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Adult, Review, Uncategorized / January 3, 2017
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine ArdenThe Bear and the Nightingale
Date: January 2017
336 pages
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
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A magical debut novel for readers of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and Neil Gaiman’s myth-rich fantasies, The Bear and the Nightingale spins an irresistible spell as it announces the arrival of a singular talent with a gorgeous voice.

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

I was really interested in reading The Bear and the Nightingale after it seeing it suggested for fans of Uprooted, one of my favorite books. In the end, I found this is hard to rate given that it was very good in some places and less so in others.

The first quarter I didn’t care for. I’ve never really enjoyed things with a hungry and cold atmosphere and have had trouble with other books set in Russia. I feel like one of the few people who didn’t like The Bronze Horseman. At the start the characters feel pretty remote, closer to fairy-tale stock characters than real people. I did end up invested in the protagonist, Vasya, by the mid-point. But she isn’t surrounded by much in the way of good side characters. Most are unlikable or forgettable. I get really into side characters, sometimes they are my favorite part of the story. The side characters in Uprooted felt more fleshed-out and real to me. There are a few here, but I’d have liked more. There also aren’t many interesting females beyond Vasya.

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By: Diane
Adult, Review / October 25, 2016
Den of Wolves by Juliet MarillierDen of Wolves
Publisher: Roc
Date: November 2016
448 pages
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
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Feather bright and feather fine, None shall harm this child of mine...

Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.

Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies...

Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone...

Den of Wolves is the final book in the Blackthorn & Grim trilogy and happily I also think it’s the best.

This review won’t contain any major spoilers for the earlier two books as each is written in a rather self contained way. That said, if you haven’t read this series, you do want to start with book one, Dreamer’s Pool, as these are not stand alone novels. If you haven’t read anything by Juliet Marillier (gasp!) then I would suggest starting with her Sevenwaters trilogy. I still think it’s the best. However there are so many things I love about this one, most of which comes down to Blackthorn and Grim themselves.

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By: Diane
Review, Young Adult / June 27, 2016
These Shallow Graves by Jennifer DonnellyThese Shallow Graves
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Date: 2015
496 pages
Source: Purchased
Genres: Crime, Historical Fiction, Mystery
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Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo secretly dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort accidentally shot himself while cleaning his revolver. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.

The more Jo uncovers about her father’s death, the more her suspicions grow. There are too many secrets. And they all seem to be buried in plain sight. Then she meets Eddie—a young, brash, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. Only now it might be too late to stop.

The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and the truth is the dirtiest part of all.

I don’t read historical fiction very much, which may seem funny as I study history at University, but I tend to stick to fantasy and contemporary. I picked up These Shallow Graves after mulling it over for several weeks after spotting it in my local Waterstones. There was just something about the cover, synopsis and the fact that it was set in early 1900s New York that I could not shake. I ended up buying it finally and I do not regret it one bit. The book was written well, the plot was well thought out, the characters were very interesting to read about.

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By: Vicky
Review, Young Adult / November 8, 2013
The Falconer by Elizabeth MayThe Falconer
Author: Elizabeth May
Series: The Falconer #1
Publisher: Gollancz
Date: September 2013
312 pages
Source: ARC from publisher
Genres: Historical Fiction, Paranormal
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Heiress. Debutant. Murderer. A new generation of heroines has arrived.

Edinburgh, Scotland, 1844

Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, was destined for a life carefully planned around Edinburgh’s social events – right up until a faery killed her mother.

Now it’s the 1844 winter season and Aileana slaughters faeries in secret, in between the endless round of parties, tea and balls. Armed with modified percussion pistols and explosives, she sheds her aristocratic facade every night to go hunting. She’s determined to track down the faery who murdered her mother, and to destroy any who prey on humans in the city’s many dark alleyways.

But the balance between high society and her private war is a delicate one, and as the fae infiltrate the ballroom and Aileana’s father returns home, she has decisions to make. How much is she willing to lose – and just how far will Aileana go for revenge?

If you think you’ve read too many faerie books, well, think again because there’s one book that’s an absolutely must read this year. The Falconer is the freshest, most well-crafted story I’ve read in a while, faeries or not. You will be delighted to enter Lady Aileana Kameron’s gritty, steampunky world.

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By: Daphne
Review, Young Adult / October 11, 2012
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFeversGrave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Series: His Fair Assassin #1
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Date: April 2012
549 pages
Source: NetGalley
Genres: Historical Fiction
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Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

The first thing that everyone says about this book is ‘assassin nuns’! Well, I’m going to say much the same, because guess what, assassin nuns are cool. In this YA historical fiction, we get a smartly-plotted tale that handles murder and treason as well as honour and romance.

The book lived up to its fantastic premise: set in the duchy of Brittany in the Middle Ages, it follows the story of Ismae, as she seeks sanctuary at the convent of St. Mortain. Unlike most girls, Ismae, a daughter of Death, has been blessed with the power to resist poisons and unlike normal convents, St. Mortain trains its girls to be assassins. There was humorous irony in the fact that a convent was teaching the arts of killing and seduction, but the author does such a great job with the authenticity of her historical setting that it was believable. LaFevers also managed to make the fantasy elements sit comfortably within the time period as an old religion serving old gods, which lent a sense of realism to the story.

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By: Daphne