Category Archives: Rachel

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.

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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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Dualing Quick Takes: The Handmaid’s Tale

the handmaid's taleSo happy to share with you all a little dual quick takes style review of “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood! 🙂 Christina and Rachel have both recently finished it, and with the Hulu adaptation currently airing how timely these reviews seem! 🙂 We hope you enjoy our dual reviews of this book!

Christina: four-star-rating-black-hi

Y’all!!!! First of all…I am definitely slightly disappointed in myself that it’s taken me this long to read this. Shame on me. Alright…now that my self-shaming session is over, let’s get onto my MAJOR feels on this book! I will say, it did take me nearly 60 pages to really get into the book. I think this happened for two reasons: one, I had just finished a YA-fantasy book which was just paced so differently; and two, this book is shrouded in a strange sense of mystery/uncertainty and the pace of the book definitely matches that. This book was gripping and creepy, only in that this book just feels way too close to home right now…le sigh. I really can’t summarize my review/thoughts in words very well…so let me leave at this: Margaret Atwood’s writing is beautiful, gripping and incredibly thought-provoking. I can’t wait to watch the Hulu adaptation to see how it translates to the screen!

Rachel: four-star-rating-black-hi

Unlike Christina, I’m actually happy I read this when I did! Apparently like everybody and their mama, I picked this up because of all the happenings in the news we hear about on an almost daily basis. As a result, the story felt all the more timely and compelling. Atwood does seem to drop readers into this world with no apparent introduction, so the first portion of the book is a bit jarring. That being said, it seemed to add to the storyline as a whole. What is going on here? Why is this happening? These are the questions you want to be asking as you progress through the pages. I think it offered a very unique take on the dystopian genre, and it’s one I believe everyone should experience. I also thought the way the ending was designed was very unique–don’t miss that afterword type chapter like I almost did! Audiobook–yay or nay? Yay! Claire Danes narrated, and she did a marvelous job. She really helped bring Offred to life, especially in passages where she is expressing her reactions to events. The chapters also start out with muffled clips of old songs, which adds to the tone of the novel. Definitely worth a listen!

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Quick Takes: Milk and Honey

milk and honeyMilk and Honey by Rupi Kaur
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poetry is not just
hitting enter on the keyboard
so that quasi-
original thoughts
might all of a sudden
sound profound.

if that were
the case
i would take all
my high school
poetry and become
a bestseller.

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Charmed by Capricorn

Schooled by Gordon Kormanfive-star-rating-black-clip-art-hi

1025250Oh my hippie-loving-heart, this book was the cutest! It has been sitting on my to-read list for the longest time–to the extent that I forgot how it got on there in the first place–but I’m so glad I finally got to it!

A homeschooled long-haired hippie kid named Capricorn has to go to the local public middle school while his grandmother recovers from a fall, and has to learn about things like checkbooks and what a “starbuck” is. There is also the hiccup of thirteen year olds not exactly being allowed to drive school busses , but licenses aren’t really a thing inside the commune. And when he finds out about the whole school locker system, he says things like:

“When we lock things away,” he said with conviction, “we’re really imprisoning ourselves.”

I mean come on, that’s at once both funny and adorable. The popular kids of course try to pick on him, in particular by getting him to run as class president, but Cap’s naiveté and kind nature help him move blissfully forward and naturally draw people to him.

This is geared towards middle schoolers, which I am definitely not, but I think it holds its own. Even though the characters can seem a bit charicature-y, they are far from two dimensional. And aside from delightful quotes like the one above, the book is also full of incredibly touching moments that completely caught me by surprise. I look forward to grabbing my own copy of this one for whenever I want an afternoon of some quick, cozy reading. A not-so-surprising five stars from this closeted free spirit hippie chick!

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