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

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

 

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: KIKI STRIKE Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller

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RATING: 10.0 / 10.0
THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK :)

Today, I bring to you part one of a three part book review series revolving around the works of Kirsten Miller, specifically the Kiki Strike series and more specifically, the first book: KIKI STRIKE Inside the Shadow City. Who is Kiki Strike? Well, my friends, don’t you worry, nobody really knows who this black-clad, butt-kicking, café-au-lait-drinking mystery is, and it is less likely there could be anyone who understands her. And with that opening I would like to introduce you to the narrator of this first installment of the series: Ananka Fishbein. Our main character tells the story from first person point of view in past-tense. Before the actual story begins, and depending on which print version you may own, there is a note from Ananka Fishbein who explains to the reader that this story, while we may have heard a few different versions, is completely true and that this is the account of her first adventure with the mysteries Kiki Strike six years ago. Throughout the book, in fact at the end of every chapter, there are personal lessons given to the reader by Ananka from her adventures which are aimed to sometimes be hilarious with her witty voice and at other times quite serious and useful.

Ironically enough, it was about six years ago that I picked up this book off the shelf in my middle school language arts teacher’s classroom one afternoon while I was waiting for my mother to come pick me up. My edition was one of the first designs with a cartoon rendition of Kiki Strike with New York City in the background. I never thought I would ever pick it up. My mother had been encouraging me to read longer books due to my fortunate habit of finishing books quickly; I figured three hundred and eighty-seven pages would suffice. My teacher was more than happy to lend it to me but I don’t think he or I could have guessed how interested I would become. Since then the first two books in the series have been reprinted with new covers to attract a wider readership and the Kiki Strike series has also been turned into ebooks.

I believe my reasons for enjoying the series so much is because I at once felt very connected with the main character, Ananka. Miller creates a very interesting young girl who from the very first sentence captures the humor and the heart of the reader who will spend the next three hundred and eighty-seven pages nodding as Ananka’s riveting narration and personal lessons keeps the reader turning the pages, seeking the key to the center of the labyrinth. As the story escalates after each twist and turn through a beautifully crafty plot as winding as the underground city that has slept for hundreds of years beneath the teeming streets of New York City in the quest for truth and in some cases, treasure. The reader will be drawn back into the seedy streets of the Shadow City as carefully timed revelations and reveals force the reader to spiral down through the murky reality in New York City where nothing is at is seemed towards the question that started it all: just who is Kiki Strike?

If you are as a big of a reader as I am then you will surely agree that Lemony Snicket was on to something when he wrote: “All the secrets of the world are contained in books. Read at your own risk.” If I could pick a quote to literally sum up KIKI STRIKE Inside the Shadow City it would be that very one. KIKI STRIKE Inside the Shadow City is a book that is not limited to young readers and can be read by teens and young adults as Miller skillfully maintains a large cast of complex, witty, intelligent and misunderstood young girls who the readers will watch over the course of the first book, and later the series, change into strong, confident and skilled women the world will one day come to fear if it knows what’s good for it.

So, I hope you have enjoyed my first book review, if you have any questions or comments, please comment on down below and follow if you have enjoyed what you have read. Booking Awesome is here for readers like you.

Morgan, signing off.

P.S. Here is the link for Kirsten Miller’s website where she lists her series, including the Kiki Strike series: http://www.kirstenmillerbooks.com/. If you are interested in learning more about KIKI STRIKE Inside the Shadow City, please, look it up at your local bookstore or check it out on Amazon or Goodreads!

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Rating: 10.0 out of 10.0 – Awesome!

I’ve been meaning to get back into dystopias lately, and Divergent by Veronica Roth seemed like the perfect place to start. I had high expectations when I began the book, mainly because I have a Tumblr and basically everyone talks about it there. So, I figured why not? The book is over 450 pages and I was captivated from the beginning.

The book is written in first person present tense, similar to the writing style Suzanne Collins uses in the Hunger Games. I believe the first person perspective really gives the reader an insight into the thought processes and personal feelings the main character has towards every situation. The only minor thing about having a first person point of view is that sometimes the narrator can be unreliable. I have no problem with unreliable narrators, but sometimes I forget they even exist. So maybe this is more a problem to myself than to others… (lol)

One of my favorite things about Divergent is the take Roth takes with dystopian societies. The world is broken up into 5 factions: Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless, and Erudite. Each faction deals with a specific idea, and ideally they are all supposed to form a utopian society together. Every child is born into a faction based on which faction their parents are a part of, but at the age of 16 a choice has to be made. Every 16 year-old takes an aptitude test that judges his or her reactions to various situations to form an idea of which faction he or she should choose. The suggestion is not the choice, but only that: a suggestion.

Of course the main character, Beatrice Prior of Abnegation, is a special case in that she is Divergent, meaning not belonging to any one faction but many. Divergence is seen as a threat and those who are Divergent must keep it a secret. But as the events of the book continue, it becomes harder for Beatrice to conceal her true identity.

Overall, I give Divergent10.0/10.0. This may seem rather generous, but I absolutely loved the book. It captured my attention from page one and continued until the very last page. I would recommend this book to anyone, especially lovers of dystopian novels!

-Riley