Book Review: Vassa in the Night

Random Books and Coffee Reviews #4: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

 Welcome to the forth installment of Random Books and Coffee Reviews.  Today I’ll be talking about a book I received from a monthly subscription box a while back.  Seriously, those are wonderful was to get new books and it’s like a present every month.  Plus, there could be other goodies added in like bookmarks, snacks, and other book-themed stuff depending on what subscription you choose and the month’s theme.  I would highly recommend them and I’ll be reviewing plenty of books from subscription boxes I’ve gotten in the past.  Anyway, onto the review.

The book is called Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, and like my last review it’s a retelling of a classic tale.  Unlike my last review this is a retelling of a Russian fairy tale “Vasilissa the Beautiful” set in modern-day New York.  While I’m not well versed in Russian fairytales, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, grateful I was able to get a copy in my subscription box.

The story is an urban fantasy surrounding a girl, Vassa, who lives with her stepmother and sisters in Brooklyn where the nights are getting longer for a mysterious reason.  The relationship with her sisters is complicated, made more so by her enchanted wooden doll Erg constantly stealing from them and getting Vassa in trouble for it.  Vassa is sent out on a deadly mission to get lightbulbs as a convenience store, BY, is the only one open at night and is known for beheading shoplifters and perhaps others for pure entertainment.  Accused of stealing, either due to Erg stealing a candy bar or having one planted in her pocket by one of two disembodied hands, Vassa is able to keep her head thanks to a loophole in the punishment logic. With the help of Erg, Vassa must last living inside BY and working for three magically long nights.  In addition, Babs throws impossible tasks in order to get Vassa to slip up as well as a mysterious figure circling around the store piquing her interest.

Now for the positives while I still have coffee.

The writing reflects the magical atmosphere going on in the story with great descriptions and a narrator just as lost in the fantastical convenience store as the reader is.  The story’s plot is full of twists and turns of magical wonder and nail-biting events along with fantastical characters of human and non-human varieties.  The emotional impacts are built up from the beginning and have a feels-worthy crescendo that’ll have you clutching the nearest fluffy item.  Just make sure it’s not your cat, for your own safety.  (Spoiler: I danced the No Unnecessary Romance Dance at the end End Spoiler).

Vassa herself is an introverted, snarky character who cares deeply for her sisters despite the complex relationship she has with them as well as her wooden doll Erg.  Erg is a sassy kleptomaniac but her heart is in the right place regarding Vassa, although she has a sadistic streak with a bottomless stomach.  Older step-sister Chelsea is a mother figure to the girls as the step-mom doesn’t really do much in the story.  Stephane is the half-sister who seems to hate Vassa, enough to send her to BYs where she might be killed.  I should note that Chelsea and Stephane have same mother, Stephane and Vassa have same father.  Babs, the Baba Yaga of the story, is a convenience store owner of regular and odd things who is (spoiler) stealing pieces of Night and placing them in a mannequin of a motorcycle and its rider (end spoiler).  She looks frail but is stronger than she looks, appears as an old senile woman, sadistic, doesn’t care about human life.  Babs has two disembodied hands who work for her: Dexter and Sinister, show care for each other and devotion to Babs

Although I can’t make a definite case for Easter eggs in the story as I am not familiar with Russian folk tales, those who are unfamiliar with these stories won’t be isolated and I’m sure those who are will find things that the recognize.

I hate to admit that I struggled with the way the story was written early on in book.  While the writing is good it is a bit surreal at times, which had me getting lost in places.  I felt like the story only needed to have a bit more of a ground in reality, perhaps a news report in the paper or on TV to show how the world treats magic to keep readers engaged from the beginning without giving up due to the confusing abstract concept.

In spite of this, the book is a roller-coaster of emotions, magic, and humor to the very end.  If the issues with the beginning didn’t scare you away then I’d recommend getting a sample from your ebook provider or go to your local library to see if its available or download a library app to borrow the book, read the first few chapters, and decide if its right for you.

The next book I’ll be reviewing is going to be from a writer whose humor and artwork I admire.  I was able to get her blessing for the review and I will be posting a link to the website where I follow her work before or after the review and I hope I can do it justice.

  • Rating: 4 out of 5 Coffee Cups
  • Recommended for: Russian fairy tale lovers, readers looking for unique read, fan of urban fantasy,
  • Coffee Recommendation: European blend, dark roast, something bold and strong, semi-sweet.

Before I go, I have a quick question: are there any coffees you’d like me to review sometime?  Feel like I need to expand my tastes a bit and would like to eventually do coffee reviews as well.  I already ordered a specific coffee I’d like to review, so if I’m comfortable with how it turns out I’ll post my first coffee review before the next book review.

Interested in this book? Get it here.

Advertisements

Book Review: The Dark Wife

Welcome to the third issue of Random Books and Coffee Reviews.  I don’t know how many of you have reviewed books before, even e-books, but I’ll admit both come with their own set of struggles.  Perhaps my Book Dragon brain is used to turning the pages rather than tapping a screen or misplacing my E-reader.  Looking at the looming pile of unread books collecting dust in my Book Cave doesn’t help.  Anyway, on to the subject of today’s review.

The book I’ll be reviewing today is The Dark Wife by Sarah Diamer.  It’s a retelling of the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone but as a lesbian romance filled with the soft, fluffy, and squishy things readers and members of any fandom refer to as “Feels!”  You can practically feel the emotions as you read the story, fingers clutching your reading device as your eyes hungrily devour the words before you.  Seriously, it’s practically pomegranate in literary form it’s that good.  I can’t count the amount of times I was craving the juicy sweet and sour fruit while I was reading this book.  I’ll try not to drool on my keyboard as I write this, so I’ll get to the review.

The book tells an alternative story behind the Greek myth of Hades and Persephone and how the seasons came to be.  In this telling, Persephone lives with her mother in the Immortal Forest where she falls in love with a nymph, Charis.  I won’t spoil what happens for those who haven’t read it and wish to after this review, but the relationship ends with heartbreak.  In addition to this, Demeter, Hera, and Aphrodite are involved in a competition in order to make their daughter’s the next generation’s queen, turning Persephone into pawn in a grand immortal game of politics.

Instead of the more known idea of Hades kidnapping Persephone, she runs away from home in order to avoid the Olympian expectations placed upon her and becoming just another plaything for Zeus.  The story continues with Persephone and Hades falling in love and changing the Underworld while dealing with Zeus doing what he can to create chaos in the Underworld and bring Persephone back.  Yep, he’s a tool in this interpretation, too.  I don’t know if there are any retellings that don’t have him as a pervy creep who only cares about what he wants.

I can’t remember where I found this, but apparently the “original” tale goes something like this: Hades asks Zeus’s permission to marry Persephone, which he gives, so Hades brings her to the Underworld.  Demeter, not told of this or asked if it was ok with her, gets upset and refuses to do her job of being the goddess of the harvest until her daughter comes back.  The thing is, Hades offers equal power and half of the Underworld if Persephone will marry him, which she accepts, so they end up married.  Persephone going to and from the Underworld still happens, but I prefer this version as it focuses on what the ladies want and it doesn’t have the squicky-ness of the kidnapping and, ahem, other issues.

Now, onto the good stuff.

Puppy Cerberus, enough said.

If that’s not enough of an incentive for you, then maybe the rest of the review will help.  Other than offering a different perspective of the well-known myth, Persephone is a great active character who changes as the story progresses.  You can tell that she and Demeter have a loving mother-daughter relationship, despite the complications of being immortal gods and, again, Zeus being a jerk.  Persephone doesn’t want fame or power, instead wanting the freedom to choose the direction her life goes, which in this case is to help the souls of the Underworld and be with Hades.  Hades herself is awesome: she’s a kind and just ruler who clearly cares for her subjects, she’s sweet and affectionate with Persephone, she wants the best for everyone more than herself, and doesn’t hold onto animosity that would make her into an angst-ridden cliché (there’s so much brooding you can take before you want to punch a character in the face).

The romance between Hades and Persephone is well-written and, as I’ve stated earlier, full of fluffy feels.  The romantic moments are sweet yet genuine, making you root for the couple as their trials push them past their breaking point and affect those close to them.  Both are aware that the stories told about them will be less than romantic, saying Hades kidnapped Persephone and kept her as a prisoner.  Yet they persevere, fighting for their love and the freedom to choose each other and be together.

Their allies and friends, Pallas and Hermes, are intriguing characters as well.  Both are rebels who do what they can to help the couple, Pallas serving as a peacekeeper for the dead and Hermes as a bearer of news from the world above.  Pallas is a strong, caring character who’s devoted to her friends and unflinching in her belief that Persephone and Hades can change the Underworld as well as the established order of their world.  Her humor and bright personality are infectious but can be stern and strong when need be.  Hermes is playful and rebellious, but he clearly cares for his friends, advising Persephone as she struggles with her fate and reminding her what she’s fighting for.

For my fellow Greek Mythology fans there are various little nods to other myths and characters.  There’s Pallas’s story, of course, and the ferryman of the Underworld, Charon, gets his own story arc.  There’s also mention of Zeus switching genders of the other deities in the human’s tales just for the fun, an example being that, in this story, Cupid is said to be a female.  This is one explanation as to why Hades is referred to as “Lord” of the Underworld, the other to be brought up later in the review.

As with any piece of literature, there are things that will limit readership.  The queer relationship is obvious as well as the story being an e-book.  There is one part, however, that could trigger readers, so I’ll warn you right now: there’s a scene of sexual assault in the book.  I’ll understand if you choose to skip this read if such things make you uncomfortable or triggers any illnesses or anything else.

Finding things that I felt needed improvement was difficult, mostly because I enjoyed it so much.  However, I did feel that the book could have been longer.  Checking Goodreads I discovered that the book is less than 300 pages, so its shorter than most books I’ve read.  To be honest that could be fixed by adding more to the story, which I’ll discuss more when I talk about what could make the book better.  The fact that Hades is referred to as “Lord” of the Underworld due to her preference for women doesn’t make sense since the goddess Athena is openly with women, Pallas being a past lover.  Thankfully those were the only issues I found while reading.

It took me a while to think of what could lengthen the story while improving it as well.  I thought having more details of the political reasons behind having Persephone or one of the other young goddesses becoming queen were needed, as it’s not mentioned after Persephone leaves for the Underworld.  I would have liked to have Thanatos, a character in Greek mythology who isn’t often in stories even though he’s the actual god of death, have his own story like Charon did.  It also would have been nice to hear about Hades’ past relationships, as there’s a nymph in mythology Hades was with before Persephone and it was mentioned that Hades prefers women.

In conclusion, this is an addicting book that I’d highly recommend for a shorter can’t-put-down read.  For those of you who are die-hard physical book fans, this just might show you the benefits of e-books.  Even if you refuse to buy an e-reader, phones, computers, and tablets are good substitutes for those who’d rather reserve their funds for adding to their own book hoard.

 

Rating: 4.5 Cups of Coffee out of 5

Recommended for: Those who like retellings of well-known stories, Greek mythology fans, Readers looking for lady-loving romance

Coffee Recommended for Reading: A rich, strong dark or medium roast with hints of pomegranate.  Or Death Wish Coffee (might do a review on this coffee in the future).  Recommended with pomegranates or pomegranate-flavored snacks.

 

I’m still debating on what to review next, so here’s the list of options I’d like my readers to vote on:

  • Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter
  • Mentor: a Memoir by Tom Grimes
  • Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
  • 3 Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
  • Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen
  • A Mercedes Lakey novel that I have in my TBR pile
  • The Crusader Road (Pathfinder Tales) by Michael A. Stackpole
  • Surprise novel that I’ve avoided for several reasons (recommended if you want to be sadistic with my sanity)
  • A reader recommended novel (leave in comments)

 

I’ll pick at random if there’s no response or you don’t mind any of the stated options.

 

Interested in this book? Get it here.

Working on next review, curious about what you want me to review after.

Hello readers, humans, and fellow book dragons.  As the title suggests, I’m working on my next review and I’m curious about what book you want me to review after I post the next one.  I have a list of books I’ve been thinking of reading so I’ll post them here.  If you have a specific recommendation for a future review then I’d like to hear it.

Here’s the list so far:

  • Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter
  • Mentor: a Memoir by Tom Grimes
  • Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst
  • 3 Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake
  • Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen
  • Mercedes Lakey novels that I have in my TBR pile

Thank you for reading, my fellow book hoarders, and I wish you good coffee and great books.

Book Review: Courting Trouble

Welcome to Random Books (and Coffee) Reviews.  Hope I didn’t leave you waiting too long.  Having a sadistic and capricious muse doesn’t help with these sort of things.  Neither do house panthers and deciding on what other things to post about besides book reviews, which takes more time than I expected.  Any suggestions will be helpful in growing this blog.

Anyway, I’ve got a new book up to review.  Today’s offering is Courting Trouble by Deeanne Gist.  This is stated as a Historical Christian Romance, so off the bat there are going to be things that people are not going to agree with in terms of fiction, the theme, or meaning.  If that’s the case I won’t hold it against you if you’d rather skip this review.  If that doesn’t bother you, then I hope you enjoy your stay.

The book is about Essie Spreckelmeyer, a thirty-year-old woman in the late 19th century South taking her romantic future into her hands and begins pursuit of a husband.  As she’s not the typical woman society expects her to be, the chances of marriage are not that great.  Having her father be a judge in a small town makes societal expectations higher than usual for the average woman, which further adds to her disappointment in her spinsterhood, hence the husband-chasing.

The story itself is interesting, with Essie going about courtships with different men with different results.  The situations that she gets in, either on her own or due to others, has their own humorous charm, such as when mice are let loose in the general store where Essie works.  While the novel is labeled as a romance, I have to say that it doesn’t read like one.  I won’t go into spoilers right now, but I will say that it doesn’t take away from the quality of the novel.

Essie herself is an interesting and complex character, being both feminine and a tomboy. She’s a rebel of society as she rides a bicycle, catches snakes, and wears big fancy hats while still wanting to be a wife and mother.  She’s also suborn, forward, intelligent but without concern for social propriety, not to mention naïve in love, lonely, and with a strong faith in humanity to a fault.  Combined, these result in a variety of complications in her courtships and her life.

As with any novel there are things that will limit readership.  Like I said, the Christian aspect of the novel, even if it doesn’t become more prominent until halfway into the book, will limit readers.  What will further limit readers is that there are moments that are, ahem, less than squeaky clean.  No graphic details, don’t worry, but there are suggestive moments.  The most prominent example is Mrs. Lockhart: churchgoing woman and unashamed reader of dirty books such as Only One Sin.  I’m not even joking.  It’s a given that descriptions of clothing will confuse people as it’s a historical novel, so that might be a problem for readers.  Also, readers will more than likely dislike Essie for the simple fact that she is desperate for a husband and children to the point that she would accept a proposal from any random man, at least early on in the book.

Like any novel there are things I didn’t enjoy about the book, and not because I found this book during my historical fiction phase of reading years before.  The book has its moments of tedium, making it feel annoyingly long.  As I’ve mentioned, it doesn’t read like a romance.  It’s more like a coming-of-age, which I don’t mind except that its labeled as a romance.  I have a sinking suspicion that it was called a romance in order to boost sales.

And now for the spoiler part of the review.  Oh boy.

Essie’s actions through the story, specifically with the well-driller Adam, are frustrating, but not because of poor writing, but because the reader knows what’s coming and she doesn’t.  Said actions result in a, shall we say, less than spotless outcome.  Yep, she gave in to temptation because she thought Adam loved and would marry her.  Not a smart move, as I’m sure you’ve guessed already.  Adam skips town to avoid marrying her, and Essie is heartbroken and views herself as tainted.

What does come from this experience is a stronger bond with God and her parents and self-acceptance.  Essie realizes that sacrificing what makes her who she is isn’t worth a husband who doesn’t love those parts of her.  Her relationship with her mother changes from a battle of how Essie should live her life to a more loving friendship where they bond over Essie’s bicycle club.  This shows how relationships, even between family, are meant to be based on trust and acceptance of the other, which doesn’t occur in any of Essie’s courtships.  With Hamilton he doesn’t appreciate her outgoing personality, preferring a more demure and proper lady.  With Adam she sacrifices her morals in an attempt to keep him.  With Ewing she would be forced to tone down her personality and what she enjoys in life in order to be a pastor’s wife.

End of spoilers for those who skipped that part.

Now for what would make the story better.  Taking away “Romance” from the genre description will vastly improve the story’s message and the story itself.  To keep the “Romance” genre as a part of the book, the novel and sequel (yes, there is one) should be put together as a Part 1 and Part 2, since the sequel seems more like a romance than the original.  Also, shortening the story will hopefully take away the tedium of reading it, or at least take out what isn’t necessary to the plot and message.

The novel itself shows that there is no one-size-fits-all to happiness and life fulfillment, a message I personally enjoy.  It shows the dangers of wanting to be in a relationship to the point that you change yourself in an attempt to keep the relationship going.  In the end one can be happy doing what they love and being with family and friends.

Thank you for visiting my Book Cave, and hopefully I’ll have a new post soon, whether it be a review or something bookish or coffie-esque.

 

Rating: 3.8 Coffee Cups out of 5 as a Coming of Age, 2 Coffee Cups as a Romance

Recommended For: Readers of Historical Fiction, those who want to read a coming of age from an older woman’s perspective

Coffee Recommendation for Reading: Hints of brown sugar and cinnamon, light to medium strength, recommended with Cinnamon Roll, Sticky Bun, or Apple Fritter creamer

 

Interested in reading this book? You can purchase it here

Book Review: The Bookstore

Book Review #1: The Bookstore

Welcome to the first instalment of Random Book (and Coffee) Reviews.  Don’t mind the mess, I haven’t straitened up the Book Cave in a while, and it’s not like I have guests that often.  The life of a Book Dragon gets pretty lonely, and more than a little dusty.

What, you think dragons only collect gold and princesses?  Hah!  Not me, but a few of us do, not so much anymore.  Not many knights around and princesses are more protected than usual.  Personally, having my cave constantly broken into and taking care of a screaming human is far from enjoyable.  Books and coffee are more my thing, and less of a hassle to protect.  Besides, the smell is much better.

So, since I have so many books I’ve been hoarding over the years, I thought I’d read some of them and give my opinion in case someone out there is looking for more books to add to their collection, or a fellow book dragon needs another addition to their hoard.  Any suggestions to make your visit more comfortable are welcome.  However, problem-makers will be incinerated.

So sit back, drink in the scent of pages and coffee, and hope you enjoy your stay.

Today’s review is about The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler.  The story is about a twenty-three-year-old working towards an Art History Ph.D. in New York after having moved there from England.  Added complications in the shape of a baby and a breakup cause her to work at a bookstore called The Owl in order to stay financially stable.  One would expect a book full of interesting characters, odd stories of customers, and hijinks galore.  What this reader got can be summed up thusly:

Meh.

The fact that it took me so long to finish this book should have told me that this wasn’t a keeper.  Still, I’m not one to leave a book unfinished, even if it takes a couple of months.  Or a few.  Sure I was glad when I did finish reading, but it was a faint joy, not something that should happen after reading a good book.  However, it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever read and it wasn’t dull enough that I ended up falling asleep.  It has its positives and negatives like any novel but not to the point that I end up staining the pages with my tears or threw the book against the wall.  Chances are my expectations tainted my enjoyment, but I’ll start with talking about what I parts of the book I liked before getting to the negatives.

The overall idea is what drew me to buying it from my library’s bookstore in the first place.  I was glad that the MC, Esme Garland, wasn’t pictured as the Ideal Mother Figure that tends to pop up in media.  Her emotions about pregnancy and the baby were realistic, with all the anxiety and messy feelings about what to get for the baby, how she’s going to support the two of them without her boyfriend, and if she will love the baby, making her seem more human.  I also admired her tenacity for continuing to continue her work towards her Ph.D. despite the pregnancy.  Her coworkers and the customers are supportive in their own way, with the owner George giving her the job at The Owl and the homeless customer Dennis offering his version of sage advice while prying for information about the father of the baby.  It was endearing having someone like that care for Esme while being quirky without being annoying.

Having the story set in New York with an English protagonist adds to the setting of Esme having a busy lifestyle and feeling like a fish out of water.  Since the story is told from Esme’s perspective the English terms and New York wording can be difficult for some readers to understand, thus making the reading a bit jarring.  Since Esme is also getting a degree in Art History and working at a bookstore there are artistic and literary references that will in fact confuse people who haven’t studied those things or have a particular interest in these subjects.  I recognized some of the artists like Titian while not getting some of the literary references despite my previous literature courses.  Again, it could be jarring for those who don’t understand the references, so if those sort of things bother you then you should pass on this book.

I’ll try my best to convey the things I didn’t care for about the book to as non-spoilery as possible for those of you who might get more interest than me from this book.

The characters themselves are the weakest part of the book for me.  Esme’s blind devotion to Mitchell, the father of her baby, is what irritated me the most about her, but I’ll leave that particular mess to another paragraph.  I don’t know whether or not the disconnect between her and the other workers at The Owl was due to long breaks between reading or flaws of the book, so I can’t say for sure if it’s an issue or a result of my apathy towards the story in general.  Speaking of the workers, there is little about them that I found interesting.  The owner George’s defining characteristics are as follows: vegan, against any product that isn’t natural due to dislike of chemicals, obsessed with books, owner of The Owl.  Luke reads like the creative character who’s found the meaning of life and is a little pretentious about it as this means the Main Character is outside of this state of completion, and somehow this person changes the M.C. thanks to their disdain for the Perfect Life ideal.  There wasn’t anything about him that was memorable save his being a musician and disliking Esme for no apparent reason.  There wasn’t much in the way of character development although Esme did improve as a character by the end, however it wasn’t enough to improve the overall story to make it worth a reread.

I’ll start with the rant about the Mitchell here.  For the love of the poetry of Keats, what is with this guy?  Is he the result of affluenza or what?  Gah!  Moving on.  Mitchell expects Esme to not make a fuss and accept whatever he says as the right thing to do since he’s from a high-class rich family and is older.  About ten years, but still.  I wouldn’t classify him as a narcissist but he’s pretty close, as his behavior and reactions towards things give that impression as he doesn’t take Esme’s feelings and personal opinions into consideration most of the time.  It’s difficult for me to understand what she sees in him and why, other than for the baby’s sake, she wants to be with him.

I mentioned that I try my best to not get into spoilers so I’ll be quick: there’s a significant twist about one hundred pages in.  However, I can’t call it a plot twist since as quickly as it’s introduced, it’s forgotten.  That’s something that irritated me since the twist could have added to the story as well as the development of Esme and her ex as characters, either having Esme struggle with this new development or have Mitchell’s reaction give him some redeeming qualities to make Esme’s infatuation be more believable.

I’ll be making use of the constant critiques from past Creative Writing classes and talk about what could have made the book better.  The relationships between the characters needed to be more than a shallow existence to get the plot going.  A way to do that is by having them interact in a friendly setting outside of work, such as George teaching Esme how to make healthy foods for the baby with them talking about their love of books.  Another idea would be having Luke have a more believable reason to dislike Esme and end up having them bond over something, whether or not it means they end up being friends or being more amiable.  To mention Mitchell again, I wish there was something that made him more redeemable, like rare moments where he shows some concern for her as a person or brief glimpses of humanity that show why Esme fell for him in the first place.  Having the story focus less on Esme’s relationship with Mitchell and more on her developing as a person outside of their relationship thanks to the bookstore, the books themselves, her classes, and her fellow students and bibliophiles, becoming more independent and secure in her life despite the changes.  It also would have been great to have some stories about the customers, at least more than what exists, as there were few and far between.

The book for me was more of something your read to pass the time rather than for enjoyment.  If you’re expecting a great story about a bookstore like I was, you won’t be missing anything by skipping this read.  If you like stories that focus more on the main character’s relationships, then you might like it.

Rating: 3 Coffee Mugs out of 5

For Readers Who: Like stories with bookstores in the background, art and book references, New York, and hard-working women

Coffee Recommended for Reading: Something with rich, herbal flavors with notes of sweetness like vanilla or hazelnut.  Or whatever makes you think of books.

If you want to read this book, use the link here