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review 2020-04-17 19:52
Witch of the Wild Beasts
Witch of the Wild Beasts - Catherine Stine
Eighteen year old Evalina Stowe watched in horror as her customer, Dr. Dowdrick strangles Evalina's brother for dropping his suit at the tailor shop they work for in nineteenth century Philedelphia.  Evalina stabs Dr. Dowdrick with scissors as a swarm of angry wasps descends upon him.  After her brother's death, Evalina is on the run.  She finds work scaring birds from a field, but finds it is easier to befriend the birds.  When her boss confronts her, one of Evalina's birds chokes him and Evalina is imprisoned at Eastern State Penitentiary for murder.  While imprisoned, Evalina practices controlling her emotions to call upon the animals that visit her cell.  Soon she is able to give directions to mice, birds and bugs.  Evalina also discovers that Dr. Dowdrick is still alive and is running cruel experiments on prisoners, including Evalina's cell neighbor.  With the help of her animals friends and other inmates including a  Welshman named Birdie, Evalina hatches a plan to use her gifts as well as Dr. Dowdrick's greed for his own demise while gaining her freedom back.  
 
I was really pulled in by the premise of Witch of the Wild Beasts, a 19th century witch in America who is in Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary.  Evalina's character is strong, smart and resourceful.  While her powers were integral to the story, they weren't a magic cure all to her problems, Evalina still had to think on her own and use her own willpower.  I was very interested in the setting of Eastern State Penitentiary and the medical advancements of the time, especially with women's health. The author uses rich historical detail and elements of the time period to create the setting of Eastern State Penitentiary. The descriptions of the prison's special architecture allowed me to easily envision the space that Evalina was in.  I was amazed that Charles Dickens actually did visit the Penitentiary as well as medical advancements in sanitation, midwifery, and plastic surgery that were developed in this time period.  The writing and plot moves very quickly, which didn't lead to a lot of character development other than Evalina herself, but did keep the pace moving very swiftly and kept my interest high. With this, the romance wasn't as developed, however this was not the focus of the story.  Overall, Witch of the Wild Beasts is a historical fantasy with a strong female lead and touches of magic and romance. 
 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2020-04-17 06:54
Review: The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan
The Age of Witches - Louisa Morgan

 This book started as a 4-star book, then dropped to a 2-star book and finally by the end is an “it was fine” 3-star. The writing of this book was lovely. I found myself entranced by the prose and would look up to find that several hours had passed. Just last night I was so enthralled with the plot and the writing that I stayed awake reading until 2 a.m. It’s not surprising that the book only took me 3 days to finish.

 

I love books about witches, probably because I am one. I love books that explore the role of witchcraft in history and how women have historically used this knowledge to empower themselves. The characters were rich and I enjoyed them all.

 

The basic premise is that Harriet and Francis are descended from a witch named Bridget Bishop. Bridget was executed in the 1600’s for witchcraft. Harriet’s side of the family tree has adopted the gentler side of the craft, using it mainly for herbalism and assisting locals with their various ailments and ills. Francis’ side of the family tree had adopted the “bad” side of the craft, manipulating and magically forcing others to do their bidding in order to gain power for themselves. Annis is a young girl from the family tree who is just coming into her powers and for whom Francis has nefarious plans. Harriet endeavors to stop this plot and it culminates in a clash between the two witches with Annis as the prize.

 

This book was a slow burn with not a lot of action to it, and I was fine with that. The information being presented was largely interesting and once we did get the showdown between Harriet and Francis it was really refreshing and exciting. That portion is what kept me up most of the night.

 

***Spoiler alert:*** From this point on there will be spoilers.

 

The biggest problems I had with the book are the ending and that this book didn’t know what it wanted to be.

 

Is it the story of Annis? A girl ahead of her time, bucking the norm, and determined to make her own way with her newfound powers. Is it the story of a 200 year old battle between two sides of a family to ultimately decide if they are bad witches or good witches? Is it a story of the temptations of good and evil and the blurry gray area in between? Unfortunately it could have been all of these things, but ended up being none of them. None of these things are explored in any depth and I was really disappointed by that.

 

The ending was very plain. James and Annis decide that they didn’t just have feelings for each other because of magic, they actually do love each other and want to get married. How boring. How predictable. And then we are subjected to a very long lecture about how James might seem like a good man, but we should keep his manikin around just in case he decides to start behaving like an ass later. Because he’s a man after all, so you just never know and a woman can’t be too careful. Why can a novel not show us strong women without equaling telling us about how all men are asses? Even ones who aren’t asses but they might decide to be later because….well they’re a man. I am weary of it. It is possible to tell a story about strong, empowered women without demeaning men. I promise it is.

 

There was also an unintended moral problem in the story. We are told early on that good witches use their powers to help, bad witches use their powers to compel. Bad witches will always succumb to darkness and be lost to a lust for power. But on at least 3 occasions the “good” witches use their magic to persuade people to give them things. A horse, money, and then more money. All for their own benefit. So while those people may not have been harmed, the man was reimbursed for the horse and the money was plentiful and wouldn’t be missed, does that make it okay? What is the difference between magically persuading someone to give you something and just outright forcing them to give you something? Unfortunately, I don’t think the author intended for this issue to be presented and so we never get the answer to that question. In the end, even evil magic can be tucked away in a corner for safekeeping…just in case, and one will still be a good witch.

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review 2020-03-20 21:59
Confessions of a Sheba Queen
Confessions of a Sheba Queen - Autumn Bardot

Bilqis is born to a jinni mother in the ancient lands of Saba, what is now known as Yemen.  Bilquis' birthday come with a prophesy- that she will have a great destiny to fulfill.  Bilqis doesn't seems to have the same talents as a jinn as her mother, but is easily able to soak up all of the knowledge that her mother can bring her.  As a young adult, Biqis learns of one of the jinn powers that she can use-her power of sensuality. After discovering the power of sex, Bilqis' world changes and opens. Then, tragedy strikes that leads Bliqis on a mission of revenge.  With her mission, Bilqis learns more of the terrible King ruling over Saba.  As Bilqis continues her journey, her destiny becomes clear- to end the King's regime and become the leader that the people need.

The full story of Bilqis, the Queen of Sheba is lost to history.  I have read several other versions this amazing Queen's story, but none quite like this.  Autumn Bardot is known for her strong female characters as well as erotic story lines.  Confessions of a Sheba Queen definitely falls firmly in erotic historical fiction, which isn't something I normally read, but I really enjoyed this.  Bilqis' story combined with the erotic story line makes for an intense and absorbing plot. From the beginning Bilqis jinn parentage and destiny add a sense of purpose to the story.  Even without her jinn heritage, Bilqis' character is strong, intelligent, and willing to put others first.  I liked that the jinn part of her parentage allowed Bilqis to use sex and her sensuality as a source of power and clarity in her life and allowed her to grow as a person.  The sex scenes were all unique, imaginative and used very modern language. However, what I appreciated most were the ties to what little history we do know of Bilqis.  I loved the lavish descriptions of the temple of Awwam and Bilqis' time with King Solomon. Richly absorbing and passionate, Confessions of a Sheba Queen creates a great blend of erotica and historical fiction.


This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 

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review 2020-02-19 22:43
The Sanctuary Sparrow / Ellis Peters
The Sanctuary Sparrow - Ellis Peters

In the gentle Shrewsbury spring of 1140, the midnight matins at the Benedictine abbey suddenly reverberate with an unholy sound—a hunt in full cry. Persued by a drunken mob, the quarry is running for its life. When the frantic creature bursts into the nave to claim sanctuary, Brother Cadfael finds himself fighting off armed townsmen to save a terrified young man. Accused of robbery and murder is Liliwin, a wandering minstrel who performed at the wedding of a local goldsmith's son. The cold light of morning, however, will show his supposed victim, the miserly craftsman, still lives, although a strongbox lies empty. Brother Cadfael believes Liliwin is innocent, but finding the truth and the treasure before Liliwin's respite in sanctuary runs out may uncover a deadlier sin than thievery—a desperate love that nothing, not even the threat of hanging, can stop.

 

It’s been quite a while since I visited Brother Cadfael and perhaps because of that time lapse, I really enjoyed this novel. There truly aren’t too many options for murder in the 12th century, so one story is very like the last. I would classify these books as “cozy mysteries,” and it surprises me how much I like them, not usually being a fan of the cozy. I think it’s the historical nature of the tales that grabs me. It’s like learning history by osmosis while enjoying a good story.

Probably it also helped that I felt like I was getting away with something! I have a stack of previously signed out library books and theoretically this one should have waited until I made some progress on them. Instead, I plunged into this one right away and finished it in only an evening.

Peters does such a wonderful job of populating the abbey with the full spectrum of human frailties! The arrogant, the snob, the teacher, the compassionate, the seeker of justice, everybody is present and we get to observe their interactions. Her grasp of human behaviour is so accurate!

The result may not be tremendously surprising, but the journey is always enjoyable.

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review 2019-12-09 21:52
The Guinevere Deception / Kiersten White
The Guinevere Deception - Kiersten White

There was nothing in the world as magical and terrifying as a girl.

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom's borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution--send in Guinevere to be Arthur's wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king's idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere's real name--and her true identity--is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old--including Arthur's own family--demand things continue as they have been, and the new--those drawn by the dream of Camelot--fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land. Arthur's knights believe they are strong enough to face any threat, but Guinevere knows it will take more than swords to keep Camelot free.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

 

An excellent re-invention of the King Arthur mythos. Taking a cue from The Mists of Avalon, this version is told from the perspective of Guinevere, a changeling girl sent by Merlin to be King Arthur’s bride.

The big problem is that magic has been banished from Camelot and Guinevere is a manic pixie dream girl! She is looking at the relationship like a job and Arthur is willing to humour her, but as they spend more and more time together, both of them start to think that perhaps they would like to expand that role….now how do they let their desires be known?

White uses some interesting changes in relationships (Mordred isn’t Arthur’s illegitimate son) and some wonderful changes in gender of at least one character to make this a very up-to-date feeling version of the Arthur cycle. By doing so, she freshens up a story that most of us feel that we’re pretty familiar with.

I can hardly wait for the next installment in 2020

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