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Juniper & Thorn by Ava Reid

Juniper & Thorn by Ava Reid

Juniper & ThornJuniper & Thorn by Ava Reid
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At first, I rated this book a three, but after letting my review marinate and re-reading sections of the novel, its brilliance really deserves a four. This book really is magnificent in many ways. The prose is gorgeous, real-life effects of trauma are woven into classic fairy tale architecture making the story inescapably disturbing. Grimm’s fairy tales always made me want to hide under the covers as a child, but Ava Reid gave new life to those dark themes making them more present, real, and emotionally compelling, but at times just too much to bear.

When I started reading the book, I was immediately pulled in by its elegance and poignance, intrigued by the story, captivated by the magic and monsters, but the intensity of the abuse at Marlinchen’s home, and one particular scene which I will never read again, made all of the things I loved about the book slip into the background. I felt betrayed in a sense.

One scene, one character, made me originally give this book a lower rating. I didn’t expect such a scene in a fantasy/fairy tale novel, no matter how dark. When I read it, I felt myself go numb. I was reading in bed and woke my husband up to tell him what I read so I could process it. I put the book down for several weeks. While there is a trigger warning here on Goodreads, I didn’t see it until after reading the book. The scene and the character could be removed entirely and the book would not be less for it in any way, and I would have been free to entirely cherish this skillful interpretation of The Juniper Tree.

After a few weeks of letting the book sit, and with apprehension, I returned to the story so I could finish and review it. I was again taken into this world and wrapped up in its dark, painful, and achingly beautiful tale. I found myself invested in every character (all but one, as mentioned above), even the monsters.

Trauma is the backbone of this story. It ties all of the characters together. Even the main romantic relationship seems to be a trauma bond built on the need to escape and to find belonging. I find this interesting because it’s something classic Grimm fairy tales didn’t flesh out. They were dark and disturbing, but Juniper & Thorn takes this to the next level by showing the symptoms and consequences of trauma in the characters’ lives. I can only imagine writing this novel was both cathartic and emotionally exhausting.

If one scene were removed, I would recommend this book to those who love very dark fairy tales and witchy fantasy, main characters who unfold and discover themselves before your eyes, and rich prose that pulls you through each page to the next. As it is though, I found the novel to be too triggering to recommend widely. I don’t regret reading it, but I do regret not checking Goodreads prior for the trigger warning.

 

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Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young

Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young

Spells for ForgettingSpells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Spells for Forgetting by Adrienne Young is an atmospheric tale of an island and the core families that have a lifelong bond with the land. It’s a tale of magic, romance, mystery, legacy, and murder set on a small island in the state of Washington.

The descriptions of Saiorse island were detailed and haunting, full of mystery and the potential for drama. I could feel the slow pace and secretive nature of life on the island.

I loved the way the chapters went from the present moment to the past, giving us a nice reveal of certain information. Reading chapters from different characters’ perspectives worked well in weaving the most important people into the story. The framework of the story was solid, but I felt it needed more character development, more show less tell, more magic, and more at stake.

The island is a character in itself, but I don’t know its motivations. Does it have a symbiotic or parasitic relationship with the people? I have so many questions about this aspect of the story, but they’d be spoilers. It felt like a major part of the novel was missing and I didn’t know how to feel about the main themes or the characters without knowing more about the island itself.

I didn’t fully know many of the characters’ motivations and found it difficult to feel for them because their actions didn’t always make sense. One example, the person on the island who was the main antagonist wasn’t creepy, intimidating, or conniving enough in action. We’re told they are, but not really shown it. I needed that character to be more dynamic for a core piece of the plot to come together. I couldn’t really picture what any of the characters looked like completely, nor did they have very complex personalities. I didn’t feel emotionally connected to them. The main romance felt lacking in emotion to me. It was stated strong emotions were felt by the characters, but I need to feel it when reading. This is an early copy of the novel, so if these things are further developed, I could see myself absolutely loving this book.

I was expecting a lot more magic and much sooner. I didn’t truly become interested in the story until 30% into the book. The storyline I was most drawn into let me down in the end with a conclusion that felt abrupt and unsatisfying.

Overall, I did enjoy this book because the prose is lovely and the plot has so much potential. I would definitely pick up a sequel if there were to be one. The setting and the magic of the island were my favorite aspects. If the characters were more developed, the story’s momentum picked up sooner, more magic was included, and we were shown instead of told a number of the details, I think I’d be swept away by this dark, romantic tale.

I would recommend this book. I found it a quick, enjoyable read, and I love the author. I would read anything by her and find it entertaining. I think Adrienne has a solid fanbase and all of her current fans would enjoy reading this.

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Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert

Dune by Frank Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dune is the only thing that makes extreme dehydration and risking my life to develop a utilitarian relationship with a huge worm seem magical.

Frank Hebert’s world in Dune is genius, and I’d love to have met his wife (she inspired the Bene Gesserit race). The unique vocabulary of this world can be jarring at first, but my book had a glossary in the back, along with a map of Arrakis, and a history of their ecology and religion. I highly suggest getting a version of Dune that includes these appendices.

What gives me goosebumps about Dune are the powers of the Bene Gesserit. They are gifted spiritualists, trained to hone their observational skills, to quickly develop a breadth of understanding about any person, place, or thing through their powers of perception. This makes them Truthsayers, able to read intentions and see who lies, trained in the art of influence and control.

The way in which the planet’s main resource, the spice, and its cousin the poison (created by drowning a worm), enhances the powers of the mind adds to the depth of this storyline. Paul and his mother are able to access the deepest recesses of their own unconscious mind and incorporate the consciousness of their Bene Gessirt ancestors. The spice, and even more so – the poison, enables this awakening of consciousness. My personal passion is studying consciousness and intuition, so I will reap a great harvest of notes from this novel!

What I didn’t like was the evolution of Paul Atreides. In the beginning, it was stressed that he had an intrinsic sense of rightness and egalitarianism. Over time, as his abilities developed and he began to believe in his own myth, he seemed to lose these qualities. Seeing “the big picture” through space and time seemed to alter his personal values, to push them to the side so he could achieve the greatest vision of power possible. While his personal Self didn’t dissolve completely, I can see that as his eventual future as he learns to master the powers inherent to his terrible purpose.

Also, the ending was abrupt.

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Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert

Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert

Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“We didn’t wonder where the magic came from, or why it worked. We never asked ourselves, Is this ours to take? We were three damp ducklings, green as leaves, believing with all our crooked hearts that we were the ones writing this story. Even as a dead woman’s book paved the road beneath our feet.”

Incredible gifts and monstrous secrets can both be passed down through generations. Even the most powerful spells can’t keep them buried forever.

Our Crooked Hearts brought back memories of the magic that filled the air during high school summers, a time when possibility and curiosity come together to unearth the depths of oneself, to show you who you really are and who you could become.

Ivy, a young woman on summer break from high school, feels like she’s on the outside of her own life searching for something, but she’s not sure what. She doesn’t quite know herself, and she’s never really understood her mother, Dana, either. Dana thinks she knows what’s best for Ivy, and she’ll do whatever it takes to keep her own troubled past hidden and to protect Ivy from an unseen world of death, regrets, and promises of power that come at a price.

A dark mystery ignites Ivy’s pursuit of answers to questions she can’t quite reach:

“There was a quiet place at the center of me. A pool of black water frozen to a sheen. It was made up of the questions it was easier not to ask, the mysteries I didn’t bother prodding.”

This YA fantasy is for those of us who can’t get enough of witches, covens, and paranormal powers. Our Crooked Hearts is about a magical legacy, secrets coming back to haunt those who keep them, love lost and found, hunger for power, and good intentions but poor decisions. There are badass LGBTQIA characters and women who take risks with every part of their hearts.

Melissa Albert always delivers on the suspense, dynamic characters with ambiguous morality – questioning and reflecting instead of blindly upholding expectations. Fascinating, layered characters, expert world-crafting, and vivid prose make this tale captivating from beginning to end. I would love to read more in this universe.

Multiple worlds exist at once in this story. We have the real world in real-time, we dip into the past, there’s an alternate magical realm and the world of the subconscious where memories and dreams exist. Nostalgia for decades past is woven into each of these worlds with mentions of “…Bugles and Pop-Tarts and Cool Ranch Doritos,” swatch watches, late-night Denny’s trips, “nails painted in chipped black Wet n Wild.”

One of my favorite features of this tale are Ivy’s dream abilities and how the author describes the world of lucid dreaming so accurately and vividly:

“I knew how it should go next, how it had always gone, when I was young and dreaming was my kingdom: the dark would unpack itself like a trunk of costume clothes, spreading out into colors as soft as watercolor on an eggshell, drifting like curtains in a breeze. I could walk forward and touch them, all these sea and sky colors you couldn’t name, that shifted in your mouth when you tried. An infinite number to walk through, into a dream.”

Even though Ivy’s internal and external reality is like a clouded gazing crystal revealing more questions than answers, her powerful intuition keeps calling her to the truth. Like many of Melissa Albert’s characters, Ivy is gifted with amazing abilities but still struggles to trust herself, giving the reader something to identify with – this universal feeling that we know what to do and yet we fear we could be wrong.

Sometimes you want to erase what you think will cause your loved ones pain, but you can’t correct your mistakes by controlling someone else’s choices. People can’t be saved from themselves. We can only stand together, lend power to one another, and make each choice as you’re presented with options. Maybe those choices won’t be the best, but they’ll be yours.

In the next book of this series (that’s just me putting a wish out into the world for 2022!), I’d love to dive into the worlds of Fee and Billy. These two characters need more air time. I’d love to see Billy’s depth and imperfections. Fee is just so fascinating. I want to hear more about her inner world. I’d also like to explore the in-between places in this universe – dream landscapes, places between life and death. More, more, more!

I would enthusiastically recommend this book to my kindred fantasy, magic, and witch lovers.

If you enjoy The Magicians by Lev Grossman, the movie The Craft, the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the books Sorrowland, The Chosen and the Beautiful, A Deadly Education, or Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood, you will LOVE Our Crooked Hearts.

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