Review// Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

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Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Shadow & Bone Trilogy #2
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Book Length: 448
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review: 3/5

Warning: This review may contain spoilers.

I’m going to be honest here, I felt a little disappointed with this! It just didn’t feel like that much happened, and what did happen, I wasn’t super excited about.

First, the good:

Nikolai was a very fun addition to this book; without him in it, I think I would have to knock my rating down a star – he was that impactful. His character has the perfect amount of charm and sarcasm, I love it. Other then him, it’s really hard to think of something else I loved. I guess I liked that the world building got better, but it was in such a subtle way in my opinion that I don’t know if it warrants making it to my ‘good’ list.

Now, the not so good:

Okay the plot… what even happened in this book – I don’t know if I can name 5 interesting things? The beginning was exciting, and the ending was a whirlwind, but the middle consisted of a whole lot of nothing.

Oh wait, it did consist of something: Mal being jealous and possessive of Alina. I’m trying to like Mal so badly, but their relationship doesn’t make sense to me! I find it so random because Alina apparently liked him for years, but now he is noticing her all of a sudden and is being really possessive over their relationship. Wasn’t she also described as ‘plain’ in the beginning? So tell me why Mal likes her now if he’s known her most of their lives? Not to mention, after all his whining about how he thinks he’s going to lose her to the Darkling, he goes and kisses Zoya? Facepalm, honestly. How am I supposed to root for a guy like that?! I would actually prefer if Mal got with Zoya instead, because then I wouldn’t have to hear him being so possessive about Alina anymore.

Speaking of the Darkling though, he was barely in this book. I’m sure that was done for a reason, but he’s part of the reason I liked the last book so much, so him not being in this one too much made it meh for me. Genya also barely made it into this book, and that’s another thing I liked about the last.

Notice how I’m mentioning side characters before I mention Alina? That’s because I feel like she is such a boring main character! I don’t dislike her, but I also don’t feel anything for her, she’s just sort of there. I think if I felt more strongly about her, it wouldn’t have mattered if all the missing characters were there more or not. I don’t know, I just feel like she’s replaceable, and it’s not how I prefer to view the main character of a book I want to love.

We’ll see what happens in the next book – here’s to hoping this one was on the more boring side because it’s supposed to set the stage for an amazing finale.

-Catherine


Review// Shadow & Bone by Leigh Bardugo

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Author: Leigh Bardugo
Series: The Shadow & Bone Trilogy #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Release Date: June 5, 2012
Book Length: 358
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review: 4/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

Shadow and Bone is the first installment in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy.

My Review:

I LOVED this book; my only regret with it is that I slept on Leigh Bardugo for so long!

I’m not even gonna lie, a huge reason why I didn’t pick this up sooner is because I think the original cover is ugly (yes, I judge books by their cover; sue me) but wow, I’ve been missing out.

I know not all of the Russian aspects of this book are 100% accurate, but I actually loved doing supplementary research into some of the things I found interesting and getting to learn more about Russian culture that way. I would describe this as a Russian-inspired mythology, and I thought it was so cool.

While I like Alina, I hate that she feels like she needs Mal every second in order to be somebody. Usually it would bother me more that I didn’t love the main character that much, but in this case it didn’t for some reason. I think because I loved how she interacted with Genya and the Darkling – who are also big parts of the book – that it didn’t really matter.

Of course, I’m also that person who still ships Darklina even though he’s evil – sorry, Mal, you’re nice but you’re boring! I can’t wait to see how the trilogy plays out in the other 2 books, and what transpires between the Darkling and Alina; I really hope there’s something.

– Catherine

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Review// Sadie by Courtney Summers

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Author: Courtney Summers
Series: Standalone
Genre: Young Adult / Mystery
Release Date: September 4, 2018
Book Length: 308
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Review: 4/5

My Review:

‘How do you forgive the people who are supposed to protect you? Sometimes I don’t know what I miss more; everything I’ve lost or everything I never had.’

Best audiobook I’ve ever read, and I think it would be best read in audio format because it is told like a podcast with a full cast of characters, as well as through Sadie’s perspective and it switches between the two. These characters tell the story of a missing girl, Sadie, set on a mission to bring justice for her little sister’s death by their mother’s ex-boyfriend. I also really love the cover a lot; I think it’s so beautiful.

It was such an emotional read with so many grief-stricken characters; it’s hard not to feel for them. I liked how it went back and forth between the podcast about finding out what happened to missing Sadie, and Sadie’s first hand account of events as they happened – I really liked the contrast and it was so suspenseful when the podcast host, West, found more leads that got him warmer and warmer to the truth.

However, with that said, the one thing I was a bit iffy about was West. He felt a little bit one dimensional, like there was something off about him but I can’t even pinpoint what exactly it was. In addition, the open-ended conclusion felt a bit frustrating! Then again, a lot of real stories like this unfortunately don’t have clear, solved endings, so maybe the author was trying to pack a bigger punch by leaving it up to the interpretation of the reader. I’m not sure, but I still wish it had ended differently.

Overall, I’m really glad I finally got to read this, and I will be thinking about the story for a long time.

– Catherine

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Review// Those Who Leave & Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

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Author: Elena Ferrante
Series: My Brilliant Friend #3
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: September 2, 2014
Book Length: 418 
Publisher: Europa Editions
Review: 3/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

In this third Neapolitan novel, Elena and Lila, the two girls whom readers first met in My Brilliant Friend, have become women. Lila married at sixteen and has a young son; she has left her abusive husband and now works as a common laborer. Elena has left the neighborhood, earned her college degree, and published a successful novel, all of which have opened the doors to a world of learned interlocutors and richly furnished salons. Both women have pushed against the walls of a prison that would have seen them living a life of misery, ignorance, and submission. They are afloat on the great sea of opportunities that opened up during the nineteen-seventies. Yet they are still very much bound to each other by a strong, unbreakable bond.

My Review:

“A community that finds it natural to suffocate with the care of home and children so many women’s intellectual energies is its own enemy and doesn’t realize it.”

Okay yes, I know the cover to these books are really ugly, but I promise you, what’s inside is golden.

However, for the first time in the series, I’m a bit torn about how I feel about this book, mainly because the one juicy part of the whole thing consists of something that I hate: insta-love / a love subplot that comes randomly out of nowhere. On the one hand, I like that it happened because it gave me something to to keep turning the pages for, but on the other, I hate that it happened because it felt so out of place.

This book takes place in the 60s and 70s, mentioning a lot about the university and worker strikes that happened during that time in Italy, which was really interesting. I love all the historical aspects of the book and how they always tie together so well with the characters’ lives. Not only do I feel like I’ve learned something through the historical events, but it also drives the plot along, which is nice. People’s ideas of the role of women in society also begin to change in this book and I thought it was fascinating to read the progression.

The girls are in their 20s and 30s now, and Lila is as stubborn as ever, but Lenu surprised me. At the end, it felt like she became an entirely different person, and it kind of bothered me because her actions were so out of character. Though they are all grown up, it’s evident that their lives in the neighborhood have shaped – and continue to shape – who they are, even if they’ve both moved away from it.

If I could change one thing about this book, it would be how obsessed everyone is with Nino. There is no one that I know who still fantasizes about their elementary school crush, and honestly, I think Lenu needs to grow up and get over it. It kind of annoyed me that she constantly tried to find ways to bring him up and how she’s still bitter about things that happened in their childhood between him and Lila. These girls are constantly comparing each other and trying to one-up the other, and while it makes for an interesting story, sometimes it just gets so childish.

But anyway, now that I’m down to the last one, I can’t wait to see where the plot takes these characters as Ferrante always ends her books on a cliff-hanger and this one was no different!

– Catherine

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Review// My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

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Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell
Series: Standalone
Genre: Fiction
Release Date: March 10, 2020
Book Length: 373 pages
Publisher: William Morrow
Review: 5/5

Goodreads Synopsis:

Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of RoomMy Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

My Review:

Someday, when people ask me, “Who was your first lover?” the truth will set me apart. Not some ordinary boy, but an older man: my teacher. He loved me so desperately I had to leave him behind. It was tragic, but I didn’t have a choice. That’s just how the world works.

I’m like a kettle on a stove right now – bubbling, seething, on the brink of overflowing with emotion from all this book has made me feel. I wish I could reach inside myself and pour it all out, find the right words to say what this has done to me, but I’m afraid nothing I say could do it justice.

Vanessa Wye was only 15 when her teacher, Jacob Strane, patted her on the leg – that one act enough to spiral into 17 years worth of physical, mental, emotional turmoil. This book was very difficult to read at times; Vanessa was groomed by Strane from the very beginning, all the while making her believe that she was responsible for their relationship. After all, according to Strane, she’s the one who made him start wanting her; she’s the one who said yes when he asked if she was okay with him touching her; she’s the one who craved his validation – so then that automatically makes her the dark one, right?

It was incredibly mind boggling just how manipulative Strane was the entire time, shifting any culpability from himself over to her in order to be able to live with everything he’d done. It is so scary to think that these people really do exist in the world, and that they prey on young, naïve boys and girls just like Vanessa.

One thing I really liked about the book was how it shifted from the 2000s to 2017 every other chapter; the switch over from one to the other was done perfectly and it made me so interested to see where the events of the past led to in the present. Every relationship Vanessa had after and during Strane was interwoven with theirs, and I think it was really significant for the author to depict this because the affair with him shaped every other relationship after it – including the one she had with her parents. I can’t even describe how upsetting and heartbreaking it was to read about the parts with Vanessa’s mom, both past and present. To read about Vanessa defending Strane both to others and to herself was so hard; she wanted so badly to believe she was his exception, that she wanted everything he did to her because that meant that she wouldn’t have to face the truth.

I held off reading the last chapter because I honestly didn’t want this to end, and when it ended, I cried.

If you are in the right headspace for it, and the events of this book would not be triggering to you, I recommend My Dark Vanessa wholeheartedly. I can’t stop thinking about this book, and I will never stop thinking about this book. One of my favourites of 2020 and all time.

– Catherine

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