The Girl in the Tower || A Review

Initial Thoughts:

Like its predecessor, this sequel is a slow-burning tale of characters in a fantasy, medieval Russia, where the world is churning out of the old ways and into the new. But there are still winter-kings and firebirds and men who cannot die. And it was so. friggin. GOOD.


THE GIRL IN THE TOWER

by Katherine Arden
Del Rey, December 2017
Historical fantasy
Rated: 4.5 / 5 cookies
provided by Del Rey and NetGalley (thank you!)

Orphaned and cast out as a witch by her village, Vasya’s options are few: resign herself to life in a convent, or allow her older sister to make her a match with a Moscovite prince. Both doom her to life in a tower, cut off from the vast world she longs to explore. So instead she chooses adventure, disguising herself as a boy and riding her horse into the woods. When a battle with some bandits who have been terrorizing the countryside earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince of Moscow, she must carefully guard the secret of her gender to remain in his good graces—even as she realizes his kingdom is under threat from mysterious forces only she will be able to stop.

I do want to thank Jess Bonet and the wonderful people at Random House for the ARC of The Girl in the Tower and  a super lovely copy of The Bear and the Nightingale! I’ve been a little late with review copies lately, but I really did want to read this next book because I enjoyed TBatN so much and did want to get into what happened next with Vasya and her siblings.

I was definitely not disappointed. When I saw that The Girl in the Tower involved Sasha and Olga (two characters who disappeared near the beginning of TBatN and who I really wanted to get to know), I was so in. The fact that Vasya was dressed as a boy was also a plus, because when would I ever say no to a book with crossdressing women?

In any case, this book played out as a direct continuation of the events in The Bear in the Nightingale. Cast out by her village, Vasya pretty much runs away, finds Morozko, and gets trained by the frost-king to fend for herself. This would have been a problematic scene if not for the fact that not all of the “training” was practical, and some of it ended up being hijinks anyway, which I love, because why wouldn’t I love something like a possible romance between a witch’s daughter and an immortal death god? (Not that much happens, mind, this is going to be a slow-ass burn romance, isn’t it? DAMN YOU, ARDEN.)

It doesn’t start with Vasya, though. In fact, it starts with Olga and then Sasha and what they’ve been up to while the events in Bear took place. At this point, because of the way information traveled in medieval Russia, Olga and Sasha don’t find out about their siblings until they encounter Father Konstantin, who’s not quite done with causing trouble with his crazy-talk. Olga is a political game-player in her own right, a princess of Moscow, and Sasha is the right hand man (and monk) of Rus’ Grand Prince. While Olga is satisfied in her tower, Sasha is dissatisfied with staying in a monastery, and finds himself traveling with the Grand Prince in order to find out what’s been burning nearby villages. This is when Sasha meets up with Vasya, only…she’s dressed as a boy and that’s a scandalous thing. A very scandalous thing!

Like Bear, the book has a fairy tale feel to it, the kind of feel you get when you’re sitting near a fireplace–or, in my case, bundled up in a warm blanket and cozying up in bed–and sipping some hot cocoa. It is not meant to be a fast, action-paced read, and for the most part, Arden spends most of her time building up to the climax. When all the pieces are put in play, though, it becomes awesome and I admit I practically squeed a few times when she paid even more homage to Russian fairy tales by adding even more well-known figures in. (I won’t mention which ones, because SPOILERS.)

The characters were fun to read, even Father Konstantin had a storyline that gets tied into the narrative. I would love to see more of Midnight’s role in the story, and I feel like things are soon going to come to a head with what happens at the end of the story. Winter is waning, and with that said, so are Morozko’s powers. This means the Sleeper is waking, and I. Cannot. Wait.

4.5 out of 5 cookies! I actually liked this a bit more than the first book, mostly because HIJINKS ❤

This counts as Book #1 of my NetGalley and Edelweiss Challenge.


Have you read this book? What did you think?

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Mini Reviews: Superman, Z

Back on my audiobook spree! Well, in this case, I’ve been listening to a lot of historical fiction, some of which were interesting, others were just meh. I should be getting back to more fantasy/scifi reviews at some point.

In any case, my small reviews are about this boy and this girl, and they’re both their own unique personalities.

Have you read either of these books? What did you think?

I Avoid Horror Stories…Except When I Don’t || Asylum Review

Initial Review: 

I feel like I’ve gotten more paranoid now after reading this book than before I went into it. A lot of this probably has to do with there being way too many characters that were too coincidentally linked with the asylum. And, like, seriously, who converts a dilapidated asylum into a dorm room. Just…I cannot. That said, at least the scare factor wasn’t as bad as I imagined. I’m not big on horror reads, but I’m also not big on horror, and yet I found myself getting desensitized after playing Until Dawn multiple times…So you crazy asylums can go suck it.

Still, you wouldn’t find me anywhere near one of those things.


ASYLUM

by Madeleine Roux
HarperTeen, August 2013
Horror, young adult
Rated: 3 / 5 cookies

For sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, New Hampshire College Prep is more than a summer program—it’s a lifeline. An outcast at his high school, Dan is excited to finally make some friends in his last summer before college. But when he arrives at the program, Dan learns that his dorm for the summer used to be a sanatorium, more commonly known as an asylum. And not just any asylum—a last resort for the criminally insane.

As Dan and his new friends, Abby and Jordan, explore the hidden recesses of their creepy summer home, they soon discover it’s no coincidence that the three of them ended up here. Because the asylum holds the key to a terrifying past. And there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.

The Short and Long of It

Normally I avoid horror stories. Sometimes it’s because I want to avoid the gorefest in some, but honestly it’s mostly because when I read horror, I tend to let my imagination get the better of me, and then I start worrying about the wee demon I am sure I have under my bed. And then that leads to thoughts about said demon being hungry and me running out of sacrifices to satiate it.

Whatever the case, horror isn’t my go-to for reading.

But I have tried to branch out. And while it’s not my typical faire, it randomly shows up on my reading list out of whim or initial curiosity. In this case, it was definitely the photographs and the book cover that brought me to reading Asylum.

The funny thing is Asylum puts two of the main reasons why I try to avoid these books: ghosts and asylums. All it really needed was a clown and I’d be scared out of my mind.

Unless the clown is this little fucker. In which case, I’d just think he’s an absolute troll.

The book has been compared to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children so much that it is hard not to compare Asylum to the former, and honestly, I picked up the book because of Miss Peregrine, so…yeah. The pictures were just as intriguing, and I liked the idea of people telling a story with pictures included. Only, sometimes the pictures did throw me off, because Roux would be describing one thing, and then I look at the picture and oh, hey, I’m going: “But…the warden isn’t sitting down at the center, he’s standing! And the girl at the far right isn’t the one with the discombobulated head…I’m confused…” For the most part, though, the pictures added to the imagination, and it was a nice touch.

I liked the premise of the book. Dan Crawford goes to a summer program and his current home situation throws him into a dormitory that used to be a hospital for the insane. Not just any asylum, mind you, but one filled with terminally insane, homicidal folk with an equally terminally insane, homicidal warden at its head. Pulled by a need to investigate the mysterious pictures at the old warden’s restricted office, Dan becomes embroiled in some weird historical investigation where he finds out that the past can quite literally haunt you. Especially if your name’s Daniel Crawford.

Dan’s friends are also hoots and a half. Jordan was probably my favorite, but that’s mostly because if I was a character in the group, I’d be the scared math-geek with hermit-like coping mechanisms. But that’s assuming I’d make it that far into a program that has an insane asylum as its dormitory. I probably wouldn’t have even applied for the program to begin with. You wouldn’t see me anywhere near old hospitals–oh, wait, I sort of kind of work in one now. Oops?

What did annoy me was the weird progression that the story took. What became an interesting mystery and delving into people’s minds boiled down to a case of some not-so-mild possession. Not much was really explained by the end, and I’m still not sure how some people got possessed while others didn’t. And the random letters Dan kept getting in the story was never really fully explained. I mean, yeah, Dan made conjectures, but there wasn’t much basis in them, and I’m not sure that’s supposed to be left open because this is, after all, only the first of a trilogy.

There was also the fact that this is apparently meant to be a young adult book, though I didn’t really see much of that in the book. Yes, there’s a romance, and yes, the characters are your typical YA characters, but uh, there wasn’t much drama in that department. High school kids go to a college-like setting with college-like classes, and honestly, nobody romped behind closed doors in a dormitory? Ugh, what a bore.

All in all, though, it was a good story and a quick read. I wasn’t wowed by it, and I actually did prefer Miss Peregrine over this one, mostly because of the more fantastical, supernatural element, but I still liked the story and I’d probably pick up the next at some point.

3 out of 5 cookies!


Have you read this book? What did you think?

Fables by Bill Willingham: A Series Overview

It’s difficult saying goodbye to a series you’ve been off and on reading for years at a time. It’s going on a journey with a cast of characters you’ve loved and then being told you’ve got to go back to work in the real world, thankyouverymuch (which, to be honest, is my general outlook in life, hah!). Fables was pretty much that journey, and it was sad to see the series actually, truly “end.”

To preface: this isn’t a typical review. I’ve finished 150 issues in 22 volumes, spanning thousands of dialogue and illustrations, panels and pages, and I’m finding it impossible to judge a series by its final volume. Farewell does a good job tying some loose ends, but leaves many things to the imagination, and encompassed several problematic elements that deterred it from being the penultimate volume of Fables volumes. But I’ll get to that in a bit.

There’s an actual key within the foldout that tells you who each Fable is on this cover. It’s magnificent in scope.

Those who haven’t read Fables and are interested in delving into fractured fairy tales and modern retellings should really give this Willingham series a try. I must have pushed this series to a number of my reader friends (and my not-so-reader sister and best friend) because at the time I was:

  • A) in a Vertigo Comics reading spree (owing to my love of Sandman by Neil Gaiman) and
  • B) always on the lookout for fairy tale comics.

Zenescope’s Grimm Fairy Tales piqued my interest in artwork, but it was Willingham’s Fables that had the staying power when it came to its characters and story.

The Fables series follows the story of the Fable community, a group of fairy tale, folktale, legendary, and mythological characters and their struggles to live in the Mundy (mundane, magic-less) world. After their defeat against the infamous Adversary, most of the Fable worlds have been subsumed into the Adversary’s empire, and many are forced to retreat to the mundane world of Manhattan and its surrounding areas. The first volume title, Legends in Exile–as well as the first cover, an illustration of Fables characters running and cramming themselves into Manhattan’s subway train–pretty much gives an accurate portrayal of how they’ve been living for hundreds of years.

In Legends in Exile, we encounter the prominent figures of Fabletown, and interestingly enough, the story begins with Snow White and Rose Red. I point this out because Willingham returns to the rivalry between the two sisters one final time in Farewell, and it becomes a rivalry of epic proportions. To be honest, this wasn’t the bit that endeared me to the series.

It was this particular panel that did.

I adore Bigby Wolf, and the fact that much of the first half of the series pits Bigby as a prominent character–and important member of Fabletown–is most definitely why I kept reading. Ever since my entry into urban fantasy and the were-creatures that litter the genre’s pages, I’ve always kept a fondness for werewolves, and Bigby is not only THE Big Bad Wolf of stories, but he’s a REFORMED Big Bad Wolf. By this point in the Fables series, he’d even been appointed as the Fables’ town sheriff, a character you would not have typically visualized as someone who would uphold the law.

But Bigby does in his own way, and it is easy to see later on why.

Um. I totally ship it.

The first volume did its job introducing a colorful cast, but it was Vol. 2, Animal Farm, and Vol. 3, Storybook Love, that cemented my love for the series. By the end of Vol. 11, War and Pieces, I thought this series was the bees’ knees. And it continued to be, though to be honest, once the Adversary Arc came to a resolution, nothing came quite close to the magic that the first 11 volumes held in their pages.

The series comprises of a few major storylines:

The Adversary (Vols. 1-11) – Wherein the Fables community try to find a life within the Mundy world, at the same time that many of them attempt to retake their Homeworlds from their enemies. Pretty epic stuff, especially considering who the Adversary is revealed to be, and how each of the Fables characters played a part in taking the evil kneevil down.

Mister Dark (Vols. 12-17) – After the fall of the Adversary, a new villain comes into town in the hopes of wreaking destruction to a newly-recovering Fable community. This arc was difficult to get through because the antagonists were arbitrary and highly annoying, but the arc also gave us Ghost, the North Wind, and Frau Totenkinder, and they are worth the waste of space that is Mister Dark.

The Werewolf Cubs (Vol. 18) – A prophecy comes to light upon the birth of Bigby’s seven children, and each are tied to their fates. This includes the spinoff volume Werewolves of the Heartland, which I considered as part of Vol. 18, to be honest.

Snow White and Rose Red (Vols. 19-22) – The finale pits us back to the rivalry between the two sisters and a curse revealed that explains it all. Or, well, tries to explain it all. It failed in my book, but Vol. 19, Snow White was well worth the read because it pretty much delves into Snow’s past and shines a light to how truly badass she is (although, if I’m going to be honest, I totally skipped everything about the damn flying monkey). Vol. 20, Camelot, follows in Snow’s wake by highlighting her sister Rose Red, and it is still one of my favorite covers in the series, even though Rose Red is quite possibly my least favorite lead.

I mean…taking on a fantastic swordsman one-handed? How is that NOT badass?!

But as far as it ended? I’m of two minds on that. In some ways, I appreciated Willingham trying to tie in loose ends in Farewell. It was a better volume than what came before, but it was also a bit of an anticlimactic disappointment. It also begged the question of “Who can truly come back to life?” Early on, it was established that the more famous Fables are able to return from death because hell, they are legendary in the mundy world. But then by the end of the series, even the popular fables don’t come back, and yet…some of the not-so-famous do. It bothered me to no end, almost as much as Rose Red’s lack of character development did.

In fact, if it weren’t for this magnificent four-panel foldout, I wouldn’t have rated Farewell as high as I did.

That all said, I’d still highly recommend this series. Heck, I’d highly recommend its spinoffs, too, especially Fairest and Telltale Games’ A Wolf Among Us (which also has a graphic novelization out). I wouldn’t so far as recommend the Jack of Fables spinoff, mostly because I effing HATED Jack and his Literal friends (and gods, AVOID Vol. 13: The Great Fables Crossover if you can, it really doesn’t add shmat to the story), but hey, who knows, it is probably enjoyable to others.

Alright, there. I’m done tooting the Fables horn.

Have you read the series? What did you think?

Mini Reviews: All the Light We Cannot See, Waking Gods

In truth, I could probably have written much more about both these books that could garner full reviews, but I’m pressed for time and you really don’t want me ranting about Waking Gods anyway, right? Okay, maybe you might (I rant rather rantily), but the timing issue pretty much screws things up.

Anyway, both of these were audiobooks I’d listened to in the span of a few days. They were pretty addicting, and All the Light We Cannot See was surprisingly fantastic, even though again, I would say that I probably should have taken a reviewer’s advise and stopped at around page 477. The ending…well, ended in a hopeful note much like The Book Thief did, but I found it anticlimactic and honestly, by that point, I thought the story just went on for too long.

As for Waking Gods, well. Maybe I should have read the book and not listened to the audio. The audiobook pissed me off because there were so many ingratiatingly annoying voices added into the mix, most of it being mother-effing Eva. This is supposed to be a scared 10- or 11-year-old girl but sounded like a whiny 40-year-old instead. I don’t know if I could listen to the third book knowing that Eva will be back, because holy crap, I cringed and wanted to chuck my phone out the window every single time she came into the scene (and unfortunately she becomes main in the last half hour of the damn audiobook). I’m hoping there’s a change in the voice actress in any case, though I highly doubt it, considering they’ve remained pretty consistent on both books so far.

Have you read either of these books? What did you think?