Book Reviews

Book Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

27190613Published: June 28th, 2016 by Delacorte Press.

Format: Hardcover, 475 pages.

Goodreads Summary: No one expects a princess to be brutal. And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

Thoughts: And I Darken follows two siblings who find themselves prisoners of the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s. It is most notably described as a gender bend of Vlad the Impaler, a brutal ruler of what is now known as Romania. As soon as I heard about this novel I couldn’t click ‘read’ fast enough. It’s refreshing to see YA branching out and covering a topic of history that not many people know about. Kiersten White has done her research, for the book stays consistent in historical accuracy throughout. While reading, I felt like I learned more regardless of my prior knowledge of this time in history. It’s fascinating! The author has mentioned that she will take more creative liberties in the next two books to make her story work.

Our two main characters captured my attention instantly. Ladislav is an unattractive young woman fighting to be a warrior in a man’s world. She demands respect and breaks every rule of the Ottoman court as she attempts to return to her homeland. On the other side of the coin, her brother Radu must find strength in a different way. Although he has the benefit of being a handsome male, Radu is punished for his kindness which many around him perceive as a weakness. Unlike his sister, he finds a place in the Ottoman Empire despite other misfortunes. Lada and Radu both find themselves at the mercy of their emotions and this acts a catalyst for much of the novel. They will work with and against each other to secure their place in this society. Both characters are complex and illustrate important gender themes highlighted within the novel.

“As the baby latched on with surprising fierceness, the nurse offered her own prayer.
Let her be strong.
Let her be sly.
And let her be ugly.”

And I Darken transports readers into a vivid world of castles surrounded by mountains and ornate buildings containing harems. The writing was dense, but this seemed fitting for the story. When I was reading I was completely enveloped by the setting and found it difficult to pull myself out of it. I will admit that the plot is slow and meticulous. Therefore, it requires your utmost attention as every sentence reveals pieces of the story. Knowing this, And I Darken may not be for everyone. The first book covers a large amount of time in the span of roughly 500 pages. The Conquerors Saga will consist of three books, the next one releasing in Summer of 2017. For readers who enjoy Historical Fiction, Fantasy, or YA this is a novel you don’t want to miss. This brutal novel will gut you.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little LifePublished: March 10th, 2015 by Doubleday.

Format: Hardcover, 720 pages.

Goodreads Summary: When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

Thoughts: I didn’t know what to do with myself after finishing this novel. My heart is still heavy with a sorrow so profound that it has enveloped me. It took me six months to complete this story, and I have no regrets.

Although this novel follows the lives of four friends fresh out of college, you will learn quickly that the story centers mostly around Jude. He is the most secretive of the bunch and must carry memories full of terror and devastation that latch onto him like a parasite. I hadn’t discovered this novel until about a year after it was published and realized that it had made its way onto the best-sellers list for 2015. Unlike many others, I went into this book completely blind after hearing such high praise from reviewers and readers alike. Everything about this story is devastating. The story, characters, and, prose have been permanently seared into my mind. Fair warning: This book is not easy to digest. It contains references to self-harm, physical and psychological abuse, sexual abuse, and other triggering subjects.

With all that said, the darkness presented by this story doesn’t make it any less beautiful. Hanya Yanagihara has written a book about life in it’s most raw and unsettling form. This is story about the importance of friendship and how much power it does and doesn’t have. The friendships layered within are steadfast, broken, envious, and above all, honest. I suggest that you read this book slowly because it’s woven together so intricately. It’s a work of art, really. I have heard some readers complain about the sheer size of this book, but I believe that every word has a role, and it all works together to create a story that is utterly poetic. From the first page it’s easy to become enthralled in the story of Jude, Willam, Malcolm, and JB, with the people they meet along the way.

“Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?”

This is not a book you can just pick up and read. It requires your utmost attention and will fold your insides in on themselves, until everything aches. My tears were relentless in their flow and there were moments so relatable that I thought the author had gotten into the deepest parts of my mind somehow. I have never cried so hard in my life. It was constant. –I can’t stop thinking about this novel and it has jumped to my number one spot for favorite books. Although A Little Life is difficult to read and full of strong emotion that forces you to confront all that is ugly in this world, it is exquisite. This character driven novel keeps you invested until the very last word. If you get a chance to read this one, I highly recommend it for those who are ready. Hanya Yanagihara has written a novel so raw and poignant. One that tries hard to discover the good things in life. This novel will stick with me for the rest of my own little life, and makes me want to be a better person. Isn’t that all we can hope for?

“…things get broken, and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.”

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To My Reader

Rating System

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5 leaves: The highest rating that can be given. The novel was spectacular for reasons to be explained. A book I highly recommend and can see myself rereading sometime.

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4 leaves: The novel was good. It was extremely well written, and the characters and world were impressive. This rating means that although the story wasn’t perfect I will still look for more written by this author.

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3 leaves: Liked the story for the most part, but it was nothing special. This rating is given to novels that could have added more in terms of characters, world building, or plot. The book is promising. More detail regarding rating will be given in review.

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2 leaves: A rating given to novels that aren’t that interesting or special. It probably isn’t recommended unless you can find it somewhere for free.

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1 leaf: The lowest rating that can be given. I didn’t enjoy the book at all and wouldn’t recommend it.

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Book Reviews

Book Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

29044Published: April 13th 1992 by Vintage.

Format: Paperback, 628 pg.

Goodreads Summary: Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

Thoughts: This is one of those books that when you began, it grabs ahold of your imagination and doesn’t let you go, not even after you finish reading. Donna Tartt is an impeccable writer. The Secret History is by all means a contemporary story about six college students, but beneath it all there is a sense of mystery and magic. I still can’t wrap my head around it. The book has this 19th century feel that will captive readers. And even though I thought the story was long, I wanted to absorb every word.

“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

While reading I couldn’t help but think that our main character Richard Papen was too ordinary to be the story’s narrator. He was bland in the presence of others around him. His fellow students, extraordinary professor, and even the secondary characters were more interesting to read about at times. Why wasn’t the main character so much more? The more I think about it the more I understand. The was the entire point. Donna Tartt wanted readers to see just how different everyone else carried themselves. How much more dynamic the other students were. Think of it this way. Richard Papen is to The Secret History what Nick Carraway was to The Great Gatsby. He’s just the story teller.

The Secret History is an incredibly dark tale that incorporates the literary influence of many of today’s classics. Get ready to want to read the Iliad by Homer after this. In the end, a close group of friends are bonded by something more than just their studies. When you think the story is going one way Donna Tartt spins everything on its head. This is a novel that is able to balance beauty and dread in equal measure. A must read.

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What do you think?

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