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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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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

emberintheashes “You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes. That is your destiny.” ~Sabaa Tahir, pp. 400-401

Note: does contain spoilers

 

I thoroughly enjoyed An Ember in the Ashes. I thought Tahir’s fantasy world was original and well-crafted and even more important–it was interesting. Her world of Martials (very similar to the Roman Empire) and Scholars (based on Sufis) and the Scholar resistance to Martial dominance all makes for a fascinating background to the central story–the story of one Martial (a Mask, or fully trained warrior from an illustrious family, no less) who hates the ways of the Empire and it is the story of a Scholar girl who is willing to become a slave and spy in order to bargain with the Scholar Resistance in order to save her brother. Elias and Laia have a lot to learn about each other, about trust, and how two very different people can be more alike than they know.

I was particularly interested in Elias’ story, of the tension with Helene and his mother’s own hatred of him. The chapters go back and forth between Laia and Elias’ points of view, which makes for some nice tension throughout the novel. One thing that bothered me–just a bit–was how Laia’s parentage was revealed to the Resistance. At the moment when they are ready to kill her–she reveals that she is the daughter of two of the most famous Resistance fighters. Perhaps I’m being persnickety, but that is just REALLY convenient.

However, overall I enjoyed the story, was fascinated by the world that Tahir built, and would definitely be willing to read the sequel.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

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Note: this review does contain spoilers. 

Since reading the very last Harry Potter book, I was happy with the way the series came to a close, but I was also a little disappointed that we would never get the next chapter. In this script, that is exactly what we get. The play opens with the very last scene that is in the seventh novel and goes on from there. Time is played with from the very beginning and it’s no wonder that the story revolves around an illicit time turner. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is very much a story in the tradition of the series–full of adventure, friendship, the strength of love battling against the strength of evil. However, the familiar characters that we know (Ron, Hermione, and Harry) are much more nuanced as adults. I like that the central conflict stems from the fact that Harry is just struggling (and failing) to be a good father. I don’t want to give too much away, but I have to say I really loved one of our main protagonists: Scorpius Malfoy. What can I say? He made my nerdy heart sing. In any case, I will just have to say that I enjoyed the story and the script very much. I wish it was not impossible for me to see the play, but I am glad that they did at least release the script!

 

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The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

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My love for Holly Black’s books began when I was in high school and read Tithe for the very first time. Tithe is a dark, gritty, and grim fairy tale set in modern day New Jersey. It is a compulsively readable book that I could just not put down (even when I wanted to).
Over the years, I’ve read Black’s other books (White Cat, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Valiant, etc.) and loved them all. In this book, she returns to fairies. The Darkest Part of the Forest is in some way a dark, fairy tale epic. It’s about a brother and sister living in a secluded, small town that is surrounded by fairies and the fairy world. Oh sure, it’s a little bit dangerous (fairies are tricksters and have a different sense of morality than human beings), but nothing has really harmed the townspeople (just a couple of tourists each year go missing or are found not alive)…until now. Can Hazel step up to the plate and be the champion, the knight that she’s always dreamed of being? Can Ben, with all his magical musical ability, face the truth about his feelings and save both his sister and the person he has loved the longest?

In the Darkest Part of the Forest, Ben and Hazel will no longer find the Horned Boy in the glass coffin–tourist attraction and main character in all of their favorite stories. In the darkest part of the forest, our heroes will find adventure, their heart’s desire (though it always comes at a price), sorrow, pain, and the truth about their world and the harsh realities of their peculiar childhood.

I particularly enjoyed the way Black weaves many different fairy tales into the world of this novel.

I recommend to anyone who is a fan of Holly Black or is looking for a good YA fantasy novel.

You might also be interested to see my review of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

 

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The Oxford Inheritance by Ann A. McDonald

Oxford“Too soon, the next set of visitors arrived. These weren’t quite so temporary. They came bearing crisp new textbooks and fat induction packets, shined shoes and wide eyes, weighed down as much by their own hopeful expectations as the brand-new possessions they pulled behind them in overstuffed cases. Summer was over and it was time for a new generation of students to take their place in the hallowed roll call of Oxford’s great academic legacy.” ~p. 4

The Oxford Inheritance by A.A. McDonald is your quintessential summer murder mystery/academia/dark magic read. Everyone has those, right? Well I certainly do. This book met all of my own personal requirements for a great novel.

The following, by the way, are my criteria for a great contemporary novel:

  • Set in England: check.
  • Professors in tweed: check.
  •  Tough-as-nails yet brilliant heroine with a shady past: check.
  • Complicated love triangle: check.
  • A supernatural twist: check.

I wouldn’t say The Oxford Inheritance is going to turn your world upside down. The writing is decent: fast-paced and intriguing (as a supernatural mystery/thriller should be). There were definitely a couple of weak spots. Cassie’s cop friend Charlie being one of them–I felt that he accepted Cassie’s story way too quickly. Unless he already believed in the supernatural or had had an experience with it before (which was never explored), I just found his acceptance to be a bit too quick and easy.

I did like that the ending wasn’t quite neat and tidy. Cassie gets what she wants, but there’s a price and no doubt about it. However, since the tagline of the novel is “Privilege has a dark price” it didn’t come as too much of a shock.

I would recommend this for anyone looking for a good, intriguing mystery with a bit of supernatural thrown in. I certainly enjoyed that the setting is Oxford and you as a reader get to slip into the Oxford world (the author is an alumna).

All in all, I’m glad to have added this to my bookshelf!

 

 

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The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

therook Myfanwy Thomas (pronounced “Miffany” to rhyme with Tiffany, instead of the traditional Welsh pronunciation) wakes up surrounded by dead people wearing gloves with no idea who she is or what has happened. Her only clues are the letters her predecessor, the Myfanwy Thomas who inhabited her body before the complete amnesia, has left her. Pre-amnesia Myfanwy has also left her a high ranking position in Britain’s most top secret government agencies: The Checquy. The Checquy deals with supernatural threats and also acquires supernaturally gifted individuals for their various positions. They are given titles that correspond to chess pieces. Post-amnesia Myfanwy now has to pretend like nothing has happened and resume her post as a Rook with only the knowledge Myfanwy has left her in the letters, all the while continuing the investigation into which other high-level operative betrayed her and took her memory and her personality.

Personally, this book is 110% my cup of tea. It meets all of my requirements for an excellent fantasy novel. Intriguing main character? Check. Magical powers? Check. Girl power? Double check. Set in London? Check. Secret organizations that deal with magical threats? Check. Vampires? Check.

Besides being insanely fun to read and fast-paced in action, I really came to admire what O’Malley was doing in interspersing old Myfanwy’s letters into new Myfanwy’s story. It provided a break with the traditional, linear story of new Myfanwy and also some first person, epistolary narrative to break up the close third person. It also really made me like pre-amnesia Myfanwy just as much as the present heroine, post-amnesia Myfanwy. Come to think of it, it is actually quite brilliant that O’Malley managed to have two different heroines in one body–the perfect opposition for one of the bad guys, who is one consciousness in several bodies!

There are many cases of this quiet brilliance throughout the novel. I say quiet because I didn’t notice all the of the awesome things he is doing plot-wise and with the narration and dialogue and structure because I just had so much fun reading it! There are, of course, tons of jokes and references to other fantasy and supernatural series that complete nerds like me will totally enjoy. Perhaps the only flaw I found was that sometimes the dialogue is clever at the price of being realistic. But for me, that was just part of the charm of O’Malley’s style.

Anyway: the case is closed. I thought this book was brilliant and I recommend it to anyone who likes a little supernatural mystery to go with their afternoon tea.

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The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

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The Raven King is the fourth (and final?) book in the Raven Cycle. I believe it is the last book and it certainly does tie up the loose ends of the major conflicts of the first three books.

I will be honest–it had been so long since I read the third book, Blue Lily, Lily Blue that I actually needed a recap on the plot before delving into The Raven King.

Strengths: The strength of Stiefvater’s writing in this book is much the same as in many of her other novels. Her strengths are the fascinating details she gives to her unique set of characters, the little revelations about them she offers up that help build their voice and their realness, and also, I think, the lyricism found in her particular style of writing. I personally loved the repetition of certain words or phrases and parallel structuring throughout the book–it lends a feeling of orality/storytelling to the novel, which I thought was only fitting since Welsh mythology has a lot to do with this novel. The Raven King, more than the other books, almost felt more poetry than prose. Or perhaps poetry in prose. In any case–I greatly enjoyed the actual structure of the writing. I know it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I thought it worked very well.

 

Weaknesses: I have had some trouble with the feasibility of the main characters (as amazing/unique as they are)–especially Gansey. My favorite character is Ronan and I think that is just because I love the way he is described–so fierce and so fragile. Certainly an interesting view of masculinity and adolescence combined. As much as I am super happy that Ronan got to experience some romance in this novel (finally!), I’m not sure if I truly believe Adam’s feelings for him. Everything between them in this novel seemed to happen so fast. That is another one of my critiques–pacing. I thought that the pacing of Blue Lily, Lily Blue was a bit sluggish and in this novel it seemed to go at warp speed. Ronan and Adam kiss. Henry Cheng and Gansey become instant best buds. Blue discovers her true identity and what her father really is. All of these things were important. All of these things made for wonderful reading–but everything happened SO FAST that it was a little difficult to really get into the story.

I will have to say that overall I was happy with the ending to this series. I loved Ronan’s graduation gift to Blue. Adam’s confrontation with his parents in the end felt like closure in real life–ultimately somewhat disappointing, but ever so important.

I would definitely recommend The Raven Cycle series to anyone looking for unique YA fantasy. However, I think my favorite Stiefvater book will remain The Scorpio Races.

 

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