Book Review | A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

Spine-tingling. Dark academia. Murder. Psychological thriller. A Secret History but make it witchy. Lots of layers packed in this one.

A Lesson in Vengeance

More about A Lesson in Vengeance: Felicity Morrow is back at Dalloway School.

Perched in the Catskill mountains, the centuries-old, ivy-covered campus was home until the tragic death of her girlfriend. Now, after a year away, she’s returned to graduate. She even has her old room in Godwin House, the exclusive dormitory rumored to be haunted by the spirits of five Dalloway students—girls some say were witches. The Dalloway Five all died mysteriously, one after another, right on Godwin grounds.

Witchcraft is woven into Dalloway’s history. The school doesn’t talk about it, but the students do. In secret rooms and shadowy corners, girls convene. And before her girlfriend died, Felicity was drawn to the dark. She’s determined to leave that behind her now; all Felicity wants is to focus on her senior thesis and graduate. But it’s hard when Dalloway’s occult history is everywhere. And when the new girl won’t let her forget.

It’s Ellis Haley’s first year at Dalloway, and she’s already amassed a loyal following. A prodigy novelist at seventeen, Ellis is a so-called “method writer.” She’s eccentric and brilliant, and Felicity can’t shake the pull she feels to her. So when Ellis asks Felicity for help researching the Dalloway Five for her second book, Felicity can’t say no. Given her history with the arcane, Felicity is the perfect resource.

And when history begins to repeat itself, Felicity will have to face the darkness in Dalloway–and in herself.

My thoughts

This has been a tough book review to write. I’ve composed three drafts of this post, and after deleting them, I’ve decided to just get it out and press on.

I will say that I did enjoy reading this book. I remember closing it thinking, “Wow! OK. I liked it.” But as time goes on, I am ruminating on things that I didn’t like about it — and they outweigh the very few elements that I did enjoy.

What I liked:

  • The subtle dark, witchy vibes.
  • The atmospheric setting: Intelligent girls at an all-girls boarding school in New England.
  • The twisted characters. Very. Twisted.
  • The author’s deep dive into the psychosis of the main character.
  • The ending (even though it was disturbing).

What I did not like:

  • The “too-muchness” of it all. I know it’s not an eloquent way to describe it, but honestly, this book was all over the place when it came to genres. If you are expecting to read a Gothic-like contemporary horror book, then you will close it disappointed. It went from coven-inspired, dark academic vibes to murder mystery/thriller/psychological thriller in an instant, and it left me (and a few other readers I talked to) feeling jumbled.
  • The author’s inconsistent narration. Felicity is an intelligent young woman. She is a senior in high school writing her thesis on horror lit and female representation (an interest of mine). So, clearly she’s bookish and uses impressive vocabulary. But, her vocabulary was too much during many moments of her narration. She went from “looking for libations” at a high school party (who even says that when you are 17? Or ever?) to everyday teenage colloquialisms. I found myself rolling my eyes a lot during this book.
  • The lack of uncanny and paranormal, particularly by the end. We don’t wrap up the Dalloway Five or any of the witchy elements.

I also realized, very quickly upon finishing, that this book is very similar to A Secret History by Donna Tartt — from the plot to the writing. I read that book last month and I refuse to write a review about it because I disliked it so much.

One of my biggest qualms about Tartt’s writing is what I refer to as the “writer’s flex.” We get it, you are smart. Do you need to use unnecessary vocabulary and showcase your knowledge about the Classics every page? No. You just come off as pretentious.

That’s the same vibe I got from Lee’s book, whose plot does not stray far from Tartt’s in A Secret History … except there are witches and an all-girls school. I get art imitates art, but I shouldn’t be thinking “I just read this book” while reading a new novel. There’s even an Bacchus in …Vengeance, which was a big scene in A Secret History. After reading that Lee is a big fan of Donna Tartt, I had my “AHA!” moment, and wish that the author had a little more ingenuity with this book.

Well, I got it out. It’s done.

Did you read A Lesson in Vengeance? What were your thoughts?

Book Review | The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin

The Nature of Witches left me pleasantly surprised! I’ve had a rough year when it comes to liking books, and this one was a refreshing, enjoyable, easy read.

The Nature of Witches

More about The Nature of Witches: For centuries, witches have maintained the climate, their power from the sun peaking in the season of their birth. But now their control is faltering as the atmosphere becomes more erratic. All hope lies with Clara, an Everwitch whose rare magic is tied to every season.

In Autumn, Clara wants nothing to do with her power. It’s wild and volatile, and the price of her magic―losing the ones she loves―is too high, despite the need to control the increasingly dangerous weather.

In Winter, the world is on the precipice of disaster. Fires burn, storms rage, and Clara accepts that she’s the only one who can make a difference.

In Spring, she falls for Sang, the witch training her. As her magic grows, so do her feelings, until she’s terrified Sang will be the next one she loses.

In Summer, Clara must choose between her power and her happiness, her duty and the people she loves… before she loses Sang, her magic, and thrusts the world into chaos.

The book description also says “Practical Magic meets Twister,” but I wouldn’t go that far. There are certainly various weather events throughout the book, but I didn’t get Practical Magic or Twister vibes as I read. I would also say Practical Magic is wildly different from this book, aside from The Nature of Witches being YA. So, I thought that comparison was off. This book is, however, a perfect cozy, aesthetic read for fall.

What I really appreciated about this one was the author’s close attention to the seasons. I loved following Clara through the year and getting swept away in the descriptions of autumn, winter, spring and summer. I also found it interesting that Griffin created witches who thrived in particular seasons. If they were born in winter, then their magic was strongest in the winter. Throughout the rest of the year, their powers changed; while not dormant, their energy and focus during their “off” seasons were prevalent and understood. I found this concept very relatable. As someone who is born in autumn, I love the season and feel more “myself” during this time of year. I hate the summer, and I will say I am more … grumpier and dim (and hot) in the summertime. It was such a cool concept and made me feel seen.

This story was also a journey of self-healing. And it was a beautiful one at that. Clara, the only Everwitch, has a lot of weight on her shoulders when it comes to saving their world. Her powers have killed people she loved, and she’d rather give up her place as Everwitch than hurt anyone else. But when she meets Sang, he helps her find her way. I loved Sang and appreciated his gentle and kind spring-like character. While he is not fully responsible for Clara’s healing (I would have been mad if this was a boy-saves-the-girl book), he was a safe, supportive partner that all young people should look to find.

All in all, I really enjoyed this one. It wasn’t too deep of a book, and I found the plot to flow and the story to be interesting throughout. I also really respected Griffin’s constant nods to climate change and the work we all need to do to help our planet. Very smart and needed.

Has anyone read this book? What were your likes/dislikes?

Gardens

I grew up around gardens. The smell of mulch and freshly-mowed grass evokes nostalgia every time I am around it. I am transported to a time when I would lie under shady trees, breathing in the aroma of flowers and reading my favorite books in my backyard.

The yard at my childhood home was beautiful, filled with large garden beds abundant with flowers and bushes. I remember a large mulch bed filled with tall grasses and plants, and a pond that was frequented by frogs and fish. On hot summer days, I would sneak out to the pond and try to catch the frogs when my parents weren’t looking and take them inside. I recall family members and parents of friends commenting on the intricacy of our gardens, my dad beaming with pride at his work.

While I was able to enjoy the garden in my childhood yard, I never took part in planting or tending to it. My father, a landscaper, worked solo. That was his way to disconnect and reconnect with the world, and I witnessed his creations from an outside perspective, reaping from the benefits.

After moving into my own home this past year, my husband and I decided to start our own garden. We have a fairly large lot and wanted to fill up the space with beauty. We purchased garden books and started planning out our oasis.

I admit that I was hesitant going in. I did not have a good track record with indoor plants. But once I started, I couldn’t stop. We tested the pH of our soil, dug up grass and got ready for our own perfect space. I was enjoying every moment.

As someone who combats anxiety and depression, I can say that tending to the earth and watching something grow because of your attention and dedication is healing. From choosing the plants to digging, watering, and tending to it throughout the seasons, I felt a sense of calm that I never felt before. I was entranced by the rich smells of the earth, the feeling of the soil on my hands. And while I was helping these living things plant their roots, I realized that I was doing the same.

It seems fitting that my love for creating and cultivating life sprouted at the same time we found out that we were pregnant. On a warm, sunny June day, I got a call from my doctor confirming that my husband and I were expecting our first child. I immediately went outside to the garden, my hand to my stomach, taking in all the magic. As I continue to garden, I hold my belly and tell her about all of our plants and how I am taking care of them. It’s serendipitous to think that when I was mulching and digging and planting and watering a few months back, I was not alone. I had a buddy with me every step of the way.

I am excited to see her curious face as I show her around our gardens. I will walk her to the shade garden and have her feel the coral bells and trace the shapes of the creeping myrtles on the mulch ground. We will read books on the bench under the maple tree. We will pick calamint leaves and smell their beautiful aroma as we walk around our fire pit. We will pick yellow coneflowers and water our lavender plants. We will witness our lilac tree sprouting deep violet petals in April, and watch our azalea bushes bloom throughout the month of May. We will all garden together. A perfect, safe space.

October Hopefuls

Spooky season is here! Well, if we are being honest, I have been celebrating spooky season for the past three weeks now.

It is October — one of the best months of the year. Leaves are changing, the weather is getting crisp, and fall cardigans are getting pulled out of the storage bins (*sneezes*).

And, spooky books are being read! I am excited to share my October hopefuls this year. Naturally, they are very witch-oriented, and I wouldn’t have it any other way! I love reading witchy books in the fall.

Here are the books I want to read in October:

The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin

The Nature of Witches

I started this book the other day and I am already enjoying it. It’s a new take on witchcraft and magic. I respect the author’s not-so-subtle nod towards climate change and how the witches must try to protect the world from our ever-changing climate. There is also LGBTQ representation and diversity, which I appreciate. I love the atmospheric language associated with each season, and the idea that individuals are stronger and more “themselves” in the seasons when they are born. As a November baby, I can relate to that.

A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

A Lesson in Vengeance

This seems to be a dark, academic, witchy book that I can’t wait to pick up. I plan on reading this one next and I have a feeling it’s going to be good. I also heard it’s more of a thriller than a witchy book, so we will see! Also, the cover is really cool. I did judge the book by its cover for this one.

The Age of Witches by Louisa Morgan

The Age of Witches

A Secret History of Witches was one of my favorite books last year, so I really look forward to this one! Morgan’s books are all about sisterhood and feature strong, powerful women. I can guess that this one will be much of the same.

Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian

Hour of the Witch

This one seems to be less magical and whimsical and more like historical fiction, but hey, I love historical fiction. It’s about a young puritan woman escaping a violent marriage in 17th century Boston.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline

This will be a reread with a buddy read group I am a part of on Bookstagram. For those who don’t know, Coraline is one of my favorite books and I reread it quite often! It’s frightening, eerie, empowering, and plain ol’ fantastic. I almost wrote my master’s thesis on Coraline, but I had to cut her from my list. I’m sure I will write more about her one day.

What are you reading this month? Share in the comments below!

And, check out these posts to see what I’ve read this year:

January Wrap-Up

February Wrap-Up

March Wrap-Up

April Wrap-Up

May to September Wrap-Up