Genre: Alternate History

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Jan 08

The Winter of the Witch

Book Reviews 0 ★★★★★

The Winter of the WitchThe Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy, #3) by Katherine Arden
Published by Del Rey on January 9, 2019
Genres: Alternate History, Fantasy
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World WideBuy on Amazon
Goodreadsfive-stars

In the stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, following The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya returns to save Russia and the spirit realm, battling enemies both mortal and magic.

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

“I called every power of this land to war, winter-king. It had to be done. We cannot fight amongst ourselves.”

The Winter of the Witch is the absolute perfect ending to this trilogy. It shattered my heart, stitched it back together, then stomped on it. Just in case I had any hope of it ever healing properly.

The previous books in this trilogy are just as beautiful and just as compelling, as we first meet Vasya in The Bear and the Nightingale and see her growing into herself in The Girl in the Tower. In this final installment Vasya is still young and still growing, but she has come into herself as a woman and refuses (as she always has, in her way) to bend to societal expectations.

I was bawling within fifteen minutes of starting this book. And then I cried even harder at the end. I was wrung out, unspeakably sad, and yet there was an undercurrent of contentment and joy and hope that has made me recommend this beautiful trilogy to every. single. person. who would listen!

Characters

Vasya, of course. I would go to war with and for this girl. She hasn’t had an easy life but she refuses to be cowed and she embraces who and what she is, even if she doesn’t always understand it.

In her hands was the strength that had broken the bars of her cage in Moscow…”I may die tomorrow. Or live to sour old age. But you are only a wraith in a lake, and you will not command me.

She has heart, and she loves so fiercely and completely, it completely breaks my soul. Unlike in the previous books, Vasya also explores her sexuality in this one – and while I sort of saw her love interest coming, I couldn’t see HOW exactly it would work out…and then it did, and it was fabulous. Vasya will not take being anything less than an equal, and I absolutely LOVED how her path in life was not something she was willing to give up (nor did she) for anyone, regardless of her feelings for them. So often, even strong female heroines fall in love and give up their plans/dreams for their partner. Not that this is always bad…but it’s so often that it’s almost expected, and it’s definitely still an expectation in our society. It was SO refreshing to see how things settled out for Vasya.

I really fell in love with Vasya’s brother, Sasha, in this one too. He was always a sympathetic character, but his devotion to being a monk sort of turned me off. He really came into his own in this book too, and it became obvious his devotion is really more to people and country than any god. He also stops treating Vasya like a child, and their relationship just blossomed into what I’ve always dreamed a brother/sister bond to be.

Vasya put a hand on her brother’s arm. “Then, if you come with me tonight -” Her grip tightened; their eyes met. “I warn you, the road leads through darkness.”

Sasha said, “Then we will go through darkness, sister.”

Then of course, there are the bad guys…Medved, the Frost-King’s brother, as always up to treachery and warmongering, and the priest Konstantin with his hatred of Vasya and all she represents, coupled with an unrelenting thirst for power. The evil radiates off the page…and yet it is not all so cut and dry. Just as life is not all black and white, no matter how much we may wish it.

Plot

A threat from outside will tear Russia apart, but the boyars seem incapable of anything but internal bickering. Moscow burns, and the people blame Vasya. The only way to unite Russia seems to be the road through midnight…

The plot, while it definitely moves the story along and provides the catalyst for the various characters’ actions, is really secondary to the character and relationship development. It proceeds at a rather breakneck pace (unlike in The Girl in the Tower, where it seemed to meander at times), hurtling us all along towards the final bloody conclusion.

Worldbuilding

While I can’t say I would want to live in Katherine Arden’s medieval Russia, it is certainly beautiful and captivating – while also be cold and cruel, especially to women. She weaves in folktales and pagan traditions with the new Church, and who is to say it wasn’t, actually, just like that?

I am planning to re-read this trilogy every year. I bought the US and the UK editions of all three books. If you ever listen to any recommendations I make, PLEASE GO READ THESE BOOKS.

 

five-stars

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Jan 09

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter Review

Book Reviews 2 ★★★★★

The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter ReviewThe Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss
on June 20th 2017
Genres: Alternate History, Historical, Young Adult
Pages: 416
Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World WideBuy on Amazon
Goodreadsfive-stars

Mary Jekyll, alone and penniless following her parents’ death, is curious about the secrets of her father’s mysterious past. One clue in particular hints that Edward Hyde, her father’s former friend and a murderer, may be nearby, and there is a reward for information leading to his capture…a reward that would solve all of her immediate financial woes.

But her hunt leads her to Hyde’s daughter, Diana, a feral child left to be raised by nuns. With the assistance of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Mary continues her search for the elusive Hyde, and soon befriends more women, all of whom have been created through terrifying experimentation: Beatrice Rappaccini, Catherine Moreau, and Justine Frankenstein.

When their investigations lead them to the discovery of a secret society of immoral and power-crazed scientists, the horrors of their past return. Now it is up to the monsters to finally triumph over the monstrous.

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“No wonder men did not want women to wear bloomers. What could women accomplish if they did not have to continually mind their skirts, keep them from dragging in the mud or getting trampled on the steps of an omnibus? If they had pockets! With pockets, women could conquer the world!”

This was a fabulous book to start out 2018! It was just the right parts dry, sarcastic humor, witty remarks, and references to the classics mixed with strong female characters. My inner book nerd did so many happy dances. I absolutely LOVED the characters and ideas pulled from the classics (Frankenstein, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and I think maybe another that I’m missing). However, the reader does not have to have read those classics to enjoy this book. The characters are entirely fleshed out in this book alone. They have their own stories and the style of writing is completely entertaining. It starts out written in 3rd person, but within just a couple of pages it shifts – brilliantly – to a sidebar commentary of the various characters interjecting while the narrator is writing! It sounds complicated but it is amazing and brilliant and I laughed out loud so many times.

Based around the idea of a secret scientific society at the end of the 19th century, the story starts out with the main character, Mary Jekyll, burying her mother and in desperate financial straits. Then through a series of unusual discoveries in her mother’s papers, she stumbles across a strangest of characters – all of which seem linked to herself and her dead father in some way. Then they link up with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and between their ever-growing little menagerie of misfits they attempt to solve the mystery of this strange society.

There’s no real romance – there are hints of it, and some of the characters have obviously had past relationships or relations, as they are referred to at one point. I admit that I’m really looking forward to the sequel, not only to see what exactly was going on with the Society but because I am dying to know if Mary actually ends up with Dr. Watson (as in the original Sherlock Holmes stories, Dr. Watson’s eventual wife was named Mary), or not! I feel like it will be a NOT but I just need to know. 😛

Overall, 5/5 stars and a fantastic start to my reading year 2018! Highly recommend to YA readers who are fans of historical fiction in general, but especially classic literature.

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I hope you enjoyed my review of The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter! Follow me on social media to keep up with more reviews and bookish posts!

         

 

[Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links which means that if you click on a link and purchase something I’ve talked about or recommended, I’ll receive a very small percentage of the sale. Please see my disclosure policy for more info.]

five-stars

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Feb 23

Review of Iron Cast

Book Reviews 10 ★★★★

Review of Iron CastIron Cast by Destiny Soria
Published by Amulet Books on October 11, 2016
Genres: Alternate History, Young Adult
Pages: 384
Goodreadsfour-stars

In 1919, Ada Navarra—the intrepid daughter of immigrants—and Corinne Wells—a spunky, devil-may-care heiress—make an unlikely pair. But at the Cast Iron nightclub in Boston, anything and everything is possible. At night, on stage together, the two best friends, whose “afflicted” blood gives them the ability to create illusions through art, weave magic under the employ of Johnny Dervish, the club’s owner and a notorious gangster. By day, Ada and Corinne use these same skills to con the city’s elite in an attempt to keep the club afloat.
When a “job” goes awry and Ada is imprisoned, she realizes they’re on the precipice of danger. Only Corinne—her partner in crime—can break her out of Haversham Asylum. But once Ada is out, they face betrayal at every turn.

I was so excited to see this book in my tiny local library! They seem to be putting more of an effort into diversifying their YA section and it makes me really happy. This is my pick for February for the Diverse Reads 2017 challenge. So here I present my review of Iron Cast, Destiny Soria’s debut novel from 2016.

Feels:

“America is the land of liberty, Danny dearest,” Corinne said. “She won’t stand for Prohibition, mark my words.”

 

This book feels like a gangster movie with a few twists. Also not everyone dies, like in most gangster movies I’ve seen. 😛 I felt like I was sucker-punched in the gut a few times. Also I love how the author has chosen a relatively unexplored (in YA, at least) period of time (the weeks right before Prohibition took effect in 1919) for her setting. It was an awesome experience!

Ahem. Where was I?

Characters:

“No one likes a know-it-all, Ada.”
“Yes, I’ve been trying to tell you that for years.”

Ada and Corinne are amazing. Their chemistry just leaps off the page and it’s beautiful. It made me miss my best friend so much. The back-and-forth banter had me laughing out loud, but their fierce loyalty to each other was what really made this story. The romantic interests – sure, they’re there, but they are a background to the girls’ friendship.

Plot:

Destiny Soria has taken the year 1919 and turned it on its head with one change of facts: there is a small percentage of the population that are born as hemopaths, who have the ability to manipulate other people and sometimes time itself through some form of art. When I first started reading I thought that the hemopath ability was inspired by sickle cell anemia due to the influence put on the hemopaths’ aversion to iron (an iron deficiency being one of the side effects or symptoms of sickle cell anemia), but after I finished I wasn’t sure. It’s an interesting thought, though. If it WAS so inspired, the author definitely gave it a new look by making it a strength and also making it just as widespread in people of every race.

At this time in history, hemopaths are feared and even hunted in Boston. Once considered artists, they are now looked at as freaks that are sub-human. Ada and Corinne find the noose of the law closing on them as they struggle to survive in their underground nightclub home, seemingly able to trust almost no one. Hemopaths start disappearing – people they know. Unsure where to turn, they spend a lot of time wandering from place to place. At times this was kind of a drag…it created atmosphere but left me wondering what was the point of a particular scene or chapter. However, the characters and a lot of the places they visited were interesting enough to keep me reading. I really wanted to find out WHO was behind all the horrible things that kept happening!

Worldbuilding/Description:

Reading this was like walking down a dark, foggy street. Or sitting in the darkened, smoky club surrounded by toughs and exquisitely dressed women. OR being kidnapped and dragged to a sterotypical “insane” asylum! There is a definite 1920s vibe to it that I loved. It’s so different and feels so glamorous compared to most places and even books (maybe I haven’t read the right ones?) today.

Final Rating:

4/5 stars. As I mentioned, the plot did drag a bit sometimes. Also I wish that Charlie and even Gabriel had been a little more fleshed out, but maybe that would have taken away from the strong thread of female friendship that holds the story together. I also really enjoyed the diversity aspect, as Ada’s family was not white but neither were her parents from the same country, and there is a LGBT couple as well. I loved that Destiny Soria didn’t gloss over how any of these characters would have been treated at this point in history but manages to (to me, at least) portray them without the slightest hint of bias. I’m not marginalized myself, so I can’t authoritatively speak to how accurate the characters are, but they felt very real and relate-able.

review of iron cast

Actually 384 pages, the auto-generated data was wrong.

four-stars

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Oct 08

Book Review: Front Lines

Books/Writing, Reviews 8 ★★★★

It’s a lovely fall morning here…rainy, foggy, gray, and slightly cold. I’m sitting on my glassed in porch on the 11th floor with the windows open, a cup of coffee, and blanket, laptop, and kitty all in my lap. I spent a fun evening out last night with my DH and some friends, and while of course it was fun I’m pretty sure my social interaction quota has been filled for about the next 6 months. Haha.

Best way to spend a morning.

Anyway, on to the review. Also a quick reminder: 4 days left to enter my giveaway for The Woman in Cabin 10!

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Front Lines is an alternate history of WWII. The big switch-up Grant has made is adding females to the draft and using them in ALL roles across the United States military (other countries have not made such an enlightened choice). Other than that change, the book is pretty much true to history – including attitudes towards women, people of color, and people of Asian features. It is at times harsh and heartbreaking, but the main characters of Rio, Frangie, and Rainy are sympathetic and compelling as they grow and adapt to the war and their changing roles in the world. They are not only dealing with the hard reality of being females in a still very patriarchal world, but with their own coming of age, of loss and love on a personal level, and all while being swept along in the grand scheme of the war.

The rituals are different now. It has always been that the men went off and the women wept and waved. There is no blueprint for what is happening now. There is no easy reference point. People don’t know quite how to behave, and it’s worse for the men in the station who are staying behind and feel conspicuous and ashamed.

God knows the MODERN United States army is having a hard enough time getting a grip on itself with females in the ranks, but add to that the expectations of the generation that would become the idealogical 50s housewife – the book ends in about 1943, so with a couple more years left in the war, I’m very interested to see how this shapes Grant’s version of the United States in the sequel coming next year, Silver Stars.

We spend the most time with Rio, a gutsy farm girl who finds herself in the awkward and unwanted position of being good at her army job while in her heart, just wanting to be a normal girl. Her growth is the most marked of the three main characters and I love her so much.

She [Rio] has just upended her entire life based on a diner conversation with her best friend and an awkward exchange with a boy she barely knows.

The other two girls – because really, they are all still girls when the books starts – are lovable as well, but I felt the most connection with Rio. There is also an unnamed first-person narrator that shows up in the beginning, middle, and end, and has some succinct insights on the war and the women in it.

Will you understand if I tell you that there are times when it is better to feel the pain yourself than to see it and hear it in another?

Michael Grant has, I think, either been in military service or he has done his research very, very well. His descriptions of Basic Training are spot on. His knowledge of the WWII era is commendable (I went and looked a few things up to see just how accurate he was, if it all, since sometimes historical fiction writers are VERY free with the facts) and he has altered as little as possible in his writing. He’s baldly honest with the racism and sexism of the time, enough to make me squirm in my  chair. His descriptions of events are extremely accurate as we follow our heroines through their army journey from civilian to soldier.

giphy1

The one thing that bothered me was the substitute of fug or fugging for fuck or fucking…it would be one thing if the entire book was censored that way, but the words dick (the male appendage, not the name) and goddamn are used without euphemisms sooooo…that was kind of annoying and pointless. And GOD KNOWS it’s every soldier’s right to swear. And grumble.

I loved how honest the portrayal of human nature was, and how emotions come so close to the surface during times of stress. Rio especially is torn between what she knows is waiting for her at home and what is happening in the right here right now.

Strand is there, close to her heart.
Jack is there, close.

As a medic myself, I loved Frangie and her fighting spirit, even in the face of soldiers being SO VERY HORRIBLE to her because of her race and her gender. She just never quits. But she never stops feeling, either, she just learns to put it aside at the time. I can’t wait to see her further development.

Rainy, our little intelligence soldier, felt the least realistic to me. Some of her dialogue exchanges are stilted and left me with raised eyebrows. I mean, I know it was WWII and there were a lot of green soldiers thrown into positions that ordinarily they wouldn’t have been…her storyline just seemed far-fetched at times. Almost like, well, we need this group to be here and we need them to meet up with her so let’s throw in this over-the-top mission that makes no sense to anybody. But maybe I’m just overly skeptical.

Don’t go into this expecting a happily-ever-after, or an exceptionally fast paced story. The first half of the book is fairly slow as we are introduced to all the characters and how they came to be in the army. As for the ever-afters, one – the war isn’t over, so we’re going to have to wait and see how things turn out. For another – it’s war, and people die, even the characters we’ve become attached to. Overall, 4/5 stars.

At night we cry sometimes, and if you think that just applies to the females then you have never been in combat, because everyone cries sooner or later. Everyone cries.

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four-stars

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