Quotes

Quote of the Week

I do not know what you should choose.  Every time you take one path, you must live with the memory of the other:  of a life left unchosen.  Decide as seems best, one course or the other; each way will have its bitter with its sweet.

~ Katherine Arden, The Girl in the Tower

Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3)

The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy, #3)The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4.75 of 5 stars

The Winter of the Witch, the third installment of Katherine Arden’s wonderful Winternight Trilogy is a gorgeous, thrilling, heartbreaking, horrifying, magical, and, yes, romantic conclusion to the series. As with the first two books, The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, there are plenty of elements of the fantastic mixed seamlessly with the historical. This combination echoes the many dualities explored throughout the series – nature vs. civilization, Christianity vs. paganism, tradition vs. being true to your nature.  While the series doesn’t necessarily reconcile all of these conflicts, the conclusion is deeply satisfying – even in its most heartbreaking moments.  I only wish there was more of Vasya’s tale to read.
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Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Reviews

Review: The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy #2)

The Girl in the Tower (Winternight Trilogy, #2)The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden

My rating: 4.25 of 5 stars

Arden’s descriptions in this second novel of her gorgeous Winternight Trilogy of Vasya’s world are as stunning as they were in the first book, The Bear and the Nightingale but what she describes is far from beautiful. From the oppressiveness of medieval Moscow to the violence of the times, The Girl in the Tower is a more brutal read with a bit less magic and more of the realities of the era, especially as they pertain to women.
It was often as infuriating for me as the reader as it was for Vasya to read about the way women in feudal Russia (and everywhere in these Dark Ages) were seen as property or prizes that were little more than vessels for carrying heirs. As modern women, our frustration comes not just from the lack of rights and choice women suffered 500+ years ago or the knowledge that in many cultures women are still treated that way. What is frustrating is that even in cultures not governed by religious strictures, we often still feel that lack of choice and that some people still view women as prizes to be won.
I make it sound like The Girl in the Tower is a feminist rant but, while there is a feminist undertone, it is a gorgeous folklore based fantasy that serves as a riveting exploration of nature versus civilization as well as a fascinating glimpse of a time and place not often observed. I am already reading the third installment of the trilogy and cannot wait to see where Vasya’s tale goes next.

If like me, you enjoy novels that combine fantasy with folklore and history, I highly recommend this series, beginning with The Bear and the Nightingale.  When you’ve finished with this trilogy (as I soon will be 😞), I recommend Juliet Marillier’s beautiful Sevenwaters series, starting with Daughter of the Forest

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For the Love of Books, Year in Review

Shelly’s Year in Books | 2019

Before the calendar turns to 2020, I need to announce my top reads of 2019.  Except for my first read of the year, the third book in Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series, Child of the Prophecy, my year got off to a rather uninspired start with a series of merely OK reads.  Then I picked up The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms, whose previous books I’d thoroughly enjoyed, especially her debut, The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane.  I followed this with a run of mostly great reads through the rest of the fall then finished up strongly with Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale, the gorgeous first book in her Winternight trilogy.  Here are some highlights from 2019:

  • Child of the Prophecy (Sevenwaters #3) by Juliet Marillier is the culmination of the story that began with Daughter of the Forest.  Though it lacked some of the romance of that first novel, this installment brought the mysticism and magic back to the series.  From what I’ve read, I believe Child of the Prophecy was meant to be the end of the story but Marillier has written three more Sevenwaters stories and I am looking forward to seeing where the story will go.
  • The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms, with its uplifting story of a single mother who relinquishes her children to the care of their long-absent father for a summer as well as the interesting ideas about education that will appeal to anyone who struggles with required reading as I’ve always done, made its way not only on my list of top reads but became a Goodreads Choice Award finalist for best fiction as well.
  • How to Stop Time by Matt Haig was at times slow and often maudlin and yet there were times when I couldn’t get enough of it.  I particularly enjoyed the historical passages like meeting William Shakespeare or traveling with Captain Cook.  But what makes How to Stop Time truly special is its perspective on human relationships, history and politics, and how we spend our time on earth.
  • Well Met by Jen DeLuca is possibly the best romance I’ve read in years.  The nerd in me loved the Renaissance Faire setting while the student of human nature in me enjoyed how relatable the two leads are and how believable their relationship is.  And I’m not the only one who loved this one.  Well Met was a semi-finalist for a Goodreads Choice Award for romance.
  • Reading The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman was like looking into a rosy-colored mirror.  The story of Nina, a young woman with whom I share not only my passion for reading and books but an often debilitating case of anxiety around people not to mention a love of trivia and a habit of communicating through film quotes and references, is sweet and wickedly funny (a trait it shares with Waxman’s other two novels, The Garden of Small Beginnings and Other People’s Houses) with a delightful touch of romance and a message about self-acceptance and overcoming your personal hurdles. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill must have connected with many other readers because it too was a finalist in the fiction category for a Goodreads Choice Award.
  • The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal, a novel about overcoming the odds stacked against you, following your passion, the strength of women, and the ties of family, builds on the critical success of Stradal’s first novel, Kitchens of the Great Midwest.  This novel has a better flow and a stronger story.  In this age of female empowerment, it is nice to see a cast of strong, yet flawed women who kick ass while doubting themselves the whole time.  That’s what it’s like to be a woman.
  • Kopp Sisters on the March (Kopp Sisters #5) by Amy Stewart makes it 5 for 5 so far for the Kopp Sisters series on my top reads list.  A lot has changed for Constance and her sisters so the story is quite different from the previous four novels but is at least as good if not better than the last couple.
  • The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight #1) by Katherine Arden captivated me almost immediately, transporting me to the northern forest of what is now Russia to a world inhabited by spirits that protect the forest and the homes of the hardy people that have made their homes there.  I wouldn’t be at all surprised if at least one of the other two books in this historical fantasy trilogy made its way onto next year’s top reads list.

So, which one of these great reads is my favorite book of 2019?  As wonderful as some of these books are, I admit the choice wasn’t that difficult.  Drumroll, please…

Bookish

I chose The Bookish Life of Nina Hill not only because of its sweet story or delightful cast of characters or Waxman’s trademark wicked sense of humor.  This book made me feel less alone in a world that often makes you feel like your quirks and fears and passions are something to be ashamed of.  While Nina has come to accept herself as she is, she also comes to learn that she can stay true to herself while bending to make room for more in her life.  And it is darn funny!

These are just a few of the books I’ve read this year.  To see the full list and read the reviews, check out My 2019 Year in Books on Goodreads!

Source: Shelly’s Year in Books | Goodreads

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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