[The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women] Kate Moore

Radium: the wonder element. It was used to battle tumors, which meant that it had health-giving elements. It was a cure-all, treating cancer, gout, constipation…it even was said to restore vitality. This “liquid sunshine” couldn’t possibly be bad…

I went into The Radium Girls with absolutely no knowledge of what I was in for other than the vague sense of dread that the synopsis gave me. I have never studied this particular part of history, though I have studied other parts of the same time period. During World War I, women were toiling away at factories where they painted the luminous dials of watches that were used by troops abroad. The substance glowed in an otherworldly, magical way, lingering on the girls’ skin, their hair, their clothes, a light that marked them as special as they shone faintly in the dark. They were on top of the world doing a job that paid better than most jobs they could get at the time and the substance made them beautiful.

Some of the products you could order that had radium in them.

Kate Moore tracks them from 1917 up to 1938 with mentions of World War II; the three parts of the novel follow them as they begin work, as they begin to develop strange illnesses, through their attempts to get justice, and finally the end result. The girls–for some of them began work when they were fourteen–and women take on form through research–letters, newspaper accounts of the time, and legal documents–as well as interviews with descendants. This is extremely well researched. I could feel the depth of the research, even the pieces that likely didn’t make it into the end product. Moore took a vast amount of information about these cases and the history surrounding them and made it readable for the layperson. As someone who hadn’t know about the Radium Girls, it was very informative without losing the heart of this real story. There were so many women that it would be impossible to focus on them all, but by focusing on a small group of them, Moore was able to craft a narrative that was engaging and emotional.

I read an ARC of The Radium Girls, so things will naturally change before its publication date, but I really hope that the final copy of The Radium Girls includes more photographs, scans of newspapers, and the like that relate to the girls and their trials. I think it would have benefited the narrative immensely and made them even more real to me. I think it would be beneficial to have these visuals because the true story contained in The Radium Girls is very difficult to stomach. I was filled with so much horror that I had to back off from reading it for periods of time. If it contained photographs, it would give a short pause to the reader but still keep them very much in the story. It would be a short time to catch your breath before delving back into a story where a woman kept the pieces of her jawbone in a box to present as evidence at a hearing. (In the back of my copy there’s a list of photographs used, so perhaps this is the case.*)

I think that Moore did a good job of presenting all of the information. This novel is about these women and the legacy they’ve left so it was biased in their favor, but it also wasn’t explicitly judgmental toward the companies. Moore let the facts do the talking. That is where the judgement comes from. She told a story and allowed the reader to reach the point of anger and disgust toward the companies on their own. For how could a reader not be disgusted when a company did an autopsy on a recently deceased girl and secret away the bones that would tell of the disease caused by the radium? How could a reader not be disgusted when a company member proclaimed that “nothing was wrong”* to a woman who had lost an arm due to the radium in her former work and another who could hardly walk because her bones were riddled with holes?

Charlotte Purcell, one of the women that Kate Moore focuses on in her novel. Charlotte opted to have her arm amputated in order to stop the cancer from spreading throughout her body.

Not only does The Radium Girls explore who these women were and the legacy they’ve left, but it also explores how power and money make people into horrible human beings without a shred of decency. I cannot say that I felt that any who worked in the company deserved any pity. They walked on the backs of their workers and attempted to deny all. Something that was particularly tragic was that the women were dying and being blamed for their deaths. One woman was said to have syphilis because they didn’t yet know what it was. For the company, that became a sort of justification–it wasn’t their fault. Although they knew that the radium was dangerous or at least could potentially be dangerous, they still denied it, instead disparaging the dead in order to protect their interests. It was disgusting. I was angry for a lot of The Radium Girls because of this. It was horrible to read about the things that the companies and the people protecting them did in order to avoid recognizing that they were in the wrong. There was proof that showed radium was to blame, yet they still ignored it and swept it under the rug, instead blaming the dead: “They were ‘unfit'” or “not in full health when they began to work.”* It was horrible and tragic to read, especially when women were still lip-painting at the factories as other women were fighting for justice.

And these women kept fighting. I think that Moore did them a great justice. By giving readers an account of their stories that did not pull any punches–between the descriptions of their bodies falling apart and betraying them and how poorly they were treated by the companies and their communities–Moore shows readers truly how bad it was for them. And still they fought on. As much as it was tragic and difficult to read at times, it was also really inspiring to read about women who did not stop in their fight for justice and recognition. They changed how companies treat people who are working with dangerous substances.

In terms of writing style, there was a very clear narrative. By taking us through the decades that the girls suffered and fought, Moore created a story that was easy to follow. However, there was a part of the book that I felt lagged because it was a lot of information and names that were sometimes difficult to follow. It was necessary, but it was a lot of information about how they were fighting and being thwarted at every turn. It was hard to read and disheartening. It picked up again when the court hearings began and once I hit that point I couldn’t stop reading. Ultimately, I really enjoyed this book despite it having this slow part.

As someone who knew nothing about these events in history, I recommend going into The Radium Girls prepared. There are moments that are disturbing to read because it isn’t fiction. It is an intense read.

The Radium Girls is a book that explores how women who had few rights as workers took on companies that want to deny them compensation for their illnesses caused by their work. The decades that these women fought and died changed how people worked with dangerous substances. The Radium Girls explores the bravery of these women in the face of the inevitable. Even though they knew they couldn’t do much for themselves, they still fought to change things for the future and to keep others from the same fate. I thought their stories were incredible and recommend this book for anyone who would like to learn more about this part of history and how women fought to be recognized.

4 stars.

I received a copy of The Radium Girls from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Radium Girls will be published on May 2nd.

*Comments about photographs and quotes are taken from an unfinished ARC copy of The Radium Girls and may change in the final edition.

[The Suffering Tree] Elle Cosimano

Warning: I discuss cutting and the inclusion of it in The Suffering Tree in this review.

This cover is really nice. The colors are so lovely.

When I finished The Suffering Tree and read reviews of it I asked myself if I read the same book as these other reviewers because I absolutely do not have feelings of this being a five, four, or even three star book. The initial look at the book, aka the summary, had me hooked. It seemed right up my alley: it has a curse, a mystery, and a character coming back from the dead coupled with the outsider / outcast aspect. That summary was what led me to request an ARC on NetGalley. Sadly the summary led me astray.

The things I liked about this book are slim compared to the problems I had with it. It’s exceedingly frustrating as a reader to have most of the excitement about the book explained in the summary, because I found the actual book quite slow and boring at times. Even though the writing had beautiful and sometimes poetic moments, I couldn’t shake the disconnect from the characters despite following Tori throughout the entire novel.

Normally this is where I’d go into talking about the characters to keep with the flow of my writing, but I wanted to talk about the things I had issues with in order of importance. Because all of my issues with the characters and the points of view pale in comparison to this:

Using cutting as a way to have magical things happen is a HUGE problem

There was no indication going into The Suffering Tree that Tori self-harmed. Like this review here, I agree that self-harm is not something that should be completely erased from young adult books, but it does need to be done in a way that doesn’t glorify it the way that I felt The Suffering Tree did. The inclusion of self-harm was completely unexpected. I’ve read a few other books with self-harm in them, and generally there’s something in the plot summary that indicates to the reader that it will be discussed in the book.

I hated that other characters, namely her mother and brother, seemed to ignore that Tori was hurting. Tori had been caught before and was required to talk to someone (she no longer is talking to someone ) and Tori’s mother counts the knives in the drawers, but there’s just something so dismissive about how it was handled in the book. They just scurry out of her way in their attempts to not talk about it.  With the death of Tori’s father, subsequent eviction, and move to a new home and town, you’d think that Tori’s mother would be aware of the stressors in Tori’s life that would lead to more cutting. There’s absolutely no discussion about how Tori is doing and there’s no therapy, even though the discussion of therapy is halfheartedly made later on. Nothing comes of it, however.  It made me feel like the author just used it as a way to further the story rather than call attention to the real harm it can be.

Which brings me back to my main point: using cutting as a way to have magical things happen is a gigantic problem. It’s huge. And honestly, I have a hard time thinking about how this made it past editors and first readers, particularly when it’s in the young adult market. There’s a difference between blood being specifically used for spells which sometimes happens in books with witches / magic and when a character harms herself with the intent to harm and something magical just happens as a result.  I cannot believe that this decision was made and reinforced as it went through first readers.

This is threaded throughout the entirety of the novel but is never truly addressed. Tori acts weird and blows people off, yet no one calls her on it. No one asks–truly asks–if she’s okay. There are other ways of showing that a protagonist has anxiety and depression. Frankly I feel like it trivializes these things by making it the catalyst to magical things.

Which leads me into my second problem: the characters are not developed at all. Secondary characters are just names on the pages. The novel centers completely around Tori and Nathaniel. She has friends but doesn’t engage with them. Nor do they really try to engage with her. Along with her mother and brother, Tori’s two friends exist as plot devices to occasionally further the story. It’s sad when I read a story and none of the characters are memorable. I hardly even know what Tori and Nathaniel look like and the other characters may as well be the creepy mannequins at department stores. There’s basically a one sentence description about them. I felt that a lot of it was just ticking boxes.

When the romance develops the lack of character development really killed it for me. Even when a novel goes the instant-love route, there’s things that I can find cute about the romance even if it’s unrealistic and / or developed too quickly. With The Suffering Tree I felt nothing. Honestly I think the romance wasn’t necessary; I was far more invested in the mystery and anytime something remotely romantic happened it didn’t seem to fit in with the novel. I think it would have worked better had Tori and Nathaniel worked together as friends who both had an interest in solving the mystery.

The points of view were also very odd in this book. There were three, which is at least one too many. The choice to write in two perspectives–first and third–also kept removing me from the story. It was weird and jarring to switch from one to another. I don’t mind multiple perspectives, but it seems unnecessary to switch from third to first and then back. I didn’t feel that the book benefited from this choice at all, so I’m rather confused about why it was included in the first place.

A lot of this review focuses on the negative things, but there was enough positives that I didn’t hate the book. I use the two star rating for “okay” and that’s really how I felt about it. I enjoyed reading the mystery and of both Nathaniel and Tori’s involvement in it, although I feel that the lack of a villain made it weaker. I wanted to feel more uneasy about the mystery and the events surrounding it, but there wasn’t a sense of urgency to them. They felt very surface level which is frustrating when I want to read a mystery. I kept reading because I wanted to see how things would turn out in the end. I was curious but ultimately I feel that the author led too much into what was going to be revealed because it was easy to guess where it was going to go.

I have no doubt that The Suffering Tree will be popular when it’s published despite the issues I had with it. The premise was amazing and it made me have high hopes for the novel. I have a hard time reviewing when I’m one of the first reviewers of an upcoming release that doesn’t have many reviews, but I also know the importance of reading reviews before purchasing a book. I’ve tried to address all of the positives and negatives so people wondering about this book will have another perspective to look at.

I sincerely hope that the publisher addresses the issue that happens when cutting is glorified (particularly when this book is in the young adult market) before publication.

2 stars.

I received a copy of The Suffering Tree from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The Suffering Tree will be published on June 13th.

[Geekerella] Ashley Poston

Geekerella is the most adorable book I’ve read this year. It is full of geeky references to BatmanStar TrekStar WarsFireflyThe Lord of the Rings… and so many more. It embraced fandom and all of the different facets of it: how you feel when your favorite thing is remade or made into a movie for the first time, fanfiction, reaction posts, cosplaying, and connecting with fans across the world with something you’re passionate about. Ashley Poston takes all of that and writes a retelling of Cinderella that fits in with this geeky culture that is often written off by people who don’t understand it.

The novel is divided between two points of view, Elle and Darien. Elle is our heroine who lives and breathes Starfield, the show she shared with her late father. Starfield is getting a reboot and Elle is equal parts thrilled and worried. She wants it to be for her generation–it’s bound to be better than the cardboard cutouts they had to use for props in the original–but worried about who will be cast as the main characters. When teen actor Darien Freeman is cast as her favorite character, her hero Federation Prince Carmindor, she thinks that everything Starfield will be ruined by this teen actor who only knows the basic answers to questions about the fandom. Elle wants a fan to play Carmindor–or at least someone who took the time to learn about what he’s stepping into–is that too much to ask?

As for Darien, playing Carmindor is his dream role. Like Elle, he grew up with Starfield. Only no one knows that. No one believes that this teen heart-throb with his screaming legion of fangirls has any depth. He used to love the geeky culture of Starfield, back when he wasn’t famous. Now that he’s famous, he can’t be Darien Freeman, geek who  likes Batman and Starfield. He has to be Darien Freeman, teen actor who lives for being in the spotlight, who took on this role because it would catapult him into fame. More and more, Darien feels that he is losing himself.

I was worried that Geekerella was going to be an instant-love story. With how it was described in the summary, it seemed like Elle and Darien wouldn’t meet until the convention. Thankfully it was not the case. In a world where sometimes we only interact with people through a screen, I thought that Poston’s use of a mistaken number worked really well for this novel. The reader knows the whole time of the identity of those texting, so it was nice to see how their relationship grew without having prior knowlege of who they each were or what they looked like.

While Geekerella did follow the expected points of Cinderella, they were changed to fit into Elle’s world. Instead of a pumpkin being turned into a carriage, there’s a food truck that’s painted like a pumpkin. It’s an eyesore. And loud. It made me hungry for vegan tacos. I loved it. There’s the expected mean stepmother and horrible stepsisters who share a slightly dilapidated house. But there’s no magic. The only magic that comes into this story is the magic you feel when you fall in love and when you have the hope that dreams can come true. It was modern and wholly passionate.

Geekerella’s thing is Starfield. Although entirely fictional, it drew parallels to other space themed shows and movies. By the time I finished the novel I’d almost forgotten that Starfield wasn’t real. I wish it was because it is essential to the success of this story. Anyone who has ever had something that they’ve obsessed over–be it TV shows, books, or games–will find themselves in this book, even if they’re not interested in the romance.

While this book did have its sappy moments it didn’t detract from the narrative and become only about the romance. Geekerella is a heartfelt novel that took me by surprise because it was about accepting yourself and making a place for yourself in the world, even when your passions aren’t understood by everyone around you. I really recommend it for those who enjoy contemporary novels and want to read a book that embraces the culture of fandom. I’ll definitely be checking out other books by Ashley Poston.

4 stars.

I received a copy of Geekerella from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Geekerella will be published April 4th, 2017.

[Goodbye Days] Jeff Zentner

Goodbye Days immerses us in tragedy. There’s no warning, much like how the tragedy unfolded.  Carter is at the final funeral of his three best friends after a horrific car crash claimed them all, contemplating carpet patterns in an effort to put-off the impending wave of grief. He’s numb and worried about how many people blame him, because he certainly does. When Mar’s phone was found, he was replying to Carter’s message. So yes, Carver believes that he “wrote his friends out of existence.”

In The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner introduced how tragedy can come at any moment and how coming to terms with it–if you even can–is something that you can only do yourself. Of course, the people around you suffering from the same tragedy can help you, but ultimately, we all internalize tragedy and how we deal with it differently. This is constant in Goodbye Days. It’s in the moments of forgetting right when Carver gets up, in the moments when he’s doing something mundane–just living–and it comes crashing down on him that his three friends will never be able to complete that comic they were drawing, never participate in another joke, never write another song. Grief and forgetting comes in waves, and the guilt for forgetting is crippling.

Gradually, the grief becomes manageable, but it never leaves. I felt that Zentner was able to convey that perfectly with his writing as he illustrated the different forms that grief takes after a tragedy. Like The Serpent King, it felt real. Contemporary novels tend to deal with real problems that teens go through (the ones that aren’t only about romance, at least), but sometimes there’s an element of it being contrived that keeps me from truly enjoying it. Zentner’s work is not that way. His characters would have no trouble walking off of the pages and onto the streets. They’re that realistic. They breathe. You ache and cheer with them. It’s absolutely incredible and a treat to meet his new characters.

This book is unique in the sense that it has both living and deceased characters. Through Carter’s own words and memories we’re introduced to Sauce Crew: Eli, Blake, and Mars. As he remembers them we’re shown just how amazing they were to the people around them and what their loved ones lost when they died. And that’s where the name of the novel comes in.

“Goodbye days” are a way to say goodbye to the one you’ve lost. For an entire day, you do the things that remind you of them or what they liked doing. Whenever we lose someone, we wish that we could have just one more moment with them. These goodbye days are a way to remember them as you try to let them go. Everyone holds a different part of their loved one–you may know that your friend loved dancing, but didn’t know that they were a secret enka fan. In a goodbye day, everyone comes together and shares those things so you have a complete picture of the one you lost. And then you say goodbye.

Goodbye Days is a beautiful novel that has many heart wrenching moments of the reality of death and how suddenly it can come. It’s even more tragic when people the lives of young people are cut short. It’s a novel with a message, but not one that takes over the narrative. Texting while driving is something that occurs every day, though it shouldn’t happen at all. When it’s a habit to have a phone in our hand, we don’t always think of the consequences of our actions. Carver constantly goes back to that text. Where are you guys? Text me back. It follows him throughout the novel. It’s there in therapy, where he tries to reinforce his guilt instead of forgiving himself for a mistake and it’s there in the threat of a criminal investigation. Zentner shows just how tragic the consequences can be. And there’s no taking it back.

Zentner’s second novel is a force that shows he is one of the contemporary young adult authors to read. With characters and settings that are written with the finesse of someone who knows the setting and has worked with teenagers, any novel that Zentner comes up with is sure to delight both those who follow his career and those new to his work. With Goodbye Days,  Zentner is solidly in my list of top contemporary authors.

5 stars.

 

[Shadow Run: Kaitan Chronicles I] AdriAnne Strickland and Michael Miller

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Shadow Run has been touted as Firefly meets Dune, a space opera that should draw fans of both. The Firefly tease was part of the reason why I requested an ARC of Shadow Run in the first place. Shadow Run had action and adventure, a touch of romance, and the looming threat of an increasingly powerful bad guy. I didn’t find it as episodic as Firefly, but Shadow Run functions as a nice stand-alone space opera novel, with a potential to continue the series.

One of my favorite parts of Shadow Run, and other space opera stories is the world. When done well, they can be rich and immersive. I feel that way about Shadow Run, although I still wish it had gone into more detail. There was plenty of detail to show the world to the reader, but I still wanted more. I really enjoyed reading about it. The few planets that were visited by the characters were described in ways that allowed me to really visualize the setting. When the world isn’t familiar or created entirely by an author, those details must be there. A reader doesn’t know what living on another planet will be like, so an author has to fully immerse them in it.

Unusual Planet wallpapers and images - wallpapers, pictures, photos

The thing that really cinched the world-building for me were the differences between Nev and Qole’s planets. The weapons and clothing differs, the cities on Nev’s planet are unbelievable to Qole who is used to smaller buildings, and the characteristics of the people are extremely different. Qole’s culture shock is believable and expected.

This was helped along by the two viewpoints. Readers are shown both characters out of their element, but Nev’s adaptability is a little better than Qole’s. Although he’s always had everything, he was able to adjust to a lesser lifestyle rather quickly. In contrast, I loved reading Qole’s reactions to the high-fashion and careless lifestyles of the people around her. I feel like their voices–and their speaking patterns–were very clear.

While I have a clear picture of both Qole and Nev, I don’t feel the same about the secondary characters. They’re delegated into roles: Strong-arm, hacker, brother, androgynous member of the crew. I didn’t mind the first person narration because I feel that it showcased the differences between Qole and Nev, but it didn’t help with knowing other characters. I feel that there was a bit of a disconnect between the reader and the world because of the first-person narration; I was in Nev’s head to understand his world, then suddenly in Qole’s–and part of her point-of-view was her trying to come to terms with what Nev had said or revealed. It was a lot of back and forth and I feel like some of the action was lost in it.

However, I did have a favorite secondary character. Basra. I want to know more about him. He seems to be quite a chameleon and even at the end of the novel, still has his secrets. I liked that he actually had a backstory that was more explored (i.e.: shown) than that of Eton’s and Telu’s, who I feel were only marginally explained. I want to know Basra’s history. Story about that, please.

I also really liked that Basra didn’t comment on his gender. The members of the crew he works with refer to him as a boy, (which is something that was figured out off page, pre-Shadow Run) yet in his past he’s been referred to as a girl. It was nice to have a character like that, although Nev’s introduction to him (Boy? Girl? Wha?) was a little unkind in my opinion. If it was meant to be clever it fell flat.

I really love books with a variety of characters and I’m glad that authors are becoming more aware that there needs to be better representation of different genders and races in novels. However, I feel that this book was awkward about it. It was like it was screaming See? We’re representing! every time something regarding race or culture was brought up. I was being told, rather than shown. Show me! It gave an awkward tilt to the novel. Any other reviewers feel this way? Perhaps someone else can better put words to my feelings.

One bad thing about characters is that I didn’t feel like there was anything new, other than Basra. Although I liked Nev and Qole, they fell under the stereotype of Prince and Commoner. As a result, a lot of their story line was kind of obvious, so I’m hoping that the next novel subverts that a bit more. The last bad thing about characters is that Qole’s power needs to be contained. It bothered me the longer I read.  It’s setting Qole up as an untouchable character, which strikes me a little like a deus ex machina show of power. Where is the stopping point?

Free Space/Galaxy Texture by Lyshastra

 

What was great about Firefly was how it was episodic. I imagine (since this is called Kaitan Chronicles, which typically means an expansive story) that we’ll see more of the Kaitan Heritage and Qole and crew. This wasn’t really episodic. It was more of a typical story of discovering that everything you believed in isn’t necessarily true, good, or fact.  I feel like this book promised more than it delivered, because the only similarities I saw to Firefly was that there was a curmudgeonly Captain piloting through space.

In the end, I enjoyed reading Shadow Run when I either got over or got used to the things that caused problems for me. I think it will do well with people who like science fiction and fantasy and don’t mind the fact that it recycles some of the often used tropes of the genre. Personally, although I liked it, I feel very neutral about the next novel. Usually the end of novels that I enjoy drive me straight into the pages of the second novel. For Shadow Run, I could either take or leave the next one. This is directly because of the ending: it can either function as an open-ended stand-alone or as an opening for the second novel. Readers will have to decide what it is for them. I still haven’t.

3. 5 stars.

I received a copy of Shadow Run from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Shadow Run will be published March 21st.

 

 

A Year in Review: Top Reads of 2016

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I rang in the New Year in a small apartment in the inaka of Japan, surrounded by rusty little houses that creaked in the wind as the sea whooshed gently in the distance. As the minutes counted down, we watched a strange show where grown men voluntarily had their family jewels whacked with a paddle for entertainment and if those who were watching laughed, they got their butts slapped with yet another paddle.

Suddenly it was 10…9…8…3…2…1…Happy New Year! and it was midnight–a brand new year and full of possibilities. Standing on the concrete outside of the apartment seven stories up in stocking feet, we listened to the bells from the local temple toll and the distant sound of flutes and drums playing in the New Year. The town was relatively quiet as 2017 came into being.

Now that the New Year and the first hectic days of January have passed, I want to look back on the books that I read in 2016. I read a lot in 2016 and was thrilled that I made (and went slightly over) my goal of 100 books. I binge-read a lot of series that I never read when I was a teenager, read things that made me cry, and read things that made my heart full. I read things that were over-rated, things that weren’t even out yet, and things that remained in my mind long after I’d finished them. 2016 was a really full year of books. I’m incredibly thankful that I was able to read a variety of things thanks to new friends, NetGalley, and random discoveries.

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*・゜My Top Five Books of 2016*・゜

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1. Have a box of tissues when you read this one, because you will surely need it. The Serpent King is the debut novel of Jeff Zentner, and what a debut it was. I went from a skeptic to being unable to read this book at work because it made me cry. Zentner’s characters are beautifully realistic and realized as they navigate young adulthood that last summer before college. His writing is stupendous and his upcoming Goodbye Days is a book that I am chomping at the bit to read. I’m definitely going to read everything he writes. Jeff Zentner is an author in the young adult community who will only get more popular as he continues publishing. 5 stars.

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2. I thought a lot about not including The Bear and the Nightingale on this list.  While this novel was one I read in 2016, its official publishing date was 2017. However, I couldn’t resist because I think it will also be one of my favorite reads of 2017. I love books where the author has done their research to create a historical setting as correct as possible. I also love fantasy. The Bear and the Nightingale was both, a world where the old and the new collide, and where a young girl has to come to terms with the power inside of her–which isn’t always understood–before something horrible happens. It was really cool to read a book set in the Russian wilderness and actually feel like it was. 5 stars.

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3. A time-period in America that I’m fascinated by is the roaring 20s, and a book set in that era (or near to it) plus one that has a fantasy element is pretty much guaranteed to be a hit for me. Iron Cast by Destiny Soria is also a debut novel, and like The Serpent King, it was one hundred percent successful for me. Soria’s style of writing was engaging and created an alternate history of 1919, one where the ability to create illusions through art has already been banned. I LOVED that it had a true female friendship that went through ups-and-downs. It was one of the most realistic female friendships I’ve read in a novel and it made me miss my best friend. I’m looking forward to reading more from Destiny Soria as well, and she was a lovely interviewee! 5 stars.

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4. When the Moon Was Ours was a wonderful story about friendship, first love, and discovering yourself. It was a love story to those who don’t fit into the boxes that society tries to put them in and those who are searching for names,  as well as a personal love story from the author to her partner. You could feel the love in the pages of this magical realism story, which read like a modern-day fairy tale. All of the characters had an arc with a beginning, middle, and end. The writing was lyrical and poignant and the subject was handled with such care. 4 stars.

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5. A Darker Shade of Magic was one of the reviews that I never got around to doing, so there’s nothing to link to. I thoroughly enjoyed the twist on London, with multiple Londons (and worlds) existing alongside each other. Each were unique. Kell is one of the few who can travel between the worlds, and he may be the only one who can save them. It’s a great introduction to a new story and world, and was my first introduction to this author’s work.  I’m excited to reread this in 2017 and also start the second in preparation for the third novel’s release in February!

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*・゜Honorable Mentions*・゜

27153280And I Darken was a novel that imagined if Vlad Dracula was a woman. Lada was a very strong protagonist who didn’t always do things I agreed with or liked, but it was important in establishing her character. And I Darken was full of an interesting alternate history with characters who are set on protecting those they love at all costs while also attempting to gather power. 4 stars.

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Dreaming of Antigone was a nice young adult romance novel that reminded me of Deb Caletti’s writing. It’s the story of a girl who is trying to survive the loss of her twin while also dealing with her family’s grief, a budding romance, and lingering questions about who her sister really was. I really loved that there was a focus on stargazing and Greek tragedy, two things I enjoy. 5 stars.

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106641132016 was the year when I finally read all of the currently published Song of Ice and Fire aka Game of Thrones series. I started in July 2015 and read through to February of 2016. A Dance with Dragons is the most recent novel that George R.R. Martin’s written for this series and the first one where I couldn’t immediately go read the next. I am suffering. My only consolation is that Martin will have produced something amazing by the time the sixth book is out. Here’s hoping it’s out this year! (Does anyone not know what this series is about? I just realized I skipped a short description, oops!). 3-5 stars.

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17378527I don’t really know why I never read The Raven Cycle series, but I just didn’t. When the fourth and final book came out, the bookstagram and book community went crazy so I decided to check it out. I really loved them. It’s a bit of magical realism but nothing too intense. I really enjoyed Stiefvater’s writing style a lot. Books one, two, and three were amazing, and most of the fourth was, but I was a little disappointed by the ending. Overall, though, I loved it! 5 stars (with the exception of the fourth with 4 stars).

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16074758The surprising little book that I should have disliked because this type of book is a miss 70 percent of the time, Dangerous Girls was a suspense / thriller of a girl trying to prove her innocence when she’s accused of a friend’s murder. Soon she is alone in an unfamiliar country, the friends she thought she had quickly flocking to the prosecution’s side. I was surprised how much I actually enjoyed it. It had a really nuanced look at how friendships between girls are not always as simple as they seem, especially when there’s tension on them. A case of an unreliable narrator that worked really well (and one that didn’t bother me!). 4 stars.

 

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year-in-review-3

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I read a lot, I bought a lot, and I took a lot of book photos (for every one on my bookstagram, there was probably at least six more that were deleted). I even was incredibly lucky enough to snag tickets to one of the most anticipated events for Harry Potter fans, the Cursed Child play! It was a phenomenal experience and one of the most amazing things I did in 2016. I want to see it again. And then see it again.

I read  and did so much more that I can’t talk about here. 2016 was a great year of books for me. I’m excited to start 2017 off!

[The Bear and the Nightingale] Katherine Arden

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I absolutely loved The Bear and the Nightingale. Katherine Arden has crafted a beautiful tale of wildness, beauty, and fantasy. It’s the story of Vasilisa–called Vasya by those who love her–and her family’s trials and triumphs in a world that doesn’t always believe in the mystical. In the wilds of Russia, far from the civilized world of Moscow, Vasilisa and her siblings grow up believing in Morozko–the not-always-nice Frost–and other household and wilderness beings such as the domovoi and the rusalka. It chronicles the life of Vasilisa as she grows and discovers how to reconcile her old beliefs with new ones that make their way to her household.

The Bear and the Nightingale opens with a Russian folktale, that of Morozko and the maiden. It sets up the story quite well, as there are parallels to this folktale throughout The Bear and the Nightingale. While I would say that is the main folktale that is threaded throughout the book, Arden has included more of the mythology and stories of the region to create a rich cultural setting in addition to a rich physical setting. And it wasn’t mentioned just to have “culture.” The beliefs of the North–which is, according to those who live in the cities, obsolete and incorrect–are consistently in the narrative. As Vasilisa grows, Arden introduces more of the mythology as she learns about it through exploring her world. It was a natural way of storytelling and of growing the world contained in the book.

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Morozko and the Maiden

Vasilisa is characterized as a wild child. As a daughter, it’s expected of her to marry. Those who love her expect that this wildling will eventually grow calmer. She never does. I was very happy that Vasya was the main protagonist in The Bear and the Nightingale. She sees the world differently than the others do, which is often why there’s a lot of conflict between Vasya and the people around her, especially when the new stepmother comes from Moscow.

With the introduction of the stepmother comes one of the main conflicts of the novel. While there are other, minor conflicts such as growing up and wanting to be your own person while also respecting the wishes of your parents, this one is the focus. And it was great. It allowed Arden to take a look at the conflict of the old versus the new, in particular the beliefs in the old Gods  and spirits against the new God. At first, it’s little things. Then as it escalates into a larger conflict, Vasya realizes that forgetting the old Gods and spirits may be more harmful than anyone realizes.

I think that there’s a lot of conflict between Vasya and her stepmother not only because of the contrasting beliefs, but also because they’re so similar to each other. They act as foils to each other, but they’re also similar in their stubbornness. It causes them to clash to the point where neither particularly cares about how it could potentially harm the other. Sometimes you dislike someone because you can see things that you don’t like about yourself in them. That was slightly the case with Vasya and her stepmother.

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An iconostasis likely similar to the one that Father Konstantin paints. An iconostasis is a wall of icons that separate the nave from the sanctuary in a church.

Eventually, the conflict between the two religions escalates to a point where Vasya is one of the only ones who believes in the importance of the old. Her efforts to save her household and that of the people under her father’s care makes her come into her own power, and that makes others feel threatened. She’s a powerful female in a world where men traditionally have the power. She’s also a part of the old world, as was her mother before her. With her mother gone, Vasya is the only one left to uphold this. While the majority of the book is in Vasya’s point of view, Arden also switches points of views to expand the story. Some of these points of view are of male ones. It really works well for this story. We’re not taken away from Vasya for too long, and the different points of view highlight other aspects of the world and informs readers more of the world and how it works, without giving unnecessary information.

I’ve only talked about two characters, but that doesn’t mean that the others aren’t equally as fascinating and developed. While some have smaller roles in the story, I felt that all characters were equally rounded. I didn’t feel that there were any that existed just to exist. I particularly loved Father Konstantin’s story arc and the temptation that he was going through. I also really liked her brothers–while the focus was on two of them, I could sense the love that the others had for Vasya and their family. I loved that they were included because they challenged Vasya. I would definitely read another story that focuses on these characters.

Kind of how I imagined Moscow.

Kind of how I imagined Moscow–people bustling about everywhere.

Ultimately, what won me over were the various well-written elements of The Bear and the Nightingale, namely the characters, the physical setting of the world, and the cultural setting of the world. Arden has such a talent at crafting something deep and immersive. Mere chapters in I realized just how much research had gone into creating this world and by the time I finished the novel I was deeply impressed with the care that she had taken. Not only is her writing beautiful and engaging, but it gave me a true sense of Russia in a time before–when being a member of the ruling class is precarious and some of the people are transitioning from the old Gods to the new God. The only knowledge I have is through self-learning and is limited, but this felt real. The information–such as how what I would characterize as pet-names–was released slowly and I learned by reading. I felt a little lost at the beginning but consistency helped me find my way.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a historical fantasy novel, and I loved it. I really think it’s going to do well. Not only does it have a heroine who does her own thing, but it has a fantastic story with a great setting. I think it’s clear how much I loved it because of the details on an unfamiliar culture and setting. It’s a great start to a new book year, even though I technically read it in 2016! The details make this story and I’m very thankful that I got to read it early and gush about it in a review. I’m looking forward to what Katherine Arden comes up with next. If it’s anything like The Bear and the Nightingale, I’m sure that I’ll love it.

5 very well-deserved stars.

The Bear and the Nightingale will be published on January 10th, 2017. I received a copy from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.