Tag: reading

A Spoiler-Free Book Review: Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

A Spoiler-Free Book Review: Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

So this has been a long time coming – I actually finished this book several weeks ago, but my MBA classes cranked back up and I just hadn’t had the free seconds to write up a review on Libba Bray’s Lair of Dreams. BUT, now I have a few free minutes so here we go:

Before I really get going, let me just make a disclaimer here: Libba Bray is the author of my all-time favorite series of young adult fantasy books, the Gemma Doyle trilogy of books (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing, each of which can be purchased by clicking on the respective links). These books are on par with Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings in my heart and head, and if you’re going to read anything Libba for the first time please start with Gemma’s story! I have read these books almost every single year, without fail, since the first one was released in 2003. I have gifted the first book to many friends – any time I participate in a book swap, A Great and Terrible Beauty is the book that goes out. I promise you won’t be disappointed!!!

Ok – now let’s get into the bulk of this post. Lair of Dreams is book no. 2 in The Diviners series, the first book being (not unexpectedly) entitled The Diviners. Your cast of characters is much the same, to include:

  • Evie
  • Theta
  • Henry
  • Uncle Will
  • Sam
  • Jericho
  • Mabel
  • the Proctor sisters

And a couple of new additions, namely:

  • Ling
  • Wai Mei
  • Louis
  • Memphis
  • Blind Bill

The story picks up about a year from where The Diviners left off, with diviners being the new big thing in the Big Apple. Without going too much into the plot of the story and giving it all away, let’s just say that divining getting bigger and bigger is perhaps not the best thing. Everyone’s powers seem to be getting stronger and they all seem to be tied to a new, central source. I am super stoked to see how this develops over the course of the third (and, I believe, the final) book in the series!

As is always the case with anything Libba Bray writes, my absolute favorite part of this book is the way she builds the story. I’ve read a lot of books in my life, but I’ve never seen an author who can write like Libba writes. She is a wordsmith in the truest sense of the term, and writes in what I can only describe as a cinematic way – I can actually see everything happening in my head as she writes it. All of her books that I own are lovingly dog-eared, underlined, and notated to pieces. I copied complete passages, full pages, over into my commonplace book because that’s just how good she is.

What I have to admire the most is the depth of research that went into this book. With the introduction of Ling and Wei Mai, both of whom are Chinese immigrants in America during the Chinese Exclusion Act, Bray went to painstaking lengths to ensure that historical and cultural accuracy are represented by these two characters and their family members. As I read the book, I was researching some of the topics and symbolism that came up, and Bray has interspersed Chinese symbolism throughout in ways that aren’t even obvious until later unless you know what you’re looking for! That’s a quality I have always admired about her writing, and I’m so glad to see that it hasn’t changed over the last fourteen years.

Here’s the blurb on the back of my copy of the book:

After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O’Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. With her uncanny ability to read people’s secrets, she’s a media darling. It seems like everyone in love with New York City’s latest It Girl – their ‘Sweetheart Seer.’

But while Evie is enjoying the high life, her fellow Diviners Henry DuBois and Ling Chan will fight to keep their powers secret.

A malevolent force is at large, infecting people’s dreams and claiming victims in their sleep. At the edge of it all lurks a man in a stovepipe hat who has plans of nightmare proportions…

As the sickness spreads, can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld to save the city?

The central source of conflict in this book is the sleeping sickness, which descended upon Chinatown and seems to be spreading outwards across the city. Its victims go to sleep at night and never wake up – they don’t die immediately, though; rather, they seem to be trapped in some kind of nightmare-land from which they can’t awaken, as their bodies are slowly burned up from the inside out until there’s nothing left.

This is what Evie and crew are trying to fight in this book – where is it coming from, who is causing it, why are they doing so, and how do they stop it? Although to be honest, Evie kind of takes a back seat to Henry and Ling, who are featured on the cover of my copy and who play more of a central role in this story than does Evie, who dominated the first book.

That’s truly fine by me, because I think Evie is exceedingly shallow and irritating, and I definitely prefer Henry, Theta, Memphis, Ling, Sam, and Jericho to Evie.

I really enjoyed learning more about each characters’ background and history, as Bray begins to drop significant hints about where they come from throughout this book (you’ve got to be quick and paying close attention to catch some of them, though!). There is truly a character that everyone can relate to in this book, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Overall score: 5/5 stars, definitely add it to your to-read list

Now I am just going to leave you with some of my favorite passages from this book:

I’ve never understood this obsession with where we are from that we Americans seem to have. We are from here, are we not? Sometimes I find this clannishness, these ties to old homelands, ancient traditions, and familial bloodlines, to be nothing more than fear – the same fear that keeps us praying to an absent God. If anything, I hope that our research into the great unknown of Diviners and the supernatural world proves that we are all one, joined by the same spark of energy that owes nothing to countries or religion, good and evil, or any other man-made divisions. We create our history as we go.

America had invented itself. It continued to invest itself as it went along. Sometimes its virtues made it the envy of the world. Sometimes it betrayed the very heart of its ideals. Sometimes the people dispensed with what was difficult or inconvenient to acknowledge. So the good people maintained the illusion of democracy and wrote another hymn to America. They sang loud enough to drown out dissent. They sang loud enough to overpower their own doubts. There were no plaques to commemorate mistakes, but the past didn’t forget. History was haunted by the ghosts of buried crimes, which required periodic exorcisms of truth. Actions had consequences.

“Diviners are truth-tellers. But people rarely want the truth. We say that we want it when, really, we like being lied to. We prefer the ether of hope.”

“But hope is necessary! You have to give people hope,” Mabel insisted.


“Why what?”

Jericho folded his arms across his chest. “In an amoral, violent world, isn’t it unconscionable to keep offering hope? It’s like advertising for soap that never gets you clean.”

“Now you’re just being cynical.”

“Am I? What about war? We keep grappling for power, killing for it. Enslaving. Oppressing. We create ourselves. We destroy ourselves. Over and over. Forever. If the cycle repeats, why bother with hope?”

“But we also overcome. I’ve seen people fight against that sort of oppression and win. What you’re talking about is nihilism. And frankly,” Mabel said, taking a steadying breath, “frankly, that bores me.” Nothing emboldened her quite as much as someone claiming the good fight couldn’t be won.

“How is it nihilism to embrace the cycle and let go – of attachments and morality, yes, and the opiate futility of hope?” Jericho fired back. Mabel’s naiveté annoyed him. She might think she’d seen the world, but, really, she saw only a particular slice of the world, neatly bordered by hedgerows trimmed daily by her parents’ idealism. “All right,” he pressed. “If you believe in hope, what about true evil? Do you believe there is such a thing?”

Mabel felt as if the question were a test, one she might easily fail. “I believe real evil is brought about by a system that is unjust or by people acting selfishly. By greed.” She’d never really articulated her thoughts on the matter before, and it satisfied her to say them aloud.

“That’s the do-gooder answer.”

Mabel bristled. “I don’t go for the bogeyman. There’s plenty of evil to fight in life without having to make up devils and demons and ghosts. If you believe there is Evil int he world, capital E, doesn’t that take away your belief in fee will? I still maintain that people have choices. To do right. To have hope. To give hope,” Mabel said pointedly.

The land has a memory.

Every stream and river runs with a confession of sorts, history whispered over rocks, lifted in the beaks of birds at a stream, carried out to sea. Buffalo thunder across plains whose soil was watered with the blood of battles long since relegated to musty books on forgotten shelves. Fields once strewn with blue and gray now flower with uneasy buds. The slave master snaps the lash, and generations later, the ancestral scars remain.

Under it all, the dead lie, remembering.

The atoms vibrate, always on the verge of some new shift.

Shift and the electrons lean toward particle or wave.

Shift and the action requires a reaction.

Shift and the stroke of a typewriter elevates i to I, changes God to god.

Shift and the beast acquires a thumb; the thumb, a weapon.

Shift and right become wrongs; the wrongs, justification.

It’s all in the perspective.

And finally – from the Author’s Note:

The story of America is one that is still being written. Many of the ideological battles we like to think we’ve tucked neatly into a folder called “the past” – issues of race, class, gender, sexual identity, civil rights, justice, and just what makes us “American” – are very much alive today. For what we do not study and reflect upon, we are in danger of dismissing or forgetting. What we forget, we are often doomed to repeat. Our ghosts, it seems, are always with us, whispering that attention must be paid.

Commonplace Book: What It Is and Why You Should Keep One

Commonplace Book: What It Is and Why You Should Keep One

Lately, I have started keeping a commonplace book again. When I was very young, I kept one for years (and would that I could figure out whatever happened to it!), but fell off the practice when I started high school back in 2005 and haven’t really done anything like it since then. Now, don’t think a commonplace book is like a journal or a diary, because it’s not. A commonplace book is not the place for introspection and personal reflection – rather, it is “a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits.

What this basically means is it’s a catchall for anything you might see or hear in the great wide world that catches you eye and makes you think, “Hm. That was good.”

You write it down in your commonplace book for future reference.

My commonplace book is currently being housed in my No. 5 Autumn Rose traveler’s notebook from The Foxy Fix, and is a collection of many things, to include:

  • quotes
  • poetry
  • lists of books I’ve read this year
  • books I want to read in the future
  • a reference guide for Sarah J. Maas’ bibliography
  • definitions of words I did not recognize
  • complete passages from books I’m reading
  • brief research on topics I was unfamiliar with
  • a list of poets I’d like to read

All of this is kept in no particular order. I write on the next blank page, in whatever style and ink suits me. Right now, there’s a ton of passages from Libba Bray’s Lair of Dreams (part 2 of a series, which you can buy here and here if you so desire – it’s YA fantasy set in 20th century NYC and I highly recommend it, Libba Bray is a wordsmith of the highest caliber!) because I swear to all the high heavens that woman is a silver tongue if I’ve ever seen one.

As mentioned, it also is a place to collect vocabulary words (I know – you thought vocabulary words ended in middle school. Let me be the first to tell you it is never too late to expand your vocabulary!). For example, here are some of the words I’ve recorded:

  • pneumatic
  • copacetic
  • sycophant
  • crepuscular
  • nihilism
  • bromide
  • incandescent

No, I won’t tell you the definitions. Look them up and add them to your own commonplace book!

But why should you keep one?

Well, to start off with, nearly all of history’s greatest figures (and many of your normal, regular citizens) have kept a version of a commonplace book. A la Wikipedia, “[Commonplace] books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas. Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests.”

It’s a place for you to refer back to in the future, should you find yourself in need of inspiration. It makes reading and writing inseparable activities – while you’re reading, you’re taking notes. You’re writing in the margins. You’re underlining passages and dog-earing pages and making exclamatory statements next to particularly surprising passages. Then, when you’re done, you copy it over into your commonplace book. In this way, reading is no longer a passive activity – it is active, intellectual, and engaging. You are given the opportunity to reflect upon what you’re reading, rather than to just absorb it and move on.

Granted, not all of us are readers, and that’s fine. For those of you who aren’t, a commonplace book is simply a handy depository for things you find on the line that might be inspiring or thought-provoking. How many of us screenshot things we see on Facebook or instagram because we thought it was particularly indicative and representative of something going on in our lives, only to have that screenshot lost forever in the depths of our camera rolls, never to be seen or thought about again?

With a commonplace book, you copy that screenshot over, which in and of itself will make you reflect upon what about the passage or the quote or the meme that inspired you in the first place. Then, it’s readily available for future use and reference, whatever that use or reference may be. You will no longer have to scroll through endless selfies and dog photos to find the screenshot you’re looking for.

If you’re into this kind of thing, a commonplace book can also serve as a record for the future. In this digital, electronic age, few things are written down by hand anymore. But the longevity of our digital files is currently unknown – will this blog post survive the passage of time? Will anything we do online survive?

Sure, provided future generations continue to have access to electricity, computers, and high-speed internet.

We know, however, that the written word, pen-and-paper, notebooks, are all able to survive through time, albeit in various states of disrepair upon their discovery. In fact, we have used commonplace books from both the greats and the normals to get an idea of what people were thinking about and reading and doing and writing and feeing for hundreds of years. They have provided us with so much insight into the past and have proven to be an invaluable resource for historians all over the world.

It may be a little ambitious to think that my personal recordings of things that I like might be found one day in the future and serve as the logbook of a generation (ha!), but I still like to record these things as much for posterity’s sake as for my own.

And that’s totally fine!

If nothing else, it leaves a physical record for future generations of my own family to look back and see what I, personally, was doing and thinking and feeling. I have a series of journals my mom kept when I was a baby, nothing important was said in them, just documentations of my day and my first words and my first steps and the foods I liked and things of that nature, but those notebooks are precious to me because they were written by a member of my family and because they provide insight into a time of life that I don’t remember (being that I was an infant at the time, obviously).

It’s a little awe-inspiring to think that someone from my future may look upon my notebooks in the same fashion.


A Spoiler-Free Book Review: Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2) by Sarah J. Maas

A Spoiler-Free Book Review: Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2) by Sarah J. Maas

It isn’t every book that captures my attention so hard that I’m able to read all 400+ pages, cover to cover, in a matter of days, but when a book does do that, it’s probably been written by Sarah J. Maas.

Crown of Midnight is the second book in the Throne of Glass series that was Maas’ first foray into the world of full-length novels. I’m going to be honest with you when I say it took me a looooong while to get into the idea of reading Maas’ books. I had heard nothing but good things about them, and I am consistently reading similar YA high fantasy fiction novels, but I just felt like it would be too “mainstream” of me to start reading her books so far after so many other people had already read them – I felt like I would just be a bandwagoner. LET ME JUST SAY I have quickly been making up for lost time. I read the entire A Court of Thorns and Roses series (three books that have currently been released) in less than a week. I read Throne of Glass in less than a week while I was in school. Crown of Midnight was finished in two and a half days. I AM OBSESSED.

Crown of Midnight was everything you could possible hope a sequel to be. Maas is a wordsmith of the highest order; there are several passages throughout the text that gave me goosebumps all across my body. She is able to paint a picture with her words so clearly that I know exactly how each character and location in the story is meant to look. Her writing style is phenomenal and the book is fast-paced and breathless for nearly the full 420 pages. This is where the reader really starts to learn about who Celaena Sardothien really is and what and who formed her into the person she has become. Maas really begins to set the stage in this novel for what’s to come in the series as a whole, and does a fantastic job of laying all the groundwork without dragging along.

From the blurb on the back of my copy of the book:

Assassin Celaena Sardothien won a brutal contest to become the King’s Champion. But she is far from loyal to the crown. Though she hides her secret vigilantly, her deadly charade becomes difficult when she realizes she is not the only one seeking justice. No one is above questioning her allegiance – not the Crown Prince Dorian; not Chaol, the Captain of the Guard; not even her best friend, Nehemiah, a foreign princess with a rebel heart.

Then, one terrible night, the secrets they have all been keeping lead to an unspeakable tragedy. As Celaena’s world shatters, she will be forced to decide once and for all where her true royalties lie . . . and whom she is willing to fight for.

What I love the most about Maas’ books and the worlds she creates within them is probably how they all center around incredibly strong, fierce, independent female central characters. Growing up, I was drawn to novels that featured strong women in the central roles. The Gemma Doyle series (A Great and Terrible Beauty, Rebel Angels, and The Sweet Far Thing) by Libba Bray was my favorite series in junior high and high school, and continues to be a series I re-read every year as an adult, because it was one of the first set of novels I can remember reading that featured a strong female character around whose adventures the books were centered. Celaena Sardothein appeals to that same place inside of me as do Gemma Doyle, Alanna the Lioness (which, if we’re being honest, is really the first fictional heroine with whom I fell in love as a middle-schooler, OMG I can’t believe I almost forgot about The Song of the Lioness series I read every single one of those books as a child I wanted to be Alanna when I grew up – thanks for giving me ridiculous expectations of my female characters, Tamora Pierce!), Hermione Granger, Mare Barrow, Mara Dyer, Feyre Archeron, and Princess Jezelia.

Overall, I give Crown of Midnight a resounding 5/5 stars: enthusiastically recommended! Now, on to Heir of Fire – review to come probably by the end of the week! HA!


A Spoiler-Free Book Review: Beren and Lúthien by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien)

A Spoiler-Free Book Review: Beren and Lúthien by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien)

Looking back, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t enamored with the Tolkien’s Middle Earth. I read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit while I was relatively young, and the film versions were released in my middle school and junior high years. I distinctly remember my dad, my brother, and myself having The Lord of the Rings movie marathons multiple times, because we were all equally obsessed with the stories.

With that being said, I am ashamed to admit I still have yet to read The Silmarillion in its entirety. I started it when I was in high school, but never completed it, and I have yet to pick it back up. I also haven’t read many (read: any) of Tolkien’s posthumously published works – that is, until now.

My copy of Beren and Lúthein

I had pre-ordered Beren and Lúthien on Amazon, and the book was delivered to my door the same day it was released for sale in stores (Amazon Prime da real MVP here, y’all). As is my usual style, though, it took me about a million years before I was finally able to finish the book in its entirety. This is due in large part to my school schedule, and also because I was not prepared to be reading in verse again. Full disclosure: a sizable chunk of this book is written in Tolkien’s epic poetry style of verse, which is a format I hadn’t read since my days in AP English in high school and something that I definitely had to adjust back to reading so that my mind would actually process what my eyes were taking in.

The front cover illustration: Beren, Lúthien, and Huan the Dog

The story itself is broken down into several parts, interspersed throughout with commentary by Tolkien senior’s son, Christopher (who is now 92 years old, and admits in the foreword that this will be the last edited version of his father’s works that he will be releasing). The text shows the progression of the story from the time Tolkien first started writing it in 1917 until he abandoned it as a separate entity sometime in the 1930s. To be completely honest, I was expecting just the story itself, and so when I realized this book had multiple versions of the story in their various stages of development and revision, I was equal parts thrilled and irritated – thrilled, because I loved seeing how the writer’s mind changed aspects of the story within the realm of the greater overall history of Middle Earth, which was being developed simultaneously at that time; and irritated, because I truly was expecting a start-to-finish story without all the (seemingly) superfluous details.

The back cover illustration, Lúthien dancing in the woods

The main tale of Beren and Lúthien is broken down into two main sections in this book – “The Tale of Tinúviel,” which is the prose version of the story, and The Lay of Leithian, which is written entirely in verse. Both versions tell the same basic tale, although The Lay of Leithian is significantly longer, more detailed, and much closer to what the final version of the story may have looked like, had Tolkien finished it to his satisfaction (alas, he did not).

An Alan Lee line drawing found in the book – this depicts the tree house where Lúthien Tinúviel’s father had her kept to keep her from running off after Beren on a fool’s errand

As you would expect from any Tolkien narrative, the story even in its incomplete state is richly detailed and beautifully written. Beren and Lúthien’s story in many ways parallels the story of Aragorn and Arwen, which is seen much later on in the history of Middle Earth. Even though a final version was never completed, Tolkien still leaves little to be desired as far as details go, and the book offers the reader several different endings to the tale of Beren and Lúthien, which really allows you to pick the one you like best. Christopher Tolkien does a lovely job of compiling all the separate versions of the story into one readable text, and gives the reader enough background information and details about changes in names and histories about the characters that even someone who has never read The Silmarillion (like me), which is where the story of Beren and Lúthien originally appeared, is able to keep relatively well with the story’s progression and development.

Probably one of my favorite sections of verse from “The Lay of Leithian”

Overall, I give the book 4/5 stars. I truly enjoyed the different versions of the story and how I was able to watch the progression and development of the characters and their histories within the context of the greater history of Middle Earth. Once I got used to reading epic poetry again, I also was thoroughly pleased with the “The Lay of Leithian” and its grand poetic style, although this may be a sticking point for some readers who neither enjoy nor desire to read verse in any manner, shape, or form. If nothing else, the book reminds me that I really need to delve more into Tolkien’s other works in Middle Earth, because I just love the world and the characters who live in it as much now as I did when I was twelve.


A Spoiler-Free Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

A Spoiler-Free Book Review: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

I remember being given a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when I was nine or ten. I took it with me to my grandmother’s house one day and she told me I shouldn’t read books about witches because witches are from the devil. (As an adult, all I hear is Bobby Boucher’s mama telling him, “Girls are the devil, Bobby Boucher!”) I grew up with Harry Potter. I went to the midnight book releases and the movie premieres, and I am the proud owner of first editions of all seven Harry Potter books and a first edition of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I am now, have always been, and always will be a die-hard Potterhead.

With that being said, I know that J.K. Rowling had released other, non-Harry books, but I had never bothered to read them. That is, until I found a copy of The Casual Vacancy in the local Winn Dixie for $3, and thought, “Why not?”

Now, don’t be fooled. This is not a Harry Potter book. It is not even close to being a Harry Potter book. It is the exact opposite of a Harry Potter book. In fact, if there were a book written about the Muggle residents of Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey (no, I did not have to look that up), The Casual Vacancy would probably be similar to that book. The Casual Vacancy details the minutiae of life in a small, quaint, seemingly innocent English village that has had a sudden and unexpected vacancy on the village council. One soon realizes, though, that the pretty potted plants and cobblestone roads cover up a dark, gossiping, occasionally hateful and spiteful interior. The blurb on the back of my copy of the book reads as follows:

“In the election for [the] successor that follows, it is clear that behind the pretty surface this is a town at war. Rich at war with poor, wives at war with husbands, teachers at war with pupils… Pagford is not what it first seems.”

As usual, Rowling does a fantastic job of developing her characters. I actually began to think of them as real people as I progressed through the book. The unfortunate side of this is that, unlike with Harry Potter, in The Casual Vacancy Rowling does not have seven books and thousands of pages to reveal to us the intricate nature of her characters’ personalities. Rather, she manages to condense an entire story, beginning-middle-end, into just over 500 pages, which causes the book to seem to drag along for the first 300 pages or so.

It took me just under four months to read this one from start to finish. Granted, I was in school for much of that time, and therefore had little time to devote to reading, but I think it’s important to note that I did manage to finish five other books in that same timeframe. I just couldn’t find myself involved in the story until about halfway through. After perusing Goodreads once I finished the book, I realized that was the case for a lot of people. Character development is great for a story but can be quite dry reading at times, even from a wonderful author like Rowling.

The story starts to pick up shortly after the halfway point, though. It took me three and a half months to get through the first 300 pages, and two weeks to get through the last 200, if that gives you any indicator of how rapidly it all begins to move once the framework has been laid. If you’re already reading this book and are wondering how you’ll ever finish it, stick it out – trust me, it will be worth it! I was so impressed with how the last 200 pages progressed that I still rate the book 4/5 stars, even though it was a chore to read at first.

My favorite character in the book (and it’s difficult to pick one, as Rowling does an excellent job of creating and developing over 20 characters!) is likely Fats Wall, son of Deputy Headmaster Colin “Cubby” Wall and school counselor Tessa Wall. His desire for authenticity is something that most teenagers find themselves wishing for at some point in their youth, and he went about his quest for authenticity so shamelessly that it became admirable, if foolhardy and reckless at times.