YA Review: Ruin and Rising

Title: Ruin and Rising
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

Shadow and Bone, Book One of the trilogy, is reviewed here, and Siege and Storm, Book Two, is reviewed here.

After the cliffhanger at the end of Siege and Storm, Ruin and Rising begins with Alina and her allies taking the chance to stop, breathe, and regroup. The future of Ravka is far from settled, and several factions are fighting for power – and looking for Alina.

This is another big story, and another gripping adventure in the beautifully drawn landscape of Ravka. Alina and the Darkling have unfinished business, but ending the fight for the future of their country will take sacrifice, and Alina’s choices will determine what happens to everyone within its borders. There are dangerous quests, surprise plot twists, punishment, pain, and deception – alongside the teamwork, loyalty, and friendship of Alina and her supporters. The trilogy ends with several unexpected twists, but the conclusion is dramatic and hard-won.

This is a satisfying final instalment in an exciting series, and I’m thrilled that the author has written more books in the Grishaverse. The King of Scars, Rule of Wolves, The Language of Thorns and The Lives of Saints are all on my TBR!

Have you read Ruin and Rising? What did you think of the story? What about the ending? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Siege and Storm

Title: Siege and Storm
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

Shadow and Bone, Book One of the trilogy, is reviewed here.

The second book in the Shadow and Bone Trilogy picks up the story from the end of Book One, and quickly drops the characters back into trouble, and back into action.

Mal and Alina have escaped from the Darkling, the Grisha, and the Second Army, but they soon learn that they can’t stay hidden. The Darkling has plans for Alina, and allies to help him achieve his goal. To survive, Alina must find allies of her own.

This is a big story, with dangerous sea voyages, mystical creatures, lavish parties, glittering palaces, and a threat to the throne of Ravka. The world building is gorgeous – Ravka’s forests and mountains feel entirely real, alongside perilous ocean journeys and a visit to the far side of the True Sea. Alina’s character develops throughout the story as she begins to embrace her new life, but as she starts to accept her importance the barriers to her happiness become more overwhelming, and the danger she faces becomes harder to ignore.

This is an exciting story with a fast-paced and shocking conclusion. Alina’s choices become more difficult as she discovers the importance of her role in shaping the future of Ravka, and her relationship with Mal is tested by the changes in her status. She remains a relatable character, and a reluctant protagonist in her own story, but she doesn’t shy away from hard choices and painful decisions. There’s a great second-book-of-a-trilogy cliffhanger, and I’m glad I have Book Three on my shelf!

Have you read Siege and Storm? What did you think of the story? Who was your favourite character? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: The Cost of Knowing

Title: The Cost of Knowing
Author: Brittney Morris
Edition:
Kindle
Rating:
4/5

Alex Rufus is sixteen. He lives with his Aunt Mackie and his younger brother Isaac in an upmarket neighbourhood in Chicago – the only black family on their street. After the accident that killed his parents, Alex woke up in hospital and discovered that everything he touched gave him a vision of something that would happen to that object in the future. He can’t tell anyone – they’d assume he was lying or traumatised – so he lives with the visions every day.

It’s a great idea for a story. Alex narrates his life, constantly explaining the visions he sees. While some visions are important – an unidentified man buying the ice cream shop where he works – others are a constant source of annoyance: visions of typing in the lock code when he picks up his phone, or paying for something when he takes his card from his wallet. When he sees a vision of his younger brother’s death, he starts looking for ways to protect Isaac, and ways to spend time with him in case he can’t stop the vision from coming true.

I loved this idea, and the way the book explored the impact on Alex’s life. While seeing visions of the future sounds like a superpower, Alex comes to regard it as a curse. He has never found a way to escape the visions – whatever he does, they always come true. He is sure that Isaac is going to die, and he has a good idea when it will happen, but he feels powerless to prevent it.

Alongside this engaging story, the author gives us a wonderful cast of characters. Alex feels real and relatable, in spite of his visions. It takes a while to get to know Isaac, but the relationship between the brothers deepens as they start to spend time together. Aunt Mackie is fantastic – a real-estate agent with a million-dollar house and a seat on the neighbourhood housing association. She’s a no-nonsense guardian to the brothers, but she has a sense of humour, and it is clear that she loves the boys in her care. Talia is Alex’s girlfriend, and their relationship is strong and supportive, even though he can’t tell her about his visions. I loved getting to know the characters, and following Alex as he gets to know his brother.

I won’t spoil the story, but there are some scenes towards the end of the book as Alex spends time with Isaac that are filled with joy and excitement. I could feel the delight – Isaac in his experiences, and Alex as he watched his brother. It was an uplifting and heartwarming moment in their relationship, and as a reader I felt as if I was standing with them. I really enjoyed these scenes, and they provide a counterpoint to the underlying theme of the book – the constant obstacles faced by Alex and Isaac as young black men in the US today.

The Cost of Knowing is an interesting take on brotherhood, the issues around the Black Lives Matter movement, black history and heritage, and the cost of working through traumatic experiences. The author takes a unique approach to all these aspects of the book, and uses them to shape an original and engaging story.

The Cost of Knowing will be published on March 11th. Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read The Cost of Knowing? What did you think of the book? Who was your favourite character? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Tales from the Hinterland

Title: Tales from the Hinterland
Author: Melissa Albert
Edition:
Paperback
Rating:
4/5

Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood (reviewed here) and the sequel The Night Country (reviewed here) feature a world where fairytale characters are trapped in their stories, living out their plotlines over and over. The stories are collected by Althea Proserpine, the grandmother of the protagonist, into a book called Tales from the Hinterland, filled with twisted, dark plots and fascinating characters. Readers of The Hazel Wood and The Night Country hear about the characters in the stories, but never see the contents of the book – until now.

This is Althea Proserpine’s book. Twelve new fairy tales with all the raw edges, cruelty, and darkness intact – no Disney princesses here. Love, death, revenge, terrible mistakes and fairytale justice combine to give shape to the Hinterland and its residents. Most of the stories have female protagonists, and many dwell on the expectations and realities of marriage and parenthood, and the determination of the characters to overturn these expectations. The stories are at times dreamlike, beautiful, and unflinchingly horrific – dark, twisted, and deeply satisfying. Stand-out stories were ‘Hansa the Traveler’, ‘Ilsa Waits’, and ‘Twice-Killed Katherine’. If you’ve read The Hazel Wood and The Night Country, reading this book is like meeting old friends, and discovering who they really are.

Have you read Tales from the Hinterland? What did you think of the stories? Which was your favourite tale? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Blanca & Roja

Title: Blanca & Roja
Author: Anna-Marie McLemore 
Edition:
Audiobook
Rating:
3/5

A modern-day retelling of Snow White and Rose Red, this book focuses on the relationship between sisters Blanca and Roja Del Cisne, and their attempts to break their family’s curse. Every generation of the family is destined to have two daughters, and one of them will always be taken as a teenager and turned into a swan. Other sisters have tried and failed to break the curse, but Blanca and Roja have devoted their lives to protecting each other.

The relationship between the sisters is the centre of the story. Blanca has blonde hair and paler skin, while Roja’s black/red hair and darker skin more closely represent their Latina heritage. They are equally different in temperament – Blanca is the older sister, obedient and helpful, while Roja is rebellious, with a fiery temper. Blanca follows her mother, learning to cook and keep the house, while Roja follows her father, reading books from his library and staying out of the kitchen. Blanca makes friends at school, and is accepted by the popular students, while Roja is an outcast.

The sisters have a plan. They decide to become so similar that the swans, when they come, will not be able to tell them apart. They reason that, if the swans cannot choose between them, maybe they can break the curse. Roja eats sweet berries, and ties a blonde ribbon in her hair, while Blanca eats bitter herbs and wears a red ribbon. Neither sister knows whether their plan will work, but they are determined to protect each other.

When a prophecy suggests that Blanca could protect herself if she wins the heart of a blue-eyed boy, the relationship between the sisters begins to fall apart. Blanca decides to use the information to protect Roja, but when she starts making decisions without consulting her sister, Roja assumes that Blanca has given up on her, and chosen to save herself. The sisters begin to work alone, trying to protect each other but without understanding each other’s motives.

I loved the relationship between Blanca and Roja, and the way they spent their lives trying to confuse the swans. I loved the way they cared for each other, and knew each other completely. When they stopped communicating, and stopped sharing their lives, I was shouting at the book.

The story is complicated by the arrival of a blue-eyed boy, and a non-binary character who is comfortable using both male and female pronouns. Both characters are trying to escape from the their families, and both find themselves drawn to the sisters as they wait for the swans. The romantic aspect of the story adds depth to the characters, but the focus is always on Blanca and Roja.

It’s an engaging story, told from four points of view in alternating chapters. Blanca, Roja, Barclay the blue-eyed boy, and non-binary Page provide different pespectives on the unfolding story as they each try to escape from the influence of their families. The sisters want to free themselves from the curse, while Barclay needs to hide from his violent cousin, and Page seeks to define his/herself away from the expectations of his/her parents. Their distinct personalities develop throughout the book, but the threat of the swans hangs over everything, and the focus is always on Blanca, Roja, and their fear of losing each other.

I enjoyed reading a book that put the relationship between sisters at the centre of the narrative. My frustration when their relationship started to fracture is a measure of my investment in their story, and while I enjoyed the interactions between the girls and their love interests, it was the sisters who kept me listening. It’s an interesting retelling, successfully combining the magical realism of the curse with the realities of modern life (a conversation about ice-cream flavours provided wonderful insights into two of the characters) while retaining the threat and the fear of the swans. Barclay’s abuse at the hands of his cousin, and Page’s search for an authentic identity, act as interesting parallels with the magical plot, anchoring the story with their real-life concerns.

I listened to the audiobook edition of Blanca and Roja. Initially, the use of four different narrators felt unnecessary, but as the plot progressed, and the characters became more developed, their individual voices added depth to the experience of listening to the story. There’s a haunting quality to the narration that keeps the magical side of the book in focus, even during real-world events. It’s a very effective technique, which succeeds in bringing a complex story to life.

Have you read Blanca & Roja? What did you think of the story? Did you enjoy the focus on the sisters and their relationship? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Shadow and Bone

Title: Shadow and Bone
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Edition: Paperback
Rating: 4/5

We chose this novel to read at YA Book Club because the Netflix adaptation is coming to our screens in April, and we wanted to read the book before watching the series. This is the first of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels, and having read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom last year, I was eager to go back and see how the story began.

The Six of Crows duology felt more grown-up than Shadow and Bone. Where Six of Crows features members of a criminal gang, the main characters in Shadow and Bone are younger and much more innocent. Alina, the narrator, and Mal, her best friend, are orphans. They grew up together under the care of a duke and his family, and both joined the army as young adults – Alina as a map maker, and Mal as a tracker. In the first chapter, we discover that there are two levels of military service. The First Army employs ordinary people like Alina and Mal, and the Second Army is made up of the Grisha – people with magical powers who can manipulate matter, summon the elements, and heal or harm the people around them. While Alina and Mal live as ordinary soldiers, the Grisha live like royalty, even while marching with the First Army.

A deadly encounter with dark magic brings Alina and Mal to the attention of the Darkling, a powerful Grisha and commander of the Second Army. As Alina learns more about herself, and about Grisha powers, she must decide where her loyalties lie. With Mal, the Darkling, and the Grisha she meets all competing for her attention and affection, she has to learn quickly how to navigate her new life without losing herself.

There’s plenty of excitement, danger, and political intrigue in the story, which provides a colourful introduction to the Grishaverse. The system of magic is consistent and interesting, with practitioners perfecting their skills in a single discipline, and working together to accomplish larger tasks. There’s a price for pushing the limits of Grisha powers, and for using power for personal gain. The settings for the story are well drawn and believeable – the cities feel busy and real, and as the characters travel the roads and mountains of Ravka the reader can feel the ground under their feet and appreciate the scenery around them.

Alina is an interesting narrator. She thinks of herself as plain and ordinary – she’s not even a particularly good map-maker. She was tested for Grisha power as a child and rejected, so she knows she is not worthy to be part of the Second Army. Her insecurity follows her through the story, and she constantly rejects any suggestion that she might be valuable or special – a belief that brings her into conflict with the people around her. It’s frustrating at times, but her ever-present imposter syndrome also makes her easy to relate to. Her relationship with Mal develops through the book as they discover more about their feelings for each other, but their history and the events of the story throw up constant obstacles to their happiness. Both characters feel real and complex, and it is easy to care about what happens to them.

This is an exciting introduction to the Grishaverse, and an interesting setup for the rest of the series. I’m glad I have the second book on my shelf!

Have you read Shadow and Bone? What did you think of the story? Who was your favourite character? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: This Winter

Title: This Winter
Author: Alice Oseman
Edition: Kindle
Rating: 4/5

This is a sweet, emotional novella in the Heartstopper series, following Charlie through a difficult Christmas Day. Big sister Tori, little brother Oliver, and Charlie himself narrate sections of the story, as Charlie faces his first family gathering after spending several weeks on a psychiatric ward being treated for an eating disorder. It’s a short slice-of-life narrative that gives meaningful insights into the lives of the narrators, their relationships with each other and the rest of their family, and Charlie’s relationship with boyfriend Nick. There are illustrations at key points in the story, bringing the author’s instantly recognisable artwork into the novella and reinforcing the emotional beats of the narrative.

Heartbreaking and heartwarming at once, this is a short, punchy read that showcases love – between the siblings, within families, and between Charlie and Nick. A lovely addition to the series.

Have you read This Winter? What did you think of the story? Who was your favourite narrator? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: The Girls I’ve Been

Title: The Girls I’ve Been
Author: Tess Sharpe
Edition: Paperback ARC
Rating: 5/5

Probably my favourite read of the last twelve months, this book has everything. A fast-paced, thrilling plot; interesting, engaging characters; a clever and intriguing back story for the protagonist; and some genuine, how-are-they-going-to-get-out-of-this peril.

The setup is simple. Nora is seventeen. She’s spent most of her life helping her con-artist mother to target rich criminal men in a succession of scams, but now she’s trying to live a normal life with her sister. By page two of the book she finds herself held hostage in a bank heist, along with her best friend (and ex-boyfriend) Wes, and her new girlfriend Iris. She’s used to running cons with her mother in charge, and there’s always a plan and an escape route – but there’s no plan for escaping from the bank, and nothing in place to protect the people she cares about.

The bank heist turns into a battle of wits between the men with guns, and Nora and her friends. There’s a running tally at the start of each chapter of the plans that have worked or failed, and a list of the items they’ve collected that might help them, building the tension as the story progresses. Running alongside the chapters set in the bank are flashback chapters detailing the scams Nora has taken part in, and the girls she’s had to become to con the targets.

Nora’s experiences as the smiling Rebecca, demure Samantha, religious Hayley, smart Katie, and athletic Ashley have taught her how to read other people, how to understand what they want, and how to manipulate them. They have also taught her to be brave, daring, and protective of her friends. If she can figure out what the bank raiders are looking for, maybe she can save herself and the other hostages.

There isn’t a wrong step or a weak chapter in this book. The danger keeps coming – both in the bank chapters and the flashbacks – and Nora needs all her experiences and determination to stay calm, and look for a way out. Without the flashback chapters, the bank heist would be an exciting story. Without the bank heist, Nora’s backstory would be harrowing and traumatic. Bringing the two plotlines together is a genius move, keeping the reader’s attention on Nora while the hostage situation plays out around her. Both plots are utterly gripping, and together they build Nora’s complex character, explaining who she is and how she got there.

I loved every minute of this book, and I couldn’t put it down. I’m going to be recommending it everywhere!

The Girls I’ve Been will be published on January 26th. Thank you to Hachette for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read The Girls I’ve Been? What did you think of the story? Did you find yourself sympathising with Nora? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: When The World Was Ours

Title: When The World Was Ours
Author: Liz Kessler
Edition: Kindle
Rating: 3/5

I’m not sure how to review this book, which follows three friends during the Second World War. Leo, Max, and Elsa live in Vienna, and when the book opens in 1936 they have no idea how the next few years will change their lives and their relationships. Leo and Elsa come from Jewish families, while Max’s father is a high-ranking Nazi officer. The book guides the reader through the slow process of dehumanisation of the Jewish characters, alongside an ordinary boy’s journey into fascism. There’s nothing new here if you’ve seen ‘Schindler’s List’ and read around the subject, and I was disappointed that I didn’t feel more connected to these characters as they grew up, and grew apart.

The protagonists are nine years old at the beginning of the novel, and Leo and Elsa’s first-person narration understandably feels more like a mid-grade story than a YA novel. I hoped that their voices would change and develop as the story moved through the next nine years, but the language remained at the mid-grade level even while describing the horrors of the Holocaust. It is an odd juxtaposition, reading graphic scenes about concentration camps and the Hitler Youth, spelled out with such simple words. It might help some readers to identify with the characters, and keep them connected to the three happy children from the first chapter, but I found it alienating and lacking in emotional impact. Leo’s story is based on a real-life event, which I found genuinely moving when the author explained this at the start of the book. However, when this was translated into a fictional setting, I couldn’t connect with the characters at all.

It is possible that this approach will work well for a YA audience coming to the subject for the first time. The characters feel young throughout the story, even when terrible things are happening, which gives them an innocence and a connection to younger readers that I may have missed. The book doesn’t shy away from showing the inhumanity of the Nazi regime – there is a content warning at the start – and maybe this is the right way to tell these stories. Knowing the subject of the book, I wanted to be moved. I wanted to feel something for the characters, and understand how it felt to have their lives transformed over such a short time. I was disappointed, but I can see that for a younger audience this could be a very powerful read.

When The World Was Ours will be published on January 21st. Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read When The World Was Ours? What did you think of the story? Did you find yourself connecting with the characters? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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YA Review: Lore

Title: Lore
Author: Alexandra Bracken
Edition: Kindle
Rating: 4/5

The gods of ancient Greece walking the streets of Manhattan, a seven-day Hunger-Games style fight to the death, and the descendants of Greek heroes warring against each other to harness the powers of the gods – this book has all the ingredients of a gripping urban fantasy, and I couldn’t put it down.

Lore is the last survivor of the House of Perseus. She’s opted out of the fighting between rival families, and she’s trying to live a normal life in present-day New York City. But Zeus is punishing the gods, sending them into the mortal world once every seven years to kill or be killed, and Lore is about to find herself dragged back into the fighting.

For one week every seven years, the gods can be killed, and their killer takes on their powers. All the families want a god on their side, so everyone is hunting, and everyone is hunted. The author doesn’t pull her punches – this is a violent book with plenty of blood and gore. The stakes are high, for the gods and the hunters, and Lore’s involvement puts her in serious danger.

She’s a great protagonist. Strong, intelligent, and fiercely protective of the family she’s built for herself. When we first meet her, she’s fighting in an illegal underground boxing match, finding the weakness in her male opponent, pushing her advantage, and playing to the crowd who are betting on the result. Her strength is physical as well as emotional, which gives her the advantage she needs. As a teenage girl surviving alone, the other houses have discounted her from the fight, and she’s going to need all her strength to prove them wrong.

She has the support of her best friend Miles, who knows nothing about her background. Add in her childhood training with the House of Achilles, a mysterious benefactor, an injured god, and the return of someone she thought was dead, and Lore’s plans to survive the week take a dangerous turn. The story unfolds alongside flashback chapters, filling in important details as necessary.

If I have a criticism, it’s that the plot isn’t always clear. Lore and her group of supporters make plans to trap gods and trick their rivals, but the story feels repetitive as plan after plan is thrown off-course by the warring factions. It’s not always clear what they are trying to achieve, and why they make their decisions. The complexity of the setup can be off-putting at times. Trying to remember which characters are allied with which families and which gods is not always easy, and while there is a list of people and their affiliations, it’s at the end of the book, so I didn’t notice until I had finished reading!

It’s an exciting, constantly moving story. I’m a fan of urban fantasy, and this ticks all the boxes: supernatural fights in recognisable New York locations, high stakes, a reluctant hero, and real danger for the characters and the residents of the city. It’s an inventive idea and an engaging story. Definitely worth a read.

Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Have you read Lore? What did you think of the story? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!

Review cross-posted to GoodReads.


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