Review: The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

Title: The Once and Future Witches
Author: C.L. Polk
Publisher: Redhook Books
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Length: 528 pages
My Rating: ★★★★★
5/5 stars

SUMMARY

“Beatrice Clayborn is a sorceress who practices magic in secret, terrified of the day she will be locked into a marital collar that will cut off her powers to protect her unborn children. She dreams of becoming a full-fledged Magus and pursuing magic as her calling as men do, but her family has staked everything to equip her for Bargaining Season, when young men and women of means descend upon the city to negotiate the best marriages. The Clayborns are in severe debt, and only she can save them, by securing an advantageous match before their creditors come calling.

In a stroke of luck, Beatrice finds a grimoire that contains the key to becoming a Magus, but before she can purchase it, a rival sorceress swindles the book right out of her hands. Beatrice summons a spirit to help her get it back, but her new ally exacts a price: Beatrice’s first kiss . . . with her adversary’s brother, the handsome, compassionate, and fabulously wealthy Ianthe Lavan.

The more Beatrice is entangled with the Lavan siblings, the harder her decision becomes: If she casts the spell to become a Magus, she will devastate her family and lose the only man to ever see her for who she is; but if she marries—even for love—she will sacrifice her magic, her identity, and her dreams. But how can she choose just one, knowing she will forever regret the path not taken?”

REVIEW

As mentioned in my review of The Once and Future Witches, I am absolutely loving the way authors this season have tied together magic and women’s empowerment in new ways. The Midnight Bargain takes a more individualized, romantic approach to a similar theme. I absolutely adored it! It’s a rare occasion in which I can pinpoint the exact scene where a book becomes a five star read for me – but in The Midnight Bargain, I already knew from the ballroom scene that I was enamored. This doesn’t mean it’ll be a five-star read for everyone, though. I have read some valid criticisms of the pacing in this book. As a fast reader, I tend to charge through those sections anyway but if you’re a slow reader it may impact your opinion. This spellbinding read did an excellent job portraying that feminism in any world is not black and white – progress has gray areas, and though those gray areas are better than the alternative we can still fight for more. Ianthe was a delightful love interest, and their struggles as a couple felt so real despite being of magical origin. Beatrice and ysbeta were the perfect example of the idea that strong women don’t all have to want exactly the same thing. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for magic and empowerment wrapped up in a world of social politics. Spoiler ahead, but I’m going to highlight the three ‘solutions’ people have to the issue with women and magic in the world of The Midnight Bargain

  1. Permanent Collars

For many women in this world, they are collared as soon as they’re wed.  Typically, these women aren’t even fully grown when they marry: they’re still just teenage girls. Beatrice describes the collar as a light going out. The world becomes gray and drab, and it feels like her soul was sucked out of her body. With this alternative, women have to spend their lives from their teens to past childbearing age (so, somewhere between 30 and 40 years) in this state. Their husbands control their lives and they go through the world as a shell of themselves. 

  1. Pregnancy Collars

In the world’s existing “radical” option, some societies only collar women when they’re likely to be pregnant. Though this is slightly better, the way magic develops in The Midnight Bargain means that a woman could still never become a fully achieved Magus. The collar cuts off their access to the magic, leaving them unable to ever fully bond a greater spirit. 

SPOILER

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  1. Collar-Free

At the end, Beatrice and Ianthe learn that all of these methods existed to erase the actual, existing safe method used in the past. In ancient societies where women were equal, a sorcerer father and sorceress mother would both send their greater spirits to defend the fetus while it grows. In this way, neither spirit would be able to possess it and turn the child into a dangerous creature. By hiding this method and erasing it from common knowledge, men were able to subjugate women and prevent them from ever reaching full equality. By bringing it back into the world, Beatrice gives the choice back to women. I really appreciated this ending, instead of Beatrice coming to terms with sometimes being collared. It did a wonderful job of representing an actual, real-life problem. Just because a society is slightly better to oppressed groups of people doesn’t mean they can’t still improve. 

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Be sure to check out my instagram for some moore bookish posts and photos @paiges_next_pages ! I’ll be doing a giveaway on there quite soon.

Fun Friday: 18 books that’ll get the tears flowing

Happy Friday!

This week, I read VE Schwab’s new book The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. I’ll be posting a full review on Monday, but WOW. I was a mess throughout the whole ending. May or may not have been crying through most of the last couple of chapters. But, this week’s totally theoretical ugly crying aside, I realized there’s really not many books that can get to me like that. Are you a crier? Because I’m not. I can watch Up with a totally straight face, even once read the end of Marley & Me just fine with my yellow labrador sitting right next to me. That’s not to say I never cry (I actually do quite often) but it’s always over unexpected stuff. Like seeing a cute puppy, or my boyfriend surprising me with dessert.  So, I started thinking about books that have really gotten to me and asked my friends and Instagram followers what books have made them cry. 

The responses covered a wide range to say the least. Though they mostly were YA or women’s fiction, which is to be expected considering my followers are mostly women in the YA age range, not a single person overlapped with someone else about which book makes them cry! 

So, without further ado, here is the exhaustive list of books in alphabetical order, with goodreads links if you’d like to see more about any of them. 

  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
    “Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light. Truly an amazement—and a great gift for its readers.
    When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity.
    Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever. “
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
    “So, then. You want a story and I will tell you one…Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father and stepmother in the small village of Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, is constantly in search of work and they struggle together through poverty and brutal winters. To Abdullah, Pari – as beautiful and sweet-natured as the fairy for which she was named – is everything. More like a parent than a brother, Abdullah will do anything for her, even trading his only pair of shoes for a feather for her treasured collection. Each night they sleep together in their cot, their heads touching, their limbs tangled. One day the siblings journey across the desert to Kabul with their father. Pari and Abdullah have no sense of the fate that awaits them there, for the event which unfolds will tear their lives apart; sometimes a finger must be cut to save the hand. Crossing generations and continents, moving from Kabul, to Paris, to San Francisco, to the Greek island of Tinos, with profound wisdom, depth, insight and compassion, Khaled Hosseini writes about the bonds that define us and shape our lives, the ways in which we help our loved ones in need, how the choices we make resonate through history and how we are often surprised by the people closest to us”
  • Beach Read by Emily Henry
    “Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes bestselling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast.
    They’re polar opposites.
    In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block.
    Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously). Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.”
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama 
    “In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
    In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.”
  • Bridge to Terabithia by  Katherine Paterson
    “Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He’s been practicing all summer and can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys’ side and outruns everyone.
    That’s not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits.”
  • The Infernal Devices series by Cassandra Clare 
    “In a time when Shadowhunters are barely winning the fight against the forces of darkness, one battle will change the course of history forever. Welcome to the Infernal Devices trilogy, a stunning and dangerous prequel to the New York Times bestselling Mortal Instruments series.
    The year is 1878. Tessa Gray descends into London’s dark supernatural underworld in search of her missing brother. She soon discovers that her only allies are the demon-slaying Shadowhunters—including Will and Jem, the mysterious boys she is attracted to. Soon they find themselves up against the Pandemonium Club, a secret organization of vampires, demons, warlocks, and humans. Equipped with a magical army of unstoppable clockwork creatures, the Club is out to rule the British Empire, and only Tessa and her allies can stop them”
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
    “Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
    Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan..
    But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
    Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
    Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone. For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?”
  • If You Could See Me Now by Cecelia Ahern
    “Elizabeth Egan’s life runs on order: Both her home and her emotions are arranged just so, with little room for spontaneity. It’s how she counteracts the chaos of her family—an alcoholic mother who left when she was young, an emotionally distant father, and a free-spirited sister, who seems to be following in their mother’s footsteps, leaving her own six-year-old son, Luke, in Elizabeth’s care.
    When Ivan, Luke’s mysterious new grown-up friend, enters the picture, Elizabeth doesnt know quite what to make of him. With his penchant for adventure and colorful take on things large and small, Ivan opens Elizabeth’s eyes to a whole new way of living. But is it for real? Is Ivan for real?”
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stephenson 
    “An unforgettable true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to end mass incarceration in America — from one of the most inspiring lawyers of our time.
    Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit law office in Montgomery, Alabama, dedicated to defending the poor, the incarcerated, and the wrongly condemned.
    Just Mercy tells the story of EJI, from the early days with a small staff facing the nation’s highest death sentencing and execution rates, through a successful campaign to challenge the cruel practice of sentencing children to die in prison, to revolutionary projects designed to confront Americans with our history of racial injustice.
    One of EJI’s first clients was Walter McMillian, a young Black man who was sentenced to die for the murder of a young white woman that he didn’t commit. The case exemplifies how the death penalty in America is a direct descendant of lynching — a system that treats the rich and guilty better than the poor and innocent.”
  • Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
    “They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose . . .
    Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life—steady boyfriend, close family—who has barely been farther afield than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex–Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life—big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel—and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.
    Will is acerbic, moody, bossy—but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living.”
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
    “Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.
    Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.”
  • Separated by Jacob Soboroff
    “Donald Trump’s most infamous decision as president, to systematically separate thousands of migrant families at the border, was in effect for months before most Americans saw the living conditions of the children in custody at the epicenter of the policy. NBC News and MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff was among the first journalists to expose the truth of what their lives were like on the inside after seeing them firsthand. His widely shared reports in June 2018 ignited public scrutiny that contributed to the President reversing his own policy by Executive Order, and earned Soboroff the Cronkite Award for Excellence in Political Broadcast Journalism and the 2019 Hillman Prize for Broadcast Journalism.
    In Separated, Soboroff weaves together his own experience unexpectedly covering this national issue with other key figures in the drama he met along the way, including feuding administration officials responsible for tearing apart and then reuniting families, and the parents and children who were caught in the middle. He reveals new and exclusive details of how the policy was carried out, and how its affects are still being felt. 
    Today, there is still not a full accounting of the total number of children the President ripped away from their parents. The exact number may never be known, only that it is in the thousands. Now the President is doubling down on draconian immigration policies, including threatening to hold migrant families indefinitely and making tens of thousands applying for asylum wait in some of Mexico’s most dangerous cities. Separated is required reading for anyone who wants to understand how Trump and his administration were able to carry out this inhumane policy, and how so many missed what was happening before it was too late. Soboroff lays out compassionately, yet in the starkest of terms, its human toll, and makes clear what is at stake in the 2020 presidential election.”
  • Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
    “Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
    Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.”
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    “It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will be busier still.
    By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left behind there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery. So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordian-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
    But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jew in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.
    In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.”
  • The Fault in our Stars by John Green 
    “Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
    Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.”
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thompson  
    “Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
    Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
    But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.”
  • the Legend trilogy by Marie Lu
    “What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.
    From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.”
  • The Light We Lost by Jill Santopolo
    “Lucy is faced with a life-altering choice. But before she can make her decision, she must start her story—their story—at the very beginning.
    Lucy and Gabe meet as seniors at Columbia University on a day that changes both of their lives forever. Together, they decide they want their lives to mean something, to matter. When they meet again a year later, it seems fated—perhaps they’ll find life’s meaning in each other. But then Gabe becomes a photojournalist assigned to the Middle East and Lucy pursues a career in New York. What follows is a thirteen-year journey of dreams, desires, jealousies, betrayals, and, ultimately, of love. Was it fate that brought them together? Is it choice that has kept them away? Their journey takes Lucy and Gabe continents apart, but never out of each other’s hearts. “

Have any of these gotten to you? Or do you have a book that you think should absolutely be up here? Let me know in the comments! I’m considering making a page on here with a whole guide linking to cry-worthy reads.

Review: Hush by Dylan Farrow

Title: Hush
Author: Dylan Farrow
Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Length: 384 pages
My Rating: ★★★
3/5 stars

Summary:

“Seventeen-year-old Shae has led a seemingly quiet life, joking with her best friend Fiona, and chatting with Mads, the neighborhood boy who always knows how to make her smile. All while secretly keeping her fears at bay… Of the disease that took her brother’s life. Of how her dreams seem to bleed into reality around her. Of a group of justice seekers called the Bards who claim to use the magic of Telling to keep her community safe.

When her mother is murdered, she can no longer pretend.

Not knowing who to trust, Shae journeys to unlock the truth, instead finding a new enemy keen to destroy her, a brooding boy with dark secrets, and an untold power she never thought possible.”

Review:

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Publishing for a copy of Hush in exchange for an honest review! Hush releases tomorrow if you’d like to pick up a copy. I enjoyed this, though I think I’d enjoy it more with a reread than my first time around. This book is filled with small details that don’t pull together until in hindsight, which is excellently done but can lead to some confusion for me. The concept of Bards was really cool, and the Blot is such a unique sickness – it felt so threatening and so new. I had a lot of questions about the Blot and how it came to be throughout the book.  Though some parts felt a little unclear, I’d say most of those sections were quite strategic and tied together by the plot’s final revelations quite nicely. The way the author holds out until absolutely necessary to provide some key information threw me headfirst into the Shae’s fear of succumbing to madness, and it added a strong effect to those moments alternating between fear and clarity. If you’re a very empathetic reader, this book is a wild ride; however if you prefer to know secrets or guess where a book is headed before the main character knows, you might end up a little frustrated by Hush. What I truly appreciated is seeing the way a world can be rebuilt to focus on the power of words where once they existed freely for everyone, and how the Bards being the safe-keepers of language and writing influences the world at large. 

On the shows of power – 

  1. “Only the Bards can harness words safely, through their Tellings. Everyone in Montane knows that any fool can speak disaster into existence by uttering something forbidden”
    The Tellings are how the Bards ultimately maintain power in Shae’s world. As is seen later, Tellings are powerful enough to change entire landscapes. As a reward for a good tithe, a town will be blessed with a Telling for rain, fertile crops, etc. If the tithe is unsatisfactory, the town will be punished and not receive a Telling for the coming year. This turns into a vicious cycle where the towns that struggle most continue to struggle, as they can’t keep up with the demands of the Bards without help. 
  2. “For every Bard in the ranks of High House, there are dozens more hopefuls who cannot withstand such power… Such occurrences are sadly more prevalent among the few women we have discovered in possession of the gift” The main character, Shae, seems about as in control as she could be given the nature of the magic and secrets surrounding her life. A Bards magic, when misused, seems to be an extended practice in gaslighting. It raises some interesting questions throughout the book that become very important to the plot, pitting women against women and making Shae work 5x harder to be taken seriously. That threat of madness, in part due to her magic and in part due to her gender, makes the book feel all the more intense. 
  3. “If I want to exert my will over the castle’s, I need to lend my Telling permanency. My eyes fall on my needles and thread, discarded in the corner” The most important act of telling is its staying power. Writing is mostly outlawed throughout Shae’s world to prevent more permanently etched Tellings from taking hold. Words or impulses make for impermanent, esily changed Tellings. This ultimately brings about the heart of the matter: nothing in Shae’s world is really permanent. The Bards have established themselves as the only people responsible enough for writing, for keeping everyone safe. But they behave in shady ways and don’t lend themselves easily to being trusted, instead working through propoganda and militant control of the surrounding areas. A world without writing, with no permanence to be had, is an easily subjugated world. The hints at resistance are strong throughout Hush, and I can’t wait to see where the blossoming resistance to the powers that be leads in book 2. 

Fun Friday: Recent(ish) books that remind me why books are magic

There are a lot of books that have strongly influenced the way that I think, the way that I write, and the way that I approach other books when I read them.  Not all of them are Timeless Classics that are beloved worldwide – a lot of them have come out quite recently and aren’t in genres that are constantly lauded on the internet. I was thinking more about that today because one of those books is just having its fifth publishing anniversary and the author is revisiting it for a couple of online events. 

The book that got me back into reading critically back in high school was a YA book called A Thousand Nights by EK Johnston. What I love about it is it took an ancient story and managed to turn it into something completely fresh and new that told a very different message than the original myth did. Johnston did especially well in that she doesn’t name any of the normal characters. While that sounds like it could be confusing, in this case, it lent itself to the idea that any small insignificant person could completely change the course of history. It was excellently done and when coupled with the rich, poetic language in the book it felt like a journey. It’s one of my all-time favorite books, and I always highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good read. 

Another one that I always gush about and am SO thankful an internet fandom exists for is, basically, the entirety of Brandon Sanderon’s Cosmere universe but especially The Stormlight Archive. That series is a lot to summarize spoiler-free, but what I love about it si that Sanderson doesn’t shy away from deeply flawed characters. Jasnah Kholin is also so intriguing for me, as an atheist character who sticks to her beliefs and logic despite being in the middle of basically a war between the gods she scorned. The world-building is astounding, the characters are all wonderful, and Sanderson far surpasses the (sadly low) bar for white, male fantasy authors depicting women, people of color, etc. in thoughtful and realistic ways. Nothing in the book is overly gratuitous – it all serves a purpose and lends itself to a branching but tightly interwoven narrative. 

On a much more gratuitous and violent note, The Power by Naomi Alderman still haunts my thoughts sometimes even though I read it several years ago. It’s a modern Handmaid’s Tale. This book explores what happens when the standard gender roles in the world flip exactly 180 and goes on to highlight the danger of ideals that maintain the same power structure with new people at its head as opposed to creating a newer, more balanced structure. Alderman does not pull her punches. This book is not for the faint of heart, but I also wholeheartedly believe this is a book anyone who feels strongly about gender politics should read. 

On another light note, I recently read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman for a creative writing course and completely devoured it. It’s quick and light and could easily be read to children. Something in its simplicity makes it all the more enchanting. Gaiman doesn’t feel a need to explain how any of the magic truly works, nor do you feel much of a need to ask – while reading, you’re simply too swept up into the story. It feels nostalgic and fun and somehow incredibly haunting at the same time. Neil Gaiman obviously has a multitude of excellent books, but this one has claimed a special place in my heart. 

What books first made you fall in love with reading? And what books have kept you in love with it to this day? 

Fun Friday: Arranging, and rearranging, and undoing everything

Now that I’ve finally settled into a more permanent, spacious living arrangement after four years of living the oddly transient lifestyle of a college student, I’ve begun slowly restarting my book collection. When I lived in sorority housing I shared a room that was so small I couldn’t even lay across the space between my roomates bed and my own – and I’m only 5’4! Plus, every summer we were quite unceremoniously sent to sublease or move back with our parents while the house shut down all operations for the season. With space at a premium and having to move boxes of my things twice a year for four years, I wasn’t exactly able to keep many belongings with me. This little shelf encompassed the only physical books I had with me, and most of those were gifts or impulse buys from Square Books

What’s crazy is that before college, I was absolutely guilty of being a book hoarder. Growing up I remember begging and pleading with my mom to not make me get rid of a single book, not even one. We counted once when I was in high school and I had over 200 physical books accumulated even with donating regularly to the library, selling some, and having many more stored on my Kindle.

As I’m sure you can imagine I was more than a little excited when I graduated and moved into a place where I could keep as many books as I wanted! Now that my collection is finally growing again, I’ve encountered an issue I really should have predicted.

I’m already running out of the room I’d set aside specifically for books.

See, I’d bought these two beautiful wooden bookshelves for such a good deal at HomeGoods right before I moved in. Aren’t they so cute on both sides of the bed?! This pic was taken on the day I moved in, in May.

They have a weight limit though and, as I learned from moving about 10 times in four years (thanks for the extra craziness, Covid!), books are incredibly freaking heavy. So I set aside some sections for books, some sections for decor, and bought even more shelves because I knew what would be coming. I also have my old school books and such in a box for the time being. I really thought it would take a while to fill them all to capacity.
This is what the overflow shelf looked like two weeks ago, shown with my dresser and some cute extra goodies I’ve found on sale – it’s so pretty, this corner relaxed me just looking at it! I even posted it to my bookstagram last week. And yes, I do have a minor obsession with pothos plants going on in my room.

But, I realized some of my new rows of books on the matching bedside shelves might be too heavy. So, I moved it… and now my backup shelf looks like the next pic. It’s gorgeous, it makes me happy every time I look at it. Until I received a super sweet, surprise gift in the mail today.

Two more books from a new friend.

Two more books that need a home somewhere in my room.

The best/worst part is that all those books I mentioned owning in highschool? They’re still sitting in California, waiting for me to ship them all from my parents house to my house. I’m going to need a place for all those stories, because I love them all so much! My dream is to someday have one of those houses with floor to ceiling books in one room. There are inspiration pics all up and down my Pinterest, stretching back years and years. I think I had bookshelves pinned before I even had a wedding board. I just somehow never imagined what that awkward phase would be like where I have a good number of books but not enough for one big statement section. I also just graduated and couldn’t afford floor to ceiling bookshelves without selling a kidney sooo, maybe I need to go buy some lottery tickets? Who knows. None of it matters anyway because I’ll probably reorganize again by Monday and buy new books by the end of the week anyway. I guarantee my bookshelf arrangements will be completely different by midwinter at the latest. Do you have a collection of anything? How do you store it?

Review: Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

The book legendborn sits atopa stack of two other, untitled books. Beside it is. a white vase with eucalptus leaves in it and, on the other side, asun-bleached sunflower lays sideways. All of this rests on a wooden tray, surrounded by blankets and pillows.

Title: Legendborn
Author: Tracy Deonn
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry books
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Length: 490 pages
My Rating: ★★★★.5
4.5/5 stars

“After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC–Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape—until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus.

A flying demon feeding on human energies.

A secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.

And a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” and who attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw.

The mage’s failure unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. Now that Bree knows there’s more to her mother’s death than what’s on the police report, she’ll do whatever it takes to find out the truth, even if that means infiltrating the Legendborn as one of their initiates.

She recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn with his own grudge against the group, and their reluctant partnership pulls them deeper into the society’s secrets—and closer to each other. But when the Legendborn reveal themselves as the descendants of King Arthur’s knights and explain that a magical war is coming, Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether she should use her magic to take the society down—or join the fight.”

Review

Urban fantasy is so difficult to do right, y’all. It’s easy to suspend reality in a completely fake, made-up world because it’s the author’s world! They are god, and they can do whatever the heck they want with it to make everything make sense. Urban fantasy, on the other hand, has to walk the delicate lines of creating a new reality without suspending too much of our reality. In that sense, I think that’s where Tracy Deonn shone. She took the realities of our world and the realities of life for a young black girl in the South, and still managed to make it magical and empowering at the same time. Honestly, there wasn’t an aspect of the magic that pulled me out of my reading experience – it was the use of YA tropes that gave me pause. The initial timeline of this book only covers a few weeks with a lot of action all packed into a short timeframe. As a result, the love interest in the book had to develop at the same breakneck pace. Without giving too much away, it felt very insta-lovey and eventually gets a magical explanation which I am undecided on. You know what would’ve happened if I pledged my entire life to the guy I was dating at 16? I’d be a mess. A hot freaking mess. He was in a punk band and I distinctly recall the sweetest note he ever wrote me – a yearbook inscription that started out with “You’re really hot”. Young love at its finest. But, I digress. I’ll need to read book two before I can truly decide how I feel about that character’s relationship, so I’m only taking a half star off for it. 

This was an extremely inclusive and diverse book, which I adored. I think even when some books try to be inclusive, they tend to utilize tokenization or focus the entirety of a character’s arc on their ‘otherness’ instead of treating them like a whole, complicated, and nuanced human being. We need to show more characters living out their lives regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and Tracy Deonn did a great job of that. Though I can’t speak from a place of knowledge for some of the topics Deonn touches on, I appreciated how she handled them and think it was a well-balanced portrayal of a wide array of individuals. On that vein, I’m going to highlight some of the issues Deonn brings up and how they’re addressed. 

Profiling

In the first few chapters, an officer gives Bree and her best friend Alice a ride back from a student event gone awry. The scene itself goes – 

‘How ‘bout you, girlfriend?’ Norris’ eyes find me in the mirror. ‘I’m guessin’ need-based?’

Alice stiffens, and my hackles raise. I’m not his girlfriend and I’m not ashamed to have financial aid, but that’s not what he’s asking. ‘Affirmative action?’ is written all over his knowing sneer. 

‘Merit’ I bit through gritted teeth, even though it’s none of his business either way. 

He chuckles.  ‘Sure.’

Legendborn pg.30, Tracy Deonn

THIS. Regardless of how anyone feels about affirmative action, I think we all could agree that the assumption anyone gets into a competitive program for anything less than their skill is shitty. Assuming that just because someone is black they didn’t actually deserve to get into a good  program? Absolutely awful.This was well handled and well presented in the book, and I appreciated the inclusion of it. 

Gender

In this book, there is a character that is referred to with they/them pronouns. It was so meticulously and seamlessly done that I didn’t even notice the difference at all until I was two thirds of the way through the story. Greer was well presented and shown as more than just the sum of their parts – they were smart, caring, and a good friend. Again, Tracy Deonn did an excellent job of showing that a diverse array of characters are nuanced and contribute so much more than just their race or gender identity. 

STOP RIGHT THIS SECOND TO AVOID A MASSIVE SPOILER.

Have you stopped?

Are you really sure you want this?

Scroll past it real fast right now or forever hold your peace.

Bree’s Ancestry

Listen. A massive theme in this book is highlighting the privileged lives the Legendborn live thanks in part to the fact they can track their family lineage all the way back to King Arthur’s times. Juxtapose that with with Bree, who only knows that once upon a time her family was enslaved in this same land. It painted an amazing picture of the tightrope Bree walks in her newfound world. BUT THEN. Tracy Deonn, writer extraordinaire, hinges an entire plot twist on the fact that Bree’s ancestor is also King Arthur? That her great-great-something grandmother was a victim of rape by her enslaver? That her ancestress, pregnant and afraid, ran away because her enslaver would rather murder her than have the power of King Arthur pass to a mixed race heir? WOW. The depths this took the book to had me stunned. It was a painful and beautiful moment as Bree connected with her line of ancestors through magic and tapped into King Arthur’s legacy as his one true Scion. It left me stunned and absolutely speechless. I absolutely had not expected that and keep thinking back to it like “damn. That was… damn. Wow.”

So, 4.5 out of 5 stars for Legendborn. Would’ve been 5, but in my heart even an amazing ending and some phenomenally written characters cannot make up for the instalove that every 16 year old book character seems to experience.

Fun Friday: Comparing book covers from different countries

Happy Friday! A quick reading update – this week, I finished Legendborn by Tracey Deonn and just started To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini. I also read an ARC of Each of Us a Desert by Mark Oshiro a while ago which released this week, so I’ll be trying to post a review of that soon! Now if you will, take a moment to consider Middle Earth, the land Tolkien created long ago. Majestic spaces, stunning sites, and merry hobbits living in the Shire. All things considered, the cover of The Hobbit shown below seems quite fitting. I have a similar edition, it’s quite stunning and vibrant in person.

In what I admit was over 22 years of being dumb I never really considered the idea that other covers of The Hobbit might not paint the same picture of majestic natural beauty. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon an original Dutch cover of The Hobbit online, covered in fun hobbits that look nothing like I’d imagined! Below, you can drag and compare the two covers. If I was judging a book by its cover, I’d be imagining two entirely different types of book. I think I quite like the Dutch edition though, as it adds a different spirit to the book. This got me thinking: what other books do I love that might sell a different story based on the cover?

  • Scythe by Neal Shusterman
    Scythe is one of my favorite futuristic YA books. It raises a lot of great moral questions without feeling overly heavy or like it’s trying too hard. It flows quite naturally, and the cover represents. that to me. Yes, this book focuses on a lot of death, but it’s not an overly dark book. Shown first is the original United States cover – it’s bright, has a futuristic font, and feels quite mysterious. Shown in the middle is the german edition, published by FISCHER Sauerländer. It’s a lot more eery, though maintains the element of mystery and clearly shows the scythe. On the far right is the Indonesian paperback edition published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama. This one goes fully eery, with a full moon lighting a ghostly scythe’s path. The building surrounding the figure are worn down and cast in shadows, contrasting starkly with the scythe’s glowing white robes. It may be because I’m used to the United States edition, but I think it’s still my preference.
  • The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
    Another of my all-time favorite reads is The Starless Sea. It came out quite recently actually and has a gorgeous cover that feels vintage and new at the same time, with symbolism from the book drawn in black and gold detailing. And yet, each other country I looked at doesn’t have the black and gold color scheme! On the far left is the US edition, with gold keys twined with gray ribbon resting on a black background. The three editions next to it are respectively the Waterstones edition sold in the UK, the Italian edition, and the Canadian edition. Each maintains a semblance of the gold tones present in the US edition, however all three have shades of blue instead of black. The Waterstones edition’s gorgeous gold bee painted over the marbled blue background is, frankly, amazing. I want it so badly now. The Italian edition feels like a vintage journal with the symmetrical design of keys and filigree, and the Canadian edition’s keyhole door revealing a ship at sea stands out from the rest for portraying a scene instead of symbols. Ultimately, though, I am obsessed with that Waterstones edition more than anything. It’s the type of cover that would make me buy the book without reading a description.
  • The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory
    The US cover of the wedding date gives me classic romance vibes, with the couple shown in drawn profile and the classic red, black, and white color scheme. Even the handwritten font with little swirls screams rom com – but the international counterparts don’t have that same vibe. The middle edition, published by Hachette UK, takes the cover in a lot more of a contemporary romance direction. Between the San Francisco skyline, the pink sunset fading to purple, and the cutesy flower garland bordering the edges I can’t help but get a much more cool modern feel. Plus, they used that same ‘casual’ calligraphy that’s become a trademark of modern weddings! The Croatian edition on the far right, meanwhile, doesn’t really strike home with me. The chess pieces imply a game, and I don’t think that fits the way the relationship in the book grows. If I’d seen this edition on the shelf I might not have picked it up… but then again, I’m not the target market. I’m not Croatian.
  • Serpent and Dove by Shelby Mahurin
    The edition of Serpent & Dove on the left seems to be cover for all English language editions, and even some foreign language editions. I can see why – the dark feathery background, covered in that metallic gold snake and title, are all over Instagram. It’s a gorgeous book, and even prettier in person on the glossy dustjacket. I figured the alternative covers of Serpent & Dove wouldn’t capture me as much, but dang I do love this Spanish language edition. The title is changed to basically Witch Killer, and has that gothic purple design highlighting two red daggers and a three eyed raven. The small sigils peppered around the cover are a nice final touch. Though it’s a lot less slick than the US cover, there’s something I really adore about the Spanish edition. It feels like a real witch’s grimoire!

Which ones were your favorite? Let me know! Overall, I think I liked US Scythe, Waterstones The Starless Sea, US The Wedding Date, and Spanish language Serpent & Dove.

Have a great weekend & stay safe!