Category Archives: Reading

“Eliza and Her Monsters”

Okay, so: I bought this book on a whim last week because it was a $1.99 Kindle “Deal of the Day.”

Then I promptly ignored it because the latest Sarah J. Maas book (“Tower of Dawn”) just came out and I had hundreds of pages to get through. It was an emotional roller coaster–as her books often are–so when I finished it, I wanted something light-hearted to follow it up with, not the book “The Hate U Give” which a friend just lent me.

That’s what sent me into “Eliza and Her Monsters” yesterday… and I finished the entire thing before midnight.

It was ***SO GOOD*** and I had NO idea what a treat I was in for! My intention for this blog was never to stay limited to book reviews, but that’s what I have time for right now, and I want to spread the wealth and make sure as many people get to experience Francesca Zappia’s story as possible.

My non-spoiler-y summary: Eliza Mirk is an anxiety-ridden high school senior who also happens to be the (anonymous) creator of the incredibly popular webcomic, “Monstrous Seas.” She meets a boy who is a huge fan, and they hit it off, and suddenly her life-is-only-good-online beliefs are forced to broaden to include him. Of course, drama hits, and there’s reasons for tears and gasping, but it’s a satisfying ending.

What I loved: the slow burn of the love story elements read like another recent YA novel I stumbled into and adored, “When Dimple Met Rishi.” Eliza battles the inner monsters of depression, anxiety, and “impostor syndrome,” which I imagine many other introverts and artists can relate to. Her high school mindset is believable, while still including quirkiness (without hitting John Green-levels of “okay, we get it, you’re super freaking quirky).  Her webcomic, “Monstrous Seas,” is an AMAZING creative fantasy and as soon as I finished the book, I googled it to see if it’s a real webcomic or story, and it looks like the author is working on making that happen!!! This is also her second novel, so I’ll have to backtrack and read her first.

What was meh: there are some coincidences that made me roll my eyes a bit, but I loved the rest of the story enough to suspend my disbelief.

Obviously, if you’ve read Rainbow Rowell’s “Fangirl” you might be suspicious that this is a copy. While there are parallels, Eliza is totally her own woman and, as much as I loved Fangirl & Cather, I think Eliza is a slightly stronger story. (But both are worth reading!! And then you can read “Carry On”! What are you waiting for? There are books to be bought!)

It was really refreshing to have a novel I was so excited about that I could race through it in one day. It’s been a long time since I’ve had that opportunity. I hope everyone else who picks it up finds as much joy and authenticity in it as I did.

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I hate vague endings.

This post will contain spoilers for Lois Lowry’s classic “The Giver” as well as the two novels I read most recently, Gin Phillip’s “Fierce Kingdom” and Neal Stephenson’s “Seveneves.” So if you don’t want any of those spoiled, get outta here…

 

Anyway, as per the title, I HATE VAGUE ENDINGS. I get their literary merit and the idea of leaving things up to the readers’ interpretation and all that CRAP. (haha). But I like answers! I like loose threads that get tied up! I like knowing when a character LIVES OR DIES!

My first experience with this, that I can remember at least, was with The Giver. Jonas saves the baby and sleds away from town, toward the sound of music, and… that’s it. Do they live? Do they make it to the next town where they can live a normal, color-filled life? Was it some weird metaphor for freezing to death and everything Jonas did was for nought???

After years of questions, Lowry ended up writing a follow-up book to confirm that they both lived. I don’t think it retroactively makes me more pleased with Giver’s ending, though. I would have preferred answers in the original text. Not even like a long denouement that showed the boys getting established in the town, just less ambiguity about whether it was life or death.

With Seveneves, the book takes place about 2/3 in the present and 1/3 in the future, with completely different characters. It was an abrupt shift that I struggled with, since I didn’t care about the new characters and wasn’t sure that any plot was happening. When they finally got a plot going again, rather than just “look at all this info dump about how we made the world work 5,000 years in the future,” but “see how there are all these groups that are going to have to interact to thrive and avoid war?” … it ended. Intro all these new groups and, the end. It didn’t make any sense! Were they going to be able to work it out? Was the Red group going to get what was coming to them?

(And that says nothing about how I was able to believe that the group in space survived and rebuilt their society after 5,000 years, yet I couldn’t suspend my disbelief for the idea that the group living in a cave or the group living below the sea would have made it through the earth’s years of burning…)

Then there’s Fierce Kingdom. The entire story takes place within a few hours: Joan is at the zoo with her 4-year-old son, Lincoln, when active shooters start killing all the people and animals in the zoo. She has to try to hide and save them both. It’s soooooo suspenseful and therefore very stressful. It was probably not the best choice for me to read it, considering how much anxiety I have about keeping baby Sam alive every day. But I knew in my heart they wouldn’t kill a 4-year-old, even though I know nothing about this author and she could have pulled a G.R.R. Martin “literally everyone dies mwahaha” on me.

And how does it end? (I warned you about spoilers, remember.) With the mom getting shot and YOU DON’T KNOW IF SHE LIVES OR DIES. I am choosing choosing choosing to believe she lives–she is found by an EMT and loaded onto a gurney. Her strange fadeout could be her losing consciousness due to blood loss as they take her to be FIXED in the hospital. But after a bit of Googling I see that many people interpret her fadeout as death, especially with the hints throughout the book of how she’d want her final moments to be (which matched up to how the final moments of the book were). UGH!!! I don’t LIKE IT!

(And once again, there are a bunch of other loose ends that get ignored with this ending. Did somebody save the baby in the trash can? Did all the shooters get taken down successfully? Were there other survivors? What was Paul doing the entire time once Joan’s phone was gone??)

So… yeah. Am I aware this entire post sounds whiney? Yep! But I’m speaking my truth, y’all. And the truth is, I like to know the author’s specific vision for their characters, rather than being left with major blanks to fill after turning the final page. I won’t be an author who hands out vague endings. When readers have committed so many hours to their investment in a book’s world and characters, they deserve a satisfactory payoff.

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*Harry Potter*

“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” turned 20 this year, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” turned 10, and yesterday was Harry Potter’s (and, of course, J.K. Rowling’s) birthday.

I know a lot of people are tired of hearing about it (or think it’s overrated or evil or childish or whatever, and refuse to read it–their loss!), but it is a really special series, especially for my generation. We got to grow up together! I bought the first book at a Scholastic Book Fair in elementary school; my sixth grade teacher read bits of it out loud after recess every day (and we all assumed her name was pronounced Her-me-own). The next books came out alongside all the movies, so in high school I got to go to midnight showings with my friends and whichever brave parent’s turn it was to drive us around that late. The final book came out while I was in college; I attended a midnight book release, complete with costumes and trivia and Hogwarts-themed snacks, and then stayed up all night reading. I felt I finished the fight against Voldemort alongside the trio: crying at each loss, rejoicing at each triumphant sacrifice, reaching that brilliant culmination of ten years of text. I was a few years younger than Harry when it started and a few years older than him when it ended. What an honor to go through the horrible years of adolescence side by side, haha.

There are layers upon layers of lessons to gain from the series, and as I reread it almost every summer, new insights illuminate on the page. All of the heroes have flaws, but all of them are brave and loving, too. They do what’s right even when it isn’t easy, even when it means being bullied or doubted (or targeted by crazy dark wizards). Harry is stubborn but never backs down from the battle and matures enough to walk the path he knows will fix his world–which, by the way, ends up being an incredibly Christian one, making it extra depressing how many churches condemned the books. Hermione is not ashamed of being smart, and doesn’t let others stifle her voice. Ron is aware of his family’s poverty but extends food and hospitality anyway, his heart big enough to share what he has and in the process multiply it. And that’s just the main trio… I could go on and on about others, like Lupin, Luna, Sirius, Snape, James, Dumbledore, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Neville, Dobby, even Dudley and good old Hagrid (my autocorrect just had a field day with that sentence) and how they illustrated trust, rebellion, nurturing, courage, loyalty, being unique and proud, and sticking up for those in need.

And Lily… she is so much more real to me now that I hold my own messy-haired son in my arms. Hell yeah she would have leapt in front of that baby! I’m not at all surprised that she absorbed every inch of the killing curse, blanketing Harry in a love so powerful that Voldemort could never get through.

I wasn’t going to reread the series this summer, but I couldn’t resist starting the first book on its 20th anniversary despite my exhaustion. I read through four chapters just to hear Hagrid say “Harry–yer a wizard.” I finished the final book last week and wept at all the deaths even though I knew they were coming.

I can’t wait to relive the series through my little future Ravenclaw’s eyes as we read them together, with the added bonus of the new Wizarding World at Universal Studios waiting for us afterwards. What an adventure! I can’t believe it started 20 years ago, and am so grateful that it will continue to stretch on.

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Strange the Dreamer

Oh, Laini Taylor. Will you be my friend? I just want to hang out with you and your amazing brain.

(Seriously though.)

Laini Taylor is the author of a spectacular trilogy, starting with “Daughter of Smoke and Bone.” I think the covers are horrible and don’t at all reflect the deep nature of the stories. I’m sure there are potential readers out there who were off put by the appearance of the covers, which make it look like a fluffy, girly story. (It’s not.)

Anyway, it is a beautiful, epic trilogy and as soon as I heard she was writing another novel, I knew I’d be reading it the second it was available.

The problem is, I have a newborn, so getting my butt over to Barnes & Noble to purchase “Strange the Dreamer” was much more complicated than usual. I ended up bailing on that plan and ordering it off Amazon a few days after its release date. Then Sam wouldn’t sleep (as usual), so I had to put him in his wrap and walk around my house, carrying him, while I read the book. Worth it!

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“Strange the Dreamer” is kind of a weird title, and I imagine once again there are a few potential readers who would love the story itself who don’t give it a chance based on that name. “Strange” is the character, a librarian, who is labeled “dreamer” for all the time he spends reading, dreaming, escaping his lousy life by being inside the happy places in his mind instead. The grand adventure he ends up undertaking is where the magic of Laini Taylor’s writing really unfolds: she has a way of world-building that is completely immersive. Even though it’s clearly fantastic and impossible, she treats it so realistically that your mind can visualize and accept it all. Her characters, their flaws, their abilities to love, their hopes & dreams… all so beautiful! I was engrossed from page 1.

Minor detail though: it’s the first of a two-book series!!!! ARG I don’t believe it was advertised that way at all, so I had no idea until I turned to the final page and saw the evil words “to be continued”… total cliffhanger, even worse than how Leigh Bardugo ended “Six of Crows.”

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Still, I highly recommend the novel. It’s a joy to read, and very creative and original. How refreshing when we have films out like “Pirates of the Caribbean 5” and “Fast and Furious 8” out! Haha.

I currently have new novel reading on pause while I reread Sarah J. Maas’ “A Court of Thorns and Roses” and “A Court of Mist and Fury” in preparation for the final novel in the trilogy, “A Court of Wind and Ruin,” which comes out on May 2nd. I will probably just buy that one on Kindle, which makes it a tiny bit easier to read while carrying my baby around. The cover of “Strange the Dreamer” was too beautiful to pass up a hard copy, though–although I’m jealous of the UK cover, which is way prettier!! Reason #309 that I should live in England instead of California…

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A 2016 Reading List

People tell me all the time that my English degree is useless, but I don’t know, guys. Look at the following texts of which I have extensive knowledge. Judging from recent and still unfolding events, I believe they will be a guide to life in the following few years. (Presented in no particular order):

  • “1984” – George Orwell.
  • “Les Miserables” – Victor Hugo.
  • “The Handmaid’s Tale” – Margaret Atwood.
  • “Fahrenheit 451” – Ray Bradbury.
  • “A Tale of Two Cities” – Charles Dickens.
  • The entire “Harry Potter” series – J.K. Rowling.
  • “Station Eleven” – Emily St. John Mandel.
  • “The Hunger Games” – Suzanne Collins.
  • “It Can’t Happen Here” – Sinclair Lewis.
  • “The Girl with All the Gifts” – M.R. Carey.
  • “Animal Farm” – George Orwell again.
  • “That Hideous Strength” – C.S. Lewis.
  • “The Arcana Chronicles” – Kresley Cole.
  • “Brave New World” – Aldous Huxley.
  • “The Giver” – Lois Lowry.
  • “The Road” – Cormac McCarthy.
  • and of course, “The Bible” – God et al.

Anything I ought to add?

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writing, reading, life. my usual tags.

Some good news:

My Beauty-and-the-Beast-themed fanfiction, entitled “War & Tea,” for “The Lunar Chronicles” contest is up on the website! It takes hitting the “load more” button about 20 times, so prepare to be patient. It makes no sense if you haven’t read Cinder and Scarlet (I placed it during Scarlet, before Cress and Winter), or if you are unfamiliar with the original version of “Beauty and the Beast” — or, honestly, the Disney version, since I referenced that in there too — but still… it’s fun to see one of my stories floating out there for the world to see. Scary, but good practice. I don’t think I’m going to win any of the prizes because I set it in the beginning of the story (with “Belle’s” family) when I probably should have set it later (with “Beast”) for maximum action and adventure. I wish I had heard about the contest sooner! I guess it started in August; I only knew about it for less than two weeks before the entries closed. Womp womp. But if I don’t win, I’ll post the text on the blog, so we’ll all still win (or something). I can’t wait for the final book to come out, by the way. I have a few predictions of events that will happen in Winter, but still a lot of questions, too… I’m excited to see how Marissa Meyer wraps it all up!

I’m reading Leigh Bardugo’s new book, Six of Crows, which came out this Tuesday, and loving it. It’s like “The Italian Job” but with more magic and knife fights and, so far, no Mini Coopers. The author shifts perspectives among each of the crew members and I’m tempted to try it out for Copper so readers experience more of the full story; maybe I’ll play with it during this final month leading up to NaNoWriMo. (I’m still torn between writing a brand new something-or-other or revising one of my shitty first drafts.) Anyway, that’s enough updating for now, because I’m only 135 pages in and want to get more reading in before bed! It’s been a long week and I personally believe I deserve a break from work/life/chores to read a great book. ;)

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favorite author…(s)

Recently, a student asked me who my favorite author is… and I realized I don’t have an easy answer. So here are my musings on that question. I can name favorite authors for different aspects of the reading experience, and followed each label with the titles of the books that come to mind:

Favorite oeuvre, male: C.S. Lewis
Till We Have Faces, The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, The Four Loves, The Screwtape Letters, Of Other Worlds, Surprised by Joy, The Abolition of Man, An Experiment in Criticism, the Space Trilogy

Favorite oeuvre, female: Jane Austen
   Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Sense & Sensibility, Mansfield Park

Favorite prose: Ian McEwan
   Atonement, Sweet Tooth, Amsterdam

Favorite badass feminist protagonists: Tamora Pierce
   The Immortals, The Song of the Lioness, Tricksters

Favorite humorous writer: Christopher Moore
   Lamb: The Gospel of Christ According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal; You Suck, A Love Story; The Stupidest Angel; A Dirty Job; Practical Demon-Keeping

Favorite capturer of childhood: Zilpha Keatley Snyder
   Libby on Wednesdays, The Changeling, The Egypt Game

Favorite transporter to a magical, strange place: Neil Gaiman
   Anansi Boys, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Stardust, Good Omens, Neverwhere, Coraline, American Gods

Favorite newest discovery: Sarah J. Maas
   Throne of Glass, Crown of Midnight, Heir of Fire, The Assassin’s Blade

There we have it… but even that giant list is not enough, because there are other authors swimming around in my head who I wish I had room for. I’m bad at making decisions, so choosing one “favorite” is, clearly, impossible for me to accomplish. I love hearing about other people’s favorite authors and books, though!

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