1) House of Ivy and Sorrow

By: Natalie Whipple

Date Finished: 01.13.15

by Natalie Whipple

Josephine Hemlock lost her mother when she was young to a curse that had followed their family for generations. Several witching families suffered from the same threat, but with her mother’s death, Josephine and her Nana are all that remains of the Hemlock bloodline. They live a pretty quiet and normal existence, all things considered, until a man shows up at their door — a door that he shouldn’t even be able to find. Although he means them no harm, he carries with him the darkness that they have been running from for decades. It’s the end of the line for Josephine: either fight or succumb to the curse. There’s nowhere left to run.

This was my first Natalie Whipple book, and even though it technically falls in my preferred genre, it’s a slightly different flavor of YA fantasy than I’m used to. The witches in this world are your traditional Halloween fare — potion-brewing, black-cat-owning, and loudly-cackling. But their type of magic doesn’t come cheaply. The bigger the magic, the bigger the cost (the more serious the magic, the more seriously disgusting the cost — like, cover-your-eyes-so-you-can’t-see-what’s-happening-but-it-doesn’t-work-because-it’s-a-book-and-not-TV-cost). (Okay, so yes, one of the scenes included a personal horror, and yes, it was completely scarring, but I liked the rest of the book. And it only made me squirm because it was so realistic, so at least that’s good writing, right? Right?) The point is, this magic isn’t a simple superpower; this magic requires intelligence, precision, and personal sacrifice. I respect that.

It has a great mixture of characters, from Josephine who is a worthy leading lady and pretty great at thinking on her feet to her eccentric and protective Nana. Her friends are a great match, funny and passionate and every much as protective of Josephine as she is of them. The relationships feel very natural and they all play a role in the final showdown. It even had one of those characters that could be either a devious villain or a surly anti-hero. Granted, Josephine was pretty hard on him, so I saw more of the ambiguity than she did. I don’t blame her for thinking the worst of him though when he was remarkably gifted at being creepy and saying the exact wrong thing. Better safe than coughing up black blood.

There’s not a lot of glitz in the storytelling — it’s a book that knows what it wants to say, and just says it. I don’t mean that the writing is bland; on the contrary, the writing has momentum. Even in the quiet moments, the story is always going somewhere. It’s a promising start to a new year of reading, that’s for sure.

At the end of the day: For me

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