Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Review: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
Rating: 5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.54 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "Despite their differences, sisters Vianne and Isabelle have always been close. Younger, bolder Isabelle lives in Paris while Vianne is content with life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. But when the Second World War strikes, Antoine is sent off to fight and Vianne finds herself isolated so Isabelle is sent by their father to help her. 

As the war progresses, the sisters' relationship and strength are tested. With life changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Vianne and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions."

Review: Wow.  This book was perfect.  Absolutely perfect.  Brilliant, gripping, complex, honest, and so, so moving.  I've read a lot of WWII fiction, but I've never read it from this angle: from the point of view of French female civilians.  The two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle, reminded me a bit of Eleanor and Marianne Dashwood.  They are very different, but they're written about so well that I felt like I could see their souls - their beauty, their bravery, and their blind spots - and I related to each of them for different reasons.  

It's hard to sum up what moved me the most about this story.  But one scene stands out: after one of the sisters is manipulated and blackmailed into betraying a friend, she goes to a nearby abbey to confess her horrible guilt.  The Abbess is kind, but doesn't discount the damage of what she's done.  She does, however, make her ask herself the question: "what are you going to do next time?"

So begins this sister's resistance against the Nazis.  It was so moving to me to think that some of our greatest contributions to the world might in fact be born from our mistakes.  This book isn't just about atonement though.  It's about bravery in all its forms, forgiveness, sisterhood, friendship, love, loss, and survival.  

I loved it.  It could very well turn out to be my favorite read of the year.

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Bottom Line: Don't just read this book - buy it so that you can read it three dozen times.
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Friday, April 14, 2017

Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Rating: 4.5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 3.9 stars
Source: Purchased
Buy the Book: Amazon
SummaryPink is my favorite color. I used to say my favorite color was black to be cool, but it is pink—all shades of pink. If I have an accessory, it is probably pink. I read Vogue, and I’m not doing it ironically, though it might seem that way. I once live-tweeted the September issue.

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

Review: Ms. Gay is one of those extremely relatable writers who you are pretty sure would be your BFF if you met in real life.  (Think: Elizabeth Gilbert, Liane Moriarty, etc.)  She is honest and funny and blunt.  These essays ranged from the adorable (scrabble) to the passionate (health care) to the raw (sexual assault), but regardless of the topic, I was never bored.  Regardless of her stance, I was never frustrated - even if I disagreed with her.

I think this has a lot to do with Ms. Gay's superb and nonjudgemental writing style.  She is very clear that these essays are only one woman's experience and viewpoints.  (Read: not a feminism manifesto.)  Feminism and its related issues are messy and complicated and obviously controversial, but it's something we all have to grapple with.  This is simply a chronicle of Ms. Gay's feminist grappling.  

Where this book succeeds the most is that it asks hard questions and forces the reader to come up with their own answers.  Ms. Gay sometimes supplies her own conclusions, but it's clear that she does not expect her readers to have the same perspectives.  Her tolerant openness allows us to examine our own ideas and blind spots without becoming defensive, and judge whether our conclusions should be reexamined.  

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in feminism, or interested in having a good laugh.

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Bottom Line: A short, funny, and thought provoking book of essays on (bad) feminism by an author I will be on the watch for.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance Trilogy #1) by N.K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Inheritance Trilogy #1) by N.K. Jemisin
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads Rating3.8 stars
Source: Library
Buy the BookAmazon
Summary"Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle."

ReviewSuper unique and original. I loved how the author played with fantasy norms, and then threw them out the window. You know... kingdom in trouble, rightful heir reluctantly ascends to the throne, orcs and princes do battle, etc... Nothing like that happens here. 

For one, this novel shows what a matriarchal society would look like. For all the crazy inventive fantasy stories I've read, I have never understood why they have all been so deeply entrenched in patriarchy. And she totally pulls it off in a completely believable way. I mean, if you consider that no warrior is as fierce as a mother defending her young, of course it makes sense that you'd want a female army. That alone was interesting and refreshing. I liked how the matriarchy also had problems- Yeine herself has moments of sexist thinking when she benevolently pities men for their inability to completely control their emotions, even though she herself loses her temper on occasion. It really turned gender relations on its head and made me think about how some ideas about men and women are completely unsubstantiated- both in Yeine's world and in mine.

I also liked how the white city on a hill turned out to be pretty much the worst possible place you can imagine. The mythology surrounding the prisoner gods was fascinating and made this story really stand out. Yeine was a great character- at once both strong and vulnerable, clever and rash. It wasn't 100% polished, but it was pretty close. Expect the unexpected in this story full of danger and intrigue, and buckle up for a thrilling and innovative ride. I will for sure be reading the sequel.

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Bottom Line: A fantasy that thinks outside the box and is never predictable, in a good way.  Read it!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Review: Three Dark Crowns (Crowns #1) by Kendare Blake

Three Dark Crowns (Crowns #1) by Kendare Blake
Rating: 3.5 stars
Goodreads Rating3.86 stars
Source: Library
Buy the BookAmazon
Summary: "Every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins. The last queen standing gets the crown.

If only it was that simple. Katharine is unable to tolerate the weakest poison, and Arsinoe, no matter how hard she tries, can’t make even a weed grow. The two queens have been shamefully faking their powers, taking care to keep each other, the island, and their powerful sister Mirabella none the wiser. But with alliances being formed, betrayals taking shape, and ruthless revenge haunting the queens’ every move, one thing is certain: the last queen standing might not be the strongest…but she may be the darkest."

ReviewGreat premise, interesting world, but darker than I expected. I don't know why I'm surprised- the word "dark" is literally in the title.

Maybe it's because I have three (totally awesome) sisters myself, but I was so disheartened that they couldn't just band together to overthrow the obviously horrible cards they were dealt.  The way this book is written, you really feel for all three girls and want them to succeed, but know that they can't all win.  And, in this case, losing means death.  Very Game of Thrones-esque mentality going on.  And the supernatural forces at play make me wonder if it would even be possible for the sisters to survive, even if they came together and tried to change things.  

That ending really changed the game, and I'm curious to see what happens in the sequel.  I'm not completely sure whether or not I'll read it though.  If it's horrible and everyone dies, I may just skip it.  I cared about these characters and want them to be happy, and I'm not sure I'm up for a bloody ending here.  So I'll wait for the reviews on the next one and then decide.  But I'm certainly going to keep my eye on this series, just in case it turns in a way I hope it will.  We'll see.

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Bottom Line: An interesting and dark new series, though maybe too dark for my taste.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Review: Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5) by Sarah J. Maas

Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5) by Sarah J. Maas
Rating: 3.5 stars
Goodreads Rating4.6 stars
Source: Library
Buy the BookAmazon
Summary: "Kingdoms will collide.

The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius as war looms on the horizon. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don’t.

With her heart sworn to the warrior-prince by her side, and her fealty pledged to the people she is determined to save, Aelin will delve into the depths of her power to protect those she loves. But as monsters emerge from the horrors of the past, and dark forces become poised to claim her world, the only chance for salvation will lie in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear."

ReviewFor the love, will everyone in this book PLEASE STOP SMIRKING?!?!

While I really (really really) liked Manon and Elide, I felt like the other chapters weren't focused enough. They seemed to switch perspectives mid-chapter (sometimes even mid-paragraph) and it was confusing and irritating.

Maas went for a pop-goes-the-weasel approach to her plotting. She held all the cards close to her chest and refused to let the reader see the whole picture (or even most of the picture) for nearly the whole book until POP here's a twist that changes everything! I found this approach, in this particular story, to be more abrupt and jarring than welcoming. I would have much preferred to be just a little more involved in the plotting. And I thought this book relied a bit too heavily on the momentum from the previous books in the series.

Perhaps that's why I felt so disconnected from Aelin. Much of the book is from someone else's perspective, but even when we're in her head I never really saw her. I think Maas had some great ideas in this story. I'm just kind of bitter that I wasn't included in them for 95% of the book. (Me and Aedion, amirite?)

I would strongly encourage you to read the novellas before starting this book. Luckily I did, or else I would have been really confused. The novellas are not optional reading for this series. They introduce characters and set things in motion that you really should know about, and wouldn't know about if you skip them. Definitely read them, and do so before reading this installment.

I'm still very invested in these characters though. Well, at least I'm invested in the living characters. I have never once in this whole series really understood who the heck Mala is, or what she brings to this story. Or Mab, or Elena, or Anieth, or any of those other ancient/dead/"legendary" beings. I swear Gavin and Brannon are the same irrelevant person, and I wish they'd all been cut from the story. (I know, I know, It would change things if they were cut. But I still think the cast of dead characters is bloated.)

But the current characters rock. I'm team Lysandra all the way, and I'll be rooting for Manon and Dorian until my dying day. I'm really looking forward to the final installment, and hope Maas can close a series as well as she can open one. This was probably my least favorite book in the series. But there's one more book to go, and I am majorly crossing my fingers that Maas can pull off a conclusion worthy of Aelin.
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Bottom Line: Not as irresistible as I know Maas is capable of, but this book still has me DYING for the final book in the series.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Mini-reviews: The Throne of Glass Novellas by Sarah J. Maas

The Assassin and the Pirate Lord (Throne of Glass #0.1) by Sarah J. Maas
Rating: 4 stars 
Goodreads Rating: 4.22 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "On a remote island in a tropical sea, Celaena Sardothien, feared assassin, has come for retribution. She’s been sent by the Assassin’s Guild to collect on a debt they are owed by the Lord of the Pirates. But when Celaena learns that the agreed payment is not in money, but in slaves, her mission suddenly changes—and she will risk everything to right the wrong she’s been sent to bring about. "

ReviewI'm decided to get myself back in the groove with this series before starting Empire of Storms by reading the ToG novellas. I never know how to rate novellas. They're not beefy enough to merit a rating, by definition too short to really develop an entire story. That being said, it was a fun to be back in Celaena's head.

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The Assassin and the Healer (Throne of Glass #0.2) by Sarah J. Maas
Rating: 4 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.2 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "Meet the Assassin: beautiful, defiant, destined for greatness. Celaena Sardothien has challenged her master. Now she must pay the price. Her journey to the Red Desert will be an arduous one, but it may change the fate of her cursed world forever..."

ReviewProbably the shortest of the ToG novellas. In this one we're introduced to someone who will probably become important later, but but who I don't recall having met in the first four books. Seeing as I'm already struggling to remember her name that's not a good sign. However, I like how Celaena and what's-her-name interacted, and how, despite her own stubborn insistence on being selfish, Celaena actually has quite a big heart. It's almost like she cares against her will. And, though it was short, this novella left me wanting a follow-up more than any of the others.

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The Assassin and the Desert (Throne of Glass #0.3) by Sarah J. Maas
Rating: 5 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.39 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "The Silent Assassins of the Red Desert aren’t much for conversation, and Celaena Sardothien wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s not there to chatter, she’s there to hone her craft as the world’s most feared killer for hire. When the quiet is shattered by forces who want to destroy the Silent Assassins, Celaena must find a way to stop them, or she’ll be lucky to leave the desert alive."

ReviewProbably my favorite of the ToG novellas. I loved the setting, the characters, the intrigue, the twists, and, most of all, I loved Celaena's growth.  There are people who we meet in this novella who are important to know about, and who you wouldn't know if you skipped the novellas, so definitely read this if you plan on reading the series.  I also just really liked this story for itself.  A part of me wishes the books were set here instead of in Aderlan.

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The Assassin and the Underworld (Throne of Glass #0.4) by Sarah J. Maas
Rating: 3 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.37 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "When the King of the Assassins gives Celaena Sardothien a special assignment that will help fight slavery in the kingdom, she jumps at the chance to strike a blow against an evil practice. The misson is a dark and deadly affair which takes Celaena from the rooftops of the city to the bottom of the sewer--and she doesn't like what she finds there."

ReviewProbably my least favorite of the ToG novellas. While I love Maas for a million reasons, chiefly because her fearlessness, depth, and heart know no bounds... her ruthlessness knows no bounds either. This one had some perfect moments, but I couldn't shake the premonition of dread I felt the whole time.  It wasn't the good dread either - the kind where your heart races and you can't stop reading.  This was more the inevitable doom kind of dread, when you stand staring at a sand cloud that you know is coming and will probably ruin things but you can't do anything about it.  It was well written, but I didn't particularly enjoy reading this one.

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The Assassin and the Empire (Throne of Glass #0.5) by Sarah J. Maas
Rating: 3.75 stars
Goodreads Rating: 4.42 stars
Source: Library
Buy the Book: Amazon
Summary: "Celaena Sardothien is the assassin with everything: a place to call her own, the love of handsome Sam, and, best of all, freedom. Yet, she won’t be truly free until she is far away from her old master, Arobynn Hamel; Celaena must take one last daring assignment that will liberate her forever. But having it all, means you have a lot to lose . . . "

ReviewIf you've read the books you know how this one ends. I really liked getting to know Sam.  This novella really helps explain Celaena's actions in the full length novels.  Though it's brutal, I loved hearing Celaena's final thoughts: "I am Celaena Sardothian and I will not be afraid."  I think that is going to be my war cry next time I'm faced with a demon I don't know how to beat. 

PS, Arobynn is the living worst.
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Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Rating: 4.5 stars
Goodreads Rating4.11 stars
Source: Library
Buy the BookAmazon
Summary"After the grisly murder of his entire family, a toddler wanders into a graveyard where the ghosts and other supernatural residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn't live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod's family... 

Beloved master storyteller Neil Gaiman returns with a luminous new novel for the audience that embraced his New York Times bestselling modern classic Coraline. Magical, terrifying, and filled with breathtaking adventures, The Graveyard Book is sure to enthrall readers of all ages."

ReviewGaiman is so innovative and interesting. There's something refined about his writing that turns his (admittedly bizarre) ideas into something elegant and memorable. I love how he combines the macabre with just the right amount of humor and heart. I thought this particular story was a little slow between the 25%-50% range, but I could not put it down for the entire last half.  A little dark, but not too scary.  Fantastic mystery, lots of endearing characters, and a wonderfully imaginative world. I doubt I'll forget this one.

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Bottom Line: Probably my favorite of Gaiman's work.  It's an elegantly written book about a really bizarre story that is touching without trying to be.  Recommended!