Monday, 22 October 2018

THE GRISHA TRILOGY - by Leigh Bardugo

( A huge thank you to Pan Macmillan SA for sending me these beautiful books in exchange for an honest review )

I first read this trilogy last year and really enjoyed it. When Pan Macmillan were kind enough to send me these new editions, I jumped at the chance to re-read them. Since I've already done separate reviews for each book, however, this post is an overall "review" of the whole series, in a different review format. Hope you like reading it :)

Bardugo is one of my favourite authors. The amazing thing about these new editions, apart from the gorgeous covers, is also the awesome bonus content inside. There are interviews with Leigh about her writing process and this specific story and characters, a sneak peek of Six of Crows, and lots more. Please read this trilogy! And get these editions! They're incredible.

This post does not contain spoilers.

I love Leigh Bardugo's writing. But her style in this book is quite different from what you might have read in her other books, notably the Six of Crows duology. The pov is first person past tense, from Alina's perspective, and there's a lot of telling instead of showing. For the first book, especially, Bardugo seems to struggle to get inside Alina's head. The perspective is rather removed.

The writing certainly improves as the series continues, and the dialogue is always flawless; witty, funny, emotional, banter on point, it's all wonderful. But the telling instead of showing is frustrating.

The story is never boring, but there isn't a lot of action. In all three books the action comes mainly at the midpoint and then at the climax, and rest of the story is mainly dialogue and character interactions. I'm not complaining - just pointing it out. And because Bardugo is Bardugo, there's also a few lovely twists along the way that you can look forward to :)

The one big issue I have with the series' plot overall, is that Alina doesn't necessarily drive it. Most of the time it isn't actually her choices and actions that bring about the incidents and move the story forward. Sometimes they're just random, or other characters get involved. I wish Alina was "more to blame" for everything that happens.

But despite the issues, every book is still immensely fun and entertaining.

I love the characters. I think they're the highlight of the series. With Bardugo, there really are no small characters; everrone is so vivid, compelling, and fully-realised. You're never left wondering "who's this again?" because with clever details, dialogue, and action, Bardugo shows you exactly who is who. They’re also very memorable.

Alina is a terrific heroine. She's the definition of an underdog. Her grumpiness, pessimism, awkwardness, and general insignificance is refreshing, and I relate to her personality a lot.
While in Book 1 she starts out as the unwilling "Chosen One", she reluctantly rises to the responsibility in Book 2 and undergoes strong character growth and development. Book 2 also finds her grappling with the pull of darkness and writhing under the Darkling's influence. In Book 3, she finally comes into herself.

The rest of the cast is amazing, too. So are their friendships. Book 2 introduces the lead ensemble, and from then on we see a lot more of the colourful group: Tolya, Tamar, Genya, David, Nadia, and of course Mal and Nikolai.
Ah. Nikolai. I'm sure you've heard of the privateer who's probably every bookworm's book boyfriend since the day he arrived on the page. Well, he's fantastic. Dashing, hilarious, smart, and the hero of the upcoming King of Scars.

I admit, there are no two characters I'm shipping wildly in this trilogy. In the first book, it's a slight love triangle - Mal, Alina, and the Darkling - but since the Darkling's relationship with Alina is kinda abusive, it's really her and Mal who are the focus. They're friends, although Alina's always had a crush on him, and their relationship slowly develops into something more as he comes to acknowledge his own growing feelings for her.
In Book 2, Nikolai enters the romantic scene, the Darkling's feelings for Alina intensify, and Mal and Alina go through a hang of a lot of relationship drama and angst. But Bardugo handles it well. Mal's a jerk at times, but Alina's hiding stuff from him. Nikolai wants Alina because of political diplomacy, but the Darkling wants her because of their shared darkness. It's a messy, but it's all well written.
In Book 3, Mal and Alina are cautiously growing back together, Alina is breaking free of the Darkling's clutches, and Alina and Nikolai's relationship is growing stronger despite some horrific turns of events. I'm not going to spoil the end, so I'll leave it at that. But it's all so good ;)

What I love most about the romance in this series is how Bardugo handles all the guys wanting Alina. It would be easy for her to fall into that trap of "all the male characters are falling over themselves for the perfect girl no one can help but fall in love with", but she doesn't. Because everyone is so flawed, and because Alina is so unpretentious, the romances feel human and down to earth (well, as down to earth as fantasy can be). It's not a matter of the Mary Sue everyone falls head over heels in love with. Thank goodness!

Bardugo is a master at creating worlds. The one in this trilogy is Ravka, inspired by 1800s Russia, and it's dark, bleak, and deliciously atmospheric. With every book we get to see more of the world (Bardugo takes us to courts, towns, oceans, mountains, underground communities, and even misty graveyards) and every scene is lavish, rich, and seething with character. Haunting, Gothic, dangerous, and chilling - it's startlingly unique and vividly breathed to life.

In Book 2, we also get to see a lot more of the politics and social structures in the culture.

Have you read this trilogy? What did you think of it? Are you a fan of Leigh Bardugo?

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Weekly What's Up - The One With Writer's Block

This week, I had writer's block. Thankfully it only lasted till Thursday, but that still meant that my Robin Hood retelling hit some major snags and is definitely not gonna be ready for NaNo. So I've turned back to my Peter Pan retelling. It actually works out well because I wrote the first draft of it for NaNo last year, and so this year it'll be the second draft. 

As annoyed and frustrated as I am about my Robin Hood story, I'm excited to go back to Peter Pan. Sometime in the future I will definitely go back to Robin Hood, but for now it's being pushed back.  

Posts of the Week

Currently Reading

Not loving Spinning Silver, just started Lying To You, and re-reading Ruin and Rising.

For Review

I received a beautiful hardcover of this book, which is the sequel to the magical Nevermoor. Can't wait to read it!

How was your week? What are you reading and watching? 

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

OCEAN'S EIGHT - 2018 action comedy thriller film

Director: Gary Ross.
Cast: Sandra Bullock / Cate Blanchett / Mindy Kaling / Anne Hathaway / Sarah Paulson / Richard Armitage / Rihanna / Helena Bonham Carter / Awkwafina / James Corden.
Score: Daniel Pemberton.
Cinematography: Eigil Bryld.
Content Advisory: PG13 for drugs, mild language, and some suggestive content.
Source: Rented.

Debbie Ocean gathers an all-female crew to attempt an impossible heist at New York City's yearly Met Gala.

I have been ecstatic about this film since the day it was announced. Even when the critics didn't like it, I floated on a cloud of rose-tinted expectation. It just sounded too perfect to fail.

The cinematography is brilliant, atmospheric, and very appropriate to the story and setting it explores. The soundtrack is punchy, and the costumes are absolutely divine. I love how each outfit is so thoughtfully chosen for the character wearing it - considering that the script doesn't give much in terms of character depth and development, the costumes are very much needed. They're colourful, elegant, and speak volumes about the characters' personalities. Each piece is entirely on point.

The script is far from perfect. The writing isn't witty, particularly clever, or humorous, and as for the plot, there's very little tension or thrills. It lacks brilliance and intelligence. I also think that the "con within a con" aspect, which is to be expected from any good heist movie (and works beautifully in Ocean's Eleven), falls flat because it's sloppily implemented and rushed. I was never totally sold on the "big twist", simply because of the way it was executed.

There's also no real threat, or at least there's not enough urgency. It's too casual. Obviously, the worst case scenario is that the characters go to prison, and yet that is never truly felt by anyone, except maybe with the exception of Debbie. The difference with her is that we're given her back story and we can feel sympathy for her because we know where she's coming from. With the rest of the characters, we don't actually see what they have to lose. Thus, the fact that they could be caught doesn't seem like a big deal.

The acting is excellent. Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett are effortlessly slick and smooth, Cate Blanchett is easily my favourite of the cast, and that restaurant scene between Debbie and Lou towards the start of the film is superb; when Blanchett asks "Why do you need to do this?" and Bullock answers 'because it's what I'm good at", I got goosebumps. The script is weak, but it's their delivery of the lines that makes the scene so powerful.

Unfortunately, though, the characters aren't well written. No one is three-dimensional, no one has any real depth, and the characters are pigeon-holed into their roles in the heist.  There's the hacker, the fence, the jeweller, etc etc, and even the hints of backstory and personality we get to see aren't substantial. It's a huge waste; the actresses clearly have the range - now give them something with which to work.

Not even stunning visuals and wonderful female leads can pull off Ocean's Eight. It's a con without thrills, smarts, and urgency, which makes it nothing more than a casual action flick.

Monday, 15 October 2018


Published: February 2018 - Raven Books.
Genres: Mystery / thriller / historical / magical realism
Pages: 512.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Gory descriptions / violence / mild sexual innuendoes.
Format: eARC.
Source: Netgalley.
How do you stop a murder that’s already happened? At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed--again. She's been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden's only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle's murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend--but nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

At first I wasn't in love with Turton's writing because the sentence structure felt long-winded and awkward. But as the story continues, it definitely smooths out. Before long I was utterly enamoured with the prose - the vivid details, the excellent dialogue. To give you an example: "The evening meal is lit by candlelabra and beneath their flickering glow lies a graveyard of chicken bones, fish spines, lobster shells and pork fat. The curtains remain undrawn despite the darkness beyond, granting a view toward the forest being whipped by the storm."
It's all incredibly immersive and tangible.

Speaking of which, the story is also so atmospheric. It's Gothic, very dinner-party Agatha-Christie-esque. I wouldn't recommend reading the book in short sessions with many intervals between, because to really get into the story, you need to give yourself time to be immersed.  Then you can truly appreciate the lush, haunting setting, and the beguiling sense of foreboding dripping from each scene. It'll totally absorb you if you give it a chance.

The plot is brilliant. There are a ton of twists, many layers to the story, and the author is a genius. However, it is confusing.  You really have to concentrate and you can't afford to switch off - even  for a second. I tried my best, but by the end I was still a bit bewildered by the actual mystery. It's a lot to take it and a lot to retain from start to finish. 

 What does a child who has everything want?" 
More, like everyone else. 

❝ Every man is in a cage of his own making."

 What kind of mind makes theatre of murder?

The cast is big, but everyone is vivid, colourful, and extremely compelling. They're all hiding something, and they're all anti-heroes and anti-heroines wearing metaphorical masks. It's sublime.

Initially, I was concerned that the protagonist changing persons every few chapters wouldn't work, but the author handles it so well by fleshing out each personality and making their point of views distinct. In the hands of someone else, it could have been a train wreck. But Turton handles it thoughtfully and carefully.

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a mesmerising Agatha Christie-type mystery.  It might take you a while to get into it, but if you stick with it for long periods of time, you'll soon be drawn into the spellbinding world of these illusive characters. 

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Weekly What's Up - The One With All The Productivity

As usual, I'm writing this post on Friday, and right now I am so so happy that the week's over! I'm exhausted - writing has sapped my energy and staying up past midnight every night hasn't helped either. But at the same time, I feel like I've accomplished a fair bit this week. I have done so much outlining and work on my WIP (which includes a heck ton of re-outlining and fixing stuff as well) and I've even gotten back into bookstagram photo-taking. Hopefully that lasts! Ha.

Because of all the writing, I've hardly read anything and I've barely watched Netflix. It actually feels good :)

Posts of the Week

Currently Reading

I'm buddy-reading Spinning Silver with Di, but otherwise I've hardly touched a book this week.

Around the Blogosphere

How was your week? What are you reading and watching?