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Shadow and Bone (The Grisha Trilogy #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Published June 5th 2012 by Henry Holt and Company
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★☆

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.

Hi, my name is Chri. I run a book blog called Aerou, obsess over tiny details, and read books fifty thousand years behind everyone else.

I had a pretty hard time rating Shadow and Bone, actually, because I actually enjoyed Shadow and Bone quite a bit, but my read wasn’t without reservations. It actually came as a bit of a surprise, because a lot of people I know had bones to pick with the plot, the characters, or both. And in all honesty, I wasn’t too wowed by the plot. It’s nothing terribly new – it’s a little on the predictable side, even. But I really enjoyed the way the author crafted and wrote the story and the way her main characters seemed to lift off the pages. Shadow and Bone was interesting and engaging in Leigh Bardugo’s words, with just enough mystery and intrigue to keep you flipping the pages. The story feels dark and cold and strange and a little desperate. I finished this one in one sitting.

And the characters! I loved the complexity to Alina’s character – how she wasn’t exactly strong but wasn’t exactly weak, as well as the struggle that brought on, especially as the plot thickened.

I wasn’t a fan of Mal at all at the beginning of the novel. He was denser than you’d think was possible and couldn’t read the atmosphere for shit, and it really made me wonder why Alina even bothered sticking around. On the other hand, I was super on board with The Darkling – my shounen manga character tastes are seeping into YA lit too (oops), and I like those dark, raw characters with redemption arcs. Which I thought was going to be the case in Shadow and Bone. Heck, it kind of happened? Kind of? Before everything did a complete 180 and I’m reminded of why I tend to wait until a series has been completely published, or until a series has at least half of its books on the shelves before I start reading.

Because I actually ended up liking Mal a lot! His character in the later half of the book is sweet and selfless and brave. You can definitely see the author setting up the relationship between him and Alina to be the endgame, and honestly, I don’t mind. He definitely improved with the story, but conversely, I ended up liking The Darkling less than I did at the start? It’s mainly what the story did to him – if you’re going to make a character a villain, make him a villain. He doesn’t have to be unapologetically a villain, but I feel like it would be so much stronger if he was unapologetically written in. Since the author’s planning on dropping the bomb like that, make it benefitting of his character! I felt like everything was revealed too early on and too half-heartedly, adding to the whole manipulative, did-it-for-the-gasps kind of feeling that isn’t all too pleasant to experience as a reader. In the process, he ended up losing a lot of that build up and characterization, which is a shame because he’s really quite an interesting character, regardless of where he actually stands.

The much-quoted “Fine… make me your villain” line, though! I knew it was coming, and it still had that shot-through-the-heart effect… Damn.

My favorite character by far was Genya, though. Where the rest of the story felt a little well-worn, and a little predictable at times, Genya was a breath of fresh air. I love what she brought to Shadow and Bone in terms of her voice, her character, her relationship with the other characters, her backstory… just, her. She added a kind of depth to the court and Alina’s post-summoner confusion that would’ve made the story rather bland otherwise, I think. I’d definitely read an entire book on Genya. She’s really, really cute, and I hope she gets her happy ending.

Though the plot could be rather typical at times, the characters and the writing really upped that sense of emotional attachment and sent the pages flying. And though I wasn’t entirely blown away enough to feel an overwhelming sense of urgency in picking up the sequel, I’ve added Seige and Storm to my TBR list, and I’m definitely looking to get started on that soon.

The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy #1) by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Published April 1st 2012 by Scholastic
Source: Borrowed
Rating: ★★★★☆

In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner’s motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword’s point—he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage’s rivals have their own agendas as well.

As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner’s sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.

So, um, yeah. This book. It was pretty freaking amazing.

I mean, guys? SAGE. His voice was strong from the get-go, completely captivating, and probably the main reason why I enjoyed The False Prince as much as I did. Sage is kick-ass, sneaky, mischievous, and clever, and sometimes (okay, often) his attitude gets him into trouble and he’s knocked down, but he always gets back on his feet and keeps going. At times, he lies like a pro, and at others, he’s brutally honest. He’s always looking ten steps ahead. He’s roguish, his voice is witty and convincing… I like him a lot.

I also really quite liked Conner. I mean, don’t get me wrong – that guy’s a complete asshole most of the time. But he was a really interesting character because he did shitty things for what he felt was all the right reasons. He’s ruthless, delusional, had no empathy for those who stood in his way, and what he was doing was pretty screwed up, but he did it because he felt that it was the only way. It wasn’t like I could sympathize with him (Ladamer made it pretty hard to do so), but what he was doing made sense in a twisted way, you know? He wasn’t your typical evil, reason-less villain.

From Tobias and Roden to Imogen, the other characters were really well-written and well-rounded, too, though no one could hold a candle to Sage. Sage is… well, Sage. They all have their strengths and their weaknesses, and with a cast of characters like them and a main character like Sage, there was never a dull moment in The False Prince.

Most of the story takes place in Conner’s castle. It was really straightforward – no info dumps and pages of flowery descriptions. It was really fun following Sage through the lessons Conner – attempted to – set for them. With horses, sword fights, and midnight escapades this was pretty much my kind of book.

I was just a liiiiittle disappointed by that twist towards the end, though. I mean, you could probably see it coming. You could probably see it coming just by reading the synopsis, before you even open the book. I mean, I’m not the slowest person, but I’m not one to catch most every plot twist before it happens, and I could see it coming from a mile away. But as the book progresses and you start to think that maybe it won’t happen, maybe it isn’t going to end up as predictable as you think it is, and then… Hello, Reality. The main character’s the main character, after all. And yeah, I’m going to admit, I was a little disappointed. It didn’t really seem that believable any more, especially after all the character development and buildup from all the previous chapters. But it happened. And that’s that, I guess. It wasn’t big enough to ruin the whole book, though I did bump down my rating because of it and the somewhat lackluster ending. It was as if the author suddenly ran out of steam at the end and just slapped down enough words to end the story with.

The ending ties everything up quite nicely; The False Prince could be a stand-alone novel if it wanted to. No awful cliffhanger ending for once! Hooray! Which gives you ever the more reason to read this book. Because you’re totally going to, right? Awesome characters, sword fights, midnight escapades… I think you should.

Goodbye, Rebel Blue by Shelley Coriell
Published October 1st 2013 by Harry N. Abrams
Source: Publisher
Rating: ★★★★☆

Rebecca Blue is a rebel with an attitude whose life is changed by a chance encounter with a soon-to-be dead girl. Rebel (as she’s known) decides to complete the dead girl’s bucket list to prove that choice, not chance, controls her fate. In doing so, she unexpectedly opens her mind and heart to a world she once dismissed—a world of friendships, family, and faith. With a shaken sense of self, she must reevaluate her loner philosophy—particularly when she falls for Nate, the golden boy do-gooder who never looks out for himself.

I was so, so excited when I got my hands on a copy of Goodbye, Rebel Blue! Shelly Coriell’s debut novel, Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe was such a great read; I really loved how the author had balanced more serious topics with witty narrative and good humor, and was hoping for the same in Goodbye, Rebel Blue, too, and the bucket list synopsis seemed too good to pass up. I’m happy to say that Goodbye, Rebel Blue doesn’t disappoint.

Goodbye, Rebel Blue isn’t an original book by any stretch. The whole tough-girl-falls-for-golden-boy idea’s been done countless times, as had the bucket-list idea. However, the author writes it in such a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re reading the same old story again, but rather something new and different.

The plot was slow, and while often times that’s a reason for me to put the book down, I think I kind of liked it here. It was slow, as Rebel fumbled around – for the lack of a better, not-so-cheesy word – “discovering” herself. She’s stumbling along, screwing up and doing the best she can to fulfil a dead girl’s bucket list, the plot stumbles along with her, and in a situation like this, I found that I didn’t mind the pacing at all.

Not gonna lie – one of my favorite parts of the book was the pieces of Rebel’s personal bucket list at the beginnings of every chapter (especially number 20 – “learn math”). It really showed who she was as a person: quirky and sarcastic, but also, underneath it all, lonely (aren’t we all at least a little though? Or maybe I’m looking too much into #22?). Her voice was what stood out to me the most in Goodbye, Rebel Blue.

The secondary characters were, I felt, all there for a reason, which was awesome, though I’m having trouble remembering all their names now (more on that later). They all did their part in helping the story along, and all had a part in Rebel’s change of character from the beginning to the end. I think the most impacting part for me though was when everything started crumbling for Rebel, and then she goes to Nate’s and HIS SISTER WITH THE HAIR DYE AND HOW MUCH SHE TRIED TO BE LIKE REBEL AND WHEN SHE FAILED SHE WAS SO DISAPPOINTED AND HEARTBROKEN and oh my goodness my heart. That was probably my favorite scene in a feeling-killing sort of way.

The only shortcoming that Goodbye, Rebel Blue had for me was it’s failure to really leave a lasting impression beyond the pages. Like I stated earlier, I’m having trouble remembering most of the secondary characters’ names, as well as the love interest’s name (I had to look it up; it’s Nate). While reading, I liked how the romance wasn’t all in-your-face but rather a “side dish” to the story, but afterwards, it just kind of fades away. Rebel’s friendship with Macey (so many pies!), too, which I remember really liking while reading, I can’t really seem to recall anymore. My point being that, while Goodbye, Rebel Blue was a wonderful, fun, and emotional read, it isn’t really that much of a memorable one, which is rather sad.

But all in all, it was a great read. If you loved the author’s first book, Welcome, Caller, This is Chloe, you should definitely give Goodbye, Rebel Blue a try, and vice versa. And if you haven’t read any of her books, I definitely recommend fans of the genre to give them a try.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Published September 10th 2013 by St. Martin’s Press
Source: Purchased
Rating: ★★★★☆

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

Honestly, if I think too long and hard about Fangirl, there are definite points I could pick at – Fangirl’s the kind of book that could swing from a four-star to a two-star depending on my mood. But right now, Fangirl is close to the bookish version of comfort food, and I needed that.

I could really relate to Cath. My social skills are pretty much nonexistent, my self-esteem is lower than I’d care to admit, and I’m not the best at accepting change. Also like me, Cath is shy and quiet, but talkative and enthusiastic about the things she enjoys when she opens up. And I could relate to the way she turned to writing as a way to express herself, and felt more at ease through the screen, in her fandom, rather than face-to-face conversations. So when I read about Cath, all I really wanted was to reach through the pages give her a hug, and let her know that she isn’t the only one.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the fanfiction – I skimmed over most of it, especially the larger chunks (I’m still wondering how Rainbow Rowell is going to pull off Carry On when the whole thing was supposedly a Draco/Harry fic?), and I can’t say I was terribly impressed by any of the other characters, or that they were particularly memorable.

The writing was quirky, fluffy, and cute. It’s the kind that brings to mind tumblr graphics: words in a messy, handwritten font placed over a shaky scenery picture. It wasn’t particularly impressive, nor terrible.

Alright, so I’m doing a terrible job of reviewing Fangirl. The thing is, most of it wasn’t outstanding. For the most part, it was a very average one-time read. But the part that really stood out for me and bumped up my rating was Cath, because Cath’s most everything I’m feeling, and reading Fangirl was like getting a hug, or having someone whisper “it’s okay.” There wasn’t really anything I could point out and highlight, but after I was through, I felt warm and fuzzy and happy.