The Reader: Sea of Ink and Gold, Book 1

The Reader: Sea of Ink and Gold, Book 1

Cover image for The Reader
Cover image for The Reader

This is perhaps one of the most unique adventure stories I’ve read it a long time. I really admire how authors can still come up with interesting and different frameworks for the same themes and tropes. Though we seem to read the same story a thousand times, creative and talented writers make it so we never notice that’s what’s happening. Traci Chee is one of those authors.

“Sefia knows what it means to survive. After her father is brutally murdered, she flees into the wilderness with her Aunt Nin, who teaches her to hunt, track, and steal. But when Nin is kidnapped, leaving Sefia completely alone, none of her survival skills can help her discover where Nin’s been taken, or if she’s even alive. The only clue to both her aunt’s disappearance and her father’s murder is the odd rectangular object her father left behind, an object she comes to realize is a book–a marvelous item unheard of in her otherwise illiterate society. With the help of this book, and the aid of a mysterious stranger with dark secrets of his own, Sefia sets out to rescue her aunt and find out what really happened the day her father was killed–and punish the people responsible.” —Indiebound

Books in which literacy is not common, or in which it’s repressed and discouraged, or in which books are banned–these are common things. A book in which books, or even written language as we know it, do not exist? That’s something new. One imagines you’d have to completely recreate the fabric (dare I say meaning?) of your fictional society to make it work. Of course, in this novel, books and reading do exist, but in secret. There is only one place in the whole world (that we know of so far), where books exist and people know how to read. And then, there are only a few people who know how to read (under ten, as far as I can tell). I love this premise, especially because it makes books the focal point of the story, and emphasizes their value.

The book that Sefia carries is a very special book–one that people are willing to go to great lengths to get their hands on. As the novel progresses, the readers themselves begin to realize what the book contains and how very precious it is. There are several different storylines that occur in the novel, and all of them slowly come together for a couple of very cool moments in which the reader realizes just how skillfully a web is woven with the different threads of plot.

SONY DSC

This novel is full of a lot of really fun characters that I enjoyed getting to know. I wish Sefia weren’t so sad, but she’s had a hard life, and her reluctance to trust and allow herself to love are both understandable. She’s tough, but she’s scared. Everyone she’s ever loved has been taken from her, and that plays big in how she interacts with other people. Archer, if possible, is even more messed up than Sefia. His life not only includes loss but also abduction and being forced to commit violent acts. When they meet and for several weeks after, Archer cannot speak at all. Sefia and Archer develop a bond that goes beyond spoken language, communicating with signs, eye contact, and more. Their friendship is one that develops out of necessity but is not less enviable for it.

This book takes place on both land and sea, and I love all of the adventures of Captain Reed and his crew related in the Book. They venture to the western edge of the world and encounter numerous trials along the way. At first, their story seems completely out of context with Sefia and Archer’s journey, but once again the Book proves to be more than it seems. These guys were my personal favorite part of the book. Who doesn’t love a good piratey adventure?

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This is a great work of YA fiction for fans of adventure stories and fantasy. Chee’s world-building and character development are world-class, and I really look forward to the next installment of this series.

 

Three Anticipated Reads

Three Anticipated Reads

The Young Elites
The Young Elites

The first of my three highly anticipated reads is The Young Elites by Marie Lu. Unlike many of you (probably), this was my first of her novels. I haven’t read Legend or any of that series. I was really excited to read this one, though, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was good YA.

“Adelina Amouteru is a survivor of the blood fever. A decade ago, the deadly illness swept through her nation. Most of the infected perished, while many of the children who survived were left with strange markings. Adelina’s black hair turned silver, her lashes went pale, and now she has only a jagged scar where her left eye once was. Her cruel father believes she is a ‘malfetto,’ an abomination, ruining their family’s good name and standing in the way of their fortune. But some of the fever’s survivors are rumored to possess more than just scars–they are believed to have mysterious and powerful gifts, and though their identities remain secret, they have come to be called the Young Elites.

Teren Santoro works for the king. As Leader of the Inquisition Axis, it is his job to seek out the Young Elites, to destroy them before they destroy the nation. He believes the Young Elites to be dangerous and vengeful, but it’s Teren who may possess the darkest secret of all.
Enzo Valenciano is a member of the Dagger Society. This secret sect of Young Elites seeks out others like them before the Inquisition Axis can. But when the Daggers find Adelina, they discover someone with powers like they’ve never seen.

Adelina wants to believe Enzo is on her side, and that Teren is the true enemy. But the lives of these three will collide in unexpected ways, as each fights a very different and personal battle. But of one thing they are all certain: Adelina has abilities that shouldn’t belong in this world. A vengeful blackness in her heart. And a desire to destroy all who dare to cross her.
‘It is my turn to use. My turn to hurt.'”

This is a good work of young adult fiction. It had great characters. Some were a little formulaic, but I enjoyed others immensely. Also, I feel like maybe Marie Lu has read the Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey. Sometimes it felt like she took some details straight from there. It’s a great adventure and pretty dramatic, with some really unforeseen twists and surprises. I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars because it’s close to perfect, but not quite.

Slade House
Slade House

Slade House by David Mitchell was the perfect mix of suspenseful, creepy, and beautiful. I truly am amazed by his writing and I highly recommend his work to anyone who hasn’t read it yet. I have several more of his older titles still to read and I’m glad I still have some of his stories left to read. I digress.

“‘Keep your eyes peeled for a small black iron door.’ 

Down the road from a working-class British pub, along the brick wall of a narrow alley, if the conditions are exactly right, you’ll find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the house’s residents–an odd brother and sister–extend a unique invitation to someone who’s different or lonely: a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside Slade House? For those who find out, it’s already too late. . . .

Spanning five decades, from the last days of the 1970s to the present, leaping genres, and barreling toward an astonishing conclusion, this intricately woven novel will pull you into a reality-warping new vision of the haunted house story as only David Mitchell could imagine it.”Indiebound

This novel was shorter and smaller than I expected, a very light hardcover easily held with one hand. I devoured this book in a day. I could barely put it down. I read it while I cooked, I read it while I ate, I read it outside with my coffee, I read it in the bathtub, and I ignored my family to read it. David Mitchell once again has created a story that completely absorbs its reader and leaves them scrambling for more. Beautiful prose, engaging story: 5/5 stars for darling Mr. Mitchell’s latest.

Bats of the Republic
Bats of the Republic

Bats of the Republic is an illuminated novel of adventure, featuring hand-drawn maps and natural history illustrations, subversive pamphlets and science-fictional diagrams, and even a nineteenth-century novel-within-a-novel an intrigue wrapped in innovative design.

In 1843, fragile naturalist Zadock Thomas must leave his beloved in Chicago to deliver a secret letter to an infamous general on the front lines of the war over Texas. The fate of the volatile republic, along with Zadock’s future, depends on his mission.When a cloud of bats leads him off the trail, he happens upon something impossible…

Three hundred years later, the world has collapsed and the remnants of humanity cling to a strange society of paranoia. Zeke Thomas has inherited a sealed envelope from his grandfather, an esteemed senator.When that letter goes missing, Zeke engages a fomenting rebellion that could free him if it doesn’t destroy his relationship, his family legacy, and the entire republic first.

As their stories overlap and history itself begins to unravel, a war in time erupts between a lost civilization, a forgotten future, and the chaos of the wild. Bats of the Republic is a masterful novel of adventure and science fiction, of elliptical history and dystopian struggle, and, at its riveting core, of love.”

I was very excited to read Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson, but I think perhaps it was written for people much smarter and more artistic than I am. Visually the novel is very beautiful and stimulating, with sketches, handwritten letters, maps, diagrams, and other media besides written words that really brought the story to life. I really liked to concept of this novel. However, something about it felt disjointed to me, and the reading was not as enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be. It built and built to what promised to be a brilliant ending, but to me the ending felt gimmicky and not as big as it was made out to be. I know plenty of people who loved this book, but sadly it was a somewhat disappointing read for me.

 

Two Books Read Simultaneously (Because One Scared Me And I Couldn’t Read It After Dark)

Two Books Read Simultaneously (Because One Scared Me And I Couldn’t Read It After Dark)

I have mentioned in a previous post that I am very suggestible. Even the hint of something scary is enough to set my mind whirring into all sorts of horrifying possibilities. So when I tried to read Night Film by Marisha Pessl, I was spooked pretty much constantly.

Night Film
Night Film

“On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years. For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself. Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world. The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time, he might lose even more. Night Film, the gorgeously written, spellbinding new novel by the dazzlingly inventive Marisha Pessl, will hold you in suspense until you turn the final page.”–Indiebound

This book is supposedly a thriller, but I would argue it’s slightly scarier than that, although what do I know about true horror? I can’t read it. Books like this are difficult to talk about without giving too much away, so I will just say a few things about it. First, I liked the characters a lot, especially McGrath’s two “sidekicks.” Each main character, even the deceased girl, Ashley, is nuanced and detailed in a way that few authors achieve without seeming to show significant effort. McGrath, though unlikable, is an excellent, flawed protagonist whose mission to prove himself ends up driving the story. My only complaint is that he is not tremendously believable as a father.

There are almost two endings to this story, and I enjoyed that immensely. You’ll see what I mean when you read it.

And again, this book scared the daylights out of me. I could only read it during the day. It’s so spooky, and it hints at some really dark and even perhaps demonic dealings that go on in shadowy locations around New York. There are also pictures in this novel, so you never know when you’ll turn a page and come face to face with something weird and startling. Because of this, I had to have something to read that was definitely less scary, and less adult:

Deep Blue
Deep Blue

“Deep in the ocean, in a world not so different from our own, live the merpeople. Their communities are spread throughout the oceans, seas, and freshwaters all over the globe. When Serafina, a mermaid of the Mediterranean Sea, awakens on the morning of her betrothal, her biggest worry should be winning the love of handsome Prince Mahdi. And yet Sera finds herself haunted by strange dreams that foretell the return of an ancient evil. Her dark premonitions are confirmed when an assassin’s arrow poisons Sera’s mother. Now, Serafina must embark on a quest to find the assassin’s master and prevent a war between the Mer nations. Led only by her shadowy dreams, Sera searches for five other mermaid heroines who are scattered across the six seas. Together, they will form an unbreakable bond of sisterhood and uncover a conspiracy that threatens their world’s very existence.”–Indiebound

All I really want to say about this book (so I can forget about it quickly) is that it is stupid. The plot is stupid, the characters are stupid, and the world-building is stupid. The stupid “mermaidisms” drove me insane (example: their money is called “currensea.” Stop.)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! The lines between the world we know and the fantasy world where mermaids exist are not well-blended, and it comes off rushed and sloppy. This book is about at the quality level of a made-for-TV movie. I’m not interested in the rest of the series. I’m totally disappointed because I think there is a lack of good mermaid literature in the book world, and I was hoping this would make up some ground. It didn’t. Even for children’s level reading, it was bad.

Two YA books: One Good, One Terrible

Two YA books: One Good, One Terrible

One Good:

Crown Duel
Crown Duel

This novel, which is actually two shorter novels in one thick volume (Crown Duel and Court Duel), was one of my favorite books in high school. I remember being really influenced by these stories in my creative writing class in college, and in my romantic expectations.

“Young Countess Meliara swears to her dying father that she and her brother will defend their people from the growing greed of the king. That promise leads them into a war for which they are ill-prepared, which threatens the very people they are trying to protect. But war is simple compared to what follows, in peacetime. Meliara is summoned to live at the royal palace, where friends and enemies look alike, and intrigue fills the dance halls and the drawing rooms. If she is to survive, Meliara must learn a whole new way of fighting–with wits and words and secret alliances. In war, at least, she knew in whom she could trust. Now she can trust no one.”–Indiebound

First of all, Meliara is great. She is probably one of the first badass girls I ever encountered within a novel (Alanna was probably the first). I’m pretty sure she’s a precursor to all of these “strong female characters” that people love to talk about. For a story that comes pretty close to a fairy tale, its protagonist blows through all of the expectations of what a royal woman is supposed to do. She was fighting in wars and saving the kingdom before everyone was doing it: the hipster countess.

I digress. The writing is rougher than I remember it being, but I still enjoyed it greatly. I love the characters, both good and bad, although the villains could be fleshed out a little better, I think. The story is gripping and engaging, and I think I devoured this sizable volume in just a day or two. The only thing that ruined it for me was the short story that’s included at the end. I felt like Mel is a completely different character in it than she is in the novels themselves. Where she’s fierce and confident in the novels, she seems cowed, insecure, and way more into girly stuff than usual in the story. I wasn’t a fan. If you read the novels, skip the story if you can resist.

One Terrible:

Magonia
Magonia

Ugh. Ugh ugh ugh. I hated this book. I’m really surprised that I even finished. I was excited to read it because it’s physically beautiful (never judge a book by its cover) and Neil Gaiman endorsed it (thanks for letting me down, Neil). This story was terrible from start to finish.

“Maria Dahvana Headley’s soaring YA debut is a fiercely intelligent, multilayered fantasy where Neil Gaiman’s Stardust meets John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars in a story about a girl caught between two worlds . . . two races . . . and two destinies. Aza Ray Boyle is drowning in thin air. Since she was a baby, Aza has suffered from a mysterious lung disease that makes it ever harder for her to breathe, to speak, to live. So when Aza catches a glimpse of a ship in the sky, her family chalks it up to a cruel side effect of her medication. But Aza doesn’t think this is a hallucination. She can hear someone on the ship calling her name. Only her best friend, Jason, listens. Jason, who’s always been there. Jason, for whom she might have more-than-friendly feelings. But before Aza can consider that thrilling idea, something goes terribly wrong. Aza is lost to our world and found, by another. Magonia. Above the clouds, in a land of trading ships, Aza is not the weak and dying thing she was. In Magonia, she can breathe for the first time. Better, she has immense power, but as she navigates her new life, she discovers that war between Magonia and Earth is coming. In Aza’s hands lies fate of the whole of humanity including the boy who loves her. Where do her loyalties lie?” Indiebound

Another comparison to big names like Gaiman and Green just to sell a title, but it’s lies, lies, lies. It comes nowhere close to either of the stories told by those masters. It’s murky and difficult to understand in the beginning. Aza’s illness is weird and unexplainable. It seems like it’s going to be another story about a disagreeable teenager with a terminal illness, like Side Effects May Vary. But then out of nowhere it becomes this really, REALLY strange fantasy novel. Unfortunately, the author doesn’t seem to know how to effectively blend a realistic story with fantasy, and the result is pathetic and brackish.

The element of fantasy in this world had the potential to be interesting, but this world of sky ships is populated by…wait for it…..anthropomorphic bird people. Shut up. Literally, the whole time I was reading it I was picturing this:

anthropomorphic bird people
anthropomorphic bird people

…and it was awful.

Please don’t read this book. The world is full of really great books. Skip this one and spend your time on one that’s worth it.

A New Treasure, A Teen Read, and An Old Favorite

A New Treasure, A Teen Read, and An Old Favorite

I am still playing catch-up with my book reviews, so today’s post will include three short blurbs about books that I read last year. I’m into November books now, so I’m happily moving along quickly!

A New Treasure:

The Red Garden
The Red Garden

The Red Garden introduces us to the luminous and haunting world of Blackwell, Massachusetts, capturing the unexpected turns in its history and in our own lives. In exquisite prose, Hoffman offers a transforming glimpse of small-town America, presenting us with some three hundred years of passion, dark secrets, loyalty, and redemption in a web of tales where characters’ lives are intertwined by fate and by their own actions. From the town’s founder, a brave young woman from England who has no fear of blizzards or bears, to the young man who runs away to New York City with only his dog for company, the characters in The Red Garden are extraordinary and vivid: a young wounded Civil War soldier who is saved by a passionate neighbor, a woman who meets a fiercely human historical character, a poet who falls in love with a blind man, a mysterious traveler who comes to town in the year when summer never arrives. At the center of everyone’s life is a mysterious garden where only red plants can grow, and where the truth can be found by those who dare to look. Beautifully crafted, shimmering with magic, The Red Garden is as unforgettable as it is moving.” –Indiebound

I was so impressed with this little volume that I read it in about 24 hours. I’m having trouble deciding if I enjoyed this book more than Hoffman’s book for children, Nightbird. These stories tell tales about different people living in the same town for hundreds of years, from its founding in the days of settlers and explorers all the way up to near-modern times. Though some people seem frustrated by the open-ended nature of the stories and the way Hoffman never goes back to wrap up the story of any one character, I found myself greatly pleased by this. It encourages reader participation. For those readers who are astute, she provides hints in later stories about the fates of characters in earlier stories, and it is an interesting reading experience to see characters about which one just read become historical fixtures in a later story.

Hoffman’s language and story-telling ability drew me in and made me want to live in this tiny town so rich in history and magic. The red garden itself is mysterious and intriguing though the size of its part in each story varies wildly. The red garden mostly embodies the curious undercurrent of magic and mysticism that bubbles just below the surface of every story. I truly loved this book and highly recommend it.

A Teen Read:

Side Effects May Vary
Side Effects May Vary

“For fans of John Green and Rainbow Rowell comes this powerful novel about a girl with cancer who creates a take-no-prisoners bucket list that sets off a war at school only to discover she’s gone into remission. When sixteen-year-old Alice is diagnosed with leukemia, she vows to spend her final months righting wrongs. So she convinces her best friend, Harvey, to help her with a crazy bucket list that’s as much about revenge as it is about hope. But just when Alice’s scores are settled, she goes into remission, and now she must face the consequences of all she’s said and done. Contemporary realistic-fiction readers who love romantic stories featuring strong heroines will find much to savor in this standout debut.”Indiebound

I know a lot of people who liked this book, so I’m going to express an unpopular opinion here: I hated it. I could not stand Alice at all. I can’t possibly understand how difficult it is to have cancer, especially at a time when all of your hormones are exploding and you’re already a raging monster trying to figure out how to make it in the world. But this girl took it way too far and was one of the most disagreeable, unlikable characters I’ve ever read. “Fans of John Green” my butt. Hazel Grace was awesome. She was smart, witty, kind, and I wanted to be her friend. Alice is an unpleasant bitch (understatement) who starts and perpetuates completely unnecessary drama and makes the lives of those who love her a living hell. People are trying to cope with the fact that she’s dying, and she unequivocally makes it a bazillion times worse. Ugh. Hated this book. Pass on it; trust me.

An Old Favorite:

Spindle's End
Spindle’s End

“The evil fairy Pernicia has set a curse on Princess Briar-Rose: she is fated to prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into an endless, poisoned sleep. Katriona, a young fairy, kidnaps the princess in order to save her; she and her aunt raise the child in their small village, where no one knows her true identity. But Pernicia is looking for her, intent on revenge for a defeat four hundred years old. Robin McKinley’s masterful version of Sleeping Beauty is, like all of her work, a remarkable literary feat.” Indiebound

I read this book in high school (I discovered just how long ago I read it when I found a love note from a high school ex in the back of the book), and absolutely loved it the first time. I’ve wanted to re-read it for years, so I brought it with me to Peru to read. The only books I brought with me (I couldn’t afford the space or the weight for many) were favorites of mine that I wanted to re-read, and this was one of them. It stood the test of time, believe me. I still love it!

Obviously, this is a re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty, which is not one of my favorite fairy tales. After all, it’s the one (at least the Disney version we’re all familiar with) in which the fairy tale “heroine,” or perhaps “maiden” is better, does absolutely nothing. There is barely any story to this story. McKinley takes a baseball bat to that notion. She storied the hell out of this story.

First, Briar-Rose, or Rosie as her friends know her, is not your typical princess. Raised as a country girl, she’s sweet and loves her foster family, but she would rather work than braid hair and sew (or whatever princesses do). Her best friend is a blacksmith. At a very young age, she decides she can’t put up with all that long, flowing, golden hair bullshit, and cuts it all off. Perhaps her most “princess-y” trait is that she can communicate with animals. I love Rosie for her spunk and her tomboyishness, and for everything she does that flies in the face of what princesses are “supposed” to do. Of course, she doesn’t know she’s a princess.

McKinley hasn’t written anything decent in the past few years, which breaks my heart because I truly love her older work. She masterfully weaves together magic and history and creates a world that is dreamlike and charming, even when it gets tough on its characters. In my mind when I read this book, there is a golden aura surrounding every mental image, and it’s a place where I very much wish to visit. I highly recommend this beautiful retelling of Sleeping Beauty because it is at least 100x better than any other version I’ve read.

The Accursed King

The Accursed King

Okay, The Accursed King is not the name of a book. If it is, it’s not the one I’m reviewing. I have another duel post today, and first I’d like to talk about The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates.

The Accursed cover
The Accursed cover

“A major historical novel from ‘one of the great artistic forces of our time’: an eerie, unforgettable story of possession, power, and loss in early 20th-century Princeton, a cultural crossroads of the powerful and the damned.”

This novel was very interesting. I did not understand its format, at first, and an apparent “historical” quote about a Curse in Princeton, NJ near the turn of the 20th Century confused me. This quote is, of course, part of the novel and made by a fictitious character. But it was intriguing for the author to introduce a fictional character in a place where most novelists put relevant, real quotes by real authors.

This blending of history and fiction sets the trend for the entire novel. Many of the chapters are actually diary entries or memories of characters. Interspersed with fictional names are some very recognizable real ones: Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, Upton Sinclair, Jack London, and more. It made the story interesting, to read about these historical figures and the supernatural events that only happened to them in this novel.

This is the first novel by JCO that I had ever read. I really enjoyed her style. It’s eloquent, detailed, and, at least in this novel, satirical of the upper class (always a favorite of mine). This novel was also just creepy enough to keep me guessing and just a little afraid, but not so creepy as to keep me up at night. I believe I read this one around Halloween, and it was the perfect read for that time of year! I’d really recommend this novel.

The Once and Future King
The Once and Future King

“T.H. White’s masterful retelling of the saga of King Arthur is a fantasy classic as legendary as Excalibur and Camelot, and a poignant story of adventure, romance, and magic that has enchanted readers for generations.”

The above blurb is not really sufficient to describe what this novel encompasses. This is one of my favorite books of all time. It is a masterful work that imagines the life of King Arthur from beginning to end. If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Sword In the Stone” you will recognize the first book of this novel (it’s divided into four books; you can also buy the first book as a separate volume).

I wrote a paper on this novel in college and actually had it published in our literary journal. I am a big fan of Arthurian literature and legend, and what really speaks to me about this novel every time I read it is the way it links identities formed by events in childhood to their contributions to the story in adulthood. It very clearly connects issues with self-confidence or emotional control in Lancelot, Gawaine, or other popular characters directly to their actions as adults and the ways in which they contribute to the downfall of Arthur’s kingdom.

But this is English-major-nerd speak. Why should someone who isn’t examining every word of this book for connections read it? First, it’s funny. White wrote it decades ago, but the quirky, whip-smart humor holds up. I often find myself laughing out loud and trying to explain to the people around me what’s so funny, but no one understands. What I really need is for someone to also read this novel, love it as much as me, and then talk about it with me all the time.

It’s also an emotionally manipulative masterpiece. I’m not sure how White manages to make me laugh while I’m also crying, but he does it more than once. He makes me grit my teeth and wring my hands and completely stress about what is going to happen. He makes you love even the worst of the characters (with one notable exception) and wish more than anything that they would stop digging their own graves.

I daresay Arthur’s story is one of the greatest legends of all time. It has endured more lastingly than any other, I think, and this novel is a beautiful tribute and contribution to the canon. T. H. White’s interpretation of the legend is my favorite out of all the texts I’ve read (Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon comes pretty close, too). Even if it doesn’t become your favorite interpretation, I highly recommend you read this novel.

Two Very Different Books (Because This Is a Book Blog and I Need to Catch Up)

Two Very Different Books (Because This Is a Book Blog and I Need to Catch Up)

Last year was not my best book for reading (that would be the year I read 112 books), but I did still reach my reading goal of 100 books. Unfortunately, all that time reading means I didn’t do a lot of writing. Thus, my attempts to play catch-up (all while reading more and digging myself into a deeper hole; isn’t that fun?).

The Selection cover
The Selection cover

The first book in this post is The Selection by Kiera Cass. Any fan of YA fiction has likely read this book. While I did think it was more shallow than my usual YA fare, I was on vacation in Cusco at the time and found myself enjoying it as a light vacation read.

“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.” —Indiebound

I know, I know. This book is literally about a bunch of girls competing to marry a prince. It seems like it sets feminism back a century. Maybe I should feel ashamed for liking it. But like it I did, and I want to read the rest of them. America is a great character. Hers is an enjoyable voice. She recognizes how atrocious the Selection is, and only applies for it because of pressure from her family. She is a talented singer and a smart kid and uppity to boot. I liked her. The only thing I think I don’t like about this book is the tired love triangle. While I do love a good romance, I hate it when a novel centers around a girl’s pursuit of a boy (or possibly two). There could have been more to this plot, but I still enjoyed it and I will likely check the rest of the series out from the library if I need something quick and easy to give my brain a rest from books like this next one:

The Historian cover
The Historian cover

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This book is a doozy! It took me weeks to read it, and the only books that ever usually take me weeks are penned by George R. R. Martin. This isn’t because I wasn’t reading it constantly. I couldn’t put it down. It’s just very long, with small print, and a really dense, twisted plot. At times, this book tells a story within a story within a story (and possibly one more “within a story”). I honestly can’t remember how many layers of people telling stories there were at each point in the book.

“‘To you, perceptive reader, I bequeath my history….’ Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters. The letters are all addressed to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor,’ and they plunge her into a world she never dreamed of–a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an inconceivable evil hidden in the depths of history.The letters provide links to one of the darkest powers that humanity has ever known, and to a centuries-long quest to find the source of that darkness and wipe it out. It is a quest for the truth about Vlad the Impaler, the medieval ruler whose barbarous reign formed the basis of the legend of Dracula. Generations of historians have risked their reputations, their sanity, and even their lives to learn the truth about Vlad the Impaler and Dracula. Now one young woman must decide whether to take up this quest herself–to follow her father in a hunt that nearly brought him to ruin years ago when he was a vibrant young scholar and her mother was still alive. What does the legend of Vlad the Impaler have to do with the modern world? Is it possible that the Dracula of myth truly existed, and that he has lived on, century after century, pursuing his own unknowable ends? The answers to these questions cross time and borders, as first the father and then the daughter search for clues, from dusty Ivy League libraries to Istanbul, Budapest, and the depths of Eastern Europe. In city after city, in monasteries and archives, in letters and in secret conversations, the horrible truth emerges about Vlad the Impaler’s dark reign, and about a time-defying pact that may have kept his awful work alive down through the ages. Parsing obscure signs and hidden texts, reading codes worked into the fabric of medieval monastic traditions, and evading the unknown adversaries who will go to any lengths to conceal and protect Vlad’s ancient powers, one woman comes ever closer to the secret of her own past and a confrontation with the very definition of evil. Elizabeth Kostova’s debut novel is an adventure of monumental proportions, a relentless tale that blends fact and fantasy, history and the present, with an assurance that is almost unbearably suspenseful–and utterly unforgettable.” —Indiebound

A few things:

1). ;uerhgf;dkjfhg;onifh;boe9ruyth;wit’wmeisubhnpw;oritjhgslorgjks;hdgslfh[gwneoirvgj’spoj THIS BOOK WAS EPIC AND AMAZING

2) This is a debut?! And the woman has a second novel out (The Swan Thieves, which I have also read and enjoyed). I can’t imagine writing a novel like this and having time left in my life to compose a second one equal to the first in both quality of research and quality of writing.

3) This novel scared the daylights out of me.

A disclaimer about that last one: I am very easily frightened. I don’t read horror, I don’t watch horror, and I can’t even really watch trailers for horror movies or TV shows. Many of you probably have much more backbone than I do and this novel will not scare you as it did me. But Kostova has done absolutely brilliant work in depicting an evil so insidious and knowledgeable as to seem inescapable. The danger and suspense felt by readers while engaged in the novel are so potent and powerful that they seep off the page and seems to lurk in the shadows of reality.

I’m not sure that any characters could get more 3D than Kostova’s. Every little quirk and detail about each of her main characters are there in the text, lovingly included so the reader can know intimately her protagonists. The detail in this novel is exquisite. The nature of the light while a character reads or as the girl and her father arrive in a new locale. The sounds and smells of the presence of evil and the acrid tang of the human body’s reaction to such a presence. The way different fabrics fold and crinkle with wear and use, or the sound of ancient pages being turned. All of these and more make this a novel that engages all the reader’s senses.

The prose and the amount of research I imagine Kostova needed to do to complete this work are both admirable qualities that only add to the sheer wonder of the book. I have to wrap this up because this post is getting too long, but I hope my readers understand exactly how incredible this book is. For quality and for entertainment, this book is 100% a 5/5 stars.