[Long Way Down] Jason Reynolds

No crying. No snitching. Revenge.

***

Another thing about the rules:

They weren’t meant to be broken
They were meant for the broken

to follow. 

These are the rules at the core of Long Way Down, a story about a boy looking to avenge the death of his brother. Written in prose, we follow Will as he takes the elevator down to the lobby the day after his brother was killed. With his mother’s sobs filling his ears, he sees no other alternative than to kill the person who killed Shawn. Or, at least, the person he thinks killed Shawn. He’s certain that he knows the guy. What follows is an exploration of a life and how the people around you shape how you live yours.

When I first started Long Way Down I wasn’t sure if I’d like the prose. Prose has an ability to really speak to you as a reader, but it also has the potential of simplifying a situation. That was not the case with this novel. I thought that Reynolds did a superb job of using the form to introduce the traged(ies) and the characters and their mindsets. I don’t think I could have been given a clearer picture. The words were so full of emotion–not only for this fictional situation, but for the very really lives that live in a world like this. I found myself equally looking forward to how the next visitor in the elevator fit in and dreading the new facet to the tragedy.

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[Girls Made of Snow and Glass] Melissa Bashardoust

There are worse things in the world to be than delicate. If you’re delicate, it means no one has tried to break you.*

Girls Made of Snow and Glass is a unique retelling of the tale of Snow White, with a princess and a queen who struggle to find their place in the kingdom. Though based on Snow WhiteGirls Made of Snow and Glass doesn’t fall into the fantasy tropes of evil queen v. young princess, age v. beauty, or wondering who the princess is going to marry. In fact, I feel that there’s very little about Snow White that remains in this debut novel, other than the queen and the princess element.  It truly feels like its own story.

“It was only the dead mothers who were perfect–the living ones were messy and unpredictable and selfish.*”

The main conflict of the novel does set up Mina–the Queen from the South–and Lynet–the princess who is soon to come of age–against each other, but not in the way that I expected. Girls Made of Snow and Glass puts their relationship at centerstage and explores how it has flourished and changed over the years. For Lynet, Mina has been the only mother she has known. Her own died when she was too young to remember, so when Mina enters her life–first as a friend and then as a mother–it fills a hole in her life. For Mina, Lynet has always been the one who will take over her position one day–so she tries to keep her heart from loving the girl.

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[Shimmer and Burn] Mary Taranta

Even the damned get a choice, or at least the illusion of one. I’m proof enough of that.*

Shimmer and Burn‘s beautiful cover caught my eye when I was requesting ARCs a few months ago, and I’ve only just finished it now.  A debut novel from Mary Taranta, Shimmer and Burn takes readers across Avinea as Faris travels with a tyrannical princess, one who will not hesitate to hurt Faris or threaten the sister Faris left behind. If Faris wants to survive and save her sister, she must listen to the whims of a princess who doesn’t think about consequences. They may be traveling companions but they both have their own end goals.

I really enjoy books that put characters who are essentially opposites together. It instantly sets up tension between them and the reader, which allows for events to unfold differently than if everyone was working together. Faris and Bryn are like that. Faris’ mother died when she was young and she was left to raise her younger sister Cadence in the slums of Brindaigel. The only time she feels powerful is when she’s fighting in the fighting pits. Bryn is the opposite, with everything that she could ever want–but she still wants more. When Bryn decides that she wants to be more than the princess of Brindaigel, Faris realizes that she has an opportunity to save her sister.

Naturally, it’s not as simple as that. Faris’ naivety and moments of clarity were a little frustrating at times, but despite that I really enjoyed her character. I liked that she fought–literally–for things in her life and that she wasn’t a weak person. She wasn’t normally involved in political machinations, but when she found herself in the middle of one she proved that she could handle it. I enjoyed reading how–despite the fact that she didn’t have a political background–she even found ways to gain supporters even as Bryn was controlling her with the spell that connected them. Faris isn’t a strong character. Nor is she a weak character. She had moments of both, mostly centered around her sister, and I thought it was really well done. I enjoyed reading how she was so conflicted with the situations she found herself in. She really had to pull herself out of darkness at times, which made her more unique than the standard heroine who just struggles.

I killed a man to save my sister, trading virtue for vice, compassion for selfishness. There’s no going back from that kind of imbalance, and unless I harden myself into iron, the sacrifice will be for nothing.*

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[First We Were IV] Alexandra Sirowy

The Order, its power, it’s a high. I feel it. But it’s also like this shadow I keep seeing out of the corner of my eye. I turn my head and it’s gone. It’s there. Dark. Waiting.*

It’s senior year, and Izzie, Harry, Graham, and Viv are the center of their universe. Self-made outcasts, they love each other fiercely and defiantly, ignoring the insults of their classmates. As the year begins, fear that their friendship will disintegrate after they go their separate ways begins to burn through Izzie. On a whim, she suggests that they start a secret society to stay together–no matter what. When the other three agree, they draft a secret society modeled after the ones they determine to be great. The Order of IV becomes their way to get back at their classmates and their small town, righting what they perceive to be injustices and doing it anonymously. There’s a certain power to invisibility, and they relish in how they can control it. When their rebellions are noticed by other classmates, the four of them realize that their power extends even further than they thought. Power is all-consuming. And it can get away from you.

Never lie.
Never tell.
Love each other.

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[Ruin and Rising: The Grisha Trilogy III] Leigh Bardugo

We all die. Not everyone dies for a reason.

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My opinion of this series has changed a lot over the past couple of days. I spent the better part of a day reading through Ruin and Rising in its entirety, even staying up far too late. I was exhausted the next day, but I couldn’t stop reading it when each chapter was filled with action and emotion. Ruin and Rising picks up after the capital has fallen. Alina feels pretty broken, and it’s hard to heal when you’re trapped underground and worried that the Darkling’s forces will find you.

These beautiful illustrations are by Irene Koh.

Beauty was your armor. Fragile stuff, all show. But what’s inside you? That’s steel. It’s brave and unbreakable. And it doesn’t need fixing.

I want to talk about the characters first. I know that this series–and the companion series–has been read and reviewed a lot, so there’s hardly anything new to say. But I’m going to throw my voice in there regardless. I sometimes feel like I’m one of the only readers who likes Mal. I think that his character growth is one of the better things about the series. I’ve heard that readers find him whiny, but I found him very real. He seemed like a real and true person in this fantasy world. He’s presented with so many impossible choices throughout the series and he decides to stay and help Alina, even though he doesn’t know if it will work out for them. He is steadfast and brave even when things are chipping at his resolve and his own emotions. I loved it. Yes, there are better love interests and better characters in other series, but for the Grisha trilogy, I found him to be one of the most changed characters by the end.

You move forward, and when you falter, you get up. And when you can’t, you let us carry you. You let me carry you.

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[The Disappearances] Emily Bain Murphy

 

The Disappearances is a magical-realism, historical novel rich in character and story. The novel primarily follows Aila, whose life has been uprooted following the death of her mother and the deployment of her father. At some point I had forgotten that this was also a historical novel, so that gave it a nice unexpected flavor when I first started reading it. The Disappearances is about a set of three towns that have been struck by strange Disappearances that no one can explain. With a focus on Sterling, the town that Aila’s mother grew up in, The Disappearances probes the events of the past: possible Catalysts, what has disappeared, and how they’ve unlocked some of the secrets of Sterling. When Aila and her brother arrive it’s like the past has come to Sterling; Aila’s remarkable likeness to her mother, Juliet, the only person who escaped Sterling, sets the townspeople on edge. With the next Disappearance coming up, Aila strives to clear her family’s name by discovering where the Disappearances came from. But there are those who may not want the Disappearances to stop.

“We call them the Disappearances.”*

‘The Disappearance affected everyone, young and old, and every thing: fruits and flowers, perfumes and shampoos–even those things that make people sentimental, like the smell of a child’s hair, or scents linked to important memories.’* 

Disappearances. Catalysts. A mystery that has affected Sterling since 1907, with something new disappearing every seven years. It’s something small, something mundane that you don’t think about until it’s gone: the smell of baking bread and flowers, your reflection in mirrors or lakes, the stars. It’s only when it’s gone that you realize what you’ve lost. With the Disappearances affecting everyone for most of their lives or since birth, living with them has become the norm. The townspeople have adopted rules regarding outsiders and the Disappearances, so when Aila and her brother come to live in Sterling with an old friend of their mother’s and her family, it causes problems within a community where tensions are already high. Their mother is called a Catalyst, a witch, and other things,  and it falls to Aila and her brother to deal with the accusations of the townspeople. Aila knows that the only way to clear her mother’s name is to discover the truth about the Disappearances. Continue reading

[Siege and Storm: The Grisha Trilogy II] Leigh Bardugo

Anything worth doing always starts as a bad idea.

I came off of reading Shadow and Bone, the first novel, feeling decidedly unimpressed. It was a good novel; I enjoyed reading it, but it wasn’t quite something I was raving about despite the impressive amount of love there is for it. Siege and Storm is so much better. I think it helps that the novel is longer. Bardugo is able to explore her world a bit more, showing readers the corners that hadn’t yet been introduced fully.

Keith Thompson is one of my favorite illustrators. I didn’t realize that he was the one who created the maps! So talented.

After defeating the Darkling on the Fold, Alina has been running and hiding. She and Mal have been trying to make a life for themselves in a strange land, but as the days pass, it becomes more and more difficult for Alina to hide who she is. When she discovers that the Darkling survived against impossible odds and is now more powerful than ever, Alina realizes that she’s going to have to face her past and confront the Darkling and his allies.

Alina came into her power in the first book, which meant that she finally is a character I like in this second book. I found her pretty annoying in the first book, a standard heroine that whines about her powers (or lack of) while doing little to advance herself. Obviously that had changed toward the end of the novel, but I still wasn’t sure of her and the Grisha series. Now I’m pretty eager to finish the series.

 I am a soldier. I am the Sun Summoner. And I’m the only chance you have. 

One of the best things about Siege and Storm was how much Alina struggled. She had been told by the Darkling that Mal, an otkazat’sya–someone without powers–would never understand her and her power. As much as she tried to ignore his words, they stuck with her, barbs that keep pricking at her heart even as she gets closer to Mal. The resulting inner conflict that Alina goes through makes her a much better character. I felt far more invested in her this time around because I wanted to see how she would overcome–or succumb to–this inner darkness that seems to have been planted in her by the Darkling. As the book progresses, Alina realizes that she maybe can’t blame the Darkling for all of the negative thoughts, greed, and thirst for more that has grown in her. I loved that. I loved that she owned up to her feelings instead of blaming someone else for it. She has all of these pressures on her that are personal and political, and sometimes they become too much for her.

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