The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories

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Anthologies are tricky things. You may miraculously jive with all of the authors contained within, and find that their myriad of voices washes over you like a cool breeze. You may pick and choose your favourites, skimming some tales and immersing yourself deeply in others. Even still, you may find that none of the voices are ones you’d care to hear, and regret the whole experience entirely.

When I saw this title on NetGalley, I admit that I requested it solely for the story by Nnedi Okorafor. I thought that if she had a story here, then that would act as a quality barometer and I would surely love the others as well.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

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The Djinn Falls in Love is a collection of stories about – you guessed it – Djinn. More widely known to the western world as genies, most people unfamiliar with their origins associate them with Disney’s Aladdin; a rather gregarious blue entity who lives in a lamp and grants wishes.

Well, I don’t think I have to tell you that Disney often grossly misrepresents things from other cultures.

I rarely quote book summaries in my reviews, but in this case I think it really says it best.

“Imagine a world filled with fierce, fiery beings, hiding in our shadows, in our dreams, under our skins. Eavesdropping and exploring; savaging our bodies, saving our souls. They are monsters, saviours, victims, childhood friends. Some have called them genies: these are the Djinn.

And they are everywhere. On street corners, behind the wheel of a taxi, in the chorus, between the pages of books. Every language has a word for them. Every culture knows their traditions. Every religion, every history has them hiding in their dark places.”

My interest was undeniably piqued by that fantastic description of this anthology, and of the Djinn. I tucked into this book with relish, and found that I wasn’t as wowed as I expected to be. Perhaps my expectations were simply too high, considering that most of these authors were award winners.

For the most part my reaction to this collection was ‘meh’. I wasn’t able to engage with most of these stories emotionally, and that’s a huge part of enjoyment for me. Sometimes it was the characters, sometimes the writing style, and sometimes there just wasn’t a satisfying payoff by the end of the tale.

Still, there were a few stories that I really enjoyed. Those were: History (Nnedi Okorafor), The Congregation (Kamila Shamsie), Black Powder (Maria Dahvana Headley), The Jinn Hunter’s Apprentice (E.J. Swift), Bring Your Own Spoon (Saad Z. Hossain), and The Spite House (Kirsty Logan).

Apart from those stories I found this book to be more of a slog than I anticipated. It got to the point where I would be reluctant to pick it up because I knew I’d have to read through many stories I wasn’t into to get to one that I would enjoy. Still, an anthology is always going to be a mixed bag, so I knew what I was getting into.

I don’t regret reading this, though had I not been required to write a review I probably would have skimmed most of this instead of reading.

I would recommend it those who already enjoy one or many of the authors contained within, or those who are supremely curious about Djinn.

Are you anticipating the release of this anthology? Let me know in the comments below!

Ruin and Rising

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So, I’ve finished reading the Grisha Trilogy.

I’m so sad it’s over.

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If you remember my reviews of the first two books, then you already know that I loved them. This final book didn’t disappoint me in any way.

The first book was a sunny dream of opportunity and happiness compared to this book. It basically tore out my heart and ate it. Terrible things continuously happened with no seeming end in sight.

My heart broke continuously for Ravka, for Alina and Mal, for Nikolai, and even for the Darkling. The beauty of Bardugo’s writing was that she made me care about everyone she introduced me to. I felt for the Stag and the Whip in the previous books, and for the unnamed peasants that are killed to prove a point. It’s a mark of skill that she’s able to make her reader care for even the most reprehensible character: the Darkling.

We learn more of him in this book. It humanizes him to an almost uncomfortable degree. How could a man, even one with such power, come to such an end? Well, you’ll damn well find out.

The reader sees more of Genya, Baghra, and Nikolai, which I was very happy with. Character development was at an all-time high, bringing out new facets of Zoya and Sergei, Tolya and Tamar, and characters we didn’t see much of in the previous books. More is learned of Baghra’s past – and man did I read those parts breathlessly.

The cult of Sankta Alina is rather strongly featured and is interesting – as are Alina’s feelings about it. Ravka is broken, at war with itself while trying to keep outside forces at bay as well. Alina must dig deeper than she thinks herself capable of to try and salvage something of her country and its people.

I found the development of Alina’s character to be very satisfying. In any other character, the self-doubt and constant questioning of motives would be annoying – but here, they simply weren’t. As I mentioned in previous reviews, Alina’s voice seemed so real to me that I couldn’t find her a nuisance, or foolish. In any case, I thought choices were very realistic for someone put in so many impossible situations. Even to the end, she isn’t perfect – never the Sankta that the Apparat wished for. While I always suspected she would come to a tragic end, the way that Bardugo handled it was absolutely flawless.

I find myself at a loss to discuss just why exactly I loved this book so much. I spoke about it to someone when I finished it, and there was a lot of hand flailing and eye-widening to get my point across.

Was the plot well paced? Yes. Was it unpredictable? Yes. Were the characters interesting? Yes. Was the world-building on point? Yes. Was the ending satisfying? Yes.

Plenty of books have those factors and I don’t love them.

Really, it all boils down to this: I felt so much.

I laughed with Alina, and cried with her. I felt her confusion, her conflict, her desire. I felt sympathy for the Darkling and for Baghra, and Mal, and Nikolai. I wished fervently with Baghra (and Alina) that the Darkling could be redeemed. I felt Alina’s stricken pity and understanding as Morozova’s legacy is revealed – and her pain as it was truly understood.

Any books that can make me feel so deeply with and about their characters deserve my love.

Ruin and Rising was, in my opinion, an excellent ending to a fantastic series. While I’m sad to be finished, I’m incredibly pleased that Bardugo has written another series in the same world. Sadly not in Ravka, but you can’t have everything. Even still, her short stories (available on Tor.com) give even more insight into the culture of Ravka for those left wanting more.

I can’t wait to pick up Six of Crows, but I think I should have a cool-down period first.

Have you read the Grisha Trilogy? Did you love it, hate it, or not really care either way? What other books made you feel deeply with and for their characters? Let me know in the comments below!

Giant Days: Volume One

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In rediscovering my love for the library, I’ve been trying to attend library programming that I think I’ll enjoy. To that end, a friend and I headed to a ‘book tasting’ at a local branch to discover new titles we might find intriguing.

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We both picked up the first volume of Giant Days, as it was slim and seemed like a fun choice.

It centers around three young women, Susan, Esther, and Daisy, who have just started at university and become friends in the process.

Daisy was homeschooled, and is quite naïve to the ways of the world. Esther is pale and lovely, and perhaps too interesting for her own good. Susan is the narrator, and in her own words is the common sense silo of the group – though she is perhaps more jaded than she lets on.

I found this to be a fast and enjoyable read. At times laugh-out-loud funny, it is the exact kind of mood lightening story that I needed at the time. This was predominantly a story of friendship. The girls tackle issues that come and go in uni: getting sick, making bets, finding love, avoiding old flames, drugs, and navigating the confusing tangle of academics and feelings.

The reader follows the girls as they learn what it is to live in the wider world. Actions have consequences, and while they’re generally funny in this book, Susan’s choices especially come back to eat at her a little more seriously.

The side characters McGraw, Ed, and Nadia were great as well. Just enough about them was said to make them interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing them in future volumes.

The art was colorful and perfectly captured vivid facial and body expressions. The panels were laid out in a simple narrative fashion that suited the story.

The antics and depiction of the main characters will keep you entertained throughout this volume, and have you looking forward to the next one.

A solid choice for a fun read.

Have you read Giant Days? What was the last fun read you picked up? Let me know in the comments below!

Canada Reads: Nostalgia

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The shortlist of this year’s Canada Reads contenders was announced on January 31st. This year, I’m trying to read all of them before the show airs. I managed to get tickets for two of the days and I am absolutely thrilled!

For those of you who aren’t Canadian, or who haven’t heard of Canada Reads, it’s a TV special that airs each year and takes the form of a debate. A different question is chosen every year, and each CanLit pick is defended by a Canadian to stay in the competition and become the yearly winner. Every episode whittles out one book.

This year’s question is: “What is the one book Canadians need now?”

Reading Nostalgia with that question as the lens I understand why it was chosen this year, even if I didn’t find it very enjoyable.

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The essence of the book is that humans have basically found a way to become immortal. Available mostly to the rich, you can be crafted with new parts to live your youth once again or extend your life. The catch is that the bulk of your memories must be wiped, as a way to retain the memories of more than one lifetime has yet to be discovered. New memories will be manufactured for you – of your childhood, family, and seminal experiences, and you’ll never know which ones are false. If you’re lucky, your past self will have left you a nest-egg to start your new life with.

Lucky refugees who manage to cross the Long Border are also ‘granted’ new lives by the government, with the assumption that their original memories and personalities will prevent them from assimilating into their new society.

Nostalgia centers around Doctor Frank Sina, a man who specializes in Nostalgia – patients whose old memories are beginning to leak into their new ones. He becomes intrigued and then obsessed with a new patient of his, Presley. The novel follows Dr. Sina as he deals with his dysfunctional relationship with a ‘BabyGen’, his budding friendship with a pro-death protester, and his (very slow) realization that he and his new patient may be more connected than he thought.

The concept of this book really appealed to me. Somehow though, it felt as if I was waiting the entire novel for things that never happened. It took more than half the book for the cause behind the extreme poverty and political situation surrounding Maskinia to be explained. The issue of refugees and poverty tourism were brought up, but never dived into with real depth.

The ‘long border’ and the state of affairs in Maskinia were talked about mostly through the context of Holly, a reporter who is missing and presumed dead. Everything said about Maskinia I took as speculation, until suddenly it wasn’t. That was pretty unsatisfying in my opinion.

While so many political and philosophical issues were touched on (this is also a post-racial society) they were never given any room or time to grow.

I would have enjoyed Nostalgia better had the author chosen to focus on one or two key topics rather than piled a whole bunch of stuff in there and stirred it together.

I think that this book does address topics that Canadians need to think about now. However, I also think that the quick overview it gives of many issues is not enough. It made me think, but my thoughts were focused more on how much Sina could be trusted as a narrator rather than any of the issues introduced in the narrative.

This book was okay, but I’m reserving judgement on it’s Canada Reads chances until I’ve finished the other contenders.

Have you read Nostalgia? Do you think this is the one book Canadians need now? Let me know in the comments below!

The Bone Witch

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Whenever I browse NetGalley, there are always books that are most requested. Generally, I avoid them, but sometimes I figure the hype might be warranted and request one myself. I took that chance with The Bone Witch, based in part on its beautiful cover, and in part on the description.

It didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

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The Bone Witch had a really interesting premise. Our young protagonist, Tea, accidentally raises her brother from the dead. As such she’s revealed to be an asha, more specifically a ‘bone witch’, women who are (mostly) reviled for being able to wield dark runes to raise and compel the dead. The book is essentially the story of Tea’s training to become a full asha.

What is an asha, you ask? Best as I could tell, they’re essentially Geisha with magic. They place much importance on training and reputation, and are skilled entertainers, politicians, and magic wielders. Even though men can also wield magic, they’re not allowed to become asha. Instead men become deathseekers – taken from their families at young ages to be trained as soldiers.

While I think that the premise was super cool, I didn’t find the story as compelling as I would have liked. It opens in the present, from the perspective of a Bard who has sought out a Dark Asha on a desolate beach filled with the skeletons of massive creatures.

The other perspective is Tea’s narrative as she tells her story to the Bard. Though this could have been an effective device, the two stories never came to a head. The present Tea is a much different person from the girl seen in training in the past. She was impatient and impetuous just like any other teen, but I thought that because of the disparity of the two storylines I could never reconcile her present behavior with her past. It seemed very out of character.

Despite the length of the novel, the reader never gets to find out what caused the change in her as the two stories never converge.

Talk about disappointing.

(Yes, I am aware that this is the first in a series. That doesn’t mean that everything should remain unresolved in the first book. If there’s no payoff, why keep reading?)

The novel is fairly slow paced, which I know annoyed a lot of reviewers. I wasn’t bothered by that so much as I was the two storyline gimmick never bearing fruit.

It bears mentioning that this book suffers from Mary Sue Syndrome. Tea is always somehow an exception to the rules who is strangely good at things. No, making her bad at singing doesn’t cancel this.

The world building was pretty simple, with offhand mentions of other kingdoms and the general qualities of their inhabitants. It mostly seemed like rudimentary copying of real world nations, only with less description, more stereotyping, and a dash of the supernatural. A device I did love was that of the heartsglass. The people of this world literally wear a manifestation of their hearts around their necks, which is a unique thing I’ve never seen in another story.

The development of supporting characters and side plots was very basic. Some of them were very interesting but remained unexplored. My favourite was about Likh, a beautiful boy who wishes to become an asha rather than a deathseeker. His storyline is continued further than I expected but is ultimately unresolved. Others include Fox’s acquaintance with an unexpected woman, Mykaela’s health, Junior Heartsforger, and Kance and Kalen. Also – the Oracle. What exactly is her purpose? Is there only one? There was also never any mention of Tea’s blood family after she leaves them, which seemed strange to me.

Ultimately, I loved the concept of this book. I found it a likeable enough read. I don’t think that the execution was as successful as it could have been. If it had been, I could have easily likened it to Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books, or the Grisha Trilogy. A young heroine learns her place in the world and changes it while doing so.

As it is, it just wasn’t quite up to snuff. I hope the next book can redeem it.

Have you read The Bone Witch? Are you gearing up to read it? Let me know in the comments below!

Siege and Storm

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So immediately after I finished devouring Shadow and Bone, I practically ran to the library to pick up Siege and Storm. I was wary of this second book, but it exceeded all of my expectations.

This review contains spoilers from the first book.

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I devoured this book, eager to read more of Ravka, of Alina, and of the Darkling. I somehow loved this book even more than the first one.

After Alina and Mal’s escape at the end of Shadow and Bone, I was expecting this book to be one of those intermediate ‘on the run’ books, where the main characters are chased from place to place. Thankfully, this was not that book. It was so much better than that.

The Darkling surfaces with a new and horrifying power that ratchets up the fear and tension present throughout this entire novel. Though I was hoping he died in the Fold, he’s an extremely hateable villain and I admit that his personality and motives make him very compelling. His presence throughout this book was creepy and introduced a kind of doubt in Alina that makes her story even better.

I love Alina’s narrative. As someone who generally dislikes first person stories, Alina’s voice is a breath of fresh air. She reacts to things in ways that seem realistic to me. Her emotions aren’t contrived – and though they may not make sense to other characters, the reader really gets a great sense of who she is. After the events of the first book, she’s less trusting of others. Her love for Mal never wavers, but her relationships with Genya and the Darkling have affected her expectations and perceptions of him. Her character evolves in a way that is totally plausible.

All actions in this series clearly have consequences, and that was fantastic. The little insets of things the Darkling said in the first book were a nice touch that really illustrated that.

Sturmhond was introduced in this book – a Ravkan privateer with an interesting past and a loyal crew. His character turned out to be a favourite of mine. Without giving too much away, his big reveal was crazy but worked really well. I loved his inventive spirit, and his laisse-faire attitude. His patriotism was admirable, especially once you learn more of him.

I generally dislike when multiple potential love interests are introduced, but not here! The possibility for romance is not overt, but it’s suggested. Instead of a love triangle (or quadrangle), Alina is simply given choices.

In this book, readers see the rise of the cult of Sankta Alina, guided by the Apparat, who has gone into hiding. Pilgrims are everywhere, searching for the hope the Sun Summoner can bring them. The politics of Ravka are explored from up close, preparations for war taking center stage.

We get to see more of David, Baghra, and Genya, though their fates aren’t always pleasant or expected.

Without spoiling the whole novel, I thought this was a fantastic continuation of Shadow and Bone, and I’ve already started to read the final book in the trilogy. The world-building is deepened, characters become more complex, and relationships are wonderful and awful – as they can be in real life.

I really can’t overemphasize how much I’m enjoying this series.

What are your thoughts on Siege and Storm, or the Grisha Trilogy? Let me know in the comments below!

Shadow and Bone

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I’ll admit that I’m late to the party on this one, seeing that it was published five years ago and already has a sizeable fan base. As I was searching the library for a new read, the spine caught my eye. It and the cover are gorgeous, and I’m glad it stood out.

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Objectively, this book was standard YA fantasy fare. There’s a simple magic system with rather straightforward world-building. There’s a heroine in love with her best friend, but intrigued by a mysterious stranger.

Well, standard fantasy fare or not, I loved this book.

Some of it was Ravka, the setting that immediately called to mind the stark beauty and culture of Imperial Russia. Some of it was Alina’s voice, and her growth as a character. Maybe it was even the premise of someone discovering within themselves an incredible power that they hadn’t suspected was there, as overdone as that seems to be.

I enjoyed the side characters and their development as well. The Darkling, Baghra, and Genya had interesting storylines that I hope to see more of in the rest of the series.

I didn’t think I would like Alina’s feelings for Mal, but the way they were handled were realistic. I think I liked this book so much because I found people’s emotions and motivations so believable. The characters could have walked right off the page.

From the moment I picked up this book I was absolutely hooked. I was so immersed in the story that I couldn’t put it down. While I usually dislike first person narration, I didn’t find it to be irritating at all. Instead, Bardugo’s writing had me glued to every page.

Alina’s voice was clear and compelling. I was emotionally invested in her journey, in her self-discoveries, and in the friendships and relationships she forged throughout the book.

If you’re looking for a rather incredible take on a straight-up YA fantasy, this is the one for you! I’ve already begun reading the second book as we speak.

Have you read Shadow and Bone? Did you think it was too over-hyped? Did you love it like I did, or not like it at all? Let me know in the comments below!