ARC Review: The Careful Undressing of Love by Corey Ann Haydu

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Everyone who really knows Brooklyn knows Devonairre Street girls are different. They’re the ones you shouldn’t fall in love with. The ones with the curse. The ones who can get you killed.

Lorna Ryder is a Devonairre Street girl, and for years, paying lip service to the curse has been the small price of living in a neighborhood full of memories of her father, one of the thousands killed five years earlier in the 2001 Times Square Bombing. Then her best friend’s boyfriend is killed, and suddenly a city paralyzed by dread of another terrorist attack is obsessed with Devonairre Street and the price of falling in love.

Set in an America where recent history has followed a different path.

review3/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via FirstToRead & Penguin Teen

+++This book does contain mature situations that may not be appropriate for younger teens

PROS:

  • Some parts are gloriously awkward in the way that only first love can be. Others are a question, a struggle to define, and a learning process of how to understand and share intimacy in the many ways it presents itself. There are all aspects of love in this book and often it evolves, transforms, and rebuilds after loss, tragedy, and heartache. Sometimes the love you thought you wanted is nothing like you imagined. Sometimes love has a time and place and no matter how hard you fight for it, it’s a losing battle. Cringe-worthy, provocative, and eye-opening. 
  • Sex positivity. Girls that are comfortable with their bodies, their passion, and willingness to express themselves sexually. Sure, there’s judgment from others but this expression of love is seen as natural and necessary.
  • There are a number of beautifully lyrical and blunt truths that feel like revelation. Perceptions on love and what it means to be in love, to be loved, and to give love shift within the story and as the main character goes through each phase, we experience it right along with her. The confusion, the hurt, the yearning is all there in full force. This is also an ode to loss and the many ways we deal with the empty after. 
  • The premise itself is interesting, though I would hesitate to call it magical realism like many other readers and reviewers have. There’s enough belief in the curse to influence every aspect of the people’s lives who live on this street. That strength in belief is its own form of magic and carries incredible power. It’s quirky, it’s weird, and a little unsettling. The lemons, the windows being left open, it was all fairly ritualistic and earthy. In my Goodreads status updates I tried to encompass the feeling of this book through comparatives: 
    February 17, 2017 – page 75

     

    26.04% “Still undecided. It kind of reminds me of The Graces meets Tell Me Something Real and then there’s little Practical Magic meets The Sun Also Rises. If you think that sounds interesting, check it out. Still not sold though.”

     
    February 17, 2017 – page 25

     

    8.68% “So far I don’t know how to feel about this book. It feel like it’s set in the 70s or 80s, it’s super literary, and thoughtful. While there are things in here that suggest alternate history and local mythology, I’m not sure I want to read more.”

CONS:

  • The pacing. For a story so interesting and poignant, it’s one of the slowest I’ve ever read. And insanely short. For so much story it felt unfinished. It lacked development that could have made the ideas and atmosphere stronger.
  • I didn’t really care for any of the characters. While there were unique and I appreciated what they were going through, I struggled to leave my post of indifference. I pushed my way through the story hoping to feel for the characters, but my heart was with the words, the ideas, not the individuals living it. 
  • The ending. So much happens in those last few pages and it’s certainly jarring but left things feeling unresolved and random. It didn’t add up. It felt rushed, incomplete, and did not fit with the rest of the book. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Read on, 

Jordan

 

ARC Review: Gilded Cage by Vic James

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Release Date: Feb 14, 2017

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Not all are free. Not all are equal. Not all will be saved.

Our world belongs to the Equals — aristocrats with magical gifts — and all commoners must serve them for ten years. But behind the gates of England’s grandest estate lies a power that could break the world.

A girl thirsts for love and knowledge.

Abi is a servant to England’s most powerful family, but her spirit is free. So when she falls for one of the noble-born sons, Abi faces a terrible choice. Uncovering the family’s secrets might win her liberty, but will her heart pay the price?

A boy dreams of revolution.

Abi’s brother, Luke, is enslaved in a brutal factory town. Far from his family and cruelly oppressed, he makes friends whose ideals could cost him everything. Now Luke has discovered there may be a power even greater than magic: revolution.

And an aristocrat will remake the world with his dark gifts.

He is a shadow in the glittering world of the Equals, with mysterious powers no one else understands. But will he liberate—or destroy?

review

3.5/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Del Rey

PROS: 

That first chapter. Holy on the edge of your seat foreboding, anxiety, and all around fascination. Three hot brothers, a mysterious woman with a baby, magic…it’s compelling, gripping, you won’t want to put it down. And the personality. Each character is strong in tone and development. They almost feel like dark fae princes. If you’ve read Holly Black or Julie Kagawa, you’ll get some serious vibes here. Gavar, Jenner, and Silyen. The whole Jardine clan of men. The layers and layers of questionable morals and cold snark. The darkness within. It’s addictive. They’re the most interesting characters, no matter how intriguing Luke’s work as a rebel is. Gavar alone is like this grumbly Phantom of the Opera character meets Beast from Beauty and the Beast. Jenner is a sort of Darcy. Silyen, you want to hate him, but his story is the most versatile, interesting, and he’s so unreliable as a narrator that you’re unsure whether to trust him. He’s your epic love-hate male interest. 

Luke’s story is almost on Les Mis level. Tossed into the heart of the rebellion and amongst a clandestine group of people within the working class. My Russian heart swelled at this revolutionary vibe. Luke is bumbling, he doesn’t know who he is, what he wants to be, he’s a little baby-ish and resentful as the story starts-he just wants to hang with his friends, play some football and chill, but no. Luke makes the biggest transformation in the story. His heart is full of justice and yearning, of that desperation to do right, even if it results in death. He becomes the cause and OMG does he get slaughtered for it-figuratively (no spoilers). You know in Les Mis when they sing “Red and Black” or “Do You Hear the People Sing?” That is the soundtrack to Luke’s chapters. He’s a supplanted Marius. 

OMG that cliffhanger. The last few chapters of the book are jam-packed with twists that will stun and shock and turn you inside out. The predictable ones were made unpredictable because they had another level of deceit. I’ve never seen anything like it. Just when you’re nodding your head along, satisfied and sure that you had everything figured out, boom, epic level twist tacked right on. Mind blown. The ending. I can’t get over everything that happened. All the lies, the evil, the morals are tossed to the wind (not that they weren’t throughout, but these are particularly sinister and vile). 

Love is everywhere. Sibling, friendship, romantic. All forms. Sometimes it’s twisted, others it’s pure and builds. There’s so much of it. Romance is subtle, but grows. The one Romeo and Juliet style romance…oh my poor little heart-obliterated. Cruel cruel story. 

CONS:

Some of the POVs thrown in were questionable and didn’t really seem to have a function. More than that, they threw off the whole feeling of the book. As a reader, you pause and question why these new characters are suddenly there and whether we should care or not. For the most part, it was random and jarring. These POVs that shifted from the main characters detracted from the overall tone.

This book was highly political. At its heart, it’s a story of repression, rebellion, and challenging the system through planned and exhilarating vigilante justice. Sometimes the politics were unclear, especially in terms of history, why the world is structured the way it is, and it doesn’t explain as much as it should until late in the book and from there it’s a whirlwind of explosive reveals and insanity-utter chaos to the extreme, which leads me to my next point…

Pacing. The book starts out interesting enough. It pulls you in, it keeps you going, and then there’s a major lag, which is infuriating because it should not be happening at all. There’s all sorts of crazy stuff happening-plans for fighting oppression, protests, escapes, all high adrenaline stuff, but the constant swapping POVs dimmed the tension. There’s also a lot going on, inside the magical “palace” and in the slums. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

 Lovely reading, 

Jordan

Blog Tour, ARC Review, & Giveaway: Any Boy But You by Julie Hammerle

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Elena Chestnut has been chatting with an anonymous boy late into the night. It’s a very You’ve Got Mail situation, and she has no idea who he is. He can’t be Oliver Prince, hot-and-bashful son of the family running the rival sporting goods store. Their fancy sales strategies are driving Elena’s family out of business. Elena’s mystery boy has teamed up with her in their latest sales strategy, an augmented reality game, to help her win the grand-prize plane tickets. Money’s so tight Elena’s going to miss senior year spring break with her friends if she can’t win this game.

The girl Oliver’s fallen head-over-heels for online had better not be Elena Chestnut. She’s his angry, vindictive Latin tutor, the daughter of his dad’s business rival, and the one girl he’d never even think of kissing. She’s definitely not his online crush, because that girl is funny, sweet, and perfect.

When Oliver asks to reveal their names at the Valentine’s Day dance, their IRL relationship will either ruin what they have online, or they’ll discover just how thin the line between love and hate really is.

Disclaimer: This Entangled Teen Crush book contains swearing, snowball fights, and sexual tension that could melt the North Pole. Read at your own risk.

review

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Entangled Crush

Any Boy But You is an adorable, feel good story that reads like a quirky ode to Pride and Prejudice. It’s full of that love-hate, push and shove, combined with a generations-long rivalry that keeps you on your toes and infuriates at the same time. 

Here’s what I loved about this story:

It’s fun. There’s a super creative competition going on that sets up a virtual meet cute for out main characters and it’s a rush. Sometimes it’s so much easier to be honest and open with a stranger and using the Stash chat has allowed Elena and Oliver to not only grow, but recognize their own shortcomings, the stupidity of their family hate, and cast off their prejudice. 

The love-hate is epic with these two. There are tons of barbs and calling each other out. They hit where it hurts and it’s not necessarily mean, but truths that the other needs to hear to see their flaws and work on them. Elena is a sarcasm queen. She’s got some insanely quick and pointed lines that will make out laugh out loud. 

The romance. No matter how hard they fight it, resistance is futile 😉 It’s weird, it’s awkward, and with the amount of animosity, it’s pretty explosive, but when it’s real, it’s good. 

There are a number of LGBT characters. I appreciated that it wasn’t a huge deal. So often in YA books, the fact that a character is gay is made a gigantic arc where it’s like they have the plague or something. Here, it is an exploration, a realization, and hey, no one flips out, so that was awesome. 

Here’s what I would have liked more:

The secondary characters were interesting. They had unique personalities and many times, they made the main characters question themselves. However, there was nowhere near enough of them. Regina and Harper. I would have loved to see more of them. Especially the friendship between Harper and Elena, the sibling relationship between Oliver and Regina, and while I loved Craig, it felt like he had more of a presence than Regina and Harper combined. More interactions.

This book could have been at least 50 pages longer. It moves at a steady pace and it goes by pretty fast. There were places that could have been more developed, like above comment, and the story would have had a stronger chance for the reader to form more emotional connections with the characters. 

I expected more conflict. When identities are revealed, it’s kind of a shrug. This made little sense. After all the hate and anger and effort to insult, flipped switch. It was too sudden. 

authorjulie-hammerle-author-photoJulie Hammerle is the author of The Sound of Us, which will be published by Entangled Teen on June 7, 2016. Before settling down to write “for real,” she studied opera, taught Latin, and held her real estate license for one hot minute. Currently, she writes about TV on her blog Hammervision, ropes people into conversations about Game of Thrones, and makes excuses to avoid the gym. Her favorite YA-centric TV shows include 90210 (original spice), Felicity, and Freaks and Geeks. Her iPod reads like a 1997 Lilith Fair set list.

She lives in Chicago with her husband, two kids, and a dog. They named the dog Indiana.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instragram | Goodreads

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Playful reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: Beautiful Broken Girls by Kim Savage

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Release Date: Feb 21, 2017

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Mira and Francesca Cillo—beautiful, overprotected, odd—seemed untouchable. But Ben touched seven parts of Mira: her palm, hair, chest, cheek, lips, throat, and heart. After the sisters drown themselves in the quarry lake, a post-mortem letter from Mira sends Ben on a quest to find notes in the seven places where they touched. Note by note, Ben discovers the mystical secret at the heart of Mira and Francesca’s world, and that some things are better left untouched.

review2/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group

+++Potential triggers for: sexual abuse, death/loss, suicide

Beautiful Broken Girls is the kind of book you tilt your head and look at sideways, puzzled and perplexed, trying to figure out what happened and how it evolved into what it did. Unfortunately for me, even when the mystery unraveled, there were so many questions left unanswered that I was at a loss for what to make of this bizarre story.

When I initially saw this cover, I knew I had to have it. It’s creepy and unsettling. It looks like something out of a horror film, so that’s kind of what I expected when I opened the book. This is not that kind of story. At its core, Beautiful Broken Girls is a mystery and an ode to learning to cope after a horrible tragedy, and for Ben, after a lost first love. 

The story is told from multiple characters (Mira, Francesca, and Ben) and takes place in two different years. The pieces are not in order and are further separated by body parts that Ben touched on Mira when they were seeing each other. If it sounds strange, that’s because it is. The idea itself is an interesting one. Getting to each note that Mira left for Ben was like a nostalgic scavenger hunt as he relived the sensual moments he had with Mira as they feel for each other. What the notes meant and getting to the truth propelled the story forward, even when the pacing was excessively slow. 

I made guesses throughout the story about what really happened to the dead girls; I suggest trying this and seeing if you guessed right. I did, to an extent. As the story evolves and the clues are found-in the form of Mira’s cryptic little poem snippets-Ben makes a whirlwind of assumptions. It’s hard to talk about this book without giving anything away and I HATE spoilers. One of the first things you learn about Ben, is that he was molested as a child in little league. So he’s known as touched or damaged. There is so much wrong with this, but I digress. Apart from the fact that this is used as a device by others in the story so that Ben is doubted and seen as projecting his past on the situation, it didn’t really function in the story and threw me off as a story arc. It felt like so many elements of this book were jumbled and thrown in and never really came together to form a coherent narrative. 

One of my major issues was with voice. Ben, the other boys, Mira, basically everyone in the story, despite being set in 2015-2016, felt like they were using language from the 80s or 90s. Maybe even before that. It could be the setting and maybe those phrases are abundant and natural there, but to me, it felt off. Some phrases are crude and made me feel slimy, and other times, it felt like things were thrown in to emphasize that they were teenage boys, whether they were realistic or not. You’re introduced to a lot of characters at once. It took a bit for them to develop into their own people, it was hard to distinguish them at first because of how they were introduced. 

I labeled this with a mental illness tag because of some of the descriptions of Mira and the actions of Francesca (which I can’t really go into without spoilers). But Mira has some disturbing imagery attached to her and her thoughts that make you question her…though somehow nowhere near the way you do Francesca and Mira almost functioned as a secondary character-her voice, her personality, the romance, none of it was emphasized or clear. Mira flitted in and out of the story and there are brief interludes of memory, but other than that, she fades away-ghostly. Back to the point, these thoughts, like wanting to drink toxic chemicals or throw herself off a cliff are dangerous, reckless, borderline suicidal and very disturbing, and yet, they’re just there. Not really deliberated over or anything and it makes you wonder why even put them there other than to show that Mira was messed up too. 

I wasn’t invested in the characters, I was invested in the mystery. The need to know what happened was enough. However, that ending, the truth, the reveal, what about all of the other stuff? Was it real? Was it a psychological issue? So many questions. If you’re looking for something weird, something that when you finish reading you’ll question what you just read, then check this out. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Mysterious reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

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Release Dare: February 7, 2017

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In the vein of It’s Kind of a Funny Story and All the Bright Places, comes a captivating, immersive exploration of life with mental illness.

For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst–that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

In A Tragic Kind of Wonderful, Eric Lindstrom, author of the critically acclaimed Not If I See You First, examines the fear that keeps us from exposing our true selves, and the courage it takes to be loved for who we really are.

review3/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

PROS:

  • There was so much to learn from this book. Mental health isn’t talked about anywhere near as much as it should be. There’s a complex system of animals Mel uses to illustrate her moods/how she’s feeling, which you might want to write down for reference throughout, because it is a little hard and confusing to keep track of. As far as I know (I’m not an expert), this is a poignant and realistic portrayal of the mental and physical highs and lows experienced by someone who is bipolar. It was an awakening for me as a reader, because I haven’t read many books with this mental illness. It brought keen insight into the disorder and how the individual’s thinking and feeling change, how they react, and the medicine cabinet full of medication that some who suffer from this disorder live with everyday. I think a big part of this story was trying to show how normal mental illness can appear to an outsider or someone who doesn’t know. There was a bunch of terminology I had no clue about and I was pretty startled by the idea of subintentional suicide; I’d never heard of that before. Generally when we think of people who make dangerous choices it’s in a oh, what a daredevil kind of way, but this was truly eye-opening for me, and in connection to bipolar disorder. I am still reeling. 
  • I adored HJ (Hurricane Joan). She’s this feisty, sassy aunt, who like Mel, has bipolar disorder. She’s super fun and full of energy, and while she does have her down times, she has such a strong presence. 
  • Mel was an intriguing character. She wasn’t particularly interesting, but she was compassionate, giving, a genuinely good person. Her emotions were a dizzying spiral of highs and lows, ups and downs, and very raw, honest. Her confusion and fear are clear, even if she doesn’t understand why she feels the way she does or how she’s going to react. Mel is trying to cope with her disorder, not beat it or pretend that it doesn’t exist. Mel believes she can be like a “normal” person and that in order to do so, she needs to lie. Why Mel insists on all the lies is revealed in time, but it doesn’t always feel like it was necessary. 
  • Mel and David are cute together. They’re blunt and challenge each other. He is the only one that she is completely truthful with and where she can be the most herself. They’re funny, playful, and have an easy way with each other that feels meant to be.

CONS:

  • A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is split into flashbacks and current events. There are two storylines, one regarding the time before diagnosis and another after. These stories mix and mingle with each other and I wasn’t entirely sold on how it was set up. They way these two narratives were presented made the pacing feel staggered. You feel like you wait forever to things that are alluded to from the very beginning-like why her friendship with Zumi and Conner is on the outs. The whole book you wait for this reveal and it’s built up so much that you expect it to be something world-shattering and terrible, and while it is a betrayal, when you know the reasons why, it’s like, oh, shrug. Other reveals, like what happened to her brother and the mystery about her name, were a little frustrating, but once you understand that they took so long to get to because Mel couldn’t safely, emotionally process them, it’s okay. 
  • All of the characters except for David and Mel and HJ and most of the elderly people-let me fix this, most of the teen characters were antisocial, withdrawn, and even with the flashbacks, didn’t have much personality. The connection between them and Mel was supposedly so strong that it emotionally paralyzes her to think about it, and yet, that feeling does not carry through the book, it’s more talked about than actually illustrated. Most of the story, I questioned why Mel even cared that these people were no longer in her life, she had replacements in the form of Holly and Declan, who were similar enough to the original friends that they were kind of forgettable. Had there been more interaction with ANY of these friends, a stronger establishment between characters would have been made and it would have been easier to become emotionally invested. Again, I think this had a lot to do with how the book was organized. 
  • I wish there had been more flashbacks to Mel and her brother. I felt like the focus was skewed. So much emphasis was placed on the loss of these friends she made after her brother’s death, when his loss is the root of so much of her hurt. 

SIDE NOTE: I would not compare this to All the Bright Places in terms of writing style, but thematically, sure. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Informative reading, 

Jordan

dreadnought

ARC Review: Dreadnought by April Daniels

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“The shelter of boyhood ended, and they called me a young man. For no reason at all, they looked at the things that felt right to me, and they took them.

Even down to the way I carry my books and cross my legs. They took it. They took everything. Puberty came, and my body turned on me, too. Watching every part of myself I liked rot away one day at a time, the horrified impostor staring back at me. Watching the other girls, the ones who they let be girls, head in the other direction.

Every day, torn away further from myself, chained down tighter. Suffocated. Strangled.

They’ll make a man of me. Show me how to be a man. Teach me to man up by beating me down.

They never ask if I want to be a man.”

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Danny Tozer has a problem: she just inherited the powers of the world’s greatest superhero. Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, she was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But then her second-hand superpowers transformed her body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.

It should be the happiest time of her life, but between her father’s dangerous obsession with curing her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and the classmate who is secretly a masked vigilante, Danny’s first weeks living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined.

She doesn’t have much time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer, a cyborg named Utopia, still haunts the streets of New Port City. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

review4 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley & Diversion Books

+++Potential triggers: violence, verbal abuse

With a classic superhero fix that would do Marvel proud and a protagonist that speaks from the heart, Dreadnought is the book you didn’t know your soul needed, but it answered just the same. 

Sometimes the world is a bleak and terrifying place and so much seems hopeless. All we can do is fight through the darkness and stand strong in our convictions. Dreadnought is that quintessential story. The world can be a cruel place for those who are different and humanity can leave a lot to be desired. Dreadnought is a story of strength, hope, and perseverance, of embracing what you know in your heart and not letting anyone tell you different, despite the adversity and fear. 

Danny (Danielle) Tozer has lived her life in a body she feels betrayed her. I’ve never had such a keen insight into a character and their emotions. Danny’s story reflects the boxes that our sex puts us in, the way that society pushes and crafts each child into perceived ideas of masculinity and femininity. Danny has always known she was female, despite being anatomically male. She talks about how she gradually was pushed out of a circle of girls that she was friends with, how she was pushed into sports, and what she was expected to act like to assume the role of a male. My heart broke a little more with each loss, because that’s what they are deaths. It didn’t matter if Danny wanted to hold her books is a “girly” way, she was criticized for being too feminine and forced to adjust even the smallest of her mannerisms for fear of reprimand, even if part of her was dying inside with each small defeat. It’s eye-opening. How many times are people dismissive? How many times do people say, what’s the big deal, it’s a choice, what’s it matter, just hold your books differently? When you’re hit with Danny’s emotions and how it’s slowly killing her inside to relinquish even the tiniest bit of herself to satisfy society’s need to dichotomize, it cuts deeply. It’s powerful and insightful and will make you see the world differently. A transgender superhero. This makes my heart happy.

Dangerous forms of masculinity and femininity are summarized in Danny’s parents. I felt sick and disgusted by the way Danny’s father treats her and the way her mother cowers. The verbal abuse is gut-wrenching. There are all sorts of abuse and words can be just as painful and damaging as physical blows. I felt rage and hatred, and so sad for Danny. All she wants is to be accepted for who she is and the people who are supposed to love her unconditionally cast her aside. 

Throw in randomly gaining a superhero mantle on top of all this emotional turmoil. Obviously the adrenaline and emotions are high. The Legion is full of a diverse cast of superheroes that are both memorable, occasionally prejudiced, and super interesting. 

Calamity. I LOVE HER. She’s a little clichéd, but that’s her schtick. She’s funny, reckless, smart, and daring. The way she accepts Danny right off the bat and befriends her is sort of serendipitous and heartwarming. 

That being said, the world building was iffy. There were details just thrown in as explanation. Things weren’t clearly defined. They were more broad than anything. 

Utopia’s plan for domination is creative and she’s complex as a villain. However, all of these plot points were piled on at once and a little much. There’s not much spacing. The reveal too was so in your face that it didn’t pack the punch it could have. Some of the action scenes were too step-by-step and lasted an abnormally long time. Not in the sense that they dragged, because the description was epic, but you kind of wanted them to hurry up so we could get to the next catastrophe. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Thrilling reading, 

Jordan

ARC Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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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.

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review4/5 Stars 

***I received this eARC as a gift in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley and  Del Rey

The Bear and the Nightingale is a love letter to old Rus’. 

The other day I found myself missing the Motherland. Once you’ve been to Russia, the spirit of the country latches on to you and you’ll never be able to forget it, even if it forgets you. The Bear and the Nightingale was the perfect answer to my melancholic nostalgia. That being said, rating this book was tricky for me because I love Russian culture so much, so deeply, that it hypnotized and transported me back to those dark and beautiful nights in Moscow and Suzdal and Vladimir and Tolstoy’s estate. I digress, but the point is if you have even the tiniest interest in Russian folklore, the old culture, and adore fairy tales, you’ll be swept up into this rustic and romantic tale of a girl kissed by magic and determined to save her people. 

Side note: Throughout the story I yelled at the book in Russian. Like full on what is this??? yelling. The transliteration irked me to no end and then I got to the end of the book and I laughed so hard. That author’s note made my day. She explained her choices and described how she though Russian speakers/students would react to the transliteration-with disdain and hands pretty much clenched in fists. Somehow, the fact that she knew it made it okay. 

The Bear and the Nightingale is whimsical, haunting, and twisted like any good fairytale. A blend of many stories known, loved, and feared in Russia still today, The Bear and the Nightingale is one epic journey that spans years. From the house-spirits, to the gods of the elements, to the celebrated figures of Baba Yaga and the Firebird, everything that is inherently Russian is present and accounted for. I loved that the focus was not on these known figures, but on the everyday ones that live in the household and receive offerings, that protect the hearth and livelihood of the family. 

This is a love story. Not in the traditional sense, but one of love for the land, for heritage, for culture, and in beings that others believe are myth. There’s not romance in the usual fashion, but there is a hint. 

The atmosphere and world building is strong. You’ll become fully immersed in the countryside, the power of the forest and all the magical beings that inhabit it. 

I loved Vasya. She’s known for being unattractive, frog-like, and weird, but her spirit makes her beautiful. She’s fierce, determined, sure of herself. She believes when others are filled with doubts. She throws herself into danger, she risks her life, she loves hard and barters for her people. She’s small, but she’s crafty and wild and bold. She does what everyone else in the story wouldn’t dare and that’s what makes her compelling. 

On a more somber note, there is some conversion that goes on in the story. Religious crusade of a sort that makes the reader question what happens when people story believing in their folklore, in their old gods, and all the stories that come with them. There’s something heartbreaking and sobering about this war within the people. 

The pacing may be slow for some, but it builds as it goes and Vasya becomes more adventurous. 

If you like any of the following, you’ll enjoy this:

Magical reading, 

Jordan