My Thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

My Thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildHarry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne
three-stars
Published by Arthur A. Levine Books on July 31st 2016
Genres: Young Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 327
Source: Purchased
Amazon
Goodreads
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Goodreads Synopsis:   Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage.  The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

My Review: 

I read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child a few weeks ago and it has taken me this long to decide how I feel about what I read.  Conflicted is probably the best way to describe my reaction.  There were definitely a few elements that I loved, but at the same time, there were a number of things that were rather disappointing.

As with all play scripts, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is clearly meant to be watched rather than just read.  The written text and descriptions are sparse and somewhat bland because they are waiting for the director and the actors to work their magic and breathe life into it.  I actually wish I could see the play because I’m sure it’s wildly entertaining and my review of that would be glowing; however, since I only have the written text to go on, here are my relatively spoiler-free thoughts on the story.

I thought it was very exciting to see a whole new generation of witches and wizards heading off to Hogwarts.  It was especially interesting to follow Harry’s son Albus and see how he fared as he tried to live up to his father’s tremendous legacy.

As much I liked Albus, though, and I NEVER thought I would ever say this, but the character who really stole my heart in this story was Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius.  I can’t really go into details without giving away too much of the play, but the friendship that he forges with Albus Potter when they meet on the way to Hogwarts was just so wonderful to see, probably, in part, because it’s just so completely unexpected to anyone who has read the original books and is familiar with all of the bad blood between Harry and Draco.

* * * * *

That said, one of my biggest disappointments of the story is how little time was actually spent at Hogwarts. Perhaps the timing/pacing works better on stage than it does on paper, but the play breezed through entire years at Hogwarts in the span of just a couple of scenes.  This bothered me because, for me, it meant that the most enjoyable parts of the Harry Potter series were stripped away.  When I read the books, I always loved all of the normal day-to-day happenings — Harry and his friends going to class, playing Quidditch, their interactions with Hagrid, McGonagal, Snape, the ghosts that roamed the halls, etc.  Pardon the pun, but for me, that’s the magic of the Harry Potter series and what makes it so special.   To be mostly finished with Hogwarts less than a third of the way through the story left me feeling out of sorts.

Speaking of feeling out of sorts, while I felt very nostalgic about revisiting Harry and the gang all grown up, I have to say the experience wasn’t what I hoped it would be.  I don’t know if it was because I was reading a script rather than a novel, but Harry, Ron, and the others just didn’t seem quite like the characters I had grown to love over the years. They just seemed stiff and stilted and several of their personalities, Ginny’s in particular, just seemed off. I know they’re adults now rather than children, and that people grow and change, but it still just seemed a bit off.  In considering the way they came across, I can understand why some have said it reminds them of fanfiction.  And this is probably a bit shallow on my part, but I was also a little disappointed in the career paths most of them were on. I guess I was expecting bigger and better things for them after having defeated Voldemort all those years ago, but as I read what each of them were up to, I just kept thinking to myself: “Really? That’s it?” Ron, in particular, was a disappointment, as he is just working in the Weasley’s joke shop.

With the exception of enjoying watching Albus and Scorpius becoming friends, I was disappointed enough early on that I actually considered giving up on the story around the halfway point. I’m glad I chose to push on though because I really did enjoy the second half much more than I did the first.  It finally started to feel more like a Harry Potter story as the action really picked up and as events from the actual series, such as the Triwizard Tournament from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, were revisited and incorporated into the play’s narrative.  It took me about 4 days to read the first half of the play, but I flew through the second half in just a few hours.

* * * * *

Overall, I’d have to say that I liked Harry Potter and the Cursed Child but I had some issues with it.  I would still recommend it to any fan of the original series though because I do think it’s an interesting take on where they might be as adults.  I also think if you keep in mind that it’s a script rather than a lengthy and descriptive novel like we’re used to reading and adjust your expectations accordingly, then you’ll have a more pleasant reading experience and can just bask in the nostalgia of seeing your favorite characters in a new way.

 

Rating:  Tough to rate, but I’m going to say 3 stars (1-2 stars for the beginning, closer to 5 stars for the second half).

 

 

three-stars

About J.K. Rowling

From Goodreads:  Although she writes under the pen name J.K. Rowling, pronounced like rolling, her name when her first Harry Potter book was published was simply Joanne Rowling. Anticipating that the target audience of young boys might not want to read a book written by a woman, her publishers demanded that she use two initials, rather than her full name. As she had no middle name, she chose K as the second initial of her pen name, from her paternal grandmother Kathleen Ada Bulgen Rowling. She calls herself Jo and has said, “No one ever called me ‘Joanne’ when I was young, unless they were angry.” Following her marriage, she has sometimes used the name Joanne Murray when conducting personal business. During the Leveson Inquiry she gave evidence under the name of Joanne Kathleen Rowling. In a 2012 interview, Rowling noted that she no longer cared that people pronounced her name incorrectly.

Rowling was born to Peter James Rowling, a Rolls-Royce aircraft engineer, and Anne Rowling (née Volant), on 31 July 1965 in Yate, Gloucestershire, England, 10 miles (16 km) northeast of Bristol. Her mother Anne was half-French and half-Scottish. Her parents first met on a train departing from King’s Cross Station bound for Arbroath in 1964. They married on 14 March 1965. Her mother’s maternal grandfather, Dugald Campbell, was born in Lamlash on the Isle of Arran. Her mother’s paternal grandfather, Louis Volant, was awarded the Croix de Guerre for exceptional bravery in defending the village of Courcelles-le-Comte during the First World War.

Rowling’s sister Dianne was born at their home when Rowling was 23 months old. The family moved to the nearby village Winterbourne when Rowling was four. She attended St Michael’s Primary School, a school founded by abolitionist William Wilberforce and education reformer Hannah More. Her headmaster at St Michael’s, Alfred Dunn, has been suggested as the inspiration for the Harry Potter headmaster Albus Dumbledore.

As a child, Rowling often wrote fantasy stories, which she would usually then read to her sister. She recalls that: “I can still remember me telling her a story in which she fell down a rabbit hole and was fed strawberries by the rabbit family inside it. Certainly the first story I ever wrote down (when I was five or six) was about a rabbit called Rabbit. He got the measles and was visited by his friends, including a giant bee called Miss Bee.” At the age of nine, Rowling moved to Church Cottage in the Gloucestershire village of Tutshill, close to Chepstow, Wales. When she was a young teenager, her great aunt, who Rowling said “taught classics and approved of a thirst for knowledge, even of a questionable kind,” gave her a very old copy of Jessica Mitford’s autobiography,Hons and Rebels. Mitford became Rowling’s heroine, and Rowling subsequently read all of her books.

Rowling has said of her teenage years, in an interview with The New Yorker, “I wasn’t particularly happy. I think it’s a dreadful time of life.” She had a difficult homelife; her mother was ill and she had a difficult relationship with her father (she is no longer on speaking terms with him). She attended secondary school at Wyedean School and College, where her mother had worked as a technician in the science department. Rowling said of her adolescence, “Hermione [a bookish, know-it-all Harry Potter character] is loosely based on me. She’s a caricature of me when I was eleven, which I’m not particularly proud of.” Steve Eddy, who taught Rowling English when she first arrived, remembers her as “not exceptional” but “one of a group of girls who were bright, and quite good at English.” Sean Harris, her best friend in the Upper Sixth owned a turquoise Ford Anglia, which she says inspired the one in her books.

About Jack Thorne

Jack Thorne (born 6 December 1978) is an English screenwriter and playwright.

Born in Bristol, England, he has written for radio, theatre and film, most notably on the TV shows Skins, Cast-offs, This Is England ’86, This Is England ’88, This Is England ’90, The Fades, The Last Panthers and the feature film The Scouting Book for Boys. He currently lives in London.

About John Tiffany

John Tiffany trained at Glasgow University gaining an MA in Theatre and Classics. He was Literary Director for the Traverse Theatre, Associate Director for Paines Plough and a founding Associate Director for the National Theatre of Scotland. He is currently an Associate Director for the Royal Court Theatre. During 2010-11 John was a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard University.

Work for the Royal Court includes: THE TWITS, HOPE, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and THE PASS.
Work for the National Theatre of Scotland includes: LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, MACBETH, ENQUIRER, PETER PAN, THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA, TRANSFORM CAITHNESS: HUNTER, BE NEAR ME, NOBODY WILL EVER FORGIVE US, THE BACCHAE, BLACK WATCH, ELIZABETH GORDON QUINN and HOME: GLASGOW. For BLACK WATCH, John won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Director and a Critics’ Circle Award.

On Broadway, John directed THE GLASS MENAGERIE (also A.R.T.), MACBETH, and ONCE, which won 8 Tony Awards in 2012, including Best Musical and Best Direction of a Musical.

Other work includes: THE AMBASSADOR (Brooklyn Academy of Music), JERUSALEM (West Yorkshire Playhouse), LAS CHICAS DEL TRES Y MEDIA FLOPPIES (Granero Theatre, Mexico City and Edinburgh Festival Fringe), IF DESTROYED TRUE, MERCURY FUR, HELMET and THE STRAITS (Paines Plough), GAGARIN WAY, ABANDONMENT, AMONG UNBROKEN HEARTS, PERFECT DAYS and PASSING PLACES (Traverse, Edinburgh).

John is also working on the stage play of HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD with J.K. Rowling and Jack Thorne, which opened in the West End in June 2016.

Book Review: Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Book Review:  Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens AgendaSimon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Also by this author: The Upside of Unrequited
four-stars
Published by Balzer + Bray on April 7th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 303
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis:  Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: if he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing, will be compromised.

With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

My review:

I have to say that going in, I had no idea what to expect from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. I had never heard of the book and the cover just happened to catch my eye as I was browsing at the library – bright red with a headless guy on the front and a stack of what appeared to be OREO cookies on the back. Say what?! Curious and quite amused by this combination of images, I decided to check it out and give it a go.

I’m so thrilled that I did too.  I kid you not – I don’t think I have ever smiled so much while reading a book as I did while reading Simon vs. the Home Sapiens Agenda.  Even now, just thinking about the book again while writing this review, I’m sitting here grinning.

What made this book such a wonderful read for me is that it’s a light and humorous story about love, family, friendship, high school life, and coming out as gay that, at the same time, conveys such an important message regarding the LGBTQ community – namely, that people who identify as LGBTQ are just like everyone else.

Highlights of Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda for me:

Simon Spier, of course!  Simon is this Oreo-obsessed high school junior who is in the drama club, knows pretty much everything there is to about Harry Potter, has a golden retriever named Bieber, and who is just all around adorable.  Simon also has a bit of a crush on a fellow student who calls himself ‘Blue’.  This budding relationship serves to add an extra layer of depth to Simon’s character.  In what way? Well, because in spite of their growing mutual attraction, Simon and Blue have never actually met face to face and don’t even know each other’s real names.  They met via the school’s tumblr and only communicate with via email using aliases.  Why all the secrecy? Because as much as they like each other, neither Simon nor Blue are quite ready to come out publicly as gay.

Aside from his just overall cuteness and his humor, what I loved most about Simon was the honest and relatable way in which Becky Albertalli portrays him. The first person point of view was key here.  From the first page, you feel like you’re inside the mind of a teenage boy – how Simon can’t wait to rush to the nearest computer and read his next email from Blue and how his brain is on such overload when it comes to Blue that he walks off and absentmindedly leaves his emails to Blue open for the world (or at least for class clown Marty Addison to see).  Once Simon realizes that Marty has the power to expose his biggest secret, and Blue’s as well if anyone were to figure out what Blue’s true identity is, we then go inside of Simon’s mind as he has to decide how to handle Marty.

I really enjoyed how realistically and convincingly Albertalli writes the internal struggle that Simon faces.  There are so many factors to be considered and we get an up close look as Simon goes through all of the pros and cons in his mind. Does he beat Marty to the punch and go ahead and come out as gay?  But how will his family, friends, and other students react? Will they treat him differently? Will he be mocked and bullied?  And himself aside, there’s Blue to consider.  What if Blue isn’t ready to come out?  He’s tormented by the idea that Blue could suffer because of his own carelessness.

Simon and Blue as a couple.  In addition to being inside of Simon’s head while he tries to figure out what to do about this whole blackmail situation, I also adored being able to follow his thoughts when it comes to his attraction to Blue.  It’s a budding high school romance and Albertalli portrays it exactly like any other budding high school romance would be portrayed.  Their flirtations are no different than if the two characters were male and female and I just thought this was so wonderful and so important.  There are still too many people in the world who consider the LGBTQ community as deviant, and this book helps to dispel that mistaken impression.  With Simon and Blue, there is absolutely no sense that they are in any way deviant.  They are just two people who feel a connection and want to explore that connection, and the progression of their relationship is lovely to watch unfold.  Not only are they portrayed as completely normal teens in love, but they are completely adorable.  Even sight unseen, relying on nothing but emails to slowly build their relationship, Simon and Blue are seriously the cutest couple ever.   I loved reading their silly flirtatious conversations, as well as their deeper and more meaningful conversations as they are each trying to decide how, when, or if they should come out as gay.  Albertalli has made these two characters so likeable together and the progression of their relationship so completely natural that I think reading this book could be a mind-opening experience for a lot of people.

Simon’s Squad.  Okay, I’m all about a great cast of secondary characters and let me just say that this book has them in spades.  I simply adored all of Simon’s friends – Nick, Abby, and Leah, and heck even Marty, the blackmailer, grew on me the more I got to know him.

Another quality I really liked about this book is that Albertalli so vividly and fully captures the high school experience, that no matter how long you have been out of school, she transports you right back there.  She is especially effective at portraying the often messy dynamics of high school friendships – when long-time friends suddenly become more than friends, when new friends join a peer group and others feel threatened or jealous because they worry they’ll get squeezed out, etc.   Each time Simon’s circle of friends got shaken up by one of these things, I felt like I was being transported right back in time to my own messy circle of friends. It was very nostalgic for me in that sense.

The Search for Blue:  I had a lot of fun following Simon around and trying to guess which of his classmates might be Blue.  And again, because Albertalli has portrayed every character as typical, average high school kids, Blue really can be anyone Simon encounters throughout his school day.  I loved exploring all of the possibilities, especially as I got to know a little more about each character. And like Simon, I made several incorrect guesses before Blue is finally revealed.

Themes:  I love that, in addition to being such a fun and entertaining read, this book is also filled with so many positive messages in it about love, friendship, family, and community.  I also wish this book had been around when I was in school because I think a lot of LGBTQ students I went to school with would have found this book helpful : 1) in letting them know they’re not alone in what they might be feeling, and 2) in helping them realize that family and friends might be way more supportive than they might otherwise expect.

Anything I didn’t like?

The only thing that comes to mind was that it did take me a while to get used to reading the emails between Sam and Blue. Not because of the subject matter or anything like that, but just because at first, it didn’t feel like they flowed well with the rest of the novel.  Once I got a little more used to the style, it stopped bothering me though.

Who would I recommend this book to?

This is one of those books I would recommend to pretty much everyone from high school age right on up through adulthood, and I’d especially recommend it to parents.  Why?  1) Because it’s a super cute and fun read that I think everyone can enjoy, and 2) Because it’s an important book that has a lot to teach you, if you let it.  Maybe you’re not a student yourself, but you might be a parent with a child who might be LGBTQ and who might go through something like Simon and Blue did.  This book can only help to increase your understanding of what your own child might go through.  As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think that Simon could easily be my own son.  So yes, just such an important book on many levels.

 

Rating:  A very strong 4 stars!

 

four-stars

About Becky Albertalli

Becky Albertalli is a clinical psychologist who has had the privilege of conducting therapy with dozens of smart, weird, irresistible teenagers. She also served for seven years as co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children in Washington, DC. These days, she lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons, and writes very nerdy contemporary young adult fiction. Her debut novel, SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, released from Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins on April 7th, 2015.

ARC Review – Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things

ARC Review – Gae Polisner’s The Memory of ThingsThe Memory of Things by Gae Polisner
four-half-stars
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on September 6th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Goodreads
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Goodreads. All opinions are my own..

Goodreads Synopsis:

The powerful story of two teenagers finding friendship, comfort, and first love in the days following 9/11 as their fractured city tries to put itself back together.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, sixteen-year-old Kyle Donohue watches the first twin tower come down from the window of Stuyvesant High School. Moments later, terrified and fleeing home to safety across the Brooklyn Bridge, he stumbles across a girl perched in the shadows. She is covered in ash and wearing a pair of costume wings. With his mother and sister in California and unable to reach his father, a New York City detective likely on his way to the disaster, Kyle makes the split-second decision to bring the girl home. What follows is their story, told in alternating points of view, as Kyle tries to unravel the mystery of the girl so he can return her to her family. But what if the girl has forgotten everything, even her own name? And what if the more Kyle gets to know her, the less he wants her to go home? The Memory of Things tells a stunning story of friendship and first love and of carrying on with our day-to-day living in the midst of world-changing tragedy and unforgettable pain—it tells a story of hope.

My Review: 

Gae Polisner’s The Memory of Things is an incredible book that revolves around the horrific events of September 11th. I have to admit I was a little nervous going into the book since this is such a sensitive topic, but was ultimately very pleased with Polisner’s respectful handling of it.  Although it was sometimes painful to read because it brings back so many terrifying memories that we all felt that day and for so long afterwards, The Memory of Things is also a moving and ultimately uplifting story that shows the strength of Americans, and especially that of New Yorkers, to rise up and keep going in the face of something that could have brought us to our knees as a country.

One aspect I loved most about The Memory of Things is the way Polisner presents the story using a dual narrative perspective. Her writing is beautiful, lyrical in fact, and I like that she puts us inside the minds of these two teenagers, Kyle and the girl he finds on the Brooklyn Bridge as he is evacuating out of lower Manhattan.  When Kyle discovers the girl crouched on the bridge, she doesn’t know who she is and appears to be suffering from either shock or amnesia.  The way Polisner distinguishes between Kyle’s point of view and the girl’s is unique as well.  Kyle’s perspective is presented in pretty straightforward prose, but as we switch to the girl’s perspective, we are suddenly presented with a more poetic style – fragmented memories, broken thoughts and powerful, sometimes disturbing, images all swirled together.  We alternate between the two perspectives throughout the novel and as then the girl starts to remember more and more details about who she is, Polisner adjusts her writing style to reflect that shift – the girl’s thoughts become more coherent and cohesive, the broken images and memories start to come together, and the language shifts to a more prose-like state, although still quite poetic.

Another quality I loved about this book is that even though it is technically a book about 9/11, the tragedy itself is not the primary focus.  The Memory of Things is really more of a coming of age story and it’s also a story about strength, hope, resiliency, friendship, and about finding out who you are when times are tough or uncertain.  Kyle is confronted by the real possibility that he may have lost his entire family and has to figure out what he’s going to do if that turns out to be the case. In particular, he has a handicapped uncle living with him who needs to be cared for and so he really has to step up and be the man of the house while he waits to find out if his family is okay.  In many ways, Kyle learns that he is much stronger than he ever would have given himself credit for prior to 9/11. Kyle’s uncle is partially paralyzed from a recent accident and can do very little for himself. Showing  maturity beyond his years, Kyle takes over the responsibility of getting his uncle out of bed and to the bathroom and assists him in there as needed, then helps to get him dressed and fed and otherwise cared for.

In addition to taking over the primary caregiver role at home, Kyle also befriends the young lady he brought into his home in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.  She can remember nothing about herself aside from bits and pieces of broken memories – ballet movements, swimming in the ocean, brief flashes of her parents, all of these interspersed with horrid images that she witnessed the morning of 9/11.  Kyle doesn’t want to just send her back out on the streets but also hates the idea of just dumping her at a hospital or at a police station in hopes that someone claims her.  So he makes the decision to allow her to stay with him. In some ways I think he does it as much for himself as he does for her. Trying to help her remember who she is gives him something to focus on and helps him stay fairly grounded, considering all that is going on just outside their door.  In the short time they are together, Kyle and the girl grow quite close – close enough that Kyle considers the possibility that he’s falling in love with her.  I think it’s more the need to make some kind of a human connection – something life affirming in the face of all of the lives that were lost that day, but whatever it was for them, the bond between them was quite touching and I think it served to help them get through those first few terrifying days after the tragedy as they waited and hoped to be reunited with their loved ones.

The Memory of Things is truly one of the most beautiful and moving stories I’ve read so far this year and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone. Since it’s a young adult novel, I would also especially recommend it to those who are not old enough to have witnessed the events of 9/11 themselves.

Rating:  4.5 stars

 

 

 

four-half-stars

About Gae Polisner

Gae in her own words:

I write both women’s and young adult fiction.  When I’m not writing, I’m swimming, hanging with my kids, or cooking and cleaning. Okay, fine, I’m probably not cleaning.

I have written since I was little, mostly poems and short stories through college. Then, I went to law school and, for over a decade, replaced all that creative writing with legal briefs. But after my sons were born, I decided to return to my first love.

In 1995, I set out to write a book, not knowing if I actually could. I have completed at least five full manuscripts since then.

I like to think my novels are accessible, lyrical (somewhat literary) fiction – and, my young adult stories, an homage to the character-driven fiction I loved so much as a child and teen (anything by E.L. Konigsburg, Paul Zindel, Madeleine L’Engle, or Judy Blume…). The Pull of Gravity has a special “secret” nod to the first novel I couldn’t put down – Don’t Take Teddy, by Babbis Friis-Baastad. To this day, I remember the feeling of frantically turning pages to find out if the brothers would be okay. If any of you ever read that book, please send me an email, and we can be instant BFF’s.

My first piece of women’s fiction, The Jetty, was a Top Semifinalist in the 2008 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest. My second piece, Swim Back to Me, will be revised one day soon and hopefully see the light of day. In the meantime, my next YA novel is coming soon from Algonquin, and I have several more teen novels in the works. So, please check back here often for updates.

I live and write on Long Island with my two amazing boys, my handsome, smart husband who sings, and two very “enthusiastic” cockatiels, Taha and Bobo. When I’m not writing, I’m still a practicing family law attorney/mediator, and when I’m not doing that, I’m swimming in my pool or, better yet, the open water off of Long Island.

Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

Book Review:  A Darker Shade of MagicA Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1) by V.E. Schwab, Victoria Schwab
Also by this author: A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2)
four-stars
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Published by Tor Books on February 24th 2015
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 400
Also in this series: A Conjuring of Light
Amazon
Goodreads

Goodreads Synopsis: Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.

My Review:

What an entertaining read! Thanks so much to Stephanie at Chasm of Books for hosting the giveaway in which I won this book. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in since I had never read anything by V.E. Schwab, but I thoroughly enjoyed A Darker Shade of Magic. It contains all of the perfect ingredients for a fabulous fantasy read – immensely likeable protagonists, completely detestable antagonists, epic world building, magic that apparently has a life of its own, dangerous adventures and action-packed fight scenes, and just to make sure there’s something for everyone, even a little love story thrown in for good measure.

What I Loved about A Darker Shade of Magic:

The Many Sided Coat – It might sound silly, but that coat is seriously an effective attention grabber! Schwab captivated me immediately when she opens her novel by describing Kell and his mysterious coat of seemingly endless sides. Watching Kell manipulate the fabric and transform it into basically an entire new garment, my brain immediately kicked into high gear and I had questions that I wanted answers to. How can one coat be folded and refolded like origami into whatever style Kell requires at the moment? Why would Kell need such a coat? So, yes, silly as it may sound, the coat is what initially hooked me on this story. Bravo to the coat!

Kell – Kell is pretty much impossible not to like. He is charming and quirky and because he is also one of the last of his kind, the Antari, I immediately felt protective of him. He is also one of the most intriguing characters in the novel because of his unique ability to use his blood to create doors between worlds and travel through them. I also have no idea why, but every time I read about Kell, in my mind, he looks like Peter Pan, haha.

Lila – Lila is my spirit animal! Seriously, she is, without a doubt, my favorite character in ADSOM. How can you not love a young lady who is currently a thief but aspires to be a pirate? Lila is fiercely independent, brave, savvy, headstrong, dying for some adventure in her life, and just an all-around fabulous character.

The 4 Londons – I loved how Schwab takes a familiar setting like London, with all of its iconic landmarks, and uses it to build such a unique fantasy world. Instead of just one London, there are four of them, all existing simultaneously but on separate planes and each with different rulers and a different way of life. Red London is Kell’s world, a world where magic is respected, while Gray London is Lila’s world, a world where magic has been forgotten. White London is a dangerous world where monarchs murder their way to the top and where people fight to control magic. And finally, there is Black London, a world that is now forbidden because of something that went tragically wrong with magic there. Schwab lays them out geographically so that one travels from Gray to Red to White and then lies the forbidden Black.

Even though the Londons exist independently of one another now, they were once much more connected and even now, there is still communication between the Red, White, and Gray Londons, with the Antari serving as messengers since they can still move between the worlds. What we learn as we watch Kell travel from one to the other is that there is bad blood between Red and White Londons that stems from the trouble in Black London. When the trouble in Black London started to spread, rather than banding together with White London to fight it, Red chose to close itself off, leaving White to fend for itself. White London therefore maintains hostility towards Red, and so this bad blood is a contributing factor in the overall conflict of the novel.

I think Schwab does a fantastic job of weaving together these four separate Londons into a complex and intricate fantasy world. I haven’t been reading fantasy novels for long, but this is definitely one of the most interesting worlds I’ve encountered thus far in my reading adventures.

Living Magic – The dark magic, a black stone that has somehow been removed from Black London and brought to the other Londons, is seriously one of the coolest parts of the story. It creeps and slithers around, and behaves like a parasite looking for a host. It literally seeks out bodies to take over and then uses them up until they are nothing but ash. Just thinking about it made my skin crawl. It was so creepy, and yet, so fascinating to watch! I also liked that the stone acted like a siren, trying to seduce everyone who came into contact with it. Even Kell, as powerful as he is in his own right, has a difficult time fighting against the stone’s allure.

Themes – Loyalty and Sacrifice: These are two themes that really appealed to me as I read this story. I loved how Kell was willing to sacrifice himself, if necessary, to get the stone back to Black London where it could do no harm. I also thought it said a lot about Kell that he was willing to do whatever it took to save Rhy, who he loves like a brother. Lila also comes to embody loyalty and sacrifice as well when she repeatedly puts herself in harm’s way trying to help Kell.

Relationship between Kell and Lila – I got the distinct vibe that Kell and Lila could be moving in a romantic direction as we continue through the series, but I really liked that it was subtly presented in this first book and not at all a distraction from all of the epic action and adventures that were the story’s central focus. Romantically involved or not, Kell and Lila make a pretty amazing team and I’m looking forward to reading more of their adventures together.

Anything I Didn’t Love?

Pacing? – I can’t even really call it a dislike, but the pace of the early chapters was a bit slow for me. It makes sense in that Schwab is explaining the concept of the 4 Londons and how they relate to each, as well as introduce all of the story’s major players, but I still struggled a few times because I really wanted to get to the action. I will say though to anyone who starts reading and feels the same way – stick with it! The payoff is so worth it! Think of it like a roller coaster where you’re slowing climbing that first huge hill and then you go over the top and WHHHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! It’s like that 

Would I recommend this book?

Without hesitation! I think people new to fantasy would love it, as well as anyone who is already a fantasy fan. It’s just a hugely entertaining read!

Rating: A strong 4 stars!

four-stars

About V.E. Schwab

ve schwab

Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the #1 NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and The New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”

She is represented by Holly Root at Root Literary and Jon Cassir at CAA.

All appearance and publicity inquiries should be directed to her PR rep, Kristin Dwyer, at: kdwyer@leoprny.com

About Victoria Schwab

ve schwab

Victoria “V.E.” Schwab is the NYT, USA, and Indie bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Vicious, the Shades of Magic series, and This Savage Song. Her work has received critical acclaim, been featured by EW and The New York Times, been translated into more than a dozen languages, and been optioned for TV and Film. The Independent calls her the “natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones” and touts her “enviable, almost Gaimanesque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones.”

She is represented by Holly Root at Root Literary and Jon Cassir at CAA.
All appearance and publicity inquiries should be directed to either her agent, or one of her publicists:

Harper: Gina.Rizzo@harpercollins.com
Tor: Alexis.Saarela@tor.com

Book Review – Air Awakens by Elise Kova

Book Review – Air Awakens by Elise KovaAir Awakens (Air Awakens, #1) by Elise Kova
four-half-stars
Published by Silver Wing Press on August 27th 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 377
Source: Goodreads
Amazon
Goodreads

FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Goodreads. All opinions are my own..

Goodreads Synopsis:

A library apprentice, a sorcerer prince, and an unbreakable magic bond…

The Solaris Empire is one conquest away from uniting the continent, and the rare elemental magic sleeping in seventeen-year-old library apprentice Vhalla Yarl could shift the tides of war.

Vhalla has always been taught to fear the Tower of Sorcerers, a mysterious magic society, and has been happy in her quiet world of books. But after she unknowingly saves the life of one of the most powerful sorcerers of them all—the Crown Prince Aldrik—she finds herself enticed into his world. Now she must decide her future: Embrace her sorcery and leave the life she’s known, or eradicate her magic and remain as she’s always been. And with powerful forces lurking in the shadows, Vhalla’s indecision could cost her more than she ever imagined.

My Review:

I went into Air Awakens not at all sure of what to expect. I had never heard of the series or the author Elise Kova before and had only purchased the book because it was the topic of an upcoming Books Are My Fandom chat. Sadly, my schedule did not allow me to finish the book in time to participate in the chat, but since then, I have finished reading Air Awakens. So what did I think of it? What a wonderful read this turned out to be! I was thoroughly entertained from beginning to end. I may not have heard of her before, but Elise Kova is on my radar now and I really cannot wait to read more of her books!

What I Loved:

Fascinating Main Characters:

Vhalla: What’s not to love about a socially awkward bookworm protagonist who learns she has magical powers? As soon as I read the line “Vhalla wasn’t exactly good at relationships as she preferred to spend more time with books than people,” that instantly made her a character I could relate to and I always prefer books where I make that kind of connection with the protagonist.

I also found her overall struggle very compelling. The search for identity and trying to figure out one’s place in the world is one of those universal themes that we can all relate to. In Vhalla’s case, the search for identity is compounded further by the fact that she has been told all of her life that magic is bad, something to be avoided and shunned. To embrace her magic abilities is to fly in the face of everything that she and her family and friends have ever known. How will those she loves react if she becomes a sorceress? As Vhalla says, “she would be eighteen and had never made a decision for herself that mattered.” And now she has to make a decision that could change the course of her entire life!

Aldrik – Aldrik is perhaps one of the most interesting characters in the book. Even though he is the Crown Prince, he is still basically the black sheep of the royal family because of the stigma associated with magic. He’s dark and brooding and can also be condescending and a bit obnoxious. To further cloak him in mystery, throughout the kingdom, there are many rumors swirling around about terrible things he has supposedly done with his magic. Part of the fun of Air Awakens is actually trying to unravel the mystery of who Aldrik really is.

What you realize, especially once he meets and starts to interact with Vhalla, is that there is a lot more to Aldrik than meets the eye. As a sorcerer himself, Aldrik of course has his own motives for wanting Vhalla to embrace her magical abilities and at first, he forges full speed ahead with his agenda. The trouble Aldrik encounters, however, is that when he’s with Vhalla, he always seems to say and do the wrong thing, even endangering her life at one point because he acts recklessly in pursuit of his goal. Aldrik is horrified by his own actions and when he goes to Vhalla to apologize, he starts to let his guard down and we see a whole different side of him – a side that makes him much more endearing both to Vhalla and to the reader.

Baldair – Baldair, or the Heartbreaker Prince, is basically the polar opposite of his brother, Aldrik. Where Aldrik is dark and brooding, Baldair is golden and a huge flirt. Where dark rumors about magic surround Aldrik, gossip about romantic conquests surround the royal family’s golden boy. On the surface Baldair appears to be all fluff and little substance, but yet something about his relationship with his brother really intrigues me. I can’t tell exactly where they stand with one another and that adds a layer of complexity to everything Baldair does, especially when it comes to Vhalla, whom he really has no reason to interact with at all, yet goes out of his way to do so. Does he like Vhalla? Is he being nice to her to get under his brother’s skin? Is there more to it than that? I’m hesitant to boil it down to just being a love triangle, because it seems like something more is going there. I’m hoping future books in the series will unfold the exact nature of the relationship.
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four-half-stars

About Elise Kova

Elise Kova has always had a profound love of fantastical worlds. Somehow, she managed to focus on the real world long enough to graduate with a Master’s in Business Administration before crawling back under her favorite writing blanket to conceptualize her next magic system. She currently lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, and when she s not writing can be found playing video games, watching anime, or talking with readers on social media. She is the author of the Air Awakens Series as well as the upcoming Loom Saga (Keymaster, 2017).

Book Review: Glass Sword

Book Review:  Glass SwordGlass Sword by Victoria Aveyard
Also by this author: Red Queen
three-stars
Series: Red Queen #2
Published by HarperTeen on February 9th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 444
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads: If there’s one thing Mare Barrow knows, it’s that she’s different. Mare Barrow’s blood is red—the color of common folk—but her Silver ability, the power to control lightning, has turned her into a weapon that the royal court tries to control. The crown calls her an impossibility, a fake, but as she makes her escape from Maven, the prince—the friend—who betrayed her, Mare uncovers something startling: she is not the only one of her kind.

Pursued by Maven, now a vindictive king, Mare sets out to find and recruit other Red-and-Silver fighters to join in the struggle against her oppressors. But Mare finds herself on a deadly path, at risk of becoming exactly the kind of monster she is trying to defeat. Will she shatter under the weight of the lives that are the cost of rebellion? Or have treachery and betrayal hardened her forever?

The electrifying next installment in the Red Queen series escalates the struggle between the growing rebel army and the blood-segregated world they’ve always known—and pits Mare against the darkness that has grown in her soul.


My Review of Glass Sword:

For those familiar with the Red Queen series, the second book Glass Sword picks up right where the first book leaves off. The “little lightning girl” Mare Barrow and fallen Prince Cal have escaped from King Maven and his silver minions, and along with members of the Scarlet Guard, they’re on the run. Aveyard sets a fast and exhilarating pace from the first page as the band of rebels flee to safety and then regroup to devise their own plan of attack against Maven. The action-packed conclusion of Red Queen was my favorite part of that novel, so I was very excited to see there was no gap in the action between the two books.

The first mission at hand for the band of rebels is the list that Mare’s mentor, Julian, had given her before Maven had him killed – a list of what they have now dubbed ‘New Bloods’. These ‘New Bloods’ are others who are just like Mare – red blooded but with Silver abilities. Mare and the others know that since Maven is determined to prove that she is nothing more than a fraud with no special abilities, then he will try to find and eliminate everyone on that list to hide the fact that ‘New Bloods’ actually exist.

The story then becomes a race against time for Mare and the Scarlet Guard to find each New Blood first and to hopefully recruit them to their cause. With an army of New Bloods on their side, the odds of stopping Maven become much greater. This sounds exciting, and at first it is, as each ‘New Blood’ is found and we learn what their special powers are. However, and maybe it’s just me and my impatience, but after a few journeys to find, save, and recruit, I got bored and just wanted to fast-forward to when all of the ‘New Bloods’ had been located so that I could just move along with the rest of the plot.


Okay, so what did I really like about Glass Sword?

Backstory on Farley – Farley is still my favorite character so I love that I got to learn a lot more about her in this book.

Cal – I didn’t really think Cal was all that in the first book, but he’s really starting to grow on me in this one. He’s a bit of an enigma now that he has lost everyone and everything he held dear and we get to see a side of him that we haven’t seen before as he’s trying to figure out who he is and what he wants. Will he help Mare and the Scarlet Guard or will he ultimately side with his Silver brethren if they will take him back? Only time will tell, but I like the developments in this character and want to see more of him.

New Blood super powers – I know I said I got bored with the actual tracking down of the New Bloods, but that said, the powers they possess are awesome! Aveyard seems to come up with an endless supply of super cool abilities for our rebels. Among others, there’s a chameleon, one who can manipulate gravity, and another that can create optical illusions. The powers are very different from the brute force, X Men like powers we saw in ‘Red Queen’ and seem sure to come in handy in a death match versus King Maven and his army of Silvers.

The ending! – I don’t want to give it away, but the ending is cliffhanger of epic proportions. In spite of my disappointment with certain aspects of ‘Glass Sword’, the ending alone makes me want to get my hands on the next book as soon as possible.


And what didn’t I like about Glass Sword?:

Aside from the repetitive nature of the recruiting missions I already mentioned, there was one other problem area for me and I hate to say it, but it’s Mare. I don’t know why, but I’m just not feeling the connection to her that I think I should be feeling, especially since she’s the protagonist. I don’t want to say that I don’t care what happens to her because that’s not true, but there is still something about her that frustrates me to no end. I understand that she’s in turmoil because of what has already happened to her and because of her fears about what she could become in her quest to defeat Maven – the fact that she would be responsible for not only taking lives herself, but also for potentially sacrificing the lives of those around her. I get it; I really do.

However, her constant running internal dialogue about it drove me crazy after a while, especially her repetitive bemoaning of the fact that she misses her Maven – the boy she thought Maven was before he turned out to be such a complete and utter monster. I really just wanted to scream at her Cher-style: “Snap out of it!” So, yeah, even though I truly do love Mare’s badass side and want her to rise up and defeat Maven, I really need her to hurry up and move past the whole ‘missing Maven’ thing and get focused on the task at hand.


Would I recommend Glass Sword?:

Well, I liked it, but I didn’t love it. Even with my disappointments though, the overall story still has potential to be pretty amazing if I could just find a way to better connect with Mare. I’m still hopeful this will happen as she grows more into her role. Even if that doesn’t happen though, I’m still committed enough to the story to want to see how it ends and, for that reason, would definitely still recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first book.

Rating: 3 stars

three-stars

About Victoria Aveyard

In her own words:

“I’m a writer repped by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. I split my time between my hometown East Longmeadow, Massachusetts and Los Angeles. After graduating with a BFA in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. My debut RED QUEEN came out of the terrifying, unemployed year after college. The sequel GLASS SWORD released in February 2016.

Currently I’m working on the third book in the RED QUEEN series, along with pursuing other projects in literature and film. My proudest achievements are riding a horse in the mountains of Montana and navigating from London to Edinburgh without GPS.”

Book Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Book Review:  Fangirl by Rainbow RowellFangirl by Rainbow Rowell
four-stars
Published by Pan Macmillan on January 30th 2014
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 461
Source: Library
Amazon
Goodreads

Synopsis from Goodreads: Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more – she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible …A tale of fanfiction, family, and first love.



My Review:

I have to say I LOVED Fangirl. I think it’s one of those books that is going to resonate with a lot of readers because of how ‘real’ the story and its characters are. Going off to college is one of those major milestones in life that most of us can relate to and so college makes the perfect backdrop for a coming of age story, which is basically what Fangirl is.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Fangirl is how perfectly Rainbow Rowell captures the entire college freshman year experience. Even though it has been more years than I care to think about since I graduated from college, she transported me right back in time to my first day as a freshman – to the awkwardness of meeting my roommate for the first time as well as the terrifying knowledge that I was completely on my own as soon as my family drove away from the campus.

In addition to her ability to transport me back to my own college days, Rowell also creates such relatable characters that it’s just so easy to see yourself and maybe even your friends in them. I don’t know that I have ever identified with a fictional character as much as I identified with Cather Avery (or Cath as she calls herself). I felt an immediate kinship to Cath as soon as I realized that, like me, she is both a writer and an introvert. Cath’s awkwardness was a bit more extreme than mine, but I could still see myself in her utter cluelessness when it comes to making friends and interacting with boys that she likes, as well as in her reluctance to engage in any and all social activities. Aside from the actual fanfiction thing, which, to my knowledge, didn’t exist when I was in college, the whole time I was reading I kept thinking that this could have easily been a story about me! From the moment I felt that connection, I just had to know how things were going to turn out for her. Pulled out of her comfort zone, would she be able to discover her own true identity? Not fanfiction-famous writer ‘Magicath’ and not one half of the Cather-Wren twins, but just Cath?

Cath is not the only awesomely relatable character that Rowell creates. There’s also Reagan, who is Cath’s roommate, and Levi, who went to high school with Reagan and so is always hanging around their room. I think EVERY introvert needs a friend like Reagan. For the most part, Reagan just lets Cath be Cath, but occasionally she does step in and stage a much-needed intervention to make Cath look up from her fanfiction and interact with the world outside. Cath and Reagan actually first bond when Reagan realizes that Cath has been living off nothing but protein bars for days and days. When she asks Cath why and Caths’s response is that she doesn’t know where the cafeteria is, Reagan just shakes her head and drags Cath down to the cafeteria where they eat together and eventually become friends.

And then there’s Levi. He’s blonde, cute, lovable, loyal, goes out of his way to be friendly with anyone and everyone, and will do anything to please those he loves. Ha, when you put it that way, he kind of sounds like a golden retriever! I love Levi not just because he reminds me of a golden retriever, but because of the way he accepts Cath’s fanfiction addiction. He sense that it gives her comfort in a world where she is otherwise completely ill at ease and so, being the nice guy that he is, he doesn’t belittle her and make her feel deviant for it. In fact, he even encourages her and has her read her chapters to him. Just like every introvert needs a Reagan, I think every introvert could use a Levi as well.

Although the overall tone of the novel is fairly light and often humorous, Rowell also weaves in just enough drama to make Fangirl a page-turner. There are strained family relationships as Wren pulls away from Cath, and again when the mother who had abandoned them when they were small children randomly tries to re-enter their lives. There is also concern for Cath and Wren’s father who suffers from a mental illness. Although he is usually fine and able to control his symptoms, it is still a concern for the girls since they have moved out and left him on his own. Again, although these elements are designed to add drama to the story, family relationships and their complications are something that we can all relate to. It’s almost a universal truth – if you have family, at some point there will be drama that you have to deal with.
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four-stars

About Rainbow Rowell

Sometimes she writes about adults (Attachments and Landline). Sometimes she writes about teenagers (Eleanor & Park, Fangirl and Carry On.). But she always writes about people who talk a lot. And people who feel like they’re screwing up. And people who fall in love.

When she’s not writing, Rainbow is reading comic books, planning Disney World trips and arguing about things that don’t really matter in the big scheme of things.

She lives in Nebraska with her husband and two sons.

Book Review: All the Bright Places

Book Review:  All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Also by this author: Holding Up the Universe
five-stars
Published by Knopf on January 6th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Library
Goodreads

Synopsis & Review:

With its realistic and honest portrayal of someone living with a mental illness, All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven is one of the most moving and thought-provoking novels I’ve ever read. I finished reading it a couple of nights ago and have been trying to gather my many thoughts about it ever since in hopes of doing justice to not only how beautifully written this story is, but also to how important it is because of the major issues that it highlights such as mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it, as well as teen suicide and bullying.

At the center of All the Bright Places are Theodore Finch and Violet Markey, two high school seniors who on the surface appear to be complete opposites. Theodore (or Finch as he is called by pretty much everyone) is bit of an outcast, often referred to as a freak or weirdo by his classmates. He spends most of his free time either writing music or fantasizing about death, in particular all of the possible ways he can end his own life. At the opposite end of the social spectrum is Violet, who is attractive, popular, and a member of the cheerleading team.

This unlikely pair becomes connected in the novel’s opening scene which takes place on the ledge of the school’s bell tower. Plagued by an unnamed condition which he says makes him “sleep” for weeks at a time, Finch has climbed up there to contemplate what it would be like to commit suicide by jumping off the tower. He decides this would probably not be his preferred method, but as he turns to leave, he unexpectedly encounters Violet, who has apparently been having suicidal thoughts of her own. We then learn that Violet has recently suffered a tragedy that she can’t seem to get beyond – the death of her older sister and best friend Eleanor. Because she feels like she is just drowning in her grief and unable to move forward, Violet is having suicidal thoughts.

Finch, his own thoughts of suicide momentarily forgotten, does everything he can to talk Violet down to safety. He then dedicates himself to helping Violet overcome her thoughts of suicide. Although she is initially reluctant to even associate with Finch because of his reputation as a ‘freak’, Violet finally gives in and agrees to work with him on a school project which requires them to journey around their home state taking in its “natural wonders”.

The bulk of the novel focuses on the relationship between Violet and Finch as they work on this project and really get to know one another. Their journey together is an emotional roller coaster – it will make you laugh and it will bring you to tears, but what they find along the way is that they can draw strength from each other as they each battle their demons. Finch really pushes Violet to start working through her grief and seeing that her own life is worth living, and Violet helps Finch in that he can let his guard down around her and just be himself. As he focuses his attention on Violet, he becomes more and more determined not to let the ‘sleep’ take him again.

What I loved about All the Bright Places:

I think what makes All the Bright Places such a powerful read is that by having Violet and Finch tell their story, Niven takes us directly into the minds of these two troubled teens. We experience firsthand exactly what Finch and Violet are feeling as they think about killing themselves and what goes through their minds as they struggle just to exist from day to day. We’re seeing what Finch and Violet have been trying so hard to hide from their parents, friends, teachers, and counselors. It’s raw and unfiltered emotion and it will definitely make you think twice when you look at someone and assume that you know what they’re going through when you really have no idea what’s going on in their head or how much they might be struggling even though they’re trying to put on a brave face.

I also loved that Niven makes Finch the voice for those who are afraid to seek help for mental illness because they fear being labeled as “mentally ill”. He’s such a likeable and relatable character that we as readers desperately want him to get the help he needs, but at the same time, he makes us see why it’s so hard to do so. Finch embodies the fear that if diagnosed, in the eyes of others, he will become that diagnosis and nothing more:

“Moody Finch. Angry Finch. Unpredictable Finch. Crazy Finch. But I’m not a compilation of symptoms. Not a casualty of shitty parents and an even shittier chemical makeup. Not a problem. Not a diagnosis. Not an illness. Not something to be rescued. I’m a person.”

Finch even takes this a step further in the sacrifice that he makes for Violet, even when he barely knows her. When he talks Violet down off that ledge, he lets everyone believe she is the one who saved him rather than the other way around. He knows firsthand how crippling labels can be and he wants to protect her from that. So he takes on the label that would have otherwise have been given to her. He’s the suicidal one, not her. It’s a touching gesture.

‘All the Bright Places’ is such an important book because it shines light on the very problematic issue that a person would contemplate suicide rather than seeking medical help for mental illness. That should not be the case at all and it’s something we as a society, starting with our young people, need to address.

This is also a book that I wish had been around when I was teaching high school because of the way it spotlights the potential consequences of bullying. Because the characters in ‘All the Bright Places’ are so easy to relate to (Didn’t we all go to school with a Roamer, the guy who just lives to build himself up by putting others down?), I think this book could start a much needed dialogue in schools to educate students about the power of words. In this day and age when teen suicide rates are so high and school shootings are so prevalent, you just never know if your words are going to be the ones to push someone over the edge.
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five-stars

About Jennifer Niven

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Niven has always wanted to be a Charlie’s Angel, but her true passion is writing. Her most recent book, All the Bright Places, is her first novel for young adult readers and tells the story of a girl who learns to live from a boy who intends to die. All the Bright Places was the GoodReads Choice Award for Best Young Adult Fiction of 2015, and named a Best Book of the Year by Time Magazine, NPR, the Guardian, Publisher’s Weekly, YALSA, Barnes & Noble, BuzzFeed, the New York Public Library, and others. It was also the #1 Kids’ Indie Next Book for Winter ’14-’15 and SCIBA’s Young Adult Book of the Year, as well as being nominated for the Carnegie Medal and longlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. As of today, the book has spent over thirty weeks as a New York Times bestseller, and foreign rights have sold to forty territories. The movie rights have been optioned with Elle Fanning attached to star and Jennifer writing the script. As a companion to the book, Jennifer has created Germ, a web magazine for and run by girls (and boys) — high school and beyond — that celebrates beginnings, futures, and all the amazing and agonizing moments in between.

With the publication of her first book, The Ice Master, Jennifer became a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writer. A nonfiction account of a deadly Arctic expedition, The Ice Master was released in November 2000 and named one of the top ten nonfiction books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, and translated into multiple languages, including German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Danish, and Icelandic. Jennifer and The Ice Master appeared in Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, Talk, Glamour, The New Yorker, Outside, The New York Times Book Review, The London Daily Mail, The London Times, and Writer’s Digest, among others. Dateline BBC, the Discovery Channel, and the History Channel featured The Ice Master an hour-long documentaries, and the book was the subject of numerous German, Canadian, and British television documentaries. The Ice Master has been nominated for awards by the American Library Association and Book Sense, and received Italy’s esteemed Gambrinus Giuseppe Mazzotti Prize for 2002.

Jennifer’s second book, Ada Blackjack — an inspiring true story of the woman the press called “the female Robinson Crusoe” — has been translated into Chinese, French, and Estonian, was a Book Sense Top Ten Pick, and was named by The Wall Street Journal as one of the Top Five Arctic books.

Her memoir, The Aqua-Net Diaries: Big Hair, Big Dreams, Small Town, was published in February 2010 by Gallery Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, and was optioned by Warner Bros. as a television series.

Her first novel, Velva Jean Learns to Drive (based on her Emmy Award-winning film of the same name), was released July 2009 by Penguin/Plume. It was an Indie Pick for the August 2009 Indie Next List and was also a Costco Book of the Month. The second book in the Velva Jean series, Velva Jean Learns to Fly, was released by Penguin/Plume in August 2011, and the third book in the series, Becoming Clementine, was published in September 2012. The fourth Velva Jean novel, American Blonde, is available now.

With her mother, author Penelope Niven, Jennifer has conducted numerous seminars in writing and addressed audiences around the world. She lives in Los Angeles.

Source: www.jenniferniven.com

Book Review – The Red Queen

Book Review – The Red QueenRed Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Also by this author: Glass Sword
three-half-stars
Published by HarperTeen on February 10th 2015
Genres: Young Adult Fiction
Pages: 383
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My review:

At its heart, Red Queen is a story about oppression. Reds are deemed inferior to Silvers, not because of the color of their skin, but rather, because of the color of the blood that flows through their veins. Reds live in poverty, while Silvers live as nobles who deem it their right to treat all Reds as dirt beneath their feet.

And I guess it’s pretty easy to keep another group of people under your thumb when it’s not a fair fight because these Silvers are not your average, everyday nobles. Not only do the Silvers have silver blood running through their veins, but each one of them is also born with X-Men like super-human powers. It might be the ability to harness fire, water, or even metal, or it might be the gift of mind reading, just to name a few. From an early age, they are trained to understand and master these special talents, not so they can use them for good, but so as to effectively wield them as weapons. The irony here is that even though the Silvers possess all of these super-cool and destructive powers, they still force Reds to fight and die for them in a war against other Silvers that has been going on for generations.

Enter Mare Barrow, a Red girl who accidentally discovers she has super-human powers that rival the Silvers. She teams up with the Scarlet Guard, a group of Red rebels who have decided it’s time to fight back against the Silver’s oppression of their people, and you have the makings of an epic David vs. Goliath- style matchup.

What I liked about Red Queen:
The Superpowers! – The superpowers were, by far, one of my favorite things about the book. The author’s descriptions of these characters, both in training and in actual combat, were so vivid that all I kept thinking while reading was “Wow, this would make for such a cool movie!” The action-packed ending in particular was spectacular, probably the highlight of the story for me.

The Plot Twists – The lies and endless betrayals kept me guessing every step of the way and I love a book that is unpredictable. The lies were convincing enough that I fell for all of the same tricks that the characters did and was just as shocked at the betrayal as they were.

Strong Women – From Mare and Farley on the Red side to Evangeline and Queen Elara on the Silver side, this novel is filled with some pretty fierce female characters leading the charge on both sides of the rebellion.

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three-half-stars

About Victoria Aveyard

In her own words:

“I’m a writer repped by Suzie Townsend at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. I split my time between my hometown East Longmeadow, Massachusetts and Los Angeles. After graduating with a BFA in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. My debut RED QUEEN came out of the terrifying, unemployed year after college. The sequel GLASS SWORD released in February 2016.

Currently I’m working on the third book in the RED QUEEN series, along with pursuing other projects in literature and film. My proudest achievements are riding a horse in the mountains of Montana and navigating from London to Edinburgh without GPS.”