Serena’s Review: “Queen Among the Dead”

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Book: “Queen Among the Dead” by Lesley Livingston

Publishing Info: Zando Young Readers, January 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: In the kingdom of Eire, banshees chill the air, and water-wights lurk in the rivers. But magic is outlawed by the king, and jealously hoarded by his Druid priests.

Neve is the youngest daughter of the king, and Ronan is a Druid’s apprentice-turned-thief, making a living by selling stolen spells. They should be enemies, but their shared hatred of the Druids-and a dark magic that has marked them both-makes them unlikely, if uneasy, allies.

When Eire is threatened by a power struggle, Neve must seize the chance to take her rightful place on her family’s throne, with the help of Ronan and the realm’s most dangerous outcasts. Their journey takes them to the outskirts of Eire where magic still runs free . . . and where an outlaw and a warrior princess might carve out a future with spells and swords.

Review: Anyone who is familiar with this blog knows that I am a huge Juliet Marillier fan. I mean, I devoted an entire years-long running series to re-reading all of her books and reviewing them here. So it will come as no surprise that all it would take for me to request a book might be the barest hint of a book sounds similar to Marillier’s work. And such was the case here!

Long ago, Neve, the younger daughter of the king of Eire, met a strange boy and they fought a powerful and dangerous demon, only barely escaping with their lives. Through this experience, both have now grown to distrust the powerful Druid order that both outlawed magic but also hoarded it to themselves. When they meet again as adults, seeming enemies in the grand scheme of their society, they find that this similar distrust and their own hopes for their country tie them more closely together than they ever could have imagined. And when a powerful darkness begins to seep across the land, they find that, together, they possess a rare and powerful magic that is just what is needed to re-shape the future.

There was a lot to like about this book right from the very start. For one thing, it was apparent that the writing was excellent from the first page. It perfectly fit the tone of a historical fantasy story, being both lyrical but also clear enough to depict a world and culture that has one foot in the world we’re familiar with, but another foot clearly placed in a realm of magic and mystery. It’s a difficult balance, to capture both the historical tone and the whimsical. I also really liked the dialogue. Especially when we first see Neve and Ronan interacting as adults. It was funny and yet still felt natural to the characters, again balancing modern sensibilities of humor alongside a sort of pseudo-historical vocabulary.

Ronan and Neve were also very interesting characters in their own right. I enjoyed the duel mysteries regarding their different natures. It’s one thing to pull off one character with a “strange past,” but quite another to do it with both of your protagonists without one of them dropping in quality. I think I particularly liked Neve, however, if I had to choose between the two. Her character had to work through some very interesting family dynamics (even a few that came in the form of a nice twist towards the end), while also grappling with the restrictions on women and the unique history of Eire that lead to some of these restrictions. Ronan’s story is much more straight-forward in this regard, but still very enjoyable.

I will say, however, that the story stumbled when it came to their relationship. I saw this book billed as an “enemies to lovers” romance, and I just don’t think it really fits into that. I was never able to really identify the “enemies” portion of it, rather than a few brief instances where they each decide not to trust the other. Frankly, the primary emotion this relationship inspired was frustration. The characters made fairly random decisions to suddenly not trust one another, but then the very first second this decision would be tested, they’d be right back to working together and having all the feelings. Not only did the wishy-washy-ness feel unrealistic, but it didn’t serve any purpose to the story other than forced conflict (and like I said, even there, there wasn’t any real conflict, just talk of potential conflict that was immediately dismissed in reality).

Overall, while I think the story did have a weak romance and a bit of a pacing problem (there was a decent amount of the middle of the book that felt like it was dragging), I still came away feeling like this was a pretty solid historical fantasy. The mythology, in particular, was very interesting, and I do think it will appeal to readers who like books like those produced by Marilliar or other historical fantasy authors.

Rating 8: A bit rocky in the pacing and romance departments, but saved by its solid writing and interesting mythological history.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Queen Among the Dead” can be found on this Goodreads list: Ancient History Historical Fiction Published in 2023

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire: Vol. 6”

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Book: “American Vampire: Vol. 6” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.), et al.

Publishing Info: Vertigo, March 2014

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: This volume of American Vampire collects eight amazing stories set in the world of American Vampire, with “lost tales,” new characters and old favorites. Don’t miss these stories brought to you by series creators Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque, as well as other awesome comics talent like Becky Cloonan (Batman), Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon (Daytripper), Jeff Lemire (i>Sweet Tooth), Greg Rucka (The Punisher, Batwoman), Gail Simone (Batgirl) and many more! Also collected here is the stand alone tale of Fan-favorite character Travis Kidd–the vampire hunter who likes to “bite them back”.

Review: So during my first read-through of “American Vampire”, there is a clear shift that I remember that kind of started after “Volume 5”. I looked into “Volume 6”, saw that it was a short stories anthology, and decided that I was going to skip it. After all, I wanted more plot. I wanted to see the aftermath of Pearl losing Henry, and the aftermath of Felicia and Gus going up against the Carpathians. I didn’t want a bunch of short stories that didn’t seem to progress anything. But since I’m doing the full read this time around, I got myself a copy of “Volume 6”, and figured I’d just grin and bear it. But I was such a fool, guys, because I actually ended up really liking the anthology series that is “American Vampire: Volume 6”.

While it’s true that these stories don’t really progress the main plot forward after the huge changes and aftermaths of the previous collection, it actually ended up being nice to have a breather after all the things that happened. It also serves as a way to see some more explored characterizations of some familiar faces, while also introducing characters from the past who end up tying into characters that we recognize, and how vampires have touched the family lines decades or even centuries previously. Since this is a short stories collection, I will do my usual thing of talking about my favorite three in depth, and then expanding upon the collection as a whole.

“The Long Road to Hell” by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.) : This is another Travis Kidd offshoot story, and while Travis hasn’t ingratiated himself TOO much into our main characters timelines as of yet, I thought this was not only a good way to show another, more empathetic side of him, while also showing the inherent tragedy of some vampires. Young lovers Billy Bob and Jolene are in love and running scams of unsuspecting people, when they are targeted and turned by a vampire gang in hopes of using their thievery skills. But Billy Bob and Jolene run, and are desperate to find a cure of their new conditions. On the road they pick up a transient little boy who can read people’s personalities, and try their best to keep their monstrous nature at bay. Then they run afoul Travis Kidd, vampire killer, and they have a choice to make. I loved how tragic this one was, with two really likable and scrappy lovers just doing their best in a world that has kicked them down, only to be doomed because of bad luck. I just adored Billy Bob and Jolene, and seeing Travis have to reckon with the fact that not all vampires are soulless killers was some good growth for him as well.

“Bleeding Kansas” by Rafael Albuquerque and Ivo Milazzo (Ill): Albuquerque shifts roles from illustrator to author, and while I didn’t REALLY like the art design, I really loved the concept of the story. Gil and Marie Jones are a young married couple with abolitionist ideals, hoping to move to Kansas to help build a new state that shares their dreams for social justice and equality. But when they arrive to find a hostile town filled with slave owners and sellers, who are hiding other secrets about themselves. I HIGHLY enjoyed the references to the future pro-slavery vs abolitionist violence and conflicts that were going to come up in Kansas later, the most famous probably being John Brown, and I liked seeing some of Pearl’s ancestors (grandmother and grandfather I believe) having to go head to head with the kinds of creatures their granddaughter would ultimately become.

“Essence of Life” by Gail Simone and Tula Lotay (Ill): This is my favorite story in the collection, and it centers of secondary antagonist Hattie, Pearl’s old roommate turned femme fatale vampire. In this story we get to see the life she was living in Hollywood before she met Pearl, where she is so desperate for stardom that she trusts in the wrong people. She’s now writing a letter to Pearl to explain why she did what she did, and to tell her that she felt like she really had no choice after everything she’d been through. I love that Gail Simone was the author for this one, because she does a stupendous job of turning Hattie from simple backstabbing jealous bitch into a somewhat sympathetic, but still very vile, villainess. It’s hard not to feel for her when you see the horrible crap that happened to her, just as it’s hard not to let out a shout of ‘GOOD FOR HER!’ when you get to the rage-filled and cathartic conclusion.

Forgive the bad photo, I needed this one specifically. (source: Vertigo)

The other stories have their strengths and weaknesses. I don’t really feel like I ever need to know more about Skinner Sweet (I’m still on the anti-Skinner train!), so I kind of skimmed his stories. But I did like seeing other villains get some background, as well as more explorations about race, class, and American violence. All in all, it’s a solid collection!

Don’t make the same mistake I did, friends! If you are reading “American Vampire”, don’t skip over “Volume 6”! It expands things in ways that make the story richer.

Rating 8: This is a pretty solid set of tales within the “American Vampire” universe, with some expansions on character connections, characterizations, and general vampire lore and history inside the universe.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire: Vol. 6” is included on the Goodreads lists “Vampire Anthologies”, and “Best Comics Series Since 2000”.

Previously Reviewed:

Blog Tour: “The Rose and the Thistle”

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Book: “The Rose and the Thistle” by Laura Frantz

Publishing Info: Revell, January 2023

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publicist!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: In 1715, Lady Blythe Hedley’s father is declared an enemy of the British crown because of his Jacobite sympathies, forcing her to flee her home in northern England. Secreted to the tower of Wedderburn Castle in Scotland, Lady Blythe awaits who will ultimately be crowned king. But in a house with seven sons and numerous servants, her presence soon becomes known.

No sooner has Everard Hume lost his father, Lord Wedderburn, than Lady Hedley arrives with the clothes on her back and her mistress in tow. He has his own problems–a volatile brother with dangerous political leanings, an estate to manage, and a very young brother in need of comfort and direction in the wake of losing his father. It would be best for everyone if he could send this misfit heiress on her way as soon as possible.

Drawn into a whirlwind of intrigue, shifting alliances, and ambitions, Lady Blythe must be careful whom she trusts. Her fortune, her future, and her very life are at stake. Those who appear to be adversaries may turn out to be allies–and those who pretend friendship may be enemies.

Review: Once again, thank you to Laurel for reaching out to me about my participation in another blog tour! Per the usual, I love getting to collaborate on projects like this and promote books that may not be getting the attention they deserve. I was also excited when I read the book description for this one. I think “Outlander” has really sucked up a lot of the public’s awareness of the Jacobite period of history, so it’s always exciting to see a different and new version of this time period brought to the page.

When Lady Blythe finally returns to her father’s home after an extended stay in France, she’s excited to pick up the reigns of her quiet country existence, leaving behind the excesses of the French court. But when her father comes under suspicion for being a Jacobite sympathizer, she is once again forced from her home. And this time she lands in the home of Everard Hume, a man who is already consumed with problems of his own and has no time for another in the form of a lonely young woman. With tensions running high within the country and no one knowing whom they can trust, will Everard and Lady Blythe find comfort or danger in one another?

I don’t read more straight-forward historical fiction very often, but that’s been something these blog tours have really helped with. Yes, they often have a romantic component, but they aren’t bodice rippers ala “Bridgerton” which is its own sort of subgenre of historical romance. Instead, this book, like the others, is equally focused on the details of this piece of history as it is in the main characters themselves.

And here, we have a different insight into the Jacobite rebellion seen through the eyes of two different perspectives. As I alluded to, “Outlander” really zeroed in on this point of history, but that story only gets at a few aspects of this tumultuous time. For one thing, it doesn’t get into the religious dynamics at play, which was a major factor for many of the regular people who supported one king or line of kings over another. Here, the massive swings of religious persecution and power are highlighted, and the author really dives into the struggles that existed for those whose leader and religion were not currently holding the reigns. Given the prominence of general Christianity as a major worldwide religion, it’s easy to forget that it has had its own bloody history of internal fractions and strife. And that England was ground zero for much of it.

Beyond this, I enjoyed the detailed descriptions that really paint a picture of life in this time period, particularly the depiction of Edinbourgh. I was really impressed by the authors obvious dedication to research, and it was apparent in every meticulous scene. There’s an interesting author’s note at the end of the book that explains the author’s own family connection to this story, so that does shed some light on the personal importance of this research. But it’s always a pleasure either way to read a historical novel that proves an author did his or her work.

I also liked Lady Blythe and Everard well enough, though I will say that they weren’t my favorite parts of the book. While they are both competently drawn characters, I never felt myself truly invested in their stories or their characters as a whole. From the very beginning, each felt just the tiniest bit flat. In some ways, this could be due to the very realistic manner in which they are portrayed, which, again speaks to the author’s commitment to creating a believable and true-feeling story. This is definitely a very subjective take, however, and I’m sure these characters will jump off the page for many other historical fiction fans.

Rating 8: A fresh look at a fairly familiar portion of British history, this book will likely appeal to many historical fiction fans, particularly those who enjoy a sweet love story at its heart.

Reader’s Advisory:

“” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on Jane Austen Books, Sequels, Bios and more.

Book Club Review: “Travelers Along the Way: A Robin Hood Remix”

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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club 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 retellings and reimagings.  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: “Travelers Along the Way: A Robin Hood Remix” by Aminah Mae Safi

Publishing Info: Feiwel Friends, March 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Retelling/Reimagining: Robin Hood

Book Description: Jerusalem, 1192. The Third Crusade rages on. Rahma al-Hud loyally followed her elder sister Zeena into the war over the Holy Land, but now that the Faranji invaders have gotten reinforcements from Richard the Lionheart, all she wants to do is get herself and her sister home alive.

But Zeena, a soldier of honor at heart, refuses to give up the fight while Jerusalem remains in danger of falling back into the hands of the false Queen Isabella. And so, Rahma has no choice but to take on one final mission with her sister.

On their journey to Jerusalem, Rahma and Zeena come across a motley collection of fellow travelers—including a kind-hearted Mongolian warrior, an eccentric Andalusian scientist, a frustratingly handsome spy with a connection to Rahma’s childhood, and an unfortunate English chaplain abandoned behind enemy lines. The teens all find solace, purpose and camaraderie—as well as a healthy bit of mischief—in each other’s company.

But their travels soon bring them into the orbit of Queen Isabella herself, whose plans to re-seize power in Jerusalem would only guarantee further war and strife in the Holy Land for years to come. And so it falls to the merry band of misfits to use every scrap of cunning and wit (and not a small amount of thievery) to foil the usurper queen and perhaps finally restore peace to the land.

Kate’s Thoughts

I was very happy that book club decided to do a Re-imaginings and Remixes theme for this new session, as I like seeing the way that authors will recreate classic characters and settings with new twists and turns. But, because of course this had to happen, we started with a story whose source material I am patently unfamiliar with. Yeah, I never got much into Robin Hood, outside of the Disney version, Mel Brooks’s film “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”, and one viewing of “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” with two college friends who were as obsessed with Alan Rickman as I was. So I went into “Travelers Along the Way” knowing full well I was going to be potentially adrift without knowledge of source material. Which meant that author Aminah Mae Safi had a heftier job to do due to my unfamiliarity.

I’m happy to report that even without a foundational knowledge beyond a sexy fox, a spoof, and Bryan Adams, I was very into “Travelers Along the Way”. I really enjoyed all of the characters as we gathered them up and got to know them, and I enjoyed trying to figure out who was supposed to be whom (though I did have to ask more knowing people in book club, i.e. Serena, who a few of the counterparts were). I think that my favorite aspect of this was how both Rahma and Zeena have such different personalities and opinions on how they should be proceeding, and how they butt heads but still care deeply for each other, even if there is undercurrents of tension between them. I especially liked how by gender bending the characters AND giving it the POV of the OTHER side of the Crusades that Robin Hood wasn’t really dealing with in a tangible way that we got a glimpse into just how fucked everything was for the common people in the Holy Land, especially women. And finally, I enjoyed how Safi gave us not only insights into the main group of characters who were the Robin Hoo equivalents, but also into the minds and motivations of the warring figureheads, be it King Richard, Queen Isabella, or Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub. I didn’t feel like we waded into any problematic areas by getting into their minds a little bit, but it did show the deep, deep complexities that came with this truly awful and violent conflict.

Overall, I enjoyed this one! I don’t have much to compare it to, source content wise, but it was a fun listen and it was a well done re-imagining!

Serena’s Thoughts

I’ve read and watched a lot of versions of “Robin Hood.” My sister and I, predictably, loved “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” when we were younger, mostly because we had a crush on Carey Elwes, of course. My devotion to the tale even extended to watching the horrendous Russell Crowe adaptation that came out in 2010. Thank goodness this version is way, way better than that one!

There was a lot to like about this version of the classic tale. For one thing, I think it was really interesting to change the setting from England to the Middle East. I have to say, I’m not overly familiar with this period of time or the actual strategy and political mechanizations at work in the Middle East during the Crusades. This is a fairly short book with a lot to pack in, but I was impressed by what we got as far as the dynamics all swirling around at once during this period of time. Particularly, I thought it was interesting how the author delved into the three major religions that all hold Jerusalem as a sacred city and how this causes constant tension for all involved.

I also really liked the gender-swapping of all the characters. And boy, there were a lot of characters. But, again, especially for a rather short story, I was impressed by how well I felt like I knew every one of the “merry men/women” that made of the band of thieves. They were slowly introduced over the course of the story, but even with some of the later characters that came onto the scene, I felt like I cared about them all. Of course, I had favorites, like our main character and her fiery sister Zeena. I really liked the exploration of their sibling dynamic, and much of the love and frustration all felt very real and sympathetic.

I do wish we had seen a bit more of Rahma’s famed abilities with a bow and arrow. We hear a lot about it, but we don’t really see it much on the page until pretty close to the end of the novel. That said, I liked how the author worked in the green hood and other classic aspects of the Robin Hood tale. Overall, I definitely recommend this book to all Robin Hood fans!

Kate’s Rating 8: An intriguing re-imagining of “Robin Hood” that looks to a very different situation regarding the conflict at the heart of the original tale.

Serena’s Rating 8: A really clever reimaging of the classic tale with enough to make it familiar but a lot of new takes on characters and setting.

Book Club Questions

  1. How familiar were you with other versions of the Robin Hood story before reading this one? How does this stack up to any others you’ve read/seen?
  2. As a reimaging of the original story, many of the characters appear very different here then they do in their traditional form. Were you able to identify most of the characters with their counterparts? Were there any that you felt were particularly successful/unsuccessful reimagings?
  3. The version of Robin Hood is still set during the Crusades, however it changes the location from England to the Middle East, particularly the cities around Jerusalem. How much did you know about this period of time before reading this? Was there anything that stood out to you about how it was portrayed here?
  4. There are a few interludes in this story told from other characters’ perspectives. What did you think of these chapters? What did they add to the story or did they distract you from the primary plot?
  5. Our bookclub had a lot of fun going over the chapter titles. Did you notice these? Did you have any favorites?

Reader’s Advisory

“Travelers Along the Way: A Robin Hood Remix” is included on the Goodreads lists Gender Flip and Books That Are Perfect for Assassin’s Creed Fans.

Next Book Club Pick: “The Poison Heart” by Kalynn Bayron

Serena’s Review: “Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens”

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Book: “Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens” by Andrea Penrose

Publishing Info: Kensington Publishing Corporation, September 2021

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

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: One advantage of being caught up in a whirl of dress fittings and decisions about flower arrangements and breakfast menus is that Charlotte Sloane has little time for any pre-wedding qualms. Her love for Wrexford isn’t in question. But will being a wife–and a Countess–make it difficult for her to maintain her independence–not to mention, her secret identity as famed satirical artist A.J. Quill?

Despite those concerns, there are soon even more urgent matters to attend to during Charlotte and Wrexford’s first public outing as an engaged couple. At a symposium at the Royal Botanic Gardens, a visiting botanist suffers a fatal collapse. The traces of white powder near his mouth reveal the dark truth–he was murdered. Drawn into the investigation, Charlotte and the Earl learn of the victim’s involvement in a momentous medical discovery. With fame and immense fortune at stake, there’s no shortage of suspects, including some whose ruthlessness is already known. But neither Charlotte nor her husband-to-be can realize how close the danger is about to get–or to what lengths this villain is prepared to go…

Previously Reviewed: “Murder at the Queen’s Landing

Review: This has been a series of highs and lows for me. While I love the detailed historical insights that come with these mysteries, I’ve also been befuddled by overly complex mysteries and an ever-increasing cast of characters. That said, I enjoyed the last book quite a bit, and I’m still thoroughly on board with keeping up with the series. Is my investment in Charlotte’s and Wrexford’s relationship a large part of that? Yes, what of it?

While Charlotte and Wrexford’s love for one another has never been in question, Charlotte is increasingly concerned about the burdens of marriage that will soon be hers to bear. Regardless of the equality and freedom that Wrexford has worked so hard to ensure for her, Charlotte will still be a Countess, and with that comes certain responsibilities to society. And where can her work as a satirical artist fit into this increasingly all-encompassing role. With all of these thoughts plaguing her, Charlotte is almost relieved to stumble upon yet another murder mystery, this one throwing the two into the mysterious world of medical science and recent discoveries that could change the face of medicine.

While there have been ups and downs in other areas of the stories, there is no question that Penrose is a devoted researcher. Each books does a deep dive into unique aspects of this particular time period and thoroughly expands on the intricacies involved. This one tackles recent discoveries in medicine and pharmaceutical science. But it doesn’t stop with just discussing changes to treatments and understanding of certain illnesses and their effects on the body. Penrose dives into how, even in this time period, control over these sorts of discoveries is understood to hold an enormous potential for wealth and power. I really enjoyed learning all about this, and thought the mystery itself regarding this topic was complicated and engaging.

Which leaves us with the rest of the book, which is where I struggled a bit more. For one thing, this is book number five in the series. At this point, I generally think authors should trust that readers have either read the previous books or are the sorts of reader who are fine jumping into a series where they don’t know all of the details. Instead, Penrose picks the worst of the options and spends a significant portion of the beginning of the book reintroducing the, now large, cast of characters and how their relationships weave in and out. Not only does this all just feel like unnecessary page filler, but it delays the start of the actual plot and sets up the pacing to fail. I’m not sure what the thinking was with this decision, but I think it hurt the book fairly significantly right off the bat.

From there, other than my interest in the actual subject of the mystery, I struggled to feel the same connection to our main two characters. Charlotte was especially frustrating, spending huge chunks of this book stuck in an indecisive swirl of anxiety. And by the end of the book, it didn’t feel like any of this time spent on these emotions contributed to much change for her character or much of a character arc at all. Wrexford, too, felt very bland. While I wasn’t as actively frustrated with his story, there was also just wasn’t much there for him. Again, what character arc or growth did he experience in this book, cuz I really couldn’t find any.

Overall, I found this to be disappointing entry into the series. The chemistry between Charlotte and Wrexford seemed pale in comparison to previous books, and both character individually felt flat. It is still a well-researched, interesting mystery. But without its main character providing any emotional stakes, the whole thing felt rather deflated and more of a trial to get through than other entries.

Rating 7: Fairly disappointing, the interesting historical aspects weren’t enough to make up for the lackluster character arcs.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Murder at the Royal Botanic Gardens” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Historical Mysteries and Thrillers Featuring Women.

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire (Vol. 4)”

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Book: “American Vampire (Vol.4)” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.), & Jordi Bernet (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, September 2012

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: American Vampire flashes back to two very distinct points in American history. The first tale comes from the early 1800’s with the “The Beast in the Cave” featuring art by the legendary Jordi Bernet (Torpedo, Jonah Hex). Learn about the original American Vampire, Skinner Sweet, and his involvement in the brutal Indian Wars, and an ancient evil hidden in the heart of the Old West. Plus, more about the man Skinner used to call his best friend – James Book!

The second tale comes straight from 1950s America, where American Vampire is terrorizing the suburbs with hot rods, teenyboppers and fangs! “Death Race” focuses on ferocious new vampire hunter Travis Kidd – but what is his connection to Skinner Sweet? As the story comes to a violent end, a sworn enemy’s identity is finally revealed, and lots of blood is spilled!

Writer Scott Snyder (Batman, Swamp Thing) and artist Rafael Albuquerque bring together even more threads to the complex tapestry that is the world of American Vampire.

Review: Admittedly as I was going about my read through of “American Vampire”, I picked up “Volume 4” and had an ‘I have no memory of this place’ moment. I had vivid recollections of the previous volume, just as I have recollections of what comes next. But this one didn’t stand out in my mind. So I was eager to dive in and remind myself what this volume had to offer. But as I was reading, I realized that there was probably reason I didn’t remember much. “American Vampire (Vol. 4)” is, unfortunately, the weakest part of the story yet.

But as always, let’s start with what I did like, and that was mostly the story “The Nocturnes”. We follow Calvin, one of the Vassals that was sent on the basically doomed Taipan mission during WWII, who we thought was dead, but actually was turned into a vampire when he was accidentally exposed to some of Pearl’s blood. The good news is he’s still working for the Vassals, and this standalone tale is following him and what he’s been up to. Mostly it’s taxonomy for the organization, categorizing different and new vampire subspecies, and in this story it isn’t a mission that has his interest, but a familial one: once he became a vampire he cut all ties to the living world outside of work, and he just wants to see his brother perform in his singing group. Unfortunately it’s in a sundown town, and also unfortunately, there are vampires afoot. I like Calvin as a character, and I liked seeing this exploration of what you have to give up as a Vassal, as those we have met up until now have been pretty solitary anyway. I also liked the way that it explores Jim Crow racism and sundown towns, and Calvin’s Othering because of his skin as well as his undead status. It’s a perspective we haven’t seen yet in the story and I enjoyed it.

BUT, that said, the other arcs in this collection haven’t aged super well from when they were first published. For one, guess who has once again been relegated to the sidelines: Pearl. She is barely in this book. Felicia Book isn’t in it at all. And we are STILL dwelling on Skinner Sweet, and while I KNEW that he wasn’t actually dead, it’s still frustrating that we didn’t get any kind of breather from him as a character who gets a huge friggin’ spotlight. This story takes us back to when he wasn’t yet a vampire, and we find out that he was actually good friends with James Book of all people, and they fought together during the Indian Wars, and oh boy. OH BOY. For one, the very complex and tragic subject matter at hand just doesn’t really sit well with me these days, given how the U.S. Government has consistently participated in a genocide against Indigenous peoples, and having that as a plot point in this story feels pretty grotesque. For another, we get into what is a well meaning story about the actual first American Vampire, an Indigenous woman named Mimiteh who was attacked by colonizer vampires and staked by the Vassals of the Morning Star as a precaution. After rising from the dead she is worshipped and feared by the Apache peoples that the U.S. Government is trying to overwhelm, and it just feels appropriative. It sure doesn’t help that Mimiteh is stark naked in nearly every encounter we see of her, which makes it feel all the more dehumanizing. And here’s a tip, making James Book, one of the pretty clear cut ‘good guys’ of this series, a participant in colonial driven genocide is probably not a good idea if you want him to remain clean nosed (creepy relationship with Felcia’s mother aside). The other story is about a vampire hunter for the Vassals named Travis Kidd, whose family was killed by a vampire and now he’s trying to take all vampires out. I did like some things about this story, namely that Travis kind of has a Charles Starkweather feel to him, in that when we first meet him he is killing his teenage girlfriend’s family, but they are vampires so it’s not the horrific spree that Starkweather had. It’s a wry reference to be sure. But, SURPRISE SURPRISE, do you know who it is that he ultimately wants his revenge against? You guessed it. SKINNER FREAKING SWEET. So we get very little Pearl in this collection, NO Felicia Book, and we get TWO HUGE STORIES WITH SWEET. SERIOUSLY?!

My feelings towards Skinner Sweet, and I MAY BE THE ONLY ONE?! (source)

Okay, so it was a bit of a stumble, but “American Vampire (Vol. 4)” does set up the next arc with a solid cliffhanger. I feel like Pearl and Felicia get more to do next time around, so onwards I go with higher hopes.

Rating 6: It just hasn’t aged super well. Also, while I knew we weren’t done with Skinner Sweet, I REALLY wish we were done with Skinner Sweet. That said, a story following Calvin is pretty good, and I liked some true crime connection and homages.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire (Vol. 4)” is included on the Goodreads list “Best Horror Comics/Graphic Novels”.

Previously Reviewed:

Blog Tour: “Godmersham Park: A Novel of the Austen Family”

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Book: “Godmersham Park: A Novel of the Austen Family” by Gill Hornby

Publishing Info: Pegasus Books, November 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publicist!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: On January 21, 1804, Anne Sharpe arrives at Godmersham Park in Kent to take up the position of governess. At thirty-one years old, she has no previous experience of either teaching or fine country houses. Her mother has died, and she has nowhere else to go. Anne is left with no choice. For her new charge—twelve-year-old Fanny Austen—Anne’s arrival is all novelty and excitement.

The governess role is a uniquely awkward one. Anne is neither one of the servants, nor one of the family, and to balance a position between the “upstairs” and “downstairs” members of the household is a diplomatic chess game. One wrong move may result in instant dismissal. Anne knows that she must never let down her guard.

When Mr. Edward Austen’s family comes to stay, Anne forms an immediate attachment to Jane. They write plays together, and enjoy long discussions. However, in the process, Anne reveals herself as not merely pretty, charming, and competent; she is clever too. Even her sleepy, complacent, mistress can hardly fail to notice.

Meanwhile Jane’s brother, Henry, begins to take an unusually strong interest in the lovely young governess. And from now on, Anne’s days at Godmersham Park are numbered.

Review: Thank you so much to Laurel for reaching out to me about participating in this tour! As anyone who is familiar with this blog knows, I’m a huge Jane Austen fan. I even did an entire series devoted to re-reading her books and reviewing many of the major adaptions. So it was a no brainer to join this tour that features a book focusing on a woman who knew Jane Austen for only a brief period of time but who clearly made an impression (Austen sent her one of a very few editions of “Emma” that she had been given when the book was first published). Let’s dive in!

The world doesn’t know what to do with a husband-less and family-less woman. Where does she belong? What room can there be for her to create a future for herself? One of the few options remaining is that of a governess, and so this is the path that young Anne Sharpe finds herself on when she joins a newly-landed family. But even here, to be a governess to not have a place, being not a servant of a member of the family. Anne is careful and observant, however, and slowly makes her way through various pitfalls. And, soon enough, she meets the sister of her employer, Jane Austen, and a life-long friendship is born.

There was a lot to love about this story. For one thing, it was a comfortable balance of taking real-life people and histories and playing out their stories in a way that not only felt true to what we know of their lives, but also believable where things had to be embellished. Much of the strength of the story and writing comes in the descriptions of every day life (a very Austen-like quality indeed!). Like many other popular period pieces (think “Downton Abbey”), there is a lot of focus on the goings on in the running of an estate, both the behind-the-scenes lives of the staff as well as the intricate rules that govern the family and any visitors.

In her role as governess, Anne’s existence is perhaps the most uncomfortable of them all. Many governesses were themselves ladies of station before some life event required them to take up this path. As such, they do not fit naturally with the staff of an estate. But governesses are also not a member of the family, often relegated to the back of the room and all but forgotten. I really enjoyed reading about how Anne needed to navigate these various roles and the limits placed on what she could or could not do.

The romance, such that it is, plays into this neatly. This is not a “romance” book, and the dangers of this flirtation are made evident, giving the entire situation a sort of increased danger and worry (not typically what you’re looking for from a love story.) But unlike many novelizations of governesses who fall in love and are suddenly raised to prominence, this story deals with the very real challenges to this sort of situation.

I also very much appreciate the way Jane Austen was handled. Obviously, the entire premise of this story is built around the fact that Anne Sharpe was a close enough friend to Austen to warrant not only particular attention from the author while she was alive, but follow up attention from Austen’s sister after the author passed away. That being the case, however, it would be all too easy for a character like this to dominate the page and distract from Anne’s own story.

I will say, the book did have a melancholy feel to it. Anne has seen struggle and continues to face unique challenges in this book. But if you go into it focused more on the insights it provides into the life and times of the story and less on any real action, you’re likely to enjoy it more. The plotting is slow and steady, without any major conflicts or real excitement. But I think that works for what it is offering, and fans of Jane Austen especially will appreciate a look into a lesser known character in her life.

Rating 8: A lovely blending of fact and fiction, this historical fiction novel shines the light on a lesser known woman whose small touch on Jane Austen’s life left a lasting impression.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Godmersham Park” isn’t on any Goodreads lists, but it should be on Jane Austen Books, Sequels, Bios and more.

Kate’s Review: “American Vampire (Vol. 3)”

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Book: “American Vampire (Vol. 3)” by Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuquerque (Ill.), & Sean Murphy (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, February 2012

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: In the Pacific, Pearl’s husband Henry joins a clandestine group on a secret mission to Japan to hunt a new breed of bloodsucker. Meanwhile, Skinner Sweet has plans of his own…

And in Europe, vampire hunters Felicia Book and Cash McCogan go behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Romania in search of a rumored vampire cure. Blood and bullets abound in this new collection from the Eisner Award-winning series!

Review: After being (once again) a bit turned off by the previous volume of this series, I was pretty sure I remembered that “American Vampire (Vol. 3)” got back on track in terms of my ability to ‘gel’ with the story at hand. Which is interesting, because in general military stories aren’t REALLY my cup of tea, and hoo boy does this volume REALLY get into the military themes. After all, as we are traveling through American history with our vampires and vampire hunters, it is now World War II.

We have two story arcs that contend with two of the war fronts during this time. The first is a story surrounding Pearl, her husband Henry, and that fucking asshole Skinner Sweet. Henry, feeling old and a bit left behind by his ageless vampire wife, takes up the Vassal of the Morning Star when they recruit him for a military mission in the Pacific: there is the potential for a new vampire threat on an atoll that the group wants checked out and cleared. What he doesn’t realize is that one of the members of the team is an incognito Skinner Sweet who wants to not only cause chaos, but also to get Pearl all to himself. Side note: we do get a background story with Skinner and his old west girlfriend Kitty, who looks a LOT like Pearl, but honestly I don’t give a shit about him and his man pain.

I DON’T CARE, BUDDY. (source)

This arc was good in the sense that it is basically nonstop action, and it has a lot of new vampire mythology exploration that felt really unique and grotesque. I really love how Snyder is creating subgroups of vampires and how they are all different based upon various factors, and I thought that the cat and mouse game between Henry, Pearl, and Sweet was interesting and tense to watch unfold. Because you know that once Pearl gets a whiff of Skinner potentially threatening the love of her life, maker or not, she is not going to sit by and let it happen.

The other arc is a bit earlier in time, an it involves Felicia Book and Cash McCoogan, together again after the terrible conclusion to their previous mission together: in which Sweet injected Cash’s very pregnant wife Lily with vampire blood directly into her womb, causing her to die in childbirth with a very vampiric baby boy named Gus. Felicia blames herself for hesitating on taking Sweet out, and Cash is desperate to keep his child safe, even if he is a feral monster child. The Vassals of the Morning Star has heard of rumors of a vampire cure in Nazi Occupied Romania, and the two of them are recruited to go undercover and try to see what’s what. They both have their reasons beyond loyalty to the group; Felicia is part vampire herself (as she was conceived when her father was in the throes of turning into a vampire, and it has affected her), and Cash wants Gus to be cured. THIS arc was the one I liked better, as it has some suspenseful moments of espionage, it has some really cool vampire world building, and I loved the tense relationship between Felicia and Cash as they are working together in hostile Nazi circles and contending with unexpected revelations.

But the biggest step up from the past volume is that Pearl finally, FINALLY, gets a bit more to do, and Felicia has her own riveting storyline and character arc that jumps off the page. It’s true that the last volume had a lot of Felicia (who is probably my favorite character in the series), but there was VERY little Pearl, and not only do we get to see her in vampiric action again, we also get to see her kick serious ass and come to aid her husband Henry when he’s in far over his head. I really love both of these women, who are dealing with their various guilts and insecurities and baggage, and I love that they get to take a bit of control over their situations, be it Pearl finally confronting Skinner Sweet, or Felicia seeking out a vampire cure so she can perhaps live a more normal life. And I also love the chemistry between Pearl and Henry, and the chemistry between Felicia and Cash. What can I say? I do love a nice romance, even if some are more tragic than others.

“American Vampire (Vol. 3)” gets the series back on track for me, and it both concludes some story arcs while also opening up the possibilities for others. The vampire lore is still fun and original, and it keeps reminding me of how much I love this series as a whole.

Rating 8: Two solid war time stories and more action for my gals Pearl and Felicia gets our series back on track.

Reader’s Advisory:

“American Vampire (Vol.3)” is included on the Goodreads lists “Weird War”, and “Vertigo Titles: Must Read Comic Books A-E”.

Previously Reviewed:

Serena’s Review: “To Kiss a Wallflower”

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Book: “To Kiss a Wallflower” by Jen Geigle Johnson, Heather B. Moore, & Anneka R. Walker

Publishing Info: Mirror Press, June 2022

Where Did I Get this Book: from the publicist!

Where Can You Get this Book: Amazon | IndieBound | WorldCat

Book Description: THE WALLFLOWER’S DANCE by Jen Geigle Johnson

Lottie Hughes likes people, as long as they aren’t too close. Does it bother her that no one asks her to dance? Yes, but she’s not sure how to drum up dance partners when she has almost no dowry, no title, and freezes up when anyone tries to talk to her. When she suddenly inherits a huge amount and is the new center of attention all over London, her secret dreams might come true but also her worst nightmares. Suddenly everyone wants to talk to her. Men ask her to dance. And she is inundated with interested suitors. She fights to stay close to the few friends she knows are true. One man saw her before her life changed forever. But does she want to accept his help when he, too, might be insincere?

LETTERS TO A WALLFLOWER by Heather B. Moore

Ellen might be beautiful and considered a diamond of the first water by Society, but she is so very tired of the pressure to marry a titled gentleman so that her beauty won’t go to waste. When her cousin Dinah dares Ellen to attend a ball with no frills and to stand with the wallflowers, Ellen takes on the dare. What’s in the wager for her? The prize cuttings of her aunt’s extraordinary roses. But what Ellen isn’t expecting is Lord Ravenshire to engage her in the most interesting conversation. When she confesses to him of her opposition in marrying for a title, he confesses his distaste of the London scene. They strike a bargain together, one which will either push them apart or lead to a future sweeter than either of them could have imagined.

TO MARRY A WALLFLOWER by Anneka R. Walker

Charlotte Winters is destined to spinsterhood until she turns down an unwanted proposal and everything changes. With gossip rampant, her father attempts to salvage her reputation by betrothing her to another. Soon she is sent off to her aunt’s to meet Lord Templeton, her intended. Anxiety-ridden, Charlotte begs her aunt to let her observe Lord Templeton from afar before their introduction. She never planned to pretend to be her fictional cousin to learn more about him, or to fall in love with Lord Templeton’s friend in the process. Lord Templeton dreads returning to the empty halls of Newcliff Manor. When his father’s old friend, Mr. Winters reaches out for assistance, Lord Templeton finds himself returning home engaged to a woman he has never met. Desperate to learn more about Miss Winters, he befriends her cousin. He wouldn’t have spoken to her, or lied about his identity, if he’d known the quiet woman would sneak into his heart.

Review: A few months ago, I participated in a blog tour for this book and posted an excerpt here on the blog. Well, today I’m back with my full review of the collection. Since there are three entirely separate stories contained within this book, I thought I’d split my review into three mini reviews, one for each story.

“The Wallflower’s Dance”

This is your classic friends-to-lovers romance, and it covered every base you want to see in this type of story. The friendship between the hero and the heroine was believable, as was the fact that it seemed understandable that each was so caught up in this type of interaction that it would take a certain sort of jolt to shock their systems into seeing each other in different ways.

I did struggle a bit towards the end of this story, however. It seemed that that solid foundation of friendship was easily undercut with doubts about the other’s intentions. This would have felt believable with other characters, but with two people who have known each other for so long, it was a bit hard to buy their sudden decision to believe complete strangers over a longtime friend. There was also one last shot of complete insanity on the heroine’s part after the truth was made known to her. It was only one paragraph, which honestly made it all the more frustrating. Just take that one bit out and nothing would change in the story, except a better opinion of your heroine!

That said, I still had a fun time reading this story.

“Letters to a Wallflower”

This was another classic romance trope: the fake dating/courtship romance. As is implied by the title, there’s a brief (luckily very brief!) period of time when our hero and heroine set-up a correspondence to get them each out of the eyes of pestering mothers and society and back to their beloved country abodes.

To be fair, this one plays fast and loose with the whole “wallflower” theme. Ellen is in fact a very beautiful, sought after young lady who tires of getting asked to dance too many times. So she makes a deal with her friend to try to hide as a wallflower and see if she is asked to dance at all. Unfortunately for her, Lord Ravenshire sets out with the purpose of dancing with all of the wallflowers. But through this mishap they hit on the idea to fake a relationship.

There were a few anachronisms early in this book (the word “hairdo” and an ordering of earl as one of the highest ranks, which is incorrect), but overall I think the writing in this book was the best. After I got past the first few errors, I really enjoyed this one, and it was probably my favorite of the three.

To Marry a Wallflower”

We wrap up our regency romances with the “secret identity” trope. For all that this is the trope I picked in our recent romance tropes bookclub theme, it’s probably one of my least favorite. All too often I have a hard time believing the essential lie at the heart of these kind of confusions wouldn’t do more lasting damage than they seem to. So, I was the most nervous going into this one of the three.

Honestly, I did struggle a bit with this story. There was a lot of terrible advice given out, and I thought the excuse to pose as different people was a bit weak for both Charlotte and Luke. Their interactions were sweet and I did become invested in their relationship as the story continued. But I could never fully get past the secret identity thing that tinged every moment. The reveal itself was a nice payoff, but I think I would have enjoyed this one more if it hadn’t been this trope to begin with. But that’s a purely subjective opinion, and fans of “secret identity” romances may love this one!

As a whole, I think this is a really solid compilation of clean, sweet Regency romances. This is part of a very long series of Regency romances made up of short stories, so fans of those are sure to enjoy this. Readers who are also looking for a low commitment, sweet romance read should also check this out. They’re the perfect reads for someone looking to whip through a romance story in one night’s time!

Rating 7: I was left wanting just a bit more from all three of these stories, but they were also fun and satisfying reads on their own which are sure to appeal to fans of clean historical romance stories!

Reader’s Advisory:

“To Kiss a Wallflower” is part of the Timeless Regency Collection Series.

Joint Review: “The Witch and the Tsar”

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Book: “The Witch and the Tsar” by Olesya Salnikova Gilmore

Publishing Info: Ace, September 2022

Where Did We Get This Book: We received eARCs from NetGalley and Edelweiss+.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: As a half-goddess possessing magic, Yaga is used to living on her own, her prior entanglements with mortals having led to heartbreak. She mostly keeps to her hut in the woods, where those in need of healing seek her out, even as they spread rumors about her supposed cruelty and wicked spells. But when her old friend Anastasia—now the wife of the tsar, and suffering from a mysterious illness—arrives in her forest desperate for her protection, Yaga realizes the fate of all of Russia is tied to Anastasia’s. Yaga must step out of the shadows to protect the land she loves.

As she travels to Moscow, Yaga witnesses a sixteenth century Russia on the brink of chaos. Tsar Ivan—soon to become Ivan the Terrible—grows more volatile and tyrannical by the day, and Yaga believes the tsaritsa is being poisoned by an unknown enemy. But what Yaga cannot know is that Ivan is being manipulated by powers far older and more fearsome than anyone can imagine.

Olesya Salnikova Gilmore weaves a rich tapestry of mythology and Russian history, reclaiming and reinventing the infamous Baba Yaga, and bringing to life a vibrant and tumultuous Russia, where old gods and new tyrants vie for power. This fierce and compelling novel draws from the timeless lore to create a heroine for the modern day, fighting to save her country and those she loves from oppression while also finding her true purpose as a goddess, a witch, and a woman

Kate’s Thoughts

This was a little bit of a gamble for me, as I knew that it was fantasy, and I knew that it was going to be pretty heavy on Russian mythology for inspiration. And given that I’m not a huge fantasy person, and my book of Russian myths and fairytales has sat on my shelf unopened for years, I was rolling the dice. BUT, it also follows Yaga, a witch, and I DO LOVE WITCHES. So I took a chance on this one, and the bag was… pretty mixed.

The positives are definitely ample! For one, I liked Yaga as our protagonist. She’s a healer who is half immortal and has done her best to keep people around her safe, including her old friend Anastasia who is the Tsar’s wife, and who is being poisoned. Yaga, unfortunately, has to learn that not everyone has the same noble heart, and most of this book is her trying to survive not only against a spiraling Ivan the Terrible (who is doing unthinkable things in Russia; what a time to be reading this, given the guy in charge of Russia right now), but also other immortals and gods and demi gods. I liked how Gilmore subverted some of the mythologies to reflect lies and propaganda that the Orthodox Russian Church was spewing to undercut the non-Christian theologies of the time. I know that the fact Yaga has been de-aged from crone to young woman has frustrated some readers, which I definitely get, but I kind of like the idea of her reputation of being a cruel crone is actually a lie to make people distrust a woman who is actually a midwife, healer, and powerful woman in a community.

But overall, I think that I didn’t have enough working knowledge of the mythology (and even the history! I don’t know much about Russian history, honestly), and that meant that I couldn’t fully appreciate what Gilmore was trying to do. I also thought that it was a little ambling at times as the story went on. It wasn’t really a slog, but I did sometimes find myself skimming a bit to get through specific scenes.

So overall, “The Witch and the Tsar” was an okay read, but I’m not sure I got everything I could have gotten from it. Maybe I need to go grab that unopened book of Russian folklore off my shelf.

Serena’s Thoughts

Me, I’m the reader frustrated by the aged-down Yaga! But before I get to that, let’s start with my general impression. Unlike Kate, everything about this book is directly up my alley, so it was a bit of a no-brainer that I was going to read it either way. But I was happy she suggested we joint review it, since I think that has left us in an interesting position now. Since…the very fact that this was up my alley might be why I wasn’t this book’s biggest fan? More precisely, I feel like I’ve read this book before and better versions of it.

For example, while I generally appreciate the commentary on wise women and healers and how these women were undercut by the incoming Christian church in its various forms, I’ve also read many, many fantasy novels that have covered this very thing. And in very similar, unfortunately better, ways. So for me, many aspects of this book just struck chords that were too familiar to other, better stories, leaving me in a constant state of comparison. A big one was “The Bear and the Nightingale” and that trilogy, a series that is also Russian history/folklore inspired and tackles these same conversion points between Christianity, old world religion, and the demonization of women who were healers or stood out in any other way.

Beyond that, I had a hard time connecting to Yaga. Yes, part of me was simply disappointed that she was a young woman because I’ve read a million and one novels about young women in fantasy and it’s always refreshing to read about different age groups (people over 30 exist! especially older women! things happen to them and there is a unique power and experience to be mined there!). But beyond that, Yaga, while still young-looking, is in fact meant to be quite old. And yet she routinely seemed to be quite naive in a way that I found hard to reconcile with the amount of lived experience she should have under her belt at this point.

I also wish we had gotten a bit more from the Russian folklore, as Kate mentioned. I’m pretty familiar with a lot of it, simply due to the fact that it’s had a bit of a run recently as a go-to in fantasy fiction. But there were certain elements that I felt were just plunked down into the story without much thought or creativity. Like the house with chicken legs just kind of appears? I’ve read some pretty interesting takes on this entire concept (Orson Scott Card’s “Enchantment” probably has the most creative one I’ve seen at this point), but this book just seemed to skip over some of these opportunities.

All in all, my conclusion is the same as Kate’s. This wasn’t a slog of a read by any means, but by the time I finished it, I realized I spent most of the book thinking about other, similar stories and wishing this was more like those.

Kate’s Rating 6: I liked Yaga as a protagonist and I liked the way Gilmore subverted Russian myth and folklore, but it felt ambling at times, and I think I would have gotten more if I were more familiar with the mythology.

Serena’s Rating 6: If you haven’t read much Russian fantasy folklore, this might appeal to you. But there are better examples out there that left this one feeling uncomfortably derivative at times.

Reader’s Advisory:

“The Witch and the Tsar” is included on the Goodreads lists “Mythological Re-Imaginings” and “Wise Women, Witches, Midwives, Healers, and Strong Girls”.

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