Whisper the Dead: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Whisper the Dead by Alyxandra HarveyCousins Gretchen, Penelope and Emma are still learning to control their new-found powers and understand what it means to be members of one of the oldest witching families, the Lovegroves, in 1814 London.

Penelope struggles with a familiar that frightens her and unwieldy powers that allow her to read the past in objects. Emma, on the other hand, now has antlers to conceal while trying to find a way to rescue her father from the underworld and convince her mother to assume her human form instead of  that of a deer.

Reluctant debutante Gretchen, meanwhile, is still not entirely sure of the full scope of her powers. Or what embroidery has to do with magic. Gretchen will have to harness her powers as a Whisperer who can hear the spells of dead witches if she wants to help stop the dark witches the Greymalkins from wreaking all manner of havoc in London and beyond.

She will also have to contend with the frustratingly proper Tobias Lawless and other Keepers tasked with keeping the cousins under surveillance. The only positive is that with so much danger and problems ranging from angry ghosts to werewolves, Gretchen will definitely be able to avoid any balls for the foreseeable future in Whisper the Dead (2014) by Alyxandra Harvey.

Whisper the Dead is the second book in the Lovegrove Legacy. It is preceded by A Breath of Frost.

Recaps and multiple viewpoints help summarize key events from the first book in this trilogy. The narrative focus also shifts from Emma to Gretchen in this volume. (Presumably the trilogy will conclude with a book focused on Penelope.) These facts make this volume approachable and only slightly confusing to new readers.

Rollicking action and mystery come together with humor and charm to make this a fast-paced and engrossing story. A well-developed romance and a cliffhanger ending help guarantee that Whisper the Dead will have high appeal and leave readers eager for the final installment.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Amulet of Samarkand by Johnathan Stroud, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

*A more condensed version of this review appeared in the August 2014 issue of School Library Journal from which it can be seen in various sites online*

A Breath of Frost: A Review

A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra HarveyLondon, 1814: Emma, Gretchen and Penelope–three cousins and reluctant debutantes–discover their families have been hiding a host of secrets one snowy night at a dull party. It starts with a broken bottle and a fire. It ends with the cousins discovering they have magical powers and a girl found dead, her body covered in strange bruises and, stranger still, a coating of snow.

With their powers unbound, the gates of the underworld open to allow all manner of nasty creatures from the underworld including the feared ghosts of the Greymalkin warlocks–three dark witch sisters–to wreak further havoc across London. Worse, more debutantes are turning up dead.

While all three cousins try to understand and control their new powers, Emma has an added problem. Somehow she is connected to the murders; she keeps finding the bodies. With the authorities targeting her as a suspect, Emma will have to work with Cormac–an unlikely (and entirely too attractive) ally–in order to clear her name and find the real culprit before it’s too late in A Breath of Frost (2014) by Alyxandra Harvey.

A Breath of Frost is the first book in Harvey’s Lovegrove Legacy–a trilogy which will presumably allot one book to each cousin. The second book, Whisper the Dead, will be published in October 2014.

In this alternate historical London, magic runs rampant for the people who know where to look including the Order of the Iron Nail, Madcaps and various sundry characters and groups readers will have to sift through in the early pages of the novel. Patient readers will be rewarded with explanations of all of these names and a motley group of characters magical and otherwise.

Although the cousins often read more like sisters, Harvey still creates a romantic, adventurous novel with a strong familial bond at its core. The cousins are stronger together–something that is not often featured enough in literature. Magic and mystery come together here to create a suspenseful, if not always perfectly paced, adventure. Filled with wit, adventure, and just the right amount of romance, A Breath of Frost is a delightful start to what promises to be a superb trilogy.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, The Woman Who Loved Reindeer by Meredith Ann Pierce, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, The Amulet of Samarkand by Johnathan Stroud, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

Hearts at Stake: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Hearts at Stake by Alyxandra HarveyBeing a teenager is hard enough, but Solange Drake has a whole other set of problems. With her sixteenth birthday fast approaching, Solange and her family have way more on their mind than her Sweet Sixteen–like planning for her transformation into a vampire. All of the Drake sons survived the transformation in one piece, but being the first female-born vampire in 800 years (and the future vampire queen according to a mysterious prophecy) no one is really sure how Solange will fair. Of course, that might be irrelevant if the vampire hunting Helios-Ra or the followers of the current queen kill Solange for the bounty on her head first in Hearts at Stake (2009) by Alyxandra Harvey.

It’s a hard lesson to learn, but just because a person likes Buffy it does not mean that she will like every snarky, girl power-esque vampire story that comes along. Such is the case with Hearts at Stake. Even before coming to that painful realization about myself, I knew I might be in for trouble with this book when I read that the author was sometimes belly dancer who owns a hawk. Say what you will, but I had a bad feeling.

There are two fundamental problems with the story. The first is that everything feels a bit contrived– even given the fact that it is part of a necessarily contrived genre what with vampires not existing. Solange is at the center of this huge prophecy, the figure who might end a massive civil war among the different vampire tribes, and she belongs to one of the oldest vampire families in the world. None of which is set up for the reader. Instead Solange tells readers as much in a passing paragraph or two which interrupts the story at hand and does little to explain any of these events.

The second problem is that Hearts at Stake seems to be a book at war with itself. The book’s narration is split between Solange and her human best friend Lucy. The story also eventually splits into a dual romance. This symmetry seems forced leading to a rather heavy-handed treatment in some of the romantic matters. The tone of the story is understandably erratic as a result. The story alternates in rapid succession between steamy kisses, deadly fights, and conversations filled with girl power bravado and snark.

Even though both girls were at pains to remind readers and other characters that they were strong and could take care of themselves, it felt unconvincing because there is a difference between saying you can take care of yourself and actually doing so. Hearts at Stake will appeal to many readers for a quick vampire romance fix, but readers looking for a book with more substance would do well to look elsewhere.