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!

Thanks for reading this review and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

 

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: Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire

egg.jpg

I’m only a boy born a dragon’s tooth

In the nick of time, sad but true.

No father or mother, just two hundred brothers

All telling me what to do.

I want to belong to the two hundred strong,

Yet here is the dismal truth:

I’ll never get older

Or grow up a soldier,

I’m a boy born a dragon’s tooth”.

 

Favourite quotes:

“When you’re young, I think, being vulnerable to desolation comes from your not being able to imagine the world beyond you.<…> Being vulnerable to desolation also arises from being unable to picture a set of choices with which to change your lot in life”.

“It seems there is no shortage of regret among the young – but then, they are young, they make mistakes. They have time to correct them and the courage to admit their failings aloud. Adults should try it. But frankly, I think it’s a miracle that adults can manage to speak to one another at all, and that the entire species doesn’t take a universal vow of silence. Some days I wish it would”. 

“Anything that can happen will happen, sooner or later. The question is whether or not the world can be made ready”.

 

My long-term readers would remember how much “Wicked” by Gregory Maguire destroyed my soul. Naturally, I got another Maguire’s book – this time it’s a YA fantasy based on Russian mythology, a.k.a the characters my family and I grew up with.

“Egg & Spoon” is set in an alternative pre-revolution Russia where magic is real. It is a story of two girls from completely different worlds. One is Elena, a peasant girl who fights for her survival and her mother’s every day. The village of Miersk is desolate, miserable and the land doesn’t produce any food. Elena’s survival depends solely on her own wits and resourcefulness. She doesn’t have her brothers to help her anymore – one, Luka, has been conscripted and another was taken away by the landowner. She needs to get one of them back. But to do that, she needs to go to Saint Petersburg to beg the Tsar to release Luka from his service.

Another is Ekaterina (Cat), a spoiled kid neglected by her parents who insisted on her meeting the Tsar’s godson and pulled her out of a boarding school in London for that very purpose. She is stuck on a train with her aunt, the butler and the governess, and the train couldn’t be passing through Russia slowly enough. By a twist of fate, it stops at Miersk – the very village where Elena struggles to survive on a daily basis. We see through our yet unknown narrator’s eye that two girls form an unlikely friendship and by another twist of fate and by virtue of several accidents, switch places with one another. Elena is headed to St Petersburg, whilst Cat is stuck in frozen Miersk with not a single friendly face around. Luckily – or perhaps not so luckily – she meets Baba Yaga. For those unfamiliar with the Russian folklore, she is a witch who lives in a house with chicken legs and is rumoured to lure children in only to eat them later. She is incredibly wise and can appreciate a smart girl, however. Cat, while a sheltered kid, quickly finds her wits about and gives Yaga a gift – a Faberge Egg.

What neither Elena nor Cat know, but Baba Yaga strongly suspects, is that the Firebird is missing and there is no egg from which a new one can hatch. A Firebird is like a phoenix and without it, magic – which is the essence of the Russias – cannot exist either. Our narrator knows that too, and he is scared. Can Elena, Cat, Baba Yaga and the Tsar’s godfather Anton successfully defy the Tsar and find the Firebird? Or will the magic of Russia disappear forever and the lands swallowed by the Ice Dragon?

 

Gregory Maguire is not the sort of author whose books you can just “flick” through. His novels require focus and complete immersion into the worlds that he weaves or adapts. Doing that with “Wicked” has destroyed me in the best way possible, and doing it with “Egg & Spoon” was an amazing ride, too, from start to finish. We are introduced to the narrator early on, but we don’t know who he is until the end of the novel, which adds an element of mystery to an already well-crafted, well-written story that twists Russian mythology in a way I’ve never seen before, and, as someone with Russian ancestors, can appreciate. “Egg & Spoon” to young Russian aficionados is what “Deathless” is to those who are a bit older. Yes, in essence it is a children’s story, with protagonists in their early teens. We have two very different young girls, a boy who is thirsty for adventure, a reluctant mentor figure whose sass can easily match that of “Deathless”‘ Baba Yaga, an equally sassy cat, and a quest. In other words, this has all the elements of an amazing YA novel, and it takes a writer like Maguire to twist them into a story that would appeal to adults and children alike.

I’ve been to St Petersburg a few times by now, and I’ll never get tired of that city taking my breath away, making my soul soar and playing with my emotions to her heart’s content. Needless to say, reading books that take place in St Petersburg is something I love doing, and I am a glutton for punishment when it comes to the city’s atmosphere being reflected in literature and having the power to break my heart over and over again. “The Bronze Horseman” has done that to me earlier this year. “Egg & Spoon” might not have broken my heart like “Wicked” has, but it certainly did leave its impact. It’s been about a week since I finished it, and I’m still feeling it. Not just because of a setting that’s close to my heart, but also because of how real the characters felt to me, of how easy it was to recognise my much, much younger self in all of them, and also because of the overall tone of the book. The narrator tells the story of Cat and Elena in a way that tugs at your heartstrings, but there are also moments when you can’t do anything but laugh out loud at Baba Yaga’s antics.

I should point out that the poem that begins this review is one of the saddest bits of “Egg & Spoon”, and is uttered by a character who NEEDS his own spin-off.

 

Maguire, you’ve done it again. You’ve managed to hold my attention for the entirely of a novel, and I want more. 8.5/10 is my rating of “Egg & Spoon”.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Egg & Spoon” if you liked:

“Deathless by Catherynne Valente”

“Briar Rose” by Jane Yolen

“Tsarina” by J. Nelle Patrick

 

Have you read “Egg & Spoon”? What are your favourite Russian fairytale retellings? Let me know! And Happy NaNoWriMo 2016!

Book Review: Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

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Sorry I haven’t posted in a while – it was hectic at work last month of the year! This retelling of “Snow White” was my first read of #ReadWomen of December 2015.

It’s 1953 and Boy Novak has finally managed to escape New York and her abusive ratcatcher father. By mere chance, she ends up in a tiny town called Flax Hill in New England and tries to make ends meet by taking whatever job is on offer until she is finally offered a position at a local bookstore. She finds some friends, and she meets a rich widower who is somewhat older than she is and has a daughter, Snow Whitman. She marries him and finds herself in a role she’s never pictured herself to play – a stepmother. Soon, Boy and Arturo have a daughter of their own, Bird Whitman, who exposes the secret of the Whitman family. The secret that they are light-skinned African-Americans passing for white people is dangerous to say the least in the 1950s in the States. And it is certainly not something Boy’s obsessive, addictive personality is prepared to deal with well. How far can a girl go when she’s forced into the role of a wicked stepmother?

 

I dove into “Boy, Snow, Bird” expecting a “Snow White” retelling with a twist that went into social issues such as racism and xenophobia in 20th century America. I did get the latter (and then some), but I don’t see this as a retelling. Actually – and this isn’t a criticism – I see this as an attempt to make it a retelling of “Snow White” that ultimately turned out to be an introspective story of obsession, symbolism and familial relations impacted by social issues that are undoubtedly relevant today. That’s not to say, however, that “Boy, Snow, Bird” lacks in typical elements of a fairytale (hence the “attempt” part) – it features a dead birthmother, half-sisters, sexual awakenings, good vs. evil conflicts, and last, but not least, mirrors. Boy, Snow, and Bird have a somewhat disturbing obsession with mirrors. Oyeyemi wrote the book to make the mirrors bring the element of magical realism into the novel, and what really makes the whole thing stand out is how our three protagonists view them and their significance in their interwined lives. “Boy, Snow, Bird” features symbolism that isn’t limited to mirrors on almost every single page, and most of it relates to Boy’s inner struggle with the “wicked” inside her.

“Boy, Snow, Bird” also makes a very solid attempt to explore the subject of evil being born vs. evil being made. Boy Novak is a very unreliable narrator, and so is Bird, albeit less so. The combination of this and the Jekyll-Hydesque symbolism, as well as mirrors, is a strong argument if favour of the dual nature of every person that Boy seems to reject throughout the book and Bird seems to struggle with, given her heritage. The fact that Boy sends Snow away when Bird is born because she feels that she can be nothing but bad can be interpreted both as a wicked stepmother act (if we go along with her notion that she was born evil), and an act of kindness (if we don’t). Bird’s point of view is too subjective for us to see how Boy actually feels about her, and Boy herself is too unreliable of a narrator to answer that question. Her treatment of Snow following Bird’s birth is when her narration is the hardest to understand and connect with. By the end of the novel (the third part, as well as the first one, are told by Boy, whereas the second one is from Bird’s point of view), the narratives are at their most confusing and at times, even jumbled, resulting in a somewhat ambiguous ending.

Everything I’ve said above would have worked really well in “Boy, Snow, Bird” if that was all there was to it. I have mixed feelings about the book, because there were things in it that prevented me from fully enjoying it. It was dense, it was packed with important subjects, and Oyeyemi dressed them in beautiful writing, but it doesn’t mean that all of them were handled properly. While I believe that the issues of race and identity were explored really well, the issues of gender were rushed through and Oyeyemi tried to pack them in a book that was already dense with other subjects. A 300-page book is not long enough to explore too many issues at once, in my opinion, and I don’t think the author realised that, which resulted in a very densely packed novel, leaving little space for answers I was hoping to get.

My advice – do pick up “Boy, Snow, Bird”, but don’t rush through it, and definitely don’t treat it as a “Snow White” retelling. My rating is 7/10.

 

Favourite quotes

“Sometimes you write down barefaced lies, or words you don’t really mean, just to see how they look, and it’s comforting to think that after six hours, the words will just disappear. No need to show them the door, they’ll just be seeing themselves out”.

“Evil studies the ordinary and iminates it. Then you can say it was just a little bad temper, we all know what that is. But some people… with some people the spite goes so deep, it is a thing beyond personality…”

“First you try to find a reason, try to understand what you’ve done wrong so you can be sure not to do that anymore. After than you look for signs of a Jekyll and Hyde situation, the good and the bad in a person sifted into separate compartments by some weird accident. Then, gradually, you realize that there isn’t a reason, and it isn’t two people you’re dealing with, just one. The same one every time”.

 

Recommendations

You might like “Boy, Snow, Bird” if you liked:

“The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey

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

“Redemption in Indigo” by Karen Lord

Have you read “Boy, Snow, Bird”? What are your favourite retellings of “Snow White”? Do let me know! 🙂

Book Review: Winterspell by Claire Legrand

winterspell

Let’s ignore the fact that the girl on the cover looks exactly like Peyton Sawyer, shall we?

Seventeen-year-old Clara Stole hasn’t had the best life – what with having a father who’s a Mafia boss in 19th century New York, a mother who’s been brutally murdered and a sleazy doctor who’s been after her for years. Her only source of comfort are her mysterious combat training sessions with Godfather Drosselmeyer and a statue of a handsome man in his shop that causes Clara to have thoughts she’s been taught to hate. But on Christmas Eve of 1900, Clara’s house is attacked by brutal warriors who look like rats, her father disappears, and the statue comes to life. Turns out the statue is none other than Prince Nicholas of Cane, a magical land invaded by the cruel Queen Anise and the faeries. As Clara, her father, Nicholas and Godfather Drosselmeyer run away from the Faery warriors and end up in Cane, all Clara can think about is getting back by the New Year’s Eve to save her sister from the sleazy Dr. Victor and finding her father who was kidnapped by the Faeries, not helping Nicholas get his throne back. Can Clara and Co get out of Cane in time or will the gang fall apart and betray each other? And is there more to Queen Anise that meets the eye?

 

I picked up “Winterspell” because I was interested in reading a retelling of “The Nutcracker” – one of my favourite Christmas tales by E.T.A. Goffman, adapted by Tchaikovsky into one of the most famous ballets in the world. Marketed as a “dark fairytale”, this book has unfortunately failed in keeping me engaged for at least 60% of it. It was very painful to read about how much abuse Clara was taking at the start and while her reaction to it was handled quite well by the author, and she does go through quite a bit of development, she’s not the kind of heroine I’m interested in reading. What I particularly disliked was how her sexual awakening was treated. I understand that sexuality is an important and a fascinating aspect of fairytales, but the way she was attracted to the statue was, quite frankly, off-putting to say the least; I’d even go as far as to say that it was creepy. And not in the cool fairytale kind.

I appreciated the backstory of the world of Cane written in the style of a Christmas fairytale – those bits were in fact Legrand’s best pieces of writing in the whole book. Unfortunately, therey were few and far between. The narrative didn’t really flow very well – I had to go back a couple of pages every few chapters to figue out what the hell Clara was up to. Clara’s narration was also not great in the first half of the book and it didn’t get much better except during the times she spent with the villain.

To be quite honest, the villain was the most interesting character, and generally the best part of the book. She reminded me a little of Queen Levana from The Lunar Chronicles (without the raping a guy for a year part thankfully). She was a very interesting character with a compelling backstory that could’ve been explored more. I’m not hesitating in saying that this villain was wasted on a book like “Winterspell” and I almost stopped reading when she died. I don’t normally appreciate queer characters getting killed off, and in this case, I was particularly disappointed to see a bisexual villain die when she had so much potential.

However, a compelling villain and mildly atmospheric writing weren’t enough to make up for a heroine I didn’t like, a love interest that was creepy but otherwise completely bland and poorly handled sexual themes. The only things I recognised from “The Nutcracker” were the heroine’s name, the rat soldiers and a statue who turns into a man. The German words randomly scattered across the text don’t count – they were there for literally no reason other than because the original story is in German I’m afraid “Winterspell” has failed to enchant me, and my rating is 6/10. I suggest sticking with the original story or better yet, seeing the ballet.

 

Favourite quotes:

“All Lady mages were girls at one point, weren’t they? And I bet few of ’em ever planned any assassinations.”

“Like an architect dropped into a world of infinite awareness and infinite possibilities, she felt an urge to explore and create.”

 

Dreamcast

Clara Stole – Cara Delevigne

Nicholas – Armie Hammer

Bo – Amandla Stenberg

Anise – Michellle Williams

 

Recommendations

You might like “Winterspell” if you liked:

“The Lunar Chronicles” by Marissa Meyer

“Fractured Dream” by K.M. Randall

“Iron Fey” by Julie Kagawa

“Into the Woods”

Have you read “Winterspell”? What are your favourite fairytale retellings? Please let me know 🙂

Book Review: Fractured Dream by K. M. Randall

fractured dream

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

It’s been almost ten years since Story Sparks, a 20-year-old art major from a small town in New York, had a dream. Now the nightmares are back – the Wolves in her dreams are attacking a girl who was her friend from a long time ago, but Story doesn’t remember ever knowing her. The dark waters of Lake Sandeen in Story’s town, where her Uncle disappeared years ago, may hold the key to Story’s dreams – or are they memories? Together with her two best friends Elliott and Adam (more on that later), they dive into the lake one day and are never seen in the Real World again.

The truth is, they went down to Story’s real world. The world she has forgotten a long time ago, where she had friends, magical powers, and was known as The Dreamer. But where did her memories go? Unfortunately, seeking the answer to that question has to wait because the world of Tressla is in danger. It used to be populated by beloved Fairytale characters (with a twist, of course), but now they are pariahs and are in hiding because of power-hungry Lord Brink. Story has a very big role to play in the struggle against him, but as their journey continues and old and new friends and family are found and lost again, she learns a lot more about her past, present and future than she originally bargained for and the weight on her shoulders increases each passing day. Does being The Dreamer mean that an old prophecy is about to come true? What would it mean for Story’s Dark Self and her Spirit? And what is it about a tall-dark-handsome-mysterious Nicholas that draws Story to him inexplicably?

“Fractured Dream” is told in several third-person POVs. All narrators have distinct voices, which was particularly clear in several sections of the book which were narrated in a style of a fairytale. These were my favourite parts – not only because of how well they were written, but also because of the deep insight they offered into the world of Story and Tressla, as well as the past and present characters. Not to mention, they were quite lovely stories and would have worked just as well as short separate fairytales.

Another great thing about “Fractured Dream” was the cast of characters and the twists KM Randall added to them. We have Story’s two best friends from the real world – strong and brave Adam, who is on a first-name basis with earth magic and hilarious and supportive Elliott who is a seer, or a psychic – depends on where you’re from. The great thing about those three is that there is NO LOVE TRIANGLE. Firstly, Elliott is not into women. Secondly, as the story went on, I was more and more convinced that these two were meant for each other. We also have Story’s friends from Tressla, that she’s forgotten over her time in the Real World – Wolf Slayer Jess, whose story of Little Red Riding Hood is as twisted as it gets, lovely Kestrel with whom Story has grown up (but again, doesn’t remember – who took Story’s memories and why?), Bliss the Thumbelina (remember H. C. Anderson’s tale? One of my childhood favourites), and Morgana and Guinevere – as Elliott said, there is no Lancelot in this version of the story. And of course, there is Nicholas – Story’s romantic interest with secrets of his own. I did feel as though their romance was rushed at first, but it made sense as the story progressed. The story of The Dreamer and the Fiddler was one of the fairytales I loved that I mention above.

The characters and their friendships and relationships are a strong point in “Fractured Dream” and I am looking forward to reading more about them in the second installment of The Dreamer Saga. The fairytale setting was not my favourite one – I’ve read and watched a lot of retold fairytales – but KM Randall’s writing is very atmospheric and it does suck the reader into the world of Tressla. The vivid imagery and the twisty retellings were quite wonderful.

What prevented me from absolutely loving this book, however, was the pacing – it felt as though the author tried to cram a lot into a single installment and as a result, the book turned out longer than expected. It picks up from after about 20 of the book and is quite steady for almost half of it, but some chapters felt jumbled and I had to flip back a page or two on several occasions to understand what on earth was happening to Story. The protagonist’s “split of self” was also a little hard to follow, until it was explained in the last 1/4 of the book, although it made sense after that. Therefore, the structure and the pace of the narration seemed a little “messy and confusing” to me. My rating for “Fractured Dream” is 7/10.

Favourite quotes

“But saving the world sounded like an impossible task for anyone, let alone a twenty-year-old art major who had memory problems and a pack of steroid-pumping Wolf men on her trails”

“Fairytales were born in the form of tales passed down through the ages, and finally written into books. Great artists were forged from the whispered words of dreams into their ears. And so the years wore on, and the gods watched humanity imagine wonderful and sometimes horrible things”.

Dreamcast

Story Sparks – Troian Belissario

Elliott – Jordan Gavaris

Adam – Sam Claflin

Nicholas – Liam Hemsworth

Jess – Sophie Turner 

Darvish – Shemar Moore

Mother Earth – Eva Green

And Katie McGrath and Angel Coulby can reprise their respective “Merlin” roles.

Recommendations

You might like “Fractured Dream” if you liked:

“The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

“Afterworlds” by Scott Westerfield

“Neverending Story” by Michael Ende

Once Upon a Time”

Book Review: Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen

alias hook

(Guys, I opened an Etsy charity shop! Check it out and help stop human trafficking!)

Most of you know that I’m a big fan of this guy:

killian

 

you’re welcome for the GIF ladies and gentlemen 😉 I’ll try my best to not mention OUAT in this review, but no promises

As can be discerned from the title, this is a retelling of “Peter Pan”. Except it’s from James Hook’s point of view. You know I’m a sucker for a good villain’s story, as I explained in my review of “Wicked”. But to be honest, I have always been more of a Captain Hook fan than Peter Pan’s – that kid is really creepy if you think about it. In “Alias Hook”, James Benjamin Hookbridge is a handsome, witty, educated gentleman from Bristol (I miss Bristol so much) who, thanks to a combination of several quite unfortunate events and his misplaced smart mouth and “pillaging and plundering”, gets himself cursed into Neverland in the XVIII century and is doomed to relive the plot of “Peter and Wendy” for eternity, without the possibility of death. Until one day, in 1950, Neverland’s routine is interrupted by an adult woman. Stella Parrish is a governess from London who’s lost her entire family, and thus begins to dream of Neverland, of a chance to be like a kid again. What she fails to realise, however, is that Neverland is not quite the magical place JM Barrie wrote about, and there is a lot more to Captain Hook than meets the eye. Will Stella become James’ path to salvation or death? Or are they one and the same?

 

When I began to look for a Peter Pan retelling where Hook is more than just a villain, I found “Alias Hook” almost right away. The title made me believe that James Hook was written as some sort of a “spy” who had to use an alias for a mission to Neverland.

I was wrong. This is not a spy novel featuring a handsome and noble Byronic hero – this is a romance novel featuring a handsome and noble Byronic hero. You could even say it’s a “pirate and princess” story. Except the princess in this case isn’t Wendy (I liked that the author made no allusions to the fact that Hook could be Wendy’s father – I’ve always hated that interpretation), but a governess summoned to Neverland by mystic forces. The fact that she was at some point called “Saviour” made me laugh – Hook does have a type doesn’t he?

Given what I have told you in the above paragraph, it would be a lie to say that the book met my expectations. It is a very personal thing, but I am not a big fan of instances when I expect a novel to be <insert any genre but romance here>, and it turns out to be a romantic story. So on the one hand, “Alias Hook” was different from what I expected, and not necessarily in a good way.

Romance may be a genre of which I am not fond of, but I must confess that I am a little bit in love with James Hook (I’m not talking about the Disney version that I’ve never seen). While I thought that the romance between him and Stella was slightly rushed, with them going from allies to lovers in a disturbingly short period of time, I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the sex scenes that featured James (with Stella, as well as others). Shallow as it may sound, James Hook is a very handsome man (even according to J.M. Barrie), and the scenes were very erotic and sensual, without the usual “mush” I’ve encountered in many a romance novel. The ending was not what I expected, and usually I would hate that kind of an ending in a romance novel, but it works in this instance, even though it did made me tear up!

“Alias Hook” it is an excellent retelling of “Peter Pan”. Lisa Jensen’s view of Pan is similar to mine – he is a figure that is a lot more disturbing than most people view him. As Hook says, “he is sorrow, guile, death“, not “youth and joy and innocence“. Neverland is Pan’s disturbing world, where he is King and Hook is his plaything. Everyone on his crew can die, but him. Jensen has certainly captured the essence of both Hook and Pan masterfully – they are both incredibly interesting characters in the original book, and she has done them justice. Hook’s tragic hero persona is what drew me to him in both “Once Upon a Time” and “Alias Hook”, not to mention the original story. He is very relatable to me, for many reasons, and Jensen’s portrayal of him did quite a lot to make my Jamie-loving heart miss a few beats! The backstory fitted quite well with my ideas for his past, and his character development made perfect sense, considering everything that happened to him. Jensen’s writing is very beautiful and is in tone with the eras in which the story takes place. Hook’s ability to verbalise beautifully, with an occasional “Bloody Hell” thrown in, is an integral part of his character, and is a big reason why I love him, so I was happy to see that the author agreed with me on that. The writing and the characters are, I have to say, the best part of the book, and are the main reasons why my rating for “Alias Hook” is 7/10. 

 

Favourite quotes

A better world exists, some place where the grown-ups haven’t got to yet. I’ve seen it in my dreams. I know it in my heart. This book ends, as books must do, but there’s always more to the story”.

“The world needs magic, now more than ever. If there is no safe place for children to dream, how will they ever dream themselves a better world?”

Perhaps one has to grasp at life as lustily as I once did to appreciate the majesty of death. I neither expect nor require a good death for myself; it may be as hideous as he likes so long as it is permanent”. 

 

Dreamcast (no OUAT cast in this one, sorry!)

James Benjamin Hookbridge (Captain Hook) – Henry Cavill

Peter Pan – Asa Butterfield

Stella Parrish – Jill Flint

Proserpina – Melanie Nicholls King

 

Recommendations

You might like “Alias Hook” if you liked:

“Scarlet” by A.C. Gaughen

“Neverland” by Shari Arnold

“Once Upon a Time”