March 27, 2015

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

“I've been waiting for you a long time, Alina" He said. "You and I are going to change the world.”

The Book Rest - Book Review for Shadow and Bone by Leigh BardugoTitle: Shadow and Bone (Grisha #1)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Rating: A
Recommended For: fans of Throne of Glass, The Young Elites, Red Queen
Source: Library hardback copy

One-sentence review: A fast-paced, exciting story that allows the reader to grow in real time with heroine, Alina, while navigating through one of the most vivid worlds I've read in recent YA lit.

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

In Leigh Bardugo's Russian-influenced kingdom of Ravka, the world contained within the pages of Shadow and Bone, people are either normal or born with supernatural powers, also known as Grisha. At a young age, orphaned best friends Alina and Mal are tested to see if they have special powers but neither of them are Grisha. As adults, Alina and Mal are drafted into the First Army and must cross the Shadow Fold, a near impenetrable stretch of darkness inhabited by hungry monsters who feast on human flesh. When Mal is attacked, Alina discovers a dormant power and saves his life. She is quickly whisked away to live and train as a Grisha in the Little Palace with the Darkling himself, the most powerful Grisha leader. Alina has been a nobody her whole life and now she might be the only hope of the nation to help the Darkling defeat the Shadow Fold.

I picked up this book because my new favorite author goddess, Sarah J. Maas, always mentions Leigh Bardugo in her acknowledgements so I knew this Bardugo character had to be something special! And she is! Bardugo's talent of weaving an epic fantasy story is so similar to Maas that I became a quick fan of the Grisha world.

At first I was a little put off by the familiar story of the poor, boring girl who finds out she's one-in-a-million because of some supernatural power. However, Bardugo's world-building, masterful writing and vivid character development quickly won me over. The fast pace of this story made it a surprisingly quick read. Even the more predictable elements were made forgivable because they're written in such a smart way that you don't care if you saw them coming; the story is somehow still satisfying. It may be a story written for a YA audience, but Bardugo's mature use of language and situations surpass the genre.

Initially I wasn't very impressed by bland, boring Alina. But I quickly learned that I wasn't supposed to be because that was the point. As Alina grows and develops, we get to see it first hand. She becomes more complex and interesting, making mistakes along the way but also learning to believe in herself in real time with the reader learning to believe in her. Similarly, Mal and the Darkling are as interesting to analyze as we learn more about them and their growing relationships to Alina.

As with all YA books these days, Bardugo includes a sort of love triangle, but it's unlike any I've seen before (except maybe Tahereh Mafi's Shatter Me triangle!). Without giving too much away to ruin the experience, it's very satisfying and not overdone in the way of so many sugary YA love triangles. I didn't feel guilty for my feelings and I felt like my experience was more in-line with Alina's than in other romances.

Shadow and Bone was an excellent beginning to what I expect to be one of my new favorite series. Remember when I didn't consider myself a fan of fantasy? I think I officially am required to rescind that notion. With the majority of books I've read so far this year being high fantasy (and loving it!), the Grisha world has converted me and I am so excited to continue Alina's story with the rest of this series!

March 20, 2015

Review: The Winner's Crime by Marie Rutkoski

"If you won't be my friend, you'll regret being my enemy."

The Book Rest - Review for The Winner's Curse by Marie RutkoskiTitle: The Winner's Crime
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rating: B-
Recommended For: fans of The Winner's Curse and Throne of Glass
Source: library e-book

One-sentence review: I would liken this disappointing sequel to one of my favorite books to a rollercoaster flying off the rails, veering one way and then swerving before it reaches any sort of satisfying speed. 

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

This review contains spoilers for The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski (one of my 2014 favorites!)

In Marie Rutkoski's second installment of The Winner's Trilogy, The Winner's Crime finds Kestrel amidst the politics of Valoria's court after she has bargained for Heran's freedom in exchange for her marriage to the prince of Valoria. With her impending wedding only a few months away, Kestrel does her best to lie to herself about accepting her fate but nonetheless keeps finding herself in sticky situations where there are no good outcomes. Meanwhile, Arin struggles with why Kestrel has chosen to marry the prince as he works as the Governor of Heran under an Emperor who he cannot trust to truly give his people sovereignty. 

As you may have noticed, I really struggled to describe this book because the bulk of it was so aimless and disjointed that I didn't know where anything was going or really what anyone wanted. Throughout most of the first 70% of this book I found myself asking, "Where is this going? What are these character's goals?" Is Kestrel's goal to escape her marriage? Escape the evil Emperor? Help Heran? Get Arin back? Survive? One could say it's all of these, but the book was so far from the succinctness of The Winner's Curse that it frustrated me! I might even describe myself as bored while reading this highly anticipated book.

Similarly we find Kestrel and Arin suspicious about unrelated things early on and I can't understand where they got the basis of their suspicions except that it was important for kick-starting the mysterious nature of the story as a whole. Because I questioned why each had their convenient suspicions, I could never get behind what was going on. Especially because, as mentioned, I didn't understand each character's motivations. This whole foundation of the story was way too easy, especially given Rutkoski's subtle but excellent story-telling in the previous book.

Kestrel and Arin's whole love story dynamic is another thing I found lacking in this book. They had such a potent chemistry in the first book missing in this sequel. Every time Kestrel and Arin interact they must pretend their feelings for each other don't exist. This could be an excellent way to build romantic tension, but instead it becomes an itch that Rutkoski never lets us scratch. When both characters finally do acknowledge their feelings (internally at least), the descriptions are so cheesy and forced that I was crushed with disappointment. If someone had told me this was fan fiction, I would believe it! I recognized none of Rutkoski's original subtleties and romantic slow boil from The Winner's Curse. Some have praised this book for taking the spotlight off of romance and focusing more on the story, but I completely disagree. I felt like the romance that did exist was too overwrought and distracting from whatever story Rutkoski intended, especially with the cheesiness of the romantic elements that existed. I would have been more satisfied if Arin and Kestrel never interacted at all throughout the whole book.

I did enjoy a lot of the symbolism and themes throughout. The symbolic use of games to parallel the political game Kestrel and Arin have been playing is one of my favorite parts of this series, especially considering both characters are superior at board games but not so sure about the moves they make in real life. This book expands on betting while playing games, alluding to what Kestrel and Arin are willing to wage in their ultimate game against the Emperor. There are also more subtle symbols, like Arin almost losing his eye to symbolize how blind he is to the moves Kestrel makes. Also, that Arin is experienced at forging weapons but new at making molds shows his inexperience to leading comparatively to his experience fighting all his life. These symbolic elements made the story much more entertaining in a literary sense. 

I also enjoyed the theme of giving something away before it is taken from you, which could be linked to the symbolism of games and betting. Kestrel bargained for Arin's freedom knowing that he would be taken from her no matter the outcome anyway. Arin eventually does the same with Kestrel emotionally, despite his anger at her decisions. We also see this theme with other characters (Risha's family, Verex, Jess, etc) that I won't get into lest I give too much away. This idea gave the story more validity to me when I examined it amongst all of the characters. 

There's a lot to be said about this book, but it didn't satisfy in the same way as The Winner's Curse. Every time I thought it was headed in a satisfying direction, it never delivered, much to my disappointment. Of course I will continue to read this series to the end, but not with the same furious anticipation I did for this sequel. I hope Rutkoski takes better care to deliver with the conclusion because there is so much I want from these characters and I have hopes a satisfying conclusion will help me make sense of this book.

March 13, 2015

Review: Debt Inheritance by Pepper Winters

"I not only stole your past. I’ve already stolen your future."

The Book Rest - Book Review for Debt Inheritance by Pepper WintersTitle: Debt Inheritance
Author: Pepper Winters
Genre: Erotic Horror?
Rating: D
Recommended For: Fans of the seriously disturbing
Source: Kindle Library e-book

One-sentence review: I don't know if it's meant to be horror or erotica, but Pepper Winters takes everything disturbing you could think of and makes it even more horrific than you could imagine.

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

Debt Inheritance is the story of how Nila Weaver's family is indebted to the family of Jethro Hawk. The first-born Weaver daughter is always given to the Hawk family as repayment of an ancient debt and the first-born Hawk son inherits her on his 29th birthday. When Jethro goes to collect his payment of Nila, she learns how indebted her family is and that she must obey.

For those of you ranting about 50 Shades of Grey being the most abusive book in history, read this and I guarantee you'll leave E.L. James alone. I got this book for free somehow (Kindle library or something) and it sounded like an interesting premise because I imagined it was other-worldly, like dystopian or fantasy. Even though the book seemed laced with erotica, I was interested in the world-building and what type of world would allow such a debt payment system. Furthermore, what did the Weaver family do to be so indebted to the Hawks? I was sorely disappointed.

There is no world-building, there are little-to-no answers. Nila and Jethro are present-day European-based people and somehow their arrangement is made possible by all the money and power the Hawk family has within the government (yeah, right). I don't really know how slavery and/or torture could be acceptable as the focal point of a book in an other-worldly sense without extraordinary world building talent, but the fact that this was just a book about slavery and torture in general, sexually or not, was just appalling.

I had hope that obviously Jethro and Nila would at least pull off a stupid Christian-Ana love story but there was little of that. The author just took anything sexually disturbing and made it even more dehumanizing as the story progressed. The characters aren't even interesting, especially the weak and irritatingly wish-washy Nila. I kept waiting for some redeeming quality to the story to come but, even when I miraculously came to the end, I never found it. This book ends on a cliff-hanger, but I won't be reading the sequel. Pepper Winters is a decent writer but I just won't invest any more of my time in something so crass and demoralizing. E.L. James can't write, but this book will make her look like a saint!

March 6, 2015

Review: The Queen by Kiera Cass

His world looked like a storm. I was going to be its center.

The Book Rest - Book Review of The Queen by Kiera CassTitle: The Queen (A Selection Novella)
Author: Kiera Cass
Genre: YA Dystopian Romance
Rating: C-
Recommended For: Die hard Selection fans only
Source: Library e-book

One-sentence review: The Queen does not reign supreme with me, being about as bad as that pun with its chauvinistic, unimpressive background story that adds very little to The Selection series as a whole. 

TBR It: Goodreads
Buy It: Amazon

Do you see an unintentional theme in my reviews lately? Heir of Fire, Red Queen, The Queen... I'm in quite the monarchical kick these days (I read all of them in that order)!

I checked out The Queen e-book from the library around Valentine's Day because my incredible husband surprised me with a Kindle Paperwhite (we don't even do Valentine's Day!!) and I had to use it immediately! I enjoyed Cass' Selection series and I was curious about The Queen and surprised to know it wasn't about America as queen, but Queen Amberly's experience in the Selection process.

The Book Rest - Kindle Paperwhite

Here's why I hate novellas: The Selection as a series did not need this story. I'm probably going to upset a lot of fans of Kiera Cass by saying this, but The Queen makes me feel like Cass can't let go of this series and/or wants to keep profiting off of it until she can't anymore. I guess if either of those are true then it's not my place to say it's right or wrong, but it feels desperate to me and I kind of wish I wouldn't have wasted my time reading this. Overall, I feel what was a really solid series loses an insane amount of credibility (also why they should have never made a Sex and the City 2 movie, but I digress...).

My first issue with The Queen is that reading about Prince Maxon's parents falling in love feels a lot like hearing about your own parents falling in love.... "Ewww, gross." I was not intrigued by the romantic aspect for awhile, which is weird because if Cass can do anything it's write romance. Eventually I was on board and not so weirded out by it. I did like that Clarkson (the future king) let Amberly see his vulnerabilities and it brought them together, but it took some time before it wasn't awkward.

This story also read somewhat anti-feminist to me at times and that bothered me because it wasn't necessary to the story other than showing that Clarkson is, was and will forever be a stubborn asshole (sorry, I know it's a teen book but I had to). The series as a whole has a very "The Bachelor" feel and Clarkson baiting girls to do silly things like cut their hair and picking a queen based on how much they cut off only emphasized this backwards way of thinking. I don't think Amberly following Clarkson's orders to cut her hair should be seen as a symbol of him falling in love with her, which is just what an impressionable teen audience might translate. For the record: I am not a super-feminist in that I think all guys are jerks or anything, I just think Amberly should be loved for something better than how much hair she cuts when she's told a guy will like it better.

To make this novella worse, it ended so abruptly that if you told me Cass wrote it as a timed in-class essay I would have believed you. I didn't necessarily want more, but there were so many loose threads that I inwardly groaned realizing it probably paves the way for more novellas. Well, I won't be reading them. Super fans of this series might be willing to overlook how empty this novella is, but I am not impressed and continue to scrutinize series-related novellas. Thank goodness I was able to read this on my awesome brand new Kindle Paperwhite so the experience wasn't as painful as it could have been!