May 31, 2013

Armchair BEA Discussion: Non-Fiction

I am not a big non-fiction reader. My philosophy with reading is that I want to be able to experience things I probably never will. And, not only that, I  also want to appreciate everything associated with literature: the writing craft, the plot, literary devices, characterization, etc. I just don't feel as though you can appreciate non-fiction as a work of literature; instead, I feel like we're supposed to care more about the explicitly told story or message, and that's not really what I want out of my books.

Nevertheless, I have actually started reading some non-fiction. While I am pretty adamant about reading only one fiction book at a time, non-fiction is different enough that I should be fine reading those books on the side and gaining a little extra knowledge. We'll see how that goes, though.

Here are some of the non-fiction books that I hope to read sooner rather than later. 

Anything by Bill Bryson — My dad owns A Short History of Nearly Everything, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, and In a Sunburned Country. I've shied away from reading these because they seem more like memoirs than anything else, which is not a subgenre of non-fiction that particularly interests me. I also know his books are full of humor, which I also tend to avoid in the books I read. And yet, I can't really know how I feel about them until I try them. I can see them being good, light reads, so I do want to give at least one of his books a try.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell — I've started this book quite a few times, only to put it down after a few chapters. It's not that it's boring; I found Gladwell's book about what really goes into the choices we make to be pretty interesting. This will be the year that I finally pick the book up off my shelf and read it through before placing it back again. I never took any psychology classes in school, but because I was friends with a number of people who did, I still am very much interested in learning more about how and why humans act the way that they do. My family also owns Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success, so if I end up enjoying Blink then I'll have to move on to this other book.

On Writing by Stephen King — I have not read anything by King yet (I'm not really a fan of horror), but I want to soon. I've heard wonderful things about this memoir/guide to writing and want to read it, but I don't want to read it until I've read at least one of King's works first. I do love non-fiction books about the craft of writing and that offer suggestions and guidance for aspiring writers like me. 

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner — I've also never taken any economics classes, so I'm also very interested to read Levitt and Dubner's layman's account of how the driving forces of economics are behind a lot of the choices people make to get what they need and want. I appreciate any sort of non-fiction book that can explain a particular field or subject in a way that easy for someone like me, with no previous background or understanding, to read. 

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan  I read Pollan's Food Rules: An Eater's Manual a few years ago, which is a slim volume that provides easy-to-understand rules for how we can eat better. Over the past few years I've faced some dietary restrictions and have subsequently started becoming much more aware of the food that I'm putting into my body. I'm not sure if this book will really help me become a healthier eater, since so far in my reading it seems like there's nothing we can do to escape the deeply-entrenched food production chains that monopolize our society. But becoming a better-informed person is never a bad thing. After reading Pollan's work, I'd like to ideally read other books about food practices and how to make better dietary choices.

I didn't think that I had a specific type of non-fiction that I would gravitate towards, but it appears that I do. Most of these fall within the social sciences categorization. I want to read all of them (with the exception of Bryson) in the hope that I can learn something, that they can affect the way that I live and understand my life. If it's possible to keep learning new things throughout our lives, then why in the world wouldn't I use books to help me accomplish that?

Let me know your thoughts on the non-fiction genre and if you have any recommendations for similar non-fiction reads!
Read more »

May 30, 2013

Armchair BEA Discussion: Literary Fiction

Since my discussion of genre fiction was more serious yesterday (and because my blog is full of genre fiction recommendations), I decided to make today's discussion a bit lighter. And for full disclosure here: I do love literary fiction. I love reading a novel with beautiful prose where I can really try to unpack the author's words. 

One particular subgenre of literary fiction I've enjoyed and I find fascinating is the family saga. The family saga chronicles the lives of generations of interconnected family members. Many times it becomes a literary device to aid the author in recounting historical events or making a social criticism.

It's so easy for us to get wrapped up in our everyday lives. We can see how we relate to those around us in the present, but the past isn't something that we always think about. Even when we do, it can be difficult to understand just how we relate to a bigger picture. What I love about family sagas is that they do just that: they put people in relation with their families, and then families in relation with much larger portraits.

I've read quite a few family sagas, so I thought I'd share some of my favorites, and then reveal some that I hope to read. 

Four of my favorite family sagas:
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende — Through the lives of the Trueba women, Clara, Blanca, and Alba, and their lovers, Allende writes a sweeping story of politics, love, and the tumultuous history of twentieth-century Chile.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz — The de León family has always blamed fukú for the misfortunes that have fallen upon the past three generations, ever since Abelard decided to defy Dominican dictator Trujillo's demands.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver — When their father decides to become a missionary in the Belgian Congo, the entire Price family finds their lives uprooted, so much so that even years later, as they've all gone their separate ways, they cannot escape its influence.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez — The Buendia family finds their lives tied to a fictional town set alongside the Colombian jungle as it and they begin the arduous process of adapting to a modernized, post-colonial world.

And four family sagas I intend to read:

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri The Namesake takes the Ganguli family from their tradition-bound life in Calcutta through their fraught transformation into Americans.(Goodreads)
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides The breathtaking story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of the Greek-American Stephanides family who travel from a tiny village overlooking Mount Olympus in Asia Minor to Prohibition-era Detroit, witnessing its glory days as the Motor City, and the race riots of 1967, before they move out to the tree-lined streets of suburban Grosse Pointe, Michigan. (Goodreads)
The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy The three novels which make up The Forsyte Saga chronicle the ebbing social power of the commercial upper-middle class Forsyte family between 1886 and 1920. (Goodreads)
Roots by Alex HaleyThe monumental two-century drama of Kunta Kinte and the six generations who came after him—slaves and freedmen, farmers and blacksmiths, lumber mill workers and Pullman porters, lawyers and architects—and one author. (Goodreads)

Do you have any favorite family sagas that I should add to my list?
Read more »

May 29, 2013

Armchair BEA Discussion: Genre Fiction

It's impossible to discuss genre fiction without also discussing that to which it is diametrically opposed: literary fiction. One is praised by critics, tends to win the bigger, more prestigious awards, and will never, ever be referred to as a "guilty pleasure" read. Did you realize I was referring to literary fiction there rather than genre fiction? Both types of writing have been around for quite a while, but because genre fiction started out more as pure entertainment, it has consistently been relegated to an inferior position.

I'm sure many of us have been there. Preferring to hide a book's cover as we read (or, even better, reading it via an e-reader). Being reluctant to answer what book we're currently reading, or even what our favorite books are. Wary of the constant judgement that seems to come with admitting that we love reading romances or mysteries or horror or science fiction or fantasies.

The divide between literary fiction and genre fiction is one that's garnered lots of attention recently. Are the two types of fiction really all that different? How many works of literary fiction don't have a little romance, a bit of a mystery, perhaps some action? And if it's so easy for works of literary fiction to have bits of genres mixed in, then isn't the opposite true? Can't genre fiction have literary merit? Can't genre fiction explore the same deep, philosophical questions, merit the same critical praise? Are they really so different after all?

I try to read books of all sorts of genres myself. I enjoy works of literary fiction. I also enjoy works of genre fiction. I attribute my reading choices primarily to my current mood; I like to know what type of story I'm about to start. How boring would it be if we had to confine our reading habits to solely literary fiction or solely genre fiction (or even solely to a certain type of genre fiction).

To better understand the power and significance of genre fiction, I want to focus on my favorite type of genre fiction: the fantasy novel.

I have a very long history with the fantasy genre, and it's a relationship I plan on continuing to foster throughout my life. I've heard all the arguments dismissing the fantasy genre before: it's not realistic, it's not profound, it can't teach me to become a better reader or writer, it's plain silly. And I've come to believe that the people who make those arguments haven't read much fantasy. Either that, or they've read a few fantasies with a very closed-minded approach.

For how could they have really read fantasies and not understood that the focus shouldn't be on the success of the author's imagination, but on the aspects that hit much closer to home. Fantasies may take place in alternate worlds and realities; at their cores, however, they tackle many of the same issues and questions present in any work of literary fiction. Authors who choose to write genre fictions like fantasies still live within our world. They experience many of the same fears, sadness, love, and dreams that we do. The mark of a good fantasy isn't how fantastical the world is, or what magical powers a protagonist possesses; rather, the mark of a good fantasy is how we can relate to the story. To the lives and struggles that people face within this alternate world. To the desire to better understand oneself and life.

Because of their distance from the real world, fantasies also offer the perfect way to discuss political issues, societal conflicts, and personal issues without explicitly referencing things. A fantasy novel that deals with genocide may bring to mind the Holocaust or the fairly recent events in Darfur. But it also doesn't have to. The beauty of writing something removed from our world is that connections are there for us to take, if we choose to. After all, reading is both an intensely personal experience and also one that connects us to others in ways that nothing else can. This general rule applies to both genre fiction and literary fiction, I think.

Simply because authors choose to write books that can easily fall into a genre fiction category does not mean that their words are any less important than those written in a work of literary fiction, or that their thoughts are less profound. Already the barriers separating genre fiction and literary fiction are starting to crumble, and I hope they continue to do so. It's nice to be able to categorize things a certain way (I do it all the time), but if categorizing something attaches it with a stigma, then that's something worth questioning. After all, isn't all literature ostensibly for entertainment? For an author to share his/her thoughts with others? Good stories should teach us to reflect, which genre fiction and literary fiction are both capable of doing.

We should never be ashamed of our reading choices. I love fantasy more than any other genre and I never want to feel apologetic for my reading choices. Neither should anyone else. Literary fiction and genre fiction both have their places within our reading culture, and, if we must continue to try to enforce divisions within literature, I think it's still important to recognize that neither is truly inferior to the other. Just imagine how much less enjoyable reading would be if we didn't have genre/type options.
Read more »

Armchair BEA: Blogger Development

How have I developed myself as a blogger over the past year? To better answer this question, I wanted to look at both the personal and professional development I've made as a result of book blogging.

It shames me to admit it, but I don't think I've been the best at my professional development as a blogger thus far. Part of the blame is my fault, and part I'd like to blame on circumstances.

I still do feel, however, that Late Nights with Good Books has helped to develop me personally, if not professionally or widely throughout the community. This is my fourth blog, and for all of my other ones I posted infrequently and stopped after only a few months. Here I push myself to post new content every few days. I'm reading more than ever, relying on my knowledge of literary criticism to help me write reviews, and becoming more and more adept with the literary and publishing worlds.

I started my blog with the express purpose of reading books, writing reviews, and connecting with other book lovers. Although I never kept track of the number of books I read each year before 2012, I know that I read more now than I used to. My reading's become more regimented and I never have to worry about what to read next since my TBR pile is out-of-control. And I also am writing each day: writing about writing/reading primarily, so it's not exactly the creative writing I love, but I believe any type of writing helps us keep our skills sharp.

Anyway, all of this is a very roundabout way to say that developing my presence and connecting with other bloggers is mostly put on the back burner. I love reading others' reviews and commenting on them, and I love discussing my reviews and discussions with others, but I'm not a very adept user of social media. I don't have a smart phone, I work during the day, and I like to devote my nights more to reading, writing reviews, and commenting on others' posts than developing my online presence.

Being a part of the book blogging community, even on the outskirts, has already benefited me as a reader, a writer, and a critical thinker. I can only imagine how beneficial it will be to become even more involved in the blogging community and develop my professional community presence.

If you have any advice on how you've managed to develop your blog and your presence as a blogger, please let me know! There are simply too few hours in a day for me to accomplish all that I'd like to with my blog!
Read more »

May 28, 2013

Armchair BEA Discussion: Classics

The first genre discussion of Armchair BEA 2013 revolves around classics. I chose to discuss some American (U.S.) classics I've read and loved, and list some that I intend to read soon.

Before I get to my choices, I wanted to mention my inspiration for this topic. The other night my family watched the 2011 Woody Allen film Midnight In Paris. It tells the story of an aspiring American novelist visiting Paris who, at midnight, finds himself magically transported back to the Paris of the 1920s. There he befriends some of the greatest American writers: Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, T.S. Eliot, among others. Throughout the movie there's a sense of nostalgia for the past; even more than that, there's the creeping fear that whatever we accomplish in the present will never live up to the great accomplishments of the past. While I don't believe that, it made for an interesting discussion. 

I generally prefer to read British classics, but after seeing this film I wanted to take time to recognize five great American novels that I've read, and six I would like to read.

My Top American (U.S.) Classics:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee — Lee's only work focuses on race relations in the South as seen through the eyes of a young white girl whose father is one of the only people to stand up for the accused black man. It's not a difficult read, but it is one that really resonates.
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell —While this may be best known for its epic love story between Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler, Mitchell's novel is much bigger than that. This is the chronicle of the challenges Scarlett faces as a woman living in the South during the Civil War, and her determination to better her life.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath — Plath is much better known for her poems, and that seems to be truly where her talent lies; it is through the writing of aspiring writer Esther's descent into madness one summer in New York City that the story really shines.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain — Twain may be better known for Tom Sawyer, but I enjoyed Huck Finn's tale far more. Alternately humorous and reflective, it chronicles Huck's journey down the Mississippi River with Jim, a runaway slave.
Native Son by Richard Wright — Wright tackles the pervasive racial tensions in America through the story of Biggar Thomas, a young African-American man who lashes out against the system of oppression. Here's my five-star review.

My Top American (U.S.) Classics To Read:
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
On the Road by Jack Kerouac 
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Are there any works of American writers that you think I should add to my massive list? Let me know! And please link me to your discussions on classics!
Read more »

Armchair BEA: Introduction

Design credit: Nina of Nina Reads

This year I decided to participate in Armchair BEA. According to the official site,
Book bloggers unable to attend the BEA Bloggers Conference or Book Expo America (BEA) in New York City, but would like to ‘meet’ other book bloggers and publishers to discuss books and book blogging can participate in this virtual event.
I'm pretty far removed from New York City these days, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to get to know my fellow book bloggers and publishers. All this week my blog posts will therefore relate to Armchair BEA, and then it's back to business as usual next week.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging? 
My name is Amanda and I've been blogging here at Late Nights with Good Books for just over a year now. I got into blogging about a year after I graduated college. At first I reveled in the fact that after work I could come home and do anything I wanted - or nothing at all. No worrying about homework, grades, and scholarly articles was nice for a time, but then I began to miss learning and wanted to do something productive (and something for me) with all my free time. 

A bunch of factors combined to form the perfect storm that enabled me to create this blog: I've always loved reading and writing and ended up majoring in both English and Spanish in college. I loved being exposed to so many types of books and learning how to analyze and interpret them. Writing's also been a passion of mine and I aspire to be a published author someday. I wanted something that would keep my writing skills sharp, even if it wasn't always through writing a story. I discovered the amazing community that is Goodreads and began to keep track of the books I read starting at the beginning of 2012 by posting brief reviews. And then a high school friend encouraged me to start reading more young adult fiction. I did read some YA fiction at the time, but I also read lots of adult fiction. When I noticed there was a whole blogging community devoted to reviewing books - and YA fiction - I knew that it was something I wanted to be a part of. And I haven't looked back since then.

Have you previously participated in Armchair BEA? What brought you back for another year? If you have not previously participated, what drew you to the event? 
No, this is my very first Armchair BEA. Since I only started blogging last May, I was unaware of BEA or Armchair BEA until they started. I'd love to be able to attend BEA one day, but if I had to choose one book-related convention, I think I'd rather go to ALA personally. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to attend BEA and ALA conventions at some point!

I was drawn to this event because it's something that I can participate in without the expense. I know that there are so many books and blogs that have simply gone under my radar, so I am eager to find this opportunity to better connect with publishers and fellow book-lovers.

Where in the world are you blogging from? Tell a random fact or something special about your current location. Feel free to share pictures. 
I am currently blogging from Wisconsin in the United States. I was born and raised in New Jersey and attended school on the East Coast as well, but for the past two years now I've called Wisconsin home. It's far less crowded than the East Coast and boasts some amazing scenery (I live right by many lakes), but we do deal with some overly long winters (we seem to have skipped spring and gone right to summer this year).

What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2013? 
I am currently reading two books:  Golden by Jessi Kirby and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.

Since starting my blog, I've found that I prefer to read one book at a time, so that I can really concentrate on being immersed in that particular story. I am currently trying out reading a non-fiction book slowly (a chapter or so a day) at the same time as I read a fiction book, so we'll see if that continues!

What literary location would you most like to visit? Why? 
Ooh, this is a tough question! Since I prefer to read fantasies, there are so many different literary locations that I'd love to visit. My top ones are definitely Hogwarts/the magical world of J.K Rowling's Harry Potter series, the realm of Tortall from basically every Tamora Pierce book, and Middle-earth of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I also wouldn't say no to visiting Lyra's Oxford/world from Philip Pullman's The Golden Compass so that I could find out what animal my dæmon is.

Now that you know a little about me, please link up and let me learn a little about you!

Read more »

May 26, 2013

Review: Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder

Fire Study by Maria V. Snyder
Published: 2008, Mira
Series: Study, #3
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Library book
Contains spoilers for Poison Study (my review) & Magic Study (my review)
Goodreads · Amazon · Barnes & Noble

"Getting killed would have been easier. No guilt. No worries. No fear. Caring for someone is terrible and wonderful. I don't know if I have the strength to do it for another. How do you deal with it?"

"I focus on the wonderful parts and suffer through the terrible parts, knowing it will end eventually."

And this is how I really tell when a series gets worse: even after I start reading the next book right away, I find that it becomes a bit more of a chore to pick it up each time. It pains me to say this, because I really do love Yelena's story and think the Study series could have been very interesting and nuanced. Unfortunately, I simply don't think that Fire Study lived up to its full potential.

Unlike the gap between Poison Study and Magic Study, there is no lapse in time between the end of Magic Study and beginning of Fire Study. Yelena may have stopped the Soulstealer Ferde for now, but even bigger problems are brewing for her. The very publicly known fact that Yelena possesses the magical ability to control others' souls has turned her into a pariah. Even worse than being considered a pariah, certain Sitian council members are convinced that Yelena is a threat that needs to be eliminated, along with all of her supporters. While Yelena's life is in the hands of the Sitian Council, a more menacing threat forms. Apparently Ferde was not the only person capable of stealing others' magic. A group of magic-stealing men threatens the safety of her homeland, the tensions between Sitia and Ixia continue to rise, and for the first time Yelena finds herself paralyzed, unable to confront the powerful fire spirit being fed magic by the group of magic stealers.

My biggest issue with Fire Study stemmed from the fact that I found that this only told part of a story. Honestly, I wish that Snyder had been able to cut elements from both Magic Study and Fire Study and combine the overarching plotline of Yelena trying to understand her magical abilities while attempting to avert a war between Sitia and Ixia into one book. By the time that the events of Fire Study come around, Snyder seems to have figured out what works for her as a storyteller. And in no way do I think that it's an issue for an author to understand what plot elements work best for him or her. My issue lies in the fact that because Snyder wrote a trilogy, readers are subjected to similar plot elements more than once. Yelena identifies a villain that no one wants to acknowledge. She deals with persecution and misunderstanding from many. More and more obstacles stand in the way of Yelena and Valek's relationship. Yelena eventually wins everyone over and saves the day. I'm a fantasy lover through and through, so it's not the idea of a "chosen one" that bothers me, nor do I get tired of my protagonists struggling with what seems like overwhelming odds. Just a little more variety in installments in the same trilogy would be nice.

My favorite aspect of Fire Study is the focus on Yelena's personal growth, as it always has been throughout the series. Although by this point in the series, Yelena has proven herself against many doubters already, and gained some sense of self-worth. Drastic changes and perceptions in life do not happen quickly, however, and Yelena still continues to adjust to her new powers and lifestyle. Her major struggle in this installment is once again not any outside source (although the impending war and magic stealers do present interesting challenges) but in accepting herself. She can no longer deny that her magic revolves around the ability to control souls. She still doesn't know how to use this power properly, or if she even wants to - the last person with this power brought evil to Sitia. It is Yelena's fear of her power and her lack of purpose that dominate this novel, causing her to freeze up, make hasty decisions, and distance herself from her friends. At times this was incredibly frustrating to read, but at least her actions made sense.

I realize this review may sound a little harsh. While I did have some struggles with picking up the book to actually read it, a lot of my criticisms did not develop until after I'd completed the book and reflected back on my reading experience. In the moment of actually reading the book, I was involved in Yelena's story and eager to find out what happens next. In some ways it's frustrating how afterthought can really alter our initial perceptions of something, but that's just how it is. 

Reading the first three Study books was enough for me, I think. Although Snyder has announced that she plans on continuing this series with an additional three books, I do not plan on reading them unless the reviews are super positive. But who knows - perhaps now that she's had a good span of years to plan them out and write them, perhaps Snyder's series will go back to the quality that Poison Study possesses. I'll wait and see what some others say before making any decision.
Read more »

May 25, 2013

Review: Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder

Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder
Published: 2007, Mira
Series: Study, #2
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Library book
Contains spoilers for Poison Study (my review)
· Amazon · Barnes & Noble

"Living is a risk," I snapped at him. "Every decision, every interaction, every step, every time you get out of bed in the morning, you take a risk. To survive is to know you're taking that risk and to not get out of bed clutching illusions of safety.”

It's a frustrating feeling to realize upon later reflection that a book you read with such delight is not actually as good as you initially assumed. Such was the case for Maria V. Snyder's Magic Study. After thoroughly enjoying Poison Study, I was eager to return to Yelena's story and see what was next in store for some favorite characters. I will not go so far as to say that Magic Study should not have been written, because there are definitely worthwhile aspects to this book that do expand my understanding of Snyder's world and her characters. But I just wish that it all had come together more cohesively than it did.

Magic Study picks up nearly right where Poison Study ended. Yelena and Irys, Fourth Magician, return Mogkhun and Brazell's remaining Sitian captives (those children too young to have had their souls harvested along with their magic) to their families. Along with the other Sitian children, Yelena is reunited with her clan, the tree-top living Zaltanas. But after being gone for nearly fifteen years, it's impossible for Yelena to go back to the life she no longer even remembers. And even when she travels to the Citadel to begin her magic training under Irys, Yelena experiences difficulties adapting to the Sitian lifestyle. Once again, she's the subject of intense scrutiny, distrust, and magic powers that no one has seen the likes of in hundreds of years. On top of that, there's a killer going around draining the magic from young girls before he kills them. It doesn't take Yelena long to realize that Sitia is not quite the safe haven she expected after being exiled from Ixia.

Where Magic Study really excels is in Snyder's ability to develop Yelena's world in an organic and believable way. Much of Poison Study is devoted to explaining the history, culture, and politics of Ixia, as well as the tensions present between Ixia and its southern neighbor Sitia. As Yelena is unaware of her Sitian roots, readers are given a very skewed perception of the "savage" Sitia. By moving the action of the story to Sitia, therefore, Snyder can expand upon the history, culture, and politics of Sitia. Along with Yelena, readers can witness a new land that claims to be the complete opposite of everything that Ixia stands for, giving its inhabitants freedom to choose careers, homes, and more. Sitia is run by a council comprised of the magicians and leaders from each of the tribes, in an attempt to be fair. But by privileging fairness and individuality in the place of equality, Sitia still is not an ideal world; poverty and unfairness continue to exist. Yelena's gradual realization of the flaws that affect both Ixia and Sitia's governing bodies allows even bigger political and social commentaries to unfold.

Where Magic Study suffers is primarily in its execution of major storylines. Although it is fascinating to witness Yelena's struggles to fit in Sitian culture and find her sense of worth, there's a sense of repetition present. This has been done before, after all. Yelena may have new friends, new enemies, a new setting, and new skills to learn, but her struggles are nevertheless reminiscent of those she encountered as Commander Ambrose's food taster. Once again, Yelena must prove herself worthy against a host of skeptics, this time by being a proper Sitian instead of a proper Ixian. The most interesting aspect of Yelena's new life is the attempt to understand her magical powers. Even though the Sitians embrace magic, Yelena's ability to control others is different enough from the norm that she's further stigmatized and viewed with fear and distrust. I do love witnessing Yelena's continued growth in this novel; while the incorporation of her magic powers does make Magic Study distinctive in comparison to Poison Study, I couldn't help but wish for other equally complex and distinctive issues for Yelena.

One of the better aspects in Poison Study was the relationship between Yelena and Commander Ambrose's head assassin, Valek. Although I admit I was a bit skeptical of the evolution of their interactions into a romantic relationship, I was still satisfied with how the two learned to see past misconceptions and stereotypes, learning to appreciate each other for who they truly are, rather than what others think they are. Even more so than forming a strong understanding of one another, in Poison Study Yelena and Valek eventually formed a relationship based on equality and respect, trust and confidence in one another and their abilities. Imagine my disappointment, then, to find that Valek and Yelena are separated for the majority of the book. And when Valek does make an appearance, he's focused on romance to such an extreme degree, completely outside of the characterization I'd come to expect of him. His character is relegated to the role of romantic interest. Rather than strengthening each other, Valek primarily serves to aid Yelena.

While not a bad book necessarily, Magic Study is certainly not as good as its predecessor. I did not find it to be a waste of my time because I was curious to learn more about Yelena's magic powers, as well as the land of Sitia. Snyder presents some interesting ideas and I liked the direction she appeared to be taking, but there were unnecessary plot elements that could have been eliminated, and this does not seem to be as polished and complete a novel as Poison Study does.
Read more »