Review: The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the NightingaleThe Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hmm… I’m at a loss with this one. I can’t say that I loved it, but I didn’t dislike it either. I feel like I’m missing something. This is a story that I should probably go back and re-read at a time when I can give it my full attention…but I didn’t feel a strong enough connection the first time around to make me want to do that.

When I listen to an audiobook, I’m usually doing something else that requires part of my attention (i.e. driving). For this reason, I try to keep my audiobook selections pretty straightforward. Unfortunately, this book proved to be too detailed for me to follow in that format. I ended up having to “rewind” several times to reorient myself because I’d find myself completely lost.

‘The Bear and the Nightingale’ ended up being a bit too complicated of a story for me to take in via audiobook. There were details and connections that I’m sure I missed. The fact that I didn’t understand some of the Russian words and wasn’t able to look them up at the time, certainly contributed to my bewilderment.

In a nutshell, the story dealt with religious persecution as the “old gods” and religions were being pushed out by Christianity. The story is set in medieval Russia and the imagery crafted by the author was beautiful. Even when I was admittedly lost, I greatly enjoyed the detailed descriptions provided.

The heroine, Vasya, had special abilities and represented “good” in this book. Her mother was determined to have her, even knowing that she would sacrifice her own life. As a result, Vasya grows up to be resented by her father in a way.

When her father decides to remarry, largely in an attempt to tame the spirited Vasya, a political marriage is arranged to Anna. Anna had planned to become a nun and religion is a very large part of her identity. To say the least, she ended up being a nightmare for Vasya.

When the self-righteous Anna teams up with the fear-mongering priest, Konstantin, nobody is safe. Let the witch hunts begin!

Meanwhile, Vasya is given a protective talisman. She is tied to “Frost”, the winter demon king. Through their abilities and old “magic” the two are interconnected. — I won’t lie. I am hazy on the details here.

In many ways, this story was intriguing. At some point, I might give it another try because I’m certain that I missed a great deal. I had a hard time staying focused on this story, not because it was bad, but because I was preoccupied. Nonetheless, it ended up being a “good but not great” read for me this time around. It just didn’t keep my attention.

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Review: The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, I can see why this dystopian classic has made such an impression on so many. This is a book that definitely hangs with you, haunting your thoughts, long after you finish the book. It is thought-provoking and terrifying.

The story centers on the heroine, Offred, who is a “handmaiden” in this futuristic world created by Ms. Atwood. As a handmaiden, Offred’s sole purpose is to produce a baby for the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy. Once she has served her purpose, she will be reassigned to another high-ranking man for the same purpose. This pattern will repeat over and over, until she is no longer able to bear children. What happens then, nobody really wants to talk about. Worse yet, if she fails to produce a child then she will face a fate reserved for the lowliest of women.

This is the world that Offred and others are left with after a brutal civil war stamped out the rights that citizens like Offred had taken for granted. The overthrow of the democratic government was gradual…until it wasn’t. The changes that took place were very insidious.

One moment, people like Offred were consumed with trivial problems, like where they were going to go out for dinner that night. The next thing they knew, a civil war was raging. Soon, their every movement was monitored closely. Of course, this was for their own “protection” and “safety”. Then, women weren’t allowed to hold jobs or manage their own money. (After all, the poor little dears shouldn’t have to bear that burden. A man should handle those sorts of things.) Next, anyone that dared to oppose the new regime was eliminated. Before long, citizens like Offred cannot even recognize their new reality. They are stuck under the rule of an incredibly oppressive, misogynistic regime.

Worst of all, their complacency paved the way for this gradual overthrow. Little by little, they handed over their rights with little resistance. They refused to see the writing on the wall and wanted to believe the lies that they were spoon-fed. Once they wised up, it was too late. Now, they are a people broken. Women, especially, face a grim fate.

This book is remarkable! Although it can be rather slow-moving at times, the message was powerful. This story serves as a cautionary tale and a necessary reminder. Civil rights are hard won and easily lost.

It is easy to draw comparisons to many of this books’ events and the events of the past and present. Ms. Atwood highlights many important issues and offers a great deal of social commentary. There were so many important topics that she touched upon that I can’t even begin to list them.

This book is considered to be a classic for a reason. It is a book that needs to be read and taken in by readers. While it isn’t necessarily the most entertaining read, it is certainly one of the most enlightening and thought-provoking. I highly recommend that everyone read this book, at least once.

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Review: The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite RunnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘The Kite Runner’ had been sitting on my TBR list for years. I kept putting it off because while I was sure that it would be a fantastic book, it isn’t the type of smutty romance that I usually read. I knew that I’d have to be in the right kind of mood to read it. Finally, I found myself wanting to read something a little different to break me out of a reading rut and I downloaded the Audible version of ‘The Kite Runner’ and started listening.

As expected, this book was nothing like my usual love stories. This book is the type of book that makes you think about your life and reevaluate your values and what you think you know. It is the type of book that makes you question what you’d do in a given situation if the tables were turned.

If you’re like me, and have always been blessed to live in a country where you’ve never experienced the brutality and terror of warfare firsthand, this book serves as a reminder of how lucky you truly are. As a woman, and a mother of two daughters, I cannot begin to express how grateful I am that I was born in a country where women are treated as equals. Sure, there are still some inequalities. However, when I think of how women are treated in many other regions of the world, I am incredibly thankful to have the freedoms that I do.

I won’t rehash this story, because it’s been done a million times already and I don’t think there’s anything I could say that hasn’t been said already. However, I will say that this was a wonderful book. It was grim, brutal and depressing, but also beautiful at times. It was emotional and infuriating, but you can’t say that you didn’t “feel” while reading this one. I experienced a full range of emotions.

In the end, it grounded me and put all of my petty gripes into perspective. We all need to be reminded of how blessed we are at times. I highly recommend this book to anyone that is looking for an emotional and enlightening story.

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Review: From Sand and Ash, by Amy Harmon

From Sand and AshFrom Sand and Ash by Amy Harmon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beautiful, heartbreaking and inspirational. Loved it! Amy Harmon is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. Each of her books that I’ve read has been incredibly emotional and touching.

‘From Sand and Ash’ is a gripping account of true love in WWII-era Italy. This story held my attention from start to finish. I fell in love with the characters and the visually rich setting. This book was so beautifully crafted that the scenes were nearly tangible.

At the same time, the beauty was in stark contrast to the brutality of the Nazi regime. Although I knew at the onset where the story would lead, it was easy to see how the brutality of the time snuck up on the complacent and disillusioned Italian people. I could relate to the responses from many of the characters that refused to acknowledge the danger until it was too late. The shift was gradual and insidious.

This is undoubtedly one of the most compelling romances that I’ve read this year. The love between Eva and Angelo was unbelievable. They had the type of love that is incredibly intimate and real. They weren’t perfect, but they loved each other in spite of their imperfections.

If you love a forbidden love story, this is your book. Never has there been a couple with the odds stacked against them more than these two. They fought for each other and their love, refusing to give up no matter how hopeless their situation might have seemed.

This story was inspirational and heartfelt. I was deeply moved by Eva and Angelo’s story. Not only was this book highly entertaining, but it was the type of book that leaves a lasting impression. I will not be forgetting these characters and their plight anytime soon. I can only hope that it will be made into a movie at some point.

If you’re looking for a suspenseful, heartfelt story, this is a great choice. This is the type of book that feeds the soul. It is beautiful and inspiring. This is a new favorite of mine and one of my top reads for the year.

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