Awakened

By Ciara Duggan

After losing her parents in an accident only she survived, Hannah is desperate for answers. Haunted by the events of that tragic night, she struggles to move on, yearning for some deeper truth about her loss.

But when it comes time to turn a new page and move cross country for college, she vows to leave the past behind. After all, Bellcliff University is a thousand miles away from the ghosts nipping at her heels.

Yet when Hannah accidentally awakens a handsome witch from a hidden cave near campus, she realizes he isn’t the only thing stirring out of slumber. Hannah has roused all magic…including the devil herself.

As if spells, curses, and college jitters weren’t enough, this witch claims to know Hannah from four centuries prior—and their connection is more than casual.

Thrust into a world of sorcery and monsters, Hannah must fight to keep the magic she’d unleashed from claiming a price far too steep for her to pay. 

Thanks to Netgalley for this eARC in exchange for this honest review. 

I’m not quite sure what I expected when I began to read this book. I think I was looking for a really great magical story. What I got was witches and vampires. Had I read this book back in the days of Twilight, Vampire Diaries and True Blood (Sookie!), I might be writing a different review. But it’s 2021 and I think fantasy stories have evolved beyond just witches and vampires which is why this book was a miss for me. 

On the plus side, I think this was a great effort by the author. The writing style and the pace of the book was nicely done. It wasn’t too long and the story didn’t really linger in one place for longer than necessary. 

On the minus side, I’m not a fan of reincarnation stories, or stories with vampires. I did enjoy the witches and the attempt to create a type of lore with the behind-the-real-world-world-building but overall, it felt a little deflated. The love interest didn’t interest me. It all felt…well…a little too young. 

That being said, I do hope to see more by this author. I may not have loved the story but I always will praise a good attempt. 

⭐ ⭐ 

House of Salt and Sorrow

By: Erin Craig

In a manor by the sea, twelve sisters are cursed.

Annaleigh lives a sheltered life at Highmoor, a manor by the sea, with her sisters, their father, and stepmother. Once they were twelve, but loneliness fills the grand halls now that four of the girls’ lives have been cut short. Each death was more tragic than the last—the plague, a plummeting fall, a drowning, a slippery plunge—and there are whispers throughout the surrounding villages that the family is cursed by the gods.

Disturbed by a series of ghostly visions, Annaleigh becomes increasingly suspicious that the deaths were no accidents. Her sisters have been sneaking out every night to attend glittering balls, dancing until dawn in silk gowns and shimmering slippers, and Annaleigh isn’t sure whether to try to stop them or to join their forbidden trysts. Because who—or what—are they really dancing with?

When Annaleigh’s involvement with a mysterious stranger who has secrets of his own intensifies, it’s a race to unravel the darkness that has fallen over her family—before it claims her next. 

I am so drawn to tragic stories set on or by the sea. As a child, I fell in love with the original story of The Little Mermaid. Her fate, so painful, really ignited in my heart of love stories like this. When I first came upon this book, I didn’t know it was retelling. I often say I’m not a fan of them but…well…maybe I am! 

This book has a little bit of everything I love in it; set by the sea, princesses and fairy tales, a touch of Greek mythology, ghosts, mysteries and a magic curse. I picked it up and was hard pressed to put it down (stupid real life! stupid job!) but I did. All in all, it only took three days to read so it’s a fast read. There’s no slow moments in this story. 

Now, the original story of The Twelve Dancing Princesses was a bit of a snore fest, to be honest. It was a delightful surprise to see the author embellish and twist this into something gothic and ghostly while keeping the thread of the original story intact. 

There are some notable themes here. Probably the most obvious one is grief. The book opens to the funeral of Eulalie, the latest sister to die. The main character, Annaleigh, struggles to process the losses of all her sisters throughout the book. Her grief deepens as she comes to believe foul play took her sisters and not fate. We feel Annaleigh’s loss and heartbreak quite keenly, especially when two more sisters are lost later on in the book.

It was quite a challenge to keep all the characters organized in my brain. The author helps by breaking up the sisters a bit, having the “triplets” of Rosalie, Lenore and Ligeia and then the “graces” of Verity, Mercy and Honor. Between the girls and so many other supporting characters, I would suggest reading this with a notebook to help keep everyone straight. However, each character stands on their own, having their own voice, so to speak. I enjoyed and felt attached to them all. 

There is a love interest for Annaleigh and by the climax of the story, we question whether or not he is real as Annaleigh realizes she’s been tricked and played with by the evil Kosamaras, the harbinger of Madness. Cassius plays the part of the love interest nicely without distracting from the main story or taking over and becoming the hero. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Yes, it was a little predictable in places and while the love interest didn’t take away from the story in any way, it really didn’t add a whole lot to it. The world building was incredible and the setting was beautifully written. The characters were believable and relatable without them being too much out of their own time or element. The gothic, ghostly elements were all there for me to make this a great read on a chilly, rainy night. 

All in all, this was a very enjoyable read and a great introduction to this author. I look forward to reading more by Erin Craig. 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐