Book Talk

This is the place for book reviews and book-related round-ups or lists. I read all sorts of things, but book reviews here will mostly be of the science fiction, fantasy, YA, historical fiction, or contemporary fiction variety. My reviews are based on a) how much I enjoyed reading a book and b) the quality of the writing; there is not an exact balance or recipe for how I come up with my final rating, but those are the points I consider. Also, I read a LOT more books than I do full reviews on, so if you want the full rundown of activity, find me on Goodreads. You can also check out my list of Recommended Reads.




Book Review: The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale (The Bear and the Nightingale #1)

by Katherine Arden.

Vasilisa, the youngest of 5 siblings, grows up in the Russian hinterlands with a special connection to the wild. She loves her nurse’s stories of the different spirits of house and forest, but most of all she loves tales of Morozko, the fearful king of winter. When her father remarries to a devout citywoman, who comes with a new priest, it triggers a change in Vasilisa’s comfortable existence. And, as she soon comes to realize, a change in the natural balance. As the new priest’s influence grows, the local spirits and land weaken. As scary as tales of Morozko are, they are nothing compared to the thing he guards against. Threatened with marriage or a convent by her stepmother, Vasilisa must find a way to keep her land and people safe before time runs out.

One of my favorite books growing up was this book of Russian fairytales. In many ways, The Bear and the Nightingale was like revisiting my childhood. Except the fairytale grew up with me and got equivalently darker as a result. I’m not mad about it. This was an engrossing, atmospheric read. From the domestic spirits to the encroachment of Christianity to the mythos surrounding Morozko, this fictional slice of old Russia felt rich and authentic. It is not a Disney-fied fairytale. There is blood and death and violence, and a monster or five. It does nicely capture that feeling familiar from folk tales, where reality slips sideways just a bit and suddenly things like magic just are.

Vasilisa as the main character is both traditional and not. Traditional because that’s a recurring name/character from Russian folklore, but not because generally it’s Vasilisa the Beautiful where she is a fair maiden. This story’s Vasilisa is not ugly, but not beautiful either. Rather, she is smart, and brave, and compelling. I like this modern twist on a heroine. The supporting characters were mostly well-done and sympathetic- even the traditionally vile stepmother. The author did well to add nuance to the normal archetypes.

I would’ve liked a little more backstory on Vasilisa’s mother and the magic of her line (where it came from, what exactly that meant). And some parts of the story moved a little slowly for me. But overall, I still really enjoyed this book.

If you like new twists on old stories, or have a penchant for Russian folklore, give this a try.

I give it 4/5 stars.

I received a free advanced copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Bear and the Nightingale

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Book Review: All Our Wrong Todays

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai. Tom lives a aimless, drifting life in 2016. Except it’s not our 2016, it’s the 2016 that would exist if humans had discovered unlimited clean energy decades ago. In other words: the sci-fi future we’ve dreamed of since the 1950’s, complete with flying cars and moon bases. This power source has even led to a breakthrough in a new field: time travel. Tom’s father heads up that project, and got Tom a nominal job on the team in an attempt to give his life some structure. When a seemingly minor event dominoes into […]

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Recent Reads

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately (who, me?) and wanted to catch you up on some of the highlights. Here’s what I’ve enjoyed recently: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye. A Gothic retelling of Jane Eyre, this novel follows the protagonist through similar life events: an uncaring aunt, abusive schoolmaster, refuge in a country house as a governess with a brooding master. There is one big difference, though – this Jane has escaped each horrid circumstance by killing her tormentor, leaving a trail of bodies behind her. Is she truly wicked, or a victim fighting back against cruelty? Will […]

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Book Review: The Bone Witch

The Bone Witch (The Bone Witch #1) by Rin Chupeco. Tea finds out her magic isn’t like the other witches in her family in a decisive and unexpected way: she inadvertently raises her brother from the dead. This marks her as a bone witch, with power over death rather than one of the more common elements. She’s apprenticed to an older bone witch and moves to a training house in the city, to learn control over her powers and the duties of an asha (a powerful warrior witch that also functions something like a geisha). Her brother (her familiar) accompanies […]

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Book Review: Updraft

Updraft (Bone Universe #1) by Fran Wilde. In a city high above the clouds, Kirit dreams of finally earning her wings. Flyers are the lifeblood of the city, and she longs to be a trader alongside her mother. A breach of the city’s rules, however, sees her instead conscripted into the Singers, the secretive governing body. She discovers that not only is there more to the city and its history than she’s been taught, but there’s more to her own history (and abilities) than she imagined as well. A dangerous secret and divides with the Singers’ Spire itself lead Kirit […]

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Book Review: Chasing Embers

Chasing Embers (Ben Garston #1) by James Bennett. What if all of our myths were true? When humanity started to really dominate the planet, the creatures of legend and folklore banded together to form the Pact. In order to escape humanity’s notice (and persecution), only one individual of each kind of creature would be allowed to remain, the others passing into a Sleep until the day a lasting peace might be achieved. The Remnants who stayed awake agreed to keep a low profile, not fight one another, and help enforce the Pact on any who broke it. Red Ben Garston […]

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Book Review: Gilded Cage

Gilded Cage (Dark Gifts #1) by Vic James. In this alternate England, magically-gifted aristocrats (Equals) rule the land, while ungifted commoners must serve 10 years as slaves. When in their life they serve those 10 years is up to them, but serve it they must. Not everyone is happy about this arrangement. The slavetowns are backbreaking and bleak, and it’s becoming more clear that being Skilled with magic is not the straight genetic shot everyone thought it was. Three young people find themselves in the midst, in different ways, of this political turmoil and magical hotbed. Luke, a teenage boy, […]

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