The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner

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ARC provided by Orbit in exchange for an honest review.

“Sometimes you know when you don’t belong, but you don’t know how to leave.”

This is one of the most atmospheric books I’ve ever read in my entire life. It was also able to evoke such a visceral reading experience from me. I never wanted to put this book down! And I knew that this was going to be heavy on the Russian folklore, but I had no idea that this was also a reimagining of Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. And I swear, I don’t remember consuming any fruit while reading this, yet I am still completely under this book’s spell. And I for sure also recommend this to people who also love The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden and Uprooted by Naomi Novik!

“If you want to know the history of a town, read the gravestones in its cemetery.”

Not everyone is going to love this book. In fact, I bet a lot of people will DNF this one. But if you love this story, you’re going to be completely captivated from the first page and you’re never going to want this story to be over. Friends, I fell head over heels in love with this story.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood follows two Jewish sisters who live on the outskirts of a town, in a forest, with their mother and father. Their family feels rather isolated in Dubossary, (on the border of Moldova and Ukraine), but they make do the best that they can, always relying on each other. That is until one day the mother and father get called away and leave their precious daughters behind. Yet, before leaving, the mother tells them a secret that she has been keeping from them their entire lives. And this secret changes everything.

“We can’t fight our natures, even though we try. A bear will always be a bear, and a swan a swan. Everyone fights, malyshka; everyone questions their choices. Even people who love each other.”

Liba – 17, devout, smart, stern, keeps to herself not letting anyone in. Starts to have feelings for a boy that has grown up right in their town, who is also Jewish. He also is kind, and caring, and protective, and comes from a good family.

Laya – 15, questioning, beautiful, graceful, and easily gains friends. Starts to have feelings for a boy that is new to town, that has come selling fruit with some other questionable young boys that are very prejudiced towards Jewish people.

And this switches points of view, back and forth, between two sisters. One sister’s point of view is standard format, yet the other sister’s point of view is told in verse! Again, very reminiscent of the way Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti is told. But surprisingly enough, I ended up loving Laya’s verse chapters more than the standard story telling.

I don’t want to give away anything about this book, because I truly think it is best to go into blind. So, I’m holding back that very big secret that Laya and Liba’s mother has hidden from them, but I will say that because of the secret, Liba says some very questionable things about her body in comparison to her sister’s body. I’ll mention it again in my trigger warnings at the very end of this review, but I will say that the only negative thing about this book, in my eyes, is Liba’s thoughts on her body. And I do understand that she is seventeen years old, and that even in 2018 society puts so many horrible body standards on us at every age and everywhere we look. But, it still always made me a little sad when I’d read about her not loving her body as much as her thinner sister’s. It’s truly the only real complaint I have about this novel, and please use caution because I think some of the things that Liba says and thinks about her “thicker” body and her “hunger” can be really potentially triggering.

But there are two different romances, between each sister and two boys they meet in town, where the sisters start to learn about their bodies and the feelings and reactions that their bodies are making them feel. This is for sure a book about two young girls both discovering their sexuality for the first time not feeling like they are forced to repress what they feel, since their family (and their religion, standards, and judgment) has left them alone.

“Death lives here. Death will always live here.”

And while the romances and these girls discovering things about themselves are for sure at the forefront of this story, a murder mystery is also going on in the background. And this book very much showcases what hate-mongering is and how scare-tactics can make people do unspeakable things. This book is heavily influenced by the pogroms of the early 1900s where many Jewish families and communities were murdered. And the author pulls this from her family’s real experiences.

And Rena Rossner’s writing completely moved me to feel every single emotion. This story is just crafted so expertly, in my opinion. And this author’s prose is on a tier above most. I feel like she captured this setting and atmosphere in a way that just feels like pure magic. And she seamlessly wove in all these homages that build such a perfect story. Also, this book has the best acknowledgments I’ve read in all of 2018. I thought I was going to be able to make it through the book without crying, and then I read the author’s heartfelt words talking about her family, her influences, and why she wrote this story. Friends, I don’t even have words. I also really appreciated the glossary with Hebrew words and pronunciations!

Ultimately though, this is a book about the bond of sisterhood and found family and doing whatever you can to support and help the people you love. Yet, this is also a story about realizing that you are worthy of love and deserving of all the unconditional love in the world.

“I get to choose what kind of strong I want to be.”

Overall, this is one of my favorite reads of 2018. Yet, I will say that this book does have a lot of things in my personal reading wheelhouse that I enjoy. It’s about learning that you deserve unconditional love and finding yourself among people who cannot accept you for who you are. It’s a book that had a forest setting, that is a reimagining of one of my favorite stories of all-time. It’s gorgeously written and tackles some really heartbreaking moments in our world’s history. I just loved this one, friends. And I hope if you pick it up, that you will love it as well.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for a lot of antisemitism (but always in a negative light and challenged), captivity, drugging, blood depiction, physical abuse, talk of past rape, talk of slavery, murder, torture, death, misogynistic comments and ideals, grey area consent (doing sexual things while one person is magically enthralled), some questionable body image/shaming comments and thoughts, and questionable thoughts about food and eating that could potentially be triggering.

Buddy read with Jules at JA Ironside & Michaela at Journey into Books! ❤

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

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ARC provided by Dey Rey in exchange for an honest review.

“Bring me the winter king, and I will make you a summer queen.”

Spinning Silver is one of the best books I’ve read all year. I loved this story with every fiber of my being. And Naomi Novik is a master at storytelling and interweaving stories together. You all know that this is a very loose reimaging of Rumpelstiltskin but I’d say it’s more of an empowering tale of three girls, all on three different paths, all promised to three different men, while all being looked over by three different mothers. Three is such a constant theme in this book, too, and it really helps reinforce that this story feels like a tangible piece of magic in your hands while reading. This book is nothing short of a masterpiece.

“The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard.”

The Three Girls:
Wanda – a girl who has had to be strong, because it’s the only life she has ever known. Wanda has spent her short life taking care of her brothers and trying to please a father who is impossible to please. But that all changes once she is the only way to pay back his debts.
Irinushka – a girl who has been born into royalty but has never known love from her blood family. Irina is still determined to save her people, by any means necessary.
Miryem – a girl who will do whatever it takes to save her family. Miryem is strong, and relentless, and one of the very best characters I’ve ever read in my entire life. And she becomes one of the most feared moneylenders in her village, and she discovers that she awfully good at turning silver to gold. But she is not the only one that notices.

“That part of the old story turned out to be true: you have to be cruel to be a good moneylender. But I was ready to be as merciless.”

The Three Mothers:
A Passed Away Mother who continues to look after her children.
An Adoptive Mother who has unconditionally loved her child from the start.
A Birth Mother who wants nothing more than her child safe and happy.

“A robber who steals a knife and cuts himself cannot cry out against the woman who kept it sharp.”

The Three Marriages:
Filled with Hate because even in 2018 some men want to believe that they know what’s best for a woman, no matter the cost.
Filled with Fire because some people are born into a world without a chance, regardless of money, power, and privilege.
Filled with Cold because protecting the thing you love is sometimes something you’re willing to do anything for.

“…someone had climbed down and looked through our window: someone wearing strange boots with a long pointed toe.”

And these three girls, with their mothers, forced into their three marriages, all come together and create something so beautiful that I don’t even have words to express it. I will say that Miryem is for sure the main character. I will also say that we get to see a lot more points of view than these three girls and their betrothals. And the story is something that is so whimsical, so feminist, and nothing short of an honor to read.

Trigger and content warnings for hard scenes to read about loss of a parent, siblings, and death of children, for extreme parental physical abuse, brief mention of animal deaths, mention of past rape, sexual assault, alcoholism, torture, violence, murder, and use of the word Jew (not negatively, but it still didn’t feel good to read at times).

But one thing I did want to touch upon is how much Judaism plays such an integral role in this story. Miryem and her entire family are Jewish, and from the first to last page this plays a pivotal role in the story. I am not Jewish, but I still loved this inclusion so very much. Also, I’m adding “go to a Jewish wedding” onto my bucket list immediately. To my Jewish friends: please, invite me to your weddings.

Spinning Silver is such a love letter to found families everywhere, too. You guys know I love reading about found families, but all three girls in this book are the epitome of found families. Unconditional love is truly the strongest force in this universe, and not only does this book showcase that, it also celebrates that.

Overall, this just felt like a story that was single-handedly created for me. From the Staryks, to the Winter King, to the traveling between places, to the so very strong female cast, to the magic, to every single word on every single page. I swear, opening this book felt like magic and I never wanted to shut it. And I know I am being rather vague with my synopsis, but I truly believe that this book is probably best to go in not knowing much, and to just experience this otherworldly story firsthand. Without a doubt, this will make my “best of 2018” list and will forever have a place on my favorites of all-time shelf. Thank you so much, Naomi Novik, for a story I will cherish forever. And that last line will take my breath away every reread. Perfection.

“Because that’s what the story’s really about: getting out of paying your debts.”

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Heart of Iron by Ashley Poston

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ARC provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

“Ana had never believed much in the Goddess. She only knew the origin story, as sweet as a bedtime lullaby. How, in a kingdom of shadows, the queen bore a daughter of light who chased the Dark away.”

Heart of Iron had all the potential in the world to be my new favorite book. Basically, it’s a new and unique Anastasia retelling but set in space with a crew of outlaws who end up entwined in secrets and mysteries! We follow four points of view:

Ana – Our true main character, who is on a mission to find a new robot body for D09. Also, she’s a PoC!
D09 – A Robot who is in desperate need of a new memory core and keeps malfunctioning.
Robb – The next biggest character, whose brother is going to be Emperor, but he is too busy searching for his father that was pronounced dead seven years ago. Robb is also a PoC and queer!
Jax – The pilot of the crew he and Ana travel with. He is a different race than human, and his ancestors had the power to see the future in the stars. And he is also queer! Jax is EASILY my favorite character in this entire book.

Ana and Robb’s paths cross, because they are both after the same coordinates. Robb wants them in hopes of finding out what happened to his father seven years ago, when a rebellion happened that set fire to the royal family and left them all for dead, even though they never found the body of the young princess. Ana wants them in hopes of finding a new body for D09, the robot she is in love with, even though he can’t process or feel feelings, and she will jeopardize her crew’s other missions to try, because it is almost impossible for Ana to find a new body or parts.

Robots in this world were created to treat the infected people of a plague twenty years ago, but as I stated above, seven years ago a rebellion happened and now the only robots that people trust are the ones that are “hived” or mind controlled as the Iron Kingdom army, and they are called Messiers.

Meanwhile, back in Nevaeh, where many of the other royal families reside, Robb’s brother, Erik, is about to be anointed Emperor. The crown is said to be made of the Goddess’ heart, and only the worthy can wear it without it immediately rusting. And by worthy, I mean only the Armorov bloodline can, but they all died in the fire seven years ago.

“All stories are built from the bones of something true. You are the daughter of iron and stars. You are the symbol of hope in a time when light only shines from things that burn.”

If you guys have seen Anastasia before, you probably can guess how this plays out. But overall, I do think the story is pretty good. Also, there are some 5/5 twists at the end of this book. Sadly, the four points of view switch constantly, with very little pages or substance per chapter, and it made for such a disjointed read. I’m not sure if this is just the new trend with YA Sci-Fi, but I felt the very same when I read Zenith. It completely ruined the reading experience for me, and I had such a hard time connecting to the characters and to their relationships.

Ana and D09’s relationship was just too much for me in the first half. I didn’t enjoy it at all, and it had nothing to do with him being a robot, it was that he was a robot that didn’t feel things. I would have so much preferred them to just have a friendship. I’m not entirely sure, I just really wasn’t feeling their love story from the start, but I do have high hopes if we do get another book in this world!

Robb and Jax’s sexuality is never stated on page, but they are for sure queer. They are probably both gay, but my pansexual self never wants to erase any sexuality. But I loved these character’s representation and their story lines were for sure the strongest in the entire book. Oh, and their banter and jokes with each other was so freakin’ pure and wonderful. And, I’ll be over here melting into a puddle on the ground and swooning forever, bye.

I will say that there was a somewhat triggering comment made in passing about how Robb was in a relationship with a boy that ended up killing himself, yet it wasn’t very clear. Regardless it made me a little uncomfortable, and I think it’s important to note and use caution going in. Trigger/Content warnings for mention of suicide, abuse, and death.

As for more sexual representation, the captain of the ship, Ana’s adoptive mother, is a lesbian and married to another woman. Like, this book brings the sexual representation, and I’m living for it. And two main characters of color was also such a blessing.

This book does have a major theme spotlighting the importance of found families, and for that I am so very thankful. This book helps solidify that blood is just blood, but people who unconditionally love and accept you will always be family. I did love this constant theme and the many mentions, and for that I was so happy and grateful.

Overall, this is a super fast paced story, that is very easy to get through. And even though I didn’t love it, and maybe even felt a little disappointment, because I had such high hopes, I still enjoyed it. Also, there is a lot of good in this book, that I’m very thankful for. Also, Ashley Poston seems like such a sweetheart, and after reading this and Geekerella, I will continue to read everything else she writes! Which will hopefully be a sequel to this, because this ending is cruel, and I need answers!

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Buddy read with Elise! ❤


MORE INFORMATION HERE & HERE!

(The pre-order IS International — but HEART OF IRON itself is only available in the US, so it’s only available through international companies such as Amazon (or an independent bookstore that is willing to ship to you!)