BOOK REVIEW: The Witch of Willow Hall, by Hester Fox

BOOK REVIEW: The Witch of Willow Hall, by Hester FoxTitle: The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox
Published by Graydon House
Published: October 2nd 2018
Genres: Historical, Fantasy
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it.

New Oldbury, 1821

In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia, and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall.

The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.

All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…

The Witch of Willow Hall is a perfect fall read to me. It’s got just the right amount of thrill and spooky vibes, unlikable but compelling characters, a heroine to root for, and a little dash of romance that you’ll root for.

The first few chapters were a little bit of a slow start for me, but it’s a slow start that builds suspense and wonder about the Montrose family backstory and why they’ve had to leave Boston. It’s not solely for one obvious reason or another, and once pieces of Lydia’s story began coming together, I needed to see how everything played out. The Witch of Willow Hall is a delightfully gothic story involving witchcraft, forbidden forests, and a large and spooky house holding all sorts of secrets.

Fox’s world-building reminded me a lot of Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak in the way it presents the reader with an assumption that soon reveals more truths than initially expected. If you’re looking for a fall read that’s not too spooky but with the right amount of atmosphere, twists, and historical fantasy, then check out The Witch of Willow Hall!

I received a digital review copy from Netgalley in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Armored Saint, by Myke Cole

BOOK REVIEW: The Armored Saint, by Myke ColeTitle: The Armored Saint by Myke Cole
Series: The Sacred Throne #1
Published by Tom Doherty Associates
Published: February 20th 2018
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 206
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

In a world where any act of magic could open a portal to hell, the Order insures that no wizard will live to summon devils, and will kill as many innocent people as they must to prevent that greater horror. After witnessing a horrendous slaughter, the village girl Heloise opposes the Order, and risks bringing their wrath down on herself, her family, and her village.

“That love is worth it. It is worth any hardship, it is worth illness. It is worth injury. It is worth isolation. It is even worth death. For life without love is only a shadow of life.”

I didn’t know I wanted to read a strong character-driven fantasy that felt like a mecha Joan of Arc until I picked up Myke Cole’s The Armored Saint. I feel like I’ve said it a million times before, but it’s worth repeating — tor.com puts out the most amazing, entertaining novellas, and I’ve devoured each and every one I’ve gotten my hands on.

In the short 206 pages that starts a trilogy, Myke Cole packs a punch of a story, crafts a detailed and dedicated character journey that absolutely feels as if you’re immersing yourself in a story that could easily fill up hundreds more pages. By the time I was a third of the way through, I was completely emotionally invested in Heloise.

How many feelings can I feel in 200 pages? A LOT, THANKS.

Myke Cole’s skill at writing vivid, heart-stopping action scenes intermixed with the real, heart-felt emotional development and growth of Heloise is some of the strongest I’ve seen in coming-of-age fantasy in a long time. I love novels set in that feudal kingdom sort of world in which there’s an oppressive monarchy and/or religious order, and Heloise being a young woman who does not ascribe to the rigid morals of the Order in a medieval-esque kingdom so reminds me of the common myth of Joan of Arc that a lot of us are familiar with. And I LOVE IT.

“It is a person you love. Not a name. Not a he or a she. A person in all their shining glory. There is a thing in us, Heloise. A seed. It makes us who we are. It is our core. That the thing that we love. It alone exists. It alone is holy. It has no home, no name. It is neither male nor female. It is greater than that.”

I can’t wait for the sequels, and I can’t wait to see where Heloise goes and what devious trouble the Order contrives next.

If you like grimdark fantasy, coming-of-age stories, and straight up fabulous entertainment, check this one out!

BOOK REVIEW: Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

BOOK REVIEW: Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuireTitle: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Series: Wayward Children #1
Published by Tor.com
Published: April 5th 2016
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 169
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children
No Solicitations No Visitors No Quests

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

For us, the places we went were home. We didn’t care if they were good or evil or neutral or what. We cared about the fact that for the first time we didn’t have to pretend to be something we weren’t. We just got to be. That made all the difference in the world.

Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway is a fairy tale homage. McGuire weaves in a lot of fairy tale and childhood fantasy references that make this a joy to read to try to connect all of those threads. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a place where parents send their troubled, “uncontrollable” children. The children who have been sent there are those who have said that they’ve visited other worlds, other places, through actual doors or through other means that are probably immediately identifiable to those who read a lot (a wardrobe, a rabbit hole, etc).

This story really resonated with me because of the quote above. For me, so much of growing up and becoming myself meant learning how to shed the masks I wore, and sometimes still wear. When you find that place in life where you feel like you can be completely yourself without shame or fear is like nothing else. Sometimes it’s as simple as aging, sometimes it’s the people you meet and become friends/family with, and sometimes it’s the actual place in which you live that helps shape everything. And then, when you’re taken away or removed from that place, even if you only visited for a moment, all you can really think about is getting back to that place. Longing and nostalgia can be as powerful a drug as any others, and sometimes the only salve is finding people who have shared experiences and feel the same way as you. Realizing you’re not alone is such a healing thing.

If you like reworked fairy tales or stories about belonging and loss, you really need to read this. I can’t wait to read the others in this series.

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley Reads

I have been terrible at keeping up with blog reviews ever since late last year, so I am playing catch-up now and make more of an effort! I felt like I was doing really well for a while, and then a whole bunch of things happened and my brain just kind of went blah and that was that. ANYWAY, onward to these short but sweet reviews.

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear
Series: Lotus Kingdoms #1
Published by Tor Books
Published: October 10th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 367
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

The Stone in the Skull, the first volume in her new trilogy, takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms.

The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from a the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort.

They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.

Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull is the start to a lush fantasy trilogy that felt a lot at times to be the fantasy counterpart to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness as it explores gender and identity against the backdrop of political intrigue and upheaval. I hadn’t realized it is the start to a sequel trilogy of a previous series of Bear’s. While I think that I probably could have benefited from being a little more familiar with the world before diving into this one, I don’t feel like I was alienated in any way from the enjoyment of The Stone and the Skull‘s story because this story is set several decades after the first trilogy. My only issue with the book was that it took too long for the heart of the story to really reveal itself. I was more than halfway through the book before I felt as if I could connect with almost any of the characters. My favorite characters, however, are the Gage and the Dead Man, so I’m looking forward to seeing how their story progresses in the rest of the trilogy!

Review copy provided by Netgalley/Tor; all opinions are my own!

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy #2
Published by Del Rey
Published: December 5th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 363
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

After I finished reading The Girl in the Tower, all I could think was wow, what an amazing followup, because much like The Bear and the Nightingale, Arden’s second title in the Winternight Trilogy satisfies some of the questions left at the end of the first book and leaves a lot of questions to be answered in the upcoming final book. The writing and atmosphere is both foreign and familiar, like a fairy tale you’ve only heard on the peripherals of the familiar stories we’ve grown up with. Arden expertly weaves and subverts those familiar fairy tale tropes while managing to make her tale fresh and exciting. After such a stunning followup to the already incredible The Bear and the Nightingale, I’ll certainly be picking up anything Arden writes in the future without any hesitation.

A review copy provided by Netgalley/Del Rey; all opinions are my own!

Little List of Reviews #7: Recent Netgalley ReadsTitle: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
Series: The Hazel Wood #1
Published by Flatiron Books
Published: January 30th 2018
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 368
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother's stories are set. Alice's only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother's tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood turned out to be everything I’ve been hoping for lately in recent YA fantasy. Dark fairy tales, believable characters, and all of those twists and turns to keep you glued to the page. This is a fairy tale about a mother-daughter bond and the strange, wild lengths one goes for family and truth. The major issue I had with this, though, was the pacing. The first half is a little slower-paced, allowing for us as the reader to get to know Alice and the world in which she leaves and the world she was told to avoid, but the last half had so much going on in it that I felt a lack of development for the Hinterlands. Knowing now that this is the first in a series, I’m hoping we get to see more of the Hinterlands in later stories because I wanted to know more! This is going to be perfect if true-to-the-source dark fairy tales are your thing and for those who enjoy a well-crafted YA fantasy.

A review copy provided by Netgalley/Flatiron Books; all opinions are my own!

BOOK REVIEW: Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette Ng

BOOK REVIEW: Under the Pendulum Sun, by Jeannette NgTitle: Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng
Published by Angry Robot
Published: October 3rd 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Pages: 416
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Catherine Helstone's brother, Laon, has disappeared in Arcadia, legendary land of the magical fae. Desperate for news of him, she makes the perilous journey, but once there, she finds herself alone and isolated in the sinister house of Gethsemane. At last there comes news: her beloved brother is riding to be reunited with her soon - but the Queen of the Fae and her insane court are hard on his heels.

 It has been as long as it takes to tell a tale, neither long nor short.

If you found yourself wanting something more in the same vein as Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak, wait no more. Jeannette Ng’s Under the Pendulum Sun expertly weaves fantasy, the Gothic, academia, and religion in this compelling novel about missionaries to Arcadia, the land of the Fae.

The story explores a lot of the conventions and repressions of the times and of Gothic tropes (it’s got that weird castle with hidden passage ways, clever uses of light, and the madwoman down below); delves into folklore, fairy tales, and the Fae; and manages to make you think about how we view those ideas, concepts, and social constructs if you’re familiar with them. The story also manages to twist and invert all of that and make it very new, something that I think can be difficult to do well and Ng makes it look effortless.

I loved the inclusion of documents at the beginning of each chapter and spread throughout to ground the story in its own reality and explore the beliefs of Catherine and Leon. The narrative moves in such a way that you, as a reader, begin to question everything, especially once Queen Mab makes her appearance and throws everything for a loop. As we are experiencing all of this through Catherine’s eyes, once the veil is lifted, all we can do is experience the horror and awe as truths come to light.

Under the Pendulum Sun is dark, twisted, and well-executed, and it’s a debut. There was much failing and ahhhhh-ing from me while reading it. If you are already interested in Gothic literature, religion and its functions in society, the taboo, the Fae, you’ll want to read this. You won’t want to put it down once you’ve started, and you’ll be thinking about Arcadia long after you turn the final page.

Thank you to Angry Robot and Netgalley for an advance reader’s copy! All opinions are my own.