Oops, I Am Addicted To Witches of East End

A review of Witches of East End, based on the books by Melissa de la Cruz

Lifetime, 2013

Witches of East End

by REBECCA, August 20, 2014

witches of eastwickWhoopsiedoodle! My sister and I just accidentally scarfed the first half of a season of Witches of East End. I won’t lie: I took one look at the fact that it’s on Lifetime and the fact that it’s set in North Hampton and thought, “this will be terrible; I must watch this.” But, while I was expecting the show to be a kind of Revenge + witches, with lots of conspicuous consumption, low-cut dresses, and people having incredibly strong opinions about canapés while they ruin people’s lives, it’s actually . . . so funny. No, really. Within five minutes of the pilot, my sister and I were hitting each other and shamefacedly saying, “OmigodIlovethisshow.”

witches of east endWitches of East End is based on the books by Melissa de la Cruz, best known for her YA series, Blue BloodsNow, I’ve never read anything by Melissa de la Cruz, but I am totally not surprised that it’s based on the work of a YA author because what Witches of East End is totally winning at is not taking itself too seriously. Witches of East End could easily seem like a seen-it-all-before show about thin, pretty, white women who can do magic—and let’s face it, do we need more when we have Practical Magic?—but instead, it’s a really fun, funny family drama with a little romance and a few thrills thrown in.

Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond) is an immortal witch. Her daughters, Freya (Jenna Dewan-Tatum of Step Up pedigree) and Ingrid (Rachel Boston) don’t know that they have any special powers (a change from the books, it seems). Joanna is cursed to see Freya and Ingrid die over and over and be born again—she’s lived through their lives in every century and seen them die in every way imaginable. So, this incarnation, she’s decided that she’ll keep their magic a secret, hoping to protect them from themselves. This has worked fine for the last thirty years, and the Beauchamps have been happy in North Hampton. Freya is engaged to marry rich doctor, Dash (Eric Winter), and Ingrid is pretty happy with her job at the local library.

Witches of East End

don’t mind me; i’m just smelling your face now

BUT, before you go thinking that everything is fine, dunh duh duh duh, there is a CAT. A black cat. And is not JUST a cat. It is Wendy (Mädchen Amick from Twin Peaks!), Joanna’s sister, who is a cat shifter (avec proverbial nine lives). Joanna and Wendy haven’t spoken in a century, but now Wendy has had a VISION: someone is after Joanna and they have to stop them. And with Wendy around, there’s no way that Freya and Ingrid will remain in the dark about their magic because SHENANIGANS ensue. Not only can the person who’s after Joanna shift into any form, but Dash’s estranged brother is back . . . and Freya might also be in love with him. WHAT? YOU GUYS. No, seriously, though, it’s so FUNNY. Ingrid is hilarious and so, so nerdy.

Okay, so Julia Ormond is kind of terrible (but I have fond feelings about her from Legends of the Fall and Smilla’s Sense of Snow . . .) because she just seems like a very cold person (and also her accent, which is apparently her real Britamerican accent, is whackadoo), BUT Aunt Wendy totally makes up for it. And did I mention INGRID! Best thing: it’s two sets of sisters!

Are you watching Witches of East End? What do you think?

Heck Yeah, Covens! Moonset #1

A Review of Moonset (Legacy of Moonset #1) by Scott Tracey

Flux, 2013

Moonset Scott Tracey

by REBECCA, April 1, 2013

characters

Justin: our protag, he is a bit awkward and a bit sweet and mostly goes with the flow

Jenna: Justin’s twin, as confident and demanding as he is chill, she is desperate to learn magic so they can protect themselves

Malcolm: the eldest brother in this motley crew, he’s buff and pretty uninterested in the whole magic thing

Cole: the hyper, jokey brother

Bailey: the youngest, she is sensitive but powerful

Quinn: a Witcher, the green berets of magic, he is a protector and possibly an ally?

Ash: the brash, entitled girl in their new town who takes Justin under her control wing

hook

Justin, Jenna, Malcolm, Cole, and Bailey are the children of the Moonset coven, the most infamous terrorists in the magical world. As the children of treasonous criminals they are suspected by other witches and the magic they’re taught is limited. But now they have been attacked and moved to a small town in New York where things keep trying to tear them apart, but they don’t have the knowledge to defend themselves. What happens when the power you need to defend your family might just be the power that turned your parents to the dark side?

worldview

The setting of Moonset is one in which the magical world keeps itself secret from the rest of the world. Witches are taught magic in school, and covens are highly controlled by bureaucracy. It is a setup similar to Harry Potter only instead of the boy who lived, Justin and his siblings are the kids of the coven that killed. The word “moonset” is synonymous with terrorism, treason, and evil, so when Justin and his siblings find Moonset’s symbol popping up all over the new town where they’ve been relocated they know that nothing good is coming. After being attacked by a wraith as they were moved from their last school, they sense that there is something in play that they (and the people who are supposed to be looking out for them) know nothing about. And, since people are too scared that they’ll go dark side if they learn magic, they can’t exactly protect themselves. What is clear, however, is that Justin and his siblings are not their parents . . . and maybe their parents weren’t exactly what they thought either.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

Scott Tracey Witch EyesMoonset is a fun read. I love Scott Tracey’s other series, Witch Eyes, which I review HERE and HERE. As I mention in these reviews, Tracey writes books that, to me, read cinematically—or, I should say, televisually—and Moonset is no different. This means, really, that reading Moonset is kind of like watching a CW show, in the best possible way (I love the CW, as I’m sure you know!), and this book is the first eight episodes of the season. You know, the first episode starts with the siblings walking trepidatiously into their new school and we see how they left their old school in brief flashbacks; then we get one episode that fills in the back story of each of the siblings and teases some stuff about their history together; then, just as we think we know what the main conflict is, the scale of things changes. Like, good tv, is what I’m saying.

But I think that, like a juicy tv show, which is better watched all at once, Moonset, the first in Tracey’s new series, might be more satisfying if I could read the whole series at once. That isn’t to say that Moonset isn’t an enjoyable read—it absolutely is. It’s just that this first volume feels introductory, especially in terms of character, even though the plot is definitely complete. Tracey has a knack for making me love or hate characters immediately upon meeting them (well, ok, maybe I do that with people in real life too . . . ). I liked Malcolm immediately—he’s the sturdy, a bit removed from it all, oldest brother—and hated Ash the first moment she opened her mouth. I think I’m supposed to like Malcolm, and I think maybe Ash is supposed to be polarizing, but in a way that’s realistic; we’ve all seen the nice people who are really attracted to the Ashes of the world, who are flippant, over-confident, demanding, and expectant in a way that (I guess?) seems intriguing and exciting. I found her obnoxious and mean, but I suspect others will be charmed by her version of I-don’t-mind-making-you-feel-uncomfortable-because-we-both-know-you’re-attracted-to-me. But again, I enjoyed my dislike of her because it was very realistically evoked.

The Secret Circle L.J. SmithJustin is sweet and, for the most part, even-tempered, a counterpart to his twin, Jenna (my sister’s name!). Jenna reminded me a bit of a Faye from The Secret Circle (the books, not the show, fortheloveofgod) type; she is fierce and will do whatever it takes to feel like she and her family are safe. Justin, though, seems to be the one that is being targeted by whatever force is messing with the siblings. And, as the threat grows, Justin begins to see that Jenna might be right—maybe they do need to find a way to learn magic so that they can protect themselves. But, as Justin begins to walk down that path, he finds himself wondering where the line is between power and corruption, and questioning whether he trusts himself not to follow in Moonset’s footsteps. This is a plot that is always interesting to me: the temptation of a power you know could turn you evil weighed against the necessity to gain that power for a good reason.

Moonset definitely follows hallmarks of the genre, but Tracey isn’t trying to hide those predictabilities—rather, he seems absolutely comfortable with them, using them to structure the plot and then getting out of the way as his characters take it home. His writing, as always, is fast-paced and at times quite amusing:

“Jenna could take a perfectly simple math problem like 2+2 and wind up with an answer equaling the square root of paranoid.”

“‘Figures she’s a Meghan,’ Jenna muttered . . . ‘I’ve never met one that wasn’t a raging bitch.'”

“Christmas had come to Carrow Mill, and it had vomited all over our house.”

But he also has moments of understated beauty and insight:

“Ash buried her head against my chest, and that moment of comfort sparked a lifetime of habits.”

I didn’t love Moonset as much as I love the Witch Eyes series, but I’ll definitely keep my eye out for the next in the series.

readalikes

Scott Tracey Witch Eyes Demon Eyes Scott Tracey

Witch Eyes and Demon Eyes by Scott Tracey (2011 & 2012), of course. Braden flees rural Montana to the small town of Belle Dam, Washington. Once there, he attends high school for the first time, gets caught up in a feud between witch dynasties, accidentally releases some hellhounds, and starts falling for a compelling and infuriating boy . . . whom he might have to kill.

The Secret Circle L.J. Smith The Secret Circle L.J. Smith The Secret Circle L.J. Smith

The Secret Circle series by L.J. Smith (1992). Ok, so the CW failed us on this one, not that I still didn’t watch the whole thing, obvsly, but Smith’s series is one of my all-time faves (check out my review HERE). Similar feeling: new town, new school, witchy powers, and the threat of coven infiltration. Delightful!

procured from: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher (thanks!) with no compensation on either side. Moonset by Scott Tracey will be out next week.

All I Want For Chanukah Are These Snazzy YA Reads!

Eleanor & Park Rainbow Rowell Winger Andrew Smith Paper Valentine Brenna Yovanoff

by REBECCA, November 26, 2012

As I write this, it’s the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving, which means that it’s the time for cursing my father for making me drink so much this weekend thinking about what holiday gifts we want! In the spirit of turning our backs on giving thanks and preparing to say “thank you!” for the gifts to come, here is a list of the books I’m hoping some lovely Chanukah fairy might send winging my way. Sure, I know some of these won’t be out in time for Chanukah, but a girl can dream, no?

So, wipe that turkey off your face, recycle all those empties, and join me in lusting after some delicious stories! (Plot descriptions from Goodreads.)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman

I love me some Neil Gaiman, and I can’t wait for this one. Primal horror, family drama, and unknown ancient powers? I’m in.

It began for our narrator forty years ago when the family lodger stole their car and committed suicide in it, stirring up ancient powers best left undisturbed. Dark creatures from beyond the world are on the loose, and it will take everything our narrator has just to stay alive: there is primal horror here, and menace unleashed—within his family and from the forces that have gathered to destroy it. His only defense is three women, on a farm at the end of the lane. The youngest of them claims that her duckpond is an ocean. The oldest can remember the Big Bang.”

The SIn-Eater's Confession Ilsa J. Bick

The Sin-Eater’s Confession, by Ilsa J. Bick

Chanukah has come early via NetGalley on this intriguing tale. I really enjoyed Bick’s Draw the Dark, so I can’t wait for this one.

People in Merit, Wisconsin, always said Jimmy was . . . you know. But people said all sorts of stupid stuff. Nobody really knew anything. Nobody really knew Jimmy. I guess you could say I knew Jimmy as well as anyone (which was not very well). I knew what scared him. And I knew he had dreams—even if I didn’t understand them. Even if he nearly ruined my life to pursue them.

Jimmy’s dead now, and I definitely know that better than anyone. I know about blood and bone and how bodies decompose. I know about shadows and stones and hatchets. I know what a last cry for help sounds like. I know what blood looks like on my own hands. What I don’t know is if I can trust my own eyes. I don’t know who threw the stone. Who swung the hatchet? Who are the shadows? What do the living owe the dead?”

How to Lead a Life of Crime Kirsten Miller

How To Lead A Life Of Crime, by Kirsten Miller

This looks awesome; plus the cover looks kind of like the opening sequence of Stick It. Dudes, it’s not called gym-nice-tics!

A meth dealer. A  prostitute. A serial killer. Anywhere else, they’d be vermin. At the Mandel Academy, they’re called prodigies. The most exclusive school in New York City has been training young criminals for over a century. Only the most ruthless students are allowed to graduate. The rest disappear.

Flick, a teenage pickpocket, has risen to the top of his class. But then Mandel recruits a fierce new competitor who also happens to be Flick’s old flame. They’ve been told only one of them will make it out of the Mandel Academy. Will they find a way to save each other—or will the school destroy them both?”

Paper Valentine Brenna Yovanoff

Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff

Number one, this cover rocks my world. Number two, I loved the subtle creepiness of The Replacement, and can’t wait to read Yovanoff’s latest.

The city of Ludlow is gripped by the hottest July on record. The asphalt is melting, the birds are dying, petty crime is on the rise, and someone in Hannah Wagnor’s peaceful suburban community is killing girls. For Hannah, the summer is a complicated one. Her best friend Lillian died six months ago, and Hannah just wants her life to go back to normal. But how can things be normal when Lillian’s ghost is haunting her bedroom, pushing her to investigate the mysterious string of murders? Hannah’s just trying to understand why her friend self-destructed, and where she fits now that Lillian isn’t there to save her a place among the social elite. And she must stop thinking about Finny Boone, the big, enigmatic delinquent whose main hobbies seem to include petty larceny and surprising acts of kindness.

With the entire city in a panic, Hannah soon finds herself drawn into a world of ghost girls and horrifying secrets. She realizes that only by confronting the Valentine Killer will she be able move on with her life—and it’s up to her to put together the pieces before he strikes again.

Teeth Hannah Moscowitz

Teeth, by Hannah Moskowitz

I’m a Hannah Moskowitz fan, but more importantly, this is a gay mermaid story. Can’t wait!

Rudy’s life is flipped upside-down when his family moves to a remote island in a last attempt to save his sick younger brother. With nothing to do but worry, Rudy sinks deeper and deeper into loneliness and lies awake at night listening to the screams of the ocean beneath his family’s rickety house.

Then he meets Diana, who makes him wonder what he even knows about love, and Teeth, who makes him question what he knows about anything. Rudy can’t remember the last time he felt so connected to someone, but being friends with Teeth is more than a little bit complicated. He soon learns that Teeth has terrible secrets. Violent secrets. Secrets that will force Rudy to choose between his own happiness and his brother’s life.”

Winger Andrew Smith

Winger, by Andrew Smith

Anyone who reads Crunchings & Munchings knows I love Andrew Smith—check out reviews of Stick and The Marbury Lens HERE and HERE. He has three books coming out in the next year and a half or so (yay!) but I’m particularly intrigued by Winger because it sounds like it shares some thematic interests with one of my favorite movies, The Reflecting Skin.

Fourteen-year-old Ryan Dean West may be the smartest 11th grader in school, but there are some things he just doesn’t get. He’s convinced that the woman living downstairs is a witch—out to destroy his life; believes the girl he’s in love with only sees him as some kind of pet; and wonders why his best friend—the only voice of reason in Ryan Dean’s life—likes other boys more than girls. A funny, sometimes dark, part-graphic YA novel about fitting in, and the consequences that can occur when big deals are made over small differences.”

Moonset Scott Tracey

Moonset, by Scott Tracey

From the author of the Witch Eyes series, which I really like (reviews of the first two in the series HERE and HERE) comes this new series about a group of young witches!

Justin Daggett, his trouble-making sister, and their three orphan-witch friends have gotten themselves kicked out of high school. Again. Now they’ve ended up in Carrow Mills, New York, the town where their parents—members of the terrorist witch organization known as Moonset—began their evil experiments with the dark arts one generation ago.

When the siblings are accused of unleashing black magic on the town, Justin fights to prove their innocence. But tracking down the true culprit leads him to a terrifying discovery about Moonset’s past . . . and its deadly future.”

Eleanor & Park Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell

Kelly over at Stacked has really sold me on this eighties period piece! Great cover, too.

“Bono met his wife in high school,” Park says.
“So did Jerry Lee Lewis,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be,” she says, “we’re sixteen.”
“What about Romeo and Juliet?”
“Shallow, confused, then dead.”
”I love you,” Park says.
“Wherefore art thou,” Eleanor answers.
“I’m not kidding,” he says.
“You should be.”

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.”

So, what about you, my desirous friends? What tasty morsels are on your Chanukah lists?

Sister Magic IS Practical Magic!

In Which I Discuss Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (1995) & How I Came to Love Practical Magic, directed by Griffin Dunne (1998)

Practical Magic Alice Hoffman   Practical Magic Sandra Bullock Nicole Kidman

by REBECCA, November 12, 2012

Many moons ago, I’m thirteen or fourteen, and I get this book called Practical Magic from the Saturday morning library book sale for twenty-five cents because the first sentence of the blurb reads, “For more than two hundred years, the Owens women had been blamed for everything that went wrong in their Massachusetts town.” Magic, witches, persecution, stuff going wrong: sounds great! And it is great. The writing is beautiful, the multi-generational family drama well-wrought, the characters interesting, and the atmosphere exquisitely . . . well, atmospheric.

Fast forward a couple of years: I’m sixteen, and the movie version of Practical Magic comes out, starring Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman. I see it; it’s awful; I forget about it.

Fast forward a few more years: I’m nineteen or so, in college, and home visiting my parents over the holidays. My sister and I have recently grown into being friends, since I left the house and she’s grown up a bit, and Practical Magic comes on TV during a lazy afternoon when my parents are at work and my sister and I are slobbing around in our pajamas. She thinks the movie looks good; I tell her that I’ve seen it and it’s terrible, but that the book is good and she should read it. We watch it anyway.

And we love it. It’s funny! It’s sad! It’s magical! It’s a love letter to everything about being sisters! And I couldn’t have really appreciated it until my sister and I became best friends.

Practical Magic houseAfter realizing that my sister was actually the magic ingredient in my enjoyment of the movie Practical Magic, I went back and re-read the book. And, actually, the sister-magic is far less pronounced in the book than in the movie—perhaps that’s why my enjoyment of the book didn’t hinge on that relationship. But it was just as good as I remembered it being; and rarely has the title of a book quite so aptly described what was inside.

Since watching Practical Magic with my sister ten years or so ago, it’s become something of a favorite sister-movie for us, and so I don’t watch it critically any more—sure, I can still see why it’s not a very good movie, but it’s got just the right mix of feel-good stuff to make it a win. Especially the actors, who are pretty perfectly cast (except Aidan Quinn). Yeah, I’m talking to you, Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest!

Alice Hoffman’s novel, however, is a legitimately good book. I think it often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves, because it gets lumped in with the rest of the Alice-Hoffman oeuvre (many of which I know I’ve read, but can’t tell apart from one another) as well as with a sub-sub-genre of women-oriented, garden-magic-y books that spiked in the mid-nineties. And that’s a real shame, because Practical Magic is definitely Hoffman at her best. Themes and characters that are teased or made precious in her other novels are perfectly modulated here. That isn’t to say that I don’t like other of Hoffman’s books—there are several that I enjoy a lot. But Practical Magic reads to me as if it were the one book she most wanted to write, so when she did, it all came together perfectly.

House from Practical MagicFor those of you who have seen the movie (whether you loved or hated it), the book is significantly different. The biggest difference is that the film cuts out most of the second half of the book, in which Sally’s kids are teenagers and Gillian comes back to live with them, which is some of the best stuff in the book. Sally and Gillian’s response to the girls growing up is the centerpiece of the second half of the book, and really emphasizes the story of three generations of sisters: the aunts, Sally & Gillian, and Antonia & Kylie.

Hoffman’s storytelling is the perfect combination of practical and magic itself, beautifully crafting gems that reveal each character:

“One beautiful April day, when Sally was in sixth grade, all of the aunts’ cats followed her to school . . . There was Cardinal and Crow and Raven and Goose. There was a gawky kitten named Dove, and an ill-tempered tom called Magpie, who hissed at the others and kept them at bay. It would be difficult to believe that such a mangy bunch of creatures had come up with a plan to shame Sally, but that is what seemed to have happened, although they may have followed her on that day simply because she’d fixed a tunafish sandwich for lunch . . .

On this morning, Sally didn’t even know the cats were behind her, until she sat down at her desk. . . . Sally shooed them away, but the cats just came closer. They paced back and forth in front of her, their tails in the air, meowing with voices so horrible the sound could have curdled milk in the cup. ‘Scat,’ Sally whispered when Magpie jumped into her lap and began kneading his claws into her nicest blue dress. ‘Go away,’ she begged him. . . . A panic had spread and the more high-strung of Sally’s classmates were already whispering witchery. . . .

A boy in the rear of the room, who had stolen a pack of matches from his father just that morning, now made use of the chaos in the classroom and took the opportunity to set Magpie’s tail on fire. The scent of burning fur quickly filled the room, even before Magpie began to scream. Sally ran to the cat; without stopping to think, she knelt and smothered the flames with her favorite blue dress. . . . Sally stood up, the cat cradled in her arms like a baby, her face and dress dirty with soot. . . .

Sally cried for two hours straight. She loved the cats, that was the thing. She sneaked them saucers of milk and carried them to the vet on Endicott Street in a knitting bag when they fought and tore at each other and their scars became infected. She adored those horrible cats, especially Magpie, and yet sitting in her classroom, embarrassed beyond belief, she would have gladly watched each one be drowned in a bucket of icy water or shot with a BB gun. Even though she went out to care for Magpie as soon as she’d collected herself, cleaning his tail and wrapping it in cotton gauze, she knew she’d betrayed him in her heart. From that day on, Sally thought less of herself. . . . Sally could not have had a more intractable and uncompromising judge; she had found herself lacking, in compassion and fortitude, and the punishment was self-denial, from that moment on” (9-13)

So, whether you read it for the sister-magic, the cats, the eccentric aunts, the glorious descriptions of food, the New England architecture, the small town life, the gorgeous old house, the romance, the coming-of-age, the actual magic, or the lovely prose, I have no doubt you’ll find something in Practical Magic to tickle your fancy.

What are your favorite sister-magic books? Tell me in the comments!

Winter (Voice) Is Coming: Demon Eyes

A review of Demon Eyes (Witch Eyes #2) by Scott Tracey

Flux, 2012

Scott Tracey Demon Eyes Witch Eyes #2

 

 

 

 

 

Note:Demon Eyes is the sequel to Witch Eyes, so make sure you read it first (our full review is HERE).

 

 

 

 

 

By REBECCA, September 14, 2012

characters

Braden: with great power comes great . . . migraines, and adventurous hijinks with a couple of difficult hotties

Trey: handsome and infuriating son of Braden’s enemy, he and Braden run hot and cold

Drew: shape-shifting potty-mouth, he’s always around when Braden needs to fight evil

Lucien: manipulative demon that Braden killed at the end of Witch Eyes

Riley: single-mindedly determined to solve the mystery surrounding Lucien’s death

Matthias: mysterious new demon with an unclear agenda

hook

Witch Eyes Scott TraceyAfter he killed the demon Lucien at the end of Witch Eyes, everything kind of went to shit for Braden. He has moved into Thorpe estate to live with his father, Jason, but Jason is nearly never there and doesn’t seem to care about Braden much when he is there. Trey and Jade Lansing have decided they shouldn’t be seen together after all (that whole feuding families thing—you know how it goes), and Riley thinks it’s too dangerous to stay friends. So, what’s a guy to do when he loses his only two friends and the guy he’s falling for, especially when he’s having nightmares that maybe, just maybe Lucien isn’t quite as dead as he thought? Well, for starters, he can develop a deadly defense mechanism in reaction to the pain.

worldview

Whereas in Witch Eyes, Braden was trying his hardest to stay out of the feud, now he is undeniably right in the middle of things. Braden’s been having nightmares and visions about Lucien and girls are starting to go missing. On top of that, Trey’s pushing him away with one hand, and holding him close with the other; Jade ignores him at school but says they can still be friends out of it; and Uncle John, whom he came to Belle Dam to protect, is totally incommunicado. Poor Braden!—dude, your life totally blows right now. It’s no wonder, then, that Braden throws himself headlong into trying to solve a whole new set of mysteries.

Buffy the Vampire SlayerDemon Eyes is a super fast-paced supernatural mystery, and Scott Tracey doesn’t skimp on any of the plot—and that’s what I find so enjoyable about Demon Eyes: unlike the other myriad young adult books with supernatural overtones, Tracey’s novel is really all about action. In this way, what it reminds me of most is a television show. And, indeed, I feel like the CW would be doing themselves a huge favor if they’d go for something like the Witch Eyes series (as long as they wouldn’t turn Braden straight). Each book has more than enough plot for a great season-length arc, against which we could enjoy Braden and Trey’s immense sexual tension. I could totally imagine the hilarious hijinks that fashionista Jade could get up to at school, the sub-plots involving whatever the heck it is that Drew gets up to in his spare time, the creepy shenanigans of Catherine Lansing and Jason Thorpe, and, of course, all the ways in which Braden is awkward and snarky. It could be like Supernatural meets Veronica Mars meets Buffy meets Gilmore Girls. Come on, CW!

what were this book’s expectations? did it live up to them?

Sam-Dean-and-the-Impala SupernaturalThis is a good sequel. I sometimes find myself annoyed at the middle books in trilogies because it can feel like a rebound book that does nothing but react to the first book and segue into the third. I think Tracey made a smart move by creating a mystery that isn’t hinted at in the first book (yeah, I know, I’m being vague, but the book isn’t out yet and I don’t want to give too much away). Much like the new season of a tv show, when the book begins some things have changed and character relationships have shifted, providing new drama. And if I keep talking about the book in televisual terms it’s because in its pacing it really reminded me of tv—especially the dialogue which is brief, funny, and snarky.

Demon Eyes Scott TraceyAdditionally, we get to know Drew better (who popped up briefly in Witch Eyes, but whose motives were questionable)and he’s quite the amusing flirty bodyguard, providing a nice middle-book-of-the-series relief in the drama between Braden and Trey, whose relationship is as unstable as ever. Drew and Braden’s relationship is fun (especially since it pisses Trey off royally) and Drew is a great foil to Trey’s seriousness. It’s also nice to see a jokey, supportive, and fun male friendship in a book with a gay main character.

Veronica MarsAs I mentioned in my review of Witch Eyes (here), I really like Braden. I want to be stuck in study hall with him where we’d become friends through a series of cutting remarks aimed not at each other but at our mutual situation. He’s funny, smart, and a total head-case for excellent reasons. I particularly like that his impulsiveness often makes it so that he doesn’t quite think through the consequences of his actions, which feels realistic. He is conflicted about his loyalties, his relationships, and his responsibilities, but he never falls into the trap of so many infuriating characters—that is, acting for no apparent reason. Braden is conflicted, sure, but Tracey always makes damn sure Braden’s reasoning is clear in the moment, which makes me very sympathetic to him when things don’t go his way. He’s brave, but not invincible by any means (his powers exact a grave price from him), so his bravery is believable, and his vulnerability well-earned. Plus, did I mention he’s funny?

In short, I enjoyed the heck out of Demon Eyes. My one complaint is that I didn’t feel like I got very much character development in book two—while Braden certainly went through changes, I don’t feel like I know him better now than I did after the first book, and I could have used some more daily interactions that developed the main characters along with the great story. But there’s a third book, so I remain hopeful on that score.

Oh, and if you read Witch Eyes and want something to tide you over before Demon Eyes is released (October 8th), you can check out Homecoming (Witch Eyes 0.5), a short story prequel to Witch Eyes that’s set before Braden comes to Belle Dam. From Goodreads: “When it comes to making friends, witch-in-training Braden is no rock star. But he gets more than he bargained for when one little charisma spell goes disastrously wrong at the social event of the season.”

readalikes

White Cat Curse Workers Holly Black Red Glove Curse Workers Holly Black Black Heart Curse Workers Holly Black

Curse Workers series by Holly Black (2010-2012). Cassel is from a family of curse-workers—people who have the (illegal) power to change emotion, memory, and luck by touch. But Cassel doesn’t have this power, so he tries to stay out of the kind of trouble in which his family members usually find themselves. When Cassel sleepwalks his way into a mysterious con, though, he can’t keep out of things any longer.

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer Lish McBride Necromancing the Stone Lish McBride

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer (Necromancer #1) by Lish McBride. While working a fast-food job, low-key Sam finds out that he’s—you guessed it—a necromancer. And there’s another creepy necromancer who wants something from him. Book two in the series, Necromancing the Stone, is out next week.

Procured from: receivedARC from NetGalley (thanks!) with no compensation on either side.

Demon Eyes will be released on October 8th

The Past’s So Scary I’ve Gotta Wear Shades: Witch Eyes

A Review of Witch Eyes (Witch Eyes #1) by Scott Tracey

Flux, 2011

By REBECCA, February 27, 2012

characters

Braden: with unique power and an unknown past, he wants to protect those he loves and stay out of the rest of it

Trey: handsome stranger whose feelings for Braden drag him into the middle of a war

Uncle John: Braden’s guardian and tutor in all things magic, with a few secrets of his own

Jade: rich, popular, and used to getting her way, she adopts Braden as a friend on his first day

Jason Thorpe: Braden’s long-lost (and very controlling) father, and the head of the Thorpe family

Catherine Lansing: creepily cold and calculating head of the Lansing family

Lucien Fallon: sleazy and mysterious Iago figure

Drew: neither Thorpe nor Lansing, he has powers of his own . . . but is he trustworthy?

hook

Braden flees rural Montana to the small town of Belle Dam, Washington. Once there, he attends high school for the first time, gets caught up in a feud between witch dynasties, accidentally releases some hellhounds, and starts falling for a compelling and infuriating boy . . . whom he might have to kill.

worldview

17 year-old Braden is a witch, but he also possesses a unique power: he can see through lies, see the past, and untangle spells just by taking off his sunglasses.

“The sunglasses were meant to keep my powers in check. With the ability to see the world as it truly was—not the filtered world that most people saw, but the true world—I soaked up everything like a giant sponge. Everything that has ever happened in a place, to a person, or because of an object leaves an imprint. The stronger the emotion, the more violent the death, the darker the spell, the impression will be likewise as strong.

My eyes—my power—was also my curse. Witch eyes, my uncle called them.” (7-8)

When a vision that he will cause his uncle’s death unless he leaves town brings Braden to his knees next to the milk in a local convenience store, he hops a bus to Belle Dam, his uncle’s hometown, in the hope of protecting him. But once he arrives in Belle Dam, Braden’s power (which he tries to keep under wraps) quickly makes him a sought-after tool by both the Lansings and the Thorpes, and no matter how badly he wants to stay out of their war, if he hopes to stop evil forces from destroying Belle Dam, he has to figure out which side he can trust.

Not quite the Capulets and the Montagues or the Starks and the Lannisters, the Thorpes and the Lansings are feuding witch families. As in any good feud, each family thinks the other is monstrous and dangerous, whereas they themselves are righteous and benevolent. And, as in any good feud, they’re both wrong. The book blurb reads:

“Braden must master his gift, even through the shocking discovery that Jason [Thorpe] is his father. While his feelings for an enigmatic boy named Trey grow deeper, Braden realizes a terrible truth: Trey is Catherine Lansing’s son.”

When I first read that blurb, I thought, “huh, you just gave away two pretty big-deal-seeming plot points, book blurb.” But, but, but, it’s all good, because the mystery of this book is not the interpersonal stuff at all; the mystery is about Grace Lansing, the town’s founder who, it is said, is the only other person besides Braden to ever have the witch eyes.

Braden’s task, then, is to figure out his own past and how it links up to the founding of Belle Dam, in the hopes of de-eviling it. This is an interesting mystery, and takes what could have seemed quite melodramatic (yes, there are Romeo and Juliet jokes made in the novel) and makes it just a regular obstacle to relationships and trust.

Belle Dam is a cool setting: it’s kind of like where you would be if The Secret Circle or The Vampire Diaries were set in one of Sarah Dessen’s towns. Witch Eyes is the first in a trilogy, so I’m sure we’ll get more of Belle Dam in the following books. On his blog, Scott Tracey tells us that sequels Demon Eyes and Phantom Eyes will be published in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

what was this book’s intention? did it live up to that intention?

This is a good old supernatural mystery, which I love. Tracey does a good job of keeping the rules of magic consistent, but allowing magic to do surprising things. Braden’s gift, for example, exacts a price, leaving him with debilitating migraines in exchange for his view of the world without his sunglasses on to filter it. But certain magic also shows him what the world might be like without his witch eyes, which leads to . . . more mystery!

Braden’s a good protagonist: he feels responsible for the big things (protecting his uncle; keeping Belle Dam safe) but is also kind of a mess in the small things (communicating with the dead and fighting for your life really take a toll on one’s homework capabilities, and without a car, Braden constantly find himself stranded places).

The best thing about Braden, though, is that Scott Tracey has done the work to construct a tight plot, so Braden isn’t forced to do annoyingly contrived things to heighten the drama. That is, he isn’t blind to things that are totally obvious; he doesn’t make stupid decisions just to force the plot along; and he isn’t so stubbornly stuck in his own head that he misses obvious clues. Yay! (This may seem like faint praise, but it’s not! For me it’s the difference between a book I trust, that I can get lost in, and one that I feel is constantly about to give way, that I can’t escape into.)

The romance between Braden and Trey fits the book really well. Witch Eyes is set in a realistic world, except for the magical elements, and the focus is on unraveling the mystery. Accordingly, Braden and Trey’s developing relationship isn’t a swoony fantasy. They have friction at first: Braden is suspicious of Trey’s overprotective meddling and Trey is annoyed by Braden’s reluctance to accept his help. And, let’s not forget, they’re the sons of feuding enemies! So, their mutual attraction has just enough resistance to feel threatened, but there’s enough romance that it’s satisfying. I can’t wait to see where it goes in the sequels.

P.S., I’m always so impressed when characters can have a really amazing romantic moment and then push the other person away and be all, “ok, we need to figure out how to kill these hellhounds now.” Such self-control.

There were moments where the pacing could have been a bit better: a few moments of exposition drag a bit, and one climactic action scene doesn’t have quite the cinematic style that would have made it more emphatic, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and look forward to the sequels.

P.P.S. How’s this for perfect timing: Scott Tracey just posted this short story that is a tie-in to Witch Eyes. You should read it because it says this: “I fell in love, learned of my birthright, entered a loveless marriage, and manipulated a man to death before I would even graduate from college.” Well, that just makes me feel like a total underachiever.

readalikes

The Demon’s Lexicon trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan (2010). Like Witch Eyes, this series features powers that are also curses, long-buried family secrets, grittiness. Of course, Nick is far more, um, cold than Braden.

The Dream Catcher trilogy by Lisa McMann (Wake, 2008; Fade, 2009; Gone, 2010). Janie gets sucked into people’s dreams the way Braden gets sucked into his visions, and both partner up with their boyfriends to get to the bottom of things.

The Secret Circle trilogy by L.J. Smith (1992). Small towns and witch families and feuds, oh my! See our review here.

procured from: the library

Why You Should Read The Secret Circle Even Though the CW Show is Atrocious

by REBECCA, February 2, 2012

Review of The Secret Circle trilogy by L.J. Smith

HarperCollins, 1992

characters

Cassie Blake: Sweet and shy, she moves to New Salem and is quickly involved in a . . . clique      

Diana Meade: The beautiful “princess of purity,” she takes Cassie under her wing

Faye Chamberlain: Deliciously evil arch-nemesis of Diana (and also her cousin)

Adam Conant: Diana’s boyfriend, he returns to New Salem from a quest for powerful heirlooms

Laurel Quincey: Easy-going plant-lover, friend of Diana and Melanie’s

Melanie Glaser: Wicked smart and together computer expert, friend of Diana and Laurel’s

Deborah Armstrong: Terse biker, she has no patience for, well, anything (my fave character)

Suzan Whittier: Most often described in terms of her bosoms, she loves beauty (and sugar)   

Chris & Doug Henderson: Endearingly vacant, music-obsessed twins who love a prank

Nick Armstrong: Deborah’s cousin, he’s like a character transplanted from The Outsiders

Sean Dulany: Skinny, little-brother type, he is most often overlooked by the others

Grandma Howard: Cassie’s grandmother, who knows everything that goes on around town

(I love these awesome New England names: Whittier, Conant, Armstrong, Chamberlain)

the new and embarrassingly gothtastic cover

hook

When Cassie is forced to leave sunny California for the island of New Salem the summer before her junior year she thinks her biggest challenge will be to overcome her shyness and make new friends. Little does she know she will be caught up in something she doesn’t understand and end up fighting for her very life, bwah-hah-hah.

worldview

Okay, here’s the deal: Nearly everything about these books is delightful. The characters are awesome. The mystery is actually mysterious in some ways. The setting of New Salem is fucking delightful. I first read this trilogy when I was 12 or 13—actually, it’s the first time I ever stayed up reading all night because I just had to finish them!—and I wanted so desperately to be forced to move there.

The Secret Circle combines some of my all-time favorite plot/setting devices. To wit:

1. Starting a new school. This always necessitates:

a.) An evaluation of who the character is and who she wants to be, sometimes resulting in delicious tension when she decides to reinvent herself but some event causes her old traits to out.

b.) The anthropological assessment of the new school—you know, what clique does the mysterious soul in your math class belong to; who, exactly, eats at the tables by the windows during lunch; does the fact that the intimidating girl in your writing class can cause spontaneous combustion mean she’s part of local coven . . . you know, just the usual.

c.) The shaking up of the status quo. Every time a character arrives in a new social setting, she necessarily changes it; it’s like the observer effect. Naturally, some people welcome change while others resist it. This creates . . . drama!

2. A group of longtime companions who form (and reform) loyalties. When Cassie first arrives in New Salem, the kids from Crowhaven Road are roughly divided into two factions, which we could oversimplify as “good” and “evil.” More accurately, though, Diana, Melanie, and Laurel are interested in exploring magic carefully and generously, while Faye, Suzan, and Deborah are a bit more reckless and selfish in their interests. Adam is firmly on Diana’s side, while the Henderson twins are more issue-voters. Sean is swayed by fear, and Nick has no loyalties whatsoever. Of course, as Cassie gets more involved in the coven, the characters’ loyalties and motivations get much more complicated.

3. New England/old houses. Cassie moves from California, where nothing is more than 50 years old, to New Salem, which was incorporated in 1693. The problematic culture of New England family snobbiness is an undercurrent in the social world of the books, but the real stars are the awesome locations, from the gorgeous old houses to the crumbling graveyards. Here, Cassie sees New Salem for the first time:

“Cassie had expected it to be tiny, and her spirits lifted a little when she saw that it wasn’t. . . . There was a Dunkin’ Donuts and an International House of Pancakes with a banner proclaiming GRAND OPENING. In front of it there was someone dressed up like a giant pancake, dancing.

Cassie felt the knot in her stomach loosen. Any town with a dancing pancake couldn’t be all bad, could it?

But then her mother turned onto another road that rose and got lonelier and lonelier as the town fell behind. . . . they were old. Terrifyingly old, not just quaint or gracefully aged, but ancient. And although some were in good repair, others looked like they might fall over in a crash of splintering timbers any minute.

Please let it be that one, Cassie thought, fixing her eyes on a pretty yellow house with several towers and bay windows. But her mother drove by it without slowing. And by the next and the next.

And then there was only one house left, the last house on the bluff, and the car was heading toward it. Heartsick, Cassie stared at it as they approached. . . .

The front wing had been painted . . . once. Now what was left was peeling off in strips. The two chimneys looked crumbling and unstable, and the entire slate roof seemed to sag. . . . Cassie stared wordlessly. She had never seen a more depressing house in all her life” (The Initiation 43-4).

4. Many amazing and varied characters. So you’ve got your easy-to-like Diana, who adopts Cassie as her little sister, and your noble-and-handsome Adam. But where so many YA authors totally fail is in having their secondary characters remain generic or forgettable, and every character that isn’t easy-to-like become adversarial.

The relationships here go beyond mere friendship. Particularly in Cassie’s relationships with Diana and Faye, her feelings are dire. She is torn between a romantic friendship with Diana, whom she admires for her goodness, and an antagonistic one with Faye, who frightens her but whom she eventually warms to, along with Suzan and Deborah. Faye, Suzan, and Deborah are a delightful little group in their own right and a lesson to all YA authors who write friends that are clones of one another. Faye is overconfident, darkly sexy, and bossy, interested in boys and power; Suzan is superficial, self-absorbed, and flirty, but fun and funny, too; and Deborah is an intimidating, no-nonsense thrill-seeker who rides a motorcycle and doesn’t talk much. Yay! The characters are the best thing about The Secret Circle, and if you are someone who has watched the show then I can only apologize that you’ve had your time wasted and hand you these delightful characters as a balm to your wounded aesthetic.

The CW's Diana vs. Faye: I mean, how are we supposed to be able to tell who is good and who is evil if they're both brunettes, I ask you?

5. And, of course, covens. What I like most about the way magic is used in these books is that it is all about the elements—so, there are spells, sure, but also a use of plants, herbs, crystals, etc. Further, it suits the personality of who is using it. So if someone is feeling nasty and petty, they make nasty and petty magic; if someone is angry, they blast angry magic. It’s cool because for most of the trilogy they aren’t trying to do anything huge with the magic; it’s just the context for the drama. (Note: if you are one of the tv show unfortunates, you should know that there is nothing in the books about that whole linking the coven members’ magic together thing.) In this scene, for example, some of the ladies of the coven use a combination of magic and makeup to get ready for a school dance:

“‘Beauty bath mix,’ Laurel gloated, examining the assortment of bottles on the gilt shelves in Suzan’s bathroom. . . . ‘Now get in and scrub. Oh, this is good,’ she went on, sniffing at another bottle. ‘Chamomile hair rinse—it brightens hair, brings out the highlights. Use it!’ . . .

When she got back to the bedroom, Melanie directed her to sit down and hold a hot washcloth on her face. ‘It’s “a fragrant resin redolent with the mysterious virtues of tropical balms,”’ Melanie said, reading from a Book of Shadows. ‘It “renders the complexion clear and brilliant”—and it really does, too. So hold this on your face while I do her hair.’ . . .

The girl in the mirror, the one with the delicate bones and the swan’s neck, turned from side to side. The dress was silvery and shimmering like yards of starlight, and it made Cassie feel like a princess. . . .

‘Oh, thank you!’ Cassie said, whirling to look at the other girls. ‘I mean—I don’t know how to say thank you. I mean—I finally look like a witch!’” (The Captive, 80-85)

what was the book’s intention? did it live up to that intention?

Part supernatural mystery and part high-school drama, this trilogy is first and foremost about the basics: character + setting + story = success! In some ways, Smith is a very formulaic writer, in that she spins plot arcs with clear beginnings, middles, complications, and conclusions, but she’s extremely deft in weaving all the arcs together into one of the most memorable trilogies of my young reading life. Yes, I might be biased because I read it when I was so young; yes, it was published in 1992 so there are some things that seem a bit kitsch now that were probably meant seriously. But, overall, the series is super fun and has enough different kinds of characters that there will likely be someone for every reader to make friends with. The warm, magical atmosphere that made The Secret Circle books the perfect escape when I was 12 has yet to wear off!

personal disclosure

Soon after reading these, I gave them to my sister (who had the good sense to love them, too). As a result, whenever my sister thought that I was being evil, sociopathic, or creepy (read: most of the time) she would call me Faye.

readalikes

Harry Potter J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (1997-2007). I know, I know, I can’t just compare anything magical to Harry Potter. Still, I read these books long before HP came out and I think their atmosphere has that similar just-before-winter-break-in-high-school feeling.

Practical Magic Alice Hoffman

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman (1995). Although this isn’t strictly YA, the combination of magic and social drama is equally irresistible.

procured from:  a library book sale a hell of a long time ago

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