Thursday, 22 February 2018

Review :: The Girl in the Tower :: Katherine Arden

I always think it is a bit tricky to talk in isolation a book that is part of a series but not the first book - to much missing context, not to mention risk of spoilers for earlier books! So today, instead of just talking about The Girl in the Tower - book two in the Winternight Trilogy - I'm going to talk a bit more generally about the series and include book one - The Bear and the Nightingale - too.

I read The Bear and the Nightingale in 2017, and picked it up of its beautiful cover. (I'm starting to wonder whether I should be embarrassed about how often my reading is decided by how pretty covers are? haha). Here's the summary of The Bear and the Nightingale, from Goodreads, just to set the scene a bit...

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn't mind--she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse's fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa's mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa's new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa's stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed--this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse's most frightening tales.

This series feels to me kind of like Tolstoy's works had a baby with Tolkien's - there is a fantastic feeling of an epic fantasy-ish adventure set on the backdrop of a Russia that is written in a way that  makes it feel like historical fiction.

This combination really hit the spot for me for a bunch of reasons...
  • There was something about the writing that I just can't put my finger on that made it feel like a traditional fairy tale - all lush and magical
  • I am fascinated by the books set where a society is moving from the old beliefs to Christianity, and we get to see the tension between the two - the people almost converted but still a bit afraid to upset their traditional spirits, and the church saying that they are being punished for not being  dedicated enough to God. And, in particular, the role of women in this time - where we see, for instance, healer women and accusations of witchcraft. This was something I also loved in Hannah Kent's The Good People, and am keen to read more about (please leave me some recommendations in the comments if you have any!)
  • And, along the same lines, I'm really interested at the moment in fiction that examines the role of women in society - in this case these is the very clear expectation on Vasilisa that her future is either as wife and mother or in convent - and what happens when a women rejects both of these options (again with the 'witch' accusations).

In terms of reading challenges, this book met the criteria for one task on the Read Harder Challenge -
5. A book set in or about one of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, or South Africa) - this being set in Russia.

Oh, and one more thing - I found it took me a little while to remember all the names and who was who when picked up the second book, so I'd recommend reading them together (although it all did come back to me pretty quickly). Quite a lot of Russian words pop up in the text, but there is a glossary, so make sure you check that out!

xo Bron

The Girl in the Tower is out now from Penguin Random House, and (according to Goodreads) it looks like the final book in the trilogy  - The Winter of the Witch - is due out this August.
Thank-you to Penguin Random House for providing me with a free e-copy of The Girl in the Tower  (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review!

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Top Ten Tuesday :: Books I've decided I'm no longer interested in reading

Top ten Tuesday is a weekly blog meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week's prompt was to talk about books I'm no longer interested in reading.

This was a tricky one for me to write about, since I generally avoid talking about negative stuff here one my blog, but also because I don't tend to take stuff off my to be read list, just prioritise everything else above it, so I hadn't really thought about it.

On giving it a bit more thought, the obvious answer that came to me was classics, which was closely followed by stuff by mostly dead, mostly white guys that I thought I needed to read because you're supposed to if you want to be well read (or something). Rather than ten titles I'm listing 5 men that I thought i should read but who I'm letting go of so I can prioritise other stuff that is more important/relevant to me today instead (with the proviso that I might totally change my mind in the future, but if I do it will because I want to read them, rather than because I feel like I should!).

1) Tolkien - Ok, I've tried with Tolkien (LOTR and The Hobbit) and I can just never get into it.

2) Tolstoy - I would love to have the patience for Tolstoy, since I have no doubt that his work is brilliant, but I just haven't found it yet (and I'm getting to be ok with that!)... I loved the BBC adaptation of War and Peace last year, though!

3) Stephen King - I have never read anything by Stephen King, and which I had thought I might, but now I just don't think I am keen enough to invest the time in it.

4) Charles Dickens - Maybe one day, but for now I think I'm happy with an annual listening to Patrick Stewart read A Christmas Carol on audio

5) Gabriel Garcia Marquez - I struggled through quite a bit of Gabriel Garcia Marquez in the original Spanish during my years studying language at university, and I while I thought I wanted to read more I haven't been ready yet!

See what everyone else isn't interested in reading over at The Artsy Reader Girl =)

 xo Bron

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Sunday stack :: The Stella Prize longlist

Kind of a mini stack tonight - I have a bunch of books to talk about, but only these three in my hands. These are books that have been longlisted for The Stella Prize, a literary award for Australian women's writing - both fiction and non-fiction - you can read more about it on the Stella Prize website here.

The longlist for the Stella Prize consists of 12 books, and the shortlist of 6 will be announced on International Women's day - Thursday 8th March, and we'll find out who the winner is on 12 April. Last year I bought a set of the 6 shortlisted books from Readings and really enjoyed reading them. I only got through 4 by the time that the winner was announced, so this year I'm planning to start reading from the longlist, in the hope that I'll have a couple of the shortlist read already.

So these are the three I have managed to get my hands on already, either on loan from friends or the library...

I have seen The Choke around a bit, but the other two - like many of the books on the longlist - have not been on my radar at all, which is one of the fantastic things abut reading an award list like this - they are things I haven't heard about and would not have picked up otherwise.

You can see all of the longlisted books, and find out a bit more about them - including the judges report for each over on the Stella website. If you have read any of the longlist I'd love to hear what you thought, and will be happy to take any advice on which to read next after these three!

xo Bron

Saturday, 17 February 2018

#loveOzYA :: In the Dark Spaces :: Cally Black

I had heard a little bit about In the Dark Spaces after Cally Black won the Ampersand Prize, and I was pleased when the Read Harder Challenge gave me an excuse to bump it up my tbr, with task 17 - A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author.

'Dark' is right there i the title of this novel, and gosh was it dark! The book opens with the protagonist, Tamara, being kidnapped by 'Crowpeople' and finding herself in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by apparently violent people whose language she can't understand. I felt like every bit of Tamara's anxiety and discomfort in this situation came right off the page - this is one of those books where I had that uncomfortable feeling all the way through (in a very, very good way!).

Besides being a cracking sci-fi story, I loved the way this story got me thinking about belonging, and otherness, and how much trying to understand each other can mean - even when we don't/can't agree. Also, about having to choose between our home, and a place where we feel at home. So many feelings!

 In terms of read-alikes, while this wasn't actually like Sleeping Giants (and Waking Gods) there was something similar about the vibe of the books that felt similar to me (I think it was that feeling of dread as you read!) .

I've mentioned above that this met a Read Harder Challenge task, and it was also my pick for the Australian YA bloggers prompt for January - Among the Stars.

xo Bron

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Top Ten Tuesday :: LOVE

Top ten Tuesday is a weekly blog meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week's prompt was a 'love' freebie. Obviously I'm not one to pass up an excuse to talk LOVEOzYA, so my interpretation of the prompt was kind of a no-brainer (ok, it actually took me all week to come up with something, and I'm a bit embarrassed since it's so obvious haha).

So here are ten loveOzYA books that I love.  =)
1. If I Tell You - Alicia Tuckerman. 
I finished this one just today - watch out for a review coming soon, but I loved this book. I definitely recommend reading it! It's a contemporary YA love story, set in a tiny town in rural Australia. Make sure you have the tissues nearby!
2. Tomorrow When the War Began- John Marsden
John Marsden's Tomorrow series is probably my all time favourite Australian YA book, and it has held up to multiple rereads without me ever getting sick of it. I talk a bit about it here.

3. A Shadow's Breath - Nicole Hayes
I read three YA novels by Nicole Hayes last year, and while I liked all of them I think this was my favourite. It's contemporary YA, and gave me ALL THE FEELINGS (so again with the tissues)

4. The Intern - Gabrielle Tozer
 'Finishing school and movie away to uni' is one of my favourite coming-of-age tropes in Oz YA, and Gabi Tozer does a fantastic job in this book.

5. #LoveOzYA Begin, End, Begin - a short story anthology edited by Danielle Binks
This short story collection is so good! There is loads of variety, so I feel like there is something for everyone in here, AND it is a perfect way to sample work from a bunch of Australia's best Aussie YA authors.

6. The Boundless Sublime - Lilli Wilkinson
I read a couple of books about cults last year, and this was probably my favourite - so creepy!

7. The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl - Melissa Keil
Like The Intern, this is a story about what happens when school is done and you you and your friends are heading in a different directions. It's set in across the Christmas holidays, and there was something about the characters in this that I just felt made them so perfectly relate-able!

8. Illuminae - Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
YA sci-fi set on a spaceship, I loved the way the story of this book is told in interviews and articles etc like some kind of dossier, rather than a traditional narrative.

9. Fairytales for Wilde Girls - Allyse Near
This book is different to anything I've ever read, I think. It's contemporary YA with a twist of fantasy - maybe magical realism? And its pretty quirky.

10. Draekora (and, tbh, all of the Medoran Chronicles) - Lynette Noni
I've talked about this series before (also here), check it out if you haven't already!

Check out what everyone is saying about bookish love today here

xo Bron

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Sunday stack :: Lifeline Bookfair Haul

The Lifeline Bookfair comes to Canberra three times a year, and I try to go along to at least two of the three - I mean, tables and tables of secondhad books for sale and proceeds to charity? What's not to love?

The Bookfair runs for the whole weekend, and if you go along on the Sunday afternoon you can take advantage of the 'bag sale' - where you pay $20 for as many books as you can fit in a standard supermarket bag.

I split a bag with my partner and here's what we had in there today:

Because there are so many books, and because they are only organised into broad categories, it isn't always possible to find specific books so I always like to go in with a rough plan instead - this year I was after #loveOzYA books, as well as books by Daphne du Maurier, Louise Penny, and Sarah Waters.

And I think I did pretty well! Two du Mauriers, and YA books by a bunch of Aussie authors including Jaclyn Moriarty, Melina Marchetta, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Ellie Marney and more! Its a bit hard to see here, but I also snagged a near new condition copy of Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, which I have been keeping an eye out for in bookstores for ages!

I'll share a bit more about these as they  come up in my TBR list - they should keep busy for a while  =)

Xo Bron

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Review :: Zenith :: Sasha Alsberg & Lindsay Cummings

Despite being a fan of sci-fi on the screen, I hardly read any (and, weirdly, vice-versa for fantasy - I don't watch a lot but it makes up most of my reading). With Zenith, the stars kind of aligned (haha, stars, sci-fi, space  - see what I did there?) - the Read Harder Challenge 2018 includes a task about female author/protagonist sci-fi, I'd heard a bit of buzz about this book, and Harlequin Books had review copies available. It's YA sci-fi featuring a crew of female space pirates... how could I say no?

Most know Androma Racella as the Bloody Baroness, a powerful mercenary whose reign of terror stretches across the Mirabel Galaxy. To those aboard her glass starship, Marauder, however, she's just Andi, their friend and fearless leader.

But when a routine mission goes awry, the Marauder's all-girl crew is tested as they find themselves in a treacherous situation and at the mercy of a sadistic bounty hunter from Andi's past.

Meanwhile, across the galaxy, a ruthless ruler waits in the shadows of the planet Xen Ptera, biding her time to exact revenge for the destruction of her people. The pieces of her deadly plan are about to fall into place, unleashing a plot that will tear Mirabel in two.

Andi and her crew embark on a dangerous, soul-testing journey that could restore order to their shipor just as easily start a war that will devour worlds. As the Marauder hurtles toward the unknown, and Mirabel hangs in the balance, the only certainty is that in a galaxy run on lies and illusion, no one can be trusted...

This is a pretty huge book (the review copy I had was over 500 pages) but once I started I got thorough it quickly, and gaaaah! I thought it was so good! It gave me my first GIANT book hangover of 2018! (sequel now please?)

It just felt like an adventure from the very start. I loved the fierce but flawed female protagonists (space pirates!), and thought the couple of AI characters were really fun. I'm not a reader who needs every single detail about an alien world described, but I thought the world building gave me plenty to imagine, and I liked that there was some political intrigue - this gave it a bit of a 'Queen of the Tearling' feeling for me.  I saw some of my favourite tropes in this book, and enjoyed the twists (I was surprised!). I'm looking forward to the next book in the Androma series!

In terms of reading challenges, this meets the criteria for two Book Riot Reader Harder Challenge tasks:
16. The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series
17. A sci fi novel with a female protagonist by a female author

Thanks so much to Harlequin Books for sending me a free copy of Zenith in exchange for an honest review.