Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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Favourite quotes:

“We who live forever can know no courage, nor do we love enough to give our lives”.

“All my life, I have been told ‘go’ and ‘come’. I am told how I will live, and I am told how I must die. I must be a man’s servant and a mare for his pleasure, or I must hide myself behind walls and surrender my flesh to a cold, silent god. I would walk into the jaws of hell itself, if it were a path of my own choosing. I would rather die tomorrow in the forest than live a hundred years of the life appointed me”.

“They smelled the city long before they saw it, hazed as it was with the smoke of ten thousand fires, and then the brilliant domes – green and scarlet and cobalt – showed dimly through the vapor. At last they saw the city itself, lusty and squalid, like a far woman with feet caked and filth. The high golden towers rose proudly above the desperate poor, and the gold-fretted icons watched, inscrutable, while princes and farmers’ wives came to kiss their stiff faces and pray”.

 

Vasilisa, or Vasya, loves a good story, a good fairytale. Especially those her nurse Dunya tells her and her brothers on a cold winter night – which is almost every night if one lives at the edge of Russian wilderness, beyond the Arctic Circle. Her favourite is that of Morozko (Frost) – a winter demon that claims the souls of the unworthy and rewards those who display courage in the face of the lethal cold. She loves fairytales and stories because she knows them to be real. The spirits that inhibits them are real – Vasya has seen them. Others in her household might not see them, but they honour them nonetheless, despite Christianity rapidly taking over and replacing the pagan beliefs in the old gods.

Soon, however, Vasya’s harmless stories and games aren’t so harmless anymore. Some years after her mother – daughter of a vedma (witch) dies, her father goes to Moscow to introduce her brothers to the Tsar and to find himself another wife. Vasya’s new stepmother is Anna, and she sees what Vasya sees. But she is afraid. She sees the household spirits as demons, devils. Throwing herself completely into Christianity, Anna and the new priest Konstantin, sent by the Tsar to Vasya’s village, forbid the people from worshipping the old gods, honouring the old ways. Vasya is the only one who sees, who understands the disasters that are arising as a result. The weather becomes worse, the crops fail, the wolves come closer and closer to the village, and Vasya is powerless to stop it. Or is she?

Can Vasya – a fourteen-year-old maiden now – defy her stepmother and make sure that the people remember the old ways and save them? Or will Anna and Konstantin send her to convent before she manages to do anything? And what if Frost isn’t real after all and Anna’s demand for snowdrops in midwinter make Vasya freeze to death – a fate fitting for a vedma?

 

Most of you know that I have Russian family and am fluent in the language. This is why I have such ambivalent attitude towards books based on Russian culture written by non-Russian authors. Some of those authors, like Catherynne Valente, get it so right that my heart weeps with nostalgia for childhood. Others, like Leigh Bardugo in the Grisha Trilogy, are talented in their own way, but fail to grasp the nuances of the culture and the history. Thus I was apprehensive when I picked up “The Bear and the Nightingale”.

I needn’t have been.

I’ve previously made dessert analogies in relation to reading books, and I must say that reading “The Bear and the Nightingale” was like eating a massive, decadent yet light and smooth, chocolate mousse. There were a lot of things packed in this page-turner, but they flowed so incredibly well that it was impossible to be overwhelved. And the writing was absolutely stunning.

The book strikes a perfect balance – just enough flowery prose, just enough descriptions and metaphors, and just enough references to history to satisfy the reader without overindulging them. And for me, it was a double treat – what with my Russian heritage and all! Although I should say – some of you might find a few “nuts” in the decadent “mousse” that is “The Bear and the Nightingale”. These “nuts” are Russian words that appear quite often throughout the text. Fortunately, there is a very helpful guide at the end of the book to help you figure out what the words mean.

I’m biased, as a Russian speaker, but I never get tired of seeing foreign words in an English text – especially those that fit! Some books, like “Black Widow” by M. Stohl were 90% hit, 10% obvious miss with the Russian vocabulary. “The Bear and the Nightingale” was a 100% hit. In fact, I’m not convinced that the book wasn’t originally written in Russian! It just flows so incredibly smoothly – I “translated” a little in my head and could see how well the grammar structures and sentences worked in both Russian and English narration. Miss Arden, I thus nominate thee an Honorary Russian! Although with the author’s background, it’s not surprising that she’s managed to craft such a beautiful, such a Russian masterpiece.

The book might technically be “fantasy” but it is also a terrific study of a little-known period of Russian history – post-Mongol invasion, pre-Peter the Great. It takes place a few years after the introduction of Orthodox Christianity to Russia (or Rus’, as it was known back then), and makes history and religion both important plot points and significant details of the overall atmosphere of the novel. And one thing “The Bear and the Nightingale” certainly doesn’t lack is atmosphere! I believe that one would enjoy reading this on a cold winter day/evening, curled up in a comfortable chair, under a warm blanket – that’s what I did. Best weekend in a while! I can’t really imagine rushing through a book like this one when you’re on a train, for example. No, these kinds of book demand being invested in them – both in terms of time and emotion. “The Bear and the Nightingale” is tricky to put down! Once you get pulled into it, only Solovey (Nightingale) himself can help you out of it! And that’s only because he would be exhausted of Vasya trying to braid his mane and need something to do.

Like I said above, this isn’t a quick book. But if you’re looking for a novel you could really get into, get invested in the plot and the characters (both the human heroes and the storybook villains), and enjoy the inevitable book hangover that follows, you need to pick up “The Bear and the Nightingale”. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I can wait too long for the sequel! Rating – 8.5/10.

 

Recommendations

You would enjoy “The Bear and the Nightingale” if you liked:

“Egg & Spoon” by Gregory Maguire

“Uprooted” by Naomi Novik

“Deathless” by Catherynne Valente

 

Have you read “The Bear and the Nightingale”? What are your favourite books inspired by Russian folklore and history? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add them to my TBR!

 

Book Review: Far From You by Tess Sharpe

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This is a review of a re-read.

 

Favourite quotes:

“But my heart isn’t simple or straightforward. It’s a complicated mess of wants and needs, boys and girls: soft, rough, and everything in between, an ever-shifting precipice from which to fall”.

“But this is the thing about struggling out of that hole you’ve put yourself in: the higher you climb, the farther you have to fall”.

“I want to keep my memory of her untainted, not polished by death nor shredded to pieces by words she meant only for herself. I want her to stay with me as she always was: strong and sure in everything but the one thing that mattered most, beautifully cruel and wonderfully sweet, too smart and inquisitive for her own good, and loving me like she didn’t want to believe it was a sin”.

 

Sophie Winters is an addict. She got hooked on painkillers after a car accident two years ago which wrecked her leg forever. But contrary to what her family, what the entire town believes, she’s been clean for over nine months now. And there was no relapse of any kind. Her best friend Mina wasn’t murdered because of a drug deal Sophie’s orchestrated. There was no drug deal at all, actually. But Sophie’s parents don’t believe her and send her to rehab anyway. Once she comes back four months later, she’s determined to find out who killed Mina and why.

However, very few people are keen to help her. The only one who seems to believe her is Rachel, the girl who found Sophie the night Mina died. Mina’s brother Trev has been in love with Sophie for the longest time, but he won’t speak to her. Her parents won’t believe her. And it goes without saying that Sophie’s time in rehab has done absolutely nothing to help her move on. Mina was her best friend – her other half, even. But some things, some secrets are buried so deep that unraveling them would send Sophie down a rabbit hole  which she has little chance of climbing out of. Can Sophie solve Mina’s murder and stay clean in the process? Or will the secrets they shared with each other, and things that Mina kept to herself and herself alone, wreck Sophie to the point of no return?

 

I first read “Far From You” in January 2015. I remember loving it and being heartbroken by it, and recently, I decided to re-read it. However, I was quite surprised by the fact that I haven’t written a review of this wonderful novel two years ago. So this review is based on both my initial impressions and what I’ve experienced during the re-read.

“Far From You” is both mystery-centric and protagonist-centric. Sophie Winters is a first-person narrator, so the story is shown from her perspective entirely. However, her voice is the kind that makes it clear for the reader the things that she doesn’t state explicitly. This is particularly true when she talks about Mina – Sophie’s pespective of the latter is skewed by many things revealed during the course of the story. However, the reader figures out several things about Mina that venture beyond Sophie’s somewhat romanticised notion of her. This is helped further by the “before” and “after” structure of the novel – flashbacks make up about 50% of the book, which worked brilliantly, even though they were slightly difficult to follow at first. Mostly because they weren’t in the order that you would expect. To reveal more about what the reader learns about Mina through Sophie’s narration and the things left unsaid by Sophie would be quite spoilery, though, so I’ll just say this – nothing in this book as it seems.

One would even argue that the mystery of Mina’s murder is as much of a core of “Far From You”, as it is a plot device. A lot of the book focuses on Sophie’s investigation, but just as much is centered around her relationship with Mina. Even her relationships with other people – Mina’s brother Trev, Mina’s boyfriend Kyle, the subjects of Mina’s newspaper article – they’re all somewhat related to what Sophie had had with Mina. And the way “Far From You” is written doesn’t let the reader forget that. It is also written in a way that makes the reader genuinely feel for both girls, and the words used by the author are weaved into sentences that made me weep both times I read the book. “Far From You” is definitely a story that got to me, made me truly care about the characters, despite their numerous flaws. These flaws are indeed what made them real – the author doesn’t skirt around them but turns them into character traits that make the actors genuinely relatable. And I’m not just referring to the LGBT+ aspects of the book, although books with LGBT+ protagonists are incredibly important today. The author doesn’t make the characters all about their sexual orientations – Far From It (sorry for the pun). All the characters – not just the protagonists – feel like real people, real teenagers with real struggles, their sexuality being one of them, but hardly overshadowing all of their other defining traits. I love books like that. And if they make me cry – well, that’s just a bonus, isn’t it? All stories matter, and stories featuring diverse characters especially. And if they get to the reader, if they make the reader experience strong emotions, that just makes them even more important. “Far From You” is one such story.

When I found out that “Far From You” was a debut novel, I was stunned. The author is incredibly talented with words and story-weaving, and I cannot wait for her next book! My rating for “Far From You” is 8/10.

 

Dreamcast

Sophie Winters – Eliza Taylor

Mina Bishop – Luisa D’Oliveira

 

Recommendations

You might like “Far From You” if you liked:

“Cam Girl” by Leah Raeder/Elliot Wake

“Complicit” by Stephanie Kuehn

“Pretty Little Liars” – Mina was no Alison DiLaurentis, yet one can’t help but draw Emison parallels.

 

Have you read “Far From You”? What is your favourite book with a bisexual protagonist? Let me know in the comments! 🙂

January Friday Finds

Friday Finds is originally featured at Should Be Reading and showcases the books I have discovered during the weeks and added to my Goodreads TBR. However, in order to not flood your dash with weekly Friday Finds, this I decided to do longer ones at the end of each month. So in January of 2017, I’ve discovered the following books and added them to my Goodreads TBR:

Historical Fiction

“A Partial History of Lost Causes” by Jennifer duBois

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In St. Petersburg, Russia, world chess champion Aleksandr Bezetov begins a quixotic quest: He launches a dissident presidential campaign against Vladimir Putin. He knows he will not win—and that he is risking his life in the process—but a deeper conviction propels him forward.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, thirty-year-old English lecturer Irina Ellison struggles for a sense of purpose. Irina is certain she has inherited Huntington’s disease—the same cruel illness that ended her father’s life. When Irina finds an old, photocopied letter her father wrote to the young Aleksandr Bezetov, she makes a fateful decision. Her father asked the chess prodigy a profound question—How does one proceed in a lost cause?—but never received an adequate reply. Leaving everything behind, Irina travels to Russia to find Bezetov and get an answer for her father, and for herself

“Nora & Kettle” by Lauren Nicolle Taylor

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Seventeen-year-old Kettle has had his share of adversity. As an orphaned Japanese American struggling to make a life in the aftermath of an event in history not often referred to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the removal of children from orphanages for having “one drop of Japanese blood in them” things are finally looking up. He has his hideout in an abandoned subway tunnel, a job, and his gang of Lost Boys.

Desperate to run away, the world outside her oppressive brownstone calls to naive, eighteen-year-old Nora the privileged daughter of a controlling and violent civil rights lawyer who is building a compensation case for the interned Japanese Americans. But she is trapped, enduring abuse to protect her younger sister Frankie and wishing on the stars every night for things to change.

For months, they’ve lived side by side, their paths crossing yet never meeting. But when Nora is nearly killed and her sister taken away, their worlds collide as Kettle, grief stricken at the loss of a friend, angrily pulls Nora from her window.

In her honeyed eyes, Kettle sees sadness and suffering. In his, Nora sees the chance to take to the window and fly away.

“Moriarty” by Anthony Horowitz

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Days after Holmes and Moriarty disappear into the waterfall’s churning depths, Frederick Chase, a senior investigator at New York’s infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency, arrives in Switzerland. Chase brings with him a dire warning: Moriarty’s death has left a convenient vacancy in London’s criminal underworld. There is no shortage of candidates to take his place—including one particularly fiendish criminal mastermind.

Chase is assisted by Inspector Athelney Jones, a Scotland Yard detective and devoted student of Holmes’s methods of deduction, whom Conan Doyle introduced in The Sign of Four. The two men join forces and fight their way through the sinuous streets of Victorian London—from the elegant squares of Mayfair to the shadowy wharfs and alleyways of the Docks—in pursuit of this sinister figure, a man much feared but seldom seen, who is determined to stake his claim as Moriarty’s successor.

 

Fantasy

“Because You Love to Hate Me: 13 Tales of Villainy” by Ameriie, Renee Ahdieh, Soman Chainani et al.

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This unique YA anthology presents classic and original fairy tales from the villain’s point of view. The book’s unconventional structure–thirteen of the most influential BookTubers on YouTube join forces (writing-prompt style) with thirteen acclaimed and bestselling authors–gives these mysterious, oft-misunderstood individuals characters a chance to tell their stories, their way.

Like Maleficent or Wicked, these are stories of vengeance, of defiance, of rage. They are stories of pain, of heartbreak, of sorrow. But don’t expect a circle of hands. Leave it to the heroes to help the world; villains just want to rule the world. We love to hate them and they hate to be loved, if only because being hated frees them from having to be good.

Contributing authors include bestselling and buzzy names Renée Ahdieh, Soman Chainani, Susan Dennard, Sarah Enni, Marissa Meyer, Cindy Pon, Victoria Schwab, Samantha Shannon, Adam Silvera, Andrew Smith, April Genevieve Tucholke, and Nicola Yoon, with a foreword and a story from anthology editor Ameriie

“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.

“Certain Dark Things” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

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Welcome to Mexico City… An Oasis In A Sea Of Vampires…

Domingo, a lonely garbage-collecting street kid, is busy eking out a living when a jaded vampire on the run swoops into his life.

Atl, the descendant of Aztec blood drinkers, must feast on the young to survive and Domingo looks especially tasty. Smart, beautiful, and dangerous, Atl needs to escape to South America, far from the rival narco-vampire clan pursuing her. Domingo is smitten.

Her plan doesn’t include developing any real attachment to Domingo. Hell, the only living creature she loves is her trusty Doberman. Little by little, Atl finds herself warming up to the scrappy young man and his effervescent charm.

And then there’s Ana, a cop who suddenly finds herself following a trail of corpses and winds up smack in the middle of vampire gang rivalries.

Vampires, humans, cops, and gangsters collide in the dark streets of Mexico City. Do Atl and Domingo even stand a chance of making it out alive?

“Labyrinth Lost” by Zoraida Cordova

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Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Beautiful Creatures meets Daughter of Smoke and Bone with an infusion of Latin American tradition in this highly original fantasy adventure.

 

Contemporary

“Under Rose-Tainted Skies” by Louise Gornall

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At seventeen, Norah has accepted that the four walls of her house delineate her life. She knows that fearing everything from inland tsunamis to odd numbers is irrational, but her mind insists the world outside is too big, too dangerous. So she stays safe inside, watching others’ lives through her windows and social media feed.

But when Luke arrives on her doorstep, he doesn’t see a girl defined by medical terms and mental health. Instead, he sees a girl who is funny, smart, and brave. And Norah likes what he sees.

Their friendship turns deeper, but Norah knows Luke deserves a normal girl. One who can walk beneath the open sky. One who is unafraid of kissing. One who isn’t so screwed up. Can she let him go for his own good—or can Norah learn to see herself through Luke’s eyes?

“Done Dirt Cheap” by Sarah Nicole Lemon

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Tourmaline Harris’s life hit pause at fifteen, when her mom went to prison because of Tourmaline’s unintentionally damning testimony. But at eighteen, her home life is stable, and she has a strong relationship with her father, the president of a local biker club known as the Wardens.

Virginia Campbell’s life hit fast-forward at fifteen, when her mom “sold” her into the services of a local lawyer: a man for whom the law is merely a suggestion. When Hazard sets his sights on dismantling the Wardens, he sends in Virginia, who has every intention of selling out the club—and Tourmaline.

But the two girls are stronger than the circumstances that brought them together, and their resilience defines the friendship at the heart of this powerful debut novel.

“Fortune Smiles” by Adam Johnson

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In six masterly stories, Johnson delves deep into love and loss, natural disasters, the influence of technology, and how the political shapes the personal. “Nirvana” portrays a programmer, whose wife has a rare disease, finding solace in a digital simulacrum of the president of the United States. In “Hurricanes Anonymous,” a young man searches for the mother of his son in a Louisiana devastated by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “George Orwell Was a Friend of Mine” follows a former warden of a Stasi prison in East Germany who vehemently denies his past, even as pieces of it are delivered in packages to his door. And in the unforgettable title story, Johnson returns to his signature subject, North Korea, depicting two defectors from Pyongyang who are trying to adapt to their new lives in Seoul, while one cannot forget the woman he left behind.

“Harmless Like You by Rowan Hisayo Buchanan

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Written in startlingly beautiful prose, HARMLESS LIKE YOU is set across New York, Berlin and Connecticut, following the stories of Yuki Oyama, a Japanese girl fighting to make it as an artist, and Yuki’s son Jay who, as an adult in the present day, is forced to confront his mother who abandoned him when he was only two years old.

HARMLESS LIKE YOU is an unforgettable novel about the complexities of identity, art, adolescent friendships and familial bonds, offering a unique exploration of love, loneliness and reconciliation.

 

Romance

“Dying Wish” by Margaret McHeyzer

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I have three major loves in my life: my family, my best friend Becky, and ballet. Elijah Turner is quickly becoming the fourth.

He’s been around as long as I can remember. But now he’s much more than just the annoying guy at school.

My life was working out perfectly…until it got turned upside down.

 

Mystery

“City of Saints & Thieves” by Natalie C. Anderson

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In the shadows of Sangui City, there lives a girl who doesn’t exist. After fleeing the Congo as refugees, Tina and her mother arrived in Kenya looking for the chance to build a new life and home. Her mother quickly found work as a maid for a prominent family, headed by Roland Greyhill, one of the city’s most respected business leaders. But Tina soon learns that the Greyhill fortune was made from a life of corruption and crime. So when her mother is found shot to death in Mr. Greyhill’s personal study, she knows exactly who’s behind it.

With revenge always on her mind, Tina spends the next four years surviving on the streets alone, working as a master thief for the Goondas, Sangui City’s local gang. It’s a job for the Goondas that finally brings Tina back to the Greyhill estate, giving her the chance for vengeance she’s been waiting for. But as soon as she steps inside the lavish home, she’s overtaken by the pain of old wounds and the pull of past friendships, setting into motion a dangerous cascade of events that could, at any moment, cost Tina her life. But finally uncovering the incredible truth about who killed her mother—and why—keeps her holding on in this fast-paced nail-biting thriller.

“If We Were Villains” by M.L. Rio

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On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

“Valley of the Moon” by Bronwyn Archer

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There’s just one semester left at the Briar School for Girls in Sonoma, CA. But it will take more than straight As for Lana Goodwin to survive . . .

A Gilded Age heiress. A vanished fortune. A long-buried secret.

Welcome to the Valley of the Moon—world-famous Sonoma County in Northern California. To its uber-wealthy residents, Sonoma is a dreamy paradise of rolling hills and stunning vineyards. But for high school senior Lana Goodwin, it’s hell on Earth.

She’s over being the poorest student at the posh Briar School for Girls. She’s totally over her dad’s failing vintage car business. And she’s BEYOND over her horrid former stepsister—and current classmate—Cressida Crawford, who lives to torment her.

Worst of all, it’s the tenth anniversary of her mother’s mysterious suicide. Now someone—or something—is trying to make contact with her. On the verge of graduation, Lana finds herself locked in a life-or-death race to uncover her mother’s long-buried secrets. Can she claim her birthright before her future is snatched away?

“Follow Me” by Angela Clarke

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The ‘Hashtag Murderer’ posts chilling cryptic clues online, pointing to their next target. Taunting the police. Enthralling the press. Capturing the public’s imagination.

But this is no virtual threat.

As the number of his followers rises, so does the body count.

Eight years ago two young girls did something unforgivable. Now ambitious police officer Nasreen and investigative journalist Freddie are thrown together again in a desperate struggle to catch this cunning, fame-crazed killer. But can they stay one step ahead of him? And can they escape their own past?

Time’s running out. Everyone is following the #Murderer. But what if he is following you?

“The Arsonist” by Stephanie Oakes

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Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, her father is a convicted murderer, and his execution date is fast approaching. For another, Molly refuses to believe that her mother is dead, and she waits for the day when they’ll be reunited . . . despite all evidence that this will never happen.

Pepper Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with epilepsy, serious girl problems, and the most useless seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer . . . or fail out of school.

And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before.

When Molly gets a package leading her to Pepper, they’re tasked with solving a decades-old mystery: find out who killed Ava, back in 1989. Using Ava’s diary for clues, Molly and Pepper realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.

“The Year of the Gadfly” by Jennifer Miller

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Storied, fiercely competitive Mariana Academy was founded with a serious honor code; its reputation has been unsullied for decades. Now a long-dormant secret society, Prisom’s Party, threatens its placid halls with vigilante justice, exposing students and teachers alike for even the most minor infraction.

Iris Dupont, a budding journalist whose only confidant is the chain-smoking specter of Edward R. Murrow, feels sure she can break into the ranks of The Devil’s Advocate, the Party’s underground newspaper, and there uncover the source of its blackmail schemes and vilifying rumors. Some involve the school’s new science teacher, who also seems to be investigating the Party. Others point to an albino student who left school abruptly ten years before, never to return. And everything connects to a rare book called Marvelous Species. But the truth comes with its own dangers, and Iris is torn between her allegiances, her reporter’s instinct, and her own troubled past.

How about you? What are your latest Friday Finds? Let me know if you liked any on my list or want to recommend others!

Book Review: Last Seen Leaving by Caleb Roehrig

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“Rape was violence, not sex”

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Favourite quotes:

“Nobody look at me, I’m a fucking mess! I’m going to sue Sarah Jessica Parker. Sex and the City did not prepare me to be a single woman in her thirties without designer heels and amazing sex!”

“Having a crappy job means having money that’s just mine, that I can spend on whatever I want to. I can’t tell you how good that feels”.

“Would everyone remember the times they’d said stuff like ‘that’s so gay’ and ‘don’t be a fag’ in my presence, and suddenly be unable to look me in the eye anymore? Would they even care how it made me feel? Just how different would my life be if the truth got out?”

 

Flynn Doherty’s girlfriend January broke up with him and a few days later, the police are at his house. January hasn’t been seen since then. As the ex-boyfriend, Flynn is naturally the first person of interest for the police of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Of course, it can’t be January’s stepfather – future State Senator Jonathan Walker. Or any of the dumb rich kids at her new prestigious school. Or her pervy stepbrother. Or Kaz – January’s coworker and the guy who’s so much cooler and more handsome than Flynn. Well, that’s what the police thinks. Flynn is shocked by the news but is he really as innocent as he claims? Or are his own secrets something a lot more sinister than the reader initially believes?

As the search for January continues, the situation becomes much more puzzling for the townspeople. And for Flynn. Apparently, he was quite blind to his ex’s relationships with other people. People like her mother and stepfather. And her new classmates whom she made fun of relentlessly to him. And of course, with Kaz. Kaz turns out to be a whole new mystery entirely. Can Flynn handle juggling January’s disappearance, his own secrets and the changing relationships in his life? Or will the story end completely differently from what the reader is expecting?

 

“Last Seen Leaving” is a book that’s been described as “Gone Girl” for teens. Aside from my personal issues with that description (are teens not smart enough for “Gone Girl”?), it is to an extent true. Indeed, you get the “Gone Girl” vibes from the very first chapter – a missing girl, a narrator with a secret who lies to the police, and revelations that don’t exactly cast him in a favourable light. However, “Last Seen Leaving” is more than capable of standing on its own pages, without any comparisons to any bestsellers (no matter how much we all love Gillian Flynn, there are other mystery writers out there!).

Our narrator is Flynn Doherty, a 15-year-old skater who’s quite smart for his age. A little too smart in fact – at one point, he makes a reference to Torquemada. It is my understanding that in America, there is little focus on non-American history until the last two years of school, so I was quite puzzled by the idea that a sophomore would know who Torquemada was. And for a smart kid, Flynn makes a few very dumb decisions – breaking into an apartment of a potential murderer being one of them. However, he is struggling with some very difficult things during the course of the novel. Being fifteen is hard enough, and when you are in the closet with an ex-girlfriend who is probably dead and a strange crush on a dude whom you thought to be after that very ex-girlfriend – well, it’s no surprise that Flynn’s decision-making process is not in top shape. And January McConville is another story entirely. I do think that Flynn somewhat idealised her, which led to him being an unreliable narrator and such a viable suspect for the police and January’s acquiantances.

Tana French has said it best – “teenage girls make Moriarty look like a babe in the woods”. I’ve already pointed out the novel’s similarities to “Gone Girl”, but I will tell you one thing – that is not a spoiler. The mysteries may have a few things in common, but I was still quite engaged in “Last Seen Leaving” because I genuinely had no idea what was going to happen until the very last page of the epilogue. I’ve suspected several things that came to be, but I was quite surprised (and devastated) by many other revelations.

“Last Seen Leaving” is a very strong debut and an interesting YA mystery. Caleb Roehrig is certainly one author to keep an eye out for! Plus his Instagram pictures are beautiful! My rating of “Last Seen Leaving” is 7/10.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Last Seen Leaving” if you liked:

“As I Descended” by Robin Talley

“The Secret Place” by Tana French

“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

 

Have you read “Last Seen Leaving”? What are your favourite YA mysteries and thrillers? Drop me a line in the comments, I love them! 🙂

Not a Friday Finds Post – rather, a cry for help

no-more

Friends, I rarely post about personal things, but I can’t not write this post. Especially not today.

A few days ago my country passed a law that essentially decriminalizes domestic violence:
https://themoscowtimes.com/articles/bill-decriminalizing-domestic-violence-passes-first-reading-in-russian-parliament-56783

That is what I saw in the Moscow Times today (made it look better above):

FullSizeRender.jpg
Essentially, our lawmakers, especially the woman on the photo who was behind the law, don’t feel like they “should interfere in the family life”. Meanwhile, domestic violence occurs one in four families in this country. And since the 2013 controversial law about NGOs that made it very difficult for internationally funded NGOs to work here, there are very few places left that can help victims of domestic violence. The state doesn’t consider organizations where they can get help worthy of funding. And this new law is going to make it even harder for the victims to get the help that they need.
“The Sisters Center” is one of the very few NGOs that helps survivors of sexual and domestic violence left standing in this country. But its sole source of funding is private donations. The situation is unfortunately very dire for them, but what they do can make a huge difference for thousands, millions of survivors. Especially now.
So what I’m asking you is – please help. Please donate to support the Sisters! They really need your help. Women, men, children and all other domestic and sexual violence victims need your help. You can pay by PayPal or bank transfer.

Link to donate: http://sisters-help.ru/donation_eng.html

If you are unable to donate, please repost! It could save a life. Every victim of domestic and sexual violence deserves help. No matter where they come from. No matter if their home country is hated by the majority of the world.

Please. Donate or repost.

Thank you.

Book Review: Neverland by Shari Arnold

neverland

Favourite quotes:

“There should be a rule universally accepted when it comes to kids, like an age restriction. Nothing and no one should harm a child during the time they are too young to fend for themselves. I get that life isn’t fair. But it’s far worse when you don’t understand what is happening to you. When you’re too young to even make sense of it. The death of a child hoes beyond unfair. It feels like a punishment”.

“Love isn’t selfish. It may be unkind and it will definitely humble you, but never will it demand what it can’t give back”.

“There’s this feeling I get sometimes, that I’m displaced, like I’ve fallen and no one has noticed yet. If I stay real still they’ll avoid me, put up pylons around me like I’m a large pothole in the ground. Yes. That’s what I am. I’m a pothole. And until someone comes along and fixes me, I am dangerous. I am broken. I am not a part of this life and yet I’m still here”.

 

Is anybody else missing “Once Upon a Time” like I am? March is still weeks away 😦

In the meantime,I suggest you enjoy this gif of my favourite character:

killian

and this review I wrote of a lovely, albeit not too well-known, retelling of “Peter Pan”.

 

Livy Cloud’s little sister Jenna died of cancer four months ago in Seattle Children’s Hospital. Ever since then, Livy spends most of her time there, reading stories to sick kids, hoping to make their stay there at least a little bit more bearable. She can’t bear the thought of any kid going through what Jenna had gone through, and hopes that by being there, she can at least help somewhat. Besides, it’s better than being at home, with her father who’s been locked up in his study since Jenna’s death and her mother whose sole focus is her Senate campaign. The children, especially Jenna’s best friend Jilly, love listening to Livy’s stories. However, they don’t seem to help Livy herself. She is unable to move on, to stop holding onto Jenna, to move past the denial and depression stages of grief. One day, she meets a mysterious teenage boy named Meyer in the reading room. He doesn’t answer any questions about himself – all he seems to want is for Livy to go on adventures with him and his mysterious friends all over town. Adventures are obviously the last thing on Livy’s mind, but little by little, she remembers how to have fun. Until a tragedy that was Meyer’s fault nearly takes away her best friend. Livy pushes him away and focuses her efforts on saving Jilly’s life – she is a match for a bone marrow translplant and if she couldn’t save Jenna, saving Jilly is the least she can do. However, her new tutor James H. makes her question things, encourages her to broaden her mind, reconsider many issues. Can Livy survive the operation and if not, what awaits her afterwards? Who is Meyer really and why does he seem to know James? And can Livy ever really move on from Jenna’s death and be happy again?

 

I was intrigued by the idea of a Peter Pan retelling taking place in a modern hospital, so that’s how “Neverland” made its way to my TBR almost a year ago. I did expect it to be quite an intense read – most loss of innocence stories are. What I didn’t expect it to be is an amazing tear-jerker that pulled me in right away. Nor did I expect to have such a hard time pausing when life got in the way.

Indeed, “Neverland” was both a sad and beautiful tale of family love, loss of innocence (like most of the Peter Pan retellings) and overcoming grief, and a mystery. The main mystery – for Livy, not for the reader – was Meyer. She is a girl from our world, and naturally she doesn’t believe in Peter Pan, Neverland, mermaids and all that magical stuff. There is little magic left in her life now that Jenna’s gone, so why is Meyer trying to convince her that it exists? Both Meyer and James are making her view Jenna’s passing in different lights, and yet they shed little light upon themseves. And whilst I realised whom they were supposed to represent pretty much right away (James Hook is not someone I’d ever miss), I was very intrigued by the direction the story was taking. Seemingly occurring in our world, it had touches of magical realism that were weaved into the contemporary setting by a skilled pen, as though they belonged here.

The characters and tropes are an integral part of “Neverland”. I have to admit, whilst I saw the glimpses of the seemingly intended love triangle, it didn’t bother me as much as it normally does. Nor did the insta-love between Livy and Meyer. I usually scoff at insta-love because most of the time, it is written in a very unbelieavable way, but I could see it happening to someone who’s gone through what Livy has gone through and I could certainly believe that she had fallen for Meyer. Another trope is loss of a young family member being a catalyst for character development. Jenna was a lot more than a plot device, but her death sets the events of “Neverland” in motion and thus serves as a prism for Livy’s character development. Livy has always been a good person, but it is through that prism that we see how selfless and loving she really is, and how, despite the devastating loss and the grim atmosphere of the hospital around her, she has retained a zest for life. Meyer was just a way to bring it back out – it’s always been there. Her romance with Meyer is important to the overall story, but it does not distract from the rest of the book, which is essentially Livy-centric. That’s not to say that the background characters are underdeveloped or boring. For example, the James Hook twist was definitely a new one and yet I could so see it.

You know that an author is talented when they write things that the reader believes and gets. “Neverland” is not Shari Arnold’s debut novel – it’s not even her first self-published novel. And reading it was an amazing experience. My rating is 8.5/10.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Neverland” if you liked:

“Never Ever” by Sara Saedi

“Nora & Kettle” by Lauren Taylor

“Alias Hook” by Lisa Jensen

“The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender” by Leslye Walton

 

Have you read “Neverland”? What are your favourite Peter Pen retellings? Drop me a line in the comments! 🙂

Book Review: A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

charlotte

Favourite quotes:

“I’m bad with words. Too imprecise. Too many shades of meaning. And people use them to lie. Have you ever heard someone lie to you on the violin? Well. I suppose it can be done, but it would take far more skill”.

“At best, our friendship made me feel as though I was a part of something larger, something grander; that, with her, I’d been given access to a world whose unseen currents ran parallel to ours. But at our friendship’s worst, I wasn’t sure I was her friend at all. Maybe some human echo chamber or a conductor for her brilliant light”.

“We weren’t Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. I was okay that, I thought. We had things they didn’t, too. Like electricity, and refrigerators. And Mario Kart”.

 

Happy Sherlock Season, everybody! Who is excited for episode 2?

I love Sherlock Holmes and I love the many adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories – whether they’re literary, cinematic, or television. I’ve enjoyed Andy Lane’s Young Sherlock Holmes stories and was quite keen for more like this, which is what led me to “A Study in Charlotte” that came out last year.

Jamie Watson is a descendant of Dr. John Watson – best friend to the Great Detective. His family is quite keen to preserve the legacy, but nowhere near the level of the Holmes’ family. He only suspects it, but his life and Charlotte Holmes’ were entwined from birth. Like his ancestor, he dreams of solving cases in London with a Holmes. So it comes as a major disappointment when he is awarded a full rugby scholarship to a boarding school in Connecticut. Sherringford – the school – is close to the home of his estranged father and his new family. It is also the new home of none other than Charlotte Holmes – a genius, aloof girl who hosts weekly poker nights and doesn’t seem to have many friends. Could Watson’s dreams actually be coming true and could he actually form a friendship with someone he’s idolised all his life?

However, his efforts prove fruitless. At least until their classmate is murdered. Holmes seems quite keen to solve the murder, but soon, both she and Watson are painted as prime suspects.

As one disaster after another, shakes Sherringford to its core, Holmes’ and Watson’s lives are in more danger than ever. Who is trying to frame them by using the Sherlock Holmes stories for inspiration? Or is it not a frame-up at all and Charlotte Holmes is a murderess? Did she start killing at 14 and was August Moriarty her first victim? Or is he the one behind everything? Watson’s mind is riddled with questions that can make or break his fragile friendship with Charlotte Holmes. Can the two manage to stay alive, stay friends and find the villain in the process? Or is the friendship doomed, just like them?

 

“A Study in Charlotte” is the kind of novel about which one has very mixed feelings. I can’t say I loved it, but I did enjoy certain aspects of it. I have to say that while the concept of Holmes’ and Watson’s descendants is interesting in theory, I could never get on board with The Great Detective Sherlock Holmes having a child. The Holmes’ dynasty in the novel and their obsession with deduction, as well as the need to ingrain it in every generation, were very strange to read about. What the parents were doing to their children in the Holmes family was abuse, plain and simple. If that happened to every generation, I don’t believe that all the Holmes’ could have possibly been “on the side of the angels” and wanted to assist law enforcement. Abused kids don’t tend to trust the authority, and I really don’t see how a teenage descendant of Sherlock would be keen to assist Scotland Yard. So I really wasn’t too crazy about the idea of almost  every generation of Holmes’ being “the good guys”. I also didn’t like how the Holmes and the Moriarty families seem to have a rivalry that spans centuries and how most Moriartys were evil. That’s simply unrealistic – almost as unrealistic as the idea of Sherlock Holmes reproducing.

Another thing that bothered me was the pacing and the narration. I think that despite being a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, the book would have been much better if it were written in third person, not from Watson’s first-person POV. It seemed to me that the author was struggling to find Watson’s voice for 3/4 of the novel. True, he is an unreliable narrator, and if that was the author’s goal, it was achieved. However, the narration seemed to be all over the place for the majority of the novel. It was quite hard to follow at times who was saying what, and sometimes even what was happening and where. It almost made me not enjoy the book at all, but in the last quarter of “A Study in Charlotte”, the author seemed to have figured out where to take the narration and the events and it flowed really well. It was fast-paced, like the rest of the book, but with little distraction and the scenes were clearly set.

I’d also like to point out that Watson as an unreliable narrator worked really well in some ways, but not so well in others. If the author was trying to make Charlotte seem “perfectly flawed” through Watson’s eyes, then that’s what happened. But I don’t like my characters to be perfect and I especially dislike it when one character is so smart or attractive they make everyone else around them look stupid or inadequate in some other ways. Charlotte is a sixteen-year-old girl – and she is hardly perfect. Yet Watson keeps trying to make the reader believe that she is, and the police and other adults look terrible in comparison. This is another reason why “The Study in Charlotte” would’ve worked much better in third person. Watson is too subjective – and to be honest, his weird attraction to Charlotte was really distracting. The book could’ve done without it and would have flown much better.

The third-person POV would have also made all the Sherlock Holmes references much more fun to read about. The book is riddled with them, which I really liked. I also liked the nods to the original stories and the detailed descriptions of Charlotte’s investigative activities. And I do wish that Watson’s biased narration didn’t distract from the fact that she is still a teenager with issues typical teens face. Despite the negative points I’ve elaborated on in this review, I still thought that “A Study in Charlotte” was an OK book. My rating is 6.5/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “A Study in Charlotte” if you liked:

“Lock & Mori” by Heather W. Petty

“Young Sherlock Holmes” series by Andy Lane

“Velvet Undercover” by Teri Brown

“Elementary” TV series

 

Have you read “A Study in Charlotte”? What are your favourite Sherlock Holmes adaptations? Tell me in the comments! 🙂