I Changed my Mind About Bitterblue

Helloo! I have been pretty busy non-stop for the past few weeks with babysitting, editing, and going down to PA for a friend’s wedding (which I still can’t believe happened) so this blog hasn’t been updated for a bit.

But today I am excited to be back an talking about a book I read earlier in the summer (after this I will finally be caught up with reviews so that’s exciting).

A few summers ago I read Graceling by Kristin Cashore and it’s companion novel, Fire, both of which were amazing. I also read Bitterblue, the sequel to Graceling, but I decided I didn’t like it, and I never ended up finishing it.

12680907Over the summer I’ve been rereading a few things, including Graceling and Fire, so I decided to give Bitterblue another chance. And I ended up loving it!

The first time I tried reading it, I didn’t have a lot of time to read so I would only read a few pages at a time before falling asleep, and I ended up losing track of the plot. I think that has a lot to do with my first impressions of the book. But this time I read it during my vacation time and I devoured the book in my favorite reading chair over the course of a few days and it was great!

If you haven’t read the first two books, I recommend doing that before reading this review because there will be some SPOILERS.

Bitterblue starts years after Graceling. Bitterblue is a young adult now in charge of her own kingdom that is still working to recover from King Leck’s tyrannical rule. Bitterblue, tired of signing papers in her tower with her team of advisors, decides to get to know her city on her own. When she sneaks out at night she finds a crazy cast of characters and many unanswered questions, like why is the city in such a state of disarray, and what are the majestic bridges leading nowhere? So she sets out to find out the answers to these questions on her own.

There are a lot of subplots to this story that don’t come together until the end, which may have had to do with why I lost track of the story on the first read, but I was really able to enjoy the structure of the book on the second round.

I also really liked Bitterblue’s court life and the way it was portrayed in Cashore’s world. I’ve always enjoyed court novels, probably has to do with all the Tamora Pierce books I’ve read. Court novels just lend themselves so well to intrigue, secrets, and gossip, which Bitterblue (the book, not the character) thrives on. It was also interesting to see Katsa and Po from an outsider’s point of view. During Graceling I thought they were super cute, but there were times during Bitterblue where they got a little clingy I thought. Bitterblue also has a closer relationship to Po, which makes sense since they are cousins, and becomes intimidated by Katsa at different points in the story, which is also understandable. Katsa is a force to be reckoned with. I really liked the way Po cared for Bitterblue, and it was nice to see another perspective of him beyond the mysterious character that he is portrayed as in Graceling.

The minor characters of the story are also well portrayed, and while I like Saf and Bitterblue’s relationship, I could also see her doing well in a relationship with Gidon. I’m not usually one to create my own ships for characters that aren’t cannon (other than Neville and Luna in HP – they BELONG together!), but I did like how Bitterblue and Gidon get along. She always felt comfortable with him, which was important considering everything else that was going on in her life. But she does well with Saf too, and I can see them getting along well in the future beyond the end of the book. Thoughts?

There are many puzzles and riddles throughout the book as Bitterblue tries to figure out what’s going on which made for a good read. There was a lot going on but the pace moved along well, and the story was always pushing forward.

I also liked the way Bitterblue tied the two previous books together, especially towards the end. It also painted a strong picture of Leck, even though he died two books ago. He remained a strong character throughout the three books without having too much “screen time”, which made for an interesting read.

Anyone else read Bitterblue out there? What are your thoughts?

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 9.46.01 PM

Advertisements

Ruin and Rising: A Great Ending

Hello everyone and happy Friday! And welcome to my 99th post!! I have been pretty busy these past couple of weeks between going to camp, babysitting, and editing which has been great! I love keeping busy but I also haven’t had much time to blog recently so I am making up for that today.

Other than Harry Potter, I don’t think I’ve ever actually bought a book on the day that it came out, but I started reading the Grisha series at the perfect time for the third book release back in June (still playing catch up a bit), and I was able to get it on its release date, which was pretty exciting. 🙂 I am sad that this review took me so long to get to, but I am really excited to finally talk about it and hear what anyone else thought about this final installment or the series in general. Leave your comments below!

ruinrisinguk

I must say I was a bit apprehensive about this book before reading it because I have read many trilogies where the third book isn’t as good as the first or second, and I really did not want that to happen with this series. But I can safely say that that was not the case with Ruin and Rising. At all. So don’t worry. It was amazing.

Many of the things that I enjoyed about Ruin and Rising were continuations of what I have already talked about in my last two reviews, so I won’t go in to as much detail with this review, but it was an amazing book and everyone should read it. The characters were complex, sarcastic, and real. The Darkling continued to be terrifying in his complexly enticing way, the Russian fantasy world setting continued to spellbound, and the action in the book kept me reading, even if the pacing was different from the previous two books.  Also if anyone hasn’t read the series be warned that there will be spoilers although I will try to keep them at a minimum. But feel free to check out my thoughts on the first or second books.

Ruin and Rising picks up shortly after Siege and Storm with Alina living underground as Ravka’s current patron saint, a life that has been touched on in the previous two books, but has never been fully explored until now. She is weak and broken after the events of the second book, but she is still on a mission to beat The Darkling by collecting Morozova’s third amplifier. 

Alina is also not the same character she was in the first or second books. After her stand off with The Darkling at the end of Siege and Storm she is much darker, and works to regain the power that she had before she was broken down, and find power that she never had (hence the Rising). She and The Darkling are now more similar than ever, and The Darkling is more powerful than before, which furthers the Mal/Darkling/Nikolai debacle which was about so much more than a love triangle. (thank you!)

I have a lot of feelings about the ending of this book that I would love to talk about here, but I don’t want to give too much away, which is why this review is on the shorter side. While I was reading avidly throughout the entire story, it was really the last couple of chapters that really got me going. Plot twists tend to do that. So if anyone has thoughts – good, bad, or ugly – on the series, the characters, the ending leave them below and we can talk! 

Also I am so excited to announce that this is my 99th blog post! I can’t believe I’ve made it this far, and I have loved blogging for the past 2 years (my gosh, that’s a long time…) Well, on to 100!

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 9.46.01 PM

Siege and Storm

Hello everyone and Happy Monday! Although it doesn’t feel like a real Monday for me because tomorrow I am packing my bags (actually I am doing that tonight) and heading up to camp to be a camp councilor for a week at FOCUS. The weeks that I am at camp are my absolute favorite weeks of the summer, and I have loved it there ever since I started going as a high schooler, so I am really excited for this upcoming week. 🙂

But before then I wanted to squeeze in one more review in an attempt to catch up with reviews on here since I am still behind. I was hoping to do two last week but that just didn’t happen between editing, babysitting, and getting ready for this week, but I am here now. 🙂

14061955

 

Also I suggest that if you want to avoid some SPOILERS if you are thinking of reading this series (which you should definitely do!) read my review of Shadow and Bone instead.

So Siege and Storm. I still have a lot of feelings about this series, and I am really excited to revisit the books again, which I feel will be much sooner than I usually reread a series. Siege and Storm starts with Alina and Mal on the run from The Darkling and the power he has over Ravka. While they are away they meet some new characters, including Sturmhoud, a famous privateer. While Alina’s true identity as the Sun Summoner must remain hidden, she and Mal must find a way to battle the growing power of The Darkling, all while keeping Alina in control.

The typical flow of the second book of a trilogy tends to push the main character to his/her breaking point, Leigh Bardugo definitely follows that path here, but there is also so many other things going on that it didn’t seem overly done to me. Alina now wears the antlers of a stag as an amplifier, which gives her greater Sun Summoning powers, but also puts her under the control of The Darkling. Much of this book is Alina’s struggle to reclaim her own power, and to find out what that really means to her. It is clear that she is falling apart on this inside, but that is all masked well by her exterior, which made for some good conflict.

I have read a couple of other reviews of Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm through my wanderings on the internet, and there seems to be a large group in the fan base who are Darkling/Alina fans. Granted I think The Darkling is a great villain. He is attractive, which makes other characters (and readers) drawn to him, he is good with words and knows what to say, and he is filled with drive and power. He makes a great villain and antagonist for Alina. And the fact that they had a fling in Shadow and Bone for a bit and that they are so similar (“like calls to like” with their Grisha powers) makes him all the more intriguing.

But in the second book he really does become downright creepy. Which was great for the plot and for pushing Alina to the edge, which is pretty much the purpose of this book. But that does not mean they should be in a relationship together. In fact it means they SHOULDN’T. I liked that Alina debates this so much throughout the series, because it forces her to question her own power and her identity as the only Sun Summoner, but their relationship is pretty much the definition of unhealthy.

He appears to her as hallucinations that only she can see. Danger! Danger! And he wants to use her power for his own good. More danger! More danger! These made for great scenes, and it made my skin crawl whenever he appeared. And it made me like Mal even more. Because he was an escape from the darkness around her, but it also drives a wedge in between them since there is this whole side of Alina’s life that he cannot relate to. It definitely complicates things which makes the story more intriguing and complex as well. So while I love The Darkling as a villain, I really cannot get behind the Alina/Darkling pairing, and I really don’t want to.

Speaking of pairings, Alina has many potential suitors in this book. I can become pretty cynical when it comes to relationships in young adult literature, especially if those relationships take the form of a love triangle. But with this book each character was really distinct and well developed so that they were all more than just a pretty face who had all the right things to say when Alina needed to hear them. Bardugo continued to make really convincing realistic side characters throughout the Grisha series, which I really appreciated. Each one had their own tone, their own sense of humor, and their own goals, which really made them stand out, whether they were potential love interests of Alina’s or not. And each love interest was more than that as well – it was a direction that Alina’s life could go down – Sun Summoner, commoner, queen. This added a lot more complexity to the story than just a pretty face would, and I really appreciated that.

While I found that the story wasn’t as tightly plotted as Shadow and Bone (which also makes sense for the middle book in a trilogy) the action and characters really kept the story going. Writing these reviews really makes me want to reread these again.

Has anyone else read Siege and Storm or any of the other books in the Grisha trilogy? What did you think?

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 9.46.01 PM

In Which I Obsess Over a New Series (Nothing New…)

Helloo everyone! I hope you have all had a wonderful July 4th weekend filled with relaxation. I am currently in the middle of a two-week mini vacation, which means I have spent a lot of time reading in the sun, watching movies, a bit of the World Cup and Wimbledon, and watching a fair amount of Parks and Rec. (I know I’m late to the party but I am completely obsessed with it at the moment!)

Speaking of obsessions…I am excited to talk about Shadow and Bone today. Usually I like to wait a while (maybe about a year) before re-reading a book, but I am pretty sure I am going to be revisiting the Grisha series by Leigh Bardugo (which Shadow and Bone is the first of) well before then. Like I might read it again after the book I’m reading now, and I only first read it a few months ago (still playing catch up here). shaodw_200

I first heard about the Grisha series while having lunch with a college friend, who insisted that I had to read it, and I took out Shadow and Bone from the library not too long after that. And after reading it I can say that my friend was right. I am also debating buying it so I can revisit again in the future.

Shadow and Bone tells the story of Alina, a girl who grew up as an orphan with her friend Mal in Ravka, a Russian-based fantasy land where Grishas, or people with specific talents (either for the elements, healing, etc.) serve The Darkling. Ravka is also divided by the Shadow Fold, a dark abyss that splits the country in two, and takes away its sea ports and trade routes. Alina leans that she might have the power needed to help restore Ravka and destroy the Fold, but things in the capital aren’t all what they seem, and Alina finds herself swept up in the middle of it.

There are many things that I really enjoyed about Shadow and Bone. The first thing I noticed as I read the first page was Bardugo’s writing style. It is sparse and to the point, but it also seemed very poetic to me, which I really enjoyed. The world itself also was very unique in terms of fantasy stories. The court life story is well known in fantasy books, but while many of the other court stories are based on European or British culture, Ravka is a Russian based world, which set it apart from the start. Many of the names of lands or people had Slavic roots, the world itself felt vast, and the winters sounded brutal.

At first I thought that Shadow and Bone would be similar to the Graceling series, which I read a few years ago and have recently revisited, in that certain people have special powers and are set apart from society etc. But I wasn’t too far into Shadow and Bone before it was clear that Leigh Bardugo was doing her own thing and was doing it really well.

Another thing I really loved about this book was Alina and her storytelling since the story is in first person. My creative writing teacher in college always said that you had to have a really strong unique narrator to pull off the first person narration well, and Alina Starkov fits that mold without a question. She is a quiet character who doesn’t always have a lot to say, but she is also hugely sarcastic and can hold her own against the other characters, which I really enjoyed. There was something about a quiet snarky girl that I really appreciated. That kind of personality could also be challenging to pull off in writing too, but Bardugo holds the balance well to make Alina a believable and likable character.

Another thing that was interesting about Shadow and Bone, was that as a narrator Alina (and Bardugo) never really stepped back to give the reader any backstory. Instead, things are pieced together as the story moves along, which makes the action more fast paced and immediate. I found that it took me a couple of chapters to figure out the world Alina lived in at first with the different Grisha powers and all, but the fact that I didn’t know everything, or certain things, pulled me in more. I also thought it was an interesting technique as a writer which I appreciated.  There were flashbacks to when Alina and Mal were younger, but the camera never really zoomed out to say here’s what you need to know about such and such. This also emphasized the plot and speed of events in the story, which was plotted and laid out very meticulously. I feel like that would be an interesting exercise – write a piece without zooming the camera out.

I also appreciated the reality of Alina’s relationships, particularly with her instructors, The Darkling, and Mal. The relationships were made very complex as Alina found out more about herself, her power, and the world that she lives in. This also flushed out the other characters in the story as well, and made The Darkling and Mal more than just the men (and sometimes love interests) in her life, which I appreciated. It made all the characters in the series more three dimensional.

Those were the main things that stuck out to me with Shadow and Boen, which I devoured over a few days, along with the other two books in the Grisha series, which I will be talking about next. I could go on but I don’t want to give things away. But you all should read Shadow and Bone, and if you have I would love to hear what you think about it. Also the movie rights for the book have been sold to the same people who did Harry Potter, so hopefully a movie for Shadow and Bone will be coming soon! With such a fast moving, action driven plot, I imagine it would make a great movie if they do it right. What are your thoughts on that? I want to know!

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 9.46.01 PM

 

Reading Narnia: The Last Battle

Hellooo everyone! I haven’t been able to blog for the past two weeks since I was preparing for and working as a camp councilor with a group of high schoolers at the NYC Rescue Mission for a week ( check out their website)! It was a really great experience and a lot of fun. We did a lot of NY-centric activities when we weren’t working too, and it was great to spend time in different areas of the city that I don’t go to all the time. I’m hoping to talk about it more fully in a future post.

Anyway, today I’m excited to wrap up my Reading Narnia series by discussing The Last Battle. (I was hoping to review it before camp but I didn’t have a chance to.)

The-Last-Battle-CoverThe Last Battle starts off differently than the rest of the books in the series in that the story starts off in Narnia itself. Every other book has started with the children being called to Narnia before they are told what the problem is, but since the story starts off in Narnia this time, the reader can watch the story unfold more which I enjoyed.

So The Last Battle starts at the end of Narnia’s days with an ape named Shift and a donkey named Puzzle. Puzzle is Shift’s slave and does whatever he says, so when Shift finds an old lion skin from one of the non-talking animals, and decides that Puzzle should wear it and pretend to be a lion, Puzzle does as he is told.

I thought Lewis did a good job of showing Shift and Puzzle’s relationship. It’s not that Puzzle just does whatever Shift tells him to do right off the bat. He argues with him and tries to get his opinion heard, but he is so used to Shift winning these debates that he doesn’t try hard for too long and usually goes along with what Shift says in the end. It is an interesting power dynamic and it makes the reader sympathize more with Puzzle from the start.

What starts off as a fun imitation game soon turns much more serious as Shifts starts claiming that Puzzle is in fact Aslan, who no one has seen for years. Pretty soon Puzzle is locked up, the animals of Narnia are lining up to see him, and the power is going quickly to Shift’s head.

King Tirian, a distant relative of  Prince Caspian, calls Eustice and Jill to help after he hears the news. There is much debate over whether this lion is the real Aslan, even though he is being greedy because after all Aslan has never been a tame lion. But the Centaurs have read the stars and learned that it is in fact a fake. I thought Lewis did a good job depicting this debate as well, particularly with the Dwarves, who are known for siding with whichever side will benefit them more.

I have to say that I was hoping to see more of Jill in this book, particularly after Eustice was introduced in Dawn Treader and then again in Silver Chair. I wanted to see more of Jill, but I also thought she held her own defending Narnia with a bow and arrow.

As I said before this all takes place during the last days of Narnia and Narnia has a very different feel to it. While the story kept the pace going, the land itself is slowing down, and after the battle, Eustice and Jill are ushered in to the new Narnia where they meet Susan, Peter, Edmund, Polly, and Digory. I also particularly liked the way Lewis wrote about the joy and color of the new Narnia as opposed to the old. He writes,

You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among the mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the window there may have been a looking-glass. And as you turned away from the window you suddenly caught sight of that sea or that valley, all over again, in the looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different-deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know.

There has been some criticism about Susan’s absence from The Last Battle because she became interested in lipstick and fashion and things like that.  None of those are inherently bad things, and that’s not what Lewis is saying. I don’t think that that is really what Lewis was getting at. I think he summed in up when Polly says, “She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age.” Beauty, looks, and being mature and an adult was what Susan began to idolize to a point where she couldn’t see the bigger picture any more. “Being the right age” was the thing that she lived for, and I think that is what Lewis was getting at when he said she no longer went to Narnia.

So those are some of my thoughts on The Last Battle, and I have loved reviewing the Narnia books over the past couple of weeks. Let me know what you thought about The Last Battle or any of the other Narnia books (or movies) in the comments below, and thanks for reading! 🙂

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 9.46.01 PM

Reading Narnia: The Horse and His Boy

I was hoping to post earlier this week, but I’ve been pretty busy which has been nice, so here I am now, and I’m excited to talk about The Horse and His Boy. As it turns out, the Narnia books don’t take very long to read, and I finished this one a couple of weeks ago. I started reading The Horse and His Boy when I was little, but I was disappointed to find out that Polly and Digory or the Pevensie children weren’t main characters, and I just couldn’t get into it so I stopped reading about five pages in. So it’s kind of funny now that it is one of my favorite Narnia books.

ImageThe Horse and His Boy takes place entirely in Narnia, as opposed to many of the other books in the series, during the rule of Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. It shows more of Narnia, and its surrounding lands, specifically Calormen  Archenland. Shasta is a boy living with his father in Calormen, but he is not happy in his situation and decides to run away with Bree, a talking horse from Narnia.

On his journey he runs into Aravis and her horse, Hwin, who are also running away. The two of them team up on their way to Narnia and run into more trouble and adventure than they ever planned in, especially when they discover a plot to take over the Narnian crown from the Pevensies.

In my opinion, The Horse and His Boy has some of the strongest characters in the Narnia series. Aravis is awesome, and I particularly liked her conversations with Lasaraleen, a snotty Calormen princess and old friend of Aravis, since the two are such polar opposites. Lasaraleen has a tough time seeing past herself while Aravis is primarily focused on her own safety and escape.

Shasta also has a great relationship with Bree the Horse, who has some great, funny lines.

It was also interesting to see Narnia from an outsider’s view, particularly a negative one such as the Calormen’s. The prince of Calormen is the one actively against Narnia, while his father, The Tisroc, is more against it, but is not strong willed to stop his son. This is where most of the conflict comes from the story, but it also sets up an interesting dynamic within the royal family.

Even though Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmund are not main characters in The Horse and His Boy, they do make an appearance as kings and queens of Narnia (which I would have found out if I had stuck with the book longer when I was little). I particularly liked this, not only because we got to see them in a different light, but we got to see how Edmund’s relationship with the Witch in the last book affected his rule as king, particularly when he shows mercy on a traitor . It was nice to see Edmund as something other than a stuck up, insecure little boy, so I particularly liked that. It was quick, but it really showed development within his character. 

And of course there is Aslan. He doesn’t have as active a role in this book as opposed to other per say, particularly compared to Lion, Witch & Wardrobe or Prince Caspian, but even though he doesn’t have as much screen time, some of my favorite, and his most powerful lines of his are in this book. (Some of these are spoilers but) two that really stuck with me were,

I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the horses the new strength of fear for the last mill so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.

and

Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. No one is told any story but their own.

There were others, but those are the two that resonated with me the most.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 9.46.01 PM

Reading Narnia: The Magician’s Nephew

The-chronicles-of-narnia-the-magicians-nephew-book-coverI have never read all the Narnia books before. I read The Magician’s Nephew and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when I was little, but then I got bored when I started The Horse and His Boy and found out that it introduced new characters when I thought we were going to stick with Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund for a while, or at least Polly and Digory. And that was the end of my Narnia reading as a child.

But a few weeks ago I decided to give it another try. The cat is out of the bag – I know that the series covered many characters, and I now know about the Aslan/Jesus metaphor – another aspect of the books that I wasn’t aware of when I first read them. I also watched Lion, Witch, Wardrobe and Prince Caspian recently and it got me in a Narnia mood.

Even though I’ve never read through the Narnia series, The Magician’s Nephew was a book that I returned to a lot as a child so it was pretty familiar to reread. I also used it in my senior paper about children’s literature and the changing view of the British Empire through the 20th century. Sounds kind of obscure but it was really fun to write. So in a way I was returning to an old favorite.

Reading The Magician’s Nephew for fun was much different than the last time I read it for my paper though. I found myself enjoying it much more than I expected, even though the story is a familiar one to me. Digory Kirke lives in London with his aunt, uncle, and sick mother. He is playing one day when he meets a girl named Polly next door and the two of them discover what Digory’s Uncle Andrew is creating in the attic – magic rings that will take the wearer to new worlds.

C.S. Lewis meant The Magician’s Nephew to be a prequel to the rest of the series, and I found that although a lot does happen in this book, there is a lot of set up and not as much action as in future books. It does have some memorable scenes and characters it though – the evil queen who wants to take over whatever land she is in, Uncle Andrew who is slightly mad and power crazy but is intimidated by the queen, Strawberry the talking horse, Digory, Polly, and of course Aslan.

Lewis also did a good job of telling the creation story while still making it his own. I love the idea of Digory et. al. watching as Aslan creates Narnia, and the way Lewis describes each person’s reaction to what is happening before them. The Queen is just too obsessed with power to notice, Uncle Andrew ignores Aslan as much as he can, convincing himself that he is just a silly lion and argues with the queen, and Polly and Digory want to simply observe the creation but are constantly distracted by the Queen and Uncle Andrew. The only character that is fully present is the London cabby and his horse who came along by accident – the most unlikely king of Narnia.

That’s one of the things I like about Narnia. It’s characters from our world are regular every day people who are introduced to Narnia and Aslan, and it is from that place that they do amazing things.  That is seen over and over again throughout the series. It is something that Lewis himself focuses on, and I’m excited to look at that further in these blog posts.

The story has a very 50’s children’s story feel to it, almost as if Lewis is narrating the story himself, which I liked. I feel like that’s not seen as much anymore with the author directly talking to the reader, and I felt like I was being read to.

I also liked the way The Magician’s Nephew set up The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (I need to find an abbreviation for that) by explaining the lamp-post, the Queen, and the wardrobe.

So although I found other Narnia books more action packed than this one (I am currently on The Voyage of the Dawn Treder), I enjoyed being reintroduced to Narnia and the characters that it holds. And whether you see Aslan as Jesus or simply as the lion in Narnia, there is no denying that he is awesome.

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 9.46.01 PM