June Book Club: The Ten Thousand Doors of January

I have so many positive things to say about this book that I don’t know where to start, so I will start by simply saying: this book was fun. This book was so much fun that I have spent the last month telling everyone who will listen how enjoyable the Ten Thousand Doors of January is. If you’re reading this blog for the first time, and you didn’t join us in reading the Ten Thousand Doors of January, you should seriously consider putting your device down and picking the book up.

To understand one of the reasons that I love this book I think it’s worth taking a second to mention that portal literature (think Alice in Wonderland) has always played a special role in my life. As a kid, I dreamt of my shower drain opening up so that I could dive into the ocean as a mermaid and watched the stars in hopes that Tinkerbell would fly down and take me away to Neverland. The idea that we live in a mundane world but are surrounded by magic makes me so unbelievably happy to this day. So when you consider the idea that there are thousands of doors in the world that are open and just waiting to be discovered, it’s hard to imagine a world where I do not love this book.

The portal piece of this book is well done, but when you strip that piece of the story away it’s still a phenomenal story. January is a young girl living in Vermont during a time when young girls didn’t have many options in the world. She is the ward of a wealthy caretaker who is more interested in keeping her as part of his collection (both because she is mixed race and because she comes from another world) than in building her up to be the woman she is meant to be. In fact, the most painful transformation that occurs in the book is when January realizes that she needs to act a specific way in order to be loved and accepted, especially because her skin color doesn’t match those that are around her. She almost has to be extra well behaved, a societal pressure that worked well with this story.

And then he sends her to an asylum in an attempt to keep her safe and prevent her from thinking about doors. How on earth do you convince someone that you’re not crazy when you’ve been labeled as crazy? How do you behave in a way that convinces people that you are not a danger to yourself when everything that you do seems to confirm what they believe. How do you hold onto who you are while also conforming so that you are able to succeed? Although January wasn’t in the asylum for very long, I enjoyed watching her work through these questions while trying to keep herself safe.

Safety is an interesting theme within this book because it’s almost as if January is telling you that you can be safe or you can be yourself. True, sometimes there is safety in being yourself, but more often than not you need to put yourself out there in order to get what you want. This goes against all of the teachings that January has absorbed over the years and we see it pronounced the strongest when she eventually leaves her parents to write her own story.

I also want to take a moment to discuss the idea of a story within a story, because this writing technique was executed in a way that allowed me as a reader to escape further into January. I too felt comforted as she read the story in the asylum. I too felt overwhelmed when I discovered that her father wrote each word and that it was real. True, I still struggled to sympathize with his motivations, but it made me understand who he was and what his intentions were.

According to this story, love literally spans worlds waiting for you to come home again. Thought I didn’t need January to fall in love because I was rooting for her to reunite with her family, I didn’t mind it either.

I’ve only seen one episode of the Netflix series a few months ago, but that’s moreso because my partner isn’t interested in watching with me. Next month we’ll be reading the Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevisand and allowing ourselves to fall down the chess rabbit hole that caused so many games to sell out this past fall. Mostly, I’m wondering if I’ll want to pick up Alice In Wonderland when the story is over.

Cover art for the queen's gambit by Walter Tevis

When she is sent to an orphanage at the age of eight, Beth Harmon soon discovers two ways to escape her surroundings, albeit fleetingly: playing chess and taking the little green pills given to her and the other children to keep them subdued. Before long, it becomes apparent that hers is a prodigious talent, and as she progresses to the top of the US chess rankings she is able to forge a new life for herself. But she can never quite overcome her urge to self-destruct. For Beth, there’s more at stake than merely winning and losing.

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.

May Book Club: The Wife Between Us

34189556I picked the Wife Between Us up in honor of all the patrons who asked for help finding “the blue book they read a while ago”. The title seemed interesting enough, but the description sealed the deal. The idea that things aren’t what they seem is one of my favorite things to read about, the mystery of reading between the lies was exciting.

Part one of this book focused on Vanessa, Richard’s ex-wife, recovering from her separation and Nellie, a young woman who had fallen head over heels with him. Throughout this part, I couldn’t help thinking that there was something a little off about Richard. Something about him seemed manipulative and controlling, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then again, I reasoned, perhaps it was all a figment of my imagination because he had been just been through a messy relationship with Vanessa — who is clearly someone who is unhinged and prone to alcoholism. It was easy to roll my eyes at Vanessa and want her to get her life together. To let go of Richard and to stop obsessing over her replacement. It was easy to root for Nellie, someone who just wanted to feel loved and safe. Someone who found that person in Richard. Still, something wasn’t quite right, something nagged me about Richard.

Fast forward to part two. Well played Hendricks and Pekkanen, well played. I did not see that coming! I literally had a “wait, what?” moment when I learned that Nellie is the younger version of  Vanessa, the nickname being given to her on the plane when she and Richard met because she was being a “Nervous Nellie”. The plot thicked immediately, my mind suddenly inspecting Vanessa’s marriage to Richard with a renewed intrigue.

Looking for clues and insight into who Richard is, while also trying to understand Vanessa’s story now that a light had been shined on it. The more I read, the more I was left wondering, who is Richard? Is he the nice guy he’s made out to be? Or is he the crazy one? I have to admit, the resemblance between Emma, his new fiancé, and Vanessa are uncanny.

As the story continued, everything came to a crashing head. The pacing of the plot suddenly quickening. Vanessa finally in a place where she can discuss the abuse and manipulation that she experienced during her years of being married to Richard. The light that is shined on his paranoia and his concern with appearances. It quickly becomes clear that throughout their marriage both parties played a game and the only person that game was dangerous for was Vanessa.

Emma was an interesting character to introduce to their game because of who she is — the daughter of the professor that Vanessa had an affair with in college — and because Vanessa used her to escape her marriage. True, Emma had an affair with Richard while they were still married and Vanessa put on an act to make Emma see her in a specific light, but the two women played each other. An interesting layer over the game that Vanessa and Richard were playing. The difference being that Emma was playing to hurt and Vanessa was playing to experience freedom. Watching Vanessa try to free Emma was fun because it allowed moments of “is Vanessa the crazy one after all”?

Now that it’s over, I can look back and say that while I had an inkling of some things, this book still provided me with a lot of surprises. Personally, I didn’t need the epilogue, where Emma’s true identity was revealed. While it added to the theme of things are not as they appear, I felt as though the book would have been fine if it had ended with the final chapter.

I passed the copy I found to a friend within hours of finishing it — I wonder what her response will be!

We’ll be reading We Set the Dark on Fire for June. A book based upon the idea that the Sun God decided that those on the inner circle deserve two wives to run their household. Set in a fantasy Latin America, this book appears to be the story of an immigrant who’s family snuck across the boarder in the dark of the night.

37868569._SY475_At the Medio School for Girls, distinguished young women are trained for one of two roles in their polarized society. Depending on her specialization, a graduate will one day run a husband’s household or raise his children, but both are promised a life of comfort and luxury, far from the frequent political uprisings of the lower class. Daniela Vargas is the school’s top student, but her bright future depends upon no one discovering her darkest secret—that her pedigree is a lie. Her parents sacrificed everything to obtain forged identification papers so Dani could rise above her station. Now that her marriage to an important politico’s son is fast approaching, she must keep the truth hidden or be sent back to the fringes of society, where famine and poverty rule supreme.

On her graduation night, Dani seems to be in the clear, despite the surprises that unfold. But nothing prepares her for all the difficult choices she must make, especially when she is asked to spy for a resistance group desperately fighting to bring equality to Medio. Will Dani cling to the privilege her parents fought to win for her, or to give up everything she’s strived for in pursuit of a free Medio—and a chance at a forbidden love?