The Backlist: Six of Crows Duology

Before I get into the meat of this backlist review, I want to get something off my chest: Six of Crows is the ONLY reason I ever finished reading the Grisha Trilogy. I read Shadow and Bone a while back and it never did anything for me and I decided the trilogy wasn’t for me. Then Six of Crows came out and based on the synopsis I KNEW I had to read it. I loved Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom so much that I decided to finish the Grisha Trilogy. This is my long way of saying, you don’t HAVE to read the Grisha trilogy before Six of Crows. In fact, I am stalwart in my convictions that Six of Crows should be the introduction to Leigh Bardugo. Yes, there are spoilers for the Grisha Trilogy in SoC/CK, but…well, it’s complicated and I can’t explain without spoiling things and honestly the “spoilers” didn’t ruin anything for me when I finally finished the Grisha trilogy. I guess what I’m trying to get to in this long rambling opener is that Six of Crows is a god damned triumph and I hate to think of others like me who almost missed out on the beauty of Bardugo’s writing because the Grisha Trilogy didn’t work for them. Okay, getting off my soap box and starting what I came here to do: review Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
Read: May 13 – May 20, 2016
Rating: 5 stars

Where do I even start with this one? I love this book. Every single word was beautifully woven into a dark heist story that consistently surprised me with its character depth and whiplash plot twists. Considering my “meh” feelings on the first Bardugo book I read, Shadow and Bone, I went into this one with trepidation. However, Bardugo’s writing had evolved into so much more than it was for the Grisha Trilogy and I found myself devouring this book at every possible moment (Please see my favorite Instagram photo ever because Bardugo called me a goof for reading Six of Crows while in a Starbucks drive through line). Some complain that the pacing is off in this book and I completely disagree. Yes, the background stories of characters are slower, but damn are they important and interesting and they add such depth. I feel like I know the characters in Six of Crows better than any other book characters I have ever read.

When people ask for a YA fantasy recommendation, this is the book I give them. This is a book I wish I had written. This book, as stated earlier, is a god damned triumph.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
Read: September 27 – October 4, 2016
Rating: 5 stars

Dear Crooked Kingdom, I’d like my heart back, thank you very much.

I didn’t think it was possible for me to love my Dregs any more than I already did, but Crooked Kingdom stormed through and not only stole my heart but broke it into a thousand icy shards. Bardugo dives even deeper into her characters, giving us some truly heart wrenching backstories and introducing us to new characters that bring more complexity to Ketterdam and the Dregs. I cannot express enough how much I love the introduction of Colm (I’m only giving first name to avoid any potential spoilers). Straight up, my favorite character.

At the end of the day, this was such a good ending to this duology (potential trilogy if what Bardugo’s has said is true). It gave me satisfying, and sometimes emotionally traumatic, endings for each of the characters. I often have issues with endings to series but this one worked for me in so many ways.

So there we have it. My short little love letters to Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom. If you want a book that is full of snark, high stakes, beautifully built worlds, broken and brilliant characters, and some of the most wonderfully woven words ever written, then I highly recommend you pick up Six of Crows immediately.

Book Review: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe
Author: Alex White
Release Date: June 26, 2018
Publisher: Orbit
Rating: 4.5 stars

“Do you miss Firefly? Do you want it back? Well, sorry, not gonna happen. But this book is damn close”

Look, if you throw an author blurb on a book that contains a Firefly comparison, I will 100% buy it. But sometimes comparisons like this can really hurt a book because it leads to certain expectations. Even with the high praise from two sci fi readers I admire (Delara and Holly), I was worried Big Ship might not click for me.

And as usual for my worrying, it was all for naught.

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe is bordering on ridiculous with how much fun it is. White deftly brings together a rag tag crew of characters that crashed their way straight into my heart. My fear of expectations brought on by pop culture comparisons is that I will spend my time searching for replacements for my beloved characters. Luckily, I was able to keep myself from doing that in Big Ship because all the characters here were awesome in their own rights. Though some were more developed than others, each had their own identities and eccentricities that I grew to love.

My one and only issue with the book was the magic system. I could not for the life of me get a grasp on it. Now, this could be partially my fault since I read the first 40 pages of Big Ship and then didn’t come back to the book for a month. And while I found the idea of the magic in this book beyond cool, I couldn’t tell you how any of it worked. So, whether this was a writing issue or a me issue, it is only complaint I had about the book. Everything else kicks so much ass.

This is the kind of book that reminds me why I love Science Fiction so much. It had fantastical worlds that were built before my eyes in the writing. It had characters that made me chuckle and then audibly gasp when they died. It had space battles and shadowy evil collations and a space ship with an awesome name. And at the center of it all, was a story that was perfectly rooted in humanity, yet encased with the wild and wonderful things authors can create in the realm of SFF.

Considering how this one ended, I cannot wait to start the second book in the series, A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy.

The Backlist: Red Rising Trilogy

Before I jump into this backlist review, I have to apologize for how many times I’ll be using the word “brutal”. Because, damn these books are brutal and Pierce Brown is cruel and capricious and I love him.

Red Rising (Read December 28, 2015 – January 7, 2016)
This is the kind of book that’ll remind people that the science fiction genre is not to be trifled with. For lack of a better term, this book will fuck you up. Brown’s visceral prose digs into you and brutally burrows into your soul. Every sentence is crafted with such care, you can’t help but fall in love with the terrible world Brown has created.

We follow Darrow as he goes from a naive Red (the lowest, or slave, class in the Society) to a vengeful infiltrator of the Golds (the highest class in the Society) and their Institute, where the next generation of Golds compete for the power and prestige that will carry them through their lives in the Society. Darrow must navigate the brutal world of the Institute, gaining the trust of those he intends to destroy and keeping himself alive through the twisted war games the Golds.

Nothing prepared me for this book. I went in with the thought that it’d be a little like Hunger Games but on Mars. And while it had some similar elements (kids killing kids for a messed up society), it was so much more. The world building rivals that of Brandon Sanderson and the cast ranges from delightfully sarcastic to disturbingly psychotic.

Red Rising sets up what promises to be a wonderful and brutal trilogy. Once you finish this one you’ll want to jump straight into the next book.

Golden Son (Read January 8 – 13, 2016)

Golden Son is the second book in the Red Rising trilogy, but the brutality and intensity does not lessen as time goes on. Darrow finds himself deep into the Society and begins to start his work of dismantling it from within.

Brown’s writing style continues to be beautiful and brutal. He brings us deeper into the Society and introduces us to a host of new characters. Brown is so good at building solid characters without drowning you in their backstory. The politics are very heavy in this book, but they are interesting so it never bothered me.

But really, what Golden Son boils down to is the ending. And while I will not spoil anything that happens, I will say that it is one of the most beautiful and painfully crafted endings I have ever read.

Morning Star (Read February 12 – 24, 2016)

So, I could have sworn that I had to wait like a year after reading Golden Son before Morning Star was published. Maybe it just felt that way considering the whiplash insanity of the ending of Golden Son. I’ll be brief with this review because I have endeavored to not spoil anything throughout these reviews.

Brown finishes his epic trilogy with many of the things we expect from him: brutality, betrayal, insane plot twists, enough snark to sink a ship, and some damn beautiful writing. Everything in this book drips with intensity, sometimes to the point where you feel as though you are drowning. Some people have complained about the pacing in this series, but honestly, sometimes you need a break. I’m not sure I’d survive non-stop Pierce Brown chaos.

Even though Brown eventually continued the series with Iron Gold, Morning Star is as close to a perfect ending as I could have asked for. The Red Rising Trilogy is still one of my favorite Sci-Fi trilogies to this day.

Book Review: The Afterlife of Holly Chase

The Afterlife of Holly ChaseHolly Chase
Author: Cynthia Hand
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: October 24th, 2017
Genre, as told by Kibby: YA contemporary with a dash of weird magic/science-y realism
Rating: 5 Stars!
Synopsis: On Christmas Eve five years ago, Holly was visited by three ghosts who showed her how selfish and spoiled she’d become. They tried to convince her to mend her ways.
She didn’t.
And then she died.
Now she’s stuck working for the top-secret company Project Scrooge–as the latest Ghost of Christmas Past.
Every year, they save another miserly grouch. Every year, Holly stays frozen at seventeen while her family and friends go on living without her. So far, Holly’s afterlife has been miserable. But this year, everything is about to change. . . .

Let me start by saying that I DO NOT like YA contemporary novels. qG2h9G9NMRRE4I’ll read them only in the most exact of situations (The Charlotte Holmes novels, for instance), but this book was the selection for my Bookstagram Book Club (GO #TEAMKINGWHALE) and the synopsis had just enough vague magic-y/science-y weirdness to intrigue me.

But The Afterlife of Holly Chase melted even my cold, dead old lady heart.

The novel follows failed scrooge, Holly Chase, through…you guessed it: her afterlife. There is no heaven or hell for her, just the life as a sort of ghost/zombie vagueness that works for Project Scrooge. I felt like some of the intricacies of Project Scrooge could have been fleshed out more, but this novel is about the human aspect, not the technical. I can forgive it leaving out that part of world building.

I was worried that I would hate Holly Chase. There is nothing I hate more than a “poor rich girl” but Cynthia Hand deftly wrote Holly as flawed human that has depth and the ability to grow. I did dislike Holly at first, but very quickly I was drawn into her loneliness. Not the loneliness of her rich, teenage life, but the loneliness of her afterlife. I felt for her and found myself rooting for her to somehow get a happy ending (which is surprising since I’m usually a fan of tragic endings).

There was a fairly large supporting cast in this book and while some were not well explored, I felt I was able to get enough about them to work within the story. I think Boz and Stephanie were my favorite of the supporting cast. And while we got quite a bit of Stephanie’s backstory, I wish we’d gotten to know Boz a bit more. But at the same time, the unknown gives the novel the right feel.

I think what I liked most about the book was that even though I knew something was going to be all plot-twisty, I never could quite put my finger on it. It kept me invested and constantly wondering where this was all going. There were some bits that could be classified as clichéd but they were written in a way that I enjoyed and therefore didn’t care about the cliché.

And then there was the ending…

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I will not say any spoilers but I will say that I cried a lot because even though I try to hide it, I am a total sap. I called one thing about the ending, but not everything. And regardless, I loved everything that came to pass.

At the end of the day, this was not a perfect book. But it made me cry AND it made me happy, which is what I love in a book. So 5 stars on enjoyment alone, 4 stars if I was being critical about clichés and some lack of world building.

The Backlist: The Illuminae Files

Hello all! I’m back with another set of backlist reviews. This time around I look at The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff. This trilogy was one of my surprise reads of 2018. I constantly avoided these books, honestly, because I hated the bright orange cover of Illuminae. Well, you know the saying about judging book covers and ooooh boy did my aversion to orange kick me in the teeth because The Illuminae Files are STELLAR!

 

Illuminae | Read March 1 -3, 2018 | 5 Stars

HOLY HECK I LOVED THIS BOOK! I didn’t know to expect going into this read, but a fast paced, hilarious, and INTENSELY CREEPY science fiction story that was told in an incredible and unique format was not it.

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Me for basically the entire book.

To say this book exceeded my expectations would be a vast understatement. The story stars Kady Grant, a spectacularly snarky computer hacker, Ezra Miller, her very pretty and very recent ex-boyfriend, and AIDAN, who I won’t say much about because I’m not sure if it’d count as spoilers but hot damn they are the best character. There is inaudible profanity, snark, slow burn creepiness, snark, space battles, snark, dire situations with dire consequences, and oh, did I mention the SNARK? This little quick review doesn’t even begin to describe all the awesome held within the obscenely orange cover of this book. If you like science fiction, or want to dip a toe into this genre pool, I 1000% recommend this book. Honestly, it is probably my favorite book read in 2018.

 

Gemina | Read March 7 – 16, 2018 | 4.5 stars

Oh boy, was I full of trepidation going into this one. I’m never a fan when a story suddenly shifts to the perspectives of whole new characters for large chunks of the story. What if these new characters didn’t fill the snarky, murder-y desires of my heart? But my fears were for naught BECAUSE HOLY HECK I LOVED THIS BOOK! Honestly, I have but one issue with this book and I’ll save it for the very end of this review because it is a spoiler (don’t worry, I’ll put up a warning before it hits). In Gemina, we get a new main trio to love, along with a cast of awesome and/or villainous characters. Hanna is the rich, spoiled, but well-trained daughter of Jump Station Heimdall’s captain. Nik is the attractive bad boy from the station’s crime family who supplies Hanna with drugs and snark. And Ella is Nik’s cousin who put’s Kady’s wit and hacking skills to shame. All three of them are forced to work together as a BeiTech strike team attack the jump station. But there is another sinister and creepy plot going on throughout the jump station and basically everything crescendos into glorious chaos. This book is another intense and snarky space adventure told in the same amazing format as the previous book. And now we come to the…

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SPOILER ALERT!

Literally the ONLY reason I knock this book down to a 4.5 is because of the author’s fall back on killing off a main character in an emotionally traumatic way and then bringing them right back. I LOATHE when this becomes a repeat thing. And while it was handled in a different way than in Illuminae, it still irritated me a bit.

END SPOILERS!

 

Obsidio | Read March 17 – 24, 2018 | 4 stars

I struggled with the rating of this one. Honestly, as I write this I am still wavering if I should kick it up to 4.5. Because this was a fantastic end to this trilogy. But I can’t explain much without being completely spoilery. I’ll dance around it for a bit and see if I can figure out how to say it. This book brings us yet another new set characters and I think these are the ones that deeply explore the emotional trauma of war/invasion the most. The scenes on the occupied surface of Kerenza are intense. It reminded me a lot of Season 3 of Battlestar Galactic. But even with how emotionally impactful the concept of the Kerenza scenes were, I felt like I had very little left to give the new characters. I think they were still well written and the Kerenza plot was good, but I spent most of the time waiting for scenes with the original crew. The plot is tense, and the action is superb. There are twists and turns and some damn fine writing. Certain things that are revealed in this book kinda blew my mind a little bit. As an ending goes, it was wholly satisfying.

SPOILERS BELOW FOR WHY I KNOCKED THIS ONE DOWN TO 4 STAR

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The authors pulled the “dead but not dead” fake out AGAIN! I was so damn angry with this. So angry. It’s lazy and I saw it coming a mile away. It makes me even angrier considering how often Jay Kristoff harps on other writers for lazy writing (his Instagram stories are amusing AF). And now that I’m typing this out I am fully okay with a 4 star. Either kill your darlings or don’t. You shouldn’t have it both ways. Especially more than once. Ugh.

END SPOILERS

 

All in all, I am angry at myself for staying away from these books for so long (*shakes fist at orange cover of Illuminae*). While I had one consistent issue with these books, I still consider them one of my new favorite Sci Fi series. I’d give the trilogy as a whole 4.5 stars. Kaufman and Kristoff have a new Sci Fi series that they are working on and HOLY HECK I CANNOT WAIT!

 

Thanks for joining me for another Backlist post! I’m not sure which ones I’ll be doing next. I must go stare at my shelves and see what jumps out at me.

The Backlist: Jay Kristoff

Throughout my many years of reading I never knew the importance of book reviews. I figured the reviews left on Amazon, Goodreads, etc. didn’t matter and that the ones that mattered were only by people who did reviews professionally. Now that I know the error of my thinking (Thanks #bookstagram) I am trying to work through reviewing all the books I’ve read in the past. Hence, The Backlist.

Nevernight – Read October-November 2017 – 5 stars!
This book. This damn book. I avoided Nevernight for ages because that cover (specifically the font) just did not work for me. Yes, avoiding a book for the cover is pretty lame but whatever. At the end of the day I was the loser because I kept myself from this gloriously blood soaked book. Mia Corvere is the strong, vicious, yet beautifully vulnerable female main character that this world needs. The world building in this book is…unique. Footnotes, people, there are so many footnotes. At first I thought it was going to drive me crazy but it settled down after a while, so don’t let it deter you! There is great mystery and OMG THE PLOT TWISTS! All the characters are well developed and I found myself liking all of them, even the assholes. This was my first Kristoff book and hot damn was it a good introduction. FYI: if you don’t like lots of metaphors and a wee bit of smut, this might not be the book for you.

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If The Princess Bride existed in Mia’s world, Inigo would be her hero.

Godsgrave – Read December 22-31, 2017 – 5 stars!
This was the last book that I read in 2017 and a way to end the year. Literally finished it at about 11pm on the 31st. AND I STILL AM NOT OVER THAT ENDING. Godsgrave takes what we experienced in Nevernight and dials it all the way up until the damn thing breaks. The banter between Mr. Kindly and Eclipse is one of my favorite things in this book. There are some slower parts to this book, but the action packed parts wholly make up for it. There is a fantastic relationship at the center of this book (which I won’t go into because SPOILERS!) and it was done so darn well. Have I mentioned the ending? BECAUSE OMG. I was devastated when I found out the Darkdawn (book 3) was being delayed, even though I totally understand the reasoning behind it. Godsgrave continues the dark, bloody adventures of our favorite pale daughter.

LIFEL1K3 – Read May 25-25, 2018 – 5 stars!
I read this book in 24 hours. If I wasn’t such a sleep addict I probably would have read it in less. One of my dear friends on Booksta described this book as a fever dream that Jay Kristoff had one night and then turned it into a book. I didn’t know what to expect from this book but it was not this. The cast of characters in this book is so varied and unique. The world building is STELLAR (have you sensed a theme with Kristoff books?). I really feel like I can’t say much about this book without spoiling the fun and surprise of the read. If you want a crazy, fever dream adventure, then this is the one for you.

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Me, at the end of LIFEL1K3.

 

I’ve also read the Illuminae Files by Jay Kristoff (and the awesome Amie Kaufman) but those are going to get their own post because they are just that good.

I hope you enjoyed this new feature! I’m looking forward to doing more in the near future considering I’ve got a backlist of a couple hundred semi-recently read books I can pull from!

The Confectioner’s Guild: The book directly responsible for me re-watching Great British Baking Show…again…

The Confectioner’s Guild by Claire Luana
Publisher: Live Edge Publishing
Release Date: October 23, 2018
Rating: 4.5/5
Spoiler Warning: No major spoilers revealed. One, very minor reveal of a character’s intentions.

Okay, before I start screaming about how much I loved this book (because y’all, I LOVED THIS BOOK), let me first give you the synopsis snagged from GoodReads:

A magic cupcake. A culinary killer. The perfect recipe for murder.

Wren knew her sweet treats could work wonders, but she never knew they could work magic. She barely has time to wrap her head around the stunning revelation when the head of the prestigious Confectioner’s Guild falls down dead before her. Poisoned by her cupcake.

Now facing murder charges in a magical world she doesn’t understand, Wren must discover who framed her or face the headsman’s axe. With the help of a handsome inspector and several new friends, Wren just might manage to learn the ropes, master her new powers, and find out who framed her. But when their search for clues leads to a deep-rooted conspiracy that goes all the way to the top, she realizes that the guild master isn’t the only one at risk of death by chocolate.

If Wren can’t bring the powerful culprit to justice, she and her friends will meet a bittersweet end.

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I have literally never requested a book through NetGalley as fast as I did for this book. YA magical murder mystery with a handsome inspector? My hopes rose like bread dough in a proving drawer. Oh gosh, no, that was bad and will be the only baking simile I attempt. Needless to say, I was expecting a lot from this read.

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And this book delivered!  It has been a long time since I’ve had so much fun reading a book. I’m fairly certain I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading it. Though there are small bits a darkness, this story was light and fun and an absolute delight.

Wren Confectioner is a slightly sassy orphan girl who goes from an underappreciated apprentice at a baker’s shop to a journeyman at the Confectioner’s Guild AND gets accused of murder, all within the course of a couple days. There is a lot to love about Wren: she is confident in her skills as a baker while also being humble, she knows what she wants, and she has a mysterious back story. She is not an all knowing, perfect main character and that makes her seem real. While she can hold her own against the flirtations of the extremely handsome Hale, she makes mistakes and learns from them. My one issue with Wren is her age…16. You’ll understand why that is problematic in a minute…

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Let’s move one to the main men of the book, Lucas and Hale. Don’t be alarmed, this book is no love triangle. Lucas is tall, lean, and dark (lord help me, he has slightly graying hair, gray eyes, is an inspector, and lives above a bookstore. SIGN ME UP FOR LUCAS!). Hale is taller, broader, brighter, and described as virile. We are told Lucas is around 20 and while we don’t get an age for Hale, he is always described as a man, so I’m going with 20s for him as well. Remember when I said Wren was SIXTEEN? I honestly felt she was more of an 18 year old, but her character was written to be 16 because ALL YA female MCs are 16.  I had to ignore the age thing so I didn’t feel too cringe-y when Hale came at her with his flirtations or when I accepted that Lucas was wanting to court Wren instead of me.

26BRNqyHdCgrRPyWk(Me, when I read about Lucas)

There were a fair amount of other characters in this book so I won’t go into each of them, but the core cast was well fleshed out. I think Sable was probably the most intriguing and relateable of the bunch. I hope we learn more of her backstory as the books go on. The secondary cast of characters were a little less realized and I’m hoping that is just because we’ll get more of them in future books. But everyone felt real and beneficial to the story.

Outside of the characters, we’ve got some stellar world building and a nice mystery to solve. I felt like I had a pretty firm grasp on the world this book is set in. It took me a hot minute to figure out the Guilds and how they worked with the politics of Alesia. There is definitely set up for more story outside of the Guilds in future books. I liked the mystery aspect of the book, though I think avid mystery fans will figure things out sooner rather than later. For me, I try not to figure out the “whodunit” aspect of stories. I tend to enjoy reading mysteries more if I just roll with the main character on their investigation.

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And now for the ending of the book…

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Kidding, I’m keeping this spoiler free. Mostly, I just wanted a reason to use that Great British Bake Off gif because it is in fact the perfect description of the ending of this book.

At the end of it all, I love this book. Love, love, love it. This book has reminded me that even though I love tragic, dark stories, there is something to be said about fun, feel good books. Especially ones with handsome inspectors.

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Visit the author’s website, claireluana.com, for more information about pre-orders, pre-order swag (!!!), and her other books (which I’m probably going to go buy all of now)!

This book was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley at my request. All thoughts and opinions are completely my own. Thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book.