BOOK REVIEW: The Winter of the Witch, by Katherine Arden

BOOK REVIEW: The Winter of the Witch, by Katherine ArdenTitle: The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
Series: Winternight Trilogy #3
Published by Del Rey Books
Published: January 8th 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 372
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Following their adventures in The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, Vasya and Morozko return in this stunning conclusion to the bestselling Winternight Trilogy, battling enemies mortal and magical to save both Russias, the seen and the unseen.

Reviewers called Katherine Arden’s novels The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower “lyrical,” “emotionally stirring,” and “utterly bewitching.” The Winternight Trilogy introduced an unforgettable heroine, Vasilisa Petrovna, a girl determined to forge her own path in a world that would rather lock her away. Her gifts and her courage have drawn the attention of Morozko, the winter-king, but it is too soon to know if this connection will prove a blessing or a curse.

Now Moscow has been struck by disaster. Its people are searching for answers—and for someone to blame. Vasya finds herself alone, beset on all sides. The Grand Prince is in a rage, choosing allies that will lead him on a path to war and ruin. A wicked demon returns, stronger than ever and determined to spread chaos. Caught at the center of the conflict is Vasya, who finds the fate of two worlds resting on her shoulders. Her destiny uncertain, Vasya will uncover surprising truths about herself and her history as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all.

“I am a witch,’’ said Vasya. Blood was running down her hand now, spoiling her grip. “I have plucked snowdrops at Midwinter, died at my own choosing, and wept for a nightingale. Now I am beyond prophecy.” She caught his knife on the crosspiece of hers, hilt to hilt. “I have crossed three times nine realms to find you, my lord. And I find you at play, forgetful.”

Katherine Arden’s Winternight Trilogy have been some of my favorite fantasy books in recent years, and I find myself recommending them to friends and readers everywhere because of their world building, their characters, and the fairy tale qualities upon which each book explores. The first book, The Bear and the Nightingale, has a slower start that builds into a magnificent, magical Russian setting. The second book, The Girl in the Tower, continues Vasya’s story and sets up for the satisfying conclusion in The Winter of the Witch.

I loved the intersection of fantasy and Russian history, the strength of the female characters, the quiet scenes interspersed with the highly emotional or violent scenes. I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between Vasya and Morozov, because their dynamic is a deep, dark, frisson. The scenes between Vasya and Morozov are intense and beautifully written, and I wish there was more about him, too. Vasya by herself, this time, seemed to be a little distanced from the character in the first two books, but I also wonder that it’s because she has been through so much that she’s in dissonance from herself, too.

Overall, I was highly satisfied with the story, and I think it’s rare that the third book in a trilogy holds up and is even better than the first two installments. It’s an excellent meld of fantasy and history and how a single person can unite a country, for better or worse.

Thank you to Netgalley and Del Rey Books for a review copy! All opinions are my own.

Favorite Reads of 2018

A little late in posting, but here are some of my favorite reads of 2018! I’ve been in such a reading and blogging slump even though I had such high hopes to do more (having a technical error that was 99% my fault just totally wiped my motivation because I worked so hard on some posts only to realize they hadn’t posted because I didn’t actually hit “schedule,” UGH). ANYWAY. A new month starts tomorrow. I am going to make the effort to do better. January is just a weird month for me, and I think I just need to start my “new year’s resolutions” in February instead.

I read a lot of different things than my “usuals” in 2018 (and I have a post for that coming soon), but here are some of the standouts of the 180 books I read last year!

TORDOTCOM NOVELLAS! Especially the following:

  • The Only Harmless Great Thing – Brooke Bolander
  • The Descent of Monsters – JY Yang
  • River of Teeth – Sarah Gailey
  • Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire
  • The Armored Saint – Myke Cole

tor.com have released some of the best reads I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, and I can’t wait for what else they put out! If you’re in the mood for a shorter, but highly engaging and imaginative read in the speculative fiction vein, definitely check out the above titles and the rest of their offerings!

2019 RELEASES!

  • Daisy Jones & the Six – Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • The Wolf in the Whale – Jordanna Max Brodsky

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was one of my favorite reads of 2017, and I was so excited to receive an advance reader’s copy of Daisy Jones & the Six. It’s going to be a big spring read. The Wolf in the Whale was one of the most immersive historical fantasies I’ve read in quite some time, and I couldn’t put it down.

2018 RELEASES!

  • Hull Metal Girls – Emily Shrutskie
  • Playing With Matches – Hannah Orenstein
  • Space Opera – Catherynne M. Valente
  • The Poppy War – R.F. Kuang
  • The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Fated Sky – Mary Robinette Kowal
  • A Knife in the Fog – Bradley Harper

I didn’t seem to read as much YA last year as I’ve done in previous years (even though I bought a lot, but that’s neither here nor there >.>), but Emily Shrutskie’s Hull Metal Girls was one of the best sci-fi YA titles I’ve read in years, and I found myself wanting so much more once I had finished reading it. I ventured more into the romance genre in 2018 (also more on that later!) and I really loved Playing With Matches by Hannah Orenstein, and I can’t wait for her next one! Catherynne M. Valente’s Space Opera was the most fun sci-fi read of 2018 because it’s a mash of Eurovision and Douglas Adams and all sorts of goodness. R.F. Kuang’s The Poppy War is the start to what looks to be an amazing fantasy series, and I was blown away that it’s a DEBUT because it’s just that well-written. If you like space and women in space programs and alternate histories and haven’t read Mary Robinette Kowal’s The Lady Astronauts yet, what are you waiting for? Bradley Harper wrote an incredibly engaging historical mystery with Margaret Harkness, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Jack the Ripper, and it’s another one of those incredible debuts! I can’t wait for the next installment!

BACKLIST!

  • The Refrigerator Monologues – Catherynne M. Valente
  • Villette – Charlotte Bronte
  • To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series – Jenny Han
  • Eve’s Hollywood – Eve Babitz

I really just want to read everything Valente has ever written, and The Refrigerator Monologues is an homage to all of those female characters fridged in superhero comics (and apparently it’s going to be made into a mini series by Amazon!!). I wanted to read more classics last year, and aside from the 80 Little Black Classics that Penguin Classics put out a few years ago, the one that stuck with me the most was Charlotte Bronte’s Villette. Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before series had been on my radar since its initial release, but the Netflix movie kicked my want to read them into high gear and I enjoyed them all. I read Eve Babitz’s Eve’s Hollywood after finding the book at Strand in NYC, and I fell in love with her. I’m making it my mission to read more of her work in the upcoming months.

What were your favorite reads of 2018?

BOOK REVIEW: Hollywood’s Eve, by Lili Anolik

BOOK REVIEW: Hollywood’s Eve, by Lili AnolikTitle: Hollywood's Eve: Eve Babitz and the Secret History of L.A. by Lili Anolik
Published by Scribner
Published: January 8th 2019
Genres: Biography
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Los Angeles in the 1960s and 70s was the pop culture capital of the world—a movie factory, a music factory, a dream factory. Eve Babitz was the ultimate factory girl, a pure product of LA.

The goddaughter of Igor Stravinsky and a graduate of Hollywood High, Babitz posed in 1963, at age twenty, playing chess with the French artist Marcel Duchamp. She was naked; he was not. The photograph, cheesecake with a Dadaist twist, made her an instant icon of art and sex. Babitz spent the rest of the decade rocking and rolling on the Sunset Strip, honing her notoriety. There were the album covers she designed: for Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds, to name but a few. There were the men she seduced: Jim Morrison, Ed Ruscha, Harrison Ford, to name but a very few.

Then, at nearly thirty, her It girl days numbered, Babitz was discovered—as a writer—by Joan Didion. She would go on to produce seven books, usually billed as novels or short story collections, always autobiographies and confessionals. Under-known and under-read during her career, she’s since experienced a breakthrough. Now in her mid-seventies, she’s on the cusp of literary stardom and recognition as an essential—as the essential—LA writer. Her prose achieves that American ideal: art that stays loose, maintains its cool, and is so sheerly enjoyable as to be mistaken for simple entertainment.

For Babitz, life was slow days, fast company until a freak fire in the 90s turned her into a recluse, living in a condo in West Hollywood, where Lili Anolik tracked her down in 2012. Anolik’s elegant and provocative new book is equal parts biography and detective story. It is also on dangerously intimate terms with its subject: artist, writer, muse, and one-woman zeitgeist, Eve Babitz.

It seems like two summers ago, everyone on Bookstagram and on book Twitter was talking about Eve Babitz. The more I read about her from the people I followed, the more I wanted to know who she was through her writing. I purchased Sex & Rage in the fall of 2017 (and, shamefully, still haven’t read it), and I bought Eve’s Hollywood this past fall at Strand Bookstore in New York City while I was there visiting a friend. I read Eve’s Hollywood from the end of November to December last year, and I simultaneously wanted to devour that book in a day and savor it over all time. I finally understood why everyone was talking about Eve Babitz (again).

Babitz is an enigma. She’ll make you fall in love with her Los Angeles, and she’ll make you fall in love with her, all while keeping you at an arm’s length so you can’t help but want to listen to everything she has to say. Lili Anolik’s fascination with Eve Babitz, her life, and writing, turned into a Vanity Fair article that was later expanded into Hollywood’s Eve. I read Anolik’s Hollywood’s Eve in a single sitting. I picked it up, read a few chapters, and did what I had to do for the day quickly so that I could spend the rest of my afternoon completely engrossed in Anolik’s discovery, research, and eventual personal connection with Babitz.

I really enjoyed Anolik’s emulation of Babitz’s style, mixing in personal experience with the subject at hand. I find for certain biographies, this style works well, because a writer is able to add in personal anecdotes about people and places that would seem out of place in a more “formal” biography. I learned a lot about Hollywood in the 60s and 70s through Eve’s Hollywood and Hollywood’s Eve that I’ve not really seen or read discussed anywhere else — like the bits about the Didions and Harrison Ford. Sometimes for me, who has only recently begun to dive into the behind-the-scenes stories of a Hollywood that’s gone, it’s a little jaw-dropping to see so many well-known faces know having those connections back then. That knowledge adds so much depth to the writing and film I’ll consume from that point forward, you know?

Eve Babitz is not often likeable, but she is an incredible observer and writer. I thoroughly enjoyed the small part Anolik included that contrasted Eve with her sister Mirandi because it added so much more understanding to Eve as a person. Over the years I’ve read a lot more about and by “difficult” women, women who sometimes behave in ways that men do and the men are praised for it (or have their actions conveniently brushed aside) while the women are villainized or shamed for it? And why? Because they’re women? I’m still confronting that within myself and realizing the best thing I can do is listen, absorb, and pay attention. And maybe be more like Babitz myself.

Thank you to Scribner for sending me a copy of Hollywood’s Eve to review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: One Day in December, by Josie Silver

BOOK REVIEW: One Day in December, by Josie SilverTitle: One Day in December by Josie Silver
Published by Broadway Books
Published: October 16th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pages: 416
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

A Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick

“Get ready to be swept up in a whirlwind romance. It absolutely charmed me.” —Reese Witherspoon

“Josie Silver writes with a warmth so palpable her characters sneak their way into your heart and stay for a long time.”—Jill Santopolo, New York Times-bestselling author of The Light We Lost

Two people. Ten chances. One unforgettable love story.

Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn't exist anywhere but the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there's a moment of pure magic...and then her bus drives away.

Certain they're fated to find each other again, Laurie spends a year scanning every bus stop and cafe in London for him. But she doesn't find him, not when it matters anyway. Instead they "reunite" at a Christmas party, when her best friend Sarah giddily introduces her new boyfriend to Laurie. It's Jack, the man from the bus. It would be.

What follows for Laurie, Sarah and Jack is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.

Josie Silver’s One Day in December was the perfect, magical Christmas read I wanted. It reminded me a lot of the movie Love, Actually in its tone, but it was also new and fresh as well. One Day in December follows two friends, Laurie and Sarah, as they navigate life from the day Laurie sees Jack at the bus stop until the end of the book. A year after Laurie sees a man at the bus stop and has an immediate connection with him (and during that year doesn’t stop looking for him), Sarah brings that same exact man to a holiday party, and his name is Jack. Laurie and Jack recognize each other immediately, and over the course of almost a decade try to make the right choices in their own lives even though they are continually drawn to each other.

I loved how the story was told in alternating points of view of Laurie and Jack and that each of them felt well developed, growing and changing as time went on while each of them still had a deeply rooted, sometimes inexplicable, connection with each other. It was love at first sight, and both of them remained connected from that moment at the bus stop.

It’s a modern fairy tale, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I couldn’t put it down, and I can’t wait to read her next one!

BOOK REVIEW: The Wolf in the Whale, by Jordanna Max Brodsky

BOOK REVIEW: The Wolf in the Whale, by Jordanna Max BrodskyTitle: The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
Published by Redhook
Published: January 29th 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Historical
Pages: 544
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

A young Inuit shaman's epic quest for survival in the frozen lands of North America in 1000 AD.

Born with the soul of a hunter and the language of the gods, Omat is destined to become a shaman like her grandfather. To protect her people, she invokes the spirits of the sky, the sea, and the air.

But the gods have stopped listening, the seals won't come, and Omat's family is starving.

Desperate to save them, Omat journeys through the icy wastes, fighting for survival with every step. When she meets a Viking warrior and his strange new gods, together they set in motion a conflict that could shatter her world...or save it.

The Wolf in the Whale is a powerful tale of magic, discovery and adventure, featuring an unforgettable narrator ready to confront the gods themselves.

Brodsky’s novel, The Wolf in the Whale, was an incredibly immersive read from the get-go. After reading the first few chapters and getting familiar with the setting and the story, I didn’t want to stop reading it. The story follows Omat of an Inuit tribe through their journey across land and through life. I loved the gender fluidity of Omat, and their struggles in finding their identity. When they meet a Norseman named Brandr, Omat struggles even more with their identity and their place in the world at large and in their own personal world.

The Wolf in the Whale is violent, full of terrible things that happen to Omat and their people, and to everyone Omat meets. It’s a reminder that the past was violent in people conquering other people and in people colonizing “new” worlds, and Brodsky doesn’t shy away from any of it. None of what happens to the characters in this book feels like it was thrown in as a plot device. Omat and Brandr felt real, their cultures and mythologies felt immediate and real, and the brutalities of the past balanced with the more tender, personal moments.

I don’t want to give too much away in this review because so much of what happens is so integral to the story, but let it be known that this is a hefty book and once I started reading it, I got hooked and couldn’t put it down. If you enjoy rich, expansive historical fantasies with memorable characters and mythology so real you can almost taste it, don’t pass up reading The Wolf in the Whale.

A complimentary copy of the book was provided to me for review via Netgalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.