children's books · Fantasy · middle grade · Uncategorized

The Silver Arrow: an unremarkable middle-grade

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The Silver Arrow

author : lev grossman

pages : [paperback] 164

summary :

Kate and her younger brother Tom lead desperately uninteresting lives. And judging by their desperately uninteresting parents, the future isn’t much more promising. If only life was like it is in books, where you have adventures, and save the world! Even Kate’s 11th birthday is shaping up to be mundane — that is, until her mysterious and highly irresponsible Uncle Herbert surprises her with the most unexpected, exhilarating birthday present of all time: a real-life steam locomotive called The Silver Arrow.

Kate and Tom’s parents quite sensibly tell him to take it back, but Kate and Tom have other ideas — and so does The Silver Arrow — and very soon they’re off on a mysterious journey along magical rails. On their way, they pick up a pack of talking animals: a fishing cat, a porcupine, a green mamba, a polar bear, and the sweetest baby pangolin in the world. With only curiosity, fear, adrenaline, and the thrill of the unknown to guide them, Kate and Tom are on the adventure of a lifetime — and they just might save the world after all.

review :

I received a copy of this book as an arc and was eager to dive into this story, which is sort of like The Polar Express if the message there was about conservation.

It’s Kate’s birthday and everything in her life is utterly boring, which is why she writes a letter to her rich, estranged uncle asking him to send her a gift. What she receives isn’t what she expects: a train engine appears in her backyard! Her parents are furious; Kate and her brother Tom are delighted. At least until the train starts moving and they find themselves swept up in a fantastical journey where they are the conductors on a train helping animals travel to different stations around the world.

The concept of this book was cute. It’s not a bad idea. But the book is promoted for ages 8-12 and thinking back on my own reading experience, coupled with what I know of current middle-grade readers, the book skews too young. The writing and plot feel suitable maybe for the eight year-old end of that scale; The Silver Arrow might have done much better as a picture book. The message here is so blatantly obvious (and I think children are perhaps the ones who least need to be lectured about conservation these days) that I don’t think 8-12 year-olds would get much from this book. It feels like it talks down to children.

The characters are fairly basic and . . . boring. Kate, the main character, often goes chapters at a time without mentioning her younger brother, Tom, so sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s on the train at all. Kate might feel so simplistic because it would be easier for young readers to imagine themselves as her–putting themselves in her shoes, saving the animals. But she doesn’t feel like a realistic person, much less child. Somewhere alone the line (route? train tracks?) the story loses its emotion and becomes more of a step-by-step explanation of Kate’s day. First she did this, and then she did this, and then . . .

Honestly, the message delivered in The Silver Arrow is nothing that hasn’t been done before, and better, by other books. It’s a quick read, and the lesson behind it is very important, but this isn’t the book to use to demonstrate such things to the intended age group. I think they’ll lose interest quickly and won’t find the book fascinating at all.

2/5 stars

 

2 stars · Fantasy · young adult

Grace and Fury: a YA novel that says nothing new

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Grace and Fury

Grace and Fury #1

author : tracy banghart

pages : [hardcover] 320

summary :

In a world where women have no rights, sisters Serina and Nomi Tessaro face two very different fates: one in the palace, the other in prison.

Serina has been groomed her whole life to become a Grace – someone to stand by the heir to the throne as a shining, subjugated example of the perfect woman. But when her headstrong and rebellious younger sister, Nomi, catches the heir’s eye, it’s Serina who takes the fall for the dangerous secret that Nomi has been hiding.

Now trapped in a life she never wanted, Nomi has only one way to save Serina: surrender to her role as a Grace until she can use her position to release her sister. This is easier said than done. A traitor walks the halls of the palace, and deception lurks in every corner. But Serina is running out of time, imprisoned on an island where she must fight to the death to survive and one wrong move could cost her everything.

review :

I think the problem with Grace and Fury is it might have been an innovative YA novel if published a decade earlier. Coming out in 2018, this really didn’t say or do anything that hadn’t already been handled in more interesting ways in other books.

The idea of women existing in a totally oppressive society isn’t unique. In Grace and Fury, women really can’t do anything except sit there, wait to enter an arranged marriage, have children, and possibly work in a factory all their lives. They can’t go to school, can’t go anywhere alone, can’t make decisions for themselves. I think I’m tired with these stories now because it feels so formulaic. Women are incredibly mistreated; main character disagrees with how society works and is going to set out to somehow change that.

I’m tired of reading stories like this because yes, women are still fighting for equality in reality. But these stories don’t really make any commentary on life as it currently exists; they don’t reflect current issues and present situations that will feel familiar to readers, then show how the main characters persevere beneath those circumstances as a way to show how the world might take those ideas and better itself by using them, too.

So these stories just end up being really depressing and repetitive.

I want stories where women can want more than equality, where the plot can focus on something different because in the book’s society all people are already treated equal. I just don’t understand why so many fantasy stories seem to feel the need to go backward without using that as a way to comment on the present. Maybe it’s time to look ahead.

Grace and Fury also attempted to include a few plot twists, but . . . they were the exact twists I’ve seen in other YA books, so I was almost hoping they wouldn’t happen as that would have made this book somewhat different.

I won’t be recommending this book, and also won’t be reading the sequel.

2/5 stars

5 stars · Fantasy · series · young adult

The Rise of Kyoshi: an AMAZING original story in the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe

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The Rise of Kyoshi

author : f.c. yee

pages : [hardcover] 442

favorite character : kyoshi

memorable quote :

What you do when no one is guiding you determines who you are.

summary :

F. C. Yee’s The Rise of Kyoshi delves into the story of Kyoshi, the Earth Kingdom–born Avatar. The longest-living Avatar in this beloved world’s history, Kyoshi established the brave and respected Kyoshi Warriors, but also founded the secretive Dai Li, which led to the corruption, decline, and fall of her own nation. The first of two novels based on Kyoshi, The Rise of Kyoshi maps her journey from a girl of humble origins to the merciless pursuer of justice who is still feared and admired centuries after she became the Avatar.

review :

The Avatar universe continues to be one of the best things ever created.

When I first heard they were telling Kyoshi’s story in books, I was so excited because Avatar is one of the few franchises I think has done well in the transition between mediums. Usually, when you read an adaptation of something that appeared on film or television, it’s . . . lacking. But the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics are stunning, and I expected this book to be no different. I was right!

The Rise of Kyoshi is everything I could ever want and everything younger me needed. When I think back to the thirteen year old watching the show as it aired on my television–back before I could record anything so I’d need to rush to the screen once the time came–she would have loved this book as much as I do. She might have figured out some important things about herself a little faster. She would have been overjoyed, able to relate to freaking Avatar Kyoshi, aka one of the most badass characters I think has ever existed.

This book is so well-written. I love how it managed to capture the feel of the TV series with funny moments, a great crew built around Kyoshi, and also terribly poignant, heartfelt moments. Not to mention terrible violence and danger. Can’t have the Avatar’s job be too easy.

Kyoshi’s character arc in The Rise of Kyoshi is fascinating and unique in that viewers of the series will already know who she is when she’s older. At the beginning of this book, we see an uncertain teenager who’s actually pretty certain she isn’t the Avatar. I loved seeing her growth in this book and was jazzed when I realized this wasn’t a standalone–we’re getting an entire Kyoshi series! I can’t wait to see what’ll come in book two, which is releasing soon. Watching Kyoshi grow, evolve, make all the mistakes typical in a coming-of-age novel–it’s incredibly refreshing, real, and relatable, which is what Avatar is all about. The Rise of Kyoshi has the same heart as the series, and I can’t recommend it enough. I literally can’t stop thinking about it.

If you’re an Avatar fan, or even if you haven’t watched the show and are just looking for an incredible book to read, pick up The Rise of Kyoshi. You won’t regret it.

5/5 stars

 

5 stars · Fantasy · young adult

Crier’s War: an amazing LGBTQ fantasy

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Crier’s War

Crier’s War #1

author : nina varela

pages : [hardcover] 435

memorable quote :

favorite character : crier

summary :

Impossible love between two girls —one human, one Made.
A love that could birth a revolution.

After the War of Kinds ravaged the kingdom of Rabu, the Automae, Designed to be the playthings of royals, took over the estates of their owners and bent the human race to their will.

Now, Ayla, a human servant rising the ranks at the House of the Sovereign, dreams of avenging the death of her family… by killing the Sovereign’s daughter, Lady Crier. Crier, who was Made to be beautiful, to be flawless. And to take over the work of her father.

Crier had been preparing to do just that—to inherit her father’s rule over the land. But that was before she was betrothed to Scyre Kinok, who seems to have a thousand secrets. That was before she discovered her father isn’t as benevolent as she thought. That was before she met Ayla.

Set in a richly-imagined fantasy world, Nina Varela’s debut novel is a sweepingly romantic tale of love, loss and revenge, that challenges what it really means to be human.

review :

Crier’s War is a book unlike any other.

My friend was nice enough to give this book to me for my birthday, and had already read and loved it, so I was eager to dive in. Without knowing much about the book, I was immediately immersed in the story and both POV.

Ayla is a human servant, whose family was destroyed by the Automae (basically, near-human robots who’ve taken over society). One day, she’ll have her revenge.

Crier is the daughter of the Automae leader, and one day hopes to lead them on her own.

The two are pulled together in unusual ways that reveal important aspects of their divided society neither knew beforehand.

I loved the dynamic in this book. Because we get perspectives from either side of the conflict–human and Automae–we get an interesting look at the whole world the author has created. Each POV has its own biases and judgements, so I liked being able to compare how Ayla and Crier saw the world, the people around them, each other–and then forming my own opinions of what those things might really be like, and how I would react to them myself.

For me, the book did seem to lean more heavily toward romance than toward the plot, but I didn’t mind that. I love that diverse books are getting the chance to have stories like this told. It did make some of the decisions made by the main characters seem a little off, like maybe things were moving a little too fast for some of the decisions they were making, but I also think the timeline during this book was a lot longer than it’d initially seemed. This actually gives the characters a chance to grow together . . . or maybe apart.

I love how Crier’s War managed to have some unpredictable moments that kept me on the edge of my seat, including the ending that has me eager for the sequel. I’m not sure what will happen, but I really can’t wait! Go read Crier’s War and then come discuss the book with me!

5/5 stars

 

5 stars · adult · Fantasy

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin is terrifyingly amazing

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The Fifth Season

The Broken Earth #1

author : n.k. jemisin

pages : [paperback] 468

memorable quote :

Home is what you take with you, not what you leave behind.

favorite character : essun

summary :

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

review :

My friend gifted me this book and I trust her judgement, so I began reading it without even glancing at the back cover. So I had no idea what I was getting into, and I think it was only a chapter or two before my jaw dropped and remained open throughout the rest of this wild story.

The Fifth Season is unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Terrifying. Powerful. Beautiful. There were parts that were difficult to read through, parts where I absolutely couldn’t put the book down because I needed to know what would happen next. Parts where I was frustrated with the characters and parts where I loved them (and was very, very worried for them).

When a book like The Fifth Season is this good, it becomes difficult to explain why everyone needs to read it. You don’t want to spoil anything, and it’s impossible to capture that feeling the book gives you while reading without actually being in the midst of that reading experience. This is the kind of book that might be best experienced by diving in headfirst without looking up anything about it beforehand.

Because you will love it. Even if there are those parts I said are hard to read through; the writing is beautiful, but I felt a little squeamish. There are a lot of terrible things that happen throughout The Fifth Season, but that’s the sort of thing you come to expect in dystopian novels. This book is unlike all the rest, wholly unique in the way gives you nightmares.

I need to get the sequel.

5/5 stars

 

Fantasy · series · young adult

The Language of Thorns: a book where the words and illustrations are equally beautiful

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The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic

Grishaverse

author : leigh bardugo

pages : [hardcover] 281

memorable quote :

We were not made to please princes.

summary :

Love speaks in flowers. Truth requires thorns.

Travel to a world of dark bargains struck by moonlight, of haunted towns and hungry woods, of talking beasts and gingerbread golems, where a young mermaid’s voice can summon deadly storms and where a river might do a lovestruck boy’s bidding but only for a terrible price.

Inspired by myth, fairy tale, and folklore, #1 New York Times–bestselling author Leigh Bardugo has crafted a deliciously atmospheric collection of short stories filled with betrayals, revenge, sacrifice, and love.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans, these tales will transport you to lands both familiar and strange—to a fully realized world of dangerous magic that millions have visited through the novels of the Grishaverse.

This collection of six stories includes three brand-new tales, all of them lavishly illustrated with art that changes with each turn of the page, culminating in six stunning full-spread illustrations as rich in detail as the stories themselves.

review :

This book is beautiful. The words, the illustrations, the cover. Every piece of it is pure art. I could sit here and stare at it all day, and be content.

The Language of Thorns is a collection of short stories. I was surprised to find that most of them are fairytale retellings–guys, gals, non-binary pals, those are my very favorite type of thing to read. I love how those stories always feel familiar, yet tell you so much about the writer in the way they change the words, characters, and tales to become their own creations. It’s fascinating in a unique way.

This book is entirely unique. It’s rare that I come across a collection where I enjoy each of the stories inside. Yes, I had my favorites here, but I liked reading through every story, trying to pick apart what tale inspired each one and predict what was going to happen. A lot of these are surprisingly unpredictable, and I loved the little reveals that came in the text.

In my opinion, this is a collection best savored. I read one story each day, so I had time to sit with it and really sink into the words. Just because short story collections can be devoured quickly often doesn’t mean they should; something beautiful might be lost in the rush. And with this book, you’ll want time to look over the illustrations as well, literally framing the pages. BEAUTIFULLY. It’s all so beautiful. I’m never going to be over it.

The Language of Thorns is also perfect because if you haven’t read anything by Leigh Bardugo yet, you can dive right into this to get a taste for her writing style. These stories are related to the world she’s created, but you in no way need to read any of those other books before turning to this one. And loving it. And then deciding to pick up her other novels, because of course that’s the only reasonable decision to make.

Although I guess there aren’t many YA readers left who don’t know Leigh Bardugo’s writing.

This collection of short stories gets 5/5 stars from me; it’s one I’ll reread over and over again, but I might save it next to curl up with on a chilly autumn evening.

5/5 stars

 

3 stars · Fantasy · young adult

Conceal, Don’t Feel: I should have let this one go

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Conceal, Don’t Feel

Disney Twisted Tales #7

author : jen calonita

pages : [hardcover] 312

favorite character : elsa

summary :

What if Anna and Elsa never knew each other?
When a magical accident erases Anna and Elsa’s memories not only of magic, but of each other the sisters are separated for protection. But when Elsa unexpectedly finds herself as a young queen mysterious magic begins to happen and questions of her past start to form. Will the sisters ever be reunited?

review :

Do you want to build a–

Alright, alright, I’ll try to contain myself and not just turn this review into a gigantic sing-a-long. I’m sure we are all familiar with Disney’s Frozen. I’ll just have to let it go.

Disney has this interesting series of Disney Twisted Tales which I don’t think enough people are speaking about. They’re basically written retellings of Disney movies in what-if scenarios. In Conceal, Don’t Feel the what-if is obvious from the very beginning: What if Elsa and Anna grew up separately? What if they didn’t know they were sisters?

Because one of the most important themes in Frozen revolves around familial love and mending a sisterly relationship, I was incredibly curious to see how this new situation would be handled. The book has all the same components that appear in the movie, but they fall into place in different ways. Anna grows up on the outskirts of Arendelle where she encounters a certain ice harvester. Elsa grows up alone and afraid of her growing powers in the palace, meeting a certain ambitious prince with plans of his own. There’s magic at play, lives are at stake, and the kingdom is on the verge of collapse.

I really liked how magic was much more prominent in this novel than it is in the movie (the first one, we know the entire sequel remedies a lot of this). Although the whole troll magic system still isn’t really explained, it plays a huge role in Conceal, Don’t Feel. Honestly, I don’t really like the trolls, but I loved how this book gave them a more pressing need for existing within the context of the story.

That being said, I didn’t really enjoy this journey. Because magic existed at the forefront of this retelling, sometimes the plot suffered from that. There were so many events that happened only because one main character or another had a feeling they needed to be somewhere–basically the magic was leading all of them around. I wanted the characters to have more agency! Where is feisty, funny Anna? Where is regal, commanding Elsa? They seemed to pale in comparison to the forces moving them around, which was a real disappointment.

The writing fell flat for me as well. This book is on the bridge between middle grade and YA and it definitely felt like the writing style suffered from trying to appeal to both audiences. Dialogue was stiff. Scenes dragged. And this is a fairly short book. I really wanted to like it, because I had a lot of fun reading another one of the Disney Twisted Tales, the one based on Aladdin. This just didn’t do it for me.

If you’re looking for a quick Disney read, filled with references to one of the most beloved contemporary Disney movies, go for Conceal, Don’t Feel. Just don’t let those expectations get too high.

3/5 stars

 

5 stars · Fantasy · series · young adult

WAYWARD SON is a very fun sequel okay

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Wayward Son

Simon Snow #2
Book 1: Carry On

author : rainbow rowell

pages : [hardcover] 356

memorable quote :

But it was a mistake thinking of that as an end. There is no end. Bad things happen, and then they stop, but they keep on wreaking havoc inside of people.

favorite character : baz

summary :

The story is supposed to be over.

Simon Snow did everything he was supposed to do. He beat the villain. He won the war. He even fell in love. Now comes the good part, right? Now comes the happily ever after…

So why can’t Simon Snow get off the couch?

What he needs, according to his best friend, is a change of scenery. He just needs to see himself in a new light…

That’s how Simon and Penny and Baz end up in a vintage convertible, tearing across the American West.

They find trouble, of course. (Dragons, vampires, skunk-headed things with shotguns.) And they get lost. They get so lost, they start to wonder whether they ever knew where they were headed in the first place…

With Wayward Son, Rainbow Rowell has written a book for everyone who ever wondered what happened to the Chosen One after he saved the day. And a book for everyone who was ever more curious about the second kiss than the first. It’s another helping of sour cherry scones with an absolutely decadent amount of butter.

Come on, Simon Snow. Your hero’s journey might be over – but your life has just begun.

review :

I remember a time when I never thought I’d get to read any more Simon and Baz, so I count myself lucky that this book exists and there’s going to be a third book. This book isn’t perfect, but it was a lot of fun and I loved every minute of it (not to mention it dragged me forcibly out of my perpetual reading slump).

Wayward Son deals with the “aftermath of the Chosen One” trope that seems to be popping up a little more often in YA these days. The world is saved. Simon sacrificed a lot for that and everyone seems to think he should be just fine. Nothing will ever be the same, and no one seems to really care.

So they all go on a roadtrip, to try to shake things up and make Simon a little less depressed.

What I liked so much about Wayward Son was the characters, because they all felt very real. Penny is having some harsh realizations about herself that typically happen to people after high school. Baz is still trying to figure out where he belongs in the world. Simon has lost so much and has taken to that quiet kind of depression that affects so many people–not taking care of himself, pushing away the people who care for him because clearly they would be better off without him. And they’re just as young as he is, so they’re equally at a loss for what to do. They’re three teenagers trying to find their footing in a world that really doesn’t need them anymore, and basically anyone who picks up this book should be able to relate to that.

The plot was a little bit all over the place for me, because for half of the book is was just ROADTRIP and then the rest seemed to be building toward something that didn’t quite have its foundation yet. I was still fully on board; the only thing that really threw me off was the last few chapters. It sort of felt like only then and there the decision was made to build up for a third book, which I regrettably wasn’t anticipating because the first book read like a standalone so I assumed this one would as well. Cue sad violins for me as I desperately wait for book three.

Wayward Son also confirms for me that I’m back in it with vampires. Give me all the vampire books. Brooding ones. Dorky ones. Closeted vampires like Baz who have literally no idea what they’re doing but are trying their best.

If you enjoyed Carry On, I really think you’ll like this sequel as well. The same sense of humor that permeated the first book is still here and made me actually laugh out loud a few times. I think I might have groaned a few times too, as in Oh no Simon don’t do thAT WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT. These boys will be the death of me. Go read this book.

5/5 stars

 

4 stars · Fantasy · young adult

ACE OF SHADES: give me the sequel now

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Ace of Shades

The Shadow Game #1

author : amanda foody

pages : [hardcover] 411

memorable quote :

She was a pistol wrapped up in silk. She was a blade disguised as a girl.

favorite character : levi

summary :

Welcome to the City of Sin, where casino families reign, gangs infest the streets…and secrets hide in every shadow.

Enne Salta was raised as a proper young lady, and no lady would willingly visit New Reynes, the so-called City of Sin. But when her mother goes missing, Enne must leave her finishing school—and her reputation—behind to follow her mother’s trail to the city where no one survives uncorrupted.

Frightened and alone, Enne has only one lead: the name Levi Glaisyer. Unfortunately, Levi is not the gentleman she expected—he’s a street lord and a con man. Levi is also only one payment away from cleaning up a rapidly unraveling investment scam, so he doesn’t have time to investigate a woman leading a dangerous double life. Enne’s offer of compensation, however, could be the solution to all his problems.

Their search for clues leads them through glamorous casinos, illicit cabarets and into the clutches of a ruthless Mafia donna. As Enne unearths an impossible secret about her past, Levi’s enemies catch up to them, ensnaring him in a vicious execution game where the players always lose. To save him, Enne will need to surrender herself to the city…

And she’ll need to play.

review :

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO boy I wish I’d read this book ages ago when it first came on my radar (and especially when my gorgeous beautiful wonderful friend gifted it to me). ACE OF SHADES is so completely unique, and fun, and also terrifying, so basically you’ll love it.

The book is told in dual POV between Enne and Levi, who are both absolute messes and stress me out a lot even though I love them. Enne is new to the city, trying to find her mother and manage not to die in a place that tends to chew up any outsiders who wander in. Levi is a street lord struggling to support his gang and also trying not to die. They team up: Levi will help Enne find her mother, and Enne will pay him for the trouble. They just don’t expect the search to take so long, or for things between them to get so complicated.

I think what I loved most about ACE OF SHADES is that the characters feel so real. They’re imperfect, constantly making mistakes, pissing each other off, and doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. I never had any doubt about their motivations, and for me, I’m weak for character-driven novels. I like being able to get inside their heads and see their world from their perspective. ACE OF SHADES is interesting because at times when Enne and Levi have the same goal, they’ve grown up with such differing experiences that getting to see each POV was interesting. I liked comparing their thoughts, to their actions, to the dangerous consequences.

I also love a good setting. New Reynes is a city I kept picturing as Las Vegas except, I guess, a little dirtier and magical (?). Everyone in ACE OF SHADES has abilities/affinities that they’re very good at because of their bloodline, which I guess isn’t really magic but if you’re THAT good at something . . . It’s magic. And it just added another interesting layer to the puzzle that makes up this book.

It wasn’t complicated to follow the rules of this world, because the worldbuilding was done *chef’s kiss* beautifully. There was no info-dumping!!! I hate it so much when authors pause the action to overexplain every little piece about the world; I loved how we get to explore the intricacies of the city and their society through Enne and Levi. We see things as they show them to us. It’s perfect.

Honestly, if you’re looking for a unique book filled with interesting characters and an ending that will make you immediately want the sequel . . . here it is. Don’t make the same mistake I did and take so long to pick up ACE OF SHADES. No need to gamble with your own happiness . . . hehe. 🙂

4/5 stars

 

4 stars · fairy tale · Fantasy

The Bear and the Nightingale

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The Bear and the Nightingale

Winternight Trilogy #1

author : katherine arden

pages : [hardcover] 323

memorable quote :

Nothing changes, Vasya. Things are, or they are not. Magic is forgetting that something ever was other than as you willed it.

favorite character : vasilisa

summary :

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

review :

This is one of those books where I constantly wonder why it took me so dang long to read it. The Bear and the Nightingale is beautifully written. It starts off a little slowly, but I absolutely love the old-style fairy tale tone that dominates this book. It’s the kind of long book that you just sink into without wanting it to end–which is why I was excited to see that it was a series after I finished this one!

This is one of those stories I absolutely recommend to the fairy tale retelling fan who feels like they’re read everything out there (aka someone like me, hello let’s be best friends). This is new, exciting, and gives you that delightful retelling feeling without absolutely knowing where the plot is going or what will happen with all of the characters. There’s no room for the mundane, only magic.

I highly recommend this book and can’t wait to reread it (and get my hands on the next one)!

4/5 stars