Ninth House: Book Review

Ninth House
By Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo is an autobuy author for me these days. If I don’t have the funds to buy her newest release, you can bet your bottom dollar that my name is the first on the holds list for one of her newest books at my library. So when I saw the buzz surrounding Ninth House, and the fact that it was her first dabble into adult fiction, I. Was. There.

I read the Grisha Trilogy way back in the day, and devoured it! Then I went on to Six of Crows and, while I really enjoyed the story and the characters, it didn’t grab my attention as much as the Grishaverse did. I think the difference between these two series, while set in the same world, one focused heavily on fantasy and magic, while the other focused much more on gritty real world scenarios (set in a fantastical world). 

I ran into similar ‘problems’ with Ninth House. Not that there were problems with Ninth House, but I really really really enjoy high fantasy, and this was pretty mild urban fantasy at best. I was a little worried when I first picked up this book by how many words I didn’t know on each page! It has been such a long time since an author has stumped me with their vocabulary left and right. I actually decided halfway through the book that the next time I read this, I’m going to make flashcards with all the words I didn’t know. It was definitely a good introduction to the Yale vibe of this novel, and the intentional mask of the prim and proper setting. 

This novel follows a girl names Alex as she is indoctrinated into a hidden society at Yale. Her main job is to keep everyone honest and to be a physical reminder that they are not above the law. We quickly learn that things are not going as smoothly as one would hope, when a girl is murdered, and one of Alex’s friends goes missing. This novel flashes from the past, the present, and between two distinct characters. I liked that we got to view two unique character voices in this novel, but it did take away from seeing Alex with her roommates. For some reason it felt like a loss or a blow that we didn’t get a lot of interaction between those characters, but that was also because Alex was almost never at her dorm.

I also felt like the true college experience was really lacking in this novel. A subplot throughout is the will-she-won’t-she be able to pass her classes and stay at Yale next year, yet we never really saw her study, or attend class, or do anything to cement her emotional connection to her education. We are told repeatedly how important it is that she stays in school, yet we’re never shown what actions she takes to solidify her spot at Yale. So when the time came for her to either stay in college or be kicked out, I didn’t really care either way. I wasn’t invested in that part of the story, because it was barely there to begin with.

There were one or two times in this novel that really got to me, and this book should come with a few trigger warnings for drug abuse and rape. One scene in particular was so vulgar it has stuck with me vividly since the day I read it. I’m cursing my own imagination, and Leigh’s brilliant writing, for how easy it was for me to conjure it up in my mind. However I don’t think the scene was unnecessarily vulgar. It established a character trait (and fear) that helped you understand the main character a lot more for the duration of the novel. 

I really think this novel was a step up from Six of Crows. Yes, I know I can’t say the stories are the same because they clearly are not, but hear me out. In Six of Crows we are diverting from high fantasy and magic and mixing harsh reality with fantasy. Ninth House takes this to the next level. In Ninth House we are even further removed from fantasy, and we’re really looking at the human experience: the good, the bad, and the really really bad. Of course there are a few ghosts and spells mixed in, but for me this novel was an expose on human nature and psychology. 

The ending leads me to believe that there will be a second book in this series…if so, I’m in! This novel was, at times, hard to get through. For some of the time I thought we could be dealing with an unreliable narrator, and that proved to be sort of true. Our main character wasn’t unreliable, she had just withheld some of the truth until it became imperative that we know too. It was also hard for me to whiz through because I normally deal with strictly fantasy novels. If someone is murdered in a fantasy novel I’m much more removed from the victim or the case because the world doesn’t exist, and could never exist. In this novel, however, this Yale so mirrors our own world that it legitimately scared me at times: not the ghosts or demons, but the human beings doing atrocious things to each other. Maybe that was the point? To add magic to this story, and to still be more scared by regular people? Either way, I applaud Leigh Bardugo for stepping out of her Young Adult niche and boldly entering the Adult Fiction world. I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next.

Serafina's Promise: Book Review

Serafina’s Promise

By Ann E. Burg

Serafina’s Promise was beautifully told, and haunted me well after reading. I gave this book to a coworker on a whim when she asked for a book recommendation. I hadn’t read this book myself, but I knew there was some literary buzz surrounding it. She came in to work the next day saying this was one of the only books she has ever read in one sitting, and she was completely devastated by the ending. I couldn’t let her bear the pain alone, so by the next day I had taken the book home myself and finished it that night.

This novel is written in prose, and flows so well that after the first few pages I barely noticed the difference compared to ‘traditional’ novels. We follow a young girl living in Haiti, who has dreams bigger than her circumstances. We experience major traumatic events from her point of view: the death of her brother, a flash flood, and an earthquake. For a majority of these tragic events our main character remains naive, and unable to even name what she has gone through. Time passes in sharp flashes of imagery, sounds, or internal fear. These scenes felt very raw, and were often hard to read. 

Serafina wants to become a doctor, so she can save more sick babies like her two brothers. She struggles to save enough money to attend school, and realizes rather quickly that she isn’t learning how to become a doctor. Instead she’s mostly being taught how to read, write, and speak another language. My favorite part of this novel is when a local female doctor, and Serafina’s mentor of sorts, explains to her that while it doesn’t make sense right now she does need to learn French in order to become a doctor. But maybe one day, Serafina can grow up and change things for young girls like her. Maybe one day she can teach them to become doctors, while also teaching them in their own native language, Creole. 

I absolutely loved this book, and would recommend it to any of my students. It was such a dark, but hopeful story. The perspective of a young Haitian girl, pursuing her dreams despite the harsh realities around her, is a perspective we do not hear enough of in children’s literature. Or maybe I’m not doing my due diligence as a librarian, and seeking out this kind of representation. It’s on my radar now, and I’ll make sure I read more stories like Serafina’s.

Crown: Picture Book Review

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut
Written by Derrick Barnes
Illustrated by Gordon C. James

I spotted this book during our Scholastic Book Fair this year, and knew I had to get it into our library, permanently.

Crown is a wonderful novel, representing an own voices narrative. The combination of the writing and the illustrations transports you into the mind of this young African American man during a trip to the barber shop. This picture book is incredibly immersive, empowering, and self affirming.

The art style is detailed and beautiful. The writing is lyrical and, in a sense, magical. I can see how this book would boost the self esteem of many young men, and introduce role models into their lives.

I absolutely love this book, who it represents, and how it could help my students who struggle to take pride within themselves.

The Great Cheese Robbery: Book Review

The Great Cheese Robbery
by Chris Mould

2019-2020 SSYRA Jr. Book

This was a really fun elementary grade chapter book. It’s listed for our junior readers, grades Kindergarten through Second grade, but it is definitely a higher difficulty for these students. This book would work great as a read-aloud, or for kiddos who are reading way above their reading level. 

This is the first book in a brand new series about pocket sized pirates! In this adventure, the pocket sizes pirates realize their cat has been taken hostage by the evil mice that roam the junk shop, where they all live. Every few pages include wonderfully funny illustrations, depicting the heist and goings on of the pocket pirates on their adventure to get their cat back!

The pocket pirates end up using the Trojan Horse method to rescue their cat. I really enjoyed how this fun light-hearted story, was able to add a quick history lesson right in the middle of all the action. For such a quick read (for me, as a 27 year old avid reader) I thought the characters were fleshed out really well. Each pocket pirate had a distinct personality, good qualities, and flaws. These qualities and flaws helped the pirates work together as a team to rescue their faithful friend. 

This story was a bunch of fun! I’m going to be encouraging more of my students, and even our teachers, to be checking this one out and enjoying it in their classrooms.

The Astronaut Who Painted The Moon: Picture Book Review

The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon
Written by Dean Robbins
Illustrated by Sean Rubin

The Astronaut Who Painted the Moon is a biographical picture book about Alan Bean, one of the first astronauts to ever land on the moon.

The storytelling in this biography was really lovely. It weaved between two timelines; Alan Bean as an adult and Alan Bean during his childhood. The art followed a specific color scheme throughout as well, which was beautifully executed.

The amount of research that went into this biography was impressive and appreciated. The last few pages of the book are filled with timelines of real events, and more information on Alan Bean’s life.

The overarching message from this book, and from Alan Bean himself, was that he saw himself as an artist who was also once an astronaut. The message encourages children to pursue all their passions, regardless of whether they are intellectual, artistic, or physical passions.

After reading this novel I’d like to learn more about Alan Bean’s life, and how he managed to balance his passion for art and his knowledge of space exploration. It further proves that you really can do anything you set your mind to.

The Right Swipe: Review

The Right Swipe by Alisah Rai

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a free ARC of this novel. Regardless of the way I acquired the novel, the thoughts, opinions, and views stated in this review are completely unbiased and one hundred percent my own.

This is my last ARC that I have already read, and then forgot to review. I’m officially caught up! In that sense at least…

I didn’t love this novel the first time around, and I think I finally pinpointed why: the villain of this story matches a villain in my own story. Initially, I think I was so jarred by the comparison that I couldn’t focus on anything else. I’m very thankful that I decided to read this story for a second time, and focus more on our main characters.

Rhi is crazy smart, intelligent, and successful. She doesn’t fail in what she pursues, despite her existing PTSD and anxiety from the aforementioned villain. Her counterpart, Samson, is an unintentional hero for standing up for better sports medicine and concussion research.

It has been really wonderful to see romance novels infuse such meaningful topics into their characters worlds. This novel had a positive display of boundaries, consent, and an interesting discussion on ethics in the workplace.

I thought this book could have been shorter and still packed the appropriate social and romantic punch. Despite the length, the chemistry between Rhi and Samson never dimmed. I absolutely adored that we had this famously retired football player who didn’t know how to date women, but was smooth as butter when it came to the one woman he was actually interested in.

I admired how strong Rhi was portrayed as a business woman, as an employer, and as a friend. Part of her journey through this novel is learning how to depend on others, and when to lean on her friends or family for help. It was a good reminder that even your strongest friends need to be checked in on.

The chemistry and the discourse in this novel were very enjoyable. I just wish it had been edited down a bit more. I think a shorter novel, with the same outcome, may have had more of an impact during the finale.

Tidelands: Review

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a free ARC of this novel. Regardless of the way I acquired the novel, the thoughts, opinions, and views stated in this review are completely unbiased and one hundred percent my own.

I love Philippa Gregory’s writing. I realized when I picked this up from the library (because it’s a backlisted ARC, and I prefer to read physical copies of books) that I had actually only read one of Gregory’s novels prior to picking up this one. Which is such a shame! If you haven’t experienced her writing, and you’re interested in historical fiction that most of the time errs on the side of historical and less fiction, her work would be perfect for you.

I sat down to begin this review literal minutes after finishing this novel. My thoughts are so fresh, my emotions so raw, I knew I couldn’t wait until the next day before putting down this review.

I loved the first half of this novel. Gregory’s writing is the most immersive, and descriptive I’ve ever experienced. Each of her books transports you to their time period, and to their location. I felt wet and cold the entire time I read this story, and it didn’t help that it was raining constantly where I live while I was reading.

It felt so good to be back in a Gregory novel, until I was harshly reminded of how horrid this time period was for everyone, especially women. Oh my gosh, it was horrific when the Lord of these tidelands casually suggested that his preteen-aged son take any girl(s) of his choosing around back and have a quick romp with her. And he said this to those girls fathers, no less! Those men were forced to laugh along, as if it was all such a big joke, because he owned every single person, their land, and everything they made or crafted themselves. It was absolutely disgusting learning about the abuse our main character, Alinor, suffered at the hands of her drunk husband, who to her great fortune and even greater misfortune, abandoned her and her two children.

The first half of this novel was a breeze to read. There were minimal mentions of these saddening and deplorable acts. Instead we were able to learn more about the tidelands, Alinor and her children’s daily lives, and we watched as Alinor fell in love for perhaps the first time. As she found love she found courage, and throughout the novel we see her unyielding strength grow with each calamity that befalls her.

I really didn’t know what to expect when it came to her love interest, James. James was a priest, or a spy, or all of the above, and vowed to never love anyone but God. That was, until he met Alinor. I rooted for James, who struggled to learn what was the right thing: fighting for the woman he loved or the religion he’d been bred for. In the end, he fought for neither, and I was earnestly disheartened by his lack of action.

Then came the second half of the book. This was not an enjoyable experience for me, at all. It was like being in an emotionally abusive relationship, where the thing you loved would deliver a blow to the gut, and then you would make up and forget how much they had hurt and betrayed you. The second half of this novel was betrayal, followed up by courage and strength, not to be overshadowed or outdone by an even worse betrayal. It was honestly rough to read. I even skipped to the last page, just to see if Alinor made it out of this novel alive.

I was equally crushed by the first novel I read of Gregory’s, so I’m not sure why this pattern surprised me so much? Objectively, this is a great novel: wonderfully written, eloquent storytelling, descriptively immersive, and intriguing. Personally, this was not enjoyable for me for the last 200 pages. This was heartbreaking.

I don’t think this book or the story is inherently bad. I think it’s not quite right for me. I’m a mood reader. I read things depending on how I’m feeling or how I want to be feeling. Tidelands was emotionally taxing and draining for me, and it just left me melancholy. I try to avoid feeling depressed at all costs! (duh). That’s why I tend to read stories about adventures, love stories, magic, and things that inherently make me happy!

While this book didn’t turn out the way I was hoping, I still think a ton of people would really like it. Heck, I did really like the book; I hated the things that happened to Alinor.