Exclusive interview with author Rebecca Alexander – A Baby’s Bones

This month, celebrated author Rebecca Alexander is releasing the first novel in a new exciting series, titled A Baby’s Bones. The crime series will follow the exploits of archaeologist Sage Westfield.

I was lucky enough to be sent a copy to review, and granted an interview with Rebecca herself. Read on for our chat, and find out what tips Rebecca gives for aspiring authors.

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The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden – Book Review.

Title: The Girl in the Tower

Author: Katherine Arden

Rating: 4/5

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Gothic Literature, Russian Literature, Fairytale.


This is the promised follow up of my The Bear and the Nightingale book review, as I look into its sequel, The Girl in the Tower. If you haven’t checked out my first review, it would be wise too. I’ll link to it here.

As I stated in my Bear and the Nightingale book review, the first novel of the Winternight trilogy did leave me feeling quite disappointed. Despite the novel being a fairly enjoyable read, I felt like the hype had been built up for the Bear and the Nightingale far too much, and upon my first reading, it left me feeling deflated. Nevertheless, my interest was piqued, and I left my local independent bookshop with Arden’s sequel wrapped in a paper bag.

Set just after the events of the first novel, Vasilia Petrovna (Vasya) is forced to go on the run after being accused of witchcraft thanks to mysterious deaths of her father and stepmother.

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After roaming the wilds of Russia (known as Rus in this context, as the title Russia wasn’t coined until hundreds of years later) on her stallion Solovey and having near-death experiences, Vasya stumbles upon a series of villages that have been burned and pillaged. Survivors tell Vasya – who has disguised herself as a man after realising how dangerous it is to travel alone as a woman during this time – that all the young girls have been kidnapped by a host of blood-thirsty bandits.

But after a bloody encounter, Vasya is soon welcomed into the court of the Grand Prince of Moscow, and she soon discovers that not all is well within this secretive world. And it is up to Vasya to discover whether she has the true strength to save the city and inhabitants from a fate worse than a band of bloodthirsty mercenaries.

For this novel, I think it’s safe to say that Arden’s writing really come into its own. I think reviewer Alex Brown (on Tor.com) states rather succinctly in her review of this book:

If The Bear and the Nightingale was a fairytale about a girl caught in the middle of a battle between two old gods, The Girl in the Tower is a coming-of-age story about a young woman figuring out what she wants from life.

The character of Vasya, who we read about her birth and growing into a fairly precocious and fiery little girl through the first book, has matured into a young woman whose position in this medieval country is balancing on a knife-edge. However, we don’t initially get to see Vasya, but get to read about her sister Olga and brother Sasha.

Having the first few chapters dedicated to Olga was a pleasant surprise, as Olga leaves the narrative halfway through the first book, and we don’t get to hear about her marriage or life as a Princess in Moscow at all. So to read all about what she had been doing was a refreshing change in my mind.

The second book deals less with magic (unless you could the chapters with Morozo and the very last half of the book) but more about the politics of this civilisation. To read about a fantastical Russia during the mid-14th century was a treat for a Russian historian like myself, and I found myself googling things long after reading it to sate my interest. I really enjoyed reading about the dynamics and scheming between the higher classes of society.

The book also has touches of romance in it, as a strange sort of love blossoms between Vasya and the frost-demon Morozo which, in theory, shouldn’t be considered but Arden has written is so well, that you do sort of wish they end up together.

I feel like the story progressed in a much easier way this time. Maybe it was due to the number of characters Arden has added in this novel, as within the first book, things tended to get muddier towards the end. Or it could be just due to the fact everything fell together a lot neater and the story came together well at the end.

I am curious to see what Arden will do for the last book in this trilogy however, as I believe she tied everything up well here. I will probably end of buying it, as I felt that this novel really did redeem itself from its predecessor.

The Bear and the Nightingale – Book Review

Title: The Bear and the Nightingale

Author: Katherine Arden

Rating: 3/5

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance, Gothic Literature, Russian Literature, Fairytale.


As I think I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for anything Russian based. I love the history of this vast country, and it’s true that within history comes different cultures and tales. And the mythos around Russian folklore is just so far removed from the fairytales that I grew up with as an English girl, I feel constantly drawn to them.

So when I read the back of The Bear and the Nightingale in my local Waterstones, I knew it would be right up my street.

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Set in a village during the infancy of feudal Russia (nearly two hundred years before Ivan the Terrible) The Bear and the Nightingale has factual and fictional base around the culture of this remote part of the world – a time in which religion and the command of the land holds sway over the everyday Russian’s lives, and sorcery and folklore as real as breathing.

But for a young woman Vasya; the last daughter and child of the kindly but gruff boyar Pyotr Vladimirovich and his dead wife Marina, these aren’t just stories. As Vasya can see the house spirits that guard her home and surrounding areas, and she can sense when the growing forces of dark magic are breaking free from the wild forests of Russia’s landscapes.

There are a few things I loved about this book. One being that in the last few years, we’ve had a good spate of Russian inspired fairytales (see my review for Gregory Maguire’s Egg and Spoon review) and I think this novel fits in very well with exploring this wonderful culture. The writing was very lyrical and the working in of the Russian words and terminology made the story come alive in a very real way.

I enjoyed some of the character depth – especially with Father Konstantin’s interest in Vasya turning into something far more than religious interest in the young woman, and his shame about these developing feelings (felt very Judge Frollo from Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame here), along with Vasya’s transformation from a wild young girl into a young woman.

However, this book does have its negative points. I felt the story lost itself halfway through, and the jumble of different spirits and how Vasya affected the balance of the world made for quite a mess when reading it. Towards the end, when the climax and tone of the book should be at its most urgent and pronounced, there wasn’t any tension. It played it safe, and for a book that really could have been fairly violent and almost squeamish, it felt almost boring to read. The book seems to meander quite a lot, and never really hits home about the point it’s trying to make.

Unfortunately, the character of Morozoko (A Russian-esque Jack Frost character) gets lost with his characterisation. I felt like when he was explaining himself and his conflict with his twin (these two were supposed to be really central and important characters) his story never really made sense and didn’t make him memorable.

I wanted more of him and this sort of folklore and less of the house and stable spirits we were subjected too.

However, despite all this, I am curious about the sequel – The Girl in the Tower – despite all my negative thoughts, so I probably will pick it up to see whether it improves. Expect a review on this too.

Overall, a good premise and lyrical book, but one that falls short on delivering.

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Feature image credit – TheGryphon.co.uk

The Good People by Hannah Kent – Book Review.

Title: The Good People

Author: Hannah Kent

Rating: 4/5

Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Gothic, Literary, Irish Fiction


As a reviewer with Irish roots, I’ve always been drawn to tales set in the Emerald Isle. After visiting Ireland a few times, and exploring the Ring of Kerry and the mountains around Dingle, there is a clear sense of ancient magic and wilderness that just oozes from this beautiful country.

So when I was skipping through my Kindle feed (yes I read on the Kindle half the time. With my newest handbag being a Chanel Jumbo, I find it much easier to carry a small Kindle around rather than a beefy paperback), I stumbled upon The Good People by Hannah Kent and immediately got sucked into the story.

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Set in a valley in County Kerry, Ireland, The Good People intertwines folklore, religion, and science in this female-led narrative which is heavily based on their belief of ‘The Good People’ – fairies and creatures that live and cause illness/misfortune to people.

When Nóra’s husband Martin dies and leaves her a bereft widow in the rural community of Crohane, misfortune seems to fall across the valley like a toxin. The cows don’t milk, the crops keep failing and a stillborn baby is delivered, all to the horror of the local population. And fingers and rumours are drawn towards Nóra’s house, as she hides a terrible secret. Her grandson, Micheál – a once thriving boy – has been delivered back to Nóra after the death of her daughter. But much has changed with the boy. The child is unable to walk, speak or even properly communicate, which baffles Nóra as she struggles to bond or care for the boy that was apparently her grandson. However, it is soon suggested that the real Micheál was stolen away by ‘The Good People’, who left a fairy-child – a changling – in their midst. So, it is up to Nóra, her hired help Mary, and the local wisewoman Nance Roche, to sort out the changling child once and for all. But with a new priest in town who disapproves of this so-called heresy over the plight of what he considers to be an ill child, time is running out for these three women.

I’ve found with Kent’s writing that she enjoys writing about female-led stories in which turmoil is mixed in with a dose of reality, as this and her other novel Burial Rites, all deal with stories that have a basis in fact. The worries about ‘The Good People’ were held by Irish people at this time, as were the conflicts that the Church had with these almost pagan ideas. For me as a reader, I enjoyed the sense that what I reading wasn’t all fantasy and from the author’s imagination. It gave it a sense of realism.

What I enjoyed about The Good People was the feeling that Kent managed to draw upon. As the village is set in a closeted community in a rural area of Ireland, there is a real sense of isolation and claustrophobia throughout the text. It felt as though the reader was invading upon something that was very private. With the use of Gaelic words too, and a very apt vocabulary, Kent really goes that extra mile to bring the reader deeper into the Irish landscape.

The characters were all well-written too. The women all had deep layers of conflict, personal history, and individuality that made them all very unique to the story. I enjoyed how radically different some characters felt from the others too, as it presented each situation in a unique way as we read it. What Kent also doesn’t do – a strength here – is give a clear answer to the riddle of Micheál. The reader is left wondering whether a priest, a doctor or Nance’s influence would’ve solved the riddle, or what he actually is. This leaves a good ambiguity to the text which makes it memorable after the first read.

This novel was my first introduction to Kent as a writer, and I’ve happily purchased the rest of her books.

A fast-paced, enjoyable dive into the world of rural, pagan Ireland.

The Book of Dust (La Belle Sauvage) by Philip Pullman – Book Review.

Title: La Belle Sauvage (The Book of Dust Volume One)

Author: Philip Pullman

Rating: 4.5/5

Genre: High Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult


It has been decades in the making and has garnered legions and legions of new fans every week. In the world of YA fiction, this was going to be a revolutionary event. One that we, as readers of the original trilogy, had grown up adoring and clamouring for. And finally, a  few weeks ago, Philip Pullman’s long-awaited addition to His Dark Materials world was finally published, and I jumped at the chance to get it a day before the actual publication date (it’s handy to know people in the publishing industry).

And here is my official review for La Belle Sauvage: Volume One of The Book of Dust. 

Set 10 years before the start of Northern Lights, La Belle Sauvage follows the tale of the incredibly likable Malcolm Polstead and his daemon Asta and how he came to become acquainted with the heroic Lord Asriel, a baby Lyra Belacqua and help set the course of His Dark Materials. After living a quiet and relatively peaceful life in his parents’ pub, The Trout, on the outskirts of Oxford, Malcolm’s life soon turns upside down when a baby is snuck into the convent and put into the care of the nuns. It is then up to Malcolm to help shield this baby from the nefarious powers which want to cause harm to the child, and the lengths that he will go to protect Lyra.

Like with its predecessors, La Belle Sauvage is heavily influenced by Christian ideology and Biblical stories. Towards the end of the novel, there is an event that is very reminiscent of the Great Flood, and there is also an overlying story arc where the world that Malcolm lives in is controlled by ‘The Magisterium’ – known commonly as The Church. Fans of Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy will be familiar with this type of world-building, but I also don’t think it provides too much confusion for standalone reading. That is one thing I must stress about this book. La Belle Sauvage (despite being another piece of the world of Lyra’s world) doesn’t need the contextual read of Pullman’s other novels. It has strength and understanding on its own. The novel also deals with bigotry, persecution and the League of St Alexander – a group that is remarkably similar to the Hitler Youth and Orwell’s 1984. 

For me, this novel had its strengths in the first two-thirds of the story. I feel that with the introduction of giants, river gods and fairies in the last third/flood scenes, it became a bit too ‘Studio Ghibli’ for me to digest. I felt that if he had introduced them earlier, it wouldn’t have been so jarring. (Side Note: I love Studio Ghibli, but I feel that it doesn’t blend well when you push them into Pullman’s world without any backstory.)

Once again, the character writing is fantastic. Malcolm is a singularly brilliant and complex character. One so driven by his need to protect Lyra, that he is willing to leave his family and deliver her back to her father. However, we do see moments of struggle with him, which the reader see him for what he is: a mature and conscientious eleven-year-old. The other characters, like the plucky Alice really come into their own as the novel progresses and Malcolm gets to know her. Fans of the original series will also be happy to see the return of Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter.

A return to the captivating world of His Dark Materials, La Belle Sauvage feels a bit like coming home. We, as fans of the original series, will love the journey back into the world where humans have daemons (visceral pieces of their soul living as animals) and new readers will be transported to a universe that is so unlike anything they’ve ever read before. With a perfect blend of new material and old favourites, I can’t wait for the next installment!

To buy the book.

Amazon

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