Ninth House (Ninth House Series #1) by Leigh Bardugo

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ARC acquired at Book Expo in exchange for an honest review.

“There were always excuses for why girls died.”

Ninth House is a love letter to living and surviving unspeakable abuse. This is a book all about trauma, and PTSD, and healing, in any and every way that you can. This is a book for victims, who have felt they will never get the piece of them back that someone forcefully took. This is a book for anyone who was willing to do anything to feel empowered after something horrible occurred. This is a book about the dark and the light and the in between phases a human can go through to get their voice back.

But this is also a story about a girl named Galaxy Stern, or Alex, who is from LA, but is now across the country and studying at Yale. The book continuously switches back and forth from Late Spring to Winter, so we get to see what happened in the past and the ramifications it causes for present day Alex.

In the Winter, we get to see her starting Yale, meeting a man named Darlington, and learning all about the nine secret societies at Yale, with secret, magical rituals that they perform. Lethe recruits a new freshman every three years to join sixteen seniors every year, where they gain knowledge of the occult. And Alex was picked because she has a very sought-after ability, that she has been running from her entire life. Also, it is Lethe House’s responsibility as the ninth house to keep the others in order and make sure they aren’t doing bad things.

In the Spring, everything is different, and Alex is struggling with the weight of so much. From missing people, to ghosts who are paying her too much attention, to a girl being murdered that Alex can’t help but think was because of one of the secret societies, and she is willing to do anything to solve the case. Even if that means making a deal with one of the ghosts she is supposed to be ignoring.

“But the trouble had begun on a night in the full dark of winter, when Tara Hutchins died and Alex still thought she might get away with everything.”

Sounds pretty amazing, right? And I’m telling you, this book’s atmosphere, along with the campus setting, it was a perfect combination. Also, you all know that I think Leigh’s writing is a tier above most. The quotes I was able to pull from this book? They take the breath from my lungs even upon rereading them.

Also, this book has a beautiful discussion about privilege and power dynamics. Leigh does not hold back truth of what white, rich, privileged boys and how they feel they are entitled to any and everything, and God bless her for that. Cycles of abuse and entitlement truly can be passed down, leaving terrible things in their wake, which will impact so many victims for their entire lives. Unchecked privilege is a terrifying thing, friends. And Leigh is not scared to go there, in the terrible acts they commit, to the horrible ends they deserve, and I really appreciated it, and it may have been my favorite element of this book.

“Beautiful boys who should be happy, who wanted for nothing but still found things to take.”

But you all are probably wondering why I gave this book three stars. I’m going to be brutally honest, not much happened in this book, and surely enough didn’t happen for this book to be almost 500 pages. I feel like you could easily cut this book in half and it would have been way more impactful and way more exciting to read. As much as I loved the healing of this book, and I loved the premise of secret societies all about the occult, I just felt so damn bored by reading this book. It started to feel like a chore to pick up, and this book took me twice the amount of time it would normally take me to read.

It also started to feel so formulaic, where something really bad and heartbreaking would happen (past or present) then we’d have 50+ pages of nothing, and then something even worse happens, then 50+ of nothing. I will never lessen anyone’s trauma or how they choose to write and heal about it, but this book just made me feel nothing and then immeasurably uncomfortably and sadness, back to back to back, and it made for a really not great reading experience for me. Also, my favorite character was for sure Darlington, and I really wish we could have seen so much more of him. And lastly, the ending sort of wrapped this story up, I guess? But it just left me desiring so much more, and not in a good way if I’m being honest.

So, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. I picked this book up the day before twitter exploded about the trigger warnings. I will be honest, it made for such a strange reading experience, because I felt like everyone was looking at me, even though I was only 100 pages into this book. At the end of this review, like always, I will have all the trigger warnings that I found listed. This is a dark book, with very dark themes and elements, and some extremely dark scenes. Alex truly has horrible things happen to her and her loved ones throughout her short life. I highly recommend you make sure you are in a safe headspace before picking this one up, because a few of these triggers are not my own, but they still really bothered me to read.

“People didn’t need magic to be terrible to each other.”

Overall, this was a disappointment for me. This was easily my most anticipated release of 2019, besides Queen of Nothing, and maybe I just put it on a pedestal subconsciously. I do think this one will be polarizing upon release, and I have friends who love this more than me and dislike this more than me. Honestly, I’m in this weird middle ground where I loved the setting and atmosphere, but I didn’t love the story or characters. I will probably still pick up the next installment, I think I’m just going to go into it with lower expectations.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and Trigger Warnings: drug use, overdosing, murder, death, loss of a loved one, rituals, gore, PTSD depiction, grief depiction, self-harm, bloodletting, rape, child (12) rape (it is only two pages, but it is very graphic), statutory rape (15), sexual assault, forced sexual assault on video, talk of suicide, blackmail, physical abuse, a magical date rape drug, forced eating of human waste (to a rapist), and racism (always in a negative light).

King of Scars (Nikolai Duology #1) by Leigh Bardugo

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“Most of us can hide our greatest hurts and longings. It’s how we survive each day. We pretend the pain isn’t there, that we are made of scars instead of wounds.”

Oh friends, it has been a long while since I read the concluding events in Ruin and Rising! Honestly? I probably really would have benefited from doing a reread. Yet, I will be the first to admit that I was complete Darkling trash back in the day, and I have grown a lot as a person and realized that he is someone that shouldn’t be romanticized, but I was so damn hyped for this story and to see how the people of Ravka are doing after that final battle and living under a brand new king. And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I was truly let down.

Also, I want to emphasize that a three star rating isn’t a bad rating! I still enjoyed this and I loved seeing some of the character that I love with my whole heart and soul, and also falling in love with a new character, too! But this was just so ungodly slow for the first half, which is something I’ve never felt while reading anything by Leigh before. I know that we had a lot of be caught up on, but I just couldn’t immerse myself into the world or story until after the halfway point.

I really recommend that you don’t read King of Scars (or this review, honestly) if you have not read all the other books in the Grishaverse! But as a quick recap before I get into my thoughts and feelings: People are still fearful of Grisha and are capturing and killing them regularly. Grisha are also still becoming addicted to jurda parem, and many different variations of it, which enhances their powers but at a cost.

“The books do not tell the whole story”

And this story is told in many points of views, but there are pretty much only three locations that this story takes place, until they will (hopefully) all weave back together! Zoya and Nikolai are off with a new character trying to discover what lives inside Nikolai. Meanwhile, back at the palace, family friends are teaching a young boy how to impersonate Nikolai himself, so no one will know that he is away! And then we have Nina off on a completely new mission, where she finds out so much about herself and what is happening to Grishas in areas that are still living in fear of them.

But this is a story about grief and loss and how living with those two things can impact your life beyond words. This is a story about being the person everyone wants you to be, while ultimately choosing the person you truly are. This is a story about feeling like your life is predicted for you, but realizing that you are capable of doing any and everything you want.

“Call me Grisha. Call me zowa. Call me death, if you like.”

Zoya Nazyalensky – One of the strongest Grishas ever (Squaller, of the Etherealki Order) and is an incredible fighter and leader. She was also the Darkling’s favorite, but is now my favorite.

Genya Safin – My second favorite character! Genya, as the Darkling’s gift, used to be the servant to the Queen, and was treated so very terribly. She is much happier now, but still is living with the torture that the Darkling inflicted upon her.

David Kostyk – A very skilled Fabrikator who helped make things to hold amplifiers.

Tolya Yul-Bataar & Tamar Kir-Bataar – Twin Grishas who own my heart.

Isaak – The common boy solider who is impersonating Nikolai while he is away! (I fell so in love with this new character so easily, truly!)

Nina Zenik – Heartrender (of the Corporalki order) who used to be a part of the Dregs in Six of Crows! Now on a top secret mission, that is about to be jeopardized because of new information! Also, she is on a mission for herself to finally lay someone to rest at home.

Hanne – Fjerdan who Nina meets and instantly feels connected with. Hanne is just trying to live in a world where every opportunity has been taken from her because she is a daughter and not a son.

Leoni & Adrik – both are Grishas who are accompanying Nina on her new mission!

Yuri – A monk who is with Nikolai and Zoya, who is also one of the leaders of Cult of the Starless, who worship the Darkling.

Nikolai Lantsov – The current King of Ravka, who is expected to marry and produce an heir because so many foes are looking to overtake him. But he is dealing with the torture that the Darkling has left in his body.

“A handsome monster husband who put a crown on her head? It’s a perfect fairy tale to sell to some starry-eyed girl. She can lock you in at night and kiss you sweetly in the morning, and Ravka will be secure.”

Nikolai’s monster is something that no one really knows how to control, but he is constantly being drawn to The Shadow Fold, which was the breeding ground of unspeakable shadow horrors and where the Darkling harnessed so very much of his immense power. We are also introduced to three new characters that I’m not going to really talk about because of spoilers, but they were amazing. I loved learning more about amplifiers, since there are so few people who have had them in this world and seeing the power that they bring is pretty intense and such a cool development in this story. Again, without saying too much, I loved all the scenes involving The Fold.

“We are all connected, King Nikolai. The Grisha, the Fold, the power inside you. The Fold is a wound that may never heal. But perhaps it was not meant to.”

But chapter twenty-five is the best chapter in this entire book, and that’s because Zoya is the best character in this book. Like, I get that it is called King of Scars, but this book was way more about Zoya and her beautiful story and everything that she has overcome than Nikolai’s. Especially since this book also spends half of the time focusing on Nina and what she is up to on her mission, I just feel like this is not Nikolai’s book; it was half Zoya’s and half Nina’s. Which is fine, I’m not saying I disliked that, I just feel like it was a weird flex because going in you expect it to be all things Nikolai and it really couldn’t be further from the truth. Plus, it really doesn’t feel like his character progressed all that much either, where Zoya and Nina both had tremendously big events happen that will alter their future and the very future of Ravka.

Okay, but now I’m going to say the thing that’s probably going to make you all dislike this review, but I don’t really ship Nikolai and Zoya together. Like, I think the story would have been way more powerful if they were just friends. But this weird romance is laced throughout the story, even though there is no confirmation or reward or actual romance, it just felt weird to read. Especially with that annoying ending. I don’t know, I just really don’t ship them together, yet, but I probably will eventually. And I totally would have shipped them if we would have gotten more of them actually starting a romance instead of us just being like, “okay, yeah, this is totally the direction that Leigh is leading us!” Plus, that ending? I really don’t want another unnecessary love triangle.

And I want this review to be spoiler free, so I’m not going to go into details, but you’re either going to love or hate the ending. And, friends, I for sure hated it. One of my favorite things in literature is when a spin-off series comes out, and the overarching threat is the ramifications of the what happened to that book’s conclusion and/or villain. Having a cult that views the Darkling as a saint and worships him? That was the setup of my dreams, friends. And the ending just felt like such a cop-out and made me so angry and it really left such a disappointing taste in my mouth.

“All fuels burn differently. Some faster, some hotter. Hate is one kind of fuel. But hate that began as devotion? That makes for another kind of flame.”

Overall, I just didn’t love this the way that I truly anticipated that I would! Maybe I hyped it too much? Maybe I shouldn’t have reread The Wicked King right before starting this? Maybe I’m just being salty over the Darkling? I don’t know, friends, but this let me down. I am highly anticipating what will come with the next book, and I hope to have a much higher rating and happier review! Also, Ninth House is going to be everything and I still cannot wait for that 2019 release!

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Content and trigger warnings for drug addiction, loss of a loved one, grief depiction, captivity, slavery, implied past sexual assault (numerous times & numerous characters), torture, bullying, fatphobic comments (always in a negative light), mention of past death of a baby, attempted pedophilia, suicide, and war themes.

1.) Shadow and Bone ★★★★★
2.) Siege and Storm ★★★
3.) Ruin and Rising ★★

1.) Six of Crows ★★★★
2.) Crooked Kingdom ★★★★★

*.) The Language of Thorns ★★★★★

Wonder Woman: Warbringer (DC Icons #1) by Leigh Bardugo

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“I imagine all wars look the same to those who die in them.”

First off, Leigh Bardugo is honestly the queen of writing and I’m not sure what any of us did to deserve her, but I am forever and always going to count her as a blessing. This story is so beautifully written, and I had to tab so many pages with powerful quotes. Leigh also always writes diverse casts that I fall instantly in love with. Like, when do I get a full book about Nim? Because I need that in my life immediately.

Diana – White, Wonder Woman herself, obviously a total badass.
Alia – Black, a Warbringer, a confirmed angel in my eyes, Jason’s sister.
Jason – Black, Alia’s brother, has helped raise Alia since their parent’s death.
Nim – Indian, my queer baby, chubby, my sarcastic queen.
Theo – Brazilian, Jason’s best friend, funny, must be protected at all costs.

Beautiful art by Jen Bartel, my celebrity crush. *swoons forever*

So, this book really starts off with a bang *wink*, when a ship explodes near Themyscira, the island where the Amazons live and there is no fear of war or conflict. But on Themyscira, only strong woman, who have proven themselves during their human life, can reside. Well, except Diana, who has been made her from the ground itself by her mother and the queen of the island. Even though Diana’s mother loves her with all her being, a few of the other women are hesitant to accept her, because they feel she hasn’t “proven herself.” And one of the only rules of Themyscira is that no human is ever allowed to step foot on its shores.

But Diana witnesses the ship explosion, and finds a lone survivor that she can’t help but rescue and bring back to Themyscira. But the island feels the human’s presence, and starts to attack itself. Diana then seeks out an Oracle who tells her the options she has, and the paths she can take, to save not only her island, but the world itself.

We are then swept away on a tale that spans from New York City to Greece, from humans to ancient Gods, about powerful girls, unconditional friendships, and the cruelness of men. But the heart of this story is friendship, and how unconditional love from the people you choose to call family is the most powerful force in the world. And the found family in this makes me weep with happiness. I truly love these characters.

“Who tells those stories? Tales of vengeful goddesses who wager in human lives for vanity’s sake? Of course men believe a woman’s power must lie in the fineness of her features, the shapeliness of her limbs. You know better, Daughter of Earth.”

There is also a wonderful discussion about privilege that is brought up throughout this entire book. And how no amount of money will ever be able to alter how people will see your skin color and/or perceive your culture, how no amount of money will never erase oppression, and how discrimination happens in every single economic level in our society, regardless of what people who can’t see passed their white privilege say. I loved this constantly being brought up, and some of these experiences that were talked about are exactly what marginalized teens need to read, and see, and understand that they are perfect the way they are, but our world is just an ugly place that hopefully won’t be so ugly with their generation.

“It’s the people who never learn the word impossible who make history, because they’re the ones who keep trying.”

I will also continue on with the series with Batman by Marie Lu! But, sadly and ultimately, I just don’t think superhero books are for me. I totally enjoyed reading this, but something just kept me from loving it, so I’m going to blame it on that. I still think this is a very worthwhile and important read, and I’m so happy that I finally was able to get around to it!

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Buddy read with Destiny and the rest of Life & Lit (DM Destiny for a FB invite)! ❤

The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo

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The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic is a bind up of six fairy tales that take place in the Grishaverse, which is the same world that her Shadow and Bone series and her Six of Crows series take place! All of these are expertly crafted. All of these are so very lyrical and beautiful. All of these feel powerful and impactful. All of these are absolutely haunting.

And only Leigh Bardugo could bring me to tears while reading the sentence “I hope you stir the pot.”

These stories are also illustrated and Sara Kipin’s art took my breath away. This whole book is a gorgeous masterpiece from the dust-jacket, to the cover, to the spine, to the art that progresses throughout the story that eventually leads to full-page beautiful artwork, to Leigh’s perfect writing that will make you evoke every emotion ever felt. This is easily one of the top books published in 2017.

And my personal favorite in the whole collection, which moved me to a whole hot mess of tears, was When Water Sand Fire . If you can only read one of these amazing stories, please pick that one. It’s the longest, but the most fulfilling, and hopefully is the start of something beautiful.

I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!

Ayama and the Thorn Wood – ★★★★★

“This goes to show you that sometimes the unseen is not to be feared and that those meant to love us most are not always the ones who do.”

This story was actually heartbreakingly perfect. It surrounds a small kingdom, where the king and his wife have given birth to two sons, one that is loved and one that is not because of the way he looks. Meanwhile, a young girl in the village is treated like a servant to her family that only sees her beautiful sister. Their paths cross, and continue to cross, because everyone in the village believe both of them to be expendable just based on their appearance, but together they forge something more beautiful than eyes can see and together they can change the kingdom. And they teach that kingdom that the world can be so much more beautiful when you stop only looking physically.

The Too-Clever Fox – ★★★★

“I can bear ugliness,” he said. “I find the one thing I cannot live with is death.”

This is such a beautiful story about perspective and how we are never as smart as we feel we are. Also, sometimes being smart has nothing to do with knowledge, but completely with the actions you take. This story centers around the cleverest fox in all of Ravka. From birth, he has been at a disadvantage because of his looks, but he compensates by being a witty and clever trickster. Also, this story reads so much like an actual fairy tale story that we would read in our world, even.

The Witch of Duva – ★★★★★

“There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls.”

You can actually read this short story for free HERE thanks to Tor! And I can’t recommend you read it enough, because this short story actually shook my entire world. This is such a perfectly woven and absolutely haunting tale about a village who is mourning their lost girls, while also trying to endure very hard winters. And the ending of this story is beyond words, and turned me into a crying, melted, weeping, puddle on the floor. Also, this one should probably have a few trigger warnings for abuse (physical/sexual) and just violence in general, even though these things are very vague in the story they are still there, just woven in quietly.

Little Knife – ★★★★

“It is dangerous to travel the northern road with a troubled heart.”

This is a lovely tale about beauty and owing it to no one but yourself. This is also a tale about never underestimating what greedy men will do for things they feel they are entitled to. This story actually reminded me very much of my favorite saint, Rose of Lima, and her life and the consequences of being so beautiful. And an unexpected love story will always be the best love story.

The Soldier Prince – ★★★★

“This is the problem with even lesser demons. They come to your doorstep in velvet coats and polished shoes. They tip their hats and smile and demonstrate good table manners. They never show you their tails.”

Give me all of the Ketterdam tales, please. And this was a super twisted, yet amazing, retelling of The Nutcracker. And Leigh perfectly mixes what you would expect from a mash up of The Nutcracker and the streets of Ketterdam. And Droessen might be the best character debut in this entire short story collection. Like, I’d love a full-length novel just about him and his entire backstory. But yeah, this is such a creepy little tale that I really enjoyed.

When Water Sand Fire – ★★★★★

“This is the problem with making a thing forbidden. It does nothing but build an ache in the heart.”

Be still, my everything. This story. Lord, this story. This story gave me life. This short story was so perfectly crafted and the tale was so perfectly woven into a simple masterpiece. This was easily my favorite story in the entire collection. Also, this is the story that features one of the best characters ever written in modern day literature, the Darkling. This story surrounds two girls who live under the sea. One is ostracized for being different, and the other is forced to sing alongside her, but when they sing they’re more magical than any other singing group. After a turn of events, they are taken above the sea where magic grants them legs to walk among humans. But soon our main character, Ulla, realizes the heart of sea folk isn’t much different than the heart of men. And that pain and hatred can find a way inside of all of our hearts, if we let it. And I just am praying with all of my soul and with the entirety of who I am that we will cross paths with Ulla again in King of Scars.

“I was not made to please princes.”

I gave The Language of Thorns five stars overall, because out of a possible 30 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 6 stories) this collection accumulated 27 stars (90%). But, like, throw away all of those stars, because this book is one of the best things that 2017 has produced. It’s beautiful, detailed, thoughtful, whimsical, and every single thing I look for in good fairy tales. I can’t recommend this masterpiece enough.

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