June Book Haul

I had a goal of buying only five books this month, and… I almost made it, until the Book Outlet sale. Without the Book Outlet books I ordered this month, I acquired only 6 books in June, and at the time that I bought book 6 I thought, “I could resist this if I really wanted to, but I already failed my goal so why not?” So I’m going to keep trying for 5 books per month in the future, but in the meantime, here are my 14 new books from June:

  1. Vicious by V. E. Schwab. This one technically arrived in my mailbox on the last day of May, but I had already posted my monthly book haul so it carried over. I still haven’t read any V. E. Schwab yet, but she’s high on my list, and after much consideration I think this will be the first one I will read. I was hoping to get to it in June already, but I got a little off of my TBR so probably July. I think it’s about a bunch of college kids who are trying to become superheroes, which sounds pretty awesome.
  2. White Fur by Jardine Libaire. The Book of the Month Club selections for June hit the mark for me exactly, so I couldn’t resist filling my June box with the maximum number of selections–3 books, all brand-new in June. This one’s a gritty Romeo and Juliet type romance, and I’ve already read and adored it.
  3. The Sisters Chase by Sarah Healy. Here’s my second BOTM selection, which I’ve also read already. Sometimes I’m bad about reading my new books promptly, but I was already off of my TBR when my BOTM box arrived and I couldn’t help myself from diving right in. In this one, two sisters fourteen years apart in age suddenly find themselves parent-less and set off across the country, trying to escape the past and find their way by any means necessary. All the emotions come out in this book.
  4. A Million Junes by Emily Henry. And this is my final BOTM pick for the month. I haven’t read Henry’s previous publication yet, but this magical realism YA romance sounded exceptional and as soon as I finished reading the blurb I added both of her books to my TBR. I’m actually starting this one now, and quite enjoying it.
  5. The Love that Split the World by Emily Henry. As long as we’re talking about Henry’s books, I might as well admit that her first book also found its way to my shelves this month, via the Book Outlet sale. This is another YA magical realism with some romance, and I believe it’s a completely separate story but set in the same world as her newer release. I hope to get to this one soon, as well.
  6. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon. I’ve been hearing a lot about this series since its third book came out earlier this year, so when I saw how cheap it was on the Book Outlet sale I added it to my cart, along with:
  7. The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon. This is book two in the same series. I believe they’re a futuristic fantasy/dystopia set that’ll eventually be seven books long, which sounds like a nice break from all the trilogies I’ve been reading lately.
  8. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Long reputed to be the first modern novel, this classic was written in the early 1600s. Whenever I find a long classic I want to read, I tend to buy it because they’re easier when I don’t feel rushed by a library due date or an impatient friend. I found this one also on Book Outlet and it’s more of a long-term reading goal than an immediate one, but I’m making an effort to read more classics lately so hopefully it won’t be unread on my shelf for too long.
  9. Everybody Sees the Ants by A. S. King. Another Book Outlet find. I’ve heard great things about A. S. King’s writing, and this book in particular. I think it’s about a boy with a grief-addled family who’s also being bullied, but he escapes through adventurous dreams about the place where his grandfather died in the Vietnam War in an effort to escape his harsh reality.
  10. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. I know very little of the plot–I think a boy finds a neighbor’s dog dead in the yard at night and is trying to piece together what happened. I picked this one up because I have a metal bookmark that’s printed with the titles of “50 books to read before you die,” and this one’s on that list. I’ve liked the books I’ve read from that list so far, so I didn’t really need to know more about this book than that.
  11. Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult. I loved Jodi Picoult’s books in high school. I think it was around the same time I was reading a lot of Nicholas Sparks books. I haven’t ready anything of either of theirs lately, but there are still a few Picoult titles I’d be interested in checking out to see if I still like her stories or have grown out of them as I believe I’ve grown out of Sparks’. I’ve decided to give her latest release a try, and I figured I might as well buy it cheap from Book Outlet and add it to my high school collection of Jodi Picoult novels.
  12. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane. My eighth and final Book Outlet selection. Oddly, I hadn’t even heard of Dennis Lehane until I chose his newest publication, Since We Fell, as a BOTM selection a couple months ago. I still haven’t read that one yet, but when I discovered he was the author of Shutter Island (I love that movie), I was very interested in checking out some of his other works. This looked like a good place to start, although I think technically I will start with Since We Fell before moving into more of his books. In any case, I’m intrigued.
  13. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Barnes and Noble classics are only $5 each right now, so of course I had to pick one up. So I combed through the display looking for all the classics at the forefront of my long-term TBR and chose the thickest one. There’s just something so pleasing about getting a long book for a little money. This one’s full of romance and tragedy, which is my favorite combination in a classic.
  14. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan. I’m a sucker for those staff-picks displays at bookstores, even at the big chains like Barnes and Noble. The sale books and the staff picks are the first two things I check at any bookstore. When I went into Barnes and Noble planning to buy one $5 classic of undetermined choice, I checked out those staff recommendations and couldn’t resist this new release. It looks like a mystery about a death at a bookstore that’s also connected to past violence and weird use of books. I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

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Those are my new books. I’ve already read two of them. I’m aiming to stick closer to 5 in July, and this time I’m pretty confident. Generally after I spend more money than I planned, I compensate for the empty-wallet guilt by spending very little afterwards. But then again, I was pretty confident that I could stick to 5 books in June, and look what happened. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

What new books did you pick up in June?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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July TBR

I have a TBR for July, but after I jumped all over the place with my reading in June, I don’t trust myself as much to stick to the plan, and thus it’s a loose plan. There are a few different parts to my list for July, so let’s look at those.

First, the winner of this month’s Choose My Next Read vote:

  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. This one’s about a Lithuanian teen who ends up in a Siberian labor camp with some of her family, and is trying to convey to her father, who’s been separated from them, what has happened to them–through her art. It’s a YA WWII historical fiction.

Second, the books I didn’t read from my June TBR that are being carried over to this month:

  • Vicious by V. E. Schwab. I believe this one features a few college students who are working together to create superpowers for themselves. Surely that will go awry. This will be my first V. E. Schwab book, and I’ve heard excellent things not only about her plots, but about her beautiful writing style, so I’m eager to check it out.
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo. I read Bardugo’s Grisha Trilogy earlier this year, and have been meaning to start this tale of an epic Ravkan heist ever since. All I know is that it has new characters but takes place in the same world, and that I’m probably going to love it.

The books I currently have on loan from my library:

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This was a new YA release in May and has been receiving rave reviews. I know that it’s about a girl who watched her best friend die, and that it was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. This is a book that I’m sure will live up to its hype.
  • A List of Cages by Robin Roe. This is another 2017 YA release with great reviews. As far as I know, this one’s about struggling foster siblings  helping each other find their way through some similar difficulties after they’ve been separated and have found each other again.
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I’ve had my eye on this one for a while and finally found it at my library. Again, phenomenal reviews. All I know is that it features a crotchety old man with new neighbors who unearth a big story from the man’s past that will change all their lives in the present. I’m hoping for something like Mr. Fredrickson from Up.

Series I hope to continue this month:

  • Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare. This is the third and final book in the Infernal Devices trilogy. This has been so long coming. It’s been years since I first read the two earlier books in this trilogy, and after rereading them earlier this year I’m dying to find out how it all ends for warlock Tessa and her Shadowhunter friends in Victorian London.
  • The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen. This is the second book in the Queen of the Tearling trilogy, which I just started reading last week. There’s a lot of world-building and plot layout in book one, but even so I loved it and can’t wait to see what happens next for Kelsea and the Red Queen and everyone caught between them.

A new release I want to read ASAP:

  • The Lying Game by Ruth Ware. The publication date for this new thriller is July 25 in the US, and I will be reading this one as close to that date as possible because I have been eagerly anticipating a new Ware thriller since I finished reading The Woman in Cabin 10 last August. I don’t like to know too much about thrillers going in, but I do know that a woman walking her dog along a river finds a dead body that sets this one in motion.

My classic of the month:

  • Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. I have a cool annotated (and illustrated) copy of this one and it seems like a good summer-type classic. It will be my first but probably not my last Robert Louis Stevenson read, and I’m looking forward to it. It must be about sailing, and treasure, and adventure…

Some extra books I’ve been eyeing on my shelf lately:

  • All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood. This is a BOTM book I have backlogged on my shelf, and I’ve been meaning to read it for months. It’s about a young girl who’s father is a meth dealer, and who becomes unlikely friends with one of her father’s henchmen after he wrecks his motorcycle.
  • Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson. I really want to read this one in the summer, and summer dwindles fast so I hope I’ll be able to fit this one in somewhere soon. It’s a YA novel that features a teen girl who’s best friend has gone away and left her a list of activities to keep her life from becoming too boring and complacent in the absence of her wilder friend.
  • A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I’ve actually read this one before, but only this first book of the Song of Ice and Fire series. I have been wanting to finish all five books that are published so far, and I think it would be best to just start over. This also seems like a good summer endeavor, because all that snow in Stark north is too miserable to read about in actual winter. It’ll be good to get back into this series and all the characters I love/hate.

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Those are the books I will likely be choosing from in July, 13 in total. I doubt I will have time to read 13 books this month, and after I veered from my plan in June I can’t even guarantee that I won’t be picking up something totally unexpected in addition. Some of these categories are higher priorities than others–I will certainly be reading the Choose My Next Read winner, the library books, my classic of the month, and probably that new release. After that, it’s anyone’s guess. Also, if the July selections from Book of the Month Club look anything like the irresistible choices from June, I will probably feel the need to cram an extra BOTM book or two in there somewhere, but I won’t know until the new selections are announced on the first. So I have a TBR, but I have no idea what will actually happen with my reading schedule in July.

If there’s anything on this list you particularly want to see a review for, please let me know in the comments below because that really helps me prioritize what to read next when there are just too many good choices!

What are you reading in July?

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Sisters Chase

I’ve been loving Book of the Month Club all year, but never so much as in the month of June. It was so difficult choosing from the five new selections this month because I wanted to read every single one of them. I even put some high priority books from my TBR on hold when my box arrived because I just couldn’t wait to dive into the the new books. And now that I’ve read Sarah Healy’s The Sisters Chase, I have a new favorite BOTM book for 2017.

About the book: Diane wasthesisterschase young when she had her first daughter, Mary, and the two of them are more or less alone in the world until baby Hannah joins the family when Mary is 14. There’s no father present for either of the girls, and even the grandparents are gone by the time Hannah is born, so when their mother dies in a car crash four years later, the sisters Chase are truly on their own. Old enough to act as Hannah’s legal guardian, Mary is forced to make some tough choices about their lives. Though the changes she makes are not always positive or even necessarily legal, Mary has only ever wanted to protect Hannah. The two of them set off in a Chevy Blazer and live by Mary’s wits in motel rooms and camp sites and shabby apartments, searching for love and answers and some elusive shard of peace that has always been denied to them both.

“The Chase girls stayed the next morning until it was time to check out, lying on the bed and basking in the infinitude of being nowhere.”

About the layout: the narration is told entirely in the third person, usually focused on Mary but occasionally veering to describe details that Mary wouldn’t know about other characters. Each chapter is offset with a year marker, highlighting a few key years in the 1970’s and 80’s. The timeline is perfect for the story–Mary’s cross-country driving expeditions are made possible by an extra degree of anonymity that hasn’t existed since the more recent digital era; the lack of cell phones is crucial to Mary’s rambling freedom. There are just enough time-accurate details to ground the story in its temporal setting without turning its focus away from Mary.

About the writing: The Sisters Chase is beautifully and emotionally woven (with just a hint of romance) from the beginning. Although there aren’t as many one-liners as I expected from this poignant narration, there’s a finesse of language that keeps the reader going even when the plot hits a (rare) slow point. This book bleeds tragedy, though there are happy moments, as well. It’s not the sort of sorrow that can make a reader cry without context; the sadness of The Sisters Chase comes in the implications and inferences, the masked emotion behind simple actions, the meaningfulness slowly revealed in every seemingly random move that Mary makes.

“At first, Mary decided not to think about it. She decided to tightly fold up the facts in her head again and again. Mary could do that. Mary could lock away parts of her mind, of her heart. Mary could hide things.”

About the characters: each and every person introduced in this story is unique and significant in some way, but the most interesting characters, of course, are the three Chase women. A sort of Gilmore Girls-type friendship is evident between them, despite (or perhaps because of) Diane’s firm but gentle wisdom, Mary’s fierce wildness, and Hannah’s dreaminess. With Diane gone (though always in Mary’s memories and thus present throughout the book), Mary is free to make some truly questionable decisions, but her devotion to Hannah keeps her from going off the rails completely.

” ‘Yes. I wanted you to love her. I didn’t want yo to live for her,’ [Diane] said. I didn’t want you to have to.’ “

The thing about Mary is that she always operates with an escape hatch in mind. She won’t go anywhere or start anything without knowing how she can flee before things go too far south.

“…Hannah feeling the optimism of going somewhere, Mary feeling the relief of having left. The Chase girls were always happiest in those brief moments of in-between, when neither of them was sacrificing, neither of them being sacrificed.”

I saw the big plot twist coming from the very beginning. I saw it, but dismissed it. I wondered about Mary’s past secrets, but when I did, so much was going on at the forefront of the story that it didn’t seem to matter what had happened before. It didn’t matter whether my guess was right because it didn’t change the fact that Mary was presently lying and stealing and bribing her way to cold, hard cash. And then when the past did matter, there was so much fresh emotion layered onto that big lie that it still didn’t matter that the reveal lacked surprise. It made me cry anyway. More trusting readers than me will probably find more shock-value in the big reveal, but my point here is that even if you see it coming, it’s worth it.

“But what Mary knew, what Mary had always known, is that when you stay still, leg in a trap, trouble can find you.”

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. This book sneaked up on me. I knew right away that I loved the writing and the emotion it contained, but it still took a long time for me to realize just how hard it was going to be to get over the story. Mary is intriguing all the way through, but I had no idea until close to the end that my heart was going to break into a billion pieces for her family. I have very little in common with Mary, but I won’t be able to forget her for a long time. This is one of my favorite books of the year, and I’ll definitely keep an eye on this author going forward.

Further recommendations:

  1. Marlena by Julie Buntin is another 2017 release (and BOTM selection) about two girls who feel like it’s them against the world until tragedy knocks them back into their places. This is another great example of how friendship can overcome almost anything. It’s harsh and gritty in the same way as The Sisters Chase, and it’s also more about the emotion in something unstoppable rather than the event itself. It’s about how girls grow up, in a place where there are no right answers.

What’s next: I’m currently reading Cassandra Clare’s City of Lost Souls, the 5th book in the Mortal Instruments series. I’m getting so excited about nearing the end of both the Mortal Instruments and the Infernal Devices, which I’m reading simultaneously because I’m going through the Shadowhunter books in publication order. Things are heating up in both sets, and I’ve never gotten this far before so I have no idea what will happen or where it will end.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Queen of the Tearling

Erika Johansen’s popular NA/adult fantasy trilogy starts with: The Queen of the Tearling, a beautiful book inside and out. I had been putting off reading this trilogy because I wanted to have them all in matching paperbacks on my shelf before I started. But this book tied for the win in my Choose My Next Read interactive post for June, so I read it by request, and I’m so glad I did.

thequeenofthetearlingAbout the book: Kelsea, sole heir to the Tearling throne, has been raised by a foster family for most of her life. 18 years have passed between the death of her mother, the infamous Queen Elyssa, and Kelsea’s own coronation. When the Queen’s Guard arrives on her nineteenth birthday at the cottage where Kelsea and her adoptive parents have been hiding on the outskirts of the Tearling kingdom, she has no choice but to go with them and rule the Tearling for as many days as she can survive. Between the assassins, her greedy uncle who wants the throne for himself, the mysterious and dangerous Fetch who takes matters into his own hands, and the powerful Red Queen of the neighboring kingdom with her sights set on making the Tearling bow down before her, Kelsea’s chances of survival are slim. The kingdom is in shambles–the bad guys want to take advantage and win control for themselves, and the good guys are so cautious about preventing further damage that unless Kelsea can prove herself a powerful force for good, she’s in danger even from the people that should be on her side. It will take a miracle to right all the wrongs in the Tearling–is Kelsea that miracle, or is she just a lost girl who’s been lied to all her life?

“The future was only the disasters of the past, waiting to happen anew.”

About the layout: the entire book is written with third person narration that primarily follows our main character, Kelsea, but also shifts to focus on other characters who are crucial to the central action of the story.

Kelsea makes a great main character. She’s not quite a “chosen one” in the typical way that a seeming nobody is plucked from obcurity and placed on a pedestal, but she is thrust into responsibility and expected to save the entire kingdom. She’s intelligent and brave, though she’s clearly inexperienced; it’s a great balance of power and naivité.

“If there was a God, he would feel like this, standing astride the world. But Kelsea was terrified, sensing that if she wanted to break the world in half she could do it, of course she could, but there was more here than she knew. Everything came with a price.”

My favorite parts of the book, though, may have been the sections that were not focused on Kelsea. Every now and then there appears a section focused on an alternative point of view, highlighting a character who’s important but standing on the periphery of the main action. These sections never fail to impress by proving that characters who could have been rather flat are actually full of personality and unique motivations. This is a multi-faceted tale that’s well-thought-out and intriguing from every angle.

Beyond the characters, this is a high fantasy trilogy that’s set in the future of the modern world, which blends fact and fiction in an interesting way. The Tearling seems like a whole new made-up land, but every now and then there are references to real places and details known from our present world. Mostly these familiar details take the form of real-life countries and places, and real-life literature. Rowling’s books get a direct reference, and Tolkien’s. They’re small details, but they give the whole book an extra shot of reality that keeps the reader a little more personally invested.

“Even a book can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and when that happens, you blame the hands, but you also read the book.”

I also appreciate the way magic works in this book. So many times in fantasy, magic is something that comes unexpectedly from within a person and it appears in fairly predictable ways–but in The Queen of the Tearling, magic is not widely understood or expected and it’s linked to the Tearling sapphires rather than Kelsea herself.Very few characters seem to understand the significance of the sapphires or their power, and Kelsea is not among them. The magic the sapphires possess is a force of its own, affected by her anger but almost a character in its own right. The power is something that Kelsea borrows rather than possesses, which is refreshing.

“She’d checked her sapphires often, but they simply hung there, heavy and cold. For today, at least, they were only jewels.”

The only aspect that I might find complaint with was the passage of time. There are a few specific deadlines that are significant in the story, mostly revolving around the “shipments” that the Red Queen demands, which make the reader want to keep track of the timeline of events in the book, but each new section of narration often jumps into the meatier parts of the action before clues are given regarding how much time has passed since the last segment. It’s not impossible to follow, but it’s a little more difficult than it needs to be.

A warning: there are some graphic scenes, and references to rape. The violence of the book is bloody and deadly, but usually takes the form of quick self-defense. The rape discussions are never actual scenes of rape, but rather stories about crimes past. None of these moments are particularly unreadable, but they’re meant to make the characters (and the readers) uncomfortable with the ways of life that have settled in the kingdoms at this time. I believe the point of the trilogy is for these wrongs (and others) to be eliminated, but in the meantime there are some of these uncomfortable elements occuring in the background.

This is a series, though, where the bad guys tend to get what’s coming to them.

My reaction: 5 out of 5 stars. I knew I would like this book, though I’d heard that there were a lot of politics to it and that always makes me hesitate. Sometimes politics bore or confuse me, but nothing about this book bored or confused me. I would definitely say that it’s advanced enough not to be a YA book, but there are probably teens who could comfortably read it anyway. I wish I had read this sooner, although I do appreciate being able to read all the books at once instead of waiting for publication dates. I’m definitely going to be reading book two, The Invasion of the Tearling, in the very near future.

Further recommendations:

  1. If you like adult high fantasy with multiple perspectives, check out Brent Weeks’ The Black Prism, which is the first book in the Lightbringer series. This is also a book about a kingdom on the verge of disaster, but the villain is slippery and hard to pinpoint because everyone in the book is morally gray.
  2. If you’re looking for a fantasy book with a strong female lead in the NA age range, try Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses, the first book in a trilogy full of oppressed faeries and the mortal girl who may be able to save them all, but could very likely lose herself in the process.

What’s next: I’m going to be reading Sarah Healy’s upcoming (June 27) release, The Sisters Chase this weekend. It’s one of my Book of the Month Club picks for June, and it’s not on my official TBR for the month, but it’s what I’m in the mood for. It’s a gritty tale about two sisters whose parents have died and left them to fend for themselves–they’re fiercely protective of each other but make many questionable choices as they juggle the past and future and travel across the country.

A reminder: there are still just a few hours left to check out the July edition of Choose My Next Read and vote for a book you’d like to see me review next month!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

 

Review: Dorothy Must Die

I’ve been a Wizard of Oz fan since I was a young child watching Judy Garland on a home-recorded VHS tape. I watched it enough times that I could still tell you where all the commercial breaks came into the story. So when I started reading YA again a couple years ago and found out about Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die, I had to pick it up.

About the book: Amy Gumm lives in a dorothymustdietrailer home with her pill-popping mother, who seems to have tired of Amy and most everything else. She’s bullied at school, friendless, and more than a little stuck in Dusty Acres. Enter: tornado. Of course, Amy’s heard the traditional story of Oz, but when she wakes up on the roof of her upside-down trailer and scampers out just before it falls into a bottomless pit, Oz is unrecognizable. A strange boy gets her started on her way, but he leaves her with more questions than answers. So does everyone else Amy meets, for that matter. Everything in Oz is different than what she imagined because Dorothy’s defeat of the Wicked Witch of the West and return trip to Kansas was only half the story–now Amy is learning that Dorothy came back and took over Oz. She turned ruthless, and took her famous friends with her. Now the Wicked of Oz are fighting to remove Dorothy from power, but even if their plans are for the good of Oz, it’s still murder they’re considering, and they’re still Wicked. In a land where everyone seems to be tied to villainy of some sort, who can Amy trust? She’ll have to decide, because even if she knew how to get home, she might not want to.

“If this was a fantasy, it was a strange one: this wasn’t the Oz I had read about or seen in the movie. It was as if someone had drained out some of the Technicolor and introduced some serious darkness.”

Best aspect: the intriguing plot. Dorothy Must Die is not one of those retellings that’s basically the same story as the original with a modern twist–it’s a whole new story of what comes after the famous tale of Oz. It is original content full of familiar faces, though no one turns out as expected. Major points for imagination.

“Wickedness is part of Oz. It’s part of the order of things. It’s always been the Good versus the Wicked. Magic can’t exist without Goodness. Goodness can’t exist without Wickedness. And Oz can’t exist without magic.”

Worst aspect: the over-simplified narration. First, before our main character Amy goes to Oz, she’s a bullied high schooler, neglected by the adults in her life. The opening scenes of this book feel so staged, so transparent as a set-up for Amy’s unhappy life in Kansas that they come across as ridiculous. What high school girl’s popularity is re-enforced by pregnancy? When does a principal suspend a student for fighting without asking for both sides of the story? What mother voices concern about a tornado and then leaves her child alone and unsafe in a trailer? So many of these details are obviously supposed to show the reader that Amy is alienated in her community, but they’re not presented well. The characters in the early pages of Dorothy Must Die seem to exist only for the sake of being cruel. Other characters seem to have no purpose at all.

“He looked at me like I was the dumbest person alive. ‘You have to stop asking those kinds of questions,’ he said. ‘You know exactly how we got out here.’ Of course I knew. It was the same as the answer he’d given before. ‘Magic,’ I said under my breath, without even really meaning to.”

But there’s more: the narration is also full of unnecessary questions and slow acquisition of information. Amy, our narrator, pieces things together excruciatingly carefully, showing every step of the simple journey from point A to point B. She’s not the only one though, who draws things out. Everyone is keeping secrets that make the narration more convoluted than necessary. This book could seriously benefit from a good culling of excess words. Here’s an example of how long it takes for characters to get to the point:

” ‘Some magic shoes would really come in handy right about now, huh?’ I said.

‘Seriously. Maybe…’ He stopped himself.

‘Maybe what?’

‘It’s nothing. It’s just–there might be one more person who…’

‘Who?’ I asked eagerly.

‘No,’ he said. ‘It would never…’

‘Who?’

He spoke with finality this time. ‘No. It won’t ever work.’

‘Please,’ I said. ‘Whatever you can do. Please just try.’

Pete nodded. ‘Okay,’ he said. “I’ll ask. But it’s a long shot. It’s the longest shot.’

Dorothy Must Die leaves little room for the reader to make assumptions or piece together clues. It comes across to me as the sort of narration one would find in a middle grade book where readers need more guidance, but there’s some profanity, and some remarks about pregnancy and torture and other more adult themes that make the book inappropriate (in my estimation, at least) for readers of that age range.

The upside: the narration does improve eventually. The incessant questions cease, but the narration is still a little bogged down with secrets and speculations instead of concrete details. The plot contains so many shocking twists and turns throughout, but the greatness of the plot is mired down in its disappointing execution. But at least by the end of this first volume we’re seeing the characters making their own choices for their own reasons, which is a step up from where this story starts.

My reaction: 3 out of 5 stars. Although I didn’t like the way the story was told, I am still interested in the premise, and I already have the second book in the series on hand. I’m not sure at this point if I’ll buy or borrow the third and fourth books or quit early, but I will at least read book two. Eventually. This is the sort of series that feels like one story broken into episodes, rather than distinct stories, which means that there won’t be much of a conclusion to most of the plot threads until the end of the series. This is primarily why I want to read onward–for closure.

Further recommendations:

  1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, first book (in chronological order): The Magician’s Nephew. If you’re looking for a magical story of children traveling to a troubled land, with less beating-around-the-bush in the narration, this series is a great choice for readers of all ages. In the first book, two children accidentally happen upon a gateway to alternate worlds and let a villain from one dying realm loose in another that’s just beginning.
  2. If you like retellings of familiar stories full of powerful villains and plenty of magic (not to mention a little romance), Marissa Meyer’s Cinder and the rest of the Lunar Chronicles fit the bill. Meyer’s books also feature a simple and drawn-out narration, but there’s plenty of action and emotion. In the first book, cyborg Cinder must escape her evil stepmother’s clutches to help the mysterious prince fight a deadly disease running rampant through the country and ensure her own (as well as all of humanity’s) survival.

Coming up next: I’m currently reading Erika Johansen’s Queen of the Tearling, the first book in an NA/adult fantasy trilogy. Newly crowned Queen Kelsea is thrust into her leadership role and learns just how much of the politics and personal family history her adoptive family have left out of her training. She’s got a giant target on her back and nowhere to hide–and maybe no one she can trust, even in her own kingdom.

P. S. If you haven’t checked it out yet, head over to my Choose My Next Read: Round 2 post to vote for a book you’d like to see me read and review in July! Votes count until Friday.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Choose My Next Read: Round 2

It’s that time of the month again–time to plan next month’s TBR! And, like last month (and basically every month), I have too many choices. Please help me choose! Below are five books from my own shelves that fall under a common category. I do plan to read them all eventually, but these are five choices that I’m specifically considering for July, and I’ll leave the choice of selection up to your vote.

The category: Historical Fiction.

The books:

  1. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. A Lithuanian girl and several of her family members are taken by Soviets to a cold Siberian labor camp in 1941, where they must fight for survival. The girl is an artist who wants to use her drawings to convey her story to her father, who has been separated from the family and taken to another prison camp. (YA)
  2. The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Three women with disparate histories become unlikely friends in 1962 Mississippi. The three embark on a difficult and controversial project that promises to help them break the barriers of their town and era.
  3. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Two sisters convene in France as the second world war strikes and one woman’s husband is sent off to fight. The two women must stand together through the frightening challenges of life in the 1940s, resisting the horrors of the war and learning anew the meaning of family.
  4. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. In late 17th century Amsterdam, a newly wedded woman is presented with a miniature version of her new house as a wedding gift–which she must furnish with the help of an artist who portrays unexpected truths in his tiny versions of the real-life setting at the unwelcoming home.
  5. Mischling by Affinity Konar. Twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz in 1944. As part of the Mengele’s Zoo experiment which holds special privileges and horrors for twins, the girls struggle to keep their bond and find companionship among the other child duos. Their separation marks the beginning of a hopeful but terrifying quest for the sister left behind.

choosemynextread2

The rules: please vote by commenting below for one of these five titles that you’d like to see me review in the upcoming month. All votes will count until Friday, June 23rd, 10 pm US Central Time. (This month, however, if I end up with a tie, I will be dropping the competing titles into a cup and choosing one winner randomly from the tied choices with the most votes.)

The purpose: I have a weakness for borrowing books even though I have plenty of unread titles on my own shelves. Although I am making a dent this year, I’m an indecisive creature and the choices are becoming overwhelming. I’m trying to eliminate unread books from my shelves, but I hardly know where to start at this point. Also, I’d love some input from you, my readers, concerning the types and titles of books that you’re interested in seeing me review. Choosing a category I feel in the mood to read helps dispel the chaos, but I’m at a loss to figure out how to narrow the choices further because they all just sound so darn good. I’d be happy to read any of these choices in July, and with your help, I will actually be reading one of them rather than staring at them indecisively! To anyone who has ever been unable to choose which book to read next, please, I beg you, vote below…

May the best title win!

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

Review: The Book of Life

I’ve been (voraciously) reading Deborah Harkness’ All Souls trilogy this month, and now I’ve reached the end of the final volume: The Book of Life. No spoilers for book three in the review below, but please read both A Discovery of Witches (book one) and Shadow of Night (two) before continuing below.

thebookoflifeAbout the book: Matthew and Diana are running out of time–the Congregation is closing in, their enemies uniting, and the Book of Life seems more impossibly lost than ever. More secrets are uncovered, threatening to divide even trusted friends. Phillipe’s blood vow that marks Diana as a de Clermont must be recognized by her adoptive siblings or be lost forever in insignificance. With tyrannical Baldwin nosing into affairs as the head of the de Clermont family and Marcus taking lead as the grand master of the Knights of Lazarus, Matthew must follow orders instead of give them. Diana, pregnant with twins, is more vulnerable than ever, but while Matthew settles matters regarding the future of his family she must seek the book alone, both of them simply hoping against all odds for the best. If they don’t find the manuscript and secure enough support by the time the twins are born, the births may be a death sentence for them all.

“I see you, even when you hide from the rest of the world. I hear you, even when you’re silent.”

First, I want to take a break from the complaints I’ve had about these books and say that this was the story I’ve been waiting for since I opened the cover of book one. Here are some of the reasons this book seems so superior to its predecessors:

  • The dialogue is more abundant, and more excellent. All of the important characters from every scattered time and place that Diana and Matthew have been are coming together. Every conversation is rife with discord and excitement that unfolds in delicious banter.
  • There are more perspectives. Diana and Matthew are still the main focus, but we see their piece of the story as one part of the whole. Again, all of the significant characters are back, and Matthew and Diana are finally sharing center stage in a way that’s beneficial to the story as a whole.
  • The pacing has increased–by which I mean, no more long descriptions of wine and food and furniture. Instead of hundreds of pages of thoughts and planning, the events of this book move adeptly from one plot point to the next in constant forward motion.
  • Matthew is getting his protectiveness/dominance under control. He’s got more progress to make, but he’s proving that it’s possible and he’s working toward it.

“Don’t worry. Matthew won’t be able to stay away for long. It’s one thing to wander in the darkness because you know no different, but it’s quite another to enjoy the light only to have it taken from you.”

I absolutely devoured this book. The plot and characters are more exciting. There are improvements in the layout–the aforementioned multiple perspectives, as well as sections divided by blurbs about the zodiac signs that foreshadow the next chapters. Mysteries are at last being solved instead of multiplied. There’s an actual villain, rather than a vague idea of “many people won’t like this, they might get organized and become a problem.” But, alas, for all its successes, The Book of Life is not perfect.

The biggest issues I have with this final volume are threads left dangling. Though the story as a whole is concluded adequately, a few matters are left open-ended. For some books, this is a great possibility for an ending. But generally, to keep the reader satisfied, open-ended questions must be guided with clear A, B, and maybe C options so the reader can choose a side and still feel that the story has come full circle. This book doesn’t even present options for some of its unanswered questions.

For example: what becomes of Gallowglass? Something is revealed about him in The Book of Life that helps explain his willingness to aid Matthew and Diana’s quest for the manuscript. When that secret becomes a problem, he just disappears. By the end of the book, the problem has not gone away, and there’s still no sign of Gallowglass, who has become a significant character.

Additionally, there’s a big vote held by the Congregation that is supposed to decide whether Matthew and Diana are to be helped on a certain matter. I won’t give more details about the specifics of the vote, and I won’t even say which way the vote goes. But after the suspenseful verdict has been reached, there seems to be no indication of help or hindrance from the Congregation on the matter in question. What was the purpose of the vote, in that case? How will that affect all the other matters they’re still voting on at the end of the story? The Congregation and its future is left irritatingly vague.

And finally, there’s the biggest unanswered question of all: what the heck is going to happen with Matthew and Diana’s epic romance in light of the fact that one of them is immortal and the other is not? The only clear detail surrounding Diana’s mortality is the fact that she will probably not become a vampire. But is there some other way to extend her life? Are they both just going to accept that she’s going to live a few more decades and then Matthew will carry on alone? Can he even carry on alone? The Book of Life was rumored to hold secrets about the philosopher’s stone, which grants some sort of immortality. Is that a philosophical immortality alone–the answer to the continued survival of their species? Or is there some way for Diana’s longevity to be increased? There are too many questions left. Even if she’s satisfied with her mortality and everyone’s planning to let her die peacefully at the end of her mortal life, I wanted to read that answer in these pages. Instead, I’m left wondering how Diana’s longevity apparently went undiscussed through three long books in which Matthew is constantly consumed with worry about her safety. I cannot fathom why this isn’t properly addressed by the end of the trilogy. I needed more closure.

“Did you know that nothing you see on the Internet ever dies, Diana? It lives on and on, just like a vampire.”

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I haven’t been this obsessive about a guilty pleasure series since I read all of the Outlander books over a year ago. In a lot of ways, Harkness’ books remind me of Gabaldon’s. This third volume is by far my favorite, and I would recommend that if you have any interest in this series at all you should stick it out through the first two and be sure to pick this one up. I’m glad I did.

Further recommendations:

  1. Let me reiterate my recommendation of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander for Deborah Harkness fans. It’s got as many possible similarities as I believe two series can have while narrating different subjects. Outlander is a cross between romance, history, and magic, like the All Souls trilogy. There’s even a would-be pickpocket apprehended and turned family, like Jack. There’s torture and politics and treason and travel. If you like A Discovery of Witches, pick up Outlander. The third book in this series also is especially worth the time it takes to get there.

What’s next: I’m currently finishing up with Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die, a crazy YA tale about a backwards Oz and Amy Gumm, the second girl to leave Kansas via tornado. I’ll have a review posted soon, and it’ll be back to regularly scheduled programming from there. Meaning I’m finally back to my original June TBR after my All Souls divergence!

Do you prefer reading books of a series back to back, or with breaks between volumes? I generally prefer breaks, to savor the series more, but it doesn’t always work that way.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant