The Winter Witch by Paula Brackston

15702859Title: The Winter Witch

Author: Paula Brackston

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

Publication Date: January 2013

Pages: 340

Genre: Young Adult Historical/Fantasy

Book Summary (from Goodreads)

In her small Welsh town, there is no one quite like Morgana. She has never spoken, and her silence as well as the magic she can’t quite control make her a mystery. Concerned for her safety, her mother quickly arranges a marriage with Cai Bevan, the widower from the far hills who knows nothing of the rumours that swirl around her. After their wedding, Morgana is heartbroken at leaving, but she soon falls in love with Cai’s farm and the rugged mountains that surround it, while slowly Cai himself begins to win her heart. It’s not long, however, before her strangeness begins to be remarked upon in her new village. A dark force is at work there—a person who will stop at nothing to turn the townspeople against Morgana, even at the expense of those closest to her. Forced to defend her home, her love, and herself from all comers, Morgana must learn to harness her power, or she will lose everything.

Review

I wanted to like this book. I really, really did. The premise sounded intriguing, it was historical with some magic, set in Wales, had witches and romance and seemed like a great novel. And it wasn’t bad. Not really. It was just very. very. s  l  o  w.

It starts off well enough. We’re introduced to the slightly mysterious Morgana the day she is to be wed to a man she’s barely met. She doesn’t speak, and there is a hint that there may be something magical about her. Despite her silence, she has very strong opinions about many things. The character is one that starts out likable, and one I wanted to get to know better. The problem was that I don’t feel like I ever did.

Cai, the man who marries her, is another character that we want to like. He actually seems a little easier to “get to know” than Morgana. I don’t know if that’s because he talks, or because of the way his narration is done, or if its just me. That being said, he never develops as much as I’d like either.

Their relationship is set up to have problems. Its an arranged marriage, he does it because he has to in order to keep his position in town, she does it because her mother talks her into it. They both dance around each other for what seems like hundreds of pages. She can’t talk. He doesn’t understand. She acts like a stubborn child, then feels bad, he forgives her though he’s not sure why she did it.

I actually skimmed and skipped most of the middle of the book. The themes of misunderstanding and guilt and more misunderstanding, mixed in with some comments about how much they are beginning to like the other, are overdone for me. What I’m sure was meant to be a slow build up of a relationship just fell flat. The ending wasn’t bad, but some of the twists are easy to see, and the very ending seems totally unlikely. Enough that I had a hard time feeling horror or threatened at all. The villain and the reasons behind it are very loosely done. For a long time you aren’t really sure if her motives are what you think, and they are easy to figure out. I had a hard time buying into them, personally, so it made it difficult to feel anything for the villain.

Their romance is sweet, and the end is definitely a Happily Ever After, but I must admit to being disappointed by this book. If you enjoy slow romance, with a little magic mixed in, this is a good one. Otherwise, you might want to steer clear.

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Where to Find the Book

Goodreadshttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/15702859-the-winter-witch?from_search=true

Amazonhttp://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1250001315/ref=x_gr_w_bb?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1250001315&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-winter-witch-paula-brackston/1111298362?ean=9781250001313&itm=1&usri=9781250001313&cm_mmc=AFFILIATES-_-Linkshare-_-GwEz7vxblVU-_-10:1&r=1,%201

Book was purchased by reviewer.

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Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman

17668473Title: Prisoner of Night and Fog

Author: Anne Blankman

Publisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication Date: April 22, 2014

Pages: 416

Genre: Young Adult Historical

Book Summary (from Goodreads)

In 1930s Munich, danger lurks behind dark corners, and secrets are buried deep within the city. But Gretchen Müller, who grew up in the National Socialist Party under the wing of her “uncle” Dolf, has been shielded from that side of society ever since her father traded his life for Dolf’s, and Gretchen is his favorite, his pet. Uncle Dolf is none other than Adolf Hitler. And Gretchen follows his every command. Until she meets a fearless and handsome young Jewish reporter named Daniel Cohen. Gretchen should despise Daniel, yet she can’t stop herself from listening to his story: that her father, the adored Nazi martyr, was actually murdered by an unknown comrade. She also can’t help the fierce attraction brewing between them, despite everything she’s been taught to believe about Jews. As Gretchen investigates the very people she’s always considered friends, she must decide where her loyalties lie. Will she choose the safety of her former life as a Nazi darling, or will she dare to dig up the truth—even if it could get her and Daniel killed? From debut author Anne Blankman comes this harrowing and evocative story about an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary decision to give up everything she’s ever believed . . . and to trust her own heart instead.

 

Review

PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG was a book I’ve been waiting for awhile. I bought it today, after having marked my calendar with the release date, and I’m glad to say I wasn’t disappointed.

World War II era novels and history are things I enjoy, though I don’t know as much as I wish. (Someday I’ll get around to fixing that…) That being said, I really loved the way Blankman makes history unfold and shows us a well known and despised figure in a way that is slightly… uncomfortable. Hitler is not portrayed as a sympathetic figure – don’t get me wrong. But he isn’t an evil puppet out for blood from the beginning either. Gretchen sees him as Uncle Dolf, and we get to see him through her eyes as well. The whole time you kind of want to scream at her and demand why she doesn’t see things, but it’s a great example of how people then would have seen him. All the reports say that he was a charismatic speaker and someone who could mesmerize a crowd with his words.

The historical details were great, and I really enjoyed the characters. Gretchen, while sometimes frustratingly naïve, is a likeable character, and I wanted her to succeed. Reinhard was frightening (I’m not saying more than that – don’t want to give anything away!) and Daniel…ah, Daniel. I really loved his character. I liked the romance and I liked that it wasn’t a “love at first sight” moment. It took awhile, and while it was slow to come at first and then moved quickly, I enjoyed it. It felt authentic, especially given their circumstances.

The secondary characters were well thought out, and the way that Blankman has woven fiction in with fact is masterful. You know that “artistic liberties” have been taken, but it doesn’t detract from the history at all. I also enjoyed that there are many plot threads. There’s the one about Gretchen coming into her own and knowing her own mind, finding her place in the world. There’s her relationship with Hitler and how that changes. Her family dynamics, her relationship with Daniel, her aspirations (though I must admit, I wanted her to pick something. She was a little too changeable and passive about that one for me), and her relationship with others in her world and outside of it.

Overall, this is a great book for anyone who enjoys historical novels, especially WWII settings. You don’t need any prior knowledge about the history here – all is given over the course of the book. A really great read, and highly recommended.

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Where to Find the Book

Goodreadshttps://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17668473-prisoner-of-night-and-fog

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0062278819?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0062278819&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/prisoner-of-night-and-fog-anne-blankman/1117005032?ean=9780062278814&itm=1&usri=9780062278814&cm_mmc=AFFILIATES-_-Linkshare-_-GwEz7vxblVU-_-10:1&r=1,%201

Book was purchased by reviewer.

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

bronzeTitle: Strands of Bronze and Gold

Author: Jane Nickerson

Publisher: Random House Children’s Books

Publication Date: March 2013

Pages: 352

Genre: Young Adult Historical

Book Summary (from Goodreads.com)

When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tal

Review

Fairy tale retellings are a sure way to get me to read a book. I also like it when an author tries to make the fairy tale work in real life, no magic or fairy godmothers. In Strands of Bronze and Gold, the author uses the antebellum south and a plantation as a way of retelling the tale of Bluebeard.

For those of you who don’t know the story, Bluebeard married several times and kept a room locked. He always told the wives that the room was off limits. They could do as they liked, but not go in there. The wife would steal the key, open the door, and find out the other wives had been murdered in the room. Once they found this out, he kills them. The last wife gets smart, and begs for time to say prayers until her brothers, coming to visit, get there. She locks herself in a tower, the brothers come and kill the evil husband. That’s the quick and dirty version, anyway. If you want to read the full version, click HERE. I’m sure the message was something about feminine curiosity and whatnot, but it always seemed like a strange fairy tale to me.

This book takes that theme and makes it into a mystery, which I really enjoyed. You know something is going on, but you aren’t sure what. I might have liked it better had I not known it was based on Bluebeard, just because it immediately gives some things away. (You know the basic bones of the past, etc)

The main character, however, I felt a bit confused by. Sophie starts off very young and acts like it. Her reasons for going to de Cressac, who is her godfather, make sense for the time. Even so, it’s a little ick-inducing once you get farther into the story and realize de Cressac’s love of strawberry blondes. Sophie does make a significant change and matures quite a bit before the end of the book, and does so in a plausible way that I really liked. But she felt so much older at the end that she might even have matured too much, considering her age. Its a minor complaint, but when you go back and read a few pages at the beginning, the character is drastically different. At the same time, it is an appropriate change, considering everything that happens to her.

The author’s take on de Cressac is also well done. She paints the older man well, and despite Sophie’s immature crush at the beginning, she does make the whole thing believable, especially considering the social norms of the time. I also enjoyed the ending, which I won’t give away, and de Cressac’s part in it. The housekeeper’s blind eye was a bit hard to believe, but I suppose when the villan is supposed to be so charismatic, you can almost ignore that.

My biggest complaint is the strange undercurrent of social commentary that the author placed in the novel. In the midst of the gothic, creepy feel of the novel she tries to insert bits about abolition and slavery. While the time period if correct, and Sophie may very well have had the opinions she did as someone from the North coming South, it seemed jarring. At times it worked, and at other times it took me out of the story. It isn’t necessarily badly done, its just odd for the novel, for me.

Overall, the book is a good retelling of a less popular fairy tale. If you enjoy fairy tale retellings, I would recommend it.

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Where to Find the Book

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13721341-strands-of-bronze-and-gold

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307975983?ie=UTF8&tag=httpwwwgoodco-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0307975983&SubscriptionId=1MGPYB6YW3HWK55XCGG2

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/strands-of-bronze-and-gold-jane-nickerson/1110181034?ean=9780307975980&itm=1&usri=9780307975980

Book was purchased by reviewer.