Thursday, December 6, 2018

Review: Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rene Rossner

Title: Sisters of the Winter Wood
Written by: Rene Rossner
Published: September 2018 by Redhook (Hachette Books)

(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: Raised in a small village surrounded by vast forests, Liba and Laya have lived a peaceful sheltered life - even if they've heard of troubling times for Jews elsewhere. When their parents travel to visit their dying grandfather, the sisters are left behind in their home in the woods. 

But before they leave, Liba discovers the secret that their Tati can transform into a bear, and their Mami into a swan. Perhaps, Liba realizes, the old fairy tales are true. She must guard this secret carefully, even from her beloved sister. 

Soon a troupe of mysterious men appear in town and Laya falls under their spell-despite their mother's warning to be wary of strangers. And these are not the only dangers lurking in the woods... 

The sisters will need each other if they are to become the women they need to be - and save their people from the dark forces that draw closer.

I love new YA fantasies, unique retellings, and books about sisters so this one was right in my wheelhouse. And while this was an interesting read that finished really strong, I didn’t love it as much as I had hoped.

One thing I did love about this book was the world and setting. One of my favorite things is finding a modern book that reads like a classic fairy tale and that is exactly what this book was. It had so many elements that I have come to know and love with fairy tales including a dark wood full of secrets, magical transformations, and dubious characters. I particularly loved the setting. A dark and mysterious woods makes for such a great location for a story like this. The secrets lurking in the woods made for an atmospheric read. And the magic added to all of that. What I liked about the magic was that despite the fact that it was subtle, there clear rules and seeing the magic in action interested me. All of this worked together to craft an engaging setting for the book.

The other interesting thing about the setting for this book was the historical elements. It wasn’t really historical fiction but it did a great job of dealing with historical context and still making it feel topical. This is a book about Jewish culture and it explored what that was like from a historical standpoint. Jews were often distrusted by non-Jews and this book didn’t shy away from that. It showed some of the discrimination that Jewish people felt in Medieval times. But it also explored The Jewish religion on the whole. I can’t speak to the representation but I found it interesting to learn more about Judaism and I appreciated that aspect of this book.

The plot and pacing however, left me wanting more. It’s not that the plot was bad. In fact it did really finish strong by building to a really exciting conclusion. The thing is that the first half of this book took me a week to read and the second half took me a day. It just took so long for this book to capture my interest. I think perhaps that is because in the first half there was so much more of a focus on the romance. And you all probably know I am not typically a fan of romances. With this one I felt like one of them was a really good slowburn with a solid foundation and the other one was a ridiculous instalove that creeped me out. Luckily in the end everything shook out the way I was hoping but as the romance too center stage I felt like it was taking away from the part of the story I was actually enjoying including the relationship with the sisters.

I know this a retelling of the epic poem The Goblin Market, which I am not familiar with, and it made me curious about the poem which I think is the mark of a good retelling. But to me it had more Snow White and Rose Red vibes to it. That was one of my favorite fairy tales when I was a kid and I felt like from that standpoint I enjoyed the retelling. The reason I say that is because I felt like it had a good spin on the idea of the magical transformation and finding out that a character is royalty. It made for a good feminist story in that respect. But the best part of the retelling that I enjoyed was the relationship between the sisters. As an older sister myself I love reading books about sisters who are very different but still care so much about one another. It was a great aspect of the story added a lot of heart to the book I think.

This was definitely a good read with an atmospheric world that gave it a modern fairy tale vibes, a subtle historical setting, a retelling that had me interested in the original, and a good sisterly relationship. I just wish that it was a little shorter and the romance in the beginning didn’t take so much of the focus.

I give Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rene Rossner 8 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Borrow. I would recommend this book to fans of modern fairy tales like Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale. It’s a good atmospheric read for people who look those book.

Have you read Sisters of Winter Wood? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!

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