13.23–Fuse

13.23–Fuse

Fuse is the sequel to Pure, and is perhaps even more thrilling than the first book. In it, Partridge, Pressia, Bradwell, El Capitan, and Lyda are rocketed on separate quests to save their incredibly flawed world.  More secrets about the evils of the Dome are revealed, and the reader’s hunger for justice grows as it grows within the characters.

There was so much about this book that I loved.  One of the things that stuck out the most to me was the development of the relationships between the characters.  Pressia and Bradwell learn how to navigate their complicated feelings for one another–their love mixed with the fierce desire to protect one another by denying their mutual feelings.  Lyda and Partridge explore the feelings they never got to admit to each other when they were inside the Dome.  Even El Capitan and his brother Helmud start to build a relationship–one that consists of more than mutual hatred for their nearly unbearable situation.  Helmud begins to show a personality of his own, and as twisted as it is, their relationship is a little bit heartwarming.

The plot was strong in this one.  I was constantly kept in the grip of suspense.  Because she did such a good job of establishing relationships between the characters, and of establishing the reader’s affections for those relationships, the strain and danger she puts them through is really emotionally taxing on the reader.  Partridge and Lyda, especially, separated by forces much more powerful than they are, keep the reader guessing about what will happen to their budding love.

Julianna Baggott has created a very strong second novel for her trilogy.  It did not feel like a filler, as second novels often do.  I was very impressed with her ability to make it feel like it’s own story.  That said, I really cannot wait for the third one to come out, though I know it won’t be for a long time.  Her world-building and storytelling are skillful enough that I’m dying to know what happens in the end! Too bad there isn’t even a publication date yet.  The good news is that gives you (the people who haven’t picked up and read both of them yet) the time to get caught up and breathlessly await the conclusion to the series!


13.17–The Night Circus

13.17–The Night Circus

I am so excited to review this one. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a thing of beauty. If there was a single flaw, I was completely unaware of it. It is a magical, captivating novel, and I adored every second I got to spend with it.

Goodreads Summary

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.”

The novel is set in the Victorian Era, but has no coherent timeline. Almost every chapter is set in a year different from the previous chapter, so that the reader has to put the story line together on his or her own, a trait which I loved.  It made the novel just as elusive as the Cirque itself, and it caused me to devour every page faster than the last so I could find the next piece of the puzzle.  The time period in which it sets is part of what makes it so incredibly beautiful.  Sumptuous silks, brocades, and velvets; dancing flames and primitive electricity; trains; cities just beginning to bustle with industry; opera; theater; elegant parties and dinners…the world of the circus performers is glamorous with an undercurrent of repressed sexuality and magic.  The setting itself, even without the plot, is wholly unique and captivating.

There is something so impossible about the circus itself that makes it difficult to describe in any review.  It is more than just the fact that it opens only at night and is deserted by day, or that everything within it is black and white, and it’s full of people who can work real magic, rather than just sleights of hand.  It’s more than the two powerful magicians who oversee the work of their students.  Perhaps it’s the romance of the “love letters” that Celia and Marco create for each other, or the fact that each member of the circus is suspended in time, as is the circus itself.  Whatever it is, the pervading air of somethingness, of otherness, about Le Cirques des Rêves truly invites you in and makes you comfortable.  I found myself simultaneously wanting to find out how it would end and wishing it would never end so I could stay inside the gates of Le Cirque des Rêves as long as possible.

Speaking of ending, I loved it.  It was perfect.  Morgenstern sets up a horrible situation that it was difficult to imagine a way out of for Celia and Marco.  Yet one forgets that in this world of Morgenstern’s creation, magic is possible and the possibilities go on forever. I enjoyed her solution to the conflict.  It wasn’t perfectly happy and it wasn’t piss-your-reader-off tragic.  It was just right.  Literally everything about this novel was perfect from beginning to end, and I truly applaud Morgenstern for writing one of the best novels I’ve ever read in my life.

Sadly, I’ve discovered that it’s going to be made into a movie.  It’s only of those novels that is so incredibly perfect, and so much fun to imagine for yourself, that I don’t even want to see the trailer.  I don’t want any director’s limited vision ruining what Morgenstern has so perfectly created in my imagination.

13.15–Anna Karenina

13.15–Anna Karenina

Sadly, I read the movie edition. It’s what the library had.

I did it!! I made it through a Russian novel! And believe me, I am definitely patting myself on the back.  I’ve never been able to make it through a Russian novel before (much too long and rambling, and too many names!), but while Anna Karenina had the same elements that make me dislike every other Russian novel, the story was enough to redeem it.

There is so much to this nearly-thousand-page novel that it is difficult to cram it all into one blog.  There are two main stories (and countless little side-shows) that occur over the course of the novel–the messy drama between Anna, her husband Karenin, and Count Vronky; and the story of Kitty and Levin.  It is interesting that the novel is named after Anna because there are a great many characters that feature prominently, and perhaps even make more appearances than Anna does.  In fact, Anna’s story is the most interesting, and I wish that Tolstoy had spent more time on her and paid less attention to Russian politics, agriculture, and peasantry.  It’s an interesting glimpse into the time period, but seems completely unnecessary (and totally boring).

The novel tells the story of Anna’s doomed love affair with Count Vronsky.  She is married to Karenin, but falls in love with Vronsky almost the moment they meet.  I was surprised at how quickly the events moved in their story line.  I expected the subterfuge to last longer, I suppose because it was such a long novel, and I did not know that there was an entirely different story happening simultaneously.

Where one story is tragic–that of Anna and Vronsky, a family torn asunder, a woman driven to madness by jealousy and insecurity–the story of Kitty and Levin is almost fairy-tale-esque in nature and seems to suggest that by “following the rules,” so to speak, of society and religion, one may find happiness, contentment, and security.  I will say that Kitty was perhaps the most enjoyable character of the novel for me.  She is kind and sweet, though she’s often given to fits of womanly airs.  Anna, however, becomes more and more disagreeable as the novel progresses.  I’d say that the reader feels pity for her, but it is difficult to like her. And even by the end, my pity had evaporated as I became increasingly more irritated with her digging herself into a deeper and deeper hole.  And yet…

Tolstoy has a way of capturing the nuances of life that other authors seem to gloss over.  He has an eye and attention to detail that at times can be tedious but, more often than not, is quite interesting.  More than once I found myself thinking about a characters actions, I do that too!  It is fascinating to read about the subtleties of your own character in a book over a hundred years old.  In Anna, I saw a little of myself.  She often reminded me of myself in high school, when I too felt that panicky feeling in my gut at the idea of losing the person I (thought I) loved.  She seems to live in constant fear that Vronsky is falling out of love with her; is seeing other women; is mocking her in his face and tone of voice.  I recognize that fear and madness in myself, and it was quite a disturbing mirror.  I can’t say I enjoyed the feeling, but it was impressive the way that Tolstoy is able to capture the emotions of a woman so well.  And somehow, it is comforting to know that I’m not the only woman who felt this way.

I confess, only parts of the novel held my attention.  Especially in Levin’s parts, I found my eyes glazing over, and I realized I had gone through a page or two without registering anything that had been said.  And I was strangely okay with this, because it didn’t detract from the story at all.  I say, don’t feel guilty for skimming.

The story is worth reading, for sure.  It is a classic, and with Tolstoy’s eye for detail when it comes to minute human traits, it is easy to understand why.  Though the politics and technologies of the book are now long out-dated, the themes, events, and feelings are things that could very well happen today, tomorrow, or a hundred years in the future.  It’s a novel that takes several different views at what it is like the be a human in any stage of love, and it’s quite beautiful.  I definitely recommend reading this book to the very end.

I’ve heard from numerous sources that this is the translation closest to the original Russian. READ THIS TRANSLATION.


13.3–If I Stay

13.3–If I Stay

If I Stay is a beautiful novel, but incredibly depressing.  I enjoyed it immensely, but it’s definitely something you have to prepare yourself for.  It is the story of Mia, who, caught between life and death, must choose if she wants to return to life and a world utterly changed, or drift softly and easily into death to escape the pain of the reality that awaits her in life.  As she makes her decision, she flashes back to the happier moments of her life–moments with her family, friends, and boyfriend.

Again, I am struck by the overwhelming sadness of a novel. Why do we like to read these things? At the end, the reader is left with a bit of hope, but the second novel sounds depressing as well.  Is it the feeling of Oh, thank God it isn’t me? Or do we identify a bit with the griefs and losses of the characters?  In any case, people write these novels, and we read them and enjoy them, as is the case with this one. I read it in one sitting. It’s a quick but heavy read, and left my heart a bit sore.  It also gave me a very strong desire to hug my family.

Mia is an interesting character, one I couldn’t figure out.  She is neither popular nor nerdy.  She is a cello enthusiast, though I’d stop short of saying prodigy.  Perhaps others view her that way, but she does not think that of herself, and since it is her narration that creates the story, we’ll stick with her version of things, making her neither less nor more than she is.  She is shocked when the cute punk musician boy, Adam, shows interest in her, despite the fact that he is not popular either.  She has a fantastic relationship with her family, which is unusual for novels these days.  She seems like a loner, and doesn’t like hanging out with her boyfriend, Adam’s, friends.  Instead she mostly hangs out with one friend, Kim.  She and Adam, honestly, seem a very strange couple, but his grief at her condition is incredibly real.  For some reason, I just didn’t buy them as a couple, and it soured the story for me just a bit.  Still, it was enjoyable to read about a normal girl with a normal life for once, instead of a girl with powers, or a girl with fangs, or a girl who is forced to learn to survive after the collapse of civilization.  I love those kinds of books, but I also love books about regular girls.

The cover says, “For fans of Stephanie Meyers’ Twilight [sic],” but it’s not like Twilight at all. I hate that they stick that crap on the cover just to sell books.  For one thing, it is 100% more elegant than Twilight.  The writing style is lovely–simple, but full of imagery and emotion.  Mia is a good character, one that is somewhat admirable, and a little less dependent on a boy than some other characters *cough*cough*  She knows she has her own life to live, even if it tears her away from the boy she loves–unlike other “heroines” who throw themselves from cliffs because a boy leaves her. Just sayin’…

Anyway. Good novel.  Read it in a day because I had to know what she chose to do.  Live or die? To be or not to be? That is the question that Mia must answer, and I think you’ll enjoy her beautiful journey to that decision.


12.28–Wicked

12.28–Wicked

I revisited this one because it’s been quite a long time since I read it.  I remember sincerely loving the book, and marveling at the darkness with which Maguire writes. By the way, how gorgeous is this cover? Mine doesn’t look that good. Mine looks like this:

Not as pretty

Anyway, I don’t know how many people have read this novel, since it’s been out for years.  For those who haven’t, it tells the story of Elphaba, who is more familiar to fans of The Wizard of Oz under her identity of the Wicked Witch of the West (which I will now refer to as WWW).  In this first novel of Maguire’s, he gives the reader the backstory of the WWW, from her humble beginnings in the country of Munchkinland to her college years at Shiz to her rebellious youth in the Emerald City.  From the novel, the reader learns that Elphaba, or WWW, is not the evil villain we love to hate.  She has been misunderstood her whole life, ostracized because of her green skin, and villainized because she disagrees vocally with the Wizard’s politics.  By the time she meets Dorothy (in part four of the novel), she is middle-aged and beaten down, having suffered a lifetime of loss after loss.

I remembered virtually nothing about this novel.  In my mind it got confused with the musical, which I’ve seen twice.

It’s pretty fabulous

Because I’d forgotten the novel, I was amazed by how different the two stories are.  For one thing, the musical is optimistic. It is the touching tale of two friends that somehow manage to overcome obstacles to their friendship and also make changes for the good of Oz.  The novel, conversely, is not.  For one thing, Elphaba and Glinda do not stay friends the way they do in the musical.  There is a massive cast of characters that pass through Elphaba’s life, but their presence is always fleeting.  Maguire’s novel is also a lot more political.  There is the Wizard, who blew into Oz in a hot air balloon and deposed the reigning child queen, and who oppresses the people of Oz indiscriminately. Munchkins, Quadlings, Animals–all fall under the Wizard’s iron hand.  There is a religious group that closely resembles Christians, known as the unionists, who worship the Unnamed God and attempt with futility to convert people away from the “pleasure faith.”  In fact, Elphaba at one point joins a group that, if not extreme enough to merit the distinction of terrorists, come pretty darn close.  No, it certainly isn’t the Wizard of Oz that we know at love from novel and film.

Part of me really didn’t like reading it this time.  I still give it five stars, because it is masterfully written, is a great and engaging story, and is engrossingly creative.  But there is a hopelessness that dominates the tone of the novel, and sometimes I wasn’t in the mood to pick up such a downer.  The novel seems to hint that resistance to the status quo, to tyranny and oppression, and to evil itself, is a useless pursuit that should be abandoned so that one might have a happy life.  Maybe this is mostly true, as it seems like one person has little power to make change, but I didn’t want to read about it in every word of the novel!

Still, as I said, it is a masterful work.  Maguire has a very dry and sometimes offensive sense of humor, playing with things that one would not normally find amusing (for instance, senility in the elderly). His words are beautiful.  It is a novel that is effortlessly thoughtful, which forces the reader to contemplate their own complacency.  Maguire also creates wonderful characters.  Elphaba is, despite being prickly and somber, a character that the reader can love, though it may stem from pity.  She tries so hard to do the right thing, and it often goes wrong for her.  She is going against the whole of Oz, and one cannot help but admire her courage.  The other characters that come and go (Boq, Galinda, Fiyero, Sarima, Liir, Nessarose, and others) are, if not always fully rounded out, entertaining.  They complement each other well, and yet, simply by existing, create conflict between each other.  Their differing beliefs and ideals clash enough that very little outside strife would be necessary, though it often makes an appearance anyway.

I definitely think the novel has more value than the musical.  Don’t get me wrong. The musical is great–beautiful costumes and sets, catchy and sometimes moving songs, and an entertaining plot line.  But where the musical is fun, the novel is important.  It is a witty, dry, and entertaining commentary on the world in which we live today.  If you’re one of the last people in the world to read this novel, I recommend you get around to it soon!

Or she’ll get you


12.26–Shadowfell

12.26–Shadowfell

Remember how I said the next blog would be about the Doctor Who book? I lied.  I just couldn’t get into that one while I had a Juliet Marillier book waiting to be read.  So, today’s blog is about her latest novel for teens, Shadowfell.  While I much prefer the depth and challenge of her novels for adults, I still felt the satisfaction that I always get from reading her novels.

This novel is set in a fictional land called Alban–one that much resembles Ireland in its landscape and its lore.  It once was a place of happiness and beauty, but a tyrannical king named Keldec has turned it into a place of suspicion, fear, and death.  He has clamped down on his kingdom with an iron gauntlet, forbidding his people to use their “canny” abilities or to question his rule.  Anyone who shows the least sign of magical talent is hunted down and brainwashed to enter Keldec’s service. Every autumn, bands of his Enforcers scour the land, rooting out rebellion or canniness and burning down entire villages for the sins of one.

Neryn is a 15-year-old girl who has been on the run for years, ever since her grandmother and brother were murdered by Enforcers and her canny abilities made her a prize for Keldec’s cause.  Neryn’s powers are more than just keen sight or musical ability.  Neryn can see and speak with the Good Folk, and Keldec wants her bent to his will, for anyone who controls Neryn holds a powerful weapon–the power to harness the spirits and magical beings of the land of Alban itself.  Neryn must find a hidden, legendary stronghold called Shadowfell–a haven said to be safe for people with magical abilities or rebellious leanings.  She is aided on her journey by a mysterious and stony-faced stranger, who she has great difficulty trusting, and her powerful Good Folk friends.

Everything that Marillier writes is infused with the magic and mystery of folklore. Her prose is stunning in its loveliness.  She constructs beautiful plots that always entail a heroine who must find her courage and undertake a journey most girls would shrink from.  They also always end with these girls finding love in strange and unexpected ways.  This novel was no exception.  From what I can recall, it is the first novel she’s written that isn’t set in the world we know.  Alban is a mythical land with its own geography, history, and lore. However, like I said, this lore very closely resembles Irish folklore, and it’s for this reason that I was mostly in fits the entire time I was reading.  For those that don’t know me, I’m absolutely obsessed with Irish folklore, and being in Ireland this summer and getting to learn about it first-hand was pretty much a dream come true. But I digress.  The beauty with which Marillier writes about this lore, the magic of the land, the land itself, and love, are all things that make me adore her writing.

Of course I struggled to find flaws with the book. It was predictable, sure, but I couldn’t tell if it was because I know her body of work so well, or a genuine lack of creativity.  Somehow I very much doubt that it’s the latter.  And there were parts that surprised me, pleasantly and not-so-pleasantly.  Ultimately, I was once again awed by her writing.

Her characters are always pleasing. She often blurs the line between good and evil, and when it comes to the Good Folk, she never really clarifies that line. They are, rather, mostly neutral, choosing to remain aloof of the petty squabbles of mankind. Until, that is, they affect the fate of the Good Folk as well, and that is very much the case in this novel.  Though they are beautiful, elusive, and powerful, they are also arrogant, most of them believing they are better than humankind (and rightly so).  Neryn, however, does manage to form a bond with a few of them, and earns the grudging respect of others.  Always, they are the self-possessed, regal beings that they always are in Marillier’s body of work, and I receive the most delight in reading about them in all of her novels.

The only thing that bothered me was the ending. Being a teen book, and therefore, naturally, a series, it did not have a true ending. It bothers me when authors do not wrap up a book well, leaving the reader impatiently waiting for the next installment of the story. It is, perhaps, my biggest pet peeve in writing. Still, I will anxiously await the next chapter in Neryn’s journey to free Alban from its tyrannical king.  Other than that, it was a delight to read, and I recommend it highly, as I do with all of her books.


Movie Review: The Words

Movie Review: The Words

I saw The Words with a friend last night–one who is a book lover like me. We both emerged from the theater in complete awe. Though the critical reviews for it are low, we loved it.  It was beautiful, emotional, and (we thought) the story was engrossing.

It’s like Inception about books.  It is a story within a story within a story. Dennis Quaid’s character has written a book, whose protagonist is Bradley Cooper’s character, who publishes a book using someone else’s writing (plagiarism…BIG no-no). This someone eventually comes on the scene and informs Rory (BC) that the book that made him famous was actually a true story. Someone complained that this is confusing. It’s not. Everyone watched Inception no problem. This is easier to understand. People just don’t like that it’s about books.

But for us, this fascinating community of people united by the written word, it’s a gem.  The movie is about the power of words and how they affect us–how they can make us rejoice, or fear, or cry, or love.  How when we write them, they are ours, and we don’t want anyone taking them from us.  This power is something that we know as well as we know our best friend.  It’s why we love books so much.  The whole time I watched I thought, “Yes! Finally! Something for us! And about us!”

The story was, as I said, engaging and emotional. There are two different romantic couples, and their love stories we enough to make me green with envy! Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana were great together! Ben Barnes and his French lover were also beautiful.  And then, when the inevitable conflict enters the story to strain their relationships, I had tears threatening to spill the whole time.  The gorgeous music, I feel, contributed to a lot of this, as did my susceptibility to romantic plot lines.  All that fell flat, I thought, were the last five minutes. I could have lived without them. Other than that, it was spot-on.

I think that it is a film that book lovers will love and appreciate as much as my friend and I did.  We understand, a little better than the rest of the world, how powerful a bunch of letters strung together can be.  You can read or write something that changes you, your world, and the world at large.  Definitely a must-see for book people!

 

Aren’t they disgusting(ly cute)?