I Just Read . . . The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

An amazing world! Leigh Bardugo has a gift for building a fascinating setting rich with myth, science, and people I deign to call characters.

Don’t read the Kirkus Review if you don’t want spoilers for the first and second books.

KIRKUS REVIEW SAYS . . .

Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy comes to a thunderous conclusion.

If opener Shadow and Bone (2012) was a magical coming-of-age story and middle-volume Siege and Storm (2013) was a political thriller, then this third book is an epic quest. Together with faithful childhood friend and would-be lover Mal and the last few remnants of the rebellious Grisha who aided her in the failed rising against the Darkling, Alina leaves the dubious protection of the Rasputin-like Apparat and the zealots who hail her as a saint to go looking for tsarevich Nikolai and for the fabled firebird. They seek Nikolai as the last political hope for Ravka’s future and the firebird for the third amplifier that will make Sun Summoner Alina invincible against the Darkling and powerful enough to unmake the Unsea that divides Ravka in two. Neither quest is easy or obvious, as Bardugo places obstacles both physical and emotional in Alina’s path at every turn. She is most successful at delineating Alina’s internal conflict as she struggles to balance love for Mal against both pragmatism and fondness for Nikolai, desire for peace and justice against naked lust for power. Secondary characters truly come into their own here, particularly the ragtag band of Alina’s Grisha, in whose friendship she finds salvation. Every time readers may think she’s written herself into a corner, Bardugo pulls off a twist that, while surprising, will keep them turning pages furiously.

Triumphant. (Fantasy. 13 & up)

Pub Date: June 3rd, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9461-9
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online: March 31st, 2014
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2014

My thoughts . . .

The beginning of the first book is sweet and took me in because the characters are orphaned and defended one another (though it does follow the trope of orphan turned powerful because they hold the unique key to saving everyone). For the first few pages, I thought this was going to be another run of the mill Medieval retelling. Thank goodness I was wrong.With the turn of every page, the layers of this world build effortlessly for the reader. I loved the idea of “magic is science” which I identify with as a scientist. The world becomes more believable, finding parallels in later books with Saints vs. Science that exists in our real world. The characters are real to life, flawed but doing their best. Sometimes it’s enough. Sometimes it’s not.The first book has some great twists and turns, the second is good but a bit more transparent, and the third book is predictable. Not everything, not the details, but the main story. Even knowing the end, I loved the getting there!

From Leigh Bardugo’s Website  . . .

Leigh Bardugo is the #1 New York Times bestselling and USA Today bestselling author of Six of Crows (awarded starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA, SLJ, and the BCCB) and the Grisha Trilogy: Shadow and Bone,Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising. She was born in Jerusalem, grew up in Los Angeles, graduated from Yale University, and has worked in advertising, journalism, and most recently, makeup and special effects. These days, she lives and writes in Hollywood where she can occasionally be heard singing with her band.

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I Just Read . . . The 100 by Kass Morgan

What a great premise! I love the idea that humanity would return to earth, actually become the alien to our descendants by our own devices. Brilliant!

Kirkus Review Says:

THE 100 Cover ArtOne hundred teen convicts may be the only hope of the human race.

Three hundred years after the Cataclysm made Earth uninhabitable, the remnant of humanity lives in an aging space station. Strict population-control laws help conserve the dwindling resources, and adults convicted of crimes are summarily executed. Criminal teens held in Confinement are given a retrial at 18, and some go free. Fearing the colony has few years left, the Chancellor decides to send 100 of these teens to Earth with monitoring bracelets to see if the planet’s surface is survivable. The story concentrates on four of them. Wells commits a crime in order to accompany his girlfriend; Bellamy breaks into the dropship to go with his sister; in hopes of reuniting with her boyfriend, Glass escapes the dropship to return to her privileged mother. And Clarke, the object of Wells’ affection, struggles with demons and hormones. Will they survive? Morgan’s debut, which has already been optioned for a CW series, has a promising premise as long as readers don’t apply too many brain cells. (Why convicts? Why not give them communication devices? Isn’t there birth control in the future?) However, it slowly devolves into a thrill-free teen romance. Lengthy flashbacks flatten the action in nearly every chapter. The characters do little to distinguish themselves from their run-of-the-mill dystopian brethren. Steer teens in search of science fiction to Beth Revis, Robison Wells and Veronica Roth.

Perhaps the television incarnation will have some life. (Dystopian adventure. 15 & up)

My thoughts . . .

The premise carries this novel. It has so many possibilities. I am going to read the second one.

This is supposed to be set in the future, but even in our own age, there is a great deal of current technology lacking in this book which added to the unrealistic feel. I did enjoy it but often found myself thinking, “But if they had a phone or watch-communicator this would never have happened.”

I also thought it felt unrealistic for every single main character to be in some kind of romantic slump. None of them had healthy relationships. Maybe that’s the point? I don’t think every person in the world has an ongoing relationship or wants one. This one felt overloaded with the swoon.

It’s easy to be the critic. I enjoyed this book and think Miss Morgan must’ve had a really fun time writing it. It’s worth the read.

From Kass Morgan’s Alloy Entertainment Bio:

Kass-Morgan_300pxKass Morgan has an unhealthy obsession with books that first manifested in third grade when she brought a copy of Mallory and the Dream Horse to her own birthday party. When she was ten, she moved from Brooklyn to Santa Monica, where kids thought she was strange for wearing so much black. Then she went back to the east coast for college, where kids thought she was strange for wearing so much pink.

Kass studied English and History at Brown University, reading gothic novels in the library where Edgar Allan Poe conducted secret love affairs, auditioning unsuccessfully for a number of plays, and learning important truths about walking on ice in high heels.

After college, Kass crossed the pond to pursue a Master’s degree in 19th century literature at Oxford, which was like attending Hogwarts, but with more costume parties. She returned to the states with a deep appreciation for clotted cream, a suitcase full of cocktail dresses, and a thesis on George Eliot that she has since misplaced.  

Kass settled in New York to work in publishing. When she’s not editing novels for young bookworms to sneak into their own birthday parties, you can find her jostling for table space at Brooklyn coffee shops, asking strangers if she can pet their dogs, and e-mailing her middle school crush to thank him for introducing her to science fiction, which turns out to be very fun to write.  The 100 is her first book for teens. Kass is currently working the sequel, which she’ll finish as soon as she can find a coffee shop that allows laptops on the weekend.

Follow @kassmorganbooks to connect with the author on Twitter.

Writing Irresistible Kidlit, by Mary Kole

My rbain brain is so cluttered with amazing information, I don’t know where to begin.

This book covers many areas of the writing craft, from the mind of your audience to theme to emotion to many words I’ve never heard. This book made me feel a bit illiterate in some ways–mostly French ways–and I had to use the dictionary. Every chapter in this book gives ideas and questions and direction about how to go about forming the structure for a knock-your-socks-off novel. (Cliches are also included in Kole’s discussion.)

I could not recommend this book highly enough. It makes you reevaluate characters, themes, plots, and teaches you about Interiority, Objectives, how to incorporate subplots for the most impact, and many other elements of writing the perfect (or as close as us mere humans will ever get) novel.

mary kole

The Christmas Sweater, by Glenn Beck

A friend of mine recommended this book–a book I never would’ve chosen on my own. Christmas stories inevitably make me cry, which is something I refuse to inflict on myself. Overall, I really enjoyed the story, and it’s short enough that the few hours it took were worth it.

book cover the christmas sweater

Jacketflap:

Based on a deeply personal true story, Glenn Beck’s bittersweet tale of boyhood memories, wrenching life lessons, and the true meaning of the giving season has touched the hearts of readers everywhere.

If you could change your life by reversing your biggest regrets, sorrows, and mistakes . . . would you?

When Eddie was twelve years old, all he wanted for Christmas was a bike. He knew money had been tight since his father died, but Eddie dreamed that somehow his mother would find a way to afford that dream bike.

What he got from her instead was a sweater. “A stupid, handmade, ugly sweater” that young Eddie left in a crumpled ball in the corner of his room.

Scarred deeply by the fateful events that transpired that day, Eddie begins a dark and painful journey toward manhood. It will take wrestling with himself, his faith, and his family—and the guidance of a mysterious neighbor named Russell—to help Eddie find his life’s path and finally understand the significance of that simple gift his mother had crafted with love.

glenn beck

Glenn Beck narrates the book and also includes a prologue where he explains the experiences in his own life that led to the writing of this book. It was a nice touch.

Things I didn’t like:

~The idea that so much character development could happen within the course of a twelve-year-old’s dream.

~Obvious political statements felt unnatural.

~I felt like the end was a cheat. I don’t like it that everything ended up unrealistically happy, but it is a Christmas story so . . .

Things I liked:

~The characters were real, vivid, flawed, and lovable.

~It made me laugh out loud more than once.

~It made me think about my own childhood and the things I went through, experiences, and what I’ve learned.

The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner

The talented Megan Whalen Turner is the author of The Queen’s Thief series. Megan Whalen TurnerShe gives the following bio on her website. “I graduated from The University of Chicago with a BA in English Language and Literature with honors in 1987. I worked as a bookseller for seven or eight years before I started writing. My first book was a collection of short stories called Instead of Three Wishes. My first novel was The Thief, which was awarded a Newbery Honor in 1997.”

“A tantalizing, suspenseful, exceptionally clever novel.”–The Horn Book

This Newbery Honor Book has some fun twists and turns. The author, Megan Whalen Turner, takes her inspiration from Greece. While she has a pantheon similar to that of the Greek Gods, the story is woven with the myths and legends of their own world.

Here is the jacketflap description:

“I can steal anything.” After Gen’s bragging lands him in the king’s prison, the chances of escape look slim. Then the king’s scholar, the magus, needs the thief’s skill for a seemingly impossible task–to steal a hidden treasure from another land.
To the magus, Gen is just a tool. But Gen is a trickster and a survivor with a plan of his own.

The first half of this book was a bit slow for me. I had a hard time connecting with Gen because of his arrogant attitude. I did sympathize with his plight, but it wasn’t enough to keep me in suspense. The second half of this book was great! Engaging, unfolding, heroic, and unexpected. Overall, I liked it.

This book is the first in a series.

TheThiefAug05 QueenOfAttoliaAug05 Conspiracy of Kings KingOfAttoliaAug05

 

 

House of the Seven Gabeles, by Nathaniel Hawthorn

Born in 1804 in Salem, Massachusetts, Nathaniel Hawthorne was an American novelist and short story writer. He died in May of 1864 and wrote many great works that include The Scarlet Letter, Young Goodman Brown, The Blithedale Romance, and Twice-Told Tales.

So . . .  What’s a gable?

If you’re not familiar with architecture, here’s what Wikipedia says: “A gable is the generally triangular portion of a wall between the edges of a sloping roof.”

gable

Nathaniel Hawthorn spends a lot of time describing the magnificent house, which is the sole setting of the entire novel. nathaniel hawthorneHis inspiration was a home owned by his cousin, Susanna. You can still visit the House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts for a mere $7.00. If that might interest you, they have a website all about it right here.

The history of the house is interesting. “The House of the Seven Gables was built by a Salem sea captain and merchant named John Turner in 1668 and occupied by three generations of the Turner family before being sold to Captain Samuel Ingersoll in 1782. An active captain during the Great Age of Sail, Ingersoll died at sea leaving the property to his daughter Susanna, a cousin of famed author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne’s visits to his cousin’s home are credited with inspiring the setting and title of his 1851 novel The House of the Seven Gables.

Caroline Emmerton, a philanthropist and preservationist, founded the present day museum to assist immigrant families who were settling in Salem. Inspired by Jane Addam’s Hull House, she purchased what was the old Turner Mansion in 1908 and worked with architect, Joseph Everett Chandler to restore it to its original seven gables. Chandler was a central figure in the early 20th century historic preservation movement and his philosophy influenced the way the house was preserved.” (http://www.7gables.org/history_property.shtml)

Cover House of the Seven Gables

As for the novel itself, it’s like wandering through each of the seven gables themselves, looking at every nook and cranny of not only the setting, but each and every character. For instance, he spends several pages to discuss the lineage and peculiarities of the chickens in the garden. The luxurious narrative has a purpose for Hawthorne’s many morals and commentaries on individuals and society, but as with all luxuries, must be purchased at the expense of one’s labor. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the book. I loved the rich language and the masterful metaphors. Each character made me think of people I knew or ponder the similarities to my own character, and will stay with me for a very long time, if not forever.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Fun. Witty. Wry.

I love the first line, which we writers know is everything: “There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart’s Desire.”

So simple. So telling. So perfect. As is the rest of the book. There is nothing left out, nothing extra.

stardust coverMy only wish was that I hadn’t already seen the movie. While not entirely the same, it would’ve been nice to start with a blank slate. Still, I loved the tale and the artful telling of it.

Thank you, Mr. Gaiman.