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October 05, 2016

Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Crooked Kingdom
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Orion Children's Books
Publication Date: September 27th, 2016
Genre(s): Young Adult, High Fantasy
Source: Borrowed
Pages: 561
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Kaz Brekker and his crew have just pulled off a heist so daring even they didn't think they'd survive. But instead of divvying up a fat reward, they're right back to fighting for their lives. Double-crossed and left crippled by the kidnapping of a valuable team member, the crew is low on resources, allies, and hope. As powerful forces from around the world descend on Ketterdam to root out the secrets of the dangerous drug known as jurda parem, old rivals and new enemies emerge to challenge Kaz's cunning and test the team's fragile loyalties. A war will be waged on the city's dark and twisting streets―a battle for revenge and redemption that will decide the fate of magic in the Grisha world.

This review has very mild spoilers.

With Crooked Kingdom, I somehow experienced the full spectrum of human emotion and loved every wretched second of it. I don't want to analyze this book, I just want to talk about how perfect it is. This book is perfect in every way that I can think of. It's a book me that makes me stop thinking about what's happening and makes me live the story. I was so disappointed with Ruin and Rising that I feared that Crooked Kingdom would finish the way Ruin and Rising did, like a spluttering flame that someone stomps out.

But in Crooked Kingdom, Bardugo has woven some otherwordly magic, a plot that is relentless and seamless, prose that makes you want to stop and go over every word you read so you don't miss anything, a world that is detailed, diverse, and multicultural, so real and believable that I only want to see more of it, and a band of characters that are vibrant, complex, flawed and brought me to my knees.

While the plot of the book is a lot of fun, super gritty with all the fighting and badassery and perfect in every way I can think of, (the loudest of shoutouts to Inej and Nina, literally the bravest characters I know), the real winner here was the characterization. It seriously blows my mind how Bardugo packs so much character detail and backstory in two books involving SIX characters and multiple POVs. I ended the book completely in love with all of them. Like I said in my review of Crooked Kingdom, there are three, three glorious ships and STUFF happened in all of them.

Wylan and Jesper are quite literally the CUTEST. Jesper's dad showing up was a surprising...surprise (wow I really how know I review a book) and I loved watching him interact with Jesper and Wylan and support them. How often do you see supportive parental figures in a high fantasy seriously? Wylan was so freaking relatable. An underdog, but a quiet, loyal, hardcore Hufflepuff who always came through for Jesper and supported him exactly in the way that he needed to be supported. I also liked how we get to learn a lot of Jesper's and Wylan's childhoods and about Zemeni culture. Like I said, not only do all the characters have detailed character arcs in the book, there is a lot of backstory involved as well. Obligatory HOW-did-you-accomplish-this-Bardugo-HOW.

A lot of people didn't warm to Matthias as well, but his arc was very important to me. Matthias was
all about reconsidering his Fjerdan ways and culture and trying to reconcile them with what he was
experiencing in Ketterdam and his feelings for Nina, and watching him overcome his prejudice and
reading the resolution of his arc absolutely destroyed me. In a very Froi-like manner, I loved how
he started off as resolutely believing what he had learnt about the Grisha from the Fjerdans and how
he learnt to unlearn all of that. To me, his arc meant that those people can change and learn and are absolutely worth saving and rooting for.

I don't....know how to talk about Inej and Kaz without melting into NOTHINGNESS. Inej Ghafa is made of some otherworldly magic and grit and bravery. I am in awe, I have no words, and I feel like anything I say about her will not do her justice. I have quite literally never read any character like her, made of quiet courage and will one hundred percent. Her family is present in her mind all the time, and she both longs to see them and wonders what they would think of the person she is now. Both Inej and Kaz have been affected by Ketterdam, Inej because of the time she spent indentured to Tante Heleen and Kaz, because of how he was scammed by Rollins, and the way they deal with that pain is in sharp contrast. They are definitely the most fleshed out and well developed of the gang, fighting to recover from their past and they deal with it in very different ways. Where Inej is quiet, fierce hope, Kaz is relentless and fixated on his goal of destroying Rollins and afraid of what lies after.

I really wanted this book to have more kissing. But I'm even happier that Bardugo refused to indulge me. This book is a shining example of how an author really, really listens to her characters lets them find their own way to each other. It would have been super unrealistic for Kaz to overcome his apprehensions of starting a real physical relationship in such a short span of time, or for Kaz and Inej to spend the book dwelling on each other for ages since they were literally running and fighting and scheming for their lives every other chapter. Yes, there was progress, and I'm very happy that the book ended in the hopeful way that it did, without resolving in either of them kissing because I would not have bought that.

IN CONCLUSION, I could talk about every page and chapter of this book for hours. The prose is so quotable, the world is so intricate and the character development is off the charts. There is so much I know I haven't talked about. This review is a very inadequate description of my feelings. My heart is SO full. Of awe, of wonder. I can't believe that books like this exist, books with worlds and cultures and characters that make me feel so, so damn much. Bardugo is a genius and that is fact. I can't wait to see what comes up next.

October 01, 2016

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapeña - Another mystery thriller

The Couple Next Door

itle: The Couple Next Door 
Author: Shari Lapena 
Publisher: Random House Canada
Publication date: August 23, 2016
Genre(s): Adult Mystery/thriller 
Source: Publisher
Pages: 320

How well do you know the couple next door? Or your husband? Or even—yourself?  

People are capable of almost anything. . . 
Anne and Marco Conti seem to have it all—a loving relationship, a wonderful home, and their beautiful baby, Cora. But one night when they are at a dinner party next door, a terrible crime is committed. Suspicion immediately focuses on the parents. But the truth is a much more complicated story.

Inside the curtained house, an unsettling account of what actually happened unfolds. Detective Rasbach knows that the panicked couple is hiding something. Both Anne and Marco  soon discover that the other is keeping secrets, secrets they've kept for years. 

The Couple Next Door starts off with a harmless get together between neighbours. However, the next thing we know, Anne and Marco's baby is kidnapped. The spotlight is put on the parents and their suspicious behaviour and past.. this leaves the readers confused and not being able to trust the narration.. my favourite thing when it comes to mystery novels: unreliable narrators. 

As the novel continued, the couple's not so perfect life and selves started to unravel.. I had my suspicions on who the kidnapper was and I was right... I feel when I guess the criminal too soon.. it gets boring to me.. especially when the reason behind the kidnapping was a bit.... anti climatic? however the author did have another twist in the end.. but I personally thought it was a bit too.... unrealistic? it just seemed the more I read.. the more the author seemed to through twist after twist at us just so no reader would have really predicted the ending? it seemed like that to me and that is why I would have rated the first half of the book 4 stars.. but the second half was really not satisfactory. 

I must say I really liked the addition of the detective's POV.. it brought outside insight into the situation, especially when we couldn't trust the narrators and wanted another opinion to this mystery. I have to say, I had some expectations from this book especially when I was a quarter of the way in.. and they weren't met, but it was still an overall enjoyable read, just not up to part with some other mystery novels I have read recently. 

September 19, 2016

Review: The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

Title: The Unexpected Everything
Author: Morgan Matson 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 3rd, 2016
Genre(s): Young Adult 
Source: Borrowed
Pages: 519
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Andie had it all planned out. 
When you are a politician’s daughter who’s pretty much raised yourself, you learn everything can be planned or spun, or both. Especially your future.

Important internship? Check.

Amazing friends? Check.

Guys? Check (as long as we’re talking no more than three weeks).
But that was before the scandal. Before having to be in the same house with her dad. Before walking an insane number of dogs. That was before Clark and those few months that might change her whole life.

Because here’s the thing—if everything’s planned out, you can never find the unexpected. 
And where’s the fun in that?

Having previously read most of (truth be told, all except for one) Morgan Matson book, I knew I had to pick this one up when I saw it laying on my sister's table. I can happily say I'm a big fan of Matson's books, and they have successfully never failed to disappoint me. Its summer, and I think it was perfect for me to pick a book for this season. Andie, the main character of this book, was an interesting character who we could inevitably see grow and develop from the start to the end of the story. To start with, her summer was going to be a great experience for her as she got the chance to intern at the place she's always wanted. She has a group of friends that any person could wish for, and her love relationship seems to be relaxed with no strings attached. Everything is exactly as how Andie wants it to be, and she's happy with the direction her life is taking. 

Here's the twist, something happens that results in Andie's so called perfect plans to be changed. The story grows from here on. Andie has to adjust to the current situation, and tries to make the best of it. Personally for me, the story was interesting, chill, but not so much a page turner. At some point I felt like a few parts were prolonged unnecessarily, and it would have been better off reduced. The middle of the book was the slowest for me, but I was glad it started to pick up its pace again with more drama and unexpected events towards the end of the book. 

Overall, I wouldn't say this was my favourite Morgan Matson book by far. I don't think it was very memorable. Just a book that was enjoyable during the time, and then to be forgotten later on. If you're looking for a chill book to read on a summer day, I would recommend The Unexpected Everything.

September 16, 2016

Review: Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas

Title: Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5)
Author: Sarah J. Maas
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: September 6th, 2016
Genre(s): High fantasy, Young Adult
Source: Bought
Pages: 693

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The long path to the throne has only just begun for Aelin Galathynius. Loyalties have been broken and bought, friends have been lost and gained, and those who possess magic find themselves at odds with those who don't.

As the kingdoms of Erilea fracture around her, enemies must become allies if Aelin is to keep those she loves from falling to the dark forces poised to claim her world. With war looming on all horizons, the only chance for salvation lies in a desperate quest that may mark the end of everything Aelin holds dear.
Aelin's journey from assassin to queen has entranced millions across the globe, and this fifth installment will leave fans breathless. Will Aelin succeed in keeping her world from splintering, or will it all come crashing down? 

It's been nine days since Empire of Storms came out and eight days since I tore through that 700 page monstrosity and finished it in one sitting. My instinct was to rate this book five stars. When I finished, my heart was so, so full. Full of love for these characters and where this story has taken them. But I've more or less calmed down now to be a little more objective than I was then.

There are many more POVs in Empire of Storms (though one is quite notably absent), and I think at this point of the war against Perrington, it's incredibly important. Early on, in EoS, it is established that Aelin cannot do this on her own, that she needs allies. EoS is all about securing those allies, moving them into place like pieces on a chessboard, for the final showdown.

I love how Sarah's books have a wealth of female characters, all strong in their diverse way. Lysandra, Elide and Manon, in particular, were three characters that got a lot more page time than in previous book and I loved every last second of it.

Hands down, my favourite part of the book was Manon and her development. In Heir of Fire, she was someone who gave zero shits about anyone but her Thirteen. Watching her retain her integrity and ferocity, while still change and set herself apart from the witches in EoS was amazing. I need more Celaena and Manon scenes now until the end of time. There were scenes between Manon and Aelin that I had been waiting for ever since I knew Manon and I am SO glad Sarah delivered.

Lysandraaaaaaaa. My heart hurt for her so much. All her love for her squad shows in the way she is the first to fight for them, never questioning, never asking for praise.  It's so hard for her to say the words, to openly express affection for her friends or a certain Fae who MAY OR MAY NOT be in stupid love with her, but her actions scream her feelings out loud. There is a scene involving a sea dragon that had me D E A D. There is no one more loyal to Aelin (except possibly Rowan) than Lysandra and I love her heart, her soul, her fire for how unequivocal her love is.

Elide played a more central role this book. Elide is set apart from the other books in that she is very....human, and doesn't have the physical strength that the others do? Aelin is Fae, Manon is a witch, Lysandra is a shapeshifter. But Elide comes from a history of being caged and crippled, and her strength is very much self-driven. And without spoiling anything CAN I JUST SAY SHE HAS A SHIP THAT IS QUITE POSSIBLY MY FAVOURITE SHIP OF THE SERIES. Just. Omg. I am a sucker for hate-to-love, but I also have an incredibly high bar for it; it's really hard to do well in my opinion, but this ship hit all the right buttons and checked all the boxes off when it comes to a hate-to-love that you can't help but desperately root for with all your rutting heart.

Need. Fanart. Now. Please. I am not the artistic one in the fandom I just read the books and scream over ~scenes~.


This book had an abundance of the Fae males: Lorcan, Rowan, and a couple of others whose names I will not reveal because spoilers. Rowan, in particular came into his own. I liked that he had more of his own role in the book. I don't particularly think he's a stunning character, sorry. I enjoyed the inclusion of the new Fae in the plot. Like I said, this book is very much about characters figuring out allegiances, and there were defnitely some warm squad moments. Don't you love it when a group of people with different agendas are THROWN together and along the way and over journeys they fight for each other and become a FAMILY and SQUAD and

I need a moment.

But this is sort of where my objective book-blogger-reviewing brain will talk about things I didn't like.  I'm reaaaaal sick of the hot-muscular-testosterone-fuelled-possessive-territorial Fae trope. It is not appealing, especially when Fae after Fae is like that. It is antiquated and yuck and pls no. Yeah, there were some personality differences between the Fae characters, but they were definitely the least fleshed out characters of the book. In this vein, I am slowly beginning to get a little queasy when it comes to SJM romance. She does the build up very well (see: Elide x Lorcan), but when it comes down to it, the sex is all fire and ash and magic and what not, and just....happening and I don't get why because um, why are they so horny when they're fighting for their lives?? There was also a Manon romance that I seriously questioned. Wtf you do not have to pair each and every main character in a book with someone. There were definitely parts of the book had that me rolling my eyes. I've noticed this shift in SJM's romance writing style post-Heir of Fire (around when she published ACOTAR).

I also think the complete exclusion of Chaol from the book was a mistake. I'm sure he'll return in the final installment, but the absence of his story was very glaring, and probably my biggest problem with the book. He isn't my favourite character by a long shot, but phasing him out was not natural and I'm sort of baffled at how he's barely mentioned in the book.

And finally, the ending of the book was one complete cliché. Yes, Aelin was the "lock", WHAT a surprise. Actually, it was a surprise, because I can't believe that this stereotype is being milked even now. Ruin and Rising, anyone? I am so over this unoriginal shit. -1 star for you.

My love for this book was very character based. The actions that they took, their motivations, the way the book ended had me on the edge of my seat because I was terrified for these people that had come together in the strangest of ways, that were willing to do whatever it took to make it out alive. But there were some pretty questionable plot decisions being made and I cannot believe that I am saying this, but the romance was my least favourite part of the book, overall. Le sigh.

Still. I cannot believe I have to wait a whole year for the next book.