Summer Catch-Up

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After disappearing for a summer far too packed with work, I’ve returned with more reviews! I thought I’d kick things off with some mini reviews of what I’ve been reading in my absence. While being less prolific than usual, my choices have run the gamut from non-fiction to comic books and I’m happy I’ve kept to my goal of stepping outside my YA comfort zone.

milk and honey

I’ve never been much of a poetry reader, but I greatly enjoyed this collection. While I wouldn’t categorize Kaur’s work as traditional poetry, it resonated deeply with me. I felt a kinship with many of the experiences she alluded to, and I’ll certainly be revisiting it when I’m in a pensive mood or I need a good cry in the bath.

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman

A book with this title was too intriguing to pass up, and it turned out to be a quick and easy read. While enjoyable enough, I found the essays to be a mixed bag. My favourites in the collection were those speaking of Serena Williams, Nicki Minaj, and Hillary Clinton. Still, even in my favourites there was a lot of repetition of ideas and regurgitation of source information. The author spent more time quoting other sources than she did forming her own ideas.

Wonder Woman: Warbringer

Centered around a teenage Diana, this novel was supremely enjoyable. While not a part of any current DC canon it was a great story with lots of fun and feeling! Diana was a greatly sympathetic character, but she was also a very believable teenage girl. The friendship she forges with Alia was really moving – and their distinct personalities and lives complemented each other. The supporting cast of characters was well developed and Bardugo sets an adventurous pace that makes it easy to read through without stopping. I can’t wait to read more of the DC Icons series and of Bardugo’s work as well!

 The First Bad Man

This book was recommended to me by a friend, and it was utterly bizarre. I found all the characters unlikable and strange. Everyone is clearly dealing with their own issues. The protagonist is clearly suffering from a mental illness, and an unusual one at that. It was interesting to see the world from her perspective. I spent a lot of the novel being frustrated with her, and yet I still wanted to know how the story would turn out. Still, it isn’t something I would re-read.

 That’s all for now, but I’ll be posting more regular content from here on out. What have you been reading this summer?

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!

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!