Middlemarch

By George Eliot

4/5 stars

I finally finished Middlemarch. Middlemarch is beautiful and full in scope. It has well-crafted, full characters. Characters that I cared about, rooted for (or against). I felt like I was a part of this small community for the duration of the novel. But it’s a big novel. It has lots of interweaving plot lines that come together nicely at the end. But it would take a lot of space to set it all up. And I’m sure it’s been done better before me. And there are plenty of reviews I’m sure. But, while switching back and forth between my beautiful Penguin Drop Caps edition and my Kindle, I did highlight a lot of passages. So, I thought I would share those:

  • How many persons do we observe who make an outward confession of their faults, yet, far from being afflicted from them, take a new pleasure in relating them.
  • We mortals, men and women, devour many a disappointment between breakfast and dinner-time; keep back the tears and look a little pale about the lips, and in answer to inquiries say, ‘Oh, nothing!’ Pride helps us; and pride is not a bad thing when it only urges us to hide our own hurts–not to hurt others.
  • …people were so ridiculous with their illusions, carrying their fool’s caps unawares, thinking their own lies opaque while everybody else’s were transparent, making themselves exceptions to everything, as when all the world looked yellow under a lamp they alone were rosy.
  • The troublesome ones in a family are usually either the wits or the idiots.
  • ” Confound you handsome young fellows! You think of having it all your own way in the world. You don’t understand women. They don’t admire you half so much as you admire yourselves.”
  • “There is correct English: that is not slang”
    “I beg your pardon: correct English is the slang of prigs who write history and essays. And the strongest slang of all is the slang of the poets.”
  • ” I call it improper pride to let fools’ notions hinder you from doing a good action. There’s no sort of work,” said Caleb, with fervor, putting out his hand and moving it up and down to mark his emphasis, “that could ever be done well, if you minded what fools say. You must have it inside you that your plan is right, and that plan you must follow.”
  • Who can know how much of his most inward life is made up of the thoughts he believes other men to have about him, until that fabric of opinion is threatened with ruin?
  • “I believe that people are almost always better than their neighbors think they are.”
  • What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?
  • “character is not cut in marble–it is not something solid and unalterable…”
  • “My dear fellow, we are rather apt to consider an act wrong because it is unpleasant to us.”
  • Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending

There you have it. George Eliot was a wonderful writer, with a great ability to get to the heart of a lot of aspects of human nature. I am sure I am not finished with her work; although, I am definitely going to recommend Middlemarch over Daniel Deronda. For a way to ease into George Eliot if never having read any of her work, start with Silas Marner.

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We Were Liars

By E. Lockhart

4/5 stars

There has been a lot of buzz around We Were Liars by E. Lockhart has gotten lots of talk. It’s one of the big YA titles of the summer, especially for a standalone contemporary. And I like E. Lockhart; so, I was all on board.

We Were Liars is a little bitter darker than the fun tone I remember from the Ruby Oliver series or the Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks or Dramarama, but it’s also been a while since I’ve read any of those titles (all of which would also make some fun summer reading). We Were Liars follows Cadence, the first grandchild is a very wealthy democratic family who vacations on their private island every summer. She spends most of her time with her cousins Johnny and Mirran, as well as Gat, the nephew of Johnny’s mother’s boyfriend. The relationships do not sound that convoluted in the book. They’re called the Liars, even if how they got that nickname is never really established. Except, something happened during summer fifteen. Cadence starts to suffer from massive headaches, and, even worse, she can’t remember a majority of that summer.

There is some romance, sprinkled in with a whole lot of family drama. And, honestly, I could have cared less about the romance plot line. Luckily, it didn’t really take up all that much real estate. The filial friendships, and the family drama here were just more compelling. While family drama of this flavor is something tackled readily in “adult” fiction, and gosh knows on the stage, its not something I’ve seen handled this way in YA all that often. Granted, I have not read the entire YA cannon either.

The prose in this is short and choppy, almost poetic. It keeps the reader in a somewhat fragmented mental state, and mirrors Cadence. But it also flows well. Fairy tale tropes woven in as a recurring narrative device, and King Lear-esque motifs, give this novel layers.

The ending has gotten a lot of attention. Because of this, I had it figured out. It still packed a punch. But, I would say, don’t let the ending overshadow the book.

It’s not absolutely perfect. I would have loved more background from these characters, more of a base of what “normal” was. While so much is explored about how Cadence doesn’t know about Gat’s life outside the island, this makes it easy for Gat to become the token ethnic outsider there to open their eyes about their own privilege. I just wish there had been a little more dimension there. As it stands, it’s still incredibly entertaining.

With its prose style and short chapters, it’s a quick read. I haven’t read E. Lockhart since high school. We Were Liars re-cements her place in the YA market. Read We Were Liars, and then attack the backlist.

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The Arrivals

by Melissa Marr

2/5 stars

Generally, I do not like westerns. So, when Melissa Marr’s newest novel came out, and it was clear The Arrivals was heavily influenced by the western style, I was like, okay Melissa, for you. So I jumped into the world of the Wastleland, seduced not a little bit by the promise of people from many different time periods coexisting in one weird, liminal space of a world. I haven’t had my hands on some good time travel in a while, but this seemed it would scratch a similar itch.

Like Chloe, who wakes up in the Wasteland rather than the modern Washington, D.C. she called home, I felt a little jolted by the way I was thrown into this world. We enter the novel mid-action, and I applaud Marr’s attempts to weave the world creation amidst the plot. This is not a novel encumbered by exposition and back-story, moving along at quick pace. But, there are times I would have appreciated a little bit of encumbrance. I wanted some time to explore this world. Especially as a reader not generally familiar with westerns and western tropes, I didn’t always feel like I was fully appreciating it. That is not to say that it is filled with insider references, just that if I was an insider I may have been a little quicker on the giddy up.

I have questions. Like, how did Jack and Kit know where Chloe would be if the new arrivals can show up at basically any time, and presumably anywhere? Marr attempts to cover this, but it still feels a little flat to me.

I was severely disappointed on the time travel front. Here you have a group of people from different time periods, and there was hardly any mention of having to reconcile differing societal beliefs from different decades. Rather, the fact they were from different periods just kind of served as a quirk. There was so much potential unutilized.

Overall, I just didn’t really care. There were characters, like Melody, who I’m not even really sure why they were there. The book was fast-paced, and I didn’t get as much time with the main characters as I’d like. Time spent with superfluous characters left me resentful. Any attempt at back story felt like attempts to explain things rather than explore the characters. Other pieces of character history, like the fact that everyone there had to have killed someone at some point, was significantly glossed over and left psychologically dangling. Also the villain felt like a convenient caricature.

This wants to be a romance I think. I was onboard for Kit’s romance with some established history and whatnot. Jack’s I wasn’t so on board with. Nor was I onboard with the fact that everything in the world seemed to want to serve this plot point, rather than the romance growing organically out of the world and circumstances.

I remain unsold on the Westerns, acknowledging that this doesn’t really count. I think I’ll just stick with Marr’s YA novels.

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The Serpent of Venice

by Christopher Moore

3/5 stars

Pocket, first introduced in Moore’s King Lear inspired Fool is back for more Shakesperian adventures. However, if you haven’t read Fool, and have no desire to go back and read it, maybe you have some specific aversion to King Lear, good news: you don’t have to read Fool. The Serpent of Venice works well as a stand alone novel, even if callbacks to jokes, specifically raunchy jokes, will be funnier if you’ve read the first one. And, in my humble opinion, or at least my admittedly flawed memory, Fool is funnier. But you know what? You do you.

The Serpent of Venice combines Othello and the Merchant of Venice, and some other tale I both forgot and did not know as source material. If you’re familiar with Othello and the Merchant of Venice you’ll be fine. At least I was. If you are familiar with the third piece of source material you might be in on a few more jokes, but then, I couldn’t help you with that. If you’re not familiar with anything, there are some crude jokes that might be able to carry you through. Or, Shakespeare is free online. The way the plays are tied together is clever, and I loved watching someone give Iago a good verbal beating. Also, as the title suggests, a serpent character comes into play. And at least one character of historical import makes a cameo. Pocket knows the A-list of this fictional world.

Maybe I had slightly higher hopes because this is the kind of Christopher Moore I eagerly anticipate, but this one fell kind of flat to me. It was a fun romp, but I didn’t have the laugh out loud laughter I remember from reading Moore’s books. Some of the humor stemmed from Moore’s trademark cleverness, more from Pocket’s trademark base and lewd (Not that there’s anything wrong with base and lewd. I’ve seen Moore do base and lewd very, very well. Maybe it just wasn’t hitting any new notes for me this time). This book works best when Pocket is giving someone the verbal go-around. Abusing people with a stick-puppet is somewhat amusing, but would surely be better in the visual.

The plot worked well, but I wasn’t invested in anyone, with possible exceptions for Othello, Desdemona, and Jessica, to really enough to care how anything turns out. When everyone serves as a caricature to a certain extent it’s hard to get emotionally invested. And after a while, the jokes wore thin.

Still, while it didn’t necessarily meet my expectations, that’s not to say it wasn’t a fun ride. It’s more to say that I’ve built up some really high expectations for Moore while waiting for new works because he’s written some incredibly funny books. However, if this is your first go-around with Moore, I’m going to have to recommend starting with Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. I will be eager to see if Moore attempts to tackle any other Shakespeare with Pocket at the helm. I have some theories about where in the canon we could go next based on the ending, but I won’t spoil anyone’s fun.

*Also to note: I read this in ebook format, but if you prefer physical copy be aware the edges of the pages are blue. Just incase that messes with your eyes.

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Pet Peeve of a Heavy Library User

First thing to establish: I am a huge library user. If I’ve read a book, I’ve probably gotten it from the library. I’ve been extremely lucky the last year or so to have access to some of the biggest and best public libraries in the country, and this peeve doesn’t really apply to them. However, I’m back around, and utilizing, small town libraries this summer.

Which brings me to my peeve: YA literature shelved in the adult section.

Books I’ve found erroneously shelved in the YA section:

  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
  • the Eragon series
  •  The Amulet of Samarkand trilogy
  • John Green (like what?)
  • I’m sure there’s more but I was trying to prevent reader rage

This peeves me for many reasons. For one, it’s not likely to get as much circulation. Many adult readers go looking for YA if they want it, but aren’t as likely to read it when they come across it on a shelf as say, a YA reader. So these books get read less. And a teen reader is less likely to discover it shelf browsing. Also, it seems incredibly condescending to YA readers. Like, yes this book is above you thematically, so we’re going to put it in with the adult books despite you being the exact  market for which it was published. One of the things I love best about YA is its ability to introduce and grapple with some of these big ideas in incredibly honest ways.

But there aren’t enough YA books erroneously placed in the adult section for it to be a thematic or content banning. And there are plenty of books that are just as deep, if not more, including:

  • Postcards from No Man’s Land
  •  How I Live Now
  •  Between Shades of Grey
  • Crank
  •  V.C. Andrews
  •  Laurie Halse Anderson

I had an inadvertent chat with the librarian (who I’m on good terms with. We chat about book things all the time. Also I used to work there. I don’t just wander in and say, look at this. This bugs me. Why are you doing this?). Alas, this didn’t really offer me any more insight. Something about being on the verge of young adult and adult? Frankly, it was way to close to inadvertently being condescending to YA for my tastes, and I happily let the topic switch to the burgeoning genre of New Adult. Mainly, how we don’t really even know what that means yet.

So okay, there is nothing malicious about this. It’s not even talking down to readers. Basically, it’s most likely a misunderstanding about what the target age for a book actually is. And books like The Book Thief, or John Green have a large crossover audience. Eragon is just built to look like something that would be published by TOR, and with not all that many large fantasy novels in the library’s YA collection maybe the mix-up makes sense. I’ve got no explanation for the Amulet of Samarkand. But, not a shocker, I’ve never seen it circulate.

Maybe it’s just the small staff of the small library. They’ve got other interest areas as readers. Like the time I was reorganizing the fantasy/ sci-fi section and fixed a lot of genre stickers. I may not have read the book, but based on the cover art and the flap summary I can guarantee this story in which unicorns and magic seem to factor heavily is not sci-fi.

None of this is to say I don’t love and appreciate my smaller library. Just that it has some quirks, and one of those quirks means I have to keep my mouth shut about my YA opinions. Also note that this is in no way a commentary about how adult readers shouldn’t be reading YA. That is ridiculous. I am an adult. I love YA. This is about YA readers having as much access as possible to the books targeted to them.

Any thoughts on YA creep into the adult section? Any pet peeves of your own?

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Cinder

by Marissa Meyer

4/5 stars

Cinder may be a cyborg, but she’s also a famed mechanic. Which is what brings Prince Kai to her stand in the market, asking her to fix an android that might contain state secrets. Cinder also has to deal with her stepmother and stepsisters, the upcoming ball, and the plague that’s breaking out. Kai’s life is complicated as well, constantly attempting to avoid a war with the Lunars, a race of people who have evolved from the first humans to live on the moon. Amongst all of this, Cinder and Kai begin to discover who they are, and what they’re up against.

I’m going to be honest here: I went in not expecting to like this book. It’s gotten a lot of hype, but I was skeptical about another fairy tale retelling. And I was even more skeptical about one with a sci-fi bend. For all that I love and devour fantasy/supernatural/paranormal fiction, I have a little bit more trouble with sci-fi. And I’ve seen feelings be weird in sci-fi, and I like feelings. And to pair this with a fairy tale, the roots of the fantasy fiction mindset, I just wasn’t sure. Also, maybe I was a little unclear about the definition of a cyborg. Because I was wrong. My fellow readers were right. And Cinder was absolutely delightful.

The world building was so much better than I expected. It was a world that worked with its own internal logic, and I was willing to suspend my disbelief. Evolution gave us the magical element of the Lunars, while also staying within the more sci-fi realm. Even with the technological advances, settings such as the market offered an older feel. Maybe online shopping isn’t the way of the future after all? The group panic of the plague also fits within the world, while also harkening back to the tone of the source material. That’s not to say I don’t have questions about the world, like the market. Also, the junkyard: What exactly was in the junkyard? How big is the junkyard? Has a better way to deal with junk not been established? How can junkyards support a larger population? Also, what exactly happened in WWIII and WWIV? Still, the questions didn’t interrupt the flow of the novel. Rather, they’ve offered me things to ponder, and hopefully at least some questions will be answered in the future, not that I’m going to lose any sleep over the junkyard stuff. It’s not a perfect world, but one I’m happy to hang out in for a while.

Since I mentioned the feelings thing earlier, I was very attune to Cinder’s ability/inability to feel in this novel. Cinder definitely can experience human emotion, and is mostly human, with references to a cyborg leg, hand, some spinal cord, and maybe some other assorted parts. However, Cinder cannot do things like cry or blush, and if she’s feeling too overwhelmed and anxious, her system can shut down for her own protection. Without the means to express them, emotions become a handicap, and Cinder spends a lot of time repressing them. It became an interesting exploration of how we view emotions, especially in women, as a culture. They are often seen as weakness. I am interested to see how emotions play into the overall arc of the series.

When it comes down to it, the novel was fun and I liked the characters. I’m excited for the next installment, even if I’m worried it may not have enough Cinder for my liking.

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The Ring and the Crown

by Melissa de la Cruz

3/5 stars

In a fictional magical/historical alternate reality in which Britain and France are one super empire ruled by a queen and her Merlin (magician), princess Marie Victoria come of age amidst the magic and the glamour. The recent war with Prussia is ending with a peace treaty and a marriage between Marie and the Prussian Prince Leo, even if it means Leo has to cast aside his betrothal to French aristocrat Isabelle. Marie’s childhood friend Aelwyn has returned from Avelon where she was honing her magic. American heiress Ronan Astor is in the market for a rich husband to supplement her family’s depleted old money. And his brother’s upcoming nuptials has called Prince Wolf home from America where he’s been enjoying anonymity and fighting in underground rings. Or at least that’s the basic gist, before being overrun by a myriad of characters. And I don’t mean overrun in a bad way.

This is the Melissa de la Cruz I’ve been missing. Like a historical mix of Blue Bloods (sans vampires, yes on light fantasy) and the Luxe. The world creation isn’t everything, and is there to serve the plot. But these are characters I actually care about. Okay, yes, it could be argued Marie leans toward Mary Sue-ish, but you know what? I like her. They’re not all perfect, or perfectly created, but I have hopes for them. And I am emotionally invested enough to care. I do wish that there had been more established between Marie and Aelwyn, and we hadn’t relied so much on their previous relationship that as readers we didn’t really get to see. I wanted more of that friendship.

Are there some turns that are a tad over the top or don’t make complete sense with what’s been set up? Sure. But, you know what, I enjoyed it anyway. It was fun. The political intrigue was there to provide stakes for the personal relationships. And still, I was invested enough in the personal that it was okay. I was provided enough information to suspend my disbelief on this fantasy revisionist history and just enjoy watching the personal relationships play out.

Maybe now I’ll have the energy to actually finish the Blue Bloods series.

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The Chaos of Stars

by Kiersten White

2/5 stars

Isadora may be the daughter of Isis and Osiris, but she doesn’t have to like it. And she doesn’t. In fact, she’s pretty bitter about the whole thing honestly. After all, why did her mother fight so hard for her brother Horace’s power among the gods when she can’t even bother to save Isadora from death? And while she loves decorating, she resents her parents believing her greatest project is her tomb. And then her mother has the audacity to go and get pregnant, not even waiting the traditional 20 years between babies. When her mother begins to have premonitions that something is wrong, Isadora takes the opportunity to escape to her brother Sirius in America. But even there she can’t escape the influence as of her mother, who sends her to work at a museum, preparing for an exhibit highlighting Egyptian mythology. And while Isadora makes friends and starts a life, she’s still haunted by her parents and the knowledge that something is not right.

This had everything going for it: Egyptian mythology, a museum setting. The cover is gorgeous. I wanted to like it so badly, but it fell flat.

Most all of the mythology felt haphazardly explored at best. I never got a grasp of this world. Or even where Isadora’s family was living. This is a whole mythological world that is not often mined. There is so much that could be done. There was an attempt to catch readers up by giving some of the background mythology at the start of every chapter, but I still wanted to explore these characters more. This did not feel like a true exploration of Egyptian mythology and culture as much as a novelty to play with gods that aren’t Greek.

The coming-of-age part of the plot worked, even if it could get a little redundant. But the mythological plotline, that was there to serve the revelations of the coming-of-age, felt forced. The mythological turn at the end came almost out of nowhere. The sense something was coming had been established. But I knew so little about most of the characters in Isadora’s family their motivations were somewhat lackluster. Even worse, I didn’t really care. While Isadora’s determination to never fall in love was pitted against a burgeoning romance, I never doubted that romance would win. All of Isadora’s hang-ups about her family were told to us, using from her herself. The conflict never fully established itself, and so it oftentimes presented itself as a device to drag out the romance, instead of the central idea of the book as wanted to be.

Despite all this, I didn’t hate the book, or feel like I wasted my time. It’s a fun, quick read, but I think younger YA readers, maybe those looking for concepts similar to Percy Jackson, are most likely to enjoy this one.

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The Wicked and the Just

                                                        by J. Anderson Coats

3/5 stars

It is 1293. Cecily’s Uncle has returned from the Crusades, and thus Cecily’s father must give up the estate the rightfully belongs to his older brother. Cecily must give up her inheritance. Cecily’s father moves them to Caernarvon in Wales, where he can obtain cheap land and benefits in return for protecting the King’s land. Cecily follows her father, bitter about her new lot in life away from everything she knows, fearful of the Welsh, and also with the idea that she is still above it all. And yet, as Cecily’s attempts to establish herself as lady of her new home, her time at Caernarvon, and her interactions with Welsh maid Gwenhwyfar, challenge her. Gwenhwyfar knows all too well about losing what is rightfully yours, and in spite of the English occupation, and the dire situation of her family, she still has fire in her.

I had trouble with this book at first. Cecily was very hard to like, despite the fact I knew she would grow over the course of the narrative. Some more modern phrasing threw me. Additionally, I was worried that Cecily and Gwen would end up as personifications of the English/Welsh mentalities the book was exploring. However, the book grew on me, and by the second half I couldn’t put it down.

This is a beautiful slow build of a novel. The character development is subtle, and true. It’s nice to see some YA historical fiction from this era that’s not about royalty (although I do love me some royalty.). This novel explores the human condition, and oppression in a way that is not over the top. It aims to paint us the picture not sell us on one way or the other, and in doing so packs more of a punch. The narrative alternates in first person between Cecily and Gwen, and this worked. Especially because both girls had very distinct voices. Yes, both girls could use some work, mainly Cecily, but that’s part of what makes this novel work so well. I’m glad I got over that initial hump.

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The White Princess

                                                            by Philappa Gregory

2/5 stars

Despite my year-long wait from the publish date to read this title, this was the Cousin’s War novel I was most eagerly anticipating. The White Queen had been my favorite so far, and I eagerly awaited picking back up Elizabeth York’s story. Mostly, I wanted to know the reasoning behind her falling in love with King Richard, which was depicted in its early stages in the White Queen.

I was disappointed on a lot of levels with this book. For one, Elizabeth’s love of Richard is never explained, but we open the book with her in mourning for Richard. We are then forced to deal with her anger at the Tudors for slaying Richard. The grudges she is able to forgive while holding on to this one make it hard to swallow. Especially because ware are only incessantly told of her love for Richard, we are given no real sense of their relationship or why she loves him.

Elizabeth’s relationship with Henry is not sunshine and rainbows obviously, but it starts off in a way that made it incredibly difficult for me to ever have sympathy for him, especially as he spent the rest of the novel paranoid and petulant. It’s fine to have those moments of darkness, but I saw no redeeming qualities in Henry’s character. It’s one thing to complicate the Tudor forwarded narrative of history, and another to present a flat, uninteresting character that dominates the novel.

In terms of the rewriting of history, the book focuses on the challenges Henry faces in keeping his crown after winning it from Richard III. Except, after four previous books the fight for the crown is well-trodden territory, and I really need a new angle to keep me going. Usually this angle is the relationships, something that didn’t really pan out for me in this go-around. It might have been interesting from the boys in the tower angle. Is this really young Richard of York? Except, Gregory keeps information away from Elizabeth, and Elizabeth is apparently unable to draw her own conclusions even in her own mind. While the previous women of the Cousin’s War series have been largely proactive forces, Elizabeth comes off as extremely passive and uninteresting. Despite the number of battles and uprisings, I feel as if nothing is happening, or as if the same events are happening over and over. The state of Henry’s hold on the kingdom barely changes. Her relationship with Henry barely changes. Indeed, it got to the point where even barely there supporting characters felt more interesting.

Also, the hints of prophecy here are utterly ridiculous. The White Queen has the mystic throughout in a way, that while stretches credibility at times, is a central part of the tone and the narrative. In the White Princess, Elizabeth’s premonitions about the future of the Tudor line, especially Elizabeth I, come out of nowhere and feel heavy handed and cheap.

I desperately wanted to love this book. Overall, I have enjoyed the Cousin’s War series, and I was primed for Elizabeth to be my favorite. She was part of such an exciting time, a bridge between the York and Tudor houses. Unfortunately, I hope, this book did not seem to do her justice.

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