Book Review: The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

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The Book is a tale of friendship, family, honor and respect for the old ways.  It’s also a battle of good and evil.  I received the book as an ARC from NetGalley after requesting it.

The story follows a family descendent of the Bishop Family of witches from the Salem Witch Trials.  Although the story is fiction it is based on facts. The family line had been broken in two.  One line of the family practiced the old ways as herb medicine women who harness their power for the good and the other line of the family practices their craft for themselves and although able to do go they choose to use the dark side for lack of a better word.  Annis must learn her craft in order to save herself.

I found the book to be a bit slow to start and I will admit that at points I was very tempted to put it down.  It picked up at some point around the midpoint of the book and I found myself not being able to put it down at that point.  I took me almost a month to get to the midpoint of the book and then I read the the rest of the book in one day.

The book was well researched.   Louisa Morgan gives enough detail to make the craft sound believable and achievable with bits of “that’s not possible” mixed in.  Although with a magical book I expect to need to suspend my beliefs for a moment at times.  I appreciate that some of the spells seemed to have been very well researched and the incantations that were spoken seemed very real as well as the explanation as to why witches speak their spells and why very often the spells rhyme.

Words have strength and spoken words have the greatest weight

I thought the main characters seemed had depth.  I was able to feel sympathy for the Villan (Frances) even though at the same time I was hating her for being so calculating and selfish.  I really enjoyed reading about Harriet and even the Strega from the old herb store was believable and I really liked her.  I wished that she had had a bigger part in the story.  Perhaps another book???? (hint)

What I thought was lacking:

I did not like the way Morgan wrote the two ladies’ maids.  I found them to have no depth and no interest.  I thought that more could have been said about them.  Even Harriet’s house keeper was a bit just thrown in there.  She could have had a bigger part.

I hated reading about the trip to the asylum.  Maybe that could have been dealt with differently.  I was not expecting that much horror.

I found the ending to be a bit abrupt as if something was missing and there was no little bow tying the whole thing up together.

James, the love interest was soft and blah.  He had no mind of his own and it felt like he was in the book only to be a poppet in the hands of the women.  I did not like the way he was written and I can’t imagine Annis marrying him.  She is a strong woman and I get the feeling that she would walk all over him.

Putting it all together:

I enjoyed the book.  It was entertaining to read and it was researched well.  Some areas of the craft were still a bit off but they were very minor.  I rated the book 3 stars on Goodreads.

Book Review – The Black Witch Chronicles

The Black Witch – Book #1

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I debated on waiting to review this book until I was done with book #2 and review the series together.  I finished the book yesterday and immediately got the second book and started reading it.  I decided that I probably should review the first book now and the second when I finish the second so we can all have my ideas as I formulate them.

There are some things about this book which I very much enjoyed and there are some things about this book that I didn’t particularly care for.  I think Laurie Forest’s creates a very interesting world and develops it in front of the reader in a way that is not too full of description nor missing any of the necessary information.

The story follows Elloren, the granddaughter of the most powerful black witch in the land.  Elloren looks exactly like her grandmother with one small detail missing.  She has no magic.  Elloren’s parents died in battle when she was young and she and her brothers were raised by her uncle who as an eccentric raised them to be removed from magic.  Elloren never owned a wand and she’s learned to build violins which is something women in her tradition/culture as not allowed to do.

At the start of the story we Elloren’s aunt, a very powerful and wealthy Guardnerian who wants her to become Wandfasted (married) which goes against what her uncle wants.  Her uncle decides to allow Elloren to go with her aunt to the city to enroll and join her brothers at the University and only after she finishes her studies will he allow her to Wandfasted.  Before she leaves he makes Elloren promise him that she will wait until she finishes her studies.  Which she does.

At University she’s exposed to a variety of other cultures and magic systems.  Especially the “evil ones” with whom she’s forced to room since she’s not willing to be Wandfasted to the boy her aunt wants her to be Wandfasted to.

After picking up the book I found out that there’s a whole lot of controversy surrounding it.  Although a fantasy book, it covers some very deep subjects the most prominent of which is a cultural one.  How different cultures see each other and the falsities we learn about each other which become harmful to society.

The story includes dragons and elves and sea creatures.  All the things a good fantasy book must have in order to make the story complete and each creature comes with it’s own history and the reasons for their existence in the story.

What I didn’t like about the book

I think Laurie did a great job at showing how what we believe about each other can cause pain if we don’t take the time to get to the know each culture for what they are.  However, although I know that the novel is a young adult fantasy novel I was not prepared for the lectures on the evils of some of the cultures.  I get the reason for them to be in the book but perhaps they could have been handled different.

I don’t want to spoil the story but there is a part in the book where students are talking about what they believe and it just felt very childish to me.  I could have done without that part and have instead action explain why some believes were prevalent.

Another thing that seemed like a stretch to me was that with every different culture, Elloren seemed to know immediately what they were.  I get that some cultures are easier to spot than others but there a whole lot that are not.  That did not seem to be present.  She and all the other students seemed to know the background of every student just by looking at them.  The exception were the fae who are able to change their appearance.  I found this to be a bit jarring.

What I liked about the book

I enjoyed reading about the different magic systems.  I particularly enjoyed how the Lupine who are the werewolves (for lack of a better description) were written.  From where I’m standing they seemed to be the ones who are able to overlook the differences in everyone else and accept the differences.  I enjoyed seeing the development of those characters.

I enjoyed how the romance was written.  It was not too much in your face but it made a point.  It was descriptive without being too much.  There is one small thing about one of the love interests that could have been developed better.  At one point he goes to military training (it appears that most of the boys go through military training) and only at the time that he’s about to return to we find out that he and Elloren have been corresponding regularly.  This was not mentioned before and I thought this could have been flushed out a little more.

How I feel generally

I really enjoyed the book.  I think it’s a perfect read for the winter time – Yes, I pick most of my books by season.  I enjoyed the description of the school and the magic system was well developed.  Some of the story at times felt a little too young but that’s not the book’s fault as this is, in fact, a young adult novel.

I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads because the book kept me interested and the ending was interesting enough that I bought the next book immediately after.  I would recommend this book to a younger audience or someone just getting started in Fantasy.

Looking forward to her other works.

Ana

Currently Reading……

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The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

Started reading The Black Witch this past week and haven’t been able to put it down.  What’s surprised me the most is my apparent enjoyment of YA Fantasy novels at the moment.  Particularly witchy and magic related YA.  This is a genre I was not prepared to like but am, in fact, having a great time with.  The books are easy to read and in a strangely easy way complicated enough to hold my interest.

The Black Witch starts off with Elloren Gardner, the granddaughter of a very powerful witch, standing in a forest with her uncle when for the first time she handles a wand and the forest catches on fire.  She’s a young girl and following the directions of her uncle.  They run out of the forest and she’s told that what she remembers from that day is only a nightmare.  But is it really?

After picking up the book I became aware of the controversy.   Being someone who does not shy away from controversy I chose to continue.  Pardon my honesty but if we were to remove every controversial aspect of a book we would be left with some very dry reading and no one wants that.

The novel takes place in a fantasy world in the very distant past and judging by the manner of dress of the characters I would say it’s in the Victorian Era, at a time when racism and discrimination were the norm.  Why wouldn’t we explore those issues as well as all other issues of the time when writing about that time?  Just because it’s fantasy there’s no reason to ignore the problems we had back then and figure out ways to not repeat them.  There is also a lot of powerful women in the story and I’m not seeing the people commenting on the racist issue commenting on the power that women have been granted.  Maybe things will change as I get deeper into the book.   Yes, there are things that happen between men and women which in our world and our time would present a problem and would make my blood boil, I am also able to put the story in perspective of the era to which it’s referring….. anyway.

If I were to say one negative thing about this book is the amount of description.  Sometimes it can go on for pages but I’m assuming it’s because it’s the first book of a series and the world needs to be set up so as to allow the reader to better understand and navigate though the story in the other books.  Still I can’t help thinking that it could have been handled differently – – I’m not a writer yet, so I’m not going to judge.

I’m only 28% through it (reading on my kindle) and yesterday I was glued to it.  I even picked it up between meetings at work.  I expect to be finished with it by the end of the year and will update you.

 

How I feel about the Westside by W. M. Akers

Nope.  I don’t think so.  I want to read and I am reading but I am reading sooooooo slow.  The book started out as a great read and I could not get enough of it.  I actually read 139 pages in one sitting and then I put it down.  I thought it was because I was burned out from sitting and reading for so long but now…. I’m not really sure.

I don’t want to let another week by without updating you on my reading or lack thereof so I thought I’d just come on here and try to put some perspective into what it is that is going on with this book.

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The story takes place in New York in 1921 and a fence has been built the full length of the island of Manhattan, separating the East and the West Sides.  People have been disappearing, the Westside has been taken “hostage” by Barbarossa, a woman who for what I understand so far is a bootlegger and in a strange way related to our protagonist, Gilda Carr.

At the start of the story, Gilda Carr, the daughter of a police officer who appears to have been a legend on the Westside, takes a detective job to find Mrs. Copeland’s missing leather glove.  The gloves had been a gift from Mr. Copeland to Mrs. Copeland and she did not want him to find out that she had lost one.  She made Gilda promise that she would not tell Mr. Copeland.  The job seems easy and the perfect type of job for her….. she doesn’t want to take on complicated cases.  In fact, she refers to her detective agency as one that only accepts “Tiny Mysteries” because those are are the ones that have the ability to “Destroy us.”   Gilda, takes the job and while she’s following Mr. Copeland in hopes to find out where he may have purchased the gloves she witnesses his murder.

For the next 100 or so pages the story revolves around what the Westside and the Eastside have become and what has been going on on both sides of the fence.  We meet and find out more about Gilda and her “nanny” who is still living with her Hellida and still seems to be taking care of Gilda all the time.  Or maybe she’s just really over protective.  I have taken a liking to Hellida and find her to be very caring and very normal, as opposed to other of the characters in the book.

For now I’m not ready to say that I’m not enjoying the book but I am going to say that although in the beginning of the story there were some very funny moments with dialogue and even with some of the narrative, as I get to the middle those moments are not as apparent.  it just seems to be a lot of strange characters appearing.  There are so many people popping in and out of the story that I am losing track of who each of them is and I’m starting to feel a little bit lost.  At one point there was a child introduced and then nothing much was done with the child so I’m still wondering if that child is going to appear at some point later on because that has happened with other characters and …. Well, I’m a little confused with the story right now and almost ready to give up.

Reasons to not DNF this book:

I started out really liking the book and because it takes place in New York, specifically Manhattan I wanted to read it.  I really enjoy reading books about areas with which I am familiar.  However, I’ve not found anything mentioned that I may be familiar with.  Even when the author was referring to the docks I was hoping I could feel a connection but …. yeah…. did not happen.  The author lives in Brooklyn so I was hoping to have things seem more familiar but…. I guess I can toss that up to the book being a fantasy so perhaps it’s just his made up world.

The world building is good.  I am able to immerse myself in the world and feel like I can see the streets and feel the darkness of the night with every description.  I just sometimes wish it wasn’t so wordy.  I think the author did a really good job with the world and I’m pretty sure that’s the biggest reason why I have not given up the book yet.

I’m going to try to read 200 pages tonight and hopefully this weekend I will be able to have a review ….. a good review….. up and published.  I hope I don’t disappoint you all.  I’m really going to try.

Thanks for stopping by and please do come back.  I have a few other books in progress right now so I am really hoping to finish this one so I can get on with the others.

Thanks again

Ana

 

July Wrap Up and August TBR

Sort Of…..

Hello.  Me again! today with an update on what I read and a change in plans for August.  If you recall, last month I put up a list of what I may be reading in August.  Here is the post.  Yeah, well, that’s not happening.  Hang on, it’s not all bad news.  I plan on reading stuff, just not that stuff.

So, in July I managed to read 4 books.  Here are some of the reviews:

It was a good reading month.  I hope to be able to repeat it this month.  As of right now I’m on track but … knowing me…. it’s all dependent on my day to day job and how busy my weekends are.

Last week I gave myself a goal of completing at least 5 of the Man Booker Prize long listed books (here is the post)  Interesting thing… I went to Barnes and Noble (my town doesn’t have any independent book sellers and could not find any of the books I chose.  I was extremely disappointed but decided to start reading this past weekend and started with Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.  I’m absolutely loving it and basically read it the entire weekend.  I have about 100 pages left to read and can’t wait for the work day to be over so I can finish it.

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Before my brilliant idea of getting hooked on the Man Booker Prize Long List, I had started reading Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen.  This is a part of my “I must read more classics.” It’s on a bit of a hold right now since Exit West is demanding quite a lot of my attention but I am really enjoying the humor and sassiness of Catherine Moreland and Henry Tilney.

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Before all the craziness of Northanger Abbey and Exit West I had started reading my Book of the Month pick:  The Windfall, by Diksha Basu.  I am feeling really bad for this one.  It’s not a bad book.  It’s funny and very much a Summer type of book.  It deals with wealth and friendships.  I think very timely and important topics…… I’m just not feeling it right now, so it’s on hold.  I do want to get back to it…. maybe in August I’ll finish it.

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Yesterday I commuted to the office so I downloaded an audio book.  I’m sure you’ve read all about how difficult it is for me to listen to books as I always find that I get distracted and can get myself to focus on the story.  I read an article recently about how to listen to audio books and the author recommended listening to non-fiction since you don’t have to fully be present and if you get distracted when you come back it’s not like you have missed the plot or something like that so it’s easier to pull yourself back up.

Anyway, all this to say that I am currently listening to Rediscovering Americanism by Mark R. Levin and narrated by Jeremy Lowell.  I have about 3 hours left on this one and I will probably finish it tomorrow.

So, my August Update?  Well, expect that I will finish at least Exit West, Northanger Abbey and the audio book Rediscovering Americanism.  Expect to see reviews for those, at least.  Then I’m thinking I will need to pick up another one of the Man Booker Prize Long listed but I’m not sure which one.  I really want to read Paul Auster but that one is so long, I’m not sure Summer is the best time to get to that one.  Perhaps Ali Smith or George Saunders.

What I will do next is a mystery, even to me.

XoXo

Ana

 

The Man Booker Prize List

The Man Booker Prize was announced last week and all over the internet you will find opinions, lists of lists and various thoughts about this list of “must reads.”  The short list will be coming out in September and the winner will be announced in October.

I am not even going to pretend that I can read all 13 books on the long list before the September 13th date when the short list will announced, nor am I interested in all the books.  However, I feel like I need to challenge myself in some way and made a list of 5 books and hoping that the one I enjoy best will be winner this year.  Last year I did not like the winner, although may other bloggers can’t say enough good things about it.

So for my list of Man Booker Prize Selection:

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

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Autumn by Ali Smith

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Solar Bones by Mike McCoramack

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4321 by Paul Auster

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Lincoln and the Bardo by George Saunders

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I am currently reading Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and so far I am enjoying it.  I’m about 38% into the book and although it’s a prose that to me sounds and feels more like poetry…. It’s a different type of prose than what I’m used to but I am enjoying it very much.  I do not want to read or watch any reviews as I don’t want to be influenced by any of them but I will give you my thoughts once I’m done with the book.

What caught my attention here was three aspects of the story, there is a romance, a raw type of romantic story between Saheed and Nadia, there is the war aspect and how a town taken over by war is surviving or not and then there is the fantasy aspect which is what I was most interested in….. the doors that exit west are just now coming to the surface and I have not been able to stop reading except for the sleep last night.  Going back tot he book after the post….. I’m glad it’s Sunday.

Since I don’t have any of these books right now I’m reading this one on my iPad and right now I’m trying to figure out if I want to continue reading them on the iPad or if I should order the books (that’s a post for another day).

Hope you enjoy the rest of the weekend and I’ll see on my next post.

Ana

Book Reviews – A Rant

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What constitutes literary fiction? Most consider a work of literary fiction to be something which will stand the test of time. However, by definition high quality is quite subjective. What I may consider to be high quality may not be what you, my reader, will consider high quality. For instance, this blog.

There are a few characteristics of literary fiction that are worth mentioning:

There is a concern with social commentary, political criticism or human conditions;
It’s the type of reading that you do slowly. It’s meant to be savored as if tasting a new appetizer for the first time or an old bottle of wine (which even that is pretty subjective too right?)
It’s written to impress, it’s elegant and lyrical.
There is an introspection about the narrative. Something that lingers with the reader which can not be distilled.

The Oxford Dictionary defines “literary” as having its origins in the 17th century and it relating to the letters of the alphabet. It’s rooted in the Latin for letterarius or litters which literally (no pun intended) means letter. So ….. if we are referring to a book, doesn’t it mean that all books are literary? Is this distinction between literary fiction and genre fiction just a way for some people to feel more pompous? It is, in my opinion.

As I am sure you are aware by now, I enjoy listening to book reviews and book recommendations on YouTube as well as enjoying reading recommendations and reviews on various blogs….. I have quite the list. Recently, I noticed that some of the people whose reviews I have been reading or listening for some time have become quite the “professional critics.” To be sure, I mean this in the most unkind of ways. My life is serious enough without making a hobby feel like a chore.

A blog book review or a YouTube book review is being done for the benefit of the lay person reading a book. If my desire were to get a professional opinion (which you may very well be one) I would go find you on the New York Times Book Review or any other literary periodical available. We are not scholars, at least I am not and although I am interested in reading good books I am also interested in the everyday experience of reading those books. Not necessarily an escape but a diversion from my every day life. I do not want to know and I’m almost certain that most people listening to your YouTube Chanel or reading your blog are not interested to know that because there were too many commas or the grammar was not perfect (according to you) they should not pick up blah blah book (real book names have been disguised to protect the innocent and the guilty).

So, perhaps the book I’m reading is never going to be a classic. I will, however, remind you that it is a book and it is all made up of various words (litters) and because it’s fiction, I’m going to say that it is literary fiction.

Perhaps we should consider trying to stop putting so many things into their neat little boxes and we will be better off that way. We try so hard to divide and then complain when things (and by things I may also be talking about people) are divided. Let’s just say a book is either fiction or non-fiction and there are a variety of genres (another problem I have but we will leave this one for a different rant) where they may “fit.”

So, as for me. I will continue to listen to the non-sense about whether or not an author goes comma crazy or if the grammatical errors really were annoying (which they are and shame on the publisher) but only because I just want as many book options as I can get. I’ll overlook the craziness and decide for myself despite the grammatical criticism of the book, if it’s something I want to read. To that end, you can help me with that by just giving me synopsis of the book and I’ll skip your review. It doesn’t really matter to me anyway.

I’m done with my rant. This will happen from time to time.

Ana