Tag Archives: historical

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Published in January 2017 by Del Rey.

Links: Goodreads. Amazon.

Source: publisher via NetGalley. Thank you Del Rey for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: historical fantasy.

My rating:

‘Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.’

In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.

But for the young, wild Vasya these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…

It’s been three weeks since my last post and I kind of wanted to do the whole Adele routine by giving you all sorts of reasons for my absence, but I’ll do that in the February recap post. Today, I just want to talk to you about The Bear and the Nightingale.

The Bear and the Nightingale is Arden’s debut and it’s a rich, powerful story. It’s heavily based on Russian folklore and I liked it a lot. To be honest, the only two things that bothered me were the relatively slow beginning (it takes the story a while to get going, but once it does, it really pulls you in) and the fact that it is not a standalone, which is what I thought it was when I started reading it.

Now, I’ve been known to start series left and right and I have about 40 going right at this moment (it’s a problem, I’m working on it), but Goodreads didn’t list it as a series when I started it and it wasn’t until after I’d finished it and was completely satisfied with the ending that I learned Arden was writing books 2 and 3. And while I loved the setting and would love to read more stories in that same world, I’m not sure how Vasya’s story will continue. Anyway, I’ll let the author surprise me.

But let’s talk about the good stuff instead. As I said, the worldbuilding was great. I’m always up for a fantasy story with a non-Western setting and Russian folklore is somewhat familiar to me (not in the sense that Slovenian folklore is similar but I’ve read a lot of Russian folk and fairy tales and I loved them), so I had a fun time recognizing the creatures and features of the world.

Arden’s writing is also rich and powerful, she paints the scenery with great attention to detail but I didn’t feel it bogged down the narrative, which was great. She’s a master at writing atmosphere, I think The Bear and the Nightingale should really be read in wintertime. It’s the perfect book for when it’s cold outside and you’re somewhere warm.

I liked Vasya, the girl protagonist, a lot. She’s a wild child with one foot firmly in the fairy world, misunderstood by her relatives and restricted by tradition. While she’s a young child, this wild streak is tolerable, but as she becomes a young woman, the society starts boxing her in. Her character development was great and it’s one of the reasons I’ll be continuing with the series – I’m curious to know more about the adult Vasya. I’m hoping she’ll be more proactive about her fate – it was hard for her to do anything drastic while she was a very young child but I sometimes felt she was a pawn on the chessboard of other, bigger forces, pushed around as they saw fit.

But Arden really writes great villains. Her antagonists (and yes, there’s more than one) are well-rounded personalities with motives that are never purely black, so it’s hard to hate them, even when they are absolutely loathsome. I’m not going to go into details and names here because it’s sort of spoilery, but let’s say I enjoyed them very much.

All in all, The Bear and the Nightingale was a very good historical fantasy, so if that’s your cup of tea, go for it. I’m hoping the sequel(s) will do it justice and I’m looking forward to exploring the world some more.

Have you read The Bear and the Nightingale? What did you think?

What’s your favourite historical fantasy?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

Let’s be friends: emailbloglovin’twitterinstagramgoodreads.

A Crop of Mini Reviews

My posting schedule doesn’t allow me to review all the books I’ve read, and I like it that way. Not all books are meant to be talked about at length, so I skip them and only mention those that are either very good, ARCs, or very bad. Sometimes, though, these mini reviews really come in handy. These are all YA and MG reads from November and December.

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Blankets by Craig Thompson
Published in 2003 by Top Shelf Productions.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: borrowed from my brother (paperback).

Genre: YA contemporary graphic novel.

My rating:

I read Blankets back in high school when my mom and dad gave my brother this copy as a present. It’s a beautiful story of a boy growing up in a highly religious environment, his experiences with faith, first love, friendship, and family. I didn’t remember the story well, so I picked it up when I saw it at my parents’ apartment – my brother didn’t take it with him when he moved out (dun dun dun! This only makes sense if you’ve read the story and maybe not even then, sorry.) It also seems to be largely autobiographical?

I really liked the artwork – it’s all done in black and white, so it’s really powerful. Thompson’s style is beautiful and clean, though he sometimes veers into fantastic shapes and creatures that break up the harsh reality Craig (yeah, the MC’s name is the same as the author’s) has to face every day. If you get a chance, definitely give this one a try, it really packs a punch.

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Paper Towns/Lažna mesta by John Green
Published in 2014 by Mladinska knjiga .

Links: Goodreads.

Source: borrowed from my mom (paperback).

Genre: YA contemporary.

My rating:

I did not enjoy this John Green novel. *le gasp*

I read The Fault in Our Stars a couple of years ago, before I started blogging, and really, really liked it (like most everyone I know). Then I read Looking for Alaska and reviewed it here. It was good, I liked it, but I definitely wasn’t as star-struck as I was before.

And now my faith in John Green’s writing is failing, because Paper Towns were a disappointment. I read the Slovenian translation (by Neža Božič), which is actually really good, so it didn’t play a role in my lower rating. I know Green has a really loyal following so if you find it unbearable to hear his books insulted, please exit through the side door. Thanks.

My main problem was with Margo. Without going into spoilers, she’s a spoiled (ha!) little brat and I disliked her immensely. Quentin was cool but the entire story was actually very similar to Looking for Alaska when you think about it! I wanted to slap some sense into all of them but couldn’t, because they’re fictional.

And then there was the pretentiousness. I’m sorry but do you know many 18-year-olds who quote Whitman but are also very cool and hip and generally the most intelligent beings around? I’ve read enough to know when an author did not kill his darlings (and he really should have). Parts of the story were horribly long-winded and really dragged along. Look, I had my fair share of stoned conversations about existential questions when I was that age but nobody ever said those conversations were meant to be written down, let alone read my millions of random people. Ugh.

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The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
by Lion UK.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: MG historical fantasy.

My rating:

The Little White Horse is one of my childhood favorites. I think I must have read it at least five times when I was younger – in Slovenian translation, of course (it is very good). But I wanted to read the original, so I bought myself the English version a couple of years ago and the book has been sitting on my shelf until now. I’m really happy I re-read it! I see it with completely different eyes now but the nostalgia is strong, so I can’t help but love it still.

Of course there are some problematic elements to the story of the orphaned Maria who comes to live at Moonacre Manor. There’s the notion that ladies don’t get angry, or loud, and that women are represented by the Moon while men belong to the Sun; there’s the overwhelming religious element and a number of other details that I could name. But they didn’t bother me in the least when I was little and it’s also wrong to judge the works from the past with today’s criteria.

So I’d still recommend this as a classic work of English children’s literature, and I’ll be reading it to my kids when the time comes, because it’s a pretty fairy tale and I want to share it with them. But if you’re looking for a modern, enlightened fantasy, this most certainly isn’t it.

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Have you read any of these? 

What did you think?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

Let’s be friends: emailbloglovin’twitterinstagramgoodreads.

My Romance Binge Continues

I started this post by writing that I’d been reading lots of romances lately when I realized I ALWAYS read lots of romances, so there’s no point in making an issue out of this. I’m writing mini reviews again so the entire blog doesn’t become one big romance fest, because I am also reading other genres in between. But romance will always be one of my favourite genres!

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Wound Tight (Made in Jersey #4) by Tessa Bailey
Published on December 5th, 2016 by Entangled.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: publisher via NetGalley. Thank you Entangled for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: contemporary m/m romance.

My rating:

I have a funny relationship with Tessa Bailey’s books. I really liked some of them, and then I read the third book in this series, Worked Up, and ended up giving it one star, which almost never happens, because the hero was an asshole and a brute (which had nothing to do with his enormous stature but everything to do with the fact that he disrespected the heroine).

However, I’m glad I requested Wound Tight, which is the story of Milo and Renner, because it’s much nicer than the previous one. I enjoyed reading about how these two guys got together, even though they were so completely different and each had his own troubles. I’m also glad there was, for once, no coming-out drama in a gay romance. It’s good to have both kinds of books but most of m/m romance I’ve read has been New Adult, where such topics make more sense than in adult romance.

I think I’ll be reading whatever Bailey comes up next, she’s redeemed herself in my eyes!

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The Trouble With Mistletoe (Heartbreaker Bay #2) by Jill Shalvis
Published in September 2016 by Avon.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased for Kindle.

Genre: contemporary romance .

My rating:

If you’re a fellow romance fan, you’ve probably noticed by now that Jill Shalvis is one of my auto-buy authors and that I usually love everything she writes. Somehow, her Heartbreaker Bay series isn’t working that well for me. Sweet Little Lies, the first of the series, had the problem of the heroine keeping a secret she really should have shared with the hero, but in Trouble, I just didn’t connect with the characters.

There was this artificial barrier between Willa and Keane (they went to high school together), which I thought was blown out of proportion. I mean, everyone does stupid things in high school, so not remembering someone shouldn’t be enough to hold a grudge a decade later, no?

I then also read One Snowy Night, the novella that comes after this one, and I didn’t like it at all. So I’m afraid of what’s happening with my favourite romance books – and hoping that Accidentally on Purpose will fix all that because I’m excited to hear the story of Elle and Archer, who are my favourite characters so far. *crosses fingers*

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Do You Want to Start a Scandal (Spindle Cove #5) by Tessa Dare
by Avon.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased for Kindle.

Genre: historical romance.

My rating:

Tessa Dare is another favourite author of mine. The Spindle Cove series is wonderful – I particularly liked A Week to be Wicked, which remains one of the best historical romances I’ve ever read.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal brings back some of the characters we’ve seen in previous books, and I enjoyed reading about them. It’s a typical Dare book with lots of good banter, great gut-punches, and a perfect comfort read.

I enjoyed Charlotte as a heroine – even though she’s quite young, she’s intelligent and observant, as well as easy to relate to. Piers, however, is sometimes a bit of an ass, especially with his high-handed way of manipulating everyone into doing what he wants them to do. I understood the impulse behind his actions but didn’t necessarily agree with the execution.

All in all, I’ll most definitely be reading whatever Dare writes next, she’s a fantastic romance author.

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Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Which romance author should I look into next?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

Let’s be friends: emailbloglovin’twitterinstagramgoodreads.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

A Discovery of Witches (All Souls Trilogy #1) by Deborah Harkness
Published in 2011 by Headline.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: paranormal fantasy.

My rating:

When historian Diana Bishop opens an alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, it’s an unwelcome intrusion of magic into her carefully ordered life. Though Diana is a witch of impeccable lineage, the violent death of her parents while she was still a child convinced her that human fear is more potent than any witchcraft.

Now Diana has unwittingly exposed herself to a world she’s kept at bay for years; one of powerful witches, creative, destructive daemons and long-lived vampires. Sensing the significance of Diana’s discovery, the creatures gather in Oxford, among them the enigmatic Matthew Clairmont, a vampire genticist.

Diana is inexplicably drawn to Matthew and, in a shadowy world of half-truths and old enmities, ties herself to him without fully understanding the ancient line they are crossing. As they begin to unlock the secrets of the manuscript and their feelings for each other deepen, so the fragile balance of peace unravels…

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I first read A Discovery of Witches several years ago – probably when the paperback was first published. And I liked it a lot! I bought the second book of the trilogy and then got stuck about a quarter way in and never finished reading it. Since I’m making an effort to finish more series, and since I already own 2 out of 3 books, I decided to give it another go.

First of all, I have to say I loved the worldbuilding in this one. The magical creatures (witches, vampires, and daemons) have very interesting histories and they seemed very well thought out. The historical aspect of the novel is also stunning, which isn’t surprising given that Harkness teaches history. I’m totally helpless when it comes to history (I blame bad school teachers), so I have no idea if the history stuff is factual, but it sure as hell sounds impressive.

I took a half star/heart from my rating this time around *le gasp*. Maybe it was because I already knew the story but I kept noticing things that didn’t bother me as much when I first read it. Mostly, I’m talking about Matthew and his antiquated views of what women should or should not be doing with their lives. His overbearing attitude to Diana (both before and after they become a couple) was horrible and I hated that it was explained away with “oh, he’s like that because he’s a vampire and also 1500 years old, so don’t bother trying to change him.”

To her credit, Diana does try to change him – she just has little to no success with it. Her initial reaction to meeting a vampire was also refreshingly normal (she kind of freaks out and tries to escape) compared to most other vampire novels.

I liked Diana a lot, despite her questionable taste in men. She’s very good at controlling every aspect of her life – until she isn’t. But she doesn’t crumble and cry when things go to shit but makes the best of her situation. She’s fiercely loyal and quick to love, which are both traits I admire in characters.

The plot is also sufficiently intriguing that I got sucked into the story again and managed to finish this 700-page beast in a matter of days. I’ll try not to wait too long before I tackle the sequel this time so I don’t forget what’s happened in this book.

srcek

Have you read A Discovery of Witches? What did you think?

Do you have any favourite books that feature history this strongly?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

Let’s be friends: emailbloglovin’twitterinstagramgoodreads.

Burning Bright by Melissa McShane

Burning Bright (The Extraordinaries #1) by Melissa McShane
Published in August 2016 by Curiosity Quills Press.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: publisher via NetGalley. Thank you Curiosity Quills Press for providing me with an e-copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Genre: historical fantasy romance.

My rating:

In 1812, Elinor Pembroke wakes to find her bedchamber in flames—and extinguishes them with a thought. At 21, she is old to manifest magical talent, but the evidence is unmistakable: she not only has the ability to start fires but the far more powerful ability to control and extinguish them. She is an Extraordinary and the only one in England in over one hundred years. 

As an Extraordinary, she is respected and feared, but to her father, she represents power and prestige for himself. Mr. Pembroke is determined to control Elinor and her talent by forcing her to marry where he chooses, a marriage that will produce even more powerful offspring. Trapped between the choices of a loveless marriage or living penniless and dependent on her parents, Elinor takes a third path: she joins the Royal Navy.

Assigned to serve under Captain Miles Ramsay, she turns her fiery talent on England’s enemies in the Caribbean. At first feared by her shipmates, a growing number of victories make her truly part of the crew and bring her joy in her fire. But as her power grows and changes in unexpected ways, Elinor’s ability to control it is challenged. She may have the power to destroy her enemies utterly—but could it be at the cost of her own life?

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Burning Bright is a curious book. It’s a historical romance with fantasy elements yet it’s actually very slow and light on romance – so maybe it’s a historical fantasy with romance elements? You know I’m rubbish at classifying books.

I liked the story a lot, actually. Elinor makes an important decision and joins the royal navy instead of being bartered off to the highest bidder like a prize mare when her talent manifests. She can manipulate fire – and what makes her Extraordinary is the fact that she can put fires out as well as light them. Her father, a renowned scholar of people with magical talent, is a cruel, ambitious man, and I really respected Elinor from the start because she made the best decision she could in such a situation.

There is the fact that Elinor is a bit of a special snowflake. Not only is her talent incredibly rare, she’s also the first woman to join the navy. And she remains the only female character in the story (well, there’s her sister but she’s barely there and has no real function in the story). I’d hoped we would meet more kickass ladies with awesome talents but nope, nothing so far. I’m really hoping this will change as the series progresses!

Other than that, I liked the worldbuilding (the magical system) and the setting – a large part of the story takes place on a ship, there are pirates, and we sail the clear waters of the Carribean, so this was pretty unusual. I haven’t read many books with such a setting, so I enjoyed it a lot.

I did wish the romance wasn’t quite so slow at times. I guess it’s more realistic from a historical point of view but I kind of wanted Captain Ramsay to make his move (or for Elinor to finally tackle the man) sooner. I dislike insta-love but a healthy dose of insta-lust wouldn’t hurt here because the entire romance is pretty clean. I know, I’m probably too used to traditional historical romances where the characters are tearing at each other’s clothes by Chapter Two, but romance was really, really slow here.

There are also some interesting thoughts on war and killing in this book, which isn’t something you’d typically expect from a romance, so this makes it lean further towards the fantasy genre, I think. Elinor thinks a lot about the lives she takes in the naval battles she participates in – it’s rare to get such an in-depth exploration. I don’t really understand people who choose to be soldiers (like picking this as a profession – that’s just beyond me), but I do understand duty and the wish to protect people. So yeah, this was a welcome addition to a story that could have veered into fluff pretty easily.

I’m curious to see how the story will continue. This one had a pretty decent ending (meaning that it could have functioned as a standalone) so I wonder whether we’ll get a new set of characters. I’ll be on the lookout for it for sure.

srcek

Have you read Burning Bright? What did you think?

Historical fantasy romance is an interesting mashup of genres – do you know any similar books?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

Let’s be friends: emailbloglovin’twitterinstagramgoodreads.

Recent Romance Reads

Ooh, I love alliteration, sorry. I’ve been reading more romances lately, probably because I need fluffy stories in my life. I am very happy with reading fluff at the moment, though I’m trying to offset it by reading other stuff as well. Just so there’s some balance. Anyway, these are some romances I’ve enjoyed – I can heartily recommend all of them if you need an evening of uncomplicated fun.

what-happens-in-londonWhat Happens in London by Julia Quinn – this is an older title but it’s so good. It was a re-read for me, actually, and I enjoyed it as much as the first time. Harry and Olivia are both intelligent and curious by nature, so their story was a joy to read. I also liked the fact that Harry wasn’t your typical alpha hero, he’s not a rogue or anything, and it’s very refreshing for a historical romance. This is the second part of the series but it definitely can be read separately – I don’t remember a thing about the first book and I had no problem with it. Also, I think it might be one of my favourite Quinn books (if you like historicals and are unfamiliar with Quinn, you should really reassess your priorities). ;) I’d give this one 4/5 stars.

 

Charlie All Nightcharlie-all-night by Jennifer Crusie – despite the horrific cover, this was a fun, fluffy contemporary romance with a bit of a mystery thrown in. I read it because I’ve previously enjoyed Crusie’s Bet Me – and while this one didn’t quite match the fun tone of that great story, I still enjoyed it a lot. I have Becky to thank for pointing me in Crusie’s direction – I think her books are perfect for curling up on the couch when you need some comfort in your life. They’re like the bookish equivalent of good chocolate chip cookies. This one gets 3/5 stars.

 

 

Act Like Itact-like-it by Lucy Parker – this is the most recent title of the three and the one that surprised me the most. Quinn recommended this one recently, she said it was one of her favourite books to re-read and I can definitely see why! It has an enemies-to-lovers plot with a slow-burn romance, which ticks two of my “yes please” boxes. The hero, Richard, is an asshole at first but I thought the transformation/reveal of his true nature was very believable. Lainie is a great heroine and I liked her a lot. The fact that the story is set in London and that both the main characters are theatre actors are just bonus points in its favour. I’m definitely looking out for Parker’s next book! 4/5 stars to this one.

The Goalthe-goal-elle-kennedy by Elle Kennedy – I’ve been waiting for this one and it was pretty good. It’s the last in her Off Campus series that I’ve enjoyed a lot and Tucker’s story was really touching at times. I wished Sabrina would relax a bit and let Tucker help her sooner but we need the drama, of course. Tucker is such a good guy, though! I think he’s my favourite hero of this series. I liked reading about the other “players” but Tucker’s a quiet guy with great manners and a heart of gold. You know I’m partial to good guys. Anyway, the cover is… stunning, if a bit cringe-worthy. I think these covers are the reason I read most of my romances on my Kindle… Also, compared to the other three books of the series, this one features much less hockey! And it definitely should be read last – there’s some overlap of the story. 3/5 stars.

srcek

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Do you have any fluffy recs for me? 

I’d love to hear from you! :)

Let’s be friends: emailbloglovin’twitterinstagramgoodreads.