Book Review: A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers

Title: A Witch in Time
Author: Constance Sayers
Publisher: Redhook
Publication date: February 11, 2020
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Fantasy/historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

A young witch is cursed to relive a doomed love affair through many lifetimes, as both troubled muse and frustrated artist, in this haunting debut novel.

In 1895, sixteen-year-old Juliet LaCompte has a passionate, doomed romance with the married Parisian painter Auguste Marchant. When her mother — a witch — attempts to cast a curse on Marchant, she unwittingly summons a demon, binding her daughter to both the artist and this supernatural being for all time. Juliet is fated to re-live her affair and die tragically young lifetime after lifetime as the star-crossed lovers reincarnate through history.

The demon — who appears to Juliet in all her reincarnations as a mysterious, handsome, and worldly benefactor — has been helplessly in love with her since 19th century France, even though she forgets him each time she dies. He falls for her in 1930s Hollywood, in 1970s Los Angeles, and finally in present-day Washington D.C. — where she begins to develop powers of her own.

In this life, she starts to remember her tragic past lives. But this time, she might have the power to break the cycle…

A Witch in Time is perfect for fans of A Secret History of WitchesOutlander, and The Time Traveler’s Wife.

A Witch in Time is a haunting story of doomed, enduring love. It’s mesmerizing and otherworldly, yet also very much grounded in the here and now.

As the story opens, we meet Helen Lambert, a successful media professional in her mid-30s, recently divorced from a mover and shaker in the museum world, cautiously stepping back into the dating world. But the man she’s set up with on a blind date is both strange and familiar. There’s something about Luke Varner that resonates with Helen. He implies that they’ve met before — in fact, that they share a history. Strangest of all, he takes her to a gallery in her ex’s museum and shows her a 19th century painting of a young girl who looks startlingly similar to Helen.

Helen begins to have vivid dreams of another life, in which she appears as young Juliet LaCompte, a French farm girl in love with the suave painter who lives next door. For Helen, it’s as if she’s living these moments, not just dreaming them. And when she wakes up, she knows that what she’s experienced is true.

As the days and weeks go by, Helen’s connection to Luke is revealed and her entanglement with Juliet and other women across time slowly comes to light through her vivid dreams. As Helen discovers, she, Luke and the artist Juliet once loved are doomed to repeat their patterns time and time again, for eternity — living out a curse placed in anger by an inexperienced witch, condemning them all to a hopeless cycle.

Oh, this book is captivating! I fell in love with the strange lives revealed to Helen through her dreams — 1890s Paris, 1930s Hollywood, 1970s Taos. In each, Helen (or Juliet) takes on a slightly different life, but there are elements that are consistent from lifetime to lifetime. And through these varied lives, Luke remains a constant, there to protect Helen and her predecessors over and over again… but also to love them.

The mood of the book is lush and dreamy. So much happens, and it takes a leap of faith to just go with the story and allow it to unfold at its own pace. And trust me, it’s worth it! The author gives us historical set-pieces that are atmospheric and convey the feel of the their different periods so well. She also manages to connect the dots between Juliet/Helen’s different personas, so that even though we meet four very different women (and their four very different love obsessions), the common threads are very visible as well.

Despite being over 400 pages in length, A Witch in Time goes by very quickly. I simply couldn’t put it down, and didn’t want to! I was very caught up in the story of recurring love and recurring tragedy, and felt incredibly breathless waiting for each new life’s particular patterns to unfold.

Absolutely a must-read! Don’t miss this one.

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Book Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Ninth House
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: October 8, 2019
Length: 458 pages
Genre: Fantasy/horror
Source: Purchased
Rating:

⭐⭐⭐⭐

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

Ninth House was one of the biggest, buzziest releases of fall 2019. Author Leigh Bardugo is a wildly popular YA author, and with Ninth House, she ventures into adult fiction with a bang, getting hyped by the master, Stephen King, among other notables. 

Whoo boy, with praise like that, how can a mere human like me ever attempt to write a review?

Let’s give it a try.

In Ninth House, we’re plunged right into the action as Alex Stern hides out alone with a grave injury, contemplating what went wrong and what happens next. But what exactly happened, and what is this thing called Lethe that we see her thinking about? All will be revealed…

Alex arrives at Yale completely unprepared. She’s an impoverished high school dropout, a former drug user and dealer, and the sole survivor of a brutal mass murder. She’s offered a fresh start with a full scholarship to Yale, courtesy of Lethe House. 

Yale’s most famous exclusive society is Skull & Bones, but there are actually many more. In Ninth House, the Ancient Eight are bastions of the rich and famous and their up and coming offspring, and each house has its own connection to the arcane. The houses’ powers are what fuel their alumni’s fortunes and influence, and they each have distinctive rituals that keep their magic topped up and charged. Lethe, the ninth house, is not one of these. Rather, Lethe was founded as a watchdog — they’re the ones who monitor the rituals and make sure they keep within the bounds of the rules, preventing uncontrolled magic from escaping into the world, and keeping the Grays (ghosts) from crossing over from beyond the Veil.

While Lethe members don’t have magic themselves, they have access to a vast store of knowledge and materials that allows them to carry out the warding and protective functions that keep the houses’ rituals operating mostly within determined limits. Alex is different, though. She doesn’t need Lethe’s elixirs to see beyond — she’s been cursed all her life by her ability to see and interact with Grays. And now that she’s at Yale, she’s caught up in unprecedented Gray activity, as well as a murder on campus that could be unrelated… or it could be the key to a sinister plot that threatens the magical equilibrium.

Alex is a fabulous lead character. She’s edgy and wild, but has a past that torments her and secrets that she’s only now coming to terms with. She’s brave even when terrified, and despite being a loner, manages to make connections with her roommate and a fellow Lethe member in ways that support all the best elements of true female friendship. 

The magical systems are fascinating, but — a warning for the squeamish — do not read this book if you have a weak stomach! There are some pretty disgusting scenes, with copious amounts of blood, body parts, guts, and more. Ick — but it’s not gratuitous. The violence and horror completely serve the plot, and I normally don’t mind horror, but there were a few places that left me feeling like I needed to scrub my brain in order to remove some particularly unpleasant images.

I do have a few quibbles — chiefly, this book is so detail-heavy that unless you’re prepared to either take notes or read straight through (stock up on coffee!), there’s almost too much to keep track of. Each house has its powers, its players, its agenda, its rituals… and we really do need to be able to distinguish one from the other in order to follow Alex’s investigation and the conspiracy it reveals. None of this is a negative, but it does feel overwhelming to try to pick up the pieces of the plot again after taking a break to — I don’t know — maybe sleep or work or eat.

Do I recommend Ninth House? Absolutely! It’s a mesmerizing, engrossing read. But I do suggest picking a time to read it when you have time to dive in and really concentrate. 

Shelf Control #169: A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: A Night in the Lonesome October
Author: Roger Zelazny
Published: 1993
Length: 288 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Loyally accompanying a mysterious knife-wielding gentleman named Jack on his midnight rounds through the murky streets of London, good dog Snuff is busy helping his master collect the grisly ingredients needed for an unearthly rite that will take place not long after the death of the moon. But Snuff and his master are not alone. All manner of participants, both human and not, are gathering with their ancient tools and their animal familiars in preparation for the dread night. It is brave, devoted Snuff who must calculate the patterns of the Game and keep track of the Players—the witch, the mad monk, the vengeful vicar, the Count who sleeps by day, the Good Doctor and the hulking Experiment Man he fashioned from human body parts, and a wild-card American named Larry Talbot—all the while keeping Things at bay and staying a leap ahead of the Great Detective, who knows quite a bit more than he lets on.

Boldly original and wildly entertaining, A Night in the Lonesome October is a darkly sparkling gem, an amalgam of horror, humor, mystery, and fantasy. First published in 1993, it was Zelazny’s last book prior to his untimely death. Many consider it the best of the fantasy master’s novels. It has inspired many fans to read it every year in October, a chapter a day, and served as inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s brilliant story “Only the End of the World Again.”

And further info from Wikipedia:

A Night in the Lonesome October is a novel by American writer Roger Zelazny published in 1993, near the end of his life. It was his last book, and one of his five personal favorites.

The book is divided in 32 chapters, each representing one “night” in the month of October (plus one “introductory” chapter). The story is told in the first-person, akin to journal entries. Throughout, 33 full-page illustrations by Gahan Wilson (one per chapter, plus one on the inside back cover) punctuate a tale heavily influenced by H. P. Lovecraft. The title is a line from Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ulalume” and Zelazny thanks him as well as others – Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Bloch and Albert Payson Terhune – whose most famous characters appear in the book.

The story reveals that once every few decades when the moon is full on the night of Halloween, the fabric of reality thins and doors may be opened between this world and the realm of the Great Old Ones. When these conditions are right, men and women with occult knowledge may gather at a specific ritual site to hold the doors closed, or to help fling them open. Should the Closers win, then the world will remain as it is until the next turning… but should the Openers succeed, then the Great Old Ones will come to Earth, to remake the world in their own image (enslaving or slaughtering the human race in the process). The Openers have never yet won. These meetings are often referred to as “The Game” or “The Great Game” by the participants, who try to keep the goings-on secret from the mundane population.

How and when I got it:

I bought a used copy online a couple of years ago, after spending some time tracking down a copy.

Why I want to read it:

I’ve seen this book mentioned on all sorts of blogs and book lists over the years. I’ve read books 1 – 5 of Zelazny’s Amber books (loved them… one of these days, I need to read the rest!). I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while, but now is not the time: I hear that the ideal reading approach is to read one chapter per night during the month of October, and I’m totally up for that! I’m so glad I just re-discovered this lurking on my bookshelf. Now I’m all set for a spooky Halloween read!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

Shelf Control #102: The Walls Around Us

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: The Walls Around Us
Author: Nova Ren Suma
Published: 2015
Length: 319 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

On the outside, there’s Violet, an eighteen-year-old dancer days away from the life of her dreams when something threatens to expose the shocking truth of her achievement.

On the inside, within the walls of the Aurora Hills juvenile detention center, there’s Amber, locked up for so long she can’t imagine freedom.

Tying their two worlds together is Orianna, who holds the key to unlocking all the girls’ darkest mysteries…

What really happened on the night Orianna stepped between Violet and her tormentors? What really happened on two strange nights at Aurora Hills? Will Amber and Violet and Orianna ever get the justice they deserve—in this life or in another one?

In prose that sings from line to line, Nova Ren Suma tells a supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence, and of what happens when one is mistaken for the other.

How and when I got it:

I bought the Kindle edition about a year ago when I happened to catch a price break.

Why I want to read it:

I remember seeing so many positive reviews, including a comparison to Shirley Jackson, so I just knew I had to read this one! “A supernatural tale of guilt and of innocence” sounds like something I’ll love.

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Shelf Control #64: Vicious

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guideline sat the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

vicious-2Title: Vicious
Author: V. E. Schwab
Published: 2013
Length: 364 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

How I got it:

I bought it.

When I got it:

About 2 years ago, when the paperback edition was released.

Why I want to read it:

Talk about buzz! It seems like EVERYONE has read this book and raved about it. I feel so left out! But really, I was pretty intrigued by the premise from when I first heard about it, and I really liked the idea that here was a sci-fi/fantasy/supernatural book that stands on its own, no series needed. The relationship between the two main characters sounds complex, and the concept of an experiment going wrong as the catalyst for the conflict seems really intense. I think I need to make this a must-read in 2017!

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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