A Torch Against the Night

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
Release Date: August 30, 2016
Publisher: Razorbill
Format: Paperback ARC
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Romance
Ratings: fave2 Page Turner characters badass I Ship It Wow Factor Gut Punch

I talked a little bit about this book back when I first read it. Now that the release date is upon us, I have some more thoughts about the things I liked. In list form. Because this is my blog and I can do what I want.

  • More action: There’s a lot more going on in this second book. Boy, did I feel a lot of emotions. Sometimes multiple emotions all on one page. The main emotion being STRESS. Which shouldn’t be surprising considering how the first book ended. Elias and Laia and the Empire as a whole have problems and then even more problems and it’s a whirlwind. Brace yourself.
  • More Supernatural Elements: The first book brushes on powers and the supernatural, but Torch explores that more extensively so there’s an extra touch of fantasy to the series (! “series” because there are now going to be 2 more books. HELL YEAH.) There are some answers to a few things that showed up Ember.
  • Pure Evil: Sometimes the exploration of the grey area between good and evil is important. (There’s some of that in this book.) But there’s also a pure evil element that added some horror to the events unfolding. Some things are just completely devoid of goodness, which helps up the stakes for characters. The moral complexity when it comes to Laia and Elias is much more distinct when it’s up against the terribleness that surrounds them.
  • More Helene: I wasn’t sure I wanted more Helene before reading this, but turns out her perspective adds a lot to the story. Through her the reader learns more about how the Empire functions and how brainwashed the Martial soldiers are. While I didn’t feel much for Helene in the first book, I understand her so much better now. As well as the decisions many in the Empire are faced with.
  • Laia: Laia was a refreshing character to me from the start. In the first book she is terrified and somewhat cowardly. She isn’t instantly good at everything. She’s realistic. This gives her so much room to grow. In Torch, she still isn’t perfect and still isn’t magically great at fighting and everything else. Which is good because her character development feels natural. In Ember, I liked that her strengths were much different than Elias’s. That contrast come through even more in this book and is part of the fabric of the story.

The ending to this is satisfying as there wasn’t a promise that anything else would come next. But now we get two more books! Which is great, but now I’m in agony again because I have to wait.

 

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Girl In Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow

Girl In Pieces by Kathleen Glasgow
Release Date:  August 30, 2016
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Format: ARC
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary
Ratings: Gut Punch Surprised Me characters

Trigger Warning: Discussion of self-harm, abuse

My Thoughts

This was one of the hardest books ever to read. Not because it wasn’t well written, but because it was and about a difficult topic. The novel is from the perspective of Charlotte “Charlie” Davis, who ended up in a hospital because of self-harm. She cut up her arms so badly, she almost died, but friends bring her to the hospital and then she is admitted to a psych hospital for girls. So the book starts in that hospital and is instantly heavy.

The author of the book also struggled with self-harm so it’s a very raw and real telling of what it’s like to cope with a mental illness. Charlie’s story is unique, but many of her thoughts are in line with what it’s like for anyone to deal with poor mental health.

Girl In Pieces deals with a range of tough topics aside from self-harm. Domestic violence, loss, love, homelessness, and abuse are among some of the areas brushed upon. All of it made my heart ache. Not because of the nature of the topics alone, but because of how incredibly well Glasgow brings Charlie to life. Her voice is clear and it’s loud. It’s Charlie’s unfiltered thoughts as she tries to navigate a world that has mostly just hurt her. She’s lost a father and a best friend. Her mother isn’t much of a mother. She finds herself in a damaging relationship. A hospital doesn’t magically heal her and she feels broken, but she’s trying to get better. As a reader you feel her pain deeply. You also feel her joy. You feel her hope and her hopelessness.

The world needs more books with a honest portrayal of mental illness. There’s nothing beautiful about it. There isn’t a magical cure. Girl In Pieces does well to show all of that. It doesn’t glamorize something horrible. There aren’t any sudden revelations. The book is about girl who is sick, but is still a girl trying to get by like anyone else. I have a feeling I’ll be carrying Charlie’s story with me forever.

Positives/Negatives
+ Realistic portrayal of mental illness/self-harm
+ The depiction of the sheer complexity of living
– Some little things that are spoilery

In Summary
This book is one of the rawest depictions of mental illness I’ve read. It doesn’t shy away from the ugliness of it all and it’s going to crush you a bit.

Note: An advanced copy of this book was provided free by the publisher for review consideration. This in no way influenced my opinion.

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And I Darken by Kiersten White

And I Darken by Kiersten White
Release Date: June 28, 2016
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Format: Paperback ARC
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Ratings: badass Surprised Me characters 

My Thoughts

You know the “unlikable character” thing? I have a lot of messy thoughts on that. The one solid thought I have on it though is female characters often don’t get to be “unlikable.” Male characters get to be horrible and are called “interesting” and “flawed.” When female characters are the same way, people have a hard time rooting for them and they’re hated. This isn’t much different than how women are treated in real life.

In And I Darken, one of the main characters, Lada, is the definition of an “unlikable” character and I love it. She is vicious and mean in ways I often don’t see female characters get to be without being the villain. She’s manipulative. She mostly has her own interests in mind. She is also fascinating, fighting – sometimes literally – in a world stacked against women.

That particular world is our own world, but from a historical standpoint. And I Darken takes place mostly in the Ottoman Empire which forced me to brush up on what I learned freshman year of high school. It’s not a part of history often visited in Young Adult fiction and it brought something different to my reading experience. There’s a lot of grit and uncomfortable truths. It’s not easy to root for the main characters. Their intentions aren’t always honorable. Right and wrong is a massive grey mess. While plenty of YA tip toes into that area, this book stomps into it. It challenged my thinking and asked more questions than it answered.

Radu, Lada’s brother, is the book’s other main focus. He is his sister’s opposite in most ways. He is gentle and handsome where she is brash and ugly. Their dynamic is what shapes this book into what it is.

And what is it? A lot of things. But mostly it made think about both power and love. Power beyond power over others, but power within oneself. Love beyond romance. Love when it’s ugly. Love when it brings both power and powerlessness. How both tie into womanhood. How being a woman, throughout history, is so often tied to the power of men. How love and power can be used to survive as a woman.

There are two more books to come and I hope they continue to explore these themes. I am left with a lot to think about until then.

Positives/Negatives
+ Characterization, especially of Lada, who I am grateful to have in fiction
+ The exploration of womanhood
+ All the complicated dynamics
– There is more of Radu and Mehmed I think could have been shown, but there are also two more books to do that.
? There is a lot of setup in the beginning and I haven’t quite decided if all of it was needed or not.

In Summary
This book rewrites a part of history that was a brief lesson in school and challenges what is expected of a female heroine. It destroys the line between right and wrong, leaving the reader with a lot to mull over.

As a final note, I am bored to tears with comparisons to Game of Thrones* already and I might have to display some of Lada’s viciousness as a result.

*I tried reading GoT and it wasn’t interesting enough to me. Women do better at writing women than GRRM. SORRY.

Note: An advanced copy of this book was provided free by the publisher for review consideration. This in no way influenced my opinion.

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Book Mix: The Square Root of Summer

The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood
Release Date: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Format: Hardcover
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Contemporary, Science Fiction, Romance
Ratings:Surprised Me I Ship It Gut Punch 

A common occurrence for me is reserving a book at the library and then, once it becomes available, having no recollection of what the book is about or even reserving it at all.

The Square Root of Summer is one of those books which I decided to jump into without reading the synopsis so it was all surprising to me. Perplexing and curious, the story grabbed my attention. Based on basically nothing (the cover? the title?) I expected a lighthearted story, but got something much more serious. Grief and love and wormholes and equations.

Something I specifically appreciated was the depiction of grief after the death of a grandparent. The deaths I come across in fiction that deeply affect someone are usually a parent’s or SO’s or sibling’s or friend’s. I don’t seem to find as many stories where the loss of a grandparent is so central. It’s usually someone dying too young. The MC’s grief over the loss of her grandfather resonated with me.

This story ended up being generally sadder than anticipated, but also more beautiful than anticipated. There’s heartbreak and romance, three dimensional secondary characters, and life lessons all with a side of being sucked back into time.

While listening to The Dø in the car, Miracles (Back in Time) seemed like an appropriate song for this book’s soundtrack so an entire playlist was born.

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The Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh

The Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Romance, Fantasy, Retelling
Ratings:fave2Page TurnerPretty WordscharactersI Ship It

If you haven’t read The Wrath and the Dawn, stop reading this and order it or reserve it at the library. Whatever you need to do to get it read. The book is luscious. A warning that it ends on a cliffhanger, but that’s okay because we were gifted The Rose & the Dagger.

The Basics
So if you still haven’t read the The Wrath and the Dawn, it’s inspired by A Thousand and One Nights. The caliph Khalid marries one girl each night and kills her the next morning. One of those girls was Shahrzad’s best friend so she volunteers herself as a bride to get revenge. It’s wonderful so go read it. Right now.

If you’re one of those monsters who reads summaries to later books in a series before reading the first, book two is about after Shahrzad finds out why Khalid has to kill the girls (a curse) and falls in love with him. At the end of book one they are separated (for reasons) and Shahrzad is determined to break the curse with a war looming against Khalid because he killed all those girls and no one knows why (because he won’t tell them… for reasons.)

And all of this is told in beautiful language with quite a few descriptions of delicious food so these books may also leave you hungry.

My Thoughts
To put it all in a non-spoilerly way: The Rose & the Dagger was everything I wanted from a sequel.

The book throws you right back into Khorasan’s unsettling events. The chaos that Wrath ends on is there and you start to get some answers. While the first book starts a little slowly because there is a lot to introduce the reader to, the second is instantly dramatic. Shazi and Khalid are separated. She is keeping the secret of the curse, while trying to figure out what she can do to fix all the unrest. It’s instantly captivating.

There are a couple new characters, but mostly old characters given a broader story. Knowing more about Tariq and Rahim as well as Shazi’s father and sister added a new layer to everything going on, as well as gives more insight to Shazi’s life before she became the calipha.

There are so many surprises and little revelations that kept me engrossed. I could gush about all of them, but then I would ruin it for you.

“This is why the world would be a far better place
in the hands of women.”

And then there is Shazi who is definitely one of my favorite characters of all time. I have said before that I am a huge fan of difficult women and Shazi is one of them. She speaks her mind even when it’s not exactly safe to. She’s passionate and headstrong and oh how I love her. She loves fiercely and imperfectly and fights for who and what she cares for. There is so much more of her greatness in Rose.

Also the romance is great. I SHIP IT. I ship it in several instances. And in more serious terms, Ahdieh does wonderfully at building the relationship between Khalid and Shazi. In book one, she puts them on equal footing to be able to fall for one another. “Get up, Shahrzad al-Khayzuran. You kneel before no one. Least of all me,” is such a gorgeous and necessary line in the first book. It summarizes how Khalid sees her as an equal. This carries into the second book and there is growth in their love. Fear not, Ahdieh doesn’t take Khalid down the broody “I don’t deserve love” path like many heroes. She has instead created two characters that see the worth in each other and themselves. It’s not a perfect love, as no love is, but it is one that burns deep and expands and learns to be better.

Positives/Negatives
+ The action, the tension, the female characters, the romance, everything?
– ??? There isn’t more?

In Summary
The Rose & the Dagger is a deeply satisfying follow up. It provides the important answers to questions created in The Wrath & the Dawn. It keeps the plot moving. It gives more insight to characters only barely introduced in the first book. It has kickass woman saving the day. And it has Shazi and Khalid finding a way for their love to exist.

If you loved or even just liked The Wrath & the Dawn, you should read the second. It’s everything I loved about the first book plus more.

 

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