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A little over a year now, I was standing on a precipice, the breeze from the door that was closing behind me threatening to tip me over the edge into whatever lay over that cliff.  I had just graduated law school and had three months full of Bar exam preparation stretching out before me in a terrifying declaration of the end of my days as a student and the beginning of the career that I’d been working toward for three years.  Or perhaps seven counting the undergrad experience leading up to it, and another eighteen considering that it was only due to my lifelong drive that I had managed to make it this far.  So with the path laid out clearly enough ahead of me, I laid down the books in which I found solace, my novels and essays and blog posts from fellow literary lovers, and I picked up a few dozen tomes of legalese that, hopefully, would help me to clear this next and greatest hurdle.

I passed the Bar.  And I lost my dedication to reading in the process, and somewhere along the way, a bit of myself as well.

I’d actually put my reading habits to rest a few months before I ever sat down to give myself a stern lecture on the perseverance I’d have to adopt to make it through three grueling months of Bar study.  Job hunting, capstone thesis papers, final exams, and the daunting prospect of being an actual, credentialed graduate ate up my will to read, and I told myself the break would only be for a few weeks, until things calmed down a bit.  Then weeks turned to months, dust collected on my bookshelves, and before I knew it, the latest post on my blog seemed frighteningly irrelevant.  I realized I was out of touch with the literary circles I had taken such pleasure in keeping up with.  I still read a bit here and there for fun, but it was mostly a habit of rereading old stories to visit home again and take comfort in their familiar pages.  My blog remained my default browser, and I quickly moved to a different webpage every time I opened a new window so I wouldn’t have to face the shameful evidence that I’d allowed something I had created to languish.

I’m not sure what starving depth of my subconscious prompted me to open up a blank word document last week and just start typing, but soon I found myself finishing up seventeen pages of my first new story in years.  And I felt rejuvenated.  I may not be back to my old reading habits, but I’ll get there.  I’ve never fallen out of love with the joy of the written word, no matter the medium.  I just had to remind myself that, sometimes, it’s not enough merely to absorb words born from others’ inspiration.  To really understand words’ power, to allow them to become a part of your life that is meaningful and tragic and raw and real, you’ve got to give them expression.

To promise a return to my prior form would be a disservice to you, my lovely readers, and to myself as well.  It’s been nearly two years since I contributed regularly to this blog, and that former form of me must remain in the past.  My life is different and better and more overwhelming than my former self could have dreamed.  My interests have shifted, my tendencies changed, and I don’t expect anything more from myself other than this: my need to create remains.  I need to throw thoughts out through my fingertips.  I don’t know in what form it will be, but I hope it can find a place here, among those who have stuck with me for whatever reason, and those who may find this page in the future.

I am back, I think.  I missed you, and now I see just how much I missed myself.  It’s good to be home.

Charm & Strange is a funny little book, and by funny I mean sly and dry and twisted up into all sorts of uncomfortable and nebulous corners of our narrator’s consciousness. I’ve not read a lot of young adult fiction lately, let alone new releases, yet I feel confident in saying that Kuehn’s debut stands apart in the pack. Those who read a quick blurb or glance at the cover will undoubtedly come into this novel with certain expectations, and I’m loathe to spoil anything for those readers.  Usually I am the queen of spoilers; I rarely start a book unless I’ve already read the last page and been comforted by the conclusion I glimpse there. Yet I accepted Charm & Strange for review somewhat spontaneously, despite the fact that I don’t have time to give it a thorough review.

UnknownBut for once, that’s probably for the best, as going into any great detail on thisbook would only ruin the experience for those who have yet to read it.  Charm & Strange doesn’t read like most of the young adult fiction on shelves nowadays, and honestly, I believe it (like many of its peers) could easily make the jump to adult fiction were it not for certain readers’ and reviewers’ hangups on teenage protagonists delivering anything but age-appropriate stories.  Kuehn’s writing felt at times like Meg Rosoff’s, at others like a young Melina Marchetta.  It wasn’t necessarily an enjoyable read, but it was a good one, and one that I feel is important for the genre right now, especially given the propensity for many to dismiss young adult completely based on certain traits (vapid love-triangles, unnecessarily drawing out self-contained stories into series, self-insert new adult) that are becoming increasingly more prevalent.

Kuehn doesn’t deliver a protagonist who is easy to identify, or identify with. I didn’t relate to Win, but I believed his struggle (even as I suspected there was an unreliable narrator in my presence). The secondary characters could have been more fleshed out, maybe should have been, but part of me feels as if that would have undermined another crucial element of Kuehn’s narrative.  I felt removed from Win’s story in a way that would usually make me drop a book within the first few chapters, but here if felt integral. I hope readers persevere as I did; the payoff was quiet and a bit bleak, but made the journey worth it.

threecuprating

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I knew it would take a special book to get me back into the swing of blogging, even if only temporarily, but it took nearly three-hundred pages for me to realize that The Sea of Tranquility would be that book. In fact, I nearly gave up on it a dozen times in the first hundred pages. Millay’s debut novel showcases writing superior to many emerging in the genre nowadays, but unfortunately it took her longer to convince me (and likely many other readers) of this than it should have. As the story unfolds into a dual narration account of two high school students’ respectively tragic lives, there is little that can be called innovative. Granted, most YA heroines today don’t employ full-on Hot Topic regalia, but Nastya’s cultivated bitterness and self-proclaimed trashy appearance did little to endear her to me early on. It’s a shame, too, since I welcome any deviation from the norm, generi-goth or no; given my own predilections for the strange and unusual, I actually relate far more to the offbeat protagonists than to those who surf the mainstream. Unfortunately, Nastya’s dive into the dark side never felt genuine to me, even after Millay begins to peel back the layers of Nastya’s painful past. Her mask is convenient, a curiosity, but a mask all the same, without the underlying depth that could make me forgive use of such literary contrivance.The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

Still, I continued to read despite my initial inclinations and was pleased when Nastya and Josh’s interactions began to gain more substance at the halfway point. I fear that writing too much about the actual substance of the plot will give away the mystery, but this is a story in which the plot isn’t the driving force anyway. Oddly enough, neither are the characters when considered alone; I’ve already lamented my disappointment in how Millay handled Nastya’s character, and while I found Josh to be infinitely more appealing and interesting, he still doesn’t compare to some of his literary peers. Yet, and this is the part where my semi-coherent ramblings come fully undone, for this is a book in which my brain and my heart diverge in opinion, but somehow, when Nastya and Josh are together, Millay managed to make me feel in a way that I haven’t while reading for some months now. Their relationship holds all the angsty hallmarks that I tend to hate, but it was believable and woven together in stolen moments that had me holding my breath even as I knew where things were heading. I’ve seen several other reviewers despair at writing down their emotions for this novel, at having to mold feelings into words, and I find I’m having the same trouble, which doesn’t make for a particularly compelling review to read, but it does speak to the strength of Millay’s novel that, despite flawed characters and bungled plotlines (which I won’t get into both for spoilers’ sake and because I am still too angry at certain characters to discuss them rationally), this book had me too wrapped up in the story’s heart to care about its flimsy structure.

The Sea of Tranquility is not one of the best books I’ve read this year (and yes, I have been reading despite my lack of blogging activity). But the fact that it inspired me to write about it, even though I have nothing much to say, speaks to its strength as a story.

4cuprating

I’m delighted to be participating for the Quintana of Charyn blog tour. As we all eagerly await the US release of the last in Melina Marchetta’s stunning Lumatere Chronicles series, I couldn’t help but ruminate a bit on all of the characters that we’ve come to know and love in Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles.

I can’t help but cast characters in my head when I’m reading. Here’s how I imagine the characters in the Lumatere Chronicles series. (Warning: The pictures in my head often don’t match up to character descriptions. But it’s my vision, so change it if you don’t like it).

Finnikin

Isaboe

 

Froi

Quintana

Phaedra

Lucian

Check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour here.

Last year, Dawson’s debut novel Wicked As They Come introduced one of the most unique and delightful landscapes I’ve come across in the paranormal genre for a long time. The world of Sang is dark, twisted, wonderfully irreverent and impossibly sexy.  In this novella, Dawson plunges readers back into her world, and I couldn’t be happier to return.

The story is rather short yet surprisingly well-developed for its truncated page time. Dawson effectively balances the necessity of reuniting us with past characters (because what Blud book would be complete without an appearance from Criminy?) with further developing the characters and creations that populate her fantasy world. I was so pleased with the pace of the worldbuilding with this novella, as it allows us a better glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes in the caravan as well as a taste of life in the cities. I adored Mr. Murdoch and could have read twice as many pages recounting the various inventions he has contributed to the circus. Madam Morpho’s talent is equally as enchanting, and while I won’t spoil some of the surprises that are in store by going into detail about how her show really works, I will say that Dawson has succeeded in emphasizing the steampunk underpinnings of her story in a way that I haven’t seen before.

As for the characters, I didn’t connect as strongly with Madam Morpho as I had

The Mysterious Madam Morpho by Delilah S. Dawson

with Trish, which proved to be somewhat of a struggle as I read, but her chemistry with Mr. Murdoch more than made up for any shortcomings I found in her character. I wish we could have gained a bit more insight into Mr. Murdoch’s psychology, as it plays quite an important role in the story and I felt that the story ended on a rather unresolved note. Yet in this regard Madam Morpho‘s ending was rather similar to the resolution of Tish and Criminy’s story in the previous book, and Dawson has shown that she is willing and eager to revisit their storyline, so I’m hoping that further installments in the series give us more insight into how Madam Morpho and Mr. Murdoch’s relationship allows each character to grow past their insecurities.

Overall, The Mysterious Madam Morpho is a great installment in the series and makes me greedy to get my hands on the second book, Wicked As She Wants, next year.

I was lucky enough to win a copy of This Is Not a Test the week it was released, though based on the wonderful reviews it was receiving, I likely would have gone out to purchase a copy regardless. Though I’d heard praise for Summers’s contemporary young adult, I’d never read any of her works. Still, descriptions of This Is Not a Test as a “contemporary-with zombies,” rather than a zombie book, had me intrigued despite Summers’s reputation for writing rather somber stories.

For those hoping to read about gore and bloodshed, you won’t be entirely disappointed by This Is Not a Test. I can’t say the above-mentioned description got it completely right, as this story contains enough disturbing material to make those wary of the zombie genre shy away. Yet, ultimately, this book truly isn’t about what’s beating on the doors to get in; it’s about the demons that already live inside us. Summers’s decision to narrate the story through the voice of a suicidal teenager was simple yet quite brilliant, as the stark questions raised by the fight for survival

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

become all the more uncomfortable when viewed with a sense of detachment. A particularly beautiful effect of this approach was the highlight on survival not merely as a solitary endeavor, but as one in which the fight to live is endured as much for others as for oneself.

It’s rare that an author can sustain such a large cast of characters without allowing any single one to come to the forefront as someone to root for, yet Summers has achieved the nigh-impossible. I didn’t identify myself with any of the characters, didn’t feel the queasy nervousness of their dubious survival, yet I sincerely wanted them all to be alright. I’m not sure I would like to be friends with any of them, yet I cared about them. In an environment that brings the best and worst of people to the surface, Summers unerringly reminded us of the large expanse of gray in which most people live their lives, though shades of black and white might flitter at the periphery.

Ultimately, there was only one place that this story could be headed, and Summers doesn’t shy away from it. The end scene is a tad ambiguous, and the effect rather deprives readers of closure, but any other ending would have seemed far too disingenuous. While some might be displeased with the direction this story takes, I loved the journey that Summers takes us on from start to finish. This Is Not a Test is one of my top reads for the year. I’ll definitely be checking out Summers’ back-catalogue when I get the chance.

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