Girls Don’t Want Boys, Girls Want Malina

Just a couple days ago, I finished reading Ruin and Rising. The reason it took me until now to post a review is only because I needed a minute to process what I just read. Also, I was busy crying. Many times. So let’s start where it makes sense. It’s a five-starrer.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you saw my reviews for Shadow and Bone or Siege and Storm, you already know I’m a fan of these books. But this one was simply ridiculous, in the best way possible. It’s been a long time since a book has ripped my heart out of my chest, crushed it, then put it back in place and made me so happy I can’t stop thinking about it. That is the power of Leigh Bardugo.

Ruin and Rising so exceeded my expectations I can hardly put it into words. Nevertheless, I’m going to give it a fair try.

I’ve never been one for love triangles (or whatever was happening with poor Alina) or much for romance in books at all. I loved Wylan and Jesper in Crooked Kingdom, along with a select few couples I’ve read about throughout the years. But Mal and Alina are it. I have no better way to describe it; they are just it.

For a book boy to actually outdo Nikolai in the making-me-love-them-endlessly department is quite a feat, considering he is practically the perfect character. But that’s exactly what Mal did. And I’m really quite confused over all the reviews from people saying they hate Book Mal. Granted, I haven’t watched the show yet, and Show Mal might be even better. But even in the books, he’s a solid 10 for me. Are we sure we read the same story?

Then, there’s the Darkling. He really put his all into being not only a villain but also a generally horrible individual. He’s easily one of the best bad guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about. I truly hated him from start to finish, which is exactly the point, right? Aleksander carried his weight, for sure.

I know I’ve already doted on her in previous reviews, but Alina is just such a compelling character, I think it’s worth mentioning yet again. Needless to say, Leigh Bardugo has a way with character writing that I’ve seen among very few authors. I instantly develop strong feelings toward almost everyone—at least everyone who’s important. No room for blasé MCs around here.

In favor of complete honesty, I will admit Ruin and Rising took a long time to pick up for me. The beginning, with the Apparat and all the underground living, was so boring I found it hard continuing the book. It felt like it was never going to end. I let the poor thing sit on a shelf collecting dust for I don’t know how long contemplating whether I really needed to read it, and if it would end up ruining the two great books that came before it by being painfully dull.

Fortunately, I did pick it back up, and it more than redeemed itself, earning a five-star rating I give out about twice a year to a very special book or two. And I owe my praise almost exclusively to Mal and Alina. Who would have thought?

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Let me start by saying this is easily one of my favorite books I’ve ever read, and I’m beginning to think I may like the Shadow and Bone trilogy even more than the Six of Crows duology, which is really saying something. I think I could probably go on for a week or so telling you everything this book did right, but I shan’t waste your time. Here is a condensed version of my absolute adoration for this series and, above all, this book in particular.

First of all, I’d like to thank Alina for actually being likable. It is so very rare for me to find a main character I like and feel like I can relate to. They usually feel like too far a stretch from being regular people, especially in the case of YA and fantasy. But with Alina, I instantly liked her. She’s rather ordinary, but not so much that she’s boring. And her thoughts and feelings are always understandable. As much as I like to be confused by a character, it’s sometimes nice to feel like I just get someone.

Then, there’s Mal, another (extremely ordinary but in his own strange way not at all ordinary) gem, and really another thing that makes these books so worth reading. As often as I see complaining about poor writing with female characters in a variety of series (and believe me, I often agree with the critiques), I think there is also so much room for improvement in the writing of men. The Kaz Brekkers of the world provide just the right amount of spice, but the Mal Oretsevs help to ground their stories in reality, which I adore.

I know I have a whole lot to say about the characters today, but can we quick hit on the topic of the Darkling? Because quite frankly, he scares the hell of me. Really, how could I ask for a better villain? While he’s generally horrid in the first book, I like that his utter lunacy and murderous nature are ramped up even further in Siege and Storm. I always like the villains best when they seem truly unstoppable, which is exactly what he appears to be at this point. I can’t even guess where Alina’s headed next to actually take him down. (I mean, I do have a guess, but I’m not going to spoil it because that wouldn’t be very nice.)

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there’s Nikolai. Once I got a bit of the way into Siege and Storm, I suddenly couldn’t even remember what the books were like before he came along. What a boring story the first book must have been without him! (I’m only kidding. I love them both.)

I guess the moral of the story here is that Leigh Bardugo has unstoppable character-writing skills, and we all owe her an immense debt of gratitude for providing us with such an amazing series. I just started Ruin and Rising, so I’ll be sure to leave a review once I finish that one as well. And thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to everybody who talked about these books so incessantly I couldn’t avoid hearing about them (mostly my sister because we’re in the same house). I owe you all big time.

Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Well, Patrick Ness has done it again. I can’t even begin to describe my feelings for this book without first saying that I am utterly in love. The characters. The story. The structure. The writing. The different POVs. It’s all one big chef’s kiss, and an utterly perfect end to a perfect trilogy.

Let’s start with the characters, because that’s one of the places where these books really shine. In Monsters of Men, I somehow developed even more conflicted feelings regarding the mayor. I mean, I like him, but I’m also scared of him, but I’m also intrigued by him, but I also hate him, but I still want to trust him for some reason. He’s easily one of the best written characters I’ve ever read in any book. He’s utterly fascinating.

Next up: the story. My favorite part of Chaos Walking’s story is its originality. Usually when I read a book or a series, I can connect certain aspects, sometimes even many, back to one or more previously written stories (which makes sense, since all ideas have to come from somewhere). However, I really don’t see Patrick Ness’ story ideas elsewhere. The universe, the dynamic between the general populations of men and women, the individual characters and their key traits and their journeys—it’s so unlike anything I’ve read before.

This leads to the writing, which is another place where these books really stand out from all others in their genre. English teachers, beware. There are a whole lot of incomplete sentences in this book, even ones that use…periods at the end. And enough em dashes to sink a ship. All of which only lead to a more dynamic story. The action scenes in Monsters of Men are unlike any other, drawing me in completely until I feel like I’m inside the scene, experiencing the story.

Now, many of the things I’ve previously listed can be applied to all three of the Chaos Walking books, but the POVs in the final installation are completely their own. The Knife of Never Letting Go has one POV. The Ask and the Answer features two. Monsters of Men ups the game even more, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect strategy. It is clear the author knows exactly whose viewpoints his readers want to hear throughout the story.

The one teeny, tiny part of this book I have to admit isn’t my favorite is the romantic aspect. Todd and Viola, individually, are fantastic characters I have been rooting for (almost) since the moment I met them—Todd was kind of a jerk at first, so I took a minute to warm up to him. But I did, in time! My problem is that I don’t really care about their relationship in a romantic way at all. I loved them as friends, and I enjoyed the first book in particular because that’s what they were. Friends. As the books progressed, however, they became more and more romance based, and Todd and Viola began acting like they’d known each other forever, not for the short while they actually had.

But I digress. Monsters of Men was simply another beautiful installation in the fantastic series that is Chaos Walking. If you ask me, it is the perfect end to a perfect trilogy.

1984 by George Orwell

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I am utterly horrified and in love with this book. What an incredibly creative and unique work of fiction with some crazy parallels to modern life. Let me begin by saying I’m not the biggest George Orwell fan in the world. One of my high school literature classes assigned Animal Farm, and it was, admittedly, not an experience I look back on with fondness. I quite literally hated that story. I still get chills in my very core thinking about it. (Perhaps I’m being a bit dramatic, bit I didn’t like it, okay?) Perhaps one day I’ll grow out of my Orwell-induced fear of pigs and communism, but that day is not today.

That being said, I have to say that 1984 surpassed all of my expectations by being enjoyable at all, and went beyond that by actually making fall in love with some of the characters and have some really in-depth thoughts on the world—both the fictional world in the story, and the real world in which I live.

I love a lot of books, but very few make me think about the world around me in such a profoundly new way. That is probably the main reason this book hit four-and-a-half stars for me. One element I found particularly disturbing was the way everyone was recorded, watched, and analyzed at any and every moment. For this reason, the main character, Winston, spends quite a bit of time doing his best to hide from cameras. When he is around them, he spends his time perfecting his expressions as to reveal nothing the government might find suspicious. Beyond the fact that it sounds like a generally horrifying situation, I realized that I would be completely doomed if someone were looking at my face 24/7, waiting for me to do something out of the ordinary.

I make strange faces all the time. I would be as good as dead in that world. In that respect, Winston is an incredibly impressive fellow, for sure.

As for the parallels I notice within modern society, the main one I pull from the story is the idea that society tells us certain thoughts are right and certain thoughts are wrong. Whether your ideas concern something serious or the fact that you do or don’t like a fictional relationship, people seem to find joy in collectivizing themselves against a common “enemy” that they deem as incorrect and, therefore, harmful—even if all that person did was, for example, say they like something that isn’t generally deemed popular. That was a mouthful, but hopefully you get my drift. I’m basically just saying that mob thought is definitely a thing in almost every facet of life, and that people love to hate others for the things they think.

Which is a super weird thought considering all of us have an unpopular opinion or two.

I digress.

Another part of the story I loved was the fact that I truly cared for the characters, even the main female character, who I was at first sure I would hate, and whose role won’t spoil for those of you who haven’t read 1984 yet. But you know when you read a book, and you can just feel that the author put no thought into a certain character and added them as an afterthought? Or when all the characters feel like they are there only to advance the plot, not to play their own unique role? I never felt that with these main characters. I can tell a lot of thought was put into them, shaping them into unique individuals I haven’t seem the likes of in anything else.

The reason I was so surprised with this was that I merely didn’t expect it, considering the publishing year. I often find that older books do use characters only to advance the plot, because that’s just how a lot of stories were written (and there’s nothing wrong with that, in the right story). That being said, 1984 was only stronger for it’s use of characters that matter to the reader, as well as its compelling plot.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a thought-provoking piece of fiction, or anyone looking for a change of pace from literally any modern books they’ve been reading. I cannot stress how incredible this story is.

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Rating: 4 out of 5.

My most recent reading escapade wound up being a far different experience than I anticipated. After hearing how much my sister liked the Six of Crows duology, we decided to read them for our podcast. Me for the first time, Laura for the second. I ended up loving them, though I must admit I found Crooked Kingdom to be a step up from its predecessor. After that, I decided, since I liked those so much, I might as well read the Shadow and Bone trilogy. Because I loved Six of Crows, I wanted so badly to like Shadow and Bone, but Laura had a feeling it wasn’t going to be the series for me, mainly due to the prevalent theme of romance throughout, particularly the much loved and much loathed Darklina. *collective gasp of love or hatred*

It turns out Laura was wrong on one count but quite right on another. I actually did enjoy (at least the first book, since that’s all I’ve finished so far) much more than I thought I would. Alina is an interesting enough character, thrown into strange enough circumstances, that I kept wanting to know what happened next. I always love to find a main character I like. Even if they’re not the best character in the book, it’s still fun to be rooting for the MC rather than rolling my eyes at them for hundreds of pages (though I sometimes like to go that route, it sort of depends on the story). Shadow and Bone was definitely the type of book where the MC needs more than a few brain cells with which to operate. Thank you, Alina Starkov, for stepping up to the challenge.

Now for what Laura predicted correctly: I really don’t care for the Darkling and Alina’s weird sort-of relationship. Please keep in mind that I’ve only read one of three books, and I know very well this is a touchy subject (as it always seems to be with fictional couples). Nevertheless, I find the whole idea of an ancient fellow of indeterminate age seducing a seventeen year old girl to be…offputting. Plus, Mal is just dependable and kind and has always cared deeply about Alina, so I guess I just understand her feelings toward him a bit more than the lust she felt toward the Darkling. That being said, I’ve heard about people who like Darklina receiving quite nasty messages online, which is a particularly ridiculous thing to hear considering:

The books and characters are fictional.

And I should note that the Darkling is actually a fantastic character, if you ask me. He’s thoroughly creepy and untrustworthy, and I just might put my life into the hands of a volcra before him, but I completely understand (part of) Alina being drawn to him at first. I can’t say I wouldn’t want to know more if I met such a peculiar individual. I guess I just wouldn’t let the guy feel me up in a dark room.

I digress.

Let’s talk about Genya though. What a great character! I know she doesn’t have a huge role, but I love her friendship and dynamic with Alina. I always love to see a well-written female/female friendship that doesn’t seem forced. Their conversations feel genuine, despite the unrealistic setting and circumstances. I think that’s the sign of a good (or at least enjoyable, for me) fantasy book, when I can see real people inside the characters of the story. Genya is sassy but that isn’t her only personality trait, something I see too often in the books I read. I hope to read a lot more of Genya in future books. I love to see a character with a bit of sass and also a bit of class.

All in all, I did like Shadow and Bone quite a lot more than I expected, and I totally understand the heated debates I’ve seen online (though I have absolutely no interest in joining in). I like what I like, I dislike what I dislike, and I encourage you to do the same!

Did you read Shadow and Bone? Did you like it? Will you watch the spinoff series on Netflix?

Note: This article contains affiliate links from which I make a small profit at no additional cost to you.

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Oh, The Ask and the Answer. How I love thee.

Words can hardly express how much I adore this series, most of all its second installment. I only regret not knowing these books existed before last year. Still, I can’t complain. Better late than never. I’m happy to say I’m finding that, even at twenty-one years old, young adult books are still so enjoyable for me. When I was younger, I never quite understood the appeal, but I totally get it now. It’s not really an explainable thing. They just have a different sort of vibe to them than the rest of literature, something that makes them enjoyable no matter your age.

After reading the first Chaos Walking book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, back in January, I wanted to read the next one instantly, but as any good reader should, I had an excessively long TBR list and thought I should wait a bit and go to some of my other choices first. Even after a few months’ wait though, this book made me feel like I could pick up right where I left off and not miss a beat, one quality I love most about it. Ness managed to include enough reminders of the events from its predecessor that I was never confused, while being sure not to retell the whole thing.

I must say that something about the way the returning characters were written in The Ask and the Answer made me love, hate, or even pity them far more than I did in the first book, even though that one was also spectacular as well. This book just evoked a whole new level of emotion in me, even for characters I previously didn’t have any strong feelings toward.

Another aspect of this book that made reading it ten times more enjoyable was the constant movement. Yes, I know that may sound funny, since TKONLG actually included nonstop physical movement, but this one is different. While it is physically, location-wise, more concentrated in one area, the action truly never stops. Every chapter, every paragraph, every sentence pulled me in and made me want to know more.

This leads to the magic question: who would I recommend this book and this series to? And the answer is pretty simple. Almost anyone. If you like action, a character and story driven plot, and a main character who deserves that title, then Chaos Walking is the series for you. But of course, I’m going to say that, after reading one of the best books of all time.

What are you currently reading, and do you like it? Let me know in the comments.

Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The only sensible way to start this review is to acknowledge that Children of Dune was a wild ride from start to finish. It is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read in the recent past.

At the very base level, there was a huge change in how much I cared about these characters in this book compared to its predecessors. While I loved Dune and Dune Messiah–I would not have kept reading the series if I didn’t–I certainly read those books more for the plot than the individual characters. With this third installation, however, there is just as much to love about the characters as about the story.

Perhaps what I liked most was that there were more understandable human thoughts within their heads. Even with characters like Leto, Jessica, and Alia, who are far from ordinary humans, I felt I could understand their motivations and what molded them into the individuals they were.

Yet another aspect of this book I love even more than those that came before it is the understandability factor. This is purely personal opinion and comprehension, but I found this book a whole lot easier to keep track of. I’m not quite sure what it was–since it took place in just as many different locations, with different people, as the others–but there was something about the writing within Children of Dune that made everyone and everything exceedingly easy to keep track of.

Admittedly, there were a couple chapters within the first Dune installation that had me at a bit of a loss as to what I was supposed to get out of them–their point. I never felt that once during this book. Everything served a purpose, and I feel I have a fair understanding of what purpose it all served.

I also found myself greatly enjoying the excerpts that begin each chapter. I’ve always thought the setup of Frank Herbert’s books is incredibly creative and makes the Dune stories stand out from the rest. But I developed a new appreciation for them with this book–especially with the name change at the end, though I won’t go further into detail lest you be reading this to decide whether or not the book is for you. I can tell you though, it came as a bit of a surprise!

Have you ever read or found yourself interested in the Dune series? Will you be watching the film this year?

Crocs vs. Old Men in the Woods

Guess who has a new podcast episode up today?

This girl! And this girl’s sister!

This week, we read Chapters 1-6 of The Knife of Never Letting Go (the first installation in the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness) and recorded our first ever book talk.

We discuss a wide variety of topics, ranging from the benefits of talking dogs, to Todd’s two dads (we think?)

You also get to listen to me entirely forget how to say the name “Ben” for a hot minute.

I hope you’ll check it out. Click here to choose your favorite way to listen!

Let me know in the comments below what you’re currently reading!

Spirituality and Psychopaths

Good morning, noon, or night, my fellow book nerds. I hope you’re all having a superb day. I haven’t talked to you in a hot minute and I thought it was about time I give you a little update, bookish and otherwise.

First, I want to let you know I will still be writing on here, but I also have another platform where I post reviews and other thoughts of mine. I found a site called HubPages at the beginning of the month, and I’ve been having a lot of fun sharing my thoughts there.

I’ve written a few articles so far. One is a reworked review of Dune, in which I explain whether, in my opinion, the story is solid in itself, or if the buzz surrounding it is attributable only to the actors working on the new film. The other is a breakdown of the hilariously feminist superhero film Birds of Prey, where I put its over-the-top female-power tone into perspective. Obviously that one has nothing to do with books—it’s just me having a little bit of fun and providing quality recommendations to the ladies.

In case you didn’t catch it, that’s where the blog title comes into play: spirituality for the Muslim themes in Dune, and psychopaths for the always “fantabulous,” Harley Quinn.

Now onto The Half Theft.

I want to give you all a huge thank you for supporting my writing efforts and an even bigger thank you to those who purchased a copy of The Half Theft. Hearing that you love reading my story as much as I loved writing it fills my heart to the brim with appreciation for every one of you.

Now I definitely know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it isn’t how many books you sell that matters, but how meaningful it is to those who read it. The few reviews and kind words I’ve already received are so heartwarming. I can’t thank you enough. And if you’re in the process of reading it right now or recently finished, I would still love to see a review from you whenever you have a chance. You give me so much motivation to complete the sequel.

What am I up to now?

I am currently finishing my fall semester of school. Only a few weeks left! I am intermittently working on The Half Theft’s sequel. Once the semester ends, I will be able to really get moving on it. I’ve been spending plenty of time on Pinterest lately, saving inspiration for locations and people in book two.

As far as reading goes, I haven’t been doing it as much as I want to. Or maybe I am, but most of it involves textbooks, not my fiction of choice.

I recently received an advanced copy of Chris Hauty’s new thriller, Savage Road, which releases early next year. I’ve been reading that as much as possible, and I’m already in love with the plot and main character. She’s so badass. I will be sure to keep you updated as I progress through the story, and when I finish, to let you know if I suggest it.

Leave a comment and let me know what you’re currently reading.

5 Books on My TBR List

With the stress of the election, and the fact that I’m currently sick and prefer to sleep the day away, I admitted have not been reading as much as I would like to. That means I do not currently have a book review for you.

But fear not! Because I’ve put together a short to-be-read list instead.

These are all books I hope to read in the near future. When exactly will that be? I’m not positive. But hopefully soon, since some have been lingering on my list for years.

1. Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

After finishing Dune and Dune Messiah, continuing the series is a no-brainer. The storyline is simply amazing. The characters are superb.

What surprises me most about the series is that I enjoy it despite it being classified as a sci-fi fantasy. I typically shy away from science fiction. Historically, I haven’t exactly loved the books I’ve read from the genre. In addition, fantasy isn’t usually my favorite. So the fact that I enjoyed Dune at all is enough of a miracle to keep reading.

2. The Battle of the Labyrinth by Rick Riordan

Ah yes, Percy Jackson. Yet another series which I have begun and failed to finish. I can’t even remember the last time I read a series all the way through. I think I was a read-three-books-and-drop-the-series kind of gal straight out of the womb.

But this time, I vow to finish the “dam” series. Get it? The Titan’s Curse joke?

So, I’m posting this to hold myself accountable. Feel free to yell at me if I haven’t picked it up by the end of the year.

3. Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare

Do I know this is absolutely going to scare the living hell out of me? Sure. Am I going to miss a week of sleep due to the lingering fear that a clown is somehow going to catch me in a cornfield? Sure. Am I going to read it anyway? Probably.

At this point, I’m banking on the fact that I’ve watched both It films and survived to tell the story. If I can watch those, I can read this, right? Who knows? But I’m so intrigued I have to at least give it a shot. What’s the worst that could happen?

4. How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps by Ben Shapiro

Listen, Ben Shapiro and I have had our differences. I won’t deny it. But if anybody thinks that will stop me from reading his superbly written books, they’re dead wrong.

I recently read The Right Side of History and was absolutely blown away by his writing. Honestly, it’s fantastic and not at all what I was expecting. I know he’s intelligent and well-spoken, but that doesn’t always translate to the page for everyone. Fortunately for him, it does.

5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I’ve heard this is one of the classics that is actually superb, so I am making a point to work it into my reading agenda. I’m not much for books that were written forever ago. I typically go for those that were penned in the more recent past, like Dune. This also doesn’t fit very well into the genres I most enjoy.

But I feel like it’s important to occasionally step out of the bookish world you know and love, in order to explore something new that you might end up loving just as much, or even more.

Comment and let me know a book or two that are on your to-be-read list!