Sarah Maine’s “The House Between Tides-” Scottish tour de force

Thank you, Netgalley and Atria Books, for this now-released ARC!

Maine‘s House Between Tides begins  when Londoner Hetty Devereaux discovers she has inherited a mansion estate in the Scottish Outer Hebrides (yeah, I had to look them up too!) from her last living relative, and abandons her strained relationship to find out more about it. However, not all is what it seems: The estate is crumbling away on an inaccessible part of the land, and inside is a the body of someone murdered long ago.

More curious than ever, and desperate to do something to her family home, Hetty dives into history for answers, which leads to her distant relative Theo Blake, reclusive painter, and his beautiful wife Beatrice. Who is the body beneath the foundation? Will Hetty find the answers that she seeks, and in turn, find herself?

I loved a lot about this book, and disliked a few things that were not deal breakers. To start, I Loved:

  • … the history surrounding this novel. One of my favorite sub-genres in historical lit is Big House literature from Troubles Ireland, and this harkens back to a similar tone. Hetty’s distant ancestor Theo was the semi-oppressive rich man from the lowlands that comes in and claims Hebrides as his own, unintentionally disregarding the lives of the native people around him. Main sets up this scene very well, giving an evocative showing of the tension without being overbearing in political narrative.
  • …the scenery. Man, can Maine write a landscape. Hetty’s estate comes alive on the page, a Gothic Jane Eyre-esque spooky feeling that something wicked this way comes. The island itself, the sand, the birds, all of it is written in a starkly beautiful narrative.
  • …the romance. Without giving anything away, Hetty is a character that deserves a bone/soul squeezing love, and she gets it.

What I didn’t love:

  • …Hetty’s (lack of) character development. Hetty is often walked on, constantly being pulled in two different directions (turn estate into expensive hotel or let house g to nature/keep in family hands) and her decisions seem to really swing depending on what guy is more forceful at the time. She does not show a backbone until much later in the novel, and her motives are suspect even there. Hetty is not the strong, independent woman one comes to expect in highland-type novels.
  • …For that matter, the men. All of the men in Hetty’s life are controlling, in varying degrees of strength/detriment to her wellbeing. I found them to be a little stereotypical.
  • …the split-time narrative. I am often a fan and often a foe of this literary technique, and here it was good, but confusing to all hell. Maine gives us a lot of characters with a very confusing family tree, and it is often hard to separate who is related over the 100-year span. There is also just a lot of characters in general, and all of them seem to vie for your attention without focusing on who you need to pay close attention to.

All in all, I loved this. It is definitely worthy of more attention than your everyday, pick up and put down type of novel, and I found myself writing down what confused me and bookmarking pages to go back for reference. In the end, it is worth it. Four waves!

Out now: Katherine Arden’s debut novel “Bear and the Nightingale!”

Thank you, Netgalley and Random House for this bewitching debut ARC by Katherine Arden!

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In Bear and the Nightingale, we open with the growing family of Pyotr Vladmirovich listening to the tale of Frost-Karachun, the death-god, now known as Morozko, the winter king. Marina, Pyotr’s beautiful wife, is pregnant again, and this time will be her last, for the girl Vasilia will be born and bring great joy and great calamity to this family of the Northern Rus’ wild.

Vasilia loves to be free, running through the forest and talking to the sprites. She leaves bread for their household spirits and convinces the hungry river-sprite not to eat her people. Her family, Pyotr and her four siblings, both love and fear for her, not realizing how much she knows. This sends Pyotr to take a new bride from the urban Moscow for both Vasya’s good and to strengthen family ties to the royal family.

New bride Anna is different like Vasya, but does not understand or accept in the same way. Moscow has fully embraced its Christian tenets, while the wild folk still believe in the old ways as well as the new. While Anna can see the spirits, she fears they are demonic, and thinks her unruly stepdaughter is evil with them. As Anna and her new priest Konstantin’s influence begins to grow, the old ways are slowly dropped, leaving Vasya alone and feared even more.

But with this change comes the realization of great horror. Crops are failing, winter is lasting longer and longer, and only Vasilia knows how to stop it. Can she save her people from themselves, meeting a destiny that the Winter King has laid out for her?

What works so well

First of all, the mood of this book is its driving force. This is a curl in your armchair, drinking whiskey-laced tea by a roaring fire kind of tale in which your arm hairs will still rise at parts. Winter is inextricably twined with the narrative, from Vasilia’s birth to Frost King’s plight. You will feel the hunger of the villagers, the bone chill even being next to a fire. Here, atmosphere is key. Arden does a spectacular job of creating it.

Second, this book is more than another fantasy novel, it is a tour de force in Russian mythology and folklore. Arden flawlessly combines the history of medieval Russia, its blossoming as a Christian nation, and the strongholds of the old ways into one narrative of opposing forces where coexistence is possible. I find that Bear and the Nightingale did this much better than the long-hoped for Last Days of Magic, whose narrative was too heavy-handed and biased. Here, we have a couple of misguided and possessed individuals instead of an entirely evil institution.

Peripherally related to point two is how authentic this narrative comes off as. The reader feels like they are living in the deep freeze of Russian wilderness, with its everyday struggle to survive and close family ties that result. Arden includes a glossary of terms in the back, and I used it to the fullest, but this did not detract but rather added to the experience. Here is a new addition to Russian canon.

What works slightly less well

The pacing was, shall we say, wonky. I separated the portions of this book into two parts: Pre-Konstantin and during Konstantin, as in when the priest showed up to Vasya’s village and began to wreak Christian havoc. The first half of the book is slow and languorous, showing Pyotr’s family, Vasya’s upbringing, and the trials of winter in a slow and richly complex manner. Once Konstantin arrives, however, the pace speeds into a mad dash to the finish line, a build up of pressure that leads to an explosive and bittersweet climax. It almost felt like reading two different books. I loved both sections, and didn’t mind either type of pace, but I wish it was consistent.

In a similar vein, the different perspectives were inconsistent, sometimes hard to follow from one person to the next. Split narratives are hard and often unnecessary, and while I liked how it added to characterization, sometimes I could not follow.

Conclusion

A bewitching, beguiling winter bouquet that sinks you deep into a whole new world. It is not often I am this happy that what I thought was a standalone is actually going to be a trilogy. I can’t wait for more folklore, kickass female leads, and medieval Russian politicking! Four waves but with so much potential for more. Order it on Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or other retailers.

More Press Photos:

Anne Bishop’s new book for The Others series, “Etched in Bone,” out March 7!

Thank you, Netgalley and Roc, for an ARC for one of my favorite series, The Others! I am so excited to review this, and have already pre-ordered my hard copy.

“Just a game. Simon thought we’d had great fun. Bet the other wolves did too.”
“And you?” Monty said.
“We look at the same things, but we don’t see the same things. It made me realize how easy it can be to screw this up and send the wrong signal.”

The human rebellion has been brutally put down by the Elders, and the ones left are unsure of where they fit and what to do. The more human terra indigene are also unsure as to what the Elders want. Everyone is on edge, and territories are being redrawn.

Left mostly well enough alone is the Lakeside Courtyard, for which everyone is grateful. Blood Prophet Meg and Simon Wolfguard try to maintain the balance that they have worked so hard for, but when Lieutenant Montgomery’s bad seed brother shows up, will that balance be broken? Meg has seen the future and it is bleak- her, standing next to a grave in the woods.

What I loved

Reading about Simon and Meg is like coming home to me. I love their squabbles, Meg’s continued learning about what it means to be human, and more importantly, a woman, and Simon coming to terms with the fact that he is becoming an integral part of the human community while maintaining his wolf nature. The character development in this installation was rich and relatable, and the police and other girls in the community got a lot more page time. This helped the world build also, since a post-human wipeout world always requires some survivors to give context.

I also loved that the romance narrative is (slowly but surely) progressing! While a good fantasy does not require a romance sub-narrative, it is never unwelcome when done right, and I love the slow build up of Simon and Meg as they come to terms with the feelings they have for another. Can a Wolf love a human? Can a once-victim learn to love, physically and emotionally, when she was once denied those feelings? Bishop handles this so well, so delicately. The reader wants to know more.

What I didn’t love as much

There is not much to complain about, except for some minor characterization issues that are personal opinion. I felt that the Elders’ reactions to things were sometimes… out of place? I just can’t picture the all-powerful forces of nature feeling shame, or guilt about not knowing something. In my head, they’d just act like they meant to do what they did all along and then do what the terra indigene ask of them. Their feelings of humor at Meg’s reactions and other such little whimsies I understood more, since forces of nature would be capricious, but any admissions of fault just seemed out of place.

Lieutenant Montgomery’s brother’s characterization also felt a little heavy-handed. The man is evil, but is he too evil? There is no feelings of love, guilt, or compassion at all, only greed and self-interest. It made him very easy to hate, of course, but he was almost too easy to hate.

Like I said, personal problems. This did not stop me from full-heartedly loving this installation into The Others series, Etched in Bone, and anxiously await the next one! Anne Bishop is my hero. Five waves! Pre-order now so it’ll be on your doorstep March 7th!

Review: Rin Chupeco’s “The Bone Witch”

First of all, thank you Netgalley and Sourcebooks for this haunting and captivating ARC, Rin Chupeco’s The Bone Witch.

 

Let me be clear: I never intended to raise my brother from his grave, though he may claim otherwise. If there’s anything I’ve learned from him in the years since, it’s that the dead hide truths as well as the living.

Tea finds out that she is a bone witch the hard way: Her brother dies, and she raises him from the dead unwittingly. There is only one path for bone witches in Tea’s world, and so with the guidance of older witches, Tea finds herself training to be an asha, a wielder of elemental magic. She is wrapped in finery, learns to dance and talk and all other manners of court intrigue, but also to fight like a warrior. But as Tea watches her mentor slowly drain herself trying to keep the evil daeva from rising from their graves, she sees her fate. With evil lurking around every corner, can Tea protect herself and the ones she loves, or will she succumb to her own darker nature?

Things I loved:

  • I loved the world-build! This was a beautiful and haunting world, one with princes and castles and the asha-ka where young witches learn to be both beautiful and deadly. There is good and evil forces and all manners of gray in between, monsters called daeva that are a mish-mosh of other beasts and heralded from a by-gone evil era.
  • The outfit descriptions are marvelous! Dragon embroidery on the huas, wraps of silk, butterfly sleeves, etc. The jewelry is just as well described and ornate. This reminds me a lot of Japanese geisha style, which I think the asha are supposed to be emulating. The descriptions really brought the outfits and girls wearing them to life.

Things I didn’t love as much:

  • The massive amount of characters, princes, princesses, asha, etc. that the reader is given with no real reference to how they fit together. We are given who is potentially marrying whom and kingdom names, but don’t get a good sense of place. Even the asha-kas (where the asha live, send money) are not well described. While I can describe the outfits in detail, where one building or one kingdom is in relation to another is completely lost.
  • The formatting. This is a dual-perspective novel, written as from one perspective as the present and the bulk of the world build as the past, with Tea telling her life story from present-day. I did like it as far as how it displayed the story, but the split perspective was a giant “spoiler alert” and the rest of the novel just playing catch up. An interesting tactic, but not necessarily for me.
  • Also, physical formatting. The Kindle edition that was sent to me was not page formatted at all, so the header was in the middle of the page at some points and the split perspective only apparent from font changes. This is not Chupeco’s fault of course, but something that I am sure will be addressed with edits.

All in all, I really was captivated by this novel. Gorgeously written, and leaves you breathless for the next installment. Four waves! Pre-order The Bone Witch now for its March release!

Review: “A Witch’s Kitchen” by Dianna Sanchez

Thank you, Netgalley and Dreaming Robot Press, for this magical middle-grade read! A Witch’s Kitchen was an adorable and well-written book for younger readers, especially little girls interested in strong female leads and magic.

Millie is from a family of witches who are all how witches ought to be: They have warts, fly on brooms, brew curses, and have a proper cackle. Millie can barely do a spell, much less grow a single wart on the end of her tiny nose. She has never felt like when she fits in with her family. So when the witch elder decides their clan needs a representative at the Enchanted Forest School, Millie is overjoyed to be selected.

However, not all is as it seems, and secrets long-kept will come out. Suddenly, Millie has powers of her own, friends of other magical races, and lots of questions that no one can answer. When her friend reveals that there is a world parallel to theirs and that her father is from a place called Salem, MA, Millie realizes some answers won’t be answered unless you seek the answers yourself, and she is ready to go and find them.

I loved basically everything about this concept and writing, from Millie’s characterization to the world building. Millie is endearing and a perfect role model for younger readers; she is misunderstood, feels alone, and does something to change her life for the better. This magical world was easy to picture, from the school built inside of a talking oak tree to Millie’s household ghost-turned-frog. I can picture many drawings of this world being made if this was every read in a classroom setting!

While some parents may not agree with how the parental figures were portrayed in this book – from Millie’s mom being controlling and Millie acting out to the multiple one-parent households – I don’t think this detracted from the book as much as added a different dimension to it. I think teachers will appreciate it more, given how well the Enchanted Forest School is portrayed in its environment and classes. I would have been a much better reader in, say, third grade if we were given the option to read this! Also, who can resist that cover?

Five waves, since I did, in fact read this at the beach!

Review: “A Thousand Salt Kisses” by Josie Demuth

To preface, I received A Thousand Salt Kisses by Josie Demuth as a Netgalley ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I was torn between a two star or three star rating for this because the story did have good bones and an intriguing plot, but the characterization and writing were just not up to snuff. Mermen, island conspiracies and saving the ocean? Usually right up my alley. However, this was so poorly executed, I can’t find a way to love it.

First of all, when will we ever be done with first person narrative in YA fantasy? The form is clunky, it does not to the intended effect of connecting you to the character, and the plot is so much slower when you have to see a person’s thoughts at all times. It is also a lazy way for a writer to tell instead of show through their writing. This is not the only novel that is guilty of all of the above (looking at you, Veronica Roth and Suzanne Collins) but Salt Kisses seems especially guilty of it.

Secondly, the main character Crystal is such a sappy, whiny teenager that honestly, what merman would fall in love with? This was written entirely in trope- “our love is boundless, oh she’s just a normal girl but there’s something *special* about her that makes him love her.” No, there is nothing special. She is jumpy, clingy, and in short, seventeen and immature. This is purely the writer trying to make her teenage fantasies come true. What young girl wouldn’t want a merman or other fantastical, extremely hot guy fall in love with them? That’s all well and good, but damn does it fall flat. Also, what is with 400 year old dudes (or close enough) falling for teenage girls? Or even her best friend dating a 25-year old?! None of that is okay. I am currently 25, and if I had a daughter, she would so NOT be dating a guy this age while still in high school.

Case in point: When Crystal thinks her and Lyr (the merman) are broken up, she thinks:

“…it’s hard to bare (TYPO!) to think past goodbye, when there would no longer be Crystal and Lyr, no longer the long hot days of mystical adventures and salt kisses.

I would just be normal old Crystal White, the school girl again.”

Not, “Oh I am losing the love of my life,” just, “Oh I’ll be a normal girl with no hot merman sex in my life.”

Another thing that bothered me was the “killing oceans” narrative. I don’t like bad offshore companies either- I don’t think anyone does. We all want the oceans to be saved. But to turn a normal company that is just doing bad business and turn them into **SPOILER** child kidnappers and arsonists killers is pushing the envelope. This narrative could have lived on in just a regularly bad company, not the “bane of the world” type. It turned a pretty good talking point into a caricature.

All in all, I guess it is good for a seventeen-year-old girl, but for me, not so much. I also don’t think it makes a good impression on girls who are 17- it romanticizes older men and makes getting drunk on beaches and sex look commonplace (perhaps in the UK it is, but in the US, that’s still frowned upon.) For girls who can tell the difference between just fun fiction that shouldn’t be emulated versus girls who would take this book as a gospel way that they should act at 17, it may be fine. But girls like that don’t want to read this kind of vapid farce anyway, so I don’t really know the target audience.

Two waves- I guess it is a light read for the beach, given it takes place on an island with mer-people?

Book Traveling Thursdays- Non-Fiction Edition

Hello all, and welcome to Book Traveling Thursdays! This fun weekly challenge is based on Goodreads as a group posting, hosted by Catia and Danielle. What I love about this challenge is that it’s quick, it’s fun, and it gets you looking thinking about other country’s values when you compare their covers to your own, which is fun and thought-provoking. This week’s theme is: August 18th – Because we don’t always read fiction… choose your favorite non-fiction book.


The Rules:

1) Pick a book! At the beginning of every month a list of themes will be posted. All you have to do is choose a book that fits the theme.
2) In your blog post, the first thing you will want to include is an explanation of why your chosen book fits the theme.
2) Look at covers from multiple editions and multiple countries for the book you chose.
3) Finally, include pictures of the original cover, the cover from your country (if their are multiple covers from your country include all of them!), your favorite cover, and your least favorite cover.
4) Be sure to tag your posts with booktravelingthursdays so we can all see each other’s posts!


 

My Book Choice:

Champagne Baby: A Journey in Wine from Paris to New York by Laure Dugas.


 

Why?

I have a confession: I very, very, very rarely read non-fiction. This comes about for many different reasons: The real world sucks and I have to live in it on the day-to-day so why read about it; many non-fiction books are written drily and without a strong voice; there are simply too many fictional worlds I want to read about it. However, I received Champagne Baby as an ARC and fell in love with it. This probably has more to do with my love of wine and French culture, but it worked. Dugas has a very strong narrative voice, she is funny and sad and very relatable. Her story, a young woman coming to the USA to rep wine when she does not know much about the industry or the States, is compelling and fun. If all memoirs read like this, maybe I will try more in the future…


 

Original Cover & USA Cover:

25937670Original Cover  and USA (left): So due to my lack of non-fiction reading (a failing I must admit), I ended up choosing a book with only one cover.This cover is quite pretty! I love the two different representations displayed with Paris in the forefront, showing that Laure’s heart is in Paris, but the Empire State Building looming in the front to show her future. The grapes are, of course, self-explanatory. I love the color scheme-very French!- and the rendering. The only object in the cover I find weird is her profile in the front, but honestly it’s so tiny I didn’t even notice at first.

 

 

 


 

Other Covers:

Cricket… Cricket…


 

Favorite and Least Favorite:

 

Again, awkward. I do actually really like the cover on the book now! I guess I can understand why this hasn’t been translated yet- it’s a US and French-centric book. But I’d love for some cover diversity!!

 

Tell me about your favorite “Book Lovers” books!