Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Review: Shadow And Bone – Leigh Bardugo

Shadow And Bone – Leigh Bardugo

Alina Starkov doesn't expect much from life. Orphaned by the Border Wars, she is sure of only one thing: her best friend, Mal—and her inconvenient crush on him. Until the day their army regiment enters the Fold, a swath of unnatural darkness crawling with monsters. When their convoy is attacked and Mal is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power not even she knew existed. 
Ripped from everything she knows, Alina is taken to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling. With Alina's extraordinary power in his arsenal, he believes they can finally destroy the Fold. Now Alina must find a way to master her untamed gift and somehow fit into her new life without Mal by her side. But nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. As the threat to the kingdom mounts and her dangerous attraction to the Darkling grows, Alina will uncover a secret that could tear her heart—and her country—in two.

Review: I don’t understand hype, especially the hype around fantasy books. What makes one fantasy book better than the others? Most of them—including this one—seem very generic to me. Why have people been raving about this series for years? I think I missed something important.

I guess this means it’s unpopular opinion time. Brace yourself.

Shadow and Bone has a similar plot to other fantasy books I’ve read. The narrator, Alina Starkov, is an orphan who discovers that she’s a powerful magician called a Grisha. She might be the most powerful Grisha in the history of her kingdom. When her powers are discovered, she is sent to magic school, but she quickly learns that she is being manipulated. The Darkling—another powerful magician—may be plotting to use her to widen the Fold, a dangerous patch of darkness in the middle of the kingdom. Alina runs away from school, but the Darkling goes after her. He’s a dangerous enemy.

This book is fast-paced and easy to read. It’s one of those escapist novels that you can get lost in for a few hours. The world is different enough from ours to be intriguing, but not so different that it’s confusing. Alina is a badass, but she struggles with her self-confidence, which makes her relatable.

One of my favorite parts of the story is Alina’s relationship with her friend, Mal. They’re loyal to each other, even though they’re separated early in the book. They have a strong friendship that has the potential to develop into something more.

“‘I'm not like you, Mal. I never really fit in the way you did. I never really belonged anywhere.’ 
‘You belonged with me.’” – Shadow and Bone

The Darkling is also a curious character. He’s my favorite. The author keeps us guessing about his real motives. He comes across as an evil, controlling, wannabe dictator, but I get the sense that there’s something more going on with him. Maybe, deep down, he has good reasons to increase the size of the Fold. Or, maybe he’s just really talented at being a controlling dictator. Either way, he’s interesting.

This is a fun book. I had fun reading it. However, I want more than fun from my books.

For me, Shadow and Bone is too simple and generic. How many magic-orphan-saves-the-world-while-navagating-a-love-triangle stories do we need? Since I’ve read books like this before, I didn’t feel the suspense. I knew that Mal and Alina would ultimately succeed in thwarting the Darkling. There wasn’t enough real danger. Maybe that’s because I had a hard time picturing the Fold. Is it just a black spot full of screaming human-birds? I know that this book is part of a series, and the characters and world will become more developed in the next books, but I wanted to feel the characters’ fear. The Fold doesn’t scare me. The characters aren’t developed enough for me to really care about them.

Judging by the Goodreads reviews, people like the Russian aspects of this book. My family is from Russia, so I know it’s a fascinating, complicated place. For me, there isn’t enough Russia in the book. The setting seems like a typical fantasy setting sprinkled with awkward Russian-sounding words. It’s all very surface-level. I would have liked to see more of the culture. Alina grew up in this world. What was her childhood like? Why did she join the military? What’s up with these border wars? What makes this country unique? Maybe these things are shown later, but I wanted them now. I’m impatient like that.

Shadow and Bone was kinda disappointing. I’m still on the hunt for a unique fantasy book.

“They are orphans again, with no true home but each other and whatever life they can make together on the other side of the sea.”  - Shadow and Bone

Monday, August 21, 2017

Review: Cold Summer – Gwen Cole

Cold Summer – Gwen Cole

Today, he’s a high school dropout with no future.

Tomorrow, he’s a soldier in World War II. 
Kale Jackson has spent years trying to control his time-traveling ability but hasn’t had much luck. One day he lives in 1945, fighting in the war as a sharpshooter and helplessly watching soldiers—friends—die. Then the next day, he’s back in the present, where WWII has bled into his modern life in the form of PTSD, straining his relationship with his father and the few friends he has left. Every day it becomes harder to hide his battle wounds, both physical and mental, from the past. 
When the ex-girl-next-door, Harper, moves back to town, thoughts of what could be if only he had a normal life begin to haunt him. Harper reminds him of the person he was before the PTSD, which helps anchor him to the present. With practice, maybe Kale could remain in the present permanently and never step foot on a battlefield again. Maybe he can have the normal life he craves. 
But then Harper finds Kale’s name in a historical article—and he’s listed as a casualty of the war. Kale knows now that he must learn to control his time-traveling ability to save himself and his chance at a life with Harper. Otherwise, he’ll be killed in a time where he doesn’t belong by a bullet that was never meant for him.

Review: I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this book because the main character’s name is Kale. Kale. Like that icky faux lettuce your mom tells you to eat.

But, this Kale can time-travel, and I can’t pass up a time-travel story. So, here we are. Reading about Kale.

Harper and Kale were best friends before they lost touch. They reconnect after Harper’s mom moves overseas, and Harper decides to move in with her uncle. Kale isn’t like Harper remembers. He’s quiet, distant, and sometimes disappears for days. Harper eventually discovers that Kale is a time-traveler. When he disappears from the present, he becomes a sniper in WWII. Curious, Harper Googles Kale’s name and learns that he dies during the war. Can Kale figure out how to thwart his own death?

“Sometimes when you go through things, you bottle them up inside and try to act like everything is fine. Because you want to forget they ever happened. But you have to trust me when I say that doesn't work. In order for you to move on, you have to let them out.” – Cold Summer

First, let’s take a moment to appreciate the cover. That’s one of the prettiest book covers I’ve seen in a long time. The inside of the book is beautifully designed, too. (Too bad about the typos. There are quite a few typos.) Still, it’s a stunning book.

The story alternates points-of-view with Kale narrating some chapters and Harper narrating others. This keeps the pace moving quickly and builds suspense. Kale is trying to hide his time-traveling secret; Harper is trying to uncover it. They’re both romantically interested in each other, but they’re rarely on the same page with their relationship. I think this is realistic for a teenage romance. They care about each other. They’re just not the best at communicating their feelings.

I like both narrators, which is unusual for me. They’re sweet kids who’ve had difficult lives. I didn’t even mind their romance (which is also unusual for me). I was hoping that they’d get past their problems so they could be together. I was thrilled when they finally (FINALLY!) started communicating. Kale has mental health problems, but Harper is understanding and does her best to help him when he struggles.

“Some people fight through it, and some people choose not to by ignoring it. It's up to them to get through it, and we can only support and love them.” – Cold Summer

I think I’m predisposed to love time-travel stories. I love contemporary fiction, and I love historical fiction, so time-travel gives me the best of both worlds. The WWII parts of the book are intense, but I wish they had been better developed. I wanted to know more about how time travel works. I wanted to know more about Kale’s soldier friends. I wanted to know more about everything. There just isn’t enough time travel in the book for me.

There is plenty of angst, though. Most of it is pointless angst that could have been solved with a few conversations. Honestly, it got on my nerves. All this avoiding each other, and being silent, and running away, and characters feeling sorry for themselves. It probably takes a ton of mental energy for the characters to keep this up. Why couldn’t they just talk about their problems? Talking would be so much easier than angsting. (Angsting is totally a word. Not something I made up. I swear.)

Neither of the kids gets along with their families (mostly because they refuse to talk to their families). It was too much family angst for me. I especially got annoyed at Kale’s relationship with his father. Kale’s father doesn’t believe that Kale is a time-traveler. He thinks Kale is a lazy kid who likes to run away. Kale can solve this argument by disappearing in front of his father, but he refuses to do it because he’s stubborn. Just . . . why? This argument causes nonstop drama, and it’s such an easy argument to solve. Why don’t you want to solve your problems, Kale?

Overall, I enjoyed Cold Summer, but I would have liked it more if it had been longer and less angsty. There is a lot of stuff happening in this story. More pages would have given the author the space necessary to flesh out all the characters, events, and world-building. But, if you like time-travel stories, this is a pretty good one. I recommend it.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Sunday Post #110

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

Public Service Announcement

I’m hosting a giveaway! Enter here to win a book of your choice from Book Depository.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Cold Summer by Gwen Cole.
  • On Wednesday I review Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.
  • On Thursday I do the Anything But Books Tag.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Then I read Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Right now, I’m reading Good Bones and Simple Murders by Margaret Atwood and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores is funny. I read it in one night when my dog was sick and I couldn’t sleep.
  2. My dog is okay! She ate garbage and required a trip to the emergency vet, but after some ridiculous vet bills, she’s back to normal. For a few days, she was really miserable.
  3. Hanging out at the dog park.
  4. I’m pretty excited for the solar eclipse. According to the internet, I should be able to see 91% of it from my house. As long as it’s not raining.
  5. Lots of people have been entering my giveaway! I was worried that no one would enter. That would have been devastating.

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Blogiversary Giveaway!

It’s my blog’s fourth birthday, and I’m giving you the gift! Enter to win a book of your choice from Book Depository (up to $20USD value). The giveaway is open internationally, as long as Book Depository ships to your country for free.

Thanks for supporting Read All The Things! I can’t believe I’ve been blathering about books for four years . . . 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Kings, Queens, Death, Sex, And Scandals

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is ten book recommendations for people who like ________. I’m filling in the blank with “Kings, Queens, Death, Sex, and Scandals.”

Kings, Queens, Death, Sex, And Scandals

Sex with the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics – Eleanor Herman

In royal courts bristling with testosterone—swashbuckling generals, polished courtiers, and virile cardinals—how did repressed regal ladies find happiness? 
Anne Boleyn flirted with courtiers; Catherine Howard slept with one. Henry VIII had both of them beheaded. 
Catherine the Great had her idiot husband murdered and ruled the Russian empire with a long list of sexy young favorites. 
Marie Antoinette fell in love with the handsome Swedish count Axel Fersen, who tried valiantly to rescue her from the guillotine. 
Princess Diana gave up her palace bodyguard to enjoy countless love affairs, which tragically led to her early death.

Sex with Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge – Eleanor Herman

Throughout the centuries, royal mistresses have been worshiped, feared, envied, and reviled. They set the fashions, encouraged the arts, and, in some cases, ruled nations. Eleanor Herman's Sex with Kings takes us into the throne rooms and bedrooms of Europe's most powerful monarchs. Alive with flamboyant characters, outrageous humor, and stirring poignancy, this glittering tale of passion and politics chronicles five hundred years of scintillating women and the kings who loved them.

The Middle Ages: Everyday Life in Medieval Europe – Jeffrey L. Singman

We consider the Middle Ages barbaric, yet the period furnished some of our most enduring icons, including King Arthur's Round Table, knights in shining armor, and the idealized noblewoman. In this vivid history of the time, the medieval world comes to life in all its rich daily experience. Find out what people's beds were like, how often they washed, what they wore, what they cooked, how they worked, how they entertained themselves, how they wed, and what life was like in a medieval village, castle, or monastery.

Margaret The First – Danielle Dutton

Margaret the First dramatizes the life of Margaret Cavendish, the shy, gifted, and wildly unconventional 17th-century Duchess. The eccentric Margaret wrote and published volumes of poems, philosophy, feminist plays, and utopian science fiction at a time when “being a writer” was not an option open to women. As one of the Queen’s attendants and the daughter of prominent Royalists, she was exiled to France when King Charles I was overthrown. As the English Civil War raged on, Margaret met and married William Cavendish, who encouraged her writing and her desire for a career. After the War, her work earned her both fame and infamy in England: at the dawn of daily newspapers, she was “Mad Madge,” an original tabloid celebrity. Yet Margaret was also the first woman to be invited to the Royal Society of London—a mainstay of the Scientific Revolution—and the last for another two hundred years.

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories From History Without The Fairy-Tale Endings – Linda Rodriguez McRobbie

You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many were graceful and benevolent leaders—but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian Empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back.

Royalty’s Strangest Characters: Extraordinary But True Tales From 2000 Years Of Mad Monarchs And Raving Rulers – Geoff Tibballs

Just as the monarchy has been hereditary in many countries, so insanity has been hereditary in many monarchs. Here are 2,000 years of crazy kings and potty potentates, including such infamous characters as Caligula and Vlad the Impaler.

Severed: A History Of Heads Lost And Heads Found – Frances Larson

The human head is exceptional. It accommodates four of our five senses, encases the brain, and boasts the most expressive set of muscles in the body. It is our most distinctive attribute and connects our inner selves to the outer world. 
Yet there is a dark side to the head’s preeminence, one that has, in the course of human history, manifested itself in everything from decapitation to headhunting. So explains anthropologist Frances Larson in this fascinating history of decapitated human heads. From the Western collectors whose demand for shrunken heads spurred massacres to Second World War soldiers who sent the remains of the Japanese home to their girlfriends, from Madame Tussaud modeling the guillotined head of Robespierre to Damien Hirst photographing decapitated heads in city morgues, from grave-robbing phrenologists to skull-obsessed scientists, Larson explores our macabre fixation with severed heads.

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide To Sex, Marriage, And Manners – Therese Oneill

Have you ever wished you could live in an earlier, more romantic era? 
Ladies, welcome to the 19th century, where there's arsenic in your face cream, a pot of cold pee sits under your bed, and all of your underwear is crotchless. (Why? Shush, dear. A lady doesn't question.) 
UNMENTIONABLE is your hilarious, illustrated, scandalously honest (yet never crass) guide to the secrets of Victorian womanhood. 
Irresistibly charming, laugh-out-loud funny, and featuring nearly 200 images from Victorian publications, UNMENTIONABLE will inspire a whole new level of respect for Elizabeth Bennett, Scarlet O'Hara, Jane Eyre, and all of our great, great grandmothers. 
(And it just might leave you feeling ecstatically grateful to live in an age of pants, super absorbency tampons, epidurals, anti-depressants, and not-dying-of-the-syphilis-your-husband-brought-home.)

A Treasury Of Royal Scandals: The Shocking True Stories Of History’s Wackiest, Weirdest, Most Wanton Kings, Queens, Tsars, Popes, and Emperors – Michael Farquhar

From Nero's nagging mother (whom he found especially annoying after taking her as his lover) to Catherine's stable of studs (not of the equine variety), here is a wickedly delightful look at the most scandalous royal doings you never learned about in history class.

Doomed Queens: Royal Women Who Met Bad Ends, From Cleopatra To Princess Di – Kris Waldherr

Illicit love, madness, betrayal—it isn't always good to be the queen. 
Marie Antoinette, Anne Boleyn, and Mary, Queen of Scots. What did they have in common? For a while they were crowned in gold, cosseted in silk, and flattered by courtiers. But in the end, they spent long nights in dark prison towers and were marched to the scaffold where they surrendered their heads to the executioner. And they are hardly alone in their undignified demises. Throughout history, royal women have had a distressing way of meeting bad ends—dying of starvation, being burned at the stake, or expiring in childbirth while trying desperately to produce an heir. They always had to be on their toes and all too often even devious plotting, miraculous pregnancies, and selling out their sisters was not enough to keep them from forcible consignment to religious orders. From Cleopatra (suicide by asp), to Princess Caroline (suspiciously poisoned on her coronation day), there's a gory downside to being blue-blooded when you lack a Y chromosome.

Do you have any books to add to my list?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. 
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. 
But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

Review: There was a slang word in this book that I didn’t know. It made me feel old. I shook my fist at the book and yelled, “Dang you, kids! Stop saying made-up words. And get off my lawn!”

Also, sneakers are supposed to be cleaned? Apparently, they are. There are sneaker-cleaning kits. I did not know this. I just scrape the mud off mine with a stick.

Okay, you guys have heard about The Hate U Give, right? The publisher paid an obscene amount of money for this book. There was a massive amount of hype surrounding its release. As soon as I read the synopsis, it shot to the top of my “most-anticipated releases” list. After spending months sitting on the world’s longest waiting list, I finally got a chance to read it, and . . .

It was really good. Not perfect, but really good.

The narrator, Starr Carter, is trapped between two extremes. She lives in a poor neighborhood that’s controlled by drug-dealing gang members, but she goes to school in an ultra-wealthy suburb. She doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere. One night, she’s on her way home from a party with her friend Khalil when a cop pulls them over. The cop kills Khalil. Starr suddenly finds herself in a world of police brutality, gang wars, judgment, and celebrity.

“I can't change where I come from or what I've been through, so why should I be ashamed of what makes me, me?” – The Hate U Give

When I started reading this book, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to relate to it. I’m a rural white girl. Where I grew up, there weren’t enough people to make a gang, and the only things that got shot were dangerous or delicious animals. Cities are alien to me. I don’t even like reading about them because I can’t understand why anyone would want to live in one. As I read The Hate U Give, I decided that the point isn’t to relate to the story. The point is to shut up and listen. So, that’s what I did.  

I think the author did a fairly amazing job of showing the good and the bad in all of her characters. They have complex emotions and motivations. Starr makes some questionable decisions, but she’s a believable teenager. I was rooting for her. Starr’s father is involved in the gang world, but he loves his children and will do anything to protect them. Khalil dies within the first few pages, but he’s also complicated. He’s a drug dealer, but he didn’t deserve to get shot. He was unarmed and didn’t have any drugs on him.

“At an early age I learned that people make mistakes, and you have to decide if their mistakes are bigger than your love for them.” – The Hate U Give

This book is unusual in the YA world because it’s a story about family. Starr’s parents and siblings play a bigger role in her life than her friends. Most of the friends in this book are underdeveloped side characters. That’s different because it’s usually the other way around in YA. The friends are everything, and the parents are pushed to the side. I loved seeing parents who are involved in their kids’ lives. It’s refreshing. I hope this book starts a trend. I’d like to see more parent/child relationships in YA.

I wish the friend characters were more developed, though. A few of them seem to only exist to teach the reader lessons about racism. They’re important lessons, but I get annoyed when books try to teach me things. It pulls me out of the story.

“That's the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What's the point of having a voice if you're gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn't be?” – The Hate U Give

My only other complaint about this book is the length. It’s over 400 pages, which is really long for a contemporary. To me, it felt long, especially in the middle. There’s some interesting family-dynamic stuff in the middle, but I still got bored waiting for something to happen.

So, what’s the verdict on my most-anticipated release of 2017? Is this my favorite book ever? No. Is it overhyped? Yes, slightly. Should everybody read it? Most definitely. It’s completely worth reading, especially if you’re a rural white girl like me. One of the reasons I read is to learn about the world. This book showed me a part of the world that I’m unfamiliar with. I think a lot of people are unfamiliar with the experiences of black teens in the inner city. So, go read The Hate U Give. You’ll learn something.

“Holy shit. Who the fuck complains about going to Harry Potter World? Or Butter Beer? Or wands?”  - The Hate U Give

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Sunday Post #109

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
  • On Tuesday we talk about kings, queens, death, sex, and scandals. You know, all the interesting stuff.
  • On Wednesday it’s my blogiversary, and I’m giving you gifts. If everything goes according to plan, there will be a giveaway.

In My Reading Life

So much reading, guys. I finished So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. Then I read Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai. Right now, I’m reading Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. Cookies.
  2. Last week’s Game of Thrones episode was pretty epic.
  3. I might actually reach my goal of reading 12 books this month. I’m really trying. A few of the books on my to-read pile are chunksters, though.
  4. I went for a run, and it wasn’t a billion degrees outside.
  5. We have a cover for Turtles All The Way Down.

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!