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Book Review: Siege and Storm (Grisha Trilogy #2) – warning – some minor spoilers

siege and stormSiege and Storm picks up almost immediately right where Shadow and Bone ended in Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. Mal and Alina have escaped the Darkling and crossed the ocean. However, when they are forced to return to Ravka, Alina, more powerful than before, is faced with an overwhelming mission. Will she be able to overcome her self-doubt to fight and defeat an enemy whose power has taken on new and darker forms?

Overall Opinion

I am so glad that this book is a great improvement on the first installment in the series. I enjoyed reading it and seeing the characters grow. And I have to say that the story’s climax and ending is heart-stoppingly spectacular.

Writing

I feel that I enjoyed reading this book much more than Shadow and Bone, and this was partly due to the writing. One of the best examples is the description of the flying ship, which was well-written, reminding us once again that this book is set right at the advent of modern warfare – guns are still primitive, yet developing quickly, and airplanes had yet to be invented. Additionally, the flying ship also lends a bit of believable magic and fun to the novel, and its mere presence makes the character of its creator, Sturmhond, all the more interesting.

Having said that, there were some minor parts where the writing was confusing. For example, in the beginning of the novel, there is a scene in which Alina keeps Mal talking because “she knew when she slept, she would dream.” But on the very same page, we are told that “The dreams were the only place it was safe to use her power now, and she longed for them.” So does she or doesn’t she want her dreams? Another example of writing is the use of foreign words. I didn’t understand the need for words that weren’t the proper names of something within a fantasy novel. The premise is that the setting is a fantasy world, with countries that don’t exist in our world, so why the foreign words? If an author is going to use foreign words, then they should either explain or provide a glossary.

Character Development

Mal: We keep being told (by Alina) that he’s handsome and charming and that everyone loves him, but we see very little of that charm. Instead, for much of the book, we see a primarily sullen, jealous (both of Alina’s power and other men’s interest in her), and somewhat simple character. The short scenes with lighter banter between him and Alina, when they aren’t being jealous or possessive of each other, help to make him slightly more likeable. I only wish there were more scenes like this.

Alina: Let me start by saying that Alina changes throughout this book, which is definitely a good thing. I generally dislike both excessive impetuousness and excessive hesitation in characters. Somehow, in the beginning of the novel, Alina has both these qualities, which, when displayed over and over again become annoying and childish. At this point, her main goal is saving herself and Mal. She has no interest in saving her country. There was a glimmer of hope when she embraced her power and used it confidently. That’s when I thought she was finally a character I could come to love. However, just when you think she’s about to finally step into the role that was meant for her all along, she has to burst your bubble by either doubting herself for the millionth time or by asking stupid questions. ***SPOILER ALERT***An excellent and eternally frustrating example of this is when she is told that as the new commander of the army, she will have guards. Her first question is: “Do I really need guards?” Why? Why must she ask such stupid questions? You’re going to be the commander of an army, facing off an enemy whose power you have yet to understand, but have felt and been defeated by over and over again, and you’re still asking if you need guards?***END OF SPOILER*** I find this trope of a heroine being difficult and contrary just for the sake of being difficult and contrary irritating in YA literature. It is overdone and makes it almost impossible for me to like these characters. However, she slowly but surely starts becoming more serious, more focused, and more confident, and the more she does so, the more I root for her.

Sturmhond: I have to admit that I am officially in love with this character, and so far, he is my all-time favorite in this series (with the Darkling coming in second). ***SPOILER ALERT***One of Sturmhond’s most endearing moments (to me) was when he replied to Mal’s accusation that his proposal to marry Alina with the following: “Did you think you could just carry off one of the most powerful Grisha in the world like some peasant girl you tumbled in a barn? Is that how you think this story ends? I’m trying to keep a country from falling apart, not steal your best girl.” I think I almost cheered at this point.***END OF SPOILER*** Finally, someone takes it upon himself to knock some sense into these two self-absorbed characters. As the story progressed, I often found that he would articulate my exact frustrations with Alina and Mal, and wonder whether the author created him specifically for this purpose. Seriously, the more I get to know about Sturmhond, the more I wish this novel had been about him, rather than Alina and Mal. I hope he shows up in the third book.

Themes

One of the best features of this novel is how deeply it delves into the politics and power dynamics of this world. This gives the book much more gravity and substance than its predecessor, making it a much more satisfying read. Important and universal questions are explored: should we seek to gain dubious, almost infinite, power to destroy evil? Is all power bad?

I am definitely looking forward to reading the third book in this series, and hope that the story keeps getting better.

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The Legend of The Green Olive

kapow-1601675_1920Let me tell you a story. This is the absolutely true story of a real-life superhero who almost saved the world. Before I tell you anything else, I need to let you know that this particular superhero’s name is “The Green Olive” (cue Arrow music – look it up if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Don’t laugh. Or actually, go ahead and laugh. You deserve this temporary relief from the grim realities of this world. Because that was The Green Olive’s mission: to save us all from the evil and tyranny that runs rampant in our times. The Green Olive’s reign lasted a brief few weeks. During this short span of time, he (and I only use he/him for convenience’s sake, so bear with me and kindly get down from your soapbox) did his job extraordinarily well. He lit up the darkest corners, and dusted away the cobwebs. He fought against injustice and made the world a better place for everyone who knew him. Unfortunately, since he was still under training when he gained his superhero status, one day he met his match. Like all superheros, he lived his short life in relative obscurity. Very few knew of his existence, and of those who did, fewer still knew of his reality. I only tell you his story because while he was anonymous to most of the world, he was and will remain a true hero to me.
 
Now let me tell you another story. And in the telling, I hope for healing, for myself and for others like me. This is not just a story about one person’s brief and heroic life. This is the story about my family and my child. You see, the origin of The Green Olive came from one of those pregnancy websites that tell you how long/big your baby is at any given week. At around 9 weeks, I was informed that my baby was as long as a green olive, and hence, a legend was born. A few days later, his tiny heart stopped beating, breaking mine and my husband’s in the process. Despite his short life, and despite the grief, we agreed that he had done his job, and done it well, and were grateful for every moment we got to spend with him. He spread joy and gave us hope. We fell hopelessly and fiercely in love with him when we saw his almost impossibly small heart beating for the first time, so much so that we thought our own hearts would burst. He allowed us to dream happy, crazy dreams. He made us worry about how weird he would be, inevitable, considering his geeky parents were making up wacky stories about him being The Green Olive (cue Arrow music), the adventures he would have, and the villains he would vanquish. He would be the greatest superhero of all time. He made us feel complete, that we had a future that made sense to us. The whole world seemed to open up, with endless possibilities. He proved, however, to be too good to remain in this world.
 
The ending of this story is not a strange one. I won’t bother you with statistics, mainly because our baby, like all the people we love, is not a number. What I will tell you is that miscarriages are more common than most people think, and yet, they rarely are discussed. Women are advised to hide their pregnancies for as long as possible so that if they do miscarry in those precarious early months, they wouldn’t have to tell everyone that they did. This advice is infuriating and unhelpful, telling grieving couples to sweep the death of an unborn child under the rug. Before I wrote this story, I debated whether I should. Should I share it with the world? Would anyone care? Would people think I was being overly dramatic, because, after all, this is “just” a miscarriage? I finally decided I didn’t care what other people would think. I decided I wasn’t sharing my grief, but rather, I was sharing the wondrous moments we got to live with our never-to-be born baby. You may not have known him, and may not think twice about him once you are done reading this, but to me, to us, The Green Olive was, is, and forever will remain, our own little superhero.

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Oh, Where Have All the Blog Posts Gone?

Where have you all been? I’ve written at least a dozen blog entries since I last posted one here more than 2 years ago. It’s kind of sad you didn’t get to read them. They were pretty darn good. They had the exact turns of phrases that make writers giddy with their own ego, and readers faint from the unbearable beauty. Every sentence was a carefully constructed masterpiece that flowed effortlessly into the next, smooth and stunning like an award-winning dessert. Every word had a purpose, not one was out of place.
 
No, you don’t have to undergo trial by fire to prove your worth so I can give you access. I’m not an evil slave-driver, whatever my students may think. All you need is the ability to read my mind. You see, every so often as I’m drifting off to sleep, a gem of a phrase comes floating into my mind. If you know anything about me, you’d know that I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. So instead of falling asleep, as any self-respecting person who had to get up at dawn the next day with no hope of accessing a snooze button would do, I continue to drift. 
 
The phrase turns into a sentence, the sentence melts into another. Words are examined, turned over, and sometimes bitten to test their mettle. Some are buffed to a shine and set in their place, while others are discarded, the bite marks still obvious to the naked eye. Soon I have a piece of writing that would make anyone proud. In the final moments before I surrender to the sweet dark cloud that is sleep, I promise myself that as soon as I wake up I’ll write every beautiful word down.
 
Fast-forward a few hours, and my alarm chirps softly. My mind, still groggy, issues its commands: Must. Write. Now. But I don’t. At least not right away. When I don’t allow my day to take over, when I whip all the crumbs of my self-discipline into a quivering mass of submission, I find myself sitting with my laptop. A few, tentative, scrawny-looking words appear on the screen. I scour my frustratingly self-righteous mind for all those wonderful phrases and sentences. But I don’t have a good search engine installed in my mind. I remember a word or two, or sometimes a whole sentence. But without it’s surroundings, it stares back at me on the screen, stupid and naked in its empty surroundings. I clumsily try to bend and twist a few more sentences to my will. But after a while the inevitable happens, and I give up. 
 
Don’t worry, though. It’s all a matter of time before it happens again. One day I’m sure the cycle will break. After all, nothing lasts forever.

P.S. This is not the blog post I wrote in my mind last night. The fate of that one remains undetermined. 

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Resolutions… or maybe not?

Every year I make up an increasingly shorter (obeying my “keep it realistic” internal voice) list of new year resolutions, in a so-far futile attempt to get my life on track. For the first week, I’m perky and full of energy and happy that I’m keeping my resolutions more or less. I cut myself some slack to the point of indulgence, but that still doesn’t prevent the tragedy that I call: week 2. Week 2, is, as the name suggests, the second week after I made the resolutions. It involves rampant and blatant violation of the golden rule of new year’s resolutions (that is, “keep them”).

I have used every form of encouragement I ever thought possible. Tried to keep myself motivated. Created detailed and then flexible time schedules. Started projects then left them floundering.

This brings me to 2010… should I trick my resolution resistant self by using reverse psychology? Should I NOT make any new year resolutions, and would that make a difference?

[enter resolution resistant self, snickering]

I heard you, self!!

Ambitious self will not allow resistant self to have the last laugh.

Hence, for 2010, my resolutions will not only be made, but they will be made PUBLIC (take that, resistant self).

[resolution resistant self stops in mid-snicker]

2010 Resolutions:

1. Write. Daily. No less than 500 words (for now). Or else. (OK, I can have Friday off)

2. Exercise for 30 minutes 5 times a week. Or else.

That’s it. These two resolutions are all I will make, and I will keep them or else face public humiliation.

Already, my schedule-making self is calculating how little time these two resolutions will take. A maximum of one hour. I ask you: what kind of a (insert self-derogatory word here) can’t keep such laid back, easy to keep resolutions?

My answer: I hope not me.

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