5 Reasons that Vassa In the Night NEEDS to be on Your Fall TBR List (ARC Review)

Anyone who follows my blog knows that I have been INSANELY busy all summer. It’s left me little time to read, and no time to blog – but I finally managed to squeeze in some reading time, and now I have to tell you all about it 😛

JUST LOOK AT IT – So Pretty

First things first – a huge thank you to ABA Whitebox and TOR/Macmillan for the ARC – this advance copy was provided for free as a bookseller promotion, and this is an unsolicited, unpaid, and 100% honest review 🙂

I don’t know about you, but I have a lifelong obsession with fairytales. Whether it was Disney, a dusty copy of Grimms, Ella Enchanted, a folktale collection I found at the library, or Once Upon a Time, I’ve given them all a shot. However, for all of the fairy tales and folktales out there (and there are thousands), only a handful ever seem to make it into novels. So when I saw the synopsis of Vassa in the Night, I knew I had to read it as soon as possible. (Official Synopsis Below)

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now, but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won t be playing fair .

Basically, Vassa in the Night is a modern reimagining of Vassilissa the Beautiful (there are a lot of Vassilissa stories out there), set in Brooklyn, NYC.
And before you point out how many fairytale/folktale retellings are out there, scroll down for my

Top 5 Reasons to Read Vassa in the Night:

  1. The Prose is beautiful.

    There are sentences that my writer’s brain was wishing I’d come up with. And Sarah Porter’s “stage-setting” and descriptive writing roots you immediately – just read the first couple paragraphs and you’ll see what I mean:

People live here on purpose; that’s what I’ve heard. They even cross the country deliberately and move into the neighborhoods near the river, and suddenly their shoes are cuter than they are, and very possibly smarter and more articulate as well, and their lives are covered in sequins and they tell themselves they’ve arrived. They put on tiny feathered hats and go to parties in warehouses; they drink on rooftops at sunset. It’s a destination and everyone piles up and congratulates themselves on having made it all the way here from some wherever or other. To them this is practically an enchanted kingdom. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now, but not the part where I live.

Not that there isn’t any magic around here. If you’re dumb enough to look in the wrong places, you’ll stumble right into it. It’s the stumbling out again that might become an issue. The best thing you can do is ignore it. Cross the street. Don’t make eye contact—if by some remote chance you encounter something with eyes.

(Excerpt from Chapter 1, Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter)

Porter takes her time in setting the scene, enveloping you in a fantastical, yet familiar version of Brooklyn. Her writing has its own sort of magic, and it will immerse you in the world of the story in no time.

2. Creativity!

Baba Yaga as a demented shopkeeper? Yes, please. Vassilissa as a purple-haired teen from a blended family? Works for me. Demented, bodiless hands for sidekicks? Sure. Another world on the fringe of our own, populated by characters that Lewis Carroll would envy. SOLD. This is definitely one of the more inventive YA novels I’ve read, and I couldn’t wait to see where it would take me next. I also loved seeing how Porter worked elements from the Vassilissa story into the book.

3. It’s laugh-out-loud funny.

There’s a healthy dose of sarcasm, usually provided by Vassa herself, and a borderline-hysterics sort of humor that balances the macabre setting and rather dark subject matter (i.e., severed heads and gruesome, fairytale style deaths) The side characters and bizarre situations also provide a lot of humor. Erg (Vassa’s “doll), in particular, is a source of hilarious one liners and dry observations.

4. Reality checks.

I love how Vassa in the Night doesn’t have a “perfect” ending. Everything isn’t resolved or tied up neatly. More importantly, throughout the book, we don’t forget that Vassa is a young girl plunged into a world far beyond her comfort zone. None of her problems are magically solved, and she has to work for a resolution. Vassa’s relationships with Erg, her stepsisters, school peers, and missing/late parents are all extremely important, and she has to deal with them in “real-world” ways to grow as a character, and accomplish her goals. And hey – if Baba Yaga was real, I could definitely see her setting up a sinister convenience store chain in NYC. And getting away with it.

5. VASSA.

She’s everything I love in a heroine – smart, funny, snarky, empathetic, and believable. Despite her tough lot in life, she is determined and stubborn, and she refuses to give up when it matters the most. Also of note, though Vassa is obviously our heroine, she doesn’t fall into the stereotypical chosen-one mode at all. Her character growth and arc were well done and satisfying.

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars.*
A lush and inventive modern folktale for readers looking for something a little darker and less romantic than the majority of the fairytale retellings out there. A strong heroine, crazy strangeness, and beautiful prose help Vassa in the Night stand out as one of my favorite YA reads of 2016.
*Here are my minor quibbles (which are really only relevant after you’ve read the book:
  1. Was there a point to the whole story about Vassa’s dad (other than showing his extreme immaturity and selfishness)?
  2. I felt that “The Rules” (governing the magical world/characters) could have been fleshed out a little more. Obviously, like Erg, Babs had rules she was following – otherwise, she might have stopped Vassa more effectively at times. It makes it a bit harder to suspend your disbelief if you don’t know the rules that the world operates by.
  3. Babs defeat was slightly underwhelming. It was fairytale-esque, but (see #2) I felt like it would have worked a bit better if we knew how/why she was defeated.

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter will be released in Hardcover on September 20th, 2016.

Do you plan on reading Vassa in the Night? Why or why not? Have you read Vassilissa the Beautiful or any of the Vassilissa stories?

 

6 Reasons You Need to Read Memories of Ash by Intisar Khanani

First off – A huge thank you to Intisar Khanani for allowing me to read an advance copy of Memories of Ash! This was a free copy provided in exchange for an honest review – which in no way affected my review 🙂

 

Memories of Ash, the sequel to Sunbolt came out a couple days ago- have you ordered your copy yet? If you haven’t read Sunbolt, don’t worry – it’s quite short, and very good – so fix that first 🙂 You can also click through above to read my review of Sunbolt, and to get an idea of the story.

Memories of Ash picks up immediately where Sunbolt left off – so some minor spoilers for Sunbolt follow in the synopsis (pinched from Goodreads):

In the year since she cast her sunbolt, Hitomi has recovered only a handful of memories. But the truths of the past have a tendency to come calling, and an isolated mountain fastness can offer only so much shelter. When the High Council of Mages summons Brigit Stormwind to stand trial for treason, Hitomi knows her mentor won’t return—not with Arch Mage Blackflame behind the charges.

Armed only with her magic and her wits, Hitomi vows to free her mentor from unjust imprisonment. She must traverse spell-cursed lands and barren deserts, facing powerful ancient enchantments and navigating bitter enmities, as she races to reach the High Council. There, she reunites with old friends, planning a rescue equal parts magic and trickery.

If she succeeds, Hitomi will be hunted the rest of her life. If she fails, she’ll face the ultimate punishment: enslavement to the High Council, her magic slowly drained until she dies.

Since I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone I’ll follow the same format as I did with reviewing Sunbolt, and give you 6 reasons why you need to read Memories of Ash, ASAP.

6 Reasons to Read Memories of Ash

  1. The World and Characters.

    If you love fantasy, you know that a fascinating world and colorful characters are extremely important. In the Eleven Kingdoms of Sunbolt and Memories of Ash, Khanani has created a world so vivid and interesting that you won’t want to leave. Her worldbuilding is fabulous, with so many (effortlessly) diverse and multifaceted cultures and places. In Memories of Ash, the Mage School and the magical wastelands (both mentioned in Sunbolt) are the primary new locations explored, and there are a handful of new characters introduced as well. As with Sunbolt, the characters are varied and well-developed, with Hitomi always at center stage (as she should be). Val isn’t forgotten either, and the ramifications of their alliance (friendship) are further explored and complicate the story.*

    2. Hitomi. 

    I know I used her as one of my reasons for reading Sunbolt, but I’ll shamelessly repeat myself: Hitomi is just the sort of strong heroine that we need more of. She isn’t fearless or invincible, but she’ll go to (believably crazy) lengths to save the people she cares about. In spite of this, she won’t trample people or intentionally cause harm (which creates a few moral quandaries to spice up the plot). She’s moral herself, but she isn’t judgemental, and she is both a likable and relatable young woman. And of course, Memories of Ash just made me love her more.

    3. Consistency rules. 

    When I started Memories of Ash (hereafter known as MoA), I was immediately plunged back into the world of Sunbolt. Khanani’s characters, facts, magic systems, locations, and details are so seamless that you don’t feel disconnected at all. With fantasy, this is pivotal to the reader’s experience of the book.  Characters from Sunbolt mixed with new characters, and at the center, Arch Mage Blackflame seems to have an even more complicated scheme than we all realized

    4. The Writing. 

    This is another point I’ve brought up – but Intisar Khanani’s prose is fluid and beautiful to read. She blends humor, intrigue, and just the perfect amount of description. Her plotting and pace are wonderful, with a good mixture of adventure, action, and a few twists. I could immediately visualize all of the different locations, though the descriptions were never long.

    5. Thorny Morality Questions: Met head-on.

    Have you ever watched an adventure film or read a book and thought “where are the consequences?,” or, “do they even care about collateral damage?” Well, morality (interestingly enough) comes up rather often through the course of Memories of Ash. Hitomi is confronted with several pivotal decisions that make her put her own freedom/safety/happiness up against the lives and livelihood of others. And she doesn’t just make these decisions by flipping a coin or shrugging it off with a “ends justify the means” mentality. It’s refreshing to see a character dealing with the real fallout of their decisions, and Hitomi’s struggles just made me more invested in her.

6. It’s BOOK SIZED.

Did you love Sunbolt, but wish it was longer (I did!)? Memories of Ash is book-length, which takes away my only complaint from Sunbolt. A longer novel was definitely worth the wait, as it allowed Khanani to further develop and enrich the fascinating world and characters.

Did I convince you yet? Then what are you waiting for?! Go purchase a copy (you can download it through Kobo, Nook, or Amazon, or ask your local bookstore to order you a physical copy!**)

Have you read/do you plan to read Memories of Ash and/or Sunbolt? Scroll down for more info and a GIVEAWAY!

Footnotes:

*Don’t you just love complicated relationships (in fiction)? And Hitomi and Val’s whole connection is so interesting to me. I can’t wait to read more about Breathers (yeah, I’ll keep bringing this up . . .)

**I’ll be ordering physical copies for the store I work at!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Info:

Title: Memories of Ash

Series: The Sunbolt Chronicles, Book Two

Author: Intisar Khanani (http://booksbyintisar.com)

Cover Designer: Jenny Zemanek (http://www.seedlingsonline.com/index2.php#!/HOME)

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Release Date: May 30, 2016

Publisher: Purple Monkey Press

Price: US $3.99 (eBook), US $TBD (paperback)

Author Bio:

Intisar Khanani grew up a nomad and world traveler. She has lived in five different states as well as in Jeddah on the coast of the Red Sea. Until recently, Intisar wrote grants and developed projects to address community health with the Cincinnati Health Department, which was as close as she could get to saving the world. Now she focuses her time on her two passions: raising her family and writing fantasy. Intisar’s current projects include a companion trilogy to Thorn, featuring the heroine introduced in her free short story The Bone Knife, and The Sunbolt Chronicles.

 

 

Stars Above (Lunar Chronicles Short Story Collection) Spoiler-Free Review

Stars Above by Marissa Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like all short story collections, "Stars Above" is a mixed bag. However, seeing as all of the tales are set within the world of The Lunar Chronicles, I enjoyed every one of them. Here's a brief, spoiler-free summary:
"The Keeper"- This story tells Michelle Benoit's story in more depth. It touches on her relationships with both Scarlet and Dr. Tanner, and finishes with how she came to protect Cinder. Well written and plotted, it manages quite a bit of story and character development for its length. 4 stars.

"Glitches"- This story follows Cinder as she joins the Linh family in New Beijing. She's a child, she has no memory of "the other family," and she's a cyborg. Young Cinder and Peony are precious, and I enjoyed reading this part of the story. 4 stars

"The Queen's Army"- Naturally, this is a story about Wolf and how he became an elite member of the Queen's Army. This story has a decidedly different tone from the previous two, and it was one of my favorites. Taken from his parents and genetically modified, Wolf (or Z, as he's known at the time) must deny his gentle nature and become a killer if he wants to survive. 4.5 stars

"Carswell's Guide to Being Lucky"- A cute story about pint-sized Thorne at school. The most interesting thing about this story was that Thorne was from a wealthy background, and how that shaped his character. Otherwise, this one didn't do much for me. 3.5 stars

"After Sunshine Passes By"- Next is a story about Cress as a child, and how she came to be put in a satellite. This one is quite short, and it is basically a reworking of the beginning of Rapunzel in the world of TLC. 3.5 stars

"The Princess and the Guard"- Winter and Jacin are the titular characters in one of the longer stories in the anthology. Basically, this story just explores their childhoods and backstory. Jacin was the character I felt the most distant from in TLC, so it was good to get more of his personality and character. Winter is, as usual, completely charming with a stain of sorrow. 4 stars.

"The Little Android"- A pretty straightforward retelling of "The Little Mermaid," but with an android (Mech6.0). It was a standout in that only Cinder has a brief cameo (as far as the main LC characters go), and we get to see more of the world and everyday people of TLC. Bittersweet and well done. 4.5 stars

"The Mechanic"- I'll admit that I was primed to like this one, since it is the story of Cinder and Kai's meeting from Kai's perspective. It was great fun to get in his head, since he is one of the more impassive/emotionally unavailable characters. As I suspected, he's pretty funny. I would read an entire book with him as the POV character. 4.5 stars

"Something Old, Something New"- Obviously, there is a wedding involved. This story was the sappiest, and definitely had the most corny parts, but it also surprised me with some truly hilarious bits. The mental images of all the male characters decorating for a wedding together was worth the read by itself. It went on a bit long for me, but it also neatly tied up the story and sent the characters into the next stages of their lives. 3.5 stars

Overall: A fun, breezy read with some standout stories, a liberal dose of humor and mayhem, and more of lovable characters. Definitely a must for Lunar Chronicles fans. 4 stars 

View all my reviews