Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom

Listen, you’re going to like these, so no quip is needed. Read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo.

I read Six of Crows on October 22-24, 2016. I read Crooked Kingdom on October 26-27, 2016.

I have so much to say.

I was never really interested in reading the Grisha trilogy (I have rethought this decision,) but something about the gritty sass that was apparent in Six of Crows drew me in. This duo has been so hyped on Instagram that my expectations were really high and I must say I was not disappointed.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom start in the city of Ketterdam on the island nation of Kerch – a place where trade is both God and good; where economics and capitalism are the work of both the wealthy merchant class and the illegally wealthy underbelly of the Barrel. The Dregs are one of the many gangs that control the gambling in the Barrel, and Kaz Brekker is their leader in everything but title. Kaz is offered the heist of a lifetime with a payoff big enough to do whatever he wants. Through various means, Kaz recruits five more members to create the titled Six: Inej (the wraith/spy/acrobat), Jesper (the sharpshooter), Wylan (the bomb maker/hostage?), Nina (the Heartrender, rogue member of the Grisha Second Army), and Matthias (rogue druskelle, large blonde man.)

Obviously, all does not go entirely according to plan. In fact, one of the most enjoyable things about these books is that pretty much nothing goes to plan but you have no idea how it’s going to go wrong, so you think maybe everything will be okay and then it’s totally not but not in the way you expected. Or Kaz is so smart that he sees how it will go wrong so many layers deep that the wrong becomes the actual plan all along.

It’s a world of racism, human trafficking, violence, and magic. It’s a world where everyone is a little bit broken in their own way but you love them anyway. A world where someone can recover from brainwashing, from intolerance and ignorance, and where people are kind of horrible but you can still find the good ones if you look.

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Perhaps the most interesting relationship is that between Inej and Kaz. And some of the things that happen make me really frustrated with Inej – and it’s a frustration that I think Bardugo chose to create.

There’s a line in Six of Crows that people love in which Kaz is sort of starting to tell Inej that he has feelings for her and Inej responds: “I will have you without armor Kaz Brekker, or not at all.” So either lay yourself open for me physically and emotionally, or it ain’t happening.

This is problematic because both Kaz and Inej are struggling with major PTSD. Kaz wears gloves and cannot stand the touch of human skin; the reader learns why and completely understands this feeling. The other thing is that Inej is someone who was sold into sex trafficking and was repeatedly hurt and raped; she’s only been free for a year. Does Inej really think that she can expect to be touched by Kaz in a romantic or sexual way without also feeling panic? Does she not sympathize with Kaz’s aversion? While she doesn’t know the reason Kaz wears gloves, she knows it’s not just an affectation – if it was that would be armor I can accept her asking him to remove.

And yes, she’s asking him to remove his emotional armor as well – and that’s something she absolutely should be asking of him. But the gloves? That’s removal that takes time and trust – time she doesn’t seem to be willing to give him. Just as Kaz touching Inej in a way that she can respond to from a place of love and attraction will take time.

In the end I think there’s a better understanding between the two of what they really need to let go of in order to be together, truly together, and not just broken people who don’t know how to love. Ultimately I appreciate the damage of those two characters because it demonstrates that you can recover from trauma – you can move on to the next thing when you find a reason to make yourself heal. So, I forgive Inej for saying something wildly insensitive.

I was blown away by this duology, and it is absolutely deserving of the hype and craze it gets on Bookstagram and everywhere else. I hope it never gets made into a movie because the cast in my head is so weird and specific and has aged out of their ability to play some of the roles they have in my head, and no one can ever be Kaz for me except Reeve Carney.

Anyway, back to why the story is amazing. It’s so complex and complete and has crazy specific details and plotting. I would definitely walk around inside Leigh Bardugo’s head if it meant I could wander around Ketterdam. I might even be willing to gamble a little, which is something I kind of despise. This world feels so real you could touch it, you can smell it, and sometimes even taste it.

The characters are your new best friends by the time you’re done. You want for them to get what they were after, and to feel safe to try and to dream. You want them to be happy, whatever that means.

My favorite running gag is when Kaz asks a question and they all reply with a different answer (always the wrong answer). My most favorite is the first time this happens and Matthias responds with “you’re all horrible.” I crowed with laughter because it was true, but also displayed how disgruntled and stubborn he is.

My first instinct is that Nina is my favorite character, followed closely by Kaz and Matthias, but then I’m like, wait – Inej, and Jesper, and Wylan. It’s like choosing a favorite finger.

If I keep talking, I’ll ramble. Six of Crows 5/5 and Crooked Kingdom 4.5/5 because, listen Leigh, you did NOT have to kill that one character and even plotlistically I cannot find good enough justification for it. READ THESE NOW.

Binge Reading

I am a binge-reader – I don’t savor books. In fact, I’m really bad at it. When I want a book to last, I resign myself to gulping through it and then immediately starting it for a second time. Or I will re-read from a part somewhere in the middle that I really liked so I can enjoy the build up to the resolution without having to go through some of the background stuff again. I resign myself to finishing a book and then slowly trolling back through it to mark the parts I want to refer back to, make note of, or share with someone else.

I have always read quickly and retained well (which was helpful for my ACT and SAT scores in high school) but sometimes it does take the enjoyment out of things. I read at a pace akin to skiing down an icy mountain with no idea how to slow yourself down or stop. When I get into a story my pace is breakneck – it’s the only speed I know.

I also binge in groups – if I read a good book by an author I hunt down one and then another and then another until I have read their oeuvre and can then feel prepared to read whatever they are coming out with next. Or if I find a series I read all of the series. I savor nothing. I am trying to stop this habit too, but it isn’t working.

How do you slow down?

I am a devourer of words.

Girl of Nightmares

What price would you pay to save the one you love? Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake.

Girl of Nightmares by Kendare Blake was released in 2012 – I read it October 21-22, 2016.

My initial thoughts:

  • Anyone who thinks this should be more than a duology is crazy. The only justification I can see is that the third book’s cover would have Anna facing full forward. I have imagined the third image in my mind and it looks badass, but alas, this has ended exactly as it should.
  • If the first book made me scream, this one made me cry.
  • I’m kind of okay with this version of the afterlife.

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Girl of Nightmares picks up almost 6 months after Anna Dressed in Blood. Cas can’t let Anna go. He starts seeing her and the visions are awful and violent enough that he begins to believe she’s calling to him from the other side. Anna is not safe, and this time it’s Cas’s turn to do the rescuing. Girl of Nightmares takes the gang to London and then the Scottish Highlands where the true history of Cas, his powers, and the athame are revealed.

This book is a bit more gore over creep factor than Anna, but it was always justified and further created the power and the tension in the story. The tension creates intentional frustration – the reader feels what Cas is feeling about the lack of straight answers and information, or even truly understanding what the athame and the other side are. Cas is his usual reckless self, and everybody else seems a little bit more at peace with that, if a little less tolerant of it. I liked him even more in this book because I felt like his journey was more internal – there were things he had to figure out about himself, revisiting his knowledge of his identity and his place in the world, and I liked knowing that I could trust who he is at his core.

Like all good horror, we explore regular life via the supernatural – love, loss, and change. It had to end the way that it did – it was the realistic and the powerful way to end it. If it had ended differently, it would have really ruined both books for me and I would have felt that it was very unhealthy. The reality of life is that things don’t always work out and we lose people – sometimes to change and sometimes to death. The power is in letting go. There are so many specific tiny moments that would be total spoilers during the final battle that I find so powerful.

Most important line, from new and dynamic character Jestine:

“Your morality isn’t the only morality in the world. Just because it’s yours doesn’t mean it’s right.”

Also, I think Cas totally should have yelled at Carmel. And I was frustrated by that storyline in general – maybe because it was what an unsure teenage girl would do and I expected more of Carmel, or maybe because it felt pushed in to create extra conflict. However, I did enjoy that we see Cas-as-third-wheel to Thomas and Carmel. I don’t think we get the perspective of the third wheel who is also the narrator very often in a way that isn’t whining or pining after one half of the couple, and his frustration over Carmel but holding back is something I think everyone has experienced at some point. It points out in a subtle way why it’s hard when your friends date. When they hurt it hurts you too.

Blake is an excellent writer and a craftsman of story – there’s just no overloaded exposition – you discover things instead of being told them, you inhabit Cas very completely and feel what he feels, and she trusts her reader to take leaps. On that level alone Blake has earned a fan for life – a pre-order, book signing, tell-everyone-to-read-this fan.

On a personal level, this book spoke to me the way Blake’s other books have because of my own loss. One of my best friends died unexpectedly in February – it’s part of the reason I started this blog – and I have been using books (and Criminal Minds for some reason) to help me move forward. Anna and Girl did that because while I am a religious person, the view of the afterlife presented felt very grounded and unattached to any school of thought and that was comforting. Three Dark Crowns did that for me because I can just feel it would be a book that we would have obsessed over together (she would be Team Arsinoe, I have embraced being Team Katharine) and it makes me feel connected to her again.

Anyway, read. Go to your library, get tons of books, and read! But especially read Anna Dressed in Blood and Girl of Nightmares.

 

Between the Spark and the Burn

“How can a person be so good and so bad at the same time? How is that possible?”

I couldn’t wait for it to come in the mail so I checked it out of the library.

Between the Spark and the Burn by April Genevieve Tucholke was released in August 2015. I read it October 20-21, 2016. I am just burning through books right now, but it’s also the quiet part of the year for me when I have a lot of free time at home.

First reactions:
Have their ever been two more differently lovable brothers than River and and Neely?
And as much as I personally am drawn to River, I absolutely wanted Violet to push him off a cliff.
Everybody is both Violet. Everybody.

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After River left at the end of Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, Violet’s life settled a little – her parents, her brother Luke, and their ward Jack paint and exist and Neely comes in and out of the guesthouse after going on River-hunts. Finally, Christmas Day, Violet decides she’s going with Neely to find River. The group have started listening to a radio program – Stranger Than Fiction – and they follow the clues in the program to potential locations of River, his evil brother Brodie, and maybe even other gifted Redding siblings. They journey to Virginia and save another stray – Finch Grieve, the Forest Boy. Then they head to an island off the coast of North Carolina and finally find River, but not as they expected, and pull native-islander Canto into their motley crew. No one is safe, everyone is breaking, and they head to Colorado to confront themselves and their future.

There’s definitely room for more books in this series, but even without them this would be a satisfying conclusion. It’s not always about the resolution of the greater plot as it is about the resolution for the main character – the end of this feels like a shift for Violet, and that’s what this whole story has been about.

Violet is such a true character. People are not all black and white, and this book demonstrates that perfectly. There are so many layers and twists of both beauty and ugliness in them all. You don’t know what side of them you’ll get in a given situation. But Violet is the most true, for a girl her age and temperament. There isn’t an easy decision and everything feels like life and death and sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. Violet tries to balance the rational with the emotional, and to find a way to do the right thing. I really enjoy reading her, and I will likely visit this world over and over.

I had my suspicions about where Brodie was from the beginning, and I didn’t like being right. However, how that all plays out is bone-chilling. I didn’t even realize what was about to happen and when I did I wanted to shout “no!” but no luck.

In this book I came to pity River as much as I loved him; he’s like a magnet that’s drawn and draws in random and dangerous things. He takes on more than he can handle and it comes back to bite him. He’s still a really compelling mix of hero and villain.

Which leads to my own large complaint about this duo – we never get a resolution to the Redding patriarch. Did I say I wanted River pushed off a cliff? He can go too.

Once again, the sins of the parents become the scars on their children. I don’t think any of those hard-partying kids in the 20s and 30s ever thought about how damaged their children would be, and how that would carry on well beyond their mistakes. Children, especially in families like the Reddings and Whites, pick up the burdens of their family not just themselves. When Violet learns even more of the truth, she feels like once again it is hers to fix. The change here is that instead of trying to be like Freddie, Violet is trying to succeed where she failed. I’d like to think that she does.

This was the heartbreaking, semi-soul crushing, leaving you with questions but somehow conclusive ending to this duology. If Tucholke decides to revisit the Between world I will devour it with relish and pain. Because that’s kind of the point – there can be both.

Come Closer or How I Choose What to Read

There’s an itch.

I don’t want to do a review of Come Closer by Sara Gran because there’s no way to talk about this book without giving away too much. The short version: Amanda might be possessed by a demon. I got this from the library and returned it in the same day (10/20) because it only took two hours to read and I didn’t feel safe having it in my house. It’s that good/scary. So yeah, it’s 5/5.

I don’t know if other people are like this, but when I find the book I want to read it’s a feeling – like a tug from my brain to the title, the cover, or the synopsis. I go from mood to mood but I try and follow where it takes me. I can’t do TBR jars like some people because I know as soon as I would pick the piece of paper it would make clear to me what I actually wanted to read. I need that feeling or I can’t finish the book. I put it away and wait for the feeling to come.

For example, this past summer I wanted a book like Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves but didn’t want to do the mental gymnastics of reading House of Leaves again. (I also want to note that for a time I was so spooked by HoL that I turned it spine-in on my bookshelf. I’d get a shiver just seeing the title.) This caused me to start googling for best haunted house books.

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My book seance.

And that’s how I found the Elementals by Michael McDowell which has become one of my favorite books ever. It was everything I was looking for when I started that google search, and it satisfied the itch in my brain for a scary story about a scary house and all I can hear is “Savage mothers eat their children up!” and it’s wonderful.

Then I just wanted to read more horror – it’s a genre I explore more in film than in reading although I do love reading scary stories. So I followed recommendations based on the Elementals which got me to Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix and then A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. After A Head Full of Ghosts my need for horror was slightly abated because sweet jesus it ruins you at the end. I read a few more cheerful things after that.

But the cool thing was that Paul Tremblay included a little appendix at the end of the book with reading and viewing recommendations and sharing the works that shaped his book.

One of those books was Come Closer by Sara Gran. It was one of the things on the list I thought was interesting, made a note of it, and moved on.

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In the last week, somehow that book has come up twice on another blog about books, and then in a movie review. And I took that as the sign that I needed to read this book. The itch was light, but I knew that if I could find it I would want to read it right away. It was in the library, I had extra time during my lunch break, I checked it out immediately. I got home from work and in a trance-like burst read the whole thing, took a picture, and then took it back to the library. I had other itches to scratch.

But that’s how I choose what to read, and what to read next. I never make myself stick to a plan because the books all tie together somehow, even if it doesn’t always seem obvious. Even to me.

Review – Gilt Hollow

Girl meets boy. Boy goes to prison. Boy gets out of prison. Boy and girl solve murder. A review of Gilt Hollow by Lorie Langdon.

Gilt Hollow by Lorie Langdon came out September 27, 2016.

Because of Gilt Hollow I get to revise my Spookathon reads – this was published in 2016 so I’m counting it for that, as well as for the original thriller category I chose it for. I expected it to be more of a thriller than it was, but I think it’s because the scary catch the murderer plot is overshadowed by the super hot love story plot. I read Gilt Hollow on 10/17 when I couldn’t sleep because of my joyous dental work. It had been a long time since I read two books in a day, so that tells you how nice and quick of a read this is.

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Willow Lamott’s best friend was sent to prison when he was 14 for murder; a murder that Willow staunchly believes he didn’t commit even as it cost her social standing and options in their small community of Gilt Hollow. Now Ashton Keller is out of jail and back in Willow’s life. Not only does he want to move on with his life, he wants to find out who really murdered his friend Danny, and why. Gilt Hollow has a lot of secrets, lies, and pain. Ashton is going to rip open those wounds to find the truth, and he might just let Willow back into his life.

This review is going to get pretty spoilery, and maybe a little judgmental. I just want to say that right off the bat.

I liked Willow, and not in personality but in story it kind of reminded me of Veronica Mars (which is my all time favorite show.) Willow is experiencing the backlash for disagreeing with popular opinion and perception. Some of the isolation is imposed on her, and some if it is imposed by her. Willow’s friend Lisa starts pulling her out of it, and then Ashton returns. It’s all so polarizing and I like Willow’s loyalty and steadfastness even when it’s a struggle. I appreciated her integrity as a character. I appreciated that she forgave her mom for some of the choices that were made, and she pushed for people to see Ashton as more than a criminal and give him another chance. The chapters from Ashton’s point of view show that he deserves it.

The scenes between Willow and Ashton have such palpable steamy tension. I read the scene where they first kiss in the janitor’s closet at least three times. The struggle against their attraction to one another versus what the is the right thing to do versus the advantageous thing to do was enjoyable to read.

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Ashton has barely contained violence, and I think that violence would have been in him even without going to jail. He’s got a wild streak, and the author does a good job demonstrating that wild doesn’t always mean violent, or violence for the sake of violence. I feel so badly for this poor kid – he was set up to fall long before the murder, and there would have been a crash for him somewhere even without it. He knows he’s walking on a fine edge and that he needs to retrain his instincts after being in a cell; he also knows what  he’s to blame for even if he’s being awfully stubborn about moving on.

The thing I did not like about this book is that the characters so often failed to clearly communicate, or ask the obvious questions. While yes it moved the plot along, I am a person who gets frustrated when things get illogical. There were other ways to move the plot that did not involve the characters being silent or ignoring the obvious. It’s one thing when I know something the characters don’t, its another when they know things and just don’t talk about it. It makes the story feel contrived.

This is where the spoilers begin.

There’s a reason that high school villains are often the cruel jock type – entitlement often leads to violence. There’s a reason it’s easy to see it’s Colin from the beginning – he’s so empty as both a person and a character. I think he’s shallowly written and there’s no feeling of betrayal about him being the bad guy, but it’s also the most logical option. He’s threatening enough to have created a conspiracy around his actions – he commits violence and disguises it in excuses . There could have been other twists to this reveal, but for the story it was trying to be this made sense. The twist on it I did enjoy though was his own parent’s betrayal. That was a nice touch as once again people’s integrity was what led them to their choices – and they as parents make a nice contrast to Ashton’s parents. Same actions, different reasons.

Overall, I’m going 2.5/5 – a quick read, a very steamy romance, but nothing new to the genre. If you’re looking for a good YA love story, this is absolutely your book. If you’re looking for a thriller, not so much.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

When you can’t trust your head, you fight from your heart. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke.

On 10/16/16 I read a A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas, but I don’t think there’s anything I can add to the obsession that already exists around that series. Except to firmly say I am Team Tamlin, even though I have not yet read A Court of Mist and Fury. I doubt I will change my mind.

On 10/17/16 I was trapped at home after a visit with my dentist that left me with a severely aching jaw and totally unable to sleep it off. So with the beginning of Spookathon I destroyed my first book. It meets the creepy word and red cover criteria. I read Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Genevieve Tucholke – it was published in July 2013.

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And I am so fictionally in love with River West. I have not been this twitterpated over a book character since Mr. Darcy in 9th grade. In my head he looks like Matt Shively.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea is about Violet White and her twin brother Luke, living in their Grey Gardens-esque mansion on the coast, semi-abandoned by their artist parents. Violet puts up a post to rent out the guesthouse to make money and one day River West shows up to do so. There’s something immediate between Violet and River, and Violet also knows that River is a liar. River fits into Violet’s world faster than he should, but dark and violent things start happening. River isn’t like other people. River opens a door into another world for Violet, and it isn’t a good one.

As much as I love River, the end of this book frustrated me so much as a reader. It felt incredibly rushed and unexplained – and even though there were these small moments that were supposed to be hints at how insidious the villain is they all just felt like incomplete sentences. I had no idea how this book was going to end because things kept getting more intertwined and complicated (in the awesome way) and then the ending just kind of splat out like a drop of blood.

This book is really layered – nothing is random. Everyone is connected, everyone has a history, and the children must pay for the sins of their forebears. I loved the mood of impending doom that creeps across the entirety of the novel – it makes the good moments feel so important and fleeting.

Freddie was a fantastic character – when you’re in Violet’s head you miss her too. For a character we never really see alive on the page she is so powerful and complete; I can imagine her so clearly. I love that Violet wears her clothes, and I love that Freddie was passionate and stormy, and probably way ahead of her time. I like that we see hints of the storm inside Violet, she just doesn’t know how to let it out.

Violet is also a great character to follow – she often ignores her own feelings and tries to deal with the situation at hand, and its so tender the way she falls for River. There’s something so nostalgic about remembering the first big crush when they crushed you back. It makes you as forgiving of River as Violet is, and not because of the glow.

All the teenagers in this book – Violet, Luke, Sunshine, River, Neely, and their child companion Jack – make up a kind of group of Lost Boys. They are basically children lacking in supervision just trying to survive and figure out their lives. It’s both amazing to realize that we don’t really need parents to survive, but also painful to read how hollow that can scrape you.

I am really pumped to get Between the Spark and the Burn (and oh how cool that title is once you’ve read the first book) on my next trip to the library. I want to see what becomes of them all.

I’m giving Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea and 3.5/5 for a lackluster ending – however, depending on how the next book ends I might revisit that. They are likely two halves of a whole. River ❤