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.

Question from a Writer: Different Versions of Stories

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, so I’d like to know if anyone has the same idea, or if readers want/don’t want this sort of story, I’d like to know before writing and publishing on Amazon.

As a reader, I yet to experience (thankfully) the heartbreaking death of the pairing I’ve been rooting for since the moment the characters met from actual death or my NOTP becoming canon.  Still, I’ve seen the remnants of shippers’ hearts plastered all over the internet, tears staining the pages of their fanfiction.

For those who play otome/moe/dating simulators, there is the tragedy of having a character who’s story you are dying to know, the attractiveness, humor, dialogue, and overall appeal creating the craving of a route for them to exist, but for whatever reason will take a minimum of months to be created at best, at worst will remain nonexistent.

At least in those game’s there’s the benefit of reading a story with a variety of romances and perspectives, or reading a new story but in the same universe.  I’ll admit that I’ve had my share of experiences with those games, as they have their own addictive story lines and characters that leave you swooning every time they are on screen.

So, here is my question: what do you think of a single story, but different versions based on who the MC ends up with being published as well?  These stories will be separately published as the pairings change, creating an alternate reality based in the same universe.  I understand that there will be readers who think this is lazy, but I’m curious as I wouldn’t mind experimenting with my writing a little bit.

Also, are there any experiences you’ve had where your pairing in either a book, series, movie, or other fandom don’t end up together?

I look forward to reading your comments.

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.