Happy December everyone! I can’t believe it’s the last month of the year, where get presents, snow in most places, colder temperatures and reflect on how fast the year has gone by. Today, I have a somewhat delayed double for you all; the holidays and work got a little crazy but here we are!
Title: The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic
Genre: YA Fantasy Short Story Collection
Release Date: September 26th 2017 by Imprint
Pages: 281 (US Hardcover edition)
Illustrator: Sara Kipin
This short book includes 6 fairy tale short stories set within the Grisha universe. The author has talked about these stories being ones her characters in the Grisha world would’ve heard as children. You don’t have to read any of the Grisha books to get these stories; I personally haven’t been a big fan of the Grisha novels. So originally, I wasn’t going to read this. But after seeing the gorgeous edition at books stores and very positive reviews, I caved and bought it on Amazon. And this was better than I expected. But I’m doing something different. I’m going to do my review starting with my least favorite story and work up to my favorite. Some pictures will be shown, BUT the final, full color pictures are spoilers for how the story turns out, so those won’t be included.
- 6: Little Knife: This story is about a beautiful girl and how she has to hide her beauty; everyone fights to have her and her father, being a greedy nobleman, never listens to her and wants riches and glory because of his daughter. But a Grisha man has an idea to try and win her hand. This was my least favorite because it was way too short and underdeveloped. The trope of the girl being “so beautiful, it’s not even funny” never added any intrigue or whimsy to the story. Also, everyone was one dimensional in trying to get what they wanted. I also didn’t understand how the ending came; it was just a moment of “hey I’ll take you somewhere away from everyone, but you have to stay and be loyal to me.” I know this sounds vague, but it was too short to get a good grasp on why this story happened. (2.5-3 stars)
- 5. The Too-Clever Fox: The reason why this wasn’t a favorite of mine is that the beginning is unbelievably cruel! The thought of a mother fox giving birth to her babies and then eating two of them afterwards because she was so hungry is just awful. Plus I hated that so many hated and abused this fox, when this fox was smart and had good intentions. It was also predictable with an event at the end and also it was a little too open ended, not really knowing the fox’s fate. I liked his relationship with a bird as his friend and some quotes were good, but not a high favorite for me. (3 stars)
- 4. The Soldier Prince: First off, this re-imagining of The Nutcracker is spectacular in story concept, character development, some tension and the ending. This popular ballet tale doesn’t get a retelling treatment often, so this was nice to get a retelling of a story that’s not done to death. You follow the nutcracker male character and his experience with humans and magic. The plot has a great pace, dark under tones and an interesting villain. The only small cons I had was that there were a couple kissing scenes that came out of nowhere and had no purpose for me. I also wish this was a full length novel; the treasure trove of potential in this story is huge and I’m dying for an actual novel length of this story. This retelling is amazing, with only a couple tiny flaws. (4 stars)
- 3. When Water Sang Fire: This retelling of the Little Mermaid also had great execution and story concept like my last entry. It’s about two mermaid girls who use their voices for song (it’s part of the mermaid culture) and it’s the story of their friendship and the life changing event they get involved in. The artwork, which works as a flip book, shows the images of the girls and other elements of the story. The artwork seamlessly shows the progression of the story and I started getting a little nervous seeing the artwork as the story came to a close. The mermaid culture is original and beautiful; mermaid books are almost never around anymore, so it was nice to read a different story about mermaids. It’s fun that some of this story is told in second person! That POV is hard to use well in literature, but completely works for this story. The only con I have is that I don’t like the trope “I was betrayed so I’m just gonna hold my grudge and be evil and that’s it” type thing. But other than that, it’s a great story! (4.25 stars)
- 2. The Witch of Duva: This re-imagining of Hansel and Gretel is definitely not what I expected in a good way. It’s about a young girl who escapes into the woods after her dad marries a horrible woman. It’s got some amazing descriptions of food and it got me hungry every time I kept reading it. The story went in an unforseen direction and I can’t help but applaud Bardugo a lot for her imagination, pacing and character in this story. If you’ve been sick of cookie cutter retellings of the same story, read this collection. Loved this one! (4.5 stars)
- 1. Ayama and the Thorn Wood: Oh man this got me! This story contains a “beauty and the beast” type story and my feelings were hit a lot! Ayama is a plain looking girl whose tasked with going to defeat this beast and interesting stuff takes place after that. I love that this story has great messages about not judging someone, comforting someone and taking them as they are. The pacing was perfect, memorable quotes and a very satisfying ending. This is the best story in the collection and it made me want to go re-read Hunted by Meagan Spooner again. (5 stars)
What’s amazing about this book is that the artwork acts as a flip book; more illustrations come on the page around the edges as the story continues, with a full blown color illustration at the end. Sara Kipin is the illustrator on this novel and she NEEDS more chances to do artwork in YA or fantasy in general. The following pictures are from different stories, showing the flip book aspect. *Possible spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read/finished this collection yet, read the text in the pictures at your own risk*
“In the year that summer stayed too long, the heat lay upon the prairie with the weight of a corpse. The tall grass withered to ash beneath the unforgiving sun, and animals fell dead in the parched fields. That year, only the flies were happy, and trouble came to the queen of the western valley. (pg. 1, from Ayama and the Thorn Wood)
“In time, she came to the banks of a stream, its surface so bright with starlight it was as if someone had peeled the rind from the moon like a piece of fruit and laid it in a gleaming ribbon upon the forest floor.” (pg. 13, from Ayama and the Thorn Wood)
“In the end, the clocksmith was to blame. But Mr. and Mrs. Zelverhaus should not have let him into the house. This is the problem with lesser demons. They come to your doorstep in velvet coats and polished shoes. They tip their hats and smile and demonstrate good table manners. They never show you their tails.” (pg. 143 from The Soldier Prince)
“As for the nutcracker, he was sure of nothing, and sometimes it frightened him. His memories were a blur. He knew there had been a battle, many battles, and that he’d fought bravely. Hadn’t he been made for it? He had been born with a bayonet in his hand.” (pg. 156 from The Soldier Prince)
“You make your way to a circle of rocks, to a little tide pool, your wish burning like a sun in your mortal heart.” (pg. 191 from When Water Sang Fire)
Title: Nothing but Sky
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Release Date: March 2018
Format: Kindle ARC
* I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for review. All thoughts are my own. Quotes will not be used. Any content is subject to change in the final copy*
Synopsis: Set in the 1920’s, Grace Lafferty has big dreams to go to the World Aviation Expo as a wing walker. But then Henry Patton, a WWI veteran, challenges her and helps her see more to life. As his experiences continue to push her, she tests the powers of the sky as he pursues her dream.
I gave this vague synopsis on purpose, because this was another situation where Goodreads gives a little too much away on the plot of this book. I was excited that this was another historical fiction set in the 1920’s and the subject of wing walkers was something I never knew anything about. What did I think? Here’s the usual mini-review breakdown:
- Clean Book: One thing that was great is that this book is very clean. There’s no sex, excessive swearing, violence or anything that could put off some readers. I would definitely recommend this to people who are looking for a light, clean read and even younger readers who are getting into historical fiction.
- Research for Plot: I didn’t know that there were people who walked on old airplane wings and did stunts. Learning about this little bit of history was fun and you can tell the author is passionate about it. She offers fun insights to flight mechanics, types of planes and the tricks people did. Her author’s note was enlightening as she did research to bring this to life. This new tidbit of history makes it for a bit more original YA historical fiction.
- Side Characters: Grace has two friends and uncle that are great side characters. Mary and Ethel, her two friends have great moments to show their growth after escaping their abusive homes. One moment with Mary was a standout in the book. Grace’s uncle always speaks his mind and never wavers when he think something is wrong. He’s tough on Grace, but loves her and he was the most fleshed out character for me.
- Forced Romance: Yet again, this was another romance that felt forced and predictable by the end. At first, the ways Grace and Henry not liking each other gave them good teaching moments about each other. But in the end, he still takes her back after she says some pretty awful stuff. He even told her goodbye after what she did, yet he takes her back by the end and everything is okay. They never discuss how rude she was and the apologies were very rushed. I also didn’t like that Henry felt like he didn’t have agency to choose for himself; having the girl was all that mattered, despite having dreams of his own. I don’t like how writers, especially female ones, make the male love interest a love sick moron who doesn’t listen to his heart and does what he wants even with the girl with him. That’s not how love works people
- Predictability: While the plot itself is simple (not a bad thing), things took a turn that reminded me of too many romantic drama endings with the couple getting together and everything being okay. I also feel like the antagonist was completely looked over after he got called out in the end. Although a couple unexpected things happened, the forced romance and cheesy ending didn’t help.
- Main Character: Here’s where the real rant comes in. Grace, while driven to pursue her dream of this aviation expo, stomps on everyone to get what she wants. She’s rude, quick to snap and judge the people around her, doesn’t let anyone make decisions in the team…you get the idea. While she had a couple small moments of showing her good side, her bad side was too overpowering. Any time someone tried to remind her that something was dangerous, she snapped at them and said they didn’t know any better. Despite some stuff happening, she only cared about her dream and demanded that everyone help her get there. Her horrible treatment of people is never challenged. I’ve seen books that handle this better. I hated that this girl got everything she wanted without a genuine change to her character. She’s also a crappy friend to Mary and Ethel, with doing nothing for them when they scrapped money together and did other things for her. She never took their advice, hung out with them and always shot their ideas down to help her.
Overall: I’m disappointed that this was another failed read for me. While I appreciated a few things, I just don’t like how it’s becoming a trend for main characters to be jerks and get everything they want and they’re never challenged. If you’re dying to read another book set in the 1920’s, I very hesitantly recommend this. If you’re like me and don’t like these kinds of tropes and characters, I don’t know if you’ll enjoy this.
Have you read these books? What historical fiction books have you read recently? If you’ve read Language of Thorns, what story is your favorite?