BOOK REVIEW: The Unicorn Anthology, edited by Peter S. Beagle

BOOK REVIEW: The Unicorn Anthology, edited by Peter S. BeagleTitle: The Unicorn Anthology by Peter S. Beagle, Jacob Weisman, Garth Nix, Carrie Vaughn, Patricia A. McKillip, Bruce Coville, Carlos Hernandez, Karen Joy Fowler, Jane Yolen, Nancy Springer, Cailtin R. Kiernan, Margo Lanagan
Published by Tachyon Publications
Published: April 19th 2019
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 288
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

“What a treasure trove!”—Sarah Beth Durst, author of Queen of the Blood

Unicorns: Not just for virgins anymore. Here are sixteen lovely, powerful, intricate, and unexpected unicorn tales from fantasy icons including Garth Nix, Peter S. Beagle, Patricia A. McKillip, Bruce Coville, Carrie Vaughn, and more. In this volume you will find two would-be hunters who enlist an innkeeper to find a priest hiding the secret of the last unicorn. A time traveler tries to corral an unruly mythological beast that might never have existed at all. The lover and ex-boyfriend of a dying woman join forces to find a miraculous remedy in New York City. And a small-town writer of historical romances discovers a sliver of a mysterious horn in a slice of apple pie.

I love unicorns. The mythology surrounding unicorns is so intriguing to me, especially when the traditional concepts of unicorns are broken down, dismantled, and challenged, and the idea of innocence and purity is explored in so many of the stories in this volume. What does it mean, ultimately, to be innocent and pure? How can one take the familiar myths of unicorns and subvert them?

This is not an anthology for younger readers, as there are references to bestiality (didn’t finish this story), references to sexual acts, and references to heavy-handed violence to people of all ages. This is a collection of stories that will make you reconsider the unicorn trope, and the collection includes a wide variety of stories to appeal  Overall, it’s a solid collection of stories, and I found myself wishing for a few more at the end.

My favorites were “The Maltese Unicorn” by Caitlín R. Kiernan (the lesbian unicorn noir you didn’t know you needed to read until now), “Ghost Town” by Jack C. Haldeman II (brother of Joe Haldeman!, and I also love western-esque stories about rogues being changed by chance encounters in nearly-abandoned towns), “The Highest Justice” by Garth Nix (I love anything Nix writes), “Survivor” by Dave Smeds (a Vietnam soldier gets a unicorn tattooed on his chest and therefore cannot die), “Homeward Bound” by Bruce Coville (he wrote a series of unicorn books for middle grade readers that I thoroughly enjoyed and was happy to see another unicorn story by him!), and “The Transfigured Hart” by Jane Yolen (anything she writes is pure magic and pure joy).

This collection comes with a recommendation from me, especially with the introduction by Peter S. Beagle himself.

This releases April 19, 2019! Thank you to Tachyon Pub and Netgalley for a complimentary copy to read and review. All opinions are my own

BOOK REVIEW: The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See

BOOK REVIEW: The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa SeeTitle: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
Published by Scribner
Published: March 5th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 384
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

A new novel from Lisa See, the New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and family secrets on a small Korean island.

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story—one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them—The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.

Lisa See’s new book, out March 5, is a stunning story of two women separated by tragedy. Set mostly on Jeju Island before, during, and after World War II, See explores the strength and tribulations of women in all aspects of their lives — from their work as haenyo (deep sea divers), mothers, daughters, sisters, friends — and brings history to life through the lives of two friends: Young-sook and Mjia.

Told through interweaving timelines, from the more distant past of pre- and post-WWII to the more recent past of 2008, See takes us to Jeju Island through the eyes of Young-sook as she grows up, learns to dive and provide for herself and her family, marries, starts a family of her own, and struggles to survive through WWII and its aftermath. It’s a brutal history, devastating from all angles, that See weaves into the life of Young-Sook, but it’s incredibly empowering and a pleasure to read as the book is a testament to the strength and resilience of women.

I will admit, before reading this, I had very vague knowledge of Korea’s involvement in WWII (as I grow older, I realize how much of my history education stopped around the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the century and didn’t seem to focus much on the World Wars or anything after, and this is something I am actively rectifying!), and I no prior knowledge of Jeju Island, the matriarchal culture, and the haenyo. After reading this and being so intrigued by these women’s lives, I definitely want to read more about it. See’s book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s been several years since I revisited her work, and I’m delighted by the relationship between two women and their families in The Island of Sea Women. I now want to go back and read the books of hers I haven’t read yet because I think See is a master at weaving in the personal, private lives of women with extraordinary circumstances in history.

The Island of Sea Women is already one of my favorite books of 2019, so don’t miss it!

Thank you to Scribner Books for sending me a complimentary advance copy to read and review. All opinions are my own.

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.

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.