Category Archives: Book Review

And I Darken by Kiersten White

andidarken-cover “I am your father. But that woman is not your mother. Your mother is Wallachia. Your mother is the very earth we go to now, the land I am prince of. Do you understand?” Lada looked into her father’s eyes, deep-set and etched with years of cunning and cruelty. She nodded, then held out her hand . “The daughter of Wallachia wants her knife back.” Vlad smiled and gave it to her. ~p. 12

Radu and Ladislav (Lada) are born into a world of conflict–they are the children of Vlad Dracul, who rules Wallachia, an outlying province/principality of the Ottoman Empire. They are as different as night and day–Lada can be a terror, a bully, but she is also strong and fiercely protects what she considers to be her own (such as Radu). Radu is quiet, bullied, but kindness and cunning are his gifts. When their father, Vlad Dracul, allows them to be held hostage by the emperor, Murad, who rules the Ottoman Empire all to keep his throne in Wallachia, Lada remains fiercely loyal to Wallachia, if not her father, while Radu is ready to eschew everything about his former life. Radu loves the Ottoman Empire, Islam, and most of all their friend, the emperor’s son Mehmed. The bonds of their friendship are tested again and again as they grow up and Mehmed takes the throne. Mehmed will need both Lada’s ferocity and Radu’s quiet cunning to help him gain and keep the throne. But what of Lada’s destiny, and her strange place in society as a fighting woman, a woman who refuses what traditional womanhood means? While they are so different, both Lada and Radu don’t quite “fit” into the roles society has given them–Lada desperately wants to rule and protect Wallachia, and Radu desperately wants Mehmed–a desire that he knows is somehow forbidden though no one speaks of it. In the end, what will each of them be willing to sacrifice for what they want?

I have to say that I absolutely loved this book. I loved how bravely the author posed the question, what if Vlad Dracula (Vlad the Impaler) was a woman? How would this story change? Fair warning though, if you like your protagonists to be straightforward good guys, this might not be the book for you. White does an excellent job of complicating both Lada and Radu. And what a love triangle! I see that this is going to be a series and I can’t wait to read the next installment. I enjoyed the writing (subtle and sharp as Lada’s hidden knives), the characters, and even the setting of Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire. And I Darken earned my wholehearted recommendation.

 

 

 

 

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Emma by Jane Austen

emma Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her. ~Chapter 1, Vol. 1

I first read Emma when I was in high school, and I can’t say that I finished the book just absolutely loving or hating it. I can say that as I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that Emma is very far from a favorite heroine of Austen’s, but that Mr. Knightley is generally one of her most popular heroes. Yet Jane Austen didn’t title the novel, Mr. Knightley, so on this re-reading I decided to pay more attention to Emma–what was it about her that made me dislike…or simply like her less than my favorite heroines (Anne Elliott, Fanny Price, Elizabeth Bennet, Elinor Dashwood). Upon first impression, Emma is spoiled, privileged–her help does more harm than good to Harriet Smith and for most of the novel she ignores Jane Fairfax, who would have made a better BFF. But you know what, I found that I liked Emma–she may not be the Austen heroine most in tune with reality–she often has her own vision of things, but she does care for her friends and family. And I have to say that I think Highbury/Hartfield is one of Austen’s best settings. It is much less stuffy than Mansfield Park and certainly better than any of the settings poor Anne Elliott must endure (“smoky” Bath, her sister’s and brother-in-law’s house–her only reprieve, really, is Lyme). The familiarity of Ms. and Mrs. Bates, Emma’s father (overly anxious about his health and the health of everyone else), Mr. Perry, and though we never meet him–the William Larkins that Emma teases Mr. Knightley about. I think Austen crafted some of her most lovable and equally frustrating characters in Emma and I am certainly glad I gave it a second chance!

 

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A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

torch “Skies,” Afya says. “I thought you told me you loved stories. Have you ever heard a story of an adventurer with a sane plan?”

“Well….no.”

“And why do you think that is?”

I am at a loss. “Because….ah, because–”

She chuckles again. “Because sane plans never work, girl,” she says. “Only the mad ones do.”

~p. 388

Note: Spoilers ahead

A Torch Against the Night is the sequel to Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes. It continues the story of Elias and Laia, right as they’re beginning to escape the city of Serra and on their way to get to Kauf prison to free Laia’s brother Darin.
But on the way, they will meet with many unexpected guests. As with any good adventure story, friendships are tested, true identities are revealed, and destinies are made and challenged.
I have to say that I enjoyed the sequel to Ember every bit as much as I did the first book. Tahir’s writing is enjoyable and at times very beautiful. My only complaint is that it could be a little tighter. One of the characters which seemed completely nonessential (Keenan) turns out to be one of the core antagonists. But the love story between him an Laia seemed really extraneous and so the big reveal just wasn’t as devastating to me as it could have been with some tighter writing. In the first novel I seriously thought his only purpose was to be a secondary love interest for Laia–since there was already a triangle between Elias/Laia/Helene.
Speaking of Helene, I am actually very interested in her story arc. I think her story is the one I’m most looking forward to continuing to read in the next installment. I’m also intrigued by Avitas Harper–her former torturer and spy for the Commandant turned ally to Helene. And I’m also curious to see how all the new magical powers everyone has will play out.
Overall, I think I’ve found yet another YA fantasy series that I will be following. I’ve lost count of how many of these I’m supposed to be keeping up with–a very good problem to have, I’d say!

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Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

crooked Note: This review contains slight spoilers.

Inej almost felt sorry for her. Dunyasha really believed she was the Lantsov heir, and maybe she was. But wasn’t that what every girl dreamed? That she’d wake and find herself a princess? Or blessed with magical powers and a grand destiny? Maybe there were people who lived those lives. Maybe this girl was one of them. But what about the rest of us? What about the nobodies and the nothings, the invisible girls? We learn to hold our heads as if we wear crowns. We learn to wring magic from the ordinary. That was how you survived when you weren’t chosen, when there was no royal blood in your veins. When the world owed you nothing, you demanded something of it anyway. p. 460

Crooked Kingdom is the sequel to Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Friends, let me just tell you now that I love these books. Both of them. Crooked Kingdom did not disappoint, though I thought perhaps the construction of Six of Crows was a little stronger. Sometimes the pacing of Kingdom seemed to slow in just a few too many places. Matthias also appears to have completely changed his attitude toward Grisha. I do understand that he had a life changing experience at the Ice Court, and that he knows he loves Nina. But sometimes it seemed a little too easy. I did appreciate the guest appearance of Sturmhond and some of the other characters from the Grisha series. In places, the writing is breathtakingly beautiful. And of course, I still love that this is a series about a group of misfits taking on the rich and the powerful. I think Bardugo has created some wonderful, complex, memorable characters in Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Wylan, Nina, and Matthias. I certainly enjoyed the series and enjoyed the romances of Jesper and Wylan, Nina and Matthias, and Inej and Kaz. Each one non-traditional in some aspect.

I definitely recommend this series! No mourners, no funerals.

 

 

 

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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

emberintheashes “You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes. That is your destiny.” ~Sabaa Tahir, pp. 400-401

Note: does contain spoilers

 

I thoroughly enjoyed An Ember in the Ashes. I thought Tahir’s fantasy world was original and well-crafted and even more important–it was interesting. Her world of Martials (very similar to the Roman Empire) and Scholars (based on Sufis) and the Scholar resistance to Martial dominance all makes for a fascinating background to the central story–the story of one Martial (a Mask, or fully trained warrior from an illustrious family, no less) who hates the ways of the Empire and it is the story of a Scholar girl who is willing to become a slave and spy in order to bargain with the Scholar Resistance in order to save her brother. Elias and Laia have a lot to learn about each other, about trust, and how two very different people can be more alike than they know.

I was particularly interested in Elias’ story, of the tension with Helene and his mother’s own hatred of him. The chapters go back and forth between Laia and Elias’ points of view, which makes for some nice tension throughout the novel. One thing that bothered me–just a bit–was how Laia’s parentage was revealed to the Resistance. At the moment when they are ready to kill her–she reveals that she is the daughter of two of the most famous Resistance fighters. Perhaps I’m being persnickety, but that is just REALLY convenient.

However, overall I enjoyed the story, was fascinated by the world that Tahir built, and would definitely be willing to read the sequel.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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Note: this review does contain spoilers. 

Since reading the very last Harry Potter book, I was happy with the way the series came to a close, but I was also a little disappointed that we would never get the next chapter. In this script, that is exactly what we get. The play opens with the very last scene that is in the seventh novel and goes on from there. Time is played with from the very beginning and it’s no wonder that the story revolves around an illicit time turner. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is very much a story in the tradition of the series–full of adventure, friendship, the strength of love battling against the strength of evil. However, the familiar characters that we know (Ron, Hermione, and Harry) are much more nuanced as adults. I like that the central conflict stems from the fact that Harry is just struggling (and failing) to be a good father. I don’t want to give too much away, but I have to say I really loved one of our main protagonists: Scorpius Malfoy. What can I say? He made my nerdy heart sing. In any case, I will just have to say that I enjoyed the story and the script very much. I wish it was not impossible for me to see the play, but I am glad that they did at least release the script!

 

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The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

darkestpartoftheforest
My love for Holly Black’s books began when I was in high school and read Tithe for the very first time. Tithe is a dark, gritty, and grim fairy tale set in modern day New Jersey. It is a compulsively readable book that I could just not put down (even when I wanted to).
Over the years, I’ve read Black’s other books (White Cat, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Valiant, etc.) and loved them all. In this book, she returns to fairies. The Darkest Part of the Forest is in some way a dark, fairy tale epic. It’s about a brother and sister living in a secluded, small town that is surrounded by fairies and the fairy world. Oh sure, it’s a little bit dangerous (fairies are tricksters and have a different sense of morality than human beings), but nothing has really harmed the townspeople (just a couple of tourists each year go missing or are found not alive)…until now. Can Hazel step up to the plate and be the champion, the knight that she’s always dreamed of being? Can Ben, with all his magical musical ability, face the truth about his feelings and save both his sister and the person he has loved the longest?

In the Darkest Part of the Forest, Ben and Hazel will no longer find the Horned Boy in the glass coffin–tourist attraction and main character in all of their favorite stories. In the darkest part of the forest, our heroes will find adventure, their heart’s desire (though it always comes at a price), sorrow, pain, and the truth about their world and the harsh realities of their peculiar childhood.

I particularly enjoyed the way Black weaves many different fairy tales into the world of this novel.

I recommend to anyone who is a fan of Holly Black or is looking for a good YA fantasy novel.

You might also be interested to see my review of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

 

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