Review: The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #3) by Katherine Arden

38391059Verdict: Still in love.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Re-Telling

Published by Ebury Publishing, January 10 2019

Find it on Goodreads.

One girl can make a difference…

Moscow has burned nearly to the ground, leaving its people searching for answers – and someone to hold accountable. Vasya finds herself on her own, amid a rabid mob that calls for her death, blaming her witchery for their misfortune.

Then a vengeful demon returns, renewed and stronger than ever, determined to spread chaos in his wake and never be chained again. Enlisting the hateful priest Konstantin as his servant, turmoil plagues the Muscovites and the magical creatures alike, and all find their fates resting on the shoulders of Vasya.

With an uncertain destiny ahead of her, Vasya learns surprising truths of her past as she desperately tries to save Russia, Morozko, and the magical world she treasures. But she may not be able to save them all…

I adored this beyond measure.

I am a huge fan of this trilogy, have been ever since reading the very first chapter of the first book. I was both super excited and a bit apprehensive before reading this book – but I didn’t have to worry because Katherine Arden absolutely sticks the landing here. This book is both a great conclusion to this brilliant series as well as a great book in its own right.

What Arden does better than most authors I read is building an atmosphere so immersive I become lost in her (impeccably researched) world. I found reading this book a very rewarding experience and I am definitely a life-long fan. Drawing on Russian fairy tales and real world figures to build a world uniquely her own, Arden tells a story of a girl and her choices. Whatever happens in this book is always filtered through Vasya’s lenses and her destiny and I am in love with this. Vasya is a difficult character but someone I could not help root for. I wanted her to find her place and be happy. She is allowed to be prickly and nurturing, she can be rash and caring, and altogether wonderfully rounded. Her relationship to the Winter King just worked for me in this book (I was not fully on board in the book before) and I really liked the overwhelming tenderness between those two.

I adore how the world becomes more complicated as Vasya grows and the scope increases. Things that seemed very black and white to her in the first book become more ambivalent, people grow while staying true to their characterization, and overall the world becomes ever more believable.

Arden has a very distinct and very beautiful writing style that hints at her influences while being very much her own thing and from the very first chapter I was glad to be back in her capable hands. There is a rhythm to her writing that I find very beautiful and this coupled with a story that wraps up strong makes this a strong contender for my favourite book of this year (I just know it’ll make the list).

Other books in the series:
The Bear and the Nightingale: 5 out of 5 stars
The Girl in the Tower: 4 out of 5 stars

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Ebury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Advertisements

Review: Lies Sleeping (Rivers of London #7) by Ben Aaronovitch

36534574Verdict: Great, as always

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Published by Gollancz, November 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

The seventh book of the bestselling Rivers of London urban fantasy series returns to the adventures of Peter Grant, detective and apprentice wizard, as he solves magical crimes in the city of London.

Martin Chorley, aka the Faceless Man, wanted for multiple counts of murder, fraud, and crimes against humanity, has been unmasked and is on the run. Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard, now plays a key role in an unprecedented joint operation to bring Chorley to justice.

But even as the unwieldy might of the Metropolitan Police bears down on its foe, Peter uncovers clues that Chorley, far from being finished, is executing the final stages of a long term plan. A plan that has its roots in London’s two thousand bloody years of history, and could literally bring the city to its knees.

To save his beloved city Peter’s going to need help from his former best friend and colleague–Lesley May–who brutally betrayed him and everything he thought she believed in. And, far worse, he might even have to come to terms with the malevolent supernatural killer and agent of chaos known as Mr Punch….

This is one of my all-time favourite series – and this installment was eagerly awaited and did not disappoint, as usual. There is just something charming and compulsive about this series that makes me very happy.

I won’t write about the plot so much, because doing so invariably would spoil the books that came before (and what twists and turns there were) except to say that I found the way the story went and how some parts wrapped up highly satisfying. I know that there is a novella coming out in a few months (I am so glad!) but except for that I do not know where the story will go next – but wherever it is, I am sure I will be reading it.

The best part, as always, is Peter’s wonderful narration, this time aided by the absolutely brilliant Kobna Holdbrook-Smith who narrates the audiobook to perfection. I felt a bit spoiled, having pre-ordered the paperback and then buying the audiobook but it was definitely worth it. Peter’s tone and his sense of humour are as brilliant as ever – but what I appreciate most is that he is a genuinely good person, always striving to be better. This is something I am always looking forward to in my reading, especially in a genre saturated by anti-heroes, and something I needed at the end of the long year that was 2018.

There were some genuinely heartbreaking and heartwarming scenes in this book (the dancing! It made me teary eyed) and the ending was so very wonderful – I cannot wait for my partner to read this book so that I can squeal at him.

If you like Urban Fantasy and haven’t checked this out, I highly recommend you do – I love Ben Aaronovitch’s mix of police procedural and highly inventive fantasy, his characters are wonderfully drawn and realistically diverse (it is set in present-day London after all), and his storylines (especially the overarching ones) are exciting and well-thought-out.

 

Favourite Fiction Books of 2018

I have already talked about my least favourite books and my favourite non-fiction books of the year. Today I can finally talk about the fiction books I loved the most this year. These are books I read this year but not necessarily ones published this year. I have tried putting them in order of preference, but this order might have been a different one had I done it another day.

11) Florida by Lauren Groff

36098092I adore, adore Lauren Groff’s writing and her newest short story collection was one of the best things I read this year. I am slowly making my way through her back catalogue because I love the way she structures her sentences and her stories. These stories center (as the title indicates) on Florida, but more so they center women and their difficult relationships to themselves and their children. Beautifully done. Full review here.

10) Hidden Legacy Book 2 and 3 by Ilona Andrews

And this is where I cheat a little. I obviously adored reading many of Ilona Andrews’ books this year and this second series written by the duo made me very happy indeed. I adore the worldbuilding and I appreciate the central couple, which all things considered is surprisingly drama free and honest in their interaction.  My series review can be found here.

09) Kate Daniels’ Book 3 and 4 by Ilona Andrews

I adored my whole reading experience of this series, which I read completely this year and couldn’t not put it on my favourites list. I most of all loved books 3 and 4 which I read on two consecutive days, reading way too long into a night (something I don’t really do all that often because I need my sleep to properly function at work). These books are wonderfully plotted with a brilliant world and a relationship at its heart that I rooted for way too much. My two series reviews are here and here.

08) Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

36396289My favourite of the Man Booker longlisted books I read this year, I cannot believe this nearly went under my radar (I blame the cover which I do not like and which everybody else seems to weirdly love). Johnson retells an ancient myth and thoroughly modernizes it. I loved her prose and her play with perspectives (I do love a well-done second person narrative) and thought this was impressively done, even if the ending makes quite a lot of the subtext text and consequently loses some of its magic. My review can be found here.

07) Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

38606192This book made me very, very happy. I love fantasy books inspired by fairy tales and when they are set in the winter, I am in love. I adored this. My review can be found here.

 

 

06) A Guide to Being Born by Ramona Ausubel

16158505By far the best short story collection I have read this year. And my favourite cover. I love the way Ramona Ausubel’s language flows and how she constructs her beautiful but dark stories. (review here)

 

 

05) Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko

38633526I cannot believe I left this book off when I excitedly published this post 20 minutes ago. Because I loved this so! It is so very custom-made for me that I cannot comfortably recommend it because I am so not objective, but believe me when I say it is brilliant and special and so so very worth reading. I am currently mostly positive that the next book will be translated into English as well and I cannot wait to spend more time in this world. My full review is here.

04) Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi

35412372One of the first books I finished this year – and what a start that was. Emezi’s debut novel explodes on the page into something stunning and beautiful and very different. Their story is intimate and violent and apparently at least partly autobiographical in the best possible way. My review can be found here.

03) Monstress Vol. 2: The Blood by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

33540347The only comic series I am currently properly following, something about the collaboration between Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda really blows me away. The art is stunning and the story intriguing. It is a bit complicated to follow but all the more rewarding I find. I have heard people saying they cannot stomach the brutality of the story line, but for me it works extraordinarily well – the grimness of the world is juxtaposed with the stunning brilliance of the art. (Review here)

02) There There by Tommy Orange

36356614I adored this book from the very first page. Something about Orange’s prose just clicked with me and I was very impressed with the way he constructs his characters and their voices. I cannot wait to see what he does next. My review can be found here.

01) The Pisces by Melissa Broder

37590570It feels like I just cannot stop talking about this book. Of all the books I have read this year, this one sticks out the most. It might not technically be the best book I read but it is for sure my favourite. I just loved everything about this, but most importantly I found Lucy an incredible protagonist. My full review is here.

What were your favourite books of the year?

Series-Review: Kate Daniels #6 – #10 by Ilona Andrews

I am usually not good at finishing series – but this one I could not leave alone. I had a rather longer break between the ninth and the tenth book because I wanted to read the spin-off book inbetween but was not all that excited about reading about Hugh d’Ambray. And then I did not want this series to end.

While I think that the first five books were overall stronger, I still enjoyed the second half of the series a whole lot. Ilona Andrews really are one of the high points of my reading year. (I did also read their Hidden Legacy series before finishing this one.) I don’t feel like I can write proper (or even mini-) reviews for this second half of the series as I mostly sped through the books. Also reviews would need to be spoilery and I don’t want to do that. So what I will do is tell you the ratings I gave the books and then gush about what I loved in the series as a whole.

Continue reading “Series-Review: Kate Daniels #6 – #10 by Ilona Andrews”

Review: Sadie by Courtney Summers

40820097Verdict: My heart hurts.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: YA Thriller

Published by MacMillan Audio, October 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she’s left behind. And an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

This book broke my heart. I listened to the ending of this walking to the garage to pick up my car. And I had to wait around a corner from it to gather my feelings and stop crying. Now, I am famously easy to cry but I don’t usually do it outside, so this really does speak to how hard this book hit me.

This book follows two perspectives, that of Sadie whose sister has been killed and who is single-minded in her pursuit of the murderer, and that of the podcast The Girls, where West McCray is trying to figure out what exactly happened to Sadie after she went missing. These dual perspectives are the book biggest strength and listening to the audio version of this is something I highly, highly recommend. It is produced with a full-cast and impeccably done so. As a result, for me the podcast element worked exceedingly well and I always wanted to follow this part of the narrative. Sadie’s narration is brittle and broken and full of spiteful strength, which I appreciated but also made for a stressful listening experience (and I don’t always deal well with stressful). Her life is on a collision course with something awful, you can just tell, and the loss of her sister is only the newest of a whole string of horrible events.

I haven’t read very many young adult novels this year but this one I can wholeheartedly recommend. It is compulsively readable, incredibly heartbreaking, and important. Courtney Summers manages to tell a great story while also keeping her eyes on the climate that makes these crimes against girls possible. She shows great restraint in never letting the political core overshadow the storytelling, but the core makes her book all that more impressive.

Review: Vita Nostra by Marina & Sergey Dyachenko

38633526Verdict: Just incredible.

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Published by HarperVoyager, November 1st, 2018

Find it on Goodreads.

Our life is brief . . .

While on holiday at the beach with her mother, Sasha Samokhina meets the mysterious Farit Kozhennikov under the most peculiar circumstances. The teenage girl is powerless to refuse when this strange and unusual man with a sinister air directs her to perform strange and uncomfortable tasks. He rewards her efforts with a strange golden coin.

As the days progress, Sasha carries out other acts for which she receives more coins from Kozhennikov. As summer ends, her new domineering mentor directs her to move to a remote village and use her gold to enter the Institute of Special Technologies. Though she does not want to go to this unknown town or university, she also feels that somehow it’s the only place she should be. Against her mother’s wishes, Sasha leaves behind all that is familiar and begins her education.

As she quickly discovers, the institute’s ‘special technologies’ are unlike anything she has ever encountered. The books are impossible to read, the lessons maddeningly obscure, and the work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school does not punish them for their transgressions and failures; instead, their families pay a terrible price.

Yet despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of… and suddenly all she could ever want.

Sometimes a book is so custom-made for me that I am unsure whether I can reasonably recommend it to anyone or if the reading experience was incredible just because the book hit all my favourite things. This is one of those times. Combining some of my greatest loves in fiction: dark fantasy, inspired by Russian literature, set in the middle of nowhere with plenty of snow, combining boarding school tropes with unconventional storytelling, this book was everything to me.

This book follows Sasha, whose life is changed forever when she is approached by an otherworldly man who tells her she is stuck in a time-loop and the only way to change this is to get up at four in the morning (never missing a day) and nakedly swimming in the ocean. She does so every day, vomiting up weird gold coins afterwards. Returning home and to what she thinks will be normalcy, she is approached again, having to follow new sets of rules, always throwing up gold coins afterwards. She does not feel she has a choice when the man tells her she will be attending a rural university instead of the one she had planned for all her life.

This book is a wild ride, and for the vast majority of its duration it stays opaque and the reader is left in the dark just as much as Sasha is. I did not mind this one bit and I loved this introspective, weird book a whole lot. There is a menacing undercurrent here that is made even more spell-binding as we closely follow Sasha and her fears without ever really being in her head at all. I found the use of third-person narration worked really well here and made the book all that more compulsive for me.

While Sasha is definitely the heart of this book and I adored her prickliness and her focus and her love for her family, I have to admit my favourite characters were the two main teachers and her mentor, the latter one being so very fascinating and awful and just everything I wanted him to be.

I do want everybody to read this, for one thing because it is brilliant and one of the highlights of my reading but also for another, totally selfish reason, I want it to be successful enough that the second book gets translated as soon as possible. I want to spend more time in this world and with this characters and I have very many theories where this might go next.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and HarperVoyager in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

39690383Verdict: Fascinating portrait of a fascinating life.

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Published by Text Publishing, 2017

Find it on Goodreads.

Husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife. Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life. In Sandra Pankhurst she discovered a woman capable of taking a lifetime of hostility and transphobic abuse and using it to care for some of society’s most in-need people.

Sandra Pankhurst founded her trauma cleaning business to help people whose emotional scars are written on their houses. From the forgotten flat of a drug addict to the infested home of a hoarder, Sandra enters properties and lives at the same time. But few of the people she looks after know anything of the complexity of Sandra’s own life. Raised in an uncaring home, Sandra’s miraculous gift for warmth and humour in the face of unspeakable personal tragedy mark her out as a one-off.

This is an incredible portrait of a deeply complicated woman – and I adored it. Sandra Pankhurst owns a company specializing on trauma cleaning (after suicides and violent crimes but mostly for people with hoarding tendencies). Sarah Krasnostein followed her work for months and tells in alternating chapter of Sandra’s clients and her own, tumultuous life.

Sandra, who was born as Peter, adopted by a deeply dysfunctional and abusive family, married young and had two children before leaving her family. She is a deeply complicated person and a completely unreliable narrator as she freely admits to having forgotten large parts of her life due both to her own trauma and drug abuse. Krasnostein manages to painting a wonderful portrait nonetheless. I especially admire that she let Sandra be contradictory and difficult without trying to paint a coherent picture: because Sandra’s life does not lend itself to coherence and her contradictions are fascinating. She is able to extend an utmost sympathy to her clients, while at the same time being callous in the way she talks about her ex-wife, who she left without any financial assistance and who had two raise her two sons on her own. She was part of the LGBTQIA-scene before it was legal and now supports conservative politicians. She is empathetic and lovely to people she hardly knows and has not spoken to people she was close with in the 70s in decades.

My favourite parts were in the present, following Sandra and her empathy while dealing with her clients. I appreciated the way in which Krasnostein painted vivid pictures of very difficult living situations while avoiding sounding voyeuristic. The women Sandra became has my utmost respect even if she has done some horrible things to get there. Her life story is an interesting and in parts harrowing one, and it is a story that is well worth knowing.

The audiobook is extremely well done and I cannot recommend it high enough. The narrator, Rachael Tidd did a wonderful job letting Sandra come alive in my ear. I think the excellent narration lifted this book to a definitely four-star read for me.

Lastly, I do feel the need to point out that this book contains some seriously harrowing scenes; there is one rather lengthy and detailed rape in the middle of the book that might be triggering for some readers.