Review: Uprooted

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I finished Uprooted by Naomi Novik and promptly burst into tears. This novel grew inside me as I read, vines snaking around my heart. I am always delighted when I find a book so utterly enthralling; I was completely enamored. Novik is a splendid writer. The language of the book is lovely and musical, yet straightforward and at times beautifully blunt, in much the same way Agnieszka, our heroine, and her thoughts can be. The characters leap off the page. I fell deeply in love with Agnieszka and the Dragon and Kasia and this whole wonderful world that Novik has built. I very much enjoyed following their growth and development in the face of increasingly urgent dangers. This book is a fantasy that feels both rooted in its history and also entirely new. Its magic is innovative and breathtaking. The story feels familiar, like a fairy tale, but also original and wholly captivating. The whole time it felt like I was walking with an old friend, a very, very engaging old friend.

The story itself is about Agnieszka, a girl who has grown up in the shadow of the corrupted Wood, kept only at bay by their liege lord, the Dragon. Every ten years, the Dragon chooses a girl to come to his tower and serve him. Everyone in the village, including Agnieszka, thinks her best friend Kasia will be chosen. But that’s not exactly the way it goes. The choosing is the beginning of a tale of magic and growth and home and life that is heartbreaking and beautiful and terrible and wonderful. Uprooted is an utterly transporting tale that I cannot recommend enough.

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

A group of women in Texas recently attended a legislation session dressed as Handmaids, characters from Margaret Atwood’s classic novel The Handmaid’s Tale, in protest of the anti-abortion measures being considered by the state. It’s a powerful gesture. In light of these trying times, it’s impossible not to read Atwood’s book politically. What it means to be a woman, to have rights, to have freedom, to have choice is something that’s been on my mind. What does it mean to govern? What does it mean to be a democracy? The Handmaid’s Tale examines all of these questions in the setting of a dystopian America that is frighteningly plausible.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Story: Offred is a Handmaid. We do not know her real name, her true name, from the time before. The government has been overthrown by religious zealots who worship fertility and have created Gilead, a new world order based around procreation. Once a month she lies on her back and allows her assigned Commander to try to get her pregnant. She is a “walking womb.” It is her job to procreate for the elite of society, for her Commander and his barren wife. Offred does what is expected of her to keep her life but is haunted by her past and memories of all she’s lost, memories she only confesses to the reader.

The Handmaid’s Tale is incredibly timely despite having been published in 1985. We live in a world where men are debating women’s health, making decisions about their reproductive rights often without consulting any women at all. Atwood’s world is that taken to the extreme. It is simultaneously matriarchal and oppressive. Women are prized so long as they have something to offer (fertility) but also are expected to fill their assigned roles with dignity, acquiescence, and silence. Offred lives in a state of fear. Anyone could be a spy. Any little thing might give away her rightfully traitorous thoughts, her hatred of a regime that has taken her family from her. Offred’s ability to compartmentalize in the face of so much trauma gives the book a sense of unreality, sometimes dreamy and unsettling. The world in which she lives is almost too awful to face head on, but through Offred’s narration you have to. The reader experiences what she experiences: the violations, the violence, the atrocities, the fear, her memories, but also her hope, slight and intoxicating.

The success of the book is in how the reader must bear witness to Offred’s suffering and in doing so cannot help but reflect on their own life. I couldn’t read this book without taking into account my own life as a woman. Offred’s fear resonates with the reader. I believe in contraception and I believe in choice, both of which are not options in Gilead. The tension between the real world and the imagined unsettles. This is all joined by Atwood’s prose, which is both beautiful and achingly precise.

I cannot recommend this book enough, especially with the impending release of the Hulu series starring Elisabeth Moss. It’s an artfully crafted book and a terrifying thought experiment worth your time.

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*This post will contain Harry Potter spoilers. If you have not read Harry Potter and do not want to be spoiled, please refrain from reading on.*

After many months of silence and distraction, I will be concluding my Harry Potter series. It was truly glorious to revisit my beloved Harry, especially now with all this Cursed Child business (more on that later). For now, let’s delve in to the seventh and final book: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (for the previous installments of this series, please see here, here, here, and here).

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I started re-reading shakily. It’s a very emotional experience for me, even after all this time, to read the final Harry Potter book. I started crying at the dedication: “And to you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end.” Gah! The thing about this book is it isn’t just a book to me and to so many others. It’s the end of an era. It’s the end of a crucial piece of my childhood and development as a person. Harry Potter is an absolutely crucial and vital part of me. I grew up with these characters. I know them inside and out, like family. I love this series fiercely and nearly blindly. But there is so much more to it than just a fan’s headstrong affection. There is an undeniable and magnificent art to the final book. So much is explained and revealed and tied together. Deathly Hallows is the culmination of so many years of work and planning and tiny details. It’s truly J. K. Rowling’s magnum opus.

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HP 6

*This post will contain Harry Potter spoilers. If you have not read Harry Potter and do not want to be spoiled, please refrain from reading on.*

This week we will continue our examination of the beloved Harry Potter series with a peek into the wonder of the sixth book. For a look at my commentary on the previous installments, please see herehere, and here.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is the calm before the storm. It’s tone is similar to that of Prisoner of Azkaban. There aren’t any upfront and personal confrontations with Voldemort, though he is still omnipresent and in this case the danger is more real than ever as people are dying and going missing left and right.

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HP 5

*This post will contain Harry Potter spoilers. If you have not read Harry Potter and do not want to be spoiled, please refrain from reading on.*

This week we will continue our exploration and analysis of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. For a look at my commentary on the previous installments, please see here and here.

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix may be the most difficult book in the Harry Potter series. From the very beginning the tone is immediately different. It’s darker and much more adult. Even Harry is changed, being described as having the “pinched, slightly unhealthy look of someone who has grown a lot in a short space of time.” The book is based on confusion, lack of communication, and misunderstanding as well as an element of distrust. Nearly all the book’s problems stem from those roots. There’s just so much that goes wrong in this book and it’s painful to read because I care so much. We can connect some of the dots, but often, especially on the first reading, we’re just as lost as Harry and for that we feel his injustices and confusion doubly. In retrospect, it’s just as frustrating, but for different reasons. It’s somehow worse to see it all coming and not be able to do anything to stop it.

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HP 4

*This post will contain Harry Potter spoilers. If you have not read Harry Potter and do not want to be spoiled, please refrain from reading on.*

The time has come for me to revisit my most beloved of stories, the Harry Potter series. See my musings on books one through three here. In this installment, I will discuss Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, a book that I have read so many times my copy’s spine is in a very fragile and delicate condition.

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Hello there, dear friend.

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HP Books 1-3

This post contains Harry Potter spoilers.

I began this new year rereading Harry Potter for the first time in a while. So far, I’ve gone through the first three books (currently on Goblet of Fire). It feels really good to get back into this magical world, like meeting up with a really great friend you haven’t spoken to in years. It’s nice to see you still have so much in common.

Upon rereading, I’ve been noticing a lot of things I’d missed or forgotten and many things that make more sense or feel more meaningful in retrospect. It’s also interesting to take a look at the story from a little bit older perspective, with an undergraduate degree and three years out of school. I find myself constantly praising Jo’s genius. There’s so many beautiful breadcrumbs early on in the story. I’ve no idea whether she meant it that way or retrofitted details but either way it makes for some breathtaking storytelling.

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My lovely UK editions of books 1-3

This is a book series that ended nearly a decade ago, so forgive me if this gets spoiler heavy. If you’ve never read Harry Potter, first of all, what are you doing? Stop reading this post and go read Harry Potter. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Okay, now that everyone here has read Harry Potter, let the spoilers commence.

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Review: My True Love Gave to Me

I meant to post this review a few weeks ago when it was a little more relevant, but the time got away from me. My True Love Gave to Me is a collection of twelve holiday themed short stories curated by author Stephanie Perkins. This is the “cup of hot cocoa and a warm blanket” of books. Each story is a tale of romance, written by some of the most delightful writers out there, including Perkins herself, Rainbow Rowell, Kelly Link, Holly Black, and more!

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It’s no secret I am a fan of the holiday love story. (Love Actually, get at me.) And I am a huge Stephanie Perkins fan, so it was with great excitement and anticipation that I sat down to read this anthology. Neil gave it to me for Christmas (<3) and I started reading it a few days before Christmas. It felt very appropriate. The stories were well written and also just nice to read. It’s the kind of book that just makes you feel good, something one might need during the holiday season or any season for that matter. I enjoyed it immensely.

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Review: Cat’s Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut is a  bizarre, wonderful madman. His novels often read like fever dreams, something touching on reality, resembling it, but only just. It never quite gets all the way there. There is always something in the story that makes the reader stop and go, but wait! Something is not right here. And sometimes that something is subtle as hell. So it goes in Cat’s Cradle.

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This novel is one of those books where I was tempted to look everything up to see what was true and what was fiction. It’s written in a memoir style, which lends the story an authoritativeness and plausible credibility that nicely juxtaposes the utter incredulity of the story.

The novel follows our protagonist and narrator John, who calls himself Jonah, and the ways in which his life gets tangled up with a little island called San Lorenzo and with the Hoenikker family, a very strange bunch indeed. While unusual, the book is very compelling, drawing you along despite its meandering, posits, and musings. Though I had a few guesses about where things were heading, I nevertheless still found myself routinely surprised by the actions of those John interacted with. A series of vignettes and conversations push the action on, leading to its ultimate and inevitable end.

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Review: Nimona

Stop what you are doing. Go read this comic right now.

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I like Noelle Stevenson. She is a great writer and an amazing artist. I’m a big fan of the series Lumberjanes and I unwittingly followed her tumblr for a long time without knowing who she actually was (she has a really great tumblr). And so it was with this knowledge that I picked up the physical copy of her web comic  Nimona.

This story is excellent. I could not put it down. It’s funny, touching, sharp, and just beautifully drawn: like I am drooling this is so gorgeous beautiful. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. The book was nominated in 2015 for an Eisner Award and was longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award. Not too shabby.

Our story begins when Nimona, our young, sassy, shapeshifting protagonist, shows up on the metaphorical door step of resident supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart wanting to be his sidekick. Together they wreak havoc and commit general villainy. Ballister is a one-armed renegade with a score to settle and really excellent facial hair. He regularly faces off with his nemesis Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, he of the golden curls,  as well as fighting the goons of the oddly malevolent Institution of Law Enforcement.

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