Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Title: Once a Witch
Author: Carolyn MacCullough
Publisher: Clarion Books
Release Date: September 14th, 2009
Pages: 292 pages (hardback)
How I Got the Book: PDF Copy

Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and on the day she was born, her grandmother proclaimed that she would be one of the most Talented among them.

But Tamsin's magic never showed up.

Now, seventeen years later, she spends most of her time at boarding school in Manhattan, where she can at least pretend to be normal. But during the summers, she's forced to return home and work at her family's bookstore/magic shop.
One night a handsome young professor from New York University arrives in the shop and mistakes Tamsin for her extremely Talented older sister. For once, it's Tamsin who's being looked at with awe and admiration, and before she can stop herself, she agrees to find a family heirloom for him that was lost more than a century ago. But the search--and the stranger--prove to be more sinister than they first appeared, ultimately sending Tamsin on a treasure hunt through time that will unlock the secret of her true identity, unearth the past sins of her family, and unleash a power so strong and so vengeful that it could destroy them all.

In a spellbinding display of storytelling, Carolyn MacCullough interweaves witchcraft, romance, and time travel in a fantasy that will exhilarate, enthrall, and thoroughly enchant.


The Greene family is chock-full of witches and people with magical powers, or Talents. Tamsin Greene, though she is from this family, seems to have no Talents at all when others like her sister Rowena have Talents in spades. If she hadn't been announced as a child who would be one of the most Talented the Greene family had ever seen, maybe that wouldn't be so bad. In a family where abnormal is good, she is the normal one. When she is home from boarding school and working in her family's store, a man named Alistair comes in and asks her to find a clock that belonged to his family, but was lost long ago. She should hand the job over the her sister, but Tamsin wants to do it because she was the one he asked (though he thought she was Rowena). Her hunt for the clock will take her through time itself and uncover more secrets than she might want to know.

To be honest, I didn't realize I was going to read this book today. I'm in the middle of another novel that I'm loving, but I saw this book on Amazon and got curious. I like witch books but very rarely find any that I want to read. I almost skipped over this one because of Cassandra Clare's (hiss...) being on the cover, but it sounded so good. From the time I found a  PDF copy to the minute I finished it, I took no breaks, even when my eyes were burning. Thank goodness I decided to read Once a Witch because it was worth it!

Very early on in the book, I realized that despite all the magic and Talents, this book wasn't about about magic. It was more about Tamsin and her family, Tamsin's efforts to be something other than the disappointment she perceives them to think of her as. She would have been unusual in the first place because she lacked any Talents, but it's especially because she was supposed to be so great and ended up being so... well, so not great, that Tamsin is so hurt. She does what she does at first because she wants to impress them and make them think she is something other than a disappointment. She has serious issues with her family and seeing her work them out provided as much of a good read as the well-paced and very interesting plot.

The book's narrative was utterly readable and Tamsin's voice felt authentic as a teenager, both in actions and voice. I am normally not a fan of stories told in the present tense after one series ruined that for me forever, but I think that chosen narrative method added to the story. It made me feel like I was right there with Tamsin as she met Alistair and went searching for his clock and the details felt just a little more vivid than normal. I do not believe the story could have been told another way and still get me as involved as I eventually got.

While Tamsin got a lot of development and felt so real, no one else really came to life for me. There were a few characters I had a certain fondness for, like the grandmother/matriarch Althea and Aunt Beatrice, but even they had little development. The story itself more than made up for that by keeping me swept up in all that was going on so that I did not question or even notice how flat the secondary characters were while reading. It didn't hit me until I was finished reading and trying to compose this review.

I have no clue why some people were concentrating on the romance. Tamsin's romance was cute and all, but it was nothing extraordinary. It was obvious what was going to happen after she met her love interest and though the did have some chemistry together, most of the romance before the big kiss came from someone outside (like Tamsin's roommate Agatha) hinting that he liked her. Could that have been shown instead of told? Probably. It wasn't the worst romance I've ever read nor the best, but it wasn't anything remarkable or special.

Another time early in the book, I wanted to slap Tamsin across the face because she hit one of her younger relatives over the head with a teddy bear when he was being bad (he had taken a girl's teddy bear and was running away with it) and when Rowena came to see her at one point, Tamsin tried to splash water all over her. She took her sour mood out on a child! That is not okay whether or not he is already being bad. Tamsin lost some serious points with me and it took her the majority of the book to win them back. The water-splashing was also not okay because while Rowena had her not-so-nice moments with her sister, that was not one of those times.

I'm also suffering some confusion about how the family itself works, triggered both by the book and the website for the book. It seems that it is unusual for Greenes to marry someone who is Talentless or outside of the family. From what I found on the website, Aunt Lydia was somewhat of an outcast for marrying the Talentless Uncle Phil, which implies that it is not exactly normal. Rowena herself was marrying a third cousin of hers named James. Does the Greene family often run across other Talented people to marry? If so, why did we not meet some of these unrelated Talented people? Do they often marry Talentless people outside of the family, like Aunt Lydia? Do they often marry distant relatives in the family, like Rowena? I imagine you can only marry within the family for so long before it turns into a severe case of inbreeding because everyone is so closely related. The entire situation with that is unclear and the mechanics about that have been bothering me nonstop since I finished reading.

Once a Witch was worth the five hours I spent reading it. I already knew there would be a sequel because I saw that too while browsing on Amazon, but the ending made it that much more obvious. I'm hooked on this series and am eagerly awaiting the release of Always a Witch in August 2011. That's a long wait, but I think I can stare at the cover to satisfy myself until then.

Isn't that a pretty cover? I'm jealous that some other book reviewers got review copies and already got to read it! Back on subject, I recommend Once a Witch to anyone willing to read it.

4 stars!

What am I reading next?: Wildthorn by Jane Eagland (I mean it this time. This will be the next book I review.)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

'Salem's Lot by Stephen King

Title: 'Salem's Lot
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Doubleday
Release Date: October 17, 1975
Pages: 631 pages (mass market paperback)
How I Got the Book: Bought it in a used bookstore

Stephen King's second novel, 'SALEM'S LOT, is the story of a mundane town under siege from the forces of darkness. Considered one of the most terrifying vampire novels ever written, it cunningly probes the shadows of the human heart--and the insular evils of small-town America.


Many years after living there with his aunt, author Ben Mears returns to Jerusalem's Lot (or 'salem's Lot, as many of the townspeople call it) to face his childhood fears of the imposing Marsten House and write another book. While he is there, strange things begin to happen: one boy goes missing and another boy, the former's brother, dies of what seems to be anemia. Other townspeople begin to die too in the same strange way and at a rate much to fast for a small town like 'salem's Lot. Ben and other townspeople who realize what is going on arm themselves for a fight against vampires as the residents of the town are turned one-by-one into soulless creatures of the night.

I like vampire novels and with something on the back title that says it is considered one of the most terrifying vampire novels ever written, how could I resist? Evil vampires who actually seem evil are a real treat due to today's trends in vampire literature. I saw this in a used bookstore and snatched it up just like that. I enjoyed my time in 'salem's Lot, for the most part.

As I expected, there were some scenes that gave me genuine chills because this is a Stephen King novel, after all. If he doesn't give the reader chills at least once, he has failed. There is one scene involving a teen mother named Sandy McDougall that I remember vividly, even though I read that scene about two weeks ago and have poor memory. To preserve the shock factor of that scene and other chilling scenes for those who have not read the novel, they will not be thoroughly discussed, but there are quite a few of them. The corruption among the townspeople is evident and quite saddening because it is just as bad in real life right now, if not even worse. The back cover of my copy made it sound overrated and in some ways, it was. When it came to the probing-the-shadows-of-the-human-heart thing, this novel was most certainly not overrated.

I almost didn't make it to some of these more chilling scenes. The novel starts out extremely slow--it takes about 200 pages before the story gets going. Before that mark, I had seriously contemplated putting the book down and leaving it as a DNF, but I only do that now if the book is truly torturing me. I'm glad I stuck it out because the story really got going... then slowed down, then got going again, then slowed down again, and then got back going and stayed going until the last page. Sometimes, it pained me not to read the book; other times, I wondered to myself, "When is this going to end?" I have gotten through books with 800 to 900 pages with no problem staying interested, so this cannot be blamed on the impressive length of the edition I have.

The characterization was a little bit weak to me. Just about every character (except for Mark, who I kind of liked) was rather... blah, I guess you could say. None of the characters stood out to me. Ben and Susan's love had me rolling my eyes. Why were they in love? what had they done together that would constitute them being in love? I excused that latter point somewhat because King is not a romance writer and does not try to be one, but that does not excuse the bland characterization of everyone else. Even then, he may not get the excuse because even if one is not a romance writer, they should make some effort at being realistic at romance.

Personally, I don't care much for King's writing style. I was fine with it when I read Carrie a few weeks ago, but that book was significantly shorter than 'Salem's Lot. I could only take his distant (in my opinion, so please don't bite my head off for this) style for so long before I wanted to put the book down. Where was this mark? Around 350 or 400 pages. If it bothered me me with this 600 page novel, reading the 1,000 word Under the Dome would be truly murderous on me!

To reiterate, this novel was a good one that sent chills up my spine, but the slow pacing that pulled a few stop-and-go kind of deals brought down the quality of the book, along with the weak characterization for most of the characters. Despite this, I recommend 'Salem's Lot to any vampire fan with the warning that they will need to stick it out to get to the good parts and not put it down, no matter how mind-numbingly boring the first 200 pages or so might get.

3 stars!

What am I reading next?: Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Misguided Angel by Melissa de la Cruz

Spoilers for the entire Blue Bloods series! In case you're one of those people who checks reviews of an entire series before trying it (like me), you have been warned.

Title: Misguided Angel
Author: Melissa de la Cruz
Publisher: Hyperion
Release Date: October 26, 2010
Pages: 265 pages (hardback)

After inheriting the dark Van Alen Legacy, Schuyler fled to Florence with her forbidden love, Jack. Now the two of them must embark on the mission Schuyler was destined to complete: to find and protect the five remaining gates that guard the earth from Lucifer, lord of the Silver Bloods.

Back in New York, Mimi has been elected Regent of a crumbling coven. Struggling with her heartache over the loss of Kingsley and with her overwhelming desire to destroy Jack, she must focus all her energy on a perilous new threat. Vampires are being abducted and their captors are planning to burn them alive online... for all the world to see. Help arrives in the form of Deming Chen, a Venator from Shanghai, who must untangle the web of deceptions before the killers strike again.

As the young vampires struggle for the survival of the coven, they uncover a deadly secret, a truth first discovered by Schuyler's mother during the Renaissance but kept buried for centuries. As the Blue Blood enclave weakens yet further, fate leads Schuyler to a terrible choice that will ultimately map the destiny of her heart.


Picking up a month or so after The Van Alen Legacy, Schuyler Van Alen and Jack Force are on their journey to find the five gates that keep Lucifer in Hell and secure them so that he may not escape through them. Their first stop: the Gate of Promise. Back in New York, Mimi is leading the coven and dealing with the loss of Kingsley and Jack. The coven is crumbling; few want her as their leader and some are even planning to break from the coven to go underground. Once a young vampire is abducted and someone threatens to leave the Blue Blood dead forever by way of black fire, Mimi knows that saving this vampire and finding the culprit will make all the difference. Deming Chen, a Chinese Venator with an impressive resume, is brought in to help find the kidnapper and also to stop the coup d'etat so that the New York coven will stay together and remain some sort of safe. New information about the Silver Bloods comes to light.

After the fantastic Van Alen Legacy, I had a lot of expectations for Misguided Angel and its new narrator Deming Chen. Because the story is separated into three (technically four, but I count it as three) segments with three different narrators, I will be grading this pretty much by each section.

***Obligatory spoiler warning now. If you want do not want a good part of Misguided Angel spoiled for you, steer clear of my review***

Schuyler's section of the book was... well, I'm not sure enough happened for it to be anything. Jack and Schuyler escaped from the Countess and her Venators, met up with this pirate guy who helps them out, and they go to look for the gate. There's a little more to it that I will keep quiet from being all spoily, but that's pretty much all there was to it. It's not just Schuyler's section that is short; the entire book is short. I read an almost-400-pages-long book and then it scales back to 250 pages, which is a short read for me. The lack of action really brought this section down for me.

The true highlight of Misguided Angel was Mimi Force's segment. In five books, Mimi has evolved from a mean, blond, and spoiled stereotype there just to be mean and stand in Jack and Schuyler's way to a sympathetic character in her own right. It has been firmly established that Mimi is not a nice girl. She is spoiled, mean, and bossy, but she will do what is right and answer the call to duty, even if that isn't what her heart wants. She can have sympathy for others and isn't as heartless as she was once portrayed. Right now, Mimi is my favorite Blue Bloods character and anti-heroine. In this book, she had to deal with the all the feelings from Kingsley's death and Jack's breaking of their bond and has to try and do what's best for her coven when they don't really want her leading them. Her developing friendship with Oliver was a good read and her desperation to solve the murders of her Blue Bloods is palpable, along with her hatred of Jack and the heartbreak of both Jack's betrayal and what happened to Kingsley.

I knew long before the summary of Misguided Angel was released that there would be a new narrator in this book. I recognized Deming Chen's name from Masquerade and was hoping for a narrator who was the average Blue Blood (as average as they get): they weren't Lucifer's daughter like Bliss, a half-blooded Blue Blood like Schuyler, or the newest incarnation of a legendary figure among Blue Bloods like Mimi. I wanted the average Blue Blood's perspective on the events going on.

Did I get that? Nope. As it turns out, Deming is just as special as Mimi, Schuyler, and Bliss. She's a respected figure herself among Blue Bloods and could do things the average vampire couldn't, like see auras without help from the glom. Her narrative was rather dull and distant to me, but I could tell that one of her personality flaws was her distance, so that latter half didn't bother me so much. I rather enjoyed her section in terms of story... until it got to her romance. Deming's romance with Paul Rayburn was the most inauthentic romance I've seen in a while. They had no connection at all! No romance would have been preferable to what readers got.

I loyally follow Mrs. de la Cruz's blog and I saw in her June 11, 2010 entry titled "Having a Life" that she said, "Misguided Angel for some reason was really difficult to write, but in the end it was exactly what I wanted it to me." With this in mind, I gave the book a little bit of leeway. When a book is hard to write and deadlines force the author to write, good ideas might not always happen. I can certainly tell in parts that she had a hard time; they don't quite flow well for me. The storyline itself was as it usually is and she made a small expansion to the Blue Bloods universe that I think was worked in well. I have heard about the idea of Nephilim before and can't wait to see what else Mrs. de la Cruz will do with it.

I saw some people take issue with how there was no mention of Bliss, Allegra, or Charles. I expected no resolution with Allegra and Charles in this book because where they are right now, none of the narrators would be able to plausibly get into contact with either of them. Long prior to the release of Misguided Angel, I knew Bliss was going to be getting a spinoff (Wolf Pact, due out in 2012, I think) that would chronicle her adventures as she tried to get help from the Hounds of Hell. Logic decrees that because of that spinoff, she would not narrate Misguided Angel.

One last point: I'm getting a little irritated with the vampire superiority thing going on in this series. Many people in the series who are mentioned to be important or rich are revealed to be Blue Bloods; humans and what they do are often spoken of pejoratively for just about anything the vampires can think of. What's next, the President of the United States is a Blue Blood too? In all fairness, the vampires of this series are more powerful than humans and because we're seeing it through the experienced and somewhat cynical Blue Bloods' eyes, we're seeing their thoughts about humans. They're not necessarily fair. The only series worse about vampire superiority was the House of Night series; anyone who is well-known in our world (Melissa Marr, for instance) is a vampyre in the House of Night series, which delivers a message that in that world, humans will always be inferior to vampires. That message is nowhere near as blunt in the Blue Bloods series, but still there.

This wasn't a bad book at all-- I was entertained, especially during Mimi's section-- but after how fantastic the Van Alen Legacy was, Misguided Angel was a letdown. I'll let some of this be excused by the aforementioned statement from Mrs. de la Cruz, but that doesn't let her get away with everything. I'm definitely going to read Lost in Time when it comes out next year, though.

4 stars!