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?

 

A Brief Update on Knight of the Blue Surcoat

“Houston – we have a release date”(partially) . . .

Most of you probably know that I have a novel coming out this summer (screams inside every time she writes that)

Okay – maybe it’s not quite like winning an Oscar – BUT IT FEELS LIKE IT
Anyhow, I finally have a month – Knight of the Blue Surcoat is scheduled for release in AUGUST 2016. I’m still waiting to hear back on the exact date, but we are closer. Excuse me while I go off to do an excited dance . . .
B.A.P, everyone

There – now that I’m back – a few details:

  1. Any Advance Reader Copies should be available as soon as the layout is done. If you are a blogger/reviewer and are interested in reading a YA King Arthur retelling in exchange for an honest review, get in touch with me through the comments form. If I’ve already talked to you about this, I’ll contact you with details as soon as I have them. Savvy?
  2. PDF Advance copies are my publisher’s preferred format – just so you know. If this is a problem, make sure to tell me 🙂
  3. If this sounds interesting to you, but you have no idea what I’m talking about – Knight of the Blue Surcoat is a historical adventure fantasy about King Arthur’s daughter.

Here’s the synopsis (again, for some of you):

Being King Arthur’s daughter isn’t easy, but being his only heir is a nightmare. Sixteen-year old Melora has struggled with her role ever since her older brother was trampled to death in a hunting accident. Her father raised her to be a warrior queen, but Melora is too valuable to be allowed to test herself beyond the castle walls. She is trapped, surrounded by suitors who want her kingdom, and suffocated by her parents’ love. She wants to escape, but how can she leave when even the sight of a horse makes her paralyzed with fear?

Prince Orlando is expendable. His arrogant brothers and distant father were thrilled for him (and his prize stallion) to leave tiny Thessaly. Orlando heard tales of Arthur’s court, where men are measured by their worth. He came to prove himself; he didn’t plan on Melora. Her fear of horses is a challenge Orlando is willing to take, but befriending the princess earns him powerful enemies, including the wizard Merlin and Melora’s many suitors.

When Merlin curses Orlando to eternal imprisonment in the Celtic Otherworld, only Melora can save him and break the curse. But first, she’ll have to get on a horse. Melora travels from British shores to the coast of India on a madcap quest to find the keys to unlocking Orlando’s prison. Melora must overcome warriors, outsmart kings, and face her deepest fears if she wants to get Orlando out alive. Even if she can break the curse, will there be anything of Orlando left to save?

Sound like something you’d be interested in? See above ^^

This is a long shot, but I am planning to hold a launch party at the story I work at (in West Michigan), so if anyone reading this is nearby, be advised. For the rest of you, I plan on doing a blog count down and other fun activities as I have time, so stay tuned!!
Just when you thought you’d escape without a Bigbang gif . . .

I couldn’t be more excited, and thanks to everyone who has already shown so much interest and given so much support!!!

Give yourself a hand

 

Book Review – Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl (No spoilers)

Because I have not had time* to do a BEA review post, and now it would be sort of pointless, I’m going to review the first ARC (that I have finished) from my BEA haul:

DRUMROLL PLEASE

Margaret Stohl’s Black Widow: Forever Red 

it’s so (appropriately) mysterious that the Goodreads blurb is only this:

“This novel features all the thrilling adventure readers will expect from the Marvel brand, backed up by the young-adult cred of #1 New York Times bestselling author Margaret Stohl. Uncover a new side of the Marvel Universe, accessible to old fans and new readers alike, as Stohl weaves an unforgettable story through the world of the Black Widow.” 

First: This cover is GORGEOUS. My cover is sort of boring (still cool though), without this fabulous artwork ——->

<——–But more importantly, it’s a signed copy 😉 I can forgive it for lacking the awesome art.

  And yes, this ARC was generously given to me by the lovely people at Disney and Marvel press in exchange for a fair and honest review.
Gifs are from Tumblr.com and belong to respective copyright holders.
When I first heard this was happening, I was so excited. Natasha Romanov a.k.a. Natalia Romanova a.k.a Natasha Romanoff a.k.a you get the picture, is one of my favorite Marvel characters (comics and movies) in both the classic and modern Marvel storylines. Her no-nonsense efficiency, her awesome skills, and her troubled past make for a fabulous character in the right hands.
Which leads in to the next part: I read three chapters of Beautiful Creatures once. Suffice it to say that I am not a fan.
I don’t do sappy, drippy, really drippy witch/teenage-angst novels. Period. So I was all, Marvel, really
But then I met Margaret Stohl at BEA. She was fabulous – humble – and filled with trepidation about the general populace reading her take on Black Widow. That made me feel a little better. And she geeked out with us about how awesome Black Widow is in the comics, and then she signed my book.

And honestly, I shouldn’t have worried so much, because I really liked the book.

So people of the world, here is a brief, spoiler free summary of Black Widow: Forever Red

Forever Red starts in Ukraine, 8 years in the past (you can actually read the beginning online). The Black Widow is hunting down her old mentor/trainer, Ivan Somodorov. The mission goes south, but not before Natasha rescues the girl that Ivan was experimenting on, turns the girl over to S.H.I.E.L.D., promises she’ll come if the girl needs her, and leaves.
8 years later, we are introduced to the primary characters (other than Natasha): teenagers Alex Manor and Ava Orlova. Ava is, of course, the little girl that Natasha rescued eight years earlier. Ava had been living in a (dreadful sounding) secure S.H.I.E.L.D. facility before she escaped, and she currently lives in the bottom of a Brooklyn YWCA. Both of them have strange dreams, but Ava’s are about Alex (she’s never met him). Ava has also nurtured hatred against the woman who saved her life, and then left her to fend for herself in a strange world.
But children are disappearing again, and the Black Widow suspects that Ivan survived their confrontation. That means he is after her, and after Ava, so Natasha heads back into the field, and back into Ava’s life. However, things are far more tangled than Natasha realized: her memories are leaking into Ava’s head, thanks to Ivan’s experiments in “quantum entanglement.” Ava absorbs Natasha’s skills, and the Black Widow can’t feel it. As frustrating as this is, it’s also incredibly dangerous. They aren’t the only Entangled pair that Ivan left behind.
To disentangle themselves, Ava and Natasha must find Ivan, face their childhoods, and go back to where it all began. And what does Alex Manor have to do with everything?

My thoughts – without spoilers

5 things that worked:

1. I loved the book’s format. Each present-day chapter is followed by a S.H.I.E.L.D. Line-Of-Duty Death (L.O.D.D.) case document. They are interviews (often with Natasha) and other files that tie into several plot threads. I love how these were worked in to the story
2. Margaret Stohl does a great job with Natasha’s character. She’s the hard edged, sensible, and capable assassin/spy we all love, but she’s also human (but with a very messed up past).
3. Ava and Alex were both likable (surprisingly so), and I was interested in their character arcs. Ava as Natasha’s “mini-me” provided some humor and insight into the Black Widow.
4. The plot. It was old-school spy stuff with gadgets, disguises, mad scientists, and chase scenes, but with an awesome heroine instead of a suave, suit wearing James Bond type.
5. The covert peeks into Natasha’s classified past. Black Widow is mysterious, and that’s one of the things I always liked. I was worried that a novelization would take away too much of that mystery, but it didn’t. Natasha is given just enough history, just enough name-dropping (I didn’t grin stupidly at everyone in the airport when I read a certain case note**), to both reconcile her comic/cinematic character, and leave a lot of interesting openings. Oh, and Coulson is in there a bit 🙂
BONUS: The Russian. I never forgot that I was reading about Russian characters, and it gave both realism and grounding to a book with a crazy mind-meld plot.

5 things that didn’t work as well:

Image Credit

1. While I liked Ava and Alex, and was rooting for them, but they weren’t why I was reading the book. I just didn’t care as much, and I was far more engaged when Natasha was on the scene.

2. This was a minor part of the book, but the predictable Alex/Ava romance (while believable) didn’t do anything for me. Sure, they were cute and not annoying, but (see above), I didn’t really care. But hey, they’re kids.

3. I felt like it occasionally suffered from trying to be too cryptic and mysterious. There were a few details that needed further explanation/examination for the plot’s sake. The only major example of this was all the disappearing children.***

4. Ivan. He had a bit of Marvel Movie Villain Syndrome: Ivan was evil, sadistic, and had quite the past, and yet he felt a little flat. But again, only Loki and Wilson Fisk (Daredevil) have truly escaped this.****

5. This one is 50/50 for me (because sometimes it worked better than others): the constant reminders that we are in a very normal, modern, but alternate Earth where superheroes are an acknowledged thing and Avengers destroyed/saved New York once.

Overall:

4 out of 5 Spiders. 

I’m just one of those annoying people who wanted more Black Widow. Maybe a novel that takes place in the past now? With Winter Soldier or Daredevil cameos?<—YES

Footnotes:
*I know that having time and making time are directly related.
**(not really a spoiler but just to be safe) Black Widow’s file has her age redacted. And there is a footnote that says to reference the files of Rogers, Steve and Barnes, James. Which means that they haven’t thrown out her backstory from the comics. There is still a chance that Natasha will be more like her real age (just rewritten every time) and has trained under the Winter Soldier. So I grinned at strangers ( I was reading in a busy airport, people).
***Seriously, where did all those kids go? If this was really addressed in the book, I must have missed it. I think it was just mentioned in passing toward the end.
****If you count the Winter Soldier as a villain [which in CA:TWS he technically is), then that makes three.

So, have you read this? Will my review be whisked away into secret S.H.I.E.L.D. files even though I avoided spoilers? 

Do you love Black Widow, or think she was less deserving of a novel than other Marvel ladies? 

How do you feel about her treatment in the movies? Would you like to see a Black Widow and Daredevil or Winter Soldier team up in the cinematic/novel/TV universe?