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Month: September 2018

Review: The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

Review: The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

‘Raised in a small village surrounded by vast forests, Liba and Laya have lived a peaceful sheltered life – even if they’ve heard of troubling times for Jews elsewhere. When their parents travel to visit their dying grandfather, the sisters are left behind in their home in the woods.

But before they leave, Liba discovers the secret that their Tati can transform into a bear, and their Mami into a swan. Perhaps, Liba realizes, the old fairy tales are true. She must guard this secret carefully, even from her beloved sister.

Soon a troupe of mysterious men appear in town and Laya falls under their spell-despite their mother’s warning to be wary of strangers. And these are not the only dangers lurking in the woods…

The sisters will need each other if they are to become the women they need to be – and save their people from the dark forces that draw closer.’

On the whole, I enjoyed The Sisters of the Winter Wood, though there are a few lulls in the narrative (primarily in the first half of the novel). However, I did read from about a third of the way in to the book’s conclusion in one go, unwilling to put it down.

The two narratives are presented in different formats, one being prose and the other poetry, and I spent some time wondering if there was a particular reason for the poetry beyond Laya’s particular quirks, but once the ties between the story and Goblin Market became apparent, it was much clearer. This said, I could be making assumptions that Laya’s narrative takes the form of poetry to mimic Rossetti’s Goblin Market because she is the sister who takes on the heavier elements of the tale. There are several lines similar to those from Goblin Market, which, having studied and taught Rossetti’s work, I found increasingly distracting, yet this is unlikely to be an issue for all readers. It is certainly effective in conveying the same themes and ideas from the original. The language features and structural devices in Laya’s point of view work well to convey her naivety and youth, contrasted with the unfortunate reality that she is the one drawn down into much more mature situations.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood reads quite like a tale within a tale within a tale, and though I enjoyed elements from each of them, I was left wondering which of them it truly wanted to be. In parts, it is a fantasy novel, while in others it reads like historical fiction, with the retelling of Rossetti’s work woven through the middle. There were sections of descriptive prose that I loved, particularly concerning the swans and Liba’s interaction with Dovid’s family, and though I started the novel finding the switch between prose and poetry little jarring, I did begin to look forward to Laya’s narrative. The writing is certainly lovely and I enjoyed the interspersing of different languages within dialogue and description.

Though I found it a bit difficult to believe the actions of Liba and Laya’s parents (in leaving them alone) and Liba’s ‘handling’ of the situation with Laya (in that she repeatedly either lets her go off alone or gets distracted from addressing it), at its heart the story presents some positive messages about family, love and forgiveness. A unique read and one I would recommend.

Publisher: Orbit Books

Pub date: 25th September 2018

I received an ARC of The Sisters of the Winter Wood from Netgalley and the publisher.

Review: Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake

Review: Two Dark Reigns by Kendare Blake

One Crowned, Two Exiled, A Revolution Rising.

The battle has been fought, blood has been spilt and a queen has been crowned, but not all are happy with the outcome.

Katharine, the poisoner queen, has been crowned and is trying to ignore the whispers that call her illegitimate, undead, cursed.

Mirabella and Arsinoe have escaped the island of Fennbirn, but how long before the island calls them back?

Jules is returning to Fennbirn and has become the unlikely figurehead of a revolution threatening to topple Katharine’s already unsteady rule.

But what good is a revolution if something is wrong with the island itself?’

The Three Dark Crowns series is one of my all-time favourites and I love the world that Blake has created with this series. The following review contains no specific spoilers, but it does contain broad references to events.

Two Dark Reigns is the third instalment in a four book series, following One Dark Throne, which saw Katharine the Queen Crowned and her sisters, Mirabella and Arsinoe, attempting to escape the island. The novel picks up soon after the conclusion of One Dark Throne, thankfully avoiding the need for lengthy exposition about what might have happened were a longer span of time to have unfolded between books. Of all the novels in the series so far, I would have to say that Two Dark Reigns seems to be the most well-paced, with no real lulls in the narrative. This is mostly owing to each of the groups of characters being followed holding clear threads of the story, with no real need for ‘filler’ scenes to remind the reader of what is happening with a particular character or group. I love it when narratives use elements of legends/history/myths as driving forces, and so was pleasantly surprised to find that this is something included in Two Dark Reigns. The novel opens with a look into the past that becomes crucial to the present, and though I found myself considering all sorts of theories as to what had happened and why it was so important, I didn’t quite manage to figure out every element of it before all was revealed.

I have to confess that I had trouble caring about Mirabella in Three Dark Crowns and One Dark Throne, but seeing her reaction to being separated from her sisters in The Young Queens and how she continued to behave at the temple, followed by her protectiveness of Arsinoe in Two Dark Reigns has done much to change my opinion of her. The events of Two Dark Reigns allow her to reclaim her role as ‘the eldest’ and look to her sisters as her family and not as enemies, while the environment she finds herself in seems to be one much more suited to her – and one that allows her to start considering a future that she couldn’t possibly contemplate before. It becomes much more clear in this book that Mirabella attempts to be ‘the adult’ (as she did when she was little) and make the best decisions she can for the people around her, even if they might not always be what they would truly want.

The biggest problem (though not really a problem…) I have had over the course of the series is that I still can’t decide who I want to ‘win’ – if there must be a winner at all. I adore Katharine and her dark and twisted moments, and cannot help but feel sympathy for her, given her upbringing and that she may be the one of the girls who knows the least about herself. She may be absolutely awful on occasion, but I struggle to see her as a villain and find that I don’t actively dislike her at all, as there are so many factors in play as concerns her behaviour and her having become the Queen Crowned. Arsinoe has many qualities that would make her an excellent ruler, for all that it isn’t what she wants. Of the triplets, she is perhaps the most open and unashamedly herself, her devotion to those she cares for – and to animals – something that makes her easy to care for in turn. To my mind, her bravery and compassion surpasses that of her sisters, for she certainly has less ‘power’ at her fingertips than they do, making her actions ones that often put her at greater risk, and yet she follows her heart and moral compass wherever they lead.

There isn’t a great deal that I can say about Jules and her role in the story without spoilers, but I can safely say that I did not like the people that she found herself with in Two Dark Reigns. As much as the families who raised Katharine and Mirabella (and, to a much lesser extent, Arsinoe) manipulated them as they grew, to see Jules in a similar situation with it done much more blatantly, while she still has very little understanding of all that she is, was painful. Great reading, but painful!

I can’t wait for the fourth book, though my heart might not be able to take it!

Publisher: Harper Teen (US)/ Pan Macmillan Children’s (UK)

Pub date: 4th September (US hardcover)/ 4th October (UK paperback)

Review: The Governess Game by Tessa Dare

Review: The Governess Game by Tessa Dare

‘The accidental governess.

After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don’t need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud. The ladies of London have tried and failed to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart… without risking her own.

The infamous rake.

Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to prove he can’t be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase’s heart are crumbling… and he’s in danger of falling, hard.’

I have a confession to make: I’ve never read a romance novel. Not until The Governess Game. It was the synopsis of the book that lured me in and I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to read it, because it was not at all what I had always assumed romance novels were – in excellent ways.

What I enjoyed most about the story was the use of humour. I rarely laugh out loud at any book, but the children (Daisy and Rosamund) and their quirky eccentricities – that are, in many respects, coping mechanisms for what they’ve been through – were a delight to read about and proper, well-developed characters in their own right who made me laugh on more than one occasion. Every day, Daisy decides that her doll has died from one terrible affliction or another and makes her guardian, Chase, attend a funeral for her and deliver a eulogy before she resurrects her and kills her off in another gruesome fashion. In her role as governess, Alex is made to also attend these funerals, during which Chase attempts to make her laugh by means of deadpan humour and bad puns, among other things. Daisy takes the whole thing endearingly seriously (though not in an overly morbid way), while Rosamund appears to be content with humouring her for her own devices, the mock-funerals something that bring everyone together while also creating distance between the girls and those who care for them.

The women in The Governess Game are all intelligent and brave, not damsels at the mercy of male characters, but determined to be in charge of their own destinies. This is achieved without taking away their femininity or portraying the more ‘traditional’ skills expected of a woman as something not worth the time of any clever girl. Alex is quick to dismiss Rosamund’s scorn of embroidery by insisting it has more practical applications than being solely decorative, while one of her friends enjoys baking without being portrayed as belonging in the kitchen because she is female. I would happily read a novel about the adventures of Alex’s friends!

The romance is very much not the governess at the mercy of her employer (thankfully) and Alex is actually in control of much of her interaction with Chase, who, for the most part, tries to stick to a decent, moral, code as regards how he handles his growing attraction to her. There are moments when he has lapses, yet he never quite oversteps to the extent that he completely gives in and chooses to do as he pleases, and what control he may lack in those instances is seen in Alex, who makes it quite clear what she does and does not want. Though there is a lot about Chase’s interaction with other women that makes him less than likeable on occasion, it’s swiftly evident that he does have a heart, even if he’d rather it didn’t have him form bonds with others when he isn’t looking. Ultimately, he is redeemable and it’s easy to care for him and to want him to realise he deserves good things.

A charming read. Thank you, Harper Collins!

Publisher: Harper Collins (Mills & Boon)

Pub date: 6th September 2018

Review: Wrecker by Noel O’Reilly

Review: Wrecker by Noel O’Reilly

‘Shipwrecks are part of life in the remote village of Porthmorvoren, Cornwall. And as the sea washes the bodies of the drowned onto the beach, it also brings treasures: barrels of liquor, exotic fruit, the chance to lift a fine pair of boots from a corpse, maybe even a jewel or two.

When, after a fierce storm, Mary Blight rescues a man half-dead from the sea, she ignores the whispers of her neighbours and carries him home to nurse better. Gideon Stone is a Methodist minister from Newlyn, a married man. Touched by Mary’s sacrifice and horrified by the superstitions and pagan beliefs the villagers cling to, Gideon sets out to bring light and salvation to Porthmorvoren by building a chapel on the hill.

But the village has many secrets and not everyone wants to be saved. As Mary and Gideon find themselves increasingly drawn together, jealousy, rumour and suspicion is rife. Gideon has demons of his own to face, and soon Mary’s enemies are plotting against her.’

Wrecker is a beautifully atmospheric novel that conveys the close-knit and suffocating nature of life in a small village with not enough for its inhabitants to survive on day to day. The villagers must resort to wrecking: taking the goods from shipwrecks and selling them on; even taking items directly from the bodies of the dead washed up on the shore in acts of both necessity and vanity. It’s during one such outing that the reader meets Mary, who takes a pair of boots from a wealthy deceased woman and finds herself a suspect for a crime much more gruesome than that which she has committed.

Over the course of the story, there are times when you find yourself rooting for Mary, yet there are many others when it’s easy to find her actions unsettling and almost wish that she stopped to think things through and make better choices. However, it’s easy to forget that Mary is living in a house with only her sister and ailing mother, and so she must do what she can for the three of them. With this weight on her shoulders and the villagers judging her for supposed lapses in morality, perhaps her moments of vanity, greed and need to find something for  herself (whether objects or people) can be excused a little. Mary reads as rough around the edges and aware that she may not be an altogether likeable soul, but that she is morally ambiguous in a world that doesn’t afford people the opportunity to be as virtuous as they claim to be as the novel unfolds lends a level of honesty and reality to her tale. She is flawed, but she is human and ultimately strives to be better in a situation that doesn’t make it easy for anyone to be wholly ‘good’.

Gideon is a likewise somewhat unsettling character in his religious fervour, though works well in highlighting the intensity of the attempts to convert those seen as beholden to pagan ideas and viewed as ‘backwards’, such condemnation of alternate views something that makes for discomforting material for the modern reader, but an unfortunate reality of the tale in context. Despite numerous and frequent religious affirmations from a range of characters, there’s the sense that, like Mary, they are pretending to be something they’re not for reasons of personal gain or to secure a perceived advantage over their friends and neighbours, painting another layer of gritty reality over the story.

Wrecker is an immersive read and one that I enjoyed for its cast of flawed characters and sharp look at poverty, prejudice and religion. Thank you to Harper Collins for sending me a copy!

Publisher: Harper Collins (HQ)

Pub date: 12th July 2018