Joint Review: “Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast”

41424Book: “Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast” by Robin McKinley

Publishing Info: Harper, October 1978

Where Did We Get this Book: Serena’s owns it, and Kate borrowed it from Serena!

Book Description: Beauty has never liked her nickname. She is thin and awkward; it is her two sisters who are the beautiful ones. But what she lacks in looks, she can perhaps make up for in courage.

When her father comes home with the tale of an enchanted castle in the forest and the terrible promise he had to make to the Beast who lives there, Beauty knows she must go to the castle, a prisoner of her own free will. Her father protests that he will not let her go, but she answers, “Cannot a Beast be tamed?”

Serena’s Thoughts

I originally read this book back in highschool after finding it while browsing through my school library. What a lucky day of my life! I had read a few books by Robin McKinley before this but had somehow missed the fact that she wrote a Beauty and the Beast re-telling (she actually wrote two! Her other book is titled “Rose Daughter” and is a bit more of an adaptation of the tale than a straight re-telling like this one). Fast forward an undefined number of years and “Beauty” is one of a handful of books that I re-read almost on a yearly basis. It’s the epitome of a comfort read for me, at this point. And with that in mind, I’ve found it a bit challenging to review it here for the blog! Unpacking the book as an actual work of fiction outside of my own long history of gushing over it is tricky!

One of the most noteworthy aspects of this tale is its simplicity. There are a million and one Beauty and the Beast adaptations, and they all approach the tale differently with unique additions to the tale and versions of the main characters. What makes “Beauty” stand out is the fact that it really isn’t providing anything extra to the tale: if you could have a novel-length version of the fairy tale itself, no bells or whistles added, this would be it. The tale unfolds in a very familiar way, broken into three parts essentially. There is Beauty’s life through her family’s fall from wealth, then her time adapting to a more simple life and hearing tales about a mysterious woods that one days hits too close to home with her father’s unlucky trip to a strange castle, and then the final third, Beauty’s time in the castle itself, falling in love with a Beast.

I particularly appreciate the fact that McKinley doesn’t rush the first half of this novel. As anxious as I am (and I’m sure many readers as well) to get to the meat of the story, Beauty and the Beast’s love story, this initial build up is important for setting up Beauty as a three dimensional character. We need time to understand Beauty herself, and to grow to love her family as well so that her sacrifice, when it comes, to leave them forever has the emotional weight it deserves.

Due to this greater fleshing out of the beginning of the story, Beauty’s family all get a lot more page time. The sisters, particularly, become their own characters with their own struggles. And, luckily, they are treated much more kindly by McKinley than sisters often fare in fairy tales being neither catty nor selfish.

But, of course, the true joy of the story does indeed come in its second half when Beauty begins her new life at the castle and meets the Beast. Here lies the true brilliance of the story. Under less sure hands we have seen too many incantations of the Beast where he can fall into many character traps, like the overly angsty Beast, or, most likely, the “anger issues are sexy” Beast. The Beast in this story is perfect as a strange, romantic hero. The tragedy of his story and life up to this point is the primary emotion that is brought to the forefront. And it is this sympathy for him upon which Beauty begins to build her feelings. But, even more importantly, McKinley allows her characters to travel the full of arc of a burgeoning relationship. Each are wary of the other (Beauty, for obvious reasons, and the Beast due to the vulnerability he must show to grow close to another human after so long), then through small moments and risks on each character’s part, a friendship develops, and only from there do we begin to see the romance come. McKinley never stumbles in this progression, and its this sure-handedness that makes the story and Beauty and the Beast’s relationship so beautiful and believable.

Re-reading this book for the millionth time, and especially with the new movie on my mind, it strikes me that the original Disney movie might have needed to credit this book for parts of their story. I mean, really, there’s even mention of a dog-like footstool! And this was written before that movie!! Perhaps a questionable lack of attribution on Disney’s part…

Kate’s Thoughts

So I had never actually read “Beauty” until I was at Serena’s house awhile back, and she literally thrust her copy of the book into my hands. I had only read “Sunshine” by Robin McKinley before then, though I had some familiarity with her other works because my mother really likes the “Damar” series. I, too, am a huge fan of the story of “Beauty and the Beast”, as the Disney movie is my favorite Disney movie of all time, and I’ve always enjoyed the fairy tale. Hell, in college I wrote a paper about the symbolism of the Beast in regards to sex and growing up. So yes, Serena was right to toss this my way with the command of ‘read it, read it now’.

I think that the biggest thing that strikes me about this book is that McKinley is very careful to flesh out all of the characters, from Beauty to her sisters to the Beast. While some fairy tales function more on tropes and common themes, McKinley takes these kind of stock characters and explores them a bit more. I was especially happy, like Serena was, that Beauty’s sisters Grace and Hope were also kind and empathetic people. I was worried that there was going to be some of the usual ‘only one girl can be the good one’ malarky, but this book is really kind to it’s female characters. Beauty herself was a wonderful surprise as well, as she is good and kind but has her own weaknesses and is not perfect. I felt a lot of love from her family, which is so rare in so many fairy tales. Seeing them going from wealth to near poverty was a really neat take, giving the story more motivation for the Father to go off, and more motivation for Beauty to make the sacrifices that she ends up making. And I will admit that I was also invested in the love story that befalls upon Grace, who is longing for a long lost love to return to her, even if the odds aren’t in her favor.

And like Serena, I also liked the parts with the Beast and how their relationship progresses. The Beast never really comes off as an actual threat to Beauty, which is a difficult line to treat with this story. I know that a lot of people compare this fairy tale to Stockholm Syndrome (I have a lot of opinions as to why this is incorrect, but that’s another rant for another day), but in “Beauty” it felt more like a mutual understanding between Beauty and the Beast instead of a captive situation. I feel like this gives Beauty the credit she deserves, and it doesn’t let any critiques turn her into a victim in spite of her obvious agency. Her relationship with the Beast is tentative, then sweet, and it was nice seeing them progress and learn about each other.

I think that the best part about this book is that it’s really just fluffy and pure escapism, which sometimes we really just need. There isn’t any unnecessary drama or nonsense, and you know that you’re going to get a happy ending. But even if the ending is guaranteed to be happy, McKinley does a great job of keeping you interested in the journey to happily ever after. If you are a fan of “Beauty and the Beast”, this is definitely a book that you should be picking up. Do yourself this favor!!!

Serena’s Rating 10: My absolute favorite fairy tale re-telling of all!

Kate’s Rating 10: An absolutely lovely retelling of one of my very favorite fairy tales.

Book Club Questions:

  1. Which telling of “Beauty and the Beast” are you most familiar with? What differences were there between this book and the story you’re familiar with?
  2. In many fairy tales, the family members of the hero or heroine are cruel and evil people, but in “Beauty” Beauty’s sisters are lovely and kind. What did you think of that?
  3. We also get to learn a lot about Beauty’s family life well before she meets The Beast. How did you feel about this part of the story? Did it add to the experience?
  4. What did you think about the progression of Beauty’s relationship with The Beast?
  5. What other fairy tale retellings have you read, and which are your favorites?

Reader’s Advisory:

“Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast” is on these Goodreads lists: “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Best Fairytales and Retellings.”

Find “Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast” at your library using WorldCat!

Serena’s Review and Giveaway: “A Conjuring of Light”

29939230Book: “A Conjuring of Light” by V.E. Schwab

Publishing Info: Tor Books, February 2017

Where Did I Get this Book: I bought it! (And an extra for this giveaway, since, let’s be real: I’m keeping mine!)

Book Description: Londons fall and kingdoms rise while darkness sweeps the Maresh Empire—and the fraught balance of magic blossoms into dangerous territory while heroes and foes struggle alike. The direct sequel to “A Gathering of Shadows,” and the final book in the Shades of Magic epic fantasy series, “A Conjuring of Light” sees Schwab reach a thrilling culmination concerning the fate of beloved protagonists—and old enemies.

Review: While I should have felt completely confident after Schwab nailed the always-challenging middle book of a series, the final book is really what a series lives and dies on and…and…nothing bad must happen to my lovelies, Lila, Kell, and Rhy! And, while bad things do happen in this book (narrative-wise, not quality-wise, thank god), as a closing chapter for the trilogy, “A Conjuring of Light” was everything I wanted and many things I didn’t know I even DID want!

I was lucky enough to have gotten around to “A Gathering of Shadows” only a week or so before this book came out. So I only had to live with that killer cliffhanger for a few days before I rushed out to my local bookstore and purchased this book. I feel true and deep pity for all the other readers out there who had to struggle with it for a whole year! With my approach, and the fact that this book takes off exactly where the previous one leaves off (Lila rushing to Kell’s rescue AGAIN, and Rhy sinking into death-remission), this almost felt like the very long second half of the story that was started in the second book.

The pacing of this book is essentially action-packed from the get go with a few, very few, breaks often in the form of flash back sequences. As the personified dark magic seeps into Kell’s world, the true magnitude of the disaster that our heroes are up against begins to take form. The stakes are impossibly high, and from the beginning it was clear that any hope of winning wasn’t going to come without a steep cost. While the second book highlighted what magic can do as it was put on show during the international competition, this book shows its limitations, especially at the hands of the fragile human magicians with their limited capacity to channel it. The fancy flourishes and tricks prove to be much too little against the seemingly unstoppable force that is the Shadow King.

This book also can be split into two parts. The seemingly futile disaster overtaking Red London, and then a jaunty ship journey, complete with Sea Serpents! If it sounds like those two things wouldn’t mix well, you’d be wrong. And in many ways, this second half of the book was my favorite. It was essentially an odd company adventure romp featuring my favorite characters: Lila, Kell, Alucard, and, bizarrely, Holland.

Lila is, and will always be, my favorite character. And while much of her growth took place in the second novel, we see her really come into her own in this book, recognizing the benefit of staying put every once in a while and the strength to be gained from relationships with others, even with the risk of loss.

Kell, too, was much more filled out coming off the second novel, so his arc was also more limited to simply overcoming this great nemesis. However, there was some interesting nuance added to his relationship with the royal parents, and his relationship with Rhy continues to by my favorite portrayal of brotherhood on page.

And, obviously, Lila and Kell now together….my heart!

The more surprising character arcs came for both Alucard and Holland. With both, but especially with Holland, we are given a much clearer look into their past through flashbacks. Alucard’s story highlights the fact that Red London, as advanced as it is, does struggle with similar prejudices as our own world, a fact that he suffers for greatly.

And Holland. His story came out of left field! While the first book does a good job setting him up as more than a simple villain, this is where we finally see behind the mask and are witness to the complete and utter tragedy that has been his life. Honestly, after seeing it all, Holland turns out to be the strongest character of them all, even given the fact that they largely wouldn’t even be in this whole “Shadow King” mess had it not been for him.

I’ve already written a bunch and I still feel like I’ve barely skimmed the surface of what’s to love about this book and series as a whole. I honestly can’t recommend it enough for fans of fantasy. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a trilogy that feels so perfect in every way. In this case, even the most wild and outlandish praise is well deserved.

Rating 10: A perfect 10 for the whole trilogy.

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Conjuring of Light” is newly released and thus not on many Goodreads lists, but it should be on “Fantasy/SF Atlas–London” and “Magic, Adventure, Romance.”

Find “A Conjuring of Light” at your library using Worldcat!

But wait! There’s more! If somehow you have managed to resist instantly purchasing this for yourself, never fear, I am hosting a giveaway for a hardcover edition of “A Conjuring of Light!”

EDIT: I failed to update the “comment on the blog” question for the giveaway! So instead of favorite murder mystery (darn you, Kate, and your murder mysteries and my own ineptitude when recycling your work!), what is your favorite fantasy novel that was published in the last year?

Click here to enter the giveaway!

Serena’s Review: “A Gathering of Shadows”

20764879Book: “A Gathering of Shadows” by V. E. Schwab

Publishing Info: Tor Books, February 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift–back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games–an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries–a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

Review: After the high that was “A Darker Shade of Magic,” I went into “A Gathering of Shadows” with extremely high expectations. And without any ado, this book more than met those!

Second books in a trilogy are a beast. The stage has been set, the characters established, but the grand finale must be held off. Too many series experience the “second book slump” when these delicate balances can’t be met. Often these books come across as filler, so busy holding back that they never present a story of their own. “A Conjuring of Light” shows how you do a second novel right.

The story itself is simple yet effective. Schwab builds her narrative around an Olympics-like competition of magicians that will be held in Red London, using it as a support on which to overlay the character development of Kell and Lila.

Kell is struggling with his new reality, his life forced tied to Rhy’s. With any harm that is done to him affecting Rhy as well, his freedom has been greatly limited by a King and Queen who fear for their son and heir’s life. Further, while Kell struggled with the awe with which the city’s populace viewed him before, after the devastation left in the Black London artifact’s wake, hero worship has shifted to general fear and distrust. Sensing this growing restlessness and unhappiness, Rhy concocts a scheme for Kell to enter the Games in disguise.

Lila, on the other hand, is living her dream. Through a series of flashbacks, we see the way she managed to con her way onto a pirate ship and slowly ingratiate herself with the charming captain and powerful magician, Alucard Emery. She has also slowly been training as a magician and in true “Lila” style has decided that nothing will due but to also enter the Games as a disguised contestant. Her sheer brazenness and over-confidence is unfailingly charming!

While one of my favorite aspects of the first novel was the report that was built up between Kell and Lila, I found myself equally enjoying this extended period of separation. Schwab drew out the tension, ratcheting up reader’s expectations higher and higher, as she had her two main characters circle closer and closer to one other through their experiences in the Games before finally, and satisfyingly, clashing together towards the final third of the novel.

Through Lila’s lessons with Alucard and the Games themselves, Schwab also greatly expands her magical system. While we heard a lot about elemental magic in the first book, we were largely only exposed to Kell’s specific brand of blood magic. Here, however, the full force of what can be done with elemental magic is on display, and it was fascinating!

Behind the scenes, we also begin to see the stage being set for the grand final conflict to come in the last book. Holland, our favorite Antari villain from the first book, has survived and the Black London magic is yet again in play.

As I said, this book seemed to hit all of the marks as as second novel. Schwab carefully uses this book to add layers to her main characters and give them all room to grow and react to the happenings of the first book (we also get more of Rhy in this story, which I loved). The main story arc advances very little, but the Games serve as an architectural framework upon which to hang this character development, provide action, and expand an existing magic system. And behind it all, the building blocks are slotted in place for the final story.

A warning: this book ends on a massive, MASSIVE, cliffhanger. But despair not! The final book is out, and I will have a review for that up on Friday along with a giveaway!

Rating 10: A rare thing indeed, a sequel that meets the same high rating as its predecessor!

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Gathering of Shadows” is included on these Goodreads lists: Thieves and “YA Books with Parallel Universes” (though this book is not a YA title, officially).

Find “A Gathering of Shadows” at your library using Worldcat!

Emily’s Corner: “The Blue Castle”

20170202_140222Emily and I (Serena) have been friends since the first week of freshman year of college. Other than a lost purse (I did the losing, Emily did the calming), take a wild guess as to what we bonded over? Yes, that is correct: books. And the fact that we both had plans to be English majors and would go on to coordinate our schedules to have as many similar classes as possible! All that said, Emily has agreed to be a semi-regular contributor to our blog, so keep your eyes open for posts from her in “Emily’s Corner” on random Mondays going forward!

 

95693Book: “The Blue Castle” by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Publishing Info: 1908

Where Did I Get this Book: Amazon. Though book cover purists be warned; when I tried to purchase this book for a friend they only had a recently published version that has a horrendous new book cover that makes it look like an adolescent romance novel!

Book Description: Valancy lives a drab life with her overbearing mother and prying aunt. Then a shocking diagnosis from Dr. Trent prompts her to make a fresh start. For the first time, she does and says exactly what she feels. As she expands her limited horizons, Valancy undergoes a transformation, discovering a new world of love and happiness. One of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s only novels intended for an adult audience, “The Blue Castle” is filled with humour and romance.

Review:

Emily here, I’m a college friend of Serena’s, fellow book nerd and English major. I have gleefully followed the Library Ladies since its inception, so I was delighted when Serena asked me to write a guest post. Picking a first book to review is almost as hard as picking a favorite book, but the one that always comes to mind is “The Blue Castle” by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Most people know of L.M. Montgomery because of “Anne of Green Gables,” but I’ve been surprised by how few people (even fellow English nerds!) know of her stand-alone books. This one is a gem. This is the book I re read every year, the book that I foist upon friends and strangers alike.

I discovered “The Blue Castle” at the library my sophomore year of high school and instantly fell in love with the timid-turned-feisty protagonist. Valancy Sterling is the snubbed and put-upon spinster of her family. At the ripe old age of 29 (!) she is considered a failure and a dull one at that. (It’s a toss-up which is worse to be in the Sterling clan.) After receiving life-altering news, she flips a Victorian finger to her family and sets off on her own adventure.

It’s not a new concept by any means, but the genius of this book is in the hilarious characters. Yes, we have the typical overbearing and aloof mother, the whiny aunts, and the golden-child cousin who can do no wrong, and the pompous uncle who finally gets put in his place at the end. But Montgomery is a master at writing characters who shine, whose flaws and virtues alike liven up what would otherwise be a trope. You get the sense that each character, no matter how small or unimportant to the plotline, has their own significant life story.

The characters that truly shine are Valancy and the two male leads. No, this isn’t a love triangle scenario, thank goodness, but each man is a hero to her in his own unique way. The first is the aptly titled Roaring Abel, a carpenter and a drunk, but also a thoughtful and generous man. His character problem is what opens the door for Valancy to escape her domineering family.

The second man is of course the love interest, but here is where Montgomery throws another twist in the story. Barney Snaith does not love Valancy. “Never even thought of such a thing,” he says to her very face! You’ll have to read the book to see how Valancy gets around this one, and I assure you the result is both delightful and decidedly unladylike!

Overall, what I love most about this book is watching Valancy’s progression from dutiful daughter to a someone who creates a colorful life for herself. And yes, gets a happy ending after all.

Rating 10:  This is the finest that Montgomery has to offer!

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Blue Castle” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best Lesser-Known Books” and “Anne and Friends.”

Find “The Blue Castle” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review: “A Darker Shade of Magic”

22055262Book: “A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab

Publishing Info: Tor Books, February 2015

Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!

Book Description: Kell is one of the last travelers–magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King–George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered–and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London–a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

Review: Apparently, I picked up this book right when my bookclub friend Alicia was looking for a book gift for me for our bookclub gift exchange ruining all of her plans. But…#NOREGRETS! Sorry Alicia! I already waited too long to get to this gem, a fact that was even more underlined once I discovered what I had been missing. This is a good example of being bit in the butt by being too gunshy of books that have been extremely hyped, since it well deserved all the mass praise it has received over the last few years!

In this book, there are three (or…four?) Londons based in different worlds, all with varying levels of magic. Grey London (our London) is practically magic-free, Red London is thriving with a healthy relationship with magic and magic users, White London is slowly dying, starved for magic, and then…Black London, a place many have forgotten ever actually existed outside of its own cautionary tale of what happens when greed, gluttony, and power mix too closely with magic. These worlds are all disconnected from each other, a decision that was made to protect the worlds when Black London began its descent. Kel is one of two beings left with the ability to travel between these worlds.

Right there you have a great set up for a new fantasy world. Not only is there one new world, but a whole set of them with various interactions and politics between them. Through Kel, we see these three worlds (Black London remains a threatening presence looming in the background and the source of the book’s primary conflict, but not an actual place that is visited in the book. I hope this changes in future stories!). I loved the time that was spent in each of these worlds. They are all so fully realized and populated, from the named characters we interact with in each, to the general feeling and culture of the populace. Each world is full of rich detail, and I couldn’t ever decide which was the most exciting to spend time in. Well, maybe Grey London, our London, was the least interesting. But there lives Lila! So, I don’t know!

Speaking of Lila, I was so excited to realize that she plays a much more integral role to this story than I had been lead to believe by the book description. In reality, this is a dual protagonist book featuring both Kel and Lila.

Lila is a Grey London resident, a thief, and a young woman who is desperately looking for something more out of life. Namely, she wants to be a pirate. This sounds silly, typing it out, but one of the things I most loved about this character was her unwillingness to apologize for what she wanted out of life and the decisions she made pursuing these goals. Obviously, being a thief, Lila’s outlook on morality is skewed by her own experience growing up in extreme poverty and a life full of danger and uncertainty. What was fascinating about Lila was the evolution of the reader’s understanding of her throughout the story. Even finishing it, I’m not quire sure where the line is drawn between the brash, hyper confident, bold persona that she has created to survive, and her actual core being. Her moments of vulnerability gave small glimpses further in, but it was also gratifying to discover that, while some of this seeming persona was built up as a survival tactic, Lila is also just Lila: foolishly brave and lovably standoffish. Her characterization could have easily slipped into stereotypes, but Lila practically jumps off the page as a fully formed, fully flawed, character.

Kel, too, was a great character. I particularly enjoyed the inner struggles we see within him with regards to his strained relationship with the royal family of Red London who have raised him as their son, but also rely on him as a valuable tool due to his power, and, though he doesn’t remember, likely stole him away from his original family when young. I especially loved the relationship he has with the crown prince, Rye. It was a lovely example of male friendship and  brotherly love, full of tension, heartbreak, and affable goodwill.

Together, Kel and Lila are great duo. Their characters bounce off each other perfectly, and I pretty much just want to read a whole book series of just these two going off on madcap adventures, Kel full of exasperation with Lila the whole way.

I haven’t even talked about the plot or villains, but they were much darker than I had initially thought when picking up this book. The mad twins who rule White London, in particular. I also loved the increasing knowledge of the uses, limitations, and dangers of the magic system in these worlds that readers slowly discover throughout the course of the story. None of it felt like convenient wand-waving, but parts of a larger system that we as readers are only scraping the surface of. I’m excited to see where the author goes with this aspect of the story as well.

I’ve already gone on and on and only touched upon a few of the points of this story that I loved! 2017 has just started, but I’m pretty sure I’ve already found a Top 10 inclusion for the year!

Rating 10: Loved it. Loved everything about it. Characters, world building, magic system, adventure, danger, family, friendship, romance!

Reader’s Advisory:

“A Darker Shade of Magic” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Most Interesting Magic System” and “Books with parallel world.”

Find “A Darker Shade of Magic” at your library using Worldcat!

Serena’s Review & Giveaway: “The Bear and the Nightingale”

25489134Book: “The Bear and the Nightingale” by Katherine Arden

Publishing Info: Del Rey, January 2917

Where Did I Get this Book: ARC

Book Description: 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.

Review: I received an ARC of this book and was so excited when it arrived on my doorstep. Of course, we all know that I love a good fairytale type fantasy novel. Further, Russian fairytales are a bit in vogue currently it seems. This probably started a few years ago with the “Shadow and Bone” series, but is still going strong today it seems. Only a few months ago I read yet another Russian fairytale, “Vassa in the Night,” which I had middling feelings about. So, I’ve been waiting, waiting for the good one to arrive. And here it is!

This book is a perfect example of when the cover art can in fact speak to the actual story. Looking at this cover, with the deep, dark cold blues of a winter night and the cloud of brightness and warmth blossoming in its center, beckoning the shadow of a young woman in from the dark, just so perfectly fits the mood, tone, and feel of this story. The feeling of winter, with its beauty, its power, and its danger pervades every moment in this story. The land itself is a character, and the changing of the seasons, its voice. But this world is home to Vasilisa and her family. They accept its challenges, just as they relish the unique joys that come with living far away in a deep dark woods.

What is so lovely about this story is the very “fairytale-ness” of it. There is no one fairytale that it is retelling, and, in many ways, it could also just be any old, winter fantasy novel in the hands of a less gifted author. But Arden nails that indescribable element that somehow transforms a story into a folktale. I’m not quite sure even what it is. Some combination of lyricism, philosophy, beautifully rendered characters, and a respect for the beauty that can be found in the whole process of storytelling, not just the destination. Juliet Marillier is one of my all time favorite authors due to her ability to capture what feels like the essence of folktales into her novels, and here, Arden, too, seems to  embody this same quality.

While this is Vasalisa’s story, in many ways, I loved how Arden didn’t short shift the characters that surrounded her. More and more, recently, I have found many young adult female protagonists seems to be written in a void. They are the only developed characters in their world, and that then leads to they themselves not being fully developed due to a lack of support and framework from which to interact. Here, we have Vasalisa’s father, her brothers, the priest who comes to their small village, the nurse, and the step mother. All fully realized, all with motives, all with unique perspectives and strengths and weaknesses. Not a single character is all good or all bad. Vasalisa’s father, so supportive much of the time, struggles with one of his son’s choices. The step mother, who is in many ways the villain of the story, has chapters that introduce her as a completely sympathetic individual. And even as we see her behave atrociously, we can understand how her world has shrunk, how she has been betrayed and manipulated by everyone around her, and how her every decisions operates from a place of stark terror.

This is a slow-moving story. The first fifty percent of it is setting up this world and these characters. I completely enjoyed this section as well, but it may seem slow to others who are looking for more fantasy action. But the second half completely delivers on this point, as well. There are many truly creepy and horrific moments, and plenty of other developments that simply left a smile on my face. The ending, too, was perfect. Bittersweet, poignant, and left open to interpretation. I can’t rave enough about this book! Another story that I’m sure will make my Top 10 for 2017! Apparently this is the first book in a trilogy, so I’m very excited to revisit this world and these characters going forward!

Rating 10: A perfect read for a snowy evening and a wonderful book all around.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Bear and the Nightingale” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Best of Russia”  and “Russian Fairy Tales.”

Find “The Bear and the Nightingale” at your library using Worldcat!

And, even better, you can enjoy this book, too! I’m hosting a give-away for the ARC of this book (cuz, let’s be honest, I’m going out to buy my own hardback any day now!). The giveaway will run until Feb. 1, 2017. Please see the Terms & Conditions for more details!

Click here to enter the give away!

Kate’s Review: The “March” Trilogy

Book: The “March” Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Top Shelf Production, August 2013 (1), January 2015 (2), and August 2016 (3).

Where Did I Get These Books: The library!

Book Description: Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. 

Review: John Lewis, noted Civil Rights Activist and Georgia Congressman, can now add another fabulous moniker to his name: National Book Award Winner. On November 16th, 2016, he won the National Book Award (in the Young Readers category) for his book “March: Book 3”, the conclusion to his autobiographical graphic novel series about his time during the Civil Rights Movement. I caught his acceptance speech, and like many other people, cried deeply because I was so happy for him, and it clearly meant so so much on so many levels. By total coincidence, I had just read “March: Book 2” that morning. It had been awhile since I read “Book 1”, and was playing catch up. So then all I had to do was wait for “Book 3” to come in, vowing that once it did I was going to review the entire work as a whole. Because that’s what the “March” Trilogy is: it’s one large story about a remarkable man during a tumultuous time, a story about a movement that changed the nation and a movement that seems all the more relevant today. So I waited. And “Book 3” finally came in for me. So now, let me tell you about this fabulous series.

“March: Book 1” starts with Lewis’s childhood as the son of a sharecropper in rural Alabama and goes through the Lunch Counter Protests in Nashville. From a young age Lewis had a drive and a passion to lead and learn, his early aspirations of being a preacher evolving into the leadership and commitment that he put forth while in the Nashville Student Movement, and then into the broader Civil Rights Movement as a whole. “March: Book 2” talks about his time with the Freedom Riders and the violence they faced during their non violent protests and demonstrations, all leading up to the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. This book deals more with the growing aggression of the white citizens and government, as well as the Federal Government starting to waffle and teeter and struggle with the role that it should be playing. It’s also the book that shows Lewis and his own inner struggles, as while non violence is always the mission and the goal, his resentment and anger threatens to boil over. “March: Book 3” is the conclusion, and addresses Freedom Summer, Voting Rights, and Selma. And this story is told all within the frame of the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. Stunning framework, absolutely beautiful. There are multiple parallels between things in “Book 1” that come up again in “Book 3”, and there are themes that link all of them together not just with Lewis, but with other prominent figures as well. Lewis sets out to tell all of their stories as best he can, and the result is one of the best damn graphic novel series I have ever read.

This series is so powerful and personal, and it goes to show just how remarkable John Lewis is. He’s one of the ‘Big Six’, aka one of the most influential members of the Civil Rights Movement, and one of the only ones left, as he reminds us in “Book 1”. These books are very straight forward and simple, but they are so honest and personal that the power they have is immense. I found myself crying many times during my reads of all these books, but also laughing, and cheering, and seething. Lewis brought out so many emotions in me with his story, and his immense talent as a storyteller comes through, just as his charisma does. We get to see the story of the Civil Rights Movement through his eyes, and he tells us the stories of those involved within the movement and those who influenced it from the outside as well. Yes, at times these books are violent, and upsetting, but they need to be, because the horrors that fell upon many people during their non violent protests must never be forgotten. I think that the entirety is an accomplishment, but I understand why they gave the National Book Award to “Book 3”. After all, while it is probably symbolic of awarding the whole darn thing, I think that “Book 3” was the most powerful in terms of emotion being served, be it pride, fear, rage, or determination. It certainly was the one that had me weeping from the get go, as the very first moment was the bombing of the 16th Baptist Church that killed four little girls. The violence is absolutely horrifying, but it cannot be forgotten or glossed over. It absolutely cannot. “March: Book 3” also was the one to really address the differences of ideologies within the movement as a whole, not just between King and X, but Lewis and SNCC as well. And Lewis also has no qualms addressing the fact that LBJ, while he did ultimately get things going on a Federal level, was incredibly reluctant to do much in terms of help until he absolutely  HAD to. I think that realities get lost in the historical narratives that come in our educations, and that is absolutely why the “March” Trilogy is fundamental reading when it comes to the Civil Rights Movement in this country.

And, like other graphic novels before it, I want to address the artwork in this series. Because it is beautiful in it’s simplicity, and yet powerful in it’s design. It’s all black and white, and stark and striking on every page. Nate Powell brings the story to life on the page, and he did it both with bits of humor to go along with the hope, horror, and courage. There were bits of realism to accompany the distinct style, but it always felt very tangible and very authentic. As I mentioned before, the illustrations do not gloss over the violence that was prevalent during the time, and while it certainly is disturbing, it’s done in a way that could never be dismissed as exploitative or ‘over the top’. It is incredibly honest and upsetting, but it needs to be. The reader needs to be upset and outraged by it. Because it IS upsetting, and it is outrageous.

march3

I cannot stress enough how important the “March”Trilogy is in these uncertain and scary times. John Lewis is a treasure and an inspiration, and I feel that this is required reading. Get this in schools, get this in curriculums, get this in peoples hands. And you, you should likewise go out and get your hands on this series. You will not regret it. You will learn something. And you will be moved. Thank you, John Lewis. Thank you for so much.

Rating 10: A phenomenal and deeply personal series, John Lewis tells his story of activism through this astounding graphic novel trilogy. He speaks on the Civil Rights Movement from his perspective, and shows parallels to recent fights for rights and freedoms.

Reader’s Advisory:

The “March” Trilogy can be found on the following Goodreads lists: “Civil Rights Reading List”, “History Through Graphic Novels”, and “Activist Memoirs”.

Find The “March” Trilogy at your local library using WorldCat! Book 1; Book 2; Book 3.