Serena’s Review: “Daughter of the Forest”

45046625Book: “Daughter of the Forest” by Juliet Marillier

Publishing Info: Tor 1Books, April 2020 (originally published in 1999)

Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley

Book Description: Lovely Sorcha is the seventh child and only daughter of Lord Colum of Sevenwaters. Bereft of a mother, she is comforted by her six brothers who love and protect her. Sorcha is the light in their lives, they are determined that she know only contentment.

But Sorcha’s joy is shattered when her father is bewitched by his new wife, an evil enchantress who binds her brothers with a terrible spell, a spell which only Sorcha can lift–by staying silent. If she speaks before she completes the quest set to her by the Fair Folk and their queen, the Lady of the Forest, she will lose her brothers forever.

When Sorcha is kidnapped by the enemies of Sevenwaters and taken to a foreign land, she is torn between the desire to save her beloved brothers, and a love that comes only once. Sorcha despairs at ever being able to complete her task, but the magic of the Fair Folk knows no boundaries, and love is the strongest magic of them all… 

Review: I was thrilled to see this book pop up on NetGalley. It’s been one of my favorite reads (and the book that introduced me to one of my favorite authors) for many, many years. I couldn’t think of a series that is more due for a re-release than the original Sevenwaters trilogy. Plus, this was the perfect excuse to re-read this book and finally feature a full review for the story on this blog!

Sorcha’s life is full of family and love. With six older brothers who adore her and seek to protect her from everything, her life seems to be on a straight, bright path. Until her family falls under the shadow of her father’s new wife, a powerful sorceress who puts her brothers under a terrible spell, dooming them to the short life of swans. Now Sorcha must become the protector, undertaking a near-impossible task, forced to weave shirts out a painful plant and not allowed to make any noise until task is finished and spell lifted. Life is not made easier when she finds herself caught up by the enemy English and now living in a foreign land among those who distrust and fear her. But Sorcha persists in the face of it all, even has her task seems more and more doomed.

I love fairytale retellings, and this book really introduced me to them and set the bar for what they can be. The “Seven Swans” fairytale is a lesser known tale, and while there have been several other ones that I’ve found since reading this, none have even come close to fully realizing the full potential of the story. Marillier doesn’t simply stick to the basic outline; she creates an entire world, magic system, and fully-fleshed cast of characters, many of whom don’t feature in anything other than name in the original tale and some not at all. But beneath this all, the heart of the story is consistent (though some details differ). All the major plot points are hit, but the book is over 500 pages long, so you know it is rich in detail and not in a rush to get through its story.

Too often fairytale retellings fail to really establish themselves as anything unique from the original stories. Main characters are often lacking in any real personality (fairytales themselves often give them basically none, so there’s not much to go off for the author adapting it). And often the story doesn’t expand much further out than the original tale. Not so, here. Sorcha is the cornerstone around which this entire story hinges. And, given the she spends two thirds of the book not able to speak out loud, it’s important that her character feel real and compelling. We spend the entire book in her head and experience some fairly traumatic things alongside her. But, importantly, you’ll notice that I said “two thirds.” That’s because, smartly, Marillier adds a bunch of extra story to the beginning of this book. This not only gives Sorcha ample opportunity to be set up as a compelling character, but it adds stakes to her quest. We’ve met her brothers. We know their individual strengths and weaknesses, and, importantly, their close attachment to their sister. This makes their loss feel real and helps the reader feel fully committed to the terrible task set out before our leading lady.

The book also deals with some pretty serious and tough topics. There’s a very graphic, traumatic scene that occurs fairly early in the story. The author doesn’t hold back on the details of this attack, but what justifies this, I think, is the great work she does to explore how this affects Sorcha going forward. It’s not swept away or easily solved. Instead, we see how this experience shapes all of Sorcha’s choices and reactions going forward. And, ultimately, we see how she slowly goes through the experience of healing from it. This book is probably the best example I can point to for how a tough topic like this can and should be handled. Not only does our heroine go through the entire process, the book lays down some needed examples of how those around her help and wait as she deals with this.

Marillier’s writing is also exceptional. Atmospheric, lyrical, and emotional, she makes you feel the same strong connection to the forests and lakes of Sorcha’s wild home. Small moments land with unexpected emotion, and the action is tense and high stakes while not straying far from the intimate perspective we have through Sorcha’s eyes with everything that is going on around her. Throughout all of Marillier’s books, her writing is always consistent, but it’s a joy to go back to this first book that I read of hers and see why it stood out so much in the first place.

Marillier started a new trilogy this last fall, and I’m eagerly awaiting getting my hands on the second boo, due out this September. If you’re waiting as well, take this chance to explore her backlog with this beautiful renewed edition. I love the cover art for this and the other two books in the trilogy. If you haven’t read any of Marillier’s work before, boy, are you in for a treat! Get started with this one, and away you go!

Rating 10: Everything that a fairytale retelling should be and then some!

Reader’s Advisory: 

“Daughter of the Forest” is on these Goodreads lists: “The Best Fairytales and Retellings” and “Best Romance in Traditional Fantasy.”

Find “Daughter of the Forest” at your library!

Kate’s Review: “This Is How I Lied”

52000813Book: “This Is How I Lied” by Heather Gudenkauf

Publishing Info: Park Row, May 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Everyone has a secret they’ll do anything to hide…

Twenty-five years ago, the body of sixteen-year-old Eve Knox was found in the caves near her home in small-town Grotto, Iowa—discovered by her best friend, Maggie, and her sister, Nola. There were a handful of suspects, including her boyfriend, Nick, but without sufficient evidence the case ultimately went cold.

For decades Maggie was haunted by Eve’s death and that horrible night. Now a detective in Grotto, and seven months pregnant, she is thrust back into the past when a new piece of evidence surfaces and the case is reopened. As Maggie investigates and reexamines the clues, secrets about what really happened begin to emerge. But someone in town knows more than they’re letting on, and they’ll stop at nothing to keep the truth buried deep.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Both of my parents grew up in Iowa, so I have many childhood memories of going to various parts of that state and having a lot of fun. Because of this, Iowa has a special place in my heart, even if my parents considered their move to Minnesota something of an escape. So when I saw that Heather Gudenkauf’s new book “This Is How I Lied” took place in a fictional small Iowa town, that was what pulled me in. I was immediately thinking of cornfields, Bozwellz Pub and Eaterie, and Prairie Lights Bookstore, and I will admit that nostalgia is what got me here. And nostalgia was what kept me going, mostly, because unfortunately “This Is How I Lied” didn’t connect with me.

As always, I will start with what I did like. And that can be summed up as such:

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(source)

For the most part, Grotto did feel like an Iowan small town. I liked that there is absolutely a center of commerce and businesses, but it’s just as accessible to farms, ranches, and the rural life of the community. One of our characters who gets perspective chapters is Nola, the potentially psychopathic younger sister of murder victim Eve, who has grown up to become a large animal vet. I liked the moments that we had with her doing her vet work, visiting patients on ranches and farms. I was also tickled by the idea of underground caves in this town, though I didn’t find it too unbelievable, as there are definitely interesting geological formations in this state. Fossil pits, cave systems, cliffs, I’ve been to a few and Gudenkauf really nailed the geology of the state, and how complex it can be. And as I mentioned above, nostalgia played a big factor into my enjoyment of this. I haven’t been to Iowa since my aunt died in Iowa City in 2017, and honestly, I miss it.

But the story itself and the characters within really didn’t connect with me. We had three characters whose perspectives we worked with. The first is Maggie, the pregnant cop who was the best friend of Eve the murder victim back when they were teens. The second is Nola, Eve’s disturbed younger sister who wants revenge. The third is that of Eve herself, and her last days leading up to her murder. None of them really moved past two dimensional tropes. Maggie is the haunted cop with potential secrets, Nola is the violent psychopath, and Eve was the tragic victim who was too good for the world she lived in. The closest we come to interesting is Nola, as seeing psychopathic women characters isn’t nearly as common within the genre as men. But she was too stereotypical psychopathic to make me feel like due diligence was being done to make her interesting. Did she have a dead animal fascination as a kid? Check. Violent tendencies? Check. Menacing presence and sometimes supervillain-like soliloquies? Check and mate. And on top of all that, the mystery itself was never terribly engrossing to me. I had a feeling that I knew who it was early on, and any red herring curveballs thrown to the reader were far too obvious as being red herrings because of how they were placed and where. Once it all shook out to it’s conclusion, due to lack of investment I didn’t really care one way or another. This book doesn’t push any boundaries or reinvent the wheel, and while it’s true that I am perfectly okay with that in a lot of books, that is only if I feel like the journey itself was worthwhile enough to make up for it. In this book, that simply wasn’t the case.

I was disappointed that this book didn’t connect for me. That doesn’t mean it won’t connect for you, though. Remember.

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Give it a go if you are so intrigued. Be like a stubborn Iowan that way. As someone who comes from a long line of them, I can tell you that isn’t a bad thing.

Rating 4: The description held promise but it never really took off. Flat characters, predictable plot points, just all around disappointing.

Reader’s Advisory:

“This Is How I Lied” is included on the Goodreads list “Psychological Suspense for 2020 (U.S. Publications Jan-July 2020)”.

Find “This Is How I Lied” at your library using WorldCat, or a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Bookclub Review: “Gods of Jade and Shadow”

36510722We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “American Girl Readalikes”, in which we each pick an American Girl book and a book that can be connected to it, however tenuous as it may be.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Gods of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Publishing Info: Del Rey, July 2019

Where Did We Get This Book: We both bought it!

American Girl Book: “Josefina Saves the Day” by Valerie Tripp

Book Description: The Jazz Age is in full swing, but Casiopea Tun is too busy cleaning the floors of her wealthy grandfather’s house to listen to any fast tunes. Nevertheless, she dreams of a life far from her dusty small town in southern Mexico. A life she can call her own.

Yet this new life seems as distant as the stars, until the day she finds a curious wooden box in her grandfather’s room. She opens it—and accidentally frees the spirit of the Mayan god of death, who requests her help in recovering his throne from his treacherous brother. Failure will mean Casiopea’s demise, but success could make her dreams come true.

In the company of the strangely alluring god and armed with her wits, Casiopea begins an adventure that will take her on a cross-country odyssey from the jungles of Yucatán to the bright lights of Mexico City—and deep into the darkness of the Mayan underworld.

Serena’s Thoughts

I read this book for the first time last summer and raved all about it. But when it came time for me to pick my book for bookclub, I was having a hard time finding one that I felt matched up at all with the “American Girl” I had. I tossed out this book’s title and as no one else had read it, that was all the excuse I needed! Not only to pick it as my bookclub book, but to order a copy for myself for this re-read.

This second time around, I enjoyed the story just as much as the first time. I was reminded just how unique of a story this is. I haven’t read any other book about this time period and place, and I’ve especially never read anything combining it with traditional Mayan folklore and all of the fantasy elements the author threw in. While the beginning of the story definitely has a “Cinderella” vibe, it deviates from that traditional tale so quickly and so completely that it wasn’t even until this re-read that I made that connection at all.

Like my first read through, what really stood out was the writing itself and the way the use of the unique narration style was able to really draw complete, full-bodied pictures for the reader. The images of these locations and cities, both real and fairytale, all feel so vivid and colorful that it’s impossible not to be drawn in, even if one has no familiarity to base any of these visuals on. The writing is strong enough to get you there on its own.

I obviously still really enjoyed Casiopea herself. She’s a very strong protagonist and her journey of self-discovery was compelling. She learns many of the same lessons anyone who travels from home the first time does: that the world is both much larger and grand than you ever could have imagined, but it’s also still just people, going about their lives, no matter the change of scenery. This time around, I was able to focus more Hun-Kame’s story and his slow transition from godhood to humanity. I really appreciate the way the author went about this, as all of his changes were subtle and believable, something that can be hard to pull of with this type of story arc.

Overall, I still really enjoyed this book. I’ve loved everything I’ve read by her, and she has a new book, “Mexican Gothic,” that’s coming out this June that I can’t wait to check out! If you want to read my full review from last summer, you can find it here.

Kate’s Thoughts

I have been interested in digging into Silvia Moreno-Garcia for a bit now. I have “Mexican Gothic” waiting for me in eARC form at the moment, so when Serena suggested that she pick “Gods of Jade and Sorrow” for book club I was wholeheartedly in favor. True, while fantasy isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, mythology is an exception to that general rule. Especially mythologies that I’m not as familiar with (though when I was in grade school we had a unit on the Mayans and the mythology associated with it. Of course, it was by no means expansive).

I quite enjoyed “Gods of Jade and Shadow”, for a few reasons. The first, like Serena mentioned, was the time and place. 1920s Mexico isn’t a setting I’ve encountered much in the books I’ve read, and while I have a working knowledge of some aspects of it thanks to reading about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in the past, it’s still fairly novel. The road trip and journey that Casiopea and Hun-Kamé take together all over Mexico and into the U.S. is engaging and entertaining, and the other magical beings they encounter were fascinating and well crafted. I thought that their very important journey aligned with Casiopea’s own journey of self-actualization against a backdrop of a burgeoning freedom of society was stark and powerful.

And, like Serena, I also enjoyed Casiopea herself. She grows and changes, but always remains true to herself and her characterization. She has a lot to learn, but she also has a lot that various characters, be it Hume-Kamé or her cruel cousin Martín, could learn from her. Some of the choices that she makes when it comes to how to deal with the cruelty and viciousness of others are refreshing in that they are steeped in more empathy and compassion as opposed to revenge or evening the score.

And of course, the Mayan Mythology was great. I have vague recollections of Xibalba and the various Death Gods from my early experiences of reading up on them in grade school, and seeing them put into this story and really dug into was awesome. It also gives the feel of this story a distinctly Indigenous one, which I greatly appreciated, especially since an Own Voices author was taking on the subject matter.

Overall, I really liked “Gods of Jade and Shadow”, and I’m even more stoked to dig into Moreno-Garcia’s next works!

Kate’s Rating 8: A fun and unique coming of age story with a distinctly Indigenous voice, “Gods of Jade and Sorrow” really entertains.

Serena’s Rating 10: I loved this book just as much the second time around and highly recommend it for fantasy-lovers looking for a story set in a time and place not typically found in the genre.

Book Club Questions

  1. Casiopea’s story starts out as a sort of “Cinderella” tale that involves into one of self-discovery and independence gained. What stood out to about her story arc or characterization?
  2. In many ways, Casiopea and Hun-Kame’s relationship evolves from city to city as they travel. What did you make of this progression? Did you enjoy the romance in this story? What did you think of the larger balance being struct between humanity and godliness?
  3. The story takes place during the Jazz Age in Mexico and covers a lot of ground. Was there a particular location or aspect of this time/place that stood out to you?
  4. The author combined traditional Mayan words and stories with her own unique tale. Were there any aspects of the fantasy elements that stood out to you? Were you familiar with any of these terms or Mayan tales previously?
  5. The narration for this story is omniscient, allowing the author to provide a lot of detail and context for her tale as it meanders across Mexico. It also provides insights into the villain’s perspectives. What did you make of this narrative style and the balance between characters that we’re given?

Reader’s Advisory

“Gods of Jade and Shadow” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Aztec, Maya & Inca – Fiction” and “2019 Adult SFF by Authors of Color.”

Find “Gods of Jade and Shadow” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “The Ranger of Marzanna”

51113661._sx318_sy475_Book: “The Ranger of Marzanna” by Jon Skovron

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher

Book Description: When their father is murdered by imperial soldiers, two siblings set out on opposite paths—one will destroy the Empire forever and the other will save it—in this thrilling new Russian inspired epic fantasy from Jon Skovron.

Sonya is training to be a Ranger of Marzanna, an ancient sect of warriors who have protected the land for generations. But the old ways are dying, and the rangers have all been forced into hiding or killed off by the invading Empire.

When her father is murdered by imperial soldiers, she decides to finally take action. Using her skills as a ranger she will travel across the bitter cold tundra and gain the allegiance of the only other force strong enough to take down the invaders.

But nothing about her quest will be easy. Because not everyone is on her side. Her brother, Sebastian, is the most powerful sorcerer the world has ever seen. And he’s fighting for the empire.

Review: Between the beautiful cover art and the intriguing book description, this was a no brainer for me to request. I always love stories about warrior women, and the fact that it was based on Russian folklore is just the cream on top. I was definitely getting some “The Bear and the Nightingale” vibes off this, which couldn’t have been more of an inducement since I’m still in mourning that that trilogy ended…like more than a year ago now. Get over it! Sadly, however, this book wasn’t quite that. There were some strengths to it, but not quite what I was looking for, in the end.

Sonya is in training to be a Ranger, a member of an elite fighting force. In pursuit of this goal, she travels around the countryside attempting to help her people against the doings of the invading imperial soldiers. While away, however, her family is attacked and her father killed. Her brother, however, a powerful sorcerer-in-training, survives and begins to make a new life for himself, one that sides with the very people who murdered their father. Now these two siblings find themselves on very different paths, paths that will eventually intersect to devastating effect.

So, to start with a few things I liked. I did like the Russian/Ukranian influences on the culture, location, and folklore of the story. The elemental magic system was also interesting enough. It’s not a super new concept, but I felt like the author put enough new twists into how it all works to keep it from feeling flat. I particularly liked the cult-like religion that followed Marzanna and the sacrifices that were required of those who committed themselves to her path (as we see through Sonya’s story.) But, sadly, I had a really hard time connecting to either of the two main characters, and I felt like the pacing and writing of the story weren’t helping matters out.

First, Sonya. I did end up liking her half of the story better than her brother’s, but again this was mostly due to the intriguing concept of having to give up parts of oneself to become a full follower of Marzanna. However, even in this part of the story, I didn’t feel like the author truly explored this concept completely. In many ways, it mostly just made Sonya less likable. She starts out incredibly bad-ass and so some of her struggles then appear out of character. But at the same time, growth for the character comes out of these moments, but never felt like it was really being applied completely. It’s hard to get at exactly what my problem was. I think maybe it was just that the actual character herself felt too flimsy to hold up the more grand adventure she was supposed to be having. And by the time we got to some of the darker portions of her tale, the part where readers have to begin questioning her actions and motives, it’s too late to really feel invested enough in it all.

As for Sebastian, I didn’t like him from the start, and it didn’t get any better as we went along. In the very first chapter we meet him, his father his killed and he and his mother are shipped back to the capitol city. His entire inner thought process of these events was summed up with an actual line saying that he didn’t really get along with his father that much so that must be why he’s not really grieving. From there, it just got worse as he literally teams up with the very people who killed his father and pretty much goes “meh” about the idea that his powers are now going to be used against his own people. There simply wasn’t enough (or any!) real conflict shown between Sebastian and his father to justify to bewildering turn for his character. Sebastian is either a sociopath who can’t care about others or an outright villain. Neither are likable. It’s especially confusing as he’s presented in a way that makes it clear that the author expects you to sympathize with him and read him as an equal protagonist. I just didn’t get it, and what I did get, I didn’t like.

I also felt like the writing and pacing of story were just a bit off. The characters spoke in a very YA manner, but this didn’t mesh well with the super violent descriptions that came with the action scenes. What’s more, the author had an unfortunate habit of info-dumping in his dialogue making it read as unnatural and stiff. Overall, I was pretty disappointed by this book. I know that the author has a fairly popular series already published, so I’m not sure if this was an aberration or whether this story just didn’t mesh with me specifically. If you are a fan of his other work and want to give this one a shot, don’t forget to enter the giveaway for an ARC copy of this book!

Rating 6: The two unlikable protagonists were too much for me to get past.

Reader’s Advisory: 

“The Ranger of Marzanna” is a newer title, so it isn’t on any Goodreads lists. But it should be on “Warrior Women.”

Find “The Ragner of Marzanna” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “The Mountains Sing”

49631287._sy475_Book: “The Mountains Sing” by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Publishing Info: Algonquin Books, March 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and the lyrical beauty of Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Tran family, set against the backdrop of the Viet Nam War. Tran Dieu Lan, who was born in 1920, was forced to flee her family farm with her six children during the Land Reform as the Communist government rose in the North. Years later in Hà Noi, her young granddaughter, Hương, comes of age as her parents and uncles head off down the Ho Chí Minh Trail to fight in a conflict that will tear not just her beloved country but her family apart.

Vivid, gripping, and steeped in the language and traditions of Viet Nam, The Mountains Sing brings to life the human costs of this conflict from the point of view of the Vietnamese people themselves, while showing us the true power of kindness and hope. This is celebrated Vietnamese poet Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s first novel in English.

Review: I’ve decided that every once in awhile I’m going to branch out from my usual genres that I review on here and dive into something different. Don’t worry, reviews of all that’s scary, thrilling, or picture heavy will still be dominant when it comes to what I talk about on here! But when I come across a book like “The Mountains Sing” by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai, I really want to share it with anyone who will listen! Because while I love me horror and thrillers, I also really love family sagas in my fiction. And “The Mountains Sing” is the best family saga I’ve encountered since “Homegoing” by Yaa Gyasi.

“The Mountains Sing” is a lyrical and bittersweet family saga that follows the Tran Family in North Vietnam. There are two main perspectives. The first is that of Hương, a young girl who is living with her grandmother during the last days of the Viet Nam War as her parents are fighting on the Ho Chi Min Trail. The second is the story of her grandmother, Dieu Lan, who had to escape her farm during the Land Reform Movement lest she and her children be murdered as landowners. These two stories follow significant moments in North Vietnamese/Vietnamese history, and the repercussions for the people who were living there during those times. Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai paints a beautiful picture of the setting, and draws complex and engrossing characterizations. Both Dieu Lan and Hương have to confront difficult decisions for themselves, and the difficult decisions of others. As someone who grew up in the United States, Vietnamese history isn’t something that was covered in the classes I took in high school. Hell, even though I went to a pretty progressive private school with better and more honest history texts than others, we still didn’t take a deep look into the Vietnamese side of the Viet Nam War. So reading this book from the perspective of a Vietnamese author whose characters had to live the consequences of the war as civilians on the Northern side, it was eye opening and very worthwhile. It should also be noted that the deep complexities living under the North Vietnamese Communist Party’s rule aren’t ignored or swept away. I had never heard of the Land Reform, and it is absolutely horrific. That said, the horrors of being attacked by the United States with imperialist motivations isn’t dismissed as nothing. If anything, this story shows how those seeking power will exploit those below them to do their dirty work, be it French colonists trying to take over and using locals to inflict rule, or farmers murdering landowners to take land for the movement, or soldiers from America being sent to fight a war for the upper classes and killing civilians on the ground.

I also greatly liked the characters and the various journeys that each one took, and the emphasis on family. Hương learns the truth about her family history, just as she learns the truth about the things that her family members have had to do to survive during times of great violence and tragedy, and you see her grow in empathy and character. But it was Dieu Lan’s story that really hit me in the heart, as she tries to keep her children safe as they escape their village and go on the road to Ha Noi. The horrible choices that she had to make, and the repercussions of those choices, were heartbreaking and left me in tears many times, and seeing her become more resilient and tough was a character journey that had the most effect on me. I enjoyed the contrast between these two women and their experiences, and how each of them had ripple effects upon the other. Their strengths manifest in different ways, but it’s a great way to show that strength comes in many forms.

“The Mountains Sing” is a heart rendering and hopeful story from a gifted voice. I eagerly await any other novels that Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai may write in the future.

Rating 9: A beautifully written family saga set in Viet Nam, “The Mountains Sing” gives the perspective of the Vietnamese people during times of conflict and shows how hope and family can get people through difficult times.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Mountains Sing” is included on the Goodreads lists “Family Saga Novels”, and “Books by Vietnamese/Vietnamese-Diaspora Writers”.

Find “The Mountains Sing” at your library using WorldCat, or at your local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Giveaway: “The Ranger of Marzanna”

51113661._sx318_sy475_Book: “The Ranger of Marzanna” by Jon Skovron

Publishing Info: Orbit, April 2020

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!

Book Description: When their father is murdered by imperial soldiers, two siblings set out on opposite paths—one will destroy the Empire forever and the other will save it—in this thrilling new Russian inspired epic fantasy from Jon Skovron.

Sonya is training to be a Ranger of Marzanna, an ancient sect of warriors who have protected the land for generations. But the old ways are dying, and the rangers have all been forced into hiding or killed off by the invading Empire.

When her father is murdered by imperial soldiers, she decides to finally take action. Using her skills as a ranger she will travel across the bitter cold tundra and gain the allegiance of the only other force strong enough to take down the invaders.

But nothing about her quest will be easy. Because not everyone is on her side. Her brother, Sebastian, is the most powerful sorcerer the world has ever seen. And he’s fighting for the empire.

I was excited to receive an ARC copy of this book from Orbit. For one thing, the cover is absolutely stunning and the exact sort of thing that would draw me in when browsing the shelves at a bookstore (oh, how I long to return to browsing shelves…). I was also really interested in the idea of two siblings coming towards some sort of conflict. The book description definitely focuses on the sister more, so I’m curious to see if this book will be a duel narrator situation or what. Her side alone, however, sounds pretty badass!

My full review for the book will go up this Friday. But get a head start on things and enter to win an ARC copy of this book. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only and ends on May 20.

Enter to win!

Kate’s Review: “Catherine House”

51934838Book: “Catherine House” by Elisabeth Thomas

Publishing Info: Custom House, May 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: You are in the house and the house is in the woods. You are in the house and the house is in you . . .

Catherine House is a school of higher learning like no other. Hidden deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania, this crucible of reformist liberal arts study with its experimental curriculum, wildly selective admissions policy, and formidable endowment, has produced some of the world’s best minds: prize-winning authors, artists, inventors, Supreme Court justices, presidents. For those lucky few selected, tuition, room, and board are free. But acceptance comes with a price. Students are required to give the House three years—summers included—completely removed from the outside world. Family, friends, television, music, even their clothing must be left behind. In return, the school promises its graduates a future of sublime power and prestige, and that they can become anything or anyone they desire.

Among this year’s incoming class is Ines, who expects to trade blurry nights of parties, pills, cruel friends, and dangerous men for rigorous intellectual discipline—only to discover an environment of sanctioned revelry. The school’s enigmatic director, Viktória, encourages the students to explore, to expand their minds, to find themselves and their place within the formidable black iron gates of Catherine.

For Ines, Catherine is the closest thing to a home she’s ever had, and her serious, timid roommate, Baby, soon becomes an unlikely friend. Yet the House’s strange protocols make this refuge, with its worn velvet and weathered leather, feel increasingly like a gilded prison. And when Baby’s obsessive desire for acceptance ends in tragedy, Ines begins to suspect that the school—in all its shabby splendor, hallowed history, advanced theories, and controlled decadence—might be hiding a dangerous agenda that is connected to a secretive, tightly knit group of students selected to study its most promising and mysterious curriculum.

Combining the haunting sophistication and dusky, atmospheric style of Sarah Waters with the unsettling isolation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Catherine House is a devious, deliciously steamy, and suspenseful page-turner with shocking twists and sharp edges that is sure to leave readers breathless.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this novel!

If you are going to market a book as a Gothic novel, I am most likely going to be interested based on that alone. The isolated creepiness of the average Gothic novel gets me amped, and I’m glad that more and more authors, both adult and YA, are paying more attention to this genre. And when you throw in a mysterious boarding school/university setting, that’s practically catnip for me! “Catherine House” by Elisabeth Thomas, therefore, caught my eye. I downloaded it from NetGalley, eager to dive into a Gothic boarding school thriller with twists, turns, and nefarious misdeeds. Unfortunately, “Catherine House” missed the mark for me, by quite a bit.

Starting with the positive, this book has a LOT of potential. As I said, it both aspires to be a Gothic read set in a mysterious school that serves as alternative to university, and it promises to give its graduates all sorts of power and keys to mysterious opportunities. It can make powerful politicians, business people, power players of all stripes, and all you have to do is master it’s odd and super secretive curriculum and devote your entire life to Catherine House for three years, with no contact to the outside world. Ines, our protagonist, is fleeing a checkered past in hopes of starting on the right foot and with huge advantages to a new life. It’s pretty standard fare for this kind of book, and that’s not to say that that’s a bad thing. I liked seeing the odd quirks to Catherine House, the little shifts from what one might consider a ‘normal’ college experience, from food to decor to class types. There is also the fact that students at Catherine, Ines included, are involved in strange rituals involving something called plasm, and pins that you can insert into your body that can help harness the potential of this so called plasm…..

I mean, I think. Honestly, this wasn’t very clear to me. While it’s very possible I may have missed something, it seemed to me that the sticking point of the mystery of this book was at the plasm storyline and what it does, and why Catherine House wants to mess with it. So the fact that I could have missed the big conflict resolution doesn’t really imply that there was much detail or due diligence paid to said conflict. There is also the plot line where Ines’s roommate Baby has tragedy befall her all in hopes of fitting into the strict and high standard mold that Catherine House has, but I didn’t really get the sense that Ines was terribly concerned with it. Sure, I was TOLD that Ines was concerned, it’s even in the plot description. But there is very little actual time devoted to Ines feeling guilty, or suspicious, or vengeful over Baby’s fate. When that is touted as a main plot point in the description, I expect it to be more at the forefront. It just felt like more time was put into describing the quirks and strangeness of this place than there was devoted to the actual main plot. Because of this, I was mostly confused and uninvested throughout the narrative. Which is a shame, because there were so many good ideas here that had a lot of potential.

Suffice to say, I was quite disappointed with “Catherine House”. Hopefully the next time I find my literary catnip I will have a better experience.

Rating 4: While this book had a lot of promise, ultimately I didn’t feel like it committed to any of the themes it set out to explore.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Catherine House” is included on the Goodreads lists “Dark Academia”, and “Black Heroines 2020”.

Find “Catherine House” at your library using WorldCat, or at your local independent bookstore using IndieBound!