Book Review: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Book Review:  Strange the Dreamer by Laini TaylorStrange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
Series: Strange the Dreamer, #1
on March 28th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 532
Source: Library
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MY REVIEW:

I finished reading Strange the Dreamer last weekend and have been trying to think of some way to eloquently explain just how much I adored this book.  There’s something so special about this story that words fail me every time I try to write this review.  Everything I write sounds inadequate when it comes to conveying just how much this story completely captivated me. All I can really say, and it doesn’t feel like nearly enough, is that Strange the Dreamer is one of the most beautiful and unique stories that I’ve ever read.

It grabbed my attention from those first harrowing moments where, seemingly out of nowhere, a girl with blue-tinted skin plummets to her death. Who is this mysterious blue-skinned girl, where has she fallen from, and why did she fall?  If that’s not an immediate attention getter, I don’t know what is!  The mystery of finding out what happened to this girl immediately had me flying through the pages.

Rather than delving directly into her story though, we instead begin following the journey of another character, Lazlo Strange.  Lazlo is an orphan who was raised by monks and later becomes a junior librarian.  This is the perfect job for young Lazlo, because you see, Lazlo is a big dreamer and for a dreamer who likely cannot afford to actually go anywhere and make his dreams come true, the next best thing is to immerse himself in books and escape to his dreams that way. Lazlo’s dreams primarily center on one thing, a lost, mythical city.  Lazlo has been nearly obsessed with finding this city for most of his life.  According to legend, something happened there 200 years ago and, when Lazlo was a young boy, the name of the city was somehow stolen from the minds of everyone who had known it, Lazlo included.  He actually remembers feeling the name of the city disappear from his memory, and all that is left behind is the name Weep in its place.  Lazlo devoted himself to figuring out what happened to Weep and spends every free moment in the library researching everything he can about his now unnamed city.  His coworkers and many others in his town think he’s foolish to waste his time following what is now mostly a myth, but Lazlo can’t stop. He’s determined that one day he will set out on his own and try to find Weep.

Lazlo’s chance to find Weep comes along a lot sooner than expected when a gentleman rides into town, declaring himself from Weep and looking to recruit the services of qualified men and women to help him rebuild his city.  Even though Lazlo has no practical skills that could help rebuild a city, he manages to convey just how much a trip to the mythical Weep would mean to him and demonstrates his passion for the city so thoroughly that the gentleman agrees to let Lazlo journey with him to Weep as well.

The rest of the story richly unfolds as we learn about what really happened to Weep, who the blue-skinned girl is and how she fits into the rest of the story, and most importantly, we learn who Lazlo Strange really is because he is so much more than an orphaned junior librarian and his connection to Weep is much more than just a passionate curiosity.

That honestly just barely scratches the surface of what happens in Strange the Dreamer, but hopefully it’s enough to show how easy it is to get drawn into Lazlo Strange’s world without giving away any major spoilers.  I honestly think the less you know going in, the more magical it is as the story unfolds.  Just know that there’s a little bit of everything: action, adventure, a romance, Gods, a God slayer, ghosts, and there are even God spawn (offspring of Gods and humans).

 

LIKES

Again, I don’t want to give too much away because I think it’s better that way, but here are a few highlights of this book for me:

Lazlo Strange.  I loved everything about this character.  The fact that he comes from such humble beginnings gives him that underdog quality that I always sympathize with, and then don’t even get me started on his love for the library.  A boy after my own heart… What I liked most about Lazlo though was his kind heart and his passion.  He’s just such a precious character and, even though I’m not all that much of a romance fan, it warmed my heart when he unexpectedly found someone that he felt that ultimate connection with after having been so alone for so long.

God spawn.  I can’t say too much about these characters, but I will just say that they are fascinating and complex.  Like Lazlo, they come across as underdogs because of the situation they’re trapped in, but then at the same time, they engage in some problematic behaviors of their own.  In many ways they are victims of a past they had no control over, but they aren’t without their own flaws either.  They also each have unique magical gifts that were fascinating to see in use.

The World Building.  Just…wow.  This is one of those places where I have a hard time coming up with the words to describe my love for what Laini Taylor has created here.  The world of Weep and especially the environment the God spawn live in are so rich, lush, vivid, unique…I really need more words here!  It’s just world building at its best, in part because we’re dealing with not just the physical worlds that these characters are actually in, but also dreamscapes.  One of the God spawn possesses the ability to enter the dreams of anyone she wants to and actually alter them as it suits her.  She often uses her gift to induce fear and horror, but when she enters Lazlo the Dreamer’s dreams, she is blown away by the beauty he creates in his mind while he sleeps.  His dreams are so beautiful that she can’t bear to change them.  She wishes she could stay in them forever and it was easy to see why.  As I was reading, the magical quality of those dreams reminded me of childhood stories like Alice in Wonderland or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Taylor’s writing/storytelling.  This was my first experience reading Laini Taylor’s writing so I wasn’t sure what to expect going in.  What I loved about her writing was that it’s both lyrical and poetic, yet it still flows so smoothly and so naturally.  As rich and complex as the storyline of Strange the Dreamer is, it still reads like a simple bedtime story.  It just has that “Once upon a time in a faraway land….” quality about it that really takes Strange the Dreamer from your average fantasy story up to the next level.

Cliffhanger ending. Wow, what an ending!  Everything leading up to the ending took me by surprise and then the actual cliffhanger just left me sitting there with my mouth hanging open desperately wanting to get my hands on the next book.  I normally hate cliffhangers because I hate having to wait so long to see what happens, but just like with the rest of this story, even the cliffhanger is a unique one, like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  My reaction was pretty much “NOOOOOOO….but you know, if it had to be a cliffhanger, that was a pretty cool one.”

 

DISLIKES

There was literally nothing I disliked about this book.  I know there’s really no such thing as perfect, but this book is about as close to perfection to me as it gets.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

There is no doubt in my mind at this point that Strange the Dreamer will be one of my favorite reads of 2017.  I’ve rated it 5 stars but I feel like 5 stars just isn’t even enough because it’s so special.  It makes me want to go back and lower the ratings of some other books I’ve rated 5 stars because there’s truly no comparison in quality.  If you’re looking for a truly unique read, I highly recommend this gorgeous book.

 

RATING:  5 STARS

 

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.

About Laini Taylor

Laini Taylor is the author of the National Book Award Finalist Lips Touch: Three Times, as well as the novels Blackbringer and Silksinger. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, illustrator Jim Di Bartolo, and their daughter.

Book Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

Book Review:  A Court of Wings and RuinA Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas
Also by this author: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)
three-half-stars
Series: A Court of Thorns and Roses #3
Published by Bloomsbury Childrens Books on May 2nd 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 699
Also in this series: A Court of Thorns and Roses (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #1)
Source: Purchased
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MY REVIEW:

 

A Court of Wings and Ruin is the third book in Sarah J. Maas’ popular A Court of Thorn and Roses series.  Although several more books have been announced for the series, my understanding is that those will be more along the lines of spinoffs and that A Court of Wings and Ruin is pretty much supposed to wrap up Feyre’s storyline.  So, how did it do wrapping things up?  Well, for me there was definitely a lot to love about this book. At the same time, however, I had some issues with it.  I guess my overall feeling is that while I did enjoy it, it didn’t blow me away like I really wanted and expected it to, especially considering how truly incredible the second book in the series was.

LIKES

Feyre’s Growth.  Watching Feyre grow from a young woman who seemed to have minimal self esteem when we first met her into the powerful and confident High Lady of the Night Court has been one of my favorite parts of this series.  She is now courageous and badass and has truly become Rhysand’s equal in every way.  She’s also just as much invested in saving their people as Rhys is and I loved watching her in action and seeing the lengths she would go to in order to save them.  She has grown from what was practically a little girl in that first book into a warrior and a queen by this third book.

The “Family.”  My absolute favorite part of this series continues to be the family dynamic that we witness between Rhys, Feyre, Mor, Cassian, Azriel, and Amren.  I can’t ever seem to get enough of these guys bickering back and forth, sometimes like children, but always like family.  Their banter gives me life.  There was some awkward family drama this time around when Rhys puts Mor in an uncomfortable situation without giving her any kind of head’s up.  Because these characters are so real and so complex, there were hurt feelings and a sense of betrayal, but like a true family, they’re able to put aside their differences and come together when they need to.  This group is so fiercely devoted to each other and any one of them would lay down their life if it meant the others would be saved.

Cassian and Azriel.  I’m not sure if this was supposed to happen, but somehow Cassian and Azriel have risen from the ranks of amazing characters to become my actual favorites from the series.  I can’t even explain specifically what it is about them, but I just adore them both and want them to find love and be happy.  It gutted me every time something bad happened to either of them. I also just love watching each of them in their element.  It was especially thrilling watching Cassian command the Illyrian army.

The World Building.  You wouldn’t think this far into a series there would still be such lush world building going on, but WOW!  I was so excited to finally get to see some of the other Courts and they were just as enchanting as the Spring and Night Courts.  After seeing the polar bears and the cute little vest-wearing foxes(!), I kind of wanted to live in Winter Court, haha.

Fascinating New Characters.  I loved meeting the new characters from the other Courts and lands throughout the kingdom. There were so many interesting dynamics at play as the various High Lords came together to discuss Hybern.  I think Helion intrigued me the most, but I really liked the introduction of Miryam, Drakon, and Vassa.

Lucien.  Lucien remains one of my favorite characters so I was pleased to see that not only were he and Feyre able to re-establish their friendship, but that he also seemed to find a place for himself in the service of the Night Court.  I was a bit disappointed that he got sent off on a mission for a large chunk of ACOWAR, but I LOVED that we were given an incredible backstory for him that I hope will be further explored in future books.

The Bone Carver and the Suriel.  I didn’t really expect to see either of these characters, so I was thrilled to have them turn up again in ACOWAR and to be used in such unexpected yet epic ways.  I especially never expected to shed tears over the Suriel, so kudos to Maas because she totally got me on that one.

Redemption of Tamlin.  Tamlin remains one of the most complicated characters of the series, but if this is the last we see of him, I think overall I’m happy with his ending.  As angry and hurt and betrayed by Feyre as he felt for so much of the series, the idea that his love for her would overcome that in the end is a beautiful thing.  If we do see more of him, I hope that he’ll find his own happiness.

 

DISLIKES/ISSUES

Okay, so…as much as I enjoyed ACOWAR overall, I still had some issues with it.  I honestly thought it was too long and that there were parts that could have been edited out without taking anything away from the overall story.  One of my issues with the length was that so much time was spent talking about what was going to happen in battle.  Yes, I get that they have to plan, strategize, form alliances with the other Courts, etc. as they prepare to battle Hybern, but after so much epic action in the prior books, I felt like I spent too much time with this book sitting around waiting for the excitement.  Once the battle finally began, it was incredible beyond compare, but I just expected more of the book to be devoted to it.

I’ll probably be in the minority on this, but I also thought too much time was spent on Feyre’s sisters.  Nesta was at least interesting, especially when it came to the tensions between her and Cassian and her training under Amren, who seemed to see somewhat of a kindred spirit in her, but nearly everything about Elain unfortunately just bored me.  There were so many other more fascinating characters introduced in this book that I would have rather seen more of, especially those from the other Courts.

Even though I enjoyed the ending overall, I think it would have been more powerful and more realistic if (please don’t hurt me!) SPOILER (mouse over to reveal) – one of the major characters had died.  Not that I wanted anyone to die because I love them all, but the Battle with Hybern was supposed to be the most epic battle ever, the war to end all wars, the possible end of life as they knew it, etc. and yet all of the major players came out okay in the end.  I would have been devastated of course, but I just think it would have packed more of an emotional and realistic punch if someone had made the ultimate sacrifice to save their world

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

While I have to admit I wanted more from A Court of Wings and Ruin, I still can’t deny that it was a pretty solid and satisfying end to Feyre’s journey.  I definitely see myself continuing with the series and I look forward to seeing who the next books will focus on.  Throwing my two cents’ worth in for books that focus on Lucien, Cassian, and/or Azriel!

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

A nightmare, I’d told Tamlin. I was the nightmare.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s maneuverings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit—and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well. As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords—and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

three-half-stars

About Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Throne of Glass series and A Court of Thorns and Roses series, as well as a USA Today and international bestselling author. Sarah wrote the first incarnation of the Throne of Glass series when she was just sixteen, and it has now sold in thirty-five languages. A New York native, Sarah currently lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and dog. Empire of Storms, the fifth Throne of Glass novel, released on September 6th, 2016.
She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Hamilton College in 2008 with a degree in Creative Writing and a minor in Religious Studies.

ARC Review: The Library of Fates

ARC Review:  The Library of FatesThe Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
three-half-stars
Published by Razorbill on July 18th 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 354
Source: First to Read
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FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from First to Read in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

MY REVIEW

 

Aditi Khorana’s The Library of Fates is a beautiful coming of age story that follows the journey of Princess Amrita of Shalingar as she sets out to save her kingdom from the grips of the power-hungry emperor Sikander who is looking to expand his Macedonian Empire by invading and conquering Shalingar.  Shalingar is a prized territory for Sikander because it is where the mystical Symballines are hidden.  The Symballines produce a rare and powerful substance called chamak that Sikander is dying to get his hands on.  Why?  Because when given to Oracles, chamak substantially increases their ability to predict the future.

When the novel opens, Amrita’s father and Sikander have worked out a tentative arrangement to appease Sikander and hopefully keep him from taking control of Shalingar.  Amrita is at the heart of this agreement because Sikander is determined to take her for his bride.  Amrita is not especially excited about this match because 1) who wants to marry a power hungry Emperor and 2) she is already in love with someone else, her childhood friend, Arjun. But she’s willing to make the sacrifice if it means her people are protected.

When Sikander arrives at Amrita’s palace, however, things do not go according to plan and Sikander’s men go on a rampage, killing or imprisoning anyone who gets in their way.  Amrita manages to escape from the palace, along with an Oracle named Thala that Sikander had been keeping as a prisoner but had offered up to Amrita as a wedding gift.  Together Amrita and Thala set off on a journey to find the Symballines and warn them that Sikander is coming for them.  At Thala’s suggestion, they also set out to find The Library of All Things, a library where according to legend, contains a book about every person.  Thala tells Amrita that if they can get to this Library, then they can locate their books and edit them to change their destinies.  Amrita can save her people, while Thala can go back and rewrite her history so that she was never imprisoned and taken away from her family as a young child.  While the journey starts out as a physical one, however, it becomes so much more.  It becomes a journey of self-discovery for Amrita as she begins to find clues that indicate she may not be who she thinks she is and that with her true identity, she possesses the power to change the course of history and save her people.

 

LIKES

 

Amrita.  I found Princess Amrita to be a very likeable character and one that was easy to sympathize with.  Her life up until this point has been very sheltered, so when she first escapes from the palace under siege, she really has no idea how to fend for herself.  In that sense we see tremendous growth from her throughout the course of the story.  She also didn’t really believe any of the stories about magic she had been told all her life.  In her mind, they were just that, stories.  So I enjoyed watching her make this journey and begin to understand and embrace the stories from her childhood and the magic they describe, and what they mean for her.  It’s a lot to take in, especially learning that you aren’t who you thought you were, but Amrita shows great maturity

My one disappointment with Amrita though was that I had hoped she’d be a bit feistier.  Reading the book’s synopsis and hearing that she spends most of the book on the run as a fugitive had me envisioning lots of kickass scenes where she keeps evading Sikander’s men, but her journey ended up being much more subdued than that. My fault for building it up in my own mind to be so epic, but it was a little disappointing.  She’s still a great character though and I especially enjoyed her growing friendship with Thala, especially considering how they are initially just thrown together by circumstance and forced to work together to get away from Sikander.

Varun.  I think Varun actually ended up being my favorite character in the story.  I can’t say much about him without giving away too many details about the overall storyline, but I will say he ends up being a very important character, way more important than he initially seems to be.  Amrita first meets Varun while she and Thala are on the first leg of their journey, a pilgrimage to a temple.  Varun pops up out of nowhere and self-appoints himself Amrita’s traveling companion as she hides among others who are making the pilgrimage to pay their respects to the goddess Maya.  Varun is a charming young man who keeps Amrita entertained with stories about Maya.  He seems pretty determined to educate her as much as possible and, in spite of herself, Amrita feels herself drawn to this boy.  Even though my brain was screaming “No insta-love!” and “What about your childhood love, Arjun?,” I could see why she felt an instant connection to Varun.  He’s immensely likeable and I loved his enthusiasm regarding the temple and the goddess and all of its history, especially once his connection to it all is made clear.

World Building and the Mythology.  Khorana does a beautiful job painting a vivid portrait of both Shalingar, the Macedonian Empire, and all points in between.  I also loved how she seamlessly wove in so many mythological elements to create a truly unique and incredible landscape for her characters to journey through.  I found the Symballines and their world fascinating, as well as that of the vetala spirits, and so much more.  It was like nothing I had ever read before so it made for such a magical reading experience.

Folklore.  One of my absolute favorite parts of The Library of Fates is the parable that prefaces the story.  It’s called the Parable of the Land of the Trees and it’s an enchanting story about self-sacrifice that features trees who used to be able to communicate with humans.  It caught my attention immediately and had me wanting to know how it related to the rest of the story.

 

DISLIKES

My main issue with The Library of Fates was that I felt like so much ground was covered in this one book that the author only scratched the surface on many areas that I would have loved to have read more about.  I would have loved to see more of the folklore and mythology since that was probably my favorite part of the book and I loved the way the author integrated it into the story so smoothly.  I also wanted more details in the various plots and subplots along the way because some of them could have used a little more detail to better elaborate what was happening and why.  And while I know the book was meant to focus on Amrita and her personal journey of self-discovery, I still wanted more exploration of Amrita and her relationships with all of the characters she interacts with.  As is, it was a lovely read but I was just left wanting so much more, either a longer book with all of these areas fleshed out more or maybe even a series.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

 

Even though I had a few issues with it, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend The Library of Fates to anyone who enjoys a coming of age story and who wants to learn more about Indian folklore and mythology.  I haven’t read The Star Touched Queen or The Wrath and the Dawn yet, but after reading this story and seeing that this book is recommended for fans of those, I’m more interested than ever in reading those as well.

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

 

Thanks to Penguin First to Read, the author, and the publisher for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  This in no way shapes my opinion of the book.

 

 

GOODREADS SYNOPSIS

 

A romantic coming-of-age fantasy tale steeped in Indian folklore, perfect for fans of The Star-Touched Queen and The Wrath and the Dawn

 

No one is entirely certain what brings the Emperor Sikander to Shalingar. Until now, the idyllic kingdom has been immune to his many violent conquests. To keep the visit friendly, Princess Amrita has offered herself as his bride, sacrificing everything—family, her childhood love, and her freedom—to save her people. But her offer isn’t enough.

The unthinkable happens, and Amrita finds herself a fugitive, utterly alone but for an oracle named Thala, who was kept by Sikander as a slave and managed to escape amid the chaos of a palace under siege. With nothing and no one else to turn to, Amrita and Thala are forced to rely on each other. But while Amrita feels responsible for her kingdom and sets out to warn her people, the newly free Thala has no such ties. She encourages Amrita to go on a quest to find the fabled Library of All Things, where it is possible for each of them to reverse their fates. To go back to before Sikander took everything from them.

Stripped of all that she loves, caught between her rosy past and an unknown future, will Amrita be able to restore what was lost, or does another life—and another love—await?

three-half-stars

About Aditi Khorana

Aditi Khorana spent part of her childhood in India, Denmark and New England. She has a BA in International Relations from Brown University and an MA in Global Media and Communications from the Annenberg School for Communication. She has worked as a journalist at ABC News, CNN, and PBS, and most recently as a marketing executive consulting for various Hollywood studios including Fox, Paramount and Sony.

Mirror in the Sky (Razorbill/Penguin, 2016) was her first novel. The upcoming Library of Fates (July 2017) is feminist historical fantasy, set in ancient India, and tells the story of a louche, misogynistic dictator overthrowing an idyllic kingdom, and the women who fight to wrench it back from his hands.

Aditi lives in Los Angeles and spends her free time reading, hiking, and exploring LA’s eclectic and wonderful architecture.

Book Review: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

Book Review: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. SchwabA Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
Also by this author: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)
five-stars
Series: Shades of Magic #3
Published by Tor Books on February 21st 2017
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 624
Also in this series: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1)
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
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Goodreads Synopsis:  Witness the fate of beloved heroes – and enemies.

THE BALANCE OF POWER HAS FINALLY TIPPED…

The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

WHO WILL CRUMBLE?

Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari – begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

WHO WILL RISE?

Lila Bard, once a commonplace – but never common – thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

WHO WILL TAKE CONTROL?

And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

 

MY REVIEW

I can’t believe we’ve finally reached the end of this incredible series. What a ride it has been and I’m thrilled to say that as fantastic as the first two books were, A Conjuring of Light is just as good as, if not better than those two were.  I loved it so much that I feel like I’ve been flailing about it for days unable to come down from my book high long enough to share why I loved it so much.  I’ve had a week now to calm down though, so hopefully what I write here is coherent and will entice you to pick up this series if you haven’t read it yet.  I can’t express how much I’m going to miss Kell and his many-sided coat, Lila the pirate thief, and Alucard and Rhys, a couple so precious that they made me swoon even though I am not typically one who swoons.  Anyway, here we go…

LIKES

Oh gosh, where to even start?  Basically everything from the first page to the last, but I’ll try to focus on some of the main high points for me and keep my thoughts as spoiler free as I can for anyone who either hasn’t started the series yet or hasn’t made it this far.

The Intensity.  I loved that this finale picked right up where the second book left off, started off with a bang and kept me on a roller coaster ride until the finale pages.  Sometimes the intensity was action related, as different people tried to step up and fight off the Shadow King, and sometimes the intensity was more emotional as everyone desperately tried to come up with a plan of action that could stop him or as they dealt with the fallout of each failed attempt to stop him.  I was fully engaged with the story from start to finish, either because so much was going on or because of what everyone was feeling.

Osaron the Shadow King. A.K.A. my new favorite character that I loved to hate.  I seriously hated everything about this character because OMG, how dare he threaten to ruin my precious and vibrant Red London!  That said, however, I absolutely adored the way Schwab crafted this character.  The shadows, the poisonous fog, and that oily blackness seeping everywhere were just so palpable.  I don’t know that I’ve ever found a villain so mesmerizing.

The Wicked Barbs and Endless Sass – I’m such a sucker for great banter, and Schwab is a master of writing it exactly the way I like it.  Even as these characters are frantically doing everything they can to save their city from dark magic, Lila, Kell, Rhys, Alucard, and Holland are still constantly engaged in these hilarious battles of wit.  They’re nonstop hurling insults at each other, teasing each other, and that constant exchange of wicked barbs and the endless sass is what makes me love these characters so much.  I also especially love the jealous exchanges between Kell and Alucard since Kell is clearly so protective of his brother.  All of that snark just gives me life!

My Ships – Okay, so everyone who follows my blog knows that I’m not usually big on romance, so it’s pretty amazing for me to have not just one, but two ships that I’ve been rooting for throughout this series.  But it’s true, I’ve been rooting for Lila and Kell to get together since they first met in the first book, and I’ve felt the same way about Alucard and Rhys ever since we first got wind that they have a history together.  I loved that as action-packed as this final book was, as my favorite characters fought to save Red London from the Shadow King, Schwab manages to strike what was for me, the perfect balance between action and romance.  We get to see progression in Kell and Lila’s relationship as they work together to try to save Red London, and it appears they could possibly have a future together – that is, if they can survive the onslaught of the Shadow King and the darkness he has unleashed.

The even more compelling ship though is Rhys and Alucard.  Schwab also takes us deeper into their shared history, showing us what exactly happened when Alucard abandoned Rhys before, and she paints such a sympathetic portrait of Alucard, that I think even if you didn’t ship them before, you’ll be shipping them by the time you hear the full story of what happened their last night together.  It was one of the many moments in this book where I shed a few tears when I learned the truth.

The Growth of Rhys – I feel like in so many ways this series was a coming of age story for Rhys.  When we first meet him in A Darker Shade of Magic, he’s this flirty, kind of bad boy prince who is in no way ready to become King.  Everything that he goes through in the series and especially the way he conducts himself in this finale shows that he has undergone a major transformation in terms of his maturity and his fundamental understanding of what it means to lead a kingdom.  I adored his character so much that I felt like I had a proud mom moment watching him and knowing he’s now ready to step up and lead his Kingdom.

The Redemption of Holland –For the first two books in the series, Holland was one of the main characters I loved to hate.  He always fascinated me because he was so different from Kell, even though they were both Antari, but I definitely never felt any sympathy for him.  Well, Schwab got me in this final book.  She gives Holland a rich backstory to explain who he was and how he ended up the way he was when we first meet him in A Darker Shade of Magic.  Not only did his backstory make me sympathetic toward Holland, I actually even shed a few tears for him.  Totally did not see that coming!  I also love that Schwab not only painted him as suddenly a more likeable character, but she also presents him with the opportunity to fully redeem himself to those he has betrayed since we first met him.

 

DISLIKES

Nothing at all to see here. Move along, people.  Seriously though, I have absolutely no complaints about this book.  When I first got my hands on the book and saw how enormous it is, I thought I might end up complaining about it being over 600 pages long.  Not the case though.  A Conjuring of Light is so damn good that I managed to finish all 600+ in about 2 days.  I’m pretty sure I’ve NEVER read such a lengthy book that fast before!

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

As sad as I am to say goodbye to these amazing characters, I don’t think I could have asked for a more satisfying ending to this series.  And maybe it’s just me, but I really felt like it was left open enough at the end of this book for Schwab to continue this journey if she ever wanted to.  I’d totally be down for it too – even a spinoff with one or more of the characters would be fabulous.  But for now, I am okay with bidding “Anoshe” to Kell, Lila, Rhys, and Alucard. May we meet again someday.  ♥ (And yes, Anoshe made me cry too, haha!)

 

RATING:  5 STARS

five-stars

About V.E. Schwab

ve schwab

Victoria is the product of a British mother, a Beverly Hills father, and a southern upbringing. Because of this, she has been known to say “tom-ah-toes,” “like,” and “y’all.”

She also tells stories.

She loves fairy tales, and folklore, and stories that make her wonder if the world is really as it seems.

Book Review: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life

Book Review:  The Inexplicable Logic of My LifeThe Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
four-stars
Published by Clarion Books on March 7th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 452
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  The first day of senior year:  Everything is about to change. Until this moment, Sal has always been certain of his place with his adoptive gay father and their loving Mexican-American family. But now his own history unexpectedly haunts him, and life-altering events force him and his best friend, Samantha, to confront issues of faith, loss, and grief.

Suddenly Sal is throwing punches, questioning everything, and discovering that he no longer knows who he really is—but if Sal’s not who he thought he was, who is he?

 

MY REVIEW

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life is a moving story about love and about what it means to be a family.  It follows the journey of Sal, a young man who is starting his senior year of high school.  Sal, who lost his mother at an early age and never knew his real father, lives with his adoptive gay father, Vicente, and has been raised in a loving Mexican-American family.  Up until now, Sal has always been sure of who he is and where he belongs, but when he unexpectedly starts getting into fights at school, he starts to question everything about himself. How can he have these random violent tendencies when he has been raised in such a loving environment and has never known violence?  He feels like he doesn’t even know who he is anymore.  As if questioning his very being wasn’t enough, Sal is confronted by mortality when a beloved family member is diagnosed with terminal cancer. It seems like his whole world is coming apart and Sal feels lost.  Thankfully his best friend Samantha is there to help him try to make sense of what he’s feeling, but when her world is turned upside down too, they are both left trying to make sense of the cards they’ve been dealt in life.  In many ways, this is a coming of age story for them both.

 

LIKES

There’s so much to like about The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. I love the fact that it’s primarily character driven.  Sure, there’s a plot. Lots of things – big things actually – happen throughout the story.  But it’s not really so much about what happens, as it is about how the characters react to and learn and grow from what happens to them.

I really loved the characters and the relationships too.  Sal is a great kid and since we’re getting the story from his perspective, it’s impossible not to feel sympathetic towards him, especially with everything he goes through.  Thankfully he has an incredible support system in the people around him.

This book is filled with incredible relationships, and not the romantic kind.  I’m talking about familial relationships.  The father-son bond between Sal and his adoptive father is wonderful.  Vicente is a nurturing father who always seems to know the right thing to say to put Sal’s mind at ease.  He’s such a great dad that Sal’s friends, Samantha and Fito, have practically adopted him as their dad as well.

Speaking of Samantha and Fito, the friendships in this book are beautiful too.  Samantha and Sal have practically grown up together and are as close as if they were brother and sister.  Samantha has a less than ideal relationship with her mother and so she probably spends more time hanging out with Sal and his dad than she does with her own family. Like siblings, Samantha and Sal spend a lot of time mocking and teasing each other.  Their hilarious banter was actually one of my favorite things about the book.  But even though they constantly pick on each other, also like siblings, they always have each other’s backs no matter what.

Fito is a newer addition to Sal’s circle of friends.  Like Samantha, he has a pretty rough home life and, at one point, even gets kicked out and is living on the streets for a while until Sal and Samantha find out and find him a place to stay.   Fito isn’t used to anyone looking out for him and doing nice things for him so their kind gesture brings him near tears, which made me fall head over heels for this poor kid.

There were many other beautiful relationships too, including that between Sal and his adoptive grandmother, Mima.  Their bond reminded me of my relationship with my own grandmother.  When I was growing up, she was one of my best friends and biggest confidantes and that’s the way it is with Sal and Mima.  Growing up with such nurturing influences as Mima and Vicente in his life, I could understand all the more why Sal was so confused by the violent outbursts he keeps having at school.

Aside from the characters and relationships that drive the story what I also loved about The Inexplicable Logic of My Life is that it’s a book that makes you think.  It unflinchingly tackles big topics like love, family, death, grief, nature vs. nurture, and even homophobia and racism and how all of these things impact Sal and his family and friends.

My absolute favorite thing about this book though is its message about family.  The Inexplicable Logic of My Life beautifully illustrates that family has little to do with biology and genetics and everything to do with who you let into your heart and who lets you into theirs.  Blood may be thicker than water, but love is thicker than blood.

 

DISLIKES

The only real criticism I have of this book is something that is hard to go into without giving away spoilers, but it’s about a loss that Sal, Samantha, and Fito each experience.  Even though it definitely added a moving and dramatic element to the story, I couldn’t help but think “What are the odds that that same tragedy would actually happen to all three friends?”  If you’ve read the book, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. And if you haven’t read it, you’ll figure it out.  Other than that one quibble, I was really pleased with this read.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for a moving and thought-provoking story about love and loss and what it means to be a family, I’d definitely recommend The Inexplicable Logic of My Life.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

four-stars

About Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Benjamin Alire Sáenz is an author of poetry and prose for adults and teens. He is the winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the American Book Award for his books for adults. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was a Printz Honor Book, the Stonewall Award winner, the Pura Belpre Award winner, the Lambda Literary Award winner, and a finalist for the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award. His first novel for teens, Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood, was an ALA Top Ten Book for Young Adults and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. His second book for teens, He Forgot to Say Goodbye, won the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award, the Southwest Book Award, and was named a New York Public Library Book for the Teen Age. He teaches creative writing at the University of Texas, El Paso.

Book Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Book Review:  Six of Crows by Leigh BardugoSix of Crows (Six of Crows, #1) by Leigh Bardugo
four-half-stars
Series: Six of Crows #1
Published by Henry Holt and Company on September 29th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 462
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker has been offered wealth beyond his wildest dreams. But to claim it, he’ll have to pull off a seemingly impossible heist:

Break into the notorious Ice Court (a military stronghold that has never been breached).  Retrieve a hostage (who could unleash magical havoc on the world).  Survive long enough to collect his reward (and spend it).

Kaz needs a crew desperate enough to take on this suicide mission and dangerous enough to get the job done – and he knows exactly who: six of the deadliest outcasts the city has to offer. Together, they just might be unstoppable – if they don’t kill each other first.

 

MY REVIEW

Six of Crows is one of those books that I could truly kick myself for waiting so long to read.  Now that I’ve finally finished reading it, all I keep thinking is what a fool I was to deprive myself of one of the most original and amazing fantasy stories I’ve ever read.  I feel like I’m not even going to begin to do this book justice, but hopefully, since I’m pretty sure I’m one of the last people on the planet to actually read it, you guys will all just nod your heads in agreement because you already know why Six of Crows is such a fabulous read.

For those unfamiliar with the basic storyline, Six of Crows follows Kaz Brekker, a teenage criminal mastermind, who has been offered an opportunity to achieve wealth beyond his wildest dreams.  How?  By completing what can probably best be described as Mission Impossible.  He has to break into the Ice Court, a heavy guarded military stronghold that has never successfully been broken into before. Once inside, his mission is to locate and smuggle out a scientist who is being held hostage there because he possesses knowledge on how to amplify and weaponize magic. Kaz knows enough about the dangers of the Ice Court to know that, without the right team, this heist is going to be nearly impossible, possibly even a suicide mission.  Lucky for Kaz though, he knows exactly who the right team is:  a deadly gang of young thugs, thieves, and runaways who are just desperate enough to agree to be part of this crazy mission.

 

LIKES

What I loved most about Six of Crows are the characters.  Leigh Bardugo has crafted some of the most fascinating and unique characters I’ve come across in YA fantasy.  I always enjoy stories that feature an anti-hero and with Kaz and his “Crows,” we have 6 anti-heroes! I love anti-heroes because they’re always such complex characters and these characters are no different. What each of the Crows have in common is that they have no family and they’ve each had to do some pretty awful things in the name of survival, including resorting to thievery and murder.  Through flashbacks that give us backstory on each of the characters, however, Bardugo manages to make this gang of thugs so sympathetic that you can’t help but fall in love with them. I also liked the angle that each character seemed to have their own, sometimes selfish motives, for wanting to be a part of Kaz’s mission and it added an element of suspense at times, as I wondered if someone would sabotage the mission to serve their own needs.

It’s hard to pick a favorite character because they’re all so badass, but Kaz is definitely near the top of my list.  As I’ve already mentioned, he’s a criminal mastermind. Even though he’s a teenager, his reputation precedes him and he is feared by many in Ketterdam, the city where the story takes place.  Kaz can be as greedy as he can be cruel, but he’s also so brilliant, brazen, and daring that you can’t help being drawn to him.  Kaz is also haunted by events from his past that left him alone and destitute, and he’s highly motivated by the desire for revenge against the man he holds responsible for what happened.

In addition to Kaz, there are also two badass female characters, Inej and Nina.  Inej, known as the wraith, has a reputation for being somewhat of a ninja.  Kaz calls her his spider because she can climb her way pretty much anywhere and can do so undetected, a very handy skill in their line of “work.” She’s also very skilled with knives and is perhaps the most murderous member of Kaz’s team. I just loved watching her in action as she cut down anyone who posed a threat to the team.  What made Inej especially fascinating to me was the connection between her and Kaz.  As much as Kaz tries to be all business, all the time and never show any emotion or weakness, it’s clear that he has a soft spot when it comes to Inej and her safety.  It’s also pretty clear that there’s a good chance the feeling is mutual.

Nina is what is known as a Grisha, which means she possesses magical abilities.  For the purposes of Kaz’s mission, Nina can use that magic to do useful things like slow people’s heartrates down until they lose consciousness.  She can also use her powers for healing purposes, also handy when you’re on a super-dangerous mission. As we learn from her backstory, Nina’s people have been persecuted for years because of their magic — imprisoned, tortured, and even burned at the stake.  Because the Grisha are the ones whose magic would be weaponized, Nina has personal reasons for wanting to take part in this mission.

Matthias is one of the characters that intrigued me the most.  At first, I couldn’t stand him, but the more I got to know about him, the more I just grew to adore him.  Kaz recruits him by breaking him out of jail and offering him a pardon for his crimes in exchange for his help with the mission.  Kaz sees Matthias as one of the biggest assets to the team because he used to work in the Ice Castle and can therefore give them the overall layout of the place, how the security works, etc.  Matthias is torn because he knows he should be loyal to the Ice Castle, but at the same time, how can you turn down a chance to be pardoned so that you can get your life back?  What makes the whole situation even more complicated is that he and Nina have shared history and he holds her responsible for his imprisonment.  Tension, much?  I swear I was convinced those two were going to kill each other for about half the book!  Beneath all that hate they seemed to have for each other though, you could sense there was something more, an almost smoldering attraction for one another.  Let me tell you – I’m not usually big on romance, but I was shipping the heck out of Nina and Matthias!

Jesper and Wylan.  While these two guys were clearly assets to the team as well with their knowledge of weapons and explosives, respectively, what I loved most about Jesper and Wylan was that they provided a bit of comic relief where the other characters were so intense all the time.  Jesper and Wylan teased each other relentlessly and their banter was just hilarious at times.

* * * * *

The world building in Six of Crows is also top notch.  Bardugo paints a vivid picture of Ketterdam with its rival street gangs swarming around duking it out for power.  It’s a dark and gritty world, as well as a dangerous one, filled with assorted thieves, predators, and traitors.  It’s hard to know who, if anyone, can be trusted.  The atmosphere definitely creates a sensation that all of the characters are vulnerable to attack by anyone anywhere so they have to be in survival mode at all times.

The Grisha magic system is also well thought out and vividly drawn. I went into Six of Crows without having read the Grisha series, which was probably a mistake as I’m sure it would have further enriched my understanding of the Grisha magic and their history, but even without having read it, I still felt like I completely understood the magic and why it would be such a valuable weapon if it could be amplified and harnessed. Imagine practically indestructible armies of Grisha fighting on your behalf.  You’d be unstoppable.

Action, Action, Action!  As I’m sure you can imagine just based on the details of their mission, Six of Crows is truly action-packed.  There are endless twists and turns, obstacles that need to be overcome, enemies that need to be taken out, plans that fall apart and then need to be improvised.  Although the novel starts out at a fairly slow pace as we are meeting each character and establishing the world of Ketterdam, once Kaz and his gang get started on their missions, it’s like jumping on a thrill ride that doesn’t stop until the final page.

 

DISLIKES

I can’t really say this is a dislike of the book, but it did take me about a hundred pages or so to really become invested in the characters and get sucked into the story.  Again, I’m chalking up my slow start to needing extra time to understand the Grisha magic and how it worked because I didn’t read the Grisha trilogy first.  Once I did get sucked in, however, there was no stopping me.  It probably took me 3 or 4 days to get to page 100, but then I inhaled the last 300 or so pages in another day and a half.  I guess my advice would if you are struggling to get into it, stick with it until they actually get started with the planning of their mission.  It might be a slow build in the beginning, but it’s a wild ride from that point to the very end.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

I truly loved pretty much everything about Six of Crows, hence why I’m kicking myself for having waited so long to read it.  Up until now, Victoria Schwab’s Shades of Magic series has been, hands down, my favorite YA fantasy series.  I have to say though, Six of Crows is seriously giving it a run for its money.

 

RATING:  4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of the Six of Crows Duology and the Grisha Trilogy (Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising), as well as the upcoming Wonder Woman: Warbringer (Aug 2017) and The Language of Thorns (Sept 2017).

She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, and graduated from Yale University. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

She would be delighted if you followed her on Twitter, elated if you visited her web site, and fairly giddy if you liked her selfies on Instagram.

Book Review: The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

Book Review:  The Upside of Unrequited by Becky AlbertalliThe Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
Also by this author: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda
four-half-stars
on April 11th, 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful.

Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back.

There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

 

MY REVIEW

To be perfectly honest, I went into The Upside of Unrequited assuming that there was no way it could possibly be as great as Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  I’m thrilled to report that I was dead wrong in my thinking and that Becky Albertalli has done it again.  The Upside of Unrequited is every bit as cute, funny, heartwarming, and relatable as Simon and destined to end up one of my favorite reads of 2017.

The Upside of Unrequited centers on 17-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso.  Molly is many things – she’s smart, has a hilarious sense of humor, is super crafty and obsessed with Pinterest, and she’s a twin.  In addition to being all this, Molly is also a hopeless romantic who is infamous within her circle of friends for having had 26 (and counting!) crushes in her life.  The catch with Molly and her crushes is that all of them are unrequited – Molly has never once put herself out there and tried to act on any of them.  She has a major fear of being rejected and somehow ending up the punchline of a joke because she’s overweight and is uncertain as to whether anyone would ever seriously be attracted to her.  In her mind, it’s safer to not even try to find out.  That’s the upside to those unrequited crushes — if you don’t put yourself out there, you can’t be rejected:

“There’s a reason I’ve had twenty-six crushes and no boyfriends. I don’t entirely understand how anyone gets a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend. It just seems like the most impossible odds. You have to have a crush on the exact right person at the exact right moment. And they have to like you back. A perfect alignment of feelings and circumstances. It’s almost unfathomable that it happens as often as it does.”

There’s also, however, as Molly has learned, a downside.  You’re left alone on the sidelines while all of your friends, and even your twin sister, are flirting and falling in love.  It feels like everyone is leaving you behind?  The big question of this book:  will Molly stay on the sidelines in the safe zone where she never has to worry about being rejected or will she take a chance in the hopes of finding that special someone who is more than just crush number 27?

 

LIKES

Molly.  I really loved Molly. In addition to being smart and funny, Molly also has anxiety issues and I found the inner monologue running through her head to be so relatable throughout the book.  I just loved the way Albertalli wrote Molly’s voice and could empathize with all of Molly’s insecurities.  If you’ve ever experienced anxiety or felt the fear of rejection, it’s easy to understand where Molly is coming from and why she’s so hesitant to put herself out there.  I also loved that even though Molly is somewhat overweight, she still has a great sense of style and a healthy self image. She isn’t trying to starve herself to make herself more appealing to anyone.  Molly is who she is and makes no apologies for it.  When a boy at a party tells her she’s “gorgeous for a big girl,” Molly’s very candid response is “F*** you.”

I also liked all of the nicknames that Molly gives to the boys she is potentially crushing on.  When Molly’s sister Cassie falls for a girl named Mina, Molly develops a crush on one of Mina’s friends and dubs him ‘Hipster Will.’  Then when she scores a job at a local shop, she meets Lord of the Rings fan, Reid, and dubs him ‘Middle Earth Reid.’  The story takes an especially interesting turn when Molly meets these boys because with each one, there appears to be the potential for more than becoming crush numbers 27 and 28. These two boys both seem genuinely interested in Molly.  Hipster Will would be great in the sense that she could continue to hang out with her sister, who seems to have ditched her to hang with Mina.  But could it be Middle Earth Reid that brings her out of her shell instead?  I have to admit to having a soft spot for Middle Earth Reid.  He’s got that “adorkable” vibe going on and I thought his obsession with Cadbury mini eggs was just too cute for words. It immediately made me think of Simon and his Oreo obsession.

Speaking of Simon?! I thought it was just so cool that Albertalli was able to work in a cameo appearance from Simon and some of the other characters from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda.  Best surprise appearance ever!

Sisterhood. One of my favorite parts of this book is the relationship between Molly and her twin sister, Cassie. Albertalli does a beautiful job of realistically depicting all of the nuances of the bond between siblings.  Molly and Cassie each know exactly what buttons to push if they are fighting and want to hurt each other, but they also always have each other’s back if anyone else tries to hurt them in any way.  I liked that one of the major themes running through the story was how sibling relationships change over time.  No matter how close you are as children, you’re going to grow up, move away, and probably start families of your own.  When Cassie meets Mina, her first serious girlfriend, and starts spending almost all of her time with her, it really makes Molly start to think about what it’s going to be like when she and Cassie grow up and start to draft apart.

Diversity.  There is so much diversity in this book.  Molly and Cassie have two mothers, one is white and the other is African American. Molly and her family, as well as Middle Earth Reid and his family, are all Jewish, while Mina’s family is Korean. The sexuality represented in the book is richly diverse as well. There were straight characters as well as gay characters, and Mina considers herself to be pansexual.  The diversity itself was fantastic, but what made it even better was how naturally it was all written in. It didn’t feel like Albertalli was just shoving as much diversity in as she possibly could, for diversity’s sake.  All of the characters and relationships felt realistic and authentic.

 

DISLIKES

I can’t think of a single thing that I disliked about this book aside from the fact that it’s over and I want more.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you’re looking for a book about relationships, being brave enough to take chances, and following your heart, I’d highly recommend The Upside of Unrequited.  It’s just a sweet and warm-hearted book filled with positive message about what it means to grow up and find love.

 

RATING:  4.5 STARS

four-half-stars

About Becky Albertalli

Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction. Her debut novel, SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, released from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins on April 7th, 2015.

Book Review: A Tragic Kind of Wonderful

Book Review:  A Tragic Kind of WonderfulA Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom
four-stars
Published by Poppy on February 7th 2017
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  For sixteen-year-old Mel Hannigan, bipolar disorder makes life unpredictable. Her latest struggle is balancing her growing feelings in a new relationship with her instinct to keep everyone at arm’s length. And when a former friend confronts Mel with the truth about the way their relationship ended, deeply buried secrets threaten to come out and upend her shaky equilibrium.

As the walls of Mel’s compartmentalized world crumble, she fears the worst—that her friends will abandon her if they learn the truth about what she’s been hiding. Can Mel bring herself to risk everything to find out?

 

MY REVIEW

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful follows the story of Mel Hannigan, a 16-year-old who is living with bipolar disorder.  Life with bipolar disorder is not easy, as we witness through Mel’s day-to-day struggles with the disorder, but for the most part, Mel seems to have things under control.  Where Mel really struggles though, as do so many others who are living with mental illness, is with her refusal to let anyone outside of her immediate family know that she has bipolar disorder. She fears the stigma of mental illness — that her friends will start to treat her differently or that she’ll become defined by her illness.  Rather than opening up to her friends and possibly allowing them to be a part of her support system, Mel instead chooses to keep her disorder a secret.

Mel is also living with another secret that is eating away at her.  Bipolar disorder has a genetic component — her beloved older brother Nolan had the disorder as well.  Tragically, he ended up dying because of it and what happened to him is a constant source of fear for Mel.  If she can’t control her disorder, will she suffer a fate like her brother’s? So not only does Mel not tell people about how her brother died, but now that she is starting at a new school, she doesn’t even tell people that she ever had a brother. She pretends to be an only child.

Those are some pretty big secrets for a 16-year-old to be carrying around and much of the novel focuses on how keeping those secrets really starts to negatively impact Mel’s life.  Just before Mel is officially diagnosed with bipolar, she has an episode that results in a huge fight between her and her best friends, Annie, Zumi, and Connor.  Her episode escalates immediately following the fight and she ends up hospitalized and doesn’t return to school for weeks and weeks.  She refuses to contact her friends because of what she’s going through and so they basically turn on her, assuming the worst about her because of some lies that Annie is spreading about her. By the time Mel does return to school, she basically has no friends and chooses not to make anymore because it’s easier to just keep people at arm’s length. She has a couple of casual acquaintances that she’ll chat with, but that’s it. A chance run-in with Connor a few months later clues Mel in that maybe keeping her disorder a secret and refusing to explain why she behaved the way she did during their fight wasn’t the best course of action, but by that point, it’s too late – the damage is already done. It still hurts though because she really misses Zumi, in particular.

Keeping her disorder a secret also impacts Mel’s romantic life as well. One day while working at the local senior center, Mel meets a boy that she thinks she might like to date.  Mel is immediately tormented by her usual concerns – how can I get close to this boy without him finding out about my disorder and, if he does find out, is he going to treat me differently because of it? Along with how she’s feeling about what happened with her friends, Mel ends up on a pretty big emotional roller coaster ride and the main question of the novel becomes how long can she continue to cope with her disorder while dealing with all these mixed emotions and keeping so many secrets.

LIKES

I really liked Mel a lot.  She’s a nice girl and I immediately sympathized with everything she’s going through.  One of the qualities I liked most about her is the way she handles herself at the senior center with the elderly residents.  She loves working with them and cheering them up if they’re having a down day or aren’t adjusting well to living there.  At the same time, however, she is self-aware enough to know when she’s on a downward cycle with her bipolar disorder and isolates herself from the residents because she doesn’t want to bring them down with her.  I was really touched by that level of sensitivity and caring.

I also liked how the author, Eric Lindstrom, accurately portrays bipolar disorder as a disorder that is unique to each person who has it. Not everyone who has bipolar experiences the exact same ups and downs, and some like Mel are what are called rapid cyclers.  I thought he did a wonderful job of capturing Mel’s ups and downs and of showing us that even though Mel has bipolar disorder, there is still so much more to her than her disorder.

My absolute favorite part of the book was the overriding theme that sometimes you need help in life.  Sometimes no matter how independent we think we are or how afraid we might be of being judged, we still need to reach out to others.  There are some problems out there that are just too big to handle alone.  I think that lesson is true not just for someone who is coping with a mental illness, but for all of us.  Sometimes we all have to let people in.

DISLIKES

The only real issue I had with A Tragic Kind of Wonderful was that it felt like Mel’s drama with her ex-circle of friends often took up too much of the story.  While I understood that the drama was meant to show it’s unhealthy for a person to try to hide their mental illness from those who care about them, it still just felt like too much time was spent delving into Mel’s relationships with both Annie and Zumi and seeing what led to the collapse of their friendship.  It’s one of those things that probably won’t bother other readers, but it just started to feel like a bit of a distraction to me.

FINAL THOUGHTS

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful is a beautifully written YA contemporary that paints an accurate and vivid portrait of bipolar disorder while simultaneously breaking down the stigma that is often associated with mental illness.  If you enjoyed books such as Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places and Emery Lord’s When We Collided, I think you would enjoy this read as well.

 

RATING:  4 STARS

four-stars

About Eric Lindstrom

Eric Lindstrom enjoys writing Young Adult novels, including his debut novel Not If I See You First in 2015 followed by A Tragic Kind of Wonderful.

English publication of both in the USA is by the Poppy imprint of Little, Brown for Young Readers, and in the UK and the rest of the world by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

He has worked in the interactive entertainment industry for years as a creative director, game designer, writer, and combinations of all three. As Editor and Co-Writer for Tomb Raider: Legend he received a 2006 BAFTA nomination for Best Video Game Screenplay. As Creative Director and writer for Tomb Raider: Underworld he received a 2009 BAFTA nomination for Best Action Adventure Video Game and a 2009 Writers Guild of America (WGA) nomination for Best Writing in a Video Game.

He also raised children, which led to becoming first a school volunteer, then a substitute teacher, then a part time kindergarten teacher, then getting a credential to teach elementary school, and most importantly the discovery that Young Adult books are awesome. It’s pretty much all he ever reads, and now writes, in his house near the beach on the west coast, with his wife and, yes, cats.

Book Review: Saints and Misfits

Book Review:  Saints and MisfitsSaints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
five-stars
Published by Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on June 13, 2017
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Netgalley
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Goodreads Synopsis:  Saints and Misfits is an unforgettable debut novel that feels like a modern day My So-Called Life…starring a Muslim teen.

There are three kinds of people in my world:  1. Saints, those special people moving the world forward. Sometimes you glaze over them. Or, at least, I do. They’re in your face so much, you can’t see them, like how you can’t see your nose.  2. Misfits, people who don’t belong. Like me—the way I don’t fit into Dad’s brand-new family or in the leftover one composed of Mom and my older brother, Mama’s-Boy-Muhammad.  Also, there’s Jeremy and me. Misfits. Because although, alliteratively speaking, Janna and Jeremy sound good together, we don’t go together. Same planet, different worlds.  But sometimes worlds collide and beautiful things happen, right?  3. Monsters. Well, monsters wearing saint masks, like in Flannery O’Connor’s stories.  Like the monster at my mosque.  People think he’s holy, untouchable, but nobody has seen under the mask.

MY REVIEW

S.K. Ali’s debut novel Saints and Misfits is a beautifully written coming of age book about family, friendship, love, religious faith, and so much more. It’s also a book that focuses on the importance of not judging people, of not making assumptions about people you don’t even know based on how they look or how they’re dressed, or maybe even how religious or not religious they may seem.  Saints and Misfits tackles all of these important themes and allows us to explore them through the eyes of a hijabi teen, Janna Yusuf, as she navigates her way through life in her high school, at home, and in her Muslim community.

For the most part, Janna’s life is just like many other teens.  Her parents are divorced and Janna shares an apartment with her mother and her older brother, Muhammad.  Janna, a sophomore in high school, is fairly popular at school, works hard to get good grades, and is also starting to become interested in boys. Outside of school, Janna keeps herself busy with a part-time job taking care of her elderly neighbor Mr. Ram and also by pitching in as a photographer and website maintainer at the mosque where her uncle serves as Imam.

Janna is also a young woman with two very big secrets that she is trying to keep hidden from her loved ones and her community: 1) that she is attracted to Jeremy, a cute non-Muslim boy from school and she’s afraid that her family will not approve, and 2) that while attending a party at her friend Fizz’s house, Janna is nearly raped by Fizz’s cousin, Farooq.  Janna is traumatized and ashamed about what happened with Farooq but is afraid to tell anyone because Farooq is a very well- respected member of their close-knit Muslim community.  She doesn’t think anyone will believe her.  Janna’s experience is made all the more traumatic by the fact that Farooq seems to turn up nearly everywhere she goes, lurking in the background, almost as if he’s stalking her.  Janna’s two secrets drive much of the book’s storyline as she must decide what to do about each of them.  Will she choose to pursue her attraction to Jeremy and perhaps have to deal with the disapproval of her loved ones?  And will she find her voice and speak out against Farooq, to let her community know that he’s not a man to be revered and respected, but instead, he’s really a monster?

 

LIKES

There’s so much to love about Saints and Misfits, but I’d have to say my favorite part is the wonderful cast of characters.

Janna.  I adored everything about Janna.  She’s super smart, hilarious, a little bit snarky, and just an all-around likeable character, probably one of the most likeable characters I’ve read so far this year.  As if all of that wasn’t cool enough, Janna is also a Flannery O’Connor loving book nerd! If I had gone to school with Janna, I totally would have wanted to be friends with her.  I also found her voice to be authentic and I loved seeing the events of the story unfold from her perspective.  Her journey to find herself and to ultimately decide what kind of person she wants to be is such a compelling one.

Muhammad.  Janna’s older brother Muhammad is a great character too. He’s a typical annoying older brother at times, but he’s also just an all around good guy.  He’s protective of both his mother and his little sister, and he’s also adorably head over heels in love with his girlfriend, who Janna has dubbed “Saint Sarah” because the girl appears to be perfect in nearly every way.  (Janna learns that she’s wrong to make such a judgment about Sarah—that Sarah is human and has a past just like everyone else — but I’ll leave the details about that for you to discover on your own).

Sausun.  After Janna, Sausun is probably my next favorite character.  I loved Sausun because she comes across as kind of a badass. She’s tough, not easy to impress, and she wears a niqab accessorized by Doc Martens.  She also hosts a hilarious YouTube show called Niqabi Ninjas, which she says she does to “lighten things up” so that people won’t be afraid of her and of other Niqabi (girls who cover their faces, in contrast to hijabis like Janna who just cover their hair).  What I loved most about Sausun though was how she steps up and gives Janna the metaphorical kick in the pants that she needs to try to stand up to Farooq.

Nuah.  Nuah is such a loveable character. I loved this guy so much.  Janna meets him at the senior center where she takes her neighbor, Mr. Ram, every week.  Where Farooq’s presence suffocates and overwhelms Janna, Nuah’s presence puts her at ease and whether she realizes it or not, she’s more herself around Nuah than she is around any another male we see her with in the story.  Nuah is super sweet, always sees the bright side of things, and loves to tell jokes and be silly.  He’s a big hit with all of the seniors at the center, and he also clearly likes Janna even though she doesn’t seem to realize it. As we learn during the course of the story, Nuah also is truly devout as opposed to the fake Farooq, who may have memorized the entire Quran but clearly has no interest in what it actually means.

There are also tons of really likeable secondary characters as well, like Janna’s uncle, who runs an advice column as part of his duties for the mosque.  He sends his answers to Janna so that she can edit/proofread them, so we get to see them as well.  He always has such warm and witty responses to the questions that are asked of him. You can’t help but chuckle when reading them.

In addition to the fabulous cast of characters, I also loved the realistic representation of the Muslim community.  Janna’s community is close-knit and supportive, with everyone pitching in and helping wherever they can.  I loved the positive depiction, which is so important these days when there are those who constantly try to demonize Muslims.  Ali does a wonderful job of illustrating that the Muslim community is just like almost every community out there, and she does it in a realistic way.  Yes, the community is positive overall and filled with caring people, but also like any other community out there, it has its issues as well, in this case the issue being Farooq.

Diversity.  Saints and Misfits is overflowing with diversity in the most wonderful way.  As I’ve already mentioned, the novel is set in a Muslim community and most of the main characters are Muslim, with both Hijabis and Niqabis being represented.  On a side note, while I’m thinking about the different types of coverings that can be worn, one of the things I really loved about the book was how Ali illustrates that just like with any other religion, different people interpret the Quran in different ways and thus their practice of the religion is very individualized. Just like not all Christians are the same, not all Muslims are the same either.

But the diversity doesn’t end there.  In addition to being Muslim, Janna is also half-Egyptian and half-Indian. Mr. Ram, the neighbor Janna cares for, is Hindu, and Ms. Kolbinsky, another elderly neighbor (who happens to have a crush on Mr. Ram!) is newly arrived from Poland.

 

DISLIKES

That it’s over?  Seriously. I adored Janna and her friends so much and would definitely be up for reading more about them, especially some of the characters that we just barely scratched the surface on. I’d totally be up for a standalone book on Sausun, Nuah, or even Janna’s brother Muhammad.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Saints and Misfits is an important novel because of the themes it explores and because of its realistic depiction of a Muslim community.  What makes this book even more special though is that it’s not just an important read, it’s a beautifully written and engaging read as well, one of my favorites of the year so far.

I read an article in Entertainment Weekly this week about books that should be made into TV shows and Saints and Misfits was one of the books on the list.  I actually really hope it happens because I think it with such a diverse and vibrant cast of characters, it would make for a very entertaining show.

 

RATING:  5 STARS

Thanks so much to S.K. Ali, Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, and Netgalley for the opportunity to preview this book.

five-stars

About S.K. Ali

S.K. Ali is a teacher based in Toronto whose writing on Muslim culture and life has appeared in the Toronto Star. Her family of Muslim scholars is consistently listed in the The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World, and her insight into Muslim culture is both personal and far-reaching. A mother of a teenage daughter herself, S.K. Ali’s debut YA novel is a beautiful and nuanced story about a young woman exploring her identity through friendship, family, and faith.

Book Review – Empress of a Thousand Skies

Book Review – Empress of a Thousand SkiesEmpress of a Thousand Skies (Empress of a Thousand Skies, #1) by Rhoda Belleza
three-half-stars
Series: Empress of a Thousand Skies #1
Published by Razorbill on February 7th 2017
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 314
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Crown princess Rhiannon Ta’an wants vengeance.  The only surviving heir to an ancient Kalusian dynasty, Rhee has spent her life training to destroy the people who killed her family. Now, on the eve of her coronation, the time has finally come for Rhee to claim her throne – and her revenge.

Alyosha is a Wraetan who has risen above his war refugee origins to find fame as the dashing star of a DroneVision show. Despite his popularity, Aly struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and the pressure of being perfect in the public eye.

Their paths collide with one brutal act of violence: Rhee is attacked, barely escaping with her life. Aly is blamed for her presumed murder.  The princess and her accused killer are forced to go into hiding – even as a war between planets is waged in Rhee’s name. But soon, Rhee and Aly discover that the assassination attempt is just one part of a sinister plot. Bound together by an evil that only they can stop, the two fugitives must join forces to save the galaxy.  In this exhilarating debut for fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy, Rhoda Belleza crafts a powerful saga of vengeance, warfare, and the true meaning of legacy.

 

MY REVIEW

 

Rhoda Belleza’s Empress of a Thousand Skies is a novel I picked up because it’s advertised as being for fans of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles and Pierce Brown’s Red Rising trilogy.  Since those are two series that I’m currently reading and really love, I thought this would be a fantastic read for me.  For the most part it was, too. I thought it was a very exciting adventure with a lot of twists and turns in the plot and two very compelling main characters. That said, I did have a few issues with it though — mainly that the synopsis is rather misleading. It states that main characters Alyosha (known as Aly) and Rhiannon (called Rhee) will “join forces to save the galaxy.” Sounds pretty exciting, right? And I’m waiting for it to happen with each passing chapter…and waiting…and waiting, and guess what? Rhee and Aly don’t even meet in the first book. You can tell that’s the direction the series is most likely moving in, but I was surprised and a little frustrated to reach the end and the two of them had never crossed paths yet.

LIKES

That gripe aside, I really enjoyed the overall story. It’s an exciting mix of science fiction and politics, deception and betrayal, and it also tackles some pretty big topics that are relevant to our own society such as racial prejudice and scapegoating, as well as privacy issues that can arise because we surround ourselves all the time with technology that can be hacked.

I also really liked both of the main characters and was sympathetic to both of their stories, which were presented in a dual point of view. Rhee’s entire family was killed in an explosion so she’s the last surviving member of the Kalusian dynasty. She thinks she knows who killed her family and has been training for years to seek her revenge against the killer. She plans to exact revenge on her 16th birthday when she will be crowned Empress. All doesn’t go according to plan though because an attempt is made on her life, and presumed dead and not knowing who she can trust anymore, Rhee goes into hiding until she can figure out who has betrayed her and how she can get the throne back and uphold her father’s legacy.

Aly’s story is equally compelling. He is a Wraetan and a war refugee who, like Rhee, has lost his entire family. He lost his when Wraeta was destroyed ten years ago by Kalu during the Great War. Aly manages to overcome the anti-refugee sentiment and rises in status to become a famous TV star. Even though he is a star, however, he still struggles with anti-Wraetan prejudices and is often belittled because of his dark skin color. When Aly finds evidence that Rhee may not be dead after all and attempts to broadcast this news, he suddenly finds himself the prime suspect in her murder. The real perpetrators knew he would make for the ideal scapegoat because of the racist attitudes toward his people. Aly’s journey then parallels Rhee’s as he too must go into hiding until he can figure out his next move and who he can trust.

 

DISLIKES

There was a lot of info dumping in the beginning as the author set out to describe all of the different planets and territories in this galaxy as well as the backstories of each of these characters. It’s to be expected since she’s creating an entire galaxy from scratch, and the world building itself is phenomenal, but it did tend to slow the pace down at the beginning.  Once she got that out of the way, however, the story really took off for me and I read the whole book in less than two days.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

Empress of a Thousand Skies is a book I’d definitely recommend to sci fi fans and to anyone who enjoys political intrigue. It’s like House of Cards set in space, and I definitely want to read the second book when it comes out to see how Rhee and Aly finally do join forces to take down their common enemy and stop a war that threatens to tear apart their world.

 

RATING:  3.5 STARS

three-half-stars

About Rhoda Belleza

Rhoda Belleza was raised in Los Angeles, where she grew up writing XFiles fanfiction and stuffing her face with avocados. When she’s not writing, Rhoda obsesses over nail art tutorials, watches kung fu movies, and sews together crooked things that pass for clothes. She’s a children’s editor at a publishing house and writes from a sunny Brooklyn apartment stuffed far too many bikes and far too many shoes. Empress of a Thousand Skies is her debut novel.