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Wintersong by S Jae Jones

Wintersong by S Jae Jones

 Wintersong
by S Jae Jones

Beware the goblin men and the wares they sell.

All her life, nineteen-year-old Liesl has heard tales of the beautiful, mysterious Goblin King. He is the Lord of Mischief, the Ruler Underground, and the muse around which her music is composed. Yet, as Liesl helps shoulder the burden of running her family’s inn, her dreams of composition and childish fancies about the Goblin King must be set aside in favor of more practical concerns.

But when her sister Käthe is taken by the goblins, Liesl journeys to their realm to rescue her sister and return her to the world above. The Goblin King agrees to let Käthe go—for a price. The life of a maiden must be given to the land, in accordance with the old laws. A life for a life, he says. Without sacrifice, nothing good can grow. Without death, there can be no rebirth. In exchange for her sister’s freedom, Liesl offers her hand in marriage to the Goblin King. He accepts.

Down in the Underground, Liesl discovers that the Goblin King still inspires her—musically, physically, emotionally. Yet even as her talent blossoms, Liesl’s life is slowly fading away, the price she paid for becoming the Goblin King’s bride. As the two of them grow closer, they must learn just what it is they are each willing to sacrifice: her life, her music, or the end of the world.

Rated: ★★½
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Book
Publication: February 7, 2017
Genre: Fairytale, Retelling
I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this title.

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Wintersong by S Jae Jones

I can honestly say I don’t know how to feel about this, other than I feel strongly. Wintersong by S Jae Jones is beautiful, with grand, sweeping descriptions that envelope the reader in a faerie new world. But it is also not enough at times. There are characters you come to love and grieve for, and others you grow to tolerate. It definitely bears the marking of an author trying to strike the right balance between all of the different elements needed to make a story truly amazing.

Jumping off of Christina Rossetti’s AMAZING Goblin Market poem, Jae Jones sets the bar high for her debut novel, perhaps unfairly so as it sets the readers aspirations aloft. You get a feeling that there’s danger and villainy abound. Yet, it never really feels that way, which was fine by me as I loved the Goblin King we did receive. But it sets up the expectation that things will be visceral, guttural, almost an assault upon the senses, yet still controlled and melodic. Instead, the senses are dulled, most probably because this is meant for a YA audience, therefore the mature scenes are skipped over or kept to a minimum, which is truly a shame because Jae Jones excelled at the small snippets that were there.

Jae Jones also does melancholic longing amazingly well. The prologue, aka Overture, broke my heart and it was just the short tiny prologue. She immediately is able to convey the dynamic between Liesl and the Goblin King, as well as their entire history and everything that would ever be. If the prologue were made into a book, I’m pretty sure it would destroy me. Yet, we jump in at the tail end of a romance with a character that is almost unrecognizable from the prologue.

And that’s where my main problem lies. What knocks the book down from what would otherwise have been an easy 5 stars, to 3 and a half. Liesl is so unbearably plain and passionless that it’s hard to care for her. She seems to lack a personality outside of music, outside of what she can do for others. This isn’t something that is remedied, even by the end of the book. I understand different heroines for different readers, but she just didn’t do it for me. She was too meek, too unlike the girl from the Overture. I can understand that life and responsibilities may have dulled her spark, but even while beside the Goblin King, she never truly seems to recover.

The Goblin King, on the other hand, is an amazing character that shines in all regards. He is well rounded, as light and fun as he is broody and melancholic. Compassionate and giving as he is cruel. Handsome and loving, readers love him before they even know him, which makes his pairing beside Liesl so uncomfortable for me.

Now, the reason I am overwhelmed with emotion, though which emotion I know not? THAT ENDING! It was expected and unexpected at once and just really makes you realize things about life and love and I want to talk more about it but spoilers and 🙁

Wintersong by S Jae Jones is a tremendous debut novel that has some real strengths. Even with the stumbles, it leaves you feeling emotional and way too invested. With a bit more direction and time on character progression in the future, Jae Jones is well on her way to becoming a five-star author, whether she chooses to remain in YA or delve out.

Quotes & Excerpts

“Lonely, yes. But does the king serve the crown, or the crown serve the king?”
– The Ugly Truth

About the Author

S. Jae-Jones, called JJ, is an artist, an adrenaline junkie, and the author of Wintersong, forthcoming from Thomas Dunne in February 2017.
Born and raised in sunny Los Angeles, she lived in New York City for ten years before relocating down to Dixie, where she is comfortably growing fat on grits and barbecue. When not writing, she can be found rock-climbing, skydiving, taking photographs, drawing pictures, and dragging her dog on ridiculously long hikes.
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Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey

Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey

 Spells of Blood and Kin
by Claire Humphrey

Some families hand down wealth through generations; some hand down wisdom. Some families, whether they want to or not, hand down the secret burdens they carry and the dangerous debts they owe.

Lissa Nevsky’s grandmother leaves her a big, empty house, and a legacy of magic: folk magic, old magic, brought with Baba when she fled the Gulag. In the wake of her passing, the Russian community of Toronto will depend on Lissa now, to give them their remedies and be their koldun’ia. But Lissa hasn’t had time to learn everything Baba wanted to teach her―let alone the things Baba kept hidden.

Maksim Volkov’s birth family is long dead, anything they bestowed on him long turned to dust. What Maksim carries now is a legacy of violence, and he does not have to die to pass it on. When Maksim feels his protective spell fail, he returns to the witch he rescued from the Gulag, only to find his spell has died along with the one who cast it. Without the spell, it is only a matter of time before Maksim’s violent nature slips its leash and he infects someone else―if he hasn’t done so already.

Nick Kaisaris is just a normal dude who likes to party. He doesn’t worry about family drama. He doesn’t have any secrets. All he wants is for things to stay like they are right now, tonight: Nick and his best buddy Jonathan, out on the town. Only Nick is on a collision course with Maksim Volkov, and what he takes away from this night is going to crack open Nick’s nature until all of his worst self comes to light.

Lissa’s legacy of magic might hold the key to Maksim’s salvation, if she can unravel it in time. But it’s a legacy that comes at a price. And Maksim might not want to be saved…

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication: June 14, 2016
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Witchy, Paranormal
I received this title for free in exchange for an honest review
Purchase: amazon | b&n | book depo
Rated: ★★

Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey

Baba had been dead for four days by the time Lissa got to speak with her.

This is how Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey begins, and boy is it a great first line! A solid debut novel by Ms. Humphrey, the book features solid character building, and an incredibly interesting take on kitchen witchcraft featuring what seems like eastern European berserkers. However, at points, it does feel like perhaps there may have been chunks edited out as the story seems to jump around or over certain points, leaving it up to the reader to make of it what they will.

Humphrey does a good job depicting the grieving process with Lissa. It doesn’t feel over the top or hysterical, while at the same time manages not portray Lissa as cold or uncaring. It’s a sombre, sober portrayal of grief that fades to the background during the novel, but is still felt; which is appropriate considering Baba and her death is the catalyst for everything in the novel.

Hearing of Baba’s death, Lissa’s somewhat estranged step-sister Stella decides to visit to help see Lissa through such a trying time, or so she says. In actuality, she’s running away from her life in London and looking to start anew in Toronto, while at the same time looking to form an actual relationship with her step-sister. Lissa, unaccustomed to the company, is resistant at first. It seems being a witch’s apprentice left her little to no time to socialize or understand how to be around people. The bonding done between the two was well done and believable. They’re different, and remain different, but understand and appreciate the other. It’s great to see each sister take the other one under their wing.

The undercurrent of romance between Lissa and Stella’s coworker, Rafe, whom I loved was fun! It was definitely just a small background thing that I want more of! I’m not really a fan of romance, but maybe I just really liked Rafe? The perfect mix of approachable, relatable working class man with hints of an upper class upbringing, I just kept thinking I WANT ONE! I think, he might be a big part of why I’d like to see a follow-up to Spells of Blood and Kin.

But, then we get to the flip side where I’m uncertain I’d like to know more about this world and the “kin” section of the story. On the surface, it’s pretty cool and interesting. The kin seem like berserkers, humans that have been tainted with insatiable blood lust where they are always looking for a fight. Constantly drinking and fighting, theirs is a constant internal struggle to retain their humanity. World weary Maksim is forced to deal with the return of his raging frenzy after Baba dies. Tagging along is progeny Augusta who sees the world a bit differently than her maker. Their relationship is interesting and I’d love to see more back story between them. That said, this is where the story clipping I mentioned earlier happens.

There seems to be something going on, unsaid, with the three kin you see in the book. This is getting to mild spoilers right now, so if you want to read the book, TURN AWAY AND STOP HERE. It is said that Augusta is into women; that she is a lesbian. It is alluded to that Maksim is gay. It is alluded to that Nick is angry with himself for being unable to maintain a heterosexual relationship, is possibly bisexual/pansexual, and in love with his best friend Jonathan. That being said, these three potential lgbtqa* characters are the three infected characters that are full of rage, always drinking, always a danger to society. Then, we have Lissa performing what is essentially an illegal spell to leash Maksim’s nature, which infuriates Augusta claiming that it isn’t natural what is being done to him. That’s not something I want to read. That’s not something I’m comfortable with. I don’t know if I’m reading this incorrectly? Especially since I know that the author has written queer friendly material before. Maybe I’m missing the point?

I hope that there’s a follow-up simply to see the inclusion of heterosexual kin, which funnily enough is never something I expected to say — that a book needed more straight people. But in this case, I think having a straight person be afflicted as kin would at the very least dissuade me from jumping to conclusions as to what sort of commentary one can jump to. The writing is solid, the relationships are great, the magic simple but believable, Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey is a solid debut novel.

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Spells of Blood and Kin - TEASER REVIEW

Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey

Baba had been dead for four days by the time Lissa got to speak with her.

This is how Spells of Blood and Kin by Claire Humphrey begins, and boy is it a great first line! A solid debut novel by Ms. Humphrey, the book features solid character building, and an incredibly interesting take on kitchen witchcraft featuring what seems like eastern european berserkers. We have sisterly bonding with main character Lissa and step-sister Stella, two seemingly polar opposites learning to a new life with one another. There’s an undercurrent of romance between Lissa and Stella’s coworker, Rafe, whom I loved and thought, wow, I want one of those!

On the flip side, you have the gruff and tough kin,  the berserker type super humans, who have insatiable blood lust. Constantly drinking and fighting, theirs is a constant internal struggle to retain their humanity. World weary Maksim is forced to deal with the return of his raging frenzy after Baba dies. Tagging along is progeny Augusta who sees the world a bit differently than her maker.

There is a lot more I want to say, but I’ll save that for the full review in May before the book’s release June 14th. Needless to say, it does well as a standalone novel, but I do hope we get a follow-up!


SYNOPSIS

Some families hand down wealth through generations; some hand down wisdom. Some families, whether they want to or not, hand down the secret burdens they carry and the dangerous debts they owe.

Lissa Nevsky’s grandmother leaves her a big, empty house, and a legacy of magic: folk magic, old magic, brought with Baba when she fled the Gulag. In the wake of her passing, the Russian community of Toronto will depend on Lissa now, to give them their remedies and be their koldun’ia. But Lissa hasn’t had time to learn everything Baba wanted to teach her―let alone the things Baba kept hidden.

Maksim Volkov’s birth family is long dead, anything they bestowed on him long turned to dust. What Maksim carries now is a legacy of violence, and he does not have to die to pass it on. When Maksim feels his protective spell fail, he returns to the witch he rescued from the Gulag, only to find his spell has died along with the one who cast it. Without the spell, it is only a matter of time before Maksim’s violent nature slips its leash and he infects someone else―if he hasn’t done so already.

Nick Kaisaris is just a normal dude who likes to party. He doesn’t worry about family drama. He doesn’t have any secrets. All he wants is for things to stay like they are right now, tonight: Nick and his best buddy Jonathan, out on the town. Only Nick is on a collision course with Maksim Volkov, and what he takes away from this night is going to crack open Nick’s nature until all of his worst self comes to light.

Lissa’s legacy of magic might hold the key to Maksim’s salvation, if she can unravel it in time. But it’s a legacy that comes at a price. And Maksim might not want to be saved…


Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publication: June 14, 2016
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Witchy, Paranormal
I received this title for free in exchange for an honest review
Purchase: amazon | b&n | book depo