Review: Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood


 

Title: Born Wicked

Author: Jessica Spotswood

Publisher: G. P. Putnam

ISBN: 978-0399257452

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Blessed with a gift…cursed with a secret.

Everybody knows Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they’re witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship – or an early grave.

Before her mother died, Cate promised to protect her sisters. But with only six months left to choose between marriage and the Sisterhood, she might not be able to keep her word . . . especially after she finds her mother’s diary, uncovering a secret that could spell her family’s destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra.

If what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe. Not from the Brotherhood, the Sisterhood – not even from each other.

Review:

When I signed up for this book tour, I wasn’t expecting to receive a review copy, so I was delighted when one appeared in my mailbox.  After reading the introductory letter written by Arianne Lewin,  Executive Editor at G P Putnam, I was even more excited to dive into the book.  I haven’t read many YA books set in the 1800s, let alone an alternate New England.  I love reimagined time periods, so Born Wicked had me intrigued.  I was a tiny bit skeptical that it would be worthy of all of the gushing praise, but once I started reading, I could not stop.  I was totally sucked into Cate’s world from the first page.  I immediately felt sympathy for her.  I immediately connected with her plight.  Here is a young woman, still grieving for her mother, who has the weight of the world on her shoulders.  No wonder she seems to be so joyless and stern at first.  She is scared to death that if her sisters’ secret is exposed, she will lose them, too.

Cate’s mother was a witch.  Cate and her two younger sisters are witches, as well.  In their New England of the 1890s, being a witch is a terrible crime.  The Brothers firmly keep control of the populace, swiftly doling out punishments when they discover behavior contrary to their stern teachings.  Suspected witches are imprisoned in a mental hospital or sentenced to hard labor on a ship, or worse; they simply disappear.  Women are second-class citizens in Cate’s society.  They must be ever vigilant against the evil influences of suspected witches, and upon their majority, they must declare their intention before God and the members of their church.  Girls only have two choices; to marry, or to join the Sisterhood.  If a girl doesn’t know which she prefers, the Brothers make the decision for her.  Ugh!

In this grim setting, Cate not only has to worry about her own future, she has her sisters to worry about.  Unlike Cate, they are chafing to use their magic, and they aren’t always discrete about it.  In a world where being a witch can prematurely and very unpleasantly end your life, Cate is stressed about about everything.  Not even her father knows their secret.  Cate was made to promise to keep their secret and to keep Tess and Maura safe at her mother’s death bed.  She takes her promise very, very seriously, because she understands the consequences of their discovery.  She has heard about the girls who have been disappearing, either sent to the insane asylum or simply vanishing without a trace.  She is terrified that they will be next.  In addition to this burden, she also has romantic entanglements to work out.  This is one love triangle that actually didn’t grate on my nerves, and I am so curious to see what happens with it in the next book.

I thought the stark, stifling world of this New England was fascinating.  The Brothers control just a sliver of this alternate North America – other stronger, more progressive countries control the rest.  The borders are kept firmly closed against outsiders.  Books and manuscripts are regularly banned and burned.  Not following the teachings of the Brothers gets you labeled a deviant, and puts you at the mercy of their cruel punishments.  Women are always treated more harshly than men, and even the simplest of infractions can lead to disaster.

I could not put this book down.  I thought about it when I was forced to do something else.  I counted the hours until I was free to pick it up again.  The characters charmed me, especially Cate and her sisters.  Their interactions were as complicated and compelling as their relationships.  The younger girls don’t understand Cate’s reluctance to use and learn about her magic.  They don’t understand her fury when they carelessly weave spells where others might see them.  While it is obvious to see how much they love each other, it is also painfully obvious to see how Cate’s rules are going to tear them apart.  Cate’s greatest nightmare is only an eye-blink away, but the tighter she tries to control Maura and Tess, the faster the time bomb starts ticking.  With three powerful witches in the same house, struggling to exert control over themselves, it was only a matter of time before something awful happened.  And happen it did, with exploding glass, splintering furniture, and an emotional chasm that will take more than a hug to mend. 

I found Born Wicked to be a unique read; I don’t think I have read anything else quite like it.  Jessica Spotswood took the usual paranormal tropes and twisted them up into something new and wonderfully compelling.  YA tropes that normally drive me nuts kept me firmly engaged in the story, wondering what would happen next.  The character development kept me enthralled, too.  While I would never call Cate a carefree kind of girl, she does begin to accept herself and to open up to others, which made her an even more sympathetic character for me.  When she kept herself isolated, she was taking the chicken exit; without putting herself out there, without accepting any emotional risk, she came across, at first, as a stunted, immature girl.  As she began to take emotional risks, she began to blossom into a believable, likeable young woman.

So, do I have any gripes about Born Wicked?  Yup, only one.  It’s part of a series, and it is going to be a long, long wait for Book 2!

Grade: A-

Review copy provided by {teen} book scene

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Review: Island’s End by Padma Venkatraman

 

Title: Island’s End

Author: Padma Venkatraman

Publisher: G. P. Putnam

ISBN: 978-0399250996

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

From the acclaimed author of Climbing the Stairs comes a fascinating story set on a remote island untouched by time. Uido is ecstatic about becoming her tribe’s spiritual leader, but her new position brings her older brother’s jealousy and her best friend’s mistrust. And looming above these troubles are the recent visits of strangers from the mainland who have little regard for nature or the spirits, and tempt the tribe members with gifts, making them curious about modern life. When Uido’s little brother falls deathly ill, she must cross the ocean and seek their help. Having now seen so many new things, will Uido have the strength to believe in herself and the old ways? And will her people trust her to lead them to safety when a catastrophic tsunami threatens? Uido must overcome everyone’s doubts, including her own, if she is to keep her people safe and preserve the spirituality that has defined them.

Drawing on firsthand experience from her travels to the Andaman Islands, Padma Venkatraman was inspired to write this story after meeting natives who survived the 2004 tsunami and have been able to preserve their unique way of life. Uido’s transformation from a young girl to tribal leader will touch both your heart and mind.

Review:

Wow, this was a wonderful read!  I have an intense interest in cultures, and at one time considered majoring in anthropology (with a minor in Egyptology).  Alas, I listened to my parents harp at me about the need to support myself, and majored in accounting instead.  Not nearly as fun, much more stressful, and I am not all that convinced that the pay is really that much better.  Oh, well.

Uido lives on a remote island, and her people  are hunters and gatherers.  Every day Uido and her friend Natalang comb the forest for food for their families.  While Natalang gossips and speculates about the single men of their village, Uido is often troubled by dreams that she’s had during the night.  She believes that she has visited the supernatural world, and that the gods are trying to give her a message.  When outsiders arrive on their beach after one of her dreams, Uido is determined to find the meaning behind them.  When she consults Lah-ame, the village’s spiritual leader, he asks her to become his apprentice.  With the changing times, the village needs a woman’s wisdom to lead them.  When Uido agrees, she has no idea how much her life will change under Lah-ame’s guidance.

I could not put this book down.  I felt an immediate connection with Uido.  She is hesitant and reluctant to become Lah-ame’s apprentice when she reflects on how it will affect her relationship with her friends and family.  Her brother is instantly jealous, and he quickly attempts to discredit her every chance he gets.  Their conflict upsets her, and when Ashu and Natalang begin to show an interest in each other, Uido’s closest friend starts slipping away from her, too. 

This character-driven novel is engrossing, and as the new world bangs on the door of Uido’s traditional lifestyle, tensions flare in her village.  Many of the younger members of the tribe want to embrace the new, easier ways of the strangers.  They want to use matches and motorized boats, but Lah-ame believes that they will lose the essence of their true selves if they abandon the old ways.  After a dire illness forces Uido to travel to the land where the strangers came from, she, too, sees the danger they represent.  The unity of the village will be lost, she fears, and they will all suffer for it.

Uido is a strong, determined young woman.  When faced with adversity and danger, she squares her shoulders and marches forward, meeting every challenge head on.  She loves her family, and she loves her people, and she will do anything to ensure their safety.  When I finished the book, I believed, with a great deal of conviction, that Uido will lead her people wisely, and she will preserve their way of life. 

Grade: B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Review: Restoring Harmony by Joelle Anthony

 

Title: Restoring Harmony

Author: Joelle Anthony

Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons

ISBN: 978-0399252815

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

The year is 2041, and sixteen-year-old Molly McClure has lived a relatively quiet life on an isolated farming island in Canada, but when her family fears the worst may have happened to her grandparents in the US, Molly must brave the dangerous, chaotic world left after global economic collapse—one of massive oil shortages, rampant crime, and abandoned cities.

Molly is relieved to find her grandparents alive in their Portland suburb, but they’re financially ruined and practically starving. What should’ve been a quick trip turns into a full-fledged rescue mission. And when Molly witnesses something the local crime bosses wishes she hadn’t, Molly’s only way home may be to beat them at their own game. Luckily, there’s a handsome stranger who’s willing to help.

Restoring Harmony is a riveting, fast-paced dystopian tale complete with adventure and romance that readers will devour.

I love the premise of Restoring Harmony.  There has been a worldwide economic upheaval, all of the remaining oil has been seized by the government, and there are shortages of everything, including food.  People have drifted away from cities so they can farm and try to feed themselves, and everyone is learning to do without luxuries that we take for granted.  I don’t know about you, but if I don’t have access to my email or Twitter for the span of a day, I start to get a rash.  Ugh.

Molly is a tough, resourceful heroine who packs up a few of her meager belongings and strikes off for the US to bring her grandfather back home with her.  Her home is an isolated farming island in Canada, where she and her family live a spare, but happy, life.  Her mother is pregnant, but things aren’t going well, and the only doctor on the island has been killed in an unfortunate accident.   Molly’s grandfather is a doctor, and the family has gotten word that her grandmother died, so Molly sets off to make sure he is OK.  Her real mission is to bring him back with her, because their community desperately needs a doctor.

Because of her age, Molly has to sneak into the States with a little help from a relative.  Things go wrong from the get-go, and soon her plans are quickly unraveled.  Through sheer willpower, she finds a way, and the strength, to make it to her grandfather’s house, and what she finds causes her a great deal of dismay.  This future of a decaying landscape is evocatively described, though I didn’t think the individuals who peopled this struggling countryside were painted with enough desperation. 

Molly is in control and at home in her surroundings from the moment the story begins, and I never doubted for an instant that she would successfully find a way to bring her grandfather home with her.  Because she is so clever and determined to complete her task, there wasn’t much in the way suspense.  She is more at home at her grandfather’s house than he is, and she quickly and skillfully begins to work the neighbor’s ailing garden, so she solves their food shortage problem soon after she arrives.  Molly has never known another way of life, so working hard and doing without the modern conveniences that her parents took for granted  is easy for her.  She has never known anything else, so things aren’t really all that difficult for her.  She already has all of the survival skills she needs; it’s some cash to travel back to Canada that is elusive, but even that falls into her lap.

Now, repairing her damaged relationship with her grandfather was tough for her, because at first, they don’t have anything in common.  They may be related by blood, but they have no shared history, and they are basically strangers.  Her grandfather is still mad at her mother for giving up her medical studies and moving to Canada with Molly’s dad, and he just can’t forgive her for that.  Even when Molly begs him to go back with her because her mother needs a doctor or she might die, he is unmoved.  Her grandpa is one tough old geezer!

Little by little, the two learn to communicate, and with that, they learn to care for each other.  The personal relationships in Restoring Harmony are really the heart of the story, and they are what made the book compelling for me.  Molly has many new connections she needs to nurture, and she finds that people are a lot more effort than the plants in the garden.  A little water and sunshine doesn’t quite cut it where her grandfather is concerned, and the evasive, but extraordinarily charming Spill, and his mysterious and dangerous associates, require her to stretch her social skills to the limit.

Restoring Harmony wasn’t the death-defying dystopian read I was expecting. It was instead a thoughtful and introspective tale about a very clever girl, her standoffish grandfather, and a handsome, helpful, but dangerous, stranger.  It proves that though nurturing the seeds of family ties are difficult and time consuming, they are more than worth the effort – the crop you yield will stay with your for the rest of your life. 

Grade: B-

Review copy provided by publisher