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Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

strangeI don’t think I could possibly pull a quote from this book–there are just too many. The book demands to be read in its entirety. Once again, Laini Taylor’s writing astounds me. She truly has a gift for describing her own odd, ethereal, beautiful, and sometimes ghastly worlds. One thing you can always expect to see in her writing are images of the vivid and surreal–no doubt her artist’s imagination informs the world of her fantasy. And I have to say, I will always love Dreamdark and Daughter of Smoke and Bone, but Strange the Dreamer might have dreamed its way into the title of my favorite Laini Taylor book. Maybe it’s because it’s about a dreamer and a librarian…and I am a bit biased.

In any case–I loved the world, the gods, the godspawn, the Mesarthim and Mesarthium. I loved that Lazlo Strange’s nose was forever broken from a book of fairytales. I can still remember Laini Taylor speaking about dreams to an eager audience at the Texas Teen Book Festival. This book was everything I hoped it would be after listening to her speak–she is a true champion of following your dreams and it is very evident in her novels–this one most especially.

I only had one major issue with this novel. Perhaps I’m being too critical or nit-picky–I really did enjoy it. BUT….I did feel that the big revelation of Lazlo’s identity was a bit too…..convenient. Or perhaps its because this big revelation of identity IS a major component of the YA novel. I’ve seen it done time and time again–sometimes masterfully and sometimes clumsily. On the spectrum, I felt this revelation inched toward the latter. Perhaps because it felt a little too Dickensian to me–that Lazlo instantly found out who he was and that he could save the day (almost). It was just too easy and yes there were some clues (his skin reaction to the Mesarthium, Nero’s discovery, and the white bird), but it seemed to be too much too soon for me there at the end.

I’ll have to say–it was the very ending and revelation of who Minya is that really saved the novel for me. I will wholeheartedly be looking forward to Muse of Nightmares. And despite my feelings on the identity, I definitely would recommend this book to any dreamer or fantasy reader.

 

 

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Emma by Jane Austen

emma Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her. ~Chapter 1, Vol. 1

I first read Emma when I was in high school, and I can’t say that I finished the book just absolutely loving or hating it. I can say that as I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that Emma is very far from a favorite heroine of Austen’s, but that Mr. Knightley is generally one of her most popular heroes. Yet Jane Austen didn’t title the novel, Mr. Knightley, so on this re-reading I decided to pay more attention to Emma–what was it about her that made me dislike…or simply like her less than my favorite heroines (Anne Elliott, Fanny Price, Elizabeth Bennet, Elinor Dashwood). Upon first impression, Emma is spoiled, privileged–her help does more harm than good to Harriet Smith and for most of the novel she ignores Jane Fairfax, who would have made a better BFF. But you know what, I found that I liked Emma–she may not be the Austen heroine most in tune with reality–she often has her own vision of things, but she does care for her friends and family. And I have to say that I think Highbury/Hartfield is one of Austen’s best settings. It is much less stuffy than Mansfield Park and certainly better than any of the settings poor Anne Elliott must endure (“smoky” Bath, her sister’s and brother-in-law’s house–her only reprieve, really, is Lyme). The familiarity of Ms. and Mrs. Bates, Emma’s father (overly anxious about his health and the health of everyone else), Mr. Perry, and though we never meet him–the William Larkins that Emma teases Mr. Knightley about. I think Austen crafted some of her most lovable and equally frustrating characters in Emma and I am certainly glad I gave it a second chance!

 

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A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

torch “Skies,” Afya says. “I thought you told me you loved stories. Have you ever heard a story of an adventurer with a sane plan?”

“Well….no.”

“And why do you think that is?”

I am at a loss. “Because….ah, because–”

She chuckles again. “Because sane plans never work, girl,” she says. “Only the mad ones do.”

~p. 388

Note: Spoilers ahead

A Torch Against the Night is the sequel to Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes. It continues the story of Elias and Laia, right as they’re beginning to escape the city of Serra and on their way to get to Kauf prison to free Laia’s brother Darin.
But on the way, they will meet with many unexpected guests. As with any good adventure story, friendships are tested, true identities are revealed, and destinies are made and challenged.
I have to say that I enjoyed the sequel to Ember every bit as much as I did the first book. Tahir’s writing is enjoyable and at times very beautiful. My only complaint is that it could be a little tighter. One of the characters which seemed completely nonessential (Keenan) turns out to be one of the core antagonists. But the love story between him an Laia seemed really extraneous and so the big reveal just wasn’t as devastating to me as it could have been with some tighter writing. In the first novel I seriously thought his only purpose was to be a secondary love interest for Laia–since there was already a triangle between Elias/Laia/Helene.
Speaking of Helene, I am actually very interested in her story arc. I think her story is the one I’m most looking forward to continuing to read in the next installment. I’m also intrigued by Avitas Harper–her former torturer and spy for the Commandant turned ally to Helene. And I’m also curious to see how all the new magical powers everyone has will play out.
Overall, I think I’ve found yet another YA fantasy series that I will be following. I’ve lost count of how many of these I’m supposed to be keeping up with–a very good problem to have, I’d say!

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Persuasion by Jane Austen

persuasion “Who can be in doubt of what followed? When any two young people take it into their heads to marry, they are pretty sure by perseverance to carry their point, be they every so poor, or ever so imprudent, or ever so little likely to be necessary to each other’s ultimate comfort. This may be bad morality to conclude with, but I believe it to be truth…” p. 175

I’m not sure I’ll ever meet with a piece of writing by Jane Austen that I do not like, whether or not I agree with what she is saying. I am so glad that I decided to read Persuasion at this very moment in my life, rather than when I was younger and would have missed being able to empathize, at least just a little bit, with Anne Elliot. This is a shout out to all the single ladies my age, who are in their late twenties. It may be the twenty-first century, but I’m not so sure the attitude toward single women nearing their thirties has really altered outlandishly from Britain in the nineteenth century. Not saying it’s exactly the same, but I do think there’s some similarity in being told to hurry up, your eggs are dying as we speak and Anne being considered the “old maid” because she’d rather read than party it up in Bath. She is also not quite as pretty or social as her sister Elizabeth, who seems to have decidedly better chances at marrying even though she is older.

I know that both Anne Elliot and Fanny Price have a bad rap (or little rapport, since we’re talking Jane Austen here) with critics because they are so self-sacrificing and seem to be in cahoots with the infamous Angel in the House–a later, Victorian literary stereotype of women that caused a lot of issues. But just like for Fanny, I will stick up for Anne. Anne is not as vivacious or witty or winning as Elizabeth Bennet. Perhaps she is not as easy to love because she seems to cower in the shadow of her vain and silly older sister (cue Ashlee Simpson song “Shadow”). I hated that she took the advice of Lady Russell, but at the same time…how could she not? Lady Russell was basically the only person with any sort of common sense that Anne knew. But you know what, we’ve all made mistakes, am I right? And who wouldn’t like a second chance to remedy those mistakes or those rash decisions we made 7-10 years ago? And that is what we, as readers of Jane Austen’s glorious novel, get to experience in Persuasion. Thankfully, Captain Wentworth is the one that got away that also comes back (Hello, Sailor!–for all my peeps who watched Gilmore Girls). I did enjoy the chapter where Anne and Captain Harville basically have a fight over who is more generally faithful/loving in relationships, men or women, and all the while Captain Returns-A-Lot is writing Anne a passionate letter about how he never forgot her and how he still has the same feelings for her as he did when they were formerly engaged!

I think Persuasion is very much so a masterful novel and I am excited to next (at some point) re-read Emma, which I haven’t read since I was in high school.

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Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge

Crimson Bound Cover

“What did you mean when you said the path of needles, not the path of pins?”
He remembers what I said. The realization slid through her, terrifying and sweet at once. He thinks of me when we are apart. “Something my aunt told me once. She said that you always have to choose between the path of needles and the path of pins. When a dress is torn, you know, you can just pin it up, or you can take the time to sew it together. That’s what it means. The quick and easy way, or the painful way that works.” ~Rosamund Hodge (p. 10)

Rachelle is an apprentice to her aunt–a woodwife, a wise woman of the village who weaves charms to keep the Great Forest, the woodspawn, the forestborn, and the Devourer away. But the Devourer is only growing stronger as sunlight is fading from the world and the woodspawn and forestborn attack humans more often. One day Rachelle wanders off the beaten path only to meet a forestborn–inhuman, beautiful, and predatory. She pridefully thinks she can trick him into telling her how to defeat the Devourer. He tells her and also marks her –she has three days to kill another human and become a bloodbound or she will die. She tries to hold out, but on the third day she kills. Rachelle runs away from home and becomes one of the King’s own bloodbound–killing woodspawn that attack people in the city of Rocamadour. Killing the woodspawn to protect humans is her lifeline to redemption. Until she sees the forestborn who marked her–and he tells her that the Devourer is returning soon. Now Rachelle’s only hope is to find the sword that can defeat the Devourer–but first she is assigned to protect and spy on one of the King’s illegitimate children–Armand. A man who is seen by the people as saint because although he was marked by a forestborn, he chose not to kill and instead of dying, only lost his hands. Rachelle hates him–not only because he is an obstacle in the path of her scouring the country for the sword, but he also was able to survive the mark of the forestborn without killing. But there is more to Armand’s story, even if he is partially telling the truth, and Rachelle knows it. Guarding Armand might just lead her to the sword and to finding a way to defeat the Devourer and also exacting revenge on the forestborn who forced her to become a monster.

Crimson Bound is a wonderful, gritty, and glittering retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. It is set in a surreal fantasy world based on 18th century France. The writing is light, fast-paced, and the book is impossible to put down for long. The morality and moral problems of the characters are complex. Erec works particularly well as the wolfish antagonist–t makes it all the worse because he does really love Rachelle in his own, sick, twisted way. Or perhaps it is that he wants to own her and so thinks he loves her.  It reminded me a little bit of the problem of Henry Crawford in Mansfield Park–although Fanny is not a bloodbound killer. In any case, I positively LOVED this book and I would expect no less from the author of Cruel Beauty, which was an instant new favorite. I recommend it–particularly if you plan to read it this fall, while the days are growing darker and Halloween is approaching.

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