Sunday, July 27, 2014

Well Worth the Wait: Ruin and Rising

Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo (Grisha Trilogy #3)
Henry Holt, 2014

*As this is the final book in a series, there are some spoilers about previous books - you have been warned!*

It is almost impossible for me to believe that the Grisha Trilogy is Leigh Bardugo's first series, and that Shadow and Bone was her first book. That debut was incredibly strong, the second installment Siege and Storm was even more complex, and so to finally arrive at Ruin and Rising, I'm in complete and absolute awe. As a novel on its own as well as the end of a series, this book does everything right.

Picking up several months after the events of book two, Alina is physically weak from her ordeal but still committed to her goal of finding the third of Marazova's amplifiers and destroying the Darkling and the Fold once and for all. The losses have been great, but those who are still by her side prove themselves in interesting and surprising ways. Their journey takes them across Ravka, pushing Alina past her limits. She knows she is Ravka's only chance for survival, but when long buried secrets and truths come to light, will Alina be able to pay the price that is required if it means destroying everything she loves, including Ravka itself?

I'm so happy I decided to reread the first two books before diving into the third because all the details
Me with Leigh at the Fierce Reads Tour
stop at Anderson's Bookshop (Naperville, IL)
of the previous installments were fresh in my mind, making me see exactly what a master of her craft Bardugo is. Off-handed comments from book 1 suddenly became pillars of importance here. Ruin and Rising is also a shining example of character growth. Alina has come so far from the small, sickly map maker in the First Army that we met all those years ago. Now as the Sun Summoner and the face of a revolution, she is still hugely flawed but incredibly strong and full of feeling. I have always admired this character in that she is imperfect and she knows it, she struggles every single day, she has self-doubt, which is to say, she reminds me of me -  a real girl who wants so badly to do what's right and to be happy, but knows that sometimes to have one means giving up the other.

And Alina is not the only incredible character on display here. Her relationship with Mal has grown so beautifully over the course of the series, and here it is put to the test more than ever before. They have both been scarred by this war, and the two of them always tug at my heart strings. Genya is a woman transformed, David gets some time in the spotlight, Nikolai continues to be captivating, and then of course there is the Darkling, as sinister as ever. Of course, he really is just a man underneath it all, and yes, readers finally learn his name. I applaud Bardugo again here for how she so expertly handled his plot line, character growth, and background mythology.

All in all, I completely loved this book. While I was a bit nervous at the pacing of the first 50 pages (a smidge slow for my taste), there was absolutely no reason to be. As soon as I read the final page, all I wanted to do was go back to the beginning and start it again. And if you've loved this series and aren't ready to let go of the Grishaverse, never fear: Bardugo's next series, The Dregs, will be taking place in the same world. If you love fantasy novels and have read the other two books in this series, pick up Ruin and Rising as soon as possible. This is one of my favorite books of the year, one of my favorite series of all time, and I can't sing its praises enough.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

Leigh Bardugo's Website
Leigh Bardugo on Twitter
Leigh Bardugo on Tumblr

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Short Story Saturday: Starry-Eyed, A Love Song

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Starry-Eyed: 16 Stories that Steal the Spotlight.


Story: A Love Song
Author: Antony John
Summary: Cooper is the best piano player at his school and Tamia is the best singer at hers, but when they're paired up for a classical music contest, will they make thebest team?
Thoughts: Sweet and a little dramatic with a complication I didn't see coming, I really liked this. This was a nice little story about music uniting people in unexpected ways.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Short Story Saturday: Starry-Eyed, Gravy and Mashed

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Starry-Eyed: 16 Stories that Steal the Spotlight.

Story: Gravy and Mashed
Author: Tanya Lee Story
Summary: Jess's stage fright and ex-friend Mia are the biggest obstacles standing between her and acceptance into the musical theatre college of her dreams.
Thoughts: A sweet little story about a girl not knowing her own potential, an audition take on David and Golliath. Jess's friends and teachers are supportive and I liked seeing a YA story with an adult portrayed in a positive light.

Monday, July 14, 2014

WYB? (43) - Ruin and Rising

In which I share my thoughts on the epic finale to Leigh Bardugo's fantastic Grisha Trilogy. My written thoughts will be coming soon!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Back to the Land of Lizzie: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick
Touchstone, 2014

Here we have a book based on a web series that is a modern adaptation of a classic novel. Sounds a bit meta, but trust me, The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet still works and can stand on its own as the latest in a long line of homages to one of the greatest works of fiction of all time.

Lizzie Bennet is a 24 year old grad student studying mass communications and living at home with her parents in a small town in California. The video diaries she talks about start innocently enough (they fulfill the requirements for a project), but soon take on a life of their own. The vlogs showed hundreds of thousands of people Lizzie's views on her older sister's love life, her families financial struggles, her little sister's partying, and the eternal grumpy hipster William Darcy, but the videos didn't show the whole story. Lizzie's diary digs more in depth to what was happening when the camera was off.

While the book definitely serves as a companion to the Emmy-award winning web series, it does have what it takes to stand on its own if you're not up to watching the 9 hours of video/over 100 episodes that came out over the course of a year. You also don't have to have read or be a fan of Jane Austen's original work Pride & Prejudice to enjoy this book or understand what's going on, though I do believe there's an extra layer of richness if you are at least familiar with both the book and videos. This is a contemporary young adult story that serves as evidence that many of the issues people faced in the 1800s are still around today in one way or another.

One thing I will say about the book since I am such a fan of the web series was that the decisions Su and Rorick made to fill in those "behind the scenes" gaps differed a lot from the head cannon I'd built up over the course of the year of watching Lizzie's videos. Characters made choices that felt foreign to me, sometimes for the better, other times making me feel like I must have been watching a totally different show. For that reason, I view the book and vlogs as two very separate things. Like with any book/film adaptation, things will never line up perfectly for fans of the original.

This novel is a fun addition to the Austen universe, and I enjoyed it for what it was. If you didn't get enough of Lizzie Bennet before, then this novel is definitely worth checking out.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries on YouTube

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Short Story Saturday: Starry-Eyed, A Midwinter Night's Dream

Welcome to Short Story Saturday! Each week, I'll talk about a different story from the collection I'm working my way through and offer up some thoughts. I'm currently reading Starry-Eyed: 16 Stories that Steal the Spotlight.

Story: A Midwinter Night's Dream
Author: Jacqueline West
Summary: When her former best friend Mara Crane goes missing, a girl talks about how eventually goes on until a class trip to Chicago brings Mara back to everyone's mind.
Thoughts: I really wanted to get into this one, but something just didn't quite click for me. There was a supernatural element that was unresolved and it felt like much of the information I got as a reader ended up not mattering.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

One Step at a Time: Breathe, Annie, Breathe

Breathe, Annie, Breathe by Miranda Kenneally
Sourcebooks, Expected Release Date: July 15, 2014

*ARC provided by the publisher - Thank You! This fact in no way impacted my opinions of this book.*

Annie hates running, but running a marathon had always been a dream of Kyle's. So in his memory she has adopted his goal: the Music City Marathon. She likes her coach, the schedule, the fact that it gives her some place to be and something to do, but she's also at war with her body, with her guilt about the role she believes she played in Kyle's death, and with her growing feelings for someone new. Jeremiah is an adrenaline junkie who can never sit still and goes after the things he wants. It seems like he wants Annie, and she wants him too, and the possibility of falling in love again is even more terrifying than running 26.2 miles.

I've had some mixed experiences with a few of the other books in Kenneally's Hundred Oaks universe, but Breathe, Annie, Breathe was a positive one. In fact, I finished this entire novel within 48 hours of finding it in my mailbox. This story was something I could immediately identify with: I hate running. I'm not about to sign up for a marathon, though (the occasional 5K is enough of a challenge for me), but I understand Annie's commitment to something she's not particularly good at as a way of building herself up and finding an outlet to counteract the things she can't control.

This novel is centered around a romance as is fairly typical of Kenneally's other writings, but that's certainly not the whole story. Readers also get to see how growing up, and later, grief, have altered Annie's relationships with her friends and family. We see her struggle with the transition from life before to how it is now to what is to come. Just because Kyle's life ended doesn't mean Annie's did. She has to figure out this whole college thing, navigate a friendship that faded in high school, and decide if Jeremiah, the running boy who makes her feel things she thought she'd lost, is actually a good addition to her life or if he'll only bring more pain. I was very worry of Jeremiah at first, but the fact that he and Annie both have a whole lot of issues they're trying to sort through, each in their own way, was a journey I really liked reading about. I'd also add that this novel is probably best suited for teens 14 and up not because of reading level, but due to some more mature situations.

If you're looking for a fast and heartfelt summer read, then Breathe, Annie, Breathe is right up your alley. And who knows? Maybe I'll actually sign up for two 5Ks this year instead of just my usual one.

Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!

Miranda Kenneally's Website
Miranda Kenneally on Twitter