Blood Red, Snow White: A Review

“There was never a story that was happy through and through, and this one is no different.”

Blood Red, Snow White by Marcus SedgwickArthur Ransome left his family and his home in England to travel to Russia where he found work as a journalist. His love story with Russia started the moment he set foot on its snow-covered ground and continued as he compiled his first published book–a collection of Russian fairy tales.

Over the years Russia would continue to draw Ransome back to it through the first murmurings of unrest in Tsarist Russia, into the first bloody revolution, and beyond. Reporting on the turbulent political climate for an English newspaper draws Ransome unwittingly into the middle of the conflict between White and Red Russia as he is courted to be both a spy and a double agent.

All Arthur wants is to hide away and marry the Russian woman he loves. But that proves difficult with her position as Trotsky’s secretary and his own murky sympathies. With history being made and the world changing from moment to moment, Arthur will have to choose a side and make hard choices to survive in Blood Red, Snow White (2016) by Marcus Sedgwick.

Blood Red, Snow White was originally published in the UK in 2007 and made its first appearance in the US when it was reprinted in 2016. This book follows the sensational real story of novelist Arthur Ransome during his years in Russia as a suspected spy before he would write his Swallows and Amazons children adventure novels. Blood Red, Snow White was originally written shortly after Ransome’s MI6 file was made public–details Sedgwick relates in an author’s note which includes excerpts from those files.

This novel is broken into three parts. The beginning, written in third person, relates the beginning of Arthur’s life and journey to Russia as well as the early stages of the Russian Revolution as short fairy tales. The second part of the novel, in a closer third person point of view, follows Arthur over the course of one night in Moscow as he decides if he will agree to act as a British spy. In part three Arthur narrates his story in first person as he tries to make his way back into Russian and extricate himself and Evgenia from the political machinations around them.

This fast-paced, literary novel looks at a moment in history through an unexpected lens. Readers familiar with Ransome’s own books will, of course, find this novel fascinating. Although some of this novel is, necessarily, speculation it is well-researched and thorough with detailed information about Russia during Ransome’s time there as well as key details of Ransome’s life.

Blood Red, Snow White is an approachable and ambitious novel filled with atmospheric settings and a gripping story of love, adventure, spies, and Russia.

Possible Pairings: Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson, Black Ice by Becca Fitzpatrick, The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia by Candace Fleming, Daughter of Deep Silence by Carrie Ryan

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

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The Winner’s Kiss: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Winner’s Kiss is the third book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime. As such this review contains major spoilers for books one and two!*

“She thought, fleetingly, that this must be what memory was for: to rebuild yourself when you lose the pieces.”

The Winner's Kiss by Marie RutkoskiArin and Kestrel should be on opposites sides in the war that is brewing between Valoria and its newly independent colony Herran. Yet, despite all appearances to the contrary they have been on the same side–that is, Kestrel has been on Arin’s side–from the outset.

Arin is certain that Kestrel is getting exactly what she deserves serving at the Emperor’s shoulder while she watches her father prepare to make war with Herran.

He’s wrong.

Instead, one impetuous decision has led Kestrel to the northern tundra as a prisoner. A traitor to her own country desperate to escape.

Arin and Kestrel have always been bound by their decisions–deliberate acts and willful lies that have pulled them away from each other again and again. With the threat of war growing every day, both Kestrel and Arin will have to redefine victory–and trust–if they hope to find their way back to each other or the people they’ve worked so hard to save in The Winner’s Kiss (2016) by Marie Rutkoski.

The Winner’s Kiss is the third book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse and The Winner’s Crime.

This novel starts off soon after the climactic conclusion of book two. Arin prepares for war in Herran while Kestrel is brought to a prison work camp in the Valorian Tundra, both haunted by the decisions that have led them to this point.

Rutkoski manages to strike the perfect balance between character-driven introspection and nail biting tension throughout the novel. Arin and Kestrel are broken, sometimes in small ways and sometimes larger, because of their ties to Herran and to each other. Their own attempts to heal and rebuild play out against the grand battle looming over who will control Herran moving forward.

This book is the exact right conclusion for this series and the one that the characters deserve. The Winner’s Kiss delivers everything readers of this trilogy have come to love and expect while expanding Arin and Kestrel’s world even further with still more insights into these two shrewd and talented characters. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

Dreamstrider: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Dreamstrider by Lindsay Smith (2015)

Dreamstrider by Lindsay SmithLivia is the only dreamstrider in the Barstadt Empire. Thanks to her special ability to travel into Oneiros, the dream world, Livia can inhabit the bodies of others and access their memories. Both of which make her uniquely suited to work as a spy for her country. Livia’s work also gives her the chance to earn her freedom and leave her past as a lower-class tunnel dweller behind. But trouble is lurking and with only her partner Brandt by her side, Livia is uncertain who she can trust as the stakes climb higher.

Dreamstrider is Smith’s third novel and a standalone fantasy adventure.

There is a lot to like in this novel. Smith delivers a high-octane novel filled with action, spies, intrigue, and more action. From the prologue on the story is fast-paced with a sense of urgency even before the main plot gets rolling. In terms of creating tension and urging the reader on, Dreamstrider is an absolute winner.

The premise here is also fascinating. Unfortunately, because of the action! and the urgency! throughout the story, many aspects of Livia’s world are never properly explained. Why is Livia the only dreamstrider in Barsadt? How can other people show her the world of Oneiros but not do what she does? What kind of world is it that readers are visiting in this novel? All of those questions are answered in only superficial ways throughout the narrative. While moments are evocative and strong, the world building never feels entirely cohesive or complete despite Smith’s obvious vision and utterly original fantasy elements.

Another downside of the story starting so fast and the action being so relentless is that it’s often hard to get to know Livia and the other characters in the novel or to understand their motivations.

Readers who are able to go along with the basic conceits of the novel without too many questions will be rewarded with a thrilling spy story unlike anything else.

Dreamstrider is a solid spy fantasy that has a lot of unique qualities. It is guaranteed to appeal to readers who like their stories more action-driven than character-driven as well as fans of supernatural espionage, fantasy with a faith-based element (as Barsadt holds dreams sacred), as well as readers who like stories about the dream world. Fans of The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson or The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O’Brien should take special note and pick up this title.

*A copy this book was acquired from the publisher for review consideration*

Rebel Mechanics: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Rebel Mechanics by Shanna SwendsonSixteen-year-old Verity Newton is certain that her university-quality education and the numerous novels she has read will be preparation enough to work as a governess among the upper class magisters who rule Britain and its American colonies with magic in 1888.

Soon after arriving in New York City, Verity learns that unrest is growing and a group of colonists calling themselves the Rebel Mechanics hope to use ingenuity and mechanical inventions to unseat the magical might of the magisters.

After securing a job as governess to one of New York’s premier families, Verity finds herself caught directly between the magisters and the mechanics. Although she is sympathetic to the rebel cause, she also realizes there is more to the magisters than anyone might think–particularly when it comes to her new employer Henry.

When Verity is drawn into the fledgling rebellion as a spy, she learns that anything goes when it comes to revolution–and love in Rebel Mechanics (2015) by Shanna Swendson.

Swendson blends historic details and steampunk sensibilities perfectly in this novel to create a fun alternate history New York filled with magic and powerful inventions. Verity’s sense of wonder at everything she sees in the city will capture similar feelings from readers.

Verity starts out as a naive heroine with little life experience and a lot of uncertainty about her place among the magisters or the mechanics. Although she makes a few blunders along the way, Verity learns from her mistakes and her character development is perfectly paced throughout the novel. Despite her naivete she is a pragmatic and thoughtful narrator who refuses to let things like bandits or revolutionaries fluster her.

Although Verity’s love interest for much of the novel is not ideal, the story is still filled with enough swoony moments and excellent characters to forgive Verity’s lack of good taste. Henry, a magister with rebel sympathies and Verity’s unlikely employer, is guaranteed to be fan favorite.

Rebel Mechanics offers a perfect blend of fantasy, action and romance that is sure to leave readers smiling. This book is currently a standalone (with a largely self-contained plot to prove it!) but we can only hope Verity and her friends will eventually return with new stories and adventures.

Rebel Mechanics is a delightful steampunk novel filled with adventure and magic. Highly recommended for readers looking for an effervescent read as well as fans of fantasy/steampunk or historical fiction/alternate history novels.

Possible Pairings: The Shadows by Megan Chance, Scarlet by A. C. Gaugen, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, This Shattered World by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, Winterspell by Claire Legrand, Clariel by Garth Nix, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

You can also read my exclusive interview with Shanna about the book!

*An advance copy of this book was provided for review consideration by the publisher*

The Winner’s Crime: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

*The Winner’s Crime is the second book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse. As such this review contains major spoilers for book one!*

“The winner knows her whole line of play. But Kestrel saw only one move, and maybe the next.”

The Winner's Crime by Marie RutkoskiKestrel knew the cost would be high when she petitioned the Emperor of Valoria in an attempt to save Herrani lives. Months later outward appearances suggest that Kestrel has everything she could want. Her gambit to offer Herran independence as a colony only serves to better help Valoria while Kestrel’s shrewd strategy brought her to the attention of the Emperor. Engaged to Valoria’s crown prince, Kestrel is privy to countless parties and celebrations while all of Valoria admires the future Empress.

To Kestrel, it feels like nothing so much as a well appointed cage.

Kestrel longs to tell Arin the truth of her engagement. But with stakes higher on both sides, Kestrel is no longer certain she can trust Arin–if she ever could.

Arin thought his problems would end when Herran won its independence and he became governor of the new color. But independence as a reality–as more than a word–is a difficult thing. Leading an entire people is harder still. Arin buries the hurt deep, wrapping it in distrust and doubt. But once Arin thought he knew the truth in Kestrel’s heart. As he learns more about the machinations at work with Valoria, he wonders if he was ever truly wrong.

Navigating the complex alliances and threats of the capital, Kestrel comes to know the ruthless nature of life at court as well as her own heart. But despite years of training and loyalty, Kestrel’s heart no longer belongs to Valoria. It may not even belong to herself as she sets herself on a treasonous path to save her both the country and the man that never should have captured her love.

As lies multiply and deceptions wear thin, both Kestrel and Arin will have to face shocking truths as they answer for their deceptions and crimes. For both Kestrel and Arin, the greatest of their crimes may be not knowing their own hearts in The Winner’s Crime (2015) by Marie Rutkoski.

The Winner’s Crime is the second book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy which begins with The Winner’s Curse.

This story greatly expands the fraught world of intrigue and political machinations readers explored in the first novel as Kestril and Arin move through Valoria and lands unknown. The stakes have never been higher for either Kestrel or Arin.

Although there is still abundant action, The Winner’s Crime is an often introspective story as both protagonists try to make sense of their own hearts and motivations. After years of following her father and her empire without question, Kestrel begins to wonder if there might be more to honor that doing what is expected. Arin, meanwhile, stews in an untenable combination of responsibility to the Herrani and regret at having lost Kestrel.

The Winner’s Crime is a brutal, emotional read as both Kestrel and Arin deal with the ramifications of their unlikely association in Herran. Rutkoski’s prose continues to dazzle with rich, elegant descriptions of the decadent world of the Emperor’s palace. The shifting dual perspective between Arin and Kestrel is also used to excellent effect as this book once again highlights how much can be said between two people without uttering a word.

The Winner’s Crime is another stunning installment in a series that continues to impress.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

*An advance copy of this book was acquired for review consideration from the publisher*

You can also check out my post for the What’s Your Winner’s Curse blog tour starting January 30!

Etiquette & Espionage: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail CarrigerFourteen-year-old Sophronia is used to her mother’s disapproval and punishments. Even the idle threats of being sent to live with vampires hold little sway when Sophronia is faced with a situation in which she can attempt something daring instead of being painfully, boringly proper.

What Sophronia could not have guessed is that Mumsy would take matters further by sending Sophronia to a finishing school. Nor could she have anticipated exactly what that will mean when the initial pronouncement is handed down.

Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality is unlike any finishing school Sophronia could have fathomed. While she can’t be completely sure, Sophronia is fairly certain Mumsy didn’t have this kind of finishing in mind when she sent Sophronia away.

But then who is Sophronia to argue when there are friends to be made with fledgling evil geniuses, inventors with whom to collaborate and all manners of conspiracies to investigate. Manners and dress will certainly be in the curriculum. But so will diversion and deceit in Etiquette & Espionage (2013) by Gail Carriger.

Etiquette & Espionage is the first in Carriger’s YA Finishing School series. It is set in the same world as her bestselling Parasol Protectorate series for adults.*

Carriger has already mastered the skills required to write a supernatural, steampunk, historical fantasy. Her alternate history with elements of steampunk and fantasy tropes blend together exceptionally well with the Austen-like tone of her narration.

The world is well-realized and fascinating although often under explained. It’s impossible to say for sure but it seems likely some shorthand was used in world building (or at least world explaining) since so much groundwork has been laid in the earlier Parasol Protectorate books.

With virtually zero romantic entanglements and numerous high-action sequences Etiquette & Espionage is ideal for readers of any age. The story handles several topics (race and class divisions, friendship, wealth and status) very well adding a nice dimension to the plot. At the same time, unfortunately, the pacing often feels off with an immense amount of  setup in the first half of the novel only to lead to a plot resolution that feels rushed in the final pages.

Etiquette & Espionage is a fine start to a series with a cast of characters that are appealing in every sense even if their world might take a bit too long to come fully into focus.

*Etiquette & Espionage functions as a standalone but readers of both series will likely recognize characters in common.

Possible Pairings: I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman,  My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows; A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, A Spy in the House by Y. S. Lee, These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas, Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevemer

The Winner’s Curse: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Winner's Curse by Marie RutkoskiChoices for Valorian women are limited. Kestrel can join the military, as her father the general has planned for Kestrel since her childhood, or she can marry. No one would ever guess the path Kestrel truly wants to take. No one could imagine another choice in an empire that glorifies war and enslaves all it conquers.

Kestrel shouldn’t have been tempted at the slave auction. Certainly not by a defiant slave whose every move broadcast contempt and disdain for his surroundings. Even knowing she will pay too much–knowing it will set off a series of disasters even Kestrel can’t  fully predict–she buys the slave.

At first Kestrel is too busy hiding her own activities to think much of the new slave. But Arin has his secrets too. As Arin and Kestrel circle each other they will embark on a journey together that will change both them and their countries forever in The Winner’s Curse (2014) by Marie Rutkoski.

The Winner’s Curse is the first book in Rutkoski’s Winner’s Trilogy.

Rutkoski has created a vibrant world with a heroine who is shrewd and pragmatic even as she makes terrible decisions. Kestrel is a brilliant strategist–a skill that shows throughout the novel as she negotiates various obstacles throughout the story.

Secrets and lies are key to both Kestrel and Arin’s characters, creating a story that is as much about what is said as it is about subtext. This novel is brimming with non-verbal communication and other subtle cues that Rutkoski expertly manipulates as a story of love and other–somewhat darker–matters slowly unfolds.

With a fully-realized world and vibrant, flawed characters there is a lot to absorb in The Winner’s Curse. Readers will be rewarded with several surprising revelations and a story that manages to succeed both as a standalone story and as the launching point for a stunning trilogy.

Grounded in the Ancient Roman Empire’s practice of enslaving conquered peoples and all of the ramifications therein, The Winner’s Curse is a rich, meditative story on what freedom truly means and the efforts some will take to procure it. Highly recommended for everyone but especially fans of historical fiction and/or Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series.

Possible Pairings: The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, The Wicked and the Just by J. Anderson Coats, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, A Wizard of Earth Sea by Ursula K. LeGuin, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diana Peterfreund, The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melinda Salisbury, A Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, Rebel Mechanics by Shanna Swendson, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, And I Darken by Kiersten White

You can also read my interview as part of the official blog tour with Marie Rutkoski about the book here: http://wp.me/p6kfM-3d8

There is also a related short story about Arin up at Tor.com: http://www.tor.com/stories/2014/01/bridge-of-snow-marie-rutkoski

(My schedule is weird this week because of my super awesome interview with Marie Rutkoski which is why this Chick Lit Wednesday review is posting on a Thursday!)

You can also enter my giveaway for the book. Details here: http://wp.me/p6kfM-3dU