Review: Release by Patrick Ness

31194576Adam Thorn is having what will turn out to be the most unsettling, difficult day of his life, with relationships fracturing, a harrowing incident at work, and a showdown between this gay teen and his preacher father that changes everything. It’s a day of confrontation, running, sex, love, heartbreak, and maybe, just maybe, hope. He won’t come out of it unchanged. And all the while, lurking at the edges of the story, something extraordinary and unsettling is on a collision course.

Before we start: A big, big thank you must go to Walker Books for sending me a review copy. You make my bookish dreams come true, my friends.

Release is a day in the life of Adam Thorn, interspersed with a day in the life of a ghost, spirit and faun (stick with me). Where Adam’s sections are poignant and at times heartbreaking, the fantastical sections are a mysterious meandering journey for answers, for, as the title suggests, release. The two storylines meet with their need for release and while Adam’s story didn’t need the magical realism to work, or to be enjoyable, it was an intriguing addition (even if it has left some reviewers torn).

It’s a book of details, we see the kind of detail that can only be built into a novel that takes place over one day. There is no skipping over important details, every feeling is felt, every confrontation confronted and every revelation revealed in front of our waiting eyes. I like this. I like books which deal in detail. During my Creative Writing degree, we studied a module called A Day in the Life and this book would fit right into the reading list, I wish it were around when I was doing that course. It’s so engaging and a lot can be learned about writing from it, as well as it being a great reading experience.

Due to the degree of detail, we get to know the characters rather well, and what lovely characters they are. Adam is surrounded by an excellent supporting cast in the form of Angela and Linus. They are excellent. They are everything I wanted them to be and more.

Release deals with a lot of big things in a short amount of time but I think my favourite thing about it is its portrayal of relationships, romantic, familial and platonic. Every kind of relationship is hard and messy and Release doesn’t shy away from that. Ness is great at making you feel things. I felt my heart clench in moments between Adam and Linus, and I felt it break in a scene with Adam and his father, it swelled every time Adam was with Angela.

It is a sensitive representation of what it is like to be gay in a religious family that doesn’t agree with homosexuality but it packs one hell of a punch when it needs to, and emphasises that family isn’t just what you are born with, it’s what you choose. It’s a deeply personal novel, while it’s not about Ness and the characters are not people who are in his real life, you can tell he drew from his own experience and I think that’s what makes it so powerful.

The magical realism wasn’t as poignant, and that seems to be the problem for readers who didn’t like those parts, but it was interesting and it did a lot to break up the utterly terrible day Adam was having. I love a bit of fantasy, so I enjoyed it. I liked puzzling together what Katherine (a murdered girl, the ghost who has risen from the lake) was looking for, and how that linked her with the Queen (a spirit also inhabiting her ‘body’). Though it deals with murder and blame and addiction and all the mess therein, it stopped the novel from being depressing – if we had just had Adam’s day going from bad to worse to absolutely horrible, I think it would have been hard to get through. The fantasy adds something to puzzle over, something to distract, and it made each scene with Adam easier to digest. The fantasy is a palate cleanser between the meaty courses of the novel.

It does offer some light at the end of the tunnel, it’s not all doom and gloom, there are moments of dazzling brightness, alongside the dark. It’s not a novel where everything is tied up at the end, there are things that we don’t get to see (which happen after) that I am still curious about and I like it when books leave me curious. Sure, I will never get the answers I want but I will be thinking about it for days, and that’s what you want from a book. You want it to stick with you, and Release does.

Advertisements

Go, Go, Power Rangers!

MV5BNDg2NzI3Njk2OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDczODY2MTI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_I have been waiting for this film. Waiting and waiting and waiting. (Where have we read this before? Apparently, when I am passionate about films, these are my go-to phrases.) When it was announced, I am pretty sure I made some kind of unearthly squealing noise, and I decided right there and then that not only was I going to see it but I was going to love it.

The release date, coincidentally, was over the weekend of my birthday, so I feel like the great and terrible movie gods decided to give me a present. Power Rangers was my childhood, and the original film (with Ivan Ooze, that gloopy so-and-so) is something I watch regularly both out of nostalgia and genuine enjoyment. Nothing beats delayed whooshes and yells of ee-yah!

My tiny child heart was and is filled with glee at the thought of a new Power Rangers movie to sink my teeth into. I was determined to love it no matter whether it was terrible or not. I have a penchant for loving movies my friends think are terrible so I was confident that I would like it.

Luckily for me, it wasn’t terrible at all. It’s gotten some bad press but I think the people that gave it bad press are the people who wanted it to fail. One of the main problems people seem to have with it is the lack of morphing time but, dear reader, I put it to you that surely there wouldn’t be much morphing time in an origin movie. It’s not about the Rangers as Rangers, it’s about the Rangers becoming Rangers. Sure, they find the crystals but the film would end very quickly if that was all it took for them to fulfill their Ranger potential.  So, with that out of the way…

Power Rangers is such a diverse film. Of the five Power Rangers, only one of them is white, and the Blue Ranger (Billy Cranston) is not only black, but he’s on the spectrum and it’s not turned into an issue. Billy is Billy and the other characters love him and never try to belittle him.

Trini, the Yellow Ranger, is canon not-straight. She doesn’t give herself a label and the film doesn’t turn it into a coming out story, it is just who she is, it is normal. Power Rangers normalises the normal in a way that other films don’t. I can’t believe that in 2017 that’s still a phrase I have to use but it is, and Power Rangers is a step in the right direction. It is so refreshing to see.

As you may know, I haunt Tumblr often, and it’s so lovely to see the posts from people who can relate to these diverse, three-dimensional characters in a way that they may not have been able to before. As a white woman, I’ve never really had to dig and scrape for someone to relate to in pop culture, I recognise my privilege and while I’ve not really experienced a lack of representation myself, I do wish for a greater mirror in the world of literature and film for those that do. I’m heartened when I see the reflection growing, even if just a little.

The film is less centred on the Rangers aspect and more on the Rangers’ relationships with each other, how they go from being strangers, to being friends, to being Rangers. I love everything about it. What we do see of them in their suits and their zords is fabulous. There are little echoes from the show and while it is the same in spirit, the film is a different but related beast.

MV5BNjI1OTAwNDUxOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTA5MTkxMTI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1502,1000_AL_.jpg

It goes darker than the series, perhaps a sign of the time it has been created in. Rita is not the kitschy villain you might remember. She is a dark creature. She is one of my favourite things about the film. She is a villain, a real one.

All in all. I loved it. I knew I was going to love it but I didn’t know I was going to love it, you know? I want to see it again, right now.

Review: Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

29245653Hag-Seed is a re-visiting of Shakespeare’s play of magic and illusion, The Tempest, and will be the fourth novel in the Hogarth Shakespeare series.

In Margaret Atwood’s ‘novel take’ on Shakespeare’s original, theatre director Felix has been unceremoniously ousted from his role as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival. When he lands a job teaching theatre in a prison, the possibility of revenge presents itself – and his cast find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever.

This has been on my TBR list since it was announced and, shamefully, it’s the first Atwood I’ve read. Whoops.

I will definitely be fixing that.

Hag-Seed follows Felix, an ageing theatre director, usurped and left to rot in a tiny shack haunted by the memory of his daughter. It is from this shack that he plots his revenge and finds unlikely allies in the course he teaches at Fletcher correctional.

The Tempest is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays, so I was definitely intrigued to see how this would play out. I love that Atwood didn’t just acknowledge the source material but actually used the play at the heart of her novel. I’ve not read any of the other books in the Hogarth series but I have read that the others don’t include the play in such a way. Go Atwood, go!

It unpacks the play, analyses it and spits it out as something magical. I love this book. It made me look at The Tempest in a new way and I now want to go back and study it, school style. Because I am a giant nerd. And proud.

The novel is a slow-burner, it’s very internal. Felix spends a lot of time in his head, plotting, imagining, and often hallucinating. It’s very much an exploration of his character.

I love character driven books, so this really worked for me.

It’s a fresh interpretation of Shakespeare while still sticking to the spirit of the play, and I really, really enjoyed it.

In which I adore Beauty and the Beast

MV5BNWE5ZDIzOTgtZDVjYy00NjU2LWIxODctN2M0N2E0MDk3YWFlL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDQxNjcxNQ@@._V1_

I have been waiting for this film. Waiting and waiting and waiting, giddy with excitement, and thrusting my grabby little hands at every trailer, clip, b-roll and featurette that surfaced. I adore Beauty and the Beast in all of its forms and am forever seeking wonderful adaptations to dig my teeth into (if you know of any, please list them in the comments).

Beauty and the Beast was probably my most-watched animated film as a child, not just because it’s based on one of my most loved fairy tales, or because it’s about a girl with brown hair who loves books, but because it has one of the most beautiful scores I have ever heard. The music under the narration of the prologue is a piece that has been playing on repeat in my dreams for most of my life. Alan Menken is a genius.

You can imagine my excitement when I heard the absolutely beautiful rendition of a portion of it in one of the trailers. I squealed so loudly that my boyfriend heard it even with his headphones on. Every time I hear that familiar refrain, I feel it in my stomach and my skin tingles. It’s, perhaps, my favourite piece of music ever written, so to hear it in that deliciously orchestrated manner was incredible but not nearly as incredible as seeing it in the film. I will admit that I did miss the stained glass prologue but the scenes that replace it more than make up for it. They set the tone and the standard for a visually stunning film. That whole sequence was glorious from the make-up to the costumes, to the dancing.

The casting of LeFou and Gaston was spot on. They were perfect, and the character growth in LeFou was possibly my favourite part of the whole film. The live-action definitely went darker with Gaston than its animated predecessor but still stuck the the slightly campy, wonderfully ridiculous stylings of the song ‘Gaston’. I bloomin’ love it.

giphy.gif

While it’s not my favourite Beauty and the Beast adaptation in existence – that accolade goes to Christophe Gans’ 2014 film La Belle et la Bête – it definitely makes me happy. It’s everything I wanted from the live-action, I especially liked that they wrote entirely new songs instead of including the extra tracks from the stage musical (though I love those too). I was slightly nervous about Emma Watson’s singing ability, and though her voice has been edited, it’s not too distracting and I was pleasantly surprised.

I would go and see it again in a heart beat.

One of the things that I love most about the whole thing is the posters. They are so incredibly beautiful and I want all of them. Just look at them.

Are these not some of the most beautiful film posters you have ever seen?

Overall, I think the film is lovely, and it was lovely to watch it in a cinema packed full of children – most of whom were dressed as princesses and made my heart leak everywhere.

Review: The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

27973757Forbidden to leave her island, Isabella Riosse dreams of the faraway lands her father once mapped.

When her closest friend disappears into the island’s Forgotten Territories, she volunteers to guide the search. As a cartographer’s daughter, she’s equipped with elaborate ink maps and knowledge of the stars, and is eager to navigate the island’s forgotten heart.

But the world beyond the walls is a monster-filled wasteland – and beneath the dry rivers and smoking mountains, a legendary fire demon is stirring from its sleep. Soon, following her map, her heart and an ancient myth, Isabella discovers the true end of her journey: to save the island itself.

This is a beautiful book. It is possibly the most beautiful novel I’ve ever seen. I want to find the designers, shake them firmly by the hand, and then steal their talent from them by the all-encompassing power of osmosis. (I am aware that I am not a plant and such things are not possible but a girl can dream.)

Just look. Look at these two pages.

img_4662

The entire book is printed in navy, with orange detailing and it really is something special. It also has a gate-folded cover with colourful maps on the inside. It’s is a beautiful piece of book production and I wish I produced it myself. Even if I had never intended to read it, I would have bought it just because it’s a beautiful object. (I always did intend to read it. I mean, just read the title, does that not seem like something I would love?)

I was a bit unsure of this book at first, it’s split into parts and the first section isn’t the most exciting thing I’ve ever read but I think if I were younger, I would have appreciated it a lot more. However, I am happy to report that once the action started, it was excellent. I felt nervous feelings in my stomach and everything, I definitely was not expecting that after the beginning. It definitely has echoes of The Firework Maker’s Daughter (which is one of my favourite things) so I very much appreciated that.

What I love most about this book though is the character development. There’s a certain character (Lupe) who begins as an entitled, brattish child and ends up as something entirely different, and it shattered my heart a little bit. The Girl of Ink and Stars doesn’t shy away from being brutal.

It went in directions I was not expecting and I found myself loving it. I loved the setting, I loved the characters, and I loved the mythology that bound the whole thing together. It’s a short read, but a good one and I am glad I stuck it out. It is poignant and lovely and a good way to wile away an evening.

Review: Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

24590694Night Vale is a small desert town where all the conspiracy theories you’ve ever heard are actually true. It is here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge.

Nineteen-year-old Night Vale pawn shop owner Jackie Fierro is given a paper marked ‘KING CITY’ by a mysterious man in a tan jacket. She can’t seem to get the paper to leave her hand, and no one who meets this man can remember anything about him. Jackie is determined to uncover the mystery of King City before she herself unravels.

Diane Crayton’s son, Josh, is moody and also a shape shifter. And lately Diane’s started to see her son’s father everywhere she goes, looking the same as the day he left years earlier. Josh, looking different every time Diane sees him, shows a stronger and stronger interest in his estranged father, leading to a disaster Diane can see coming, even as she is helpless to prevent it.

Diane’s search to reconnect with her son and Jackie’s search for her former routine life collide as they find themselves coming back to two words: ‘KING CITY’. It is King City that holds the key to both of their mysteries, and their futures …if they can ever find it.

We are still on the Welcome to Night Vale train here on eloucarroll.com. We regret nothing.

(We being I, me, Elou, all on my lonesome. I like to think I’m royal and thus able to pull off the royal ‘we’, do I succeed? You decide. My deciding would be nepotism, and my nepotism would say yes. Yes, I do.)

Anyway, let’s avoid any more tangents, shall we? (There I go again…)

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel is, you guessed it, a novel based on the wildly popular Welcome to Night Vale podcast. I would recommend listening to at least some of the podcasts or picking up Mostly Void, Partially Stars and The Great Glowing Coils of the Universe (the script books for the first two years of the podcast) before you read the novel. Not only will you be more invested by that point but you will also have some idea of what to expect and some familiarity with the setting and some of the characters. The novel does mention things that have occurred previously on the podcast.

Or you could go into it blind and be in for a wild, wild ride. (No, really, you should probably familiarise yourself with Night Vale – I’m not sure it’s hugely accessible for new readers unless you already know what you’re in for.)

As you might have gathered from the blurb Welcome to Night Vale is weird. Unlike American Elsewhere, which I read and reviewed recently, the weird in Night Vale is the random sort of weird that always manages to take you by surprise. I am amazed at the imaginations of Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor but I am even more amazed at their ability to make all of the random things which make Night Vale what it is work together. I always thought that there was such a thing as too out there. Fink and Cranor continue to prove me wrong.

Interspersed with the familiar radio stylings of Cecil, the novel itself follows Diane and Jackie, two unlikely heroines who are thrown together (much to their disgruntlement) by circumstances beyond their control. Both linked by the mysterious stranger in the tan jacket and his cryptic two-word message of ‘KING CITY’. Jackie and Diane are wildly different, and it’s great that we get to experience the story through both of their perspectives, with some chapters happening parallel to one another.

However, it’s not until the last couple of chapters that the plot actually gets anywhere and I think that’s why it took me so long to read (it took me over a week, which is a long time for me at my current reading speed). The wild ride I mentioned earlier was not the wild ride of the plot – that was the wild ride of Night Vale as a thing. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the novel but it could probably have been a fair bit shorter. What works in a short podcast doesn’t necessarily work for a long-form novel. There’s lots of exposition but not enough plot to really justify it, for the podcast this would be perfect but the novel could have done without it. That said, I do love the narrative style (even if it does go every direction except forwards for a lot of the novel). It has a habit of pointing out things that we all know but never really think about, which I really enjoy. At the end of the book, there’s a sentence which spans across three pages. I didn’t notice that it was all the same sentence at first. Until I did. I’m not sure what I think about that but I think that I like how my mind just accepted it and succumbed to the power of the sentence. (I am suddenly worried that the sentence is going to leap out of the book and make a bid at world domination. If any book could convince its sentences to jump ship and take over the world, it would probably be this one.)

Welcome to Night Vale is a mixed bag and it could go either way, I enjoyed it but there are so many reviews from existing fans and Night Vale newbies alike who thought it just fell flat. I can see where they’re coming from. Personally, I like rambling, pointless stories (as long as they have a point of interest, narrative style or characters that I can engage with) but I know a lot of people don’t and if a book’s plot doesn’t really show up until the last few chapters, that’s going to be a problem.

So while I do recommend this book, I recommend it with a pinch of salt. It’s definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and even though I enjoyed it, I would recommend you explore Night Vale a bit before you pick up the novel to avoid being thrown head-first into a pit of confusion.

Review: American Elsewhere by Robert Jackson Bennett

14781178Some places are too good to be true.

Under a pink moon, there is a perfect little town not found on any map.

In that town, there are quiet streets lined with pretty houses, houses that conceal the strangest things.

After a couple years of hard traveling, ex-cop Mona Bright inherits her long-dead mother’s home in Wink, New Mexico. And the closer Mona gets to her mother’s past, the more she understands that the people of Wink are very, very different …

This book is weird. Not quirky-weird, weird-weird.

My best friend read this book and then decided I should too, and mentioned it constantly until I ended up buying it. She knew I was currently very into Welcome to Night Vale, and this book is similar in that it takes place in a fictional town somewhere in the desert (well, near the desert) where everything is a bit strange and at its heart lies a conspiracy. As soon as I read the second line of the blurb above, I knew I wanted this book. I knew I needed this book. It was exactly the kind of weird I was looking for.

It follows Mona, an ex-cop with a complex relationship with her past, as she travels to Wink to find out more about her mother who died when she was young. Her mother left behind a house, and Mona thinks there might be answers there. What she stumbles into is not the quaint little town it seems.

There is a lot to uncover in American Elsewhere, around every corner is something new and it takes a while for it to all click into place. The novel jumps around from person to person in a fashion that I absolutely love. I love the little glimpses of the lives and thoughts of other characters, especially when those characters are not quite normal. I fell in love with these not quite normals, Parson and Mr First especially.

My favourite character, however, was Gracie, sweet, sweet Gracie. She’s a tiny cinnamon bun who needs to be protected, and smothered with love. I can’t really reveal much about her without giant spoilers, so I won’t. Just know that she is precious, and she speaks to my awkward little heart.

American Elsewhere is immediate. Written in the present tense, we are always in the action. I love the present tense, and I know how difficult it is to do well, so it always makes me incredibly happy when I find a book that does just that.

It’s a hefty book but, because of the present tense narration, it’s quite a quick read. It’s definitely a page turner and it’s hard to put down once you start!

If you like Welcome to Night Vale, you’re going to love this. If you like weird, you’re going to love this. What are you waiting for?

Review: Mostly Void, Partially Stars by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

29634931From the authors of the New York Times bestselling novel Welcome to Night Vale and the creators of the #1 international podcast of the same name, comes a collection of episodes from Season One of their hit podcast, featuring an introduction by the authors, behind-the-scenes commentary, and original illustrations.

Mostly Void, Partially Stars introduces us to Night Vale, a town in the American Southwest where every conspiracy theory is true, and to the strange but friendly people who live there.

Mostly Void, Partially Stars features an introduction by creator and co-writer Joseph Fink, behind-the-scenes commentary and guest introductions by performers from the podcast and notable fans, including Cecil Baldwin (Cecil), Dylan Marron (Carlos), and Kevin R. Free (Kevin) among others. Also included is the full script from the first Welcome to Night Vale live show, Condos. Beautiful illustrations by series artist Jessica Hayworth accompany each episode.

Welcome to Night Vale is a cult phenomenon. If you’ve not heard of it, I urge you to check it out. It’s wonderfully weird and weirdly wonderful and more than a little bit odd.

I’ve listened to some of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast and thoroughly enjoyed it. My only problem with it has been that if I am doing anything else at the same time, I don’t properly pay attention. With Night Vale if you don’t pay attention for a moment you can end up lost in the middle of a completely different plot point than you remember having heard before. I wanted to consume it a lot quicker than I was able to listen to it, so I was so happy when my boyfriend bought me the books for Christmas. I do intend to listen to the rest of the podcasts but having the book meant I could devour it in a few sittings.

At first Mostly Void, Partially Stars is very, well, random. Most of the scripts are almost entirely separate, with only Cecil, the Night Vale Community Radio Host, and the mention of other characters connecting them. This is not a bad thing by any means. You never quite know what to expect with a Night Vale. Fink and Cranor are especially good at being ridiculous without it being so ridiculous that it just makes no sense. It makes very little sense. But it makes a weird Night Vale sort of sense.

By the time the book draws to a close, story lines are being woven through the episodes and everything seems that much more connected. I found the later episodes more enjoyable than the earlier ones. The earlier episodes were like dipping a toe in the water of Night Vale every week and coming out with a different kind of water, whereas the later ones seem to have found their particular flavour and clung to it, determined to make it taste like the best flavour ever.

If you’ve already listened to the podcasts then you know what you’re getting with the book – you can probably hear the podcasts as you read. However, also included are the commentaries alongside each episode. I loved these. It was so great to get an insight into the creative minds behind the series, and it was so wonderful to find that they live up to the surrealness of the series.

The episodes are decorated with illustrations by the fabulous Jessica Hayworth. They are perfect. The style of them is so appropriate and they really bring the world to life. I have so many favourites that I can’t possibly choose any. They’re such a brilliant companion to the scripts, I really can’t praise them highly enough.

If you’re a fan of Welcome to Night Vale, I would recommend reading Mostly Void, Partially Stars for a different experience. If you think you’re not a very podcasty person but love weird, out there sorts of things, read Mostly Void, Partially Stars. It is very much out there.

Harry Potter re-readathon: The Deathly Hallows

9781408855959_309031We did it! We completed a series! The blog is alive! Alive with the sound of pages ruffling and words shuffling about on the spot waiting to be read. I am proud of this.

Here we are, on the last stop of our journey. The Deathly Hallows.

This book is painful. It hits you right in the gut so many times. With every grave injury or character death, I felt a crack splinter into my heart. It takes its toll – a mark of good writing.

It’s amazing to compare this to The Philiospher’s Stone, the two books are so different and yet they still feel like the same series. True, The Deathly Hallows is a much older, more experienced, and hardened brother to the sweet, innocent Philosopher’s but they are still brothers.

Speaking of brothers, I adore the Tale of the Three Brothers and I wish more folksy fairy tales were included in the body of the series. It added so much to the story and it felt like a real tale. I am a sucker for stories within stories.

Another thing I love about this book is that we get to visit the Ravenclaw common room and its wonderful riddle entry system. I identify as a Ravenclaw (if I haven’t already made that abundantly obvious) so I was so happy when the common room popped up in the books. It’s so wonderfully appropriate, I just want to curl up in there with a good book.

I am, however, still waiting for an epic Ravenclaw protagonist.

We get more helpings of McGonagall, who is just as bad-ass as I wanted her to be. It goes without saying (yet here I am saying it) that I am very much here for more McGonagall, in all of her forms. I am so glad she survives to pass her sass on to future generations of Hogwarts.

Like most Potter fans, however, I feel a great sense of exasperation towards the epilogue. I don’t think it was necessary and I think Harry needs to drastically improve his choice of names. There is no way Ginny had anything to do with that monstrosity. I refuse to believe otherwise.

I don’t quite know how to end this. I’d never thought this far. So I a just going to end it with this:

I bloody love these books. Thank you, J.K. Rowling.

Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

25493853At 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 cannot even begin to tell you how hopelessly I have fallen in love with this book. I mean, I am going to try but it might just sound like loving nonsense. I am okay with this, as long as you know that I love it. I’ve already mentioned this book on here before, and I am almost certain that I will be mentioning it again.

Just thinking about it makes me feel warm.

So, as written in the blurb above, The Bear and the Nightingale tells the story of Vasilisa (or Vasya as she is commonly referred to), an impish Russian girl who lives and breathes the old stories in more ways than one. I love Vasya. I love that she is not pretty. I love that she is gangly and frog-like and her eyes are large and that she likes to climb trees. I have taken Vasya into my heart and I am going to cling to her for the rest of my days.

I love a compelling main character, and Vasya is that. She has a set of beliefs which she values over all but she also has respect for her family, even when they are cruel to her.

Speaking of cruel, I love it when a book gets me to react and, boy, did I react. I wanted to strangle Anna, Vasya’s stepmother, and Konstantin, a priest. Every time they were horrible, every time they were being ridiculous, I found myself shouting a little at the pages (luckily I read this book from the comfort of my own sofa and not on public transport). But I wanted to strangle them for all of the right reasons, I wasn’t supposed to like them. It is a powerful and talented author who can get you to react visibly and audibly, and I bow down.

I find Konstantin particularly apt in the current political climate – he wants people to be afraid. I couldn’t help but compare what Konstantin was doing with what is happening in the real world. Even though The Bear and the Nightingale is steeped in fantasy, I couldn’t help but relate it to my current view of the world.

One of the central themes in the book is the clashing of the old and the new, the old stories, the chyerti with Christianity. The old gods and spirits with the new, and how village life can fit into that. It looks at the roots of its people and pulls them from the ground, only to tentatively put them back again. We learn about all of the various spirits that keep the world turning, the grass growing, the houses protected, and we learn about them both from the perspective of someone who wholeheartedly puts their faith in them, and someone who fears them. It’s so interesting to see both sides, even if one side makes you want to throw something.

It’s a slow burn. The Bear and the Nightingale takes its time and revels in the storytelling. It is in no rush to end but everything feels essential. It’s not heavy-heavy action but it’s not dormant either. It grows into itself as Vasya grows into herself, it is a journey in and of itself.

I just love it so much. I want to shout out to the world, I want to command the world to read this book and love it and take it into their hearts.