On “Siege and Storm” by Leigh Bardugo

51OGPbo8TzL__SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Ahhh…I was so eager to get my hands on the rest of the Grisha trilogy after reading the first installment, Shadow and Bone. Every bit of Bardugo’s narrative, character development, and bleak Russian detail captivated me. But as every reader should know by now, these obsessions are never good for one’s health as the following novels are always slight, if not complete, letdowns.

I’ll start with the relationship between Alina and Mal. To be blunt–I hate it. Deeply. With a passion. As separate characters, they’re acceptable. Of course, I care more deeply about Alina than Mal, but together, they’re a catastrophe. I understand the tension and gradual degradation of their relationship is essential to the plot and Alina’s recession into the Darkling’s state of mind, but to my mind, Mal is always wrong.

Trust me, I sympathize with the whole abandoning a successful army career to be with Alina thing, but he didn’t have to do it. His constant sullenness and expectations of Alina are really freaking annoying if I’m going to be honest with you. His burden is far less than hers. Does he have to save the country? Does he have to protect both Grisha and humans from the Darkling’s wrath? Does he have to be a political puppet for the crown? No? Not at all? Didn’t think so, dude. So shut the fuck up.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest. Who else thinks Alina and Nikolai are the true lovers of this story? They understand each other. He’s far less mopey, and is driven toward the same goal as her–saving Ravka. I know he’s not trustworthy, but at least he’s honest about the fact that he isn’t, and, in my opinion, Mal isn’t exactly at the top of the class in that respect either. Nobody is.

Besides the obvious love triangle situation that Nikolai’s presence introduces to the series, his existence is one of the novels most compelling elements. His ambition, constantly overshadowed by rumors of his illegitimacy, is the pulse that that makes the narrative thrive beneath Alina’s increasing desperation and isolation.

To that end, isolation is something Bardugo knows how to explore better than most YA authors out there. The conflicting push and pull relationship she has with her power leaves her stranded from Mal–the only the person she ever loved. And he is all at once afraid, jealous, and angry with her for that very power, which she tells him she would never give up, even if she could.

That sense of power, constantly pushing her closer to the Darkling until the moment of their mutual self-destruction, is the most powerful part of the narrative, and I am, once again, eager to see how it will play out in the third novel, Ruin and Rising.

I hope that last installment has Alina a little less driven by Mal/what Mal thinks/what Mal’s doing. I don’t think it’s going to happen, but one can dream. I want much more Nikolai. There better be much more of him, Leigh Bardugo. He is the greatest character to spring up in this book.

On “Gin & Daggers” by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain

Image result for gin & daggersOkay, so my foray into the never ending Murder, She Wrote series of novels co-authored by “Jessica Fletcher” and Donald Bain can be attributed to a steady diet of the hit 1980s television show starring Angela Lansbury. It continues to be my mother’s favorite show. Not just because Jessica was such a snappy dresser, and smart as a whip, of course. But also because Lansbury bears uncanny resemblance to my grandmother.

Our mutual television obsession turned into a budding literary obsession on my part. Because I nearly always feel obligated to get myself into as many book series as possible, I immediately picked up Gin & Daggers from the library when I found out there was a such a series based on the show.

It was so worth it. Gin & Daggers is a delight and the perfect way to pass time if you’re a fan of the show. Donald Bain does an admirable job transferring Jessica Fletcher into a character in a novel. For the most part, her dialogue, especially her responses to people. I can here the distinct moral rightness of the Lansbury brogue.

The first novel in the series concerns the murder of Jessica’s good friend and world famous mystery writer, Marjorie Ainsworth. When the suspicion falls on Jessica, she must explore the motives of the cast of characters present at Marjorie’s estate that night to clear her name.

Her quest for the real killer takes her all over London, with plenty of cozy stops at pubs to eat fine meals and drink port. It’s delightful. And it made me homesick to that beautiful city and its prickly people.

The bottom line here is, if you’re a fan of Murder, She Wrote, you’ll love these books. Seen all twelve seasons more than once? Try reading one of twenty-ish (?) novels written by Bain. Time well spent, my friends.

On “The Luxe” by Anna Godbersen

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courtesy of Wikipedia.org

This review appears on paperbackparis.com:

I am so late to the party when it comes to Anna Godbersen‘s The Luxe. Where was it when I was going through severe Gossip Girl withdrawals? All that time when I was pining for more Blair Waldorf/Chuck Bass drama, I could have found even juicier stuff in the world of the Holland sisters, Penelope Hayes, and Henry Schoonmaker. Those nouveau riche have nothing on those old New York families; the prestige of family money cannot be bought. Or so those old New Yorkers would have you think.

While Godbersen’s story is essentially a turn-of-the-century Gossip Girl tale of scandal, betrayal, and the filthy rich, it is also an exploration of that crucial time in history where the poorest of poor could make a fortune for themselves and, in an instant, change the very core of society. Men and women are defecting to the wild west where the skies are as wide as people’s dreams. This drive for a better life in which people do not have to serve the wealthy becomes the silent undercurrent of Godbersen’s book.

But make no mistake, the novel is by and large about how the debutantes and eligible bachelors of New York City’s disgustingly wealthy elite juggle their romantic prospects. Juicy scandals and catty attitudes abound in Godbersen’s depiction of New York in 1899. The world is changing, but a few things remain the same for people in Elizabeth and Diana Holland’s set. Diana, the free spirit, could care less about the severity hidden beneath the glittering wealth of her family and friends. She wants to live an adventurous life like one of her novel’s heroines, but unfortunately, she has a rich person’s understanding of poverty. It’s not exactly the romantic walk in the park she seems to think it is.

Alas, she’s not like her level-headed, practical sister, Elizabeth, who is perfect. She has learned every rule and is always kind. When their mother reveals that the death of their father has left the family in dire straits financially, Elizabeth will undoubtedly do everything to please her mother, including marrying for wealth over love. No one knows, though, that saving her family means ruining her own life. Since she was a child, she’s been in love with the family’s coachman, Will Keller, and he insists that she flee west with him. But a good person like Elizabeth can’t just abandon her family. Little does she know, she has to contend with her maid, and former childhood friend, Lina Broud, who is also deeply in love with Will.

Enter Henry Schoonmaker—the most eligible bachelor and the unapologetic bad boy of elite New York. Women fall all over themselves for him, and he basks in the adoration. That is, until, his permanently angry father decides to run for office and forces Henry to become propose to Elizabeth Holland—society’s darling. He’s forced to end his affair with Penelope Hayes, Elizabeth’s best frenemy, who is dead set on having Henry for herself. Chaos ensues.

To be honest, Elizabeth is the only character I rooted for in this book. You might think, “Of course, she’s the nice girl. That’s boring,” but I legitimately felt bad for her. The situation she’s in is unfathomable. Then again, all the other characters are terrible people, so she doesn’t have a whole lot of competition. Though there are moments where the reader can sympathize with them, one cannot forget their true natures: conniving, self-serving, and, in Penelope’s case, cruel.

Then I thought, that’s exactly what makes them so appealing. Like Gossip Girl, which I hate-watched.

We dislike these characters for their snobbery and their condescension and the overall wastefulness of their lifestyles. But we also love it for those very reasons. Watching the rich flounder and fall from grace is frighteningly satisfying…

But on a less “eat the rich” note, it’s also humanizing. Usually, we see people in positions of extreme privilege and forget that they are often forced to live a certain way, trading happiness for a life of comfort. Maybe not so much anymore, but definitely so at the turn of the century.

Godbersen ultimately does a fantastic job of developing the ambiance of late 1800’s New York. She integrates lush historical details seamlessly into the landscape of her characters’ lives, and it was nearly impossible not to imagine it becoming a film or television show similar to the 2012 Great Gatsby remake where everything on set is larger than life and constantly moving. Someone pass the message along.

All that being said, it’s a great poolside read for the upcoming summer months. You could finish it in one sitting if you’re ambitious enough, but the chapters really fly by.

Rest assured, I will continue to hate-read the rest of this series.

On “A Court of Thorns and Roses” by Sarah J. Maas

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courtesy of goodreads.com

This review appears on Paperbackparis.com:

I’ve officially entered the cult fandom that surrounds Sarah J. MaasA Court of Thorns and Roses series. Somehow I missed the hype about her books until this year when the series’ second installment, A Court of Mist and Fury won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fantasy. When I started reading ACOTAR, I didn’t even bother to read the book jacket, so I had no idea it was meant to be a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I kept thinking, “Hmm…this story seems vaguely familiar,” and, sure enough, that is what Maas intended.

That, perhaps, is one of the only elements of the novel that I had an issue with. Labeling ACOTAR as a retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale is a stretch. To say that it was freely adapted is a bit of an understatement, guv’nah! (Kudos if you get the Easy A reference). It was, nevertheless, a gorgeously written contribution to fairy tale literature.

Feyre (Fay-ruh) lives in a destitute village on the south side of a wall that divides her country into two sections: the faerie inhabited Prythian, and the small mortal section in the country’s southernmost region. After a brutal war, hundreds of years earlier, humans and faeries hate each other with a contempt that has been bubbling under the surface for years.

After Feyre’s mother’s death and the loss of her father’s fortune, the family must scrape by however it can. For years, though, Feyre has shouldered the brunt of the effort. She is the only one who hunts and cooks and trades for what her father and two sisters need. Feyre made a promise to her mother before she died, vowing to take care of them until the end. And in Feyre’s world, a promise is kept until death.

In one moment, Feyre changes everything when she kills a wolf in the woods—a faerie in his transfigured state. She is taken from her home by a beast who tells her she must live in Prythian or submit to execution. When she reaches Prythian, Feyre finds herself wrapped up in the world of two High Fae named Tamlin and Lucien; it is their friend that she murdered. As much as she tries to resist getting used to their world, the magic—and Tamlin’s allure—keep her ensnared.

Feyre soon learns, though, that the magic surrounding Tamlin’s court is constantly under threat of dangerous faeries that only he can kill. But soon enough, even his power won’t be able to keep away whatever darkness is plaguing Prythian. Something—or someone—is trying to force Tamlin’s upper hand. Trying, perhaps, to harness all of Prythian’s magic.

After five Throne of Glass novels, Maas is a master of world-building. Clearly she has a penchant for fairy tale retellings, but it is her inclusion of ancient fairy lore that captivates the reader in ACOTAR. Pucas and bogges lurk in the shadows surrounding Tamlin’s court, along with other creatures whose stories have been passed down through folklore for ages. Maas weaves these creatures’ stories seamlessly into the story’s plot line and develops a sinister backstory in which humans were once slaves to faeries. Humans, in turn, hate faeries for their power and ruthlessness.

Maas is also a master of character development and deft plotting. It was nearly impossible to put the book down, and never possible in the middle of a chapter. She devotes the perfect amount of time to developing each piece of the story, EXCEPT when it came to explaining the real reason for Prythian’s “blight.” When Alis—Feyre’s maid during her stay at Tamlin’s Spring Court—reveals all that happened in the past, I felt like I had to read the page at least five times to catch all the details. The reader goes from knowing bits and pieces about the whole damn thing in, like, five seconds. It was a little too much to process all at once.

In terms of character development and interaction, Feyre had me hook, line, and sinker in the first chapter. I thought she was the most bad ass chick, especially since her family was such a ball and chain. These feelings started to flicker about halfway through the book, however. I started to get annoyed at her endless thoughts about escaping the Spring Court and consistently not believing that Tamlin had her family taken care of. It’s understandable to a point, but my sympathy started fading quickly.

On top of that—she made some STUPID decisions. Like, say, the night of the spring solstice when both Tamlin and Lucien tell her repeatedly to STAY IN HER ROOM. But no. No one can tell Feyre what to do, which nearly gets her in a heap of trouble. Which leads me to the…shall we say…steaminess of Tamlin and Feyre’s affair.

I did not expect things to be so hot and heavy. Usually, YA books suggest things—use innuendo—then cut out before the actual sex acts. Maas sure didn’t beat around the bush. (Mind out of the gutter!) Feyre and Tamlin—one they realize they do, in fact, harbor a burning desire for each other—go at it. Besides the fact that it was unexpected, I approved of the fact that Maas doesn’t make a conundrum out of it. Feyre wants to be with Tamlin. She initiates what happens between them, as she did with her childhood lover across the wall. I like the idea that Feyre can want something and have it without going through a moral dilemma about it as many young people in novels do.

That being said, I’d go for Lucien over Tamlin any day of the week. So much sass.

As the novel comes to a close, several threads are left open for the next installment. Several messed up threads, if I’m going to be honest. Maas’ ending leaves a lot to be desired because it really just fades out the way things do before shit hits the fan. I’m mentally preparing myself now for the second book, and I can’t even fathom what the third book will bring us upon its release. Spare us from pain, Sarah J. Maas. Spare us.

On “Shatter Me” by Tahereh Mafi

Shatter-me-new-eye-co1A459Ohhhh boy….This book…

I’m going to keep my criticism of Shatter Me as succinct as possible because my grievances are many. I felt assured by various outlets–book reviewers, a nice Buzzfeed list, and several goodreads ratings–that Tahereh Mafi’s debut novel would be worth by time.

I barely got through it.

I held onto my optimism for the first few chapters, which weren’t horrible, but not nearly as good as I had been led to believe they would be. The crossing out lines convention, for example, was more irksome than creative. Halfway through the book, it became such a nuisance; Mafi had already established the character’s self-loathing and guilt, but she had to keep doing it for the sake of fluidity.

I wouldn’t have minded the crossing out had the writing been marginally better, but it was, in my opinion, abysmal. This seems cruel, but if I had the book next to me, I would pull some quotes. As a matter of fact–the next time you’re in the YA section of a book store, pull this book off the shelf and read a few pages at random. You’ll see my point.

It’s easy for the reader to see Mafi’s potential in her prose, but I can’t help but wonder if publishing companies sometimes overindulge young writers just because they seem precocious…There are several very young writers like Veronica Roth and Sarah J. Maas who are fabulous, but Shatter Me was just a little too half-baked.

The novel’s world building wasn’t well developed enough to redeem the metaphor laden text, nor were the characters particularly interesting. (On a side note, I feel like the concept of a young protagonist who cannot be touched for the threat of inflicting pain and/or death was rendered much more fully in Roth’s Carve the Mark.) The dialogue between them was certainly intriguing at times–especially between Juliette and Warner–but it was a far cry from where it needed to be to sustain the character development Mafi pushed throughout the novel.

Back to the writing itself, though…The metaphors and similes are so rampant, it was nearly impossible for Juliette to make it through a thought without saying something was like something else, or using over-the-top emotive expressions that ruined any kind of connection I could have had to her.

I’m not sure if the series will get better, but I might try the second novel just to see if it gets better at all. Some of the characters Mafi introduced at the end of the novel–those involved with Omega Point–seem genuinely interesting. So…we’ll see. I don’t think the series is redeemable though.

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On “The Name of the Star” by Maureen Johnson

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Courtesy of goodreads.com

My Maureen Johnson kick is still in full swing. I started with The Bermudez Triangle, which I enjoyed, but not as much as the first installment of her Shades of London series, The Name of the Star. I was hooked from page one. The Shades series comes a little later in Johnson’s YA career, so her writing is not just functional, but gripping as well.

It’s clear from the novels opening pages that Johnson has a firm grasp the layout of London and the Ripper murders. In my junior year of college, I spent five weeks in Bloomsbury, which isn’t that far from the site of the murders. A friend of mine and I went on a “Jack the Ripper/Sherlock Holmes” double-decker bus tour, so my interest in the Ripper has only grown since then.

I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve lost in the wormhole I call the Internet looking at autopsy photographs, the Mary Jane Kelly crime scene, and the infamous “From Hell” letter.

Time well spent, if you ask me.

Because of my keen interest (I wouldn’t call it an obsession…yet), I thoroughly enjoy novels that contain Ripper lore or anything similar. I especially loved Johnson’s take on the Ripper crimes, which, I’ll admit, have been done to death (pun intended).

Though I did take issue with some of the novel’s pacing and character introductions, I loved the way Johnson developed Rory’s family history and the way she used her choking experience as a plot development. I, for one, did not see that coming. In having her protagonist suffer the most embarrassing possible near death experience, Johnson maintains her sarcastic sense of humor, which runs full force in The Bermudez Triangle. But it never becomes overwhelming or ill-placed in the face of some pretty heavy stuff.

Furthermore, she does an amazing job of describing Wexford. Boarding school books (i.e. Harry Potter) have always been my favorites because good authors always have a way of describing the grounds of their imaginary schools in such a way that it feels as if the reader is wandering the halls along with the characters. The “boarding school motif” also appeals to readers, I think, because it describes something from another world. There’s something so mysterious and ancient about living in old buildings in close proximity with people striving towards the same goal as you.

Oftentimes I find that friendships in YA novels fall short of depicting reality, but Rory’s friendships with Jazza, Boo, Callum, and (especially) Stephen are perfectly nuanced and believable, which is more than I can say for novels whose purpose is not to explore those friendships.

*Side note* Jerome can just shove off, though. His interest in the Ripper bordered on problematic, and I would bet all my money that he’d drop Rory like a hot potato if she ever told him the truth about herself. I’m calling it now: she ends up with Stephen. (She better, Maureen Johnson!)

Rory’s ability to see ghosts brings her closer to those who have the same ability, in all their trauma and isolation. No one but them can understand the isolation that comes along with having an ability that makes most people think you’re crazy. It’s especially difficult when, in this novel, they see how the sight can drive someone to madness.

Honestly, I can’t wait to read the other books in this series. I have a strong feeling I’ll devour them.