Whoa, It’s Magic! [Book Review]

5194yo0pydl-_sx322_bo1204203200_It’s a fairly warm afternoon but the chill of an incoming rainstorm hangs in loose ribbons around my table. I rarely sit outside for this sort of thing—the bugs and random wind chill are really bothersome—but tonight I make an exception. I prop my bare feet on the bench and open the book in hand: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I had heard plenty of acclaim for this novel; my friend named a stray cat after one of the characters and a professor of mine sang its praises just days before I started it. While the book itself wasn’t heavy, the expectations weighed it down.

With the hymns of Goodreads users and verbal reviewers in my mind, I gently open the paperback cover, careful not to break the spine of the borrowed book. Almost immediately, the refreshing scent of ink on paper combined with the domestic scent of everyday life fly from the dust motes and transport me into the text.

The circus arrives without warning.

The wind picks up and flips the pages, words springing from every sliver of papyrus. In surprise, I throw the book in the air and gasp at the sight of it rising quickly into the trees above. All of a sudden, the words that escaped assemble in front of me. As a I read a word, the next appears slightly behind it, leading into the forest. Without a moment of thought, I push back my chair and wander forward. Minutes pass and reality has disappeared, leaving lightning bugs in black and white in its midst.

As the monotone mist clears, I see tents rise and pop like a cartoon. Faerie lights line the edges, giving the entire scene a hazy dreamlike feel. I take a hesitant step forward and the path materializes beneath my feet. More tents seem to appear as I navigate the circus; hours, possibly days could have passed before the scene explodes around me. Without warning, I’m back in my chair with the book nestled safely against my chest.

All right, fictional scene aside, The Night Circus is something special. Maybe I won’t go into excruciating detail about the wonders that lie between the pages—you’ll thank me for that, I promise—but I can tell you why it struck a chord with me. Nay, not just a chord… it performed a symphony.

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False Advertising

You may think this is a bad thing, but it’s probably one of the best things that could have happened to this novel. The description on the back of the book (at least for the Target Book Club edition I read from) advertises The Night Circus as a story about the romance between two main characters, Celia Bowen and Marco Alisdair. While this is true (not a spoiler because it’s on the description, come on), there is a romance, it is certainly not the central plot. The circus itself is the center of attention and the descriptions of how intricate and intertwined it is within itself make it deserving of the central focus.

Call It Magic

For something that is purely seen and not uttered by the characters in this book, Morgenstern does a fantastic job with describing the brands of magic Celia and Marco employ. You can’t even see it happening, but after so many pages you learn how to differentiate Celia’s powers from Marco’s and what their limitations are. You learn the names of all the circus members and what they do, to the point that just a simple name drop makes you recall everything that’s happened to them thus far. The magic of this book is definitely within the magic itself, but it’s also within the circus itself. Every tent exhibits something different—again, I’m not explaining because the descriptions are worth experiencing unspoiled—and when you finally close that book, the longing you feel is something unlike book hangovers felt before. It’s like a wanderlust after you return home from abroad.

But that Romance Though?

CELIA AND MARCO FOREVER. I honestly can’t say more, because I’ll ruin it. Read. This. Book.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is worth experiencing. You might tell your friends that you “read” the book, but you’ll know deep down that you “experienced” it just like the rest of us. It might not be an adult form of Harry Potter, but it makes you believe in the magic of circuses and love.

Sources: Desktop Images, Amazon, GIFSec

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Warmth in the Winter [Book Review]

i'll give you the sunDuring the summer of 2015, my best friend and I picked up I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, the author of The Sky Is Everywhere. I had heard from my Young Adult Literature professor (shout out to Dr. Bittel!) that Give was highly praised and weighted with award authority. If there’s anything I’ve learned from award-winning books in any discipline, it’s to tread carefully and keep expectations low. Sometimes what you consider award-winning isn’t what Newbery or Printz believe, and that can be disappointing.

However, Nelson’s novel deserves all of the awards and then some. I’m not kidding or even exaggerating when I say this book is beautiful. The language, the imagery, the dialogue, the pacing, the characters: it’s all gorgeous and breathtaking in a way I never thought possible. I spent years lusting over John Green’s language-wielding powers, and I still do to a point, but with Give Nelson has cast me under her spell. I have found another teacher to whose talent and quality I aspire; she joins the ranks of JK Rowling, John Green, and Neil Gaiman. A pretty hearty cast of characters, if I say so myself.

I can hear you asking: is this just Riley gushing over a book because of the honeymoon stage (yes, that exists in books, I swear)? When I first read it, I would have discredited my high praise because of the honeymoon stage. If you’ve been here a while, my review on Divergent was a result of the honeymoon book stage, and I definitely have different views on it (and the series) now. However, the love for Give is real and legitimate. Six months later, I’d still start a life with this novel and swear to read nothing else (except maybe Harry Potter). It’s that entrancing.

A brief summary: Noah and Jude Sweetwine are twins estranged by the twists and turns of life that force them apart. However, at age 13 when the book starts they aren’t separated just yet. In the second chapter, at age 16, the separation is definite and you aren’t sure why. Nelson switches between ages 13 and 16 (with Noah and Jude as narrators, respectively), and the answers to rising questions aren’t revealed until the very end. As described on the back of the book: “The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s.” With that in mind…

What makes this novel so good? Let’s look at the breakdown.

IGYTS quote 1Organization

Switching between two different characters at two different times in life may seem risky, especially when those two characters are twins, but Nelson manages to make the transitions clean and swift. I often found myself longing to continue the story of Noah by skipping a Jude chapter, but once I started with Jude I couldn’t possibly skip her point of view. You soon realize both perspectives are necessary because what you get from one you won’t get from the other, especially because of the age differences. The chapters begin as typical 20-ish pages, but by the end of the novel they escalate to 70 pages a piece. While this seemed a bit nonsensical at first (I’m one of those who needs to finish a chapter before I do something else), the total immersion you get as a result is significant to how you understand the story and how you feel about the characters.

Characterization

Speaking of characters, they are definitely a large reason this book is so wonderful. The first page of the first chapter begins with Noah Sweetwine: “This is how it all begins.” Very fitting. With this sentence, he looks at the reader, takes them by the hand, and sits them down. He eases the reader into the narrative with six words of welcome. In contrast, the first page of the second chapter begins with Jude Sweetwine: “Here I am.” Instead of taking the audience by the hand, she stands like a piece of art waiting to be judged. She presents who she is without beating around the bush and doesn’t give the audience a chance to sit. She’s fast-paced, using half the words her brother does to greet us. To be honest, these sentences are very telling about the characters who say them. While the focus of the novel is definitely on Noah and Jude, the background characters are just as rounded and dynamic. The Sweetwine parents, Grandma Sweetwine, Brian, Oscar, and Guillermo all jump off the page and beg you to listen to their words. Trust me: when I listened, they pulled me straight into the pages and refused to release me. Even to this day, when I haven’t read the book in six months.

Language

Holy goodness gracious, the language. I spouted about it earlier, but it is beautiful. It changes between Noah and Jude because of their vast difference, as you would expect, but Noah’s chapters have the best descriptions. In describing why guys like Jude, he says: “And because of her hair—I use up all my yellows drawing it” (3). You can immediately see him drawing pictures of them together, all of his yellow pastels wasted on the curls of Jude’s hair. It’s a striking image to me because of how little is said to get such detail. Noah also uses names of hypothetical paintings to summarize a scene. When he imagines Zephyr, a surfer, walking away with the ocean at his back, he uses the following title: “Portrait: The Boy Who Walked Off with the Sea” (3). This happens with every large point in Noah’s chapters, whereas Jude uses verses from Grandma Sweetwine’s bible to rationalize her strange decisions. In the second chapter when Jude is about to walk into her art critique, she cites the following passage: “A person in possession of a four-leaf clover is able to thwart all sinister influences” (24). The language each twin uses captures the world through their eyes and sets them distinctly apart from each other. It’s interesting to watch their words fluctuate and evolve as chapters continue and events occur; their language grows with them.

One thing I will warn about is that, with Noah’s language at least, it becomes hard to tell whether he means things metaphorically or literally. It warrants having to read the phrase or sentence a couple times over, but I would argue that’s part of his charm. He is so beyond reality that his language and thought processes stretch with him. In contrast, Jude’s language stays close to home and vague normalcy while her mind floats beyond the realm of rational possibility. Another concern that’s been aired is the convenient way things tie up at the end. I’m not going to say much more on that, but I liked how it ended.

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In the interest of keeping this review spoiler-free, I won’t continue with my thoughts on character relationships and the like, but I will leave you with this: Give delivers emotions and laughs in a carefully-wrapped brown paper package tied up with string. I can only hope it’ll become your favorite thing, for the sake of rhyming. If you do happen to read Give, let me know! I’d love to talk about it. I’m in the process of rereading it and would love to hear your thoughts. Until next time!

-Riley

Feature image from Wikia, cover image from Tumblr, first quote image from Goodreads, second quote image from WordPress

Christmas Break Broke Me.

It’s become a semester-ly tradition of mine to read some “destress books” to wind down from the grueling high-brow literature of the English major canon. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does this; you all understand the struggle that comes with a mission like “destressing.” By the very nature of the word “destress,” the book should be something simple and mindless to read with some nice outcome to keep your mind off the previous semester. Sometimes I hit some really great hidden gems (*coughcough* Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins…), but most times I smack the ground hard. I was going to say I won’t mention any names, but isn’t that what you’re here for? To avoid the cringe-worthy plots and sad characters of specific books so that you don’t dole out the money? Well, if you are here for that, read on. I won’t disappoint.

In ascending quality order, here are some rants. Ratings are my own.


this is what happy looks like

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith (2 stars)

Because of some coincidental spelling mishap when typing his agent’s email address, teen heartthrob Graham Larkin contacts Maine-based nobody Ellie O’Neill, the girl with all of the L’s and E’s. While it sounds ridiculously cheesy, that’s kind of why I bought it. It was $3 at BAM, the cover looked promising, and I’m all for a cheesy romantic YA destress book. HOWEVER, this book is quite the annoying doozy of events. Neither character is likable. Plus, they have all of this pent-up passion after half of the book but all they do is kiss maybe twice (I’m not looking for erotica—duh it’s YA—but how is that realistic?! YOU REALLY LIKE EACH OTHER DON’T YOU?!) In short, it’s unsatisfying. The ending is strange and unresolved, the Graham/Ellie relationship is sort of sweet but quickly turns annoying, and some characters just feel like faceless add-ons.

Read It: fluffy stupidity for those who wish of a Hollywood romance taking place in Maine (it can happen? I don’t know), mindless reading, decent writing

Don’t Read It: annoying characters, random father plotline, weird mother plotline, actors owning pigs (seriously, what is that about)

to all the boys i've loved before

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han (3 stars)

A girl, for some unknown reason, writes letters to each of her crushes (detailed and very full of feelings), addresses them (there’s no reason for this), and keeps them in an old hat box. There are many things wrong with this idea to begin with, but the novel hopes you’ll put those details aside. Spoiler: I didn’t. My Kindle version is littered with shouting-caps notes about how dumb the plot is. Regardless, my biased opinion aside, I only picked up this book because of a BookTuber, polandbananasBOOKS, or Christine May. She said in one of her last videos of 2015 that To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before would satisfy the need for cheesy love that Stephanie Perkins’ novels give you. If you’ve read my reviews of Anna and Lola by Perkins, you’ll know I LOVE those books. I was so excited! Until I read the first couple chapters and lost every sense of my suspension of disbelief. Sorry, Jenny Han, I won’t pick up the second novel P.S. I Still Love You until I am promised it gets better. I’ve heard it doesn’t.

Read It: Peter is a guilty pleasure character (jerk but he’s fun to read), you feel vindicated when Lara Jean starts hating Margot (BECAUSE SHE’S THE WORST), mindless reading

Don’t Read It: empty characters, annoying characters, stupid love triangles that shouldn’t exist, weird sister falling in love with older sister’s ex-boyfriend nonsense, letters never meant to be sent but are addressed, and unresolved ending, THE WRITING

an ember in the ashes

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir (4 stars)

A dystopic world and star-crossed lovers. No, this isn’t Divergent or The Hunger Games, this is SPARTA. No, just kidding, but the world is inspired by the ancient greats. This little number is the only novel this season I finished quickly without skipping chapters and wishing it would end swiftly (you know, like the other two). Two stories—a Scholar slave Laia and an Empire soldier Elias—and a beautiful world. I read the entire 400-page tome in two days and couldn’t put it down! The characters were fully rounded (albeit developed a bit too fast in terms of Laia), the settings were beautiful descriptive, the weapons were flipping cool, the whole Empire concept was inspired, the love plotline was delicately approached, and YES DIVERSITY IN YA HOLY GOD! My only criticism, and one I’ve noticed across Goodreads, is that the love rectangle present was a bit strange on the Laia side. You’ve been warned, but maybe you understand it more than I do. Regardless, I absolutely cannot WAIT until the next in the series.

Read It: characters with life, heartbreaking motives, kick-butt women soldiers, family plot twists, beautiful world building, THAT WRITING THOUGH, THAT DIALOGUE

Don’t Read It: weird love rectangle, love plot pushed to the back (which is fine with me, but might be sad for others?)


 

So, there you have it. Three books read in a span of a month, each of them vastly different than the others. It was an emotional rollercoaster in good and bad ways, but I survived. If I was able to, I think you should as well. What did you all read over the holiday break? Let me know in the comments and recommend me some books! I’m always looking for new literature, and obviously I have no bias to what I read. Until next time!

-Riley

Featured image from FreeJupiter, all other images from Goodreads

 

Keep Calm & Carry On

Anglophiles, we’re going back to the UK. YA enthusiasts, Rowell is back with gusto. Fantasy fanatics, this will feel familiar. Why? Because Carry On, set in the UK and based off the fanfiction written by Cath in Fangirl is essentially Harry Potter. Not really, but I may be getting ahead of myself.

If you haven’t read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, you haven’t lived. And that’s saying something, coming from me, considering I badmouthed the book (without reading it for shame) until I found it for bargain price at BAM. Morgan and Gillian, two of my loveliest friends, recommended it up and down to me but I wouldn’t budge. To this day I can’t really say why I opposed it so much; I’m just sorry I waited so long.

But, anyway. I’m not over-exaggerating; this book is fantastic. If you’re anything like me—a geek who grew up loving Harry Potter so much that sometimes the divide between fantasy and reality was a bit too wide—then you’ll relate to the story’s protagonist, Cath. She is ½ of the dynamic sister duo, Cath and Wren, at her new college. However, things aren’t all peachy-keen. Being a twin is difficult because not only are they growing apart, but Cath doesn’t know how to be herself without Wren. The only thing she does know is Simon Snow, and that’s the world she prefers. Of course there’s an adorable male love interest, Levi, but you need to read the book to discover him.

Now, this isn’t a Fangirl summary or review, but I think you get the gist. Essentially Cath writes enormous amounts of fanfiction about Simon Snow, and she’s afraid that makes her strange. Maybe in some circles it does, but I completely relate and feel that fanfiction is, in fact, not strange. From a writer’s point of view, what better way to explore characterization and keeping true to it than by fanfiction? Besides, it’s not like you’re publishing it officially (I’m looking at you, E.L. James).

Regardless, being a huge fan of Harry Potter, it’s impossible not to get caught up in fanart and fanfiction. Like I said, I even write some myself. It’s a creative way to explore the world you love even further and in a more intimate way. There was a point when that sort of thing used to be strange (How dare you use someone else’s characters and make them do things they don’t do in the books! BLASPHEMY!!), but now with the age of Tumblr and countless fanfiction websites, it’s the norm. If you’re not reading/writing/reblogging/drawing for your favorite things, you aren’t an active part of the fandom (says Tumblr at least).

Enter Carry On. Originally the fanfiction Cath writes for her favorite series, Simon Snow, before the final book comes out, now Rowell is actually publishing it as a book. And not really tied to Fangirl at all, just a book on its own. I can’t even fathom how excited the publication of this book makes me. Fangirl is one of my favorite books of the past decade, and the Simon Snow fanfic parts were some of my favorite bits. Now the whole romance-yet-not relationship of Simon and Baz (reminiscent of Draco and Harry) can live on in full book form! My heart is singing with excitement, to say the least.

To wrap it all up, I’m beyond ready for Carry On to be safely in my hands smelling of fresh paper and ink. I’m completely prepared to laugh, maybe cry, and definitely feel mountains of emotions for Simon and Baz. But most importantly, I’m fully amped to share this all with my two greatest friends who introduced me to Fangirl and remind me every day that I am that weird geek, that girl lost in her fiction worlds, but that’s part of the reason they love me. Besides, they can’t complain because they’re the same way!

Now, stop reading this and go read Fangirl before Carry On comes out on October 6. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

My Weekend with Anna and Lola

Happy summer and happy annual revamp of Booking Awesome! Today I’m coming to you with the fact that I’ve read 2 YA romance novels in 2 days. It may sound like no large feat, but, boy, did my heart take a beating because of them. The novels in question? Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door, both by Stephanie Perkins.

I’ll start by saying that I heard about these books recently because of people like Kristina Horner (italktosnakes on YouTube) and other BookTubers and they had great things to say, but I was in a bit of an anti-romance novel state at the time I heard about them. There’s just something about YA romance that gets me a bit depressed, and it’s strange because I’m 21 and past that age of high school first loves (but really, are we ever past that stage? –boos for corny comment–). But, I must say, there’s something different about the way Stephanie Perkins writes her characters and their stories because the only depression I felt was after finishing the books. Dang it, Perkins, write more books so I can live on and on in your wonderful YA romance world of fabulous men and wonderful ladies! I’m in deep, if you can’t tell.

annaI remember picking up Anna in my local BAM and eyeing the pink cover with the Eiffel Tower looming in the background. I also remember thinking: Hey, Paris! Super romantic city, something about French kisses in the title, and pink is the color of love. This could be totally cheesy. Or, past me, it could be totally enthralling. I decided to buy both Anna and Lola for my Kindle because they were cheaper, but I feel like I’ll end up buying them in print just because of how much I loved them both.

Now, on to my analysis review deal.

No matter how much I adore these books, I knew they’re not for everyone. There’s a certain amount of suspension of disbelief you need to have before entering their worlds; while they do take place in modern-day Paris/San Francisco, the relationships that take place almost seem otherworldly. Brief plot summary of each: Anna goes to a boarding school in Paris and meets this hot British-accent American who treats her like a queen pretty much. Lola goes to high school in San Francisco and her first crush returns to his old home right next door and he treats her like a queen pretty much. See what the issue is here?

I’m not saying that women shouldn’t be treated like queens, but that certainly isn’t always the case in every relationship. I’m also not saying that Perkins should have written these true-to-life (I mean, it is fiction), but it’s something to consider when you’re wondering if you want to read them or not. I enjoy gushy adorable things and literally squealed when I read both of these novels, but I know a lot of people who hate that stuff. I’ll just suffice it to say that, if you think it’s something you’d like, go for it. If you think you’re going to hate it, don’t buy it. Get it? Got it? Good.

Anna might be my favorite book out of the two so far (and there is a third, Isla and the Happily Ever After that came out last year I think), but it’s not really because of Anna’s character. Anna herself is pretty plain and vanilla for a character, but her relationships with Etienne and her friends make her more interesting. Alone, she’s pretty bland. Etienne St. Clair is charming, sweet, thoughtful, and attractive to boot. The way Perkins writes him makes him unbelievably real. I remember when I first read his description I rolled my eyes. Of course he’s British, I thought, of course he’s British and of course she’s in Paris and white girl problem white girl problem etc. If you read it and find yourself thinking the same things, trust me it gets better. Etienne is pretty much the man I thought I’d find on my study abroad trip to London. Turns out he was waiting in Paris this whole time and ran off with Anna Oliphant to San Francisco. Drat.

With Lola, the dynamic is completely changed. She’s still in high school, is a budding costume designer, and is completely and utterly eccentric. I loved her. She wore crazy outfits, didn’t give a crap about anything anyone had to say, and had this hipster band boyfriend, Max. He was pretty great until, well, he wasn’t. The love lolainterest of Lola’s story is the one and only Cricket Bell, a darling eccentric weirdo who wears multiple bracelets and pinstriped pants and adores all of Lola’s quirks. He’s literally the boy next door you wish you had, one who built little machines for you and found a way to travel between your window and his. Lola’s main issue is that she loves Max, but her heart is set on Cricket. In my opinion, where’s the competition? The dude’s name is Cricket but goodness’ sake and he knows how to braid hair and make little trinkets. Plus, he’s friends with St. Clair. Swoooon.

My only issue with these two novels is that I could predict where they were going. While the way Perkins executed the books was unexpected and kept me on my toes, the basic plotlines were pretty obvious to me. Though, to her credit and to my own, I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately (mainly romance despite my anti-romance kick earlier this year), and the way they play out are generally the same. I find that, with YA romance, the characters make the story more than the plot. Going into the stories, you know that the main couple will be introduced in the first 10 pages, they will hit it off almost immediately in some way (positive or negative), and there will be obstacles but they’ll end up together in the end. The tension will lead up to this explosive kiss at the end and everything will be awesome until you turn the last page. Then? Ultimate book hangover.

The great thing about these three books from Perkins (Anna, Lola, & Isla) is that the book hangover holds you over into the next book. For example, Lola works at a movie theater that Anna and St. Clair also work at, so you get to see their relationship progress from the first book without the book being about them specifically. The same with what I read of Isla; she’s mentioned in Anna as a member of the junior class at the Parisian boarding school, and that she likes Josh, a member of Anna’s friend group. The way all of these characters are intertwined satisfied my desire to know what happened to Anna and St. Clair, and only time will tell if the whole Lola and Cricket relationship has progressed through Isla’s story (though, admittedly, they live in San Fran while Isla and Josh are in Manhattan/Paris). No spoilers, please!

So, in short, this review wasn’t actually a review, it was a love letter to Perkins’ love stories. I guess, though, it’s also a plea for you to read the books as well so we can talk about them! As we speak I’m reading Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, so Isla will have to be put on hold, but once I read it I’ll be sure to report back.

Until next time, DFTBA!

-Riley

The Gold Standard. [Book Review]

This book review is *spoiler free*!

GoldenCompass4Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass is one of those books that you read once, realize it’s pretty great, and then read again only to find out it’s knock-your-socks-off perfect. I have only read this book once before, and the second reading definitely rendered me speechless with Pullman’s genius. If you haven’t guessed already, I highly recommend this book.

The thing about The Golden Compass is that it’s mainly considered “crossover fiction” by those who classify books. It contains elements of children’s literature – cute animals and polar bears – but then again deals with very adult themes – souls and their importance as well as major war including armored bear warriors. I’ll bet you’ve noticed I paralleled those two sets of ideas on purpose. The idea of it as crossover fiction can also be seen in the different covers The Golden Compass is given: one displays a cute-looking polar bear and a girl, the other displays a gold cover with a compass. Obviously there are more covers, but they generally keep either of these themes.

As a middle school student, I didn’t pick up on half of the serious themes of this novel. I vaguely GoldenCompass9remember falling in love with it because of the idea of animal companions (called daemons in the novel) and the sense of adventure that was woven throughout the plot, but this time I enjoyed it for a totally different reason. Sure, animal companions are a fun idea, but the fact that they are actually the souls of the people they are linked to is something that has more weight in the novel than you’d originally imagine. Once you realize the gravity of the role of these daemons, the book takes on a whole new significance. Atheism aside, of course.

Sure, Pullman is an atheist and pretty much puts down the institution of the Church in every chapter if not every page, but his atheism doesn’t take away from the novel like you think it would. And sure, the Church made a big to-do about the novel’s atheism and attacks on Christianity especially when the movie came out in 2007, but don’t let that stop you from indulging in this masterpiece. Pullman sure knows how to string together beautiful prose while still moving you forward in the story and half the time you’re too distracted by it to care that he just insulted the Church on an allegorical level. Nothing about the novel is disjointed and everything pretty much makes sense, armored bears included. Though, keep in mind that obviously this book is fantasy first-and-foremost so suspension of disbelief is required. Lyra does some pretty crazy things, so I find its best not to look into their purpose or meaning too much.

Though, that being said, if you do choose to delve into the purposes and meanings of anything Lyra does, you’ll find that Pullman has an answer for almost everything within the book. I won’t go into specifics, but you’ll see what I mean if you crack open the book and wonder why Lyra can read the compass so easily and no one else can. Trust me, you’ll find out in 200 pages or so.

Another thing Pullman is extremely good at is characterization. Lyra Belacqua is one of the most reckless and slightly-unlikeable protagonists I have ever read, but yet I came to love her as I delved deeper into the novel. Her sense of adventure and childlike wonder is so strong that it almost pours out of the page. Of course this could also be due to Pullman’s perfect prose, but the statement still holds. Lyra and her daemon Pan become the most-liked characters by the end of the novel, though you could make a case for others like Iorek Byrnison or the gyptians.

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Pullman is also quite the expert at world building, though admittedly places like Bolvangar and Svalbard aren’t as descriptive as you’d see with a place like, say, Hogwarts. You’ll notice that their lack of extensive description is part of what describes them, however. You’ll see what I mean. As you enter the world of Lyra’s Oxford, you’ll notice it’s a lot like our perception of Oxford. Lots of colleges, tons of scholars, typical England. London seems generally the same as well, complete with the embankment and high society. However, then places like Bolvangar and Svalbard appear in conversation that are both real and unreal places at once. Pullman really toys with the idea of what is and is not real with not only his locations, but also with the different items and concepts in the novel. One example I can think of off the top of my head is when some characters discuss elementary particles like “electrons, photons, and neutrinos”. The names are close to the originals, but slightly off. That’s a theme to keep in mind for the entire novel.

I can continue into eternity with my love for The Golden Compass, but I might as well stop myself here. Igolden_compass105 can also talk about how many feels I obtain from reading parts concerning humans and their daemons, but I’ll let you discover that for yourself, should you choose to read it (and you should, obviously). My point is, I highly recommend this novel and the other two in the His Dark Materials Trilogy: The Subtle Knife & The Amber Spyglass. As I get around to reading the other two the second time around, maybe I’ll have more comments to add. But I can almost guarantee they won’t be spoiler-free. With these things in mind, The Golden Compass is a great example of what good crossover fiction looks like. Plus, Pullman is a fantastic author to boot. I’ll add him to my ever-growing list of influential authors.

Romione & the OTP’s Say “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

First of all, “Romione & the OTP’s” is a great fandom band name.

Second of all, I’d like to take this moment to say Happy Valentine’s Day, readers! It has been quite some time, hasn’t it? Well, I’m happy to say I’m back from London (and have been for about two months now) and that I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. If you want to read about my adventures, head on over to Riley Takes London and check it out! But, as I’m back in the States and it’s the fourteenth of February, let’s talk about that!

Now, it’s important that you know I’ve never been into the whole idea of “Valentine’s Day” with the chocolates, flowers, cards, endless fawning, etc. I went through it once and it was fine, but now I have a better idea of how to spend my Valentine’s. Why go to a packed restaurant and throw your money at waiters when you can revisit the wonderful book and movie relationships you know you love? Or, if you magically have reservations somewhere, why not bond later over your favorite movie or tv show? Inspired by the wonderful Kristina Horner over at YouTube channel “italktosnakes,” I’m going to talk about something quite inherent in February the Fourteenth: romance. And not just any romance, but fictional romance! OTP’s, shipping, canon, all of that fun terminology you might not understand. Though, if you’ve been around on the internet for the past couple years, you might have heard of them.

For you uninformed, the term OTP means “one true pairing.” Basically, it’s the one ship (short for “relationship”) that you love above any other. For me, the ultimate OTP is Ron x Hermione, or Romione. Though, let’s be honest, anyone who knows me knows I’d rather it be Rilon (you know, Riley x Ron), but I digress. Shipping is when you like the idea of two characters together, either as a romantic or platonic relationship. Say you’re watching The Office and you find yourself thinking Jim and Pam are cute. Huzzah! You’re shipping them, albeit subconsciously! Jim and Pam are actually a great example of the final term I mentioned above, canon. When a relationship is canon, it has happened in the course of the tv series/book/movie/etc. Jim and Pam are an actual couple on The Office, so thus they are canon!

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I want to talk about a couple of my favorite OTP’s and pairings. I have quite a lot, seeing as I’ve been involved in fandoms (groups of people that are fans of specific things) technically since I’ve started Harry Potter back in third grade. However, I’ll only talk about three because I could go on forever and would if I had the time or patience. So, let’s get started!


Romione

1. Ron x Hermione, Romione

This one should come as no surprise considering I mentioned it in the last paragraph. However, it’s not hard to see why I like them in the first place. Ron Weasley, a loyal friend yet annoying companion, plus Hermione Granger, the genius witch yet slightly overwhelming friend, is a match made in heaven. I know plenty of people who will disagree vehemently and lob ships like Dramione (Draco x Hermione) my way, but I am firm in my position. Hermione’s smarts complement Ron’s obliviousness and please, would you look at the way he looks at her? Plus, they are both attractive human beings so naturally their children will be beautiful, smart, and dashing. Perfect combination, if you ask me.

Rapunzel x Flynn

2. Flynn x Rapunzel

Flynn (or Eugene if you wish) and Rapunzel definitely make my list of favorite OTP’s because of how sweet and pure their love is. Flynn is a thief; he’s focused on getting what he wants at any cost, even if it means abandoning people who promised to help. Rapunzel, on the other hand, is a prisoner in her own life, longing to escape and see the world with the lanterns being the gateway to that dream. Both have dreams, but they don’t realize what they really want until the scene depicted above. The crown Flynn seeks is obsolete once he realizes that Rapunzel is the key to his happiness. Rapunzel, after seeing the lanterns and fulfilling her dream, realizes Flynn is the new dream she was searching for. As you can probably guess, unlikely romance is my favorite kind of romance.

Snowing

3. Prince Charming x Snow White, Snowing

ABC’s Once Upon a Time is one of my favorite tv shows, hands down. I’ve enjoyed every season so far and can’t wait until it returns in March! Even though we’re entering the second half of season four, there has been one couple on the show that has held my heart from episode one. Meet Snowing. Not only is their ship name adorable, but their relationship physically hurts my emotions. Snow White was a pariah in her own kingdom, but she didn’t know that for the longest time. Prince Charming was that dashing man who came along, tried to catch her for bounty, and ended up falling in love. Their story is tragic and gets expanded upon each season, but how cute they are remains the same. What makes this relationship even more fantastic is that the actors are married in real life. It’s snowing all the time, if you catch my drift (whoa two puns in one sentence, make it stop!).


Now that I have forced my shipping thoughts upon you, tell me what your favorites are! I watch plenty of television and movies as well as read plenty of books, so it’s rare that I won’t know which ship you’re talking about. I mean, please, I have a tumblr; you can ship something you’ve never even seen because others have done it for you.

On this Valentine’s Day, don’t fret if you don’t have a physical valentine. Just think: while you’re saving money by not buying anyone gifts, you’re also given the freedom to hang out with your OTP’s! Crack open a book, start up Netflix, whatever suits your fancy, and enjoy the day! I know it’s what I’ll be doing.

None of the .gifs used are mine.

London is a place. I am going to it.

Good afternoon, everyone! Riley here with a super special message.

In just a mere 8 days, I will be on a plane to London, England to study abroad for the semester. Even as I’m typing this, I still don’t fully believe it’s happening. I’ve paid the fees (or most of them), registered for classes, secured accommodation, and even signed up for events but I still can’t believe it! It has been a dream of mine to go abroad during my college years, so it’s a bit daunting that the dream is coming true. To quote Rapunzel and Flynn from Disney’s Tangled:

R: “What if it’s not everything I dreamed it would be?”

F: “It will be.”

R: “And what if it is? What do I do then?”

F: “Well, that’s the good part I guess. You get to go find a new dream.”

I guess one of the biggest things I’m afraid of is that I won’t love my time there. That I will want to come home almost immediately and I won’t give myself the chance to enjoy being on my own. However, I’ve heard plenty of stories and recommendations from friends and family alike that guarantee me I’ll love it. It’s a scary thing, to be promised an experience, but I’m willing to make it my own regardless. And if –no, when!– I fulfill this dream of mine, I will move on to another dream. But, then again, who says you can’t harness two dreams at once?!

Probably one of the best parts of this dream is that my best-friend-since-first-grade is also going with me: same school, same flat, the whole shebang! It’s insanely exciting and comforting to know that one of the people I’m closest to will be joining me on this amazing experience. I can’t wait!

I can go on and on about all of the cool things I’ll be doing and experiencing, but I’ve created a whole other blog specifically for that purpose. If you head on over to rileytakeslondon.wordpress.com, you will see all of the stuff I’m getting up to! I’ll try and upload pictures, record my experiences, reflect on things, and just generally document the next three months of my life. I’m extremely thankful and feel very blessed that I have been given this opportunity and I intend to make the most of it. Do you care to join me?

See you guys very very soon!

-Riley

Harry Potter and the Fandom Everlasting

Good evening to you all! I hope your summers are all as awesome and exciting as they are hot and humid.

I come to you tonight with a post dedicated to your favorite boy wizard who isn’t a boy anymore: Harry Potter. With the recent opening of the Diagon Alley portion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando and the Quidditch World Cup articles and coverage on Pottermore, there has been a lot of news that would make and has made Potterheads squeal with delight (I’m not saying I did, but I’m not saying I didn’t). In the Harry Potter fandom, any news is practically good news and July was full of great news! I won’t be summarizing the events of the past two weeks—you can look them up on your own—but I am going to take this chance to revel in the joy of the past and things to come by celebrating and remembering one of my favorite series of all time.

I'm the one on the left.
I’m the one on the left.

Anyone who has known me for any amount of time knows that I am a Harry Potter fan, a Potterhead if you desire. There is honestly no doubting it! I sport Deathly Hallows necklaces, build Harry Potter Lego sets, have a cardboard standup of Ron Weasley, have dressed up as Luna Lovegood for Halloween on more than one occasion (I have the blonde hair for it), own two copies of each of the books, and the list goes on and on. Being a fan, even of something as large as Harry Potter, is a part of who I am.

I began reading the series when I was in third grade. I had heard about it and even saw the movies in Blockbuster waiting for my virgin mind to be blown by their sheer awesomeness. However, not many people in my school seemed to be toting around these books and I was a child dead set on fitting in at any cost (thankfully I grew out of that). Even though my sheepish behavior in regards to HP was shameful at this age, I am eternally grateful that I didn’t watch the movies before I read the books. Thank you, eight year-old me.

I remember purchasing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because it is one of my favorite memories. A random day in third grade, I believe it may have been a Sunday, my dad and I went to the mall with my youngest sister (at the time she was only 1 or 2), and entered the smallest bookstore you’d ever seen. I went straight to the kid’s section in the back and somehow locked right on Harry Potter. I had seen the cover so many times; what made me want to buy it then? I reached into my little purse and pulled out eleven dollars of allowance money saved over backbreaking months of cleaning dishes and purchased the book that would change my life. I just didn’t know it then.

WWoH in Orlando!
WWoH in Orlando!

Before Harry Potter, I was an avid reader. I reread countless books in my bookshelf, took out stacks at the library like it was my job, and even recommended a few choice titles to my peers (can I get a shout-out for Spot?). I read for fun and that was it. So what if Spot went to a Halloween party? It was fun, but it was meaningless fun. I didn’t get anything from those childhood books except the fact that they were easy to read and fun to look at. Harry Potter opened a whole window into the world of reading for me. Not only was I reading each book for fun, but I was also connecting people to events and discovering backstories and character development. The events that occurred in Sorcerer’s Stone mattered in Chamber of Secrets and that excited me. Reading Harry Potter showed me that books could be meaningful as well as fun.

But, like I said earlier, I wasn’t always the gung-ho HP fan that I consider myself today. I tried to hide my Harry Potter books as best as I could because of their sheer size, but also because my peers weren’t all too accepting of the “wizardly fiction” I was reading. I remember my grade school having us read Prisoner of Azkaban for summer reading into seventh grade and then retracting it because of the wizardly elements and what that meant to the Catholic church (like seriously? come on now). But still, I didn’t really have any people to get excited about Harry Potter with. I had my best friend Jen, who I still have today, but we didn’t exactly have a group of Harry Potter lovers that shared our excitement. We just had a bunch of fellow students who gushed about cute boys and wore Aeropostale.

It wasn’t until I explored the online world more fully, namely Tumblr, that I embraced my love for Harry Potter with open arms. The sheer amount of overwhelming emotion that exuded from my online friends after finishing Deathly Hallows or the extreme amount of gifs that appeared after a movie premiere was just so exciting; it was what I was looking for all along! These people felt how I felt about Harry Potter and that was so exciting. I found lifelong friends in the Harry Potter fandom that I wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. It’s amazing what happens when you truly embrace who you are, even if it is a tiny fraction of your whole self!

Me and the family enjoying a tourist-y picture.
Me and the family enjoying a tourist-y picture.

So, in conclusion, I want to thank J.K. Rowling for creating this beast of a fandom with her magical words and immense imagination. Without her, and without Harry Potter, I’m not sure I would be the person I am today. Some people may still think I’m a bit strange for liking something so strongly, especially now that the books and movies are over, but to them I have something to say: I open at the close. The books and movies may be over, but the fandom is just beginning. Harry Potter will never die; it will live on… always.

 

Until next time, DFTBA!

-Riley

This is Berk. We have dragons now. [Movie Review]

image from http://how-to-train-your-dragon-2-trailer.blogspot.com/

THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER-FREE! :’D

In the animation world, and actually the movie world in general, sequels are practically notorious for being a waste of time and a disappointment to their predecessor. There are movies like Disney-Pixar’s Cars 2 and pretty much any Disney sequel that make you wish the franchise never came to be. But then there are movies like Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story 2 that further immerse you in the world of the first movie and make you love the franchise more than you ever thought possible. DreamWorks’ How to Train Your Dragon 2 exemplifies the latter.

I am one of the biggest fans of How to Train Your Dragon. I have never read any of the books, but I consider the first movie one of my favorite movies of all time. I fell in love with the music, the story, Hiccup and Toothless (of course), and the overarching sense of adventure I felt from watching it. There’s just something about a man and his pet that gets you right in the feels, you know? Maybe one of the biggest reasons I liked the sequel so much is that it used what made the first one great and multiplied it. There was still that same heart, amazing music, fantastic story, human-animal bond, and sense of adventure that I loved in the first one. It felt like you were actually returning to Berk instead of watching another movie about it. I truly felt like I was there because I never wanted to leave.

Compared to the first installment of HTTYD, this movie was darker and more plot-driven. While the first movie focused a lot on the growing bond between Hiccup and Toothless as well as the struggling relationship between Vikings and dragons, the second movie throws you into a Berk that has since learned to coexist with dragons, and those bonds are already established. Astrid and Hiccup are still a “thing,” Hiccup and Toothless are closer than ever, and of course Hiccup and his father Stoick are bumping heads. It’s like you never left Berk at all!

Though, according to the movie, it has been five years since you saw Berk last. Hiccup and the gang are about twenty years old and facing actual problems, which is the reason why the movie appears much darker than the first. Dragon trappers, dragon thieves, dragon riders: they all appear in the movie and provide conflicts for the main gang. The film runs 100 minutes, but it certainly feels like less. The movie does a great job of hopping between storylines without becoming too confusing. And, to top it all off, every bit of the movie is a heart-racing and anxiety-inducing experience. I loved every second of it!

I felt like I was on a rollercoaster of emotions from beginning to end, starting with the heartwarming bond of Hiccup and Toothless. I don’t know if it’s because I have a black cat at home who acts just like the cute and deadly dragon, but I just love them to pieces. HTTYD 2 is a great movie for kids and adults alike, especially if you loved the first installment. It does its predecessor justice and then some. I would even venture to say that the movie soared its way into my top 3 favorite movies of all time! So, with those thoughts in mind, you should definitely see How to Train Your Dragon 2. You won’t regret a second of it, though you may regret wearing mascara to the theater.

Rating: 10/10 (yes, I liked it THAT much)


image from http://legendarium.mymiddleearth.com/

Other reasons to see it:

  •  score that won’t dislodge itself from your head ever
  • Kit Harington (you know, JON SNOW) voices a character
  • the feels
  • you’ll appreciate your cat (or dog) more afterwards
  • 20 year-old Hiccup
  • Toothless cuteness
  • you saw the first one so you must see the second one

Let me know in the comments below what you thought of the movie as well! I’d love to discuss my feels with you all.

Until next time, DFTBA!

-Riley