WWW Wednesday #8

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WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. Participating bloggers answer 3 simple questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What are you going to read next?

Currently Reading

  • Knight’s Shadow by Sebastien de Castell
  • The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

Recently Finished

Planning to Read Next

  • Fragile Things and Smoke and Mirrors both by Neil Gaiman
  • Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
  • I have two audiobooks in my car – The Boston Girl (Anita Diamant) and The Paris Wife (Paula McLain) – but I don’t know which I want to read first. I am sort of not in the mood for either of them at this instant. After listening to Ready Player One I feel like no other audiobook is ever going to top it for me. I have to go to the library after work to return some things so maybe I’ll find some more future reads there.

Thoughts about my WWW? Want to share your own? Please comment!! 🙂

Top Ten Tuesday #9: Top Ten Books on my syllabus if I taught…

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, participating bloggers create a list corresponding to a particular theme. I LOVE this week’s topic: we’re listing the “Top Ten Books that would be on your syllabus if you taught X 101” – some examples were YA Fantasy 101, Feminist Literature 101, Classic YA Lit 101, World-Building 101…

So I totally made two syllabi for two courses because I couldn’t decide which I liked better. The cool thing is that both of my lists are based on actual courses I took in law school (the second one less so – you’ll see).

My first list is the books on my syllabus for Law and Literature 101. This is a real class that I took in my last semester and I knew I wouldn’t graduate without taking it. Some of the books here are ones that we actually read, but others I added because I think they fit the theme.

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  1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  2. The Trial, Franz Kafka
  3. In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
  4. The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare
  5. Dark Places, Gillian Flynn

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  6. The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
  7. Billy Budd, Sailor, Herman Melville
  8. The Firm, John Grisham
  9. The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  10. Anatomy of a Murder, Robert Traver

And now… my fun class! I also made a list of books to be on my syllabus for Witches 101. Although I didn’t take a law school course about witches specifically, when I took History of the Common Law we had pretty much free reign to choose a thesis paper topic and I wrote about legal and social attitudes towards Jews in the Middle Ages and how a lot of times they were accused of practicing witchcraft. Not to brag but I got an A :p Anyway here is my list:

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  1. Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
  2. All Souls trilogy, Deborah Harkness
  3. The Witch’s Daughter, Paula Brackston
  4. Macbeth, William Shakespeare
  5. Uprooted, Naomi Novik

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  6. Stardust, Neil Gaiman
  7. Caster Chronicles series, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
  8. Housewitch, Katie Schickel
  9. Wicked, Gregory Maguire
  10. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Would you take my classes?? What would you teach? Let me know 🙂

Book Review: “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline

“I created the OASIS because I never felt at home in the real world. I didn’t know how to connect with the people there. I was afraid, for all of my life. Right up until I knew it was ending. That was when I realized, as terrifying and painful as reality can be, it’s also the only place where you can find true happiness. Because reality is real. Do you understand?”

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First published by Crown in 2011 – 384 pages in first edition

In 2044, the world and especially the US isn’t looking so good. Wade Watts is one of many people living in “the stacks,” towers of trailers and mobile homes piled high. Wade isn’t great at interacting with people and his family life is less than ideal. But just like everyone else, Wade has a way to escape: The OASIS. This is an extremely immersive virtual reality experience that started out as one video game developed by James Halliday but soon exploded into an entire universe with thousands of planets to explore and even its own currency that’s more valuable and popular than regular cash. OASIS users have avatars that they can name and design in any way they choose. Wade’s avatar is named Parzival, and because Wade is poor he can’t really buy the equipment he needs to advance his avatar’s level. When James Halliday (now insanely, incredibly wealthy) dies, he’s a loner with no family, and he leaves behind a will that is anything but traditional. Somewhere in the depths of the OASIS he has hidden an “Easter Egg” and whoever’s avatar is the first to discover it will inherit his entire fortune. In order to access this prize, egg hunters (“gunters”) will need to find three keys that open three different gates. None of it can be done without completing various challenges that all relate to Halliday’s obsessions in life.

The resulting story is a complete love story to 1980s pop culture, the development of video games and computing, and basically all things geek (I’m not gonna pretend that I didn’t make a little excited noise when Parzival describes the teleportation booths as reminiscent of the TARDIS). Wade is a complete Halliday devotee and because he loves all of the things Halliday loves he is able to creatively attempt the quest for the egg despite his limited resources. Other important characters are Parzival’s fellow “gunters” including his best friend Aech (“H”) and long-time crush Art3mis.

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Just kidding, I just had to put some Wil Wheaton here. The only spoiler I will give is that I thought this audiobook was… AWESOME! I loved the story and feel like a more inclusive type of virtual reality like the OASIS is not so far off for us. I identified with Wade, Art3mis, even Halliday in various ways and I found myself really sharing the characters’ triumphs and sorrows.

Maybe it’s just me being a general nerdy person but SO many of my favorite movies, TV shows, bands (RUSH!!!) and other things that I like all the way down to my favorite brand of sneaker had a home in this book and it literally warmed my heart. I would be stuck in traffic and look over to the car next to me to find someone staring at me because I was either hysterically laughing or crying a little bit and it probably looked weird since when I’m listening I’m alone in the car.

Wil Wheaton is the most perfect reader for this story. I was interested in getting this book in audiobook format even though I’ve wanted to read it in general for years now (one of my law school professors actually first recommended it to me) because it constantly comes up on lists of the best audiobook performances. I cannot separate the character of Wade from Wil’s voice in my mind now and I am hoping in vain that he will be cast as Wade in the movie when it comes out even though I know it probably won’t happen. It got to a point where I would just sit in my car in the work parking lot or when I got home because I could not bring myself to stop listening. I blame all of my tardiness on Ernest Cline and Wil.

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Between this and The Martian I have been quite lucky with my sci-fi in recent weeks. I’ve heard mixed reviews about Cline’s successor novel Armada but I will probably check it out. I adored this book and everything about it and do not hesitate in giving it 5 stars 🙂

Book Review: The Selection Series (#1 – 4) by Kiera Cass

This is the first time I’ve ever reviewed an entire series at once, so bear with me! It is really hard to keep a review like this spoiler-free, since I feel like the titles of the books themselves completely give everything away, so if you are nervous about accidentally finding out anything that happens in later books I would suggest skipping over this review, though I will do my absolute best to be careful.

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91cUR43vA0LEver since I noticed these books around Goodreads and the book blogosphere I was totally intrigued by how beautiful the covers are. Seriously, I would really like it if my whole closet was filled with dresses like that. I don’t know how my co-workers or people that I run into in the grocery store would would feel, but it would sure make me happy.

When I read YA books in series it really makes the most sense for me to have every available book in the series accessible to me because I read very quickly and even more so when it is YA. This is how I read the entire Beautiful Creatures series too – just had all 4 and plowed through them in a row. I was lucky enough that my library finally had The Selection, The Elite, The One, and The Heir in all at once so I grabbed them all and started my journey. Here we go!

Basic Series Plot

The first three books (The Selection, The Elite, and The One) focus on America Singer, a beautiful and talented musician growing up in a somewhat dystopian, caste-based society (side note: when the castes were established America’s ancestors received word that their surname had changed to Singer. It was Cohen before that, which is my maiden name – thought that was interesting). Castes in Illea (North America) go from One to Eight with One being the highest social status that a person can attain, and Eight the absolute lowest – mostly all Eights are homeless. America and her family are Fives along with other musicians, artists and performers. They aren’t well-off by any means being in the bottom half of the caste system and sometimes they struggle. Then an opportunity for the Singer family comes in the form of the Selection which allows girls between 16-20 to apply for a “lottery” to be chosen as one of 35 girls to move into the royal palace in Angeles and compete to win the heart of Prince Maxon Schreave and therefore the crown.

America really struggles with her adjustment to becoming one of the Selected girls and having to leave Aspen, her secret Six boyfriend, behind. At the palace, the girls are in a Bachelor-type situation, minus the roses, plus rebel attacks on the palace that the Selected have to cope with. The last few girls that remain in the contest become the Elite, and the one he eventually chooses is the One. The fourth book (which will not be the last in the series – at least one more is planned), The Heir, focuses on Princess Eadlyn who is the first female heir to the throne and has a Selection of her own in order to distract the nation with happy news and shift the people’s focus away from uprising and discrimination.

Thoughts

During my reading this past weekend I posted a picture of The Selection on Instagram and explained how fast I was tearing through these books. My best friend Marissa lovingly described them as “book crack.” She couldn’t be more right. I’m pretty sure that I’ve never read as quickly as I did with these books. In spite of myself I was completely drawn into America’s story, and even though I absolutely knew pretty much exactly what would happen and how it would all play out, I had to read it anyway. If you are looking for a series that you can finish quickly with a story line that keeps the momentum going, it is here.

I thought that some of the strongest points in Cass’s writing came when she discussed families. America and Maxon both have quite different relationships with their parents, and some of these differences are influenced by caste and wealth – I thought that this was captured quite well throughout the books. America’s sibling relationships and the female friendships she developed were also very realistic to me. In terms of the actual romance factor, I’m not really into love triangles so that aspect got old for me pretty quickly.

Some characters were more unique and special to me, but some including some of the main ones were unfortunately a bit hollow and predictable. Without giving more away, I do have to say that in The Heir I absolutely loathed Eadlyn – I don’t think that this girl could have been any more of a spoiled brat if she tried, and sometimes she WAS trying to be. I’m honestly not looking forward to the last book which is going to tell more of her story but I hope that she grows up a bit.

I love a good dystopian society, and thought that the setup of the caste system here was effective and had great potential, but I thought a lot more could have been done to explain the divisions in the castes in even greater detail, and discuss the implications of these harsh divisions on society. Most of the focus is on the contest itself. There are also some really troubling, oppressive indications within the actual competition. This actually comes out even more in Eadlyn’s story.

All in all, this wasn’t the best YA series that I’ve read, but it was far from the worst. Even with a predictable plot line, the writing was very fast-paced and I honestly never wanted to stop reading until all of my predictions were confirmed. Some characters were better-developed and more relatable than others. Ultimately I’m happy I gave into my desire to read the books behind the dresses 🙂

Ratings & Publishing Information

The Selection: 3/5, HarperTeen 2012, 336 pages

The Elite: 3/5, HarperTeen 2013, 336 pages

The One: 3.5/5, HarperTeen 2014, 336 pages (I swear I didn’t make it up that all 3 of these have the same exact page count)

The Heir: 2/5, HarperTeen 2015, 368 pages

Book Review: “I Am Pilgrim” by Terry Hayes

“I have heard people say love is weak but they’re wrong — love is strong. In nearly everyone it trumps all other things — patriotism and ambition, religion and upbringing. And of every kind of love — the epic and the small, the noble and the base — the one that a parent has for their child is the greatest of them all…”

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Atria/Emily Bestler, 2014, 624 pages.

I Am Pilgrim is a spy thriller which finds a former top U.S. secret agent coming out of retirement to try and foil a terrorist’s plan to commit mass American genocide. The idea that the terrorist (called The Saracen) develops is terrifyingly genius but our guy, who on this new mission decides to give himself the code name Pilgrim, is quite an expert and does everything he can to attempt to catch The Saracen before it’s too late. Along the way Pilgrim also tries to figure out who has committed some very gruesome murders in New York City and Bodrum, Turkey, because they used tips and tricks lifted from his own criminology book.

This book surprised me! The first few chapters were really intriguing, but the middle of the book had a lot of backstory and what I felt to be filler. A lot of this ended up being important and I had to go back to review it, but it was in the middle (at around 350 pages of the 600) that I put this book down for about two months. Finally last night I decided I was just going to get it done. I thought that the buildup to the end was a lot better than the middle and enjoyed the ending a lot. It makes complete sense to me that Terry Hayes was formerly a screenwriter before turning to writing this novel – parts of it, especially the end for me, sort of flew by like I was watching a spy movie.

Some critical reviews of I Am Pilgrim have focused on the fact that this book is quite pro-American, anti-Muslim, somewhat xenophobic and generally very right-wing. I cannot say that I disagree with the reviewers who have noticed this and can absolutely see all of these themes present in this book. There was a lot of emphasis placed on things like the benefits of government surveillance and government-sanctioned torture and imprisonment and I think what is really scary about this and the tone that pervades the book as a whole is that a lot of it is probably a lot closer to reality than we even know.

I felt like there was a particular target audience to this book, and I am not exactly sure if I was a part of it but now that I am FINALLY done I am still glad that I read it. Even with the presence of these attitudes which some might find questionable I thought that the book was obviously exceptionally well-researched and entertaining once I did push through that more boring middle section. I thought the character development was strong as to the main characters like Pilgrim and The Saracen but could have been better for some of the supporting characters. I am giving I Am Pilgrim 3.5 stars and will probably see the eventual movie. I feel like I say that a lot and must read a lot of books with movie adaptations :p

WWW Wednesday #7

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WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. Participating bloggers answer 3 simple questions:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What are you going to read next?

Currently Reading

  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I am absolutely loving this. I have 5 more discs to go (of 13 total)
  • All of the same books as last week aside from The Shining which I finished.

Recently Finished

Planning to Read Next

  • NetGalley books, though I am now realizing I probably will never catch up since I always find something new that gets in the way :p
  • Ross Poldark by Winston Graham – have heard only great things about this series, and I want to watch the show too
  • Some more Neil Gaiman short story collections
  • I have the entire The Selection series books from the library in my car, I figure I can finish them all in a weekend and do one review for the whole series.

Please share your WWW in the comments and your thoughts on mine if you would like!! 🙂

Book Review: “The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster” by Scott Wilbanks

“What a fascinating turn of events for her rather ordinary life. She’d found a friend — an unexpected treasure. She waved at the door self-consciously before dropping her hand to her side, then placed the letter in the mailbox and slowly made her way home.”

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Sourcebooks, 2015, 392 pages.

I bought this book without really knowing anything about it, but the cover called out to me. The yellow is a lot nicer in person than this picture, and the flowers are raised up slightly from the cover – it’s really pretty. I was also intrigued by the book’s description, which promised me a time-travel adventure with some charming characters. Annie Aster buys a mysterious door in an antique shop in San Francisco, puts it in her backyard, and the next day amidst tons of roses that have appeared there, she finds a wheat field in her yard with a small cabin. The cabin belongs to Elsbeth Grundy who is an elderly retired schoolteacher in 1895. They can now communicate through letters in a brass letter box that has now also appeared on their newly shared property, trying to figure out why this happened, how they’re connected, and how they’re able to correspond with each other which of course ends up getting each of them into some serious trouble. You *know* I’m into that!

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I unfortunately was not blown away by The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster. I think that the premise of the book was really great and had a ton of potential, but there were a LOT of characters here with a LOT of story lines that detracted from the main focus of the book. This can work sometimes but I just kept getting confused and having to go back to remember exactly where we were and what was happening. I wanted to know so much more about the essentials of time travel and how it worked in this book and did not need the side stories in place of that.

I also felt like a lot of the characters’ personalities and characteristics were a little overused – our heroine Annie loves Jane Austen, dresses in period clothing even though it’s 1995, and has a “rather obscure talent” of keeping her china set in flawless condition. This to me could have been any girl in any book and I felt like I had read it many times before. The same thing happened with almost every character that I encountered and it made things a little bit predictable for me.

I’m giving The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster 2.5 stars. I felt like there were so many wonderful ideas in this book that would have been better served as separate works rather than trying to fit everything into one. I would be interested to see what Wilbanks will choose to write about next.

Top Ten Tuesday #8: Top Ten Auto-Buy Authors

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, participating bloggers create a list corresponding to a particular theme. This week, we are listing our top ten auto-buy authors, from whom we’ll always buy books no matter what they’re about!

This was actually a somewhat difficult list for me to come up with; I couldn’t think of too many authors where I would definitely 100% buy a book just because they wrote it. But I did manage to come up with a few 🙂 I divided my list into two halves – authors with a lot of books, of which I’ll always buy their next installment, and authors with just one book so far that I loved so much I’m planning on buying whatever else they may write:

Authors with Many Books

  1. J.K. Rowling
  2. Neil Gaiman
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien (I know he obviously isn’t writing anymore, but there is apparently a lost Tolkien book coming out… what?!)
  4. George R.R. Martin
  5. Ken Follett
  6. Maggie Anton (if you are at all into Jewish historical fiction, she is definitely the way to go)

Authors with One Awesome Book

  1. Erin Morgenstern (The Night Circus)
  2. Andy Weir (The Martian)
  3. Daniel O’Malley (The Rook)
  4. Kathryn Stockett (The Help)

Thoughts on my TTT? Want to share yours? Comment below with links to your own blog as always 🙂

Book Review: “The Shining” by Stephen King

“This inhuman place makes human monsters…”

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Mass market paperback (Anchor 2012); first published by Doubleday in 1977. 688 pages.

I’ve decided to slowly make my way through more of Stephen King’s work in addition to whatever other reading I take on. I mean, he is supremely prolific, very influential on countless other writers, AND loves corgis. I recently read 11/22/63 and now own the entire set of The Dark Tower books; I skimmed the first one the day after the bar exam but was just so happy to be looking at something that wasn’t law-related that I raced through it without retaining anything so I’m going to reread it and take on the rest.

But about The Shining. I don’t think that I need to describe the plot in much detail at all, since this is an older and very popular book with a very famous film adaptation. What’s important is that each member of the Torrance family, now veritably stranded at the Overlook Hotel for the Colorado winter as Jack cares for the place, is struggling with their own demons, even, and especially, 5-year-old Danny. But aside from the family’s personal issues the hotel itself has some very dark secrets that are unleashed upon them all.

I made the mistake of thinking that since I’d seen the movie I knew what the book would be like. This really isn’t true at all. Even though there are book ghosts and movie ghosts I feel like much of the supernatural was removed from the film and Jack Torrance’s unraveling in Kubrick’s adaptation was more internally motivated: here is a man who feels like a failure at his career; who struggles with alcoholism; who hates his family… it’s not hard to predict what might happen next. In the book, though, the events unfold more slowly and more horrifyingly because King gives us many, many glimpses into the reality that Jack doesn’t hate his family at all and is struggling within himself to keep the horrors of the hotel and of his true nature from taking over, because he loves them and ultimately does want to keep them safe. The endings also differ and I think the book’s ending is more fitting.

I am giving The Shining 4 stars. I think a lot of King’s strength in writing, from his works that I’ve experienced thus far, comes from character development, and it was possible to feel sympathy for the Torrances even when they probably did not deserve it. Some minor issues for me came from his treatment of Danny on occasion. It is understood that Danny is special and has “the shine,” a type of psychic gift, but I felt like some of his thoughts and the way he spoke were just far too mature to be believable for a 5-year-old. Also, maybe I am just getting desensitized but I felt that this book was more eerie and creepy than outright horrific; the scenes that were violent did not really faze me too much and for me it was the buildup that was truly terrifying. I want to watch the movie again now and also plan to soon read the long-awaited sequel, Doctor Sleep.

Book Review: “A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab

“Blood was magic made manifest. There it thrived. And there it poisoned.”

Hardcover edition; Tor, 2015. 400 pages.

Hardcover edition; Tor, 2015.
400 pages.

I feel like it was only fitting that I first stumbled upon this book on this table at a Waterstones store while in London on my honeymoon (I took the photo more for the sign):

See it?? The British cover, though. I like both covers!

See it?? The British cover, though. I like both covers!

Anyway, the reason my discovery was so fitting is that in this book, there isn’t just one London, but rather four!! So basically the perfect book for an Anglophile like me. It is a bit hard to explain, but each London exists in a separate, parallel universe, and connection to and travel between them has been cut off aside from the two remaining Antari (blood magicians): our protagonist Kell, tied to the magical “Red London,” and dark, tortured Holland, of bloodthirsty “White London.” There is also “Grey London” which I felt was the closest to our Regency-era London in the real world, and “Black London,” smoked out by the excessively powerful magic that burned through its inhabitants like a plague. Only Kell and Holland have what it takes to move between these worlds, officially to deliver correspondence between the different Londons’ different rulers, but each behaves outside of this role too. Kell has a bad habit – he illegally smuggles items between the Londons – and this proclivity is ultimately what drives the plot as it gets him into some serious trouble.

The existence of the different Londons and Kell’s ability to travel between them is the backdrop for a very fast-paced, dark urban fantasy which was ultimately unlike any other book I’ve ever read. A Darker Shade of Magic basically blew my mind; I finished in approximately 24 hours and I’m going to give it 4.5 stars. Schwab’s writing pulled me right into Kell’s world, or worlds, as it were, and I enjoyed the ride. I LOVED the idea of multiple Londons, each with their own defining characteristics, and the notion that there were “Collectors” and “Enthusiasts” in magic-less Grey London desperate for some proof of the magic existing in the other Londons that they could grasp on to. I also thought that the supporting characters, from wannabe pirate Lila to rebellious Prince Rhy, were just layered enough to not be stereotypical. I had to really search to find something that I didn’t absolutely love, and what keeps it at 4.5 rather than a perfect 5 for me is that I wanted some more of Kell’s character. I felt like there was a lot more of Lila’s backstory than Kell’s. Hopefully this is something that will arrive in the next book (yes, it’s a planned trilogy!).

All in all, I found A Darker Shade of Magic to be a replica of its title. Schwab shows us how awesome a world with magic can be, but how tainted one with too much of it can turn. I thought a lot of the quote “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” while reading this. I’ll stop rambling now – I loved this book and highly recommend it!