Review: Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Ruin and Rising (Grisha #3)
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Genre: YA, fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Henry Holt & Co / June 17, 2014
How Did I Get It? Bought it!
Format? Hardback

Synopsis from Goodreads: The capital has fallen. The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.

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Just a warning: this review is going to be completely unstructured and mainly random thoughts thrown together because I can’t even control myself. But let this be my guiding statement: Ruin and Rising was the best possible ending I could have imagined for this series. The fates of the characters were appropriate, the final battle was heart-stopping and breathtaking, and the epilogue left me in tears (I think they were happy, but maybe a bit sad too because I can’t believe this is the end of this trilogy). I’ll have two sections to this review: the first completely spoiler free, and the second will be spoilers because I need to get all of these thoughts out.

Spoiler Free Review:

Allow me to begin with a gif:

I think that about covers it. Not even. My experience while reading this book was very strange. I picked it up, but couldn’t read it the second I got home. I had to sleep on it, then the next day I told myself I had to finish it by the time I went to bed. The first half I read one or two chapters at a time, alternating some blogging and other work between the segments. But then I reached the 200 page mark, and I couldn’t put the book down until I read the final page. I reached that reading place where I can’t hear anything outside of the story inside my head; my mom and sister finally stopped trying to talk to me. My heart was racing, I was gasping and laughing and crying, and I may have screamed once or twice.

As far as the story: I thought Leigh balanced the need to wrap everything up without info dumping very well. I mean, there was A LOT to divulge and sort through, but I never felt as though I was sitting through a history lesson. The legend of the amplifiers was HOLY CRAP inducing, and I didn’t see the twists coming at all as far as that aspect of it. The final battle was satisfying, yet gut-wrenching. I knew what would happen, and I knew it was necessary, but it didn’t lessen the hurt. And the epilogue… it made me feel the same way the end of the Return of the King makes me feel: nostalgic, grieving, yet hopeful. How is it that I’m nostalgic for a past that isn’t even mine?? I’ll tell you how: Leigh has written such a fantastic story that it’s become a world I live in part time and feel just as strongly as the characters.

And the characters… oh my wow. All my favorites were back, plus a few new characters that I fell head over heels for within just a hundred pages. Harshaw and Stigg were the two I most loved, and then there was Adrik and Nadia, who had been in the previous books but really expanded their roles in this story. And then of course the main cast: Alina, Mal, Nikolai, the Darkling, Zoya, Genya, David, Tolya, Tamar, and so many more. They were all so well balanced, and I didn’t ever feel as though one was dropped off or focused on too much. And they all grew so much in this book; they still had their personalities, as abrasive as some of them were, but by the end they all had that battle-worn connectedness that was really touching.

I really don’t think I can say any more before I start getting into the spoilery specifics. But if you need a sign that you should read this series, this is it. Honestly, it’s the best series conclusion I could have possibly imagined – joining the ranks of Allegiant and Ignite Me.

Spoilers/Discussion

Okay, now my summary in a gif:

I’ve got to bullet point this whole thing. And I do mean SERIOUS SPOILERS if you somehow missed that big header up there.

  • MAL IS THE FREAKING THIRD AMPLIFIER?? I screamed. I totally, completely, screamed. Out loud. Very loudly. I may have interrupted my mom’s movie. BUT WHAT THE HELL I DID NOT SEE THAT COMING AT ALL. But it all makes so much sense now! I mean, I knew there was something different about Mal, but my theories weren’t even CLOSE to the truth.
  • Oh my poor baby Nikolai. He survived – praise God – didn’t get a girl – I volunteer as tribute – and is so scarred from the Darkling’s nichevo’ya – that bastard. But at the same time he’s still that swaggering, charming, hilarious, passionate, and incredible character that I fell in love with in Siege and Storm. I wish the epilogue had addressed how he handled the throne and all the fallout from the battle, but I know he was okay in the end.
  • I don’t even know how to voice my thoughts on Alina losing her power. In a perfect world, she would have lead the Second Army and been the badass Sun Summoner with Mal at her side, but I think the two of them living as regular humans and running the orphanage was a different sort of a perfect world. But really that epilogue, when Zoya gave Alina the blue kefta and the letter – I lost it. TEARS. AND FEELS.

  • The Darkling. I know he’s so controversial, and I don’t intend to forgive/forget all of his atrocities, but I thought it was so incredible how humanized he was. It was really uncomfortable, but it was also so eye-opening to see him as a person, not just a dark figure looming in a courtroom. I also had the prequel story from the Barnes and Noble edition, but it was actually just a fully written out story of a tale told in R&R. So never fear – it’s not as though you’re missing a critical part of understanding the Darkling! And I thought his name suited him so well: Aleksander. It just fits. In the end, if we really had to classify him, I’d say he’s a sympathetic villain. Hugely, intensely sympathetic. Just a broken boy jaded by the bigotry who turned to the wrong methods to end the persecution.
  • I’d also like to make note here that Genya is a freaking warrior queen and someday I hope to achieve that level of badassery. Just slow clap it out. Seriously – every time I wear my “I am Ruination” pin I got from the Fierce Reads tour, I feel a bit more powerful, not gonna lie. I think Genya is a perfect example of how men who take advantage of women’s bodies should be handled.

Okay, I think I’ve typed myself out. Leigh: if you somehow manage to read this (FYI – still holding out for that Tolya and Tamar novella/prequel story/whole trilogy), THANK YOU for writing the flawless end to one of my all time favorite series. And you are now an auto-buy author for me.

My Final Rating:

Six stars

Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Title: The Winner’s Curse
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Genre: YA, fantasy?, historical fiction?
Publisher/Publication Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux / March 4, 2014
How Did I Get It? Gifted
Format? Hardcover

Synopsis from Goodreads: Winning what you want may cost you everything you love

As a general’s daughter in a vast empire that revels in war and enslaves those it conquers, seventeen-year-old Kestrel has two choices: she can join the military or get married. But Kestrel has other intentions.

One day, she is startled to find a kindred spirit in a young slave up for auction. Arin’s eyes seem to defy everything and everyone. Following her instinct, Kestrel buys him—with unexpected consequences. It’s not long before she has to hide her growing love for Arin.

But he, too, has a secret, and Kestrel quickly learns that the price she paid for a fellow human is much higher than she ever could have imagined.

Set in a richly imagined new world, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski is a story of deadly games where everything is at stake, and the gamble is whether you will keep your head or lose your heart.

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Once again, I am an idiot. Yep – it’s official. Print a big WORLD’S BIGGEST IDIOT and tape it to my forehead. Because I nearly missed out on this book due to my snobbery over its hype a few months ago. But *once again* Nara’s review had me scrambling to get a copy, and I not-so-subtly slipped the tip to my mom that this was the ONE BOOK I wanted for my birthday. Lo and behold, there it was, all nice and wrapped! Thank you mommy ❤ And how did I feel about this book? Uh-huh – you guessed it. I’M IN LOVE. And as more time as passed since I read it, I’m even more enthralled with the story, bumping up my original rating from 5 stars to my special 6 stars.

Where do I even begin with this book? It was so vivid to me – in fact I plan on Saturating it on a Wednesday not too far in the future – both in the world building and the characters. It’s hard to place this in a genre, since it’s fantasy-ish in that it’s in another world, but it honestly feels more like historical fiction; I get a distinct Greco-Roman feel from the whole thing, except the ladies are more Spartan than anything (woohoo for badass women!). And it was all politics and high society and general sneaking about – the stuff I liked from the Harlequin novels I read, without the sexy times.

But that’s not to say that the romance wasn’t hot! It was slow-burning though, and honestly it sat in the background for most of the novel. Ohhh it was perfect ❤ Arin grew on me greatly throughout the book; I really hated him at first, with all his manipulation and cunning, but as more was revealed, it made sense and I forgave him a bit. That’s not to forget it all – the end of book one has a bunch of crap all thrown up in the air, and book two is going to have some serious scrambling to fix everything. But Kestrel is a strong character, and I love her spirit. She can handle whatever’s thrown at her for sure! But back to the romance: FJKALS;JFSFJAS THE BRAIDING SCENE. *DIES* I COULDN’T HANDLE IT.

What else can I say about this book before completely spoiling it for everyone? Nothing! I don’t trust myself to say any more. But seriously READ IT! I already need book two, and don’t get me started on the wait for book three. Dear God I may need a straight jacket. It’s definitely a new favorite for sure!

My Final Rating:

Six stars

Weekly Recap 34 (July 6) – The Birthday Book Haul

Well hello Sunday my old friend. I can’t believe another week has passed again! I was working a lot this week before the 4th of July, but I have a three day weekend so that’s nice. Last Sunday (my birthday) was really laid back and fun – my best guy friend ended up convincing me to go get fireworks with him, and then I made him take me to two different Barnes and Nobles so I could spend some of my birthday money. Then on the 4th we ended up shooting off about $200 worth of sparklers and fountains – and annoying the neighbors. Their next door neighbor is crazy sauce, and he lit three strings of firecrackers and chucked them over the fence at us. One fell right at my feet and snapped on my ankles before I could run away. All good fun 😛

Stacking the Shelves

To put it simply: the book ban is broken. And I think I did a spectacular job of breaking it! I was so blessed by my family and friends with gift cards and whatnot, and I had a blast picking up all these pretties:

photo 2Excuse me while I drool over them all again *heart eyes* Allow me to list them all and provide links so you can get these pretties too:

  • Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
  • Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan (because Lisa was fangirling so hard!)
  • Uninvited by Sophie Jordan
  • Graduation Day by Joelle Charbonneau
  • Free to Fall by Lauren Miller (Aimee and I will be tandem reading it next weekend!)
  • Elusion by Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam
  • The Treatment by Suzanne Young (I was going back and forth, but Andi said it was good, and I trust her)
  • Scan by Sarah Fine (Cait calls it a “guy flick” in her review – aliens and explosions – perfect for me!)
  • The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski (from my mom – already read it and LOVED it!)
  • Plus One by Elizabeth Fama (currently reading – it’s interesting so far)
  • Never Fade by Alexandra Bracken (I haven’t even read book 1 but it was super cheap)
  • Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman (DRAGONS)
  • Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (I had an ARC, but never read it because I knew I wanted a finished copy. And now here it is!)

I also have a few books coming in next week that I ordered, so I’m anxiously awaiting those as well. When they come in, I think I’ll be set for my reading for at least two months! Probably three 😀 Honestly, I don’t even have a burning desire to read any specific one, because I want to read them all equally! So I’ve got plenty to choose from, whether I’m in a contemporary, sci-fi, or fantasy mood.

photo-3My mom also surprised me with the TFiOS soundtrack – *melts again*. It’s so perfect for the entire mood of the book; I still haven’t seen the movie, but I’m sure it’s perfect too. SO. MANY. FEELS. Especially track 5 (I don’t even know the names yet), and I love Boom Clap. I turn it way up when I’m driving to work every morning.

I also splurged and bought the disc (I had rented it from iTunes before) of Ten Inch Hero. I first watched it for Jensen Ackles, but it’s actually a really good movie! If you love cheesy, indie-ish, goofbally feel-good sorts of movies. It gives me the warm fuzzies ❤

In other news…

  • I love all of you. Seriously ❤ All my birthday wishes on twitter and on my blog were the sweetest things to read all that day!
  • It’s blazing hot here in California – it’s been a solid 100F all week, and nastily humid on top of that. I’ve resigned myself to being what I call “permanently damp” for the next three months – I’ve just not stopped sweating. Thank God for air conditioning and fans!

In case you missed it, last week I…

What’s coming up this week?

  • Monday – Review: Some Quiet Place by Kelsey Sutton (reread review)
  • Tuesday – First blogoversary celebration and international giveaway!
  • Wednesday – Saturated Reads: Ronan and Kavinsky from The Dream Thieves
  • Thursday – 30 YA Books that Changed My World
  • Friday – Review: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski

Hope you all have a good week!

Review: The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

Title: The Burning Sky
Author: Sherry Thomas
Genre: YA, fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: Balzer + Bray, September 17, 2013
How Did I Get It? Bought it!
Format? Hardcover

Synopsis from Goodreads: It all began with a ruined elixir and an accidental bolt of lightning…

Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she’s being told. The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells a fiery clash to the death.

Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to protect Iolanthe at all costs but he’s also a powerful mage committed to obliterating the Bane to avenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.

But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.

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Before I get to my actual review, I have a few confessions. 1) I’ve owned this book since last October. 2) It sat on my shelf ever since. 3) I only picked it up *finally* because I needed a good reason to buy The Perilous Sea when it comes out in Autumn. 4) I only wanted The Perilous Sea because of its gorgeous cover. WATER. DRAGON.

So you can see my train of thought here: read The Burning Sky = have a legit reason to explain my purchase of The Perilous Sea other than cover lust. And so began my foray into reading a book I knew very little about but for the fact that Nara gave it five stars and she and I have a 99% rating agreement so there was that. Thus, emboldened by my reading twin’s effusive praises, I set off!

Aaaanddd I was treated to a fantastic high fantasy novel that is the illustrious start to what I’m sure is going to be a mind-blowing series. Now I’ll admit that the first few chapters were hard – there’s a lot to figure out, and fast. It’s not like Harry Potter where you learn right along with Harry and thus are slowly introduced to the world and it’s inner workings. Io already knows about and can use her powers, so all the usual “how does this work?” aspect of the magic and world building doesn’t really exist. It’s one of those books where you have to figure it out by inferring from conversations and how characters act, and I think Thomas did a pretty good job at not making me feel totally lost.

Both of the main characters were complex and intriguing, so there’s an A+ from me on that aspect. Io wasn’t the usual “oh woe is me my destiny is crushing me under its weight and I’m but a pitiful teenager” trope – she rejected it at first, but once she figured everything out she eventually shifted to an attitude of “this isn’t what I want to do, but if I sit back and do nothing then I’ll never forgive myself.” Which is understandable – who really wants to throw herself in the face of almost-certain death? But aside from that, Io is self-assured, fiery, a bit cocky, and strong.

And then there’s Titus, who actually surprised me with his character. I had thought he would be the usual: handsome, kind-hearted, stoic-in-the-face-of-his-prophesied-death, all around upstanding and moral dude. But homeboy is, to be frank, a bit of an ass at first. He was manipulative, rude, zealous, and conniving for most of the first half of the book. As his background and personality starts to show up more, however, it’s realized that it’s all a front, and really he’s scared, confused, and trying to be this image that he created for the public that isn’t really himself. At some points, Io became the shore to cling to when Titus was thrown around by all the events, and I loved how their relationship started forming through that.

As for the romance – I have mixed feelings. Some part of me says YES OMG I SHIP IT but there’s a little bit of my head that says, “but where was the chemistry?” At certain points in the book I felt it was more of a “these two will fall in love because I said so” trope. But as the plot progressed I started to see those little sparks more and more, and by the end I had completely turned to the YES OMG I SHIP IT part of my brain.

There were a few other things that I could nitpick at (I was confused by the magic at times *personal issue*, the plot seemed to dart around a bit and not settle down, and the big battle could have been a bit more bombtastic), but overall I really enjoyed the story. I’m not freaking out quite yet – I wasn’t gasping for The Perilous Sea, but I’m pleased by the entire experience and with patiently await the release date whereupon I will fetch my copy and settle in for what is sure to be an action-packed sequel.

My Final Rating:

Four stars