The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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 am a big fan of the Russian classics. I’ve read a good amount of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chesnokov. I even took a Russian literature class in college focused exclusively on Chesnokov. So in my opinion, The Bear and the Nightingale is everything you love (or maybe love to hate?) about the Russian classics, reimagined for the modern reader.

The Bear and the Nightingale is an incredibly atmospheric novel. It puts you deep into the snows of rural Russia, into a world where Christianity is warring with the old gods and old traditions. Where patriarchy is alive and well and women have little choices beyond marriage or taking the veil. In the midst of this is Vasilisa – Vasya. A strong-willed teenage girl with witchy magic who’ll do whatever it takes to save the ones she loves.

As I mentioned, this novel is incredibly atmospheric and feels like an old Russian novel reincarnated. That means the story at times is languid and utterly unhurried. The names are very Russian and difficult to follow if you’re not familiar with patronymics and the many, many nicknames each person accrues over a lifetime. But the writing is stunningly beautiful, the plot concept inventive, the setting immersive, and Vasya absolutely the kind of heroine you can root for. Also, can we talk about the gorgeous cover art?!

The first of three books, I have the sense that The Bear and the Nightingale may serve as a lengthy prologue for the story Arden is weaving. At the end of this first book, most plot points are not so much resolved as they are cracked open. A door to the real story Arden wishes to tell. I am looking forward to reading the next two books in the Winternighttrilogy and seeing if my prediction is correct!

Have you read the Russian classics? Have you read The Bear and the Nightingale? Let me know what you think below!

The Girl With Ghost Eyes

The Girl With Ghost Eyes by M.H. Borosan

It’s the end of the nineteenth century in San Francisco’s Chinatown, and ghost hunters from the Maoshan traditions of Daoism keep malevolent spiritual forces at bay. Li-lin, the daughter of a renowned Daoshi exorcist, is a young widow burdened with yin eyes—the unique ability to see the spirit world. Her spiritual visions and the death of her husband bring shame to Li-lin and her father—and shame is not something this immigrant family can afford.

When a sorcerer cripples her father, terrible plans are set in motion, and only Li-lin can stop them. To aid her are her martial arts and a peachwood sword, her burning paper talismans, and a wisecracking spirit in the form of a human eyeball tucked away in her pocket. Navigating the dangerous alleys and backrooms of a male-dominated Chinatown, Li-lin must confront evil spirits, gangsters, and soulstealers before the sorcerer’s ritual summons an ancient evil that could burn Chinatown to the ground.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been on the hunt for possible comp titles for Shadow of the Magician in historical fiction. That means I’ve been deep diving on Amazon and Goodreads to find atypical novels of historical fiction to read and consider.

Of course, saying The Girl With Ghost Eyes is an atypical novel is the understatement of the decade. The Girl With Ghost Eyes is a wonderfully weird, intoxicating blend of Chinese myths and legends, ghosts, kung fu, and female empowerment set in San Francisco’s Chinatown at the turn of the 20th century.

This book was a fun ride from start to finish. I had to put it down when I went to Colorado for Christmas since I chose to bring (and finish!) Kingdom of Ash instead, but once I was back home, I could scarcely stop reading it. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever read and is absolutely delightful. I really hope someone makes it into a movie or tv show in the near future.

But aside from being a lot of fun, the history feels real, visceral, and well-researched. Reading through the author’s note at the back, I get the sense the author knows his stuff and so bends the facts of history/story/culture with a careful, precise hand to tell this compelling story.

I’ve already picked up the second book in the series to read, The Girl With No Face, which just came out in October. I’m looking forward to tucking into that as well, though after that’s done I’ll be stuck waiting for the next one to come out!

Kingdom of Ash

Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass #7) by Sarah J. Maas

Aelin Galathynius has vowed to save her people―but at a tremendous cost. Locked within an iron coffin by the Queen of the Fae, Aelin must draw upon her fiery will as she endures months of torture. The knowledge that yielding to Maeve will doom those she loves keeps her from breaking, but her resolve is unraveling with each passing day…

With Aelin captured, friends and allies are scattered to different fates. Some bonds will grow even deeper, while others will be severed forever. As destinies weave together at last, all must fight if Erilea is to have any hope of salvation.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit how long it took me to finish this book.
A LOT embarrassed actually.

I started the book after I got it in October 2018 and finished it….on the last day of 2019.

Yes, it took me over a year to finish this book.

No, it wasn’t because I didn’t like it. I think it was partly not wanting to finish the series, partly the fact the book was almost a thousand pages long, and partly because Sarah J. Maas’ writing often makes me stay up reading way past my bedtime. Since sleep was at a premium this year, I didn’t often pick up Kingdom of Ash to read before bed.

But I DID finish it.

And I loved it. It was a great end to the series and I was utterly satisfied with the way all the major storylines and arcs wrapped up. It’s a big job, concluding a series this large and sprawling. But Sarah J. Maas delivered!

If you’re on the fence about starting this series, I recommend giving it a try if you can commit to reading the first three books before stopping. The third book is where the story really took off for me personally and from that point forward, I knew I’d be finishing the series. It is a lot of books and a lot of pages, but it’s worth it. There’s a reason so many people are obsessed with this series!

Warwick’s Event With Erin Morgenstern

In November, I attended a Warwick’s event at the San Diego Public Library with Erin Morgenstern. She was on tour to promote her new book, The Starless Sea. She is the author of the popular book, The Night Circus. My friend, fellow writer, bookworm, and neighbor, Kristin Luna, attended the event with me.

This was my first trip to the downtown library so I thought I’d lead this post by sharing a few must-know tips if you’re trying to attend any sort of event at this library after hours:

First, because the library is downtown, they lock it up at night. And when I say they lock it up, I mean they really lock it up. Good luck trying to find someone to help you enter it at night even if there is an event going on and you’re knocking on all the doors.

We eventually learned there’s actually an underground parking area beneath the library. And if you are attending an event at the library, this is where you MUST park if you don’t want to walk laps around the building knocking and trying every door.

Once we figured out how to get inside, the event itself was really lovely. It was held in a gorgeous conference hall they have off the center courtyard, across from the library’s own gift shop. Because we were running late, we arrived right as the talk was getting started so I didn’t get to hear who the person was that was interviewing Erin Morgenstern about her book. The whole atmosphere of the place and the discussion reminded me of the sort of literary events I used to attend on and off campus when I was going to UCSD. Very different from the last couple events I went to with YA authors. This was definitely a different crowd and the conversation was a lot more literary and craft-focused.

Erin Morgenstern reading from her new book, The Starless Sea

Morgenstern talked mostly about her new book, The Starless Sea, with occasional mentions of her famous first book, The Night Circus. I haven’t actually read The Night Circus yet, but I own a copy that’s been taunting me forever from the TBR stack. Maybe 2020 will be the year I finally read it…who knows!

After the discussion, there was a signing with the author which was highly efficient, but kind of impersonal. Not the author’s fault at all, but there were a lot of people onstage shepherding us through the process so there wasn’t any opportunity to have a chat with the author. I was able to get both The Starless Sea and The Night Circus signed, which means my little collection of signed books is growing!

We didn’t get to see the rest of the library, but we did briefly visit the library gift shop which was super fun and full of TONS of cute gifts I wanted to buy for myself and others. If ever at the library, I definitely recommend checking out the cute little shop near the courtyard.

Debut Novel Pick for November: Blood Heir

Blood Heir by Amelie Wen Zhao

In the Cyrilian Empire, Affinites are reviled. Their varied gifts to control the world around them are unnatural—dangerous. And Anastacya Mikhailov, the crown princess, has a terrifying secret. Her deadly Affinity to blood is her curse and the reason she has lived her life hidden behind palace walls.

When Ana’s father, the emperor, is murdered, her world is shattered. Framed as his killer, Ana must flee the palace to save her life. And to clear her name, she must find her father’s murderer on her own. But the Cyrilia beyond the palace walls is far different from the one she thought she knew. Corruption rules the land, and a greater conspiracy is at work—one that threatens the very balance of her world. And there is only one person corrupt enough to help Ana get to its core: Ramson Quicktongue.

A cunning crime lord of the Cyrilian underworld, Ramson has sinister plans—though he might have met his match in Ana. Because in this story, the princess might be the most dangerous player of all.

Full disclosure: I’m not intending to dive deeply into the uproar on Twitter that originally led to the author deciding to pull publication of her book. It’s been highly publicized so you can use Google to read more about it.

But I will say that I was interested in reading this book when I originally read the back cover copy and was rather disappointed to hear that it wasn’t going to be published. I’m glad the author has since changed her mind (it’s unclear to me if the book has also been significantly changed or not) and Blood Heir will finally be released this month!

I’m just as excited by the back cover copy now as I was when I read it originally and I absolutely adore this cover of a moody, dangerous-looking princess with an equally dangerous-looking crown. I love the idea of a Russian-inspired young adult fantasy with magic, danger, and political intrigue.

Blood Heir is scheduled to be released on November 19th from Delacorte Press.

9 Books to Get You in the Mood for Halloween

With Halloween right around the corner, I thought it would be fun to round up some of the spooky (and not-so-spooky) books I’ve read and reviewed. Books are ranked from least to most creepy! Bonus: many of these books and series have become films and tv shows since they were published!

The Gates by John Connolly

Young Samuel Johnson and his dachshund, Boswell, are trying to show initiative by trick-or-treating a full three days before Halloween, which is how they come to witness strange goings-on at 666 Crowley Road. The Abernathys don’t mean any harm by their flirtation with the underworld, but when they unknowingly call forth Satan himself, they create a gap in the universe, a gap through which a pair of enormous gates is visible. The gates to Hell. And there are some pretty terrifying beings just itching to get out…

Can one small boy defeat evil? Can he harness the power of science, faith, and love to save the world as we know it?

Apparently I don’t have a true review of The Gates by itself on the blog, but I absolutely love, love, love this three book series from author John Connolly. Such a fun, cute story that’s perfect for those who like their Halloween fare on the sweeter side.

Click here to read my mini-review of The Gates 

 

Ghost Bully by Brian Corley

Roommates can be hell.

Like when they’re late with the rent, late on bills, or constantly trying to kill you.

Jonah Preston thought he knew what he was getting into after signing the paperwork to buy his new home: yard work, a leaky pipe here and there, maybe the occasional squirrel in the attic.

He just didn’t expect to share that new home with a ghost.

Before all the boxes are unpacked, Jonah learns the previous owner, Willard Hensch, committed suicide in one of the bedrooms. It’s bad news, but Jonah and his (corporeal) roommate, Max, take it in stride. Jonah’s just happy to own a home and begin this new chapter in his adult life.

Unfortunately, it’s an incredibly short chapter.

Unhappy with his new roommates, the resident ghost quickly makes his presence known. Like, really known. When Jonah wakes up dead, he knows exactly who’s behind it.

Willard. Effing. Hensch.

For the newly deceased Jonah, that’s where his new chapter truly begins. He will befriend angels, fight demons, and take on a ghostly army in this comic-paranormal thrill ride through the freakish underworld of Austin, Texas. 

If you like your ghosts at the speed of The Haunted Mansion, you will love this book. Follow along with Jonah as he hilariously navigates the afterlife and discovers a whole new side of Austin, Texas. I’m lucky enough to be friends with the author so I can tell you the sequel to Ghost Bully is going to be just as fun – so make sure you pick up a copy of this book and get caught up!

Click here to check out my review of the book plus an exclusive interview with the author

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

A mysterious island.

 An abandoned orphanage.

 A strange collection of very curious photographs.
 It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

This book and the subsequent series are primarily on this list because the found photography that is sprinkled throughout the pages of the book is more than a little creepy. I found the first book a little spooky in places, but overall I wouldn’t classify it as a scary read. Perfect for those who want to be just a little spooked for Halloween!

Click here to check out my review of the first book in the series

 

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerri Maniscalco

Seventeen-year-old Audrey Rose Wadsworth was born a lord’s daughter, with a life of wealth and privilege stretched out before her. But between the social teas and silk dress fittings, she leads a forbidden secret life.

Against her stern father’s wishes and society’s expectations, Audrey often slips away to her uncle’s laboratory to study the gruesome practice of forensic medicine. When her work on a string of savagely killed corpses drags Audrey into the investigation of a serial murderer, her search for answers brings her close to her own sheltered world.

I’m actually still reading this one, but it’s the perfect spooky read for Halloween.  Stalking Jack the Ripper presents an interesting spin on the historic serial killer’s story. Not too scary though! If you like the show Mind Hunter, you’ll enjoy this YA take on a famous criminal case.

Book review coming soon!

 

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

A carnival rolls in sometime after the midnight hour on a chill Midwestern October eve, ushering in Halloween a week before its time. A calliope’s shrill siren song beckons to all with a seductive promise of dreams and youth regained. In this season of dying, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show has come to Green Town, Illinois, to destroy every life touched by its strange and sinister mystery. And two inquisitive boys standing precariously on the brink of adulthood will soon discover the secret of the satanic raree-show’s smoke, mazes, and mirrors, as they learn all too well the heavy cost of wishes – and the stuff of nightmare.

This book didn’t scare me too much, but it IS pretty much the perfect Halloween read. Atmospheric and utterly enchanting, this is a short read about a circus of nightmares that preys upon a small Midwestern town.

Click here to check out my review

 

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother-or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

I remember this series starting out more than a little creepy, but my fears subsided after awhile so that’s why it’s not ranked higher on the list. So not as tame as the books that have come before it, but not all-out scary. This is a great series about the end of the world, aliens, and the teenagers who are fighting to survive.

Click here to check out my review of the first book in the series

 

The Passage by Justin Cronin

An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy – abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape – but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world. 

Apparently I’ve never reviewed the first book in this series of my blog – WHAT! I recommend this series all the time so this is a travesty. Guess it just means I’ll need to do a re-read for you guys. I do have reviews for the subsequent two books in the series The Twelve and The City of Mirrors, but you do need to start with The Passage. This series about a vampire apocalypse is definitely creepy – I read this book while camping in Joshua Tree which, oddly enough, is one of the settings in the later part of the book. 10/10 do NOT recommend that experience, but 12/10 do recommend starting this series.

 

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

A Boeing 777 arrives at JFK and is on its way across the tarmac, when it suddenly stops dead. All window shades are pulled down. All lights are out. All communication channels have gone quiet. Crews on the ground are lost for answers, but an alert goes out to the CDC. Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather, head of their Canary project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats, gets the call and boards the plane. What he finds makes his blood run cold.

In a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, a former professor and survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrakian knows something is happening. And he knows the time has come, that a war is brewing.

So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected New York begins to spill out into the streets. Eph, who is joined by Setrakian and a motley crew of fighters, must now find a way to stop the contagion and save his city – a city that includes his wife and son – before it is too late.

Guillermo del Toro is one of authors – I mean, do you need me to tell you this is scary?! It’s freakin’ scary. But good. So, so good. The Strain is the first book in another trilogy about the vampire apocalypse told by one of the masters of the horror genre.

Click here to check out my review of the series

 

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the world for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.

The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one another, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything.

This series is INTENSE. So CREEPY. I mean, I almost couldn’t handle it and I wasn’t home alone. But I also couldn’t put it down. If you like being intensely unnerved and riveted by a story, give this series a try.

Click here to check out my review of the first book in the series

 

Bonus:

Cursed Collectibles: An Anthology

Spend an afternoon antiquing and it’s not hard to figure out why picking has become one of America’s fondest pastimes. It’s treasure hunting while connecting with history. But what if those treasures hunt us back?

From old books, to vinyl records, antique mirrors, vintage figurines, or a Bob’s Big Boy piggy bank, curses have no limits.

With twenty-three spooky stories in this anthology, you’re sure to find the perfect one to put you in the mood for Halloween. From the not-so-scary to the downright frightening, pick up your copy of Cursed Collectibles today. Click here to buy!

 

What’s your favorite Halloween read? Leave me a comment below!

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore Event With Renee Ahdieh and Sabaa Tahir

Sabaa Tahir and Renee Ahdieh at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego

Mysterious Galaxy is an independent bookstore in San Diego that specializes in carrying fantasy, science fiction, young adult, horror, and mystery novels. Tucked away in a shopping center, this bookstore is a small, but mighty bastion in the San Diego book scene.

Though I’ve lived in San Diego for almost eleven years, I only recently visited Mysterious Galaxy. Of course once I walked through the door I immediately thought, What have I been doing with my life?! It’s such a cute store and though the space is small, they have TONS of books, including copies that are signed by the authors.

After my first visit, I also signed up for Mysterious Galaxy’s email list which was how I saw that Renee Ahdieh and Sabaa Tahir were going to be in San Diego in October to celebrate the release of Ahdieh’s new book, The Beautiful.

Though I haven’t read either author’s books yet, both An Ember in the Ashes and The Wrath and the Dawn have been on my TBR list FOREVER. And I enjoy following them both on Instagram so their visit seemed like a great excuse to go spend an evening doing bookish stuff with my friend and fellow writer, Kristin Luna.

With Kristin Luna

Renee and Sabaa are friends in real life so it was like sitting down to coffee with your best friends. Both are very sweet, funny, and clearly love what they do. And these two ladies packed the house for their event! It was standing-room only during the discussion portion. I felt like Renee gave us quite a bit of extra insight into the characters and the world of The Beautiful so now I’m even more excited to tear into this new story of romance, New Orleans, and vampires! She also brilliantly navigated touchy subjects like domestic abuse, women’s rights, and immigration without allowing the conversation to spiral into a political discourse.

Even though this night was mostly about Renee’s new book, Sabaa also got to talk a bit about her books, characters, and experiences as an author. I think they did a good job of balancing the promotion of The Beautiful and allowing both ladies to talk since there were fans of both in the crowd.

Sabaa Tahir Signing Books at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore

After the discussion we lined up to do the book signing and even though the signing took awhile because many people had multiple books that needed to be signed, Renee and Sabaa were just as sweet and patient in person. The four of us mostly ended up talking about makeup (Renee and Sabaa are the real pros here) and Kristin asked them for advice about the querying process since we are both querying agents now. They were so kind, encouraging, and supportive.

Renee Ahdieh Signing Books at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore

Overall it was a great night and the staff of Mysterious Galaxy and the publicist for the two ladies did an excellent job keeping things running smoothly while letting the fans have their moments!