The Hazel Wood – Melissa Albert

2.5 Stars

The Hazel Wood is a standalone dark portal fantasy by Melissa Albert. The book has a *gorgeous* cover that I couldn’t resist!


hazel wood
Cover image from Goodreads


The synopsis from Goodreads:

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: Her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”

Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.

I love portal fantasies, and I love retellings of Alice in Wonderland. I love dark fantasy, and stories that mash together things that are familiar and produce something surprising and fresh with them.

Based on the synopsis from Goodreads/the publisher and all those things that I love, I should have loved The Hazel Wood. Instead, I finished the book and thought to myself “Thank god that’s over now.”

I have mixed feelings about the book. On the one hand, I liked some of the relationships in the book. Alice and her step-sister Audrey, Alice and her mother – those were interesting, flawed relationships. On the other hand, The Hazel Wood felt like a manic-pixie-dreamgirl version of the synopsis. It was both dark and fluffy, with no real emotional impact and predictable even with some hidden surprises along the way.

I was hoping for another Uprooted or something that made me feel like the Wayward Children series does – but instead, I just felt disappointed.

The Hazel Wood hits shelves January 30, 2018.

I received an eARC of The Hazel Wood from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Fantasy · historical fiction

Shadow of Night – Deborah Harkness

4 Stars

Shadow of Night is the second book in Deborah Harkness’ All Souls trilogy and finally loses the Twilight vibes from the first novel.


shadow of night
Cover from Goodreads


Setting the novel in 1590 in Tudor London, and largely focusing the narrative on witches helped Shadow of Night shake off the modern shackles of the sparkly, obsessive, stalkerish Edward Cullen and give Matthew Clairmont and Diana Bishop their own space in the genre.

Shadow of Night is a strong second novel, and avoids “middle story syndrome.” Too many novels or movies in the middle of a trilogy fail to actually accomplish anything in the book. There’s often a lot of running about while making no real progress toward the story’s end goal. That is not the case here. While Ashmole 782 still holds its’ mysteries, Diana and Matthew accomplish a great deal in Tudor England and Europe.

As with the first novel, I listened to Shadow of Night as an audiobook read by Jennifer Ikeda, and once again her narration was spot on. Ikeda’s inflection and voices are just lovely, and I fully plan to listen to the trilogy’s third book instead of reading it.


Fantasy · YA

Beneath the Sugar Sky – Seanan McGuire

4 Stars

A friend shared her ARC of Beneath the Sugar Sky with me recently (and is giving this copy away in the Seanan McGuire fangroup on Facebook) so I had the opportunity to read the novella last night.


The synopsis from Goodreads:

Beneath the Sugar Sky returns to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. At this magical boarding school, children who have experienced fantasy adventures are reintroduced to the “real” world.

Sumi died years before her prophesied daughter Rini could be born. Rini was born anyway, and now she’s trying to bring her mother back from a world without magic.

I think this might be the fluffiest thing Seanan has ever written. It’s a delightful story, with lots of disturbing little details that are signature Seanan, but it’s significantly lighter than most of what she writes, and I struggled with that. I particularly loved Every Heart a Doorway and Down Among the Sticks and Bones, the previous two Wayward Children novellas, because they were heavy with emotional weight. Even beneath the sugary surface of Beneath the Sugar Sky I found a fluffy cotton candy core, a bit too light for me.

That’s not to say that Beneath the Sugar Sky is without emotional weight or an important story – Seanan carries on her tradition of making the Wayward Children series inclusive and the characters, both familiar and new, are diverse in myriad ways. This book might resonate more strongly for others than it did with me. In the first two stories, I saw a lot of myself in Nancy and in Jack. In Beneath the Sugar Sky, I just didn’t have that same emotional connection with any of the characters (though it only made my desire for Christopher’s story that much stronger!).

The Wayward Children series is for all of us who felt like the world didn’t quite fit us, in one way or another.

Beneath the Sugar Sky hits shelves January 9, 2018 and is the third in the Wayward Children series.


The Girl in the Tower – Katherine Arden

4.5 Stars

“Come in, Vasya,” the man said. “It is cold.”


Cover from Goodreads


The perfect book for winter reading, The Girl in the Tower, much like The Bear and the Nightingale is set during the depths of winter and you can feel the cold winds blowing over you as you read.

The Girl in the Tower picks up right where The Bear and the Nightingale left off, and continues the adventures of firey Vasilia. Vasya is a charming heroine, ironically full of fire for a book about the cold and winter.

Katherine Arden debuted admirably with The Bear and the Nightingale and her second novel, The Girl in the Tower is only stronger. Unlike The Bear and the Nightingale, I had no problem jumping right into The Girl in the Tower. I had a hard time with Bear’s slow start and felt that the pacing lagged. Arden clearly learned as she went along and Girl is tightly paced. I was turning pages as quickly as I could, but didn’t find myself so beset with suspense that I needed to skim pages just to find out what happened.

In The Bear and the Nightingale Arden explores the strict gender roles in medieval Russia, and those roles – the literal confinement of women – is even more starkly on display in The Girl in the Tower. 

The Girl in the Tower is a fantastic read for any lover of fairy tales. Grab a hot drink, put on some thick socks and settle in against the cold – you won’t want to put The Girl in the Tower down.

The second in the Winternight Trilogy, The Girl in the Tower hit shelves December 5, 2017. I’m already dying for the third, and can’t wait to see what Vasya will get up to next.

I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

That Reading Life

My Best Reads of 2017

It’s the end of 2017 and my little blog is six months old! Thanks for visiting, Reader! I appreciate your presence.

The end of the year is a nice time for a wrap-up, don’t you think? Here’s a list of the ten best things I read this year. These are in no particular order – I loved each and every one of them so much.

  1. City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty.
    • I am obsessed with this book! I was transported and enraptured by the characters, places and Chakraborty’s writing. A middle-eastern fantasy I couldn’t put down.
  2. Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee.
    • Lee’s space opera sucked me in and took me for a wild, wild ride. Whip-smart writing and a carefully laid plot with many twists and turns kept me flipping pages late into the night.
  3. Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone.
    • Incredible women, incredible systems of magic, impossible problems and writing that makes me work to keep up with it, and like I’ve learned things about my own world when I’m done.
  4. Nevernight by Jay Kristoff.
    • Incredible, lyrical writing that drew me in and made me fall in love with Mia. A great YA novel with a fantastic antihero.
  5. Into The Drowning Deep by Mira Grant.
    • CARNIVOROUS MERMAIDS, diversity, a creeping sense of suspense, and such a satisfying ending.
  6. The Long Way to a Strange, Angry Planet/A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers.
    • I’m cheating at my own game and including both titles in Chambers’ Wayfarers series because I read them back to back and they were both FANTASTIC. Such amazing characters, incredible worldbuilding, and gripping plots that also explore interesting ethical and moral questions.
  7. Down Among The Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire.
    • McGuire’s Wayward Children series of novellas is a shining example of how inclusivity doesn’t have to feel forced or distract or detract from a story. Jack and Jill’s story is thrilling and tender, even if you know how it “ends” from reading Every Heart A Doorway.
  8. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.
    • I feel like I’m jumping on the ACOTAR bandwagon here, but I seriously enjoyed this series. I was late to the game, but discovered the series just before the third book in the series (a kind of mid-series finale) published. I blew through them and am hooked.
  9. A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab.
    • V.E. Schwab is one of my new author-obsessions. I plan to work my way through everything she’s written. A Gathering of Shadows is the sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic. I usually find middle books in trilogies unsatisfying, but AGoS was absolutely the opposite. I love love loved it.
  10. Sunbolt by Intisar Khnani.
    • My only complaint about Sunbolt is that as a novella it is far too short, so you’ll want to have the novel-length sequel, Memories of Ash, on hand. Sunbolt is a wonderful fantasy with high stakes and rebellion at its core. Bonus points for a diverse cast and setting.

What are your top reads this year?

Anthology · Fantasy

The Emerald Circus – Jane Yolen

4.5 Stars

I received an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

The Emerald Circus is a delightful collection of short stories and poems from Jane Yolen. She has been called the Hans Christian Anderson of America and I can see why.

In this collection, Yolen retells familiar stories in ways that still managed to surprise me. She masterfully jumps from style to style and lends cunning imagination to familiar stories. Alice in Wonderland and Arthurian legend are the stars of more than one short story each in The Emerald Circus, but each take is fresh and new. More than once I thought I knew where the story was going, only to be completely surprised in the end.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Emerald Circus, though I’d have liked Yolen’s notes about each story to accompany the stories, rather than be in their own section at the end.

The Emerald Circus was published November 24, 2017.


The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden


I borrowed The Bear and the Nightingale from a friend forever ago, and finally made the time to read it – just in time for the sequel to come out next week!


Cover from Goodreads


Here’s the Goodreads synopsis.

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 had a hard time getting into The Bear and the Nightingale. It was a slow start and jumped around from pov to pov in ways that didn’t entirely make sense at first. About a third of the way through the book I finally got hooked and ultimately enjoyed the story.

The Bear and the Nightingale is a fairytale in its’ own right and by the end has all the epic fantasy and adventure a good fairytale includes. Strong characters and archetypes, a battle for family and countrymen against powers beyond their knowing and against all odds. A lovely debut and foray into a new to me folklore.

The story wraps up neatly at the end, so The Bear and the Nightingale could easily have been a stand-alone novel, but the sequel The Girl in the Tower comes out December 5, 2017 and is the second in the Winternight trilogy.