Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

28374007Let’s start with the last book I finished, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake. I read Blake’s YA horror duology way back when and enjoyed it (wait, let me go back and read those reviews to make sure this is an accurate representation of my former self). I lied! Memory is a bitch. I thought the first book was ‘meh’ but truly loved the second. Thank gods for my former self who felt compelled to immortalize things on the internet. Anyway, I like that Blake brings the horror. I love the horror. All the horror, por favor.

Crowns leans more towards your typical YA fantasy with girls who have magic. There are boys and politics and BIG REVEALS. But Blake still manages to wrangle in a horror element or two throughout her story. And those bits were the best bits (find a better written sentence, I dare you.)

Let’s talk plot. Fennbirn is an island the mainland barely remembers. And on this island, the Queen gives birth to a new set of triplets (always girls?) each generation. These triplets will have magic. Elemental magic, natural magic, and poison magic. Perhaps even war magic or the gift of sight. But only one can be Queen so it’s a fight to the death upon coming of age. Literally. They have to kill each other. Last one standing wins the right to continue breathing! Meet Katharine, Arsinoe, and Mirabelle. They are this generation’s chosen triplets and our main protagonists. You will like all three and wish for them a better outcome than is promised. Each girl has a unique upbringing (they are raised separately by adoptive families) and a strong individual personality. It helps that the story isn’t told in first person. There is far too much first person in YA.

Look, this is a slow burn. Not much happens through the first two-thirds and then the ending is bonkers. Like actual batshit banana pants bonkers. Slow meandering plots work for me. Especially as an antidote to more typical plot driven YA fantasy. I liked spending excessive amounts of time just hanging out with each teenager. All those pages makes the ending matter. But extra time also gives me more opportunities to figure out the big twists. And I did figure out those big twists. Thankfully, my discovery felt less like OMG PREDICTABLE more like THIS IS WHAT I NEEDED TO HAPPEN. So I was satisfied.

Blake gets dark at times. Remember those horror elements I was referring to above? Well, the entire Katharine story line felt Gothic and black-hearted. These poisoners are no joke. She wears a coral snake around her wrist and lives in what I imagined as a cold, stone-heavy castle. Crowds gather to watch Katharine eat airy arsenic pancakes for breakfast. (I paraphrased a scene. Sadly, there are no arsenic pancakes. But I think Kendare Blake should make a note for her next book.) Other locations see girls get their hands chopped off or their innards turned outtards. (Someone stop me.) How delightedly wicked to read, honestly. I felt refreshed and alive. YMMV.

Women rule the day and each girl has a strong female friendship she cherishes. LOVED. But badly done romance also creeps its way into the book reminding me of my least favorite YA romance nonsense. WHO THE HELL HAS EVER BEEN IN A LOVE TRIANGLE? I guess you could blame magic in this case. But I’m just so tired of contrived angst. There are romantic and platonic relationships done interestingly here, though. I tried to focus on those instead.

Should you read this book? I mean, I don’t know. But I read it and had a lovely Sunday afternoon waiting for teenage girls to kill each other. There’s a metaphor around here somewhere about womanhood, murder, and society, if you care enough to find it. For now, I’m off to my next literary journey. I hope there’s more murder.
FINAL VERDICT: A YA Fantasy that’s not reinventing the genre but still lured me in with its Gothic atmosphere and many female characters. A slow and meandering story with a punch to the gut at the end. Popcorn fiction with a side of murder and savage bears. Tres estrellas.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

unnamed (2)I can’t believe I haven’t written a review for Gone Girl yet. How do these things happen to me? Oh, that’s right, TWD obsession. Well, fear not my friends. The time has come. Gillian Flynn sure does know how to pull the feelings from you, doesn’t she?

Amy and Nick are a thirty-something married couple who’ve hit some financial and family trouble. They are now back in his small Missouri hometown, and we open on the morning of their 5th wedding anniversary. The narrative shifts back and forth between Nick present day and Amy’s diary from the beginning of their relationship. Because Amy’s gone missing and it doesn’t look good. We go from there.

The film trailer was released a few weeks ago, and so I knew I had to get on reading Flynn’s latest and greatest. I refused to even watch the preview before I’d read the book. GG was a huge darling a couple of years ago and fell victim to the hype monster, which means I refused to read it until things had calmed. While I waited, I read her first two novels – Sharp Objects and Dark Places. One I loved; the other I liked.

Gone Girl is a whole other thing. What impressed me so much about Sharp Objects were the risks Flynn was willing to take, particularly in making people nasty and the imagery even worse. She had a grit and a bluntness to her work that was able to shock even me. GG is different in its way but not any less shocking. But this time, she’s focused primarily on making you hate all of the people just because they are shitty people. The worst, really. You think someone can be redeemed and then shit just falls apart. You will want to punch everyone and fling the book across the room, but you will not be able to stop reading. And that’s the pleasure of Gone Girl. It grabs you, shakes you, and won’t stop until you’ve turned the last page.

Was the novel perfect? No. Personally, I had moments where I wondered what was the point, you know? All those pages just to see the lengths people will go to out-do one another. To see how shitty we can be at the core of who we are. To see how much our childhood or rearing can fuck us up? To just play with the audience like we’re the mouse and Flynn’s the cat? But it’s one hell of a ride so who cares?

The Weirdness by Jeremy P. Bushnell

unnamedThe Weirdness by Jeremy P. Bushnell is exactly that, weird. But in the best of ways. It’s a Faustian tale for the millennial generation.  Throw in a Devil-owned Lucky Cat, and well, you had me at hello.

Billy Ridgeway is kind of an odd, hipster-ish guy. He’s 30, works at a sandwich shop, and lives in Brooklyn. He’s a writer without much success and has a girlfriend who may or may not be that into him. But one day, Satan shows up in his apartment looking to make a deal. Help him retrieve his lost Lucky Cat in order to save the world from a fiery extinction, and he’ll grant Billy his one true desire – the chance to become a happily published novelist. How can Billy refuse?

If you aren’t sold by now, you might as well quit reading. Because if that synopsis doesn’t push all your buttons, this isn’t the book for you. Sorry. For those still with me, I really think you’ll love The Weirdness. It’s the perfect beachside romp filled with clever moments and well-written sentences. Bushnell gets NYC and failed writers in a way that makes this fantastical story feel very, very much like some truth you never thought you needed to know. The whole story is mostly just a giant metaphor of what writing is like these days, particularly being an unpublished writer. Which is pretty much just the most amazing metaphor, certainly the most fun, that I’ve read in a long while.

The Weirdness gets two thumbs up and several wet, sloppy kisses from me. I think most readers – from the casual to the very serious – can find something to love here. The sci-fi/fantasy kids get a nonstop, crazy adventure. The literary folks get beautiful writing and a plethora of smartly done literary devices and allusions. There’s religion and romance, if that’s your bag. And werewolves. Because someone out there always needs werewolves.

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin

unnamedJames Baldwin is a literary legend who needs next to no introduction. Except that I feel like no one reads any Baldwin anymore. Is this true? Have y’all read anything by him recently? If Beale Street Could Talk is my very first and will not be my last. Now that I’ve read one, I intend to read his entire backlist. And I need y’all to do the same thing.

Tish loves Fonny and Fonny loves Tish. They are a young, sweet couple living in NYC just trying to create a home and a family of their own. But when Fonny is wrongfully accused of raping a Puerto Rican woman, he’s thrown in jail, separated from his now pregnant fiance.

And it’s heartbreaking. Heartbreaking because how much this fictional story embodies the harsh realities of life and racism and shitty people. The irony of the police force and the law system being the very evil they’re supposed to serve and protect us from. Baldwin’s writing is no nonsense and doesn’t allow you to make excuses for the fact in his fiction. He demands his readers see through the bullshit. But he does so by making you fall in love with these wonderfully drawn, full-bodied characters who will crawl inside your heart and stay there even when you put the book down. It’s a story of the human spirit pitted against the ugliness of humanity.

The novel is short, yet powerful. The ambiguous ending was expertly done. Baldwin’s talent with the written word had me underlining and highlighting and sharing quotes on Tumblr with every turn of the page. It’s a book that still feels so very relevant even decades later. Because we’re still trapped inside this horrific bubble of prejudice and racism and making people feel other despite knowing better by now. So perhaps we need James Baldwin now more than we ever have.

So, what’s your favorite Baldwin novel? Where should I head next?

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

1102116So I read this book and now I shall discuss it in this post. So get ready, y’all. Oh my goodness, I’m in a mood. But this should be fun, I promise. Anyway, I read this for multiple reasons: It’s our chosen book for April (my IRL book club), it was a booktube book club choice in March, and Adichie is such a queen of all writers that it was a thing that just had to be done.

Half of a Yellow Sun follows five different protagonists from different walks of life as they navigate the civil unrest/war that occurred in Nigeria during the 1960s and the turmoil following Colonialism. The pov switches back and forth between these five narrators and between the early 60s/late 60s. So basically, character driven African historical fiction.

And there’s a whole lot to love about this book. Seriously, it won many awards and well-deserved accolades. Adichie’s writing speaks for itself. Despite its 500+ pages, I flew through the story with a fervid pace. I cared about each character and needed to know what happened to them. I loved Adichie’s decision to jump between the now and then. To show us the effect of moments that hadn’t yet been divulged to us, the readers. And then to rewind and spill the beans in reverse. So good. And spectacularly effective.

What was a bit of a miss for me was bogging down the story with so many historical facts and figures and events. Sometimes I felt like the characters had a hard time rising above being mere historical vehicles. Instead of being living, breathing people they had a tendency every now and again to feel like dusty relics from a museum tour. That sounds so, so harsh. And it’s not meant to be, really. Some might even really enjoy this aspect. But I’d have preferred a little more subtlety to my story telling. Just a personal preference.

But overall, I loved the book. I still think Americanah is her stronger novel (although I think I’m in the minority there), but Half of a Yellow Sun is not to be missed. Honestly, Adichie can’t write fast enough to satisfy my cravings for the way she tells such a complete and enthralling tale.

Can’t wait to see what my Litwit ladies have to say when we meet later in the month to discuss. I’m nervous because I’m such a delicate Adichie fangirl and can hardly stand to hear a negative thing said, even if it’s coming out of my own mouth!

Happy Monday y’all!!

Saga, Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughn

unnamedNo spoilers, I promise! Man, I was so stoked to find this on my doorstep last week. I ALMOST thought about taking an extended lunch break and just reading the whole thing then and there. But I managed to wait until later that night and had an absolute blast.

Compared with the previous two volumes, I’d say this one has amped up the action quite a bit. There were some shocking moments and plenty of the laughs we’ve come to expect. The social commentary still packs a punch, and I am just tickled pink everytime I pick up this story. It puts and leaves a smile on my face which is the kind of thing everyone needs more of in life, am I right?

All gushing aside, I will say that this is perhaps a weaker installment than the first two. I mostly think this is because the story/plot is progressing at a relatively fast pace here so we have less super awesome, silly character bits. But I still gave it 5 stars. Because it’s still more entertaining than almost anything else on this planet or the next.

Volume 4 should have been here, like, yesterday. Boo.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

17333319The Litwits met on Sunday to discuss Hannah Kent’s debut novel released last year. Putting this book off for almost a year was next to impossible because so many of my online bookish friends loved, loved this story. And for the first time in a long time, I had to force myself to stop at 50 pages a day because I wanted to savor this gem of a book. I never wanted it to end.

Burial Rites is another novel that I don’t feel needs much introduction. It takes place in Iceland in the 1820s. Two women and one man have been charged and convicted of killing a man. Our protagonist, Agnes, has been sentenced to death by beheading. Kent writes of her final months living with a farm family as she awaits her looming death.

That’s not spoiling anything because this is a historical fiction novel based on the true story of the last beheading in Iceland. So…you know how it ends going in, but damn if you don’t hope and pray Agnes will find someway to beat her murder wrap. Whether or not she even committed the crime becomes almost a non issue as you fall in love with this orphaned, lonely, sad woman. I defy you not to want Agnes’s name cleared!

Beyond the central plot, Kent gives you so much else to love. The Icelandic landscape in all its cinematic glory and rolling hills and biting cold surrounds you and places you firmly within the story. Her writing is GORGEOUS. Her descriptions are lyrical and immersive. Some members did think she could be a bit long-winded at times and a little too dirty with her imagery (she doesn’t shy away from the nasty smells and ugliness of  bodily function), but others adored her language for its realism. Personally, I found myself reading the passages out loud – sometimes over and over again – mesmerized by all the pretty words.

Agnes was my favorite character, but many Litwits loved Margret as well. We discussed how Margret desperately didn’t want Agnes in her house, sleeping right next to her own two daughters. But once Agnes arrives in her pitiful state, Margret can’t help but feel for the doomed woman. What makes that so particularly interesting is how un-motherly Margret seems around her own children. Margret’s daughter, Lauga, quickly grows to resent her mother’s affection for Agnes creating such tension as the story unfolds.

We discussed the novel’s ending at length. Several of us felt the ending to be very abrupt, too rushed in its conclusion. Others thought this was done on purpose to emphasize the death that couldn’t be stopped. But it was just so sad.

So Burial Rites was a winner among the Litwits! We got a lot of good conversation in before our inevitable fall into the descent of television, tumblr, and fanfiction. Until next time ladies!!