Book Review: Return Once More

Return Once More (The Historians #1)
by Trisha Leigh
Release Date: June 2015
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Summary from Goodreads:

If you could learn the identity of your one true love—even though you will never meet— would you?
Years have passed since refugees from a ruined earth took to space, eventually settling a new system of planets. Science has not only made the leaps necessary to allow time travel, but the process engineered a strange side effect—predicting your one true love.
If you could save your one true love from an untimely death, would you be able to resist?
Sixteen-year-old Kaia Vespasian is an apprentice to the Historians—a group charged with using time travel to document the triumphs and failures of the past—and she can’t resist a peek at her long-dead soul mate in Ancient Egypt. Before she knows it, she’s broken every rule in the book, and the consequences of getting caught could destroy more than just her new romance.
Or would you have the strength to watch him die?
But when Kaia notices a fellow classmate snooping around in a time where he doesn’t belong, she suspects he has a secret of his own—and the conspiracy she uncovers could threaten the entire universe. If her experience has taught her anything, to changing history means facing the consequences. The Historians trained her to observe and record the past, but Kaia never guessed she might have to protect it— in a race across time to save her only chance at a future.

I’ve never had a thing for time travel, but I have always had a thing for Ancient Egypt, so that’s what drew me into Return Once More. I believe that the author did a good job of describing the futuristic world and the technology that was used within it. I find that some books have to little explanation while others have far too much – Trisha Leigh got this one just right. Some of it did require a willing suspension of disbelief, but that’s why we read fantasy!

The entire premise of being about travel back in time but not forward it time made sense to me. The past is already done but the future possibilities are infinite. As long as you don’t screw up the past and make sure we have a future to return to. The other plot device used was the ability to find someone’s “One True Love” throughout all time and space. For some reason, they can predict someone’s True in the future… but not go there… hm. That felt undeveloped for me. I played along with that, because hey, I love History so the thought of being able to go back and observe was awesome!

Kaia is a great heroine, I enjoyed reading from her point of view. She is a realistic teenager who breaks all the rules when it suits her, but still has a strong sense of what is right and wrong. The supporting characters could have used a bit more fleshing out, as sometimes I was confused about who Kaia was interacting with.

While the book moved and read quickly, some of the pacing felt off to me. I found myself bored every so often and then suddenly it would pick up like a roller-coaster. I really loved the cover for this book. I like the juxtaposition of the modern clothing with the (fantasy inspired) Ancient Egyptian setting.

As I was approaching the end of the book, I knew that there was no way that it was all going to wrap up nicely in the last 10%. I went into this book thinking it was a standalone, so I was left wondering wtf was going on at the end. Imagine my surprise when I realized it was a series! I can’t wait to read what happens next.

In the end, I really enjoyed this book by Trisha Leigh and I look forward to reading the next installment in the series. She does have another series completed with CreateSpace named The Last Year, which I will also be adding to my to-read list. The first installment, Whispers in Autumn is free on Amazon!

*disclaimer* – I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a honest review. 
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Series Review: Once a Witch / Always a Witch

I added Once a Witch to my to-read list over a year and a half ago, when I first started using Goodreads to track my reading / to-read progress. I seriously cannot get enough of that site, I have discovered so many amazing authors through Goodreads, including Carolyn MacCullough.

#1 Once a Witch
# 2 Always a Witch
by Carolyn MacCullough
Release Date: 2009 / 2011
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Summary from Goodreads:

“Your daughter will be one of the most powerful we have ever seen in this family. She will be a beacon for us all.”

Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and on the day she was born, her grandmother proclaimed she would be one of the most Talented among them.
But Tamsin’s magic never showed up.
Now, seventeen years later, she spends most of her time at boarding school in Manhattan, where she can at least pretend to be normal. But during the summers, she’s forced to return home and work at her family’s bookstore/magic shop.

One night a handsome young professor from New York University arrives in the shop and mistakes Tamsin for her extremely Talented older sister. For once, it’s Tamsin who’s being looked at with awe and admiration, and before she can stop herself, she agrees to find a family heirloom for him that was lost more than a century ago. But the search – and the stranger – prove to be more sinister than they first appeared, ultimately sending Tamsin on a treasure hunt through time that will unlock the secret of her true identity, unearth the past sins of her family, and unleash a power so strong and so vengeful that it could destroy them all.

In a spellbinding display of storytelling, Carolyn MacCullough interweaves witchcraft, romance, and time travel in a fantasy that will exhilarate, enthrall, and thoroughly enchant.

Once a Witch has been sitting on my to-read list for a while, but I’m glad that I’ve finally had the chance to read it. Put simply, I loved it! It’s fast-paced, well-written and has everything that I could have wanted in a modern fantasy novel. First published in 2009, I’m surprised that this book hasn’t gotten more mainstream attention, especially with an endorsement from Cassandra Clare.

At just under 300 pages, this story is a whirlwind of an adventure that includes witchcraft, sleuthing, time travel, sibling rivalry and a hint of romance.

I really enjoyed the characters. MacCullough knows how to write teens for a wider audience. The characters were all unique, avoiding major tropes but still providing the cast that we would expect from a book like this. Her tone and pacing hit every mark perfectly.

I honestly went into reading this book not knowing that there was a sequel already published. I was over the moon when there was a sample of Always a Witch in the back, and I immediately checked it out of the library and even put reading The Winner’s Crime on hold to read it.

So, let’s talk cover art. I love love love the cover for the 2009 edition of Once a Witch. It fits the mood of the story completely. The cover for Always a Witch, however, fell flat into a cliche cover of some goth girl brooding in a corset. Seeing how this is a trend in YA at the moment, it must help the books sell, but I prefer the Hermoine-esque cover of the first book, which I connected with on a more personal level.

Upon finishing the series, I am definitely interesting in reading more from this author.

 

Book Review: Superstition

Superstition by Lucy Fenton was a great novel. It set the bar high as one of the best self-published books I have read in a long time.

Superstition
by Lucy Fenton
Release Date: August 2015
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Summary from Goodreads:

What happens when your childhood nightmares of being bitten by strange creatures in a dark wood aren’t just dreams?
Sixteen-year-old Arden St. John’s life takes a strange turn when she finds an unusual animal injured near her new house on the south east coast of Australia. When she takes it to the local vet, a terrible truth is inadvertently exposed to her.
She discovers a secret underworld, where witches are commonplace and trolls masquerade as queen bees, terrorizing the other students with impunity. A world where vampires traffic in the lives of children, draining their bodies once they reach maturity. Where adults auction their own children to extend their lives.
Arden finds out she’s one of those kids, her life traded by the mother she never knew. Now she’s caught up in this ancient and corrupt economy operating just below the surface of modern society. She’s a hot commodity, and it’s only a matter of time before the vampire who bought her comes to claim his prize.
But Arden’s not going down without a fight.

It should be no secret now that I’m a sucker for witchcraft or occult based stories. The world building in Superstition was a neat take on traditional witches and vampires. I appreciate that the vampires are scary monsters and not sparkling hunks – I’m not at all worried that Arden might fall for one in the future. What was most interesting was the currency of lives or years, being able to buy and sell them, or even selling your children’s years instead! I know that our society surely would be doing that if they could. (If not already, but that’s a political essay for another day.)

Arden was a likable main character. The narration was dependable and consistent all of the way through. I admire her determination and grit, but some times she gets what she want way too easily. Her friends were loyal throughout, even when things got tough; and the teen heart throb Nick, well – he was your perfect boy next door. I hope things will work out for them.

I enjoyed the debate on what is good and evil, creation and destruction, and all of the grey areas in between. You can’t have one without the other, but being raised in a Western/ Christian society, if someone is labeled as destructive, they immediately related that with being evil. I like that Arden is determined to use her powers to right wrongs and fight evil.

Over all, the editing for this book was strong, however I feel like it could have been longer. The pacing was off, and some scenes seemed too rushed. The fight scenes could have been fleshed out better, they all seemed to end to easily and too quickly. For a witch with such destructive powers, I was hoping for a bit more blood and gore! The story could have easily filled another 100 pages and not been a drag.

The title fell flat for me. There are so many books out there with the title Superstition (or some close variable) that it makes it harder to search for it. I would have recommended something a bit more unique for a first novel, but naming books is something I also have trouble with.  *cough cough*

I will be checking out the play Gaslight to see how it ties into this novel. It seemed like a not so subtle name drop, and Fenton seems to be a reader of plays so I will be checking that out soon.

I was pleased to find out from the author’s Goodreads page that a sequel was in the works. She noted that it takes her a year or more to write a book, which is totally understandable and I was grateful that she wrapped up the end perfectly – leaving you wanting more but not hanging over a cliff!

*disclaimer* – I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a honest review. 
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Book Review: Hex Hall Series

Hex Hall is the 3 part series about Sophie Mercer, who is a Prodigium aka magical beastie. I’ll admit it, this was actually the first series I put on my Goodreads list years ago. Surprisingly, I didn’t get around to reading it until now, even though it was the first cover to pop on my “to-read” list every time I opened my page to find my next series. So, as you can see I finally got around to reading them. I got all three books at once from the library. I wanted some light reading; took me less than a day each to read all three books.

Three years ago, Sophie Mercer discovered that she was a witch. It’s gotten her into a few scrapes. Her non-gifted mother has been as supportive as possible, consulting Sophie’s estranged father—an elusive European warlock—only when necessary. But when Sophie attracts too much human attention for a prom-night spell gone horribly wrong, it’s her dad who decides her punishment: exile to Hex Hall, an isolated reform school for wayward Prodigium, a.k.a. witches, faeries, and shapeshifters.

By the end of her first day among fellow freak-teens, Sophie has quite a scorecard: three powerful enemies who look like supermodels, a futile crush on a gorgeous warlock, a creepy tag-along ghost, and a new roommate who happens to be the most hated person and only vampire student on campus. Worse, Sophie soon learns that a mysterious predator has been attacking students, and her only friend is the number-one suspect.

As a series of blood-curdling mysteries starts to converge, Sophie prepares for the biggest threat of all: an ancient secret society determined to destroy all Prodigium, especially her.

Oh Hex Hall, where to begin. This series was just “ok.” But my inner-teen enjoyed it very much. It was simple, light reading full of magic, demons and hot boys. I know that this book was not meant for my age group, it’s definitely YA Paranormal for teens, probably 15 or 16 years old. But I wanted a break from heavier books and younger YA is always a nice sugary treat.

As I was saying Hex Hall is your usual YA paranormal story set in a “school for the gifted”. Full of your standard tropes: love triangles, bitchy mean girls, chosen-one syndrome, the list goes on… BUT it was executed in a way that didn’t cause too many eye rolls. Hex Hall fell victim to the three-book series grab, but the story line didn’t weaken much. In the end it was what it was: A marketable series for teens. (And I’m the grown adult reading them so who am I to judge?)

Aside from all the obvious tropes, I disliked the ending. (No Spoilers) It just seemed to end too quickly. The giant battle I was expecting fizzled out into convenient accidents and drawn out villain speeches. I’ve noticed this in other series (eg. House of Night), it’s almost as if the author gets tired during the last 100 pages and just sums it all up and ties it with a bow.

However, this series did leave me wanted to read more from Rachel Hawkins. Her next series Rebel Belle is now on my list… What can I say? YA is my not-so-guilty pleasure.

Quote of the Day: Alice Sebold

Happy Halloween and a Blessed Samhain.

“Because horror on Earth is real and it is every day. It is like a flower or like the sun; it cannot be contained.”
― Alice Sebold