Taking Umbridge

As has become tradition, I take pregnancy as a great opportunity to re-read the Harry Potter series. Actually I seem to make any opportunity a great one for reading my favorite series–I have probably read them all at least half a dozen times– but no one questions you when you’re pregnant. Ever. Want to win a fight? Just be pregnant. It’s like a super power.

Anyhow, I’m currently finishing up the fifth book, The Order of the Phoenix, and I won’t give you any false idea that I am flying through it as I normally do. In fact, I am downright battling to pick it up and read each page. There’s a reason for my struggle. Sure, blame it on my highly sensitive emotions. Even I am getting whiplash from my own abrupt and violent mood swings. It could also be that I know the books ends with the death of my favorite character. But the main reason I am struggling to read through The Order of the Phoenix is that I’m taking umbrage…

with Umbridge.

I am almost certain that if I crowdsource Harry Potter fans, the most hated character in the series is Dolores Umbridge. My hatred of her trumps my hatred of the Malfoy family, Bellatrix Lestrange, Peter Pettigrew, and yes, even Voldemort. The Order of the Phoenix is 700 plus pages of jaw clenching, teeth grinding rage because of her.

First of all, I need to say that my struggle with reading this book has nothing to do with J.K. Rowling’s ability as an author. In fact, it’s just the opposite. One of the indications of an excellent writer is the ability to design convincing characters and bring them to life for all readers. Voldemort is terrifying. His reign of terror in the series reminds me of evil masterminds such as Hitler. We have all heard the tales of his depravity, such as genocide of people based on religious beliefs. The use of a loyal regime as terrifying and invincible as a hydra: multi-headed and deadly. These are the stories one might say we tell our children to make them obey. They are true, but their distance from our modern age and first world comfort gives them the air of myth.

But take Umbridge. The genius of the character of Umbridge is that all readers know their own personal Umbridge. She’s like Seinfeld’s Newman, only worse. Imagine that one person in your company’s Human Resources office that just can’t give you the benefit of the doubt. The teacher or Professor who won’t give you a break. I had a teacher that always seemed to give me a bad grade regardless of the quality of my work. I would get in trouble for my attitude with her, which just perpetuates a bad attitude in light of such unfair treatment. And you know what makes this kind of antagonist so awful? You can’t escape them!

Harry faces Voldemort in almost all seven books, while Umbridge only makes an appearance in books five and seven. But in her debut book, The Order of the Phoenix, Harry cannot escape her unlike how he has repeatedly escaped the deadly clutches of Voldemort himself. She is a teacher but keeps sinking her claws deeper into Hogwarts to assert more and more power over the students, and in particular Harry. First she teaches him one class, then she starts auditing all classes, then she has the power to ban him from Hogwarts and fire his favorite teachers. She even manages to capture him and his friends as they train against Voldemort and the death eaters, which leads to the dismissal of Dumbledore as the headmaster–and of course Umbridge assumes the position. Every turn Harry takes runs him directly into the malicious vendetta of Dolores Umbridge to make him as miserable as possible.

Another powerful facet of Umbridge’s terrible personality is that she isn’t a Death Eater or consciously in league with Voldemort. Her behavior is evil because it is ambitious,  self-serving, and cruel. I think that in addition to being the common enemy that all of us experience, she is also a great warning for all of us. It is highly unlikely that one of us will be the next Hitler, but we are all capable and guilty of being the thorn in the side of our peers. Umbridge looks for promotion within the Ministry of Magic under the direction of the Minister, Cornelius Fudge. Fudge is stubbornly oblivious of the threat of Voldemort and sees the voices of truth–namely, Harry and Dumbledore–as the biggest threat to his power as Minister of Magic. Fudge himself, just like Umbridge, has no connection to Voldemort, but while inhibiting the truth due to his own selfishness, he is allowing the world’s greatest enemy to flourish.

Selfishness and ambition are tucked in all of our hearts whether or not we are willing to acknowledge it. As was once wisely pointed out to me, the things that bother me the most in other people are often the things I see in myself. It’s actually a realization that I came to as writing this, but I think it holds true nonetheless. Umbridge’s notoriety with readers is undeniably because it is relatable: relatable because we all know or even have a personal Umbridge, but also relatable because we all are one bad decision or bitter heart from being an Umbridge to someone in our lives.

But for real, on a scale of 1 to 10, my hatred for Umbridge is around 57.

 

The Art of Book Recommendation

I don’t even know if anyone is still out there. In fact, I don’t even know if I’m still out there. Life has been a blur for the past year: between parenting, school, running, buying and selling a house, nannying, and being pregnant… well I don’t know where I was going with that, but that list should give you significant insight into the frazzled state of my brain.

Life has begun to slow down, and will remain at a manageable pace for a month or so. And as I caught my breath, I also caught the desire to write again. Writing is a very emotional process for me. Regardless of the topic, it’s not something I can do when I’m drained or distracted. Having the time to be still gives me the time for peaceful introspection which always makes me want to write. Don’t worry, I’m not going to deep today.

I once read that when you’re in your 30s, you should be able to recommend books to specific people and be able to give your reasons why that particular person should read that particular book. Well, given that I’m in my 30s and never really thought about that as an important skill, I’ve undertaken it as a personal growth experiment.  Initially I thought it sounded easy, but when I started to practice it, it showed itself to be more of a challenge than I expected. But you know me: I love a good challenge.

I started practicing The Art of Book Recommendation first with my family because, well, I know them the best. I’ve mentioned it before, but I come from a family of bookworms. That’s not that interesting. What I think is interesting is that we all like different kinds of books, but our tastes still overlap in various genres.  For example:

I might read a fantastical Arthur-style adventure and recommend it to my older brother (Jeff Wheeler’s Kingfountain series).
But a deep and emotional literary fiction novel is more in line with my younger brother’s tastes (The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco).
My dad likes a good mystery (Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series),
while my mom prefers her books lighter with a side of whimsy (Calypso by David Sedaris).
My sister-in-law and I share a love for YA fantasy fiction (Usually when I give her a recommendation she’s already read it, so I get most of my recommendations from her).

It’s actually become really fun to take the time to connect with each of them and say “I just read this book that I think you’d enjoy and here’s why….” inevitably I get a recommendation in return. And once we’ve each read the books, it invites another opportunity for conversation. It’s a great bonding experience!

So what I’ve learned about the Art of Book Recommendation is that it’s all about paying attention:

  1. Pay Attention to your Books! I have tendency to fly through books. I’m goal-oriented and so when I set my book goal each year, I may not devote the necessary attention to a book. I can see it as a potential check mark on my yearly book list. Now I see each book as a possible recommendation. Did I like it? Why? What was it about the plot/characters/writing that hooked me? Were there any themes throughout the book that I found particularly interesting? Did I relate to any characters? Did it remind me of any other books or authors?
  2. Pay Attention to your People! This means listening to people..not even when they talk about books, but when they talk. I’m not really a good listener and there are a million more noble reasons to become a better listener than just saying “hey read this book!” but it’s a start, ok?! What interests them? What emotions and themes is this person drawn to? Is there something in their past that would make a certain book or author resonate more within them? Or a past event that makes certain books off limits to this person?

    Now I’m highly suggesting to you, my faithful, loyal, pathetic readers who have been checking regularly for a new blog post since August (!!), to go forth and pay attention so that you can recommend the right books to the right people.

The Great American Novel?

It took me almost two weeks, but I finally finished The Brothers K by David James Duncan. It’s a book that I had known of (and frequently confused with The Brothers Karamazov, which I haven’t finished), but after raving to anyone within ear distance, a library card, or access to the internet, about Peace Like a RiverThe Brothers K landed on my radar as a “similar book” and how could I resist?

Allow me to be honest here: I have always wanted to write a book. I’ve tried, many times, to write a book, and it’s never happened. Probably because the most of my attempts at The Great American Novel were made in my pre-teen days, hiding in my bedroom, and on a used notebook from the prior school year’s history class. Blame it on the lack of planning, or the lack of paper, but none of those books went anywhere past page three. But as I grew in both age and wisdom, I have learned that it’s foolish to make such attempts: now I only talk about wanting to write a book without actually doing any writing. My great age and wisdom have taught me that you can’t fail at anything you don’t try. So at least I’m not failing at novel writing anymore.

But in all seriousness, my mother and I frequently gab about the ridiculousness of this life and usually punctuate the point by exclaiming, “we need to write a book!” And then I read these books with equal ridiculousness and think I have catalogs of memories like these that could fill so many pages. It’s these beautiful books that make me think of all the rich heritage that I have not only inherited from the generations, but also the heritage that I have created playing ball in the backyard with my brothers, or talking with my dad about philosophy, or the laughing fits my mom and I find ourselves in as we relive our quirks and quandaries. These things are at the same time utterly unique and entirely universal, and that is why they make such beautiful stories.

I was listening to a podcast the other day that brought up an interesting distinction: writer vs. storyteller. Obviously this started an internal dialogue and a hefty dose of introspection. Am I more of a writer or a storyteller? The Latin teacher in me loves the nitty gritty of grammar and sentence structure, which makes initially say “WRITER!” until I actually write (like now) and realize that “typo” is a very generous term for the grammatical mistakes I make regularly. They aren’t typos, it’s just how I write. So then I think that as a verbal processor, and one whose ego thrives on getting people to laugh, I confidently tell myself that I am storyteller, and end the debate there. No, wait. I get lost in my stories and lack the foresight and timing to properly unfold my tellings. And oddly, I  find that as I share to any available audience, I stop using real words and begin using an odd combination of one syllable hiccups and hand gestures. People laugh, but I often wonder later if their laughter was primarily a response to my overwhelming awkwardness.

So then I’m back to writer.  And so it goes. This self-esteem ping-pong that I’ve been playing for the past few days is getting tiresome. But as I was reading tonight, it hit me that I am a combination of them. And neither in particularly strong or potent dosage. I like to write and tell stories. And the more I write, and the more I tell my stories, the better I will become at both. And as I grow in these fields, the closer I get to someday opening a brand new notebook, and beginning The Great American novel. Or rather a novel by me, who happens to be an American…and that’s a great thought.

Oh, right, the bookThe Brothers K was exactly the genre of book that I adore, revolved around four quirky brothers (and two sisters), and there’s a lot of baseball in it. Brothers and baseball hold dear places in my heart. The book is a big undertaking, but I loved the two weeks I spent in the world of the Chance brothers and wished I could have stayed with them for longer.

Goodreads rating: Four (point five, if I had the option) stars. I’m stingy with my five star ratings.

Peace Like a River

There have been times when I stumble upon the perfect novel. They are rare, certainly, because perfection wouldn’t be worth much if it were common. But these moments have happened a handful of times.

First, there was my father reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to me and my brothers. We’d sit at the top of the stairway in our house on Spruce street, with a large box fan (a common fixture in most of my childhood memories) pointed directly at us. We never missed a word my father read beside that fan, even though he has always been so soft-spoken.

Then there was that time my seventh grade English teacher assigned To Kill a Mockingbird, God bless her.

Or when my eleventh grade English teacher had us read East of Eden? Same kind of thing.

About eight years ago my uncle recommended Gilead which opened up the entire world of Marilynne Robinson’s genius to me. It changed my life.

Since reading Gilead, I’ve searched for that same kind of book. A book full of rich narrative. Or a book that feels like I’m sitting on my parents’ porch swing some mid-summer’s evening listening to my mother and my uncles retell stories of their childish escapades. Or some holiday spent beside my grandfather listening in a turkey-induced haze as he recounts the adventures as one of twelve children of a small town minister.

It’s hard to describe this kind of novel without making them sound boring. To me, they are anything but boring. They are stories that hold not just stories “from another time,” but stories that pass along a heritage that we’ve all but lost. Each of these stories gives me one more chance to grasp the fleeting memories and experience of childhood and family that always feel just out of reach.

Aside from the books that I’ve mentioned, there have been some other books that have fit into this genre of “heritage narrative”  while maintaining a coherent and tenable plot. A Prayer for Owen Meany and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn come to mind. The latter initiated a text to a fellow bookworm where I declared, “It’s just a very ‘Abby’ book!” What’s an Abby book? Good question. See my last post. And this one. Apparently I just like good stories.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago, after reading my last blog post, my younger brother texted me to tell me that I should read Peace Like a River by Leif Enger.

Here’s an ‘Abby’ book if  ever there was an ‘Abby’ book. Rich narrative! Authentic emotions! Characters I swear that I’ve met! Faith! Humor! Heartache! HOPE! It has it all.

The book is told from the perspective of Reuben, a man retelling his life by way of the miracles he has witnessed his father perform, starting with his miraculous birth. The majority of the story takes place when Reuben is an asthmatic 11 year old who finds himself in the midst of a familial nightmare after his dad saves a young girl from an attack by two teenagers.

The storyline may be slow moving, but it’s really not. You just get caught up in the retelling of childhood antics that Reuben and his brother and sister find themselves in, which is strongly reminiscent of Jem and Scout Finch. And I don’t think I’d be pushing any boundaries to say that Reuben’s father, Jeremiah, evokes strong Atticus Finch-like affections.

Side-note: For this reason I love Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman.  For the nostalgia of the moments when Scout takes a detour to tell some of her childhood antics. Reading those sections was like sitting down to coffee with a long-lost friend.

This book was wonderfully heartwarming. I even went out and bought a copy for my mom who has been search for the past five or so years for “another book like Gilead” (aren’t we all?). It’s sad that it’s taken me this long to find one, but the rarity of these literary gems makes them all the more precious.

Now I’m on the hunt for more. Suggestions?

Goodreads rating: Five out of five stars. I was physically incapable of giving it anything less.

What I Look for in a Story

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me what I look for in a book. I driveled on about a few things that I love to see in a book: action, twists, intrigue, intellection, and a little bit of romance… who doesn’t want those things? But ultimately I want a story (on any kind of media!) that is authentic. I have been ruminating over this question since it was posed to me, and this past week I stumbled upon someone answering the same question, but more articulate in succinct,  Marilynne Robinson, in her essay “Wondrous Love” (found in her book When I was a Child I Read Books), wrote, “There is something about being human that makes us love and crave grand narratives…Narrative always implies cause and consequence. It creates paradigmatic structures around which experience can be ordered, and this certainly would account for the craving for it, which might as well be called a need.”

I mentioned in my last post that I look for a story that offers hope amidst heartache, mainly because I see both heartache and hope as necessary parts of the human experience. The heartache is unavoidable, but there’s a choice in hope. It’s a choice available to anyone at anytime. For some it’s an effortless decision to dip into seemingly endless reservoir of hope, but for others it’s a battle for the last drop in the driest of deserts. But again let me stress that for all, it’s a choice. A good story, in my opinion, is one that illustrates that fight for hope– the reservoir or the drop–at all costs, to whatever ends.

To quote another one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis observes, “Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.” This is another way of explaining the cause and consequence of narratives that Robinson mentioned. I might not face a dragon, but I have my own demons to conquer and courage isn’t confined to fairy tales. When we read, or watch TV or movies, that portray this grand narrative, we can erase the line between fiction and non-fiction by realizing that our favorite characters and protagonists share the same core as we do.

For me this is essential. During difficult, overwhelming, depressing, insert-any-negative-emotion-here times of my life, I always turn to words of comfort. Of course many of those words come from Scriptures and hymns, but I won’t lie to you tell you that a good number of quotes that give me an extra boost of fortitude and persistence don’t come from Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings..or even Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am certainly not battling Lord Voldemort of Sauron, but aren’t we all carrying our own Rings? Don’t we all have our own Gollums bent on turning us from a path we know we should be on? We do! And (spoiler alert!) they are in our own hearts! We are our own worst enemies. But an enemy is still an enemy, within or without us, and if little, scarred Harry Potter can defeat his, that gives me hope that I can defeat mine. A good story makes this translation from one world to my own world easy and accessible.

But another thing that these characters have in common with me is that their ultimate victory was the culmination of a series of choices. Some choices are good, but a lot are bad. One of the most frustrating things to read in a book, is a main character that doesn’t make bad choices. Making bad choices is the most relatable tendency in my life. I am have a cornucopia of bad ideas and I draw from it daily, if not hourly! But occasionally I am blessed to be given an opportunity and good choice, and then another… sometimes deliberate, and sometimes accidental, but a choice is a choice. And when I read of insignificant people who do great things, we always share an ability to make choices.

Among all of the genres of literature or TV or cinema available, I have two favorites: fantasy and history. A good fantastical story is one that can take our mundane human struggles and dress them in the most interesting and exotic clothes. It makes the everyday burdens seem less boring and it makes me feel invincible.  And I love to read history because it recounts the stories of two very different kinds of people: those who don’t learn from history, and those who do. They are stories of very real people who have made very real choices and those choices, for better or for worse, have shaped the world we live in today. Reading history reminds me that I matter-we all matter, and that the choices we make are important.

So I guess to answer my friend’s question a few weeks late: I like authenticity. I like those grand narratives that remind me that life will be hard, hope is choice, and that I can overcome if I’m willing to do hard things.

 

Some thoughts about Hope

I’d hardly call this a book review, but it has been inspired by the reading of Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist. I finished the book a couple of weeks ago, but it’s taken me awhile to compose my thoughts and find the time to write them down.

I don’t like giving away endings of books because I want this site to answer the question “should I read it?” rather than “what happened?” And I didn’t walk away from this book with any strong feelings of “yes! read it!” or “no! avoid it!” but rather a handful of musings about what I look for in a book.

I’ll come right out with it and say that this book did not leave me with the warm and fuzzies. So it’s a good thing that I don’t look for happy endings in the books that I read. But, even though I don’t look for happy endings, I do want to be left without hope. Sadly, the hope offered at the end of The Miniaturist was so small and so insignificant compared to what was suffered by the main character that I couldn’t really like the ending. It started off so good, too! You didn’t really know what was going on with the Miniaturist… is it a mystical being or some kind of creepy voyeur (I found that the truth is simply strange and unsatisfying)? What’s up with Johannes and what is driving him to do what he does? Is he good or bad? What’s Maris’s secret? I felt horribly bad for Nella and her circumstances, and I found myself immediately and completely on her side. So when it ended as it did, I just felt bad.

I am an optimistic realist (or maybe a realistic optimist?). Bad things happen, and there are bad people … but there are also good people and good things happen too! I’ve written before about how I love the concept of Redemption. It’s a belief that is part of my daily life and each and every breath that I take. And redemption offers us hope, which is one of humanity’s most powerful and life-altering forces. Without hope, there is no reason for any of us to do anything. Why am I writing here? Well, I hope that someone reads it and they like it. I hope that I can write something meaningful that I can feel good about. Ask yourself why you do anything and the answer contains some grain of hope. When hope is gone, our lives become dysfunctional. We despair and become despondent.

So for me, the stories that resonate the strongest in my heart, are the ones that show me that life is hard, but that there is always hope.

J.R.R. Tolkien summed up this concept the best when he coined the eucatastrophe. It’s basically the idea that things can go horribly, terribly, but not irrevocably, wrong. If you’ve read Lord of the Rings, you can’t say that it has a happy ending. But it does have a hopeful ending. Same with Harry Potter. There is so much that the protagonist not only loses, but sacrifices, that you can’t use the word happy to describe the series of events. But when it’s all said in done, amongst all of wreckage, you can see that there is potential for something new. Like the phoenix, being reborn…it’s not untainted, because its life was born out of death–but it’s life, isn’t it? And where there is life, there is hope.

Which I guess is the point of Thea, a character introduced at the end of The Miniaturist. It just didn’t feel like hope because the characters kept reiterating how hard their lives will be, and they seemed to view her as a complication to their already-dismal prospects. In The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton showed us the Phoenix, lit in on fire, then just as the new phoenix is stirring in the ashes, stomped its life out with her shoe.

My Goodreads rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars…  four for the intriguing beginning and one for the ending.

A Court of Thorns and Roses Series Review

This review includes three books: A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACOTAR), A Court of Mist and Fury (ACOMAF), and A Court of Wings and Ruin (ACOWAR). There will be spoilers in the longer review.

The Short Review (no spoilers): If you love:  Beauty and the Beast, magical fairies, plot twists, heartbreaking romance, and don’t mind smut, read them. It’s a great story, but the content is for mature audiences.

SPOILERS BELOW!

 

The Longer One: I have so many thoughts and feelings (a lot of them conflicting) about this series. Let me premise this all by saying that Sarah J. Maas can weave an amazing story. And because of her complex storylines, I’m willing to overlook a lot of things that I’m not likely to overlook in other books.

I’ll start with the good things, but I feel it necessary to explain something to you all: I hate romance novels, so the beginning of the first book was a struggle. It had a lot of Beauty and Beast vibes, which kept me hooked, but Tamlin and Feyre were somewhat boring.  And while I hate pure romantic drivel, I am a sucker, and always will be, for the world-ending, earth-shattering, cataclysmic, life-or-death romance. Do we have any Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans out there? Cuz you’ll know what I mean when I say that I will devour any story that reminds me of the sword-through-the-gut, Acathala’s-hell-dimension, combustible amulet kind of love. To sum it up: I love when characters are forced to make difficult, sacrificial decisions that they would rather not make.

So if you, like me, struggle through the beginning of ACOTAR because of it’s lack of depth and adventure….it gets better. Feyre finds herself facing, repeatedly, the decision to stay comfortable or make life choices that will hurt her in order to help those she loves. I could list all of the hard decisions that Feyre makes that jeopardize her happiness and comfort because it’s the right thing to do.  She doesn’t always make the right decisions, but even the right decisions seem to come with brutal consequences, but that never seems to deter her. These decisions culminate in the third book, and what she and Rhysand are willing to sacrifice at the end to save their people gave me goosebumps and tears, which is not an easy feat, I assure you.

And since I have already mentioned Buffy, I am a sucker for anything with a strong female lead. I love when the girls are kicking butt and saving the world. It’s becoming a popular storyline now, and that’s ok with me. It gives us hope that in spite of–no! because of– our uteruses, we can also do strong and amazing things.

In ACOMAF, Feyre struggles with the repercussions of her actions at the end of the first book. She sacrificed innocent people to free the Fae people held captive by Amarantha. And while the cost may have been worth it, she is wracked with guilt, depression, and anxiety over her actions. In my limited experience with these things, I think that Maas nails it. The myriad of feelings the Feyre struggles with that are killing her slowly from the inside out. However, her lover, the one for whom she ultimately did these things, was equally broken by the events in ACOTAR and is driven to protect Feyre even if it suffocates her.

I love the dichotomy of their lives after Under the Mountain in response to their brokenness. Both are so broken and initially seem resistant to work through the emotions. Tamlin buckles down and closes himself off. He has been so wounded that his response is to never let anyone near him again. He claims what he is doing is out of love for Feyre, but it becomes clear that it is out of fear. Feyre, however, wants to work through it but finds Tamlin and Lucien unresponsive. The only option seems to be Rhysand and she is unwilling to explore that avenue because of his role with Amarantha, the bargain she made with him, and his history with Tamlin. But in light of Tamlin’s tendencies, and Rhysand’s patient awareness, Feyre opens her heart to him, and through that vulnerability, she is able to heal. I think there’s a lesson in there somewhere if we’re willing to listen.

Choice is a theme that Maas uses throughout the series (ad nauseam, I’ll admit). Feyre has two main love interests: Tamlin and Feyre. One never allows her to use her voice or make her own decisions, and one would rather live a miserable existence than see her free will taken from her. Obviously she chooses to love the latter, and it’s through that free will, that choice, that Feyre sacrifices herself, that changes and saves the world. Had Feyre remained with Tamlin and bowed to his orders, she would have remained “safe.” She may ever have had to sacrifice much of herself, but in doing so, all of Prythian would have been lost.

I have to admit, that it was stressful watching Tamlin’s character taking turn after turn for better and then for worse. Was he still good, or did his broken heart damn him forever? As much as he drives the reader crazy, you have to admit that he’s not bad, just lost. In the end I was so relieved to see him redeem himself by saving Feyre, Azriel, and Elain, and then, ultimately, Rhysand (that brought some tears!).

So it seems like I am gushing over this series. I might be a little. But for my own peace of mind, I need to add what frustrates me about this book:

Mainly, I hate the smut! It’s horrible! It’s unnecessary! It detracts from the intricate and beautifully planned storyline! And it’s mainly just inappropriate. There is certainly a level of maturity required for these books, which is a shame, because the themes are strong and worthy and applicable regardless of age. But the sex scenes ruin it all. You may think me a prude, and that’s ok because I am, but in my opinion, the crass bedroom scenes cheapen her writing.

Another (and lesser) irritation I have with the books is mainly her writing. Let me make myself clear: I love her writing over all. I think that she is blessed with some Fae magic herself that gives her the ability to hone in on a kaleidoscope of emotions and articulate them in a manner true to the characters and the readers. It’s an art. However, I get frustrated with the writing because it can seem, at times, immature: the repetition of words and phrases, the ellipses, the terse and awkward phrasing. But most of all, I get mad that she doesn’t give the reader the benefit of the doubt. Like we can’t put two and two together on our own. She is very gifted in what I like to call “The Art of Rowling”. That is that she will briefly mention some seemingly insignificant detail once or twice, but later it becomes a major turning point in the story. When you realize that tiny detail’s importance, she doesn’t just recall it for you. She walks you through every. single. detail. she wants you to know and take away from that moment. Nuances be damned! She’d rather just hit you with a Mack truck of information than make you use that brain of yours.

Also, Rhysand is wonderful, but at times his relationship with Feyre falls into the Nicholas-Sparks-Crap category. No one, not even some imaginary, immortal, all-powerful, High Lord Fairy warrior, should have no negative aspects. Maas throws in a half-hearted attempt in ACOWAR to show he can make a bad decision when he allies with Eris and Beron at Mor’s expense. But it all works out in the end, so does that even count?  He’s guilt-ridden with all that he did Under the Mountain, but the author makes it abundantly clear that neither she, nor the loyal reader, should hold it against him because he made such a big sacrifice by whoring himself to  protect innocent people (and, you know, kill some innocents too). And the sad part is that I have bought it. I find myself wholly on Rhysand’s side because he’s just so good and we all want a hero like him. She just sells it so well because of the amazing bait-and-hook she pulls on readers over the first and second books. I guess I’m mainly mad at myself for enjoying it.

Bait set. I’m hooked. And there are more coming out next year? I’m in. But I’ll be skipping the smut.

Goodreads ratings:
ACOTAR: 3.5 out of 5 stars…I can’t give half stars, but the majority of the books is blah and the last bit is amazing!
ACOMAF: 4 out of 5 stars…for the major plot twist and cliff-hanger ending!
ACOWAR: 4 out of 5 stars…for self-sacrifice and redemption!

 

 

Crooked Kingdom Book Review

The Short Review: This book, and the prequel, Six of Crows, is worth your time if you love intense heist games with a fantastical element, and if you love your protagonists to be a kaleidoscope of good, evil, love and hate.

The Longer One: I’m struggling with how to review the second book in a series when I haven’t reviewed the first. So consider this a compact review of both in very general thoughts. They are way too complex and surprising to give too many details without spoiling it for you.

The two books, Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom, by Leigh Bardugo, are intense and captivating. There’s a theme of redemption throughout the books, and without giving too much away, I have to say the personal demons and battles of the characters alone makes the books worth your time.

To sum it up:  there’s a group of young thieves who are given an impossible job, and each accept it for their own reasons, although the payment for successful completion of the mission is the main incentive. Led by the wily Kaz Brekker, the team includes a kidnapped circus performer, a magical healer, a soldier, a sharpshooter, and a disinherited son. It’s an unlikely group but tightly knit nonetheless, and while they claim to have no personal ties and driven solely by the want of money to pay for a better life, it becomes obvious that the crew will sacrifice all for one another. Each chapter is written from the perspective of one of the members and Bardugo can really explore the dynamics among the group as they take on such a dangerous heist.

But their leader? I just never knew how to feel about Kaz. He’s a deep and complicated character–and he’s dark. He’s extraordinary at what he does but he’s driven by revenge and he has a bottomless well of it. He risks sacrificing everything and everyone to make his enemies bleed.  Don’t get me wrong: I love a complicated character with dark corners and sharp edges. I think that when a character is all good and always does the right thing, the story cab lose its connection to the reader. Because all readers (and non-readers) have those same dark corners and the same sharp edges. They might look different, but they are there.

However, there were a couple times when I stopped and asked myself, “Am I really rooting for this guy to come out on top?” The answer, for the most part, was yes!, but that is primarily because I loved the cast of underdogs he assembled to get the job done. But there’s one more important reason: because Leigh Bardugo, the author, did a wonderful job showing that Kaz–and by extension, all of us– is not beyond redemption.

The book is eventful and stressful. It’s detail oriented and face paced, so it’s not really one you can fly through. You need to take your time to be sure you’re following it–although I’m not sure if anyone can quite keep up with Kaz Brekker. I loved it because of it’s complexity both in its storyline and cast of characters.

Goodreads rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Strange the Dreamer Book Review

The short review: If you love imaginative, dream-like worlds, with a heartbreaking twist, and don’t mind an intense cliff-hanger, Strange the Dreamer will be worth your time.

The longer one: If you’re familiar with fantasy,  you know how there are some fantasy stories out there that are so utterly bizarre that you quickly lose interest. Like the author may have a wonderful idea but struggles keeping the interest of the reader because there is just no way to relate this alternate reality to actual reality…

Laini Taylor does not have this problem.

Her stories are nothing short of bizarre, but she has the rare gift to write in such a way that the reader not only follows, but becomes a part of her story. She is able to spend enough time painting the world in all of its unique complexity, while still developing the plot and characters.

I was a huge fan of Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy so I had high expectations for Strange the Dreamer and it did not disappoint. Daughter of Smoke and Bone set the standard for epic-plot twists in my mind, and while Strange didn’t hold anything quite as alarming, there were enough surprising turns that I knew better than to allow myself to get too comfortable in any storyline.

Strange the Dreamer follows two orphans, Lazlo and Sarai, and their imperfect  lives until their paths eventually cross in the most unexpected way. The author sets the reader up early with a shocking line: “On the second Sabbat of Twelfthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky.” It’s the first sentence in book and I found myself turning to it frequently wondering how exactly it will fit into Lazlo and Sarai’s stories. The orphans, in their respective worlds, are dreaming of a better lives for themselves and those they love, and come to realize that they can actually help bring about the change they desire. They find themselves supported by some unlikely characters, as well as hindered by even more unlikely people and circumstances. The choices they make can change their lives and their worlds, and even leave a trail of broken hearts (including their own!) in their wake.

Be warned: there is very little in this novel that is mundane or tired. It is, well, novel.

My Goodreads Rating: 4 out of 5 stars!