The Incendiaries by R. O. Kwon

tiAlthough R. O. Kwon’s debut is a compact novel, clocking in at just under 200 pages, it packs a powerful punch. I read The Incendiaries in a morning, only putting it down to get breakfast and use the bathroom. Everything about it feels ephemeral, like it could vanish in a blink, so it felt imperative that I read it as quick as possible.

“I’ve wondered if I’ve stopped being able to want, but maybe it’s just that what I most wish to have again is not, at this point, available.”

The Incendiaries gives readers two familiar characters; an enigmatic, damaged girl in desperate need of a therapist, not a boyfriend, and her unfortunate boyfriend, someone who’s isn’t particularly unique, but is captivated with her to the point of obsession. These two characters are Phoebe and Will. They are both new to their prestigious college and both reeling from a formative event– Phoebe, the death of her mother, and Will, his rejection of the God he had cherished for so long. Will meets Phoebe just as she begins to attend Jejah, a group led by a Korean-American religious fanatic. And although Jejah at first seems just like a weekly dinner party, in the first chapter readers are armed with the knowledge that Jejah will evenutally become a cult known for bombing abortion clinics.

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King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

kosMy first venture into Leigh Bardugo’s fantasy “Grishaverse” happened in 2013, when I was ten. Six years later, I’ve followed her protagonists through the rough waves of the Bone Sea, trekked through snowy forests of Fjerda, weathered the cobbled streets of Novyi Zem, and even ventured into a few sketchy casinos in Ketterdam. And still, I love returning to her ever-expanding, relentlessly vivid world just as I did the first time.

In King of Scars, Bardugo returns readers to Ravka, three years after the events in her debut Grisha trilogy. There, we are welcomed by old favorites such as King Nikolai, Genya Safin, twins Tolya and Tamar, and (my personal favorite) Zoya Nazyalensky. However, our characters spend little time in the throne room, instead opting to run around Ravka, chasing saints and subduing a growingly-powerful monster.

I know I am not alone when I say my favorite part of King of Scars was the constant banter between two of the protagonists, Zoya and Nikolai. Since she appeared smirking at Alina’s love interest in the second chapter of Shadow and Bone, Zoya’s reputation has seemed to be cemented as an icy seductress there only to give Alina boy trouble. But, although she was was not treated kindly in Bardugo’s first series, Zoya is certainly not in for a redemption arc in this one. Instead, readers get to peer inside her head, where she transforms from a sexist cliché to an empowered, three-dimensional character. But, make no mistake- Zoya has not gotten nicer. She’s just as witty, and even more ruthless, but now, she’s finally, rightfully, taking control of her narrative.

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January Wrap Up

What I’m Up To:

I cannot believe it’s 2019! 2015 seems like it was just yesterday. After a long holiday break, school has started back up for me. So far, my highlights have been an interesting soa.jpgclass on the culture of the Hispanic Caribbean and another on the intricacies of arguments.

What I’m Reading Right Now: 

Just like I promised in my review of Circe by Madeline Miller, The Song of Achilles is what’s currently sitting on my nightstand. This novel follows Patroclus, Achilles’ friend and lover, as he navigates his life and the Trojan War by the famed hero’s side. I’m only 25 pages into the story, but Miller’s signature attention to detail and lush storytelling have already captured my attention.

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Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare

qoaad.jpgQueen of Air and Darkness is a brick. Surpassing 900 pages if you count the bonus short story in the back, the novel is the heftiest I’ve read in a very long time. Contributing to its length are the appearances of nearly every character from Clare’s previous works, (Clary and Jace from The Mortal Instruments, Jem and Tessa from The Infernal Devices, Magnus and Alec from The Bane Chronicles, and more) who each adds to an enjoyable ensemble cast of characters.

Most of these characters, as well as the expected protagonists in The Dark Artifices, receive their own storyline, or at least their own perspective and I suspect devoted fans will be happy to see past favorites again, as I certainly was. However, some of their stories felt superfluous and like they were taking away from the storyline started in Lady Midnight and Lord of Shadows.

“People were made up of all sorts of different bits…Funny bits and romantic bits and selfish bits and brave bits. Sometimes you saw only a few of them. Maybe it was when you saw them all that you realized you knew someone really well.”

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On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

otcuIn On the Come Up, Angie Thomas builds upon the vivid world of Garden Heights that she introduced to readers in her #1 New York Times bestseller debut, The Hate U Give. But this time, instead of Starr Carter narrating this story, readers are introduced to sixteen year old Bri Jackson, daughter of underground rap legend Lawless. Like her father, who was killed in a gang-related shooting when she was little, Bri dreams of becoming a legendary rapper (that is when she’s not taking ACT prep courses or geeking out over tweety bird).

You’ll never silence me and you’ll never kill my dream/just recognize when you say brilliant that you’re also/ saying Bri

I found On the Come Up even more compelling than its blockbuster predecessor, perhaps because of Bri’s similarity to Thomas, who writes in her dust jacket biography that she was once a rapper. However, instead of Bri’s musical ambitions, what stuck out most to me was the conflict between Bri’s upper-middle class arts school and her working class roots.

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Circe by Madeline Miller

circeSomeone I know described Circe as “Percy Jackson for adults.” To me, there seems to be no description more apt for this spellbinding tale. Circe is acclaimed author Madeline Miller’s take on the titular character, the ancient Greek enchantress best known for bewitching Odysseus and temporarily turning his crew into pigs in The Odyssey. After centuries of neglect, this witch finally gets her own story.

There is much to be said about reading a book and knowing exactly what is going to happen. Miller, a devout student of the classics, does not deviate much from the accepted literary canon. Circe hosts Odysseus and later Telemachus (as well as her niece Medea and a few gods). She helps her sister Pasiphaë birth the minotaur and jealously turns the nymph Scylla into a ravenous monster. Because of this set plot, there are often extended breaks in the action of the story. This was not a problem for me. I enjoyed Circe’s inner monologues and Miller’s lush descriptions of the Greek landscapes.

“Humbling women seems to me a chief pastime of poets. As if there can be no story unless we crawl and weep.”

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New Year, Same Blog (Kinda)

My Year in Review

2018 was crazy for me. For starters, I finished my first year of boarding school and started my second. In June I studied abroad in Chile, where I studied poets like Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral. Lately, I’ve just been studying hard in school, which starts back up in a few days.

yjyMy Favorite Books of 2018

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: Zevin’s vivid female characters- a mother, a daughter, a wife illuminate her latest novel. Both timely and timeless, Young Jane Young explores marriage, affairs, and love through vibrant female perspectives, painting a hilarious, lively portrait that is not to be missed.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape by Sohaila Abdulali: Abdulali’s novel is a difficult work to read. She does not shy away from harsh realities, showing readers compelling stories and undeniable statistics, but ends her novel with a necessary glimmer of hope, which I intend to carry into the new year.

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor: I cannot get enough of Taylor’s lush fantasy worlds. Last year, Strange the Dreamer, the predecessor to Muse of Nightmares made its way on to my best of list, so I delight in putting Taylor’s latest onto this list as well. Her clear gift for spinning stories so wildly imaginative and yet so fiercely human makes her one of my favorite authors to date.

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Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor

monIt’s always a gamble to pick a book up during school breaks. There’s no time for me to pleasure read at school, however I can’t always read fast enough to finish the book at home. But, I feel there’s nothing worse than a story left unfinished. So, when I picked up Muse of Nightmares for the train back to school, I was determined to read the nearly 500 page sequel to Strange the Dreamer in six hours. Obviously, that was not possible, so I was left to sneaking in five or ten pages whenever I had the chance. Perhaps it was this reading style, but more likely it was Taylor’s masterful, slow-build writing that made Muse of Nightmares on of the best fantasy novels I read this year.

Wishes don’t just come true. They’re only the target you paint around what you want. You still have to hit the bull’s-eye yourself.”

Taylor possesses an incredible gift of dropping breadcrumbs and seemingly unrelated connections throughout the duology, holding the reader by their hand and revealing the final piece of the storyline at just the right moment. While some of her clues were more clearly connected than others, I found the overall arc of the story a mystery until after I had turned the last page.

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November Wrap Up

What I’m Up To:

 I’m writing this wrap up on my way back to school, ready for the dreaded two and a half weeks between Thanksgiving break and winter break. It’s time to get some work done, but as soon as it’s over, I’ll be back in New York to celebrate Christmas with my family, where I can get some reading done.

avleof What I’m Reading Right Now:

 I’m almost finished with A Very Large Expanse of Sea, Tahereh Mafi’s realistic fiction debut (which was long-listed for the National Book Award). I was a huge fan of Mafi’s fantasy series when it came out a few years ago, but her newest is both a thematic and stylistic departure. Gone are the flowery sentences and angsty action-packed chapters, replaced by sharp wit and politically-charged narratives. A Very Large Expanse of Sea follows Shirin, a Muslim teenager grappling with her identity in a post 9/11 world.

snowflakes

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What I’m Thankful For: 8 Years of Book Reviews by Ava

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, which means I’m in Arkansas visiting my lovely relatives. This year, I have a lot to be thankful for, from my amazing, supportive family to the incredible education I am lucky enough to have access to thanks to a generous scholarship. But, one thing I wanted to highlight this season was how thankful I am for the wonderful book review community- everyone from my loyal readers to bookstore owners, librarians, publishers, publicists, authors, and many more.

lulu

Since my first review for Warwick’s Bookstore in San Diego, book reviewing has been an integral part of my life, one that I can’t imagine my life without. As a young reader, I am grateful for the platform to share my ideas and opinions about literature. The empowerment that comes from expressing my thoughts has been integral to my growth into a young adult who is passionate about reading.

My first review followed little Lulu, a drama-queen wishing for a brontosaurus as a pet. It was three sentences long and emphasized the cute illustrations and laughable dialogue. Back then, I had my dad edit my reviews down to the sentence and only posted a review when I loved the book.

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