Book/Audiobook Review: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

vassa-in-the-nightTitle:  Vassa in the Night

Author:  Sarah Porter

Genre:  Young Adult Fantasy/Re-Telling

Release Date:  September 20th, 2016

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…

Summary from Goodreads.com

My Review:  This is one of those books that kept popping up in my Goodreads and Amazon pages as suggested reads and I thought it looked interesting, but man there are some very mixed reviews about it out there so I was a little hesitant.  I downloaded the audiobook and started that way, which I think was good since the book was a little slow to start in the beginning.  The narrator did a fantastic job though and I loved her voice and pace as the novel unfolded.  I ended up half listening half reading the book because there were some events that I could not wait until I had to get back into the car to listen too.

Vassa in the Night is based off a Russian Folktale, Vasilisa the Beautiful, that I had actually not heard of before.  I did not read it before this book either, because I wanted to just go into it not really knowing a whole lot about it. Which in hindsight might have not been the best idea because I was thoroughly confused for the first few chapters of this book and reading the folktale might have helped with that.  On the other hand, I think this book is meant to be a little fantastical, so some confusion might have been normal.

Vassa herself was very interesting character, lost after the death of her mother, she does not really know where she belongs.  Except for her doll that has been her companion for six years, she feels alone. The book explores her ability to find out who she is and what she is going to choose to stand up and fight for.  She is stumbling through life at the moment and as readers we are right there with her trying to navigate the world she is in and the obstacles she faces that seem impossible much of the time, but then have very simple solutions.  She has quite a bit of help from unexpected places as well, to guide her to her ultimate end goal.

While the magical elements of the novel were no surprise to me, the amount of bloodshed did catch me a little off guard.  I guess it shouldn’t have, since outside the BY’s store there are detached heads on pikes, but the first half of the book did not have a lot of things happen that were bloody.  The second half though, there are quite a few moments that were pretty gruesome.  Not stomach turning, but just things I did not expect.  It took on a darker tone than the first half of the book.

Reading this review, I know I am not describing the book very much, but honestly, I could not do that in a simple review.  There is way too much happening in this book and giving all of those details away would just ruin it I think.  I liked this book, I did not love it.  I really did not love the ending, but I read that there might be another book in this world eventually which I think is necessary.  If you want to read something that is very different from anything else out there right now and just strange, then I would give this book a try.  I would read the folktale it is based on first, just so you have some idea of what is going to unfold as you enter this world.  I will be watching to see if there is a sequel in the future.

 

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Book Review: The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken

the-darkest-mindsTitle:  The Darkest Minds

Author: Alexandra Bracken

Genre:  Young Adult Science Fiction

Release Date: December 18th, 2012

When Ruby woke up on her tenth birthday, something about her had changed. Something frightening enough to make her parents lock her in the garage and call the police. Something that got her sent to Thurmond, a brutal government “rehabilitation camp.” She might have survived the mysterious disease that had killed most of America’s children, but she and the others emerged with something far worse: frightening abilities they could not control.

Now sixteen, Ruby is one of the dangerous ones. When the truth comes out, Ruby barely escapes Thurmond with her life. She is on the run, desperate to find the only safe haven left for kids like her—East River. She joins a group of kids who have escaped their own camp. Liam, their brave leader, is falling hard for Ruby. But no matter how much she aches for him, Ruby can’t risk getting close. Not after what happened to her parents. When they arrive at East River, nothing is as it seems, least of all its mysterious leader. But there are other forces at work, people who will stop at nothing to use Ruby in their fight against the government. Ruby will be faced with a terrible choice, one that may mean giving up her only chance at having a life worth living.’

Summary from Goodreads.com 

My Review:  I picked up the Darkest Minds because I saw the news that is was going to be made into a movie, which always intrigues me, and I loved Passenger by Alexander Bracken, and wanted to see what some of her other books were like.  The concept is quite interesting and heartbreaking at the same time.  All of these poor children, who have survived a massive plague, only to be ripped from their families and put into camps where they are tortured and killed is not an easy thing to read about.  Our main character, Ruby, was an amazing heroine.  She has been put through hell, and when she comes out of it, she reacts realistically to situations.  She does not magically transform and become better, but slowly comes into her own and gets her strength from within.  I loved her, I loved how she matured and grew through this book and came to understand how strong she truly is.

There is a slow building romance in this book between Ruby and Liam, which was pretty adorable.  I loved Liam, he tries so hard to take care of everyone around him first, but he has it bad for Ruby.  It is pretty apparent from the beginning, but she is just too traumatized from everything going on to let that fire burn too quickly, which I appreciated.  Ruby has been through a lot, and she needed to sort through many issues on her own before she could let someone else in to her world.

I absolutely loved the secondary characters as well, Chubs and Zu, they added comic relief in very tense moments, but were also well developed.  I thought they made such an impact on the story and I loved all the page time that both of them got.

The only thing I would say negatively is that I thought it was a little too long.  At almost 500 pages, it is a longer book and I do not think it needed to be that long to get across everything that was portrayed.  I will be interested to see what it looks like when it is made into a movie, because I think it will speed up the plot and help move things along at a better pace.

Overall, I liked the Darkest Minds.  I thought it was a good read and honestly I have already finished the series, so while I may have minor issues with it, I did enjoy the series as a whole.  I wish someone had picked out a better cover for this series though, because you really have no idea what kind of book you are getting with this cover and it does not do the contents of the book justice at all.  Now that I have finished with this series, I will be anxiously awaiting whatever Bracken will be writing next.

 

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Book Review: Of Beast and Beauty by Stacey Jay

Of Beast and BeautyTitle: Of Beast and Beauty

Author: Stacey Jay

Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/Fairy Tale

Release Date:  July 23rd, 2013

In the beginning was the darkness, and in the darkness was a girl, and in the girl was a secret…

In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra, a Smooth Skin, is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s vitality. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people, the Monstrous, from starvation. Neither dreams that together, they could return balance to both their worlds.

Isra wants to help the city’s Banished people, second-class citizens despised for possessing Monstrous traits. But after she enlists the aid of her prisoner, Gem, who has been captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses, she begins to care for him, and to question everything she has been brought up to believe.

As secrets are revealed and Isra’s sight, which vanished during her childhood, returned, Isra will have to choose between duty to her people and the beast she has come to love.

-Summary from Goodreads.com 

My Review:  I am a sucker for retelling and fairy tales. I read Princess of Thorns by this author and loved it, so after I finished that I immediately got my hands on this book. Of Beast and Beauty puts a sci-fi twist on Beauty and the Beast that I found fascinating. It took place in a world where the god, for lack of a better way to describe it, is split in two, one good and one evil. Interestingly enough, the evil spirit watches over the “smooth skins” who are people without blemish (for the most part) and live within the only cities left surrounded by walls to keep others out.  There are monarchs that rule in these lands and every so often the queen must sacrifice herself to keep their lands prosperous. The good half of the spirit has been suppressed for far too long and has left for the lands outside of the walled cities to live in a wasteland.  The “monsters” who live in those desert lands starve and perish very quickly. To break the curse in this world a smooth skin has to fall in love with a “monster” and after that happens all the lands will be prosperous again. Too bad neither of them ever see one another and hate each other fiercely. Enter, Gem and Isra.

Watching the two interact together and slowly learn not to hate one another was so sweet. These two have centuries of embedded hatred for each other’s people to overcome. Once they can start to get past that and slowly appreciate each other is when it really starts to get interesting. I loved the slow build of the romance and how the two of them learned more about themselves as they got to know one another.

I loved the world itself and all of the legends and interesting mythology that came with it. Overall, just a great read.

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