Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone (The Shadow and Bone Trilogy, #1)

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company

Date Published: June 5, 2012

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Shadow and Bone is the first book in the trilogy of the same title and of the larger Grisha-verse.

It’s basically a generic Chosen One fantasy book with vague Russian “inspiration.” That’s really all there is to say about this book; it literally is not deeper than that.

First of all, let’s talk about the Russian-esque setting and culture of the book. The title Grisha makes me raise my eyebrows a little because I recognized it as the name of the dad from Attack on Titan, and then after some very quick research (that apparently the author was too lazy to do herself) I found out the word is basically the Russian version of Greg. Then, I had to look up why Leigh Bardugo chose to call her magic-users Greg and I found out she fucking did it on purpose? She knew it was the diminutive name for Grigori, and she still thought, “Yes, that’s the perfect thing to call magic-users in this fantasy world that I’m writing.” Somehow that pisses me off more than just assuming she didn’t do her research. I can’t even take this whole Gregverse seriously now that I know this.

And that’s not all. For me, the other most noticeable error was the way that surnames are used completely incorrectly. The main character is Alina Starkov rather than Alina Starkova, and there’s another person named Ilya Morozova rather than Ilya Morozov (Ilya is a male first name, and Morozova is the feminine surname.) And this doesn’t seem to be an intended switch.

Honestly, I mean, I’m not even Russian, and all this stuff annoyed me. Like, come on. If you can’t put in at least minimal effort, how is anyone supposed to take this story seriously? I don’t doubt that she made even more mistakes than those if someone like me with a very loose grasp of Russian even could see those.

Mostly, though, the Russian setting meant random possibly Russian words being thrown around and italicized but none of it really added any depth to the world. It’s a generic fantasy world with some Russian language sprinkled on top to try to trick the reader into thinking the setting was unique even though it’s really not. It’s every other Western fantasy world just decorated with Russian-esque words and names.

That is just one of the ways in which the book remains superficial.

Let’s start with Alina. I liked her at first, and I really wanted to continue to like her, but then her character hit a wall. Full disclosure: I don’t generally like Chosen One main characters. I was pleasantly surprised that Alina had to put in a little effort to reach her potential as a Greg and the Sun Summoner. But other than that her character saw no development at all throughout the 350 pages of this book, and occasionally it was inconsistent, and it’s especially noticeable because it’s written in first-person. Sometimes she’s sarcastic and snarky, but in general she’s naive and makes a lot of stupid decisions. Can we pick one characterization and stick to it?

The Darkling has the potential to be interesting, but he falls short too. I found his evil-ness sort of contrived and unbelievable. His manipulative side is actually decently written, though. There just isn’t anything more than that. Again, the key word is potential.

Then there’s Mal, Alina’s childhood best friend and main love interest. There is nothing here. He’s a good tracker so he’s used as a plot device to this end a few times, but he has no actual depth and when he shows back up after Alina’s stint in the Little Palace I found myself bored to tears because there’s no actual chemistry here due to the lack of being developed characters in any meaningful way, so their interactions are about as interesting as watching paint dry.

The pacing is this book’s only saving grace. The majority of this book I read in the span of 2 days. And at no point did I think it was an amazing book, but it was fun. Well it was fun until I found myself bored during the last 20%. After that, even The Darkling’s catching Mal and Alina wasn’t enough to pique my interest in the story once again.

The plot is very formulaic. Plain girl is secretly Super Special and is the only hope to save the world. This is why I don’t generally like Chosen One stories, they all follow the same set of instructions and I don’t like reading the same thing over and over.

Despite all it’s flaws, I will be reading the next two books in the trilogy and hoping to see improvement. This was Leigh Bardugo’s debut novel so I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Admittedly, I’m only reading this trilogy to get to Six of Crows, because I want all the context of the world-building in these books before going into that duology. Though the near complete lack of world-building in this first book makes me wonder whether I’ve made a mistake in choosing to read these first.

Anyway, yeah, I wouldn’t recommend this unless you’re stubborn like me and I guess want to read them to get to the later books in the world.

Review: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Bad Feminist

Genre: Non-fiction (Essays)

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Date Published: August 5, 2014

My Rating: ★★★☆☆

Bad Feminist is a collection of essays that are in some way related to feminism. The Goodreads blurb describes the book as “funny and insightful.” I wasn’t expecting funny going in, because I had heard this book described by other reviewers, and I’m here to tell you that the blurb calling this book funny isn’t only misleading, it’s objectively wrong. I’m almost 100% sure this book isn’t intended to be funny at all. But as Gay mentions in one of the essays within the book, writers who go the traditional publishing route don’t get to choose how their books are marketed.

All that being said, I am glad I listened to this book, even if it wasn’t quite what I was expecting and even if I wanted more from it. I listened to it on audio and the narrator does a great job of keeping the audience engaged in Roxane Gay’s essays.

Because I listened to this on audio, I don’t have a whole lot to say about the writing itself. It does come off as easy to read, but nothing really stood out to me one way or the other.

Some of the essays in this book are directly related to feminism, others are more loosely related to feminism but are about women and more subtle gender issues. There were some insightful moments in this book but unfortunately there was no information I didn’t already know nor was there any conclusions I haven’t ever made on my own, so there’s wasn’t much I gained intellectually while reading this.

This book is clearly for women who call themselves feminists. This is not a book for men in any way— it paints men in very broad strokes and doesn’t make any mention at all in the ways men are or can be allies to women and feminism— and it is not a book for women who, for whatever reason, choose not to call themselves feminists. Her arguments for the issues she discusses are very one-sided and lacking in nuance. Because I tend to agree with her conclusions this was fine for me, sometimes it just feels nice to hear other people agreeing with us, but unfortunately even I had criticisms about the way some topics were handled, particularly when she starts talking about reproductive rights.

Had I read this during my stint in the skeptic community (a time when I identified as egalitarian rather than feminist, as if somehow those are two conflicting things) I think it would have done more harm than good in my journey back to calling myself a feminist. So it’s not a very good jumping off point for people new to feminism nor for changing the minds of people who are educated about feminist issues who still don’t call themselves feminists. This is essentially written for people who already agree with what Roxane Gay has to say about women’s issues and feminism.

So this is a three-star book for me, but I’d be careful about recommending this because it’s not a book that’s going to change minds or hearts.

Let’s Talk Bookish: TBR’s

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme hosted by Eternity Books. This is my first time participating, and I’m looking forward to participating in more of these in the future.

This week’s prompt is: Are TBR’s necessary to be a book blogger or reader?

I’ll save everyone the scrolling and give the answer here: No.

End of post! We answered the question! Just kidding. There is more I have to say on this, obviously.

Maybe I’m biased as someone who rarely does TBR’s (and who rarely follows through with them when I do post them,) but the only times I feel like a TBR is necessary is if you’re participating in a read-a-thon and have specific prompts to fill because that does require planning ahead.

Other than that my own version of a TBR is to just make long lists of books I want to prioritize- usually these lists are anywhere between 10 and 20 books- but knowing I’m only going to get to 4 or 5 them in any given month; that makes it a less restrictive list, as I definitely lean towards being a mood reader. My issue with having no list at all is when there are so many books I want to read I sometimes get into this funk where I can’t decide what to pick up at all so I just… don’t pick up anything, which is very counterproductive. So, I personally like a mix of structure and lots of freedom. It’s easier to pick from a list of 20 books than a list of 400 (which is what my current Goodreads TBR is getting to be), and since I’m only going to get to a fraction of those, it still leaves me with plenty of room to let my mood decide what to pick up from the list next.

I also don’t post these lists anywhere because they’re not the traditional “These are all the books I’m planning to read this month” TBR, they’re more of a “Here’s a huge list of books, and I’m going to aim for reading at least 4 of them, and if I get to more, then that’s great, but if not that’s fine. And also there’s no way in hell I’m getting to all of them.”

I also am acutely aware of how many mood readers there are in the book community who likely don’t even make the long lists that I do. For mood readers, sometimes having a TBR can hurt more than help which is totally understandable, in my opinion. I’ve experienced that annoying feeling of forcing myself to read a book I’m not feeling that week or that month and enjoying the book a lot less than I would have otherwised, and possibly ending up in a reading slump because of it. So, I’ve personally just come to the conclusion that more restrictive TBRs that lay out exactly what I’m going to read and not giving me any extra options are just not for me, and so it makes sense to me that there are definitely others who feel this way as well, perhaps even more so.

All that being said, for other types of readers, TBRs certainly can be helpful.

Both types of readers are valid, and I happen to fall into the category of not using TBR’s, but people who do use TBR’s are equally valid and probably a hell of a lot more organized and disciplined than I am. Plus, I like reading TBR’s to try to identify the upcoming trends in the community as well as to see if there’s any books that sound intriguing to me, even if the person hasn’t read and reviewed it yet.

Tl;dr: Make TBR’s if you want, and if you’re the type of person that thrives as a reader that way then great, but they’re not necessary at all, and for certain readers they’re probably even counterproductive.

Review: A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson

A Nearly Normal Family

Genre: Thriller

Publisher: Celadon Books

Date Published: June 25, 2019

My Rating: ★★★★

A Nearly Normal Family is a legal thriller that takes place after Stella Sandell is arrested for murder. It takes place in three parts, the first part of the book is from her father’s point-of-view, and then Stella’s, and in the end we get her mother’s. The book tries to explore whether members of the same family know each other as well as they think, and where the limits of loyalty lie.

I rated this five stars not because it’s flawless, because it’s not, but because it was the first book in a long time that had kept me captivated enough to finish it in one day, because it did everything it set out to do, and because I fell in love with the Swedish family at the center of it all.

This book is translated from Swedish, and so the writing is a tough thing to talk about. There are parts of the book where the language seems choppy and doesn’t flow perfectly, which would bug me a lot in a work that was originally written in English, but I don’t know the difficulties in translating Swedish to English and keeping all the nuances of the narrative intact, so I was willing to overlook it. Plus, it was a huge improvement from the last thriller and first-person narrative I read which was originally written in English and which I DNF’ed.

The plot itself is pretty typical for a legal thriller. There was a murder, a suspect is being tried, but did they do it? And if they did will they be found guilty?

Admittedly, one of the interesting parts of this book was reading about Swedish prisons and the legal system in place. I don’t think any country has found the magic formula for a fool-proof system, but it was interesting to read a story written by a Swedish man that touched on how things worked, what the general population in Sweden thinks about their own legal system, and how prisoners are treated. This is still a work of fiction though so everything I read was taken with a grain of salt.

The twists in the plot aren’t super unpredictable. They were fun, sure, but it wasn’t quite a roller-coaster. I didn’t mind that at all though, and I still enjoyed this immensely even if I did start to work it out for myself before the ending. Half the fun though is the anticipation of finally getting the confirmation of being right.

What really kept me reading, though, where the characters. The further you get into this the more you learn about the night of the murder and what happened leading up to it, but with each perspective you learn more and more about the family.

When you read from Adam’s perspective you think he’s just a protective father who loves his daughter, though some of his decisions were frustrating, part of me actually thought he was justified.

That being said, my favorite part of the book was the middle. Stella’s perspective because the most surprising part of the whole book was how much I liked her. I don’t want to give away too much, but, in my opinion she reads like a teenage girl, which isn’t a perspective I often find is done well by adult male authors.

I don’t want to say too much about what I liked about them because in a way, the twists are as much about the family and how we see each of its members as we find out more about what happened leading up to and in the aftermath of the murder as they are about the murder case itself.

I’m hoping that this author continues to write and that his works continue to be translated into English because I’d love to read more of his stuff. Maybe the translations will lose their choppiness as time goes on as well.

I’d highly recommend this book, it’s one of my favorites that I’ve read in 2019.

Books I DNF’ed that deserve another chance

So, I want to talk about some of the books I’ve DNF’ed in the past year that I want to give another chance. I DNF books for a variety of reasons, and it isn’t always that I dislike or am disappointed by a book (though it often is.)

Some other reasons I DNF books are: I’m not in the mood for that particular book right then, I’m not in the mood for reading in general, I was listening to the audiobook and either didn’t like the narrator or couldn’t pay attention, or I had the audiobook from Overdrive, and it got returned to the library before I could finish it.

Anyways, here some books I’ve DNF’ed for one of the above reasons that I’d eventually like to start over or pick up from where I left off.

A Little Life

A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara

I have to be in a very specific mindset to want to read a book like this. Literary fiction is very hit-or-miss for me, and while I don’t mind books with heavy topics or tragedies, but if that’s the main or only focus of the book sometimes it can be hard for me to see the appeal. I have seen mostly good reviews of this book, but the few negative reviews I’ve read have made me wonder whether I’ll love it as they talk about some things I have a hard time liking in books. Like I said, I don’t mind heavy topics or tragic books, but seeing people refer to this as torture porn has been a little off-putting for me and I think that’s why I had a hard time getting into it when I tried to read it. That said, I do remember liking the first 100-odd pages of this when I tried to read it, I just had a hard time finding the motivation to pick it back up which for an 800+ page book is a problem. I will try this again, though, when I’m in the mood for something more like that.

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

This is a case of audiobook narrator putting me to sleep. I don’t know what it is about certain voices, especially middle-aged male voices, but some of them just make me want to get under a blanket and put my head on a pillow, no matter how interesting the story itself is to me. This is a book I really wanted to read so when I saw it was available on Libby I had to check it out right away. I’m sure the wanting to fall asleep wasn’t helped by the fact that I had started this in the afternoon at work. Something about 1:30-3:30pm just naturally makes me sleepy when I’m at work, and the narrator’s voice was practically lulling me to sleep. I’ll probably try a physical copy of this sometime in the future, though, because I still am very interested in it.

Bad Feminist

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

This was an audiobook that had to be returned to the library. I feel like I’m the odd one out when it comes to how quickly I can get through audiobooks, it takes weeks and sometimes months for me to finish them, whereas I can sit down and read a physical book in just a few days. For me, I think it’s that I just really do better listening to music or podcasts. Podcasts are a little more dynamic than audiobooks, so they don’t put me to sleep while I’m driving or trying to get work done, and music always energizes me. I did enjoy the audiobook for this, so I do plan to finish it on audio, but I had to put myself back on a waitlist for it after it was returned to my library through Libby.

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

This is yet another audiobook, and yet another book that had to be returned. I actually really enjoyed the audio for this book (which I’m beginning to learn is rare for me) but it’s been awhile since I was listening to this and I haven’t felt compelled to put myself back on the waiting list for it. I think it’s just another case of once I’m off the waiting list I might not be in the mood to listen to it, but I’ll feel obligated to do so, and it’ll ruin my enjoyment of the book to be listening to it if I’m not in the right mood for it and I’d truly rather be listening to a podcast on my commute.

Blindness

Blindness by Jose Saramago

This one suffered from the same thing Evelyn Hardcastle. The narrator was just putting me to sleep and, because I listen to audiobooks mostly while I’m driving, that’s not really a good thing. The book itself was an interesting premise and I was interested in seeing what happened to all the characters once they were quarantined for getting the Blindness disease. I haven’t found myself in the right mood to give the physical copy a try since quitting on the audiobook. But maybe I’ll eventually go back to it.

That’s it for this post!

This was supposed to be about DNF’s, but now in my head I’m starting to re-evaluate my relationship with audiobooks. I think I’m starting to realize that, a majority of the time, audiobooks just aren’t really my thing. There are some I really love, and that’s why I keep trying different ones, but I find it takes a really exceptionally talented narrator for that to be the case and for some reason a lot of them make me just want to lie down and take a nap.

Anyway, thanks for reading. Are there any books you’ve DNF’ed that you’re thinking of giving another chance?

Down the TBR Hole #5

My Goodreads TBR needs desperately to be cleaned out, so I’m doing these posts until I feel it’s manageable, or until I’m back at the beginning of the list.

The Rules

  • 1. Go to your Goodreads to-read shelf.
  •  2. Order on ascending date added.
  •  3. Take the first 5 (or 10 if you’re feeling adventurous) books.
  •  4. Read the synopsis of the books.
  •  5. Time to Decide: keep it or should it go

I’m adding my own twist on this and adding a 6th piece: if I’m on the fence about a book after reading the synopsis, I’ll read the preview of a book and make that part of my decision.

Onto the books.

The Luminaries

#1 The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

[Goodreads Link]

So, there was a time in my life where books like this were almost all I wanted to read, but I’ve realized since then that my tastes are not what books like this require of a reader. Frankly, books like this just don’t entice me like they used to, and the fact that it’s over 800 pages means I’d have to be convinced I’d love it to even pick it up, and the fact is that… I’m not convinced, so.

Verdict: LET GO

Far from the Tree

#2 Far From the Tree by Robin Benway

[Goodreads Link]

Okay, so, this isn’t at all my usual taste in reading material, but it is one I was interested in because I love reading about families. I read the first couple pages of the preview because the synopsis had me on the fence, and it definitely seems like something I’d like to read, so.

Verdict: KEEP

Milkman

#3 Milkman by Anna Burns

[Goodreads Link]

I’ve seen reviews of this book that have been all over the place. Books that people either love or hate with little in between do usually intrigue me, if only to find out on which side of the spectrum I’ll fall. It’s been awhile since I thought about this book (I think probably since I added it to by Goodreads in March) but the synopsis is definitely something that intrigues me a little bit. This will likely be a book I get from the library if I end up picking it up, but I don’t think I’m willing to part with it from my Goodreads TBR just yet.

Verdict: KEEP

The Silence of the Girls

#4 The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

[Goodreads Link]

Listen, myth and legend and fairy tale retellings are my jam. I’m not really one to read a lot of retellings of the popular stories like Cinderella and Snow White because those have been done to death and I just don’t like reading the same thing over and over, but the only retelling I’ve read of The Iliad is Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles which is one of my favorite books of all time. Briseis is a character that intrigued me in that retelling and the fact that Pat Barker has decided to give her her own story and her own voice in The Silence of the Girls? Sign me the fuck up. Honestly, why the fuck haven’t I read this yet?

Verdict: KEEP

If We Were Villains

#5 If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

[Goodreads Link]

Okay, so, I am not a fan of comparison marketing at all. I have been let down too many times (The Devouring Gray being compared to The Raven Cycle), or I’ve loved the books and actually decided they were unfairly marketed as being for fans of a series it’s not at all like (The Magicians being compared to Harry Potter.) So, the fact that this book is compared to The Secret History has me intrigued and somewhat hesitantly optimistic, but it also has me thinking it either won’t be anywhere as good or else won’t be anything like it. I do plan on giving this a chance, but I have recently seen some negative reviews of it that have me second-guessing that choice so I may decide against reading it in the future.

Verdict: KEEP (for now)

So, in total I’m keep 4 books and letting go of 1. This has been a very… slow cleaning process of my Goodreads shelves. Maybe I’ll get lucky and hit a jackpot soon and get rid of 5 books in one go? But probably not.

Review: ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

'Salem's Lot

Genre: Horror

Publisher: Anchor

Date Published: October 7, 1975

My Rating: ★★★★☆

When I read a book that a good chunk of people agree is one of the scariest they’ve ever read, I expect it to be scary. And ‘Salem’s Lot got a lot of people’s votes for being King’s scariest novel, with a good chunk of people admitting to it being one of the scariest books they’ve ever read.

Two notes: First, I admittedly cannot compare the scariness of this book to any of King’s other works because this is the first book of his I’ve ever read. Second, I read a lot of this during the day time, and everyone knows that horror is best read at night when everyone else is asleep, but what can I say? I’m a morning and day reader. Evening and night are for video games or Netflix.

‘Salem’s Lot is a book about vampires, and an old creepy house, but more than that it’s about a town. ‘Salem’s Lot or just The Lot is how the locals refer to Jersalem’s Lot, Maine.

Writer Ben Mears returns to The Lot as an adult, after having spent a short part of his childhood there, at the same time that the Marsten House, the site of a murder-suicide and known to the town for being creepy as hell, gets bought by two men who plan to open an antiques shop in the town. Shortly after his arrival, things start getting weird. Two boys disappear in the woods, and only one returns home. From there, the story takes off.

I really enjoyed this book, and it was a great read for the month of October, what with the main antagonist being a vampire. It did make me want to play the Sims and create some vampire sims or re-watch Castlevania.

There are a couple of scenes here that are creepy, and after reading the prologue you know only two of the main cast likely survives the goings-on in town, and I did feel a lot of anticipation for what would happen to all the characters. I felt particularly attached to Matt Burke and Father Callahan, despite knowing they probably wouldn’t make it to the end.

Otherwise, though, I didn’t feel as scared as I expected to after all the people who said this book was actually scary. It is scary, of course, but not in the way I was expecting, outside of a few dark scenes at the beginning of the book.

The way vampirism spreads through the town reminds one of a disease. It’s like reading a story set during the black plague, not knowing who’s going to catch it next, but knowing that not everyone will make it out alive.

It’s not scary in as gory of a way as others in the genre might be. Sure, there is some gore, but the bulk of that takes place in the last part of the book. I didn’t mind this, and the anticipation of what was going to happen to each of the characters kept me turning the pages- most days I read over 100 pages at a time.

The characters are what really shine. There wasn’t a single member of the main cast that I disliked. Mark Petrie was probably my favorite of them, but I liked Ben, Matt, Susan, and Father Callahan. I didn’t feel like I had enough time with Jimmy to care about what happened to him all that much- and when it did happen I felt worse for Mark.

As for the writing itself, there were scenes where the writing really shined- the scenes at the beginning that actually made me feel a little scared are the best example of this. But for most of the book the writing ranged from good to fine. There were some places that I ended up skimming because there was a little too much description of things that didn’t have anything to do with the plot.

I really enjoyed this book, and I may end up changing my rating up to 5-stars, depending on how I feel about this book after I’ve a week or so to digest it. I would highly recommend this, and it’s the perfect time of year to read it, so if you haven’t I suggest picking it up.