Dear Ninth House: why did you do this to me

Dear Ninth House: why did you do this to me

I’ve started this post over and over but you know what? Here we are!!! Today I’m going to be talking about the book that completely caught me off guard: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo.


Settle in with something cozy, folks

I remember hearing about this in passing sometime last year, thinking it was intriguing, and adding it to my goodreads tbr. All I’d really retained was that it was adult/new adult and that it was dark, and to be honest, that’s about all I needed. The only other LB book I’ve read is Six of Crows, and I know she’s quite a beloved author. I thought, why not?

Then BEA and BookCon rolled around, and everyone was rushing to get an ARC. I believe it was over the summer when the reviews and discourse rolled around — and boy were opinions mixed. Some people were saying it was incredible, some people were saying it was way too dark. There were discussions about the dark content present in the novel and backlash ensued over it, saying that it was done for shock value or asking why anybody would ever write a book that contained child abuse. In my opinion, it was blown way out of proportion. Leigh Bardugo handled these situations with care; it most definitely did not feel like it was written just for the sake of being written at all to me. There’s a lot to be said about the merits of dark content, but for now, I’ll just say that if you’d like to read this book, seek out a list of trigger warnings and proceed at your own risk.

Ninth House is about Galaxy Stern (Alex) who gets accepted to Yale on the condition that she join Lethe House, a group in charge of keeping Yale’s secret societies in check. Because these aren’t just any secret societies… they’re doing some powerful magic, and Alex may be in over her head.

While this is for fantasy lovers, it’s also for the broken and mended. Most of the dark content surrounds Alex and her past. She truly goes through some horrific things. What struck me the most was how Leigh not only allowed her to survive through it all, she let her thrive through it, too. Alex is angry and wants to watch the world burn, and Leigh helps by giving her a fucking flamethrower. It’s like that. While reading, I found myself literally cheering out loud for her, hoping for the best and waiting with bated breath at every turn.

The characters were super interesting. I wanted to learn more about all of them and peel back their layers to find out what makes them the way they are. I wanted to find out what pushed Alex’s boundaries, and I wanted to squish Darlington and make him uncomfortable with my unrefined personality (affectionately, of course!) He reminded me of a slightly older Gansey!

But maybe we should talk about where I disagree with other reviews. There were numerous complaints that the beginning was confusing and boring, and that it was overall hard to understand and get through. I’m not sure if it’s because I majored in English or because Leigh’s readers (myself included!) are used to YA’s writing style, but I didn’t feel that way at all. Sure, there were moments at the start where I thought “Wait, what’s happening?” But you know where else I felt that? Six of Crows. It wasn’t until maybe 150 pages or so that I got the hang of things, and I think the same can be said for Ninth House, probably even sooner. She throws you right in the middle of the world, and I think the best way to experience it is to just keep going. Stopping and re-reading, or reading too quickly and not taking anything in, or just continuously questioning small sections will almost positively ensure you’re left behind. This is how I was taught to read denser texts in school — don’t stop, just keep pushing!

I can’t say much as to whether it was boring or not at first; I personally didn’t think it was. Even though we were just getting to know the world, it was so much fun piecing things together and I was so intrigued to see where the story was going next.

Another reason reading this book was so great was because it was a buddy read! I read it with a group of people too numerous to name right now, so I’ll just call us by our group name, the Erection Party, or:

Screen Shot 2019-11-11 at 7.18.52 PM

It was so much fun being able to discuss scenes with them. We shared theories and experiences, had heartfelt talks about what it meant to be a survivor and see it play out on the page, and made a lot of jokes. I’ve never buddy read anything “officially” before, and I think it really enhanced the reading experience for me!

Since I’m not really into fantasy, and Six of Crows took me so long to get into, I was expecting to feel pretty in-the-middle about this book. But to my surprise, it contains everything I love, like ghosts and darkness and things I can’t really say here because they’re spoiler-y. All I’ll say is: that ending? This is going in a direction that is so incredibly up my alley, I can’t even believe I have to wait until 2021 for it. I unexpectedly adored this book!!

If you’re looking for a dark read that’s perfect for autumn/wintertime, I’d say give this book a shot! It could surprise you the way it surprised me~

Have you read Ninth House? If you have, was it what you expected?

   xonikee1

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Review: You by Caroline Kepnes

Review: You by Caroline Kepnes

Your lips were made for mine, Beck. You are the reason I have a mouth, a heart.

I wanted to read something creepy to get me into the Halloween mood, and so I picked up this book in hopes of getting a different sort of scare. Friends: I really got what I asked for.

You follows the story of a man stalking a woman after she walks into the bookstore he works at one day and immediately develops an obsession. The unique thing about this novel is that it’s written in a mix of first and second person, meaning that we see many sentences like “you do xyz” followed by his reaction to these words or actions written in first person. In my opinion, this was what really solidified the creepy factor of this book, especially if you’re listening to the audiobook version. Not only does this get into the main character’s head, but it allows the reader to feel the all-consuming nature of his thoughts directed at one single person.

I started the audiobook on a bus ride home with my boyfriend, and after we got home, he asked “What were you listening to? You looked like you were going through a lot.” That’s an understatement. It was so hard to sit still through Joe’s ramblings and tangents. What’s surprising was that the things that made my skin crawl the most weren’t his violating actions, but the thought processes that lead to them. What struck me was that I recognized snippets of these thoughts in people I once knew, particularly one man who decided we were dating after a few times hanging out. One of the lines in the novel — you said ‘bang’ and you said ‘Joe’ and that has to mean something — hit me so hard because it was exactly the same kind of thing that man had once said to me. The guesswork required to draw the most extreme conclusions was so upsetting to read, it was bordering on funny. Because, we all know this person, don’t we? The one who decides that another is fated for them, and they’ll stop at nothing to have them? The one who doesn’t mind a lie or two or seventy to get what they want? Maybe it’s not to the degree that it is for Joe, but we’ve all seen that sliver of something that gives us pause.

I honestly think the audiobook was a better way of going about reading this (at least for me). The narrator delivered a fantastic performance, managing to sound controlling and calculated while still maintaining the cool exterior that allows people to trust him. The book is full of sentences that sound like crazed rambles, thoughts upon thoughts driven by obsession, and the narrator reads them perfectly. He’s tense in all the right moments, frightening in his calmness and self-assurance. He thinks he’s better than everyone, and his anger and frustration comes out not in raised voices, but long-winded rambles. I don’t know about you, but this is the kind of anger that scares me the most: the quiet & expecting anger.

Needless to say, I couldn’t stop listening. I was engrossed in Joe’s twisted brain, hoping he would be thwarted while at the same time wondering how he would get out of certain situations (and subsequently being disgusted whenever he did). I saw someone say that they thought the minor characters weren’t as fleshed out, but I think that makes sense for the narrative. Joe doesn’t really care about anybody apart from himself, Beck, and the people who stand in the way of them being together; his intense attention is selective, so of course he wouldn’t give the reader as much information as he does for the characters he actually cares about, whether that be genuine care or as a means to get what he wants.

One more thing about the audiobook, though this is just a silly thought I had: the voice the narrator does for one of the characters sounded like the voice of Joey in the Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged series. Not that it was necessarily a bad thing, just kind of hysterical.

In all seriousness, though, You was such a creepy novel and got under my skin in ways I didn’t think were even possible. Caroline Kepnes really understands how easy it is to violate someone, and the ins-and-outs of manipulation. It’s definitely not an easy read, and sometimes downright disgusting; Joe is by no means a likable character, and definitely not even one that you can say you love to hate. But if you’re in the mood for something a little different, I’d definitely recommend this book.

      xonikee1

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Review: Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

Review: Bad Romance by Heather Demetrios

When you’re a stupid girl in love, it’s almost impossible to see the red flags. It’s so easy to pretend they’re not there, to pretend that everything is perfect.

You ever read a book that takes you back to your past and absolutely guts you? That’s how this book was for me. I read it over a year ago and have been thinking about it since. I’ve started this review a dozen times, but it was impossible to untangle this book from the pain of my own past.

So I won’t.

Bad Romance is about a girl named Grace who falls for a boy at school, Gavin, who changes her entire world — but for better or for worse? The book is about the abusive relationship that she finds herself in, and I’ve never read anything more true and painfully honest.

Grace is full of brightness and imagination. She’s fueled by dreams and passion that her precarious home life could never contain. Her stepfather and her mother are verbally abusive and she wants nothing more than to go far away to New York City and live the life she knows she’s destined for.

And then she meets Gavin.

Gavin, who is charming. Gavin, who is funny and understanding. Gavin, who has big emotions of his own. Grace is taken immediately. When they begin their relationship, she knows someone finally understands her. But it doesn’t take long for her to feel the squeeze of his controlling nature around her heart.

I’ll be frank. I saw so much of myself and my first relationship in this novel and that made it incredibly difficult to read at times. From the home life where Grace seemingly could do nothing right to the ways Gavin cut her down with the tiniest of remarks. But especially in Grace’s starry-eyed disposition that we see slowly dying out the longer the relationship went on. Right around the time that I’d read this novel, I found an old photo of myself just after I’d left the relationship this book was reminiscent of. I was struck by how small I looked. How delicate. How innocent. Why had I been so cruel to myself? I could see the weariness in my eyes, no doubt the result of the last few months of the relationship where I’d been told that I was worthless and that my partner should and would cheat on me.

I didn’t realize how much she’d cut me down over time.

Looking at pictures of myself at the beginning of high school compared to that moment just over a year later really reminded me how quickly and how easily our hearts can be broken without us even realizing it. Grace’s descent into pain and insecurity was all-too familiar to me. She’d gotten so caught up in Gavin that by the time she realized she was suffocating, she was trapped in Gavin’s misery.

You’re a maze, all high hedges and endless loops. I can’t find a way out, can’t see where I’ve been. It’s all running, lost in the dark of you. Trapped. Everywhere I turn is a dead end. I keep winding up back where I’ve started. 

It’s so hard when the person we care for is in pain, but even worse when you think you’re the cause of it. I truly thought I was responsible for her moods, for her anger, for her own insecurities. I was nothing more than a pawn in her game, and she adored playing. Because that’s what these relationships are about, at the end of the day: power. Gavin has survived a suicide attempt and this knowledge looms over Grace’s head when the relationship begins to turn sour. I have no doubt that Gavin did indeed suffer from depression, but I also know that he used his sadness to manipulate Grace into staying with him and doing what he wanted.

The novel is written between Grace’s accounts of the past and direct responses to Gavin as the relationship nears its end. It was so refreshing to see this format, because you’re given little snippets of Grace’s own power during her times of most pain. It’s like a reminder while reading that this is not the end. I thought it was a great way to keep the reader invested in the story while still giving the reader little breaks after being so wrapped up in Grace’s hurt.

The only complaint I had was that it seemed to go on for a bit longer than I would have liked. I understand that this is a precarious situation and things can’t be rushed, but I felt like I was in an endless cycle near the ending. On the other hand, this is also such an accurate representation of how tiring it can be when you’re trying to get out of something so horrible and are met with obstacle after obstacle.

This book was so gripping, emotional, and empowering. I found myself shaking at times and holding my breath at others. Even if you’ve never found yourself in a relationship like this one, I think Bad Romance is essential reading to understand the horrible intricacies that bring a person to their knees in the name of a blinding love. And if you have been in Grace’s shoes, I want you to know that you are worthy, and always will be, of so much more.

**Please be aware of content warnings for abuse, suicidal thoughts, and attempted suicide**

      xonikee1
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September Wrap Up (or: how I managed to firmly avoid my reading plans)

September Wrap Up (or: how I managed to firmly avoid my reading plans)

You know those months where it feels like you haven’t read many books, but then you look back and you’ve read at least 10? Yeah, that was this month for me, with a total of 11 books. Normally, I’d think that says something about the quality if the books I finished. But overall, I did have a pretty good reading month!

heartstopper vol 2

I started this month with volume 2 of Heartstopper by Alice Oseman. To be honest, I should start every month with a read of one of these books. This was a little buddy read with my boyfriend (it’s becoming like tradition now to read these books when we’re together!) and just like the first book, it left us smiling super hard! This is a continuation of Nick and Charlie’s story. We get to see their relationship grow in this volume, as well as explore what they want from each other and themselves. I particularly liked the parts with Nick understanding his bisexuality and what that means for him. Nick Nelson, why do you always make me cry?? This was definitely my favorite book of the month! 🌈✨

the last time i lied

I continued my binge of Riley Sager’s books with The Last Time I Lied next on my reading list. My library had the audiobook readily available, so I listened to it on my commute home one night and finished it sometime the next day. What a fast-paced book! It follows a woman who is invited back to the camp where her cabinmates went missing 15 years prior, an event that has haunted her since and resurfaces in her paintings of the girls.

This was much more fun than Final Girls was to me. There were more characters to analyze and the setting allowed for more scares than the previous one did. Unfortunately, this did eventually lead to me feeling a but overwhelmed with the sheer amount of “twists” that came by way of accusations. Some leads were focused on for what I felt was too long, and I found myself feeling a little bit like I was being dragged along. One part of the ending felt like too much of an easy answer, but the very ending? I can’t say I expected that! The Last Time I Lied was fun step up from Final Girls, but not my favorite book of Riley Sager’s. Not like…

lock every door

Lock Every Door by Riley Sager! There’s something addicting about his books. I picked up his latest novel almost immediately via audiobook. Jules, our main character, has lost her job, boyfriend, and home within the last two weeks. With no family to turn to, she’s staying with her best friend when she sees the ad for a job apartment sitting in Manhattan’s most infamous building, The Bartholomew. There are certain strange conditions to living there, though, and with the building’s dark history, Jules may be in for more than she’s bargained for…

This book felt so different from the previous two! The chills felt more prominent and real. I was hitting pause on my audiobook every what felt like two minutes, trying to decide if I’d heard someone else in the apartment with me. I’d heard a few people say that this one felt more supernatural than the rest, and I completely agree! A good chunk of my reading experience was spent wondering “Is this… ghosts? This is the work of ghosts, isn’t it?”

The characters were all interesting, the plot kept me intrigued, and even though this was set mostly in one place just like Final Girls, it felt like more was happening than in the first book! Watching the mystery unravel was such a pleasant (and creepy!) experience and I recommend this book the most of all of Riley Sager’s work.

i'm not dying with you tonight

The Barnes & Noble YA Book Club pick for this month was I’m Not Dying With You Tonight by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal. Since I was hosting the club at my branch, I read this book in a combo of audiobook and physically. Since the story is about two girls who don’t see eye-to-eye caught up in the aftermath of violence, I was expecting an intense ride that left me gasping for air in the best way possible.

Unfortunately, I didn’t like this book. While it was fast-paced, I always felt like I was stumbling behind and not given enough time to actually care about the characters and what happened to them. Conversations about things like racism were sort of rushed — which I can forgive, given the novel takes place over one night and there’s not a ton of room for talking — and we can only rely on the thoughts of the characters to lead our discussions. While this is fine, I would have loved to see the characters challenging each other more (don’t get me wrong, they did! But it still felt rushed and I think bigger & more nuanced issues need more page-time to really get a discussion going in the outside world). The book also ended so abruptly! I was turning the last page thinking “That’s it???”

The audiobook was the biggest reason this book didn’t work for me. The narrator for Lena was so over-the-top; it reminded me of a mom reading a picture book to a group of four-year-olds. While I’d definitely attend one of her storytimes, it doesn’t work for this book at all. The narrator for Campbell, in contrast, read with almost no emotion whatsoever. I might as well have been listening to a robot.

Overall, this book felt like the start of an important conversation that was rushed and got cut off. There was so much more to be explored, and it just missed the mark for me.

the babysitters coven

Thankfully, I was saved by The Babysitters Coven by Kate Williams next! I’ve already written a mini review for this book which you can read here, so we can move on to the next book~

one true loves

Sometime during the month, Libby decided I was ready for pain. I had put some Taylor Jenkins Reid audiobooks on hold and forgotten about them, and they came in at the same time. I started with One True Loves, a book about a woman about to get married when she finds out that the fiancé she thought was dead after a helicopter crash is actually alive and coming back to her.

The first thing I noticed about this book is how straightforward and easy to read it was. It only took me a few minutes before I was completely wrapped up in the story and its characters. What I loved most about this book, though, was its exploration of true love and all of its forms. I could go on and on about how many types of love there are in this world plus their varying uses. It’s a conversation that a lot of people aren’t exactly ready for, or don’t see exactly eye-to-eye with me on because we’ve been so conditioned to believe that love is this one set thing. I’m glad TJR was able to explore this a bit in this novel! Also, I cried. But what else did we expect?

after i do

I started After I Do within minutes of finishing One True Loves. You know, the more I think about this book, the less I feel about it. It’s about a couple whose marriage has fallen apart, and they decide to take a year apart to figure out what their final decision will be.

If there’s one thing Taylor Jenkins Reid does flawlessly, it’s characters. I loved them all, even when I didn’t, and they all felt so human and real to me. I’ve heard a lot of people say they experienced this while reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (and I did too! 🙋🏽‍♀️) but I was happy to see that it extended to her characters who weren’t stars with explosive personalities. They made questionable choices (her main character in particular!) and mistakes, just like real people doIt was this humanity that made me cry during the end of this novel.

But as for the rest of it? Well. I sort of wished it would be over sooner. I was waiting for something to happen, but, it felt different. I usually love slow stories with characters as the main focus (my favorite author is Sarah Dessen, for goodness sake), but this was hinging on things that I felt could have been fixed so much more easily. Something just felt missing to me.

But…. I still cried, so…. 😅

a lesson in thorns

Oh boy. This book. Somewhat on a whim, I picked up A Lesson in Thorns by Sierra Simone. I can’t recall now what made me want to start reading it right that second, but when do I not want to read about a bunch of bi people who want each other?

I’ve seen almost everybody rate this book highly. I’ve heard a lot about the sex scenes in it, about the variety in couples and amount of people participating in each one. Color me intrigued. I was expecting it to be quite sexy and explicit, but what I wasn’t expecting was for it to be written so beautifully. Am I the asshole here? It’s not that I expected it to be written poorly; I’m just used to smutty romances being more relaxed and more of an easy-reading experience. This book, though… it wrapped me in mystery and a sense of magic right from the start. I think that might have kept me intrigued more than the impending sex scenes! (I said “might”. I know what I’m about).

anna dressed in blood

Sometime after that, I got an urge to read a creepy story. A ghost story would be the best choice. I adore books about ghosts! Somehow they’re scarier to me than the idea of a serial killer. I decided to listen to Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake all in one afternoon while I did some clothes shopping.

I wish I could say more about this book, but it ended up being the kind of book you read once and enjoy but then eventually forget about. The narrator for the audiobook paused in the strangest places in the middle of sentences. Also, the voice for one of the characters made it so difficult to take the whole book seriously! Not that it was a super serious book, though: despite the premise of a ghost that mercilessly kills anyone that enters her home, the book is surprisingly light-hearted. I think we owe that to our protagonist, a boy who has a good sense of humor and hunts ghosts in his spare time. The dynamic of the friend group that comes together as the novel progresses was interesting and fun, and I felt my heart break the most for a certain character whose backstory we see, but it ultimately wasn’t enough to have me requesting the next book in the series.

The last two books I read were both thrillers, and I wrote reviews for each of them! You can read my post for The Liar’s Daughter here, and for I’ll Never Tell here; these were both very quick reads that I’d recommend for this time of year!

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That’s all for today! What books did you read in September? If you’ve read any of the books I’ve listed, let me know your thoughts!

    xonikee1

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Top Ten Tuesday: Character Traits I Love!

Top Ten Tuesday: Character Traits I Love!

TTT-NEW

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together. As I feel most comfortable with smaller numbers, I’ll be making a top 5 instead.

Today we’ll be covering 5 character traits I adore in books! Continue reading “Top Ten Tuesday: Character Traits I Love!”