Category Archives: Rachel

Quick Takes: Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
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29906980At the very least, you have to give Saunders mad props for his originality–I’ve never seen a book like this before. Weaving in dozens of narrators and dozens of historical sources (some real, some not), readers spend a mystical night at Oak Hill Cemetery with characters in the Bardo. It is a sort of equivalent of purgatory in Tibetan Buddhism, a space between death and rebirth. It is the night after Willie Lincoln’s burial, and the president comes back to visit.

If you like creativity and some mysticism in your reading, you’re bound to enjoy this book. If, however, you tend to roll your eyes at the stuff and suspend zero disbelief, I would pass this on. Even I would pause at times and the wild or crude manifestations of some of the individuals we find in the Bardo. But I for one and still happy to have experienced this delightfully original story, and am interested in checking out more of Saunders’ work!

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Quick Takes: Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
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27161156Let me start by saying that the largest reason for my rating is because, for the most part, I’m just not a fan of memoirs. I wasn’t particularly engaged and thought that topic could be better presented. I think that’s what my problem usually is with memoirs–you’re telling me what happened instead of painting me a picture like novels usually do.

I also slightly resent the fact that his story was used to push certain notions and philosophies upon the reader. Providing research to back up what you experience is one thing, concluding that “therefore, this should happen,” is something else entirely. Trust that you have presented the information well and that I am competent enough to come to my own conclusion because the truth of the matter is, I may see the solution residing somewhere completely different.

I do think it’s an important story, and I think it brings up very important issues that we as a nation need to address. I just wish it would have done so in a different manner.

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Modern American Epic Mountain Cowboy

Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Keseyfive-star-rating-black-clip-art-hi

It’s June. I’m a few days away from my trip to the Pacific Northwest, and I’m looking up books that take place in these gorgeous states. Scrolling past Twilight and Fifty Shades of Gray, I land on Sometimes a Great Notion. And there is just nothing about it that should interest me…650 pages detailing a union strike that sweeps across a small logging town? An easy pass, were it not for the rave reviews calling it a masterpiece and one of the Great American Novels™. So, I pick it up.

Four months later, after wrestling to get into it, struggling through 70-page chapters and paragraphs chock-full of points of view that switch mid-sentence(!), I can add my voice and say that anyone who appreciates literature needs to read this book. This, this is the book I needed to read in my Literature classes, because there’s so much going on here, and it does it all so, so well. Because like any poignant novel, what makes it so great is never just about the plot. Continue reading

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Quick Takes: Cruel Beauty

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
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Image result for cruel beautyGoing into this, I thought I was going to end up with a completely different story than what I was left with at the final page. Cruel Beauty is about a young woman, Nyx, who trained her whole life to defeat the evil ruler of their kingdom. When she finally reaches the castle and meets the enemy, things  don’t go as planned. There’s more to Ignifex than meets the eye, and her mission must adapt.

I kept hearing how this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Though I usually find those cringe-y, I actually think this book would’ve been better off if there were more similarities. I wish it were as simple as that summary, as Beauty and the Beast, as another YA novel with a love triangle and predictable twists and turns. Because my biggest problem with this book was that it was jam packed with all this mythology.

Beauty and the Beast is fine. Mythology is fine. But trying to do both, and so heavy handedly, is trying to do too much. Anytime authors lean too much on another culture/society or whatever, it just starts to feel lazy and gimmicky. The naming, the world-building, the constant myth-referencing, just…ugh. Come on. It was like reading an allegory–am I supposed to enjoy the story, or is this some sneaky way to brush up on my history? Greco/Roman Mythology is great, but you can pull from it without being so obvious about it. The plot would have been way less clunky/cluttered that way.

So this is one of the few instances I’m not complaining about the “meh” protagonist or the love triangle or insta-love. In fact if those would have been my only critiques, I probably would have enjoyed Cruel Beauty a whole lot more.

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Series Review: Shades of Magic Trilogy

I honestly don’t know why it took me so long to review these books! I finally got around to finishing the third one this summer, so it only seemed right to lump them all into one super-review! And be sure to check out Christina’s review of the first, where she also offers a good summary! Needless to say, the later ones may contain some spoilers 🙂

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab four-star-rating-black-hi

a darker shade of magicThis was my first foray into Victoria Schwab’s writing, and it definitely won’t be the last! From the get go, I was impressed by her storytelling capabilities. She expertly crafted three dimensional characters in a well-built universe. I loved the idea of four different Londons! Especially White London, which feels particularly bleak. (Didn’t Gaiman have a similar idea in Neverwhere? Clearly it’s working.) It was refreshing to dive into something that felt so new.

The best part has to be the characters. Kell and Lila felt new and exciting, both in their behavior and physical descriptions. This isn’t your cookie cutter dynamic duo, particularly since they aren’t swooning over each other every chance they get. The sadistic Dane twins worked incredibly well as the antagonists. Seriously fantastic villains. And for favorite character it may be a tie between Holland and Kell. Both Antari felt like they carried much beneath the surface. Even so, it felt at times that there was too much held below, and it was hard to connect to the characters at points. It also hit some slow points, but they end of the book definitely picked up the pace.

A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab
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If the first book was on the higher end of four stars, I would place this one slightly on the lower end. This is mainly because it felt like I’ve read this story before, even if they did do a good job of it. Arenas? Tournaments? Isn’t this in like every dystopian novel? This book also seemed to miss that villain piece that the first book nailed.

Even so, it was still a fun read, and the character development continued on. Some complain about Kell, that he’s too moody or sullen or serious, but I kinda like that about him. He and Lila balance each other out. I’m not particularly sold on them as a couple, kinda like the idea of keeping it a friendship, but I don’t hate the pairing either. Lila did grate on me at times, though.

A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab
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29939230I honestly think I would be giving this book a higher rating if I didn’t switch to audiobook while doing my road trip. Seriously, the narration was so. bad. All of a sudden the characters felt annoying (or way more so than before) and I didn’t think the voices fit at all. So, big mistake on my part there.

That being said, I did think it was a good wrap up to the trilogy. Osaron was a formidable opponent, and I think he presented enough of a threat and challenge and leading to enough loss so that readers aren’t left thinking everyone’s safe. I also really enjoyed Holland’s role in this book, especially having the opportunity to learn more about his background. Thankfully, the romance between Kell and Lila played a lot better as well. Overall a satisfying ending to a refreshing trilogy!

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In Defense of the Foolish(Romantic)

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauerfive-star-rating-black-clip-art-hi

My high school students don’t typically read even when they’re required to, so when one makes a point to recommend a book she’s read multiple times, I stand up and take notice. She brought it up to me so often that I became moved by her love for Into the Wild. I decided to pick it up this summer when I took my solo trip to the Pacific Northwest–a perfect opportunity for this tale of travel and survival.

“As for me, I’ve decided that I’m going to live this life for some time to come. The freedom and simple beauty of it is just too good to pass up.”

I could not have read it at a better time. I was in the right mindset to completely understand and empathize with the characters in this book–not just Chris McCandless, but also Krakauer and the numerous other examples of adventurous travelers he gives. Because this seems to be the key to falling in love with what appears to be a very polarizing book: understanding the mind of the Romantic.

“At long last he was unencumbered, emancipated from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt previously cut off from the raw throb of existence.”

Chris was a Romantic, simply put. People quickly paint him into many other things he’s not. He’s not much of an Idealist: he prepares too much for that, though his practicality will fall short. He’s also not a Hero. He made mistakes, we can all agree on that. But he’s not a Villain either, as so many of these mistakes were understandable, especially when we stop trying to be curmudgeonly, self-righteous adults and remember the romanticism of our youth. This leads me to a quick aside, because I have some beef with the people who don’t like this book.

Continue reading

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Quick Takes: Finding Audrey

Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
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Image result for finding audreyHooray I’m back!

I needed a quick, fun, easy read to get me out of grad school mode, and this book was it! I first cracked it open while I was poolside, and easily got through the first hundred pages. I was on the last page before the end of the weekend.

This was a cute little romance about 14 year old Audrey, who suffers from social anxiety, and the boy who helps motivate her to work through her fears. Don’t worry though, it’s not an I’m gonna change for this boy so he can finally like me kind of story. It’s just a sweet little story. Plus, it’s not just about romantic love, but also familial. I loved the interactions between Audrey’s family. They were wacky and ridiculous without fringing into caricature territory.

I was also impressed by how well social anxiety and mental illness as a whole was treated throughout this book. This wasn’t a romanticized view of it, which some books seem to be guilty of. It was pretty realistic, and could even offer younger readers a better understanding of what social anxiety means. Heck, any readers a little less familiar with the topic of mental illness will probably learn some things.

Although I get a little tired of the pop culture references that will likely date this book in a few years, it’s a cute story that’s worth picking up if you’re in the mood for this sort of read!

 

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