The Waking Land by Callie Bates

The Waking Land
By Callie Bates
Available 6/27/17
Publisher: Del Rey Books
ISBN: 9780425284025
Pages: 389
Genre: Fantasy


Lady Elanna Valtai is fiercely devoted to the King who raised her like a daughter. But when he dies under mysterious circumstances, Elanna is accused of his murder and must flee for her life.

Returning to the homeland of magical legends she has forsaken, Elanna is forced to reckon with her despised, estranged father, branded a traitor long ago. Feeling a strange, deep connection to the natural world, she also must face the truth about the forces she has always denied or disdained as superstition powers that suddenly stir within her.

But an all-too-human threat is drawing near, determined to exact vengeance. Now Elanna has no choice but to lead a rebellion against the kingdom to which she once gave her allegiance. Trapped between divided loyalties, she must summon the courage to confront a destiny that could tear her apart.


I want to note that I chose not to label this as YA for this review. There is one scene in particular that I feel pushes that boundary. 

Lady Elanna has spent the last 14 years being raised by her captor, King Antoine. During that time she has come to accept him as a father and embrace their way of life. But when the King passes under mysterious circumstances Elanna soon discovers that she is the prime suspect. A decision to flee will bring her face to face with a home and family she no longer knows. As she returns to the land of her childhood, a magic she has kept buried is beginning to awaken. Now that a battle is about to begin El must decide whether she will embrace her truth and fight for the land or uphold her allegiance to the home she was raised in?

The Waking Land is an aspiring debut novel that brings many promising attributes to the forefront. With a distinct magic system and ambitious plot, there is a lot of expectation. While I was able to find a strong admiration for what Bates was attempting to accomplish, it ultimately failed to deliver a fully engaging experience.

I found my connection with the characters to be impeded by my general dislike for the majority of them. However, I did manage to muster a decent amount of appreciation for Elanna as an individual. She was flawed and somewhat infuriating at times, but I felt this lent a lot of credibility to her. She exhibits many signs of Stockholm syndrome, as she has come to care for her kidnapper, the King. The life he has provided her is all she has known. I found her emotions to have been adequately divided between confusion, grief and anger. Overall, she is well-developed but something was missing. The supporting characters fell short of the mark. There is a lack of depth and many unanswered questions. I found El’s biological parents to be exasperating for reasons I cannot reveal.

While the world that Bates has constructed does coincide well with the magic system and El’s use of the land, I found that there was still a large portion that felt unexplored. There are gaps in the supplied history and a few stones left unturned. The magic is noteworthy being reminiscent of an elementalist, but never fully explored. The dialect was also an issue of note. The setting was presented as historical and beautifully described through details of garments and homes (I was imagining late 1800s), yet the language felt too modern. I would find myself settling in only to be yanked back out by an odd comment or choice of words. Everything felt rushed. This is not to discredit the fact that it was more original. I just wanted to know more and there wasn’t more.

The writing is disjointed at times, but when Bates gets into a rhythm it really flows, creating an easy read. There is a lot of good to be found within The Waking Land but just not enough time dedicated to each aspect which left me torn. I would be inclined to read more from Bates, as I believe her writing can and will evolve into something great if she continues.  I would recommend this to someone who is looking for an introduction to fantasy.

*I would like to thank Del Rey for this ARC. The above review is my own, unbiased opinion.

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You Choose, I Read – Review of The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale
By Katherine Arden
Publisher Del Rey
ISBN13: 9781101885932
Pages: 322
Genre: Fantasy/Fairy Tale


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.


The Bear and the Nightingale was my first You Choose, I Read selection. I have to confess, that there was a certain amount of internal joy when I saw this title pop up on Rafflecopter, as it has been on my TBR for some time.

Russian folklore is something I have only recently been introduced to. But during my short time of acquaintance, I have discovered a deep appreciation for it. It is an area I plan to explore with every given opportunity.

For those of you who happen to be less familiar than myself with the folklore and Vasilisa, she is a traditional Russian fairy tale character. The differentiating quality of this particular young female protagonist is that instead of requiring rescue as we typically encounter in older fairy tales, she is better known for setting out on her own. She often overcomes a series of obstacles to defeat the villain. And here we are presented with another beautiful rendition of such tale.

Vasilisa has a hidden gift. One that she dares not share with others. She can communicate with the spirits of the forest and house. But when a newly arrived priest and her stepmother put a halt to the honoring the household spirits, things take a sudden turn. Winter settles in hard and the land fails to produce and provide. Lives are at risk and evil that has been contained within the forest quickly encroaches.  Now Vasilisa will expose her “talent” in effort to save her family and land.

For two reasons in particular, The Bear and the Nightingale pulled me deep within its pages and refused to release me.

  1. Exemplary storytelling.
  2. Adult fairy tale/retelling.

Character development was certainly among The Bear and the Nightingale’s list of shining accomplishments. I was not prepared for the fondness that I would  discover for Vasya (Vasilisa). Like an ugly duckling coming into her own, she is resilient and bold. Her growth and evolution easily rival those of any female character I have encountered over the last year. She commands respect and effortlessly fills those ever strong-willed and determined shoes you might be familiar with if you have experienced Russian folklore. Her brazen and spirited attitude in the face of constant adversity makes her as memorable as she is admirable.

The plot invites you in and promises to satisfy. All necessary components are in place and come together beautifully to create a unique and fascinating experience. The combination of Christianity intermingled among homes that still held Pagan beliefs proved to create a setting ripe with potential that the author did not neglect. Learning of each Slavic Spirit and how the household placated them was an intriguing facet that added a welcomed touch of culture and provided an appreciated depth and richness to the story .

Arden spares no want for detail while creating an enticing world that delivers all one could desire of a fairy tale. Expectations are exceeded. Saturated with folklore and fantasy, she  has taken classic storytelling to new heights. We are thrust into a culturally rich and atmospheric read that is so immersive you find yourself hard pressed to walk away.

With a gratifying conclusion that left me wanting more, The Bear and the Nightingale is now one of my top reads for 2017. Recommending this delightful gem to all fans of fairy tales.

Purchase Links:

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Meet The Blogger Who Recommended This Book


Stephanie is no stranger in the book community. She can be found at Teacher of YA, blogging and reviewing YA titles while sharing valuable feedback regarding books in the classroom setting.

I recently asked Stephanie 5 questions to get to know a little bit more about her and her blogging. Here is what she had to say:

Thank you Stephanie, for the wonderful recommendation!

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Strange the Dreamer ~ Buddy Read


Strange the Dreamer (Strange the Dreamer #1)
By Laini Taylor
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
ISBN13: 9780316341684
Pages: 544
Genre: YA Fantasy


The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?


This was a buddy read with Debby @Always Booking. She seems to be the only human being capable of convincing me to share my reading time. We decided we would explore this title a little differently, so we came up with 5 key questions for each other regarding Strange the Dreamer. The plan is to share tour responses and then follow with a brief recap of my overall experience. You can find Debby’s personal take here.

*I have chosen to hide Debby’s potential spoilers. You can highlight to reveal them if you feel like taking a risk. But I do not allow those dirty little things on my page 😉

Debby’s Answers to My Questions:

1.       Describe your personal experience with Strange the Dreamer please.
Frustrated… I think that is my personal experience.  I wanted to like it, there were times that I thought the book it would redeem itself and it didn’t. ugh just frustrusted…
2.       How well do you feel like you connected with the characters and why?
I really only felt connected to Lazlo aka Strange through most of the book since he is our main character.  He was really personable throughout the whole book with his shyness, yet his wanting to fit in with everyone.  Lazlo had such an old soul about him that you just wanted to bring him home with you and keep him forever.  Towards the end I started feeling more of a connection with other characters but it wasn’t like the connection I had with him.
3.       Can you describe the author’s writing in this particular book?
Very slow, I was expecting that though seeing how in her previous series it was also very slow.  Nothing really ever happens… until it does.  It’s really hard to explain unless you have read the book.  I ‘m more of a person who likes to get the information as things are happening.  Laini Taylor likes to just write information, and more information and more information.  This makes the book a little too slow for my taste.
4.       Was there one specific aspect of the book that you really did or did not enjoy?
Fair warning spoilers ahead… The dream scenes. I loved the vividness of the dream scenes.  How they could change them how they wanted them on a whim. Wouldn’t it be amazing to take a nightmare and turn it into a lightning bug in a jar?  Or take your favorite book and just go there in your sleep?  I thought that was an amazing idea.  Of course otherwise it wouldn’t be titled “Strange the Dreamer”
5. Did you find the conclusion to be satisfying and will you read the next book?

No the conclusion wasn’t satisfying .. again spoilersI wanted that crazy little witch to die.  Of course she didn’t, it had to be the other one L  How horrible?!?!?!?! All the action happened at the end and it ended on a sort of cliffhanger I guess.  I don’t know if I’ll read the next book I just feel really frustrated toward the whole experience.

My Answers to Debby’s Questions:

1.       Which character was your favorite and why?

This is easily and undoubtedly Lazlo. He was not only likable, but the only character I felt was given enough depth. The most enjoyable aspect of Strange the Dreamer for myself was Lazlo’s growth and evolution.
2.       If you could have one “Godly” power what would it be??
I think I would actually pass. Yes, that is an honest answer. The pressure and burden that comes with having any form of super power has to be incredibly heavy. I am not sure that I would be the best candidate for that much responsibility and obligation.
3.       Did you like the flow of the writing style in this book?
The writing style was very much what I expected based on my previous encounter with the Laini’s work. It was fluid and elegant, but at times overly descriptive. I am not sure that I loved it, but I certainly found an appreciation for several aspects of it and can understand how she has developed a solid following within the book community.
4.       After reading this book are you tempted to pick up a Laini Taylor book again?
Okay, this is the answer that will make some cringe or scowl at me, but long version short: not right now. The story telling is almost a bit too rich for my tastes. I found that certain scenes drug on for pages,yet I realized that so little was happening. Maybe a fair statement is that it is slower than I prefer right now. But I am not writing her books off completely.
5.       If you saw Strange the Dreamer in the store would you be tempted to pick it up based on the cover??

I would be tempted, but would not because I have learned my lesson on those impulsive cover buys. But it would draw me in enough to read the synopsis. And that was effective in hooking me. So mission accomplished with cover!

My Final Thoughts..

Laini Taylor’s writing is in a category of its own. She has a way with taking the simplest sentence or description and turning it into something beautiful. Strange the Dreamer was no different in terms of writing.  This series will amass a following, I have no doubts.

However, I did encounter multiple personal challenges during my time with Strange the Dreamer. A lot of this was centered around just how much time is committed to setting a stage that we are never quite allowed to fully explore. It was like placing a cake on the table but only being able to view it. As a fan of fantasy I do not take world building lightly, but eventually there has to be a story that adequately accompanies the setting.

For the amount of characters and sub-characters introduced, there was a surprising lack of development or growth with the majority of them. While the concept (see blurb – I am not recapping for this) is teeming with promise, there were too many marks missed for my tastes. At 544 pages, this really felt really long. Again, a too much design and too little actual evolution. I would read 100 or so pages only to realize very little had happened.

I am giving a nice nod to the author for avoiding all of the typical tropes/clichés I was honestly expecting in this one.  I was surprised at how original every aspect of this felt, even at its slow pace. I also found the ending to be more agreeable than Debby. So extra points for that.

I think that if you go into this expecting more of an introduction or slower read, then you are more apt to find a true appreciation for all that it has to offer. For myself, it read as a very long prologue that never made it to those initial first chapters. Maybe this will be easier recommended to die-hard, established fans of Taylor’s work that do not mind the wait.

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