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.

playing-music-gif

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

Advertisements

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.

IGYTS quote 2

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.

the-golden-compass-5057b3d40b736

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.

Someone Gets It. [Book Review]

Hello, everyone! Sorry for the long hiatus, but I am back and ready to review some books!  First up is a young adult novel by Rainbow Rowell: Eleanor & Park.

I came across this recently published young adult novel because my favorite author John Green recommended it via Twitter. The great amount of trust I have in this man is evident by how quickly I purchased the book on Amazon, regardless of what it was about or what the cover looked like. In many cases, I advise this method of purchasing books because it’s judgment-free and surprising. You never know what you might get! You could buy the best book you’ve ever read in your life for the low price of eight dollars. But then again, you could be disappointed and left wishing that you spent those eight dollars on something else. I felt both ways with Eleanor & Park… and I say that grudgingly.

The good thing about E&P is that I couldn’t stop reading it. I started it with the original intent of solely reading it at the gym (which, let’s be honest, isn’t frequently), but I quickly broke that rule. I finished the book in three days flat! I’m not even sure what it was about the book that made me read it so quickly and eagerly. It surely wasn’t the banter between Eleanor and Park because there really wasn’t any. I think it may be that lack of romantic banter, however, that made me fall in love. In the beginning, the lack of conversation draws attention to the growing love between them, which is something I enjoyed. Little comments about how “cool” Eleanor thought Park looked among other things made the book enjoyable. The book is broken into parts seen from Eleanor’s and Park’s perspectives which becomes extremely interesting when their perspectives collaborate on the same scene. If nothing else, the broken-up perspectives of the characters add to the endearing qualities of their budding relationship. The way their relationship is constructed, I felt like I was in the relationship myself, receiving comics and mixed tapes from the awesome dude who let me sit next to him on the bus. I felt like reading Watchmen because Eleanor got to read it with Park. I was thrown back into the throes of love and it felt enthralling. Rowell sure knows what it was like to be a youngin’ in love. She gets it.

But, of course, love isn’t all secret hand-holding, hugs, and kisses in the dark by your grandparents’ RV. Rowell makes this unlikely relationship seem real by adding in threats on either side of the relationship. For Park, the problem originally seems to be his father’s set-in-stone way of seeing the world and living in that world. As the book progresses, this becomes less so in order to fully focus on the real problem in the relationship: Eleanor’s living situation. She lives in a small house with her four younger siblings, her mom, and her stepdad Richie. Needless to say, things aren’t ideal. Secrets are held, Park is Tina because Eleanor can’t be seen with a boy, and everything goes to crap. Oh, and domestic violence. Five kids sleeping in one tiny room. A bathroom without a door. You can probably figure out the rest.

Sounds like a pretty solid story, right? Well, I would say it was for the most part. One of the things that made me happy I bought the book was the fabulous sentences Rowell crafted. In this way, she was very much like John Green to me. However, she didn’t have these strokes of genius more than five times, and there was barely any room for humor. I guess sometimes love has to be serious. I was uncomfortable with the seriousness, which may be one reason the book doesn’t sit well with me. For a story that sought to challenge cliches, I didn’t feel like it delivered those challenges successfully. The title couple gave into the Romeo and Juliet cliche they so desperately wanted to escape. They were happy, they were sad, they were sappy, they were angry. I guess, above anything else, Rowell was trying to portray the couple as real. I guess I understood that, but I was more ticked off than admiring of Rowell’s attempt.

Perhaps it was also the characters who made me dislike the book to an extent. The character of Eleanor kept me constantly screaming phrases like HE LOVES YOU OKAY HE’S SAID IT A MILLION TIMES and God you’re so stupid. And maybe that’s because that’s who Eleanor is, but I was still annoyed by her lack of likability. Park, on the other hand, just made me want to slap him. His overly-sappy disposition that magically appeared after the first half of the book looked plain pathetic against the rough-n-tough demeanor of Eleanor. There was also a  lack of strong supporting characters that was a little disconcerting; characters like Kim and Cal were mentioned occasionally, but eventually they disappeared into thin air as if they were never introduced. Tina and Steve? Same with them. The focus was completely on the ever-frustrating and all-encompassing Eleanor and Park, which I guess was Rowell’s point. If you can’t tell that I was peeved by these characters, then read the book yourself. Talk to me later. You’ll get it.

I will say that, overall, this book makes sense. I may have outlined what made me happy and upset with the book, but really that doesn’t matter. What matters is that Rowell gets teens. Eleanor gets upset with Park an irrational amount of times over irrational things: hello, have you met us females? That makes total sense. The focus of the book was on the couple at stake, friends disappeared from the action: that happens in almost all first loves. I certainly know it happened in mine. Park was completely head-over-heels in love with Eleanor and voiced it a million times over: the kid was in love and what better way to express that than to say it? First loves are reckless and endearing, timeless and unforgettable. Park’s actions at the end of the book signify that so well. Their relationship was short-lived, but the memory of each other continued to grow even after a series of unfortunate events. Eleanor and Park portray love as not being a “forever” thing, but perhaps a “now” thing. They exemplify pure and unabated love. And who doesn’t like that? So after all that blabber, I’ll say yes. You should read this book. If not for me,  read it for the feeling of complete engrossment in a love story you can believe.

Rating: 8.5 / 10

Also, if you enjoyed the book, I recommend you look up some fanart. It’s pretty darn adorable and it brings on the feels. You’re welcome. DFTBA!

-Riley

SPOILER: Percy Jackson didn’t steal the lightning bolt…technically.

Hello all and welcome to the beginning of TBAC (The Booking Awesome Crusades)! Sorry with the late start, but I swear it’s better late than never!

Let’s dive right in. First book/movie combo on the list: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. I have to say that this entire series (there are 5 books in total) has to be one of my favorites. I had a discussion with my friend about this, and I literally put it second right behind Harry Potter (considering I’m a huge Potterhead, this means a lot). The Percy Jackson & the Olympians series is mainly about a boy by the name of Percy Jackson who discovers that the gods from Greek myths are real and that western civilization’s constant change allows them to live on Mt. Olympus, positioned above the Empire State Building. He also discovers that he is a demigod, more specifically a son of the god Poseidon. Being a son of one of the “Big Three” (Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon) proves to be quite a challenge in more ways than one. Throughout the entire series many unfortunate things happen to Percy and his two best friends Annabeth (daughter of Athena) and Grover (a satyr). But for now we are talking about the first installment in the five-part series: The Lightning Thief.

The Lightning Thief starts out with a warning from our protagonist: if any of this has happened to you, close this book immediately. Sounds pretty intriguing, right? Immediately Riordan introduces this world where Greek gods exist as something that is tangible and believable. I knew once I read that first paragraph that I would love these books. Oh wait, that’s false. I knew when I read the title of the first chapter that I was hooked: I Accidentally Vaporize my Pre-Algebra Teacher.

Throughout the book Percy meets different demigods that make marks in his life throughout the rest of series, some of them being: Annabeth Chase (daughter of Athena), Grover Underwood (satyr), Clarisse LaRue (daughter of Ares), Luke Castellan (son of Hermes), Chiron (centaur), Dionysus (Mr. D; god of wine), and many others. The characters are all lovable in their own way, whether it be through their bad attitudes, charm, or genuine good qualities. I have to admit I saw Harry, Ron, and Hermione in Percy, Grover, and Annabeth. Percy is the unlucky protagonist who manages to come out on top no matter what the case. Grover is the comic relief character, but also a great friend to Percy. Annabeth is smart (I mean come on, daughter of the goddess of wisdom) and always keeps the boys in line. I think seeing these elements in the series’ main characters really helped me ease into their world because it felt like something familiar.

I will let you read the book instead of outlining the plot, but let me just say that it is awesome. If you like imagining gods looking like Mick Jagger and thinking of an awesome camp for demigods, then this is the book for you. Love Greek mythology? Then why haven’t you read it yet?! How does the movie stand up to it? Well, that is really the question, now isn’t it? So stay tuned for the movie review in the next day or two. Things will get crazy.

 

Until then, DFTBA!

-Riley

Book Review: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard

Rating: 6.5/10.0

I wrestled with the idea of reviewing this play because I feel I didn’t give it the proper attention when I was reading it. However, I figured I may as well write at least a first impression rather than a review. Maybe someday I can come back to it and read it with more excitement and attention like it deserves.

“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” by Tom Stoppard is a play that focuses on the very forgettable characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern from Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet.” At first I thought that idea would be hilarious and the play would be an easy read, but I did not like it one bit. I will admit that there were parts that made me laugh and other parts where I understood and appreciated references to “Hamlet,” but overall I don’t feel that the play was really necessary.

I know that statement can cause an uproar about how many books can be considered unnecessary and that’s one of the reasons why we love them, but I just don’t understand why “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” is as hyped-up as it is.

Like I said earlier, I really don’t believe I gave this play the credit it deserves. First of all, I haven’t read the play “Hamlet” in about a year, and I believe reading that first would have made the play more relevant. Also, I read the play while on a car trip and fell asleep many times while reading it, which could lead to my frequent confusion throughout the play. This isn’t to say that no one should read it, but I just didn’t get as much out of it as I possibly could have.

I often found myself getting lost in the dialogue between Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (which may have been Stoppard’s intention, and, if so, kudos), and that often led to me getting frustrated with the play. I felt like most of the jokes relating to the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were funny at first, then overplayed, and eventually became boring and not funny at all.

Overall I give this play a 6.5/10.0 because I was impressed by some of the jokes and references inserted and the writing was very true to each character. However, I just can’t see myself reading it again without reading “Hamlet” first (and I’m not a big fan of books with prerequisites). Go out and read it (it’s really quite short) and let me know what you think. Maybe I was wrong about it?

Until then, DFTBA!

-Riley

Book Review: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Rating: 9.0/10.0

Warning: There may be Spoilers in the review if you have not read Divergent or Insurgent! Read at your own risk!

Insurgent by Veronica Roth is the second novel in the Divergent trilogy. I loved the first novel, and I guess I didn’t hate this one. To me, the first novel was a great introduction to Tris’ world and her relationships. The progression between Divergent and Insurgent reminds me a lot of the progression between The Hunger Games and Catching Fire. The first novel is the introductory action-filled starter, and the second one is what I like to call “the fighting book.” Basically all anyone does in Insurgent is fight and Tris gets to act like a martyr 24/7. I wouldn’t say the same for Katniss in Catching Fire, but I guess it isn’t fair to compare the two female leads because of the different circumstances they are both in.

The character of Tris in this book is slightly annoying. She starts out like she had in the last book, strong and sure of herself. But as the novel continues, she starts to become more rash in her decisions and less conscious of how much danger she is really putting herself in. She starts lying to everyone just so she can do whatever she wants, and for most of the book she believes dying will help honor her parents. Eventually she gets out of this strange and annoying funk and the book continues on like Divergent. For the first three-quarters of Insurgent I hated Tris and everything she had become. But in the last 150 pages or so, she became one of my favorite characters once again because of her improved actions.

After I first started to become annoyed with Tris, I figured she must be acting so rashly for a reason. Perhaps the stress and trauma of the war really messed up her brain and choices? Or perhaps she was so wrought with grief and sadness for her parents that she had no other choice but to tempt and actually pine for death? Something to think about, I guess.

Overall I wasn’t disappointed with Insurgent. Sure I liked Divergent much more, but I understand the difficulty that comes with writing a sequel that lives up to the hype of the first book in a trilogy. For Allegiant coming out in October I have no extremely high expectations. I have some goals I want met and I’m sure will be, considering how Roth writes these novels. I can’t say I’m not excited for the third and final installment in the trilogy; Insurgent definitely leaves you on a giant cliffhanger. I had expected it, but I didn’t expect to be so hungry for the final book! All in all I give Insurgent9.0 out of 10.0 because it wasn’t as good as Divergent, but it served the purposes of the plot set up in the second book.

Until next time, DFTBA!

-Riley