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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Red Queen by Christina Henry

Red Queen (The Chronicles of Alice #2)
By Christina Henry
Publisher: Ace
ISBN13: 9780425266809
Pages: 291
Genre: Retelling/Horror


The author of Alice takes readers back down the rabbit hole to a dark, twisted, and fascinating world based on the works of Lewis Carroll…
The land outside of the Old City was supposed to be green, lush, hopeful. A place where Alice could finally rest, no longer the plaything of the Rabbit, the pawn of Cheshire, or the prey of the Jabberwocky. But the verdant fields are nothing but ash—and hope is nowhere to be found.
Still, Alice and Hatcher are on a mission to find his daughter, a quest they will not forsake even as it takes them deep into the clutches of the mad White Queen and her goblin or into the realm of the twisted and cruel Black King.
The pieces are set and the game has already begun. Each move brings Alice closer to her destiny. But, to win, she will need to harness her newfound abilities and ally herself with someone even more powerful—the mysterious and vengeful Red Queen…


Red Queen is the second and final book of the The Chronicles of Alice. This dark and delightfully contorted retelling pick-ups where we last left off with Alice and Hatcher. While there is a prologue, I do not recommend reading this title out-of-order or as a standalone.  For that reason, I am not going to be providing a recap during this review.

“Once, there was a girl called Alice, and she lived in the New City, where everything is shining and beautiful and fair. But Alice was a curious girl with a curious talent. She was a Magician. Do you know what a Magician is?”

The Chronicles of Alice easily fall within my favorite of  retellings. Fast paced, gritty and beautifully re-imagined, Henry gives new life and breath to a loved classic with Alice. I was filled with elation to immediately discover Red Queen was no exception and would follow in the shining footsteps of its predecessor.

We are now accompanying Alice and Hatcher on their journey to find Hatcher’s lost daughter Jenny. But alongside of our familiar heroine and her “somewhat” unstable companion, we are introduced to some new and rather eccentric individuals. This includes Pen the giant and the denizens of their current surroundings. Each encounter provides additional insight into Alice and Hatcher’s quest and the Red and White Queens. The author cleverly relies on this new ensemble to convey the history and fill in many blanks.

The world building maintains the previously introduced, bleak yet imaginative setting that manages to effectively pique the curiosity and encourage further exploration. While the environment is a more limited in this adventure, I did not find it to be any less appealing. It was well-tailored to the direction of the story and serves its purpose.

It is fair to mention at this point that Red Queen is not as dark and graphic as Alice. Do not approach this portion of the story expecting the exact same action packed experience or you may miss all that it actually has to offer. Here we are gifted with a rather unique but welcomed change of direction or turn of events. The tale is now very much character driven and the pacing has slowed but not without justifiable reason.  Through fragmented memories, we are exposed to Alice’s past and family life. Any pre-existing questions are answered and the veil is finally lifted from Hatcher as Henry thoroughly examines Alice’s relationship with him. This is Alice and Hatcher’s story.

The writing continues in that very straight-forward, crisp manner that I have come to expect with Henry’s storytelling. She effortlessly manages to balance all elements providing just enough detail to fuel the story but continue to play on and encourage the reader’s own imagination. The end result is an adequately pleasing conclusion that I would recommend to anyone who found appreciation in Alice.

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