Categories
Fantasy Literary Fiction

A Wild Winter Swan by Gregory Maguire

As a huge fan of the entire THE WICKED YEARS franchise and everything in it, I finally started reading some of Maguire’s other books.  A Wild Winter Swan wins the award for most gorgeous naked cover ever, and I grabbed it a while back when I spotted a signed edition!

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This is a complicated fairytale retelling of “The Wild Swans” where the reader must choose how to interpret the magic in the story.  Is it a vaguely traumatized young girl making fantastical sense of her life events or something that actually happened?

Read to see what you think!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: A Wild Winter Swan
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Gregory Maguire
  • Publisher & Release: William Morrow, October 2020
  • Length: 230 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for fans of retellings, magical realism, immigrant stories

Here’s the synopsis via GoodReads: 

The New York Times bestselling author of Wicked turns his unconventional genius to Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Wild Swans,” transforming this classic tale into an Italian-American girl’s poignant coming-of-age story, set amid the magic of Christmas in 1960s New York.

Following her brother’s death and her mother’s emotional breakdown, Laura now lives on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, in a lonely townhouse she shares with her old-world, strict, often querulous grandparents. But the arrangement may be temporary. The quiet, awkward teenager has been getting into trouble at home and has been expelled from her high school for throwing a record album at a popular girl who bullied her. When Christmas is over and the new year begins, Laura may find herself at boarding school in Montreal.

Nearly unmoored from reality through her panic and submerged grief, Laura is startled when a handsome swan boy with only one wing lands on her roof. Hiding him from her ever-bickering grandparents, Laura tries to build the swan boy a wing so he can fly home. But the task is too difficult to accomplish herself. Little does Laura know that her struggle to find help for her new friend parallels that of her grandparents, who are desperate for a distant relative’s financial aid to save the family store.

As he explores themes of class, isolation, family, and the dangerous yearning to be saved by a power greater than ourselves, Gregory Maguire conjures a haunting, beautiful tale of magical realism that illuminates one young woman’s heartbreak and hope as she begins the inevitable journey to adulthood.

I find myself surprised, but not shocked by the low overall rating for this one on Goodreads (3.3ish).

Laura is a teen who feels very alone and nonexistent. She is struggling to self narrate her own life. I personally interpreted the book as that she doesn’t know how to express herself and therefore narrated a fantasy to make her life more interesting and desirable. This is how she makes sense of the world and stays sane, or, she has a nervous breakdown and this is how she tells the story.

There was a bit of confusion for me as far as whether or not the story of Hans the Swan Boy actually occurred, or if I am correct on my above assumptions….  and I very well could be wrong but I think … Well – does it matter? This is why I love magical realism

I see what McGuire was going for and after chewing it over for a few days, I think I liked his execution even if I’m not fully believing the outcome of Laura getting through and making changes without any professional counseling.

ANYWAY- The part I really liked was the setting.  It felt like I was walking around Midtown with Laura and seeing the Christmas displays. I could feel the cold snow and hurried pedestrians. I liked the family time and how she had to mentally get to a certain point in her own story to relate to what her grandparents were going through and see them struggling as well

I liked the characters too, the grandparents were funny at times!  There are so many great sarcastic exchanges where I wanted to hi-5 or hug Nonna and Nonno for getting “the teenager thing” down so perfectly.  It was also interesting to see their immigration story and struggles.

Nonna gave this one speech about women and power and blind anger and pride and it was just wonderful. The messages of hope, faith and christmas miracles are always good too. The cook was funny too, and the cat 😂

This is a good book for the winter / Christmas holiday season but it’s s good read anytime. If you listen to the audio there is an author interview excerpt where he talks a bit about Wicked and answers some fan questions. Would recommend!

Categories
audiobooks Science Fiction Young Adult

Cinder (Book & Audiobook) by Marissa Meyers

I have been mostly mood reading this month, and I ended up finally grabbing Cinder by Marissa Meyers.  I am so late to the party with these older books. I have been seeing them everywhere for years and I guess late is better than never?

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Cinder
  • Series: The Lunar Chronicles
  • Author: Marissa Meyer
  • Publisher & Release:  Feiwel & Friends, January 2012
  • Length: 400 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ Yes for fans of fairy tale retellings, YA, sci-fi, fast paced books, snarky princes, and villains 

Here is the synopsis:

Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

So I finally, finally started The Lunar Chronicles. I saw a lot of criticism for the poor world building but honestly, I don’t come to fairy tales and fairy tale retellings for world building and I think it would have slowed the book down immensely had Meyer taken the time to explain how Earth got to cyborgs, spaceships, and magical terrorists from the moon.

That said, oh my god, Cinderella with cyborgs

This book was fun! Don’t read into it too much – Cinder is a cyborg with a vicious step mother and one out of two step sisters is also a jerk. She loses a foot instead of a slipper. The handsome prince, Kai, is snarky and funny.  The book really does stay fairly true to Cinderella too but there are enough twists and turns and terrible things, as well as a vastly different ending, that I never felt too bored or too able to predict the story.  Minus the big twist – that one I got straightaway.

There are darker themes of oppression and war, plague, medical testing and death too.  In 2021 I don’t really want to read about death plagues and quarantine, but in 2012 I think this would have been an amazing book for me.  I liked that the Meyer took those darker turns too though, she’s not shy, and I just LOVED who ended up being the silent hero at the end. 

Happily ever after? No, not quite, Cinder is going to have to work for it

I liked Cinder, Iko, and Kai as characters, and the doctor too.  There is plenty of banter and snark for days.  The series villains are introduced – the Lunar Queen has mind control capabilities and is hellbent on war with Earthz whether or not she caves prince Kai into marriage.  I assume we are done with the stepmother but gosh did I want to smack that woman.

I docked one star because a tad bit more micro world building wouldn’t have hurt the plot.

What I really don’t like are the new cartoon covers, but I love the old ones.

For fans of: YA sci-fi, romance, retellings, fast paced books, and everything above.

A brief note on the audio: at slightly over 10 hours, narrated by one of my favorites, Rebecca Soler – this is a highly recommended audio from me. Rebecca is great at the robotic voices. Soler is probably a name recognized by most since her repertoire is insane, may be recognize her from the narration of the Caraval series, Seafire, Ashlords, some James Patterson books, and so many more including Renegades and Heartless, also by Meyer. By Macmillan audio

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Young Adult

Book Review: Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Spinning Silver is yet another book that I have had forever and wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get to!  I love the Temeraire books and some how never got around to reading her others .. Until now

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Spinning Silver
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Naomi Novik
  • Publisher & Release:Del Rey, July 2018
  • Length: 465
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟✨yes for pretty much anyone!

Here is the synopsis from GoodReads:

Miryem is the daughter and granddaughter of moneylenders, but her father’s inability to collect his debts has left his family on the edge of poverty–until Miryem takes matters into her own hands. Hardening her heart, the young woman sets out to claim what is owed and soon gains a reputation for being able to turn silver into gold.

When an ill-advised boast draws the attention of the king of the Staryk–grim fey creatures who seem more ice than flesh–Miryem’s fate, and that of two kingdoms, will be forever altered. Set an impossible challenge by the nameless king, Miryem unwittingly spins a web that draws in a peasant girl, Wanda, and the unhappy daughter of a local lord who plots to wed his child to the dashing young tsar.

But Tsar Mirnatius is not what he seems. And the secret he hides threatens to consume the lands of humans and Staryk alike. Torn between deadly choices, Miryem and her two unlikely allies embark on a desperate quest that will take them to the limits of sacrifice, power, and love.

Part of me wants to just sit here and gush about Slavic/Polish fairytale tropes, or compare the magic in Spinning Silver to that in the Winternight trilogy, but I’ll mostly spare you and just talk about the book

The World-Building & Magic: Novik is such an amazing world builder.  We are in a cold winter country of Slavic inspiration, where the Boyars own everything and the Tsar is unfortunately possessed by a demon.  Frost vs fire/summer/chaos is a reoccurring theme in these tales and in this case it takes the form of a nameless, cruel winter king vs the flame demon.  The magic of the Staryk (including the King’s Road) is introduced slowly until the plot turns to their kingdom and the real magic is revealed.

I think giving glimpses of the magic was a great tactic to build the tale slowly and not overwhelm Miryem’s story at first.  The whole story has great descriptions though from the snow and weather to the people, lore, food, forests, animals and everything else.   A standalone doesn’t have room to drown in politics or religion but we are given enough of both to understand the country’s issues and power struggles as they relate to the book, also giving it a depth that many retellings don’t achieve.

A power claimed and challenged and thrice carried out is true

Staryk King

The Characters: as much as I liked the magic and world building, the characters are brilliant too. Miryem was always strong and smart, a true thorn in the villagers sides, and eventually an equal to the Staryk King. The trope is “headstrong maiden takes on Winter King.” Novik’s take on it was fresh and interesting to me and I didn’t even dislike him a tiny bit at the end. Their arc included much bargaining and begrudging respect and was generally fun to read

I wouldn’t hold myself that cheap, to marry a man who’d love me less than everything else he had, even if what he had was a winter kingdom.

Miryem

The rest of the characters, and there were many, all brought something interesting to the book. Women were the property of their fathers and husbands and Wanda totally transcended that to bargain for her own future. Irina surprised me by being cunning and strong when her people needed her. Stepon had a curious point of view in which he narrated a few interesting and exciting events, and I think there was a hidden significance there that was lost on me.

There were Staryk characters too that surprised me and Miryem’s parents were just lovely people. The found family aspect was ❤❤❤❤❤

Themes: oh gosh there were so many good themes, such as not judging people for their race or religion. Not taking people at face value. Keeping to your word and knowing the value of a bargain. Knowing your own self worth and standing defiant in the face of anything less. I think this is a really great young adult book as far as themes and content go.

A note on the audiobook: the audio is 18 hours long, distributed by Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group. Lisa Flanagan is amazing with the Slavic accents and distinguishing between the characters. It was hard though sometimes to tell which point of view was speaking at first – and that is the only fault I found with the book as well is that I think we should have had headers or new chapter titles with the name of the speaker. I really enjoyed listening though!

Overall: if you like tales with a twist of magic, fiercely strong female characters, Frost Kings and equally frosty moneylenders, lore and lyrical writing in a cold, cold world…. This is definitely your book!

Categories
Fantasy Middle Grade Young Adult

Book Review: The Severance Game by Geanna Culbertson

It’s Middle Grade March! So back in 2019 I won Crisanta Knight, book #2 – The Severance Game – in a giveaway, then never read it because I kept forgetting to get book one! So I finally read book one (click to see review here) and now I am digging into the series in earnest! I promise no spoilers!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Severance Game
  • Series: Crisanta Knight, #2
  • Author: Geanna Culbertson
  • Publisher & Release: BQB Publishing, December 2016
  • Length: 460pg
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟⚡ yes for fans of book one, middlegrade/YA, and people looking for clean content!

Here is the synopsis from Goodreads:

A lot of questions ran through my head as I desperately clung to the roof of a magic train crossing over a gaping canyon. Like: How did I get here? What could I have done to avoid this fate? And, did I remember to shave my underarms before coming on this quest?

But even after taking on a witch in a gingerbread house, bloodthirsty actors, and a whole mess of magic hunters and other fairytale shenanigans, the biggest, most pressing question pulsing through my brain as my fingers started to slip and my enemy bore down on me was this: Could I really trust the person whose life I’d ruined to keep me from falling?

With antagonists closing in, inner demons threatening to consume me, and vivid nightmares chewing up my soul every time I shut my eyes, I was running out of options. I knew the moment to decide whether or not I could truly trust any of my friends was fast approaching. But my head and heart were stuck. For just like the precarious position I now found myself in, the pain of holding onto the path I’d chosen thus far was outmatched only by the worry I had over (gulp) letting it go…

The Plot/ story: per the end of book one, Crisa and friends are now on their quest to find the Author and change their fates. They escaped Century City, and book two starts the search for the lost mermaid princess of Adelaide’s heart. Travelling through the Forbidden Forest first, and eventually coming back to Adelaide, we see them confront all sorts of magic, beasts, and dangers.

Crisa’s dreams start to make a little more sense too as we learn about her spark of magic.  Despite the action and quest, dangers, antagonists, and more, this book took on a more personal nature for the characters and it’s mostly about Crisa coming into herself as a responsible protagonist.  

The main theme is that she wants to break the princess archetype of a damsel in distress, and be a hero. 

The World: unlike book one, now we are out in the world.  The woods of Red Riding hood, the grove of Hansel & Gretel’s witch, and even Earth of all places.  The sheer number of fairytale characters pulled into this book is amazing, and especially in the forbidden forest I liked how the world expands in both scope and magic.

The Characters: I hate to say but Crisa was such an insufferable brat in this book, it was hard watching her push her friends away.  She gets it into her head that she can’t trust them and has to do everything by herself in order to be strong… but is that how heroes work?

SJ and her potions keep the journey afloat, and she is patient while Crisa wraps her head around her problems.  Blue and Jason mostly sideline but reinforce the notion that the group should be working as a trusty unit. Daniel… Is just Daniel, he’s as bad as Crisa and… Dyhfgdhfvj no spoilers

The Antagonists omg I want more antagonists.  Arian and Tara and Nadia seem like a nasty lot, but we still don’t find out the motives in this book.

Overall: A+ for another clean, middlegrade / YA appropriate read with practically nonexistent content. I have to say I liked book one better, but definitely plan to read book three sometime soon. Crisa’s internal monologue was just too repetitive and, similar to the thorough nature of the Far Forest Scrolls books – it takes a LOT of pages to advance the plot. Book one was a faster read and I hope that three picks up the pace again now that we have established the group as a unit!

What are you reading for Middle Grade March!?

Categories
Fantasy Fiction Middle Grade Paranormal

My First Verse! ARC Review: The Seventh Raven by David Elliot

I hope everyone had a great holiday!  I started my next NetGalley read on Christmas eve and found it to be a short fairytale retelling… In verse!  Was not ready for that but I enjoyed it quite a bit regardless

Thank you so much to HMH Books for Young Readers via NetGalley for the eARC of The Seventh Raven in exchange for an honest review! All opinions are my own!

Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Seventh Raven
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: David Elliot
  • Publisher& Release: HMH Books for Young Readers, March 16. 3021
  • Length – 172 pg (I read it in 2 hours though)
  • Rate & Recommend: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 for fans of verse?

Here is the description from Amazon:

Best-selling author David Elliott examines the timeless themes of balance, transformation, and restoration in this evocative tale about a girl who will stop at nothing to reverse a curse that turned her seven brothers into ravens. 

And these are the sons
Of good Jack and good Jane
The eldest is Jack
And the next one is Jack
And the third one’s called Jack
And the fourth’s known as Jack
And the fifth says he’s Jack
And they call the sixth Jack
But the seventh’s not Jack
The seventh is Robyn

And this is his story

When Robyn and his brothers are turned into ravens through the work of an unlucky curse, a sister is their only hope to become human again. Though she’s never met her brothers, April will stop at nothing to restore their humanity. But what about Robyn, who always felt a greater affinity to the air than to the earth-bound lives of his family?

David Elliott’s latest novel in verse explores the unintended consequences of our actions, no matter our intentions, and is filled with powerful, timeless messages teased from a Grimms’ fairy tale. Black-and-white illustrations throughout by Rovina Cai.

I didn’t realize this book was going to be in verse, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. I quickly found myself drawn into Elliot’s words and rhymes and verse. I by no means have any idea how verse is “supposed” to read, but just from reading it aloud in my head, I felt like the book has a really readable flow and a rhythm and rhymes that sounded good!

The afterword about each character having their own form of poetry was super interesting.  The different forms gave each character a unique voice within the verse.

I also liked how the novel followed the fairytale format of “get in, get out, tell the story.” It is a quick read that is a modern retelling of The Seven Ravens, which appeared in The Brothers Grimm. The plot is pretty interesting, a sister trying to save her seven brothers from a curse. The different. points of view helped move the story along, with the various styles of verse making each unique.  April persevered through a lot of hardship to finally find the mountain of glass where the brothers were being held.

Plus the artwork inside looked really great from what I saw so far.  I love the cover too, how gorgeous is that!

If anything I think the formatting suffered in the early electronic version but I would love to see a finished copy.

I would totally recommend for fans of fairy tales and fans of books in verse!  It is out in Mid March so add it to your TBR now!