ARC Book Review: The Sisters of the Winter Wood


sisters 2


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.


At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 3.68 out of 5

Release Date

25th September 2018 aka TOMORROW by Orbit

Opening Lines

If you want to know the history of a town, read the gravestones in its cemetery. That’s what my Tati always says. Instead of praying in the synagogue like all the other men of our town, my father goes to the cemetery to pray. I like to go there with him every morning.


I received a copy of this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The first thing I have to say about this book is… look at that cover. Isn’t it gorgeous? I’m almost sad that I don’t have a physical hardback of this book because it’s just so shiny. I’m a little like a magpie, give me a foil cover and I am drawn to it.

The second thing I have to say about this book is… the description is 100% my kind of story. Forests, sisters, magic, dangers and dark forces? Yes, yes and many hard yes’s. 

The third thing I have to say about this book is… it sadly didn’t do much for me. It’s always incredibly disappointing when that happens especially when the cover is beautiful and the blurb is enticing. That being said, I can see how it would work for others, it just wasn’t ticking my boxes.

I was very surprised to learn this was adult fantasy as opposed to YA fantasy because for me it reads very much as YA. I love YA so this isn’t actually a criticism but if YA doesn’t tickle your fancy and you’re expecting something a bit more adult than this isn’t for you.

It reads as YA, not just because the two protagonists are teenagers (17 and 15), but because the themes are those that are often found in YA. We’re talking sibling relationships, stepping up to life responsibilities when adults have gone/ are useless, the coming of age into adulthood and the first foray’s into romantic love.

That’s the other thing that made me sigh with frustration – the insta-love. Now for one of the sister’s (Laya), the insta-love was very much part of the plot and viewed as a concern. This was because Laya’s insta-love was due to magical enchantments and breaking her from it was a motivation of her sister (Liba).

Liba had a more traditional route to love (met a nice boy from the village) but the insta-love trope was out in full force. Once she had begun to acknowledge those romantic feelings it was constantly about those romantic feelings and the recipient of those romantic feelings.

I actually really enjoy a romance plot and as Liba’s sexual awakening was part of her character development I could understand it to some extent but so much of the story started to get bogged down with it to the point where I was getting bored.

Kathy at Pages Below the Vaulted Sky reviewed a book called Strange Grace and mentioned that it was a kissing book with ‘a whole lot of smooching going on’ and I love that phrase so much that I’m stealing it for this book review because that’s what The Sisters of the Winter Wood became. A kissing book with a whole lot of smooching.

It got repetitive, incredibly so after the 50% mark, and I was desperate for more action and more plot.

That in itself is a real shame because this book was packed to the rafters with potential in the way of its plot but I don’t know if it knew what it wanted to be. A romance? A fairy tale with shape-shifting? A fairy tale with goblins? A portrayal of a terrible time in Jewish history? A commentary of what it is like to be a devout member of Judaism?

If one or two of the plot points were chosen and interwoven then I actually think this would have been a smoother ride. Even if those plot points were based on realism and magic because fantasy and fairy tales grounded in reality can really work.

A social commentary on what it is like to be a devout member of Judaism in love with someone not Jewish as a swan vs. bear metaphor could have worked. As could have a social commentary on what is a horrible and real event in history combined with the horror of goblins and what they want to achieve.

Instead I felt that the writer was trying to do too much and while it didn’t get complicated it seemed to dilute the impact of the events that happened. For example at the end of the book when they describe a horrible (and real life event) I didn’t feel the emotional impact as I should have done. This was in part because of the aforementioned ‘too much’ in the way of plot points but also because of the characters.

Everyone aside from Liba is underdeveloped and superficial, filling the role of ‘love interest’ or ‘briefly introduced before they leave parent’. Even one of our two first person POV protagonists seems designed to fulfill the role of ‘freedom craving and highly irritating younger sister.’

Sadly I just could not warm to Laya. Her POV sections are brief but are almost boring because they’re so brief. We never know her, never get to care for her and the sister relationship, a driving factor of the plot, is almost non-existent.

A unique approach is how the first person POV’s are presented. Liba’s is done in standard prose while Laya’s is done in verse. This is to reflect the different natures of the sisters and (I’m guessing) the nature of Laya being less typical and more ‘free-flowing.’

Again, this may work for some but sadly not for me.

I found

that the way it

was presented was

highly annoying and


to read.

And at first,

I thought

it was my Kindle

doing something funny

or my eyes.

I liked the originality but I didn’t fully understand why Laya’s POV needed to be presented this way. But then I didn’t do English Literature so maybe there are reasons.

In short – this book is probably for many people but not for me. But it definitely makes me want to read Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti.

My Rating

2 Star

12 thoughts on “ARC Book Review: The Sisters of the Winter Wood

  1. Ahh too bad. 😦 I only requested it because of the cover and Russian folklore, and luckily got rejected. 😀 I don’t like smooching. :S Too bad such great themes were wasted. :/ I’d say “hope you have a lovely next read”, but you’ve probably read a million books since you wrote this, and Jesus woman – how many posts do you write? 😀 I can’t keep up, I’ll have to do a Gerry appreciation day, because I want to read it all! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had so much hope for this one (I mean, a fairy tale with shapeshifters! And forests!) but the reviews have not been good. 😦 I guess it’s commendable that the author tried to do something interesting with the POVs, but the lack of character development and the instalove is rather disappointing. And I had no idea there were goblins involved too! That’s a…lot of stuff going on.

    If you’re hankering for other shapeshifter fairy tales I REALLY recommend In the Night Garden by Catherynne Valente! It’s a string of fairy tales, with each one branching from the previous, and there’s a whole lot of mythological creatures involved and shapeshifters are one of them. Plus the writing is gorgeous 😀

    And hehe I love that you liked my phrase enough to nab it for this review. 😀 I hope your next smooching book is one that you actually really like!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, I read the description and just thought ‘yummy!’ I try and not read any reviews until after I’m done reading/ reviewing because I don’t want to be influenced but as soon as I was done I looked and saw some less than stellar ones. I’m relieved I’m not an outlier in this but also disappointed! Yes, definitely a lot of stuff. None of it was confusing surprisingly but that’s because it skimmed more than dove deep into anything, if that makes any sense?

      I love shape-shifting (and goblins) and have now added your rec to my list!

      I thought your phrase was hilarious! I hope you don’t mind me nabbing it!


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