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review 2018-02-18 00:00
The Bear and the Nightingale
The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden 4.5 stars...

The only reason I didn't give it the full 5 stars is because I don't think we as the readers are given a complete enough background on the the Russian fairy tales, their characters, and the second sight (we're told they see demons), so I felt like I was trying to piece things together more then what should be necessary toward the beginning. There is a dictionary at the end which of course was a little too late in coming for me. It would have been nice to have that at the beginning.

*I won a copy of this book in a Goodreads FirstReads giveaway but my review is solely my own. Thank you Goodreads!
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review 2018-02-07 00:00
The Bear and the Nightingale
The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden I loved this book so so much.

First, I love how this author fleshes out all her characters. Even Konstantine the deeply obnoxious priest and Anna the evil step mother are extremely understandable and sympathetic. They're more awful because of the wasted potential in them -- especially Anna, whose fear of her own sight is so contrasted to Vasya and her mother.

I'm also a sucker for a folkloric setting, and boy howdy, this one delivered. Solid, a+ there. I love seeing Vasya stepping up, looking after her family and her people and holding the household spirits togeather with grit and grim determination. Her care for *her* people is palpable, and that that care includes the household spirits themselves is also extremely apparent.

Also, perhaps it's just because I spent today tromping through snow outside under an extremely blue and cold sky, but the way winter and the weather is talked about hit so close to home, I knew *exactly* what kind of frost or snow they were talking about every time it changed. Beautiful.

I love the different POVs for this story, particularly Vasya's father's. One of the things this book hits out of the park is familial relationships. Vasya and her brothers, Vasya and her father, Vasya and her sisters, her siblings with each other -- they're all so, so well drawn. The way you can love your sibling and want only the best for them and still not really understand each other and get along.
I also love seeing the loss of Sasha to the church through Piotr's eyes, how he's evaluating his children and trying to find them safe and happy lives that suit their talents.

Even with the multiple POVs, I didn't feel like this story was confusing or poorly paced -- all the povs and snippets came together like a puzzle. In the final stretch of the book you can feel all the pieces snapping into place and you don't like the look of the completed puzzle, but that's still the only place this piece fits. I tore through this novel like a freight train due to this masterful use of tension.

OH BOY, MOROZKO, boy howdy. Talk about building the tension right with *that* one! I love him.
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text 2018-02-01 16:26
January Reading
Jane, Unlimited - Kristin Cashore
My Conversations with Canadians - Lee Maracle
Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story - Martin Luther King Jr.
Swallowing Mercury - Wioletta Greg,Wioletta Grzegorzewska,Eliza Marciniak
 Atomic Adventures: Secret Islands, Forgotten N-Rays, and Isotopic Murder - A Journey into the Wild World of Nuclear Science - James Mahaffey,Keith Sellon-Wright
Sweet Disorder - Rose Lerner
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden
The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner - Daniel Ellsberg
Winter Rose - Patricia A. McKillip
A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin

Eleven books read:

Jane, Unlimited - Kristin Cashore

My Conversations with Canadians - Lee Maracle  

Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story - Martin Luther King Jr.  

Swallowing Mercury - Wioletta Greg, Eliza Marciniak  

Atomic Adventures: Secret Islands, Forgotten N-Rays, and Isotopic Murder - James Mahaffey

Someone To Love - Mary Balogh (DNF)

Sweet Disorder - Rose Lerner  

The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden 

The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner - Daniel Ellsberg  

Winter Rose - Patricia A. McKillip  

A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin  

 

Women Writers Bingo: 3/25

(Personal take: Finish 25 books by new-to-me female authors in 2018*)

Finished in January: Wioletta Greg, Rose Lerner, Katherine Arden

 

Gender Balance:

Fiction: 7 by women, 0 by men, 0 by non-binary

Non fiction: 1 by women, 3 by men, 0 by non-binary

 

Format:

Paper books that I own: 0

Paper books from library: 5

E-books that I own: 1

E-books from library: 1

Audiobooks that I own: 4

 

February Goals:

1. Finish reading for Hugo Award nominations (Jade City, Prey of the Gods, Winter Tide).

2. Read at least one book for black history month

3. Stop ordering fucking library books.

 

 

*Women Writers Bingo Bonus Points:

5 of those books in translation: 1/5 (Swallowing Mercury)

5 of those books are non-fiction: 0/5

 

Bingo Companion Round:

5 books by non-binary authors: 0/5

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review 2018-01-24 17:47
Incredibly Frustraiting!
The Bear and the Nightingale - Katherine Arden

This book had a singular genius in regards to managing to hint at something I found really interesting, and then make the story about something else. Incredibly time and place specific court politics? Oh yeah, that's happening in Moscow, and we're stuck in the woods. Subverting fairy tales? The author will cordially nod at subversion across the room and then go full steam ahead with unsubverted fairy tales. Clash between pagan and Christian beliefs, exploring the world views of both? Nope, it's pure sweet pagans v. evil leach priests.

 

This is basically the story of a pure pagan witch who is persecuted by her evil step mother and by the town's corrupt priest who has the hots for her and punishes her for his own lust. If you think that sounds like a plot that blew in from the 1980s, oh boy you're right! The only characters who got the least hints of personality moved to Moscow about five chapters in, and were never seen again. Everyone else were more or less types swept along in story logic. Why did the towns people abandon their very helpful gods to switch to a new fake religion? Because the hot priest told them to! Why did no one give the magical talisman to the heroine until the eleventh hour, despite five hundred warnings of the dire consequences of not doing so? Because the plot demanded a draggy middle section, and the storytelling wanted her to be as poorly informed as possible. Why were almost all threats to the heroine sexually charged? Because realism or something. Probably.

 

The writing itself could be very beautiful, but reading it in a long stretch made me realise how hard the author was leaning on a few tricks and a basket of repeated phrases. Everything was "as sure footed as a stag" or "soft as a cat." The word "suddenly" was used once a paragraph in all action scenes. (I may have been at the "I'm so annoyed at this I'm going to pick nits phase" by the end there.) The pacing was also all over the place, but I blame first novel.

 

Mostly though I'm too old and too tired for stories about wicked stepmothers (unless it's from their point of view for the whole story, and then by all means proceed!) And trying to make this one simultaneously sympathetic and still evil in a very specific gendered way only made the character's lack of salvation seem really petty on the part of the author. It reminded me of this analysis of disproportionate death in Jurassic World. And then making the last quarter or so about the heroine feeling trapped by her lack of choice, while never actually giving her any choices didn't feel that well thought through either (nor the deus ex machina in the final battle). It felt very much like, "I'm not like those other girls who just love being married off to strangers or joining convents!" I'm guessing the main difference there is that those other girls don't have magic powers, and therefore have fewer choices, but the story never quite sees that either.

 

I was reading this for a book club, and I can't tell if I weren't reading it for that if I'd have bailed about 30% in or not. I might have kept going on grounds that a) I'd bought the book, b) I wanted to see if it really did manage to do anything more complicated or interesting than a straight up fairy tale. It kept hinting that it might. Then it didn't.

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text 2017-12-27 23:01
Top 5 books of 2017
A Conjuring of Light - V.E. Schwab
City of Miracles - Robert Jackson Bennett
Raven Stratagem - Yoon Ha Lee
The Ninth Rain - Jen Williams
The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel - Katherine Arden

I didn't do a book challenge this year, but I still ended up reading about 60 books and graphic novels, as well as starting another 8-9. A bunch of those were re-reads, as I got ready to finish off or continue trilogies, while I also went on a big Earthsea jaunt as I'd never read all the novels in one go before. 

 

Anyway, here are my top 5 books of the year (graphic novels excluded), in no particular order:

 

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab - stunning conclusion to a great series, just wish I liked her YA books as much as I liked these!

 

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett - another trilogy-concluder, with each book featuring what I've described as 'grumpy olds doing stuff'.

 

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee - second book in a trilogy this time, but while I enjoyed Ninefox Gambit a lot, I thought this book was far more accessible and I can't wait to see what happens in Revenant Gun next year. 

 

The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams - a first book this time, curses! I really enjoyed her Copper Cat series (which starts with The Copper Promise, for anyone who's interested) but this book kicks things up a notch. The next book, The Bitter Twins, is due out in March and I can't wait...

 

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden - another first book in a series, not to everyone's taste but it more than worked for me! The next book, The Girl in the Tower, is already out and I need to get hold of it when it eventually arrives in paperback. 

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