Double Review: Hidden Magic & Scorched Earth Magic by Elana McDougall

Happy Friday! Today’s review is a bit special, and not just because I’m going to be doing a double review. From my very early days on Twitter, Elana McDougall has been one of the sweetest, most supportive people I’ve met. I jokingly call her my Twitter mum (which I hope she doesn’t mind) because she’s always ready to lend a kind word or cheer someone up when they’re down. If you aren’t following her, you really need to (just click on her name above).

Most of the books I’ve read this year have been queer. I would estimate about 90% or more of them. But when Elana released Hidden Magic, you bet your ass I picked it up as soon as I could. And it was the sexiest and most satisfying straight romance novel I’ve read in a LONG time.

The basic gist of the story is this: Sasha has left her abusive ex, Edward, and her old life behind. Her car breaks down just inside the limits of a small town in North Carolina called Hallows. She’s taken in by an older woman (the delightful Amelia) while her car is getting fixed and starts working at a diner under a fake name. But things are odd in Hallows. She gets strange looks, and people sometimes act like she shouldn’t be there. And what’s with the sexy, mysterious sheriff, Jake? Sasha doesn’t know it at first, but she’s stumbled into somewhere she shouldn’t be–a haven for supernatural beings. And she’s brought trouble with her.

I don’t want to give too much away because I want everyone to be able to experience Hallows the way I did–through a mixture of Sasha’s wide-eyed exploring and tantalizing snatches of information we get from other characters’ perspectives. The worldbuilding in this book (and the next) is top-notch and incredibly immersive. Between the two novels, I saw everything in my head the same way despite having read them months apart. It’s like Hallows burrowed itself in my brain and lived there, waiting, until I returned.

For a debut novel, Hidden Magic is awesome. I’ll admit that Scorched Earth Magic is my favorite out of the two, but McDougall’s skill as a writer is apparent from the first page of her series. In addition to the amazing world she’s created, the characters are fun and real and the kind of people you want to know more about. Her ability to build mystery and suspense is incredible, and Sasha’s story comes to such a satisfying conclusion.

I found myself somewhat put off by Sasha’s character at first, and I couldn’t figure out why. But I’ve thought about it a lot since I first read the novel, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because her portrayal of an abused partner trying to start over again hit WAY too close to home. Sasha starts off the novel pretty broken and scared. It takes her a long time to find herself and her courage again. And when she does, HOO BOY. Does she ever! Seeing her go from uncertain and running for her life to being a badass bitch who saves the world hits so good. And her arc never seems forced. It flows naturally and runs parallel to Jake’s arc. Their romantic arc is very sweet and sexy and the chemistry between them is so good.

By the time I finished Hidden Magic, I was dying to read the next one in the series. Especially when Elana told me that the dashing, debonair Sebastian would be the love interest in Scorched Earth Magic. I was lucky to be able to read an advanced copy of it (thanks, Elana!), and I devoured the hell out of that book.

The second book in the Eldritch of Hallows series follows Julia, the prodigal daughter of one of the most powerful women in town. We meet her sisters in book one, but Julia’s been away from home for years, having run away from her own problems. But her mother is sick and it’s time for her to come back home. Unfortunately for her, that means having to come face-to-face with the whole reason she left her life behind in the first place: her ex-husband…and the father of her young daughter.

Julia was my kind of girl from the start. As someone who also escaped my hometown (and has NO intention of ever looking back), I was on her side immediately. Which is sad for me because I LOVE Sebastian. Elana can tell you herself the DM’s I sent her about how sexy he is. I also enjoyed that Julia was a glass artist, and I liked seeing the research that Elana did to bring her and her art to life.

As amazing as I thought Hidden Magic was, Scorched Earth Magic blows it out of the park. In terms of story. In terms of characters. In terms of worldbuilding. In terms of heat level. In just one book, McDougall’s skill improved more than some authors do in an entire series of books. Everything about this novel was perfect. Sebastian and Julia have such great lovers-to-enemies-to-lovers chemistry. Julia’s daughter, Emmie, steals every scene she’s in. I was in suspense the whole time about what was going on and was genuinely shocked when the mystery of what’s been going on in Hallows was revealed. And seeing Hallows again–visiting with these characters and getting to know them more–was like coming home.

Once again, I don’t want to give too much away. McDougall spins a damn good yarn, and the way she ties everything up in the end is breathtaking. The development of both main characters–as well as the development of their relationship–comes to a head in a terrifying battle to save the town–and their daughter. And I ate up every minute of it. I promise you that you will, too.

There are more books coming in the series (she’s currently working on book three at the moment), and I can’t wait. As far as I know, each one is going to explore a different main character falling in love. Given how steamy the first two were (there are some four-alarm sex scenes, especially in book two), I can only imagine how good the rest of this series is going to be. But, to be honest, I’m REALLY excited because in the background of each book, the cutest gay couple I’ve ever seen is living their best lives and they’re about to adopt a child and I need to know what happens to them next. 🙂

I’m giving Hidden Magic 4 out of 5 stars and Scorched Earth Magic 5/5 stars. Both novels are amazing reads, and I can only imagine how great book three is going to be. I mean it when I say you need to read these novels.

Have you read either one? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. And tune in tomorrow for an interview with Elana McDougall!

-Gabriel

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