Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy #1)

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1)The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

A great read is one that has you craving to know what happens next while wishing that the story would never end. When it does it, however, you are left wanting more. The Bear and the Nightingale is one such book. I long to read more about the characters, more about the lore that inspired the tale, and more about the history surrounding the story. I rushed through the haunting story of the family of a wealthy landowner in the far north of what is now Russia as they struggle to survive a clash between their old beliefs of spirits that dwell in the surrounding forest and the creatures that protect their homes, and the still-new Christian religion, anxious to know what would happen to the family, especially Vasya, who is more attached to the old ways than even she knows.
I’d had this book on my TBR list for a while and I’d almost picked it up at the library a few times; it was only when I saw that the third book in the trilogy was a finalist for a Goodreads Choice Award that I decided that this first book would be a good winter read.  I’m so glad that I did and I cannot wait to read the rest of the series.  Arden’s writing is gorgeous, transporting me almost immediately from the mild south Louisiana night to the great northern forest and the seemingly endless winter. The lore which battles with the new ways is fascinating, leaving me with a desire to read the folk and fairy tales that inspired Vasya’s story. It was a perfect read for a long winter’s night.

I’ve really been looking for some good fantasy fiction over the past few years and I particularly enjoy the fantasy fiction that combines history and mythology or folklore like The Bear and the Nightingale does.  If you like this fantasy/history/folk tale combination, I highly recommend Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series.  The first book in the series, Daughter of the Forest, in particular, has a lot in common with The Bear and the Nightingale.  

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Adventure, Historical Fiction, Reviews, Romance

Review: Beauvallet

BeauvalletBeauvallet by Georgette Heyer

My rating: 2.5of 5 stars

I’ve had Georgette Heyer’s books on my to-read list since reading Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Ain’t She Sweet? in which one of the heroine’s favorite authors is Heyer.  I’ll admit that I was a bit disappointed, however, by Beauvallet. The story of an English pirate during the reign of Elizabeth I who falls in love with a Spanish noblewoman whom he returns to Spain after attacking the ship she’d been on with the promise that he would return for her to make her his bride is pure escapist literature.  But I hope that is not one of Heyer’s best.

The romance left much to be desired, and the action sequences – something you’d expect plenty of in a novel about pirates – were quick and not all that thrilling. As for the characters, Nicholas Beauvallet is fun like an Errol Flynn (or rather, given that Beauvallet was originally published in 1929, Douglas Fairbanks) character, though not too swoon-worthy, Dominica is intelligent, strong-willed (reminiscent of Elizabeth Swann from the Pirates of the Caribbean film series but with less daring-do), and Joshua, well, I can’t decide whether he is the heart of the narrative or simply annoying. As for the rest of the cast, they are, with the exception of Dona Beatrice, totally unremarkable.

Georgette Heyer is know for having basically created the Regency Romance genre but this novel is set in the Elizabethan era.  If you are interested in more romantic fiction set in that era, I would turn to Philippa Gregory and her series of novels about the royal lives of the Plantagenet and Tudor houses.

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Historical Fiction, Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: Kopp Sisters on the March (Kopp Sisters #5)

Kopp Sisters on the March (Kopp Sisters, #5)Kopp Sisters on the March by Amy Stewart

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I love Amy Stewart’s series about the lives of the real-life Kopp sisters but this fifth book is, while quite different from the first four – if you’ve been reading the series you’ll understand why – one of the best.

As with the rest of the series, Stewart covers the quest for women’s rights and fair treatment in a way that never preaches, instead entertains and educates.
One main difference is that the focus is less on Constance alone and while I do love Constance, it was wonderful to get more of Norma and Fleurette’s characters.

But as Stewart states in the historical notes, this part of the Kopp sisters’ story draws largely from Stewart’s own imagination but we meet many new and interesting characters from the footnotes of history. In fact, even though the Kopps are in the title and their individual characters are as boldly drawn as ever, they act mainly as a framework for the story, which is really the story of Beulah Binford and her undeserved(?) infamy. Kopp Sisters on the March is also about the general experiences and emotions of the women in the months leading up to the United States entering World War I. It was truly fascinating, often infuriating, and I cannot wait to see where the Kopps go next.

I usually write an if-you-liked-this recommendation right here but there are only so many times I can say read this series instead I’ll say, check out Amy Stewart’s website for more historical information about Constance, Norma, and Fleurette as well as the other real-life characters they encounter.
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Reviews, Woman's Fiction

Review: Very Valentine (Valentine #1)

Very ValentineVery Valentine by Adriana Trigiani

My rating: 3.25 of 5 stars

This novel about a 30-something Italian-American woman disappointed me. Valentine’s story of familial obligation, professional legacy, passion, and self-discovery got mired down in the minutia. I don’t need to know every step of the characters’ daily routine to know them and I don’t need to know who designed every article of clothing the characters (even the most minor of them!) are wearing. I understand that as an artist in the fashion business, Valentine would have noticed these things but making a laundry list out of the outfits slowed down a story that already lacked a lot of action anyway.
While Valentine, who describes herself as the family’s “funnyone” wasn’t all that funny to me, her tale did contain important messages, though, about finding what makes you happy and not settling for something that hurts you or holds you back. Her trip to Italy, in particular, was beautifully experienced and beautifully described (how could it not be??). I just had trouble getting into the story.

Other books you might enjoy about familial duty and making your own way in a life that seems to be mapped out for you (or in danger of being lost) are Veronica Henry’s How to Find Love in a Bookshop, Sophie Kinsella’s I Owe You One, and one of my recent favorites, The Late Bloomers’ Club by Louise Miller.

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Fantasy, Reviews, Science Fiction

Review: The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library #1)

The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library, #1)The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This first book in Genevieve Cogman’s steampunk fantasy series, The Invisible Library, brings to mind both Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series and Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series. Take a less confident and exciting Thursday and drop her in Carriger’s version of Victorian London and you have Irene, a Librarian on a mission.
Though it lacks the fun of Carriger’s novels and isn’t as well put together as Fforde’s, the concept of an all-encompassing library with agents recruited, trained, and sent out to alternate worlds to collect special, rare, or important books, has potential. The setting of Irene’s mission is wrought with dangers that include the Fae, Vampires, Werewolves, giant metal insects, and one fabled rogue Librarian. It is these dangers that give the story its thrills but I often found myself confused about the magic of Cogman’s creation. It seemed as though the rules of the Library (and the alternate) change to suit the story. I couldn’t get a hold of Irene’s character either – sometimes she’s modern while other times she’s old-fashioned like the setting of her mission; sometimes she’s a strict rule follower and sometimes she’s making things up as she goes. As for the other characters, I like Peregrin Vale very much because, like Irene, and a big Sherlock Holmes fan; I am looking forward to getting to the mysterious Kai better as I continue to read the series (because I will be continuing though I wasn’t sure I until the end of this book whether I would or not), but Bradamant I could have done without.

If you enjoy The Invisible Library because you are a bibliophile who dreams of living in a library or inside the books themselves, pick up Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next Series beginning with The Eyre Affair.  If it is the fantastical setting you like, and you wished this book had a bit of romance, I highly recommend Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate, the first book of which is Soulless.

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