Tag Archives: must read

Worth the Hype

cover_undergroundrailroad-1

Most of the time, it seems that I am on a completely different page as the people who rave about award-winning books.  I feel like I usually find them interesting, or decent, but far from what I would consider AMAZING.  And I hate to say it, but usually Oprah’s Book Club picks land among those I find fine, but un-extraordinary.

I am happy to be proven wrong by Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.  So many people have claimed it’s amazing, have said it’s a must-read, have said it should win every award and be read by every single person, blah blah blah.  I finally picked it up.

It really is beautiful.

The plot is deceptively simple: Cora, a slave in Georgia, escapes the plantation and goes North on the literal Underground Railroad, but finds herself pursued by the slave-catcher Ridgeway.  But the way Whitehead develops every character, and especially Cora, brings a depth to the story that I don’t think anyone else could have done.  And the pacing is gorgeous – the calmness of action when Cora finds a new place to stay is always shadowed by the knowledge that Ridgeway is coming for her, and the franticness of passages where the action kicks off makes you devour the pages.

Most of all, the writing is unbelievable.  I usually can read fairly quickly, and appreciate good writing where it exists, but this book made me slow down repeatedly to take in the sentence structure and the language and the way ideas are melded together.  It’s a glorious piece of literature, from the writing technicalities to the last page of the story.

I love being proven wrong.  Okay, maybe not all the time, but I do with books.  I like being told a book is one way and finding it another, or anticipating how I will feel about a book and then discovering my feelings were wrong.  This might have been the best book to be proven wrong about.

P.S. It’s still early stages, but Barry Jenkins is going to be working on an adaptation
of this at some point.  Which means it will be amazing.  So read it first.

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Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman(Alternative post title: In Defense of a New Book, or The Mockingbird of Could-Have-Been)

To Kill a Mockingbird was, is, and (I think) forever shall be one of my favorite pieces of American literature.  More generally, of all literature (and as a Brit lit specialist, that means Harper Lee is ranking right up there with Billy Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, and P.G. Wodehouse).  So imagine my excitement when the announcement came that Ms. Lee would be publishing a new book, a sequel of the beloved TKM.

It was something like this: 

Working in a bookstore, we were hit with waves of emotions.  The first, I believe, was absolute giddiness.  The second, absolute fear.  The third, an ethical dilemma.  In the first, we had waited long enough to find out what happened to our beloved characters.  In the second, what if it wasn’t as good as TKM?  There were no edits, after all, and what if she’s not really the brilliant writer we all believed her to be?  And in the third, how are we meant to behave with this news?  Some questioned whether or not Lee was being taken advantage of, some wondered if it was even worth it to publish the “sequel” to an American classic.

And yet we beat on against the current, and the months turned to weeks turned to days.

And then, all of a sudden, social media blew up with articles, the majority of which were headlined “ATTICUS A RACIST.”  (If you don’t believe me, check out this and this.)  So, of course, I read some of the articles and promptly decided to ignore them.  (Here, however, is a link to the NYT review that broke the international embargo…)  Reviews of the book were slipping out, and people have been arguing that Go Set a Watchman is the toppling of idols, the destruction of a great American novel, not to be borne.

So, of course, as soon as I had my copy in hand, I set about to determine whether or not these reviewers had a leg upon which to stand (and may I just say that I did so in one long sitting).  I am, above all things, a creature raised to be reasonable (thank you, Mom and Dad) and after reasonability comes my education at a liberal arts college where I earned two BAs: Literature and History.  As people began discussing a book which most had not yet read, arguing for why Atticus shouldn’t have ever been a racist, determinedly telling me they would never read the book not EVER because HOW DARE THEY, it seemed to me that the issues of the new novel’s origin and time period have been forgotten.

To address the latter first, where TKM was set during the Depression and at a point when WWII was on the horizon, GSW takes on America post-WWII and during the Civil Rights movement… in the South.  So… let’s just stew over that for a moment.  I’m going to guess that there are a few new issues that our favorite characters are going to be facing based solely on that little tidbit.

To address the former of my irritations, GSW was written first.  Let that percolate for a moment as well.  While, chronologically, GSW is a “sequel” to TKM, it is impossible for it to actually be a sequel because TKM didn’t even exist.  I’ve been trying to figure out a way to explain why I think people are going insane for odd reasons, and I think I’ve got my… let’s call it a metaphor.

Imagine, if you will, that the great J.R.R. Tolkien wrote his incredible epic The Lord of the Rings first.  We still meet hobbits and elves and other critters, but there’s something missing.  It’s not published yet, and instead we’re gifted The Hobbit, a delightfully whimsical, yet still provocative, piece of fantasy which all human beings should read (in my very humble opinion).  But lo!  Years later, someone is going through Tolkien’s chest of writing (I somehow can only imagine him with a vast trunk/treasure chest full of scribbles) and finds LotR!  What amazement!  What glory!  What great victory!

Yet when we read this version of LotR, the one written before we’d been introduced to a developed Bilbo, or understood what happens with the dwarves, or why Gollum is kind of a freaky thing, it’s not the same.  Pieces of the puzzle are missing and, while it’s still an interesting fantasy trilogy, it’s not the LotR we would have expected to follow The Hobbit.

(Now, hang in here with me because I know this is not even close to a perfect parallel, but I’m going to try to explain my reasoning.)  Without having built Middle Earth in The Hobbit, Tolkien’s LotR would have been, I assume, vastly different.  Not necessarily worse, but different.  There is no universe, I think, in which an author could begin writing a sequel to a book he or she has not yet written and in which that sequel would align perfectly with a beautifully edited first publication.

Allow me to apply this logic to my reading of GSW (and, for the sake of humanity and its need to read and dispel ignorance on subjects of cultural literacy, I shall refrain from spoilers).

TKM is, in my readings and re-readings, a beautifully structured, written, and emotional book.  It is very close to perfection.  GSW is widely different from its predecessor, and I cannot consider these differences flaws because it was the first novel.  Now allow me to offer a quick list of things that are the same in TKM and GSW.

  • Atticus is Scout’s father
  • Scout’s name is Jean Louise
  • Scout’s brother is/was Jem
  • Maycomb is a tired old town
  • Aunt Alexandra wears corsets
  • Uncle Jack is Atticus and Alexandra’s brother
  • Atticus is a lawyer
  • Scout is a tomboy
  • Dill is/was friends with Jem and Scout and visits/visited Miss Rachel
  • … and that’s about it

Now let me point out some major differences in GSW

  • Scout goes by Jean Louise
  • SPOILER: Jem is dead (you find that out in Chapter 1, so it’s a minor spoiler at best)
  • Boo Radley – nay, all Radleys go unmentioned
  • Miss Maudie has no appearance either as memory or as living/breathing neighbor
  • Mrs. Dubose gets one sentence
  • Henry Clinton exists, and was apparently friends with Jem and Scout forever
  • … and the list goes on and on and… oh, yeah, there’s another important one
  • TOM ROBINSON IS NEVER MENTIONED BY NAME AND THE RAPE TRIAL IN WHICH ATTICUS DEFENDS A BLACK MAN IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

Sorry.  Spoiler alert for that one, too.

So this is one of the major reasons I’m already tired of calling it a “sequel”.  That’s what I was calling it, because that’s what everyone was saying.  It’s a “sequel” only in the sense that there are several characters with the same names as those in TKM who still interact in Maycomb and the time period of the novel is later than TKM.

Which is why I’m writing this enormously long rant about a book that I enjoyed just fine, but which I would not call a classic in any sense of the word.  I would call it a fascinating piece of historical context, both for the period in which GSW takes place and for its place in Lee’s own story.  In other words, for the very short version of this review: Read Go Set a Watchman to be able to study the development of the characters from Lee’s first written work to the first novel she published that has won our hearts over and over again.  

Now that I’ve joined the ranks of people who have read the ATTICUS IS A RACIST book, I can say this: this Atticus is not our Atticus, just as this Jean Louise is not our Scout.  How can anyone argue GSW is really a sequel when the case which consumes the entirety of TKM is completely different, only briefly mentioned, and did I mention completely different?

Here is the second part of the short version of the review: Don’t read Go Set a Watchman to stir up trouble or to find the racism and the evil.  As Judge Taylor says in TKM, “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”  Read Go Set a Watchman to see a new perspective of what could have been.  And read Go Set a Watchman to bless (repeatedly) the publisher and editors who took To Kill a Mockingbird and made it what it is.

I had little intention of making this a pages-long rambling of why people are reading this book wrong, but there you have it.  Those people who have not read the work and understood that it cannot, CANNOT, be a sequel for the simple reason that the facts of the books do not align and yet declare it a toppling of the Atticus Finch I love have driven me to madness.  All I can do is remember two of my favorite quotes from the real Atticus.

The first, a reminder to myself of why I am writing this, because sometimes thinking is the best way to go about a debate: “You just hold your head high and keep those fists down  No matter what anybody says to you, don’t you let ‘em get your goat.  Try fighting with your head for a change.”

And the second, and the one of the most important from the whole book: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

So before you join the hordes of people calling for the removal of TKM, or hollering about the destruction of idols in GSW, remember to walk around in the skin of a first novel that just found the light of a publishing house.  Consider its angles, its history, its role in a writer’s development.

And thank God for Harper Lee and the publishing team who gave us TKM and all its beauty.

Please remember to support your local indie bookstore by picking up your copy of Go Set a Watchman today!

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Cinnamon & Gunpowder

cinnamon-and-gunpowderAvast, ye scurvy landlubbers!  If ye be keeping an eye on the horizon for a new piece of reading material for your time in the crow’s nest, this scoundrel has a recommendation: Eli Brown’s Cinnamon and Gunpowder.

I cannot tell you how much fun I’ve had reading it (and I literally finished it, like, one hour ago).  And, after trying to explain it to my mom, I’ve come up with the super short summary: Food Network’s Chopped meets Pirates of the Caribbean.

Intrigued?  How about the details.

Owen Wedgwood is chef to a wealthy English lord (who also happens to help run a giant trading company that deals with tea/opium trade to China).  And then, one day, before everyone at the party can taste his yummy food, the pirates strike.  Mad Hannah Mabbot (with a mane of crazy red curly hair) is the scourge of the Pendleton Trading Company (PTC), and she only disrupts dinner when she aims her gun at Owen’s boss and says, “Tell the devil to keep my tea hot.  I’m running late,” before she shoots him.  After tasting Owen’s offerings, Mabbot decides to spare the chef’s life on the condition that he’s taken captive on her ship.

Oh, and that every Sunday he makes her a delicious meal that, if it pleases her, will become his pass for another week of living.

If you think you’ve heard something like this before, you are probably thinking of the Arabian Nights, which is what all the reviews I read of it said.  Sure, Owen’s kind of a culinary Scheherazade in that he cooks to keep himself alive.  But that doesn’t mean that the book is entirely about the food.

As I said at the beginning, it’s Chopped meets Pirates, and it’s a whole lot of fun.  The narrative is through Owen’s diary, so while he gets occasionally frustrating, you forgive him because he is, after all, only a chef.

And even if Owen has moments of “Ugh, why is he narrating?” he makes up for it by describing the other members of the crew.  Like Mr. Apples, the first mate who knits and keeps scorpions as pets.  And he also has some pretty hilarious dialogue.  (“Whistlin’ donkey” is one of his first moments, and they only get better.  And better.)  There are crazy awesome Chinese twins (Feng and Bai) who knock sense into Owen without even trying.  There’s Joshua, the sweet deaf and mute teenager who joins Mabbot’s crew to find his fortunes.  And there are more, but you have to read to meet them.

So what happens when Own joins Mad Mabbot’s crew on the seven seas?  Well, they’re being hunted by LaRoche, the Frenchman with a thing about killing Mabbot because she ruined his chance to be financially backed by the PTC.  Meanwhile, Mabbot is hunting the illustrious Brass Fox, another pirate who’s interrupting the PTC’s trade routes while working on an agenda of his own.

My only gripe with this book is that it’s set in 1819, and the Golden Age of Piracy was pretty much 1600s-1700s.  So chronologically, it might be a little off, but frankly, that’s a small think to nitpick in a novel so wonderfully full of swashbuckling and honeybaked eel…

Are you convinced yet?  No?

Then there is nothing more I can say, except that you really should be convinced.  Because it’s a hoot, it’s so much fun, and it’ll make you want to watch every pirate movie ever made a million times over.

And let me conclude by saying this: High Rise, which is already in production, cannot possibly be as good a movie (and is not, quite frankly, as fun a book) as Cinnamon and Gunpowder would be (and is).

In conclusion, here’s what you’ll look like when you pick up a copy of Brown’s book at your local independent bookstore:

I’ve got a jar of dirt!

 

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Catch a Falling Star

Catch-a-Falling-Star-Kim-CulbertsonLet me begin by saying that it’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that really emotionally sucker-punches me (in a good way).  And it’s been an even longer time since that book has been aimed at teenagers.

But this is that book.

Kim Culbertson’s Catch a Falling Star is a must-read for everyone, but especially for any girl in a small town.  Because this is all about the dreams we make when we live in tight-knit communities.

I was reading this in public and found myself trying desperately not to laugh (barely succeeded) and even more desperately not to cry (completely unsuccessful at about three points, one of which was the last page).

So here’s the basic gist: Carter Moon (budding astrologer) is happy in Little, CA where she works at the family cafe, hangs out with her friends, and teaches dance to senior citizens.  But then a film crew invades Little to film a Christmas movie and the star is none other than Hollywood heartthrob Adam Jakes.  Adam needs some good PR, and hiring Carter to pretend to be his girlfriend seems like the best solution to both their problems: he’s seen with a sweet small-town girl and she gets a healthy check to help out her family.  But what happens when Carter realizes there’s more to Adam than the tabloids say, and that there might even be more to her than she knows?

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking that this sounds like a pretty normal teen romance plot.  And, if we’re looking at the very basic structure of “girl meets boy, romance and misunderstandings ensue,” then you’d be right.  But there’s so much more to this than what I’ve seen recently in teen romances.

For starters, there’s not really a love triangle!  I mean, there are elements of it (Adam, of course, has a past with some other superstars), but there’s no teen-angst-“Does he love me or do I love him or am I really in love with my best friend of sixteen years who I haven’t noticed until this new guy showed up?” triangle.  And that makes such a huge (and welcome) difference.

Another thing to love: Carter’s fantastically real.  All the characters are.  And maybe it’s because I’m another small town girl, but it seems to me that everybody knows someone who’s like one of Little’s locals.  But I especially found myself nodding along with what Carter says and feels – she’s a normal teenager who’s been thrust into a crazy situation.  And there’s also a fantastic side story with her family that just works.

And here’s what I think is the real kicker: this is a smart book.  These people aren’t caricatures or stereotypes – they have depth and layers and flaws.  There are allusions to Tolkien.  There are moments that make you question how you see Hollywood and the tabloids.  And what I love most of all is that, in this smart book where our teenagers aren’t consumed with the need to be prom queen and instead are trying to figure out (as almost all real teens do) their next steps in life, you realize just how human everyone is.  Celebrities and small-town high schoolers, big brothers and Hollywood agents – we all have dreams, and we all need help sometime.

So this is why you need to read this book: because for all its sweetness and fluffy romantic moments (which would be perfect in a movie… hint hint…), the heart of Catch a Falling Star is in its beautiful moments of humanity.  It may be classified as a teen romance, but everyone should read it, if only to remind us that every once in a while, we all need to take a moment to look at the stars.

Catch a Falling Star will be released April 29, 2014.  For more, check out IndieBound and Kim’s website.

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The Good Luck of Right Now

18054175I found the ARC (advance reading copy) of this at work and I thought, “This sounds like an interesting story.  And oh, look.  It’s the guy who did Silver Linings Playbook.”  I haven’t read SLP still (though I really should), but I enjoyed the movie, so I thought I’d give this a chance.

The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick is messed up, sad, redeeming, and inspiring.  It’s the story of Bartholomew Neil, who has just lost his mother to cancer (after living with her for 38 years) and is trying to get his life together.  While Wendy the counselor tells him to go out and make a new “flock,” BN is stuck in his routine.  Then BN discovers a “Free Tibet” letter from Richard Gere to his mother and, since she called BN “Richard” at the end, he thinks there must be a connection.  This prompts the entire story, told through BN’s letters to Richard Gere.  In the letters, BN describes the challenges of moving on from his mother’s death, trying to talk to the cute Girlbrarian, questions about faith, and how he’s trying to make his flock.  In the end, BN’s flock (the Girlbrarian and her brother, a defrocked priest, and “the spirit of Richard Gere”) joins him on a trip to Canada and all the secrets of the universe (well, some of them, at least) are revealed.

The letters make the reading easy and fun, and BN’s confessions are incredibly sweet.  His long-distance love of the Girlbrarian, for instance, is so endearing that you just keep hoping he’ll work up the courage to ask her out.  The defrocked priest, Father McNamee, is simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking – he wants to help BN, but sometimes it feels like he’s doing more damage than help.  And Girlbrarian’s brother, whose every other word is f***, is the same way.  Between the four of them (and Richard Gere, of course), it’s a strange family BN is building, but you can’t help but think it’s exactly the family he needs.

So here’s the thing: I started reading this a while back, when I first found it, and I really liked it.  I thought, yeah, I’ll enjoy this, and then life happened and I put it down.  And last night, after Longbourn and an attempt at The Sound and the Fury (school reading, which will soon be causing a decline in reviews of recreational reading), I needed something else.  I saw this sitting on my shelf and I thought, why not.

I was only on about page 35 when I started.  I read until 100.  I looked at the time.  It was almost 10:00.  I figured I could read a few more pages.  So I read the next chapter.

And then I read the next chapter.

And the next.

Until finally I reached that point where you think, “You only have 75 pages left.  You might as well just finish.”

So I did.

There’s so much to love about this book.  Really.  One of my favorite things about BN is that he constantly mentions Jung’s synchronicity (check out Wikipedia’s short version here).  Everything that happens to BN has a meaning behind it, even when he goes to group therapy and meets his crazy cat-loving therapy partner – because Mr. Feline ends up being Girlbrarian’s brother!  For BN, everything is connected, and it’s beautiful to read it and think, yes, the universe has a reason for working out the way it does.

About halfway through the book, BN describes a horrible break-in that happened to him and his mother years earlier.  The house is terribly vandalized and he’s understandably upset about it.  But then check out the response:

“What have I been telling you since you were a boy?  Whenever something bad happens to us,” Mom said as she tucked me into my new bed, insisting that I needed some sleep after staying up all night, “something good happens – often to someone else.  And that’s The Good Luck of Right Now.  We must believe it.  We must.”

It’s a beautiful idea and, in the following pages, it gets even better.

Ultimately, when I put this book down last night at nearly 11:30, I did so with a smile on my face.  It was sweet, it was meaningful, and it was just a good ending.  And yes, it’s kind of predictable, and no, I wouldn’t say it’s the most amazing book I’ve ever read, but it’s just a good book. And if you liked SLP (the book is now on my “Need to Read” list), I think you’d like this.

The Good Luck of Right Now is due out in bookstores this February.  Preorder your copy at your local bookstore!

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S.

SDDThis is another situation where I must begin with deepest apologies for taking so long.  But I’m not going to dwell on my inability to be a productive member of reviewing society.  Instead, I’m going to start this off right: if you don’t read S., you do not like books.  If you don’t like S., you are crazy.

In case you can’t tell, I loved this book.  Conceived by the unbelievably talented J.J. Abrams and written by Doug Dorst, it is so incredible that I can’t stop to figure out how I’m going to use words to explain how good it is.  Here’s the best thing I can think to say: S. is a toy for bibliophiles.  It is an extraordinary, beautiful, perfect love letter to the written word.  It is the best book you can possibly read this year because you don’t just read it, you live it.

Now, you’re probably thinking, “Isn’t that pretty high praise?  And not everyone will like it, right?”

And I’ll repeat: if you don’t like S., you are crazy.

So before I get going on why you should read/love/cherish this book, let me give you the basic summary rundown (and I’ll try not to make it sound just like the official blurb).

Once upon a time, there was a mysterious writer named Straka.  He wrote lots of books.  But there’s this one particular book, Ship of Theseus.  And that’s the book you’re going to be reading.  It’s about a man who doesn’t know who he is (was) or what he’s doing, but he gets wrapped up in a wild political rebellion while he searches for love and things get really complicated and (for you academics out there) philosophical/literary.  But it’s not just Straka’s novel you’re reading, because the marginalia is another complete story.  Two young people are reading SoT – a disgraced graduate student who’s loved the book for years and a young undergraduate who works in the library.  Their notes back and forth to each other verbalize their reactions to the novel and the ongoing mystery of the true identity of Straka (the graduate student’s unceasing quest).  What begins as an innocent series of passed notes becomes a chronicle not only of the readers’ relationship, but also of the thrilling hunt for Straka.

Not sold on this?  Okay, let me get into what makes it awesome.

First off, the most pleasant surprise in this novel was Ship of Theseus itself.  From the first page, I knew that I would love, love, love the margin story – obviously, having a male and female reader, you expect romance (which you get, thank goodness) – but I was concerned about the Straka novel holding it all together.  And then, after about page five, I fell in love with it.

What makes SoT special is that, especially for fellow English majors (or lovers of literary analysis), it’s bursting with symbolism and themes and possibilities for interpretation.  Like, I felt like I needed a notebook and a set of post-its and a pencil to make my comments.  But, of course, I reminded myself that I’m reading this for pleasure, not school.  Even though it feels like school reading, but in a good way, not a “Read all of Paradise Lost and try to find something meaningful in it other than the message of don’t go to Hell” kind of way.

Anyway, it’s a beautiful novel in and of itself.  And then you get the marginalia.

And that story just explodes with wonderful-ness.  Obviously (because I’m me), I fell utterly, completely, and totally in love with the grad student.  He’s snarky and sarcastic and brilliant.  And you can totally hear his academic little voice (which is similar to the voice I hear when I read anything by Northrop Frye) as you read his notes.  The undergrad student, meanwhile, is hilarious because she gets so caught up in the Straka situation that she kind of forgets that she needs to go to classes so she can pass and graduate.

Both of our readers (and storytellers) are going through big life changes – collapsing relationships, family discord, moving forward with their education – and the way it’s presented to us is real.  Their notes are like what you’d pass to your friend in class.  Sometimes they’re long explanations of what’s going on in their lives.  Other times it’s snappy comments about each other.  But always it’s a beautiful friendship.

The complication of S. is actually a rather serious situation: how do you read it?  My first attempt was to read a chapter by reading the novel, footnotes, and margin notes all at once.  Don’t do that.  It is silly and doesn’t really work for the rest of the chapters.  So here’s what my good theory became: read a chapter of Straka.  Digest that chapter.  Go back to the beginning.  Read the notes.  Read footnotes first, then read the notes in order of their color coding.

TANGENT TIME: This is one of the coolest things about the marginalia.  It’s color coded.  So, for example, the pencil notes are the oldest, then the blue and black, and on and on (but you figure it out as you read because you can totally tell where they are in their relationship).  So you get into a pattern of how to read it all.  And it’s awesome.

Once I figured out how to read it (well, what worked for me, at least), everything was a lot easier.  I’m not saying it was, like, totally impossible to read the way I started, but if you go chapter by chapter in several layers, it’s a lot easier to understand.  And yes, it requires two (or more) bookmarks, but dude, totally worth it.

Oooh, and did I mention that the book has lots of cool doodads and notes in it?  Postcards and photos and, my personal favorite, a napkin from the cafe the readers use with a map drawn on it.  If nothing else, you’ve got to love this book because of the details in all of its pieces.  Like the newspaper that you’re supposed to read for one article, but you can read a few other pieces that are also printed there and it’s actually pretty awesome.

I wonder how many times I’ve used the words “awesome” and “beautiful.”  A lot.  Obviously.

And here’s one of my last comments: the title.  Of both books.  S. (when you’re reading the Straka novel) totally makes sense and is perfect.  And SoT as Straka’s title I thought was pretty cool, but then I looked it up in Google to see if I missed something.  And boy, did I ever.

The “Ship of Theseus” Paradox: The ship which bore Theseus was preserved and, as parts of it needed repair, it was rebuilt plank by plank.  But if every plank is replaced, is it still the ship of Theseus?  As Wikipedia puts it, it is “a paradox that raises the question of whether an object which has had all its components replaced remains fundamentally the same object.”

So on it’s own, this is a crazy paradox to consider.  Because, is it the same?  I don’t know.  But then you read Straka’s novel (not even looking at the margins) and here’s my reaction: WHAT?!?!?!?

It’s the most perfect title ever for this book that (before S.) didn’t even exist.  Seriously, read the book, read about this paradox, and then tell me it’s not EXACTLY perfect.

That’s another word I’m using a lot: “perfect.”

Because, very seriously, this is one of the most perfect books I’ve read in a long time.  It’s funny and thrilling and terrifying and clever and magnificent.  And honestly, yes, I got the book because I judged it by its cover and thought it was pretty cool that it came with stuff in it.  But I am recommending this book to everyone because, if you like books, you’ll like this.

Now, I hear (a rumor) that there’s an ebook version and an audiobook version.  Don’t do it.  You’ll lose all the magic.  I mean it.  Go out, get the physical, beautiful, wonderful book, and cherish it.  Open the sticker that holds the book in its slipcase.  Run your finger over the spine label.  Feel the texture of the pages.  Smell the book.  Trace the awesomely retro design on the cover.  Pull out the postcards and read them.  Look at the back inside cover and appreciate the library due date stamps.

Enjoy your experience with this very tangible love letter to books, and the power they have to connect us all.

Because above all else in this masterpiece, it’s about the experience you have.  We none of us will come away with the same experience, but that’s part of the joy, not only of reading, but of living.  And I only hope that you enjoy S. as much as I did.

Find a copy of S. at your local bookstore, and check out Dorst’s website.

 

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Raven Boys #2: The Dream Thieves

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Maggie Stiefvater is one of the coolest, most fantastic, most awesome human beings ever.  And she happens to be an author.  A really, really good author.  I had the chance to sit at her lunch table a few years ago when she came with Libba Bray and Meg Cabot for a Northern California indie bookstore luncheon.  It was a ton of fun, but what I really learned was Maggie is hilarious, and so wickedly smart, it only makes sense that her books are phenomenal.  And today one of the most amazing books you’ll ever read came out.  And guess who wrote it?  Oh, yeah.  Maggie Stiefvater.

Let me begin by saying that if you haven’t read The Raven Boys, you haven’t lived.  I mean, seriously.  It was so much fun and so fantastically written.  And the Welsh mythology (which isn’t always a major player in teen novels) is so cool you just have to research to try to predict what’s going to happen.  On that note, let me say now that it’s really easy to describe how I felt reading The Dream Thieves.

My.  Mind.  Was.  Blown.

People say that a lot.  So much so, in fact, that the phrase has become rather cliché and no one really believes that anything can be all that mind-blowing.

This one is actually seriously boggling.

The second RB book centers around Ronan Lynch, the bad boy of the group and the one you expect you’ll somehow come to like when you first meet him in Book 1.  I can’t figure out how best to describe him, but essentially what I felt when I was reading DT is that he starts out as a pretty Draco kind of figure (you know, you don’t want to like him but there’s something about him that you just can’t help but adore) and by the end of this book he has become a full-fledged Snape.  And, considering the fact that I consider Severus Snape to be one of the greatest creations in literature, and definitely the best character in the entire Harry Potter series, that’s saying a lot.

Essentially, if you haven’t read either one yet (and really, you should – what are you reading this for?  GO GET THOSE BOOKS!), the idea is that there are three “Raven Boys,” who attend the elite Aglionby Academy: Richard Gansey (who goes by his surname only), Adam Parrish (who attends Aglionby on scholarship), and Ronan Lynch (again, the bad boy who doesn’t really fit into the Gansey/Parrish relationship).  Gansey, the leader of the group, is on the hunt for the Welsh king Glendower, who died long, long ago.  (Side note: Glendower… remember in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1, how there’s the weird Welsh magician dude?  Yeah, that’s him.  Check out the Wikipedia page for a quick overview.)  Adam is the angsty best friend who is actually resentful of Gansey, seemingly because Gansey has the ability to love, be loved, and still be wicked cool even when he’s looking for a dead Welsh dude.  And then there’s Ronan, who is kind of the fists/blood/guts/bad-ass member of the group.  And then the boys meet Blue Sargent, whose paranormal family includes her psychic mother, and who has been told that if she kisses her true love, he will die.  Period.  Blue doesn’t like the Raven Boys, but as she spends more time with the Tormented Trio, they become closer and some romance may (or may not) pop up.

So here’s my secret: I’m not going to tell you much about DT.  It’s a book that I really think you have to read in order to fully comprehend how incredible it is.  But here’s the basic gist: someone is after the Lynch boys (Ronan is one of three brothers). Gansey is still searching for Glendower.  Adam is angsty.  Blue is torn between her feelings for Gansey and Adam.  Ronan has about a million secrets he’s hiding from everyone.  There’s a creepy awful villain figure who is disturbingly awesome and has a serious kind of connection with Ronan.  And did I mention that Ronan is hiding secrets?  And, of course, there are some more twists and turns along the way that are just phenomenal.

I often tell people that books are my favorites, or that I highly recommend them, or that they’re a must read, and sometimes I mean it just slightly.  Like Mary Barton.  I love it (genuinely), and I seriously recommend it (I do, I promise), and I consider it a must read, but I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone because it’s not in my absolute top 10 books of all time.

RB is up on that list of my favorite books, but DT is absolutely on that list.  Like, the top half.  And maybe part of that is because the focus on Ronan means a much more complex reading.  But it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you read this book.

I can’t repeat this any more, so instead here are some links you should check out.  Like, right now.  Or, you know, after you pick up your copy of the book…

For more on the series from Maggie’s site, click here!  Check out IndieBound to find your local bookstore and more on the book.  And be sure to check out Maggie’s YouTube videos, like this one.

And seriously, just go and buy a copy of the dang books already!!!  🙂

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