Review – Six of Crows

Six of Crows

by Leigh Bardugo

Synopsis

A convict with a thirst for revenge. A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager. A runaway with a privileged past. A spy known as the Wraith. A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.  A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker is offered a chance at the most dangerous heist yet that can make him richer than rich. But he cannot do it alone. He and his crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first, that is.

Overview

One of the best books I’ve read this month. So glad I picked up this little beaut. I do believe I have been caught under Bardugo’s spell. I’m completely enraptured. My life was consumed for five solid days reading this book. With no wifi and a need to lock myself away from the world for a bit, I devoured this in five separate sittings with sides of coffee and emotional breakdown sessions in between, inflicted by the very book itself. Consider me a part of the Grishaverse fandom and one of Leigh’s recently recruited fans!

 

Kaz leaned back. “What’s the easiest way to steal a man’s wallet?”
“Knife to the throat?” asked Inej.
“Gun to the back?” said Jesper.
“Poison in his cup?” suggested Nina.
“You’re all horrible,” said Matthias.

 

Bardugo has created a masterpiece of a world. And not your typical high fantasy recreation, either. No, it is much more than that. The Grishaverse is a treasure among the reigning worlds of fantasy authors, on par with the likes of Westeros and Middle Earth. It incorporates everything world building desires – the engagement of languages and cultures with its own politics (Fjerdan, Kerch, the Grisha, so many), a flawed but lovable cast of characters (namely Kaz, the Wraith, Nina, god I love them all),  a twisty and evolving plot, pinches of humour and romance coupled with the epic and emotional, memorable quotes, and a revolving perspective that shows steady character development yet somehow keeps the reader on board without the confusion so often found in changing POV narrative. And so much more. You will find yourself growing attached to Kaz before you realize it. You feel pangs for the bad guy who was once a good guy. One moment you are reading about a fragmented soul damaged by his younger years, the next you are behind the cruel Dirtyhands and understanding his controversial actions, hoping for him and his motley crew to survive the intricacies of the Ice Court and outdo the competition to a point where it rules your everyday life – in the shower, washing the dishes, walking to the bus stop; all the time, your thoughts go back to Kaz and his crew, until its all you can think of and you need to know – just know for your own well-being- that they pull off the impossible heist, and just like that the book draws you back in. Always the Grishaverse has its hooks in you.

As I’ve stated before, one of the most important aspects of a book is its characters, and this story delivers. I even managed to feel for Wylan, actually, who could be described as somewhat of a lesser character. Wylan serves as a useful Grishaverse guide, walking us through the world as a simple merchling, occasionally giving us chapters seen from the newbie perspective. Ideal, I think, for those new to the Grishaverse. But a character I liked more so was the Wraith, or more arguably the idea – an assassin-like spy surrounded by a built legend but equally just as human, her ‘Saints’ an intriguing aspect of Suli culture, to say the least. When I read a book I like to feel invested in character interactions and relationships, too, and not necessarily the romantic kind. I loved the trust between Kaz and Inej, and enjoyed their exchanges, my fangirl heart skipping a beat when [spoiler] Brekker rescued his Wraith last minute at the Ketterdam dockside [spoiler]. Small things like that make characters much more precious to me. Lord knows I’m officially a Kazej shipper of some sort now. (‘Kazej’, that a thing?)

 

“I’m a business man,” he’d told her. “No more, no less.”
“You’re a thief, Kaz.”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”

 

Nor does Six of Crows ring with quite the same vibe as Leigh’s Grisha trilogy, either. I can see now why everyone hops aboard the hype train for its sequel Crooked Kingdom. This is a darker approach than Shadow and Bones, exploring a different place, a different assortment of cultures, a different arrangement of characters – Six of Crows is full of greys, ignoring the black and white and creeping into the Grishaverse’s deeper, darker crevices, presenting to us an insight into previously uncharted areas outside Ravka. I prefer this series to be honest. Would recommend!

 

Off topic, but completely relevant (or so I tell myself)

I would also like to show you a certain picture, taken from this post I discovered on Leigh Bardugo’s own tumblr blog. Ahem. Yes, spit at tumblr all you want, but you know it’s where all the authors are at. Tumblr has evolved beyond hipsters these days.

kaz-brekker

Just take a moment to visualize it. Kaz Brekker in the image of Luke Evans. Yes, I said it. Luke Evans. As our antihero Kaz Brekker. Go on. The brooding stare and well-fitted suit, that chiseled face and devilish flair. You know you can see it. Look at him all smart and fabulous. A real treasure. All Luke needs is those mysterious gloves and a murdery glint in the eye. Or do you already see it?

If you haven’t read Six of Crows, go on and digest it and then come back to ogle at this here beauty. And on a further side note, you’d be surprised how big a fandom this book has. (And how big a fan it now has).

 

 

Review – Shiver

Shiver

by Maggie Stiefvater

Synopsis

For years, Grace watches the wolves in the woods behind her house. One wolf in particular, a yellow eyed one, is a presence she feels drawn to. This teenage girl falls in love with the supernatural creature, and risks life and limb to be with him.

 

Overview

Not for me, I’ve decided. Enjoyable for some, yes, but there’s something about the story. It screams Twilight. Actually, it takes me back to a book called Fallen – something I’ll never read again and with good reason. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good werewolf story, and love reading an ol’ supernatural tale especially, but no, not with this book. I feel like Maggie tried to be a Stephenie Meyer. On Goodreads you’ll notice I gave it a two star. This is for several reasons.

1.

Characters are paramount in any book. I don’t care what else you throw in there, it’s the characters that hook me first. It’s the protagonist and antagonist that first reels me in. But these characters… I feel like I’ve read them all before.

Let’s take a look at our broody protagonist, Sam. Werewolf Sam. Sam, who wants to eat his true love at first sight, and Sam who is rude and impolite to everyone despite being apparently a cashier (how he has that job is beyond me), ignoring everyone, including Grace may I add, and who I can only compare to an ’emo’ through and through (forgive my stereotypical branding of the character, but it really is what comes into my head). He writes bad songs and broods so constantly its like he invented the term. Okay, so maybe he improves a little, but it’s like someone took Edward Cullen and recreated him as a werewolf. Perhaps Maggie was a ‘Team Jacob’ supporter, who decided to write out a Bella and Jacob version in the form of Sam and Grace.

She draws patterns on my face / These lines make shapes that can’t replace / the version of me that I hold inside/ when lying with you, lying with you, lying with you.

Just look at that masterpiece of a lyrical work. Good job, Sam. Really. Totally feeling it.

Parts of Sam also remain unexplained to me, such as how he remembers Grace although werewolves do not remember being the wolf, though in the book’s defense I suppose this is all because of ‘true love’ and the romantic impact Grace apparently has on him.

2.

This is something I also find hard to digest – the romance. What is the romance? I feel like there is little chemistry bubbling there for Sam and Grace. I realise they share no hobbies, no common interest, no twin desires to search for something or protect something.

If Sam had saved Grace from being eaten by the wolves, maybe then I would understand. Maybe then I could see the beginnings of why this romance takes place. But he doesn’t. He wants to eat her. (Remind you of anything? Twilight maybe? Ed lusting for Bell’s blood? No? Alrighty.)

Contrariwise, you could argue Grace’s adoration of her wolf is what links them together. But why? And what exactly does Sam see in Grace? This never becomes completely apparent for me. I struggled with shipping this ship. I think the relationship certainly has its good points – Grace accepts Sam for who he is right at the beginning, and they do show care for each other the further you read into the book, but it’s like something is missing. There is no solid connection. Just Grace’s attraction to ‘her wolf’. Doesn’t quite cut it for me. I’m sorry. I tried to like this ship.

3.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some hater. I try to justify my disliking of a book with reasons. As I said, characters are everything in a book and they are what draws me in primarily.

But there’s a far bigger problem. Characterization. I don’t really think there is much, if any, in this book. Sam is fleshed out a tad – he lost his father figure in the pack, he has the inner holding-on-to-humanity battle inside, he has the double lives, so on – but still I feel it is not enough. There could be so much more depth. There was potential for Sam.

Isabelle, I didn’t mind. I liked Isabelle. She was a decent side character, had good dialogue, she loved her brother, she refuses to believe he is dead and so has a right to embark on the whole ‘Grace knows something’ train. Naturally. After all, Grace has a special connection with the wolves. But doesn’t this say something, actually finding a minor character more interesting than our main characters?

Additionally, I cannot find any quotes to support the idea of character development. I see none. In fact, I’m not even quite sure what the plot of this book was. There was no conflict, no sort of quest, no real sense of story here. Not for me, anyway. It is entirely character-driven and no solid plot exists for it to be plot-driven in any way. The good outweighs the bad, and while this isn’t for me, it might be for some readers out there. Who knows.

Review – The Too-Clever Fox

The Too-Clever Fox

by Leigh Bardugo

Synopsis

In Ravka, just because you avoid one trap, it doesn’t mean you’ll escape the next. The cleverest fox in the forest is charged with stopping Ravka’s most perilous hunter to save the forest and its inhabitants.

Overview

An interesting little companion folktale to the Grishaverse with a moral at the centre of it as should be expected of any fable. Bit of an Aesop-esque vibe, I’d say.

This book caught my eye courtesy of its amazing cover. A nice little read. Would recommend to any fans of Bardugo’s – and even those who have never read one of her books before. You will love the clever little Koja.

I read this because of Six of Crows, initially. But I’m glad I did. It doesn’t necessarily enhance anything for you in the Grishaverse, just acts as a fun little side tale if you’re interested in the Grishaverse’s stories and such. And can I just say again… that cover though. Look at it.

the-too-clever-fox

Turning 20

No more ID checks, one would think, once you reach 20 in the UK. Unless of course you are graced with a baby face or a short height. I have one of those things – the short height, but it’s surely never my 5″3 level that makes the woman at the local Co-Operative doubt my age legitimacy. Nor could it be my face, which, I am told, reasonably looks like that of an adult. In truth, I don’t know what it is. But most people reckon I look older than 18. Most folks but for the woman at the local Co-Op.

Let’s call her ‘Janet’. She looks like a Janet. Janet is in her 50s, I would say. Janet doesn’t like it when I bring a Smirnoff Ice or a bottle of wine to the counter to be bought. Maybe she gets it often by teens pretending to be over-18s. Or perhaps Janet just has trust issues. I don’t know. But despite my faithful service to the local Co-Op for the last eight years, Janet finds it hard to believe I have aged over the 18 mark. Why make such a fuss over this ID check when a lot of people go through it, Gwen? It’s just a few moments, right? It’s not like you aren’t actually 20.

Well, that’s just it. I am not 20. I don’t feel it anyway. I think there’s a big difference between being 20 and acting 20. Maybe I act like what is expected of a 20 year old (hangovers do not happen often for me, I’m organised enough to pass for 20, and I try to behave myself around everyone – if that’s not too bigheaded).

But I certainly do not want to be 20. I would have happily stopped at 17. Not just because I despise getting older, but because I no longer have an excuse for my silly little outbursts with my friends, or for liking video games and fantasy movies, or for telling people that my real dream would be to be a computer games artist or writer. Sure, I’m doing an English undergraduate degree, but even with that it still sounds a little childish when I tell my older relatives and friends of the same age that I want to be a writer or artist. It still feels like just what it is: a dream. And dreams are not for 20 year olds. Dreams are for children. Dreams are for that 17 year old Gwen, who is still a teenager and can get away with her dreamy remarks. Dreams have to be replaced with reality at 20. I have to ‘act my age’ which probably means say things my age too.

Can I still tell people that I’m a video game fanatic and wannabe writer? Can I still make these comments at my age and still seem like a sensible 20 year old? Perhaps it depends on the company. But to most, everyday people, I’m quite sure that while I act the 20 year old part, I do not always talk the 20 year old part. And I do not want to have to change for the rest of the world. I am happy being a childish little cat cuddler, avid gamer, lover of writing and wannabe author. I am happy to binge TV shows and obsess over older actors I’ll never marry and make gifs of fictional characters. I am happy living in my own little ageless world, but as a self-aware individual, I will not be happy if it all damages others’ perceptions of me. And so as I get older I find it increasingly harder to really be my age. In years I am 20, but at heart I’m still only 17. What do you have to act like, to be 20? What do you have to say, to be 20? Do you have to feel 20? I certainly don’t. Maybe I’ll never truly grow up. Who knows.

And back to Janet – the ID checks are more frequent now than ever before. My picture on my provisional license is very accurate. In fact, the small mini mole beside my mouth conforms its legitimacy. But Janet asks to check my ID twice. She will hand it back, and after applying NUS discount on my purchase, she’ll ask to just check it again. Every time. Without fail. Poor Janet. Maybe she should go to specsavers. Maybe I should give her some reassurance and tell her to match the mole to the photo on my license. At least Janet keeps me young – reminding me I don’t yet look 20, whatever that means. Can’t blame her for protecting her job, I guess.

Writer’s block – what to do?

That moment when your finger hovers over the keyboard, but nothing can be produced, a white blank wall cutting your imagination away from materialization. That flow of ideas doesn’t seem to come. The waterfall of motivation that usually channels into your writing has gone. You are in a tangled, thorny darkness of nothing, unable to give your words any worth or meaning, unable to make the ideas work somehow. The worlds you have built with your writing are inaccessible at this troubling time, and anything you try to add to them just doesn’t seem right. Not even the coffee is doing its job. The books you fill your time with aren’t spurring any thought for your own. That need to be your inner author is there, but its just a void, and the nightmare that is the writer’s block has returned in a storm of terror.

I get writer’s block often. When I do, I turn to my favourite authors and my sketchbooks. Normally that does the job – that and a wander around Waterstones, where I breath in some shelves and books outside my normal reading field, or a trip to Costa where I read something on my kindle. I even bought *Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer which only helps when I am so lost in the grips of writer’s block that I am drowning in a bath of Lush bathing products and a severe need for inspiration. Even then, it takes a while to get back on my author feet and return to the novel-in-progress. I dare say I’ve even experienced it on here when doing reviews, and hell, it comes to me mid-text on my phone at times. I think we all face writers block in some form or another – something not necessarily exclusive to writers. It probably affects me most when typing up essays, as I imagine it does for most students.

Often I’ve joked about writer’s block as some sort of equivalent to the bedtime monsters children are afraid of. In the author world, it reigns over us like a Jabberwocky, occasionally coming down to terrorize our worlds – even the champions of us – and then taking flight away again. But as much as I joke, it really is a big problem, affecting us day to day in the form of ‘what do I answer to that?’ or ‘how should I start this assignment?’ right down to what we should put in our planning let alone the novel itself. With the increase of social anxiety and insecurities among society and writers themselves, and especially the sort of darker parts of ‘writing culture’ where some authors feel it is acceptable to downgrade others’ work and rate it badly without even an inch of constructive criticism, it is no surprise writer’s block surfaces with a side effect of inner doubts, leaving us with no way to combat what we believe to be a terrible piece of work or a lack of motivation.

While we all recover from writer’s block differently, I’ve composed a few things that I do to help get myself back on track.

 

Writer’s block with the novel

As strange as it may sound, I think feedback often helps (given that you’ve begun to write something, having created at least a paragraph or so). Take my novel-in-progress for example. I have planned 45 chapters and written up 20 of them. When I feel like I cannot write anything of quality, or the writer’s block is so harsh I simply cannot formulate anything new, I turn to what feedback I have on my work in front of me. I look at the feedback and look at what needs changing. If I have none, I go get some feedback.

I think of ways to edit the work, rather than add to it. Often when we are planning or writing, we are doing so with the stimulation to create. But rather than creating, feedback allows for a mindset of editing – editing is merely to swap and to change, to fiddle with words and phrases and tweak pre-thought ideas as opposed to creating something brand new, like typing a new sentence or planning the next chapter. Editing is simply to find a synonym for that word, or insert that phrase in the second line rather than have it in the first because it flows better that way. It is handy to pause the ongoing efforts and retreat back to those earlier chapters, now knowing how you’ve written the later ones. You can suddenly see the effect of that foreshadowing in chapter 3, now reflected on what occurs in chapter 14. You can retrace your steps, and get a feel for your built world and characters again, and even a glance at planning sheets (or for me, sketchbooks filled with my characters and lands) can help a ton. Sometimes writer’s block isn’t as bad as you may feel it is. You may just need the vibe to be felt again.

 

Use your interests to fuel your invested interest

Your assignment, or your book, whatever your text of focus is, is your invested interest. You have put time and effort into this thing. You’ve researched it, you’ve got it to complete. Whether you wanted this assignment or not, it’s in your interests, because this is going to get you the grade you long for. Whether you wanted to have to write this tricky chapter or not, you’ve got it to do, because it’s a crucial part of your book’s structure.

So, turn to your own interests. Do you like certain books, certain films? Pick it up, or flick it on TV. (Word of warning- if it’s a TV show, make sure it’s an episode you’ve watched, or it’ll distract you far too much to help). Lend some ideas or inspiration from whatever you are watching or reading. Look at the way the conflict unfolds, or how the resolution is met. Read those bits of prose you really like the sound of. How can you manipulate it into the way you write? How can you see that style applying to your own work? Will you feel a lot happier and boosted by typing up your essay in front of your favourite TV show? This isn’t for everyone, but I find revisiting my favourite things helps improve my mood, which in turn improves my thinking process. And my motivation, in the long term.

 

Writing prompts 

Tumblr and Pinterest are best for this. I’m on a year-long break from Tumblr, but Pinterest replaces my writing prompt needs. In fact, I have a whole board dedicated to prompt pins. I go to it every week and write in response to a prompt I’ve picked from my board. I find this helps because it gets my thought process jogged along again, kicking my inner writer back into gear. Even if it’s only a small response to a prompt, I find it’s enough.

Sometimes we just need a shake up. What do I mean by shake up? Well, often we get too glued into our own created world we have made for our book-in-progress. We start thinking really heavily about the characters and their backgrounds and the dialogue and the plot and all that jazz. Writing our own book is dedication after all. We get consumed by our own writing. All we need is a break from our created worlds and characters, a chance to write something different and think outside our own little box we made for the novel. This is a shake up – a write up of something different, just to exercise and jog our writer minds. You will often go back to your story feeling a little fresher and open minded again, should this work for you.

 

Writing board

So for me, my writing board is an online pinboard on Pinterest. I call it ‘Book ideas’ and it is filled with so much stuff on everything I need to fuel my writing. It has prompts, tips, lists and all sorts of things I need to invent new ideas and world build. Take a look. I revisit it whenever writer’s block haunts me.

If you don’t do Pinterest, that’s fine. Pick up some paper or a notebook and mindmap that stuff. Maybe even browse Pinterest or Tumblr or something. Take notes. Write down what you find. Build up a writing ideas book. And revisit your little writer’s notebook whenever the block hits. Or go make a Pinterest account – takes two minutes – and create yourself a pinboard like I did. I know it sounds pointless, but believe me, if you are a dedicated writer and want your writer’s block to be chased away, it’s worth it and I believe it can really help. If you are so dire in your writer’s block that you actually want to look for ways to deal with it, you can find that on Pinterest too and slap it on your pinboard.

 

It’s okay to have Writer’s Block

On a last note, just remember that its okay to undergo a blank head. We all get a little block now and then. Sometimes we need a break from writing altogether. Maybe we need to start a new routine where we write once every two days. Sometimes we are still finding ways to manage the block. Either way, we all get it. It’s okay to take breaks. It’s good for you to take breaks. It took me a while to realise this. Life and other responsibilities means that we can’t always write every hour of every day, so it’s good to flex our minds elsewhere away from the rows of text on a Word document.

 

* Francine Prose. Writing a book about books, prose, writing. Francine Prose. Just take a moment to admire the irony and brilliance of this. No? Okay.

September Update

My apologies for such a late update! How long has it been, a month? Longer? Oops. Suffice to say I have had the busiest month! Work, my birthday (turning 20 is something I still remain in denial of – see this blog post here for that), more work, reading, procrastination, more reading, baking with new recipes, the loss of wifi for 12 days (a traumatic experience I can assure you) and, lastly, working on my novel-in-progress with a side dish of severe writer’s block (see this blog post for that).

Anywho, since I’ve practically missed out on a month’s post, that means I have more to share than I usually would. There are too many reviews for one post, so I’ve separated them into individual posts and will post them separately from now on. I’m a book binger, so I read at the least three books a month, generally one per week, so there’ll be plenty of reviews from now on.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time over on my Pinterest. I recently booked a tattoo which I may or may not include pictures of on here as a more personal post in future. Pinterest has been helping me create a design and idea of what I want. I’m a fan of neotraditional tattoos, so it will be in that style. But I digress.

I have also decided to start a monthly ‘stuffs’ post showcasing my latest clothing purchases, make up purchases, latest musical listening and book purchases. It will be a picture-packed post to look out for. Tomorrow I’ll be doing one such post.