Monday, March 31, 2014

ARC Book Review: House of Ivy & Sorrow by Natalie Whipple

Title: House of Ivy & Sorrow
Author: Natalie Whipple
Publisher: HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Rating: 3/5

Cover Impressions: 
Very pretty.  I love the title, though it is a little misleading.  I do feel like the cover is missing some focal point and I find myself trying to figure out if there is some pattern to the image behind the writing.

The Gist:
Josephine Hemlock is a young witch in training living with her grandmother in their mysterious and powerful house.  The last of the Hemlock line, she is constantly in fear of the curse that took her mother and the witch that cast it.  When a mysterious stranger comes to town covered in a darkness Jo has never seen before, she realizes that it is time to stop hiding and time to start fighting.  But, the spell is stronger than she ever realized and fighting it may not only put her in danger, but also all the people that she loves. 


First off, a disclaimer.  In order to enjoy this novel, you have to realize that, despite the gothic title and the fanciful cover, this is not a dark and sorrowful tale.  I believe this was poor marketing as it is setting readers up for one type of story and leaving them disappointed when they get another.  If you can accept that this is not an author attempting to give Poe a run for his money, you can settle in and enjoy a fun story with some interesting world building and enjoyable, if not all that well developed, characters.

The best part of this novel was the world building.  It had an interesting take on witches and magic where nothing came without a sacrifice.  This led to some pretty gruesome scenes where characters yanked out handfuls of hair, chopped off pieces of flesh or even (YUCK!) pulled out their own fingernails.  I really liked how the witches had to sacrifice for what they wanted and that it made them think about how much they were willing to give up, as opposed to many other books where the witches cast spells willy nilly. 

I also really enjoyed the relationship between the three girls.  So many books today show the catty side of teenage girls and allow the story to get bogged down with nastiness and jealousy.  I was happy that in House of Ivy and Sorrow Jo, Kat and Gwen showed an intense loyalty and a willingness to sacrifice for one another. 

While the novel was relatively fast paced, with one disaster following another, it did suffer slightly in that I didn't quite understand how the curse worked and the twists were a tad predictable.  Where it really got waylaid was in the puppy love between Jo and Winn.  Their sweeter than sugar romance became more than a little nauseating as the novel wore on and I could never see (other than the fact that he was handsome) what Jo actually saw in Winn.  There was also the fact that Jo was constantly being proclaimed as the most beautiful creature in the entire world and that everybody immediately wanted her.  I believe we could have gotten a more well rounded character and relatable character if we were not told over and over again how drop dead gorgeous she was, as if that one defining characteristic eclipsed all others.  

I actually liked this book and had a fun time reading it, despite its downfalls.  I don't think that this is meant to be a series, but I would definitely pick up a sequel if it were offered, if only for the interesting witchy world that this one presented. 

Teaching/Parental Notes:

15 and up
Gender: Girls
Sex: Kissing, Making out - nothing particularly racy.
Violence: Self mutilation: removal of hair, skin and fingernails
Inappropriate Language: Piss, Shit, Bastard
Substance Use/Abuse: None


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