The Bear and the Nightingale
By Katherine Arden
(Warning – the review of this book contains f-bombs!)
I know this was supposed to be based on a fairy tale, and some parts seemed very fairy tale-like (especially the story the nanny told toward the beginning with the girls in the snow) but I did not correlate them to any story I already knew. I appreciated the involvement of the Russian household spirits, and how the village did quite well combining their religion and their culture with no problems before men ruined everything.
That father I can slightly understand. He’s going with what he knows, and is an A+ parent when his son wants to go be a monk. (You wanna do this extremely life-changing thing? Fine, but you have to wait a year, and no, you can’t go talk to the guy before we leave.) The priest? Fuck that guy. He probably became a priest because he wanted to paint, and that wasn’t a lucrative option, so into the church he went. I felt bad at times for the step-mother character, because she was having a bad time of it, but if she had bothered to TALK TO THE THINGS she maybe wouldn’t have been afraid of them. Or if she had told other trusted people what she saw, especially older people who knew their folklore, they would have been able to explain things to her. But that didn’t happen, and she also ended up sucking, so fuck her too.
(This fulfills the 2021 CBR 13 Bingo square of “White Whale,” because I’ve been meaning to read this for years!)
By Jess Redman
This was an interesting juvenile book, and there were times when I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, but it was a good one. It deals with death and how people deal with grieving in different ways.
Wonder is an 11 year-old boy, but he’s also a miracologist, or someone who studies miracles. He records the miracles he sees and hears about and reads in a notebook he has titled The Miraculous. Or, at least he did. His baby sister died, and if miracles really existed, then that wouldn’t have happened. Wonder tries to deal with his sister’s death, but it’s hard and he struggles with it. His dad is kind of holding it together and his mother has shut herself away in her room. But life has to go on. At school, Wonder gets frustrated with his two best friends, because they don’t bring up Wonder’s sister and what happened. That part is very realistic to me, because a lot of 11 year-old boys wouldn’t really know how to help a grieving friend. They’re kids, after all, and boys, and emotional topics aren’t the most comfortable things for most members of either group. There’s also some magic(?) and some weird stuff and questions that remain unanswered, but for the most part it was pretty good. Oh, and they talk about miracles, but not in terms of any specific religion, which I thought was a nice touch.
(This fulfills the 2021 CBR 13 Bingo square of “People,” because there are kids on bikes on the cover.)
The Tea Dragon Festival
The art style of K. O’Neill continues to impress me, and tea dragons are super cute. I lowkey want one, but they seem pretty similar to cats, only cats don’t provide you with tea, magic or otherwise. Oh, well.
This is a prequel to The Tea Dragon Society, and can be read without reading the first one as far as I’m aware. The main clue you get to that is the appearance of two characters who are retired in the first book, but are young and still hale and hearty in this one. There is a (not tea) dragon who has been asleep for many years, and a mystical creature, and characters communicating with sign language, so there are so many awesome bits! There is also a message that everyone has their role to play, even if you think yours is unimportant, it is necessary.
The book series has a card game and plushies which are very cute too!
(This fulfills the 2021 CBR 13 Bingo square of “They She He” because K. O’Neill prefers they/them pronouns!)
An Exchange of Gifts
By Anne McCaffrey
I was a big fan of Anne McCaffrey as a teen, mostly because of the Dragonriders of Pern series. So when I saw this available on hoopla, I was intrigued. It a story meant for children, perhaps older children or tweens, but it can still be enjoyed by adults, as fairy tales should be!
This is a tale of two runaways meeting and helping each other. Meanne is a princess who runs away from an unwanted prospective marriage. She has the gift of growing things, which is not the most desired gift in a princess, because gardening is dirty work. She runs away and fakes her own death, and retreats to a run-down cottage in the woods she remembers from childhood. While she has the best intentions, she is not the most self-sufficient person in the world, although she honestly tries. She is saved by the appearance of Wisp, a young boy who offers to help her. He tells her he is running away because he was severely beaten. He is much better suited to survive in the woods than she, and they help each other. Wisp does not tell her his gift, although there are clues that he is not all he appears to be that Meanne either does not see or ignores. The ending seems a bit abrupt, but it is generally an enjoyable story. Maybe I’ll use it in a library program at some point…
(This fulfills the 2021 CBR 13 Bingo square of “Pandemic,” because it does.)
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking
By T. Kingfisher
I think I first saw this in KStar’s review, and immediately wanted it. Just the title sounds like a good time, and it doesn’t disappoint! And I actually read the physical book instead of listening to the audiobook, because it was one of my Book Exchange books! Thanks Cookiesmart!
- Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) has created a world where magic exists, and some people have it, but the majority do not. Some have very specific specialties that may not seem that useful, like Mona. Mona’s magic works on bread. Doesn’t seem all that useful outside of a bakery, but throughout the book, Mona proves that to be false.
The story is mainly about corruption and treason with some shenanigans thrown in. But the point that sticks is that there is a big problem, and a 14-year-old girl is called upon to fix it. The point she brings up multiple times is that even though she can, she shouldn’t have to. It is not the job of children to fix the mistakes of their elders, but that seems to happen again and again. Maybe it’s because they don’t know how to say no, or because there just isn’t anyone else, or because the adults who could have done something have already left. Adults think far more things are impossible than children do, so maybe that’s the reason. Adults think there’s no way, but children think there just might be.
(This fulfills the 2021 CBR 13 Bingo square of “Libations,” because of our lovely gingerbread man familiar on the cover!)
The Sandman: Act I
By Neil Gaiman
This was freakin’ awesome! I always wanted to start reading The Sandman, but there was too much of it and I didn’t have time. But then it was in audiobook format, and the first part was free on Audible, so I decided to give it a shot. I’m so glad I did!
The full cast is fantastic, and we still get Neil Gaiman narrating, so we have his voice both literally in the narration and through the words of his characters. I will be excited to watch the show when it eventually comes out!
The Sandman: Act I is made up of 20 episodes. Some of them are multi-episode arcs while some stand alone. Almost all of them involve Dream, also known as Morpheus. He is one of the Endless, a concept really, along with Death and Desire and some others (they all start with D.) The first arc revolves around people trying to capture Death, but end up capturing Dream instead. So Dream is missing from his realm for 70 years, which causes problems. He eventually gets out and goes about trying to fix the damage caused by his absence. Times have changed, though, and he does learn some lessons. A lot of the stories involve violence and gruesome stuff, but there are some bits (a very few) that are wholesome! And Death is an awesome character. If gory and disturbing stuff doesn’t bother you, I highly recommend picking this up, or at least watching the show when it comes out!
(This fulfills the 2021 CBR 13 Bingo square of “Shelfie,” because it’s on my Audible shelf, which is not a very exciting image.)
The Princess Spy
By Larry Loftis
What’s this, a non-fiction adult book? And a biography?! Definitely not my normal fare! I’m glad I picked it up, though, because I learned a lot (and it was very useful for class!)
This is the biography of Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones. She wrote a few books during her lifetime, both memoirs and fiction titles, but according to the author of this book, some of those were altered or more fictionalized to protect identities and state secrets.
Aline Griffith grew up in a small town in New York, and wanted to be a part of the war effort for World War II. All of the young men she knew were off doing their part, so why shouldn’t she? Aline was pretty, a model in fact, and she was approached after a house party where she expressed her desire to serve her country. After some training in espionage, she was sent to Spain to be a code clerk and spy. She was very popular and good at her job, although I feel as though she was very lucky in who she made early friends with.
While I’m not sure about the accuracy of the spy work, there were some elements of the book that I assume to be accurate. The depiction of bullfighting, and the popularity of the sport and that of flamenco dancers was something I was not really aware of before. Also the description of the cultural environment of Spain during WWII and how they were decades behind the US in fashion and things like automobiles. According to the book, horses and carriages were still popular modes of transportation at that time due to the cost of cars and fuel. I was also completely unaware of the Spanish Civil War. I was not all that surprised that they had one, but I was surprised at how recent it was.
(This fulfills the 2021 CBR 13 Bingo square of “Travel,” because it involves an American traveling to Spain (and then all over the world!))
That also blacks out my bingo board!