Monday, December 17, 2018

Double Reviews: Katherine Arden Edition! The Bear and the Nightingale & Small Space

The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1)The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Del Rey Books, 2017
Hardcover. 323 pages.

About The Bear and the Nightingale:
"At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn't mind--she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse's fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil. 

After Vasilisa's mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa's new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows. 

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa's stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent. 

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed--this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse's most frightening tales."

I have been wanting to read The Bear and the Nightingale since I first saw it was coming out in 2017, but somehow, because I who I am, I've just now gotten around to reading it. This is partially because I wanted to read it in December or January, so my timing was always limited. All that aside, I'm so glad I finally read this book!

I had extremely high expectations for this book which did make me nervous about whether it'd actually be able to live up to them. I think it took me a little while to get into this book as well, as there seemed to be quite a few different things going on at once. The very first chapters drew me in, but then there was a brief portion in the beginning where I felt uncertain about the direction the story was headed in. And then something shifted the story hit it's stride.

I can't place where it was in this book that my enjoyment really took off, but before I knew it I was glued to the pages and absolutely falling in love with the story, the setting, and the characters. The protagonist, Vasilisa (Vasya), really grew on me throughout the story, much as she grew and developed into her own personality. From the very beginning, Vasya is a strong, powerful girl, but as she grows she somewhat hones this trait and is still just as outspoken, but in a more direct, determined way. I loved watching her start to grow up and following her on this journey.

And then we have Morozko, aka "Frost," "the demon of winter," and a character that I desperately want to know more about. I can't really tell you much about this figure because of the crucial role he plays in this story, but he is definitely one of the most intriguing characters. Other characters include Vasya's father, brothers, stepmother and stepsister, and their nurse who helped raised them, Dunya (and of course a few others that I'll let you discover). I really think Arden created some truly interesting characters that really felt multi-layered. It was really apparent when they were conflicted or when they were struggling with themselves and dealing with those around them, so I appreciated this effort into all of the supporting characters to make them multi-dimensional.

I also loved the setting of this small village sort of sequestered away near the forest. There was a general cold and bleak atmosphere that permeated most of the book, which is something I really do love in books like these, as I feel that they fit the magical qualities and influences perfectly. The historical Russian backdrop that mixed fantasy with reality was also perfectly on target and really added to the depth of the setting. Also, as an added point--after a certain point Vasya is able to communicate with some of the horses, and let me just say, if you put any form of talking animal into a book--I'm in love.

Since this is a Russian-influenced book, you do have to pay close attention to the names, as there are often multiple iterations given to each character name. There are also times when it feels like a lot of different places, names, etc. are thrown at the reader, but none of this majorly infringes on the storytelling experience.

Overall, I've given The Bear and the Nightingale a well-earned five stars!

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository

You might also like:
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Small Spaces (Small Spaces #1)Mini-Review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 2018
Hardcover. 218 pages.

About Small Spaces:
"After suffering a tragic loss, eleven-year-old Ollie only finds solace in books. So when she happens upon a crazed woman at the river threatening to throw a book into the water, Ollie doesn't think--she just acts, stealing the book and running away. As she begins to read the slender volume, Ollie discovers a chilling story about a girl named Beth, the two brothers who both loved her, and a peculiar deal made with "the smiling man," a sinister specter who grants your most tightly held wish, but only for the ultimate price. 

Ollie is captivated by the tale until her school trip the next day to Smoke Hollow, a local farm with a haunting history all its own. There she stumbles upon the graves of the very people she's been reading about. Could it be the story about the smiling man is true? Ollie doesn't have too long to think about the answer to that. On the way home, the school bus breaks down, sending their teacher back to the farm for help. But the strange bus driver has some advice for the kids left behind in his care: "Best get moving. At nightfall they'll come for the rest of you." Nightfall is, indeed, fast descending when Ollie's previously broken digital wristwatch, a keepsake reminder of better times, begins a startling countdown and delivers a terrifying message: RUN."

I read Small Spaces back in October because it seemed like a perfect atmospheric and spooky read for the fall/Halloween season. Plus, there are a bunch of creepy scarecrows on the cover and what screams fall more than scarecrows?

Small Spaces is a book with some really interesting ideas and a particularly unique plot. Without going into too many details, it's safe to say this book has made me completely hesitant and wary of scarecrows--I'll probably never look at them in quite the same way. You've been warned. 

Our main character is a young girl named Ollie, a somewhat stubborn, independent, and thoughtful person. Her mom has recently died, so there is a good showcase of how her and her father have been dealing with with this struggle. I thought Arden displayed this dynamic particularly well, as Ollie didn't have the general 'we're sad, but everything's' fine,' sort of display common in middle grade books, but she instead has some sharp edges as a result of this tragedy and she lets them show to both her father and the kids at school. She's not always necessarily the nicest to others at times, but she has a good heart and that always wins out at the end of the day. This is really what made me love her as a character, as she's not perfect or a perfect example, but she's a real kid. The way Arden handled her depression was really carefully and beautifully done. There are some of other main kids that accompany Ollie on her journey that I also thought Arden portrayed well, with unique personalities and interesting contributions.

I've decided to keep this a brief mini-review because anticipation, the unknown, and discovery are some of the best elements in any spooky book, so I'd like to leave the rest up to you to find out. If you enjoy mature middle grade, a unique plot involving a creepy farm, a watch that's oddly helpful, and an unpredictable journey, then this one's for you!

Overall, I've given Small Spaces four stars!

Buy the book:  Amazon | Book Depository


  1. Can't beat two great reads! I'm adding both of these to my list. :)

  2. I've heard only good things about The Bear and the Nightingale - glad you enjoyed it so much!