Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone...
A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.
Kaz's crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don't kill each other first.
This is the best adventure book I've read in a long time, and maybe the best adventure book I've ever read.
I thoroughly enjoyed Bardugo's Grisha Trilogy, but I didn't love it like I love Six of Crows. Alina and Mal's story was engrossing and well-told, but it wasn't a five-star read for me, and Six of Crows definitely is. There wasn't a single thing about it that I didn't like.
The worldbuilding is beautiful and intricate and so realistic I had to remind myself that Ketterdam and Fjerda are not real, and I can't vacation there. The level of detail in the description of Kerch alone is mind boggling, and Bardugo put that much detail and more into six other countries in a god-like show of writing ability.
If Bardugo's writing prowess is evident in the construction of the countries and cities in Six of Crows, it shows even more in her skill at creating and developing characters. I have a certain weakness for bands of outcasts that form their own little families, especially when they're on daring, death-defying missions. But the Dregs blow all others out of the water. I love these stupidly brave, flawed characters with all my heart. Each of them gets near-equal attention from Bardugo, who gave them all a detailed backstory without bogging down the plot. The details of their characters were revealed so masterfully as the story progressed that it felt like I was getting to know them while going on this crazy, brilliant mission with them.
I don't think I've ever been so immersed in an adventure story. The realism of the story never broke down for me (and I know that someone somewhere is hollering "But it's unrealistic that teenagers could do the things the Dregs do!" To which I reply, the world Bardugo has created is very different from ours, and it is one where kids are expected to grow up very quickly, so I'm not surprised that teenagers in the Dregs' position are far more quick-witted and talented than most teenagers of our world. And if some of their skills still seem a little out of reach, remember that you're reading a book in which a kind of magic exists).
Everything that I loved about Bardugo's writing and the world she'd created in the Grisha Trilogy have returned tenfold in Six of Crows, without it seeming like a rehashing of the Grisha Trilogy. Whether you've read Bardugo's first series or not, Six of Crows is an imaginative and impressive story that will leave you anxious for more. As for me, I'm glad the Dregs' story doesn't end here, but not quite sure how I'll make it to Crooked Kingdom's release in September!
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Simon Snow is the worst chosen one who’s ever been chosen.
That’s what his roommate, Baz, says. And Baz might be evil and a vampire and a complete git, but he’s probably right.
Half the time, Simon can’t even make his wand work, and the other half, he sets something on fire. His mentor’s avoiding him, his girlfriend broke up with him, and there’s a magic-eating monster running around wearing Simon’s face. Baz would be having a field day with all this, if he were here—it’s their last year at the Watford School of Magicks, and Simon’s infuriating nemesis didn’t even bother to show up.
Carry On is a ghost story, a love story, a mystery and a melodrama. It has just as much kissing and talking as you’d expect from a Rainbow Rowell story—but far, far more monsters.
I don't know how to carry on after reading this book.
I read almost the entire book straight through last night, finishing well past one in the morning, at which point I was basically a puddle of emotions. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it all day - every other thought in my head is related to Carry On, and how amazing it was, and how I'm probably going to go home and immediately start rereading it. A book hasn't made me this ridiculously happy in a long time.
I don't read a lot of romances, or get super emotional over them very often, but Rainbow Rowell has this amazing ability to write a romance that leaves me flailing my limbs like an overexcited toddler and feeling like a swarm of Amazonian butterflies have settled in my stomach. And the romance inCarry On is just so well done. The growth of Simon and Baz's relationship is so realistic and beautifully written (and wonderfully cliche free!) that I don't think I'll ever be over it.
Carry On is, at its core, a romance, but it's also a fantasy novel that loosely parallels Harry Potter. The first few chapters have a lot more parallels and veiled allusions to HP, but after after that, Rowell sets up her own magical world with a unique set of rules, values, spells, and magical creatures. The worldbuilding is honestly genius, playing off of what people expect to find and adding plenty of twists. The politics of the World of Mages and Simon and Baz's place in them are fascinating and intricate, and the magiclore is clever and intriguing (I especially love the spells - they seemed a little silly at first, but after we got a better explanation of them, I was blown away by how ingenious they were).
The adventure/fantasy side of the story is predictable (I guessed the Big Twist not even halfway into the book) but with enough small surprises that it isn't stale. The focus is on Simon and Baz's characters and relationship, and their roles in the magickal world add more depth to that without being the center of attention. That said, if you're only interested in Carry Onbecause of the fantasy aspect, Rowell created such a cool world and villain that it's still worth the read.
(And the reread. And the next reread).
I think the only thing I didn't like about this book was that there wasn't more of it - which is saying something, given that it's 522 pages!
Winter by Marissa Meyer
Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.
Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.
Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?
This book was hard to finish. Not because it was bad or anything, but because I didn't want this series to end. From the first page of Cinder, Marissa Meyer delivered lovable characters, fast-paced action, political intrigue, and beautiful storytelling, and she didn't stop until the last page of Winter. I think The Lunar Chronicles are the only YA series that has never let me down. I loved every sentence of every book, and I am so sad to be finished with it.
That said, Meyer absolutely nailed the ending. Bittersweet and wonderfully thought out, Winter is the perfect conclusion to this amazing series. The elements of Snow White are incorporated with the subtle genius that Meyer brought to her sci-fi/dystopian/political thriller/romance interpretations of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel.
The leading ladies of The Lunar Chronicles are the best part of the series. I could rant for hours about the importance of a series based around six fully realized female characters and filled with a beautifully diverse cast of characters, but for now I'm just going to thank Marissa Meyer.
Thank you for this exciting, heart-wrenching, stay-up-reading-until-two-am-good series.
I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah's story to tell. The later years are Jude's. What the twins don't realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.
Oh, my heart! One minute this book had it bursting with happiness and the next it was broken to bits. The last book to send my emotions on such a roller coaster ride was The Fault in Our Stars (although I wasn't reduced to a blubbering puddle of tears with this one, thank God).
I'll Give You the Sun is narrated by both twins, in two different times of their lives. Both narrations are perfectly interwoven, and the whole story is revealed to readers only at the very end of the book. Along the way, each twin narrates their version of events in their own distinct voice.
All of the characters were fantastic, but especially the twins. They both develop tremendously throughout the book, and their changes are seen mainly through the eyes of the other. This, combined with their individual artistic creations, adds volumes to their characters. I am head-over-heels in love with both of them, their myriad eccentricities, and the way Nelson wrote them.
If I ever meet Jandy Nelson, I am going to hug her for writing not one but two gorgeous love stories into this book. Fairly realistic and definitely swoon-worthy (I was honestly so happy I was lightheaded at one point), both Noah's love story and Jude's deserve some serious praise.
Towards the end of the book, Nelson starts to wax poetic a but much; the last chapter is filled with its fair share of cheesy lines. The chapters themselves are rather monstrous in size (some of them are 100+ pages) and should probably have been broken down more. However, the guidance-counselor quotes and incredibly lengthy chapters weren't egregious enough errors to take anything away from this shining example of YA fiction.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to find a rooftop to yell about this book from.
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Chaos Walking #1)
Prentisstown isn't like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone's thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. But in a town where privacy is impossible, there is a secret so awful that Todd, still a month shy of being a man, must run for his life. But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?
My friend has been trying to get me to read this book for months, and now that I finally have, I could kick myself for not reading it sooner. I need the sequel - as close to now as is humanly possible.
The Knife of Never Letting Go feels nothing like traditional science fiction, and yet it's one of the best science fiction books I've read recently. The Noise completely sets it apart; alternately used a plot device and a part of the conflict, it helps set a well-timed pace for the action. Even better, adventure replaces the cliched loves scenes that have been cropping up in YA sci-fi. There is no love triangle!
The near-constant action and/or suspense of the book kept me reading way, way past my bedtime. I became incredibly attached to the characters very quickly (especially Manchee, the goofball). The fact that Ness managed to turn a dog - who has a vocabulary of maybe twenty words - into a complex character speaks to his brilliance. The human characters, both good and evil, were equally complex, even the ones that only appeared for a few pages. Todd himself is a great protagonist - occasionally mistaken and interesting as hell.
The awful secret Todd uncovers is somewhat predictable, but Ness added in plenty of surprises along the way. I am obliged to warn you that some of those surprises were heart-wrenching. And the book ends on a cliffhanger. Which, of course, means I'm going to be reading the sequel even sooner...
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems beside the point now.
Maybe that was always beside the point.
Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.
When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.
That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .
Is that what she’s supposed to do? Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?
I am convinced that Rainbow Rowell lives in a radioactive library, because she has writing superpowers.
Landline is just as fabulous as all her previous books (which I love with all my heart), and maybe even more so, because it's adult fiction. I don't read much adult fiction for the simple reason that I have nothing in common with forty-somethings worried about high school reunions and impending divorce. Not only that, but a lot of those forty-somethings are insufferably whiny.
In swoops Rowell to save the day!
Landline tells Georgie and Neal's story in what is essentially three parts: the time they met, 1998 (where Past-Neal is), and the present day. The writing is gorgeous, the love story sweet, and the conflicts realistic. Georgie and Nearl have a much more believable love story than three quarters of the fictional couples out there. And they deal with their problems like normal people instead of reality TV stars.
Every character in Landline is one-of-a-kind and gorgeously written. They are all lovably flawed, and some of them are hilarious, and the kids are adorable. Even the side characters are fantastic. There's even a touch of diversity!
With a magic telephone, Back to the Future refernces, and fantastic writing, Rowell has taken the cake in adult romance. I don't have enough adjectives to describe this book. Ingenious, brilliant, and witty come to mind, with about a hundred others.
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire #1)
Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective Wall. At the center of the conflict like the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyeilding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lards and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.
Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no man-made metal; a tribe wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win the deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.
I feel like this series gets a bad rap, mainly because Martin doesn't balk away from graphic topics. There is a lot of gore, and a lot of sex, and some of it is described in detail, without the corny euphemisms most authors have taken to using. But A Game of Thrones, and the whole series, isn't about violence and sex. It's a hugely ambitious, intricately plotted novel that Martin pulls of with a level of mastery most authors can only dream of.
With over 600 pages, a few dozen characters, and the saga of an entire realm, A Game of Thrones is a daunting undertaking even for readers, but it well worth the read. I made my way through this book faster than I've read some 300-pagers, and I was so interested in the story I had no problem keeping the plot straight. With multiple narrators and a handful of subplots, sideplots, and counterplots, there's a lot going on in Westeros, but Martin writes it in a way that makes it easy to understand and remember the important details. A lot of the drama is focused in the political arena: who gets the throne, who's going to war, etc. I am not a fan of politics, but A Game of Thrones was entertaining and intriguing, and I didn't mind the politics at all.
Plus, besides the struggle for the Iron Throne, you've got lies, betrayal, love, war, gallantry, and adventure going on. There is absolutely nothing boring about this book. Martin mixes in elements of the familiar (aspects of Medieval culture, well-known motives, and common fantasy elements) with things we can only imagine, from monsters to winters that last for decades.Princesses, castles, knights, dragons, and magic fill the world of Westeros, just like they filled the fairy tales you loved as a kid. Only this is fantasy for adults (and young adults), and now the prince doesn't always slay the dragon, and the princess saves herself. A Song of Ice and Fire takes everything good about fantasy and raises it to the next level. If you like Lord of the Rings or The Princess Bride, or any other fantasy, I highly suggest you get your butt on over to the nearest book store and buy A Game of Thrones.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now...
Speculative fiction is about recognizing uncomfortable truths. Authors take everyday things that may only be slightly disturbing to us and introduce a society where they've become the law. We want to believe that societies like Gilead couldn't exist, and it's the author's job to convince us, to make us believe.
Set just after the initial rise of Gilead, when there are still people who remember "the time before," The Handmaid's Tale sets itself apart from most other spec-fic/dystopian books. Atwood builds the world of Gilead slowly; Offred doesn't so much explain it as mention in passing its various workings. Some parts of the rise of Gilead are less plausible than others, but taken as a whole, the world-building is convincing. The result is a complete, unsettling portrait of a society where all actions are policed, women are only valuable as domestic servants and childbearers, and no one is truly free.
Offred's narration is brutally honest and expressive. She relates daily life as a Handmaid personally but without complaining; her flashbacks to the time before are filled with longing. Readers will ache for Offred - whose real name we don't even know. I read this book with a mix of fury, shock, and frantic hope. The plot is driven mainly by Offred and her reactions to life in Gilead, and it's the strong connection readers will find with her that keeps the book interesting.
Through Offred and Gilead, Atwood explores the impact of misogyny and religious extremism (as well as a few other important ideas) by taking them to excess. Regardless of whether or not you find the idea of a Gilead-like society far-fetched (as some do), this is an important read. While it's unlikely the government will strip women of their names and right to property, there are dozens of organizations and politicians lobbying against women's rights bills, and women are not yet equal to men socially, politically, and economically - in 2014. This is the uncomfortable truth Atwood wants us to recognize when reading The Handmaid's Tale.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells--taken without her knowledge in 1951--became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta's cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can't afford health insurance. A riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.
The first time I heard of Henrietta Lacks was in seventh grade, during our genetics unit. "Her cells were taken by doctors and used for research," the teacher told us. "They're behind almost all of the medical advances made in the last fifty years. The cells never died, which is why scientists have been able to use them for so much research. Now open your textbooks to page two-fifteen."
Another science teacher recommended this book to learn more about Henrietta and the HeLa cells . Four years later, I've finally read it. I wish I'd read it sooner.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is all at once a family saga, a history of medical science, and a record of the role race has played in medicine. The HeLa cells launched a medical revolution - with questionable ethics behind it.One of my pet peeves with nonfiction books is dry, boring narration; if I wanted to read a textbook, I would've bought one.The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, in the words of the Washington Post, "reads like a novel." Descriptions of 1950s science labs were vivid, and even the long-dead characters felt alive on the pages. Immortal Life isn't a dull dissertation on medical history and ethics, it's a story - and a really good one at that.
Quite a lot of research and brain power goes into writing a nonfiction book, of course, but some authors write like they're looking down their nose at the reader - my second nonfiction pet peeve. There's a lot of science involved with Henrietta's legacy, and let's face it, we don't all know what somatic cell fusion is. Skloot explains the medical terminology simply and without condescension. The scientific revelations that HeLa caused were fascinating to read about, but the part I most enjoyed was the story of Henrietta's family.
Skloot went to great lengths to interview the Lackses and to learn about Henrietta and their experiences concerning HeLa. She pays them the respect Henrietta herself was denied for so many years.Their quotes are edited only for length and clarity, meaning that the dialects they speak in are intact. Although several members of the Lacks family never finished high school, and some of them were involved with drugs and crime, Skloot never portrays them as uneducated or as "bad people." Instead, Skloot writes about them fondly.
Learning that Henrietta's cells were still alive - twenty years after the HeLa line was first grown in culture - had a tremendous impact on the Lacks family, especially Henrietta's daughter, Deborah. Since finding out that Henrietta's cells had been taken, grown, and experimented on without her of her relatives' knowledge, the Lacks family has been asking for someone "to honor [Henrietta] and make right with the family." Skloot has done exactly that.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, raising her seventeenth white child. She's always taken orders quietly, but lately it leaves her with a bitterness she can no longer bite back. Her friend Minny had certainly never held her tongue, or held onto a job for very long, but now she's working for a newcomer with secrets that leave her speechless. And white socialite Skeeter has just returned from college with ambition and a degree, but, to her mother's lament, no husband. Normally Skeeter would find solace in Constantine, the beloved maid who raised her, but Constantine has inexplicably disappeared.
Together, these seemingly different women join to write, in secret, a tell-all book about what it's really like to work as a black maid in the white homes of the South. Despite the terrible risks they will have to take, and the boundaries they will have to cross, these three women unite with one intention: hope for a better day.
I don't know where to start.
I loved everything about The Help. Reading it feels like time-travelling back to Jackson, Mississippi, circa 1962 - 1964. Stockett's attention to detail is impressive, especially when it comes to the interactions between characters. The subtleties in the way Hilly, Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny talk to each other showcase the racial tensions of the early 1960s vividly. Stockett doesn't gloss over her subject. She tells the good, the bad, and the ugly - which is entirely the point of The Help. She doesn't try to cast the white women in a positive light, just an accurate one. The relationships between the maids and their employers; the maids and the children they take care of; and the maids and Skeeter are complicated - sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter.
All of the characters are complicated and dynamic, too. The three narrators are easy to sympathize with for a plethora of reasons. Their stories are very different, but each one is full of heartbreak, humor, and courage. Each woman has a distinctive voice and a lot of personality. Stockett presents their stories as sympathetic but not pitiful; the narrators don't complain about their situation, they just tell the truth of it. I especially love that Skeeter isn't portrayed as a saint. She doesn't escape the influence of racism, and it's obvious that she has to go back on what she was taught and overcome it. It was touching, to see her making that effort.
A teacher once told me that the reason we learn about history is so that we don't make the same mistakes out ancestors did. Jim Crow is a mistake I hope we never repeat. Reading about the lives of Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter was like stepping into a different world for me, but many of its lessons are still relevant today. The Help is fiction, but it isn't false, and that's what makes it so important. NPR called it "one of the most important pieces of fiction since To Kill a Mockingbird," and I have to agree. The Help is a heartfelt, wonderfully written book that leaves an impression even after the final page has been turned.
Ex Libris, Veritas
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As Simple as Snow