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review 2018-07-16 18:53
Not Terribly Cohesive, But Still Interesting Book
The Secrets of Ghosts - Sarah Painter

Well I got on a mini-magical realism kick and finished this book too. I read the first book in this series back in 2015. I gave that one (The Language of Spells) 3 stars, and the sequel to that is a strong three stars too. I think the main issue is that nothing really grabbed me in this one. I thought following both Gwen and Katie didn't really work this time. Gwen is dealing with trying to get pregnant and Katie is hell-bent on figuring out her Harper power. Katie is naive as anything for most of the book and I thought the ending was just so-so.

 

It's been 7 years since the events in the last book. Katie is now 21 years old and trying to still learn from Gwen so she can come into her Harper powers. Katie is a waitress at a private home turned hotel and is hoping that eventually she will be able to be like Gwen (wise woman that everyone seeks out in the village). When Katie finds a dead body her whole world gets turned upside down and she starts to have birds and ghosts talk to her. Gwen is troubled and hopes that there is someway to shut off Katie's powers since talking to ghosts is not a power anyone wants.

 

Katie is naive. She ends up liking a bad boy (with honestly no redeeming qualities) and does joint investigations with him as well as trying to figure out things solo. Even though Katie is warned her powers could be dangerous she doesn't care because she doesn't want to be seen as a kid and wants to be special and not ordinary like her mother. There was a lot going on there that I wish I had felt was resolved. I don't see what the big deal would be if Katie didn't have magical powers. And I have to say her "practicing" with Gwen didn't seem to be much of anything. I recall in book number one it didn't make much sense how the magic in this world works and it still doesn't.


We unfortunately don't get too spend much time with Gwen. Gwen is dealing with not being able to get pregnant and no spells or potions are helping. She is feeling lost and vulnerable. Her and her now husband Cam barely feel present in this one. Merely there to prop up Gwen.

 

The secondary characters are okay, just needed more developing. I was interested when I heard there were more witch families and how they try not to settle near each other cause things would happen. I wish that Painter had explored that more. 

 

The writing was okay, but the flow was off. I found myself getting bored and wanting the story to hurry up and finish already since it was a lot of Katie investigating, the guy she liked being "charming" and then her being mad that things were not working out how she wanted them.


The ending was interesting, we get to know a bit more about Katie's powers. But everything seemed a little too pat when we found out how much it could be costing Katie to use magic. 

 

I haven't seen a third book in this series appears, so am assuming that this is the final book. 

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review 2015-02-23 00:00
The Language of Spells
The Language of Spells - Sarah Painter I have struggled with this review and have started and deleted it about a dozen times. I think this is because I don't know what to say about a book that I consider in the end to be a serviceable book, but not very memorable.

I love magical realism books and am always on the lookout for more authors that write in this genre. I adore Alice Hoffman, Sarah Addison Allen, and was quite happy to discover author Menna van Praag as well. I was hoping to add Ms. Painter to my list of go to authors who write in this genre, but was let down with the overall story-line and development of the characters in her book.

I gave this book three stars because I felt that the main character and other characters were not written well enough for me to really get a sense of them, there was a lack of details concerning the magic, the slow pace of the book, and the constant contradictions that came up while I was reading.

The main character Gwen at times dances between being a TSTL romance heroine and a strong woman who knows magic. I think that if we had seen more of her as being strong and not falling apart everytime her love interest Cam ignored her or her sister was mean to her, I could have liked the character more. I also think if we had been told the story and history of Gwen, the town of Pendleford, her family, and her relationship with Cam in a linear way it would have made for a faster read.

The other characters in the book are not written with enough detail for me to even pick them out of a line-up. Gwen's older sister Ruby is ashamed of Gwen's magic abilities and warns her off of telling her 14 year old daughter Katie.

We also have Gwen and Ruby's mother Gloria who we hear about in dribs and drabs, but I can't get much of a sense of at all.

Then we get to Gwen's love interest Cam who was constantly wishy-washy on Gwen until almost the end of the book (yeah a hum-drum romance, totally my not favorite thing to read).

There is also the mustache twirling villain that I was able to deduce within the first couple of pages. It would have made the final denouement more exciting if the reader and Gwen had not been clued into the fact that this person was all wrong. However, the readers will probably figure it out ages before Gwen does. And when Gwen figures it out and realizes what this person has done she passively keeps allowing things to keep happening to her (that's where the TSTL comes in).

Another issue I had while reading was that anything that deals with magic was pretty much glossed over or handwaved away. There was way too much tell and not enough show for me. I think having Gwen describe herbs, different spells she learned, the meaning of those spells, etc. would have been really great and added to the overall book. We get to a key scene at the end of the book and Gwen is supposedly repeating every anti-hex incantation that she ever learned and that she could feel all of the former (and in her mother's case, present) Harper women flowing through her. It could have been a really great moment with more details included, instead I was just left cold by the whole thing.

In addition to the above, the entire book was a slow read. And I don't mean like A Discovery of Witches slow read with intricate details on the origin of magic, spells, etc. This was a slow read in which it felt as if for every step forward we took in the story, we took two steps back. As I said earlier, if the story had been told linear I think it would have helped with this immensely. For example, it took almost halfway through the book before I figured out what incidents pushed Gwen to run away and leave Cam. I am not a fan of info dumps in books for the most part, but there needs to be a happy medium. I struggled to finish this book because it felt like things were just happening to Gwen and she was reacting to them.

Besides all this, there were also some inconsistencies on how Gwen and Cam were portrayed. For example, Gwen has rejected her magical ability when she was very young because of her mother's actions. However, she still uses this ability at 18 and then doesn't use it again for 13 years. We get no back-story that Gwen was trained at all. However, we have her knowing anti-hexes, and she can tell with a look when someone is under a hex (except when she doesn't) and how to prove it (apparently licking someone's skin). So my problem is how did she learn all of these spells and other things? Did Gwen look it up? Did she somehow do research? I just needed some more details included in the book that would have helped explain the contradiction I kept seeing.
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