Friday, July 2, 2021

Shadow and Bone Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

With the release of Rule of Wolves a few months ago, and the TV adaptation on Netflix, I'm jumping back into Leigh Bardugo's excellent Grishaverse with a re-read of the original trilogy and duologies. First up is Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising!

The Shadow and Bone trilogy focuses on Alina Starkov and introduces the world of Ravka and the Grisha. Grisha are people with special abilities, and most of them can be sorted into three groups - Corporalki, Etherealki, and Materialki. Corporalki can manipulate the body; Etherealki can manipulate wind, water, and fire; and Materialki can manipulate matter, like glass and metal. In Ravka, Grisha are respected members of the nation's Second Army, led by a man simply known as the Darkling. The Darkling is a little different than your average Grisha - he has the ability to manipulate darkness, bringing forth shadows and shade, even on the brightest of days. The Second Army has always been led by a Darkling, including the one known as the Black Heretic, whose lust for power created the Shadow Fold, a great swath of darkness filled with monsters that cuts Ravka off from its ports, forcing the country into near-constant war with its neighbors to the north and south.

When we first meet Alina, she and her regiment are headed for the Shadow Fold in an attempt to cross over to West Ravka and bring back supplies. Life in the Ravkan army is okay, though Alina has been feeling out of sorts, especially since her best friend (and secret crush) Mal Oretsev, has done well in the army, making friends and proving his worth. Everything changes though when their attempted crossing is beset by volcra, the monsters that live in the Shadow Fold, and Mal is attacked. As Alina tries to keep him from being carried off, there is a bright burst of light. Alina is a Sun Summoner, and is Ravka's best hope at destroying the Shadow Fold - well, once she learns how to use her power. Soon, she is whisked away to the Little Palace, where all Grisha learn how to use their abilities and live in comfort. Her days are now filled with training, learning Grisha theory, and the Darkling (oh, the Darkling). But the Darkling's intentions aren't exactly noble, as Alina comes to learn. As the story unfolds over the three books, she finds herself pulled in different directions, and representing different things to different people. Whether they think she is a living saint, an orphaned girl, or a Grisha general - at the end of the day, she is just a girl with a power that can transform the world.

I'm a huge fan of this series and this world. While this trilogy does fit fairly neatly into the "chosen one with special powers who must save the world" arm of fantasy, Bardugo does a great job of characterizing Alina and her struggle to define herself, especially when so many people want her to be something that doesn't feel true to her. I also like the eastern European and Russian touches to Ravka - at the time the series was first published, that set it apart a bit from all of the other YA fantasies coming out. And, in true YA style, there is also just enough pining and romance to give a break from some of the heavier aspects of the story. So, if you like YA, trilogies, fast-paced stories, or if you watched the Netflix show and just want to know what the books are like, check these out!

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

To Drink Coffee With a Ghost by Amanda Lovelace

Lovelace unravels the memory of a toxic relationship between mother and daughter, body shaming, and the haunting shadows of the dead walking behind us. All the poems about this theme are quite bittersweet since her mother is a person she loved, but in part she also hated.

I could relate to some of her deep poems. Amanda delivers her poetry in a way that brings comfort to their readers who are looking for a mirror to see themselves in while also taking readers on a journey through a piece of Amanda’s life that’s utterly unique. Her raw and ethereal writing never fails to inspire me and make me want to hug those around me and thank them for the love they have to offer. I went through many emotions all good and bad, but it has taught me a lot and made me know that I am not the only one going through those things. This poem book is great for people who need an outlet to know they are not alone, and to people who have a love for great poetry.

I also wanted to share my 3 favorite poems from this book:

For the first time, I will allow myself to believe that the best can and will happen to me, instead of the worst. - life doesn't have to be a horror show

Hold tightly do you take the time and energy to understand the intricacies of your Magic. -What's truly important. 

But you belong to nobody except yourself. -your own future.

This book contains explicit language and mature themes.

Review written by Genevieve C.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The 13th Floor : A Ghost Story by Sid Fleischman

This story takes place with an orphan named Buddy Stebbins who makes his way to an abandoned building. While exploring the place he reaches the 13th floor and then gets transported to a leaky pirate ship in a roaring storm, 300 years in the past. As the ship lands, he washes up in New England where he finds a ten year old ancestor Abigail in witchcraft mania. She’s caught up in a lot of controversy and is about to be hanged to death. There is a new surprise in nearly every page in the book and I love a good ghost story.

This book stood out to me because it involved a lot of ancestry and fantasy. It’s like falling into a deep dream and dreaming 1,000 different dreams. As if you’re being put on another world.

This book is recommended for those who love fantasy books and are interested in time travel. The book is very descriptive with the story and it was interesting to hear about New England 300 years in the past.

Review written by Devon W.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Later by Stephen King

Jamie Conklin can see dead people. Yeah, kinda like that one kid in that one movie, with an interesting difference: ghosts must answer truthfully when questioned by Jamie. Raised by a single mom, Tia, a literary agent, Jamie is warned by his mother from an early age that others may try to take advantage of his secret ability. If only Jamie could also see the future. 

I’ve always enjoyed King’s characters, but I’m particularly fond of the way he writes kids and young adults. It’s as if King remembers what it’s like to be a kid as if it were yesterday, which, and I try not to think about the reality of this, has not been the case for King for a hot minute. With Jamie as our narrator, I found the dialogue engaging and funny. 

A line that caused me to laugh out loud and merit the stares of my fellow MetroLink riders: a character says that if a particular event happens, that character will “eat his hat.” When the event does indeed come to pass, Jamie, in what to me felt like a Shakespearean-style aside, says he wanted to ask the character “…if he wanted salt and pepper on his hat, but…nobody loves a smartass.”

Prepare to feel emotions for characters you likely won’t feel deserve said emotions, but such is the way of complex characters. Even the ghosts are, at least, not flat characters; Later’s ghosts all seem to have a particular emotion unique to themselves…but I won’t delve too far into that; I’ll let you discover that aspect for yourself, Dear Reader, as King frequently refers to his readers. 

If you enjoyed Stephen King’s Colorado Kid or Joyland but wished they were a little more “IT” or “The Shining,” I highly recommend you check this book out sooner rather than…well, you know.

You can find more of Laura's reviews here.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds

Stamped is a non-fiction book that traces racism through the view of history. There’s many political, literary, and philosophical narratives that have been used to justify slavery, oppression, and genocide. The book goes back to the first racist person and slowly leans into the empowerment we all know about. It dives into religious beliefs within each race, type of racists, and well-known moments of racism. Being a book that talks so much about the one thing we avoid the most, this book is more entertaining and formal to the reader.

Jason Reynolds narrates the story in his own words that hooks a reader’s attention. Not only does he capture the slang that his readers talk and know most about, he’s teaching our racial time lapse in a more comedic manner that interests the reader just enough to want to see what’s next. As if we all hopped in a time machine and took a look at how racial pride has been such an issue over the years and reacted in the present time. 

This book is recommended for anyone who wants to find out more about how this mess all started. 

Review written by Devon W.

Modern Herstory by Blair Imani


Are you looking for something to read for Women's History Month, but aren't sure where to start?  Then check out Modern Herstory, an illustrated history by Blair Imani.

Taking an inclusive approach to recent history, this book celebrates seventy women and nonbinary people who have changed the world we live in for the better.  And though all of their contributions were great, the accomplishments of the people in these pages have too often been overlooked.  So Imani's writing and the bold, beautiful illustrations of Monique Le shine a spotlight on the important stories of people who are changing our world right now- and inspire readers to do the same.

I thought that this was a fun, breezy approach to women's history!  It highlights a few familiar people, but also spotlights the stories of many important, but less well known, figures from all backgrounds.  The biographies are all fast and easy reads accessible for all ages, and the art in this book in particular really shines.  If you're looking for a Women's History read, this is one I would definitely recommend!

Friday, February 5, 2021

Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi


Are you looking for some nonfiction to read for Black History Month?  Then you should check out this amazing American history by Ibram X. Kendi.

In this deep history of racism, Kendi takes us through the lives of five major figures from US history to demonstrate how racist ideas have shaped America's past.  From puritan ministers through to modern-day activists, this book shows how people in this country built a nation steeped in racial inequality, how they fought to oppose or maintain that inequality, and how we came to be where we are today.  

This book is a great way to brush up on your history and rethink the stories that we all think we know.  Kendi is a great writer and historian, and the way he uses a few pivotal figures to tell the story of the country makes it all very compelling.  He manages to tell the story of America's history of racism and still come out with a little hope for the future, a feat that I can't help but admire. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Spoiler Alert by Oliva Dade

Are you a fan of romances, hidden identities, or nerd culture?  Then you should check out Spoiler Alert, the latest romance novel by Olivia Dade!

April Whittier has kept her nerd love of high fantasy hidden from the rest of her high-powered life for years, but no more.  When she posts a photo cosplaying her favorite character, it goes viral - but not everyone supports her plus-size interpretation.  When the star of her favorite show steps in and asks her on a date to silence her critics, it seems like her life has turned into something straight out of fanfiction.  However, heartthrob Marcus Caster-Rupp has his own fandom secrets.  He spends his free time writing fanfiction anonymously, working out his frustrations on how the showrunners treat his character without getting fired.  Halfway through their date he realizes that April is his closest online friend.  He feels a real connection with her, but with his career on the line can April and Marcus stop hiding and find their epic happy ending? 

On top of being a sweet and witty romance, this book is a love letter to fandom culture.  Fans of epic series like Game of Thrones or Harry Potter will recognize and love a lot of the tropes and experiences Dade draws on.  I would definitely recommend this quick, funny, nerdy read!

Friday, January 15, 2021

Slay by Brittney Morris

Are you a fan of video games, or young adult fiction?  Then you need to check out Slay, Brittney Morris's debut novel.

In real life Kiera Johnson might be a quiet honors student but online she rules over SLAY, a massive game built on African beauty and culture.  No one knows that Kiera is the game developer- not her friends, not her family, not even her boyfriend.  She's happy to keep her worlds separate, but that becomes impossible when a murdered teen who played her game turns SLAY into a global controversy.  Now every news channel has an opinion on her work and one player is threatening to sue her over the game.  Can she protect her game and her secret identity without losing everything she's worked for?

This book is so much fun to read!  It's got the gutsy heart that makes any good YA novel great.  Morris also writes really wonderfully about nerd culture- the good, but also the bad that can come along with being Black and a girl in those spaces.  It's the kind of quick read that will suck you in, so it's perfect if you've made a new year's resolution to read more! 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse


If you are a fan of high fantasy but you're looking for something a little outside the time-honored tropes of the genres, then you definitely need to check out Black Sun, Rebecca Roanhorse's epic first installment in a new series inspired by pre-Columbian America.

In the holy city Tova, the sun priest and her followers prepare for the celebration of the winter solstice.  A solar eclipse that will coincide with this festival promises to make this year a time of power and rebalancing the world, and forces swarm across the city waiting for a new world to be born.  At the same time a ship sets sail for Tova.  Its captain is a woman who can calm the seas with a song, and her single passenger is a young, blind pilgrim.  This traveler seems harmless, but as he and the eclipse close in on Tova, a dangerous destiny begins to converge as well.

This series has a lot to offer fans of epic fantasy novels, with its prophesies, intersecting character sagas, and innovative systems of magic.  Roanhorse also clearly set out to push at the boundaries of what you'd typically find in this genre.  As an indigenous writer she was very upfront about wanting to set a fantasy novel outside a typical, vaguely-European setting, and the world she created is so much fun to read about.  I liked the feeling of discovering a new place that you get from Black Sun, and each of the three main characters we follow has a story that I loved to bits.  I cannot wait for the sequel, and cannot recommend reading this enough!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself
, released by Joe Abercrombie in 2006, is the massive introduction to his First Law Trilogy, now an ongoing series. It is excellent, well constructed and well written, but for very specific tastes.

To say it is from the Grimdark subgenre is an oversimplification. It certainly is, but it's from the lighter end of this notoriously heavy subgenre, and agile enough to play with expectations.  This is a very character-driven book, taking the now-popular convention of having multiple point-of-view characters following their own plots, with their own backstory, and their own inner lives. This is not a book of heroes and villains, but rather of greys and blacks. You'll spend time in the minds of good people doing bad things, and bad people doing good things. For example, the author does a masterful job of creating sympathy for a professional torturer, contempt for a strong-jawed swordsman, and hope for a reluctant berserker.

The world is wholly invented high fantasy, a curious mix of early colonialism tropes, savage Northmen tropes, and high wizard tropes, but delivered with a modern insight and a fair amount of humor.  The central story that develops as the plotlines merge is about the reappearance of magic in a world that sees sorcery as a relic of bygone eras (if not imaginary), complete with a Merlin-analogue returning. The technology is up to the level of naval armadas and saber duels, but just shy of gunpowder. The author is dealing with repugnant elements - colonialism, torture, sexism - but is fairly adept at allowing for modern insights to peek through the text, and cutting the darkness with humor and trope subversions. The author comes closest to crossing the sensibilities of the reader with the use of "savage other" tropes that echo colonialist attitudes toward the middle-east, but they are delivered by unsympathetic in-text colonialists in a way that allows the reader a wider perspective. You should know going in that torture is a recurring element of this book, but the author leaves the graphic details to the reader's imagination.

All of this is not to say this is not a dark book. It is made of ugly politics and callous manipulators and false friends, in a world where the sheen of high culture hides humanity's ugly nature. I have not read the second book yet, but the first left me eager for more. For those who like Grimdark, this is one of the best examples I have read, rivaling G.R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) in scope and similar in tone and approach. This would be a fine recommendation for what to read next after catching up on Martin's grand opus. The Blade Itself is a brilliant introduction to a promising series, an excellent choice for any fantasy fan, and a must-read for Grimdark fans.

- review written by Scott Bonner

Friday, December 18, 2020

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

 Are you a fan of autobiographies?  Do you follow politics closely?  Then check out Barack Obama's newest book, A Promised Land.

This first volume of Obama's presidential memoirs tells the story of his journey from a young man to the president of the United States.  He takes leaders through his political education, organizing years, and first term in the White House.  Offering thoughtful insights on presidential power, politics, and diplomacy,  this personal and beautifully written book perfectly captures Obama's belief in democracy and progress.

I listened to the audiobook version of this memoir and cannot recommend it highly enough!  Obama takes you through his life and early presidency with good humor and profound understandings, matching warm stories about his family with a deep dive into his work.  Listening to him read all of his thoughts to you definitely improves the experience, though it is a longer audiobook - nearly thirty hours long.  I didn't know going in that this is just the first in a series of his presidential memoirs, so now I'm excited to see what he'll be writing next!   

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

I recently read a book called “The Lightning Thief.” I’m very familiar with this book series. This story dives into Greek Mythology and introduced me to a lot of the Greek gods and goddesses. The story starts in upstate New York with Poseidon’s son “Percy Jackson” unaware of who his real father was. He is a 12 year old troublemaker that got kicked out of many schools in his past. He lives this miserable lifestyle with his mother being his only delight.

A time came where Percy’s mother took him on a trip to a beach. This was a chance to sit down and talk about his mental problems in and out of school, with plans to let him know his real father’s identity. Until an unfriendly 7 foot creature comes into play and takes his mother’s life. Percy manages to kill the creature and passes out in the process. He then wakes up at a place called Camp Half-Blood, a herd of Satyrs and unusual creatures from Mount Olympus. Zeus accuses Percy of stealing his master lightning bolts and it's up to him and his two companions, “Grover” and “Annabeth” to use the 10 days they’ve been given to return Zeus’s stolen property. In the process he learns who his father is with questions of his abandonment, and uses what he learns at camp to get back his mother.

This book was very adventurous and a great way to start learning about Greek mythology. It was the first advanced chapter book I read. Being a chapter book without any pictures and a blank theme, this would be the first book in that category you would actually enjoy. The author gets very detailed with his words. The book helps work your mind and has you re-imagining certain things from the book. This book is a great way to start diving into bigger and more detailed stories.

Review written by Devon W.