The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith #bookreview #YA #historical #fantasy

The Last Magician meets The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy in this thrilling and atmospheric historical fantasy following a young woman who discovers she has magical powers and is thrust into a battle between witches and wizards.

In 1911 New York City, seventeen-year-old Frances Hallowell spends her days as a seamstress, mourning the mysterious death of her brother months prior. Everything changes when she’s attacked and a man ends up dead at her feet—her scissors in his neck, and she can’t explain how they got there.

Before she can be condemned as a murderess, two cape-wearing nurses arrive to inform her she is deathly ill and ordered to report to Haxahaven Sanitarium. But Frances finds Haxahaven isn’t a sanitarium at all: it’s a school for witches. Within Haxahaven’s glittering walls, Frances finds the sisterhood she craves, but the headmistress warns Frances that magic is dangerous. Frances has no interest in the small, safe magic of her school, and is instead enchanted by Finn, a boy with magic himself who appears in her dreams and tells her he can teach her all she’s been craving to learn, lessons that may bring her closer to discovering what truly happened to her brother.

Frances’s newfound power attracts the attention of the leader of an ancient order who yearns for magical control of Manhattan. And who will stop at nothing to have Frances by his side. Frances must ultimately choose what matters more, justice for her murdered brother and her growing feelings for Finn, or the safety of her city and fellow witches. What price would she pay for power, and what if the truth is more terrible than she ever imagined? 

The comparison to The Last Magician is what made me request this book from NetGalley, plus I seem to be on a witch reading binge this summer.

I don’t read a ton of historical fiction, but when I do this seems to be a popular time period for me. After her mother is taken to an insane asylum and her brother is murdered, Frances is on her own in NYC. After she’s attacked by her boss, who somehow winds up dead with her scissors in his neck, Frances learns she possesses magic. She’s taken to Haxahaven Academy, a school for witches disguised as a tuberculosis sanitarium. While she’s thrilled to learn more about her powers and meet more young girls like herself, she’d hoped to do more with her magic. Haxahaven teaches girls how to control their magic – a good thing – but to primarily use it to ease the burden of household chores – not so exciting. Frances isn’t having it, and she wants more. When her brother’s friend Finn reaches out (he’s a dreamwalker), he teaches her more about magic than she’s learned at Haxahaven. After more bodies of young men turn up, Frances is convinced their deaths are connected to her brother’s, and she and Finn find themselves in the midst of a mystery.

While I liked the 1911 setting, it really doesn’t play a large part in this story. Most scenes take place at the school, brotherhood, or in the forest. The magic system is interesting – males and females have different types of powers and abilities with varying degrees of talent. Frances’s popularity level waxed and waned on my scale. She has very little at the beginning of the story, and her situation is dire, but soon after arriving at the school and making new friends she thinks nothing of asking them to take risks for her without considering the consequences for them or herself. Needing to know the identity of the murderer kept me turning the pages, but I’d guessed who was involved pretty early. The last 20% of the book takes an unexpected direction – dark and kinda creepy to say the least – but fans of morally gray characters will probably cheer. Even with the different path, the ending was a whirlwind and felt rushed to me.

This novel has wonderful diversity and representation (especially with Lena and her backstory) and also deals with topics of feminism, racism, and sexual assault (trigger warning). I’m not sure if it’s a standalone, but the ending sure felt like a second book is in the works. It had some highs and lows for me, but if you’re looking for a witchy historical fantasy that leans more on the fantasy than the history, this is a book I’d recommend.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Bad Witch Burning by Jessica Lewis #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy

For fans of Us and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina comes a witchy story full of black girl magic as one girl’s dark ability to summon the dead offers her a chance at a new life, while revealing to her an even darker future.

Katrell doesn’t mind talking to the dead; she just wishes it made more money. Clients pay her to talk to their deceased loved ones, but it isn’t enough to support her unemployed mother and Mom’s deadbeat boyfriend-of-the-week. Things get worse, when a ghost warns her to stop the summonings or she’ll “burn everything down.” Katrell is willing to call them on their bluff, though. She has no choice. What do ghosts know about eating peanut butter for dinner?

However, when her next summoning accidentally raises someone from the dead, Katrell realizes that a live body is worth a lot more than a dead apparition. And, warning or not, she has no intention of letting this lucrative new business go.

But magic doesn’t come for free, and soon dark forces are closing in on Katrell. The further she goes, the more she risks the lives of not only herself, but those she loves. Katrell faces a choice: resign herself to poverty, or confront the darkness before it’s too late. 

Seems like I’ve come across several witchy books lately, and they’re a favorite of mine when it comes to paranormal. Raising the dead can’t come without consequences, so I was anxious to see how Katrell dealt with these dark forces.

Trell is the teenager in her family, but essentially the only responsible adult. She works thirty hours per week, attends high school, buys groceries, pays the bills and rent, and gives money to her unemployed mother and her mom’s deadbeat boyfriend. He physically abuses Trell, works a part time job, and refuses to contribute to the household financially. Every interaction with her mother and boyfriend made me so angry I wanted to reach into the pages and choke them. Trell has been homeless more than once in her life, and if not for her job at a restaurant and the kindness of her best friend’s mother, she’d go hungry much of the time.

For reasons that are never explained, Trell is able to write letters summoning the ghosts of clients’ family members so they can speak to them. Suddenly her power changes, and she’s able to raise the dead and return them to her clients. For a price, of course. I would have liked an explanation for where her powers came from, how she discovered them, why they changed, etc., to better understand her magic. Maybe I missed an explanation, but I wondered why no one discovered the empty graves after the dead rose. Seems like it’s something that would have turned up on the news. Trell’s goal is to make enough money from raising the dead to support her and her mom for a year. After her hours are cut at the restaurant, the pressure is on to earn even more to keep them sheltered and fed. Soon the money is rolling in and Trell begins to lose sight of her goals. She ignores the advice of best friend Will and a concerned school guidance counselor, and her life rapidly spirals out of control.

Although she’s brave and loyal to a fault, Trell is also incredibly frustrating. She’s blind to her mother’s actions, and you’ll want to yell at her many times over her consistently bad decisions and wonder how she’ll ever fix the disasters she’s created.

Between the dead walking around, Trell’s personal struggles, and her determination to better her life, you’ll want her to somehow find a happily ever after, but it’s something that won’t come easily. This novel does a wonderful job of raising awareness of homelessness, poverty, and physical abuse, and the author discusses her own experiences before the story begins. It also stresses the importance of getting help and finding a support system. Some readers may want to heed trigger warnings. Overall, a strong debut novel.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.  Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

The Ravens (The Ravens #1) by Kass Morgan and Danielle Paige #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy #TuesdayBookBlog

Kappa Rho Nu isn’t your average sorority. Their parties are notorious. Their fundraisers are known for being Westerly College’s most elaborate affairs. But beneath the veil of Greek life and prestige, the sisters of Kappu Rho Nu share a secret: they’re a coven of witches. For Vivi Deveraux, being one of Kappa Rho Nu’s Ravens means getting a chance to redefine herself. For Scarlett Winters, a bonafide Raven and daughter of a legacy Raven, pledge this year means living up to her mother’s impossible expectations of becoming Kappa Rho Nu’s next president. Scarlett knows she’d be the perfect candidate — that is, if she didn’t have one human-sized skeleton in her closet…. When Vivi and Scarlett are paired as big and little for initiation, they find themselves sinking into the sinister world of blood oaths and betrayals. 

Although I’ve always liked college settings in books, it’s been a while since I’ve read one.  With The Ravens involving witches and having such an awesome cover, I couldn’t pass it up.

The whole time I was reading, I kept seeing the witches in American Horror Story Coven – loved that season.  Like Coven, sisterhood is an important theme in this story.  Kappas always put their sisters first and never go against them.  They believe they’re stronger together than individually, something that’s proven true several times over by the end of the novel.  The different types of witches and their magic are explained well, and I enjoyed seeing their varieties of powers.

While I really didn’t care for Scarlett in the beginning, she changed my mind by the end.  Initially she comes off as judgemental, elitist, and kind of a mean girl, especially when it comes to Vivi, but undergoes several changes and easily has the best character arc.  She drives the story.  With Vivi’s flighty mother who packs up and moves them at the drop of a hat, she’s missed stability in her life and has never lived anywhere long enough to make friends.  Being settled at college for four years and joining the Kappas fills those voids.  I would have liked more explanation about how she’s suddenly able to use her power after a lifetime of not knowing she was a witch.

Some of the relationships didn’t feel natural to me.  Scarlett’s relationship with another character that develops near the end feels forced and out of place – it didn’t seem to fit.  And then there’s Vivi, who has a sudden case of insta-love with the first guy who’s nice to her.  The strong friendships between the girls are much more genuine.

While a couple of twists are easy to see coming, there’s still plenty of action, tension, and mystery to engage readers.  The title indicates this is a series, but with no cliffhangers, it felt like a natural ending to me.  If there’s more to come, I’ll definitely pick up the next book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin #bookreview #paranormal

Bound as one to love, honor, or burn.

Two years ago, Louise le Blanc fled her coven and took shelter in the city of Cesarine, forsaking all magic and living off whatever she could steal. There, witches like Lou are hunted. They are feared. And they are burned.

Sworn to the Church as a Chasseur, Reid Diggory has lived his life by one principle: thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. His path was never meant to cross with Lou’s, but a wicked stunt forces them into an impossible union—holy matrimony.

The war between witches and Church is an ancient one, and Lou’s most dangerous enemies bring a fate worse than fire. Unable to ignore her growing feelings, yet powerless to change what she is, a choice must be made.

And love makes fools of us all.

Several friends recommended this book, and I’d seen reviewers raving about it.  When I won a copy, it seemed like fate meant for me to read it.

As a confirmed fantasy fan, the description intrigued me – a witch hunter unknowingly married to a witch.  I’m not much for strong romantic elements in my reading, and this book contains more than I expected, but I was so enamored with Lou and Reid that I was willing to set those preferences aside.  They’re polar opposites – Lou having no filter and stating whatever is on her mind and Reed more reserved with strong convictions – and I enjoyed watching them get to know each other.  And learning how wrong their preconceived notions were.

The world-building is rich and detailed, and there are quite a few surprises and twists I didn’t see coming.  All the supporting characters are well done, but my favorites are loyal friend Coco and young, determined Ansel.  He has the potential to be a scene stealer.

Witty banter, enemies to lovers, strong heroes and heroines, and lovable supporting characters all made Serpent & Dove well worth the read.  It’s a series I plan on continuing.

Witches of Ash and Ruin by E. Latimer #bookreview #YA #urbanfantasy

Modern witchcraft blends with ancient Celtic mythology in an epic clash of witches and gods, perfect for fans of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy and A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES.

Seventeen-year-old Dayna Walsh is struggling to cope with her somatic OCD; the aftermath of being outed as bisexual in her conservative Irish town; and the return of her long-absent mother, who barely seems like a parent. But all that really matters to her is ascending and finally, finally becoming a full witch-plans that are complicated when another coven, rumored to have a sordid history with black magic, arrives in town with premonitions of death. Dayna immediately finds herself at odds with the bewitchingly frustrating Meiner King, the granddaughter of their coven leader.

And then a witch turns up murdered at a local sacred site, along with the blood symbol of the Butcher of Manchester-an infamous serial killer whose trail has long gone cold. The killer’s motives are enmeshed in a complex web of witches and gods, and Dayna and Meiner soon find themselves at the center of it all. If they don’t stop the Butcher, one of them will be next.

With razor-sharp prose and achingly real characters, E. Latimer crafts a sweeping, mesmerizing story of dark magic and brutal mythology set against a backdrop of contemporary Ireland that’s impossible to put down.

I’m a huge Victoria Schwab fan, and A Discovery of Witches is one of my favorite series (the TV version is also fabulous), so it seems like I was destined to read this book.

With Dayna having an unstable home life and an extremely traumatic experience with her father after being outed as bisexual, I loved how her coven is a found family full of love and support for her.  The older witches in her coven also serve as positive role models for the witchlings in the smaller coven.  Celtic mythology isn’t something I’m familiar with, so I enjoyed learning more about it and how the author weaves it into her story.  Ireland as a setting is always a plus.  With both bisexual and gay characters, representation is also a strong point.

Multiple POVs aren’t a problem for me as long as they serve a purpose; however, one of these disappears by the end of the book, and I was left wondering what happens to this character.  There are a lot of moving parts to this story, and several aren’t addressed at the end.  Something that puzzled me was Dayna forgetting to mention the crucial piece of information she learns regarding the murders – something that could have potentially stopped another one.  Preventing further killings is the primary reason the covens come together, so that was a hard pill to swallow.

Overall, this is an interesting read with some intriguing characters and strong themes of family, but I’d hoped for more questions to be answered by the end.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

#BadMoonOnTheRise Day 27 Come Hell or High Water (The Complete Trilogy) by Stephen Morris @StephenNYC1 #books #OccultThriller #witches

bad moon on the rise

Today we welcome Stephen Morris!  If you like some history interwoven with your horror/occult thrillers, this is your kind of book!

 

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Witchcraft! Ghosts! Vampires! Tarot cards!
An old crone is bound to a stake in the Old Town Square of Prague and consumed by flames in 1356, her vengeful words setting in motion a series of dark events that unfold across the centuries, culminating in the historic flood of August 2002 that threatens to destroy the city.

In the summer of 2002, two academics attending a conference at the university – a Jesuit priest and a beautiful Irish professor (who is also a voracious Irish vampire, known as the Dearg-due) – develop their own nefarious agendas. To access the enormous potential power to which the dead witch holds the key, they dupe a secretary into helping destroy the city by unravelling the protective magic built into the Charles Bridge itself that has defended the city since its construction. A small group of academics at that same university conference discover the threat and are forced by circumstances to practice the folk magic they have previously merely researched. Drawing on the power of the Tarot, always especially associated with Prague, they battle the Jesuit, the Dearg-due, the unwitting secretary and the forces of evil that threaten to destroy the city. The academics realize that once free, these forces will unleash a dark power that could undermine all of western civilization. The final confrontation occurs as the historic flood of Prague in 2002 is conjured to destroy the magical Charles Bridge which has protected the city for centuries.

The novel alternates chapters set in medieval Prague and contemporary Prague (summer 2002). The chapters set in 1356-1357 incorporate a number of local Prague folktales and legends. These 1356 events alert Nadezhda that something very wrong indeed is afoot in Prague. Together with an elderly rabbi from Prague’s famous Jewish Quarter, she sets out to avert the impending disaster.

How long have you been writing horror/thrillers and what drew you to the genre?

I have always been fascinated by black magic and the misuse of power – my first true love was the Wicked Witch of the West in “The Wizard of Oz!” The bad guys – especially the supernatural bad guys – were always the most interesting characters and seemed to have the most fun. In high school, I toyed with the idea of writing an epic that followed a particular family of wicked people who would eventually produce the Antichrist but I have yet to write that book. Occult thrillers are now my favorite reading – I’m always looking for another great book or series or author to add to my Kindle!

How did you come up with the idea for your book?

I was reading a history of medieval monastic curses against the nobility who would attempt to encroach on monastic land or privileges and as I read one of the cursing prayers, I immediately saw a witch being burned using those same words to curse the mob who had brought her to the stake. I also visited and fell in love with Prague and discovered several Czech legends that could easily be seen as the result of some of those curses. As my friend Rob and I were standing on the Charles Bridge at sunset when spring evening, he said, “You know everything about medieval theology and witchcraft and Prague history and legends; you should do something with it!” In that moment, it all clicked and I knew immediately what the story of COME HELL OR HIGH WATER would be.

If you could erase one horror cliché, what would it be?

Do the good guys ALWAYS have to win?!?!

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a novel about an Estonian werewolf who flees his homeland in 1890 to find someone who can free him from the wolf-magic that he has lost control of. He makes his way from Estonia through Latvia to Lithuania and Poland. He finally reaches Prague and hopes to find a “cunning man” or a “wise woman” to free him from the curse he has brought upon himself, but he only seems to find frauds and charlatans – poor Alexei!

Favorite horror movie and book?

It may sound cheesy but the 1970s made-for-tv movie CROWHAVEN FARM still gives me the shivers! I think Kate Griffin’s MIDNIGHT MAYOR series are the best occult thrillers available and her MAGICALS ANONYMOUS series are the best books with a slightly more light-hearted take on that same material.

Author bio

Stephen has degrees in medieval history and theology from Yale and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Academy. A former priest, he served as the Eastern Orthodox chaplain at Columbia University. His previous academic writing has dealt primarily with Late Antiquity and Byzantine church life.

He is also the Chair of the CORE Executive of Inter-disciplinary.net and organizes annual conferences on aspects of the supernatural, evil and wickedness, and related subjects. It was an I-D.net project that took him to Prague for the first time in 2001 and he immediately fell in love with the city! He has been back many, MANY times!

Stephen, a Seattle native, is now a long-time New York resident and currently lives in Manhattan with his partner, Elliot.

This occult thriller explores the legends of medieval and modern Prague. Magdalena, a bored administrative assistant in Prague, discovers the ghost of Fen’ka, an old woman burned alive as a witch in 1356, and agrees to help her pursue justice. Magdalena becomes more and more involved with the occult: She communicates with the spirit of Madame de Thebes, a fortuneteller murdered by the Nazis, and seeks out powerful demons to aid Fen’ka. Her story is interwoven with the novel’s strongest chapters, set in medieval Prague, which dramatize the effects of Fen’ka’s last dying curseon the city. Well-versed in 14th-century Prague, Morris draws heavily on folk legends to create a window into the lives of characters from various walks of life, including righteous priests, wealthy merchants and budding thieves. Each self-contained medieval chapter builds tension fairly well; the chapters set in modern times…. culminate with powerful demons let loose in Prague and the development of a compelling theme regarding Magdalena’s temptation to gain power and the price she’s willing to pay for it. Although the dialogue could use more subtlety… the plot and portrait of the 14th century are gripping enough to keep readers engaged…. (From Kirkus Reviews)

” As eloquently told as it is informative and thought-provoking, ‘Wellspring’ is a title worthy of standing on the shelf alongside acclaimed works such as those in The Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches series penned by the mother of all things occult, Anne Rice.” – Red City Review

“Well-versed in 14th-century Prague, Morris draws heavily on folk legends to create a window into the lives of characters from various walks of life, including righteous priests, wealthy merchants and budding thieves.” – Kirkus Reviews

This supernatural suspense… is the beginning of a trilogy that has the potential to be a genre-transcendent epic a la Deborah Harkness’ bestselling All Souls trilogy (A Discovery of Witches, et al.) — Blue Ink Review

This is a book that you just do not want to put down! It is all about the past, and how the energy from the past lives on in the present…. This is a well researched book, from the point of view of medieval history, the Tarot itself, occult practices, the church, and the psyche behind what motivates people to act as they do. — Perspectives on Tarot

“Morris generates some genuine chills and thrills in this entertaining series opener that alternates between the 14th and 21st centuries…. The author’s background in medieval history stands him in good stead in the 14th-century sections, as he slips in interesting details to help make the fantastic plausible.” – Publishers Weekly

“…Out of the many characters we meet, Father Conrad is a standout. The priest who instigates Fen’ka’s burning and is to blame for another death in the book, rises from hand-rubbing villainy to something far more clever. You sympathize with his passions, and his ultimate fate is perhaps one of the book’s best moments…. A well-crafted yarn, which takes you deep into the year 1325, mysticism, religion, and pagan rites in a quaint Prague town, COME HELL OR HIGH WATER, PART ONE: WELLSPRING is an epic journey worth taking.” — Indie Reader Discovery Awards

Where to find Stephen

Please see Stephen’s website for more information on upcoming novels and his most recent blog posts:
www.stephenmorrisauthor.com

You can also reach him at nycstephen12@yahoo.com

Twitter: @StephenNYC1

Buy links

Amazon