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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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beautiful books

I have started off 2015 by reading some of the BEST books I’ve come across in a long time. Pretty sure that bodes well for this year!

The first set of books were Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy: “Shadow and Bone,” “Siege and Storm,” and “Ruin and Rising.” I already ruminated over them a little bit in a previous blog post, and I’m still reeling from all the emotions I poured into them, so I don’t have much to say here. They were the kind of books that are so good and so powerful that once you close that last page–well, figuratively, since I read them on my Kindle–you don’t know what to read next, because it’s all going to seem weak and meaningless in comparison.

They’re fantasy books along the lines of “Throne of Glass” or even Tamora Pierce’s Tortall-set books: a likable, flawed heroine learning to use her magic and struggling under the new burden to save the world. They’re influenced by Russian mythology–well-balanced, in my opinion, but little enough that I’ve seen reviews where people were angry that she left out this and that piece of actual Russian mythology or made this or that mistake compared to “real” Russia, WHILE ALSO enough that I’ve seen reviews where people were confused and angered by the language. Eh, you can’t win ’em all. Each beginning and ending chapter is told in third person, beautiful prose, but the majority of the book is told in first person. The switch is a little jarring and part of me wishes she had kept the third person perspective all throughout.

Anyway, the heroine is joined by a hodgepodge, Firefly-esque ensemble cast with plenty of characters to love. The stakes are high, the love story is believable, and the magic system is awesome. There are definitely tropes used: Orphan! Beautiful jerk rival! Chosen one! And the one that bugs me the most in YA fiction, Love Triangle(s)! (Like teenage girls can deeply connect with MULTIPLE HOT DUDES all wanting her). But I thought the plot development over the course of the trilogy was unique enough to overcome any weaknesses that tropes introduced.

I highly, highly recommend this trilogy. I can’t wait to see what this author comes up with next. (Also, I want her to be my friend. Since I taught “Catcher in the Rye” last October, this particular quote from Holden is fresh in my mind: “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” Can I get your number, Leigh? haha).

After that, I took a 24-hour break from reading as I dealt with my FEELINGS. I opened up a few different books before settling on one I thought I could get engrossed in again. I settled on Kate Danley’s “The Woodcutter” (which I just finished reading about twenty minutes ago).

I bought it randomly a few weeks ago because it happened to be $1.99 on Amazon under “Science Fiction/Fantasy,” and I love Kindle deals. I started reading it without reading the description carefully, so I thought it was going to be a “Little Red Riding Hood” retelling that focused on the woodcutter character. It started out that way… but quickly evolved into something much better. Danley connects a whole fleet of fairy tales, including some more obscure ones like the Girl in the Iron Shoes, with many creative twists that lead into an emotional finale (a.k.a. I totally cried). Her writing style takes a few chapters to get used to–and since all of the chapters are short, including one that was 3 sentences long, this adjustment only takes a moment–but it ends up capturing that Grimm/Anderson fairy-tale narrative well. It was beautiful and, not to over-do it, but another “highly recommend” from me.

At the end, Kindle automatically shows “more from this author” lists and I saw “Queen Mab” is also hers. I read a review of that when it first came out and was interested, but not enough to go get it (fatigued-teacher syndrome). Now that I’m familiar with her style, this might be what I read next!

… After I grade the obnoxious stack of papers next to me. I need more coffee.

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The Bone Season…

… was BORING.

I wanted to like it so very badly. I was interested because it takes place in London and Oxford (and references Port Meadow), so I had that connection immediately. I loved my time in Oxford and love reading stories that take place there. The author, Samantha Shannon, got a huge advance and was being quietly touted as “the next J.K. Rowling,” so I wanted to hop on that train and enjoy another great fantasy adventure book.

Alas.

Even if I’d carried low expectations, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this.

The writing is weak. There’s no way around it. It’s full of awkward descriptions, there’s a monster-truck-load of vocabulary introduced and only about 20% actually explained, there are about three potential love-interests and the reader can’t tell who to root for until way too late, and the syntax (which I’m sure is supposed to reflect the short and to-the-point thoughts of the first person narrator) is stunted and simplistic. Even when it finally becomes (pretty) clear which love interest demands the focus, it’s completely awkward because the narrator childlishly refuses to see it; I kind of wanted to slap her every time she had a petulant thought.

I was annoyed the whole time I was reading it, and only finished all 450 pages because I’m stubborn like that–and, perhaps, was holding out the hope of something redemptive.

WHY WEREN'T YOU BETTER? WHY, BOOK?

WHY WEREN’T YOU BETTER? WHY, BOOK?

Admittedly, around the 350 page mark things started to pick up, but that is an unacceptable amount of set-up. When my novel got rejected this summer, two of the main points were “get to the point faster” (Shannon has the narrator’s world turn upside down right away, so at first glance she follows this advice, but then nothing actually happens until that 350-ish mark I mentioned) and “don’t use character dialogue as exposition dumps–they shouldn’t all sound like teachers to the main character.” Well, all the characters, especially “Warden,” are massive information-dumps and half of their dialogue sounds like a teacher trying hard to explain things to the narrator… and to the reader. Yet with all those words, words, words, it still doesn’t make sense.

For my complaint about the weird vocabulary we’re supposed to accept, take a glance at these from the first chapter:

mollisher | mime-lord | oxygen bar | dreamscapes | voyant | meatspace | aether | NVD | amaurotic | Scion | spool | colobomata | threnody

Sure, some of them are guessable and/or explained, but the continued intersection of meatspace, dreamscape, cord, spirits, and the aether are never fully clarified, in my opinion, and that really harms the story.

By the way… there are 108 total terms in the glossary. :/

Tamora Pierce had her narrator use a unique vocabulary set in a similar way in the “Bloodhoud” books, but she had the talent to pull it off. There were only a handful of words compared to Shannon’s, and they flowed organically within the rest of the story. “The Bone Season” didn’t have that flow at all.

I don’t mean for this review to sound like an attack, but I do hope that my disappointment is evident. I deeply, truly was rooting for this book and my hopes were dashed like a dummy in a Mythbusters’ explosion. The author is young, which is awesome, but her writing sounds young, too, and that’s a shame. I think it will affect how seriously she is taken in the future and they should have kept her tucked away in the publishing stable for a little longer, working with an editor who could fix the numerous issues she faced.

The sad part is that it’ll probably get turned into a movie anyway.

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to glimpse the Ocean

Ah, Neil Gaiman, you clever boy.

He is truly a brilliant author. I don’t like everything he’s written (and was rather relieved to see that his own wife, Amanda Palmer, feels that way too, as she wrote in this blog post–“American Gods” is also the example I use of what I didn’t enjoy, in addition to the frustrating ending of “The Graveyard Book”), but what I do like, I love. “Stardust?” Absolutely beautiful, in the prose and the love story and the sprinkles of comedy. “Anansi Boys”? Hands down the best example of character growth I can think of, aside from maybe Samwise Gamgee. Plus so much more, like “Neverwhere” and “Coraline” and “Fragile Things.” He’s quirky, creative, and a magical blend of English and American sensibilities.

I finished reading his newest novel, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane.” It didn’t unseat Anansi Boys or Stardust as my favorites, but it’s high up there. There’s just this amazing spirit that Gaiman is able to imbibe into his books, and he really makes the words and images stick with you. I could picture everything so well as it happened. The characters and their speech are each distinct, which is another writing trick I admire and am struggling to improve on in my own stories.

A lot of reviews had plot spoilers, and I hope most people are able to avoid those before they read it so they can fully enjoy the mystery as it unravels. Suffice it to say that it’s a story about a first person narrator (a boy, never named), his friend Lettie Hempstock, and an adventure. There’s a lot of empathy it draws out of the reader, and lots of lovely quotes I couldn’t help but underline–many about adulthood from the eyes of a child. It’s much shorter than his other novels; I expected something the size of Anansi Boys, but the hardback is even slimmer than the Graveyard Book’s hardback.

the American cover

the American cover

the U.K. cover

the U.K. cover

It’s more along the lines of “Neverwhere” than anything else, so if you liked that, you should like this. But even if you like any Neil Gaiman in general, or “urban fantasy” (the closest genre I can think of to fit this book), or… Peter Pan (haha you’ll see), it’s worth reading. It’s strange and beautiful, like most of Gaiman’s writing, and will draw you fully into it. I finished the book, closed the cover, and was almost surprised to be sitting on my long green couch in my tiny living room in the real world.

Highly, highly recommended.

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Sookie!

Okay, this is another break from blogging about my own writing to talk about Sookie Stackhouse. The 13th and final book, “Dead Ever After,” came out today, so of course I flew through it as soon as work was over.

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And… I don’t know.

I mostly liked it.

WARNING here be SPOILERS and SPOILERS so stop reading if you are trying to avoid

SPOOOOOILLERS!!!!

I feel like the series has been lacking something for quite some time. Charlaine Harris’ writing isn’t perfect, and nobody can say it’s high literature or anything–if it was, Sookie wouldn’t describe every little thing as “fire engine red”–but I love Sookie books because they’re quick, light, exciting reads with likable characters in an urban fantasy world. But the first few books had me rooting for Sookie, wondering what new scrape she’d get in to, wondering whether she’d end up with Bill or Sam or Eric.

And then… things got convoluted. She’s part fairy! She likes Alcide! There are demons and elves and they’re torturing her! She likes Quinn! Everyone powerful is her enemy! Let’s invent new things forever and ever! (I never liked the Vampire King and Queen stuff much in the first place, but the fact that they all hated Sookie got old and made it worse).

The simple love of Sookie got lost and weighed it all down. I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed one of the books in a while… there was too much going on that felt unnecessary. I know, it was supposed to be exciting and surprising and we were supposed to feel as confused as Sookie was by all this new information flooding her life.

I just couldn’t buy into all that.

I do think this latest book is an improvement from the last few. However, it would be nice to see more of the “main men”–Eric, Sam, and Bill–but they only pop in briefly. Amelia has more lines than any of them. Sookie gets hurt yet survives, and we think all is well but then (gasp) a new danger pops up and she gets hurt yet survives. The formula worked previously, and formulaic plots work for plenty of other series, so I don’t know why my expectations would be any different here… still, it makes it feel… cheap? Oh, and of course, a mysterious sum of money arrives to help her, as always, which frustrates me. Characters who magically get money to solve their plight (does money count as a deux ex machina, I wonder?), like Lorelai & Rory Gilmore, always kicks me out of the story and reminds me how IMAGINARY it all is. *Sigh* I seriously believe that my husband could secretly be a werewolf more than I believe I’ll ever receive giant sums of money like Sookie does.

I wanted the “final” book to tie things up nicely, and it didn’t. I found out there’s an encyclopedia-type book following up at the end of this year which will describe all the characters’ fates, so I guess that has something to do with it. But what’s going on with Sookie’s new telepathic nephew, Hunter? Why did we only get one steamy scene with the man she chooses–and, despite their perfection for each other (are you trying to avoid spoilers yet still reading this far? Phooey on you. She picks Sam and I called that from the beginning, but not with 100% certainty), no content knowledge of “happily ever after”? Again, I’m sure it’s supposed to feel more realistic this way, but IT’S A WORLD WHERE A GAY FAIRY OWNS  A STRIP CLUB AND A DEMON WEARS TUTUS, SO EXCUSE ME IF THE REALISM FELL THROUGH SOMEWHERE.

People are going to hate the fact that she doesn’t end up with one of the vampires. Bill opened up the world to her in a lot of ways, and Eric “got” her (sense of humor, etc.). But she never would have been happy with them in the long-term, because she would have grown old and they wouldn’t have wanted her anymore. She always hinted at having a fondness for Sam and a desire for children, and Sam can give her that peaceful, “normal” life. Sookie was obviously tired of the drama inherent in vampire life; Sam, as a shifter, isn’t even that embroiled in the were-animal politics that also involve drama. Sookie is ready to “retire” and just be happy; I felt like that was clear, and though the lead-up to it could have been stronger, it makes sense as the ending of the series.

Anyway. I’ll definitely reread this one. That had become questionable with the last few, but I’m confident that this is one that will make it into the re-reading habit. That’s a plus.

Overall, I recommend it. I almost always recommend finishing a series that one has devoted time to, rather than never knowing how it all wraps up. It’s the fun, fast-read Sookie we expect with a somewhat-satisfying love story (takes too long to get to!) and a promise that she has friends and security and is going to be happy with her life. Its flaws are all ones readers would already be aware of from reading other books in the series. I still feel Charlaine Harris had room to keep this going a little bit, maybe two or three more books to really wrap things up, but I understand her desire to stop. She was hitting a formula and inventing too many new things instead of delving into the wealth of characters/world/love stories/etc. that she already had.

So… it’s over. Wow.

I’ll miss you, Sookie! (and Sam)!

… perhaps I’ll start watching True Blood ;)

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“The Fault in Our Stars”

I decided that I needed a treat due to being successful so far in my teaching, ahead on my word count, and mostly I just haven’t bought a new book for myself in a long time and I’m not used to that. I’ve really wanted to read John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars”–the reviews both from the land of the internet and from my personal acquaintances have all been really great–and basically, I bought it and started it right away and accidentally finished it in a day.

What can I say? I’m a fast reader sometimes.

The book was amazing. I know “amazing” is not a very descriptive word and has lost a lot of its meaning in the past few years, but it really was. I laughed, I cried, I couldn’t put it down.

the-fault-in-our-stars book cover

The basic summary is that Hazel, our first person narrator, has cancer (thyroid, lungs, etc.) and is forced to go to a support group by her well-intentioned mother. She makes friends there and meets Augustus (one-legged due to cancer), with whom she falls in love. They both read a book that brings them closer together and even leads to a bit of adventure. There are twists along the way, some much more surprising than others, and you can make your own assumptions about why I cried at the end.

I thought Green really captured a great first person perspective; so often first person sounds awkward (*cough*StephenieMeyer*cough*), but not this. Even if you don’t have a personal connection to cancer sufferers (though I do), the pain of the characters is real, and their love story is powerful, too, despite their young ages. The family dynamics added a lot of depth, and the amount of humor and little jokes sprinkled all throughout kept me chuckling through all the tears.

Cathy’s vote: highly recommended. Go buy it, and read it, but not in public (because TEARS). I had the Kindle version so I have no idea how thick the book was or what the cover/any inner art looked like (until I Googled the cover to include in this blog, haha).

I’ve been meaning to read Green’s “An Abundance of Katherines”–on the principle that I am a Catherine and should read books with my name–but now that I’ve actually seen his skill on the page, I’ll finally get around to it.

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On another note…

look how colorful and flag-filled my stats-view map was immediately after my last post, on Tuesday!

HI MULTICULTURAL FRIENDS

HI, MULTICULTURAL FRIENDS!

It was exciting. hahaha.

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