Shadow and Bone

Title: Shadow and Bone. (The Grisha #1) Author: Leigh Bardugo
Pages: 358 Genre: YA Fiction/Fantasy
Recommended: If you like most YA books.
Song: “Just Like Fire” by P!nk

This book is all about magic.

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Yes, it’s YA

The appreciation scale of YA literature ranges from “ga-ga” to “bitter hater”. I fall somewhere in between, where I’m all-at-once ambivalent, swoony, and ready to criticize. “Shadow and Bone” follows the typical YA plot: adolescent separated from their normal life and sent to a strange place with equally strange people, strange new skills and strange drama. High school + magic = best seller in the bag. (Not even joking. At Grisha High there are social cliques based on magical ability.) Insert love triangle and betrayal for added fandom.

One particularly entertaining commentary on female YA characters sums it up perfectly. Thanks, Nataliya on Goodreads!

So, Why Read?

I fell under the spell of “Six of Crows“, published by the same author in 2015. Now that Leigh Bardugo has a few successful novels under her belt, I can see where she has become stronger over time (S&B was published in 2012).

What I loved about “Six of Crows” was the depth, variance, and internal struggles of its characters. This I missed in “Shadow and Bone”, where the characters fit into main fairytale and YA archetypes.

That being said, “Shadow and Bone” does have some interesting villian building. I love myself a good villian: one really bad day at work had my buying the Funko pops for Maleficent and Sauron.

Magic Doesn’t Rule

Power breeds power, right? Not in Ravka (setting). Usually, those with magical powers call the shots. In this book, the Grisha (people with magical ability) fit more into the skilled worker role. While an interesting dynamic, I missed explanation of what stopped the Grisha from taking over a long time ago.

Magic As A Talent

Magical trainer Bagda says, “It’s not something separate from you…your power serves you because that is its purpose…because it cannot help but serve you.

Another YA trope: finding your power within yourself. I think this is what has me returning to the genre over and over again. I like when people find that everything they are looking for is right there in their hearts.

Audiobook

Narrator Laruen Fortgang does a great job. I especially like the voice she does for The Darkling. She also narrated a part in “Six of Crows” and was amazing there too.

Go Set A Watchman

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Title: Go Set A Watchman Author: Harper Lee
Pages: 278 Genre: Fiction
Recommended to: Anyone who loves “To Kill A Mockingbird”, or wants a good story that makes you think deeply.
Song: (In honor of the setting) “Sweet Home Alabama” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Unbelievable Discovery

It was always so sad, so tragic that Harper Lee was a one hit wonder. What would it be like to have just one masterpiece that at first sweeps the nation, and is then taught in schools for the next 50 years?

And then have a lost manuscript on a related storyline suddenly (if unbelievably) found and published just in time for the end of your lifespan..that’s even more incredible.

I will say three things about “Go Set A Watchman”:

  1. It is amazingly well-written. I loved it.
  2. I remain skeptical as to the origins of the novel. As much as I want Harper Lee to be the author, the timing of its discovery and release is strange.
  3. Reese Witherspoon is the perfect narrator for the audiobook.

Lovable Characters

Every character is perfectly fleshed in “Go Set A Watchman”. For better or worse, I bonded with Jean Louise (a.k.a. Scout), her boyfriend Hank, Atticus Finch, and even the old-fashioned aunt Alexandra.

Complicated Relationships

I’m tortured by Scout’s (Jean Louise’s) views of marriage. I want her to be in love with Hank. But I love how Hank just plain GETS her. Given her past, her skepticism of the future makes sense. She expresses the doubts that future generations of women would use to shape their own relationship decisions. Jean Louise has options and she knows it. While being reluctant to pursue matrimony with Hank, she also holds respect for the institution. After all, why make a commitment to something that you don’t think will last?

I have and will always love Atticus Finch. He is the ideal father of the modern woman, since he accepts and loves his daughter for who she is. He doesn’t lose himself in parenthood, but instead shares his viewpoints with his kids (i.e. reading to them whatever he was reading instead of children’s books).

The Old to the New

The 1960s were a time of great change, especially in the south. Lee respresents this in Jean Louise’s feminism, Macomb’s struggles with civil rights, and the stark difference between New York City and rural Alabama.

Among other women, I’ve often shared Scout’s sentiments. “She could not talk to them for 5 minutes without drawing up stone dead. “I can’t think of anything to say to them. They talk incessantly about the things they do, and I don’t know how to do the things they do.”

Or the idea of what a gentleman is. When Alexandra question Hank’s lack of manners, Scout counters with: “That’s not the trash in him; that’s the man in him.” (I now say this to myself when my husband breaks wind.)


Or the pursual of a liberal arts education and career: “To Alexandra, there was a distinct difference between one who paints and a painter; one who writes and a writer.” (If I had a nickel for every weird look I get when I say I’m a writer…)

Most people still need to work on this one: “Don’t you study about anyone else’s business ‘til you take care of your own.”

Universal Message

Jean Louise discovers that “Every man’s watchman is his conscience”. This is as true today as it was 50 years ago. This world is one giant gray area. To be at peace with yourself, you need to do what you feel is right.

War and Peace

Title: War and Peace

Author: Leo Tolstoy

Pages: 1392

Method of Reading: Audiobook via Overdrive

Genre: Fiction

Thoughts: It’s a classic for a reason. Take the plunge…it’s worth it.

Synopsis: Napoleon follows his hubris into Russia, where the military sets up massive conflagration. In the wake of war, five aristocratic families try to find peace, with themselves and their fellow men.

Recommended To: Everyone. Just…Everyone.

Song for this Book: For a work like this, I think an entire playlist is appropriate. But that’s for another blog.

Review:

Y’know those books that perpetually sit on your “to-read” list/shelf? You have every intention of tackling them, but ultimately get squirreled away with a more tantalizing choice?

If “War and Peace” is on this list for you, I really don’t blame you; reading this bad boy is no small task. I’ve spent most of my life intimidated by it and then the past two months tackling it. Now it’s on my “have read” list and I can confidently say this: it’s not a classic piece of literature because of its length: this book is..well..a masterpiece.

At its center, War and Peace is the story of life, love and family amidst the swirling environment of Napoleonic invasions. Life and love and all of its intricacies, joys and heartaches moves on despite the outside world.

Though the characters live in a completely different time period, their challenges mirror those of today. Take Natasha Rostov: she’s just trying to find “the one”. Dating is rough, and you do a lot of growing up when you find that handsome, rich men aren’t all they are cracked up to be. Pierre Bezukhov just wants to have fun until he realizes fun ≠ fulfillment. Andrei Bolkonski is haunted by his past and confused about his future. And Dolohov…he just wants to partaaay.

Most of the commonly accepted drawbacks of “War and Peace are the lengthy expositiories into war strategies as well as the social and political issues of the time. Though the story does need some of this for adding meaning and the motives of the characters, large portions of the novel could be removed without compromising the plot.

But for real. Put yourself in Tolstoy’s position. The poor guy lives in Russia before centralized heating and Amazon deliveries. Other than drinking a (likely) ready supply of vodka, what else is this guy supposed to do during the long, dark Russian winter?  Obviously, writing deep thoughts.

War and Peace started out as one of the classics to check off my list. (What kind of book blogger would I be, if I weren’t well-read?). This book turned out to be more than a bucket list experience and more of one that I will take with with me in years to come.

Don’t be intimidated by the length, the number of main characters, or the sweeping expanse of Russian countryside. This book is well worth the time invested.

Tips: Read at 1.75 speed and check out the 2016 Lifetime mini series.

Review: Morning Star

Title: Morning Starimgres

Third Book in the Red Rising Series

Author: Pierce Brown

Pages: 518

Method of Reading: Audiobook AND Hardback Book

Genre: Science Fiction

Thoughts: Cloud 9 Happy with this book.

Synopsis: (In Pierce Brown’s words) Braveheart in Space

 

Review

So good. Just….so…. soooo good! I just can’t even….

(Necessary pause for me to soak in the awesomeness.)

As the third and final book in the Red Rising Trilogy, “Morning Star” is a satisfying conclusion to the series. I usually leave a series depressed, wanting more and missing these characters that I have grown to love. Brown wraps this story up so beautifully, and I was happy with the ending he gave.

Brown’s pacing is great. Slower parts and action-filled scenes and smart dialogue mix together very well. 500 pages is a long book, ad not one of them is wasted.

Here’s how much I loved this book:

  • I picked up the actual book to read in tandem with the audio recording (#win Tim Gerard Reynolds).
  • I had to pause the recording just to regroup – even with the happy parts.

First Reception

In the afterward, Pierce Brown says that he was afraid to write Morning Star, and I have to admit I was just as afraid to read it.

If the first two books were any indication, there’s no telling what could happen. Where do people’s loyalties lie? Who will betray whom? Who will surprise you? Will Darrow die? Will Mustang kill him? Is there a happy ending to all of this?

The odds seemed against any happy ending, given that the main character was captured and the leaders of the rising were murdered in the last few pages of “Golden Son”, part 2 of the Red Rising trilogy.

Calm down Kate. This isn’t George R.R. Martin. Pierce Brown seems to care about the people he kills (in his stories, of course).

Genre

This book is categorized YA but it doesn’t fit in the genre. Darrow, the main character might be the right age for YA at the beginning of Red Rising, but this series is more intricate, more developed than any YA book I’ve ever consumed. It’s less “Let’s save our dystopian world while struggling with this love triangle” and more “let’s forget that stuff and focus on what matters”.

  • If Darrow were to teach a seminar, it would cover topics like:
  • Who are my true friends and family? (Really, cause it’s kind of life or death here.)
  • Race – In a class-defined world, how can we all live together in harmony?
  • Why Harmony sucks.
  • Politics – they’re here. They’re real. How to I get to the top and stay there?
  • I really screwed up. How can I make amends?

Characters

Brown’s character progression is masterful. His characters are unique, strong, and refuse to blend with common tropes.

I’m very tempted to name my child Darrow. His anger, which fueled him in the first two books has molted and been replaced with a man more mature and ready to heal.

Written in Darrow’s point of view, Pierce Brown weaves deep thoughts with a character who is still figuring out who he is and his place in a world he is trying to change. (I guess you can say that’s YA, but I argue that it’s a very adult experience.)

Mustang – I just want to be her. No way around it.

Sevro is a mix of Deadpool and Jackass. He is cracked and lovable and he glues everyone together. He is the catalyst for change while being the comic relief. Because of his fierce loyalty, I’m tempted to name my next dog Sevro. Or Howler. Howler is more dog-appropriate.

Try It…You’ll Love It

I highly recommend this book, as well as this series. Start with “Red Rising” and enjoy your way through “Golden Son” to the greatness that is “Morning Star”.

I recommend this book to any anyone who likes science fiction, is seeking to “break the chains” of typical YA, or wants an invasion of epic-ness in their lives.