July 31, 2012

One Fan's Appreciation

Happy Birthday, Harry James Potter! Happy Birthday, J.K. Rowling!

I just wanted to give a shout-out to the protagonist of one of my favorite book series ever, as well as the author who has been one of my biggest inspirations.

“It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” 

Words cannot express how much the Harry Potter series have meant to me over the years, or how profoundly my life has been affected by the books. From Hermione I learned the importance of sticking up for your beliefs and how intelligence can be such a strength. From Ron I learned about loyalty and the power of friendship. From Harry I learned to treasure family, the power of love, the importance of sacrifice, and how to live a life full of good morals.

Although Harry's wizarding world may not be real, it's given me a better understanding of our own world, how important each and every person's life is, and how our decisions will always have bigger implications. There may be problems in his world, just as there are in ours, but there's also always hope.
“We're all human, aren't we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”  

Thank you, J.K. Rowling. If I can ever affect anyone as the Harry Potter series have affected me and so many others, I should consider my life to be well-spent.

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Top Ten Characters I’d Like To Switch Places With For 24 Hours

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by the bloggers of The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is the top ten characters I'd like to switch places with for twenty-four hours.

Hermione Granger from Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling — Does this really need an explanation? I'd want to see what the wizarding world is like. I think even spending 24 hours in Harry's shoes would be pretty stressful, but I adore Hermione and she acts very much like me, so it would be easiest to be her as I explored this world.

Costis from The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner — Yes, I would totally genderswap here, because Costis would definitely give me the best chance to interact with my favorite characters in this series. I'd love to have the chance to have one on one time with the king and to observe the King of Attolia and his interactions with the Queen 

Veralidaine Sarrasri (Daine) from The Immortals quartet by Tamora Pierce — Daine is my favorite Pierce protagonist. She's able to view Tortall with fresh eyes since she's not from there, and I'd love to have the chance to explore this world. And she also can talk to, heal, and turn into animals. That would be one awesome magical power to have.

Arwen Undómiel/Éowyn/Rosie Cotton from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien — I can't possibly choose just one character from this trilogy. Middle-earth is a pretty scary place during the War for the Ring, but I'd love to switch places with any of these females for the chance to explore Rivendell, Edoras, or the Shire.

Sabriel from The Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix — Sabriel is a necromancer who can visit the world of the dead and has the power to control the dead. Yes, the realm of the dead is dangerous and sometimes scary, but how could I resist the chance to explore it for a (very) brief period of time?

Lyra Belacqua from His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman — I want a daemon so very desperately! Lyra has the most wonderful relationship with Pantalaimon, her daemon. I'd love to explore Lyra's steampunk Oxford, as well as have the ability to explore alternate universes.
Gemma Doyle from Gemma Doyle trilogy by Libba Bray — I haven't read the Gemma Doyle trilogy in years, but I'd love to experience the Victorian boarding school setting and the elaborate dresses. Plus I'd love to visit the other-world and have the chance to have power and use magic.
Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen — I adore all things historical England. The manners, clothes, and entertainment of Regency England come to play in Austen's most famous work. As Elizabeth for a day, I'd also get to exchange witty banter with Mr. Darcy...and who wouldn't want to do that? 

Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll — Wonderland is unlike anything I've ever read or seen. Parts of Wonderland are very odd and nothing's like what one would expect, but it would be fascinating to have the opportunity to explore it for a day.

Jo March from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott — Of all the March sisters, I've always felt the closest to Jo. She's spunky, determined, intelligent, and loves to write. I would also like a glimpse into the life of a big family of sisters. I don't think I'd want to live with tons of sisters every day, but it would be nice to experience life in a big and supportive family of women.

Agree with any of these choices? Have any other characters you'd love to switch places temporarily with? Let me know!
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July 30, 2012

Recommend A... First Book in a Series

Recommend A...is a new weekly feature hosted by Chick Loves Lit, where bloggers recommend a book based on a specific prompt. This week's prompt is to recommend a first book in a series.

Samaria series, #1

Archangel is the story of the angel Gabriel and Rachel, the human woman Jovah has chosen for him to marry. Gabriel has known that he would rise to become Archangel of Samaria for years, to help the struggling nation into a golden age, but he put off the search for his Angela until the last minute. It wouldn't normally be a problem, but the Archangel cannot assume his position without first singing a duet with his Angela. Rachel is not as easy to track down as Gabriel had assumed, however, and Rachel is haunted by a horrific past that causes her to be the exception to the norm she has absolutely no intentions of marrying Gabriel or assuming the role of Angela, and isn't afraid to tell him so. 

I have avoided YA angel stories like the plague (this book doesn't count to me since it was published before the YA paranormal angel craze and because it's technically considered adult fantasy); I'm just not interested in reading about angels. Shinn's angels are the exception. They're imbued with wings and power and the grace of Jovah, yet they're still struggling to figure out what to do with their lives and understand what Jovah truly expects from them. There's a conflict between the angels being appropriately removed from humans, and yet the need for them to watch over humans. And they're forced to marry humans in order to continue their race. Humans and angels live in a precarious co-existence in the world of Samaria.

Rachel and Gabriel have one of the best romantic relationships I've ever read in a novel. Throughout the course of the novel we get to see them grow individually and together as they learn to trust themselves and each other. Their relationship is fraught with misunderstanding and prejudice, but every little step towards acceptance of one another is so believable. This book always makes it to the top of the list whenever I want to read a more genuine depiction of a romantic relationship. And outside of their romance troubles, Gabriel is searching for meaning and trying to prepare to be the best future Archangel, while Rachel is haunted by her past and suspicious of all angels. But, like any romantic relationship, they complement each other and help each other reach their potentials. Romance done right, right here in this little book.

I don't know anything about music and singing, but this novel definitely made me wish I did. I absolutely loved the importance of music within this world. Music is used for worship and for pure emotion. Rachel possesses the only voice worthy of a duet with Gabriel, and through music their relationship is able to grow. By using music Gabriel and Rachel finally begin to understand one another.

She had chosen the song for him.
She loved him.

Just try and tell me that's not swoon-worthy right there.

I've only actually read the first book in this series, but it ended on such a perfect note that I had no desire for anything more. But after recently reading Angieville's review of Shinn's YA novel Summers at Castle Auburn, I'm feeling rather nostalgic for her work and do think I'd like to take the time to continue with the Samaria series. After I reread Archangel, of course.
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July 26, 2012

Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Across the Universe by Beth Revis
Published: 2011, Razorbill
Series: Across the Universe, #1
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Source: Library book
Goodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble

This is the secret of the stars, I tell myself. In the end, we are alone. No matter how close you seem, no one else can touch you.  

By grace of having parents considered to be necessary in the establishment of Centuri-Earth, a new habitable planet 250 years away from our current Earth, sixteen-year-old Amy is part of a small group cryogenically frozen aboard a spaceship. Although she is hesitant at first – she'll be leaving Earth and everything she knows forever – she ultimately decides to stay with her parents. She may be forging into the unknown, but at least she won't be alone.

Only fifty years from Centuri-Earth, Elder is training to be the future leader aboard the spaceship Godspeed. He feels like the odd one out – younger than the other three generations onboard, not quite sure if he has what it takes to lead future generations. Godspeed is a technological marvel and completely self-sustaining, but Elder and the ship's inhabitants have already begun to count down to their landing. Everything seems fine until Elder finds a girl his own age frozen in a hidden level. She becomes awakened after nearly being killed, and Elder realizes that there is much he doesn't know, and that life aboard the spaceship is not quite what he always assumed it to be. Together he and Amy are determined to figure out the truth of Godspeed's mission, who wants to kill Amy and the other frozen people, and why the humans on the spaceship are just so very different from how people seemed to act back on Earth.

First off, I must mention that this book has dual narrators. I am not really a fan of using more than one narrator in a book. When I read a book, I want to be completely immersed in the experiences of one person. A lot of times I also end up feeling that the different narrations are not distinguishable enough. While I still feel this way after reading Across the Universe, it was interesting to get into the heads of both Amy and Elder. They understandably have different interpretations of the events throughout the novel. I think the dual narration is a smart choice for this novel, but I think more could have been done with it. I wanted even more from both of the narrators. It was interesting to hear the other character's thoughts on something that literally just occurred in the perspective of the other, but lots of times the second interpretation was either similar or at least predicable enough given my knowledge of the other character.

I am not a huge science fiction fan – give me something that really delves into scientific aspects and their explanations and I'm completely lost. Trying to figure out the science fiction aspects of Across the Universe never felt too inaccessible or like a chore for me, for which I was grateful. I think that the premise of this story is rather interesting. It's not the first story I've heard about people being cryogenically frozen or intergalactic trips to find a new planet to colonize, but in general it is well done. The idea of an isolated spaceship turning into a dystopian society? That the truly sane are the ones treated as mentally unstable? The pure wonder everyone exhibits at seeing stars, at being able to have proof that there's more to the world than the spaceship? All very good.

Although there are rays of hope throughout the novel, in general I found it to be rather dark. There's quite a bit of death throughout the story and some mentions of suicide. There's also an attempted rape scene. For me, however, the graphic scenes take a back seat to dark feelings throughout the book. Through Amy and Elder's perspectives we as readers witness feelings of hopelessness and despair. I think the book's darkness did make complete sense, however.

My main issues with this book stemmed from not enough characterization and the plot twists being a tad predictable. Amy is pretty complex and for the most part I enjoyed reading her sections, but I'm not convinced she's an entirely true representation of a teenage girl. Elder does initially seem like a product of Eldest's brainwashing. He gets a little better and I did like reading about him slowly discovering hidden truths, but he's kind of bland and I disliked how readily he does everything for Amy. I also thought that a number of the plot twists are pretty predictable. And the climactic scene resolves the current problem a little too easily.

I'm spoiled and feel like I've read so many wonderful YA books that really do challenge readers to understand certain themes, have fantastic characterization, and keep the readers guessing until the end. This is not really one of those books but that is not to say that it's a bad book, just not exactly what I want in a book. I am not sure if I will continue with this series. There were some huge questions remaining at the end, but I'm not sure I'm interested enough.
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July 24, 2012

Top Ten Most Vivid Worlds/Settings in Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by the bloggers of The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is the top ten most vivid worlds/settings in books.

Whenever I think of books with great world-building/settings, my mind inevitably drifts towards fantasy and science fiction books. That is not to say that there aren't some great general fiction or contemporary books with vivid settings, but for me world-building implies creating something new, something distinct from the world in which we all reside, while at the same time making it believable enough for me as a reader. That being said, all of my choices are from fantasies. (Since fantasy is my favorite genre, maybe that's to be expected anyway...)

Middle-earth from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy — Tolkien's literary career was almost entirely focused on stories told within his Middle-earth, so it doesn't surprise me that this remains one of the most detailed worlds I've ever read about in a book. I know from research that I did back when The Lord of the Rings movies premiered that Tolkien created languages, centuries upon centuries worth of history, detailed maps, races, and mythologies. He wrote books just on the Middle-earth's history (The Simarillion, anyone?). And the world-building was so great that it was able to be transferred to the big screen almost exactly as it was described in his books. I'll be the first to admit that Tolkien's books have their slower moments, but most of those are due to him going on tangents that ultimately end up further fleshing out this world he's created.

The world from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series — Who doesn't want to visit Harry Potter's world? I think the juxtaposition of our real world with one just like ours but with a hidden magical community feeds into the desires of so many people. I mean, Universal Studios did create Harry Potter World just for that sort of wish-fulfillment. Rowling clearly put a lot of planning into her explanation of how a magical world could exist within our own, and it's done so very well. I am still waiting for my letter of acceptance into Hogwarts. That's one place where I'd have no objections to spending seven years of my life abroad.

The continent of countries Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis from Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief series — In my mind Megan Whalen Turner can do no wrong with any aspect of her The Queen's Thief series. The characters are some of my favorites ever, the storylines continue to pique my interest, and the world-building is phenomenal. I love her Greece-influenced world. The descriptions are so lush and vibrant. But mere physical descriptions take a back seat to the cultures, mythologies, and political intrigues that really define this world.

Tortall from Tamora Pierce's Song of the Lioness quartet, The Immortals quartet, Protector of the Small quartet, Daughter of the Lioness series, Beka Cooper trilogy — I am so happy that Tamora Pierce continues to revisit the realm of Tortall and its surrounding countries in her novels. Now that I have read over 17 novels that take place in this specific world, Tortall has become a real place for me. I'd love to be able to visit the golden age of Tortall and explore the lands where knights protect the realm, some humans are gifted with different types of magic, and immortal creatures roam the lands.

Kyrria from Gail Carson Levine's Ella Enchanted and Fairest — Kyrria and its surrounding countries is another land of wonder and enchantment that I wish was real. It's so fascinating how humans, fairies, giants, ogres, elves, gnomes, centaurs, and tons of other creatures are all able to exist in a relatively peaceful co-existence. Levine goes into such detail describing the world's inhabitants, from their appearances to their habits and even has some language-creation in there. Ella Enchanted is my favorite fairy tale retelling of all, so her land of Kyrria will always hold a special place in my heart.

Ravka from Leigh Bardugo's The Grisha Trilogy — Shadow and Bone is the only published novel in this upcoming trilogy, but the world-building in the introductory novel alone is absolutely amazing. As I mentioned in my review, I loved all the little details that Bardugo added to the Russian-influenced world of Ravka. Although I'm not sure that I'd like to live in Ravka, I would like to see the Little Palace, the Great Palace, and the Unsea (from a distance away). For a first book, I was really very satisfied with the storyline and world-building thus far and have high hopes that Bardugo will continue to flesh out her world in a very believable way in the next two novels.  

Lumatere and the world of Melina Marchetta’s The Lumatere Chronicles —Once again, unfortunately I’ve only had the pleasure of reading Marchetta’s first novel in this series, but I do have every intention of reading the rest, and soon. Lumatere and the surrounding kingdoms may be part of a fantasy world, but the issues of poverty, displacement, and fear are pretty much universal. Through Finnikin of the Rock, I feel like I got to understand the politics and build of many nations in this world, especially Lumatere, and I can’t wait to learn about other countries through Froi and Quintana.

Lyra's world from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy — Philip Pullman's epic retelling of Original Sin and the Fall takes place over many worlds and time periods. Although all of them are great, the world I most loved in the trilogy is protagonist Lyra's world. Her world is both fantastical and a part of the steampunk subgenre. It's a late nineteenth-century/early twentieth-century world where witches, sentient polar bears, and dirigibles exist. And my favorite part will always Pullman's creation of daemons, or animal companions that represent embodiments of one's soul.

Westeros and Essos from George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series — I'll admit that I'm a little peeved at George R.R. Martin for continuing to freaking expand this world he's created. I understand that he wants to show how a political conflict really can escalate and affect places that weren't even initially involved. But it's too much. I don't care about all these extra additions - I just want more focus on those characters I've already come to love. Regardless, Martin's world is so human despite the traces of magic. It's all about human conflict in a more unique setting. And the maps are incredible.

The New World and Old World from Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series — Perhaps I'm cheating just a little bit here. I've only actually read the first three books in this massive series, but I absolutely adored the TV show "Legend of the Seeker" that was based off of the series. I think it's really interesting how the Old World where magic is prevalent has basically become isolated from the New World. But the New World itself is really the aspect of this series that makes it so great. The New World is not without its own conflicts related to magic, and I love the tensions Goodkind creates between humans and those humans touched with magic.

Do you agree with my choices? Have other suggestions? Let me know!
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July 23, 2012

Recommend A... Book I Read This Year

Recommend A...is a new weekly feature hosted by Chick Loves Lit, where bloggers recommend a book based on a specific prompt. This week's prompt is to recommend a book I read this year. 

Goodreads synopsis: Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn't shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people's survival hangs in the balance.
To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls' destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.
The exciting adventure prequel to Malinda Lo's highly acclaimed novel Ash is overflowing with lush Chinese influences and details inspired by the I Ching, and is filled with action and romance.
I read this novel at the very beginning of this year (either that or at the very, very end of last year), before I started blogging or even had a Goodreads account. I first heard of Malinda Lo in reference to her story Ash, a Cinderella retelling. A good friend of mine, who adores fairy tale retellings just as much as I do, told me how much she loved Lo's reinterpretation of a Cinderella who falls in love with the King's Huntress rather than the prince. It sounded a little out there from my normal kind of book, but I trust her recommendations so I got both Ash and Lo's more recent novel Huntress to read. While I do think that Ash is beautifully written, I was much more drawn to Huntress.

Huntress tells the story of Kaede and Taisin, who are both acolytes at an academy. Kaede is more skilled in physical fighting while Taisin is training to become a Sage. Taisin has visions of the future and sees a vision of Kaede, accompanied by a deep feeling of loss and longing. Taisin refuses to acknowledge the vision or the implication that Kaede could come to be someone important to her.

Lo’s prose is absolutely beautiful and really helps give the conflicts between the girls more depth. The relationship between the two girls develops organically, and as a reader it just made sense to me. The main issue of their relationship lies not in the fact that they’re both female, but instead that Taisin has been training to become a celibate Sage. It is also refreshing how while their gender is never ignored, it does not become the defining aspect of their relationship. I also loved how the narration switches between Taisin and Kaede, so that readers get to understand the inner psyche of both girls.

This is a world full of magic and terrors, and Lo does give her readers plenty of examples of those aspects of her world. At its heart, however, it is about two young girls struggling with their feelings for each other and their hopes for the future. This is my favorite book by Lo, and  I will definitely check out future books of hers.
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July 20, 2012

Review: Starters by Lissa Price

Starters by Lissa Price
Published: 2012, Delacorte Press
Series: Starters and Enders, #1
Genre: Young Adult Dystopian Fantasy
Source: Library book

“You’re robbing them of the most precious thing – their lives.” I looked around and spotted my overnight bag against the wall.

“When you put it that way…it sounds like kidnapping.”

“It’s worse than that.” I picked up my bag. “It’s murder.” 

A year ago, the Spore Wars killed off all adults between the ages of twenty to sixty in the United States. Although a vaccination saved the lives of the children and the elderly, there was not enough to provide to all members of society. This left a lot of children without family or homes, and they're forced to live on the streets where they're treated as squatters and second-class citizens but unable to get work, vote, or do anything to better their situations. This is life for Callie, her little brother Tyler, and her friend Michael. They live day-to-day, until Callie hears of a company called Prime Destinations, which offers teenagers the chance to earn money by renting out control of their bodies to nostalgic Enders who wish to recreate their youth. Three short-term rentals for a large sum of money. For Callie, whose brother is suffering from a lung disease, the opportunity offered by Prime Destinations is simply too good to ignore.

In Starters, readers are introduced to a dystopian world at its worst. In basically every society, children are considered to be the most valuable resource. They're the face of the future, after all. But for some inexplicable reason that's not the case in Lissa Price's Starters. In the story's world, children (or "Starters," signifying those at the beginning of their lives) are mistrusted by all the Enders (adults over sixty) left alive. Why? I was incredibly frustrated that this was never explained in the book. I can understand how homeless children reflect societal problems and are seen as an added nuisance in this troubled time, but through Callie's narration it is clear that the adults barely tolerate even those children who are able to live with relatives. I just couldn't wrap my head around this mentality.

I enjoyed reading the story from Callie's perspective for the most part. She's determined and loyal. I'm hesitant to call her naive or stupid, but perhaps she is a little reckless, at least in terms of her relationships with others. The romantic relationship that Callie forms with Blake during the course of the novel bothered me quite a bit. It was far too much of an insta-love for me. And Callie puts her trust in him far too easily and quickly. And, for that matter, how Callie approaches both other renters (Enders currently occupying Starter bodies) and other Starters doesn't always make sense to me. She does try to go about it cautiously when she can, but Callie eventually starts revealing important bits of information about herself and others to find out more. I also was bothered my Callie's constant comparisons to her situation being like Cinderella's. Maybe there were some similarities, but really. Both Price and Callie needed to give Callie some credit that she could be an established character in her own right without having to reference an older tale.

Along with Callie, I really liked getting to know more about Helena, the Ender renting out Callie's body. Helena is the most fascinating character to me — an Ender who actually brings out the human side of Enders. Because really there was no way I was about to believe that every single Ender is a horrible person who wants the future generation to be oppressed or dead. Just no. I liked the relationship that forms between Helena and Callie. It is just great.

As I started reading, I found that I had a lot of questions with regard to worldbuilding and the continuity of the world, and unfortunately those questions only continued to build as I read the book. This became problematic as I felt like I had more questions than answers. I understand that this takes place in an unspecified future where adults can prolong their lives. But it sounded like most of the claimed children lived with grandparents and great-grandparents well into their hundreds. It felt like too much of a generational gap for me, and it wasn't explained if there was any reasoning behind it. I also don't understand how the government ignored the blatant issue that thousands of children had nowhere to go and put off any legislation to help them for over a year. Callie does explain that there are some state homes, but they sound horrible and this all just goes back to my argument that it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for me that the children are treated so horribly by the Enders. I know that there's a short story that is supposed to act as an introduction to the series. But, honestly, why couldn't the worldbuilding that I assume is present in the companion short story simply have been used in the actual first book in the series?

Starters presents an interesting dystopian world where for some reason children seem to be of little value. The premise is interesting, but the worldbuilding left a lot to be desired. I will probably read Enders simply to see what happens next. There is an incredible twist at the end. I had absolutely no idea that it was coming. It's everything I ever want in a twist — thought-provoking, surprising, and yet at the same time it kind of makes sense if you step back and think about it. That twist really got to me and makes me curious to see how it will be resolved.
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July 18, 2012

Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Published: 2011, Doubleday
Genre: Adult Fiction
Source: Personal book

“You’re not destined or chosen, I wish I could tell you that you were if that would make it easier, but it’s not true. You’re in the right place at the right time, and you care enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that’s enough.” 

Based on reviews that I've read, most readers seem to be of two opinions over this book. On one side readers have absolutely loved this book. This book has been getting a lot of attention and it actually won the 2012 Locus Award for a First Novel. Those in the second group, however, found themselves frustrated by the novel, especially after reading such an interesting premise. Although I find myself firmly entrenched in the first camp, I can understand how others believe that this novel does not live up to the hype that it received.

The Goodreads synopsis mentions a "fierce competition" between a young male and female magician. It mentions how against the odds they fall in love, and how their competition affects every aspect of the circus. It also includes some spoilers. While nothing in the synopsis is incorrect, it's definitely not the best description out there and doesn't truly capture the book's essence. This is the only line of the synopsis that I truly agree with: "Written in rich, seductive prose, this spell-casting novel is a feast for the senses and the heart."

The Night Circus tells the story of Le Cirque des Rêves, from its initial inception throughout the first thirty or so years of its existence. We learn early on that the circus is the ground where this competition between Celia Bowen, the young daughter of an enchanter, and Marco, the protégée of a mysterious man, must be fought. Neither is aware of the rules, but both of them are bound to this fate. While they both play important roles in the story, however, Morgenstern does not limit the book to simply them. Many other characters with ties to the circus are also given narratives within the story. This is more than a story about a competition between enchanters, but a story about the life of a circus and how it affects the lives of so many people.

Although there are some fantastical elements in this book, I'm much more inclined to think of it as magical realism than as fantasy. Marco and Celia have some magical gifts, but I considered them more to be illusionists, who were capable of manipulating images, time, and more. The circus does have its own sort of magic that affects both the performers and the spectators. I can completely understand the rationale behind the rêveurs, who are basically circus groupies that follow the circus from location to location. There's something magical about the circus, but it's the little things that truly seem magical. And that makes me identify it more with magical realism.

The language is absolutely beautiful. I highlighted so many quotes as I read. Morgenstern's writing really brings the circus to life. Through the story the circus itself becomes a character. It's not unheard of for the setting to become a character in a book, but neither is it very common. I enjoyed the little excerpts from Friedrick Thiessen at the beginning of sections describing his visits to the circus, as well as the smattering of sections here and there that focus solely on the description of the different tents and exhibits. That's one of the reasons that I really enjoyed reading the sections narrated by Bailey. Any part that can further instill a sense of wonder over the circus was a good thing to me. Morgenstern's writing style is definitely description-oriented, which worked perfectly for this book.

The book has a quiet sort of elegance in its narration. Many people may be turned off by how slow the book can seem at times (despite it covering such a wide span of time). There's not a ton of action, and definitely not as much as many will expect after reading the Goodreads synopsis. It is quite different than most popular fiction in the marketplace right now, but different certainly doesn't mean bad. The subtlety and deliberation caused me to work a little more as a reader. I found myself trying to remember who certain characters were, or how everyone related to the circus as a whole.

Not all the characters are fleshed-out nearly as well as they could be. I was left with a sense that I didn't understand all of their motivations, beliefs, and histories nearly as well as I would have liked. I am all about characterization in novels, so this lack of characterization was difficult for me at first. But ultimately this is a story about the circus. The characters provide some perspective and give us something human to hold onto in the midst of this story, but I almost feel as though their needs come second. The storyline itself is much more about the big picture than smaller events in the lives of the characters.

This is a book you need to be in the right sort of mood to read: a mood where you're willing to sit back and let the story gradually unfold, appreciating the wonder of it all.
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July 16, 2012

Recommend A... Book by a Male Author

Recommend A... is a new weekly feature hosted by Chick Loves Lit, where bloggers recommend a book based on a specific prompt. This week's prompt is to recommend a book by a male author.

I had a surprisingly difficult time trying to come up with a response. I guess I need to make sure I read enough books by male authors! Here's my recommendation for this week:

I sincerely hope that most people have already read the series. But even if not everyone has read the series yet, chances are you've at least heard of them. A Series of Unfortunate Events tells the story of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire, who have recently become orphaned. Although they are heirs to a large fortune, they cannot inherit anything until they come of age. They have no close living relatives, either, and so are sent to live with their distant cousin, Count Olaf. He has their fortune at heart more than their best interests, however, so the thirteen books detail how the orphans must escape from one nefarious plot after another.

The books are a little over the top. Author Lemony Snicket (real name Daniel Handler) acts as the narrator of the series, mapping each misfortune and bad event in the lives of the Baudelaires. In some ways I felt talked down to in the novels. Snicket has a tendency to over-define and explain words unnecessarily throughout the series. He is also the more overdramatic and dire narrator I’ve ever read. But the series is much cleverer than that, as I came to realize over time. I think Snicket's tendency to go into detail about certain words or concepts has more to do with the overall absurdist tone of the books. The Baudelaires really do through terrible events. And each child is a bit of a caricature and not always as fleshed-out as they could be. But that is okay for me. I just enjoyed reading the series and finding out what scheme Count Olaf would employ next. 

What I enjoyed most about the series was actually the world-building and history that Snicket gradually revealed throughout the series. In my opinion, it was even more interesting to find out than the Count Olaf schemes were (which do tend to get a bit repetitive). Although the books seem pretty basic at first and the first three have the same plot (I was all ready to give up on them at one point), they do get better and better. Snicket creates all these questions and mysteries and suddenly there's a lot more at stake for Violet, Klaus, and Sunny besides simply evading Count Olaf. And there are answers for those who stick around for all thirteen books! And I can’t forget to mention the gradually-revealed romance between narrator Snicket and the mysterious Beatrice is just wonderful.

Thirteen books may seem like a lot, but it's not really. They're super fast reads and a lot of fun. The movie version was all right, but this is one middle grade series that I think every person should read, regardless of age. In my opinion this is middle grade done right. If Snicket creates any more series, I will probably read them. 

So have you read this series? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?

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July 12, 2012

Review: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Published: 2012, Henry Holt and Co.
Series: The Grisha, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Personal ebook

“I’ve been waiting for you a long time, Alina,” he said. “You and I are going to change the world.”

After reading some of the initial reviews and praise for Shadow and Bone, I suspected that it would be the type of book I'd adore. And how this book exceeded all of my expectations. Shadow and Bone is everything and anything I've ever wanted in a fantasy.

The majority of Alina Starkov's life has supported her belief that she's nothing special. She spent her childhood in an orphanage in the wealthy Duke Keramzov's household. She works as a cartographer’s assistant for the Second Army of Ravka but doesn't consider herself to be particularly talented. And she's in love with her best friend Mal but too insecure to admit it.

The nation of Ravka has seen better days. Generations ago it was torn apart by a power-hungry Grisha who created the Unsea, a dark barren wasteland riddled with undying creatures, across the middle of Ravka. Now passage between the two sides of Ravka is dangerous and frequently deadly. Half of Ravka has been denied access to the true sea and the rest of the world since then, and battles with its bordering countries have become constant.

Alina's life changes drastically when both the mapmaker and tracker regiments she and Mal are part of must cross the Unsea to report to Ravka's western side. On this journey, everyone learns that there is more to Alina than meets the eye. While she may be the first true hope that Ravka has had in hundreds of years, the process of embracing all aspects of herself and her potential is not an easy one for Alina.

From the beginning, I loved the premise and detailed worldbuilding of this book. I really enjoyed learning about Ravka, and I appreciated it even more when I read that Leigh Bardugo decided to go with a Russian-influenced world because a pseudo-Europe is the typical setting for the majority of high fantasies. Sometimes conventions just need to be broken to breathe new life into genres and stories, as Shadow and Bone so refreshingly shows. I do not know much about Russian history and culture before the early 1900s, so I loved all the little details that Bardugo added to further help situate her story in Russian culture. Her use of names, specific words, food and drink, and even clothing all helped me better imagine the Russian influence upon the world of Ravka. And I loved the addition of a map! I'm a visual person, so seeing a map definitely helps me become more fully immersed in the world.

Alina is such a wonderful protagonist; there aren't enough words to describe my love for her. She's exactly how I hope my female protagonists will be, and I can easily imagine making the exact same decisions and having her feelings if I were in her place. Her life has turned upside-down and she struggles to resituate herself and her beliefs in a world that continues to change before her eyes. Everything that Alina's put her trust in is no longer with her, so she is forced to really rely on herself. As she struggles with new influences and old ones, Alina matures into a stronger, more confident person. Her evolution is by no means complete by the end of the first book, but I look forward to seeing more of her growth throughout the trilogy.

Besides Alina, however, I loved all the other major characters. Mal really is such a good best friend and I can completely understand why Alina has been in love with him for the past few years. Genya is surprisingly complex for a secondary character, and I loved peeling back the layers of Genya's character over the course of the story. And the Darkling! He's definitely my favorite character after Alina. He's so powerful, enigmatic, seductive, and one of the most unique characters I've ever read. All of Bardugo's characters are so real, and, despite this being a high fantasy, I don't think that good and evil are stereotypically defined as right and wrong. Good is clearly better, but Bardugo hints that no one is so easily definable.

The Grisha are definitely one of the most fascinating aspects of this book. It is terrifying to think of how easily Grisha walk the line between good and evil. Just consider the division of the Corporalki, the highest order of Grisha after the Darkling: within this group there are the Heartrenders, who are responsible for death, and the healers who save people. There is also an order for Etherealki, who manipulate the elements, and Materialki, who manipulate matter. I love how complex the Grisha lore is. I also liked the conflict that Bardugo introduces between the place of Grisha traditions/magic within Ravka against the need for innovation and modernity.

While Shadow and Bone is at its most basic level about Alina's internal and external journeys to self-discovery, Bardugo adds so many layers and complexity to the story. There are so many plot twists throughout the story and I really never saw any of them coming. This was not always because everything is so shocking or unexpected (though there are some great twists), but also due to the fact that I simply enjoyed reading the book at my own pace. It is so refreshing to read something for YA audiences that is masterfully crafted. I savored in that knowledge and allowed the story to reveal things to me at its own pace. And I am beyond happy that Bardugo gave us a resolution in this book. It helps make my wait for the next book a little easier, and makes me more confident in Bardugo's skills as a writer.

How much did I love this book? So much that even though I bought the Kindle version, I'm definitely also going to purchase a physical copy. And, coming from me (the money stickler who prefers to get her books from the library), this is huge indeed. This is by far my favorite book of the year, and it's going to have to be one very impressive book to even come close to matching this book's place. Shadow and Bone combines all of the elements that I love in a fantasy, from strong worldbuilding to great characterization to an inventive storyline. I cannot praise this enough!
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July 10, 2012

Top Ten Classic Children's Fantasy/Science Fiction Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by the bloggers of The Broke and the Bookish. This week is a freebie week, so I decided to create my own topic. 

I chose to share what I consider to be some of the best classic children's fantasy/science fiction books. A lot of these I actually read for school or book clubs, but the fact that I have reread most of them and still think back on my experiences with them fondly speaks volumes — they're not classics in the musty irrelevant old book sort of way, but in the fact that they've created lasting commentaries on childhood that are still very much applicable in today's world.

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle — The Last Unicorn is such a beautiful story. Reading it made me go through such a range of emotions. It details a unicorn's journey to know that she's not the last of her kind, that other unicorns are still out there. This story is full of enchantment about self-discovery and is so lyrical in its writing.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien — Tolkien originally created The Hobbit as a story for his children, and the story is a lot lighter than The Lord of the Rings is. As this is Tolkien, there's still some serious world-building and lots of side stories and extra material in here, but it doesn't detract from the main story at all. I remember first becoming immersed in Tolkien's Middle-earth for the first time when I was 11 and I've never regretted it since.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card — Although I had owned this book for years, I only just read it last year for a class. I wish I had had someone tell me to just go and read the book, because it's such a wonderful book. It's about the super gifted kids who are humanity's last hope in the intergalactic war against an alien race. The book is very clever and touches upon some eternal questions of guilt, responsibility, power, and justice.

The Giver by Lois Lowry — Before The Hunger Games popularized the dystopian genre in common culture, there was The Giver. The Giver depicts a society where people's age and intellect determine every aspect of their lives, from when they'll get their first bike to what sort of job they'll hold in their society. It's creepy from the beginning. And then the protagonist Jonas learns that life used to be more spontaneous, filled with emotions and memories and purpose. The evolution of Jonas' character as he grapples with these hard truths is just amazing.

The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander — Although this is the second book in a series, it is the most well-known and stands on its own. The characters in Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain series really are some of the best. There's Taran, the assistant pig keeper, Eilonwy, the spoiled but brave princess, Fflewddur Fflam, the bard whose harp strings break every time he lies, Doli, the dwarf whose powers of invisibilty cause his ears to ring, and so many more. Through the book they partake in a classic struggle of good versus evil. This is Lloyd Alexander at his best.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle — Meg Murray is the absolute perfect protagonist for any girl nearing her teen years (and any boy, too). Her glasses, braces, and mousy hair convince her that she's nothing special. Yet she's determined and resourceful and ultimately the only one who can save her father and an entire world. This is truly one of the best stories about a child maturing and learning how to come into her own, and about how easily the ordinary has the potential to become extraordinary.  

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll — I read this one quite recently. I'm familiar with both the animated Disney film and Tim Burton's live-action film. I just love the sense of wonder that was instilled in me as I read this book. What can't happen in Wonderland? It's just so wonderful and magical. Who can read this book and not want to fall down the rabbit hole? I also loved the little rhymes and songs that Carroll created in the book. 

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt — Before Twilight sensationalized the idea of eternal youth, there was Tuck Everlasting. Winnie meets the Tuck family, who has become immortal after drinking water from a secret spring. After discovering such a big secret, Winnie then has to decide what to do with the information, and what the price of immortality really is. Once again, this is just a beautifully written story.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster — I adore this modern fairy tale about a bored boy who discovers a tollbooth that takes him to a magical realm. There are so many instances where he discovers new meanings behind "ordinary" aspects of his own life. I loved Juster's use of puns and clever witticisms throughout. It's a classic for a reason, and reading the book made me desperately wish that I could visit the Kingdom of Wisdom.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White —And who can forget the story of the amazing pig Wilbur and his spider friend Charlotte? When I was little I was a sucker for animal stories, and White's interpretation of how animals could act while the humans were gone is so interesting. The book definitely made me think of the extraordinary power of friendships in a completely new way. 

What do you think? Have any other books that should be added to this list?

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July 9, 2012

Recommend A... Book Published in 2010

Recommend A... is a new weekly feature hosted by Chick Loves Lit, where bloggers recommend a book based on a specific prompt.

This sounds like a fantastic new meme and I hope to be able to keep up with it on a fairly regular basis. I think what I'd like most in a meme is the chance to explore older, lesser-known books, and this may provide a great outlet to do so. Because, honestly, I feel very well-informed about recent or up-and-coming releases, but what about those fantastic books that are a few years old or even older? Today's prompt is just perfect for that, but in general I'd like to use this meme to bring attention to books I love that are not discussed as frequently. 

This week's prompt is to recommend a book published in 2010. I hope everyone's ready for this, because I have the perfect book to recommend:

The Queen's Thief, #4

I can't really provide much of a summary here, as literally every book in this series builds upon each other so much that a true summary would be incredibly spoiler-laden. I'll just say that the political conflict continues to escalate on the continent where the countries of Attolia, Eddis, and Sounis reside. We see some familiar faces and how they attempt to handle the rising tensions, as well as others we haven't seen since the series' beginning. The narrative voice continues to step away from Eugenides, and for the first time he's no longer the focal point in this book. Instead we get to see his friend Sophos' perspective of things as he tries to figure out allegiances and loyalties.

Since I cannot give a good description of the plot, I'll instead have to rely upon other elements within the story that really do make this book one of the best published in 2010. Unless you've read the books in order, you'll be unable to appreciate how truly mature the fourth book and series in general has become. I read The Thief when I was around 10, and while parts went over my head, for the most part I was able to follow along fine with the story. Each book since then has become a little more complex as the characters themselves mature. While the series may have started for middle-grade or young-adult audiences, I think that adults will get just as much satisfaction out of reading these books. The world-building is amazing, and Megan Whalen Turner has created some of the most complex characters and relationships I've ever read. I don't think any other author could make me go from completely hating one character to then considering the character to be one of my favorites quite the way that she does. Turner's characters are adults, yet somehow her books walk the line between younger and adult audiences. She never writes down, but neither does she work to make her books less accessible for younger fans. Turner's books are so well-crafted and every little detail has such meaning. 

Another fantastic thing about this series is that while the novels form part of a larger series, they each are self-sustaining enough to be read separately. While I wouldn't recommend missing even one of the books in this series, it's nice to read a book knowing that it won't end on a giant cliffhanger. It's an even greater relief since Turner likes to take her time between novels. The fifth book probably won't come out for another few years - but each book is so well-done that I'm actually okay with the wait. 

I would be remiss if I didn't end by noting that Eugenides constantly hovers somewhere between being my fictional boyfriend and my fictional best friend. He's captivated me for so many years now, and he's one of the best, most fully-formed characters I've ever read. He's not the central character in A Conspiracy of Kings, unfortunately, but he is still present from time to time.  

Has anyone else actually read this series? I'd love to discuss it in more detail with other fans! If not, then what are you waiting for? Seriously go and pick up her books - I promise you won't be disappointed!
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