Uprooted by Naomi Novik

I finished a book tonight and I am blogging about in the same night! That may not seem like a larger accomplishment but I haven’t posted to this blog since July-almost three months of silence. I just started my first teaching job this fall and when teachers say they don’t have time to read they mean it. I had this lofty goal of reading Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens and I knew if I didn’t finish it before school started I probably wouldn’t even look at it until Thanksgiving or Christmas break and sadly that is the case. I did however start a novel called Uprooted one night when I was feeling anxious, burn out and not like myself and it was everything I ever needed.

It’s a fantasy novel but it’s so much more because it reads like a fairy tale but it grows and develops just like Agnieszka’s magic. She’s just a homely country girl who has never been outside her valley but when she is picked by The Dragon instead of Kaisia her whole world is turned upside down. He teaches her magic and she flourishes but it’s not the kind of magic that is common and it might be the only thing that can help her fight The Woods that are growing ever closer and slowly taking over.

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The best fantasy books in my opinion are the ones that leave stuff up to the imagination and this one did just that. It was beautifully written, the words flowed and the whole story wound up beautifully in the end. Agnieszka is the brave heroine we need especially in this day and age who takes no crap from anyone. Also the love story took second stage to the actual story and I loved that because too often in fantasy it’s all about the romance and the romance in this story grew slowly and didn’t take any attention away from the story and I found myself wanting more story then romance. You find yourself rooting for Agnieszka and willing her to win and triumph and words cannot express how much I loved this book. It was the story of a brave strong girl, who was content in herself, how she looked and what she knew. She fought for herself more than anything and won in the end.

-Alice

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Legendary by Stephanie Garber and The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

So school starts in two weeks but new teacher orientation starts on Monday and then we have inservice days until school starts, so this is my official last week of freedom. That being said I am so stressed out about everything that instead of actually lesson planning or thinking about school I decided to read an entire book instead. Needless to say Legendary didn’t put me in the greatest mood because I was angry at the ending but that is nothing new.

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I stumbled across the first book in the series, Caraval, when I was looking for books similar to the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I instantly fell in love with the characters and the story line because it brought me back to the magic of The Night Circus and it was just what I needed. I bought my copy of Legendary back when it first came out  and I put off reading it for two reasons 1) I was super busy and just didn’t have time to read it 2) I hate reading series and knew the minute I finished this one I would look up the release date for the final book and it would be a year from now (May, 2019). However, my teaching buddy asked if I had read it yet and she told me I need to so I thought what better way to distract myself about the anxiety of teaching then read a book. Eating lunch interrupted this process so I may or may not have slightly low blood sugar right now but I am telling you it was worth it.

Legendary picks up right where Caraval left off except this story is told from the POV of Donatella, which at first annoyed me because I wanted to know what was happening in Scarlett’s mind post-Caraval, however I love Tella and frankly I think she is my favorite of the two sisters. She is more independent than her sister and has this fierce streak that we as readers don’t really get to see until now. We also get to see more of Dante, who if I am being frank I don’t remember from the first book but apparently he and Tella got hot and steamy and he is covered in tattoos which already makes me like him a lot.

Legend is taking Caraval to the capital of their islands (I think, honestly me and geography of various fantasy worlds just doesn’t mix) and this time Tella has to play in order to fulfill a debt and find someone who has been missing for a very long time. Again nothing is at it seems and you will find yourself guessing the whole time as to who is exactly who, and the motives behind all the characters and why people are doing what they are doing. This book is a nonstop roller coaster ride of emotions and honestly you will not want to put it down because you simply have to know what is happening! It will make you hungry for more so read at your own peril but seriously it is worth it.

More books like this:

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

“Cruel Beauty” & “Crimson Bound” both by Rosamund Hodge

Entwined by Heather Dixon

The other book I read and finished about a week ago was The Alice Network by Kate Quinn.

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This a historical adult novel so not YA fantasy but YA fantasy and adult historical fiction are my two favorite genres. This story focuses on two women. One a spy during WWI and one a post WWII girl just trying to find her missing cousin. They have one thing in common a Monsieur who goes by several names.

As Charlie St. Clair treks across the French countryside, with a grumpy Scottsman and her guide, a crazy old English woman, she is not only searching for her lost cousin, contemplating her “little problem”, she is also falling in love and learning the true story behind “The Alice Network”.

As Eve Gardiner is dragged out of her drunken stupor and English home by a crazy American named Charlie St. Clair, she is dragged back into her past when she used to spy for the English government, part of a network that left her broken physically and emotionally.

I really enjoyed this book because it talked a lot about WWI and specifically Germany during WWI, which is not something usually written about. I can name more than a dozen books that talk about what happened before, during and after WWII but I haven’t read a lot of books about The Great War. The Germans were just as cruel in the first war as they were the second and for me personally it was interesting to read about a time in history that I hadn’t known a lot about. The most surprising thing to me was that Germany did indeed invade the Northern part of France during WWI and the use of spies, especially women. The first WW started in 1914, women’s liberation hadn’t come that far and so using women as spies was interesting to me. This story is also based on the actual Alice Network. The main character is fictional but the woman who ran the network is real and a lot of the references mentioned happened.

This was a quick read, despite the length of the book, but it is fast paced interesting and the love story is on the back burner for most of the story which is a refreshing change.

More books like this:

At the Water’s Edge by Sarah Gruen

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

-A

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

I apologize to those of you that read this blog (if you are still there) because of little I update this blog but in the coming months I am hoping to make it also a little more educationy, as in I will start teaching in August and hope to blog about some of the things I do in my classroom. In the meantime this summer I have managed so far to read only one book. This is not counting the books I read in May but seriously for the whole month of June I only managed to read one book! I blame this on the fact that every summer I give myself the lofty goal of conquering one of the “classics” or i.e. a book written by an old dead white guy/book put into the canon because it’s always been that way, and even though Dickens was writing about political wrongdoings in his time period and Angie Thomas is doing that right now so why aren’t we making THUG required reading, I am still going to read Dickens.

My dad loves Dickens and so I grew up watching the BBC adaptations of all the books and my favorite as a kid was Little Dorrit. So after getting my hands on a copy almost six years ago I am finally reading it and it has been slow going. As of today I am halfway through the book so the review on this one will be some time but in the meantime I took a break sat down and read Cruel Prince by Holly Black in a day. I love Holly Black! I read the Tithe books as an unsuspecting seventh grader and fell in love with YA fantasy and especially fairies, so someday when I get my book published part of my dedication will be to Holly Black.

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Holly has this magical (pun not intended) way of creating a world of fairies without making everything so complicated. Holly can give me a Tolkien like story without the complete other book that gives the entire setup to her world, and a trilogy and countless other stories and complete languages. So maybe she is not on the same level as Tolkien when it comes to world building but sometimes it is nice to feel like you know the world that is being created without having to read all the backstory.

Jude is brought to the Fey world against her will and raised as a human in a world of fairies. Despised by everyone around her except for her stepfather, and sisters Jude must navigate this strange new world all the while desperately trying to fit in. Jude is desperate to escape and believes she has found the means to do so when she is sucked into the world of fey politics, aligning herself with one king, all the while uncovering dark secrets that may or may not keep her in fairy for good.

I loved the pace of this story, the characters and it felt very GOT to me, especially how it ended. I hope that doesn’t spoil anything; the story has a fresh take that fits in with what is popular right in books and TV. It is a definite must for my classroom and I was so disappointed to learn that the sequel doesn’t come out until January of next year, because like I tell everybody I hate series. I always wait until they are all out to read the next one which is why I haven’t started Legendary by Stephanie Garber yet or finished A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas yet because I just know the minute I do I will hate myself because the next book doesn’t come for like another year.

Also before I go two big announcements in the world of Literature that are important to me. First one makes me angry so to end on a high note I just want to say a little about the changing of the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award. Someday when we look back at books like THUG, or Monday’s Not Coming or All American Boys or anything that is super popular in YA right now we are going to find problems with it. Looking back there will be issues that come to light that we didn’t see before because we are a product of our time. Laura Ingalls Wilder was a product of her time. And if you actually took time to read the books, like I did, you would discover that Laura was raised to respect the Native Americans and so did her Pa. He recognized it was their land first but what was Pa supposed to do. Stay in Wisconsin land that was taken from Native Americans anyway or go back Europe? What was he to do in Europe when he was born on the American continent? The people that changed this award, their ancestors most likely came to this country as immigrants, a country that was stripped from the native people, and they want to call Laura Ingalls Wilder racist. If we are truly to make restorations everyone that cannot claim they are Native Americans, people who lived here long before White Men came to “settle” this land, should have to go back to the country of where their ancestors are from. We simply cannot do that. We also cannot ignore our countries history. This country was built on blood and death. I am not defending what was happened I am merely saying we cannot rewrite over the parts of history we don’t like. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote it as she saw it. Yes, our country has changed and we don’t think like we used to, which is a very good thing, but we also cannot ignore where we came from. George Washington owned slaves and yet he helped found this great country that we all love and want to make better. So instead of getting rid of this award and giving it some generic name so as not to offend anyone maybe we just acknowledge that despite what Laura may have personally thought she was a great female writer paving the way for other great female writers. She gave the world a great personal account of what life was like on the prairie. She wrote personal history that isn’t biased by anything and what better way to learn from the past than from someone who lived it.

I know I am on a soapbox right now but people are not perfect. Look at what is happening with the Nobel Peace Prize right now. Don’t hate on everybody because of one person’s stupid choice. We have created a society that lives to condemn instead of one that should live to forgive and move on instead of reveling in the wrongdoing and pointing fingers.

#soapboxover

On to news number #2, that being that Netflix is bringing The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to the States! If you have not read this phenomenal book yet I would recommend audio book because it is epistolary style and hearing each individual voice read their letters was such a treasure and really brought the characters to life. Mark your calendars for August 10!

Thanks for reading (if anyone is reading this besides my mom 🙂 hi mom!).

-A

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

My graduation present to myself was watching through all seven current seasons of Game of Thrones. So before I post anything about my favorite contemporary author I would like to post my top 10 thoughts about GOT (which I keep wanting to abbreviate as GTO).

  1. Arya Stark is my favorite character and I have decided anyone else can die except her.
  2. Queen Daenerys is my Queen and I will follow her anywhere.
  3. I am weirdly attracted to Ramsey Bolten and I hate it because he is creepy and evil but he has the cutest smile.
  4. However, if I had to pursue someone it would be Jon Snow.
  5. I hated Little Finger since the first time I saw him and was so proud when Sansa sentenced him to die.
  6. Samwell Tarly reminds me of Samwise Gamgee and makes me love him all the more.
  7. Tyrion Lannister and I are soul sisters.
  8. If Jamie Lannister didn’t have the most messed up relationship with his sister I might be able to like him and even forgive him for what he has done.
  9. If I was in the Westeros I would most definitely be a follower of the Lord of Light or become a faceless man.
  10. But none of these thoughts matter because the Night King has a undead dragon which blew a hole in the wall so nothing matters anymore because all my favorite characters die in every single TV show I watch.

Now that I have divulged my feelings about GOT I will move on to what this blog is supposed to be about. I discovered Aimee Bender about two years ago when I read The Girl in the Flammable Skirt in a creative writing class and found my new inspiration. I’ve only ever had one or two other authors really inspire me. Aimee Bender is unlike any other author I have read or wanted to style my writing after her. She writes about the human condition in a way that blends magic with reality in such a way that she is able to talk about mental illness without being obvious. By using the unreal she is able to explore the real. It reminds me of Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. As much as I disliked that book I was able by the end of the novel to understand what Kurt was trying to tell us. He couldn’t write about the horrors of the war but he could do so through science fiction. Aimee Bender uses the surreal to talk about people, our emotions, our secret heartaches, our mental illnesses in such a way that we find we do understand.

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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake focuses on Rose who one day finds she taste people’s emotions in food. She realizes this after she eats her mother’s lemon cake and tastes her mother’s depression. And thus begins Rose’s journey to understanding why she  has gained this new ability and how it affects her life growing up. I cannot tell much more without giving away information but the book certainly isn’t what one thinks it is. It’s the story of a broken family and how one never truly knows another person. We hide our emotions away where no one can find them but Bender found a way to bring those emotions into the light. It’s a tough read because Rose is eight when she finds out her abilities and reading it through the eyes of a child was not easy. It made it all the more real and gut wrenching. Bender truly is a magician at writing people’s emotions.

-A

IMWAYR: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

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Well I guess it’s not Monday anymore. I had grand ambitions of posting this yesterday but a day late isn’t too bad.

I picked up an ARC copy of The Hazel Wood at NCTE and honestly didn’t think much of the book because it didn’t look impressive and there weren’t a large group of people charging for a free book. That was until January rolled around, the book was released and hundreds of reviews were flowing in saying it was the best book of the new year. I didn’t have time with student teaching to sit down and read it in two days but that is what summer vacation is for.

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This is not a retelling of Alice in Wonderland in fact the book only mentions AIW once and in passing. In fact if anyone has read The Thirteenth Tale that is what it reminds me more of. Alice Prosperine or Alice Crewe as she likes to call herself is the granddaughter of Althea Prosperine the author of Tales from the Hinterland, except Alice has never read a copy because her mother won’t let her. When Alice’s mother disappears mysteriously one night Alice knows the only place she will find her is The Hazel Wood, her grandmother’s estate except Alice has never been there and has no idea where it is. She teams up with Ellery Finch, a fanatic fan of Althea Prosperine and Tales from the Hinterland, to find the location of the Hazel Wood and find her mother. Except what Alice doesn’t know is she will find herself along the way.

Not going to lie the book was confusing. It is a mystery so that part is understandable but even then I still don’t really understand the ending or the Spinner, or the stories themselves. I do like a stand alone story (I’m not sure if there is going to be another one) but if there were another book I would like some more background about the Hinterland because I still don’t really know what I read.

All that being said it was as good as the reviews said it was. It was mysterious, fast paced, engaging and you really don’t know what is going to happen (hence the paragraph above), but that only adds to the need to finish it. I love a good mystery where you breathlessly turn every page hoping that the author took pity on the readers and left us some more clues or have finally decided to tell us what is going on. This is a definite must read for those who love mysteries and fairy tales. Except the kind of fairy tales Alice encounters are not Disney censored.

Similar books: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, Piper by Jay Asher (this is a graphic novel), Through the Woods by Emily Carroll (also a graphic novel), Doll Bones by Holly Black, The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman (illustrated story), and Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge.

-A

 

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson and Speak: the Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson

I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I started this book but something about the title and bright red cover intrigued me. Somehow I ended up with an ARC copy from the NCTE convention and Laurie Halse Anderson kept retweeting tweets about this book and even wrote a review (I think or a dedication not sure which) and I knew I better read it and the sooner the better. This book doesn’t come until June 18 but I would highly recommend preordering your copy now.

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This novel highlights a problem which is hardly ever spoken about and from her author’s note, it wasn’t a known problem until just last year when the hashtag #missingdcgirls went viral. What we too often assume is these children are runaways and leave it at that. While Jackson’s novel doesn’t deal with Human Trafficking it focuses on another issue close to my heart: child abuse. As an educator who has seen and heard about abuse from my students it breaks my heart that often times nothing is done or those parents are given back custody of their children. I understand a parent wanting to change their lives around and get their kids back but often times it is simply because they want the abuse to continue or feel their rights have been violated-they want their kids back because they feel they have a right to them not a right to treat them right, care for them and treat them like human beings.

Claudia and Monday are best friends and often times mistaken for twins so when Monday doesn’t show up for the first day of eighth grade, Claudia knows something is wrong. The problem is no one will listen to her or if they do nothing happens. As Claudia gets more and more desperate more and more of the story is revealed you will find yourself as desperate as Claudia to find Monday, alive and safe.

This story broke my heart because it is all too real and those are the kinds of stories we need to be reading. Dickens wrote about the conditions of the poor house and Jackson is writing about the conditions of children growing up in DC. He wrote about his time just as Jackson is writing about ours and it is time we listened. It is time we stopped pushing the novels of an era gone by and start pushing the novels of this era. Just like Dickens, Sinclair, and Wolf wrote about the injustices of their time period so are the authors emerging right now: Angie Thomas, Tiffany D. Jackson, Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Julie Murphy and many many more. It’s time we added a subtitle to Monday’s not Coming: What are we Going to do About it.

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In light of this awesome and amazing book I also finished reading Speak: The Graphic Novel with AMAZING artwork by the fabulous Emily Carroll. I’ve loved this novel since seventh grade and seeing it revamped in such an amazing style was the best graduation present I could ask for. Every little detail drawn is purposeful, beautiful and adds so much to the story. As with graphic novels the pictures are equally if not more important than the words. Even though I love words and think them magical I find myself agreeing again and again with the statement “A picture is worth a thousands words” because it is so true. For the first time we are able to visualize Melinda’s pain, see her metaphors, similes and references in images not just in our heads. We are able to see how Carroll channeled Melinda’s pain and her inability to speak and bring it to life. It truly is one of the best graphic novels I have read and I cannot wait to share it with my students. I already lent it to one student and she came back in two days and told me “This is the first book I have read in two days”. #Proudteachermoment.

Another great graphic novel that deals with emotional pain and trauma is Lighter than My Shadow by Katie Green. Don’t let the size intimidate you.

-A

Graduation and Fairy Tales

It’s been a while since I posted but I was concentrating on graduating from college (which I did!) so reading has been pushed to the back burner for a while. I did however manage to read a few books before I received my diploma and they were all fairy tales in a sense.

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The first book I read between writing lesson plans, journals and finishing up in the classroom was Naked: A Novel of Lady Godiva by Eliza Redgold. I didn’t know much about Lady Godiva other than the famous poem by Tennyson, which tells the story of the famous ride through Coventry, naked and covered by her long hair. I had no idea why she was riding through Coventry, who put her up to it or really anything about her story and while this particular novel is simply the author’s imaginings of what she thinks happens I like to think there is some deeper truth to her words.

It’s not technically a verse novel however there are times where I felt like I was reading a verse novel-short clipped sentences that broke into paragraphs-something like one would see in a verse novel. I did however feel like I was reading a fairy tale as I learned of the love story between Godiva and Leofric. It has it’s ups and downs but it brought me back to days of King Arthur and an older England that is rarely seen anymore. It was also a really quick read and left me with that warm fuzzy feeling only a romance novel can.

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Last week as I waiting for my oil change I broke down and bought Tales of the Peculiar by Ransom Riggs because I saw he tweeted the cover of his next book and it made me miss Miss Peregrine and all her peculiar children. It wasn’t like returning back to the world of the Peculiars but it was nice to read some stories mentioned in passing in the series. They are interesting stories and would be worth reading if not for enjoyment but for context and information to further understand the world Riggs has created.

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The last book I read in a day and it was during finals week and much needed. I would call it Midsummer’s Night Dream meets The Ice Queen, but that’s just my opinion. The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long is the story of a sister on a quest to find her missing brother. That’s the short of it. However, there is a lot more going on that took me a while to figure out. First of all it is set in modern times, but it would be like if modern day me got lost in the woods and suddenly found myself in the land of the fairies. Similar to what happened to the characters in Midsummer’s, except a lot more scary things happen then just getting lost in the woods. Jenny loses her brother to the woods (literally) and seven years later finds herself once again drawn into those same woods. Except instead of finding her brother she finds Jack and Puck (sound familiar anyone) where she must rescue her brother from Titania and outsmart Oberon. Except these aren’t the noble fairies one encounters in Midsummer’s, who just want to play pranks on each other. These fairies have a different agenda and will use Tom and Jenny as their playthings to accomplish it.

The book wasn’t extraordinary and in fact if I am being honest probably wouldn’t stand out to anyone alone on the shelf but many times those stand alone stories are the best ones. It was a quick read and I read in an day, well more like night but it wasn’t that late. It had my favorite element-fairies-and it wasn’t super complicated. Sometimes when you read fantasy books the plot gets so thick and twisty (GOT) that one can get easily lost and confused. This was just a simple story focusing on a single event and was extremely enjoyable and just what I needed to get out of my reading slump. I don’t know however if I can say I got out of my reading slump because I have like ten million books to read and I tend to find myself playing video games or watching Netflix instead.

I started reading the first Game of Thrones book, I am still reading the latest Court of Thrones and Roses book, my fellow English teaching friend/colleague lent me the Scythe books by Neal Shusterman, and I have borrowed/bought about fifty other books and want to reread at least two others. And all I really want to do right now is take a nap, oh well.

-A