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Blog Tour – Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter (Review and Q&A)

Raincoast has once again invited me to participate in one of their fantastic blog tours. Let me tell you guys — Vassa in the Night is a real weird, quirky, gem of a book, and I have to say that I really enjoyed my time reading it. If you don’t mind your fantasy novels being a bit unpredictable and a little crazy, then you need this book in your life.

As always, huge thank you to Raincoast for arranging the blog tour, sending me a copy of the book and being all round amazing people. Also huge thank you to Sarah Porter for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my Q&A question!


22065080Title: Vassa in the Night

Author: Sarah Porter

Rating: ★★★★ 1/2

Synopsis: In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair. . . .

Sam’s Review:

Vassa in the Night is one of those books that sets a very distinctive tone for its readers right off the bat: in a world where dark magic encompasses Brooklyn, lives Vassa, a young woman who ends up on a quest for light bulbs, and ends up on an extraordinary journey to find home. In a lot of ways, many of us have read a story like Vassa in the Night before, but this book shines in a way that really captured my attention through start to finish.

First off, the world-building in this book is delightfully and vibrant. Porter does an amazing job illustrating Vassa’s world, the people who inhabit it, and provides so much vivid imagery of what surrounds Vassa in her adventures. Furthermore, the book has such fantastic characters who are wonderful to grow alongside with in the story. My personal favourite character was Erg, but I am a sucker for creepy talking dolls (in that they generally give me nightmares every time). But serious, Erg is funny, cheeky, and she gets some of the best lines in the whole story. She makes for a great companion to Vassa in the story, and I loved their relationship. I also adored Vassa as a character and thought she got a lot of great growth in the story, and she’s simply lovable, flaws and all.

I think the only thing I struggled with in terms of this novel was the ending. I felt the ending wrapped up everything a bit too conveniently, and found the ending didn’t have as strong a finish as I would have liked. However, I do love where the ending was going, the way it built up, and the way it was written. I think Sarah Porter has really wonderful ideas, and I do think her writing does a fantastic job reflecting a lot of where she wants her stories to go.

I loved my time with Vassa in the Night, and I am sad that my time with these characters and this world is over. While I don’t hope for a sequel, this is one of those books that I feel can be easily recommended for lovers of fantasy and retellings. I wish I had been more familiar with the story this was retelling, but I also loved how much I loved going into this story completely blind as well. Definitely check out Vassa in the Night, as it’s one of those standalone fantasy adventures that feels like a wonderful journey. Plus it’s weird and delightful, and crazy. Read this book.


Q&A With Sarah Porter!

sarahp

Q: When you wrote Vassa in the Night, what were some of the aspects from the original tale that you intended to keep so that they would be recognizable to readers who loved the original story it’s based off of?

SP: Hi Sam, quite a few elements of the original story are in VASSA, though in altered ways.
Vassilissa is sent to the Baba Yaga’s hut to get fire, after her stepsisters
deliberately extinguish all the fire in the house; Vassa is sent to BY’s for light
bulbs. In “Vassilissa the Beautiful,” Night is a man all in black on a black horse;
in VASSA, Night rides a black motorcycle. A Baba Yaga’s hut is always surrounded by
human skulls on stakes, with one left empty, just for you; BY’s has severed human heads
encircling the parking lot. The animate hands are also in the original version, though
they don’t really have their own emotions and intentions the way that Dexter and
Sinister do. Vassilissa and Vassa are both given impossible tasks to do, and both are
helped by their magic dolls. So that’s quite a bit!

Some things in VASSA that don’t have a source in Russian folklore include the swans,
Picnic and Pangolin, the faerie party in Babs’s apartment, and a father who was turned
into a dog.

The Water of Life and the Water of Death became the Professor Pepper’s sodas; those
come from a different Russian fairytale, “Ivan, the Glowing Bird, and the Gray Wolf.”
Ivan’s brothers murder and dismember him out of envy, and the Gray Wolf uses the magic
waters to bring him back.


As always, huge huge love to Raincoast for allowing me to participate in this blog tour, and an equally large thank you to Sarah Porter for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer a question about her latest novel, Vassa in the Night. If you have any interest in retellings, particularly ones that don’t get reimagined very often, make sure you check out this book, which released on September 20th!

And while you are at it, please check out the other tour stops as they will also have snippets of the story, as well as more questions answered by Sarah!

blogtour

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ARC Review – A Step Toward Falling by Cammie McGovern

24605853Title: A Step Toward Falling

Author:  Cammie McGovern

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Emily has always been the kind of girl who tries to do the right thing—until one night when she does the worst thing possible. She sees Belinda, a classmate with developmental disabilities, being attacked. Inexplicably, she does nothing at all.

Belinda, however, manages to save herself. When their high school finds out what happened, Emily and Lucas, a football player who was also there that night, are required to perform community service at a center for disabled people. Soon, Lucas and Emily begin to feel like maybe they’re starting to make a real difference. Like they would be able to do the right thing if they could do that night all over again. But can they do anything that will actually help the one person they hurt the most?

Huge thank you to HarperTeen/Harper Collins Canada for this ARC!

River’s Review:

Well this book took me by surprise! Last year I really enjoyed McGovern’s debut (despite one HUGE point in the book that really made me unhappy), so I was very much looking forward to another one by her. I really love that McGovern writes so honestly about disabilities.

This book took me a little getting into. I wasn’t expecting the dual POV and that one of them was going to be from the POV of the disabled girl who gets assaulted. I also was expecting the assault to be… more. It was bad, but I had envisioned something much more violent.

In this book Emily and Lucas are atoning for what they didn’t do. Both of them failed to act when they saw a classmate of theirs being assaulted. The classmate is disabled, but this isn’t just a story about disabled people getting assaulted, it’s about what it’s like to fail to act when you SHOULD. Both Emily and Lucas know that they should have done something, but that they didn’t. As punishment they both are forced into doing community service at a center for disabled people. They work with a group of disabled adults who are learning who to form relationships, date and act appropriately in society.

I think the best thing about this book was how Emily and Lucas both also learned from the class. Because the class was about dating, and Emily had never really dated much, she found herself relating to the struggles of the students in the class and ultimately felt that she wasn’t any different and that they weren’t any different from her. That they were all just people who struggle with making connections.

This book also focuses on how difficult friendships can be to maintain. Both Belinda, the disabled girl who was assaulted, and Emily struggle with their friendships and relationships. They both don’t know how to react to certain people and have trouble connecting at times. Lucas, a popular football player at a school were football players are gods, has to come to terms with the fact that sometimes the people we think are our friends really aren’t.

And when the shocking truth of what really happened the night Belinda was assaulted comes out eventually… wow. It’s just mind blowing what people who think that they’re better than others and privileged because of something stupid like winning a football game will do… It’s just something that’s been explored a lot lately and I think it’s really important to keep looking at.

This book is super important and I hope that others will give it a chance! Esp if you enjoyed McGovern’s first book, you’ll probably like this one even more!

Sam’s Review:

When I first heard about A Step Towards Falling, it was at the Harper Frenzy event I went to back in August. The presenter opened by stating “What if you saw something horrible, and did nothing about it?” and that really is the large message that is presented in this novel.

Lucas and Emily see their classmate who has a developmental disability get abused at a football game, and neither of them make any attempts to stop the cruelty. Because of their failed actions, they are forced to volunteer at a class for people with developmental disabilities, but teaching them about relationships. I really enjoyed this novel, but in presentation and form. I liked that we are given Emily and Belinda’s points of view on the event itself and the aftermath, and I like McGovern’s approach on the subject of disability.

There’s not enough YA out there that focuses on disability, and it’s a shame really because it’s a group of people who tend to get ignored. Often I feel like there’s this fear of offending someone or the group in question, but this is a group that is challenging to write about without someone feeling frustrated or offended. I for one commend McGovern, if only because she is providing a voice we don’t often see in YA, and one that needs to be there and understood. We see people with disabilities every day of our lives, and yet in some many cases we don’t actually know how to work with them or even show that we acknowledge them. It’s wrong, and this novel reminded me of that in a lot of ways.

Throughout my high school and university years, I both volunteered and worked in a department for special needs. It’s a difficult line of work because every person is different, and they cannot always be responded to in the same way. I really liked how McGovern shows this in the novel with the characters, especially Belinda and her family. After the incident her family tries so hard to shelter her, make her feel like she can’t belong because it’s unsafe, and yet you can see how much Belinda wants to be a part of the world. I also love that she wasn’t given everything she wanted either, because it’s not always possible. There’s one bit in the story that reminded me of my years of working with special needs and it’s where they are acting out a scene and one of the students attempts emotional manipulation on her partner, and Mary the council tries to get the group to understand why that’s not an acceptable response or practice.

I also loved Belinda’s love of Colin Firth and wanting a Colin Firth of her own. I also love that she gets one, though I adore that they have some actual trial and tribulation to go through. I really wanted to smack Chet throughout the novel, if only because there’s that part of me that has worked with people with disabilities my whole life and me screaming “YOU DON’T DO THAT. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.”

Overall, I loved the message and the story in A Step Towards Falling. The reveal of Belinda’s assault is one of the most devastating parts of the novel — you feel angry for her, because at the end of the day she didn’t deserve what she got. While the novel had some slow moments for me, I appreciated the honesty in both the character portrayal and the message that McGovern was trying to get out there. While I have yet to read <I>Say What You Will</I>, I appreciate that there are writers like Cammie McGovern trying to get the voices of those with disabilities out there in mainstream YA.

ARC Review – Watch the Sky by Kirsten Hubbard

22875507Title: Watch the Sky

Author: Kirsten Hubbard

Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: The signs are everywhere, Jory’s stepfather, Caleb, says. Red leaves in the springtime. Pages torn from a library book. All the fish in the aquarium facing the same way. A cracked egg with twin yolks. Everywhere and anywhere. And because of them Jory’s life is far from ordinary. He must follow a very specific set of rules: don’t trust anyone outside the family, have your works at the ready just in case, and always, always watch out for the signs. The end is coming, and they must be prepared.

School is Jory’s only escape from Caleb’s tight grasp, and with the help of new friends Jory begins to explore a world beyond his family’s farm. As Jory’s friendships grow, Caleb notifies Jory’s mother and siblings that the time has come for final preparations.

They begin an exhausting schedule digging a mysterious tunnel in anticipation of the disaster. But as the hold gets deeper, so does the family’s doubt about whether Caleb’s prophecy is true. When the stark reality of his stepfather’s plans becomes clear, Jory must choose between living his own life or following Caleb, shutting his eyes to the bright world he’s just begun to see.

Huge thank you to Disney-Hyperion and Netgalley for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Watch the Sky was an interesting read. It tells the tale of a boy whose step-father believes in ‘signs.’ Jory is not allowed contact outside of his family and is told to trust no one. It’s a weird situation, and that’s sort of my issue with this one.

Caleb, Jory’s father is a tough character to enjoy. He has this horrific strangle hold on his family because he’s convinced these signs are out to get him, sort of? He thinks in his strange hold behaviour that he is protecting his family, but he forces them to help dig a hole. There’s a scene where he gives Jory a schedule, and basically he gets two hours every night to sleep? And it’s horrific because no matter how much Jory wants to have a normal life, Caleb makes it next to impossible. A lot of his reasoning is also completely whacked out and he made me so mad!

And that’s just it — Jory’s family comes across trapped under Caleb. I spent a lot of the book questioning why they would even choose to stay with him and give up having a life and being who they all want to be. It just baffled me a lot of the time because it came across like Jory’s mother didn’t have much of a spine? Part of it, which I won’t spoil, makes sense, but there’s still this frustration that you want this family to leave him.

Still, this books has the trappings of a great middle grade story. Jory tries his best to try to be a normal kid at school in spite of the fact that everyone knows Caleb is insane. His insanity makes sense, it does! But it makes this novel so difficult to love at times. I question how Jory is supposed to function a lot of the time because he’s told to be ‘a man of the house’ but he has no concept of how to be social or make friends, and it’s just so sad.

Admittedly, the other issue I had was how anti-climatic the ending is. It just ends, and I didn’t feel like a lot of things were entirely resolved, outside of Caleb being right about Kit. Admittedly, when the major reveal happens (which was also a bit obvious and anti-climatic) it’s the first time Caleb behaves like a human being who cares in front of his step-son. It’s the first time he treats his family properly, and it’s oddly sweet, but at the same time a part of me was annoyed because of how long it took. Again, it makes sense in the context of the story, but perhaps the issue was me wanting to smack the characters!

I realize how hard I am being on this book, but I actually liked it a lot. For the most part my frustrations showed how much I was connecting with the story and trying to understand the motivations of Caleb. As a middle grade novel it treats a surprising amount about trying to do the right thing, but also how to stick up for yourself when someone is disrespecting who you want to be. Jory learns so much in the story and it’s easy to feel for him when he longs to be something his step-father isn’t seeing. Plus, Kristen Bubbard’s writing is really lovely, and even though think book made me cranky at times, it’s still a page turner and I still had to know what would happen in the end.

ARC Review – Fish Out of Water by Natalie Whipple

24081785Title: Fish Out of Water

Author: Natalie Whipple

Rating: ★★★★

Synopsis: Mika is about to fulfill her dream of working at the world famous Monterey Bay Aquarium when her plans are derailed by an unexpected arrival—her estranged grandmother Betty. Betty has dementia, and is no longer able to take care of herself. Betty is in need of her family’s help—and she’s not going to be particularly nice about it.

Mika has to give up her summer internship at the Aquarium and stick to working part-time at AnimalZone in order to take care of Betty. The manager at AnimalZone has hired his nephew Dylan to work there, and Mika thinks he’s entitled and annoying. Or is he just trying to become a better person?

Mika is trying to be as patient as possible with her grandma—but Betty doesn’t make that easy. And neither does Dylan.

Huge thank you to Natalie Whipple for this ARC!

Sam’s Review:

Fish Out of Water is not what you expect. It’s got a swell romance, handles some interesting issues, and is just insanely sweet to read. I found it to be a bit slow at first, but I’m happy I stuck with it because the story grew on me as I read on.

Mika is a somewhat unusual heroine in that she actually likes her part-time job. Can I just say that I’ve never really seen that in a YA novel? Sure, girls like the job when there’s a hot boy involved, but Mika genuinely likes her job. It’s cute, it’s odd, I liked it. Actually, to be honest, I loved reading about the antics in the AnimalZone, and seeing her come out of her shell in various ways. Whipple does this great job of giving the reader this gradual build in Mika’s growth, one that feels so organically done.

There there’s all the sacrifice. In a lot of ways, this story is a lot about that word, and it’s one that a lot of people struggle with. That being forced to give something up even though you know it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes they have to be made, and I feel like the characters in this novel learn it the hard way, and it’s completely believable. It’s hard to make sacrifices when someone is ill in your life, and that’s where part of this story admittedly mirrored parts of my own life. I understood Mika, her frustrations, because taking care of someone else is :not an easy job, and sometimes it can feel a little thankless, even if those you love appreciate it.

I thought a lot of the characters were wonderful and diverse. Oddly the character I did have a hard time with, was the love interest Dylan. He rubbed me the wrong way, and I didn’t really care for him at first. But much like this novel, he grew on me, but I still found myself not entirely bought in to his genuineness considering the horrific thing he does in the story. It did have a hard time with that and even though there’s cute fluff between he and Mika, I still feel like this resolved a bit too neatly.

Still, I think Fish Out of Water is a wonderfully clever, quirky little read. It’s got a lot of great elements and the charm simply oozes in ways that a lot of contemporary novels miss. I highly recommend checking it out — it definitely has something for every kind of reader.

For those curious, you can purchase Fish Out of Water at AmazonThe Book Depository and other major outlets that sell books. Remember to support great indie authors when you find them!