Category Archives: On Literature

This One Summer

This One Summer

by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki

started: March 8, 2018 | finished: March 14, 2018

Following Rose as she transitions from tween to teen, This One Summer focuses on what it means to be a girl trying to figure out for yourself how the world works, as well as, how the world can shape teenage girls.

Entertainment1 star
I could have easily read this in one sitting, but I somehow managed to make myself pace it out to a week. Mariko & Jillian have a way of presenting the material in a way that makes you want to stay in their world as long as you can. This is a very slow and quiet book, if that’s not what you’re into, you will not enjoy it. Luckily, those are the books that I love the most and I was entertained the entire way through.

Story1 star
The story seems to be a point of disappointment or even contention when it comes to reviews on goodreads. There are a lot of people claiming that there is no plot or that nothing happened. I could not disagree more. No, there’s not a lot happening on the surface, but there is a whole lot happening psychologically. We see while Rose navigates the summer around wanting to be a part of the world that is the late teens/early twenties group of locals who frequent or work in the convenience store near the cabin, but also wanting to spend it being a kid. She wants to be grown-up, but she doesn’t understand what that means yet. She tries out watching horror movies, attempting to impress the convenience store clerk that she has a crush on, she tries out using their language, primarily in the word “slut”, which gets her into trouble with her mom, she tries out understanding and imagining sexual situations which only confuses her more. The entire time, she’s surrounded by childhood, by Windy, her friend who is 10, by the cabin that her and her parents stay in every year since she was little, by the actual grownups reminding her that she is not yet one of them. She’s on this precipice and she’s teetering along it the entire summer.

Another thing that I keep seeing claimed is that there is no development on Roses part, and to that I have to say: read between the lines. No, Rose never says anything to the amount of “I was wrong. I’ve learned my lesson.” There’s no philosophical espousing to show her working through the summer problems (probably because she’s 12 and how many 12 year olds sit around espousing philosophically?). However, at the end, she begins to shift. It’s a quiet shift, yes, but a shift nonetheless. She learns the truth about why her mother is depressed and there’s a hint that her mother may finally talk to Rose about it once they leave. She digs a hole with Windy because it’s what Windy wants to do and we see that they’re coming back together. She sees that the guys in the convenience store are just kids, not unlike her. She genuinely hopes that Jenny is alright. But, most importantly, we see her getting ready to leave, her bag is too heavy. This a metaphor. She is weighed down by the summer, by what happened, and, in the end, we see that she has left all the things that she had collected that summer, a pile of rocks, sticks, and items that she found on the ground, mostly at the teens’ campsite that she and Windy stumble upon. She is moving forward from this summer by leaving behind all the things that were weighing her down. And the final line, “Maybe I will have massive boobs. Boobs would be cool.” She’s still looking forward to growing up, but now that growing up is about her and who she will be. As well, it’s something that is far off, something that hasn’t happened yet. She’s waiting rather than trying to make it happen.

Character1 star
This seems to be the second thing that a lot of people on goodreads don’t like: Rose. Rose seems to have rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and I get it, but, at the same time, I don’t. Rose is a typical 12 year old going on 13. She believes that she understands how the world works, even though she doesn’t. She believes that everything is black and white, even though it isn’t. She a flawed character because most 12 year olds are flawed in that they’re still figuring out empathy and that just because a cute boy says something that doesn’t mean that its true. What makes this so poignant, and probably why people are so turned off by it, is that at the beginning of the book, we like Rose. We see her as a fun kid who’s just enjoying the summer. Then we see the truth, that she’s flawed, that she doesn’t get it, that she is still a kid who wants to believe that she’s grown up without actually understanding what that means. This is a very real depiction of what it means not just to be 12 years old, but, more importantly, what it means to be a 12 year old girl.

I do have to bring up another person’s review where they said:
“I don’t know how old both girls are in this graphic novel – don’t recall it being mentioned – but they were very immature. Too immature. They’re always talking about grown-up stuff – sex, babies, blowjobs, parents, boobs – and giving their opinions which sometimes are, yes theirs, but also most of the time unnecessary and seldom accurate.”

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU TALKED TO A 12 YEAR OLD? And I don’t mean in a family or large get together setting where adults are around either. 12 year olds yearn to be grown up, they’re nearly the magical 13, the year that everything’s supposed to change and they’re a teen, which, in a 12 year old’s eyes, is practically adulthood. They talk about what they think are grown up things that they are just starting to learn about or beginning to enter their peripheral. They don’t understand any of it yet (because, of course they don’t) but they want to believe that they do, they want their peers to believe that they do, because that would make them cool, that would make them grown up.

Writing Style1 star
The writing style is quiet and simple, often allowing the images to really get the idea across. We hear Rose’s thoughts when we need to, but for the most part, we are simply there with her. However, the writing is never a second thought to the art. Both are balanced wonderfully and are what make this book so great.

Art1 star
So, the art. My GOD the art! It is amazing. I love supporting graphic novels that utilize an art style that separates itself from the typical comic book or manga style and this book definitely falls into that category. The settings are amazingly detailed and realistic, the character designs are great, the atmosphere and mood that is create—it’s all wonderful!

Total1 star1 star1 star1 star1 star

This book is both beautiful and well written. The story is both simple and complex. It’s a book that I could tear apart and analyze to death. At the same time, I’m confident that a kid could get just as much out of it, at the very least it can begin some very important conversations about growing up and what it means to be female in a world that prefers the male view. Yet another book to add to my when-I-have-a-disposable-income-again list.

Through the Woods

by Emily Carroll

started: March 7, 2018 | finished: March 8, 2018

Back in 2015, I remember coming across this book online and lusting after it for a long while, but, being a broke literature major at the time, my money went towards required reading rather than OMG-I-NEED-THAT reading and Through the Woods faded from my peripheral. Fast-forward to last week when I went to the library as I do ever Wednesday to write and there this beauty was on display right next to the table I always sit at as though greeting me with angelic voices singing around it. Okay, so that’s a very obnoxious way of saying that I snatched it up as soon as I laid eyes upon it. And all I can say is, “why does this book keep entering my life when I don’t have money?”

Featuring five creepy stories and stunningly haunting imagery, Through the Woods is the graphic novel that I needed as a weird, horror-loving teen. Though none of the stories are can’t-walk-down-a-dark-hallway-afterwards scary, they are unsettling enough to satiate both horror fans and those who just want a good Halloween read.

Entertainment1 Star
I was actually surprised how each story was able to hold my attention and make me want to know what was going to happen next. Even if I already had a feeling what was coming, I was still consistently and steadfastly along for the ride.

Story1 Star
Since this is a collection of stories, I thought it would be best to talk a little about each one.

“An Introduction”

This story depicts the narrator as a child and the fear she felt of the darkness at the edge of her bed at night after reading. The story is short with less than 100 words, but it serves its purpose of getting the reader into the scary story mindset.

“Our Neighbor’s House”
This story follows three sisters whose father sets out in the dead of winter and doesn’t return home after three days. Though they were told to go to the neighbor’s house on the fourth day if he didn’t return, the oldest of the sisters insists that they stay before beginning to act strangely. This story plays with the fears that come with isolation and has one of my favorite pages that just encapsulates that mood of the story perfectly.

“A Lady’s Hands are Cold”
Playing with “Bluebeard” themes, this story depicts a young woman who is married to a rich man and who begins to hear an eerie song coming from the house at night. This story flips some key ideas on its head with wonderful effect. Plus, it features this stunning spread.

“His Face All Red”
In this story, a man’s brother isn’t his brother, and he knows this because he killed his brother. Though this story never really give you an answer, it’s the very concept that makes this one creepy. Plus, this story utilizes silence beautifully.

“My Friend Janna”
“Janna” takes the seance story to a new level when the girl pretending to communicate with spirits becomes haunted by a spirit that only her best friend can see. This is another story that doesn’t end with an answer, but it doesn’t really need one, the concept itself being what makes the story.

“The Nesting Place”
The longest of the stories, “The Nesting Place” features Bell, a fearless girl who doesn’t believe in monsters until she is confronted with one. This story falls more into the body horror category of creepy. The story itself isn’t all that creepy, but the almost cinematic visuals are what make it.

“In Conclusion”
Rounding out the book, we return to our narrator in “An Introduction” as she makes her way through the woods to her mother’s house. This story is a bit of a turn on the typical Red Riding Hood stories with an ending that is creepily philosophical.

Character1 Star
I had a bit of trouble with this one, since you’re not really in any of the stories long enough to, so I thought, really get to know the characters, but the more I thought about, the more I realized that I was kind of wrong. Though the characters are never explored or fleshed out, you do get a quick glimpse of who they are as a character which aids in the further telling of the story. So, no, the characters aren’t three dimensional people, but they don’t really need to be for this format to work.

Writing Style1 Star
While the writing style is sparse, it works in Carroll’s favor here. Good visual horror isn’t in what’s said, but rather what isn’t and Carroll definitely embraced that.

Art1 Star
The art in this book is stunning! The use of color, space, text, and speech bubbles added so much to the story. Much like with the writing, Carroll understands how to use visuals in her favor when telling horror. The images alone make this book worth cherishing.

Total1 Star1 Star1 Star1 Star1 Star

I loved this book and had to stop myself from finishing it in one night. It’s quick enough that nothing drags, the visuals stunning, and Carroll obviously understands what makes creepy creepy. I’m definitely going to purchase this book once I’m back in a place where I can freely throw money at amazon.

Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables

by L.M. Montgomery

started: February 26, 2018 | finished: March 7, 2018

Let me start off by saying that I was not expecting to love this book as much as I did. When it was chosen as the February read for the Read Women group, I was admittedly disappointed to be reading a kid’s book and saved it for the last minute to read. My god, was I wrong.

For those few who, like myself, passed over this book as a kid—Anne of Green Gables is about a middle-aged brother and sister, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who decide to adopt a boy to help them with work around their property. By mistake, they receive a girl instead: Anne “with an e” Shirley whose wild imagination, curiosity, and tenacity often get her into trouble. Though the book is mostly focused on Anne’s coming of age in Avonlea, there’s also a lot of focus on Marilla and Matthew as the experiences of parenthood change them for the better.

I was entirely entertained by this book, which was a complete shock to me. Between the characters and the events, there was never really a point where I was bored and the pages went by more quickly than I wanted them to at times. Though it isn’t exactly an action packed story, the events and development of the characters keep you wanting to move forward.

On the surface, there isn’t much of an overarching story to Anne of Green Gables, it’ more of a slice of life story made up of a series of vignettes showing Anne grow up, but, in truth, this is the overarching story. The reader watches as Anne shifts from an untamed orphan girl to an educated teen that everyone in the community respects. Though she does become more subdued in the later chapters of the book, we can see that she is still the same Anne, it’s just that now she has carved herself a place in the world around her.

The primary thing that I love about the story is the fact that there are lessons to be learned through out it, but the reader is never beaten over the head with them nor are they ever preached at. The reader learns the lesson through Anne and by watching her work through the lesson herself and grow from it. It helps, as well, that Anne never deals with anything lightly and every lesson is just as entertaining for the reader as it is helpful for Anne’s development.

The thing I loved most about this book was the treatment of the characters. Every character is flawed in some way and yet they each have their own arcs and developments. I enjoyed Anne as a character thoroughly and, much like Matthew, fell for her from the moment the ride back to Green Gables began. Her imagination and persistence to get through whatever life threw at her won me over entirely. At the same time, I loved Marilla, even if she is a bit too hard on Anne in the beginning, then again, it was exactly what Anne needed as she grew older. Matthew was just wonderfully endearing and I loved the dynamic between him, Marilla, and Anne. Even Anne’s classmates, who don’t have arcs that are nearly as pronounced as Anne, are still three dimensional characters with wants and goals of their own.

Though Montgomery’s writing style isn’t as poetic as I usually like, the words take a back seat to the characters and allow them to breath life into the narrative. Had Anne not been as tenacious, had Marilla not had the same grit, had Matthew not had the same heart, had Anne not had such reverence for the world around her, the book wouldn’t have been half as good as it was. At the same time, the writing was never dry or without wit, but it is the characters that give this book life (as it should be).

If Montgomery’s characters grabbed my attention, her descriptions held it firmly in place. Despite Montgomery never describing anything with poetics, Anne’s ability to view everything around her with such passion amplified the settings and descriptions in a way that poetics weren’t needed.

Overall, the best thing about this book is the fact that it’s well written despite being “for kid’s.” Something that bothers me is the dismal of poorly made entertainment with the excuse of “it’s for kids.” That just shouldn’t be an excuse. Just because something is made for kids shouldn’t be a free to not but the same thought and care into it that you would if it was for adults. Anne of Green Gables never falls into this trap. The book was clearly written with care and intention without being bogged down with being didactic or talking down to the reader. I’m a bit sorry that I never read Anne as a child, I don’t doubt I would have been the better for it, but what am I to do about it.

The Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt

started: January 10, 2018 | finished: January 27, 2018

Usually, I would stick pretty close with the book’s own synopsis, however, that might have been this book’s only downfall. The blurb on the inner flap really didn’t match with the inner contents of the book, but I’ll get more into that in a bit.

As for the synopsis—this is a book about grief. You can dress it up however you like, but death, memory, and grief are the key ideas behind this book. After our lead character, 13 year old Theo, loses his mother, he finds himself illegally in the possession of The Goldfinch, a painting by Carel Fabritius depicting a goldfinch who is chained to his perch. Not knowing how to return the painting without getting into trouble, but also not wanting to let go of it, Theo carries it with him as he moves from home to home where he is looked after by people who mean well, but who ultimately can’t give him what he needs to move forward. Through out his childhood and into his early adulthood, this painting is one of the few things that pulls Theo forward and keeps him from being swallowed by his own grief.

For the most part, I was consistently entertained by this book. I think the only time that it really lost me was the Amsterdam section, though it wasn’t too bad. I think this might have been because action might not be Tartt’s strong suit. Everything else I enjoyed thoroughly, however, I love slow, quiet books, so, if that’s not what you’re interested in, then you might want to skip this one, because, for the most part, it is slow and it is quiet.

I have very mixed feelings about the story and how it was written. On the one hand, I really did love this story what with my weakness for orphans, dead mothers, and people learning how to live after tragedy. I liked the way that Tartt used the dead mother trope as well as the “evil” stepmother trope. It was also refreshing to see an orphan story where not every single home was abusive. Even though I was taken out of the story a bit with the whole Amsterdam side quest, I do see its purpose in the over all story (kind of) and I was won back over with Theo’s return to New York.

However, like I said earlier, what is promised on the inner flap is very misleading to what is actually delivered. While the inner flap isn’t wrong, it’s just leaving a hell of a lot out. I wouldn’t normally do this, but, in this case, I can’t really think of a better way to explain what I’m trying to say. So, this is the official blurb:

“Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love–and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.”

The first paragraph, leaving out the “ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art” bit, summarizes the first 200 pages. The second paragraph, including the “art underworld” bit, doesn’t come in until page 643, page 529 if I’m being generous. That’s a good 300-400 pages of story that has nothing to do with Theo’s “strange new home on Park Avenue,” “the underworld of art,” or “the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.” While I did enjoy that 300-400 pages, I couldn’t help but feel this underlining hum of tension the whole time I was reading it, wondering when this underworld and danger was going to come into play and that is really unfortunate, because I can’t help but think that it kept me from fully enjoying this book on the first read through. I will most likely read it again at some point, but, like I said, I enjoy those slow, quiet stories and I can see how someone who doesn’t would be really disappointed with this book.

I had read a lot of people saying that the final 50 pages should have been taken out or heavily edited, and, while I don’t agree with 50 pages, I would say the last 10, maybe 20, pages were too philosophical and winded to the point where I started drifting a bit. I would have ended it with Theo and Hobie talking in the kitchen, but, at the same time, I can see what Tartt was aiming for.

I will say this though, I would have absolutely nixed that media-res opening and began with the second section of the first chapter instead. I mean, you can’t really tell me that “While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years” is a better opening line than “Things would have turned out better if she had lived.” Seriously, that second one gives me chills, not to mention it encompasses the overall feel of the story so much better.

Character is clearly one of Tartt’s strengths. There is not a single character in this story who feels lackluster or one dimensional. Even the tertiary characters feel like real people Tartt has run into on the street. If you look at the reviews on goodreads, there is a general consensus that Boris, Theo’s Ukrainian transplant high school friend, is the most interesting character in the book. While I do agree, he is interesting, I had a hard time loving him the way everyone else seems to. Admittedly, this has nothing to do with Tartt’s writing, in fact, it may be a testament to her writing that she so deftly transported me back to high school when I had friends who were very much like Boris: charismatic, likable, and larger than life with a self-destructive streak, a dark home life, and a whirlwind of chaos constantly on their heels. They have big hearts and care about you, but can also be selfish in the way that they believe wholeheartedly that they know better than you and what is best for you. Every time that Boris talked over Theo or changed the subject so as not to tell him everything or refused to listen to what Theo wanted (or needed) in that moment put me right back in that place of being hushed because “I know what’s good for you.” It also made me frustrated at Theo for falling into Boris’ spell, despite knowing that it’s an easy spell to fall under. I enjoy reading about Boris, but, if I met him in person, I would absolutely keep him at arm’s length.

And that brings me to Theo’s character, I was so constantly frustrated with Theo and his refusal to speak up or tell the people in his life what he wanted or needed. This sounds like a negative, but the truth is, in literary fiction, this is, in my opinion, a good thing. With literary stories, there is rarely an external antagonist. Often times, the protagonist is their own antagonist, standing in their own way and keeping them from being the best that they can be. This is what I love about literary fiction and is one of my criteria for categorizing a book as such. Though, there is a case for Theo never actually conquering his inner antagonist, but sometimes that’s just how life works.

If I had to say who was the best character in the book, I would honestly say Hobie. I loved him and wanted so much more of him. But, I also have a weakness for giant teddy bears who live so much in their own heads that they sometimes miss out on what’s going on around them or try their absolute damnedest to see the absolute best in those around them.

Tartt has a beautiful and fluid writing style that I absolutely adore and admire. Though, at 771 pages, this is a doorstop of a book, there was never a point where I was counting the pages except to decide where I absolutely had to stop if I didn’t want to find myself two hours later still reading and having never gotten up to eat or work or sleep. There’s a level of nihilism to her writing that works with this story. Granted, this is the first of her books that I’ve read, so I don’t know if that’s just her writing style or if it’s Theo’s. On that note, I didn’t feel like the whole fictional-character-penning-his-own-memoir trope had a whole lot of pay off here. I can see what Tartt was going for, but I don’t think it landed all that well. It didn’t, however, ruin the writing for me.

The descriptions were also superb. Having never been to New York or Amsterdam, I saw it all. Tartt has a way of describing with intention. Each description is attached to a feeling or a memory which makes each item or place much more meaningful and tactile in the viewing of Theo’s world.

(rounded down for goodreads)

In the end, I really did enjoy this book. I could have done without the first and final sections, but everything in between was great, even if I wasn’t properly prepared for it. I definitely think The Goldfinch deserves a reread, maybe even a purchase so it can sit on my shelf next to White Oleander, the other book that makes me feel like a monster for loving so much.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

by J.K. Rowling

started: January 2, 2018 | finished: January 4, 2018

The Tales of Beedle the Bard is part of the Hogwarts Library series that explored different parts of the Harry Potter universe, this book, of course, exploring the fairy tales, including the story about the deathly hallows which the 7th Harry Potter book was named for. The stories included in this book are “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” “The Fountain of Fair Fortune,” “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart,” “Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump,” and, finally, “The Tale of the Three Brothers.”

I went into this book expecting it to be just simple fairy tales that I wouldn’t get a whole lot out of. What I wasn’t expecting was for each story to be followed by an analysis about the story written by Dumbledore. This bumped up my interest immediately…

…The analysis turns out to be an amusing commentary on fairy tales and fairy tale analysis—how stories change over time, how they reflect the people who tell them, how we use them to teach lessons, how people sanitize stories to protect the children, but end up just watering it down to the point of destroying the original lesson.

The reason I didn’t give character a full star is because, personally, I felt that Dumbledore’s sections didn’t entirely feel like the Dumbledore from the books. Because I can’t really say if this is a narrative choice or just the line between Rowling and the headmaster blurring, I decided it would be better to give the character category 3/4 star.

It’s J.K. Rowling, what more can I say about this part.

Though this book isn’t really a “description” sort of book, I decided to give it a full star because the world building that sat just beneath the stories and the analysis made them feel like they were part of an actual world and not just fluff to make money off of.

(rounded up for goodreads)

I have to admit, I’ve been so cynical about the Harry Potter franchise as of late with every new addition feeling more like cash grabs than actual attempts to broaden and explore the universe and I was expecting it to be cute but not having much substance and end up with three stars, four at most. Thankfully, I was wrong. I was so absolutely wrong.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

by Marjane Satrapi

started: December 8, 2017 | finished: December 8, 2017

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is a memoir chronicling Satrapi’s childhood in Iran during the Iranian Revolution in the 1980’s. Told through the use of Satrapi’s own illustrations, the reader is shown the loss, sacrifice, and fight that comes with such a tumultuous time through the eyes of a child.

I have to admit, I’ve never been very drawn to middle eastern stories. I don’t know if it’s a race thing or if it’s an oversaturation that I never really shook off after the early 2000’s, which, coincidentally, is when this book was originally published and probably why I never read it at the time. Either way, I’ve always avoided the topic due to lack of interest. When the Read Women group voted on Persepolis as the December group read, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’m glad to say that I was entirely engrossed in this book. I finished it in a day, which isn’t hard considering the medium and reading level, however, I’m usual pretty good about taking my time with graphic novels so I can spend more time in them, but this book reads so fluidly that it was hard not to just keep reading.

Back in the early 2000’s after 9/11, when the Middle East broke through America’s blinders, I honestly got sick of hearing about it very quickly. It probably didn’t help that I was in middle school, going into high school at the time and had “more important” things on my mind than world relations (I’ve never cared that much about politics anyways), so I zoned out whenever the Middle East came up. So, while some of the information covered in Persepolis I knew, a lot of it I didn’t and the parts that I did already know, my knowledge was very surface level. Though, honestly, it’s always one thing to hear about these generalized events, it’s something entirely different to hear it from the perspective of a child who lived through it and was affected by it. As well, the inclusion of the small things that changed, such as censorship of not just media, but even history, the regulations of women’s fashion, the outlawing of parties, all helped to show just how oppressive and even claustrophobic things had become. My only issue was the ending, which felt kind of anti-climactic for me. It didn’t ruin the book, but I felt kind of left in the cold there at the end.

I love Satrapi’s parents. They were political and intellectual without being didactic and I love the way they encouraged learning in her without being overbearing. They really helped to show the contrast between Iranians who were modern and those who were traditional. I also really liked Satrapi as a child. She was inquisitive and headstrong, refusing to lie down for anyone.

I realize that I can’t really ask much in terms of writing style from a young adult/middle grade book, let alone a graphic novel (though, if Neil Gaiman can pull off lyrical prose in a graphic novel, then no excuses), but, as a writer, it’s hard for me to not notice it and the writing in Persepolis was bare. I wouldn’t say that it was bland, but just bare. I do feel that the writing could have gone a bit deeper to really drive home the darker points in the story.

Much like the writing, I felt the art could have been more detailed, especially with how bare the writing was. I know, I know, it’s a young adult/middle grade book, and I did enjoy the simplistic style, however, I do think it would have been possible to keep the simplistic style and make it a bit more detailed. There were even a few frames that showed that Satrapi does have the skill to add more detail, and I just would have liked to see that more throughout.

(rounded down for goodreads)
I really did enjoy this book, though I’m not sure I enjoyed it enough to buy it…maybe I did. I’m still not sure. I’m glad I read it. I enjoyed reading it. And I learned a good amount about a period of history and a part of the world that I hadn’t previously known much about. However, I don’t think it’s a book that I will be drawn to read again or, at least, not over and over again. It is a good book, just not one that I feel I need to rush out and buy so I can keep it on my self.

A Darker Shade of Magic

by V.E. Schwab

Started: April 25, 2017 | Finished: May 14, 2017

In a world where there are four parallel Londons, White, Red, Grey, & Black, Kell, a powerful kind of magician called Antari, comes into possession of an object that must be returned to its home: Black London, a place that is rumored to no longer exist. The idea behind this book is fascinating and I wanted to love it, but I was left feeling absolutely, entirely, and frustratingly underwhelmed.

The story was entertaining enough to hold my attention, but I was never interested enough to be enthralled by it. To put it another way, I was never bored, but I wasn’t floored either. I do think this is an interesting concept (one I had been exploring myself long before hearing about this book) and would like to see this as a movie if only to see the world and the magic, but the world and the magic may have been it’s only saving grace.

I can’t say that this wasn’t a unique story. Like I said before, it has an interesting world with well paced world building, however, I found myself not really caring all that much about the events that were happening. The only reason for this that I can come to is the characters…

As with everything else in this book, the characters weren’t awful, but, at the same time, I just didn’t care. I had a hard time connecting with them and I don’t really know why. I keep trying to figure it out and I can’t. The characters felt real and relatively fleshed out, but I honestly couldn’t have cared less about them. The only characters that I really felt anything for were Holland and the kid guarding the door towards the end, and even then it wasn’t enough to make me cry for either of them (and I cry easily, so that’s saying something). For Holland, this may have been because his sympathetic side was never fully fleshed out. He was treated like a villain with hints of sympathy and not much else. Had we gotten a chance to explore more of the story from his point of view, maybe it would have made his story a bit stronger.

I can say that I did not care for Lila one bit. By that, I don’t mean that I hated her, but that I literally didn’t care at all about her or her problems. This might be because Lila clearly didn’t care about her own life or problems either. If she doesn’t care if she never returns to Grey London, why should I? If she doesn’t care if she gets hurt, why should I? If she doesn’t care about running headfirst to her own death, why should I? Not that a character like this can’t be successfully written. Schwab just missed the mark.

One final note on character: while I admired Shwab’s attempts to create a female character who rejected female gender roles, it felt forced and lackluster, and it was the only thing in this book that made me actually feel something, though it wasn’t what Schwab wanted me to feel. Everything Lila did felt more like one more reason for the reader to nod and say, “She’s not an average girl. How revolutionary!” She doesn’t wear a dress? How revolutionary! She carries weapons and is categorized as a cutthroat (something we never actually see, by the way)? How revolutionary! She wants to be a pirate? How revolutionary! I get it. Now who is she as an actual person and not as a check mark in your diversity list? It doesn’t help either that I would have been fine with it had Schwab not also fallen for the “women who like being women are bad” trope that is so easy to fall into with these sorts of characters. I find tomboys and masculine women in entertainment as refreshing as everyone else, but when they constantly belittle and think less of women who aren’t opposed to their own femininity it rubs me the wrong way.

First, so I can get it out of the way: there were so many typos in the edition that I read, especially towards the end. I just…you’re better than that, Tor.

Other than typos that should have been caught before being okayed for printing, just like everything else in this book, the writing was lackluster. It was shallow and underwhelming. I was rarely transported or got lost in the writing. And this is the part that just really confused me. Over and over again, I keep seeing/hearing people saying that the writing is amazing and beautiful, it blew them away and it’s “unique and a breath of fresh air” (yes, that is an actual quote that I came across). I don’t get it. Did I miss something? Did I read an abridged version? Did I read the wrong book? Have none of these people read an actual good book before? I mean, seriously, this book was just…basic.

I really don’t like talking about “show don’t tell”, so instead I’m going to steal from Emma Darwin and call it “evoke don’t inform”. While the world building was great, the characters weren’t and that’s because I was mainly informed that these characters had certain characteristics, but Schwab never allowed them to evoke those characteristics. Basically, she told me who they were, but I never really saw it. Especially Lila. I was informed time and time again that Lila was a cutthroat, but all she ever evoked was a scared little girl who thought she was tougher than she actually was. Which would have been fine if every other character wasn’t so surprised that this “cutthroat” who hasn’t actually cut any throats was scared about something. We saw her run more than we actually saw her fight. It was the same with Holland, I was informed that he was being forced to to go after Kell and the stone, but he never evoked any conflict or concern about doing so up until the end.

I was informed about a lot of things in this book, but the conclusions that I came to from what I was being shown rarely matched what I was being told.

I won’t go too far into this one, because, at this point, I’m just repeating myself, but yet again, it wasn’t horrible, but it also wasn’t great. I saw what was being described, but my reaction was constantly, “All right then.” I only stopped to fully absorb and admire a description twice through out the whole book, something that I did three or four times just in the prologue to A Game of Thrones. I think the most interesting description in the whole book may have been of Holland: “Perhaps it was the way he seemed to be made more of water and stone than flesh and blood and soul.”

I’m still not entirely sure how to feel about this book, even a month after having read it. I’m starting to wonder, though, if my lackluster feelings towards the story came from the fact that nothing felt pushed far enough. There were parts of the story that wanted me to feel something, but they just sort of suggested that I feel it rather than forcing me to. Everything emotional danced on the edge rather than taking the plunge and exploring it entirely. This left the book feeling shallow. I wonder if the events within this novel would have been more interesting if more focus would have been put on some of the darker elements of the story. If we had seen more of Holland and White London. If we had seen more of the stone really possessing Kell like it did towards the end. If we had actaully seen Black London instead of being told about it. The idea behind this story is interesting, but I feel as though Schwab was unwilling to push any further in order to really take the story where it needed to go. The result was a story that I was only half invested in and characters that I only half cared about.

On a final note: this is supposed to be an adult book (as evidenced by the V.E.), but the entire thing read so painfully like young adult. I’m not saying that young adult books can’t be good, but they just aren’t for me. I’ve yet to read a young adult book that has left me breathless. I don’t know what it is, but they just always seem to be holding back which just leaves me entirely underwhelmed and this book was, unfortunately, no exception.

Other Books in the Series:
A Gathering of Shadows — DNF – I read the first chapter and realized that I just didn’t care enough about these characters or this story to continue reading.
A Conjuring of Light — not even gonna bother.

On Shakespeare

I have a confession to make: I hate Shakespeare.

Well, truthfully, I don’t hate Shakespeare, I hate reading Shakespeare. I feel, and have always felt, that Shakespeare isn’t meant to be read. These are plays, after all — they’re meant to be performed and observed. Those who know me off the internet might be sick of this comparison by now, but reading Shakespeare is honestly like literature students 500 years from now reading the script for Die Hard or Jaws and trying to get a critical analysis from it. Except that might actually be possible since Jeb Stuart and Peter Benchley (the screenwriters for Die Hard and Jaws respectively) actually included action cues in their screenplays so you’re still capable of knowing what is going on outside of the dialogue. Which reveals my true gripe about reading Shakespeare: There is very little to go off of that isn’t dialogue. There aren’t even cues for how a line of dialogue is meant to be read. Add in the fact that the average person, including the all mighty lit major, isn’t exactly fluent in Elizabethan English and, well, it’s not hard to see why Shakespeare is required for most literature programs and not optional (because no one would take it otherwise).

“But why is Shakespeare so important to begin with,” I’m sure every Lit major has asked at least once in their academic career. First: thank the Romantics. During the early 19th century, Shakespeare’s plays were beginning to be so over done on the stage (with those damn costumes, sets, and sound effects) that the Romantic poets and critics (the original hipsters) began to spread the idea that in order to “truly” understand Shakespeare, one must read his plays rather than watch them. Were they wrong? Not entirely. There is a group called Actors From the London Stage who utilize this same ideology. Each play casts only five actors, no set dressings, and minimal costuming. The result is mind blowing. When you strip away the costumes and the set dressing, focusing only on the actors and the performance, you really can see why Shakespeare is so popular. After experiencing a stripped down performance, it becomes a bit easier to appreciate the great bard. But, this is still approaching the work the way it was meant to be consumed: through performance. Due to Shakespeare’s lack of action or dialogue cues, reading a Shakespeare play without having ever experienced it performed puts the reader at a severe disadvantage. If you’re not accustomed to reading Elizabethan English, trying to decipher what is being said while also trying to make out what exactly is supposed to be happening results in even the most dedicated of students zoning out and not absorbing any of what they had just read. Unfortunately, most literature departments are a bit slow in adapting to the current times (which really shouldn’t be a surprise since most of us who hold degrees in literature or English still read physical books, study dead dialects, and have our heads firmly planted in the past), and, because of this, still blindly hold on to the Romantic mindset when it comes to Shakespeare. Which is why you, my darling, fresh faced lit majors, are still required to read Shakespeare rather than watch it.

This does not however, mean that I think Shakespeare isn’t important when it comes to literature, which brings us back to the original question: Why do we still study Shakespeare? Well, other than the wonderful Romantics (can you tell that I have a very strong love/hate relationship with them?) there are three reasons that I have personally come to for why Shakespeare is required knowledge for literature majors:

    1. History

    If you aim to become an expert in any field, it’s always smart to know the history of that field. In knowing who came before you and how they attributed to your field, you will be better equipped in contributing to the field yourself. When you know what has already been done you’ll know how to build off of that and form your own path in the field. It’s also important just to know how your field has grown and been shaped over the years in order to become what it is today. For literary analysis, that means not only knowing the history of literary analysis, but also the history of literature itself.

    Though, this doesn’t entirely answer why Shakespeare. There were other published and successful writers during the Elizabethan era, namely Christopher Marlowe, who was also a playwright, and the poet, Sir Thomas Wyatt, who is said to have been the first English poet to use the sonnet form. Granted, Marlowe died young (29) and had only written seven plays at the time of his death, plus his most famous play, Doctor Faustus, is unfortunately only second in the Faust adaptations, Goethe’s work being the more well known of the two. As for Wyatt, though, from what I’ve interpreted, he wasn’t very shy about his writing and study of literature, his work wasn’t actually published until fifteen years after his death, which might explain his diminished popularity (though his time in the Tower of London for “allegedly” having an affair with Anne Boleyn couldn’t have helped his reputation either). At the end of the day, however, Shakespeare wrote a total of 37 plays in his lifetime, plays that were regularly performed. No other writer, playwright or otherwise, came anywhere near this number, making Shakespeare, arguably, the most accessible of the Elizabethan writers.

    2. Literary References

    Because of his breadth and popularity, it is difficult to not cross paths with a Shakespeare reference as a literature student. From T.S. Eliot to Aldous Huxley, you will more than likely find yourself with at least one reference to Shakespeare per semester. And believe it or not, Shakespeare references don’t stop at literature, they’re in films, music, and even Disney. Like it or not, Shakespeare is a very strongly ingrained part of the English speaking culture. Hell, just look at wikipedia’s list of references to Ophelia; not the play, Hamlet, but the single character, Ophelia. The amount of times you will come across a title, quote, or story line that directly references Shakespeare makes learning Shakespeare important.

    Now, before anyone says, “but why is that important?” or “what if the author just liked that name/phrase?” No. Just. No. If you want to study literature, or even writing and storytelling for that matter, you need to dump that mindset now and hard. Make it cry into a gallon of ice cream and netflix binge watching. If an author references something it is for a reason, and that reason is to make you think about what is being said a bit deeper than you initially would. If an author references Hamlet, consider why. What is the author trying to say by bringing up Hamlet? I guarantee you it’s not because that’s his favorite Shakespeare play.

    3. The Human Experience

    Let’s go back to the Romantics and the Actors From the London Stage. There is a reason the Romantics decided to remove Shakespeare’s stories from the over the top stage performances, why that same method works so well for those London stage Actors, and, hell, why Shakespeare has stuck around as long as he has in general: Because when you strip away details of Shakespeare’s work you’re left with stories that are as universal and timeless as the Grimm fairy tales.

    Take Hamlet for instance: strip away the setting, the time period, and the character’s various titles, and what you’re left with is a story about a man who returns home for his father’s funeral only to discover that there is more to his father’s death and descends into madness while trying to avenge him. Though it’s one of my least favorite Shakespeare plays (OH. MY. GOD. The soliloquies! I could strangle myself with those soliloquies!), there is a reason why Hamlet is so iconic within our culture: it’s a story about lies, intrigue, madness, and deceit, but, more importantly, Hamlet, at it’s core, is about people dealing with tragedy. This can be said about every Shakespeare play, at the end of the day, they are simply stories about people being people.

Admittedly, when I first graduated high school and entered into college, I detested Shakespeare and was not shy about it. Whenever his name came up I rolled my eyes in disgust. It wasn’t until after I had finished my AA and went back to school for my BA (a full four years after high school) that I finally started to appreciate Shakespeare as a storyteller. But, I’ll say this here and now, it wasn’t reading Shakespeare that brought about this change. It was watching the plays performed by the Actors From the London Stage that finally opened my eyes. The first performance I went to, I did so begrudgingly. My Shakespeare professor was offering extra credit to anyone who went to the performance, and since that professor was notoriously bullheaded when it came to Shakespeare, I needed all the help I could get. So, I dragged my friend, Nich, along with me to see Othello, entirely prepared to be equal parts bored and confused. Admittedly, watching five actors play approximately twenty characters simultaneously took a bit of getting used to, but by Desdemona’s death I was holding back tears amongst the moved to silence audience, and as the play ended I was one of the first to stand during the standing ovation. I — a not at all closeted Shakespeare naysayer — was cheering for a Shakespeare performance enthusiastically. And Nich and I have done our best to show up every time the Actors From the London Stage come back to UTSA.

I say all of this because, as long as there will be literature degrees, there will be Shakespeare classes, and those classes will most likely be required, meaning they will be full of students who don’t want to be there. But I assure you, my darling, fresh faced lit majors, there is a purpose in being, at the very least, familiar with Shakespeare, and, if you can find a way to strip the play down to its base, you’ll find a timeless story about people being people. So, while it may be boring, tedious work, it has its merits. At least it’s not Chaucer in Middle English.

The Book of Lost Things

by John Connolly

The Book of Lost Things is the story of a young boy named David growing up in London on the brink of the second World War. The story begins with the loss of David’s mother and the struggle he has with his father falling for a nurse named Rose. After a while of dating, Rose becomes pregnant, driving David’s father to marry her. To escape the war David and his father move into Rose’s family home in the country.

Once at Rose’s, David begins to experience strange things, beginning with hearing the books in his room talk. Soon he begins to have black outs, during which he sees glimpses of another world. One night he hears his dead mother’s voice calling to him from a hole in the garden wall. As he is investigating the hole, a fighter jet comes hurtling towards the garden. Just as the jet crashes into the ground, David crawls in through the hole in the wall.

David comes out on the other side through a hole in a tree that enters into the world that he had seen when he would black out. The first person he meets is a woodsman who tells David not only of the horrors of the land, but also about a king who owns a book called the The Book of Lost Things that just might be able to get David back home. So, the two set out to find the king. On the way David grows from a scared, naive boy to a young man who realizes what it really means to care for someone and that life isn’t always fair, but that doesn’t mean that you can blame those around you for it.

The Book of Lost Things is a beautifully written book with fairy tales woven perfectly throughout it. John Connolly is a master story teller whose characters are wonderfully written, each with their own number of vices as well as their virtues. I like that David begins as a bit of a brat, even if he has his reasons. I also like that he acknowledges his flaws and eventually learns from them. I like that there are no true villains and no true heroes, for even the heroes have their pitfalls. I loved the characterization of Rumpelstiltskin, or, in this realm, the Crooked Man. I loved his mythos and I loved his motives. I loved that he was simply a creature trying to survive, even if it was in such a horrible way.

I loved Connolly’s integration of fairy tales, and especially the way that the children’s understanding of the stories changed the world. I also loved that Connolly’s changes to certain fairy tales had their reasons, he didn’t just change them for the hell of it. As well, I loved Connolly’s voice through out the book. He pulled off that fairy tale voice without going over the top or getting to that point of the “okay, we get it” feeling. The part that I really appreciated, though (and this might just be a nerdy thing specific to my obsessive interest in fairy tales and folk tales), was the inclusion in the back of the book of the origins of the fairy tales and what each fairy tale’s presence represents.

The Book of Lost Things is a wonderfully written story and an exciting read, which was a nice change of pace from the more real-life style books that I have been reading as of late. I actually got to a point where I couldn’t read it during my lunch anymore because I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop once I started. This is definitely one of those books that left me wondering why more people haven’t heard of it. So my recommendation is to read it and if you’ve already read it then recommend it to your friends, your family, your neighbors, your coworkers, the person sitting next to you on the bus, whoever you can. I want this book to be as popular as Twilight! Lord knows, we need some actual literature to seep its way throughout society’s kindles/bookshelves/library cards.

The Girl With No Shadow

by Joanne Harris

The Girl With No Shadow (called Lollipop Shoes overseas) is a sequel to the popular novel Chocolat. This is possibly the first book that I’ve come across where the sequel is just as good, if not better than, the first. Once again we are graced with Joanne Harris’ amazing talent for storytelling as well as her outstanding handle of the English language. However, what makes this novel so much better than the first is the depth and conflict not just between the characters but within them as well.

The Girl With No Shadow brings us back into the lives of Vianne and Anouk Rocher, however, things have changed since we last saw them; Vianne is now terrified of her powers and forbids Anouk from using them as well. She has moved them, and new addition, Rosette, to Montmarte, where Vianne, now Yanne Charbonneau, is determined to live a normal life by any means necessary.

In enters Zazi, a witch con artist who wants Vianne’s identity and her talented daughter to complete the picture. With the use of glamours and cantrips she pulls impressionable Anouk, who is frustrated with her mother’s new found normality, into her clutches and begins training her in a new kind of magic.

What sets this book apart from the last is the amped up level of mysteries that have been worked into the story line. Who is Zazi? What made her who she is? What happened to frighten Vianne into abandoning her care-free lifestyle? What is the truth behind Vianne’s birth? Will Zazi succeed at winning Vianne’s life and will she get Anouk as an added bonus? Harris succeeds in not only answering each of these questions, but then bringing up a handful more in the process.

Another difference is the addition of a new voice. This book is told from three perspectives rather than two; Vianne’s, Zazi’s, and Anouk’s. At first I felt like Anouk’s point of view was more of a hindrance and didn’t add a whole lot of weight to the story, but as the book progressed I was pleasantly proved wrong. Anouk acts as a go between for Vianne and Zazi. Through Anouk, you see how Vianne’s new life truly affects her world and at the same time Zazi’s mastery of manipulation.

The book is beautifully writen, amazingly told and so much more fun than the first. If you loved Chocolat and have been itching to hear more from Vianne and Anouk, definitely check out The Girl With No Shadow