November Book Club: A Court of Thorns and Roses

Cover art for a Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas.

The fastest and simpliest way to summarize A Court of Thorns and Roses to someone who has never read it before is to say that it’s a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. A beautiful land is under a curse that can only be broken by true love.

There is, of course, a lot more to this book than that. For starters, Feyre doesn’t stumble across a castle in the woods because she’s trying to find her father. While trying to keep a promise to her dead mother, Feyre kills a faerie in the shape of a wolf while hunting for food. Though she doesn’t know it, this one action sparks a chain of events that leads to being whisked off to a magical land and her family being elevated back to their original wealthy status.

I want to start by discussing the dedication that Feyre feels towards the promise that she’s made to her mother to look after her family. She was the youngest daughter and was less than ten years old, other than requiring this plot point to put her hunting in the woods, I didn’t really understand this decision. What a weight to put on a young child’s shoulders, in fact Feyre literally complains about how binding the promise is and how heavy keeping the promise feels sometimes. When viewed upon as a plot point, however, it’s clear that this is meant to show us that Feyre is honorable and stubborn.

Feyre’s distinction of hunting for necessity and hunting out of pleasure is another interesting point that should have done more in the realm of foreshadowing what was to come. By knowing this about her during the third trial, we can appreciate her struggle as she fights to remember the fate of many is more important than the fate of a few. Knowing that she only hunts to eat and has no interest when food is readily available, I’m left to assume that Feyre will be affected by the two deaths for the rest of her life (or at least the next book in this series).

I wanted more from the three trials to free Tamlin and the people of faerie. As scenes, they seemed rushed and anticlimactic. I also disliked the use of the fairy wine even though it was done to get her out of the dungeon for a few hours and show Tamlin that she was safe. They could have worked something out where she didn’t have to drink the wine every single night. Also, Tamlin’s indifference was agitating – even if it was to protect her. It would have been more forgiving if he was under a spell as Alice alluded that he might be.

I also found the use of magic something to be desired. True, there was a curse that limited the ability of the faeries to use magic and true, the story stayed true to most of the general rules of faerie land (minus the “if you eat the food you can’t leave”), I just felt as though there could have been more. There was nothing spectacular about Feyre’s day to day minus being pulled from her family. It wasn’t until she went under the mountain that we got to experience what the world had the potential to be.

All in all, I enjoyed this book but don’t feel the need to read the other books in the series. There’s obviously going to be a story line with Feyre trying to deal with being a faerie with a human heart and some sort of love triangle that’s probably brought on by Feyre thinking something like “how can Tamlin love me after all that I did?” and the monthly requirement to spend a week in the night court.

Next month we’ll be reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I think this book made my “to-read” list after discussing it with a co-worker on zoom last fall due to the premise of it taking place after a super flu. I’ve previewed a chapter to make sure that it doesn’t feel too much like the pandemic we’ve been living through (that wouldn’t be escapism!) and am please to report that it seems like a lot of fun.

Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

October Book Club: The Giver of Stars

Cover art for the Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes

Confession time: Sometimes I avoid books because their plot revolves around my profession. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my work as a librarian, it’s just that I tend to read books that allow me a certain level of escapism. When The Giver of Stars first came across my radar, I was tempted to dismiss it in favor of something that had at least a little bit more of a fantasy element. Now that I’ve read the book, I’m glad that I didn’t.

That being said, do I feel as though I’ve gotten a good picture of what it was like to participate in a packhorse library? In some ways yes, it was interesting to read about how the library built a sense of community and how long and tiring the hours where. In other ways, perhaps not. While this book is based on a true story, I was left wondering how much liberties were taken in romanticizing the packhorse librarian experience.

Regardless of this romantic perspective, Moyes gave us an interesting group of characters to watch grow throughout the story. Though the story focuses on impulsive Alice, Margery, Izzy, Sophia and Beth find themselves changed by the library as well. Though they started with nothing in common besides the library, it was easy to relate to how something so intense could bring a group together.

Though wrapped up almost too perfectly, one thing I appreciated how one wealthy man could manipulate the town’s mindset in order to best suit his needs. One woman is making sure that his town can’t expand so he’s got to take town that one woman, starting with her library. It almost worked too, showing us the dark side of what money has the power to do.

As always, I have mixed feelings about Alice finding true love and remarrying. On the one hand, she’s a character I wanted to be happy. On the other hand, she was getting ready to go back to England despite all the growth that she had gained during her time as a packhorse librarian. I couldn’t decide if those were really her only choices during that time period (I suppose they were) or if there may have been a third path (realistically there probably wasn’t). Still, one can’t help appreciating that the reason she’s able to leave her neglectful husband is because he never consummated the marriage.

Speaking of Bennet, what a strange character. It’s obvious that his father abused him, but I wonder if there’s more to the story there. Did he want to be married to a woman? If not, why go back after Peggy and fail to consummate that marriage as well? Bennet seemed like one of life’s sleepwalkers. He wasn’t really a bad guy, he just also wasn’t a very good one.

The Giver of Stars is often recommended to be read in junction with the Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, so I picked it up and read a few chapters. These three chapters cued me into the idea that The Giver of Stars may be more of a romantic story (you know, besides the fact that it was a romantic story), but I ended up abandoning the book due to seemingly consistent violence. While I don’t typically abandon a book for having a rape scene in it, I also don’t want to be greeted by one in the first few chapters. There’s so much happening in the world right now, I couldn’t bring myself to keep reading as Bluet faced abuse after abuse.

Cover art for A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas.

I’ve decided to give into social media a little bit for November’s book club and have us read a Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas. Having read a lot of Holly Black growing up, this book looks like it uses that traditional style: fairies cannot be trusted, don’t eat the food, don’t drink the wine, don’t make any deals combined with a main character who systematically breaks each rule.

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

September Book Club: The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids

Cover art for the Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids by Michael McClung.

The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids tells the story of Amra, a careful thief who is drawn into the revenge game when her friend is murdered in the middle of the night. While following the trail of his killer, she finds herself thrown in jail for no reason, running from a price on her head, befriending a wizard and closing a hell gate. In other words, this is a very plot focused book where the setting could really be any fantasy town and the character development is minimal.

That’s not to say that The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braid’s is a bad story, in fact there is simply the assumption that you have read a fantasy novel before and have an understanding of what the general rules are. For example: there is a huge power differential between those with money and those without, magic always comes with a price, gods speak through their priests who expect offerings in exchange for favors. The fun thing about the lack of world building and following the tried and true rules is that you can plunk the story into the world of your choosing and imagine your favorite characters running around elsewhere while Amra makes decisions like shaving her head to get rid of lice and maneuvers over cliff edges to sneak into fancy houses.

I don’t see myself reading any more books in the series, but The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids was a fun ride. Perhaps there is more world building in future books, but in my experience first person narratives lead to short scenes due to the limits of narrator perspective. That aside, I do find myself super curious about the eight armed goddess apparently coming out of her prison and wonder how else Amra is going to contribute to that.

It’s hard to believe that I’m already selecting a book for October and that we’re three book clubs away from the end of the year. Let’s hop back into historical fiction and read something from Reese’s Book Club (I’ve never tried one of her recs before!): The Giver of Stars. I’ve read and enjoyed Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, let’s find out if this one is also a tear jerker together.

Cover art for the Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes.

Alice Wright marries handsome American Bennett Van Cleve hoping to escape her stifling life in England. But small-town Kentucky quickly proves equally claustrophobic, especially living alongside her overbearing father-in-law. So when a call goes out for a team of women to deliver books as part of Eleanor Roosevelt’s new traveling library, Alice signs on enthusiastically.

The leader, and soon Alice’s greatest ally, is Margery, a smart-talking, self-sufficient woman who’s never asked a man’s permission for anything. They will be joined by three other singular women who become known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky.

What happens to them–and to the men they love–becomes an unforgettable drama of loyalty, justice, humanity and passion. These heroic women refuse to be cowed by men or by convention. And though they face all kinds of dangers in a landscape that is at times breathtakingly beautiful, at others brutal, they’re committed to their job: bringing books to people who have never had any, arming them with facts that will change their lives.

Based on a true story rooted in America’s past, The Giver of Stars is unparalleled in its scope and epic in its storytelling. Funny, heartbreaking, enthralling, it is destined to become a modern classic–a richly rewarding novel of women’s friendship, of true love, and of what happens when we reach beyond our grasp for the great beyond.

August Book Club: Sourdough

Cover art for Sourdough by Robin Sloan

This book was so fun and there were several points in the story that I had to remind myself that it’s a fictional story and not a biography (like when the starter took over everything). Lois is a relatable character, taking a job because she is good at it and then working hard because that’s the culture in addition to her nature. Her feelings of burnout were real, right down to the idea that eating a special diet would solve all her problems.

While reading Sourdough, I was left with feelings of yes that’s true (we totally are the children of Hogwarts) and awe at the amount of work that went into feeding the starter (like plants, you have to pay attention to its needs). What I wasn’t left with was a lot to say when the story was over. Would I recommend this book to a friend? Absolutely, it was an enjoyable read. Is it a book that has inspired a lot of discussion beyond the initial “you should read this”? Not really, it’s about a girl trying to find herself and discovering that she can along the way.

That aside, I’ve identified a couple things that we can (and probably should) discuss here. For starters, Lois brings a robotic arm to a farm to table food share and works throughout the book to teach the arm how to preform human functions. The idea that a robotic arm is learning how to crack an egg at a farmers market is both comical and interesting. On the one hand, you have an environment where people are interested in a more analog environment, one where the idea of hand crafted/organic is valued. On the other hand, the novelty of the robotic arm helping bake Sourdough is unique and exciting. This blending of future technology with craftsmanship is similar to the idea of selling machine made socks at a craft fair. True, it’s hard to handknit enough pairs of socks to sell in a booth (for context it takes me about 16 hours per pair), but can you really compare handknit socks to socks cranked out (literally) on a machine? And if the quality is similar enough, how much do we, should we, care?

The other piece of Sourdough that I’m sure no one will be surprised that I’m pointing out is the love story between Lois and her email pen-pal. I didn’t pick up on it until the end because I thought they were just becoming really good friends. Did the romance need to be there? Could she still have gone abroad if she wasn’t taking a risk on love? I’m not sure the story needed it, and in the end it felt a little forced.

September’s book will be The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids by Michael McClung and was discovered while falling down the Goodreads Fantasy suggestion rabbit hole. This book won the first ever Mark Lawrence Self Published Fantasy Blog Off and is promised to have some morally grey characters, let’s check it out together!

Cover art for The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble's Braids by Michael McClung.

Amra Thetys lives by two simple rules—take care of business, and never let it get personal. Thieves don’t last long in Lucernis otherwise. But when a fellow rogue and good friend is butchered on the street in a deal gone wrong, she turns her back on burglary and goes after something more precious than treasure: Revenge.

Revenge, however, might be hard to come by. A nightmare assortment of enemies, including an immortal assassin and a mad sorcerer, believe Amra is in possession of The Blade That Whispers Hate—the legendary, powerful artifact her friend was murdered for—and they’ll do anything to take it from her. Trouble is, Amra hasn’t got the least clue where the Blade might be.

She needs to find the Blade, and soon, or she’ll be joining her colleague in a cold grave instead of avenging his death. Time is running out for the small, scarred thief.

July Book Club: The Queen’s Gambit

Cover art for The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis

As I sit here writing this blog post, I feel that it’s worth noting that I have still only watched one episode of the Netflix’s series The Queen’s Gambit. The main reason for admitting this is to, naturally, point out that my observations are for the book and the book alone. I know for previous book clubs I have taken the time to also watch the movie/tv show, but the weather is beautiful and I find myself itching to sit on the deck instead of curled up on the couch. This is not a reflection of the quality of the TV series, but a nod to the fact that I am more likely to watch TV when it’s dark and cold outside.

This book left me feeling very neutral and wondering if I was expecting more from Beth Harmon. For example, I think we can agree that her ability to visualize chess boards as a child is phenomenal. When you combine that with her narrow focus on the game and how her whole life revolves around it, you’re left wondering is this because she finds comfort in the game now that her parents are dead or does she have a touch of Asperger’s? When you combine this information with her ability to interact with others as a young adult, it’s hard to judge.

With Beth as our narrator, we’re not given complete pictures of the other people that encompass her tail. Whether she she falls on the spectrum or was severally emotionally handicapped as a child, it’s clear that her emotional and social intelligence were stunted and we’re not getting a full picture of what’s happening around her. With this in mind, it made sense that Beth reached for childhood friends when her world felt turned upside down.

I’m not sure we can really call this a book about addiction. Beth’s addiction to the green pills existed to allow her to play a more focused game of chess in her mind and her brief run with drinking seemed like more of a conscious decision to self sabotage. Which leaves me wondering, is this a story about addiction or has addiction been thrown in there as a temporary plot device?

At it’s very core, The Queen’s Gambit is a story about an underdog and we all, myself included, want to root for the underdog. We get to watch Beth struggle to be allowed to learn chess and her development into an eventual champion. You can’t help but root for her as she works towards mastering her next challenge.

In honor of the sourdough trend that I didn’t participate in, we will be reading Sourdough by Robin Sloan. This one comes highly recommended by my town’s public library and I’m excited to read it.

Cover art for Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Lois Clary is a software engineer at General Dexterity, a San Francisco robotics company with world-changing ambitions. She codes all day and collapses at night, her human contact limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall from which she orders dinner every evening. Then, disaster! Visa issues. The brothers close up shop, and fast. But they have one last delivery for Lois: their culture, the sourdough starter used to bake their bread. She must keep it alive, they tell her—feed it daily, play it music, and learn to bake with it.

Lois is no baker, but she could use a roommate, even if it is a needy colony of microorganisms. Soon, not only is she eating her own homemade bread, she’s providing loaves daily to the General Dexterity cafeteria. The company chef urges her to take her product to the farmer’s market, and a whole new world opens up.

When Lois comes before the jury that decides who sells what at Bay Area markets, she encounters a close-knit club with no appetite for new members. But then, an alternative emerges: a secret market that aims to fuse food and technology. But who are these people, exactly?