Half-Year Recap- Favorites So Far!

June 13, 2012 at 8:07 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

So we’re about halfway done with 2012 and there have been SO MANY AMAZING BOOKS come out already this year, with so many more good ones to come. I was looking over my Goodreads list (oh hai! I’m on Goodreads- you can friend me, if you like!) and some of them just stick out so much in my mind, and I thought I’d share with you my list of Favorites So Far.

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity, Code Name Verity, Code Name Verity

If you have not read this book yet, it is a problem. Remedy it. It’s funny and shattering and gorgeous and one of the most spectacular examples of distinctive voice, flawlessly researched, and utterly absorbing. This is a book that, once you open it, you CANNOT put down. This is one of those books that everyone needs to read. Elizabeth Wein is one of my new idols.

And speaking of shattering, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. I haven’t reviewed this book for the simple reason that even now, five full months after reading it, I still can’t speak about it coherently. It’s rich and funny and tragic and glorious, heart-breaking and healing and one of the most beautifully, bizarrely hopeful books I’ve ever read. I laughed and cried in the same gulping breaths and it is SO HARD to tell people what this book is about. This is a book that doesn’t only change your life, it redefines it. If you read only one book this year (gah, what a terrifying thought!) make it this one.

Jennifer E. Smith’s The Statistical Probablity of Love at First Sight was a book that blew me away. It was completely out of my comfort zone in so many ways. It’s a contemp romance- not really my thing- and a very significant foundation of this story is parental divorce and remarriage- also not really my thing- and the combination of tense and perspective weirded me out the entire time. And I LOVED it. The characters were raw and real and wonderful, and it’s amazing how much can happen in twenty-four hours. It’s sweet and sad and silly and thought-provoking and doesn’t try to give everything easy answers. This was the book I was curious about but never expected to like, and to an extent that’s true. I didn’t like it- I loved it.

Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone was simply magical (and send congratulations her way- she just debuted at #8 on the NYT Bestsellers List!). It was rich and dark and atmospheric and a fantastic example of how strong you can make a setting without drowning in it. The world of the Grishas stepped outside of playing Russian and became something extraordinary, where the language was just alien enough that it melded with the familiar social heirarchies and human dramas that it became something both comfortable and exciting. It built just enough off of what we could recognize that it didn’t have to rely solely on those pieces anymore. It creates so many wonderful mysteries and opens up this huge world within a small space. This was not one to put down. In fact, I might have handed it to one of my co-workers and told her to buy it without actually telling her anything about it.

Want to laugh yourself into abdominal cramps? Then check out Christopher Healy’s The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, a look at what happens after the Happily Ever After for four princes who can’t quite manage to make the bards care about them. After all, the princesses are so much more interesting, and who wants to try to remember a prince’s name? Just call him Charming and be done with it. This book is a roaring adventure- and at least half of that roaring is laughter- full of dragons and giants and clever little sisters and boorish brothers and so much adventure. Do NOT read this while drinking or eating, or if you have liquids near your computer. Read it aloud, ogle the illustrations, and just enjoy this wonderful, fun-loving frolick.

Anyone who knows me knows I love faeries and faerie tales and faerie telling retellings. LOVE them. And Alethea Kontis’ Enchanted was everything I could have asked for. The sly references (and the sheer number of them!) to various stories was totally made of win, and the characters were unique and vibrant and richly flawed. It’s a world that, for all its magic and mystery, never quite steps apart from our own. It’s like walking down the street of your own town and suddenly discovering a wisp of wonder. It’s gorgeously written and it was physically painful to put down, with everything I love not just in a fairy tale but in a story.

What are some of your favorites so far of 2012?

Until next time~

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Book Review: Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo

June 6, 2012 at 6:39 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , )

Alina Starkov came from nowhere, an orphan on the wars raised on the charity of a duke’s estate and trained as an army cartographer. The only thing that makes her anything, at least in her mind, is her friendship with Mal, skilled tracker and ladies’ man extraordinaire. Until the Fold, until the attack, until the blaze of light that comes from her and marks her as a rare form of Grisha. Then she’s whisked away, the hope of an entire nation, and taught to use her unfamiliar magic, lost within a world of luxury and beauty every bit as dangerous as the Fold, for where there’s hope, there’s also despair and expectation, and there are always those who try to use power to their own advantage. Alina will not only have to learn to use her strange new skills, but decide who she can trust.
Being the hope of all of Ravka? Kind of sucks.

Oh, guys. GUYS. This is such an amazing book. It immediately transports you into a world that’s alien and familiar at once, a pseudo-Russian setting that comes alive around you in so many ways. Clothing, architecture, language, food, it all wraps around you and just immerses you in this rich, atmospheric land. It’s detailed but not a slavish reproduction; it’s an homage that’s accessible and relatable and recognizable, but also stands easily on its own. It’s a Russia that’s still steeped in magic, but it’s also a time of significant change, as the old ways are fading before the new.

I love Alina. She’s a fantastic character, strong and achingly vulnerable, prickly and passionate, fiercely loyal to people who are often less than loyal to her in return. She’s got this deep well of inner strength that gives her the fortitude to weather deep pains, as well as the courage to face them again. This is a girl accustomed to being abandoned, but who faces that with minimal bitterness. Minimal- she’s too intelligent to forget the wrongs done her, too practical to hold a grudge, and too sharp not to make at least a few withering comments about it. She knows her place, has had it reinforced over and over and over again in her life, but she’s not discontent in that- it’s comforting in a way, because at least that one thing is a reliable foundation. She’s sometimes a little passive, letting others pull her this way and that, but it’s never in a way that’s disconcerting or irritating. It always fits the circumstances. And I mean, come on, if we were under those conditions- overwhelmed, hunted, confused, and with minimal training, how well would any of us do?

I think what I may love best about Alina is her stubbornness. She has to be dragged kicking and screaming into anything she doesn’t want to do, but once she’s in there, she’ll do her best to stay afloat. She doesn’t forgive easily and she’s not above taking a certain petty satisfaction in the discomfort of those who give her trouble. Which, let’s face it, is really appealing to me. I like a certain amount of snarly.

The Darkling, the uber-powerful and uber-attractive head of the Grisha is a a supremely interesting character. I frickin’ love him. He’s complex and contradictory, he’s menacing even at his most open and relaxed, and consistently enigmatic. He understands people very, very well and doesn’t hesitate to use that knowledge, and despite how alluring he can be, despite the draw of his power and physical beauty, there’s never a moment when we don’t know he’s dangerous. He is the ultimate mystery in a world that Alina doesn’t fully understand. That danger, that edge of the unknown, underscores everything he does. We never learn his name and his history, while vital, comes to us in tiny increments that don’t so much illuminate as obfuscate.

The Grisha are the magic-users, born not made, and they come from every class of Ravka society. Once they’re tested and found, however, they become something else entirely, separated from their well-compensated families. Grisha are a rank apart from the rest of society, but they have their own heirarchy. At its head is the Darkling, as good as a king within his own domain, but things break down from there into several broad categories, broken down further into specifics. They’re regarded with a high degree of superstition by the common folk, so Alina starts out knowing very little about the realities of the Grisha. She has to learn the truth and their history along the way, which lets us learn it at the same time without either her or the audience looking like idiots. They’re a fascinating group and there was a part of me that was desperate to know more- to know about their history and all the details of the different subsets and the way they work within the heirarchy- but I was also very grateful that it wasn’t there because this story was so well-paced that I didn’t want to worry about the distractions. (maybe a compendium? maybe? maybe?- this is me begging, if it’s not obvious)

This story get such a fantastic balance of danger in the midst of luxury, ugliness as an inherent part of beauty, and mercy in the midst of savagery. Some of these dangers sometimes seem a little underdeveloped and uneven, but there are two other installments to follow- while many of the threads come closer to resolution, some have to stay open for the future books. I love that very frequently, luxury and beauty feel like an active threat, a danger. It seems like it should be something everyone wants, but to those accustomed to a certain starkness (starkness? Starkov? Ha! I see what you did there!) it’s every bit as unsettling as the sudden lack would be to anyone else.

And if you get hooked on this one (fabulous book- you will), keep an eye out for Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising.

Until next time~

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