and do everything? Who was I if I wasn’t looking to him for answers?
“As I drove on in silence, my headlights cutting through the darkness, I realize that maybe it meant we could be closer to equals. Maybe I could actually find out who he was, now that I wasn’t blinded by the vision of him that I had been holding onto you, the one left over from when I was six and he was the best person in the world” (372).
Like, Charlie felt so inauthentic and obnoxious to me before this, and then this scene, it felt like I’d lived that scene myself with a few people. Where you suddenly see them in a real and honest light and your opinion of them shifts (for good or ill) and you can’t go back to seeing them any other way.
I also really enjoyed the Bill plotline. Bill wasn’t pushy or invasive. He did his job as a character. Nice, Billiam.
The alright:
The minor characters add depth. The “what can go wrong, does” aspect of Linnie’s wedding is so outrageous it almost stops being funny. Everyone knows a Jesse. Mike is a real one. They should have let DJJJ handle wedding music.
Overall, I went with 3/5 instead of 2/5 because Charlie figures it out in the end. And because it made me laugh. And because I didn’t DNF it after all. And because of Waffles.

 

These Witches Don’t Burn Review

image1Title: These Witches Don’t Burn [1/?]
Author: Isabel Sterling
Genre: fantasy; ya; paranormal witches; own voices; LGBT
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) Hannah’s a witch, but not the kind you’re thinking of. She’s the real deal, an Elemental with the power to control fire, earth, water, and air. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she’s ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly by Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans.

But dealing with her ex is the least of Hannah’s concerns when a terrifying blood ritual interrupts the end-of-school-year bonfire. Evidence of dark magic begins to appear all over Salem, and Hannah’s sure it’s the work of a deadly Blood Witch. The issue is, her coven is less than convinced, forcing Hannah to team up with the last person she wants to see: Veronica.

While the pair attempt to smoke out the Blood Witch at a house party, Hannah meets Morgan, a cute new ballerina in town. But trying to date amid a supernatural crisis is easier said than done, and Hannah will have to test the limits of her power if she’s going to save her coven and get the girl, especially when the attacks on Salem’s witches become deadlier by the day.

Review: 5 Stars. When my book group, the Lit Coven, (find them HERE) decided to read this book, I was late to the party. I’d instituted a summer book buying ban and decided against reading anything I didn’t already own, but obviously I folded, (DUH) and bought this. It only took me reading the description before I was clicking BUY and devouring it upon its arrival.

Okay, so let’s start with setting. I’ve only been to Salem three times, but Sterling put me back there pretty much immediately. From the touristy areas where all the witch shops are, to where the more suburban houses are, it was New England through and through. She did a great job at setting the scene and using the historic undercurrent to highlight the very real threat for her main characters in 2019. I loved how this modern day clan of witches lives and breathes the history of what happened in 17th century Salem, and Sterling’s writing made that happen for me.

Another thing I quite enjoyed about this book are the very real and relatable characters in this book. Hannah is a solid main character. She’s, like many of the other MCs I tend to like, not perfect, but learning and growing. She relies on others, seeks truth, doesn’t just accept things as fact, and questions everything the adults tell her to believe. Go Hannah!

She trusts her judgment and believes in her friendship with Gemma, even when she knows it goes against everything she’s ever learned. She trusts her heart and her mind. But she’s a teenager, so she’s also learning how to come to terms with heartbreak, and relationships. She’s also a really strong example of an unapologetic and badass lesbian. I love Sterling’s writing of her character.

At one point, a side character,  Benton thinks he can persuade her to date him, and she’s like, um, “no dude, I’m gay.” The way Sterling injects the social commentary of turning girls straight here was so smooth and so easily done, just a quick conversation. Then it was done and handled, and then both Hannah and Benton move on, as friends.

Morgan is also badass. She’s bi, and so cool. Hannah assumes she’s a lesbian, there’s a clarifying convo in there about assumptions, and then they move on and it’s literally no problem. Another cool move by Sterling. Morgan is confident, calm, and perfect for Hannah— the complete opposite of Hannah’s ex, Veronica.

Veronica is the epitome of unhealthy relationship.

———-Okay, hold up————

Listen. I promise this book is about witches. But Sterling’s writing is SO GOOD we have to talk about how she writes these characters.

Okay, back to Veronica. So unhealthy. Manipulating. Wishy washy. She wants Hannah back, but only so Hannah doesn’t have someone else. Ugh. But so well written. Isabel Sterling. You are so so good at writing characters and character interactions. For real.

The plot itself is kind of like a mystery whodunit but with witches and a teenage love triange thrown in for good measure — if you’re into that sort of thing. As it’s in Salem, and it’s called These Witches Don’t Burn, there are some assumptions you can make, right? Someone wants to burn witches. So people are after Hannah – the witch. Despite, everything though, throughout the whole book, I wasn’t actively trying to figure out who it was that was trying to hunt witches. I’m usually pretty good at guessing who the bad guy is, but this time, it took me a bit to figure it out.

BUT
I REALLY LIKED that. I liked not knowing. I didn’t want to figure it out. I wanted to enjoy the story and the mystery. I was so wrapped up in the characters and the drama of the romance and the family / clan dynamic that I didn’t guess who the witch hunter(s) was/were until the end.

These Witches Don’t Burn was amazing. I am putting it in my classroom with a big huge 5 Stars on it so my kids know it was an amazing read.