Monday, May 6, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday : Characters that Remind Me of Myself

Visual Description: Simple, clear font writing. 'top ten' (in pink, no caps). "TUESDAY" (all caps, bolded, colors alternating between yellow, orange, and pink). "www.ThatArtsyReaderGirl.com" (smaller font, in pink, at bottom).

Anne Shirley of Green Gables

Visual Description: A fiery red head tween girl with very messy braids and a messy flower crown on her head turns around and lifts a basket to someone and smiles a enthusiastic toothy smile. She is outside and wearing a plain brown dress. (Note: this is from the Netflix Anne series)
I was reading Anne of Green Gables books since I was probably...I want to say eight. I was a fast reader and voraciously devoured the books. She was an expression of my inner self and the vast imagination that I held inside my heart. She was the version of myself that I didn't feel comfortable or accepted in being in my real life. She was and is my literary kindred spirit. 

Jane Eyre

Visual Description: Screenshot from Jane Eyre 2011. Jane is standing in a golden field, its dreary but clear out, behind her is a stone estate home. She is wearing a blue cloak with her hands holding the hood in place over her head. She is wearing a somber, modest but expensive gown.

Jane Eyre, oh Jane Eyre. She is a part of me. She really is. Here are two quotes that convinced me that I have been a Jane Eyre in a previous life: 

“’I am not an angel,’ I asserted; ‘and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester, you must neither expect nor exact anything celestial of me–for you will not get it, any more than I shall get it of you: which I do not at all anticipate.’”

“No sight so sad as that of a naughty child," he began, "especially a naughty little girl. Do you know where the wicked go after death?"
"They go to hell," was my ready and orthodox answer.
"And what is hell? Can you tell me that?"
"A pit full of fire."
"And should you like to fall into that pit, and to be burning there for ever?"
"No, sir."
"What must you do to avoid it?"
I deliberated a moment: my answer, when it did come was objectionable: "I must keep in good health and not die.”


Emma

Visual Description: Emma (portrayed by Gwenyth Paltrow). A thin, golden haired beauty is sitting in a parlor (top half visible). She is wearing a pale sea green regency gown. She takes a sip from a teacup while turning her head to the left. It portrays a bit of sass and attitude. 
Ok so hilariously? I don't quite like Emma as much. She has always been one of least favorite of the Austen heroines. And, alas, according to the woman who gave birth to me and my very best friend - I am quite like her. Why? Because I'm a bit...bossy? Not bossy. No, never bossy. Just...I like to fix things and I express my opinions on how to accomplish the fixing of things very well. I also care a lot and I'm convinced that if my sisters just LISTENED to me then they would never have an issue. I'm also very independent and have a very close relationship with my father. 

Cath from Fangirl

Visual Description: Illustrated cartoon image. Salmon pink background. A redhead young woman in a green cardigan, red hair tied back in a bun, and glasses is typing on a laptop with the image of two cartoon men on its screen. One has long dark hair and the other has light hair. Hearts are around them. 

Cath is a introvert, a fandom lover, a fanfic writer who dreams of being published someday, and she and I have a lot in common. She can be taken out of herself but only by the best kind of people. Again, she's close to her Dad. Like I am. And she and I have very similar social anxieties. Kudos to my best friend Madie for pointing her out for this list. 

Jo March

Visual Description: Jo March (portrayed by Maya Hawke Thurman) is sitting on the floor of an attic. Dressed in a white nineteenth century gown, her messy light brown hair is pinned back at the nape of her neck, she is looking upwards and grinning at someone. 
Many times have my sister and I considered which March girl we were. I've always firmly believed she was a cross between Meg and Amy while I was a cross between Jo and Beth. However, over the years, I've become increasingly more Jo than anything else. Her feelings are my feelings, her desires are often my desires. So when I'm asked 'Which March Sister Are You?' - it's always Jo March. 

Caris Weaver from A World Without End

Visual Description: A long dark haired woman, her hair flowing down her sides, is strolling through a medieval market. She is wearing a plain off-white gown with a beige over-apron with flowers pressed into the fabric. A leather satchel is over her shoulder in a casual manner and a apple is in her hands and held in front of her. 
I love Follet's Kingsbridge Trilogy. Caris is a main character in the second one and she is so independent and driven. She is forced to become a Nun or be burned a witch and instead of giving up on her dreams she uses it to fulfill her goal to open up a hospital. Years later she defies everything and gives up the cloth to be with her one true love. Her legacy lives on the city. I might not be as fierce as she is nor as clever - I definitely am inspired by her and hope to have a small part of her tenacity inside of me. 

Agnieska from Uprooted 

Visual Description: A cropped and expanded picture taken from the cover of the book. A brown haired young woman with her eyes closed is leaning over a golden rose with vines growing from it. She has strong but gentle features and looks at peace. On either side of her are shelves. One has two green dragons poking their heads through. One has a open book with pages flying out. One has a hawk. And another had a golden haired lady in a white medieval gown with an outstretched hand towards her. 
Agnieska! One of my favorites! Her clumsy and emotionally based way of weaving magic and finding her way through dangerous ordeals with practical determination and intuition vibes with my own. She rather be comfortable than expensively clothed. She is the one person no one thinks would be chosen by the dragon or to have magic in her. But she is and she finds that she has a unique way of magic that ends of saving her home. And, while, I don't have a special kind of magic weaving ability inside of me - I do understand the way she sees and feels things out instead of subscribing to every letter and rule in the instructions. I work best that way too. 

This isn't ten but it's super late and I'm rather tired. So I'll leave it here. I can't wait to see what other people come up with! 

Until next time, 

Jess

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Penny Reid, Smart Romances, and the bearded Winston brothers....

A couple of years ago I dated a guy with a beard. A beard reminiscent of the Duck Dynasty fellows. And then like it was total Universe-ordained synchronicity I caught my eyes on the cover for Winston Brothers #3 "Beard Science". The wildness of the beard digitally cross-stitched on the cover was nearly identical to the beard of my then-current beau. I, of course, picked it up for the irony of it. And while my bearded beau and I did not last - me and the author of the bearded brothers series were to embark on a long-term reader-author relationship that has yet to fizzle out. 

Penny Reid self entitles herself as the author of 'smart romances'. Romances that do not coddle the reader and books that include smart ladies with interesting edges and backgrounds. I, being a mildly intelligent and discerning reader with a few edges and a interesting background myself, was intrigued by this statement 'Smart Romance' and I fell in love with Beard Science and with Cletus and all the Winstons (and most of all - the Banana Cake Queen leading lady who stole my heart faster than she stole Cletus's). 

I have not read every single book in the series yet nor have I read many of her others but each book in each of her many series seems to be able to be read as a standalone novel. Which is why I was able to hop right into the third official book of the Winston Brothers series without feeling like I was lost in a sea of pre-established story lines. And, yes, I do find this a very smart move. Get it? Smart. Yea. I'm cheesy that way. Her other series include (but not exclusive to) - Knitting in the City Series, Hypothesis Series, Rugby Series, Ideal Man Series. 

I have a fondness for imaginative authors who don't mind being upfront and very clear about their genre. Example...my befuddling and slightly embarrassing but entirely guilty pleasure obsession with Kirsten Ashley's Fantasy Land and the Dream Man series. It's a successful genre for a reason and there's just no point in trying to make it otherwise when you're writing it. Honestly, just own what you write. It gives you freedom to rock what you got. Penny Reid is a perfect example of this. I prefer authors who aren't afraid of being like "Yea, my main characters are fantasy men. They're real and perfect and flawed but yea, in a perfect way, and I write them so you can root for them. I own it. And so should you. BECAUSE THAT IS THE GENRE I WRITE IN." In her case especially, I think her ownership of her chosen genre gives her the ability to stomp over formulaic cliches and write romances with fantasy-level characters in a very real way. 

To me, The Winston Brothers are a huge fantasy. Handsome, bearded, genius, diverse but complementary personalities, tight-knit, and honorable. As a reader you alternate between wishing that you were a long lost Winston or fated to marry one of them. Err...well, at least that's what I was feeling when I read them. (Note : I haven't finished the series yet - the last one isn't published yet. So the jury is out on which I'll end up being. Long lost sister or destined soulmate although..now that I think about it - if my former bearded beau ended up being half as dashing and sturdy as a Winston brother...our story would have ended a whole other way). 

I recently (as of yesterday) finished the first actual novel in the series. I have read the .5 book (the Winston Brothers is a spin off of the Knitting in the City series and features the one and only Winston sister Ashley) and I have read Beard Science. I'm currently listening/reading my way through Grin or Beard It (Winston #2). To be honest, Cletus is my favorite and I wish I hadn't started with his because the other brothers pale in comparison to his mad genius brain. And the other brothers are absolutely amazing it's just...Cletus is my favorite. I want more of him and his no-longer Banana Cake Queen. Because I think its best to start with the first novel of the series (despite each being able to be read as a standalone) I've included the first 'Truth or Beard" (Winston #1) here:    

Truth or Beard by Penny Reid (Winston #1)

Visual Description : The digitally created cover is set up as a cross-stitch piece in a wooden frame. A outline of a man with a red beard and hair with 'Truth or Beard' where his face features should be is cross-stitched in the center. Above and below is a line of blue hearts. Every illustration except the wooden frame is cross-stitched. Note: All covers in this series is set up the exact way except the beard and hair styles are different colors and shapes as they depict the Winston brother the book features. (Beard Science is more zany)
"Beards, brothers, and bikers! Oh my! Identical twins Beau and Duane Winston might share the same devastatingly handsome face, but where Beau is outgoing and sociable, Duane is broody and reserved. This is why Jessica James, recent college graduate and perpetual level-headed good girl, has been in naïve and unhealthy infatuation with Beau Winston for most of her life. His friendly smiles make her tongue-tied and weak-kneed, and she’s never been able to move beyond her childhood crush. Whereas Duane and Jessica have always been adversaries. She can’t stand him, and she’s pretty sure he can’t stand the sight of her…But after a case of mistaken identity, Jessica finds herself in a massive confusion kerfuffle. Jessica James has spent her whole life paralyzed by the fantasy of Beau and her assumptions of Duane’s disdain; therefore she’s unprepared for the reality that is Duane’s insatiable interest, as well as his hot hands and hot mouth and hotter looks. Not helping Jessica’s muddled mind and good girl sensibilities, Duane seems to have gotten himself in trouble with the local biker gang, the Iron Wraith. Certainly, Beau’s magic spell is broken. Yet when Jessica finds herself drawn to the man who was always her adversary, now more dangerous than ever, how much of her level-head heart is she willing to risk?" - Nabbed from the Goodreads Blurb 

Yes, the main female lead has my name. And yes, I enjoyed that immensely. There were some very distinct differences between us though. She was a Calculus teacher. I never took Calculus. If I had I would have most likely suffered a nervous break down. Math is NOT my thing. I do, however, really admire how she commented on the sexist Halloween tradition of sexifying everyday career choices and mundane objects/creatures such as bees by dressing as a sexy Gandalf in the first chapter. That's how I knew I could get along with her. There was a beard and a hat and a very sexy short skirt.

Enough said? I think so.

I have yet to read my way through Penny Reid's entire library of books but I've adopted the habit of visiting her stacks several times a year. I loved Beard Science so much that I've listened to it five times over the last year and it took me some time to move on from it! (Again - don't start with Beard Science, start with .5 or Truth or Beard! Heed my advice!). Sometime soon I intend to be reading my way backwards through the Knitting in the City series. While she has earned her place in the quality list I keep of authors who I trust to purchase before reading...Reid's not in my library app and I have a strict budget in regards to what I purchase each month. She's got a huge list and I have a lot of books on my to-be-purchased TBR list.

I encourage you to give her and/or the bearded Winston Brothers a try when you next feel like your in the mood for a smart romance.

Happy reading!

Until next time,

Jess

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Another...Reading Round Up!

I'm feeling that it's time to do another reading round up! I've read several books over the past few months that I haven't blogged about. Perhaps because they're already established/well-known, I liked  them but didn't really feel like doing a blog on them, or I just was too busy.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

Visual Description: "Red Clocks" in a minimal white calligraphy font. Behind it is a flat, red diamond prism in various shades of red. It is a geometric symbol of the opening of a vagina. It reaches all the way up the top and bottom of the cover. Written in the same calligraphy font but in  yellow around the shape is :  "National Bestseller" across the top, Leni Zumas (Leni on one side of the top of the diamond, Zumas on the other). Bottom left 'A Novel' and on the other side a description "Strange and lovely and luminous. I loved RED CLOCKS with my whole heart - Kelly Link'. 
"Five women. One question. What is a woman for? In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers alongside age-old questions surrounding motherhood, identity, and freedom. Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro's best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or "mender," who brings all their fates together when she's arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt." - Nabbed from the Goodreads Blurb

I read this a few months ago - both reading it and listening to its audio-book. It was around the time that I was withdrawing from The Handmaid's Tale (the show) finale. It is a book that I would suggest to anyone who appreciates The Handmaid's Tale, for sure. But, unlike The Handmaid's Tale, the reality that is written in Red Clock's is far, far closer to our world. I find The Handmaid's Tale uncomfortable for it's closeness to our current political and social climate. Red Clock makes Handmaid's Tale feel more close to the world of The Hunger Games than ours. Scary. But, thought and feelings provoking. 

I refrained from blogging about it because I just didn't quite vibe with the writer's tone. I also had some problems with the characters. The Wife seemed extraneous to me. As for the writer's voice - I felt she was specifically taking on a masculine tone to prove something. I'm not sure. But, it didn't feel authentic. Mildly posing? I think this book would be great for a male reader and it's not surprising that The Punisher's Jon Bernthal tweeted his book love for 'Red Clocks'. It seems like JUST the book to reach through to the mind of a guy who inhabits Frank Castle so easily. 

The problems addressed in the plot are real and reaching. I thought the conclusion was satisfying and the decisions (from my fading memory of the plot) made by the characters were in-character and understandable. 

My personal opinions on writers tone and character placement wouldn't be everyone's reaction. That is why I'm starting this particular Reading Round up with it. It's a strong book and worthy of throwing out there as a book suggestion. 


A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness


Visual Description: A mystical, midnight cover. The background is in shades of midnight blue and darkness. The nighttime sky with light esoteric circle symbols with lines drawn to each other etches in front of it takes up 80% of the background. The lowest bottom part is a nighttime cityscape (probably London). The title is in large white slightly older feeling font in the center of the cover. Above, in simple straight font is "DEBORAH HARKNESS", below that in a smaller yellow font : "1 New York Times Bestselling Author of Shadow of Night and The Book Of Life"
"Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell." - Nabbed from the Goodreads Blurb.

A Discovery of Witches quickly falls into the category of "It's already so well known and has been for a long while, I felt redundant and late in the game in blogging about it". However, the love I have for this book and the two books that come after it in the All Soul's Trilogy is VERY real and I can't help but share it here. 

Vampire romance is not a ground-breaking genre. It's not even a genre that has ever really gone out of style. It's been around and will always be around. Even when you go through the inevitable post-Twilight detox and can't imagine ever reading another vampire fiction again - you still find yourself intrigued by the premise. But, alas, some (a lot) of vamp fics out there are...horrible, lazy, trope-ish, and wrought with mary-sues. A Discovery of Witches does not at all fall into that category. 

It is so intelligent, emotional, and refreshing. Marrying science and copious amounts of luxurious history and the metaphysical into a tale with it's own original lore that resides in our own normal, mundane world so easily that it's curious to imagine it's legitimate. Diana is a convincing, refreshing heroine and while I had some annoyances with the male lead - he was swoon worthy and original. Diana has a history, interests, passions, and personality traits. So does Matthew (male vampire lead). 

A Discovery of Witches reminds me a great deal of Outlander. Mostly because the author is a historian who actually found a long lost alchelmical manuscript in the Bodleian Library in Oxford - just like her main character. She draws on her vast education and experiences and passions to weave the tale. The story is mature, deeply intelligent, intense and sexual (but doesn't stray too far into Anne Rice territory). Very Gaboldon-esque of her, right? 

The next two novels in the trilogy hold up and I loved everything about it. Also - it was adapted into a TV show and can be found on Sundance or Shudder. Season 1 covered A Discovery of Witches, Season 2 looks like it will jump right into the second novel. While the show was great and I'm tempted to do a book-to-screen post about it, I must insist that you read the books first. 

Because they are awesome. Super, duper awesome. And I just typed 'super, duper'..and you know what? I'm going to leave it there. 

A Strange, Scottish Shore by Juliana Gray


Visual Description: This is a illustrated cover with the artwork heavily featured and explanatory of the premise. A dark haired woman in a gray, plain Victorian-esque travelling attire and a gray hat with a ribbon ta the back is standing on a grassy rise with her back turned to the viewer, two suitcases in her hand, and the wind pulling back her neat hairdo and hat ribbons. She is looking towards a castle on a cliff on the sea, the ocean shore calm in front of her, a small boat moored on the beach. Clouds build in the background but the day is clear and the sun is setting. The title in simple, old-tymey print features at the top "A Strange Scottish Shore'. At the bottom is the author's details in large and small white fonts "Juliana Gray", "Author of A Most Extraordinary Pursuit". And a small quote clip in black font where the shore is detailing "A heroine worth rooting for. - Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author." 
"Scotland, 1906. A mysterious object discovered inside an ancient castle calls Maximilian Haywood, the new Duke of Olympia, and his fellow researcher Emmeline Truelove, north to the remote Orkney Islands. No stranger to the study of anachronisms in archeological digs, Haywood is nevertheless puzzled by the artifact: a suit of clothing, which, according to family legend, once belonged to a selkie who rose from the sea in ancient times and married the castle’s first laird. But Haywood and Truelove soon discover they’re not the only ones interested in the selkie’s strange hide, and when their mutual friend Lord Silverton vanishes in the night from an Edinburgh street, the mystery takes a dangerous turn through time, which only Haywood’s skills and Truelove’s bravery can solve…" - Nabbed from the Goodreads Blurb

OK SO THIS BOOK WAS SO GOOD I DIDN'T REALIZE IT WAS THE SECOND IN A SERIES UNTIL I WAS HALF WAY THROUGH IT. And I have, alas, been unable to procure the first one without purchasing it and I have too many books on my TBR list to justify buying it. 

This came up for me when I looked up 'selkies' in my library's app search. I love selkies. I think they are a deeply under-rated fantasy/supernatural/magical creature. They deserve so much more than what they get. I love history (as I think I've made clear in this post and previous posts) and so I picked it up and started reading it. Within the first chapter I realize that this chick is literally talking to the ghost of THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND in a train car. Like, what?! I was hooked.

Emmeline Truelove is a lovely main character and her voice is realistic for the times but earthy and understandable. Sometimes, in the era that she lives in, the narration can be a bit pompous or distant. Like, the author is trying too hard to emulate the times or doing an impression of someone in that era? But, she's a prim and proper heroine that you root for! 

I can't reveal too much about the story without giving major spoilers away and I don't want to do that. But, I can say it was a great ride of a read and the surprises were amazing. I encourage you to read the first book in the series, though. It's always better. And I feel confident from my experience with A Strange and Scottish Shore that the first novel will be excellently written and worth recommendation. Furthermore, I am confident that there will be more books coming because there are some answers we need answering and that they too shall be excellently written. 

A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas


Visual Description: Another cover where the illustration is heavily featured and explanatory of the premise! A young woman with dark hair pinned up and in a elegant, scarlet gown with a large, hooped, ruched skirt is on a doorstep lit by two old fashioned gas lamps. The night is misty and it feels like she's in the city. She is in mid-action of entering the door. It is cracked and golden light glows from inside. Gold fillagree emblems are in each corner of the cover. The author's name and details are in mid-large and small font above the doorway at the top of the cover. "USA Times Bestselling Author of My Beautiful Enemy", "SHERRY THOMAS". Below, the title in white and large font "A Study in Scarlet Women" and in smaller golden letters describing "First in the Lady Sherlock Series" at the bottom of the cover. A small quote clip in white is placed to the left beside her scarlet skirt detailing "Sherry Thomas has done the impossible and crafted a fresh, exciting new version of Sherlock Holmes." Deanna Raybourn, New York Times bestselling author."
"With her inquisitive mind, Charlotte Holmes has never felt comfortable with the demureness expected of the fairer sex in upper class society. But even she never thought that she would become a social pariah, an outcast fending for herself on the mean streets of London. When the city is struck by a trio of unexpected deaths and suspicion falls on her sister and her father, Charlotte is desperate to find the true culprits and clear the family name. She’ll have help from friends new and old—a kind-hearted widow, a police inspector, and a man who has long loved her. But in the end, it will be up to Charlotte, under the assumed name Sherlock Holmes, to challenge society’s expectations and match wits against an unseen mastermind" - Nabbed from the Goodreads Blurb.

Gender-swapped Sherlock Holmes for the win. Much like A Discovery of Witches - the premise has been done before. It's been done in TV. It's been done in books. It's been done in the past. And it has been set in the present. So, when I picked this up (after finally doing so after my library app kept throwing it me in suggestions for eons) to try it out  I was very surprised how original it was. 

I recently read somewhere that Sherry Thomas has said she enjoys writing the type of books she enjoys reading and it totally clicked with me. Because, A Study In Scarlet Women, she effortlessly slides into the role of narrator of a intelligent, Victorian who-dun-it with little hiccup. The whole book sets up the whole series. The twist upon the twist? Charlotte Holmes is the scarlet woman and she does so by pure genius choice. She is exactly what you would think a female Holmes would be but also not at all what you think. She's better. And her supporting characters are better. And the world she lives in and solves mysteries is better. 

It's a slow burn read and mystery, alternates point of views deliciously, and does not stray from spending time on mundane day-to-day things and societal expectations and rules. While male Sherlock Holmes didn't have to worry about conventions or societal pressures - Charlotte Holmes is highly pressured to do so. Her dream is to find an occupation where she does not have to marry and one that gives her enough income to support her two unmarried sisters. One of them mentally challenged and hidden away by their lacking, disappointing parents and the other older and very much a wallflower with a great big heart but not much backbone. Oh, and! - MRS. Watson is a retired actress of means! A Victorian-era ACTRESS. While Thomas definitely resides within the realm of the original Sherlock Holmes series, she gender swaps where necessary and adds her characters (mostly of the female kind) to flesh out the feminine world that was often overlooked in the original source material. 

And it works. Big time. 

Again - like A Discovery of Witches...I have read the other books in the series and each get a thumbs up from me and the series is well known and so I felt redundant in blogging about them on their own. However they absolutely needed to be mentioned.

And that, dear reader, concludes this Reading Round Up. 

We went from Red Clocks, to A Discovery of Witches, to A Strange and Scottish Shore, and finally to A Study in Scarlet Women. I feel like I've run a blogging marathon with all the links and covers and typing I've been doing the past day! I'm going to go listen to my most recent audiobook library loan and chill. 

Happy reading!

Until next time, 

Jess











Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Nostalgia Rules by Katherine Arden

Long live the spooky middle grade reads. Katherine Arden came out with her foray into the middle school reading group last year. It took me a while to get to it but when I did I was transported back to the era of reading books in secret late into the night. Oh, sweet memories. Stashing books between my wheelchair motor and my seat to hide them from my parents because I was always grounded from reading. I was a very well behaved child (although treated like I was the worst because I was the oldest kid in the house) but I would rebel against the system for my books! Oh, how I rebelled. Books hidden EVERYWHERE. But, anyway - I get distracted...ahem...

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

Image Description: Illustrated so that the viewer is looking out from between two wide apart trees. The border of the cover are the blackened silhouettes of the trees. The right side has the black silhouette of a creepy looking scarecrow with straw hat, two empty see-through eyes, and a stitched smiling face. Above written in the branches of the trees is the title of the book "Small Spaces'. Ahead, through the forest is a school bus stopped on a road. Behind them a field of violet with dark silhouettes of scare crow and even farther a lavender silhouette of a barn and a silo. Everything outside of the forest (except for the scarecrows and bus) are various shades of violets and pinks casting the environment in twilight.

Publishing: September 25th 2018 by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Pg Count: Hardcover, 219 pages

After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn't think--she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with "the smiling man," a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price. Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she's been reading about. Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn't have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: "Best get moving. At nightfall they'll come for the rest of you." Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie's previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN. Only Ollie and two of her classmates heed the bus driver's warning. As the trio head out into the woods--bordered by a field of scarecrows that seem to be watching them--the bus driver has just one final piece of advice for Ollie and her friends: "Avoid large places. Keep to small." And with that, a deliciously creepy and hair-raising adventure begins. - Nabbed from Goodreads

Nostalgia rules forever in the land of Small Spaces. And yet, it is entirely set in modern middle school-land. Cell phones are featured - because you know all kids have cell phones now. I remember back in the day me and my brother had to share this one cell phone and we only got to have it to ourselves when we were out and about doing stuff with friends. We weren't allowed to text on it. And middle school? HA. I did not have a cell phone in middle school! I'm getting distracted again! Grr...argh...

Ahem. 

I quite enjoyed Small Spaces. It was spooky but not terrifying. I think it could be too much for a sensitive child but just right for most kids. If there are children reading this (or my niece or nephew) - its absolutely okay to read a spooky book in broad daylight with your Mom in the kitchen in easy reach of a butcher knife (to defend you, of course) and with or without a stuffie for your snuggling comfort. It's also okay to stay up with a light from the cellphone that I would have never had at your age and read until your eyes are so heavy that you fall asleep with the book plastered onto your face. Whatever works for you is great when it comes to reading a spooky book.

Ollie is the kind of girl I could have been friends with. A reader with a Dad who cooks her good food? That sounds familiar to me! And her 'sidekicks' are exactly the friends she should have. Except she doesn't know she needs to have them as her friends. Spoiler...they become her friends. 

To avoid other spoilers I won't go into detail about the actual plot. I can, however, completely rave about how Small Spaces is a spooky delight. Much like one of my favorites - Meg in A Wrinkle Of Time - she's dealing with the loss of a parent and no one seems to be able to reach her. But, through the perilous journey she will find herself with companions and challenges that work her through the grief and trauma to becoming the heroine they all require in their hours of need. Our heroine is capable, strong, and developed. Her emotional journey is satisfyingly paired with her physical and material journey. 

I think, what also makes this book so successful in execution is that it doesn't treat the reader too carefully. I think that it might be easy when writing a middle school aged book to overthink what is appropriate or not to put into the story. Being afraid of going too far in the action or too much in the facts and historical context in case you either legitimately traumatize or bore the target audience. Arden balances both with grace. It's a kids book but its not a 'I'm an Adult writing down to children' kind of book. 

The reason I'm featuring it on my blog is because I think we as adults all need to go back in time every once in a while and read a book that we would have loved when we were the targeted reading age range of said book. Its good for the spirit and one of my favorite ways to take a grown up stay-cation. 

Also - I really love Katherine Arden. 

And so I  absolutely give Small Spaces an excellent five star review and hope that you all will pick it up for yourself or gift it to the middle school reader in your life.

Happy reading!

Jess


Friday, February 8, 2019

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden


And so it ends.

This trilogy has meant so much to me. It has brought me so much joy and excitement. My love for reading started at a young age because books and stories transported me away to another world and relieved me of the stress of the real one I was living in. As I've gotten I've kind of lost that ability. I'm far too involved in adulting and other real life shenanigans to check out with a book like I did when I was a kid. But, every once in a while a book or two will grab me and keep me completely occupied long after I finish the final sentence. And with the Winter Night Trilogy - I got three books like that. I waited in anticipation for each new release. And when the final came (I got the ARC from Netgalley a couple of months before the formal release)....I found myself unable to pick it up and start it. Why? Because then it would be on its way to being over. But all things must come to an end,or so they say. More accurately - no amount of my epic levels of procrastination will stop the trilogy from coming its end and I wanted to read it and to be a part of it while it was a current discussion. I didn't want to be tooo late to the party.)

So without further ado..I bring to you my official review of the finale of the year.

Visual Description: This cover is primarily yellow, orange, and shades of wintery blue and lavender. The darkened silhouette of a young woman standing strong on a snowy boulder (her back to the audience) with a staff in her right palm. Ahead of her within her sight line are the silhouette of a medieval army. Rising above them is the pale but fiery image of a fire bird that is seemingly coming forth from her staff. It is the most striking image in the cover next to the silhouette of the young woman. Above these images bordered with old world filagree and written in blue "The Winter of the Witch". Below to the side of the woman in small italic 'a novel'. And below the woman and her rock, at the very bottom of the cover, is 'Katherine Arden. Author of The Bear and the Nightingale').
Publishing: January 8th, 2019, Del Rey
Pg Count: Ebook - 384 pgs


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.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. - Nabbed from the blurb from Goodreads. 


We pick up straight away within the aftermath of the great fire. I was a bit surprised. I had it in my imagination that we would find her roaming the wintery Russia landscape on the back of Solovey as she had done so often in the book before. But, instead - she still has soot in her hair and everyone is scrambling to repair and assess and recover.

There is so much that happens within the first few pages of the book. I can't and won't give spoilers but your heart will literally be ripped apart from your chest and you will be sobbing within the first chapters. Like no joke. The Winter of the Witch will have the FULL RANGE of emotions fill every crack in your soul before it ends.

As before (and I deeply and heavily insinuate that you shouldn't even be reading this post if you haven't read the other two books in the trilogy and in fact should go right now and get which ever one is the one you need to read in order to get caught up like RIGHT now!) and in true Winternight fashion - we say hello to familiar friends and meet some new ones along the way. Arden dances a beautiful dance of revealing new things, meeting new creatures, and still keeping the old ones around. I think it would be easy to have the conclusion to any trilogy (or series) be confined to closing out storylines and drawing everything to a close without introducing anything new. But, this is Vasya and she attracts trouble and creatures to her like she is cheese and they are mice.

Vasya is as always a force to be reckoned with but finally SHE is the one reckoning with herself. She is the one who starts to be the dealer and not just the dealt. Grabbing the reins (no pun intended) and winging it is what she's done before. But she goes further than just grabbing the reins and hoping for the best. She begins to plan and to make deals and to exert and practice and explore her own power. In the end, she basically (as we all predicted) saves medieval Russia.

In The Winter of the Witch we finally meet Arden's end game goal - that big battle of Kulukovo against the tartars that has been foreshadowed, alluded, threatened, warned, and feared/desired since the start of the trilogy. Remember little Kolya and little Vasya playing battle against the tartars way back in The Bear and the Nightingale? Yea. It's been a-brewing since the start. And, in fact, it was her (Arden) absolute goal to get to that battle and make it not just about the unification and liberation of medieval Rus' but also a battle and reconciliation of the old with the new, the chyerti and the Church, Vasya against the way of life she is 'supposed' to inhabit (basically Vasya against medieval Rus' Patriarchy. It all comes to a violent head at the battle of Kulikovo.

The ending of the Winternight trilogy had a definite urgent pulse to it. More so than the other books. There were no significant lapses of times that wove like tapestry. It was all straight forward, hurtling towards the Battle of Kulikova. Which makes Arden's ability to introduce new creatures, lands, and ideas while closing out the old storylines even more admirable.

My only wish is that there would have been some visiting with her old village and with the siblings she left behind in the first book. Kolya and Olga were left behind and I missed them. To be truthful - they were better siblings to Vasya than Irina and Sasha. Irina and Sasha were caught up in politics and intrigue (not exactly their fault but of their choosing just the same) to be as good as a sibling as the sister and brother Vasya left behind. I wish we could have seen how they were turning out. I felt like there was a natural reason for Vasya to go back - to deliver their gifted niece to a safe place where she could grow up. But, that had to be sacrificed because there was a battle coming and there were things that needed to be done!

Everything that she foreshadowed or teased throughout the previous two books were tied up. Such as - where does the magic come from in Vasya's bloodline? Who was her great-grandmother? (My suspicion was correct!). And we get so much information with so much more adventure in store for Vasya that it breaks my heart that we won't be able to be with her through them. I'd love more Vasya. I'd ride to the end of the world and jump off in the name of seeing what was below if it was beside her.

I, of course, am giving this a five out of five rating. I love this book. I love this trilogy. I will continue to treasure it forever and ever and all that sappy book-loving jazz. Its bittersweet to find this particular story come to a close after it has given me so much joy. But, the magical thing about books? They don't change and they will always be there.

Until next time,

Jess

P.S. Have tissue ready because you will be bawling at the start and finish and in-between. But mostly the start and the finish. I had to literally stop reading and pick the book up later in the day I was crying so hard at the start. And in the end I  ended up listening to most of it on audiobook while clutching a dishrag to wipe away evidence of the sob-fest that was possessing my body.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Visual Description: The cover is wintery in shades of blue, gray, silver, and white, with some objects golden. In the lower quarter part of the cover is the author's name "Naomi Novik' in gold. Below in dark blue is the title "Spinning Silver". Both are in a Renaissance, Old World font. Below both is a small terrain of a mountain and some trees. Above the title and author's name is a large frame with jagged glass and a column with three shelves with crystal formation jutting up from the top on it's left side. In the mirror is a strong boned young woman with loose brown hair, blue eyes in a gray dress, her sleeves shover to her shoulder, and she's dropping silver coins into her outstretched palm and the coins slowly turn from silver to gold with the coins in her outstretched hands golden. In the top shelf of the column to the left is a silver bag of silver coins, the second shelf is full with a handsome man with long white hair and strong features with no expression on his face, and at the bottom shelf has golden coins spilling out from it. 
Publishing: July 10th 2018, Del Rey
Page Count: Kindle Edition 480 pgs.
Find the Author: Website

"Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders...but her father isn't a very good one. Free to lend and reluctant to collect, he has loaned out most of his wife's dowry and left the family on the edge of poverty--until Miryem steps in. Hardening her heart against her fellow villagers' pleas, she sets out to collect what is owed--and finds herself more than up to the task. When her grandfather loans her a pouch of silver pennies, she brings it back full of gold. But having the reputation of being able to change silver to gold can be more trouble than it's worth--especially when her fate becomes tangled with the cold creatures that haunt the wood, and whose king has learned of her reputation and wants to exploit it for reasons Miryem cannot understand." - Nabbed from Goodreads

Ok so...Spinning Silver is NOT a sequel to UprootedMy hopes got high when I saw the cover and how similar it was to Uprooted. Alas, it is not. But - it is a sister novel in spirit!

Novak does what she does most excellently and twists and re-crafts an ages-old tale. With Uprooted it was the dragon who steals maidens. A tale that we have all read, thought of, and known. With Spinning Silver we get a completely re-imagined spin on Rumpelstiltskin. And while (if you watched Once Upon A Time) a re-imagined Rumpelstiltskin isn't a foreign idea to me - her approach as it was in Uprooted is original and enticing.

There are three young women at the center of this spinning taleThey are not instantly heroic girls with perfect hearts and admirable quirks. They are flawed, perfect, skilled, unskilled, soft, and hard in different ways.

Meryem watches for years people taking from her family with no intent of returning what they borrowed. Watching while they had luxuries and necessities that her family didn't. Her parents are absolutely loving and nurturing and kind but they have no back-bone when it comes to moneylending. Correction - they're great at the lending of money but they're terrible at the getting the money back. It hardens her and makes her a steely and clever moneylender. She appears to be far more cold than she truly is.

“They would have devoured my family and picked their teeth with the bones, and never been sorry at all. Better to be turned to ice by the Staryk, who didn't pretend to be a neighbor.” - Meryem

Wanda is the poorest and most vulnerable of the three young women. Her mother passed away years ago leaving two younger brothers, a string of dead babies long buried, and a very abusive father. Wanda is ignorant but not in a dangerous way. She is taken in early in the novel as a servant to pay off the debt that her father owed Meryem's family and she sees them as 'magic'. Their book-keeping is magic and when she learns it then she knows herself that she is now a magician, Meryem's ability to turn a profit is magic, and even Meryem's mothers ability to find a relative and a new friend in a string of strangers are magic in Wanda's eyes. Just as much magic as the elfin ice people who make the winter longer are. She struggles to form a loving connection with her brothers and her journey with the ability to love and to trust and to express love is beautiful to watch.

“I looked at Lukas. He did not look very pleased, but he did not look very sad either. He was only giving me a considering eye. I was a pig at the market he had decided to buy. He was hoping I fattened up well and gave him many piglets before it was time to make bacon.” - Wanda

Irina's the plain daughter of a beautiful, partially Staryk mother who died when she was a child. She's completely overlooked and underrated by her father and step mother. She's withdrawn and cool - so much so that her own nurse from infancy doesn't know if Irina loves her as she loves Irina until later in the story. I don't want to give too much away but she becomes a force to be reckoned with, a true Tsarina who embraces the responsibility to care for her people above all else. Irina's survival instincts have no chill and she is calculating without any shame or hesitation.

“The only thing that had ever done me any good in my father's house was thinking: no one had cared what I wanted, or whether I was happy. I'd had to find my own way to anything I wanted. I'd never been grateful for that before now, when what I wanted was my life.” - Irina

Their stories weave in and out of each other until they firmly tie together in a intricate knot at a height of the plot. I adore that the girls aren't perfect and have realistic flaws. They aren't bad but they aren't entirely good except they are. They are easy to root for, even if they're doing things that contradict each other because each one has a relatable motive.

But, its good to remember going into this story - that this is not the story of girls finding each other and banding together to defeat the big bad. Each girl is powerful in her own right and finds her own victory and losses.

The Spinning Silver world, in comparison to Uprooted, is more-so in our world than a fictionally created fantasy world often is. And it is even more fleshed out by the rare, accurate, and authentic representation of Judaism. Meryem and her family are Jewish. And Novak does not shirk from facing anti-Semitism straight on without looking away. I think, it's easy for writers to...write around horrible realities - especially so when writing Fantasy. But, to write a Jewish family and community in a medieval Russian-esque land without writing anti-Semitism would be lazy and false. One part (again trying not to give too much away) where Meryem is literally forced to acknowledge that a decision she is going to make is entirely self-serving and that it could very much take something that her people might need in the future to keep their lives is a profound moment, gutting moment of reality.

With Uprooted their religion was vague and entirely mystic and often times kind of useless. Religion in Spinning Silver is very familiar and very important - as it was in real medieval times in our world. The Christianity is familiar and usual but the focus on Judaism (Meryem and her family are Jewish) is refreshing and much needed in the genre. Or, well, any genre. There are not a lot of Jewish heroines out there and definitely not many in the fantasy medieval genre.

As for the ACTUAL magic of the world - The Staryk are, I believe, a completely original creation. The Staryk are cold creatures (literally made of ice) who possess their own culture of debts and worth and words and promises that are almost impossible to translate into the language of humanity. They live in another world that only connect to ours when winter comes. It drenched in silver, in cold, in winter. They come and hunt and terrorize humans. They crave gold above all else and they are making winter longer, and longer, and longer. It is them - their King to be more specific - that come for Meryem so that she can turn their silver into gold. And it is by her own human words that she unwittingly binds herself to her fate. Again - they have this whole almost-too confusing culture of words, worth, debt, and repayment.

There are other threats that weave around Meryem and her Staryk plot that aren't even alluded to in the synopsis. Irina's married off to the Tsar (thanks to some Staryk silver magic) who is harboring a terrible, terrible secret. Wanda and her brothers find this magic cottage in the woods where it seems invisible people live. There's a murder. A wedding. Actually like three weddings and like four proposals (attempts included). And I'm not giving away a quarter of what happens by revealing these details.

With winter settling in for the long haul (I'm writing this literally at like 1 a.m. on Midwinter Solstice) Spinning Silver is one of my recommended reads. The only truly negative thing I have to say about it is the way its formatted or the lack thereof. There are so many narratives and none of them are labeled. And they are all written in first person. It's a testament to Novik's writing skills that you can follow along and there are icons breaking them up as they shift characters but it's still confusing. I do think it's clever to for-go titling each one with names in a tale based on Rumpelstiltzskin. Names are very important to the Staryk! BUT its' confusing! And threw me for a loop. Although I must note that I was reading the e-book on my Kindle and I have read accounts where reviewers mention that each character perspective has a different icon assigned to them. The icons did not change in my copy. I would totally not even complain about the lack of titling perspective shifts if that was so in my copy because that sounds clever and cool. So watch out for that! But don't let it deter you from diving into this story because it is well worth the read.

I hope the holidays have and do treat you well this year. If I don't post until after the first of the year (likely with my posting rate, lol) - please have a safe, happy, and warm New Years!

Good reading always,

Jess

“There are men who are wolves inside, and want to eat up other people to fill their bellies. That it what was in your house with you, all your life. But here you are with your brothers, and you are not eaten up, and there is not a wolf inside you. You have fed each other, and you kept the wolf away. That is all we can do for each other in the world, to keep the wolf away. And if there has been food in my house for you, then I am glad, glad with all my heart. I hope there will always be.” - Fav. quote! Read and find out who says it and to whom. lol. 



Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft - Tess Sharp, Jessica Spotswood

Visual Description: Purple cover with "Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft' in large white semi-cursive script. Framing the cover are simple illustrations colored in variations of gold, orange, and white - cats, swirling ivy, poison, skulls, moon, cauldrons, cawing crows, open palm, and a spider web.

Publishing: August 28th, 2018. Harlequin Teen.
Pg Count: 405 pgs, Hardcover
Find more info: Goodreads
"A young adult fiction anthology of 15 stories featuring contemporary, historical, and futuristic stories featuring witchy heroines who are diverse in race, class, sexuality, religion, geography, and era. Are you a good witch or a bad witch? Glinda the Good Witch. Elphaba the Wicked Witch. Willow. Sabrina. Gemma Doyle. The Mayfair Witches. Ursula the Sea Witch. Morgan le Fey. The three weird sisters from Macbeth. History tells us women accused of witchcraft were often outsiders: educated, independent, unmarried, unwilling to fall in line with traditional societal expectations. Bold. Powerful. Rebellious. A bruja’s traditional love spell has unexpected results. A witch’s healing hands begin to take life instead of giving it when she ignores her attraction to a fellow witch. In a terrifying future, women are captured by a cabal of men crying witchcraft and the one true witch among them must fight to free them all. In a desolate past, three orphaned sisters prophesize for a murderous king. Somewhere in the present, a teen girl just wants to kiss a boy without causing a hurricane. From good witches to bad witches, to witches who are a bit of both, this is an anthology of diverse witchy tales from a collection of diverse, feminist authors. The collective strength of women working together—magically or mundanely--has long frightened society, to the point that women’s rights are challenged, legislated against, and denied all over the world. Toil & Trouble delves deep into the truly diverse mythology of witchcraft from many cultures and feminist points of view, to create modern and unique tales of witchery that have yet to be explored." - Nabbed from Goodreads

'Tis the season for witches and things that go bump in the night. Actually - in my firm opinion - there is no such thing as a 'season for witches' because witches are timeless and deserve love every season of the year. If not because they are nature-based and obviously WAY more in tune with the seasons than we are - then because we are in desperate need of magick year around. That being said..there is something obvious about the cooling, coming Autumn time that inspires a person to curl up with a witchy book or two. "Toil and Trouble' was the first book I picked up this year when I started getting that witchy vibe coming on. I've been looking forward to it forever - I'm a huge fan of Jessica Spotswood's anthology editing work. She's brought me not one but TWO Tyranny of Petticoats books and now this...Toil and Trouble. Fifteen tales of women and witchcraft.

Absolutely and utterly my cup of mystic tea.

Toil & Trouble is everything that it promises to be. It spans time, the world, worlds (plural)...etc. Each one stands on their own and it's a terrible choice to figure out which ones deserve specific mention. It's one of the best anthologies in YA, if not THE best ever. I honestly haven't read much anthologies outside of YA so I can't say it's top dog outside of the genre BUT...I can suggest it to anyone whose interests are outside of the Young Adult genre.

There's layers upon layers of feelings and meanings that the anthology encompasses as a whole. And individually the stories will sing to you in different ways. Songs that sooth, that enrage, that heal, that inspire, that devastate, that make you burn as surely as our predecessors burned at the stake for being.

I am suggesting Toil & Trouble to basically everyone, ANYONE, who is remotely interested.

Until next time,

Jess


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