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

ARC Review: Blood Red, Snow White by Marcus Sedgwick

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There never was a story that was happy through and through.

When writer Arthur Ransome leaves his home in England and moves to Russia to work as a journalist, it is with little idea of the violent revolution about to erupt. Unwittingly, he finds himself at its center, tapped by the British to report back on the Bolsheviks even as he becomes dangerously romantically entangled with revolutionary leader Trotsky’s personal secretary. Both sides seek to use Arthur for their own purposes…and, as he struggles to find autonomy, both sides grow to suspect him of being a double agent. Arthur wants only to elope far from the conflict with his beloved. But when he attempts to extract himself and Evgenia from the complicated politics and politicians that he fears will lead them both to their deaths, the decisions he faces are the most dangerous and difficult of his life.

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3.5/5 Stars

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

For the life of me, I’m always puzzled how Marcus Sedgwick’s books are classified as YA. I’ve only read two or three, but every single time I’m more perplexed. But I digress…I had an extremely hard time rating this book; this is probably the most difficult time I’ve had putting a star average on a book for a variety of reasons. For those of you who don’t know (I’ve shared some information about myself and if you’ve read the bio on here this will come as no surprise) I’m technically what would be considered a Russian historian/analyst/policy expert. Yes, insane right? If I see anything even remotely related to Russia, the Balkans, the Baltic region, or historical interactions/culture, I latch on.

When I began this book, I was immediately transported back to the time of Bolsheviks and fairy tales (if you haven’t read Russian or Slavic fairy tales, seriously get on it and I’ll have a review coming for you in November on a Russian YA retelling). The story begins in that ultra precise and whimsical way most Russian tales do, in the vein of Tolstoy. The prospects are bleak, the chance of a happy ever after slim, but there’s an air of magic and anticipation that will capture your attention, if not your heart. 

The introduction to the story is fantastic. The smoky, enchanting mood of a fairy tale told by the comfort of a warm fire, and at the bedside of a loved one is there in full force. The tale of the grandfather and two children in a cabin the woods, the bear on the prowl, the metaphors and analogies. It’s beautiful, dark, twisted, everything you could ever want in a fairy tale. 

And then the shift happens. The structure is interesting. Facilitating a historical retelling through folk framing was intriguing and definitely livened up the atmosphere, but then a hyper realistic but super boring journalist protagonist comes in. Arthur Ransome may be based on a historical figure and in the mix of truly astounding and world-changing historical events, but that certainly doesn’t make him interesting. For the life of me, I couldn’t invest in him. I was bored out of my mind with his narrative. Despite the dangers of his interactions with the Bolshevik leaders, working as a spy, traveling through Russia in this time of peril, the anxiety, the fear, the TRAUMA of the Cheka (чрезвыча́йная коми́ссия) was absent. There were a few scenes that seemed on the border of becoming the dark and sadistic reality that was Russia at the time, but then they disappeared. It’s possible that some imagery was tamed for the YA audience but it’s just not real. 

The romance was secondary and while Arthur placed a huge importance on this romance, it was hardly romantic. 

The portrayals of Lenin and Trotsky were lively and gripping, but lacked the forboding that normally accompanied interactions. The paranoia and terror were high at this point and meeting with Bolshevik heads was not something taken lightly and this just read so nonchalant. I tried to step away from my academic background for this review and to solely critique as a YA reader, hopefully that worked. 

RASPUTIN. YES. This was perfect. The legendary man was grotesque, creepy, and made so much larger than life than he actually was. These scenes are AMAZING. 

I was also disappointed by the Romanov slaughter. 

I absolutely adore this cover. It’s breathtaking and mysterious and gloomy. 

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

Fantastic reading, 

Jordan

Release Day Blitz & Giveaway: Queen of Always-Sherry D. Ficklin

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If her time at court has taught Catherine anything, it’s that there is no room for weakness in Imperial Russia. With the Empress’ health failing and rumors of a change in the line of succession, her place in the royal line is once more in jeopardy. Tormented by her sadistic husband and his venomous mistress, Catherine must once more walk the fine line between pleasure and politics—between scandal and survival.

When her young son becomes the target of those rebelling against Peter’s reign, Catherine will have to rise up to protect herself, her child, and her nation from his unstable and potentially catastrophic rule. This means putting herself at odds with the most dangerous man she’s ever known, trusting those who once proved to be her enemies, and turning a nation against its sovereign. In the ultimate battle for the crown, new alliances will be forged, loyalties will be tested, and blood will be shed.

Don’t miss this breathtaking conclusion to the Stolen Empire series!

Queen of Tomorrow is a YA historical fiction based on the life of young Catherine the Great. Fans of the hit TV show REIGN will devour this scandalous glimpse into the life of one of the most dynamic women in history. 

Start The Series Now – Book 1 is FREE!!

Queen Of Someday Queen Of Tomorrow

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Sherry D. Ficklin is a full time writer from Colorado where she lives with her husband, four kids, two dogs, and a fluctuating number of chickens and house guests. A former military brat, she loves to travel and meet new people. She can often be found browsing her local bookstore with a large white hot chocolate in one hand and a towering stack of books in the other. That is, unless she’s on deadline at which time she, like the Loch Ness monster, is only seen in blurry photographs.

She is the author of several novels for teens and young adults and in her spare time she co-hosts the Pop Lit Divas Radio Show.

Happy reading,

Jordan

ARC Review: Animalis-John Peter Jones

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 When God created man, He gave him dominion over the Earth.

When man created the Animalis, they decided to take it back.

One hundred years ago, a mad Russian billionaire unleashed the Animalis. Their intelligence and rough humanoid forms granted them basic human rights, and humanity seemed willing to share dominance over the Earth with them. But when the economy crashed the Animalis became an easy victim to blame and hate.

Now, Earth is in turmoil. A deadly conflict rages between humans and the genetically engineered Animalis. Jax Minette has followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the army. However, unlike his father, Jax plans to be a hero.

When Jax is sent to recapture the machine that created the Animalis, he finds himself following Hurley Grimshaw, a red-head who has her own plans, and envisions what Jax thinks is an impossible future: one where the Animalis and humans live together in peace.

To save the future of mankind, Jax must understand the motivations behind the Animalis. Every human who gets close to the Animalis has met a terrifying fate: the arena. In the arena, the strong devour the weak. No human has ever stood a chance.

Until now.

Animalis is a sweeping young adult futuristic action adventure. John Peter Jones’ first novel is an imaginative and hopeful vision of the future, saturated with deep moral questions that will leave readers thinking for years to come.

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3/5 Stars

***I received this book in exchange for an honest review via the author

PROS:

  • The arena is like gladiator battles between men and hybrids. It’s fierce, violent, and graphically gory. The action was intensely detailed. Each bite and lunge was powerfully written. The anticipation is a mounting burst of adrenaline and terror. Jax’s fear is real, every ounce of pain and suffering is mirrored in the reader.
  • Jax is complex. He feels strongly about honor, so much so that it rules his life. But when he’s tested, his convictions start to waver and he begins to question everything he thought he knew. Questions about the humanity within the Animalis, within himself, and what it means to be human are particularly profound. As Jax struggles to figure out where he stands on the Animalis, we too are forced to question what it means to be good or evil and the fine line between the two.
  • The mystery of the two rat creatures, the budding romance, and the role of the pyramid are all thwarted by the quest to bring down the illicit arena. There are layers upon layers of plot that flow into one grand source of scientific wonder. 
  • Misha and Hodge are small but unique characters. Delving into their psyches and inner turmoil brings out their humanity and it’s through these Animalis that we see what humanity is worth. Hodge is off-kilter but hilarious. He makes funny comments and is weird without even realizing it. Misha’s story is tragic. The section on her life and memory was one of the most poignant. 

CONS:

  • The ending is a tripped out, convoluted and full out confusing bit of science fiction meets divine. It’s weird, disturbing, and doesn’t make much sense. Plus, each fact and memory is right on top of the other so that it’s an overwhelming influx of genetics and supernatural? 
  • Animalis reads for an audience much older than YA. It’s very sci-fi and the interactions between characters are mature to the point that it feels more like adult science fiction/fantasy. 
  • Some sections are inordinately long without much happening and others are so action-packed and semi-philosophical that it’s hard to get into. There’s not a great balance. 
  • Explanations about the Animalis, how they came into being, their animosity with the humans, especially from the human side are only inklings, I would have liked more insight into the motivations for war and the surge in technological advancement. 

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With a background in art, animation, film, and video games, John Peter Jones brings a unique and refreshing perspective to the science fiction genre.   He studied computer animation and traditional art at Brigham Young University’s award winning Animation Program and helped in the production of two Student Emmy award winning shorts.

John Peter Jones (Peter) was born in Rigby, Idaho and grew up roaming the desert country by his house with his siblings.   At the age of eight, after breaking his leg while taking on two friends in a game of chicken on the monkey bars, he dictated a short story which his mother dutifully transcribed.   It was a horror tragedy that required the best of his monster drawing abilities to illustrate.

Peter is currently twenty eight years old, is happily married to the love of his life, Katheen Petra Jones, and is working from home as a part-time stay at home dad with his four crazy kids.   His first full length young adult science fiction novel, Animalis, went on sale October of 2014.

Pleasant reading, 

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