Blogmas Book Review: Blood Magick by Nora Roberts

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GoodReads Summary:
County Mayo is rich in the traditions of Ireland, legends that Branna O’Dwyer fully embraces in her life and in her work as the proprietor of The Dark Witch shop, which carries soaps, lotions, and candles for tourists, made with Branna’s special touch.
Branna’s strength and selflessness hold together a close circle of friends and family—along with their horses and hawks and her beloved hound. But there’s a single missing link in the chain of her life: love…
She had it once—for a moment—with Finbar Burke, but a shared future is forbidden by history and blood. Which is why Fin has spent his life traveling the world to fill the abyss left in him by Branna, focusing on work rather than passion.
Branna and Fin’s relationship offers them both comfort and torment. And though they succumb to the heat between them, there can be no promises for tomorrow. A storm of shadows threatens everything that their circle holds dear. It will be Fin’s power, loyalty, and heart that will make all the difference in an age-old battle between the bonds that hold their friends together and the evil that has haunted their families for centuries.
Blood Magick (The Cousins O'Dwyer Trilogy, #3)Review:
The final book in this trilogy, Blood Magick, is the one I’ve been most excited for. In this third book, we follow Branna and Finbar. The sparks between them are flying right from the first book. I was dying to get into this finale.
Branna is the responsibile one of the fated three that make up the Dark Witch. She has a strong sense of duty and takes on the role of the leader in the family. I really admire Branna. She takes her duty seriously and teaches the others anything they need to know. I also loved seeing her in her workshop and in the kitchen. In the first two books, we’re told she does the cooking and sort of what she does for her shop in town. But I adored getting to see her thoughts while making new candles, body lotions, or soap scents. I thought it was a great part of this book.
Let’s talk about Finbar Burke. I would die for him. He is the blood of Cabhan but has fought it his entire life. He is as honorable as they get but still doesn’t hide his feelings for Branna. His love for animals, horse, hound, and hawk alike, was one of my favorite things about him. He’s so full of love, for animals, for Branna, and for the rest of their circle.
Seeing these two put aside the past and come together again made me so happy. It truly displayed the growth of each member of the circle. The history the two share, really made this couple what they were. Overcoming that history and coming back to one another was the highlight of this book.
Overall, this was my favorite book in the series. I love Branna and I would die for Fin. I loved seeing the circle come together, with the past and all of the connections they learned, to defeat a great evil.

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

GoodReads Summary:
Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.
Ninth House (Alex Stern, #1)Review:
What to say about Ninth House? I absolutely loved this. I don’t understand why so many people didn’t like it. Many said the beginning was slow and boring, but II completely disagree. I was invested in the story almost immediately. I think for me, I can relate to Alex because of our shared history of substance abuse. So, that makes me connect with her in a way many people probably don’t.
I absolutely adored the setting and atmosphere of Ninth House. I grew up a few hours away from Connecticut, I could totally feel the biting winter cold and the old, historical feel of the town. I thought it was so well done, and obviously done by someone who had lived in the area. I know Bardugo went to Yale and clearly spent tons of time researching.
I really enjoyed the societies. They were dark and magical and infuriating. I think this story is told by Alex, an outsider, gave the whole story an interesting perspective. She wasn’t just another rich kid being a Yale legacy. She was working for her place there. I also thought it was great that Alex worried about her classes, her non-society friends, and things outside of her ‘job’ there.
Darlington, my dear Darlington. I spent most of the book wondering what happened to him and then being pissed when I found out. I liked that we got to see him teaching Alex all of the Lethe ways. I liked that we got his backstory too and learn that he’s more than the persona he presents to the world.
Let’s talk about the darker elements of this book. There have been many conversations about the content warnings provided. I don’t really find myself having too much trouble reading about horrible things very often, and this was no different. I actually got to a certain part of the book and remembered one of the content warnings. Then I thought about all the other ones I knew of and actually thought to myself “oh, I already passed the kid eating shit and didn’t really even think about.” I know this is not the case with everyone, but I thought all of the darker aspects of the story were well written, well thought out, and were not included just for any sort of shock value. I though Bardugo handled them all very well.
Overall, I absolutely loved this book. I didn’t know it was going to be a series, so I am HYPED for the next book. I cannot wait to see where these characters are going to go. I had so much fun reading this one and I highly recommend it for those that enjoy darker books.

Quotes:

“Mors irrumat omnia. Death fucks us all.”

“All you children playing with fire, looking surprised when the house burns down”

“Peace was like any high. It couldn’t last. It was an illusion, something that could be interrupted in a moment and lost forever.”

“That was what magic did. It revealed the heart of who you’d been before life took away your belief in the possible. It gave back the world all lonely children longed for.”

“Alex didn’t have money. But she did have power. She’d been afraid of it, afraid of staring directly at that blood-soaked night. Afraid she’d feel regret or shame, of saying goodbye to Hellie all over again. But when she’d finally looked? Let herself remember? Well, maybe there was something broken and shriveled in her, because she felt only a deep calm in knowing what she was capable of.”

 

Keep on reading lovelies, Amanda.

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Goodreads Summary:

The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.91shyghsqsl

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

 

Once again I couldn’t wait to start this book after the suspense-filled ending of Siege and Storm (you can read my review of it here). The Darkling finally made his move; the Second Army has been destroyed, the palace taken over, the king, queen, and prince are possibly dead, and Alina is hiding underground without her powers.
I really didn’t know what to expect from this book. At the beginning, it felt like there was no hope for Alina and her friends to be able to defeat the Darkling. He simply has too much power and experience for the ragtag group of rebels to make much difference. To change this, Alina and her friends go on a nearly impossible quest to try to find the firebird. The third of Morozova’s amplifiers could make Alina powerful enough to face the Darkling once and for all but the firebird is a legend they’re not sure even exists. I really enjoyed this quest; the interactions between this group of misfits were fun and it was nice to get away from the politics of the second book. The twist involving the firebird, the third amplifier, and Mal wasn’t much of a plot twist for me. Usually I like little subtle hints in books that make you go “Ohh” when you eventually figure it out but I thought these ones were pretty obvious. I’d guessed this outcome back in the second book but it wasn’t revealed until two-thirds of the way through this one.
Alina is still my favorite character. She’s strong and brave but also very flawed. Despite everything though, she always tries to be a good leader first and foremost. I loved watching her continue to grow throughout this book.
I’m also glad I started to like Mal again. My opinion of him has sort of been a rollercoaster throughout the series but he managed to redeem himself by the end. He hasn’t always been there for Alina the way he should but he stepped up when it mattered and I ended up admiring the person he becomes.
Nikolai is also one of my favorites. He’s still the dashing, witty pirate we met in the last book but behind that he’s intelligent and kind. I was more devastated by what happens to him than by any other event from these books so that should tell you how much I love him.
I don’t have much to say about the Darkling that I haven’t already said in my previous reviews because his part in this book is mostly from a distance. His unpredictability makes him an exceptional villain and I liked the way Bardugo ended things for his character.
Overall this way an amazing conclusion to the series and I highly recommend it to everyone who likes YA and fantasy. As always, thanks for reading and I’d love to know what you think in the comments.

-Antonia

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Goodreads Summary: Darkness never dies.

Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land, all while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. But she can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.91wvknclkul

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her—or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

 

After almost a year, I finally got around to finishing this series. I did reread the first book but, since my thoughts on it remain the same, I won’t write another review for it. You can read my review of Shadow and Bone here.

I loved this book. After the whirlwind ending of the first book, it seemed like this one might start slow, but it picked up almost immediately and the whirlwind started again. That’s one of the things I love about this series; it’s so fast paced that I read each book in only a day or two. Even during slower moments there’s so much underlying suspense that you can’t wait to see what happens next.

The setting is amazing. As I said in my review of the first book, I struggle a lot with visualizing settings, especially fantasy settings. Bardugo describes the places and people in her books so well though that I found it easy to see everything. Even with the war, this is a world I think I could live in.

Alina is a character I continue to admire. She’s gone through so much in her life and the events of the last book have left her shaken. Terrible things have happened to her and she’s done terrible things as well. She barely knows who she is anymore and she’s fighting so hard to separate her actions from those of the Darkling. No matter what she does she always keeps fighting to be a good person and I love that about her. I think she really stepped up in this book to try to be a good leader even if she still makes mistakes sometimes.

Mal started to annoy me again in this book. He annoyed me in the beginning, then I loved him by the end of the first book and the beginning of this one, then he started to annoy me again, but I feel like it wasn’t so much his fault. Mal and Alina start this book in a really good place in their relationship. Sure, they’ve got problems, but most of them stem from the war and their terror of the Darkling. Then, suddenly, the relationship’s broken and Mal’s acting like a jerk and Alina won’t just talk to him. It didn’t feel like a natural progression to the relationship. It felt like Bardugo just created problems in the relationship to add more tension to the plot and not because that’s where the relationship was going. It’s the only serious problem I had with this book. I would have understood them having a little trouble because their entire lives are made up of stressful situations and that would wear on any relationship, but the complete 180 seemed forced to me.

I absolutely love Sturmhond. It seemed like every time I turned a page there was a new facet to his personality that made me love him more. Even the negative traits just made him more interesting. I won’t give away too much about him but he’s definitely one of the more unique characters I’ve read about recently.

The Darkling is still an awesome villain even though we don’t see him quite as much in this book. The affects the end of the first book had on him have somehow made him more twisted and it was difficult to figure out what he might do next. Also, (sorry everyone) I still don’t love him.

Overall this was an amazing sequel that I highly recommend to everyone who enjoys YA and fantasy. It has the romance and magic that you expect from this genre with a heavy dose of darkness and what people are capable of under pressure thrown in. I’d love to hear your own thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading!

-Antonia

Earth’s End by Elise Kova

Summary: A woman awoken in air, a soldier forged by fire, a weapon risen from blood.

Vhalla Yarl has made it to the warfront in the North. Forged by blood and fire, she has steeled her heart for the final battle of the Solaris Empire’s conquest. The choices before Vhalla are no longer servitude or freedom, they are servitude or death. The stakes have never been higher as the Emperor maintains his iron grip on her fate, holding everything Vhalla still has left to lose in the balance.

Review: I think this book is my favorite of the series so far. It was really fast paced for one; the first book had all the character and world-building necessary to lead up to all the conflict, and the second mostly consisted of the Imperial Army marching across the world for the first half. In this book, the war is here. The characters’ relationships have formed and you know how the world works so this book was mainly conflict of one type or another.
There’s tons of action; a combination of magical and traditional fighting (my favorite kind). There’s emotional conflict; Vhalla and Aldrik trying to figure out where their relationship is going while simultaneously keeping it a secret, Vhalla trying to come to terms with all the things she’s done and the loss of her close friend, Aldrik fighting his inner demons. And there’s political conflict. This is the type that I usually hate. I find politics so tedious and backhanded. Give me an honest fight any day. However I didn’t hate it as much in this book. Maybe because it was politics specific to the war; they’re in an army camp, there weren’t any courtiers, so it was a very basic form of politics rather than full-blown court intrigue.
Still, I hate the Emperor. Without him, none of this would have happened. He’s the reason the politics are necessary, he’s the reason Vhalla’s considered property of the crown, he’s the reason she and Aldrik have to hide their relationship. He’s the reason for the war. The more I learn about him the more I think he’s a horrible, irredeemable person. I don’t think I could forgive his actions at the end which resulted in something I know most readers are devastated about. (Sorry, no spoilers.)
Vhalla continues to amaze me with her strength. She’s grown so much since the first book. Part of her is twisted and dark, she kills and lies because she’s told to and to try to earn her freedom but she still tries to do the right thing when she can. I found myself sympathizing with her more than I have a character in awhile. I found some parts a little hard to read because her feelings paralleled some of my own recently. It gave this book a really personal connection for me.
Aldrik is amazing. Except when he’s not. Don’t get me wrong, I still love him but I found him frustrating at times too. He tries so hard to be a good prince and to do right by Vhalla but he doesn’t always make good choices. Sometimes his plans backfire and he doesn’t handle negative emotions well. His alcoholism gets brought up in this book as his coping mechanism and I particularly liked seeing it from Vhalla’s perspective. First off it takes her two and a half books to realize it’s a problem. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s not just alcoholics who deny they have a problem but their loved ones do as well. They also try to justify it and make excuses because no one wants to believe someone they love is hurting so much they feel the need to self-medicate.
I still want Vhalla and Aldrik to have a happy ever after by the end of the series but there’s definitely some stuff they need to work on first, both individually and as a couple.
Overall I loved this book. I have no idea where the next book will lead because this ending of this one was crazy but I’m so excited for it. I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys YA and fantasy. Please tell me what you think in the comments and thanks for reading!
-Antonia

Fire Falling by Elise Kova

Summary: Soldier… Sorcerer… Savior… Who is Vhalla Yarl?

Vhalla Yarl marches to war as property of the Solaris Empire. The Emperor counts on her to bring victory, the Senate counts on her death, and the only thing Vhalla can count on is the fight of her life. As she grapples with the ghosts of her past, new challenges in the present threaten to shatter the remnants of her fragile sanity. Will she maintain her humanity? Or will she truly become the Empire’s monster?

Review: I CAN’T HANDLE THAT ENDING. I need to start the next book so badly but I’m making myself review this one first – under protest!
First off, I’m seriously beginning to love Vhalla. She is so broken in this book, traumatized by the events from the first. I’ve mentioned this in many reviews, but I love when authors accurately portray characters with PTSD. So often they show a little to further the story line but then the character is magically cured; Trauma isn’t like that, it’s continuous and debilitating. You don’t know when or what might trigger an episode and it usually gets worse before it gets better. Vhalla has nightmares almost every night which results in her being sleep deprived constantly. She’s never had much of an appetite but now she barely eats. When something happens that reminds her of The Night of Fire and Wind or her imprisonment, she freezes. None of these things further the story line, if anything they’re tedious and redundant; but they’re realistic. This woman is traumatized and having friends who support her or falling in love don’t suddenly make it okay.
That being said, Vhalla is also an extremely strong character. Even when she breaks down she picks herself up again. By the end, I had so much admiration for her determination and growth.

“She had to survive if for no other reason than to spite the world.”

Aldrik. I don’t even know where to start. He’s broken too but in different ways. For him, he started breaking so long ago that he’s more resigned to it than anything. He doesn’t feel worthy because of it and especially feels like he doesn’t deserve Vhalla. He absolutely does. I loved getting to see the real him, the side he shows Vhalla, behind the mask he needs in order to be the Crown Prince. That contrast made it feel like I really got to know him in this book and I love all of it. He’s unapologetically badass, sweet, and cruelly apathetic when he needs to be. I particularly adored the flashbacks of his life we got to see. It helped me to understand some of the mysterious aspects that surrounded him throughout the first book.
I loved Larel. She’s an exceptional friend to Vhalla. She’s the one always picking Vhalla up when she breaks, holding her when she wakes up screaming from her nightmares. She’s simply an amazing human and I loved getting to know her better.
Daniel was a really fun character as well. He was the first person Vhalla meets after her trauma that she feels comfortable with. They both grew up in the East and visited the same places as children which sparks an instant friendship. I was worried for awhile that this was going to turn into a love triangle but luckily it didn’t. They gain that sort of intimate affection that comes from leaning on someone for comfort but they remain just close friends. I’m happy about this because I don’t think we see enough male/female friendships in books that don’t turn into romances.
The Emperor increasingly pissed me off. I expect it’ll only get worse over the rest of the series.
I really enjoyed the plot of this book. I’ve read quite a few reviews from people who didn’t like it, saying it’s just a filler book and nothing happens; and honestly that’s mostly true. But that’s why I liked it. Most of the book the army is just travelling from the capitol to the war in the North. This gave Vhalla a chance to learn who she is now and begin to come to terms with everything that’s happened. It gave her a chance to make new friends. It gave her and Aldrik a chance to actually form a relationship. We always hate when characters fall in love too fast, well this book gave them a chance to do it slowly. By the time they kiss for the first time, it’s months since they first met. That’s practically unheard of in YA world.
Overall I freaking adored this book. I thought it was a significant improvement over the first (and I liked that one too). I’d recommend it to any YA and fantasy readers. I’d love to hear your own thoughts on these books. Thanks for reading.
-Antonia

Air Awakens by Elise Kova

Summary: A library apprentice, a sorcerer prince, and an unbreakable magic bond…

The Solaris Empire is one conquest away from uniting the continent, and the rare elemental magic sleeping in seventeen-year-old library apprentice Vhalla Yarl could shift the tides of war.

Vhalla has always been taught to fear the Tower of Sorcerers, a mysterious magic society, and has been happy in her quiet world of books. But after she unknowingly saves the life of one of the most powerful sorcerers of them all—the Crown Prince Aldrik—she finds herself enticed into his world. Now she must decide her future: Embrace her sorcery and leave the life she’s known, or eradicate her magic and remain as she’s always been. And with powerful forces lurking in the shadows, Vhalla’s indecision could cost her more than she ever imagined.

Review: I’m so glad I finally listened to Amanda and picked up this book. It starts off pretty quickly, with enough mystery to keep me turning the pages. The world-building was gradual enough to seem natural without being tedious. There were a few things I was confused about in the beginning but they were explained shortly after.
This world is one I find extremely intriguing. I’m not sure what time period to try to relate it to; it’s certainly old-fashioned, with the society rules, sword-fighting, and a pre-industrial feel to it but there’s also some aspects that seem more modern, mentions of plumbing and a generally more feminist society.
The magical side of things is what really got me though. I’ve always adored elemental magic especially. In this world, different regions tend to produce sorcerers of each individual element; countries toward the East have Windwalkers, the South have Firebearers, etc. The Windwalkers were eradicated decades ago until Vhalla suddenly manifests as one. (Note: Yes, I saw the parallel to Avatar: The Last Airbender but I assure you the similarities end there.) I just love all the things you can do with elemental magic and Kova executed it really well. I also really enjoyed her showing a more negative side to the magic (nothing’s perfect right?), particularly the way sorcerers are treated in this society. To the point where Vhalla simply doing research on sorcerers and their history was enough to earn the judgement of her peers.
The storyline itself also had a darker side, especially at the end, and I’m really looking forward to more of that later in the series. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy lighthearted, happy reads when I’m in the mood for them, but when I’m reading about war I want to see traumatized, broken characters because war isn’t pretty and I don’t think it should be portrayed that way in media.
I liked Vhalla quite a bit and it seems like she headed for some really great character growth. She makes mistakes and her indecisiveness could be a bit annoying; I think if she’d just accepted her magic and took steps to join the other sorcerers, none of her problems would have occured. Even when she was annoying though it was understandable. She’s thrown into an entirely new world, kidnapped, thrown off a roof, and told she’s something that everyone treats basically like lepers. I totally don’t blame her for trying to crawl back into her old life and pretend none of it’s happening.
I want to hate Aldrik, I really do, but I can’t seem to make myself do it. He can be an asshole, he’s arrogant, and keeps tons of secrets but then he turns around and says something sweet and I’m like, “awwww”. Since he’s so mysterious, I didn’t get to know him as well as I’d like but I’m very excited to learn more about him in the next books.
One thing I noticed were some typos and the occasional sentence that was worded a bit oddly; this might just be on the Kindle version, I’m not sure, but it’s definitely something that caught my attention. After I got into the story I didn’t notice them much or was able to ignore them in order to continue reading but if you’re someone who gets easily annoyed with things like that, you might have trouble getting into this one.
Overall, this book was amazing. It was fast-paced, with complex characters and a crazy plot. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes YA, fantasy, and magic. I can’t wait to read the next book and would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!
-Antonia