Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Summary: Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near-impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one unlikely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life– a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha… and the secrets of her heart.

My Thoughts: Shadow and Bone has been popping up all over the YA/fantasy blogs recently and I finally got my hands on a copy from my library. I finished it in less than 12 hours and I’m eager for the sequel, so that tells you a bit about how much I liked it.

I think this is Bardugo’s debut novel, and she did a great job taking the traditional high fantasy genre and putting her own twist on it. There’s some great new world building here that was very well done, explained smoothly and  naturally, and made a lot of sense to the plot, which honestly doesn’t always happen in fantasy novels. I also liked the sort of old Russian influence on a lot of the language and the culture in Bardugo’s world–that’s something I haven’t really seen before in YA fantasy.

I especially, especially liked the way Bardugo book-ended her story with the prologue/epilogue-type chapters, where the style and narration switched slightly and opened and closed her story to great effect. Bardugo’s story here has just the right amount of action mixed with mysticism and the unknown.

I’m glad to have a new fantasy series to follow; I’ll definitely be picking up the sequel when it comes out! Also, the cover is one of the more awesome book typography and design combinations I’ve seen in awhile.

Author Website: http://www.leighbardugo.com/

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Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.

My Thoughts: As you can already probably tell from the summary, the relationship depicted by this book is far from normal. I had been hearing about it from several different blogs that I follow and decided to pick it up because reviews were fairly good and I was sort of shocked at just how exactly an author could write a book about an incestual relationship and make it… decent?

Suzuma’s writing is definitely far better than decent. It’s absorbing, gripping, engaging, and from the very beginning you see just how difficult Maya and Lochan’s lives are. Their drunk mother is completely absent and such a horrifyingly bad parent that it made me so angry for the kids. Lochan and Maya are completely in charge of their younger siblings and have to deal with making dinner every night, picking up and dropping off their two youngest siblings at school, reeling in a rebellious, lashing-out brother, and all this on top of their regular schoolwork. I was constantly anxious and worried for them and how their situation was going to pan out. Suzuma write their lives and sufferings and occasional lovely joys so convincingly.

You can see just exactly how Maya and Lochan begin falling into each other. There is no one else around. There is no one else they can depend on and confide in and love. I saw it happen and while I understood it, I was slamming on the brakes in my head the whole time. Once their clandestine romance began I couldn’t understand it truly. The societal and cultural taboo threw up an immediate wall for me, and Suzuma’s beautiful writing couldn’t get me through it.

I was still desperate to know what happened to them, all the way up to the end. And boy was it an ending. Forbidden was perfectly paced and engrossing and definitely well written.

I wouldn’t say I was convinced or involved in the romance–but that’s not truly the point. The best and most successful part of Forbidden was the story of 5 children who loved each other trying to make it absolutely on their own in a world that had little sympathy or use for them.

Author Website: http://www.tabithasuzuma.com/

Non-Fiction Weekend: Pop Culture Economics, Doctors in Training, and Pashtun Culture

This past weekend I veered off the usual trail and read three very different non-fiction books; I enjoyed all of them immensely. Here’s a bit of introduction and review of each one:

Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner: This super popular book doesn’t need much of an introduction, but here you go anyway;

Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool? What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Why do drug dealers still live with their moms? How much do parents really matter? How did the legalization of abortion affect the rate of violent crime?

These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He is a much-heralded scholar who studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to sports and child-rearing—and whose conclusions turn the conventional wisdom on its head.

This was a fun, quick read. Some of the findings were pretty surprising to me but some of them were just sort of common sense if you took the time to think about it. If you like Freakonomics I highly recommend Gang Leader for a Day by Sudhir Venkatesh, whose work is mentioned briefly in Freakonomics. I borrowed Freakonomics from my roommate on a day where I couldn’t get myself interested in any other reading material.

Match Day by Brian Eule. This book was a gift from a friend who is now in medical school, something I’m interested in pursuing myself as well. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did! There were certain points in the book that I was actually sitting on the edge of my seat, sweating with anxiety over the decisions and conflicts faced by the doctors. Highly recommended even if you’re not interested in going into medicine–it’s just exciting and informative and understandable in general.

Every year, on the third Thursday in March, more than 15,000 graduating medical students across the country encounter the biggest moment of their burgeoning young careers. On Match Day, a computer algorithm pairs students with hospital residencies in nearly every field of medicine. The Match determines where each graduate will be assigned the crucial first job as an intern, and shapes the rest of his—or, in increasing numbers, her—life.

Match Day (St. Martin’s Press) is a dynamic, revealing look at three female doctors as they pass through this intense day and take on their first, turbulent year as medical interns.  With his girlfriend entering the medical profession, journalist Brian Eule provides an unprecedented look into both this process and the lives of these new doctors as they face pressure-packed decisions and try to balance any personal life with a profession that demands everything from them. Match Day provides a real-life drama that shows how each comes to learn what it means to heal, to comfort, to lose, and to grieve, all while maintaining a professional demeanor— and the incredible process by which doctors are made in this country.

Secrets from the Field: An Ethnographer’s Notes from North Western Pakistan by Benedicte Grima. I haven’t read too much anthropology or ethnography so I’m not exactly sure how to judge books on that subject. However, Grima’s book here is more of a personal memoir detailing her many varied experiences traveling both alone and with her infant daughter (!) through rural and tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. She’s also written a different, more scholarly/academic book regarding her work with the Pashtun culture. Grima’s experiences as written here were extremely interesting, and were detailed and clear enough that I felt like I had gotten at least a beginning, amateur understanding of the Pashto people, specifically the admonition that one does not just speak Pashto, one does Pashto. There is a very definite set of rules and expectations that govern the culture and Grima details both her blunders and her successes as she navigate her way through this world.

The personal accounts contained here, reveal the untold experiences and relationships of an ethnographer with the people she lived and worked among for over 10 years in northwestern Pakistan among Afghan refugees and tribal Pakistani Pashtuns. They are the everyday occurrences and personal experiences of a woman living alone, or with her infant daughter, secrets and blunders withheld from academic books. Friends and colleagues have asked what it was like to be a foreign woman alone in an isolated and strict tribal Muslim culture. They ask even more so now, piqued by curiosity about the culture that is said to be protecting Osama bin Laden. These stories herein answer many of those queries and reveal information complementary to other political and scientific books.

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney

Summary: Some schools have honor codes.

Others have handbooks.

Themis Academy has the Mockingbirds.

Themis Academy is a quiet boarding school with an exceptional student body that the administration trusts to always behave the honorable way–the Themis way. So when Alex Patrick is date-raped during her junior year, she has two options: Stay silent and hope someone helps, or enlist the aid of the Mockingbirds-a secret society of students dedicated to righting the wrongs of the student body.

In this account of a teenage girl’s search for her voice and the courage to use it, debut author Daisy Whitney reminds readers that standing up for someone, especially yourself, is worth the fight. (From author website).

My Thoughts: I read The Mockingbirds in one night, as I was immediately absorbed by the kind of terrifying opening scene–our narrator Alex wakes up in the morning in a strange bed next to a strange boy, both of them completely naked, and has absolutely no memory of what happened to her the night before. She is confused, scared, and uncertain of exactly what to do, but thankfully she has a circle of good friends, a cool older sister, and of course, The Mockingbirds, a secret student society at Themis Academy.

I think Whitney did a perfect job here of portraying the confusion, shame, and fear that comes after an event like this. Date-rape does not fit into the classic stereotype of rape that everyone seems to have, the one where a complete and total stranger holds a knife to your neck and forces you into a dark alley late at night somewhere. A lot of people seem to think that is the only kind of rape that happens, the only kind of rape where the victim is absolutely blameless.

Date rape, on the other hand, is often perpetrated by someone you know, or someone who’s associated with you once or twice to some degree–an acquaintance, a friend of a friend, a co-worker. There are often drugs or (more likely) alcohol involved, a factor that many seem to think makes the victim partly to blame for being raped.

Which is untrue, as Whitney does a good job of explaining throughout the novel. At first, Alex doesn’t believe she’s been raped–and as the reader, you don’t think she has either, because all you have are her thoughts and her memories, which aren’t complete. But things start to unfold, and we learn, along with Alex and many other students at Themis, that “only yes means yes.” That silence should never be taken as consent.

I wasn’t as thrilled with or convinced by the circumstances Whitney built up to explain why exactly Alex did not approach the authorities or the administration at her school to report the rape. I understand it was necessary in order to introduce the Mockingbirds themselves, but it was a little bit loose and didn’t clinch it for me.

I still enjoyed The Mockingbirds a lot and definitely recommend.

Author Website: http://daisywhitney.com/

Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

Summary: Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war– and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice:
Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

My Thoughts: I’ve been hearing a lot about Shatter Me, and all the hype was right! I finished this one in a day, and while I knew it was going to be interesting because it’s the best mix of genres (dystopian, science fiction, young adult fiction, a bit of romance), I definitely didn’t expect the beautiful, almost poetic writing style of debut author Mafi.

I was immediately hooked from the first page. We’re introduced to Juliette as a narrator, and we’re wondering, is this character mentally unstable? Insane? Hallucinatory? Which are also questions that our protagonist keeps asking herself, especially when her life in solitary confinement is disrupted with the addition of a new cellmate–a boy who reminds her of before, before her entrapment and the end of the world.

The narration begins as a stream of consciousness that is alternately tightly controlled, utterly panicked, and all sorts of other emotions that the reader feels right along with Juliette. The action is non-stop, I was never bored, and at every point there was some kind of twist or revelation that I didn’t see coming that only contributed more to the plot and overall atmosphere.

The dialogue was perfect, it was snappy when necessary, and drawn-out when needed, everything pitch-perfect and right. I’m just going to keep coming back to Mafi’s talented writing abilities.

The only issue I had is that I wasn’t complete won over or convinced by our main bad guy. Maybe in the sequel, but he just didn’t tick with me or scare me enough for me to believe in the villainy.

It’s described as Hunger Games meets X-Men, and I think that’s a very apt description. I will definitely be looking for the sequel.

Author Website: http://www.taherehmafi.com/

Second Opinion: Angieville

How did I get this book? Ebook on my phone!

Genres: Science fiction, young adult fiction, dystopian, post-apocalyptic, romance