Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Book Review: Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty (Spoiler Free)

June 21, 2017

“Our character isn’t defined by the battles we win or lose, but by the battles we dare to fight.” - Robert Beatty, Serafina and the Black Cloak

Am I the only one who finds children terrifying?

I mean, come on! There are so many book series out there that involve children who are very capable of murder and's a bit unnerving, and yet it makes for very good literature. I was lucky enough to be sent the Serafina and the Black Cloak series by the lovely publisher and I have just finished book one. I am usually not one to read middle grade novels, apart from Riordan of course, but I am very glad I cracked this one open. The synopsis for book one is as followed:

FROM GOODREADS: Serafina has never had a reason to disobey her pa and venture beyond the grounds of the Biltmore estate. There’s plenty to explore in her grand home, although she must take care to never be seen. None of the rich folk upstairs know that Serafina exists; she and her pa, the estate’s maintenance man, have secretly lived in the basement for as long as Serafina can remember.

But when children at the estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore’s corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of the Biltmore’s owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak’s true identity . . . before all of the children vanish one by one.

Serafina’s hunt leads her into the very forest that she has been taught to fear. There she discovers a forgotten legacy of magic, one that is bound to her own identity. In order to save the children of Biltmore, Serafina must seek the answers that will unlock the puzzle of her past.

Even though this story's main character is a twelve year old, I found it to have the right amount of darkness and proved to have some frightful moments. Especially when it came to the descriptive language. Beatty has a talent for creating beautiful images through his writing. The imagery was perfect and even something as simple as describing a shooting star was pure poetry. The world that Beatty created around the Biltmore estate was the perfect definition of fantasy for me. Take a mundane idea such as a manor house and surround it with demons and dark mysteries and create a very straight forward adventure and I am sold!

The story takes place over a short period of time, but in that time we see the main character, Serafina, go through many changes and experience a lot of firsts. There are trials for the young heroine, along with moments of clarity that not only foreshadow the other two novels, but also answer some questions that are brought up early on in the novel. I think that a lot of people, kids especially, who feel as if they are too different are going to be able to relate to Serafina as well as Braeden, her new found best friend. This would be a story that I would read to my future children. It can sit right next to Percy Jackson and Harry Potter on the shelf!

The mythology of the book in very unique. At least, I haven't read anything like it before. I liked that it kept you guessing and for most of the book the reader is getting to be a detective as well, trying to figure out the mystery. The villain of the novel was well thought out and it honestly reminded me of some of the old monster books I read as a child or even something that could have been in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, still not over that show to be honest... ANYWAYS, I absolutely loved the constant comparison between predator and prey throughout and I thought it was very smart to portray Serafina as both. 

Beatty has created one of the most interesting main characters that I have read in awhile. Serafina has the strength and the heart of any hero, but also you can see the childish dreams she has and the vulnerability. The mystical part aside, this young girl is making a bit imprint on children's literature and I think more and more kids should read this series. Well, everyone should read it and not just because the cover is absolutely gorgeous, but for the lovely words on the inside. 

Overall I give this book a 4/5 star rating and I will continue to read this series. I am going to be starting book 2: Serafina and the Twisted Staff tomorrow or I suppose today as it is almost 2 am...whoops. I can't usual. Friendly reminder that book 3 of this series: Serafina and the Splintered Heart comes out July 3rd, so keep your eyes out for that and make sure you read the first two before you do! 

Happy Reading!

- Haley 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Book Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo (Spoiler Free)

June 19th, 2017

“Aleksander," I whispered. A boy's name, given up. Almost forgotten.” ― Leigh Bardugo, Ruin and Rising

I am sad to say...I was disappointed. 

I am so mad! I loved Shadow and Bone and Siege and Storm, but Ruin and Rising, the third and final novel of the Grisha Trilogy fell short for me. The synopsis for book 3 is as followed:

FROM GOODREADS: The capital has fallen.

The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation's fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova's amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling's secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

The first two novels were fast paced and full of adventure and plot twists. I found book three to be very predictable, especially the ending and I had to force myself to finish it. Don't get me wrong, there were some incredible parts that I loved, but when it comes to a conclusion of a trilogy, it could have been better. 

The main objective for book 3 is for Alina to find the third amplifier in order to defeat the Darkling. There were a lot of, in my opinion, unnecessary roadblocks during the journey to find it and even though the revelations about Morozova's amplifiers was unexpected, it didn't really provide the shock factor. 

When it comes to the characters, I was a bit happier. To some extent. I thought Alina was great in book 3 as well as some of the other Grisha like Zoya, Tamar, Tolya, etc. I didn't like Nikolai's story in book 3 and I still cannot bring myself to like Mal. However, I think a lot of the characters developed nicely and were really the backbone of the story. We saw different sides of each and even though I didn't like what Bardugo did with Nikolai, I thought it was smart because it showed his resilience and a new side to the Clever Fox. 

The Darkling, for me, was the most important character. And obviously you would think that is because he is the main reason Alina has to become this hero and everything, but there was so much more to him in book 3. You get a bit more backstory and the relationship he forms with Alina not only showcases him as a diverse character, but Alina as well. I was content with his storyline in book 3. 

Something I really enjoyed about Ruin and Rising was the camaraderie that is expressed throughout the cast of characters. In the end it didn't matter if you were Grisha or Otkazat'sya (non-Grisha), there was one battle to fight and together they stood against the darkness. Even if some of them were following one another for the wrong reasons, they were united and I think that is a great message that spans over all three novels. 

I thought the book was well-written and I can see that the ending was the way it had to end. I still found it to be a bit cliche and personally, I was disappointed in who was with who in the end and I still have more questions. There was just this big ramp up to an event that was supposed to crack a hole in reality basically and then afterwards it's all okay? I would have preferred it differently, but hey, that's just my opinion. I think Bardugo is a brilliant writer and I HAVE read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom which are set 2 years afterwards so I am aware that certain characters are okay etc.

Overall I give this book 3/5 stars, but will continue to read her novels and I really hope she writes more in the Grishaverse! I will say this again and again NIKOLAI LANTSOV DESERVES HIS OWN TRILOGY. He deserves all the happiness in the world, guys! If you've read his character then I hope you agree! The Grisha Trilogy is still a great series and should be read, I just have a lot of mixed reviews. 

Did you like The Grisha Trilogy? Let me know!

Happy Reading!

- Haley

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Book Review: Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo (Spoiler Free)

June 15, 2017

“What is infinite? The universe and the greed of men.” ― Leigh Bardugo, Siege and Storm

Nikolai Lantsov deserves his own series.

I think that sentence could be the review in itself, don't you agree? He is pretty amazing! Princes and Privateers aside, book 2 of the Grisha Trilogy: Siege and Storm was an interesting one. I didn't like it as much I liked the first one, but it still proved to be an exciting adventure. The synopsis for book two is as followed:

FROM GOODREADS: "Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her--or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm."

A few things about the main character, Alina. I liked her in book 1, but in book 2, I have found her to be very...static. Besides the end of the novel, I started to dislike her a bit. However, I am finding her character in book 3 to be a breath of fresh air, but we will leave that for later. When it comes to the other characters, Mal being one in particular, I still don't like him. I think he is a very well written character, but I am just not connecting with him through his personality and I think his whole "protective" attitude with Alina is annoying and unnecessary. If that was Bardugo's intention, then kudos. Hopefully I will grow more fond of him in the next book.

Allow me to take a minute to discuss the newest character to the fold (ha get it?), Nikolai Lantsov. I had heard so many things about the young prince and if you have read Crooked Kingdom then you know that he is mentioned quite a lot. I absolutely LOVE this character. He is proud, arrogant, snarky, kind, loving, ambitious, and over all just a good man. You can tell he cares a lot about his country and will do anything to protect it.

Also, he is brilliant! His inventions and his mind in general is fascinating to read about. Nikolai always seems to be many steps ahead of everyone else and even though it is as if he is constantly keeping secrets, you can tell it is to protect his country and his loved ones who reside in it. Nikolai is officially my favourite character!

Book 2 expands more on the Small Science, the "magic" of the Grisha. It takes a bit of a darker turn, but I think that is needed in this series. It tests Alina and shows the extent of the Darkling's power. Speaking of...he's back. I have to say, the Darkling is one of the best written villains I have read about in a while. His demeanor and the way he commands the story is amazing. I always like when the villain is a character that you initially fall in love with and then the curve ball comes and it just gets insane. 

“Don't feel too bad, tracker," said the Darkling. "All men can be made fools.” ― Leigh Bardugo, Siege and Storm

Bardugo has continued to create a world like no other. The Grisha Trilogy takes magic to a whole new level. The physics of it is so fascinating to me. Everything the Grisha do has a purpose and a reason behind each wind they summon or fire they ignite. To me, their powers could be conceived as real in reality due to the scientific background. However, magic, actual magic, is explored in this book and it adds a whole new layer to the world of Grisha that I think many readers will find surprising.

The diction and layout of the novel was fast paced and transformative. Writing the series in first person was a smart move because it really shows the reader just how trying the world is. By reading it from Alina's perspective, her emotions about the war really hit you hard. Whether it's the grief she feels or the anxiety or even the love she has for Mal. It's all very impactful and with a story that is so complex, I admire Bardugo for still being able to bring in that human connection. 

There may be magic and swords and monster, but in the end, I think this story really revolves around a single entity: POWER. The fight for it and how it impacts the characters really becomes a powerful force. It challenges the characters and really shows just how stressful the war is and how dangerous it is. 

The sequel is a whirlwind of power grabs and deceit and for me, the best part was trying to figure out who were the traitors in the mix. I love books that make you think and in the end just mess you up as they basically just smack you in the face with a plot twist. I think that if you enjoyed book 1 as well as the Six of Crows Duology then I think you will find that Siege and Storm is a great balance of adventure and plot twists all wrapped up in a thrilling sequel. I give this book 4/5 stars and now I am going to read book 3! Will review soon!

Happy Reading!

- Haley 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Book Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo (Spoiler Free)

June 9, 2017

"There is something more powerful than any army. Something strong enough to topple kings, and even Darklings. Do you know what that thing is?...Hope." - Leigh Bardugo, Shadow and Bone

*Slowly gets sucked into a new series without warning*

Back to the Grishaverse I go! I have been wanting to read this trilogy since I read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom back in March and so far, I have not been disappointed. The synopsis is as followed:

FROM GOODREADS: 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.

Shadow and Bone along with the rest of the books in this series is set before the Six of Crows Duology during the Ravkan civil war and it definitely sheds some light on the situation with the Grisha in the future books. However, I am glad I have read the other novels because if I hadn't I would know how to pronounce any of the words! In fact, I still have trouble with half the words...whoops.

ANYWAYS, I finished this book in about two days and I loved it so much. The magic or "small science" as it is referred to in the novel is so interesting. I love that Bardugo really focuses on it in this series. We get a little bit of information from Nina and Jesper in SOC, but nothing like this. Alina, the main character is, well she's a bit of a spitfire. I immediately fell in love with her character and as the book is written in first person, we have the opportunity to get to know her and really connect with her as she goes through this journey.

This book is rather fast paced and I love that. Shadow and Bone is a page turner and I found it very difficult to find a place to stop as it's just non-stop. There were moments of  levity that I found to be very refreshing, but I also like that it would go dark again really fast. I think that this book is great for most readers and if you are a fan of her other series, then this will be a refreshing and loveable read.

For the villain of the book, I wasn't necessarily surprised about who it was. I kind of knew it was going to be him for a while, but I think I was just in denial because I am a sucker for a dark and brooding romance. I thought he was written perfectly and I cannot wait to see how his fate is decided. For me, a great villain is one you will remember as the one who took you by surprise and that is exactly what happened in Shadow and Bone. Bardugo created these complex and ever-growing characters that left me wanting more and more. There are definitely more layers of each that will be expanded on in the later novels and I am so excited to discover more about them, especially Mal.

My favourite thing about book 1 was that it showed all the layers of the world. It showed the darkness, the light, the poverty, the wealthy, all wrapped up in a spool of deception by one man. I was impressed with this because the book is written in first person and we got to see all of this through just Alina's eyes and it was very impactful. I tend to gravitate towards books written in third, but it really worked with this one.

Overall, I give this book an easy 5 star rating because it was fantastic. I never felt as if the story was dragging or hating anything in particular. The language was easily understood and the characters were so well developed, I mean it's just a perfect novel to be honest. I am currently reading the sequel and I have already fallen in love with some of the new characters! I will be doing reviews for both books 2 and 3! If you have already read Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom and don't think you will enjoy this series, I implore you to give it a go! It is an adventure like no other!

Happy Reading!

- Haley
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