[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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[Emma in the Night] Wendy Walker

There are so many pieces to our story, pieces that, if taken away, might have changed the whole course of it. […] And…it took all of us, our flaws and our desires. My hunger for power, which I will get to next. It was all in it, in our story, like the ingredients to a complicated recipe.*

Daughters of Mothers with Narcissism: Can the Cycle Be Broken?*

That is the name of the fictional paper that Emma in the Night keeps going back to explore: Can daughters escape a narcissistic cycle when it’s the only thing they’ve known their whole life? Three years ago, Cass and Emma Tanner disappeared. When Cass comes back this cold case reopens, and with it comes things that Dr. Abby Winter tried so hard to forget. It was the case that stuck with her and now she has a chance to solve what happened the night that Emma and Cass disappeared. Something didn’t add up to Abby then, and it doesn’t add up now. As Cass weaves a story of betrayal, kidnapping, and lost time, Abby has to untangle the truth from Cass’ words. Her return doesn’t mean it’s over.

I think there are two types of people. Ones who have a scream inside them and ones who don’t. People who have a scream are too angry or too sad or laugh too hard, swear too much, use drugs or never sit still. Sometimes they sing at the top of their lungs with the windows rolled down. I don’t think people are born with it. I think other people put it inside you with the things they do to you, or say to you, or the things you see them do or say to other people. And I don’t think you can get rid of it. If you don’t have a scream, you can’t understand.*

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[The Epic Crush of Genie Lo] F.C. Yee

Chinese folklore, action, and the threat of a demon invasion. That is what The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is made of. Epic Crush is the debut novel from F.C. Yee, and combines high school classes and college prep with hunting down demons and learning how to control sudden powers. The gods, goddesses, and demons from Chinese mythology were unfamiliar, but they were integrated into a modern setting in a way that introduced them to a reader who has little to no knowledge of them.

I know nothing about Chinese mythology, so this was my first introduction to the gods, goddesses, and demons. It worked for me and I enjoyed reading a book that also taught me something. Ultimately, I’m not sure if learning about folklore from a YA book is the best because authors sometimes pick and choose, but it was interesting enough for me! I enjoyed that both Chinese names and translated names were used. It was a good choice because had all traditional names been used, I think it would have had the tendency to run together, but if all names were translated, it would have given the book a childishness that the book doesn’t deserve.

I really like books that incorporate an older, mythological setting and characters into a modern one. I like the urban fantasy aspect that it creates for books. While I felt that the modern setting was a bit too vague and relied on the reader to supply what they thought the Bay area looked like, I was able to imagine the world of the gods that existed alongside the modern one through the descriptions given to me in the stories Genie learned about. So while I felt that the normal setting was a bit bland and unrealized, the mythology behind it made it much more interesting.

The main character in Epic Crush is Genie, a girl prepping for college by studying hard, going to an adviser, and generally doing any volunteer activities that will help her get into a college far, far away from her hometown. That’s her main goal. She’s kind of thrown for a loop when she’s suddenly told that she has powers, but they’re not exactly the standard ones. There’s a lot of adjusting, and then there’s even more adjusting when something is revealed that makes her question her whole identity. I thought it was an interesting take on the powers trope. It isn’t something I’ve read before, so I was pleasantly surprised by it.

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[Aftercare Instructions] Bonnie Pipkin

Ever since the death of her father, Genesis has had to take on more than the average seventeen-about-to-turn-eighteen girl should have to. When her mother fell into a depression after her father’s death, Genesis took on the responsibility of taking care of her family. She can’t just leave her mother to her grief. But then Genesis gets pregnant. It’s not how she expected her year to go–pregnancy in high school was never her plan. She and her boyfriend, Peter, decide that getting an abortion is the only option for them because they’re seventeen and not ready for a child. After the procedure, Genesis expects to find her boyfriend waiting for her in the lobby of the Planned Parenthood. Instead she discovers that Peter abandoned her there. She’s alone. It’s something that she hasn’t really addressed before.

The girl and her escort have the same wild hair and deep-set eyes. This has to be her mother, and I try to imagine my own mother helping me out, escorting me. But I can’t conjure the faintest image of this. Not anymore.*

What follows is a heartfelt exploration of first loves, friendship, and understanding that your–and others’–actions may not be so black and white.

While Aftercare Instructions puts an abortion at the forefront of the novel–and indeed the opening scene takes place at the clinic–it’s very decisively after: it focuses on what Genesis is going through after the abortion and after the realization that her boyfriend has abandoned her. She needs to learn how to move on from both events and figure out how they’re going to change her. Genesis doesn’t always address everything, but since the chapter titles deal with aftercare and details about what your body goes through after an abortion, the reader is constantly reminded of where the novel started and what Genesis will eventually have to come to terms with.

I thought that Bonnie Pipkin did a good job of showing Genesis’ processing; she goes through an array of emotions from betrayal, to second guessing, to wanting to forget, all while trying to hold herself and her family together. She’s very much a girl who thinks that she has to keep it to herself to protect others, even her best friend. I think there’s an important release when she’s able to confide in others. I also think it’s equally important that she wasn’t shamed for having an abortion. Instead we were shown female relationships where there was only concern.

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[Patchwork] Karsten Knight

Patchwork is said to be like several popular young adult novels, which is something that often bothers me. I feel that it can set up the book to be a failure if it doesn’t meet my expectations–made higher by people touting it as the next Game of Thrones or Gone Girl. It may perhaps be lucky that I haven’t read any of the books that this one is said to be similar to, because for once I don’t have that complaint. In Patchwork, Karsten Knight takes the myth of the Phoenix and puts it in a modern setting, blending past and present in a time-traveling book that sends Renata Lake into her memories for a chance to change a moment. Her power comes to the surface after an attack at prom kills all of her friends and classmates. Suddenly she has a new power that she doesn’t understand. What she doesn’t have is time–Renata must try to figure out how to use her powers to discover who is after her and her friends before it’s too late.

I really enjoyed the world of Patchwork. Knight created a world based on Renata’s memories of the past, knitting together her reality and the mythos of Patchwork. I hesitate to say more because I don’t want to have heavy spoilers in my review. Patchwork functioned as a way for Renata to time-travel, allowing her to walk through memories to find a point in her past that she could try to change, but she can never go back to the original point where her powers manifested: the attack at prom. She can continue going backward to try to save her friends and discover the assassin, but it erases her future. She has to make new memories from whatever point she stops at. Fortunately, she remembers everything. Unfortunately, no one else does. I think that everyone wishes at some point in their life that they could go back and change something, but they maybe don’t consider what would happen if they could change a moment but then they’re stuck and have to start over from there. I thought that Knight did a great job of portraying this by using Patchwork and Renata’s reaction to it. I’ve read a few time-traveling books before, but I thought that this was a unique way to portray it.

The one very slight problem I had with Patchwork was the blending of Greek and what I see as Egyptian mythology, namely the choice of Osiris. There’s an Amaranthine Society, the Minotaurs, and Daedalus, which are decidedly Greek. I love that Greek mythology was woven throughout the story because it’s always been something I’m interested in. The inclusion of Osiris, an Egyptian god of the afterlife, really confused me. I did some research (i.e. read the Osiris myth on wikipedia), and apparently the myth of Osiris traveled to Greece with the worship of another goddess, Isis. The Osiris myth was also written about, where Greek writers viewed the Osiris myth with a Greek philosophy lens. So it does technically fit with the Greek mythology aspect of Patchwork. Even still, I would argue that Osiris is well-known as an Egyptian god with most people being unaware of the connection to Greece. Ultimately, my only quibble is that I wish Knight had chosen another name.

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[The Suffering Tree] Elle Cosimano

Warning: I discuss cutting and the inclusion of it in The Suffering Tree in this review.

This cover is really nice. The colors are so lovely.

When I finished The Suffering Tree and read reviews of it I asked myself if I read the same book as these other reviewers because I absolutely do not have feelings of this being a five, four, or even three star book. The initial look at the book, aka the summary, had me hooked. It seemed right up my alley: it has a curse, a mystery, and a character coming back from the dead coupled with the outsider / outcast aspect. That summary was what led me to request an ARC on NetGalley. Sadly the summary led me astray.

The things I liked about this book are slim compared to the problems I had with it. It’s exceedingly frustrating as a reader to have most of the excitement about the book explained in the summary, because I found the actual book quite slow and boring at times. Even though the writing had beautiful and sometimes poetic moments, I couldn’t shake the disconnect from the characters despite following Tori throughout the entire novel.

Normally this is where I’d go into talking about the characters to keep with the flow of my writing, but I wanted to talk about the things I had issues with in order of importance. Because all of my issues with the characters and the points of view pale in comparison to this:

Using cutting as a way to have magical things happen is a HUGE problem

There was no indication going into The Suffering Tree that Tori self-harmed. Like this review here, I agree that self-harm is not something that should be completely erased from young adult books, but it does need to be done in a way that doesn’t glorify it the way that I felt The Suffering Tree did. The inclusion of self-harm was completely unexpected. I’ve read a few other books with self-harm in them, and generally there’s something in the plot summary that indicates to the reader that it will be discussed in the book.

I hated that other characters, namely her mother and brother, seemed to ignore that Tori was hurting. Tori had been caught before and was required to talk to someone (she no longer is talking to someone ) and Tori’s mother counts the knives in the drawers, but there’s just something so dismissive about how it was handled in the book. They just scurry out of her way in their attempts to not talk about it.  With the death of Tori’s father, subsequent eviction, and move to a new home and town, you’d think that Tori’s mother would be aware of the stressors in Tori’s life that would lead to more cutting. There’s absolutely no discussion about how Tori is doing and there’s no therapy, even though the discussion of therapy is halfheartedly made later on. Nothing comes of it, however.  It made me feel like the author just used it as a way to further the story rather than call attention to the real harm it can be.

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[Geekerella] Ashley Poston

Geekerella is the most adorable book I’ve read this year. It is full of geeky references to BatmanStar TrekStar WarsFireflyThe Lord of the Rings… and so many more. It embraced fandom and all of the different facets of it: how you feel when your favorite thing is remade or made into a movie for the first time, fanfiction, reaction posts, cosplaying, and connecting with fans across the world with something you’re passionate about. Ashley Poston takes all of that and writes a retelling of Cinderella that fits in with this geeky culture that is often written off by people who don’t understand it.

The novel is divided between two points of view, Elle and Darien. Elle is our heroine who lives and breathes Starfield, the show she shared with her late father. Starfield is getting a reboot and Elle is equal parts thrilled and worried. She wants it to be for her generation–it’s bound to be better than the cardboard cutouts they had to use for props in the original–but worried about who will be cast as the main characters. When teen actor Darien Freeman is cast as her favorite character, her hero Federation Prince Carmindor, she thinks that everything Starfield will be ruined by this teen actor who only knows the basic answers to questions about the fandom. Elle wants a fan to play Carmindor–or at least someone who took the time to learn about what he’s stepping into–is that too much to ask?

As for Darien, playing Carmindor is his dream role. Like Elle, he grew up with Starfield. Only no one knows that. No one believes that this teen heart-throb with his screaming legion of fangirls has any depth. He used to love the geeky culture of Starfield, back when he wasn’t famous. Now that he’s famous, he can’t be Darien Freeman, geek who  likes Batman and Starfield. He has to be Darien Freeman, teen actor who lives for being in the spotlight, who took on this role because it would catapult him into fame. More and more, Darien feels that he is losing himself.

I was worried that Geekerella was going to be an instant-love story. With how it was described in the summary, it seemed like Elle and Darien wouldn’t meet until the convention. Thankfully it was not the case. In a world where sometimes we only interact with people through a screen, I thought that Poston’s use of a mistaken number worked really well for this novel. The reader knows the whole time of the identity of those texting, so it was nice to see how their relationship grew without having prior knowlege of who they each were or what they looked like.

While Geekerella did follow the expected points of Cinderella, they were changed to fit into Elle’s world. Instead of a pumpkin being turned into a carriage, there’s a food truck that’s painted like a pumpkin. It’s an eyesore. And loud. It made me hungry for vegan tacos. I loved it. There’s the expected mean stepmother and horrible stepsisters who share a slightly dilapidated house. But there’s no magic. The only magic that comes into this story is the magic you feel when you fall in love and when you have the hope that dreams can come true. It was modern and wholly passionate.

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