Commentary: “Caraval” by Stephanie Garber

So…I picked this book up because I loved The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and these two have been compared to each other in some other reviews.

Yeah…except…The Night Circus is not young adult, first. Secondly, Morgenstern’s writing has entirely more lyrical prose than what you’ll see in Caraval. Then, of course, there’s the fact that Morgenstern creates an extremely elaborate world that is vividly described with interweaving characters who are complex and who are all intricately linked to the complicated plot. Caraval, sorry to say, is none of these things.

First, the world building is okay but too big. The Night Circus focused on a small area and a few extremely beautiful and visual tents within its borders. Caraval (the world, not the book) suffers from its expanse. It is simply too large and seemingly uncontained. I don’t mind large worlds (Harry Potter!), but everywhere the main character Scarlett and her would-be, tarnished knight-in-shining-armor, Julian, go, it seems like its an entirely different world than Caraval. Garber tries to create a whole city that is reminiscent of picturesque cobblestoned streets and waterways much like those of Venice; however, the world seems like it’s several different places rolled into a carnivalesque society. It’s simply too much to take in.

While I’m okay with this lack of world building, honestly,  I know some people are put off by it. My real pet peeve is a lack of character development, and this book has that, too! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

My main problem is Scarlett, who is so scared, possibly rightfully so, that she can’t see beyond her fear to make actual good decisions. Plus, she was boring. Her only passion was saving her sister, Tella, from their abusive father and then Caraval itself. But she needs constant validation of this sacrifice. A good martyr doesn’t acknowledge as much as she does her martyrdom. She feels resentment because Tella’s so reckless, according to Scarlett, and never thanks Scarlett for her sacrifices. Turns out though that Tella is not reckless as she is strategic and is waaaay more sacrificing than Scarlett. Scarlett actually comes across as the naive and utterly useless older sister in the end.

We’re told who they are constantly, rather than shown through their stories. Since this is largely told through Scarlett’s very narrow perspective, their motivations, especially Julian’s, seems unbelievable and questionable.

The plot was also an issue for me; I feel like the clues were lacking in depth and there was no way that, as a reader, you would be able to figure out where Scarlett should go next. Her choices seemed rather random in places, mainly because the descriptions fail to help the reader make a connection.

All the negatives aside, Caraval was somewhat entertaining, if you don’t go into it with high expectations, like having on your mind a comparison to The Night Circus. This comparison would be damaging for Caraval. 😛

Oh, and Tella. I’m actually looking forward to the next in the series, which, I assume, will focus on Tella—a much more interesting and complex character than Scarlett. And as long as Garber keeps Tella’s intellect and determination in place, I don’t see how it couldn’t be better than Scarlett’s story.

That’s all for now, my darling young adult fantasy readers. Until next time, I hope you enjoy the adventures in your own stories—in books and in life!

Ta-ta for now, my dears,

HMichaele

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Literary Fiction: Summer Reading 2017

Hello, my lovelies! It feels like it has been forever since I last wrote, but now that I’m finished with grad school and teaching for a while, it’s time to get serious about reading for pleasure. This past year I’ve read A LOT of Shakespeare and composition theorists and not nearly enough romances, mysteries, literary fiction, or young adult novels. I know, GASP!, right?

So here are my choices for this summer’s selection. Will I get to all of these? Doubtful—highly doubtful. And, of course, I’ll add to the list as a book or books strike my fancy, as they inevitably do over the summer time. But for now, here are the main contenders.

Literary Fiction

handmaidI’m starting with literary fiction because I’ve already started The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This book has been on everyone’s lips ever since Hulu came out with its adaptation, which I refuse to watch until I’ve read the book. I’m one of those, ya know? Anyway, so far, so good. I’m enjoying the unraveling of this story piece by piece. Oh, and if you’re interested in the audiobook, Book Riot just had a story on audiobooks, and apparently this book’s audiobook is read by Claire Danes, if you prefer audio.

Here’s a list of the other potential stars for 2017:

  1. A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
  2. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  3. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  4. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
  5. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler—A holdover from 2016, but it was so popular I couldn’t get it through the library until I was elbows deep in composition theorists for my thesis. 😦
  6. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
  7. My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophia Kinsella

Young Adult 

  1. Caraval by Stephanie Garber
  2. Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
  3. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugohillbilly

Nonfiction

1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Rollovers from last year (ahem, and the year before)

  1. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
  2. Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
  3. Beatrice and Benedick by Marina Fiorato
  4. Epitaph by Marie Doria Russell
  5. Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  6. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
  7. We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
  8. Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
  9. Fever by Mary Beth Keane
  10. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
  11. Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch
  12. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
  13. The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer
  14. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

So, now that I’ve developed an impossible-to-meet list for the summer, I guess I’ll get started reading! Until next time, my dears, enjoy your summer books!

Ta-ta for now,

HMichaele

 

Review: “The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King HiResSouthern culture. Teenage angst. A bridge by a flowing river. And a preacher who believes rattlers can tell whether or not you are a true believer. This book surely has it all for the young adult enthusiast, which I totally am.

“The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner centers around Dillard Early Jr., whose daddy was a “signs preacher” and used venomous snakes and poison to see if his congregation were above reproach. Of course, now Dillard’s preacher daddy is in jail for child pornography, and that reputation fogs Dillard’s life in the small town of Forrestville, Tennessee. Dillard’s family life is poor because of a massive medical debt hanging over them, which Dillard and his life-weary mom work to repay.

Dill has exactly two friends. One is Travis, whose family life is also terrible and whose obsession with a fantasy series that sounds a little like Game of Thrones and a little like Lord of the Rings is one of his main defining traits. But it’s Travis’s gentle giant character that will have you fall in love with him. The other is Lydia, whose life is so far opposite of Dillard’s and Travis’s it’s almost painful to read her somewhat judgmental and narrow-minded perspective. She’s the daughter of a dentist. She is loved by her parents. She has a car. Her number one college pick is NYU. She runs a fashion blog that is immensely popular and gives her a notoriety beyond their little town. When compared to Dill and Travis, you might scratch your head as to why the hell they are all friends.

I can tell you. Loyalty. They had no one else, and in turning to each other, their friendship became a way to survive in Forrestville, where on any day any one of them could be bullied and picked on or, in Dill’s case, screamed at by ex-parishioners of his father’s church. The fact that these misfits of Forrestville High found each other made me doubt Lydia’s ever-present belief that she was wronged by having to grow up there; if she hadn’t grown up there, she would never have met two of the most loyal boys she’ll ever meet, a fact I think she realizes as the book progress. Lydia gains a wider perspective, which benefits the growing maturity of her character.

But for Dill, things are changing too much. It’s senior year, and while Lydia is happily planning her what-is-sure-to-be-her outstanding future, Dill feels the cage of his small life shrinking dramatically. He writes music, but being told his whole life that it’s a sin to use it beyond church definitely puts a damper on his enjoyment of creating his songs. Zentner definitely shows a side of a crazy church culture that remind me of Boyd Crowder in Justified (😀). Plus, Lydia’s leaving him, and the fact that she doesn’t seem to care breaks his little ol’ heart. Dill is in almost in a constant state of conflict with himself, wanting to be more, like Lydia, while still retaining his belief in God and trying to respect his less-than-deserving-of-respect parents.

Dill definitely both broke and won my heart. His desire to BE something is tangible, but his circumstances hold him back continuously. His desire to break free of the chains his mother and father and their religious beliefs created had me cheering him on, even when he didn’t believe in himself and had doubts, which was more often than not.

Zentner created three characters about whom I not only cared but for whom I rooted. I’m not going to lie; I cried a few times. Okay, more than a few, but sometimes it was happy tears, ya know? But be warned: Sometimes, it wasn’t.

If you enjoy a good young adult read about kids who are trying to define their identity, sometimes despite their circumstances, you’ll definitely want to pick up “The Serpent King” by Jeff Zentner. I loved it, and I know anyone else who gives it a shot will too!

Until next time, my lovely readers, enjoy your angsty YA!

Ta-ta for now, my dears,

HMichaele

Quick and Dirty Book Reviews: Romance and One Young Adult

So, I’ve read a few books very quickly lately, which means they were not labor intensive like, say, The Book Thief (see review here) or The Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kid. (Read that, too, but it was for a class, so no review.) Really, once school starts, intelligent reading in my life becomes class-centric, whether I’m teaching the class or I’m in it (grad school!), but I have to read something, ya know?

Of course, being an easy, entertaining (in some cases) doesn’t make them any less worthy of a review, but since my time has waned with the start of school, I’ve decided to do a quick review of the books I’ve read since the start of 2017. And here we go!

Mechanica (Mechanica, #1)Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell. Let’s start with the only YA book I’ve read so far. Here’s the lowdown: A Cinderella retelling, Mechanica focuses on Nicolette, nicknamed Mechanica by her steps due to her penchant for creating mechanical devices. Of course, creating inventions is kinda hard to do when running around, cooking, cleaning, etc. You know, all the things Cinderella does. But when she Venturess (Mechanica, #2)finds her mom’s old hidden workshop, it’s inevitable that she is drawn to the mechanical designs floating in her head. Throw in a friend, a handsome prince, and a Faerie black market, then the interesting concept has been achieved. The only problem I had was the MAJOR front loading of Nicolette’s and parents’ history. I suppose it was necessary, but it weighed down the beginning and could have been parceled out as the book went on. The ending made up for it though, and I’m already looking forward the second book, Venturess, which seems to diverge from the Cinderella tale (a benefit, I think).

Fan the Flames and Gone to Deep by Katie Ruggle. Okay, so Ruggle’s a new author to me, andFan the Flames (Search and Rescue, #2) Gone Too Deep (Search and Rescue, #3)I think I’ll probably read more of her romances as she becomes more prolific. (Right now, she only has the four books in this series, as far as I can tell.) These two books are the second and third book, respectively, in Ruggle’s Search and Rescue series, which are set in a small town in the Rockies where rugged, good-looking men abound, apparently. The women in both are well-developed with layers to their characters. They didn’t whine or act too indifferent to the heroes, nor did they fall madly in love at first glance. Not even in lust at first glance. I liked both of the women characters. And the men are your standard protect-and-serve-the-woman heroes. They are sweet and mildly unsure of their position in the women’s lives, but man, do they know how to fall in love. My only complaint was that in Fan the Flames, we don’t get to see the story from the hero, Ian’s, perspective, except in the prologue. But in Gone to Deep, Ruggle does include a few glimpses at that hero, George’s, perspective, and I think that made it a better book. I will definitely pick up the rest of these books and probably all of Ruggle’s from here on out. Oh, and there is suspense. All four books connect to a murder, while individually dealing with different aspects surrounding that murder.

Dancing at Midnight (The Splendid Trilogy, #2)Dancing at Midnight by Julia Quinn and Love Is Blind by Lynsay Sands. I’m looking at these together because I got these recs from the same forum topic, of which I can’t remember right now. I’m sure it has something to do with the hero loving the heroine to distraction, which both of these heroes do. Or maybe it had to do with having scars and self-worth issues? I really can’t remember. If you like strong heroines, theLove Is Blindwomen in both books are headstrong, I would say even more so than the men. Oh, maybe it was from a “heroine wears glasses” thread. Both the heroines needed to wear glasses, but didn’t for different reasons. (I get recs from some oddly chosen thread titles, I’m realizing.) I’ve read both of these authors before, and although I don’t think either of these is their best work, I enjoyed both books and read them in one sitting. They both have passion and heart and are not insta-love, a trope I’m pretty sick of. Plus, I love good historical romances! I would definitely check out both of these books…from the library, which is what I did.

A Match Made in MistletoeA Match Made Under the Mistletoe by Anna Campbell. This was a very cute, quick read. I enjoy Christmas romances (think A Wallflower Christmas), so I picked this one up. Giles has been in love with Serena for ages, but she loves his best friend, Paul. Giles never even thought he stood a chance and never tried until he sees something in Serena’s eyes over Christmas while visiting her family’s estate (historical!). Giles is the dark horse in this one, and I quite enjoyed the romance that played out between him and Serena.

Wild at Whiskey Creek by Julie Ann Long. Yeah, didn’t love this one. Eli’s loved Glory forWild at Whiskey Creek (Hellcat Canyon, #2) years, but after he arrested her brother, who was also his best friend, she gave him the cold shoulder, which pisses him off. Honestly, I thought both characters were immature–Eli because while he claimed to expect her to blame him, he really didn’t think it was deserved; and Glory because, well, she’s just immature. I like some of Long’s historicals, but this contemporary romance left me cold.

And that’s it, my lovely readers. Hope you enjoy a few of these lovely romances or YA novel soon!

Until next time, my dears!

HMichaele

Review: “The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B” by Teresa Toten

unlikelySo, this book was a rec from…well, I really can’t remember where. It was one of many recommendations that I tend to gather to me, often to be put in a very long list of other delightful novels that I should read and bring back out again…maybe.

I’m definitely glad, though, that I brought this one back out.

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten is about Adam Spencer Ross, an almost-fifteen-year-old who falls in love with the newest member of his OCD support group, Robyn. In this meeting, the attending doctor in the group, Chuck, has the members assign new identities to themselves to boost their confidence. And, of course, they are all superhero-based, and Robyn decides to be Robin, which leads Adam, in the throes of his first stirrings of true adolescent love, to become Batman.

This becomes who Adam is: He is the central guy, the wisdom giver, the idea man, and, ultimately, the wannabe savior of all in his group. He wants to save not just Robyn from her problems but most of the members of his group as well, doling out advice to everyone in the group who rely on him for ideas and leadership. But there are problems with his nascent romance with Robyn. She’s 16, and he feels he needs to grow, height-wise, to get an older girl like her. So, you know, logically, he wills himself to grow taller. (Luckily, it seems to work!)

But while the height thing seems to be looking up, he can’t seem to rescue himself from his actual problems. His OCD issues are big, and they get worse as the book progresses, due largely to outside forces that increase his anxiety to massive levels. His family, like his group, largely revolves around him, pulling him from one household to another between his divorced parents. Oh, and you’ll love his little brother, Sweetie, who sometimes unintentionally causes problems for Adam but is too charming for words! These two boys and their love for one another made for the most stable relationship in the book.

Adam, too, charms. You’ll root for him to overcome his struggles, which go far beyond his OCD. I would definitely suggest you add this book to your own recommendation list and make sure that you, too, bring it back out to read and enjoy.

Until next time, my young adult enthusiasts!

HMichaele

Review: “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak

the_book_thief_by_markus_zusak_book_coverA little behind the eight-ball here, but I (finally) read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Being a middle school/high school teacher, coming this late to the party is a little bit of an embarrassment for me. EVERYONE I worked with had read this book.

Ha. I’m kidding. Many of them, like the students, mostly just saw the movie. 😉 (I haven’t seen it, but I’ll watch it now. You know, to compare and determine that the book is waaaay better, as inevitably happens!)

But I did have a STUDENT who had read it and told me what a great book it was, so I decided to read it over the holiday break.

So, first, I should tell you, at 540 pages, according to my Kindle, it took me a week to read. That’s a long time for me, BTW. Usually, I can read a 350 page book in an evening and night combo. And I had some downtime to read during the day, which never happens when school is in. (Not much mind you! I do have young children! 🙂 )

Anyway, I mention how long it took me to read because…it was a hard book for me to get into, I guess. Usually, if I’m not absorbed with the book within 50 pages, I generally toss it aside for another book. It took about 100 pages for The Book Thief to capture me, but once it did, I was well and truly caught.

“How many had actively persecuted others, high on the scent of Hitler’s gaze, repeating his sentences, his paragraphs, his opus? Was Rosa Hubermann responsible? The hider of a Jew? Or Hans? Did they all deserve to die? The children?

“The answer to each of these questions interests me very much, though I cannot allow them to seduce me. I only know that all of those people sensed me that night, excluding the youngest of the children. I was the suggestion. I was the advice, my imagined feet walking into the kitchen and down the corridor.” —The Book Thief, pages 375-376

In The Book Thief, Death is our narrator, describing his fascination with Liesel Meminger, a German girl during World War II. Now, this was interesting to me. I’ve read plenty of books set during WWII, but never from the perspective of poverty-stricken Germans. Or, rather, from the perspective of Death looking at poverty-stricken Germans. It shows how little control the people of a nation have in the face of a destructively evil government; I had never really thought about the German people before, who are shown here with little power over their own lives during this time. For this interesting perspective alone, I would suggest this book.

But there is more to recommend it. Turns out, that while Death is claiming an obsession with Liesel, he’s really fascinated with the cast of characters that are interwoven throughout her life from the years 1939-1943 in Nazi Germany. Given to a foster family, Liesel encounters characters who are complex and rich in their development—way more complex, in fact, than Liesel herself. She is rather, like Death becomes to us, the curator of these lives—including a man whose empathy defies the Nazis in little ways that he does not even understand, a woman whose outward ferocity and hardness conceals her true compassionate nature, a young Jewish boxer who is forced to hide away while fighting the Fuhrer in his dreams, and a boy whose spirit and vivacity cannot be destroyed by the dehumanizing poverty he (and, in fact, all of the characters) faces. Of them all, that boy, Rudy Steiner, Liesel’s best friend, is by far my, and I think Death’s, favorite.

And, of course, there are the books. Liesel steals them. They become symbols of the significant moments in her life. Not because of what they are about, but  because of the events that made her take them. The books become her memories, her photographs, of those moments, reminding her of those instances, allowing her not only to learn how to read but attach those memories and the people and events to her soul, creating a powerful definition of survival among the destruction that surrounds the poverty-ridden in Nazi Germany.

I will say this. I think this book is the definition of post-modernism. It is told from the perspective of Death, who is tormented by humans and the destruction of WWII. It was painful to read in parts because Death visits concentration camps and others beyond the characters of Himmel Street, Liesel’s home during this period. Plus, it is not told, necessarily, in sequential order. It cuts in here and there with observances from Death and his foretelling of the future of many of the characters.

I’m not going to lie. This book was difficult to read because of its subject matter, and I had to put it down many times to mull over the actions and reactions within the book. But it’s not a book I regret reading. It made me think; it made me cry and smile; it made me want, desperately, to have someone with whom to discuss the book. And, I think that is a hallmark of a piece of great literature, don’t you?

Until next time, my literature lovers,

HMichaele

Oh, and P.S.: There is an additional book thief by the end of the book. 😉

Final Summer Reading List

GracelingSo, here it is. The night before I go back to school, so summer reading is officially over. 😦

This day is always depressing, but inevitable. And you may be wondering: What’s the final tally on my (delusional) summer reading list?

Sooooo…it turns out I deviated. A lot. Here’s the final list of the books I read this summer and to whom I would recommend them.

  1. The Vacationers by Emma Straub. YES! You can read my full review, but everybody who enjoys a great beachy read should check this book out. Because of this book, I’ve been on the waiting list at my local library eBook checkout FOREVER for her newest, Modern Lovers. Only 11 more people ahead of me! Whoo-hoo. 😛
  2. Rhymes with Love series by Elizabeth Boyle. Wasn’t my cup of tea, but read them if you enjoy romances with a lot of friends and family on the peripheral. And if you enjoy gentlemen-of-leisure heroes.
  3. The Romantic by Madeline Hunter. Even though this contained one of my favorite archetypal plots (the hero loves the heroine without her knowing), this just didn’t sit well with me. It was kind of “meh” for me, honestly. Check it out if you enjoy an unrequited love.
  4. Defiant by Pamela Clare. Again, “meh” for me. Not great, but not bad either, really. If you like American historical romances.
  5. Marrying Winterborne. This one upset me, if you’ve read my review. Read it if you’re a fan of Kleypas and plan on reading the next one in the series which the hero will be the son of St. Vincent and Evie, one of romance novels true power couples. If you’ve read a lot of Kleypas (usually she’s AWESOME!), then you know who they are and probably love them.
  6. Kiss Me That WayThen He Kissed Me, and Till I Kissed You (The Cottonbloom Series) by Laura Trentham. These books truly made my summer romance reading a wonderful experience. Read them if you enjoy Stars Hollow-esque towns with lots of passionate romances. Oh, and Trentham has said that there will be a Christmas novella out in October and more books in Cottonbloom out next year! YAY!
  7. Slightly Dangerous by Mary Balogh. I really liked the hero and heroine in this one, especially how they realized how much they needed each other. Check it out if you enjoy the hero in love with the heroine resisting.
  8. To Wed a Wild Lord by Sabrina Jeffries. Lots of family interaction in this one with the hero and heroine resisting because of their families’ history. Read it if you enjoy a light-hearted romance with tons of family interaction.
  9. The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. I like Morton, and this fell in line with her other ancestral mysteries. Read it if you enjoy a decades old mystery and individual self-realization.
  10. Unlawful Contact by Pamela Clare. A escaped convict and a reporter with a past. Yeah, I really liked this one! Read it if you enjoy a little history between the hero and the heroine.
  11. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. I LOVED this Pride and Prejudice redo! I love how publishing houses are redoing oldies with a modern take…most of the time. This one was definitely a keeper for me! I’ve already recommended it to several of my bookish friends! Read it if you love Elizabeth and Darcy!
  12. I did a review of 10 different romances at one point, but the ones I remember are Truth and Beard by Penny Reid, Elle Kennedy’s The Outlaws series, including Claimed and Addicted, and A Rake’s Guide to Seduction by Caroline Linden. Loved them all for different reasons, but you should check them out if you enjoy good books where the characters (especially the heroes) long for the heroine.
  13. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Great historical fiction piece about orphans who are forced onto a train and marketed as workers to potential families. It has a happyish ending for most of the characters, so that’s a plus to me!
  14. The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. Pretty decent young adult novel with an interesting concept of magical lines running through the world. I would definitely recommend this series (there are two more that I haven’t read yet) to anyone who likes what young adult authors are doing nowadays! (They are breaking down barriers and creating conflicted characters who make realizations about life and love. And sometimes magic, too. 😉 )
  15. What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman. This just couldn’t compare to Orphan Train, even though there are tons of similarities in the more modern characters.
  16. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Okay, I was upset with myself that I had this on my Kindle and hadn’t read it immediately, instead of waiting months. This book was AMAZINGLY descriptive and wonderfully romantic. Read it if you enjoy the whimsy and romance contained within a circus.
  17. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. This was a fantasy with a romance that I didn’t really get. It wasn’t bad, and I want to read the others in the series. But that’s mainly because I liked the side characters more than the main characters in this one. Read it if you like your fantasy with gods and goddesses and a little romance.
  18. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. I think I’m a little tired of YA novels that are about a girl being the savior of a people. I think that with the books later in the series, from what I’ve read, the sole heroine savior in this one morphs into dual saviors (at least one of the princes needs to help her save her people), but I haven’t read them yet. (But I will. Eventually.) I did like Aveyard’s love triangle. She knows how to do one right (not like Maas, whom I have a book rant about), but I would have liked for the heroine to have read both political and romantic situations better than she did. I might just need to take a break from fantasy YA. They all seem to go this route, and it’s boring me lately.

So, final tally: Around 13 books read from my (delusional) summer reading list, with around 15 or so that were added at my whim. Not bad, I say. But a little heavy on the romance and young adult genres. I need to branch out more. (I don’t know if this will happen.)

TorchIf you have time, let me know how your summer reading went! I’m reading another from my list right now, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, but again, I think I’m a little burned out on the YA savior heroine books right now because it’s not blowing my mind at all. But A Torch Against the Night  by Sabaa Tahir comes out August 30, so I’m hoping that will improve my mood about YA. (Having dual saviors helps, I think!)

Until next time, enjoy the last of your summer reading!

Ta-ta, my friends,

HMichaele

Commentary: “The Raven Boys” and “The Dream Thieves” by Maggie Stiefvater

Raven BoysFor years, I’ve seen students bring in Maggie Stiefvater’s books, from her Shiver series to The Scorpio Races, but I’ve never read any of her books. Since I’m teaching 9th grade next year instead of seniors, I thought that maybe I should catch up on my young adult book list, starting with Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys series.

After reading the first two in the series, I’m really looking forward to reading the last two. (Yeah, I’ve already read the last part of the last book. I had to know, you know? It’s a compulsion that does not affect my reading the entire series! I’m a spoiler girl!)

Any-whooo, let’s look at The Raven Boys first. Blue Sargent is a very practical teen, emanating partially from the fact that she is a non-psychic in a houseful of women psychics, including her mother, and partially from the fact that they have all told her one thing her whole life: “If Blue was to kiss her true love, he would die.”

So she’s very sensibly developed two rules regarding boys: “One, stay away from boys, because they were trouble. And two, stay away from Aglionby boys, because they were bastards.” You see, Blue lives in Henrietta, where Aglionby Academy, a boys’ prep school for the wealthy and elite, is located, and she thinks the boys who go there are arrogant and unworthy, obviously. Her vow to stay away from them has been unbreakable until St. Mark’s Night, a night where those who will die within the year walk a mystical energy line. On this night, she sees the ghost of an Aglionby boy, unusual in the fact that Blue never sees the ghosts of the dead, merely powers up psychics who can see them. (She’s like an electrical current for psychics and the supernatural.) His name? Ganey. Why can she see him? According to one of the psychics, it’s because he’s either “her true love” or she “kills him.” Ominous, huh?

And here’s the introduction to the raven boys, so dubbed by their school uniform, which displays a raven on their sweaters. Ganey, the leader of his little crew, is obsessed with the supernatural, looking for mystical energy lines in Henrietta to lead him to the ancient burial grounds of Glendower, a mystical being who if discovered, is said to grant one wish to the one who finds him. His friends help him with his search–the angry, resentful Ronan who has known Ganey for years, the problem solving Adam who is from Henrietta himself and goes to Aglionby on scholarship, and the mysterious Noah who tries to go unnoticed.

Blue’s introduction to these Aglionby boys does not go well, not surprisingly. Blue’s what you might call prickly in her demeanor, and Ganey, well, he’s rather used to his money and his charm working for him. Needless to say, the combination of money and charm really does not impress the somewhat cynical Blue. It doesn’t help that she doesn’t recognize Ganey as her ghost since the ghost’s features were indistinguishable. When the boys go to a reading at her house, she finds out his name and realizes that this is the boy who will be dead within the year. The one that will be her true love or the one she will kill.

This is not a comfort to her, especially since her mother forbids her to see these boys again. But she’s a typical teenager, and you know how that goes.

So, let me be clear. This is not one of those teen romances with the ostensible supernatural plot. This is really a story about friendship. These boys have a tight knit one, and Blue becomes one of them. Adam’s the one who brings her into the group, as she tries to avoid Ganey, for obvious reasons, and Ronan, who’s kind of an a-hole most of the time. Once she comes into the group, she and Noah also have a connection, as well. But it’s not about them dating or all of them constantly wondering who she will choose. (I hate those type of YA books, actually.) It’s about them merging Ganey’s quest with Blue’s attempt to prevent Ganey’s death from coming true. It’s about them being friends and about what they are willing to do for one another. (Quite a lot.) It’s also about the conflicts that all friendships have, whether it’s trying to change someone into the person you think he/she should be or someone trying to maintain his/her independence and identity within a close-knit group like this one. And it’s about how the characters define themselves by their experiences (most have some terrible events in their pasts) and who they’re trying to become.

This is told in third person, largely from Blue’s, Adam’s or Ganey’s perspective. Oh, and the bad guy, which was different and gives us insights into the history of the mystical in Henrietta. I don’t think you get very much from Ronan’s perspective in this one, probably because the next book, The Dream Thieves, is really his book, told mainly from his perspective, although there are some chapters in The Dream Thieves that show the conflicts that emerged in The Raven Boys between Adam, Ganey, and Blue.

So, now let’s talk about The Dream Thieves. This is really a background information book. (SPOILER: While Ganey has no supernatural abilities, his friends do.) Stiefvater focuses on Ronan’s mystical background, while incorporating Adam’s supernatural abilities as well. Not much is added to the whole Glendower plot or the whole Ganey’s eventual death plot, which I think makes this book less necessary than the first, but it’s interesting in finding out more about Ronan and Adam and their conflicts with Ganey’s sometimes overwhelming personality. I mean, how would you feel if you were friends with someone who could command the room in an instant? Ronan doesn’t seem to mind; he has other problems with Ganey. But Adam seems to constantly struggle with his desire to be his own person without Ganey overpowering his personality. While rage is definitely Ronan’s vice, envy is Adam’s , definitely, but he has had a more difficult life than Ganey or Ronan. Hopefully, Adam’s insecurities will be worked out and settled by the last book.

I don’t want to give too much away that will ruin the books for those who don’t like spoilers as much as I do. But I will say by the end of the second book, The Dream Thieves, I was definitely shipping two different couples (possibly three, if I count Blue’s mom’s love interest!) than I was in book one, The Raven Boys. Oh, yeah, I was! I loved the gradual way Stiefvater brings about the romance, while not focusing on it too much.

I will also say this: I enjoyed The Raven Boys way more than I did The Dream Thieves. I gave The Raven Boys four stars on Goodreads, but three stars for The Dream Thieves, for the reasons I stated earlier. Dream just doesn’t advance the Glendower or mystical energy plot, and it also doesn’t do much with the whole Ganey’s death thing, either. Plus, there were weirdish villains in Kavinsky and the Gray Man, a character whom I liked waaay better than Kavinsky. (Kavinisky sucked! And I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to like the Gray Man, despite his, ummm, professional proclivity.) But I liked getting the background about Ronan and more on Adam, to whom, really, I just want to give a big reassuring hug.

Raven KingSo, who’s my favorite character? Adam! I love Adam because his seems to be a magnet for struggles outside of his control, but he always seems to grasp onto what power in those situations he can and come out better for it, in my opinion, although he’s often conflicted afterward. He struggles to be his own person and tries to overcome his substantially terrible circumstances that would totally defeat other people. Love him! (People like Ronan more, I’ve found, but this is totally baffling to me!)

Anyway, I will definitely be finishing the rest of the series soon, which includes Blue Lily, Lily Blue, then The Raven King.

Until next time, hope you decide to enjoy the Aglionby boys, Blue, and the mystical town of Henrietta!

Ta-ta,

HMichaele

Update: My (Delusional) Summer Reading List

I’ve decided to update My (Delusional) Summer Reading List…obvs. Here’s what I’ve read so far from that list and links to any reviews. No surprise that I’ve read all the romance novels except the one that hasn’t come out yet. 🙂

Romance Genre 

  1. Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas:  Missing something that would make it a great read; review here.
  2. Cottonbloom series by Laura Trentham: Read the first two, and they were awesome! Love small town drama and romance! Read my review of Kiss Me Like That and Then He Kissed Me. Looking forward to the release of the third of this series, Till I Kissed You on August 2nd.
  3. Rhymes with Love series by Elizabeth Boyle: Couldn’t finish; review here.

Young Adult: As of right now, I have read none of these. Boo, me!

Literary Fiction: I read and reviewed The Vacationers by Emma Straub–LOVED IT! And that’s it. I did start Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch but sadly didn’t finish it. (I have a 50 page rule. If it doesn’t grab my interest by then, I close it and regulate it to the pile of the unread.)

I also read a Kate Morton novel, The Forgotten Garden, and while I didn’t love it as much as The Lake House, I always enjoy her intricate plotting. (See that review here.)

eligibleI’ve also added Eligilble by Curtis Sittenfeld to this list…because who doesn’t enjoy a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen with heavy satire on today’s societal values?  (I’ve already started it! Can you tell?) I’ve read A LOT of retellings of P&P, and I’ll tell you this one has already made me laugh out loud and contemplate our modern world.

I also bought Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, so I’m hoping to get to that one soon.

On my library eBook loan status, I’m, like, 11th in line for Jane Steele, 7th for What She Left Behind, and 3rd for The Good Girl. These are pretty popular at the library! Oh, and The Nest. 15th in line. Don’t know if I’ll get to any of these before the end of summer. Fingers crossed, though!

Historical Fiction: I’ve downloaded the audiobook for Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I’ll listen to that in the car, but that’s all I’ve gotten around to on this list.

ClashAs for my Science Fiction/Fantasy list? Nada. But I have decided, after that TUSHIE KICKING season finale of Game of Thrones that I’m definitely reading the rest of the series. (I’ve already read the first one. Twice.) But ASOIAF is a series that I actually need a copy of the book, not a downloaded version, so I’m off to the bookstore today to pick the second of the series. There are just some books I want to hold, rather than read on my Kindle…although I love my Kindle, too. Anyone else like this?

SIDEBAR: The fact that I’m buying A Clash of Kings while still reading Eligible prompted my husband to ask, “Do you really need to buy that now since your reading something else?” Silly man, of course I need to buy it! Buying books is a compulsion that I no longer fight, though I do love library eBooks for the ones I can read on Kindle. It’s like he doesn’t know me at all! 😉

So, as you can see, I’m doing pretty poorly on My (Delusional) Summer Reading List…but I have plans, I tell ya! Plans!

Ta-ta for now, my readers,

HMichaele

My (Delusional) Summer Reading List

So, okay, I’m a teacher, right? This means I always have a book list for summer. Do I read all of these? No way! I rarely get to all of my intended reads for the summer. One reason is because new books pop up all the time that I decided I want to read instead. Also, it’s because my summer reading largely consists of literary fiction, and I have a tendency to gobble up romances or fantasy YA whenever they grab my interest. Oh, and, of course, my children are home during summer, and one of their least favorite summer activities is watching Mommy read. (I can’t wait for them to be able to read themselves, but they probably still won’t enjoy watching me read during summer. I mean, it’s summer! Swimming and all!)

Anyway, here’s a list of my summer reading. I’ll check off in August what I actually read and what will become my fall reading! 😛 And, of course, I’ll review those that I actually read throughout the summer.

Romance GenreCottonbloom

  1. Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas (My #1 of them all! May 31st!)
  2. Cottonbloom series by Laura Trentham (Out at intervals this summer)
  3. Rhymes with Love series by Elizabeth Boyle (Five out now!)

Young Adult (All available now!)

  1. The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo (Already reading the first book)Serpent
  2. The Serpent King  by Jeff Zentner
  3. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
  4. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

Literary Fiction (All but Another Brooklyn available now!)

  1. What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman
  2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Been trying to read this book forever! Maybe this summer will be the What she left behindtime!)
  3. The Vacationers by Emma Straub
  4. Summer House with Swimming Pool  by Herman Koch
  5. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye
  6. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
  7. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (Available August 9th)
  8. Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
  9. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (Has been languishing on my Kindle for months)Epitaph
  10. The Nest by Cynthis D’Aprix Sweeney
  11. Beatrice and Benedick by Marina Fiorato

Historical Fiction (All available now)

  1. Epitaph by Marie Doria Russell
  2. Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  3. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Fantasy/Science Fiction (All available now)Uprooted

  1. The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin
  2. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  3. Is Naomi Novik’s sequel to Uprooted coming out this summer? I don’t think so, but whenever it does come out, be sure I will read it that week! (Did you know there’s going to be a sequel? I read the announcement on her Twitter feed!) Maybe I’ll read one of her other books to tide me over. Uprooted may have been my favorite book of the year so far!

Also, I’ve been trying to finish reading the Game of Thrones series for, like, ever. Maybe this will be the magical summer (doubt it!). 🙂 (When I say “finish”, I’ve only read the first one. Pathetic, I know. I watch the show instead!)

I think I’m going to finish up my Kate Morton books that I haven’t read yet. I like the idea of being able to say that I have read all the books of an author, besides Jane Austen, of course.

 

And just for fun, here’s the quite EXTENSIVE list of the books I never managed to finish last year (Note that there are no romance novels on this list. It’s because I read all of those last summer!):Good

  1. We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
  2. Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
  3. Fever by Mary Beth Keane
  4. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine
  5. Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch
  6. Graceling by Kristine Cashore
  7. Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
  8. The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer
  9. The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

Might as well add these to the list, too. The more, the merrier. Besides, let’s face it–doesn’t matter how many I put on here, not all of these quality books will be read, not by me anyway. But it’s been entertaining coming up with the list and imagining that I’ll read them! Eventually. 🙂

Enjoy your summer reading, my dears.

Ta-ta for now,

HMichaele