10194157Shadow and Bone (The Grisha, #1) by Leigh Bardugo
Published: June 5th 2012 by Henry Holt and Co.
Pages: 358

Surrounded by enemies, the once-great nation of Ravka has been torn in two by the Shadow Fold, a swath of near impenetrable darkness crawling with monsters who feast on human flesh. Now its fate may rest on the shoulders of one lonely refugee.

Alina Starkov has never been good at anything. But when her regiment is attacked on the Fold and her best friend is brutally injured, Alina reveals a dormant power that saves his life—a power that could be the key to setting her war-ravaged country free. Wrenched from everything she knows, Alina is whisked away to the royal court to be trained as a member of the Grisha, the magical elite led by the mysterious Darkling.

Yet nothing in this lavish world is what it seems. With darkness looming and an entire kingdom depending on her untamed power, Alina will have to confront the secrets of the Grisha . . . and the secrets of her heart.
“I've been waiting for you a long time, Alina" He said. "You and I are going to change the world.”
Actual rating: 4.5 stars

When I first took a glance at the beautiful cover of Shadow and Bone, I couldn't miss the recommendation from Veronica Roth on the top. "Unlike anything I've ever read". I then shook my head with a loud sigh, as I have read countless other books that promised the same thing. Yet when I went ahead and began reading, the book captured my full attention. Not because of a particular character, but because of the complex world I was thrown into. A high-fantasy set in a time period which resembles late 18th century Russia. What's not to love?

With Shadow and Bone being the first book in a brilliant trilogy, it is partly a set-up of the world, the story and what's to come. Contrary to other books that chose to follow this slower-paced principle, I did not feel as bothered. The main reason for that has everything to do with the world. It lured me in with ease, as it felt like a breath of fresh air in the tangled web of repeating young-adult literature. It was complex, but everything a high-fantasy lover could want. The combination of the Russian influences and the enchanting Grisha society was my absolute highlight of the book. It immediately created the overall tone that set Shadow and Bone apart from others. I may have been overwhelmed by Russian-sounding terms in the beginning, but it was easy to get ahold on as you progress with the book.

Some stories teach us that we can expect the unexpected. Because Shadow and Bone's plot was rather slow-paced and primarely filled with world building and explanations, I did not really expect a huge plot twist later on in the book. Once it did, it altered the atmosphere and created lots of suspense. From then on, I started flipping the pages at an increasing speed. A whole lot had fallen into place, and I grew curious to know what could happen next. The book went into a surprising direction, resulting in what I thought was a rather predictable climax. To my surprise, this climax seemed to stretch out until the very last pages. The tension just kept piling up, another plot twist surfaced and before I knew it, I'd finished Shadow and Bone with wide eyes and an open mouth.

When Bardugo introduced us to the world of the Gisha, naturally a handful of characters had to come along. Even though the author didn't went too much into backstories, I got the impression that a lot of the characters were fleshed-out and well-developed. It applied to main characters such as the Darkling, but also to secondary characters like Genya, which I loved. It truly shows that everyone has a story to tell, no matter their importance in the story.

The main characters themselves were - besides the Darkling - your typical young-adult heroes. Aline was the fierce, sarcastic young girl who thinks of herself as dull and plain, and Mal the sweet best friend. It was certainly the reason why I applauded the Darkling's personality. He's not your standard character. Totalitarian, charming, dark, power-hungry. It brought along this thoroughly enjoyable, darker, sexier romance which was loaded with palapble tension.

As the overall atmosphere in the book changed because of a plot twist, so did my feeling towards certain characters, and I loved that. It was like the author was playing little mind games with her readers, which certainly kept things exiciting and added that tension for what's to come.

All in all, Shadow and Bone is a book I hadn't thought of ever encountering. Not only the intriguing world, but also the story, the characters and the romance were easy to fall for. As I have completely lost myself into the story of the Grisha, I can put this very simply: I'll have my hands on those sequels very soon.

This Is Where It Ends by Marieke Nijkamp
Published: January 5th 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire
Pages: 292

10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama's high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

The auditorium doors won't open.

Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student's calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.
“And I know the auditorium may be big enough to hold a thousand students, but it's too small to hide just one.”
Well, it sure comes as a surprise that This Is Where It Ends took a lot longer to read than I intended. Usually when one takes so long to read, it was a bit too easy to set the book down. There were no long reading sessions, nor did I sit on the edge of my chair. What I first expected to be a thrill ride with lots of emotion, left me feeling numb.

I wanted to love this book more than anything else. The amazing premise set my hopes high, only to be disappointed afterwards. School shootings are more current than ever, with Columbine and Sandy Hook as most-known. It's intriguing and controversial, but lured me in very easily. Although it started off with a bang (pun intended), this book turned so shallow so quickly. Nijkamp failed miserably in portraying a realistic school shooting. I have never witnessed one, nor do I have any experience with it, but the whole situation was kind of hard to believe. There was so much Black-and-White Thinking, it completely left no depth nor complexity for something so emotionally gripping. No shooter is born evil, or is all just evil. There is much more behind a person than being evil, and the shooter was in no way portrayed like that. Readers get the impression that he's a monster and there is nothing to do to save him. All it did, was causing cringe-worthy scenes where a significant other tried to convince the shooter that he can be changed.

At first the writing style appealed to me. As soon as the book started, the tension was building up at a steady pace. In those moments I clutched the book and flew through the pages. Every chapter was only a few minutes long, so naturally there were a lot of thinking instead of action. The tension was palpable, yet after a while, it was inevitable to get bored. The outstretched chapters began to work at my disadvantage, as the action was kind of overwhelmed by mental processes, flashbacks, unnecessary tweets and blog posts. The necessary tension began to fade away, and so did my attention span. It was sad that suddenly I could put the book down very easily, and not bother what could happen next.

Most might already know that the author is a member of several groups that promote diversity in young-adult books. Therefore it doesn't come as a surprise that This Is Where It Ends also counts quite a few diverse characters, which I really appreciated. Every author who adds diversity into their books, is one to applaud. To move on to the several POVs: I first feared that there were too much. An author's inability to write in different voices occurs more often than not, which mostly causes my inability to distinguish all the characters. In the beginning I had trouble figuring out all the relationships and connections, and separating the backgrounds, but it didn't last very long. The more I progressed with the book, the more I started to appreciate all these connections between the characters and the shooter. It just shows how small a school can be at times.

I still don't know how I feel exactly about This Is Where It Ends. Although it contained several aspects I enjoyed, the more I read, the more my disappointment grew. In all honesty, this could have been so much better, if not for the predictability, the Black-and-White Thinking and the writing style.

10507293The Selection (The Selection, #1) by Keira Cass
Published: April 24th 2012 by HarperTeen
Pages: 336

For thirty-five girls, the Selection is the chance of a lifetime. The opportunity to escape the life laid out for them since birth. To be swept up in a world of glittering gowns and priceless jewels. To live in a palace and compete for the heart of gorgeous Prince Maxon.

But for America Singer, being Selected is a nightmare. It means turning her back on her secret love with Aspen, who is a caste below her. Leaving her home to enter a fierce competition for a crown she doesn't want. Living in a palace that is constantly threatened by violent rebel attacks.

Then America meets Prince Maxon. Gradually, she starts to question all the plans she's made for herself—and realizes that the life she's always dreamed of may not compare to a future she never imagined.
“True love is usually the most inconvenient kind.”
Actual rating: 3.5 stars

With the book's release date going all the way back to 2012, I cannot deny that I jumped on this boat way too late. I already knew too much before going into reading, including the final outcome and the entire world building. I gathered that The Selection is a book you either love or hate, but it did not turn out to be like that at all. Maybe I'm just that special snowflake, yet despite my prejudices and eventually my issues, I actually quite enjoyed it.

Starting off: the predictability of the plot. Of course, I already knew a lot of the world building upon going into this book, but the plot was mainly unknown territory. Unfortunately, I foresaw so much that happened without having to have a psychic ability.  It was clear from the start who would get chosen, and what would happen next. When something rather unpredictable did happen, I mostly just sighed because I should have seen it coming. However, the way things ended could create a very interesting plot to follow. I certainly hope Cass can grant my little wish for the books to come.

As far as the predictability goes, so does my negativity about the story. The Selection's plot is surprisingly unique and more original than your average dystopian book. Think of The Hunger GamesDivergent, Legend, Delirum, and so on. They all have one thing in common: a girl who stands up to an evil and oppressing regime. Usually seen from the point of view of the rebels, the series is a journey to start a rebellion. That is what I absolutely loved about this book. Of course, the rebels are palpable and the world isn't something I would want to live in, but it didn't seem to fit into this category. We barely saw anything of the king, nor extreme poverty, so the regime itself did not feel as bad and oppressive. The most specific reason, however, is because the protagonist does not stand with the rebels and believes in the caste system. It created a whole new look on rebels and their actions, as they are now seen as 'the bad guys'. I honestly cannot wait to see what they'll bring.

The caste system itself was by far my favourite aspect of the world building. I for one loved how there was a subtle inspiration of India's caste system. It showed that these kind of things could still happen today or in the near future, which is quite terrifying. The thought that one innate feature could determine your whole life is intriguing, which also played out very nicely in The Selection. A large part of Illéa's population seems to be okay with the whole caste system, and believe that it is their duty and destiny to do what they're supposed to do. That's why the caste system also had a lot of impact on the choices made throughout the book. I liked how believable it sometimes was, and it definitely sparked my interest to keep on reading.

Moving onto the world building, there's no denying that the author hasn't outdone herself. The book has been pitched as 'The Hunger Games meets The Bachelor', and I cannot but agree. We may have seen certain aspects that have been done before, yet there was so much to discover than a simple competition. I am quite the sucker for kingdoms, kings and queens, princes and princesses, etc. It's more than logic that I would therefore love the setting and overall tone of the story. It's girly and light read, with some serious topics here and there.

I feel like I only have one thing to say when it comes to the characters: America Singer. Ladies and gentleman, meet your average Mary Sue who has it all, including a silly name. She didn't frustrate me as much as I thought she would, though it was laughable at times. The examples are endless, but especially the trying of not to come across as perfect. She's a Five, a lower caste, but she knows exactly how to behave as a One. She's constantly saying how flawed she is, but there's no evidence that actually proofs it. She's not all bad either: I did secretly love how she had a strong opinion and clearly did not want to lead a life inside the palace's walls.

The romance itself was overwhelmed by the love triangle. Thanks to all the hype (and spoilers) surrounding this book, I already knew about the ménage à trois. It didn't stop me from being excited and devouring it all. Even though I know the outcome, I couldn't help but root for my favourite couple: Maxerica. More does not to be said.

In a nutshell, The Selection was a fun little ride to experience. I did came across some issues along the way such as predictability and a Mary Sue, but I tend to forgive too easily. Especially because of the original world, which really set it apart from other books in the dystopian genre. Hopefully, the rest of the series will be as fun to read as this book was for me.

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