All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven – Book Review

 

Rating: 5/5

Goodreads Summary

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.”

My Review

Where do I begin?  How do I explain just how much I loved this book!  When I finished this book I was in such an emotional place that I wanted to just hold it and hug it close and then go back to some of the passages that I love so much because it is written so beautifully and made me laugh and cry and fall in love with these two broken souls who come from such vastly different school social groups yet find each other and discover new ways of approaching life because they bring out the bright places in each other.  Unfortunately, I read it as an e-book so now I have to buy a physical copy so I can just hold it, hug it close, and re-read the passages that I love so much!

Violet Markey and Theodore Finch are 17 year old students in Indiana who wouldn’t naturally socialize with each other.  It is a moment-in-time that brings them together and ultimately changes the course of their lives.  Theodore, or Theo, is on the ledge of the school bell tower contemplating jumping when he notices a female student on the ledge a few feet away.  He is able to talk her off the ledge and able to twist the story and make it look like she saved him instead of the other way around.  And that is how Violet Markey meets Theo Finch and becomes the school hero who saved the school freak from killing himself.

Theo and Violet have a class together and Finch finagles a way to partner with Violet for a class project that would require them to travel around the state discovering natural wonders and landmarks. It is this interaction that helps to slowly unfold for the reader and both characters their flaws, fears, and broken pasts and results in the two of them building each other up and trying to help each other heal.

The story is told in first person and the chapters alternate between Theo and Violet.  I thought the author did a remarkable job of creating two vulnerable characters whose pain feels so real.  They are truly likable and relatable.  I laughed and cried with them.  They were fleshed out into two of my favorite literary characters.  I felt like I knew them personally.  I was completely invested in their lives.  This ranks up there with one my favorite books read this year and any year.

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter – book review

 

 

Rating: 3.5/5

Goodreads summary:

“In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…”

My Review

Vassa lives in Brooklyn with her stepmother Iliana, stepsister Chelsea, and half sister Stephanie. Vassa’s father disappeared some time ago.   Iliana works at night so the girls are home alone in the evening, although it is nighttime more than usual in Vassa’s part of Brooklyn.  Daylight seems to make a rare occurrence these days.  Chelsea and Vassa get along but Stephanie is always angry with Vassa because she thinks Vassa is stealing her things and holds a grudge  One night when all the lights go out in their apartment Vassa leaves to get new light bulbs at Stephanie’s urging.  Chelsea is worried because the only store open is BY’s, a local store whose owner beheads shoplifters.  Stephanie doesn’t care and is somewhat eager for Vassa to shop there.  Vassa leaves for the store, taking this task as a dare.  This is where the book takes a very strange and bizarre turn.

Around this time I was having some very serious concerns about this book and thought there was a good chance of me not finishing it.  Then I remembered that the story is based on a Russian fairy tale called Vassilissa the Beautiful.  I googled it and read a brief version of the story and that helped change my enjoyment of the story.  I really did a 180 with it.  Suddenly a story of a 16 year old girl who goes to a store in urban Brooklyn that stands on dancing chicken legs and owned by a blood thirsty witch who is hell bent on beheading her customers with the help of a set of walking hands that used to belong to a beheaded customer didn’t seem like I was reading a book that made me feel like I had just eaten hallucinogenic mushrooms.  When it is approached as a fairy tale with a heroine who is captured by a wicked witch and needs to break a spell in order to escape, it becomes much more fun and enjoyable to read.  And, oh yes, throw in a living wooden doll and a mysterious cursed motorcycle rider who has part of the night trapped in his visor and is tasked with making sure Vassa doesn’t escape.

I truly liked Vassa.  She is spunky, tough, funny, loyal and still grieving the loss of her mother.  Her wooden doll Erg, who is small enough to fit in Vassa’s pocket, is a deathbed gift from her mother.  Erg is enchanted and alludes to the fact that Vassas’ mother, Zinaida, was a witch.  Erg loves to eat, steal things, and is loyal to Vassa.  I found this story line of Vassa’s and Erg’s relationship to be very quirky and interesting.  The way it concludes is emotional.

Babs Yagg, the witchy store owner is truly scary and the perfect villain for this story.  Instead of the witch in the woods of traditional fairytales, we get Babs.  What I would have liked to read more of is her backstory and connection to Vassa’s mother.  There are several chapters called Interludes that tell the back story of events that help the reader to understand why things are happening  in the present day.  I would have liked to see more of the mother’s story fleshed out and explained.  I think this would have added more to the likability of the book and make it seem less weird.

Overall, I liked the story once I approached it as a traditional fairy tale and not the Disneyfied kind.  I love the Disney versions of fairy tales but it is easy to forget that the original versions of those stories had moments that were quite violent and scary.  This is the kind of fairy tale you get with Vassa in the Night.

 

Three Dark Crowns #1 – by Kendare Blake – Book Review

 

Rating: 3.5 Stars

“In every generation on the island of Fennbirn, a set of triplets is born: three queens, all equal heirs to the crown and each possessor of a coveted magic. Mirabella is a fierce elemental, able to spark hungry flames or vicious storms at the snap of her fingers. Katharine is a poisoner, one who can ingest the deadliest poisons without so much as a stomachache. Arsinoe, a naturalist, is said to have the ability to bloom the reddest rose and control the fiercest of lions.

But becoming the Queen Crowned isn’t solely a matter of royal birth. Each sister has to fight for it. And it’s not just a game of win or lose…it’s life or death. The night the sisters turn sixteen, the battle begins.

The last queen standing gets the crown.” 

I was able to read this book in one weekend.  Granted, I’ve been home with a bad cold so I had nothing else to do but rest and read.  But it is an easy read, although a very dark one.  Each generation triplets are born to the current queen but are not raised to love one another as sisters.  These triplets are separated at age six and raised to learn their magical specialty, all the while knowing that at age sixteen they will have to fight to the death with siblings for the right to wear the crown.

There are five magical specialties that one might be born with.  Queen Mirabella’s specialty is elemental and can control the weather, water, air and fire.  Queen Arsinoe is a naturalist and is supposed to be able to control the will and minds of animals.  Queen Katherine is a poisoner and is supposed to be able to digest poisons without them affecting her in any way.  The other two magical abilities that one can be born with are warrior and sight.

The book starts with the three Queens sixteenth year, also known as the Ascension Year, the year that they have to come together and display their powers for the citizens of Fennbirn.  They will then have one year to try and kill their two sisters and claim the crown for themselves.  Each chapter focuses on one of the sisters and their powers and the people who are supporting them.

I had trouble loving this book.  It was very dark and I couldn’t connect to any of the queens.  I felt bad for them knowing what fate may hold for two of them, but the only one who showed any kind of compassion was Mirabella.  I didn’t think I was going to find much to like about the book but I really liked the ending. There were some clues leading up to it.  I really had no idea this was the first book in a series.  I thought it was a stand-alone book and would be done with it when I was finished.  Now I will have to read the next book to find out what happens next.

Clockwork Angel – Book Review

 

Rating: 5 stars

“In a time when Shadowhunters are barely winning the fight against the forces of darkness, one battle will change the course of history forever. Welcome to the Infernal Devices trilogy, a stunning and dangerous prequel to the New York Times bestselling Mortal Instruments series.

The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them…”

Tessa Gray grew up in New York City with her Aunt and brother Nate.  Nate moves to London for work and sends for Tessa after their Aunt dies.  When Tessa arrives in London she expects to be greeted by Nate, but instead the Dark Sisters are waiting for her, as per instructions by her brother.  Instead of a happy family reunion, Tessa finds herself abducted into a dark and sinister world where she is forced to confront and learn powers she never knew she had.

Tessa is rescued by the Shadowhunters, a group of supernatural people who protect society from demons and other supernatural beings.  Humans, or Mundanes, are unaware of their existence.  They try to help Tessa discover and understand who she is as well as help her to find her brother.  This is no easy task.  In order to find him they have to uncover and defeat the Magister, a very powerful being in this magical world whose identity is a mystery.  All they know is that he wants Tessa and her mysterious powers for himself.  The Shadowhunters need to enlist the aid of some Downworlders, a person who is part supernatural in origin like vampires, werewolves, faeries and warlocks.

Throw in some romantic entanglements and this  book was a wonderfully fun ride!  I loved the world Cassandra Clare created.  The Victorian England setting made for a very atmospheric background for this story.  I loved the characters and plot twists.  It was an easy read that I could not put down.  It was so much fun and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

 

 

Assassin’s Apprentice – Book Review

Rating: 3 stars

 

In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.

Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard, cast out into the world, friendless and lonely.  Only his magical link with animals – the old art know as the Wit – gives him solace and companionship.  But the Wit, if used too often, is a perilous magic, and one abhorred by the nobility.

So when Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and embrace a new life of weaponry, scribing, courtly, manners, and how to kill a man secretly as he trains to become a royal assassin.”

Fitz is six years old when he is brought to the palace and acknowledged as the illegitimate son of Prince Chivalry.  He never meets his father because Chivalry takes his wife and leaves the palace, relinquishing his right to the throne to protect his wife from any embarrassment.  Fitz is raised by Burrich, the royal stable hand until he is chosen by King Shrewd to secretly train as a royal assassin.  He does so but then has to add additional training in learning the Skill, a form of psychic communication.  Neither training comes easy or without its own dangers.  Mix in Fitz’s status as royal bastard and he is always in danger.

I delved into this book with high expectations.  I love fantasy novels and was expecting more magic and adventure.  This story involved more political intrigue and backstabbing and family turmoil.  I found the story to drag at times but picked up towards the end.  I will give the next book in the series a chance since I heard the series gets better after this book.