{Rachel’s Reading Update} Bitterness, Westerns and Truthwitchery

Posted May 8, 2016 by Rachel Lightwood in Reviews / 16 Comments

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Hey everyone! Instead of my usual mini review round-up, today I have three longer reviews for you. All three of these are magical/fantastical 2016 releases, and I enjoyed all of them – to different degrees. But let’s get to the reviews…

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg

{Rachel’s Reading Update} Bitterness, Westerns and Truthwitchery

Maire is a baker with an extraordinary gift: she can infuse her treats with emotions and abilities, which are then passed on to those who eat them. She doesn’t know why she can do this and remembers nothing of who she is or where she came from.

When marauders raid her town, Maire is captured and sold to the eccentric Allemas, who enslaves her and demands that she produce sinister confections, including a witch’s gingerbread cottage, a living cookie boy, and size-altering cakes.

During her captivity, Maire is visited by Fyel, a ghostly being who is reluctant to reveal his connection to her. The more often they meet, the more her memories return, and she begins to piece together who and what she really is—as well as past mistakes that yield cosmic consequences.

★★★ + 0.5

This is one of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever had to write. Have you ever read a book that you loved but was also so different and strange and peculiar that you aren’t actually sure whether you did enjoy it or not? No? Well, damn because that’s what I feel about this book and I am struggling so much to translate my tangle of emotions to the screen.

There is definitely something undeniably addictive and downright gorgeous about Holmberg’s writing. It always manages to draw me in, and keep me reading. It’s subtle but poetic and completely enthralling. If we just singled out the writing aspect of this story, I’d have no problems giving this book five stars. The plot also had an addictive quality to it too. The first 40% (or so) was unputdownable. I fell into this story without meaning to it, and boy, did it suck me in quickly or what. I was up late, flipping through the pages with ease, desperate to see where the story was heading. It was unlike anything I’d ever read before, and I had no idea where the story was heading or even where it could possibly go. If you know me, you know that predictability is a massive no-no for me so the fact that Holmberg left me no clues whatsoever, and that I had to keep reading if I wanted to find out more was perfect.  But the more the story went on, the less I felt that urgency to read more. The story started to peter out – so slowly at first that I honestly didn’t even realise. Yet the more and more I read, the more and more I was getting… sidetracked? Probably not the most accurate description, but I felt that the story had lost it’s momentum. The plot was getting a little stranger and stranger. The characters lost their oomph, the villain became… useless and dull, not doing anything. The story just felt like it’d taken a wrong turn, and was too far in to turn back. It hit a snag, and I didn’t like it. Thenbam – we were hit with the ending/major plot twist thing and… gah, I don’t know what to think of it. I think I liked it? Or maybe just the idea of it? It worked, and it didn’t. It was unique, and explained everything… but I don’t know if I’m 100% satisfied with it and now I’m lost.

Can you see why I’m struggling to write this review now?

Let’s just break this down:

  • Writing? Check. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Enchanting. Similar adjectives.
  • Plot? Hmm, it was mostly good…
  • Characters? Spot on… until they weren’t?
  • Pacing? Perfect… at first.
  • Romance? Great tension but mostly confusing.
  • Ending? Uh…. I don’t know.

… so that’s it.

Overall? I loved this story. I think. The writing and magical system was perfect. The characters and plot were perfect for the first 40%… and almost everything slowly petered out after that, unfortunately. I’ll still be reading everything this author put outs. I loved her writing style, but I don’t know what to think of this book.

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

{Rachel’s Reading Update} Bitterness, Westerns and Truthwitchery

She’s more gunpowder than girl—and the fate of the desert lies in her hands.

Mortals rule the desert nation of Miraji, but mystical beasts still roam the wild and barren wastes, and rumor has it that somewhere, djinni still practice their magic. But there's nothing mystical or magical about Dustwalk, the dead-end town that Amani can't wait to escape from.

Destined to wind up "wed or dead," Amani’s counting on her sharpshooting skills to get her out of Dustwalk. When she meets Jin, a mysterious and devastatingly handsome foreigner, in a shooting contest, she figures he’s the perfect escape route. But in all her years spent dreaming of leaving home, she never imagined she'd gallop away on a mythical horse, fleeing the murderous Sultan's army, with a fugitive who's wanted for treason. And she'd never have predicted she'd fall in love with him...or that he'd help her unlock the powerful truth of who she really is.


Okay. I had mixed feelings about this book. I certainly didn’t enjoy it as much as everyone seems to – which is upsetting me to no end! I really want to love this one, but there were a few issues I had with that I just couldn’t let slide.

Pros: The world! I loved the mix of Western, desert and magic. It seemed like an odd combination at first, but it just worked so damn well. The gun/Western aspects added a certain level of urgency and fear to the battle scenes, and the desert setting captured the mythology and general vibe that the story was trying to get across perfectly. The mythology in general was also fresh and exciting. The Middle Eastern influences just caught my attention and held. As much as I adore Greek mythology, it was nice to mix it up for a change. And man, the character of Bahi stole my heart. He was adorable!

Cons: I didn’t think we got to know the characters very well. Everyone’s been raving about Jin, but I wasn’t a fan, honestly. What did we know about him apart from his history!? I wanted to like him, but I just never felt we got to know him on a level that I could come to care for him… which is sad. He was much too important to the story for me to feel that way. Amani herself (our protagonist) was a great character… at first. She lost her spunk in the second half. I don’t know happened, but she just… started to almost fade out, for some unknown reason. And because of that, the romance didn’t work for me. At all. There was no chemistry! I felt nothing for them as a couple so I just couldn’t ship it. And the plot itself? Meh. It was okay. It started well, but it slowly became predictable (who couldn’t see that the ‘random’ legends mentioned over & over again and Jin were tied together?), and then the ending was just rushed and felt disorganised. I didn’t understand where it was heading, but maybe that’s because I was so confused about the rebellion in general. Why was everyone trying to blow up armies exactly?

Overall? Not a bad book, by any definition, but not one that I think will be particularly memorable. My favourite parts were the setting and mythology. I was disappointed by the characters, and felt that the book got weaker the more it progressed. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel though.

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

{Rachel’s Reading Update} Bitterness, Westerns and Truthwitchery

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

Safi must avoid capture at all costs as she's a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden - lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult's true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls' heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

★★★★ + 0.5

Here’s the thing. As hard as I try to choose books I’ll love, I’m usually that one person that reads the hyped books (eventually) and ends up hating them… and then receiving a tonne of hate from the army of pitchfork-wielding fangirls trolls that haunt the negative reviews of Goodreads. It’s not so fun, and is probably why I put off hyped books for as long as I do. They’re kind of intimidating and scary. And I have an awful tendency of falling into the ‘unpopular opinions’ pile.


But you know what? Truthwitch is one of those books that didn’t just meet the hype for me, but topped it. I had almost no hope for it – the negative reviews from my blogging friends are pouring in by the bucketfuls ATM. But this is one of the first times that I’ve been reading negative reviews and not been able to see where their writers are coming from. In general, yeah, it’s hard to see a reviewer bash a book you love, but you can usually see kernels of truth in their review. Why you don’t agree with it, necessarily, you can see their side of the story. The Truthwitch reviews? I’m struggling, guys.

I had no problems with the characters. Did Safi throw herself into trouble a lot? Yes. Not going to deny it. Did I find her arrogant and annoying? Nope, not at all. I honestly adored all of the characters in this story. I adored Merik to the ends of the earth. He was probably my favourite character. I loved that he stuck to his guns the whole time, he didn’t let himself get intimidated or take the easy route. Ever. I also loved the villain – whose name I won’t even try to spell. Most of all, I loved the relationship between these characters. There wasn’t really a romance – one kiss doesn’t count, in my book – but I did like the tension and the build up to it (which will hopefully by acted on next book, *fingers crossed*). But Safi and Iseult’s relationship was perfect. I loved that their friendship was so central to the story, even if they were mainly chasing each other or one of them was unconscious!

The writing suited the world. It actually reminded me a little of Maria V. Snyder’s writing style. It balanced prose and dialogue well. The setting was vividly described, and I had no problem imagining the world that the story was set in. The dialogue was often witty and made me smile. I loved the quips between Safi and Iseult, especially!

The storyline had me captivated for the entire book. I was never bored. The pacing was spot on – the middle wasn’t dragging and the ending certainly wasn’t rushed like I was scared it would be. I found the plot fast-paced and action-packed in all the ways that a fantasy should be. Journey stories can often get dull or repetitive, but I thought Dennard balanced the action and the character-driven moments well to keep the story going with a bit of oomph. The beginning, I will admit, was a bit rushed. We were thrown into the world at the very minute a momentous and important event was happening, giving us no time to adjust to the new lingo or world or get to know the characters before pulling us into the story. It worked in the sense that it got us readers to pay attention, fast, but I wouldn’t have minded a slower, more introductory beginning.

What left the most room for disappointment, IMO, was the world-building. I know that a lot of readers had problems with it (and was what let the story down the most for them), but it wasn’t a bother for me. I can be super fussy when it comes to fantasy or dystopian worlds. I like explanations and justified reasoning to why everything is just so… but I had very few problems with this world. I adored the attention to detail

Here’s the few questions I had (and why I couldn’t give it a full five star rating):

  • What are Threadsisters/Threadbrothers? Is it a term used simply for best friends who both have witchy abilities or is it something more – a magical tie or bond? Like Parabatai?
  • How does one become a witch? Can you become a witch – or is it heredity? It’s obviously not a skill learned over time, and if everyone in Iseult’s tribe was a Threadwitch that would lead to the assumption it’s hereditary. But that was never stated. Frustrating!
  • Why were Voidwitches a ‘myth’ when there seemed to be quite a few of them just roaming around?
  • And lastly – more info on the Origin Wells, please!

Overall? I loved this story. I thought the plotline was captivating, and was consistently paced. The characters were well-developed, and I came to care about all of them. The writing was perfect for a fantasy, and the world was wonderful – exciting, fresh, so well thought out. I just had some bones to grind with some of the smaller details. I’ll definitely be checking out the sequel as soon as it is published… next year! *Wails*

Currently Reading & Listening To: 

Flawed by Cecelia Ahern:

I read Ahern’s Love, Rosie last year and thought it was a solid contemporary, if a little drawn out. When I heard she had written a young adult story, I knew that I had to pick it up… and I finally did! But umm, it’s kind of dull? The writing is just so simple and plain. And the dystopian world is based has such potential. I love the idea – a world where morally/ethically bad decisions count and are punished as crimes – but it isn’t consistent, and needs fleshing out. I think, so far, this is reading like a decent first draft, but needs some work. I wish I was enjoying it more. Least it is super easy to fly through…

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson, narrated by Caitlin Prennace

I’m still listening to this. I know, it’s been forever. But my goodness, who knew that audiobooks took so long? This is 12.5 hours long, and it’s taken my almost a month to get nine hours in… which is slow, but it’s not like I can “skim read” it to make it go quicker! Like I said last time though, I’m enjoying more than I did the first time around, but I’m not enjoying it completely. The MC is pretty annoying, and the plot meanders a lot – the purpose of the story seems awfully stretched out and I’m a little bored. Hopefully, I’ll finish this one soon!


Have you read any of these before – thoughts? What fantastic dystopians have you read lately? I’ve kind of been avoiding the genre because it has gotten so cliched. If you know any good 2015/2016 releases with dystopian elements, please leave a comment. I’d love to know!
Rachel Lightwood

About Alwyn Hamilton

Alwyn Hamilton was born in Toronto and spent her childhood bouncing between Europe and Canada until her parents settled in France. She grew up in a small town there, which might have compelled her to burst randomly into the opening song from Beauty and the Beast were it not for her total tone-deafness. She instead attempted to read and write her way to new places and developed a weakness for fantasy and cross-dressing heroines. She left France for Cambridge University to study History of Art at King’s College, and then to London where she became indentured to an auction house. She has a bad habit of acquiring more hardcovers than is smart for someone who moves house quite so often.

About Charlie N. Holmberg

Born in Salt Lake City, Charlie was raised a Trekkie alongside three sisters who also have boy names. In addition to writing fantasy novels, she is also a freelance editor. She graduated from BYU, plays the ukulele, owns too many pairs of glasses, and hopes to one day own a dog. She currently lives with her family in Utah.

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16 responses to “{Rachel’s Reading Update} Bitterness, Westerns and Truthwitchery

  1. Omg is it weird that I REALLY want Magic Bitter Magic Sweet after that review?!? It sounds so WEIRD but I waaaant. (I have a thing for slightly magical realism 😍 ) Although I still don’t actually know what the book is about. 😂 AHEM.
    And while I LOVED Rebel of the Sands so so much…I agree that Amani did lose a bit of her spunk towards the middle/end. I wanted her to keep shooting at all the things…
    I’m glad you enjoyed Truthwitch! I’m in the minority who really couldn’t stand it. But HEY. It’s awesome when a book meets and passes expectations, right?!? 😀

    • *hair flip* Umm, no. It’s just my magic powers of reviewing persuasion, that’s all. It’s not weird… Joking, of course, but umm, yeah, it’s kind of a weird book to describe and a weird book to read so I don’t know whether to say yay or nay to this… ahhh! I’ll leave it up to you. XD

      Exactly, right? She just kind of… lost it, I guess, in the second half. I missed how badass and go-get-it she was so maybe that’s why I wasn’ ta fan? Or maybe we just have opposite tastes in fantasies because Truthwitch was one of the few ’16 releases that worked for me!

    • I”m sorry to hear it wasn’t for you, Danielle! I did hear some negative reviews of it but I was lucky that I was able to love it. The beginning was very confusing so I don’t blame you for not pushing through it.

  2. As always, love your mini reviews Rachel!

    I have been on the fence about requesting Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet because it seemed exactly like you described — hard to sort of define and that to me meant it could either be really awesome or not. I’m glad to see that it was really awesome and it sounds so unique and wonderful!! ♥

    Also glad you loved Truthwitch — I have seen so much hype and so many rave reviews that it’s kind of made me nervous to read it! But I think I’m ready to bite the bullet

    • As always, you make me blush, Eva! You’re too sweet. <33

      That's definitely the problem with this one - it was the kind of weird that you're either going to love or really, really hate. I don't know whether to recommend it or not. It is really unique and kind of awesome because of that though...

      Ahhhh, I hope you loved it then. I definitely lived up to the hype for me. It was really really good. I didn't expect to love it as much as I did.

  3. Nathan

    Truthwitch sounds like a good read. For dystopians I read Nirvana by J.R. Stewart, I recommend it.

    • Truthwitch was fabulous. I really didn’t expect it but I shouldn’t complain. It is definitely worth the hype, and I’d absolutely recommend it. Thanks for the rec too. I haven’t heard of that one but I’m always on the look out for a good dystopian.

  4. I definitely understand where you’re coming from with Flawed. I felt much the same..!
    And actually, Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet too. I didn’t love it as much as I loved Holmberg’s Paper Magician trilogy, but her imagination is pretty awesome!
    I really enjoyed Rebel, but I think now it’s time for me to read Truthwitch. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much!

    • I don’t think Flawed has gotten much love at all! It was a little too bland for my tastes in the end. And I’m glad I’m not the only one that thought Holmberg’s other series was stronger. Her new book definitely showed how creative she is. And yeah, I hope you adore Truthwitch as much as I do. It seems to be a touch-and-go sort of book so I have my fingers crossed for you.

    • Thanks Carole! Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet was really different to anything I’ve ever read before so if you’re looking for something unique, I wouldn’ turn you away from it. And Truthwitch has my highest recommendation. Definitely lives up to the hype.

  5. I was so bored by Strands of bronze and gold (which made me so sad). I can’t wait to pick up Truthwitch very soon and I’m curious about Rebel of the sands. I’ve seen more mixed reviews about it. How gorgeous is that cover from Magic bitter, magic sweet?

    • Strands of Bronze & Gold was pretty drawn out and slow. Ugh. I think it was the ramblish descriptions that made it so bad? But I completely agree with the Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet cover. It’s gorgeous! I’d 100% recommend Truthwitch. One of the best fantasies I’ve read this year. It was amazing. Worth the hype completely.

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