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: Midnight Soul (Fantasyland, #5), by Kristen Ashley

Midnight Soul (Fantasyland, #5)Midnight Soul by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The fifth, and final (?), book in the ‘Fantasyland’ series, ‘Midnight Soul’ tells the story of Franka Drakkar and Noctorno “Noc” Hawthorne. Like earlier books in the series, this book features two characters that are from parallel worlds. There is plenty of magic and fantastical elements throughout. Yet, despite all of that, I found this to be just an “okay” read.

While Kristen Ashley worked hard to redeem Franka Drakkar in this book, for me the damage was done. I pitied her, but I never really grew to like her. As a result, I never really felt fully invested in her story.

Similarly, “Noc” was not a character that I ever really felt a strong connection with. After all, wasn’t he supposedly in love with Cora just a couple of books back? He was a nice guy, but to me, he came off as kind of desperate and lonely. Franka seemed to be the only option because all the “better” heroines had already been spoken for.

Even though I never felt bonded to these characters, I did appreciate having Franka’s history revealed. My heart went out to her and it explained a lot about her nasty behavior. She wasn’t a character that was easy to love, but at least I felt like I understood why she worked so hard to push people away.

This book also stood out from the others in that Franka goes to Noc’s world and not the other way around. I guess it is consistent in the sense that the woman always seems to follow the man to his world, but Noc was the first hero from this world. As a result, this book had a different “feel” to it.

While this book is supposed to be the last in the series, I wonder if that is “firm”. There were several teases and loose ends left over. Mainly, this book seemed to pave the way for another book centered on the other Circe and Dax.

If this is truly the last book, then I’m a little bummed. Theirs is a story that I’d love to read. If another book isn’t coming, it seems kind of cruel to tease us readers like that. Maybe we’ll get a novella or something at least.

Overall, this was a middle of the road type of story. I liked it, but nothing about it was particularly compelling. I listed to all of the audiobooks for this series back to back, so it could be that I was just on ‘Fantasyland’ overload by the time I got to ‘Midnight Soul’. Whatever the reason, this one ended up being my least favorite of all the books in the series. It was okay, but nothing that I couldn’t live without.

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Review: Broken Dove (Fantasyland, #4), by Kristen Ashley

Broken Dove (Fantasyland, #4)Broken Dove by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While ‘Broken Dove’ was much better than ‘Fantastical’ in my opinion, it was still a long way from reaching the greatness of ‘The Golden Dynasty’. More so than the other books in this series, ‘Broken Dove’ was tender and emotional. My heart broke so many times while listening to the story of Apollo and Ilsa. Yet, there was something so sweet and endearing about their story that I couldn’t pull myself away.

Apollo “Lo” Ulfr of the parallel world was happily married to Ilsa. They had two beautiful children together and Ilsa was loved by everyone – none more than Apollo. Tragically, her life ended too soon. Apollo has grieved the loss of his wife for years.

Ilsa of our world is also married to the Apollo of this world. Only, the Apollo of this world is an abusive, drug-dealing bastard. Ilsa has been on the run, hiding from “Pol” for years. She knows that he will kill her if he finds her and she lives in a constant state of fear.

When Lo discovers that his deceased wife has a twin in a parallel world, he is determined to bring her to his world. Despite being warned that the “twin” Ilsa is not, in fact, an exact replica of his wife, he is set on bringing her to his world. Only, upon her arrival he discovers that she is much different than his wife was.

While Ilsa is glad to be far away from the abusive “Pol”, she now finds herself dependent upon another man. It doesn’t help that this man is the exact physical replica of the man that grew to be her worst nightmare. To make matters worse, it is clear that she is a poor substitute for the woman that Lo really wants, his deceased wife.

From the start, my heart broke for Ilsa. She didn’t deserve any of the heartache that she was doled out, in this world or the other. She was such a sweet and fun-loving lady and it was so unfair that she had to endure so much cruelty.

Although Lo treated Ilsa poorly, I couldn’t help but pity him. I don’t think that he ever intended to be so thoughtless. He just wanted his wife back so desperately that he was willing to do anything to have her back.

Over time, Lo begins to fall for the Ilsa of this world. However, given his initial treatment of her, it was hard to believe that his feelings were genuine. It wasn’t fair to Ilsa to be placed in that position, constantly being compared to his first wife.

To make matters worse, when Lo’s feelings are put to the test he repeatedly fumbles. He pulls away from Ilsa time and time again, leaving her neglected. In many ways, she was like his dirty little secret.

Of course, things eventually work themselves out. It takes Lo nearly losing Ilsa to truly appreciate her. While everyone around them seemed to take notice of how great they were together, they seemed to be late to arrive at the same conclusion.

All in all, this was a great story. It was more emotional than the earlier books in the series, which was fine by me. Listening to these books back to back, I was glad that this one had a different “feel” to it than the others. Yet, it retained enough of Ms. Ashley’s signature traits as to not lose my interest.

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Review: Wildest Dreams (Fantasyland, #1), by Kristen Ashley

Wildest Dreams (Fantasyland, #1)Wildest Dreams by Kristen Ashley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every once in awhile, I crave a story with an over-the-top Alpha and a sassy heroine. I know that I can always count on Kristen Ashley to deliver when I’m in a “caveman” sort of mood. Her heroes are always uber-masculine and about as far from metrosexual as you can get. Though what they lack in sensitivity, they make up for in pure, primal sex appeal.

True to form, ‘Wildest Dreams’ did not disappoint on any of those fronts. In fact, travelling to this alternate universe felt much like travelling back in time by a few hundred years and then throwing in a plethora of supernatural elements. This story takes us to a world where there are ancient royal families ruling over their lands; where travel is by horse and wagon; and where witches, elves and dragons exist. ‘Fantasyland’ is an apt name for this series and I am already hooked.

The first book in the series, ‘Wildest Dreams’ introduces us to this magical world. The descriptions were so vivid that I felt like I had been transported, right alongside Finnie. I listened to the Audible edition of this book and I thought that the narrator did a fabulous job. I am glad that I chose to listen vs. read this time around. If, like me, you enjoy a good audiobook from time to time, this is a great selection.

Kristen Ashley has built an alternate world, where everyone has a “twin”. Although they may have a physical twin in this alternate world, the personalities and other characteristics are certainly not identical. With the help of a witch and a large dose of magic, people in this world may communicate with people in this alternate world, or even travel between worlds. That is how this story begins.

Seoafin “Finnie” Wilde has plenty of money, but has lost the most meaningful people in her life – her parents. Ever since her parents died in a plane crash while on one of their adventures, Finnie has been heartbroken. She misses them more than anything and like them, Finnie is always up for an adventure.

When Finnie discovers the existence of an alternate world – a world where there are living versions of herself and her parents – she decides she is going to go there. Communicating with the “her” in this other world through a powerful witch, she comes to an agreement with her to trade places for one year. Despite the pleas of her best friend, Finnie pays a fortune to the witch and sets out on the biggest adventure of her life.

Only, when Finnie arrives in this new world she quickly discovers that the other “her” hasn’t been completely forthcoming about everything. Stepping into the shoes of Princess Sjofn, she is set to wed the fiercely intimidating and ultra- male, Frey Drakkar immediately upon her arrival in this new world. Finnie doesn’t even have time to read the note that Princess Sjofn left for her before she is marched down the aisle. She’s been duped.

To make matters more complicated, it is clear that Frey Drakkar does not care for Princess Sjofn. In fact, he seems to barely tolerate her presence. After whisking her away to a remote cabin far away from her parent’s castle, he promptly takes off, leaving her to fend for herself in this new land.

Determined to make the best of the situation, Finnie makes the most of her time while Frey is away. She befriends the inhabitants of the nearby small town and bides her time until his return. She cleans their cabin and makes it a cozy home.

When Frey returns, he is shocked to see that the pampered princess has morphed into a completely different person than the one he knew. She is kind and funny. She performs manual labor that the old Sjofn would have thought was beneath her. Perhaps most importantly, she denies that she prefers women lovers over men. He doesn’t know what game she’s playing at, but he intends to find out.

With the changes in their relationship, the two begin to grow closer. As you can imagine, Frey is initially interested only in bedding his beautiful bride. Finnie wants to take things a bit slower. Of course, there are plenty of misunderstandings and awkward moments along the way as the Finnie of this world tries to blend into the life of Princess Sjofn of that world.

Eventually, Frey discovers the truth. However, he and Finnie are already deeply in love by that point. In fact, he has realized that she is his prophesied soul mate and their union signifies the beginning of a new era where the dragons will awaken again. Did I mention that Frey commands dragons and talks to elves?

Overall, I thought that this was a fantastic story. I enjoyed every minute of this fantastical world that Kristen Ashley created. I fell in love with Frey and Finnie. I cannot wait to see where else this series will lead. I will be starting the second book immediately.

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Review: Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, #4), by Sarah J. Maas

Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass, #4)Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

With every one of these books, I’ve been amazed with the evolution of the characters and storyline. ‘Queen of Shadows’ has upped the ante for this already incredible series. While the third book in the ‘Throne of Glass’ series might have had Celaena tentatively exploring her royal heritage, this fourth book has her finally embracing her queenly role. She doesn’t do anything small, and the same can be said for her transformation from assassin to long-lost Queen Aelin.

However, Celaena isn’t the only character that undergoes a drastic transformation. Chaol morphs into a completely different person, becoming mostly despicable for the greater part of this story. Dorian is also fighting against the demon within him, becoming a bystander to his body’s own actions. Celaena’s childhood rival, Lysaendra, also proves to be an unexpected ally. It seems that everyone is changing.

This book shows major shifts in power and foretells of the great war to come. Supernatural beings return to the forefront. A great king’s dynasty falls. Past wrongs are avenged.

With everything going on, Aelin still has time to find a new love interest. As much as I love this story, I have to admit that this is my biggest gripe. She changes her men out more often than she changes her underwear! After a while, it becomes hard to believe that any of her romantic entanglements are sincere. There’s already been Sam, Dorian, Chaol and now Rowan…and the series isn’t finished yet!

Despite her rapidly changing love interests, I still am completely enthralled with this story. It is far heavier on the action/adventure side than my usual reads, but I’m enjoying the change of pace. I am completely hooked on this series and cannot wait to see where the next installment will take me.

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Review: City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1), by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones (The Mortal Instruments, #1)City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I continue to work my way through the audiobooks sitting on my Audible shelf. ‘City of Bones’ had been sitting there for quite some time. I thought a paranormal story would be a nice change of pace, so I dived in.

Unlike many of my friends on Goodreads, I haven’t seen the movie and I didn’t read any of the fan-fiction. In fact, I was surprised to find out that there was a fair amount of controversy surrounding this book. Apparently, a lot of people feel pretty strongly about this book/series.

Since I was blissfully unaware of the controversy, I can say that it didn’t impact my listening experience. That being said, I don’t read a large amount of paranormal/fantasy books. Readers that are partial to this genre will undoubtedly pick up on things that I didn’t.

For me, this magical world of Shadowhunters, vampires, werewolves and fae was intriguing. I thoroughly enjoyed Clary and the other characters. Although there were some predictable parts, there was enough mystery and suspense to keep my attention.

I tend to listen to my audiobooks while I’m doing other things around the house or driving to work, etc. For that reason, I try to pick books that are straightforward and easy to follow. At times, this book became too complex to multitask and I had to “rewind” a few times to reorient myself.

Overall, I thought this was a great story. I enjoyed the world the author created and the characters that were introduced. I look forward to reading more of this series in the near future.

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Review: City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments, #2), by Cassandra Clare

City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments, #2)City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Picking up where ‘City of Bones’ left off, ‘City of Angels’ doesn’t waste any time before plunging you right back into this supernatural world. This book was packed with action and adventure. With ever-changing information and plenty of teenage angst, this cast of characters tries to stay one step ahead of Valentine, making for a highly entertaining read.

Still reeling from the news that they’re siblings, Jace and Clary struggle with their feelings toward one another. Awkward doesn’t begin to describe the dynamic between these two after that cat was let out of the bag. Maybe it’s just my wishful thinking, but I’m betting that somewhere down the road we’ll find out that they aren’t really siblings after all. I just refuse to believe that they won’t end up together.

While the blooming romance between Jace and Clary came to an abrupt and uncomfortable halt, Simon steps out of the shadows. With Jace out of his way, Simon decides to pursue his feelings for Clary. He’s always wanted to be more than just her friend and now is his chance.

Soon, Simon finds himself experiencing a major, and unexpected, life change. Nothing will ever be the same for him. He is forever changed, as is his relationship with Clary and everyone he’s ever held dear.

Like Simon, Clary and Jace begin to discover changes within themselves. Valentine made it clear that they were “different”, but didn’t give any details. Little by little, they begin to figure out some of their unique abilities. Although it is early-on in this series, it is evident that they are powerful and their full strength is as of yet unknown.

Overall, I thought this was a great continuation of this series. I am enjoying these characters more and more as the story evolves. I don’t know what is in store for them, but am certain that we’ve not seen the last of Valentine yet. I’m on to the next audiobook now.

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Review: City of Glass (The Mortal Instruments, #3), by Cassandra Clare

City of Glass (The Mortal Instruments, #3)City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The further I get into this series, the more I enjoy it! I’m enthralled with the stories of these young characters in this paranormal world. With every book, the plot thickens and another layer of the mystery unfolds.

This third book had many tests, turns and revelations. Some, I expected and some were completely surprising to me. All of them pulled me deeper into this story and left me craving more.

Action was also plentiful in this book. An epic battle ensues that will keep you wondering what will happen next. The dynamics are constantly changing as new characters and relationships are revealed.

I am hesitant to say much about this book, because I don’t want to spoil the secrets that come to light. There is a lot going on in this book. If you’re a fan of paranormal/fantasy, this is a great book.

Of course, this book leaves just as many questions unanswered as you had going into it. Some mysteries are solved, while others surface. One truth revealed seems only to lead to another question. This was no big surprise, since this book is in the middle of the series with plenty more to follow.

Overall, I thought it was a great continuation of this series. I enjoyed every minute of this rapidly changing story. I’m so glad that I listened to all of my Goodreads friends that told me the series got better as the story progressed. They were so right! I can’t wait to see where the next book will take me.

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Review: City of Heavenly Fire (The Mortal Instruments, #6), by Cassandra Clare

City of Heavenly Fire (The Mortal Instruments, #6)City of Heavenly Fire by Cassandra Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Mortal Instruments’ series. Here and there, I find myself wanting to break out of my usual romance genre and read a paranormal/fantasy story. This series was a fantastic choice for me!

I listened to the Audible version of these books and they were a joy to listen to. The narrators did a wonderful job of drawing me into the story and holding my attention throughout the series. With six books, that’s quite the feat.

The final book in the series, ‘City of Heavenly Fire’ brings everything full circle. All of my questions were answered and I felt like I had closure. I was left feeling content, which is something I absolutely need with the end of a series. I can’t stand to be left hanging, knowing that the answers will never come.

That being said, there was definitely a bittersweet feel to some of the twists and turns. While I was glad to see things come to an end, there was some heartache along the way. The fates of Simon, and even dare I say–Sebastian, were tough to swallow. I was surprised by my own reaction to some of the events.

One aspect of this book that I really liked was the way the author pulled all the characters together. It was rare to see them all working together vs. breaking off into small groups or pairs. Although everybody wasn’t there at all times, my favorite characters were all together for the important action/battle scenes.

On that note, let me say that I was very impressed with the authors ability to describe the worlds, battles and creatures throughout the series with such detail. The imagery was brilliant. I could easily visualize everything as if I were right there…down to the slurping sounds the bodies made as they fell to the ground.

While I enjoyed the story very much, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I thought it could use some whittling down. At over 700 pages, or 27+ hours of audio, this last book was a mammoth. In fact, the story continued on for over 3 more hours past the point where the “epic showdown” had occurred. Things had pretty much been wrapped up, but there were excessive details about the aftermath of the war that just seemed to drag on and on…at least for me.

If all of that length was meaningful content that enriched the story, I wouldn’t be complaining. However, I thought that much of it could’ve been eliminated without taking away from the story. I “zoned out” a few times while listening and doing housework for minutes at a time, only to “come to” later without having ever skipped a beat. So, clearly some of that content wasn’t critical to the story.

All in all, this was a great conclusion to a fantastic series. It was certainly on the long side, but think of it as getting more bang for your buck! Pretty soon, I think I’ll have to check out the prequel/spinoff series that my GR friends have been recommending to get my fix!

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