The Luminaries by Susan Dennard

The Luminaries book cover


Goodreads: The Luminaries
Series: The Luminaries #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Purchased
Published: November 1, 2022

Official Summary

Hemlock Falls isn’t like other towns. You won’t find it on a map, your phone won’t work here, and the forest outside town might just kill you.

Winnie Wednesday wants nothing more than to join the Luminaries, the ancient order that protects Winnie’s town—and the rest of humanity—from the monsters and nightmares that rise in the forest of Hemlock Falls every night.

Ever since her father was exposed as a witch and a traitor, Winnie and her family have been shunned. But on her sixteenth birthday, she can take the deadly Luminary hunter trials and prove herself true and loyal—and restore her family’s good name. Or die trying.

But in order to survive, Winnie enlists the help of the one person who can help her train: Jay Friday, resident bad boy and Winnie’s ex-best friend. While Jay might be the most promising new hunter in Hemlock Falls, he also seems to know more about the nightmares of the forest than he should. Together, he and Winnie will discover a danger lurking in the forest no one in Hemlock Falls is prepared for.

Not all monsters can be slain, and not all nightmares are confined to the dark.

Star Divider


In spite of the fact that The Luminaries begins rather morbid, with the protagonists detachedly retrieving corpses from the woods in which she and her fellow Luminaries live, I am most tempted to call it “delightful.” It’s a relatively short read at 300 pages and, while still fresh, in many ways feels like a callback to how YA fantasy used to be: quick story, a dash of romance, more to discover in the sequel.

I had no particular plans to read this book, in spite of the fact I have enjoyed Dennard’s Witchlands series, but I received it in the November 2022 OwlCrate box, and OwlCrate has once again not let me down! I side-eyed the book a bit as I was thrown into the character’s job picking up dismembered bodies and casually delivering them to the morgue, but luckily the book does get less gross as it goes on, even as it continues to make the case that the forest near Hemlock Falls is dangerous; people can and do die at any time.

In spite of the peril and the monsters, however, the real draw of the book is the characters. Winnie Wednesday wants more than anything to be a Luminary, but her family has been branded outcasts by the town. Her struggles being ignored and mocked by people who used to be her friends and family and her desire to get back her dreams and all else that is rightfully hers are gripping to read about. It’s debatable whether some of the decisions she makes are the best, but they’re understandable. I get her as a person, and I see why does things the way she does.

I do think the jacket copy is a bit misleading, as it implies Winnie and Jay spend a lot of time hunting a new monster in the forest, which isn’t quite true (though I’d be unsurprised if it’s true in the sequel), but the plot of Winnie training for the trials while having concerns about a new monster and having to navigate complicated relationships with her neighbors did keep me turning the pages. And I certainly want to find out what this new monster is!

Sign me up for book two, and sign me up for more Jay, as well, one of those perfect YA boys who seem aloof yet strangely perceptive.

4 stars

The Endless Skies by Shannon Price


Goodreads: The Endless Skies
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: August 17, 2021

Official Summary

High above the sea, floats the pristine city of the Heliana. Home to winged-lion shapeshifters―the Leonodai―and protected from the world of humans by an elite group of warriors, the Heliana has only known peace.

After years of brutal training, seventeen-year-old Rowan is ready to prove her loyalty to the city and her people to become one of the Leonodai warriors. But before Rowan can take the oath, a deadly disease strikes the city’s children. Soon the warriors―including two of Rowan’s closest friends―are sent on a dangerous mission to find a fabled panacea deep within enemy lands.

Left behind, Rowan learns a devastating truth that could compromise the mission and the fate of the Heliana itself. She must make a decision: stay with the city and become a warrior like she always dreamed, or risk her future in an attempt to save everyone she loves. Whatever Rowan decides, she has to do it fast, because time is running out, and peace can only last so long… 


I could tell while reading The Endless Skies that this is definitely a book that began with a premise — there are people who can shapeshift between human and flying lion form — and that suspicion was confirmed when I read the acknowledgements and Price said the book began with a dream of a lion/person in a grotto. Unfortunately, I don’t think the story Price built around that premise was particularly interesting, and I struggled for a long time trying to figure out what the fact that there are lion people as the protagonists even added to the book. It’s cool, but it seemed the plot could have been told with ordinary humans in their role. This had potential, and I was excited enough about it that I started reading it on release day, but ultimately I was let down by vague world building and characters who couldn’t capture my interest at all.

Plot-wise, the book banks a lot on telling. It tells the readers that Rowan’s warrior training is “brutal” so we know she’s some some of badass warrior who’s sacrificed everything to train to defend her city, but we don’t really see what makes it brutal. Then readers are told that the mission to find the “fabled panacea within enemy lands” is incredibly dangerous, but it was hard for me to feel there was danger. Readers know the two peoples are at war, so sure there are going to be some obstacles, but it didn’t strike me that this mission was going to be the most wild and terrible and treacherous task anyone had ever undertaken. I was underwhelmed.

And the characters couldn’t save the book for me. To start, the book is told from three POV’s, and the choices seem a bit random. One is Rowan, whom the book summary places as the “actual” main character, but there’s also her older sister (who is in her mid-twenties, so an interesting choice for a YA narrator) and Rowan’s childhood best friend/one of the love interests. All of them felt a bit lifeless to me. I didn’t care about Rowan. I didn’t feel any particular sisterly relationship between Rowan and her older sister, so this narrator might as well have been unrelated to her for all I cared, and I had no investment in the love triangle. Both love interests were boring. Finally, several people died in the book, and I didn’t care about them either, possibly because none of the characters seemed to beyond taking a couple sentences to say they were sad but needed to move on with their lives.

In fact, the entire premise of the plot left me feeling cold, which is that little children (and only little children) are dying of some mysterious disease. It feels as if Price is counting on the fact that this situation is just inherently distressing, that any reader would OF COURSE be horrified by little children getting sick and possibly dying because that would be horrifying in our old world. (Just look at the COVID-19 pandemic, where one of the major refrains is that “at least children aren’t particularly at risk” because it would be heartbreaking if they were.) However . . . readers don’t know any of the sick children in THE ENDLESS SKIES. The three main characters don’t know them either. I think Price could have done a lot more work to make me feel invested in this situation on a personal level, rather than relying on the fact that it’s just generally sad.

This was a big miss for me. I was excited about the book, and I like to think that Tor usually publishes great stuff in their imprint, but this felt very surface-level. I didn’t care about practically anything that was happening, and that made it boring.

2 star review

Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard

Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard


Goodreads: Bloodwitch
Series: The Witchlands #3
Source: Library
Published: February 12, 2019

Official Summary

Fans of Susan Dennard’s New York Times bestselling Witchlands series have fallen in love with the Bloodwitch Aeduan. And now, finally, comes his story.

High in a snowy mountain range, a monastery that holds more than just faith clings to the side of a cliff. Below, thwarted by a lake, a bloodthirsty horde of raiders await the coming of winter and the frozen path to destroy the sanctuary and its secrets.

The Bloodwitch Aeduan has teamed up with the Threadwitch Iseult and the magical girl Owl to stop the destruction. But to do so, he must confront his own father, and his past.

Star Divider


I enjoyed Truthwitch when it was released by Tor Teen in 2015 and called it “one of the best YA fantasies I’ve read in awhile,” but after looking back through the blog archives, I realized that I never reviewed the second book in the series, Windwitch.  Now that I’ve read Bloodwitch, I remember why.  I simply…don’t have much to say about this series, even as new books are released.

I did mention in my Truthwitch review that I didn’t fully connect with the characters; I could see that Dennard, for instance, was trying to build a really strong female friendship between Safi and Iseult, but I just didn’t feel it.  That has remained true for me as I continued reading the series.  I find the characters interesting enough that I keep reading, but I’m not fully invested in them.  I don’t feel the chemistry in their relationships.  Perhaps this has only gotten worse as Dennard increases the cast of characters in each novel.  Even as I start thinking I care a bit more for the older characters, newer ones pop in to get their own POV, and I barely care about them.

I’ve also just been consistently confused by this series. Part of this is likely my fault. It’s been four years since the release of book 1 and two years since the release of book 2.  This is a fairly complicated fantasy with, as I said, an enormous case of characters, as well as various plot threads.  My difficulty remembering what happened in books 1 and 2 does not help.  However, reading Bloodwitch, I realized the books are also confusing because Dennard is withholding information.  A lot of it.   There are so many different people with so many goals, and most of them are never stated.  Character A will be screaming, “Where’s my X and Y?!” and the reader (and other characters) have no idea what Character A is talking about or why retrieving these objects is important to him.  Or Characters B, C, and D will all say they “need” capture Characters P and Q for their master plans…but it is never actually stated what any of these three characters plan to do with Characters P and Q if they get their hands on them.  I know a lot of people are fighting in the series, but I have so little sense of what they want or the means they plan to use to get it.

Yet I keep reading the series.  In spite of these two flaws, which seem fairly large, I’m engaged in the story and want to know what happens next.  I have only a small sense of what’s happening, but I guess I feel as if I keep reading I’ll find out; Dennard has to explain things eventually.  It all seems very dramatic and complex, and I want to see it all come together. I want to find out what Dennard is keeping from me.

I also do think I can recommend this series to people who like complex fantasy, but perhaps with the caveat it will probably be easier to read once all the books are finished and you can read them right in a row.  If I have to wait two more years for book 4, there’s no telling how much more lost I’ll be.

4 stars Briana

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard


Goodreads: Truthwitch
Series: Witchlands #1
Source: Purchased
Published: January 4, 2015

Official Summary

In the Witchlands, there are almost as many types of magic as there are ways to get in trouble—as two desperate young women know all too well.

Safiya is a Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lie. It’s a powerful magic that many would kill to have on their side, especially amongst the nobility to which Safi was born. So Safi must keep her gift hidden, lest she be used as a pawn in the struggle between empires.

Iseult, a Threadwitch, can see the invisible ties that bind and entangle the lives around her—but she cannot see the bonds that touch her own heart. Her unlikely friendship with Safi has taken her from life as an outcast into one of reckless adventure, where she is a cool, wary balance to Safi’s hotheaded impulsiveness.

Safi and Iseult just want to be free to live their own lives, but war is coming to the Witchlands. With the help of the cunning Prince Merik (a Windwitch and ship’s captain) and the hindrance of a Bloodwitch bent on revenge, the friends must fight emperors, princes, and mercenaries alike, who will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.


Truthwitch is one of those books everyone seems to have already read and everyone else has reviewed. So while I initially questioned whether to write a review at all (Who’s left to read it?), I decided to go for it based on the fact that although I enjoyed Truthwitch a lot, I didn’t think it was the greatest thing to happen to fantasy. And I’m definitely in the minority for that opinion.

I actually did not read any reviews for Truthwitch at all before picking up the book, but that did not allow me to escape from the hype. Promotions and pure, unadulterated love for this book were everywhere in the weeks leading up to its release. I couldn’t go on Twitter without getting the impression that Truthwitch would be my new favorite book, a book that would change my life, a book that would be everything. So, sure, part of my critical attitude may be just an adverse reaction to major hype. People set some incredibly high expectations for this book, and I’m not sure anything could have lived up to it. Mostly my issue is that, although technically brilliant, the book never really grabbed my emotions.

Truthwitch is undoubtedly great fantasy. Susan Dennard has put an amazing amount of care into the world-building (almost too much, actually; I thought the details were overwhelming and irrelevant at times) and into the characterizations. Though I didn’t end up loving all the characters the way many other readers do, I certainly appreciate them and their complexity. My prime example is love interest Prince Merik. I’m simply not swooning over him, despite his very admirable love for his country and desire to help his people without turning to unethical means. And I’m not swooning in part because he’s flawed. He’s selfish and self-righteous. He says he’s going to do one thing while secretly planning to do another, then gets angry when people act based on what he told them and not on what he intended, as if they’re supposed to read his mind. An annoying this itself is, it’s even more annoying when the other characters agree with him that they were in the wrong. They weren’t. I don’t understand some of these characters at all.

And that perhaps is the main problem. I was interested in the characters, as I would be interested in observing people walking on the street. I didn’t fall in love with any of them. I could see the relationships Dennard was trying to build, the way she wanted to build a strong female friendship between Iseult and Safiya and the way she wanted to craft a heart-tugging one between Iseult and the mother she could never quite tell loved her. But I wasn’t really invested in any of it.

This is consistently the hardest thing for me to explain: why a book doesn’t emotionally move me despite apparently having all the correct ingredients. I recommend this book. I think it’s really good and, in fact, some of the best YA fantasy I have read in a long time. I just wish I cared a little more and that could pinpoint and articulate the reason I didn’t.

4 starsBriana

A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin

School for Unusual GirlsInformation

Goodreads: A School for Unusual Girls
Series: A School for Unusual Girls #1
Source: ALA
Published: May 2015


When Miss Georgianna Fitzwilliam’s parents become frustrated with her out-of-control science experiments and unladylike behavior, they send her to England’s most notorious reformatory school.  None of them know that Stranje House is more than a school for Regency England’s rich and powerful young ladies. It’s a front for an organization that trains girls of unusual talents to serve their country as scientists, diplomats, and spies, and Georgianna is about to become entangled in some dangerous plots.


Stranje House is a bit of a mystery.  The school is known among England’s elite as a cold-hearted reformatory for the most stubborn and unmarriageable girls.  In reality, it is a training ground for girls with exceptional talents to excel in those talents—and potentially put them to use in service of their country.

Protagonist Georgianna Fitzwilliam is a promising chemist, whose attempts to create an invisible ink undetectable by light or heat have caught the attention of Miss Stranje herself.  Readers will love Georgianna’s intelligence and fierce devotion to reason, her efforts to learn as much as she can in a world that denies equal access to education to women.  She is a strong female heroine whose strength lies in her brain more than her brawn.

However, Stranje House offers nothing is not variety.  The cast of characters includes girls of all talents and temperaments, ranging from the coolly rational to the nearly mystical.  All the characters get adequate page time, and readers will come to feel as if they know them all—making a great opening for the next books in the series to be told from other girls’ points of view.  And the main message behind everything is that no talent, no type of woman, is more valuable than another; the girls are strongest when they work together.

Much of the plot focuses on how the girls must pool their knowledge and abilities when a plan to help protect England from a scheming Napoleon goes horribly wrong.  The story is refreshingly original, and the pacing perfect.   Although the focus veers more heavily to romance than some readers might be expecting, there are still plenty of thrills and daring escapades.

A School for Unusual Girls is a wonderfully imagined story of romance and adventure the will appear to fans historical fiction with strong female leads.