April Book Club: Reverie

Book art for Reverie by Ryan La Sala
Reverie, by Ryan La Sala

Perhaps one of the reasons that I enjoyed this book so much is that the idea of a Reverie speaks to me on a fundamental level. Portal literature, or literature where the main character starts in “the real world” and then falls down a hole (Alice in Wonderland), goes though a mirror (Through the Looking Glass), crosses a wall (Stardust), or goes through a wardrobe (Narnia) to find themselves in a magical land, is literature that I always seem to fall into. The idea that crossing an invisible magical barrier is all it takes to go on an adventure in a magical world was something that I spent hours daydreaming about as a child.

In this magical world, I would be something spectacular. A witch or a fairy. Perhaps a knight on quest. The options where literally endless in my mind. When you add this to the concept that reveries are a subconscious dreamscape that come alive in the real world, is it really a wonder that I quickly became enthralled with this book?

Kane Montgomery is an interesting main character because he is both who he was before his memories were wiped and who he is trying to be based upon the information that he learns about himself. Though I don’t typically enjoy plots that are driven by “amnesia”, the loss of memory in Kane’s case leads to an accepting of who he is and a desire to be better. It was his “humbling moment” if you will, the reason that he makes the choices he does when the pieces are finally put together.

One of the other things that’s interesting about this book is the mixed, and I mean truly mixed reviews on it. People either love it (me for example) or they struggle to get through it. Those who love it find themselves being swept away into the idea that you deepest fantasies can come alive just long enough for you to live them. They find themselves rooting for the Others to save the day because that means dreams can live on. Those who don’t like the book seem to be hung up on the idea of a Reverie to begin with, they didn’t like Kane as a character or they had very different expectations going in. Where do you fall on the spectrum and why?

I was patiently waiting for the library to notify me that my copy of Mexican Gothic is available, when one of my friends enthusiastically said that they had a historical fiction for me to read. When she dropped by to pass it into my hands I couldn’t help but squeal as the words Mexican Gothic poked out from her bag. This book has gotten so much hype about being a good historical horror story, let’s check it out together for May’s book club!

Mexican Gothic
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind. 

August’s Book Club: A Darker Shade Of Magic

A Darker Shade final for IreneThere’s something about reading outside on a beautiful day that soothes the soul. Combine that with the promise of magic and well-developed characters and I’m sold.

I’m going to be honest before starting my review, I had a hard time getting through this one and almost put it down after the fourth chapter. A Darker Shade of Magic started very slow and told (instead of showed) the reader as much as it could about the world before introducing the plot.

For argument sake, let’s take a look at the Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman. In the Golden Compass, Lyra is introduced to a world beyond Jordan College and everything that is familiar to her. While this is happening, you as the reader are being introduced to the world as well, it feels gradual and natural. As Lyra finds herself with questions, you find yourself with similar ones. The Subtle Knife is similar, despite new worlds and characters being introduced to the story. Pullman’s ability to world build is what makes His Dark Materials so fantastic. This slow introduction to the world is why the Golden Compass movie was such a flop despite the number of fans for the series and the cast — it threw you into the world without regard to the journal through it that Lyra’s perspective provided.

Harry Potter is another example of a series where the author introduced the world in a way that provided an enjoyable experience. So is The Final Empire. My point here is that it can, and has been done successfully.

With that being said, another problem that I had with the book was the “multidimensional” characters that I was promised. Kell was literally battling a dark magical force and it didn’t seem like much of an inward struggle. Lilah wanted to be something other than a thief but couldn’t help herself. The villains just wanted more power. Everyone had simple motivations for doing what they did, nothing like the dimension that was suggested.

Next, so little happened in this story when you think about its length. Kell is given a stone, he bumps into Lilah who steals it from him, this gets her into trouble, Kell saves her, they go to red London, everything is crazy, they go to white London, they battle the villains, the story is over. For those of you who have read Harry Potter, just think about all the events leading up to an eventual Voldamort encounter. Honestly, it makes the movies fall a little flat when you think about how much meat was cut from the story.

Also, I hate mind control as a plot mover. Re: Final battle scene and Lilah’s ability to walk into the Queen’s throne room. I feel like this could have worked in other areas of the story as well….

I kept reading the story because I kept expecting it to get better. Now that it’s over I’m happy about one thing: Kell and Lilah never get together. They never lust after each other and they never waste time thinking about what it would be like to be with each other. Even with a scene where a shopkeeper mistakes them as a couple! This is awesome and strengthens Lilah’s role within the story as being something other than an opportunity for romantic interest. (The remaining books in the series could ruin this…)

Ok, ok, end rant.

September’s book club will feature The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. A recommendation that my coworker made about a year ago now. I could use a good murder mystery now that Summer is winding down.

36337550Tonight, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed… again.

It is meant to be a celebration but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.

But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot.

The only way to break this cycle is to identify the killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes in the body of a different guest. And someone is determined to prevent him ever escaping Blackheath…

July’s Book Club: The Deep

A mermaid surrounded by whales.One of the reasons that I picked up The Deep was because the description reminded me so much of the Giver, which if you haven’t read that yet you totally should. There’s something intriguing about the idea of a world where everyone lives in complete ignorance by sacrificing one person. In the Deep, Yetu is plagued by the memories of her people. She physically suffers from it, her body wasting away as memory after memory takes hold of her.

Despite her pain and suffering, I struggled to find relief when Yetu ran away. I found myself disagreeing with Yetu as she tried to justify her journey to find herself — which is totally unfair because I am someone who left her family to find herself. As she regained her strength and fell in love, I couldn’t help wondering what happened to those in the Giver when Jonas ran away. Both Yetu and Jonas were considered vessels meant to hold memories, each losing their innocence in different ways. Both ran away. Jonas saved a little boy’s life, Yetu saved herself.

As I read The Deep, I kept flipping back and forth on whether or not Yetu was selfish when she ran away. Initially, I thought yes. How could someone leave her loved ones behind when she knew how much they would suffer without her? How could she leave them when the world would suffer? As I write this now, I suppose that was the point. What is more important, the individual or the tribe? How can you invoke change if one person fails to challenge everyone else? If Yetu hadn’t run away, she never would have shown her people the burden of what they asked her. They never would have agreed to share her burden if she had not run away. Nothing would have changed if she hadn’t run away.

So was running away selfish? Maybe, but it was mostly self-preservation. In the beginning, Yetu didn’t understand the point of the history. She needed to learn what it meant and why it was important. She needed to decide for herself that the history was bigger than she was and then determine how to support her people while supporting herself. In the end, this made her journey back to her people more noble. Yetu understood the freedom she faced if she stayed away, but she realized the burden was worth it to protect those she cared about. Though she didn’t have to take the history back, the sacrifice meant more because it was her choice and she chose to take it.

Many of us have spent the last few months rereading or rewatching Harry Potter. In honor of the children inside of us that long for Magic, August’s book club will be A Darker Shade Of Magic by V. E. Schwab. The New York Times (NYT) says “A Darker Shade of Magic has all the hallmarks of a classic work of fantasy. Its plot is gripping. Its characters are memorable. Its setting in four parallel, powerful Londons is otherworldly yet believable. Schwab has given us a gem of a tale that is original in its premise and compelling in its execution. This is a book to treasure.” While I tend to take NYT with a grain of salt, this one speaks to me, let’s see if they got it right!

A Darker Shade final for IreneKell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

June’s Book Club: We Set the Dark on Fire

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We Set the Dark on Fire’s byline of “let rebellion burn” combined with the contrasting doves on the cover drew me into this one. The colors chosen as a backdrop clearly selected to look like a fire in the night.

This book had politics, rebellion, inner conflict, and a female female romance. Yes, it was a young adult book, but it felt thin and forced. Dani started the novel as a young girl fresh out of school. Practiced and poised, trained to deceive and to analyze the world around her. This training, combined with her marriage to Mateo, set her up to be the perfect spy for the rebellion.

At first, they had to blackmail her, having provided new forged documents to replace her old ones so that she could make it through the new checkpoints. Each favor was done reluctantly until Dani realized that her parents wish for her to be safe didn’t reflect her own need to make a difference. I expected more resistance from Dani, despite the powerful image that made her choose sides.

As soon as Dani saw the peaceful protesters being attacked, a switch seemed to occur that turned her emotions on. It was as though something snapped and she couldn’t hide who she was anymore. This was the perfect reason for Dani to want to help the rebellion, I just felt as though it needed a little more build up.

Speaking of needing a little more build up, Dani’s relationship with Carmen went from zero to sixty in three point five. They distrusted each other in school, Carmen bullying Dani every chance that she got. Putting her down and making Dani feel like she was out to get her. Then, suddenly, they were together. Laughing in the market and almost kissing each other before witnessing a peaceful protest fall apart. Carmen quickly slipping into Dani’s heart and gaining her trust with a few pouts and kisses.

Once Carmen was in Dani’s bed, I couldn’t help but hold my breath while waiting for Dani to be betrayed. Carmen knew everything, she was given ultimate power over Dani. When it finally happened, a lot of things clinked into place. The reason that Carmen had watched Dani so closely. The reason that Carmen had worked so hard in school to push Dani away. Suddenly their love saga began to slide into place as a mirror image to the story of hope and trust in a world filled with lies and war raged around them.

I haven’t decided if I will read book two yet, but I’m leaning towards probably.

July’s bookclub will take us under the sea in The Deep by Rivers Solomon, Daveed Diggs, William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes. I can’t help it, I’m drawn to things that take place near or by the water. It must be the fish in me.

A mermaid surrounded by whales.Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.