The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden


The Bear and the Nightingale
by Katherine Arden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blurb: 

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. 

I’m a huge fan of Russian literature but I’ve read any Russian folklore before so I was interested to see what I’d think of this book. I’d heard some really persuasive reviews and I finally decided I couldn’t put it off anymore.

From the first few pages I was hooked on Arden’s writing which so perfectly evoked the small Russian village community she was writing about. I felt myself completely there, feeling the biting cold of the wind and snow of their bitter winters and the creeping fear of the shadowy demons as they appeared.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a perfect mix of historical fiction, fantasy and fairytale. The story flows beautifully, even though it’s a fairly slow burning story as the first in a trilogy of books. The introduction of the characters is masterful, the Russian folklore mixing with the slow creeping danger of the village men and Konstantin the priest who are so distrustful of Vasya’s strength and vivacity as a woman ahead of her time who has no intention of doing as she is told.

I just couldn’t get enough of the rich Russian folklore or the wonderfully fierce character of Vasya, from young child to young woman.

I can’t wait to continue with Vasya’s story and immerse myself back into the wonderful atmospheric tale Arden is weaving.

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XX by Angela Chadwick

XX by Angela Chadwick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I was really intrigued when I read the synopsis for this book. Imagine a world in which scientists can use two women’s eggs to produce a baby girl. It’s such a interesting concept and one which would completely change the world if it were true.

From the beginning I was drawn into Jules and Rosie’s relationship and I felt a part of their struggles. Sometimes books which feature science as their plot are too science-heavy, whereas XX very much focuses on the humans involved in the science- what’s it like for them, what are they experiencing and feeling and how they would cope with the events that unfurl.

I found this meant I gobbled up page after page eager to know what happened next, personally invested in whether Rosie and Jules would get their happy ending. It also avoided the author getting anything too scientific incorrect, which is important as it wouldn’t have worked to make up the science involved in this process.

I had real problems liking Jules as a person. I felt she consistantly made the wrong choices when she could so easily have made the right one. She was quite infuriating as a character but this did work within the plot of the book as Jules frequently makes reference to the fact she knows she’s less personable and easy to like than her partner Rosie.

I thought the exploration of what makes a child yours and the feelings Jules and Rosie had about the baby all the way through the book was really believable and honestly whilst I was reading I had no idea how it was all going to end.

I also really enjoyed the fact it was set in Petersfield and surrounding areas as that’s near where I’m from. It was nice to see familiar names and areas being referenced. I think only people who live near Leigh Park will properly understand the relevance of Jules’s father being raised there!

I really enjoyed this book.

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The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

The Smoke Thieves by Sally Green

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recieved an e-ARC of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

I’ve never read anything by Sally Green before, but within the first chapter I knew I was going to love this book. It is a strong contender for my favourite book of 2018 and it’s definitely become one of my favourite series. I can’t wait for the next installment.

The Smoke Thieves is a high fantasy book with the chapters alternating between the points of view of each of the main characters. This style is very reminiscent of Game of Thrones but it’s much less of a slog to get through and remember who everyone is. I found myself invested in each of the characters and every time the POV switched I was excited to see how their story was going to develop or what had happened to them in the time between each chapter.

This book is set across three kingdoms and each one is fantastically built and unique, jostling for power and dominance and attempting to make unions to further their own paths.

My favourite character arcs were Tash and Gravell and their squabbly father-daughter type relationship as they illegally hunt demons for their smoke, and Princess Catherine. Catherine’s arc was probably the one which had the most development, and the most potiential for further development in the coming books. She starts the book as a child being effectively traded by her father for the good of the kingdom and she ends up becoming a leader. I liked the romance between her and Ambrose but personally I’m rooting for her to end up with the Prince.

I think it’s worth warning you not to get too attached to the characters in this series as at least once in this book my heart was broken and with the war in full swing I foresee this only getting worse.

I can’t wait for the next book in the series but in the meantime I’ve been to the library to get my hands on some more Sally Green books!

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Big Bones by Laura Dockrill

Big Bones by Laura Dockrill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book from beginning to end. I wish I’d had it to read as a teenager because Bluebelle would have been my absolute hero.

Big Bones is written in the form of a diary, written by Bluebelle (who also goes by BB) after her nurse tells her she needs to lose weight. But this isn’t a depressing diet and punishment book. This is a true celebration of food, body positivity, confidence and family. Bluebelle navigates her summer trying to work out what to do with the rest of her life whilst she juggles her friends, her adorable sister Dove, the on and off marriage of her parents, her part-time job and a mammoth crush on her co-worker.

It was so refreshing to read a book where the main character is an overweight teenage girl totally at ease within her own skin. I loved Bluebelle’s sassy attitude towards the adults in her life who think they know what she wants better than she does.

Possibly my favourite part of this book were the mouth watering descriptions of food. I can tell that Laura Dockrill is someone who really appreciates good food. Every single thing Bluebelle ate in this book made me hungry. Do not try and read this book without snacks at hand.

This book was fun to read from beginning to end, I cared deeply about every character and I loved feeling like part of Bluebelle’s family for a short while. I would recommend this book to anyone who has been a teenager concerned about their body (so probably most people!). Bluebelle’s confidence is infectious and inspiring.

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Zenith by Sasha Alsberg and Lindsay Cummings

Zenith by Sasha Alsberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an e-ARC of Zenith via Netgalley in return for an honest review.

This was easily my most anticipated book of the year and I am thrilled that for once a book lived up to the hype surrounding it. From the first page I was completely immersed in the worlds that were being built as the story unfolded and I was torn between wanting to read as fast as my eyes could manage and wanting to savour spending time with the characters I grew to love.

Zenith follows a group of female space pirates as they travel around the Mirabel Galaxy in a glass starship taking on jobs and fighting to survive. The book has a real “Firefly” feel about it, not in terms of plot but in terms of the camraderie and relationships of people who spend most of their lives in close confines together travelling in Space.

The strongest part of this book is, for me, the characterisation. Andi, the fearless captain of the ship is brave and heroic but also vulnerable. Alsberg and Cummings have managed to create a character who is believable as a powerful and fearsome mercenary but with a delicately woven backstory that explains her guardedness and reminds you that underneath the bravado she is still a young woman who has been through great emotional trauma and let down repeatedly by those she loved. I love Andi. I want to be her friend and go on adventures with her.

The rest of the crew are also delightful. So often I find that one or more characters in a novel annoy me but here each character seemed to fit perfectly within their role, both on the ship and in the story. When reading you are 100% behind the dysfunctional family they have formed and that helps to immerse you within the story.

It has been a long time since I read a book in which I have been as immersed as I was when reading Zenith. There is a lot of world building initially, but miraculously this doesn’t slow down the pace at all. The descriptions and explanations only serve to move the story along or are complementary to the plot and do not take away from it. The chapters are short and switch between each characters different view point which I really like as a style because it allows you to get to know all of the characters better. It’s a glimpse directly into their minds instead of getting to know them through a narrator or another character.

As the book came towards the last 10% of action the plot blew up completely, and I mean that in the best way possible. At several points I exclaimed out loud in disbelief at what was going on because I hadn’t seen it coming. All the signs had been there along the way but the climax of the book felt like it popped up and slapped me in the face because it was so well written. I love it when books can surprise you like that and make you realise that actually, if you went back and read the book again you’d notice the clues and scream at yourself “Of course that’s what was happening!”

I highly recommend Zenith to readers who love a good Space adventure. Fans of the tv show “Firefly” and books like “A long way to a small angry planet” by Becky Chambers will love this.

Zenith is published 11th January 2018.

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