Mini-Reviews: The Bear and the Nightingale, Before the Devil Breaks You, and Let Me Hear a Rhyme

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 10, 2017
Source: Borrowed

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.

I love Katherine Arden’s middle-grade books, but as much as it pains me to say it, I did not love her YA. I really have hardly anything to say about this one because I was just bored from the time I started it until I finally finished. I kept waiting for the story to pick up and for anything to spark my interest, but nothing did.

I only stuck with it until the end because of that love for Arden’s other books. Unfortunately, I won’t be continuing on with this series.

Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray
Series: The Diviners #3
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: October 3, 2017
Source: Borrowed

New York City.
Lights are bright.
Jazz is king.
Parties are wild.
And the dead are coming…

After battling a supernatural sleeping sickness that claimed two of their own, the Diviners have had enough lies. They’re more determined than ever to uncover the mystery behind their extraordinary powers, even as they face off against an all-new terror. Out on Ward’s Island, far from the city’s bustle, sits a mental hospital haunted by the lost souls of people long forgotten–ghosts who have unusual and dangerous ties to the man in the stovepipe hat, also known as the King of Crows.

With terrible accounts of murder and possession flooding in from all over and New York City on the verge of panic, the Diviners must band together and brave the sinister ghosts invading the asylum, a fight that will bring them face-to-face with the King of Crows. But as the explosive secrets of the past come to light, loyalties and friendships will be tested, love will hang in the balance, and the Diviners will question all that they’ve ever known. All the while, malevolent forces gather from every corner in a battle for the very soul of a nation–a fight that could claim the Diviners themselves.

I was a little nervous about reading Before the Devil Breaks You since it had been about four years since I’d read Lair of Dreams, but I didn’t need to worry. Libba Bray did a great job at casually reminding the reader of most of what had happened previously. I loved being back in this world. I love these characters and this setting so much.

Since this is the third book in a series, I’m going to be a little vague about what happens in this book. Overall, I was impressed. Bray is an excellent storyteller and she’s created an incredible series. I will say, though, that this book is 552 pages and, unlike the previous books in the series, it shows. There are definitely some parts that drag and some scenes that could have probably been cut, but I cannot wait until my hold on The King of Crows comes in so I can finally find out how this series ends.

Content warnings for:racism, anti-antisemitism, abusive relationship, attempted rape/sexual assault, poor treatment of characters with mental illness — however, all of these are handled well by the author

Let Me Hear a Rhyme by Tiffany D. Jackson
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • TBD • Goodreads
Publication Date: May 21, 2019
Source: Borrowed

In this standalone novel, Tiffany D. Jackson tells the story of three Brooklyn teens who plot to turn their murdered friend into a major rap star by pretending he is still alive.

Biggie Smalls was right. Things done changed. But that doesn’t mean that Quadir and Jarrell are okay letting their best friend Steph’s tracks lie forgotten in his bedroom after he’s killed—not when his beats could turn any Bed-Stuy corner into a celebration, not after years of having each other’s backs.

Enlisting the help of Steph’s younger sister, Jasmine, Quadir and Jarrell come up with a plan to promote Steph’s music under a new rap name: The Architect. Soon, everyone in Brooklyn is dancing to Steph’s voice. But then his mixtape catches the attention of a hotheaded music rep and—with just hours on the clock—the trio must race to prove Steph’s talent from beyond the grave.

Now, as the pressure—and danger—of keeping their secret grows, Quadir, Jarrell, and Jasmine are forced to confront the truth about what happened to Steph. Only each has something to hide. And with everything riding on Steph’s fame, together they need to decide what they stand for before they lose everything they’ve worked so hard to hold on to—including each other.

I’ve had a few of Tiffany D. Jackson’s books on my TBR for a while now, but Let Me Hear a Rhyme is the first one I’ve actually read. I had kind of high expectations based on the reviews I’ve read of her books, but this one ended up just being okay for me.

I thought that the premise was great. A group of kids trying to get their deceased friend a record deal? Coming up with reason after reason after reason for why he couldn’t come to these meetings himself? Trying to remix his songs and searching for other demos he’d made? Honestly incredible. Where this book fell flat for me was in how many things it tried to do in 384 pages. Because it’s not just the music, it’s also a murder mystery and a romance. It was too much, and I felt like each plot suffered because of it. Also, the characters sucked their teeth on just about every other page, and it was really grating by the end.

I’m still excited to read more from Jackson.

Have you read any of these books? Are any of them on your TBR?
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