It was beyond my wildest dreams that Carry On by Rainbow Rowell would ever come to be. The story is a fictional one that takes place within a fictional world. It began as a story within a story. The fictional Simon Snow books factor heavily into Rowell’s novel Fangirl, where the protagonist Cath obsesses over the series with devotion, going so far as to write and publish online elaborate fanfiction entitled Carry On. And here we are.
Carry On is pretty meta. I went into it expecting a fun ride, but Rowell really fleshed this story out. Carry On stands completely on its own, apart from Fangirl. This novel is a delight to read. The book is essentially a parody of every Chosen One story that’s ever been written. It takes the trope and turns it on its head. The world is one in which words, words themselves, carry real power: magic spells are phrases, lyrics, bits of poetry that have had an impact on the public consciousness. For example, Up, up and away is used to levitate an object or Clean as a whistle gets rid of messes. There is also a particularly intense moment involving a nursery rhyme and a dragon. The mechanics of the World of Mages is fascinating and innovative. It was fun to discover the ways in which language could translate into spellcraft.
The first thing you need to know is that Libba Bray is a novel writing goddess. Her creativity knows no bounds. From what I read of her novels, spinning complex and intricate stories is just her thing. She is very, very good at it. Lair of Dreams is the second novel in the Diviners series, an eerie supernatural adventure series set in 1920s New York. I am most impressed by the scope of Bray’s novels. These are big, sprawling books, 600+ pages, filled with not just a handful but an entire cast of fully formed protagonists, all with different goals, motivations, desires, and secrets. Her ability to successfully explore all these vastly different characters, flesh them out, and make the audience care deeply about them is a feat. The scope of the story itself is gargantuan. It’s a weaving tale with many moving parts and subplots all serving an overarching mega plot (Project Buffalo, I’m looking at you).
Stephanie Perkins is really good at making me cry. Isla and the Happily Ever After is the third book in what could be called a series of beautiful love stories. Perkins writes young love, but she does it right. She makes it feel poignant, true, and incredibly real. She just perfectly encapsulates the essence of love. I don’t even quite understand how she does it, but the situations her characters get in, the way they react, the way they feel and internalize: it is the most honest rendering of what it feels like to fall in love and be in love. It’s so refreshing.
The two books preceding this one are Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door. All three books take place within the same universe and there is overlap with the characters. I would say the third book ties everything together quite nicely.
I went into The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss completely blind. I had no idea what it was about. I didn’t even read the back of the book. I did know it was fantasy and that it had been well received. There’s truly nothing better than having your expectations exceeded. The Name of the Wind pretty much blew me away. What a refreshing exploration of the hero’s journey and the fantasy genre.
The Name of the Wind is written in two periods: the present and flashback. Our hero Kvothe, great, mighty, wondrous, and terrible, reveals his past to us, telling his story. It’s a tale of joy, intense grief, sadness, magic, music, art, and personal growth. This first book is basically the prologue. It covers Kvothe’s childhood and early adolescence. Though he is an unusual child, very mature and observant even at a young age, circumstance makes him grow up even faster. The book covers his education and early relationships, bringing us to the edge of his hero’s journey. That’s not to say the book isn’t chalk full of adventure. It is. All great characters have to start somewhere.
I picked up Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson because of its National Book Award honor. I did not know much else beyond that. I did not, for example, know that it was written entirely in verse until I flipped to the first page. Nor did I know it was a memoir.
This is a strong story. It is grounded and beautiful. It tells the story of Woodson’s childhood stretched between the idea of home in New York and that of South Carolina from her birth to the ages of about 9 or 10. Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s North and South, Woodson describes the reality of living through the civil rights movement as seen through the eyes of a child. It is a touching book about the fierce love and pride one feels for one’s family and the deep connection that no amount of space or time can sever. It is also the tale of a girl’s budding passion for language, words, and their arrangement: the desire to spin stories.
It is a difficult book to describe, both memoir and ballad, both history and song. I also hesitate to say too much about the plot, so to speak. Half the pleasure is in letting each unfamiliar verse unravel and delight. It is not enough to simply say that Woodson had an interesting life. There was so much richness to her family life and her recollection of that time. There are moments of loss, sadness, and startling clarity, even at such a young age, but also pure joy and such deep love. The insights of young Woodson are fascinating to take in, truly hearing and seeing with the eyes and ears of babes. Woodson’s poetry is eloquent and vibrant, a complete pleasure. It is a very quick read, but its message and words have a deep staying power. If you have the chance, do give it a read. I recommend it.
Until next time!
When Maureen Johnson writes a thriller, she is in no rush to get to the end and soothe you. She pulls you along at a near infuriating pace, perhaps assessing your anxiety with an amused grin. She must know she has you hook, line, and sinker. The stakes are high and yet she tantalizes you with glimpses of information and other tasty morsels. Bless her. Despite my impatience, she knows how to put together a compelling read.
The Shadow Cabinet is the third book in the Shades of London series. Please keep in mind this is a series and since this is the third novel, there may be some spoilers in here if you have not read the previous installments.
The book picks up right where we left off in The Madness Underneath: Stephen’s dead, Rory is “missing,” having run away from her private school Wexford after being expelled, and prefect Charlotte has been presumably kidnapped by a bunch of sight-having and dangerous witchy weirdos.
It is not uncommon that much of America’s unseemly past is often swept under the rug. People are not fond of confronting what deeply misguided, narrow-minded, and flat out misinformed gits our forefathers could be (not all of them, of course, but an upsetting majority). Therefore, when an author attempts to take on that unhappy history and makes readers reassess aspects of our past and present, well I would consider that novel a rousing success. And I am not alone in this thought. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. I: The Pox Party by M. T. Anderson won the National Book Award in 2006 for its engaging and innovative storytelling and eerie take on American history.
In all fairness, I did not have any idea what this book was about going into it, which I think may be the best way to read it, a contrary concept considering this is a review. So if you would like to go into this novel completely blank, stop reading here. Just take my word that this is a magnificent, engaging, and heartbreaking novel and you will not regret reading it. If my word is not enough, please read on!
The novel takes place in an America on the cusp of revolution, where freedom is on the lips of many but not necessarily prepared to be given to all. Octavian is an African prince, brought to the new world in his princess mother’s belly, forced by unfortunate circumstances into bondage, but a curious bondage. Octavian’s mother was purchased by the Novanglian College of Lucidity, a collective of philosophers and scientists in eighteenth century Boston, Massachusetts. Together, the scholars raise the boy with his mother. He’s given a classical education, taught Latin and Greek, taught about science and observation. He practices the violin and his mother takes up the harpsichord. His childhood is thick with memories of his beautiful and witty mother entertaining scholars and guests of the college in her salon. Octavian goes through his lessons, for all he can tell treated as the prince he is, dressed in silks, but unknowing of his true status in the house until he opens a forbidden door detailing the ghastly nature of his residence in that household, namely, that of specimen.
It doesn’t feel right to even review Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. This wasn’t just some book. It was an emotional entanglement, an experience that happened to be reading, all eyes absorbing and synapses firing. Eleanor & Park made me angry. It made me uncomfortable. It made me cry. It also made me soar and hope and love. It was a difficult book to read, but I’m so glad I did.
It is 1986 in Omaha, Nebraska. Eleanor is the new girl in school. She’s red-headed and bigger than the other girls. She is not particularly secure about this. She wears boys clothes, over-sized shirts, the opposite of girly. She has garnered the unfortunate nickname of Big Red. Then there’s Park: half-Korean, quiet, listening to his rock music, reading comic books, just trying to fly under the radar. He does martial arts and has the precarious respect of some of the “cool kids.” Both are misfits, in their own way. This is the unlikely story of how they fall in love, of how a brief moment of compassion and embarrassment in the cutthroat jungle of a high school bus can serendipitously lead to something more.
Th stirring conclusion to the Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman is presented in The Magician’s Land, the final book in the trilogy. As a warning, this is the end of a series, so if you have not read the previous books, this review might not be for you.
The third book picks up pretty much where the second leaves off: sad Quentin in cool displacement, having been cast out of Fillory and unceremoniously dumped back on Earth. Slightly broken emotionally and having nowhere else to turn, Quentin returns to Brakebills where he takes a position as a teacher and throws himself into slightly arcane study. Meanwhile, Janet and Eliot worry about Fillory, which faces its most difficult and dire dilemma yet.
On the cover of Long Walk to Freedom is a quote from the Boston Sunday Globe. It says this book “should be read by every person alive,” a statement with which I am tempted to agree. Nelson Mandela’s autobiography is required reading.
The struggle of apartheid was something that happened before my lifetime. When the country was casting its first ballots in an open and democratic national election, I was only three years old. South Africa and apartheid was something that was on the fringes of my consciousness. It was hardly touched on in school. It was something I always had a vague idea of: I knew there was an injustice and it was “corrected,” quote unquote. It was just never something I knew that much about.
I first became interested in gaining more insight into this section of history and part of the world after listening to the radio piece Nelson Mandela: An Audio History, produced by Radio Diaries. It is an incredibly moving and visceral radio hour and it sparked in me a desire to learn more. I found no better place to begin than with Nelson Mandela himself and his account of the events in his own words.
The book itself is beautifully written. Mandela’s cadence is melodic and thorough. He writes about an incredibly troubled time in a clear but rousing manner. I never found my attention waning once in the over 600 pages. It is a fascinating account, beginning with his boyhood in the Transkei and ending with his election to the presidency of a free South Africa. It goes into great detail of the inner workings of the African National Congress, their protests and fight against injustice and the move to a more violent struggle. It recounts his twenty-seven years in prison for freedom fighting and the strain it put on himself and his family. The atrocities committed by the South African government against Africans made my stomach turn, at times having to physically put down the book. It boggled my mind that any one could treat human beings in such a way, that democracy and justice could be so flagrantly ignored and abused.