Saturday, February 27, 2021

Review: The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

by Janet Skeslien Charles
Release Date: February 9th 2021
2021 Aria Books
Kindle Edition: 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-1982134198
ASIN: B07Z45K1Q8
Genre: Fiction / Historical / WWII
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet has it all: her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into Paris, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.
My Thoughts
The Paris Library was an interesting book and I definitely appreciated the amount of research that went into telling this story.  As a huge bibliophile myself, I loved that this World War II story focused on the librarians in Paris during this war and the efforts they took to ensure that people had something to read during this time period.  However, I am not sure if the author really went far enough in her telling as the book seemed to fall back on what so many of these books tend to do today, get wrapped up in the silly romance that really should have played a secondary role in this story.  I am getting so tired of these tropes; why can't the story just stand on its own?  
First of all, the story.  I really enjoyed the story set in 1939 and thought it was definitely the better of the two.  There seems to be a thing for dual / multiple story lines lately, and while I am not usually opposed to them, I am getting really tired of those that really have nothing to do with the story, and I think that this story could have stood on its own if it had just been set during WWII.  There was so much richness to the story of these brave librarians working at the American Library in Paris and so much to tell about the risks they took that I was much more absorbed in their story than the one in 1983 which I thought added absolutely nothing to do the story other than to give us a glimpse as to how Odile fared later on in life, which could have been done in an epilogue.  
What happened instead, for me, was a disruption that I didn't really appreciate, one which I felt took away from the original story including the emotional impact.  It also left me feeling much more sympathy for the characters around Odile rather than for Odile whom I thought was spoiled, selfish, and incredibly naive considering the time period in which she lived and the fact that she had a police commander for a father.  There were periods in the story in which I actively disliked her; the way she treated her friends, such as Margaret and her brother's fiance, were abominable, and one of these instances of betrayal created a very dangerous situation for her friend, one that I thought was unforgivable, even though the book goes on about how everyone should be forgiven for things they did.  No, there are some things that should never be forgiven. Sorry!!! And every time something happens, she reacts like a child and runs away.  Irritating as hell.  This girl is in the middle of the war, people are disappearing all around her, and she thinks her words won't have serious consequences?  Ones that won't last for the rest of her life? 

What I truly loved about this book was the meticulous research that went into it.  I loved the descriptions of the food, the desperation, the hunger, the grief, and the hope that went into everything these characters did.  The author was brilliant in her writing as she evoked a time period that was incredibly stressful, dangerous, and so awful for the French people, but also instilled this feeling of hope and resilience.  So much of the stories of others were hinted at and you had to read between the lines to understand what was happening and I loved how the author wrote about it rather than go and on through descriptive prose.  It was definitely much more interesting to read about the war than about the doings in 1983 as I wasn't particularly interested in that story line. 
The Paris Library is a good story about betrayal, loss, friendship, family, and books, but it is also about growing up and realizing that the people around you were not quite the people you thought they were, and you were also not quite the person you wanted to be, which resulted in pain, loss, and betrayal.   I loved learning about the library and the lengths the librarians went to in order to save the books and preserve literature for the future; I just wish more focus had been on the lives of these people and less on the 'romance' and I definitely feel the dual timeline was not successful.  I am in the minority on this one though, so I encourage you to read this book for yourself to see what you think and I do recommend it for its great descriptions of Parisian life during the war. 



Thursday, February 25, 2021

Review: Queen of Storms by Raymond E. Feist

by Raymond E. Feist
Release Date: July 4th 2020
2020 Harper Voyager
Kindle Edition; 437 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062315816
ASIN: B0151V4S14
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Hatushaly and his young wife Hava have arrived in the prosperous trading town of Beran’s Hill to restore and reopen the fire-damaged Inn of the Three Stars. They are also preparing for the popular midsummer festival, where their friends Declan and Gwen will be wed.

But Hatu and Hava are not the ordinary loving couple they appear to be. They are assassins from the mysterious island of Coaltachin, home to the powerful and lethal Nocusara, the fearsome “Hidden Warriors.” Posing as innkeepers, they are awaiting instructions from their masters in the Kingdom of Night.

Hatu works hard to hide his true identity from all who would seek to use or to destroy him, as fate has other plans for the noble warrior. Unexpected calamity forces him to make choices he could not have dreamed awaited him.

My Thoughts
Queen of Storms is the second book the The Firemane Saga trilogy, and in this one Hatu and Hava are trying very hard to avoid those who seek Hatu due to his heritage, although he seems more interested in the life he is building with Hava rather than keeping his eyes and ears open to really learning what is happening around him.  I enjoyed this second entry to this trilogy to a certain point, but I find Hatu to be somewhat naive despite all of the training he had received over the years and this frustrates me to no end.  

The character development was pretty spotty in this instalment and I sometimes wondered if the author was running out of ideas in this book and borrowed some from the Riftwar books thinking readers wouldn't notice.  There were also some things that were glossed over quite easily, but were actually quite important such as Hava having had very little training on a boat in the first book, but suddenly she was able to do what she was doing in this one? I went with it because hey, I was open to the idea that maybe the author forgot that one tiny, smidgeon of a detail.  But now suddenly, you have another character who was able to fight like he had been training his whole life and another, who had been training his whole life, get taken really easily?  Okay, maybe now I am starting to get a bit suspicious as to what is really going on. So, then, we have a Baron, whose territory encompasses many port towns, and he was unaware that all of these boats were in his waters planning to attack his shores?  Wait, there is no navy. So, twenty years after another country was totally annihilated and no planning for an invasion was done? Sounds like many of the countries after WW1.  Yet, they knew that something was going to come, just not from where, so WHY NOT PLAN? 
You would think with these problems I didn't enjoy the book, but you know what? I did.  There were many books in the Riftwar megaseries that I wasn't overly fond of but I kept reading and suddenly, you get this absolute gem of a book.  No, this one wasn't a gem, but it wasn't horrible either. The writing is actually rather solid, and Feist has this way of making you care about his characters even if you are biting your cheek in frustration over their actions and some of the tediousness.  It does take quite a while for the action to get going though, but when it did, it exploded.  It just wasn't consistent and I really think a bit of editing could have cleaned it up (and perhaps the author didn't use his notes when he write this book?) especially as the never-ending recaps weren't always on point. Personally, I think I could have skipped the first book and read all I needed to know in this one, which was not typical of this author.  And Hatu spent a lot of time whining about how to return to Hava.  Wait a second!! Aren't these two assassins with a job to do?  Especially Hava?  She is supposed to be this lethal weapon, but I didn't really see a lot of that in this book, to my disappointment.  
Queen of Storms definitely has potential, and overall, I enjoyed the story.  Yes, I got picky about certain things when discussing the book, but I have been reading this author's books since I first picked up Magician in 1982 and have always loved his books, more or less.  I really liked the fact that he was creating a new world with brand new characters, and I think it will take time to find his groove.   I liked Hatu and Hava and the other characters, but I really felt like the author wasn't sure what he wanted to do with them, or how he wanted them to develop, which is why it seemed a bit scattered.  This author writes good stories and I am convinced he can take these characters in a direction that will blow us all away in the next book. 


Saturday, February 20, 2021

Review: The Memory of Souls by Jenn Lyons

by Jenn Lyons
Release Date: August 25th 2020
2020 Tor Books
Hardcover Edition; 638 Pages
ISBN: 978-1250175571
Genre: Fiction / Epic Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Now that Relos Var’s plans have been revealed and demons are free to rampage across the empire, the fulfillment of the ancient prophecies—and the end of the world—is closer than ever.

To buy time for humanity, Kihrin needs to convince the king of the Manol vanĂ© to perform an ancient ritual which will strip the entire race of their immortality, but it’s a ritual which certain vanĂ© will do anything to prevent. Including assassinating the messengers.

Worse, Kihrin must come to terms with the horrifying possibility that his connection to the king of demons, Vol Karoth, is growing steadily in strength.

How can he hope to save anyone when he might turn out to be the greatest threat of them all?
My Thoughts
The Memory of Souls is the third book in the A Chorus of Dragons saga, and while I don't think I liked it as much as the first book in the series, I still thought it was well done and enjoyed the continuing revelations and developments that are making this series a bit different from what I originally thought it would be.  It is a bit confusing, a bit jumbled, dealing with reincarnation so you have to keep track of the current characters plus all of their past lives including their current and past relationships which can be quite confusing, but I thrive on that kind of stuff so I quite happily immersed myself in the confusion and just went with what was happening. Having read a few book that dealt with reincarnation, I really liked how this author developed her own system of rebirth and the craziness of their past lives and how it complicates their present lives.  

First of all, the craziness of the characters was fun, and the author took the relationship between Janel, Kihrin, and Teraeth to a much deeper level, one that explored their past relationships and emotional connections that included some pretty complex romantic dynamics centered around gender fluidity and reincarnation.  I am not typically a fan of romantic triangles, but this is not a teenage angst type of situation, but one that developed over thousands of years, through many different lives, and the characters began to remember those past lives in this book, which complicated the relationship as well as their reactions to each other and their emotions.  It was sometimes difficult for them to know whether they were reacting due to their current feelings or because they were being manipulated through their past lives and I found this fascinating, wondering how I would feel in their situation.  Personally, I am invested in what happens and I really hope the author continues to develop this situation in future books.

The depth of the past lives scenario doesn't just affect our three heroes however, as many of the characters also had many past lives, and I spent a lot of the book trying to remember and figure out who was related to who and how they all inter-connected.  And then we meet some people from different races who are able to change their gender as they develop and evolve and I found this concept fascinating as well.  Even Teraeth is capable of changing his gender due to his race and now I am left wondering if this will happen in the future.  I am of mixed minds about his as I love his character the way he is so I am not sure what will happen if the author decides to do so, but I have taken the attitude of just going with everything so I guess we will see.  And naturally, all of this reincarnation and rebirth poses a huge issue when it comes to inheritance, exactly the situation that was set up in this book. 
As another relationship developed in this book, the threads started to come together and I finally got a better understanding of what was happening between Kihrin, Relos Var, and Val Karoth, although I am still not quite sure who is the villain and who is the hero. As soon as I thought I had that figured out, something happened and sort of dumped my ideas on my head and now I was left trying to refigure things out again, but I am still sort of confused, in a good way.  The finale in this book explodes in a way I wasn't expecting and wow, that ending.  There were demons and gods, the vane, and pretty much every character you could think of at that final explosive battle and things did not go the way I thought they would; and out of that 'battle', new concepts and ideas about what was actually happening also came to light.  Things are going to change a lot in the next book, that's for sure.
I really liked how these books were written and they do jump around quite a bit from character to character, but I if you are patient, it makes sense.  One of the things I did have a problem over was the kindle edition and luckily I received both a hardcover and a kindle copy for review as I hated the kindle copy.  Because it's written in a type of journal format with comments from the author thrown in all over the place that give us extra information, the kindle had the comments all listed at the end of the chapter and I had to go back and check where they all fit which grew annoying rather quickly.  I finally gave it up and switched to the hardcover edition where I could reference them immediately and that was so much better. You do need to pay attention to everything however, as even the smallest thing could be important later on, which I found out the hard way.
The Memory of Souls was a fun addition to this series and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  While the first two books in this series focused mainly on Kihrin's and Janel's stories, this one focused on a variety of characters as well as some new ones that were mentioned in previous books but whom we hadn't yet met. There was a lot happening so I highly recommend you read the first two books in this series first, or it may be quite confusing.  Nor sure why anyone would want to jump into the middle of a series anyways, but not recommended for this one.  The author does a great job of adding twists and turns that I never saw coming and I will admit I am not sure where this story is going in the future, but I am definitely looking forward to finding out when the next one, The House of Always, is released in May.   

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Review: The In-Between by Rebecca K.S. Ansari

by Rebecca K.S. Ansari
Release Date: January 26th 2021
2021 Waldon Pond Press
Kindle Edition; 320 Pages
ISBN: 978-0062916099
Genre: Fiction / Juvenile / Mystery / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

4.5 / 5 Stars

Cooper is lost. Ever since his father left their family three years ago, he has become distant from his friends, constantly annoyed by his little sister, Jess, and completely fed up with the pale, creepy rich girl who moved in next door, who won’t stop staring at him.

So when Cooper learns of an unsolved mystery his sister has discovered online, he welcomes the distraction. It’s the tale of a deadly train crash that occurred a hundred years ago in which one young boy among the dead was never identified. The only distinguishing mark on him was a strange insignia on his suit coat, a symbol no one had seen before or since. Jess is fascinated by the mystery of the unknown child—because she’s seen the insignia. And, she tells Cooper, he has too.

It’s the symbol on the jacket of the girl next door.
My Thoughts
The In-Between is a contemporary juvenile fiction book that really had everything for me: ghostly elements, twists and turns, real-life issues, family problems, a mystery, and solid storytelling.  I actually knew very little going into this book as I don't tend to read the descriptions when I choose a book to review, so I am always surprised by the story, and I have to say, I actually read this in one sitting as I was so engrossed in the story.  
This story is sort of a cross between a mystery, a fantasy, and a heartfelt look into a family struggling to cope with issues of abandonment, fear, despair, loneliness, and invisibility.  I loved the mystery and the kids' search for a reason why they are the only ones who can see the house and the girl across the street and how that affects their lives.  I love how they get into trouble for staying up too late and being on their technological devices too long, plus I thought the author's sneaky way of showing how difficult it is to use Google to search for information was ingenious.  I was a little skeptical of how easily they did find their information though as my experience as a teacher is that kids don't usually know how to really separate the good research information from poor at this age and they were only 10 and 12 years old.  Yes, they know how to look up stuff, but they don't really know how to USE it.  It was still interesting though.
I loved the fantastical element in this story and thought it was well done.  Everything tied really well into the mystery and made sense.  There were a lot of twists and turns and there were a couple of things I missed and didn't expect; it is always fun to be taken by surprise.  
The best part of this book though, was the exploration of anger issues and abandonment issues.  All of the characters were dealing with some type of abandonment, either through divorce, being left behind, death, or something or other.  The main characters had a father who never took interest in them or their lives, and the children were dealing with being 'invisible' to him and trying to cope with the idea of him being more interested in his new family.  I thought the author dealt with these emotions very well and in such a way other kids could relate to as well.  There were times when even my heart was breaking for these kids and what they were going through. Some adults can be so thoughtless.
The characters themselves were quite interesting and I enjoyed all of them.  I loved how Cooper teased his mom when she served them eggs yet again for dinner as it reminded me of the days when I gave my kids soup and grilled cheese when we just didn't have time for anything else.  Jess was diagnosed with diabetes and the book also delves into how the family copes with their fear for her health and trying to help her stay healthy, but shows her growth as well by trying to make her more responsible for ensuring she knows what to do to stay healthy. It was definitely the family dynamics I loved the most and enjoyed so much as it reminded me of the crazy days when my daughter was competing at a high level in gymnastics and our lives were so, so crazy.  Cooper was struggling with major anger issues over his parents' divorce and wasn't very nice to his sister, Jess, but it was nice to see the two of them learn to depend on each other throughout the book and realize their own relationship wasn't destroyed because of the actions of their dad.  A lot of character development happening in this book. 
The In-Between was an interesting exploration of friendship, loss, family, death, and how we are all connected at some level.  It also explored the feelings of invisibility some children face when their parents are going through divorce or other difficulties in their lives with compassion and feeling.  This book drew me in with its beautiful writing and fascinating story.  I highly recommend this book for those who are looking for something with a deeper meaning, but fun as well.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Review: The Blood is Still by Douglas Skelton

by Douglas Skelton
Release Date: January 5th 2021
2021 Arcade Crimewise
Kindle Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-1951627621
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars


When the body of a man in eighteenth-century Highland dress is discovered on the site of the Battle of Culloden, journalist Rebecca Connolly takes up the story for the Chronicle.

Meanwhile, a film being made about the ’45 Rebellion has enraged the right-wing group Spirit of the Gael which is connected to a shadowy group called Black Dawn linked to death threats and fake anthrax deliveries to Downing Street and Holyrood. When a second body – this time in the Redcoat uniform of the government army – is found in Inverness, Rebecca finds herself drawn ever deeper into the mystery. Are the murders connected to politics, a local gang war or something else entirely?

My Thoughts
The Blood is Still is the second book in the series, and as I hadn't read the first book, I wasn't sure what to expect or if I would understand the relationships between the characters as so much is already set up in the first one.  While there was a lot of mention of the first book in terms of consequences and dealing with the aftermath of whatever happened, I didn't find myself lost or confused. I actually enjoyed the interactions between the characters and thought the mystery was interesting, if very heavily based on character development rather than on solving the crime.
First of all, I really enjoyed the characters and thought this was a strength to this novel.  Rebecca, while interesting, was not actually my favourite character, as I developed a huge interest in Nolan, one of the members of the crime family, and thought his situation was particularly fascinating.  And while I gather he was supposed to be this nasty thug through the reactions from those around him, he didn't come across that way in the book.  I don't know if this was intentional or if the author was trying to make him sympathetic to the reader, it's hard to say. 
I liked Rebecca, but I feel like her type of character has been done so often that she didn't really stand out for me. She is the typical reporter who is dealing with big changes at work; her boss, young and modern, looks at reporting as sitting at a computer and basically regurgitating information that you find on the internet or from a phone call, without actually being on the scene.  It's fine as a story line, but it also seems to be a popular story line lately.  

The plot was a bit different from what I was expecting.  While there was a murder, or two, and a police investigation, the focus wasn't on that but on what Rebecca was doing to follow up leads to the murder. Because the murder occurred on Culloden Battlefield, the author took the opportunity, through his characters, to explain some of the historical details of the battle as well as give the reader some beautiful descriptions of the area.  I have not yet visited that part of Scotland, but it has definitely moved up higher on my bucket list after this book.  
The action builds rather slowly, and it took awhile for me to connect the different threads together even though I figured out who the killer was quite early on.  It definitely wasn't obvious and there were some things that I didn't understand until the very end so that was a pleasant surprise.  The threads to the story were woven quite seamlessly and I thought they were very well done.  The author is a really good writer and I enjoyed his writing style, he is very descriptive and imbues his work with humour as well as darker subjects.  The balance works very well and I enjoyed the character development as much as the story line. And while I like the flashbacks, while extremely sad, I also think they were the reason why I was able to figure out who the killer was so early on in the book.  I wonder if it would have been more suspenseful for me without the flashbacks.

The Blood is Still really works well as a contemporary murder mystery, combining the past with current world problems such as newspapers failing and trying to find their niche in the new Internet market.  The development of right-wing groups is also a focus and is a nice contrast to the Battle of Culloden scenes, but it makes you think that some things don't change even after all these years.  I thought this book was thoughtful and made you think about what was happening around you.  Highly recommended.


Sunday, February 7, 2021

Review: Crown of Bones by A.K. Wilder

by A.K. Wilder
Release Date: January 5th 2021
2021 Entangled Teen
Kindle Edition; 490 Pages
ISBN: 978-1640634145
ASIN: B07N6596NG
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

In a world on the brink of the next Great Dying, no amount of training can prepare us for what is to come …

A young heir will raise the most powerful phantom in all of Baiseen.

A dangerous High Savant will do anything to control the nine realms.

A mysterious and deadly Mar race will steal children into the sea.

And a handsome guide with far too many secrets will make me fall in love.

My name is Ash. A lowly scribe meant to observe and record. And yet I think I’m destined to surprise us all.
My Thoughts
Crown of Bones was a pleasant surprise, and is full of adventure, character growth, and surprises.  I started reading it because I was in the middle of some heavy-hitting non-fiction books and needed something lighter to read, but enjoyed it so much, I read it straight through.  The magic system is different, and original, but quite easy to follow, and I always enjoy stories when a quest is involved; in this case a young heir needed to get to the Sacred Isle of Aku before the doors closed for the year as this was the last chance his father was giving him to prove himself worthy.  Naturally, many things went wrong on the journey and it was a fight to get there on time. I actually thought the journey would take up the entire book, but to my surprise, the real stuff actually happened once they arrived, and I was riveted.
Ash is definitely my favourite character in this book.  As a non-savant, she has no powers; therefore, she has spent her life learning how to be a recorder which basically means she is a historian / writer all wrapped into one.  It's a bit more complicated than that, but I found her skills and her abilities to be quite complex and interesting, and the more I learned, the more interested I was.  I totally empathized with her yearning to be a 'savant', to have the same powers as the others, and the helplessness she felt against the prejudice she received because of her lack of magical ability.  The fact that others don't appreciate her vast store of knowledge is sad and shows a culture that puts too much emphasis on physical power rather than brain power, and this will be their detriment in the end.  Ash shows herself to be brave, bold, and extremely loyal, and I love those qualities about her.
Kaylin is another favourite of mine and his appearance in the book throws off the whole dynamics of the group and really upsets the whole story line, which I loved.  I spent the rest of the book trying to figure out whether he was good or evil, enjoying every minute of that dilemma.  He is the character that makes you question everything that is going on and I liked that about him. It also made me realize I needed to pay a lot more attention to dialogue as so much was given away in even small little situations that would be important later; kudos to the author for doing this as I didn't realize until much later how  much manipulation she did through even simple things.  Pay attention to everything people!!
The plot itself was constructed very well, and the author certainly put her characters through their paces.  I have no problem being confused at the beginning of a book as I can't stand it when an author goes on and on trying to explain their world as I prefer to figure it out on my own. (I mean, have any of you read Malazan?) As soon as they left their homeland, they had one adventure after another, each one more dangerous until they reached their destination.  Even their adventures were important as I learned later one, but how, I still don't know as the author just teased that information in this book without giving us answers and all I know at this point has to do with a prophecy and sun alignments. I do have to say that I was a bit surprised at some of the scenes, but I like that the author didn't hold back on those: I think it's the adult author trying not to cross those lines in a young adult fantasy novel, but you could still feel the sexual tension and I am glad we got a good glimpse of the chaos and destruction that comes about during an attack.  Just because it's young adult doesn't mean things have to be sugar-coated. To be honest, I wish it had gone more the other way and not been so limited.  However, I will never, ever, ever, be a fan of instalove.  Never!
Crown of Bones was a fun and interesting story about friendship, loyalty, perseverance, determination, and treachery.  I enjoyed the characters, the world-building, and the plot, but I do have a million questions left unanswered, and that cliffhanger of an ending...well, dang!!  I highly recommend this book for those of you who enjoy good world-building, great dialogue, an interesting magic system, and fun characters.  Can't wait until the next book is published later this year.  


Saturday, February 6, 2021

Review: The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

by Laurie Forest
Release Date: May 2nd 2017
2017 Harlequin Teen
Kindle Edition; 607 Pages
ISBN: 978-0373212316
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy / YA
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

Elloren Gardner is the granddaughter of the last prophesied Black Witch, Carnissa Gardner, who drove back the enemy forces and saved the Gardnerian people during the Realm War. But while she is the absolute spitting image of her famous grandmother, Elloren is utterly devoid of power in a society that prizes magical ability above all else.

When she is granted the opportunity to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an apothecary, Elloren joins her brothers at the prestigious Verpax University to embrace a destiny of her own, free from the shadow of her grandmother’s legacy. But she soon realizes that the university, which admits all manner of people—including the fire-wielding, winged Icarals, the sworn enemies of all Gardnerians—is a treacherous place for the granddaughter of the Black Witch.
*There is rant in the middle of this review. Sorry, I couldn't help myself. *
My Thoughts
The Black Witch is the first book in the The Black Witch Chronicles, and as the publisher offered me a copy of the fourth book in this series, which publishes in September, I needed to read the first three books in this series, plus associated books.  I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by this novel, enjoyed the diverse characters, thought the world was interesting, and was impressed by the underlying themes running through it.
Elloren is the main character in the story and she is incredibly naive about the world and the political systems and prejudices involved.  Growing up in a small village, sheltered from the machinations of the government, with an uncle who broke some laws by teaching her things women were not allowed to learn, she eventually goes to university to train as an apothecary and is suddenly thrust in the midst of intrigue and prejudice, the like she has never experienced in her sheltered little world.  
Being Gardnerian, Elloren has grown up with a very strict religious code and is shocked to learn how that code is used to subjugate others within her country; for the first time her eyes are opened to abuse and neglect and she begins to realize that not everything is good and perfect within her world.  Elloren's struggles to come to terms with the prejudices within her religion, to see that the religion she has grown up with is very problematic is one of the best things about this book.  Of course she looks for things to substantiate her belief, but slowly, she comes to realize that the things she has grown up to believe are wrong, she acts upon them and tries to learn more about her country, her world, and the peoples within it.   
EDIT: Holy crap, when I read some of the reviews after writing this, I was shocked and I just think that people DO NOT GET IT.  Elloren goes from being this hugely naive girl at the beginning of the book to championing the other races, a huge transformation in my opinion, and I really enjoyed how the author did that.  And considering this is only the first book in a planned five-book series, she still has a long way to go.  I, for one, am looking forward to seeing where the author takes this character.  I will never support censorship and feel the author has a right to write his/her own story. If the characters are flawed and prejudiced, so what? That's where the author has the ability to fix some of that through storytelling. Since when does art not reflect harsh themes? And for the love of God, read the damn book before writing a review and stop basing reviews on what someone else thinks. 
The plot is told through Elloren's POV and while I enjoyed it for the most part, I do have to say that if I had to read about Yvan's 'beautiful' body or 'beautiful' eyes one more time, I thought I was going to scream.  On one page, I think I counted the word 'beautiful' five times in reference to this guy, to the point I lost track of what was happening and had to re-read the page.  Please STOP!
Okay, back to the plot.  For the most part, it was your usual fantasy story, with a couple of twists that did take me for a loop.  Elloren, on some level, must be a problem child as she seems to get into spats with almost everyone.  There was the usual mix of races in this book; fae, elf, lupin, demon, etc..., but we do get so involved with Elloren's day to day struggles that the other characters sometimes get lost within the pages of those struggles, and I would have loved to learn a lot more about those other characters, especially her roommates, as there is so much scope there.  And it looks like there is a love-triangle blooming, can't stand those at the best of times.   I also think a bit more information about the external struggles would have been nice.  You've also got the requisite mean girl scenario happening whom everyone thinks is the Black Witch, who happens to play mean jokes on everyone, including Elloren.  

The Black Witch was enjoyable and frankly, I am pretty disappointed in people who gave this book a poor rating or slammed the author without having read the book.  Is the book a bit tropey? Yes, of course. But there was enough in it that made it fun, and there were some interesting twists that I wasn't expecting, especially when Elloren was at the university.  The author really focused on Elloren's prejudices and her personal growth as she came to realize the other races were not really so much different, and I like how she really took the time to learn about the real history and not just brush it off.  I am definitely looking forward to reading the next book in this series, The Iron Flower.