Book Review: The Witch of Duva by Leigh Bardugo

Book Review: The Witch of Duva by Leigh BardugoThe Witch of Duva by Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Grisha Trilogy #0.5
Published: June 5, 2012
43 pages
Genres: Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Novella, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls...or so the story goes. But it’s just possible that the danger may be a little bit closer to home. This story is a companion folk tale to Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel, Shadow and Bone.
4 Stars

The Short Version

The Witch of Duva is a beautifully written fairy tale that feels close to our own fairy tales but it messes with your expectations by twisting the story around in new ways.  This prequel novella reminded me of Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling.  The Witch of Duva, like Tales of Beedle the Bard, is a fairy tale set in the same world that doesn’t necessarily advance the story but functions to flesh out the world and add a little more magic to it.  I couldn’t find more of a connection between The Witch of Duva and Shadow and Bone other than they are both set in the same world.  I actually prefer this kind of novella to one that tells some back story of a character.  I feel like the fairy tale is something fun that lets me stay in that world a little longer.  When I’ve read novellas that try to continue the narrative, I found myself bored.  This fairy tale was beautiful and engaging and I highly recommend it.

The Jessica Thinks Too Much Version

There were just too many awesome and juicy details that I couldn’t skip discussing them.  I will talk about the details of the book and the foreshadowing that I saw, but I won’t tell how it ends.

The Witch of Duva reminds me of Hansel and Gretel.  Like Hansel and Gretel, there is a witch in the woods that eats girls.  Nadya, the main character, talks about how her mother becomes sick and the only thing that comforts her is sweet cakes from Karina.  I love the theme of food in this fairy tale – especially sweet food – that ties it into our fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel.  One theory of why the girls go missing is that they smell food in the forrest and wander off.

I can see hints now of what happens at the end now that I’m reading it again.  It describes the girls as “full-grown girls near old enough to marry.”  There’s lots of misdirection to Karina since we are seeing the events through Nadya’s eyes and she automatically doesn’t like Karina trying to replace her mother.

Karina sends Nadya into the forrest to find the rabbit traps and Nadya follows the white stones that mark the path that were left by her brother, Havel.  I’m geeking out over all the Hansel and Gretel references!!  Nadya gets lost because the stones get covered in snow.  I like how this changes the Hansel and Gretel version to fit into the Russian-like setting of Ravka.

Hungry, Nadya finds a house that smells like cooking sugar.  The old woman that lives in the house feeds her.  I love how Nadya even mentions that she feels like she’s just being fattened up to be eaten later.  But this is where the twists come in.  The witch’s house becomes a safe place for Nadya instead of the other way around.  The witch helps people and even hides Nadya so rumors don’t start that she kidnaps children.  Haha! Oops too late.

I loved the elements that came from other fairy tales, too.  There was a reference to the Gingerbread Man story.  But again it’s different than I thought it would be.  The witch also asks Nadya all the time what she wants that reminded me a little of the original Beauty and the Beast.

I had a blast reading the fairy tale.  I loved analyzing it and thinking about it and just getting lost in the world.


Why are we so quick to villainize women?

The thing that made me think the most about this story was how easy we are to attach sinister motives to women when their outward actions show mostly kindness.  It only takes one or two harsh things for us to immediately hate a woman when men do much worse things and it often gets looked over.  What do you think?

Content Rating: Medium, for a suggestive scene.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives in Hollywood, where she indulges her fondness for glamour, ghouls, and costuming in her other life as makeup artist L.B. Benson. Occasionally, she can be heard singing with her band, Captain Automatic.

Her debut novel, Shadow & Bone (Holt Children’s/ Macmillan), is a New York Times Best Seller and the first book in the Grisha Trilogy. Book 2, Siege and Storm, will be published in 2013. She is represented by Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of New Leaf.


Book Review: Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black

Book Review: Zombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly BlackZombies Vs. Unicorns by Holly Black
Published: September 21, 2010
432 pages
Genres: Fantasy, Short Stories, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

It's a question as old as time itself: which is better, the zombie or the unicorn? In this anthology, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier (unicorn and zombie, respectively), strong arguments are made for both sides in the form of short stories. Half of the stories portray the strengths--for good and evil--of unicorns and half show the good (and really, really bad-ass) side of zombies. Contributors include many bestselling teen authors, including Cassandra Clare, Libba Bray, Maureen Johnson, Meg Cabot, Scott Westerfeld, and Margo Lanagan. This anthology will have everyone asking: Team Zombie or Team Unicorn?
2 Stars

Reading Zombies vs. Unicorns taught me that short stories and I don’t get along. At all.  Or maybe reading too many short stories in a row is bad for my mental health.  It took me a long time to get the characters and the world straight in my mind (and that applies when I read anything) so by the time I’ve finally figured it out for each of these the story was over! Because they were short!  It was very frustrating and made me feel like I wasn’t making much progress.  It took me an insane 6 weeks (!) to read all these short stories even counting the fact that I skipped or skimmed most of the zombie stories.  Lesson learned – I will take short stories one at a time and then move on to something longer.  Never again will I read so many in a row.  I think my brain melted.

That being said, I did enjoy seeing some of my favorite authors do interesting things with the short story format.  Short stories have the ability to be a little more edgy since they don’t last too long.  Something that would tire you in a novel is fascinating in a short story.  I loved the unique mythologies and origin stories that the authors came up with for the zombies and unicorns.

Here’s my thoughts on a few of the short stories that stood out to me.

The Highest Justice by Garth Nix was a zombie story that had a setup similar to Twilight.  This boy loves this other boy but he also wants to eat him. I didn’t finish this one because I found it too vulgar and gross for my taste with a cheesy villain on top.

I adored Purity Test by Naomi Novik.  It played on the stereotypes of unicorn stories.  The unicorn was male and snarky yet pretty and had a modern New York accent. It just got better and funnier from there with fun pop culture references which I love!  10 points to this short story for the Harry Potter reference!

Children of the Revolution by Maureen Johnson was the only zombie story I liked in this entire collection.  It was hilarious and unexpected.  THAT was definitely an origin story for zombies that I have never heard before.

My favorite story in the entire bunch was The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn By Diana Peterfreund.  I think it was perfect for this collection because it had a zombie element to it because the unicorns were dangerous.

Cold Hands by Cassandra Clare was probably the most boring and unmemorable story of the bunch.  There was a castle somewhere in the story. Maybe. That’s all I remember.

There was commentary at the beginning of each story between Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier “arguing” about which team was better. I found every thing that Justine (Team Zombie) said to be tedious and annoying.  I didn’t connect with her humor at all.

 Overall, this was a fun collection of unique spins on zombies and unicorns but you might find yourself skipping the other stories if you are more partial to one team or the other. I was Team Unicorn, you could say, and I didn’t enjoy most of the zombie stories.  Also, I might have enjoyed these stories more if I had taken breaks from it instead of reading them all in a row.

Content Rating: High, for strong language, violence (some of which was kind of disturbing) and one mention of partial nudity.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Holly Black

Holly Black

Holly Black is a best-selling author of contemporary fantasy novels for kids, teens, and adults. She is the author of the Modern Faerie Tale series (Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside), The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), and The Good Neighbors graphic novels (with Ted Naifeh) The Poison Eaters and Other Stories, a collection of short fiction, and The Curse Worker series (White Cat, Red Glove, and Black Heart). She is also the co-editor of three anthologies, Geektastic (with Cecil Castellucci), Zombies vs. Unicorns (with Justine Larbalestier), and Welcome to Bordertown (with Ellen Kushner). Her most recent works are the middle grade novel, Doll Bones, and the dark fantasy stand-alone, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

She lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Theo, in a house with a secret library.

Book Review: Stray by Elissa Sussman

Book Review: Stray by Elissa SussmanStray by Elissa Sussman
Series: Four Sisters #1
Published: October 7, 2014
384 pages
Genres: Fairy Tale, Romance, Young Adult
Source: For Review

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

Princess Aislynn has long dreamed about attending her Introduction Ball, about dancing with the handsome suitors her adviser has chosen for her, about meeting her true love and starting her happily ever after.

When the night of the ball finally arrives and Nerine Academy is awash with roses and royalty, Aislynn wants nothing more than to dance the night away, dutifully following the Path that has been laid out for her. She does not intend to stray.

But try as she might, Aislynn has never quite managed to control the magic that burns within her-magic brought on by wicked, terrible desires that threaten the Path she has vowed to take.

After all, it is wrong to want what you do not need. Isn’t it?
3 Stars

After reading the acknowledgements by the author, I could see the Into the Woods inspiration.  Stray follows the sappy fairy tale stereotype and gives it a darker undertone especially about it’s control towards women. If you kept Cinderella almost the same but made it slightly darker with forbidden magic you might have something like Stray.

This fairy tale was all about controlling women and how they aren’t valued in this world even though they are technically powerful.  I know it was supposed to be a satire but sometimes it was difficult to read about the extreme rules for them all towards the goal of getting married.  The girls act ridiculous and when one of them eats before going to a ball I couldn’t get the image of Scarlet O’Hara reluctantly stuffing her face and wondering why you have to be so ridiculous just to catch a husband.

The world building just wasn’t very strong.  While I liked the plot, it felt hard to imagine the world because it was a little confusing.  The biggest problem for me, though, was the question of why these girls would even put up with all these crazy restrictions or where they came from in the first place.  That thought pulled me out of the story a lot because it was never really answered very well.

The writing was ok for the most part.  A few cheesy lines here and there with the cliche “breath she didn’t know she was holding.”  I’m so glad she figured it out in time or she might have died.  And my favorite “Suddenly” was in there more than I prefer. But it had some good writing too.  Just not terribly consistent.  I liked the characters and their relationships. The villain gives speeches about having fun with the poor, powerless protagonist and it made me roll my eyes.

I didn’t like the beginning.  It throws me into an action scene right away but I’m not sure why I should care yet.  I’m not a fan of when authors do that.

And to be very, very nitpicky – she doesn’t use the term “artless” like I’m used to Jane Austen using it and it irked me.

Overall, it was a different take on fairy tales that had an interesting plot but the world building wasn’t my favorite.

Content Rating: Medium, for some violence.  The language was pretty mild if there was any.  It’s been a while since I read it so I don’t remember for sure.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  I received this book for review from the publisher, Harper Collins, in exchange for an honest review. I was not told what to say, I was not paid to write this review and all the opinions expressed are my own.  I read an Advanced Reading Copy for this review.  

About Elissa Sussman

Elissa Sussman

Elissa Sussman is a writer, a reader and a pumpkin pie eater.

Her debut novel, STRAY (Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins), is a YA fantasy about fairy godmothers, magic and food. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and in a previous life managed animators and organized spreadsheets at some of the best animation studios in the world, including Nickelodeon, Disney, Dreamworks and Sony Imageworks. You can see her name in the credits of THE CROODS, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG and TANGLED.

She currently lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and their rescue mutt, Basil.

Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

Book Review: Northanger Abbey by Jane AustenNorthanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Published: 1817
251 pages
Genres: Classic, Romance
Source: Purchased

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

A wonderfully entertaining coming-of-age story, Northanger Abbey is often referred to as Jane Austen’s “Gothic parody.” Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist.

The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art.
5 Stars

Northerner Abbey might be my favorite Jane Austen novel.  One of the main reasons is because Catherine is my new favorite heroine.  She’s a tom boy and she treats her life like it’s a fictional novel.  Catherine is the kind of person that would yell “plot twist!” at an unfortunate event in her life.  I aspire to be this way.  It’s the kind of attitude I try to have when, say, I go to the ER because I’ve been awake and in pain and on Google and have convinced myself that I have appendicitis when all I really have is severe constipation and get sent home from the ER with a laxative.  Again.  See, in a novel that’s freakin’ hilarious.  In real life it sucks paying $200 for a laxative.  Catherine has quite the imagination and I want to be her in every way.

Also, could someone explain to me how Jane Austen can just tell her stories and backgrounds in an info-dumping way but keep my attention completely because she makes it fun and visual and easy to imagine?  Jane Austen has this biting honesty that is delightful to read even though her books are old.  Don’t dismiss Jane Austen.  She writes the truth.  Don’t tell me you’ve never met a person like this:

Mrs. Allen was one of that numerous class of females, whose society can raise no other emotion than surprise at there being any men in the world who could like them well enough to marry them.

– Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (p. 7)

And I love, love, love the two ladies who are constantly talking at each other but never have an actual conversation because one talks about her kids and one talks about clothes.  Jane Austen doesn’t really show many of these conversations but I can totally imagine them.  As much as Catherine is living in a fictional novel, her friend Isabella is overdramatic because she’s got the lead role in this play called life.  Isabella is clingy and scheming.  I think Jane Austen didn’t mind scheming but I think she hated it when it was obvious.  Jane Austen is the queen of sarcasm, irony and relatable characters.

Book shaming has been around since the 1800s and Jane Austen is having none of it.  Catherine loves reading novels but is also ashamed that she reads “only novels.”  Jane Austen has this to say about mere novels:

… in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed …

-Jane Austen,  Northanger Abbey (p. 23).

Overall, I loved this novel and if you haven’t read it, fix that immediately.

Content Rating: None. Clean read.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links.  

About Jane Austen


She was an English novelist whose works of romantic fiction, set among the landed gentry, earned her a place as one of the most widely read writers in English literature. Her realism and biting social commentary have gained her historical importance among scholars and critics. Jane Austen lived her entire life as part of a close-knit family located on the lower fringes of the English landed gentry. She was educated primarily by her father and older brothers as well as through her own reading. The steadfast support of her family was critical to her development as a professional writer.

Visit her grave

Book Review: Among the Nameless Stars by Diana Peterfreund

Book Review: Among the Nameless Stars by Diana PeterfreundAmong the Nameless Stars by Diana Peterfreund
Series: For Darkness Shows the Stars #0.5
Published: June 4, 2012
60 pages
Genres: Dystopian, Novella, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Source: Purchased

The Short, Sweet, and Spoiler-Free Blurb:

Before Kai joined the Cloud Fleet, he wandered… AMONG THE NAMELESS STARS

Four years before the events of FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS, the servant Kai left the North Estate, the only home he’d ever known, and Elliot North, the only girl he ever loved, in search of a better life. But the journey was not an easy one.

Featuring narrow escapes, thrilling boat races and at least one deadly volcanic wasteland.
2 Stars

Among the Nameless Stars was a prequel novella for one of my favorite novels, For Darkness Shows the Stars.  The writing in this novella didn’t seem to be the same quality that I loved in the novel.  The story was ok but not terribly interesting.  I feel like if there’s going to be a prequel it should be about something mind-blowing or amazing and the simple plot about the boat race was not enough to keep my attention.  I just didn’t see the point of this novella.  I didn’t get any new insights into the story.  It fills in details about Kai but I already knew where the plot was going.  It might be that it’s just been too long since I’ve read For Darkness Shows the Stars that made it feel like I didn’t learn anything new or interesting.

Even though I wasn’t a fan of this prequel, you should definitely still check out For Darkness Shows the Stars.

Content RatingMild, for very brief non-graphic mentions of abuse.

This post contains affiliate links and I receive a small percentage of sales made through these links. 

About Diana Peterfreund

diana peterfreund

Diana Peterfreund has published eight novels for adults and teens, including the four-book Secret Society Girl series (Bantam Dell), the “killer unicorn novels” Rampant and Ascendant (Harper Teen), and For Darkness Shows the Stars, a post-apocalyptic retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. In addition, she’s written several critically acclaimed short stories and a variety of non-fiction essays about popular children’s literature. Diana lives in Washington D.C., with her family.