Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

★★★★☆

This will be a semi short/messy review since I already did a proper one for Six of Crows here.

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LOOK AT THIS BEAUTIFUL BOOK. LOOK AT IT.

This was super enjoyable; I read it in the car, at work, till two in the morning, in the bathroom, while stuffing Chipotle into my face, etc. (None of those things at the same time, though, just to be clear.) BUUUTTTTTT, for the sake of honesty, it didn’t blow me away, even though I’ll say I loved the duology as a whole and Bardugo is a god damn genius when it comes to crafting characters.

To begin, there was a loooooot of deus ex machina going on here. I mean truly every scene where the odds were totally beyond their scope, where everything was hopeless, one of the characters would find this new power inside them and it would work! perfectly! each time! For instance, [SPOILERS BELOW]

  • Jesper learned that one of the reasons he might be such a good shot is because he’s a Fabrikator. Cool idea, and I’d assumed from the beginning that that’s why he was a sharpshooter, but then he went on to make an impossible shot where the bullet actually curved in midair around a corner and hit the person in the chest. SO YEAH it was cool, but like… too cool and too convenient. I have a problem with that.
  • Nina learns that after using jurda parem, she can’t control her powers like she used to. Then, against impossible odds, she finds she’s able to control dead bodies. Which was super gross to begin with, but she uses these CORPSES to not only defeat her enemies but then miraculously carry a net out under Inej right when she falls off a grain silo (this probably sounds super weird if you haven’t read the book, lmao). I’ve read other reviews for Six of Crows that mention the total lack of morals that these characters have, and I hadn’t had a problem with it because that’s the story, and I’ve read Game of Thrones which is a hundred times worse. People are sick and self-serving for the most part (can you tell I’m an optimist?), so these lawless characters didn’t make me grimace. But this… using dead people as props and controlling them… I had been gobbling up the pages and then that happened and I was like

It threw me off to such an extent that I wondered if I could recover from it and still enjoy the book. There are other instances too, but those are two that really annoyed me. And I mean, it wasn’t TOTALLY terrible because inklings of these abilities were sprinkled through earlier on in the story, but it was still just cringe-worthy in my opinion.

Other than that, the book was good but long and rambling in a lot of ways. It didn’t have a clear plot like Six of Crows; it was more a jumble of a bunch of Kaz’s failed plans and then the gang recovering from the previous heist and doing something else to get their money back. It wasn’t that it wasn’t fun to read, but it seemed like the book was a lot longer than it really needed to be and like the author couldn’t come up with one central heist to cover the length. It was a lot of back and forth, and that constant planning, executing, OOPS WE’VE BEEN BACKSTABBED or OOPS IT’S A TRAP, failing, replanning got dull after a while, to the point where I was skimming the more politic-driven scenes to get to the parts I cared about, aka the action and the kissing. (I’m not too ashamed.)

Last but not least, perhaps my BIGGEST issue was (pretty major spoiler ahead so don’t click unless you’ve read the book) Matthias’ death. It was, to put it shortly, completely random, out of place, and wholly unnecessary. It added absolutely nothing to the plot, it was brought on by a random character that was never explained or even reintroduced or ANYTHING, and it was just hard to read because of how forced it was. I have this very strong feeling that Matthias was killed off because someone, probably an editor or something, was like, “Listen, your readers are probably expecting one of these guys to die in the end, so we’ve gotta kill someone off. Who’s your least favorite?” The problem is that he was killed off in the most random way possible, like the heist was done, everything was falling into place, but NOPE: [insert random character death here]. I HATED IT. HATED IT.

Honestly though, the terribleness of those few things was BY FAR made up for by the adorable romances between Wylan/Jesper and Kaz/Inej, the wonderful character development, and the exquisite world-building. I’m not exaggerating when I say that these are some of the most believably invented characters I’ve come across lately. I’ve been so fed up with YA books lately; it’s all so boring and manufactured. But this wasn’t at all. I couldn’t contain the ~~feels~~. Also, Wylan and Jesper honestly overtook Kaz and Inej as my favorite pairing in this, and I ended up liking Wylan even more than Kaz.

Okay, enough fangirling. GO READ THIS DUOLOGY. YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT.

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Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

★★★★★

God. Damn. I love Leigh Bardugo so much.

I went into this book with such impossibly high expectations. I mean, a band of ragtag orphans, thieves, and cutthroats; an impossible heist (even the word ‘heist’ gets me riled); elemental magic and mayhem and unrequited love—it’s literally my book wishlist all wrapped up in one. How could I not love it?

Even the books themselves are freaking gorgeous. They have dyed black and red edges. I cry.

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And with my employee discount, I nabbed a beautiful boxset at B&N for $20. Can’t say no to that!

So to recap: everything I’ve ever wanted in a fantasy book + unending media hype + one of my favorite authors + books as beautiful on the outside as they are potentially on the inside = insanely high expectations.

So the fact that I, though seemingly impossible to please, came out of this book glowing with the perfection of it all, is noteworthy.

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Art by @kevinwada

Bardugo has crafted an awesome, diverse cast of characters that you can’t help but root for. Each character has a defining characteristic, something that makes them memorable instantly. Bardugo splits the story up masterfully between them all, with each chapter told from one of their POVs (except Wylan, for some reason). This is a storytelling technique few authors can pull off, so it could’ve ended badly, but those defining characteristics I mention aren’t abused and they never feel gimmicky, so the characters don’t come across as caricatures. Each of them is wonderfully fleshed out, with vivid pasts and individual problems they need to solve.

Did I mention that Kaz Brekker is the newest addition to my “book boyfriends” list as well as my “favorite characters ever” list? I mean… look at him. I have a type, ladies and gentlemen, and apparently it’s pale, emotionally-stunted pickpockets.

 

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Six of Crows never never got stale, and it never failed to surprise. Every time I thought, “That’s it, they’re done for,” Bardugo pulled out another risky maneuver or cunning plan. When you read enough YA fantasy, plot twists can start to get a lot less twisty; you realize that half of these books have “twists” that are the same across the board. Not so with Bardugo. She just has a way of making everything fresh and exciting, the same way she did with the original Grisha trilogy.

I can’t wait to read the next book in this duology, and I highly, highly recommend Six of Crows to anyone with a book wishlist like mine. You won’t be disappointed.

 

2016 Books in Review: Faves and Flubs

It’s the end of the year, and that means facing the facts.

Time to bare all.

I’ve been a big reader all my life, but this is actually my first year of doing a Goodreads/reading challenge. I’d had a Goodreads account for yyyyeeeeears but I never maintained it, and actually doing the work to organize and rate all the books I had read up to that point felt like way more trouble than it was worth.

But finally, in December of 2015, I decided to go for it (probably because it was miserably cold in Ohio and I was stuck indoors and procrastinating). I started going through my bookshelves and my memory and finding books I had read in my elementary and middle school and high school years, and even more recently that I may have forgotten about. This has been astounding for my planner/organizational side, since now I have a pretty extensive list of everything I’ve ever read, minus children’s books. (The only thing bugging me now is not knowing for sure what year I finished each book, so I can see my yearly totals.) But the worst part was seeing my total books read. Last year, before I began the reading challenge, I had only read 244 books in my entire life. If we start at age 8, which is about when I started reading things like Harry Potter, that’s only 17 books a year. With nearly 800 books on my to read list (and that only includes the first of every series), I felt time pressing down on me. It’s times like these that I wish I were a sparkly vampire with unlimited time to read. Either way, I knew I could do better than 17 a year.

And I was right. 2016 was a good year. My original goal was 52 books; one for each week of the year. I even went so far in the beginning as to write out an itinerary of which book I’d read on each week. And although I didn’t stick to that level of perfectionism (at all), I did meet my goal by reading a total of 72 books, 20 books over my goal. My biggest problem with this goal meeting, though, is that a little under half of these books I’ve read are actually books I was hired to edit or beta read, so although I did read them (and even more closely than the more casual books on my list) I feel a bit like a cheat.

My 2016 goal was pretty lofty; I mean, I had Anna Karenina on the “to read” list, and that obviously didn’t happen. (It is, however, still on 2017’s list. We’ll see.) So although I met my goal, I didn’t truly meet my goal. Next year I hope to do better, and make the majority of my reading books that I’ve already shelved on my “to read” list, or books that I hear about rather than am hired to edit or read.

And to anyone who is still reading this, I have only one question: Why?

That being said, here’s my 2016 reading challenge breakdown! This fun quiz was taken from The Perpetual Page Turner.

Number Of Books You Read: 72
Number of Re-Reads: 0 (I almost never reread books. The only ones I have reread are Harry Potter #1-6, and the Series of Unfortunate Events books.)
Genre You Read The Most: YA/NA Fantasy

Books I read for pleasure: 47%
Books I read for work: 45%
Free review copies: .042%

2016 Favorites (in somewhat of an order):

  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Prince’s Gambit by C.S. Pacat
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Rowling/Tiffany/Thorne
  • Touch of Iron by Timandra Whitecastle
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Of course I forgot to include The Road since I’m a dingus, so it received an individual spotlight below.

1. Best Book You Read In 2016?

That’s tough, because my favorites of this year are across a bunch of genres and can’t really be compared to each other. Best writing was, by far, All the Light We Cannot See. But the one that has stuck with me the most has been Me Before You. While the former was sweeping and beautifully written, Me Before You still makes my heart
pang with emotion when I think of it. I’ve never cried harder at a book (except maybe the whole Sirius thing in Order of the Phoenix).

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

I was really anticipating Bad Boy by Elliot Wake, Darker Shade of Magic by Victoria Schwab, and A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir. Especially with Torch, I immediately ordered it the minute I finished Ember, and it was a real let-down. ADSoM was also pretty disappointing, since it was being raved about soooo highly on Goodreads and Twitter and it bored me completely.

 3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read?  

Good question… I think the biggest surprise was in the Captive Prince trilogy — I went into it pretty blind, so I didn’t know what to expect, and not only did I absolutely devour the first book (and subsequently order the second and third), but the fact that it had an asexual main character was AMAZING and made me super happy.

 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?

Unfortunately most of my friends and family don’t read much (at least the ones I talk to often enough to influence), so I don’t really have an answer to this one.

 5. Best series you started in 2016? Best Sequel of 2016? Best Series Ender of 2016?

CAPTIVE PRINCE. Prince’s Gambit was the second book and it was even better than the first.

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 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2016?

Leigh Bardugo, who wrote the Grisha trilogy. I loved those books, even if they were pretty YA-y, and I’m so psyched to read the Six of Crows duology.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?

Hmmm, I’m gonna go with City of Thieves by David Benioff. It’s a novel about two young guys who go on a mission to find a dozen eggs during the siege of Leningrad. I just happened upon it at the used bookstore and loved the cover, which you can see below (yes, I bought it because of the cover — judge me). But it was totally not what I expected and I’m glad it wasn’t. It was a really great, funny, poignant read.

 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?

This one’s hard, since there were a few that were unputdownable but not really thrilling. I’m gonna say the Grisha trilogy (I can’t pick just one) because I couldn’t stop reading them, and Alina was such an awesome main character. I got chills (chills!!) from multiple scenes, which has literally never happened to me in a book before. Like I said: awesome.

 9. Book You Read In 2016 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Is none an answer? I don’t really reread novels. I don’t have enough time with all the other stuff I want to read.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2016?

I thought this would be difficult but it’s not. I’m going to pick two: City of Thieves and An Ember in the Ashes.

11. Most memorable character of 2016?

Laurent from Captive Prince. 🙂 He’s my new favorite character (right next to another gigantic asshole: Jaime Lannister).

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Click through for source.

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2016?

All the Light We Cannot See wins by a landslide. But another that I loved was The Road by Cormac McCarthy — it was beautifully written, but in a filthy, dark, poetic way that still portrays the author’s enormous talent.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2016?

Me Before You. I wrote a review on it that spilled my thoughts on the whole thing, which you can read here, so I won’t get into the why. Just know I couldn’t get this book out of my head (or my broken heart) for weeks afterward.

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 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2016 to finally read? 

Ha — probably Gone Girl and Thirteen Reasons Why. Both of them were totally underwhelming and aggravating, but they’ve been out for years (Thirteen Reasons Why is approaching its 10th anniversary!!!) so I feel really behind on finally getting around to them.

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2016?

Do whole books count???

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2016?

Well, the longest was All the Light We Cannot See, which was 560 pages, but I’m not sure of the shortest. Either way, I read a few short stories, so probably 15 pages or so?

 17. Book That Shocked You The Most

Not sure.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)

Damen x Laurent 4evar. My precious gay babies. And Lou and Will, or course.

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19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year

I really adored the relationship between Marie-Laure and her uncle Etienne, as well as with her father.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2016 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

I almost thought I hadn’t read any of these authors before, but then I realized I read The Cursed Child. Althought Rowling isn’t actually the author, I think I’m gonna go with that.

21. Best Book You Read In 2016 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:

I don’t know, probably either A Darker Shade of MagicGone Girl, or Thirteen Reasons Why. All three were sooo hyped up and weren’t all that great.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2016?

See, I want to say Laurent again, because I love him, but if I knew him in real life I’d probably hate him. But he’s such a great character! I think my biggest crush would have to beeeee Nicolai, from the Grisha trilogy. I loved how pirate-y he was.

23. Best 2016 debut you read?

Touch of Iron by Timandra Whitecastle. I actually got to be one of her beta readers, and it was one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s grimdark with light fantasy elements, topped with a completely kickass heroine, Nora.touch-of-iron

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?

Hmm, probably The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It was incredibly evocative.

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25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?

Well Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was a really fun read. I originally started it and had to put it aside because I thought it was dumb, but when I picked it up again I guess I was in a different mindset, because I was laughing so hard I was sobbing. It was that funny. Some other feel-good reads are the Olivia series by Tessa Palmeri (they’re young adult romances that show really healthy young relationships), the Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels (because I love that show), the SAGA graphic novels, and of course HP and the Cursed Child, which completely surprised me and I liked a lot.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2016?

Me Before You killed my soul.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?

I’m gonna go with City of Thieves. It was such a quiet success of a book, because it wasn’t really touted all over the place or anything, and the fact that I just stumbled upon it and ended up loving it made it that much better.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?

Refer to #26.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2016?

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. I LOVED it. It was the most unique fantasy I’ve read this year (or maybe ever).

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?

Probably Gone Girl. I’d heard rave reviews about this book for YEARS, so I went into it expecting something incredible. It was just lazy, honestly. The woman turns out to be a crazy bitch, and that’s supposed to be suspenseful? I wrote a review about it where I ranted my feelings. I don’t know, it just irked the crap out of me.

Looking ahead – 2017:

1. One Book You Didn’t Get To In 2016 But Will Be Your Number 1 Priority in 2017?

I would really like to get some classics knocked out. I’m not much of a classic reader, but I’d like to know my stuff for once. Stuff like Wuthering Heights and Anna Karenina are on my list, among others. Also, I’m a failure as a fantasy-nerd because I haven’t read Lord of the Rings yet. I need to get that done.

2. Book You Are Most Anticipating For 2017 (non-debut)?

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom!

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3. 2017 Debut You Are Most Anticipating?

No idea. :^D I usually find out about book releases after they’ve been out for a while. I don’t really have my finger on the pulse of the publishing world.

 4. Series Ending/A Sequel You Are Most Anticipating in 2017?

I’d really like to finish reading the Shades of Magic trilogy eventually, so probably that.


All photographs taken by me. Any artwork used is not mine.

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

★★★★★

I started Shadow and Bone right after reading An Ember in the Ashes. This was a big mistake; I had a (lovely) book hangover from AEitA, so attempting to delve into a whole new fantasy world had me comparing and judging right off the bat. So I knocked out 60 pages or so, got bored, and set it aside for a few weeks while I cleansed my palette. And once I picked it up again, boom. I couldn’t put it down, and gobbled it up in one night and the next afternoon.

The premise of this book was really cool; there are a group of people called Grisha who study the Small Sciences, or how certain matter or elements interact with each other. Grisha are able to control or “call” these small particles and manipulate matter, the elements, or even the blood inside a creature’s body. There are the Corporalki (The Order of the Living and the Dead), the Etherealki (The Order of Summoners), and the Materialki (The Order of Fabrikators), and all of them are led by one man: The Darkling. All this wrapped up in a wild, desolate, Russian-inspired setting, and you have a hell of a start.

Now, some books are not life-changing books, but there’s something about them that makes me cast any small issues aside and hold them close. Shadow and Bone was exactly that: it wasn’t perfect, it didn’t make me question my existence or blow my mind, but it was fucking awesome and different and exciting and that made up for it.

I mean, “girl finds out she has special, one-of-a-kind power, gets a makeover and is treated like royalty, then somehow masters power and defeats enemy single-handed” is not a very unique concept. It’s been done a million times, but the reason is because when done correctly, it’s glorious. Potent. Spine-tingling. That’s what this book did to me — it actually gave me goosebumps two separate times while reading. I honestly don’t know if that’s ever happened to me before, but it rocked. The plot twists were as twisty as they come — I didn’t guess any of them (this is weird, because I almost always guess at least one big plot twist), and they surprised the crap out of me.

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Alina Starkov. Art by Nicole McEvoy. Click through for source.

While the plot itself was very YA-y and cliched at times, the writing is what blew me away. Seriously, it was great. The main character, Alina, is one of the coolest MCs I’ve come across, because she was so utterly believable and real, and I connected with her almost instantly. She was sarcastic, head-over-heels for her best friend (been there, done that!), blunt, and flawed, and her dialogue/narration was often smirk-worthy in its realism. Also, just sayin’, the smoochin’ scenes were A+++. 😉

I’m so, so excited to read the sequel of this. I already ordered the second and third books of the trilogy and I’m trying not to die of anticipation. Leigh Bardugo, you’ve made a fangirl out of me.P.S.: You can take the “Join the Grisha” quiz HERE on Leigh Bardugo’s website to find out which Grisha you’d be! I got:

CORPORALNIK: brave, belligerent, and cocky. Corporalki undergo the most rigorous training of all the Grisha. Heartrenders are always ready for a fight. Healers use their powers to repair injury and treat sickness. Which are you? Report to the Little Palace for further testing.