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Seraphina

seraphinaWhen I was in 8th grade I was in the “gifted” program (read: irritatingly fast reader) and we read The Hobbit. I remember tearing that book apart, reading every word, analyzing it, asking questions, taking tests, and just destroying my enjoyment of the book in general. It is a book I have always meant to go back to and read now that I am an adult because I LOVE fantasy novels, I just haven’t made it around yet.

I am a teacher by trade, and as I read Seraphina I found a book that was ripe for teaching. The fantasy world is beautiful and well-described, the characters are interesting, the story has enough intrigue and suspense to keep you reading, but what really kept stealing my attention was how this book could be used to sneak learning into a young mind. Rachel Hartman hits it all: discrimination, stereotypes, old and young generational differences, peace vs war, war to preserve peace, religion and its effects (damaging and beneficial), forbidden love, family strife and relationships, and I’m sure so many more.

The jist of this story is that there is a dragon race and a human race. They used to war with each other but came to a peace and now they live in relative harmony, but with suspicious behavior towards dragons who take human form to interact and learn. Dragons wear small bells so people know they are dragons and not humans (another connection: Jewish stars, South African apartheid) and this only serves to reinforce the discrimination. This is not a spoiler: Seraphina is a half-dragon, half-human because her mom didn’t tell her dad she was a dragon and they married and she died in childbirth. Seraphina has to hide her half-dragon signs: small silvery scales on her right arm and her back. She’s the assistant music leader at the palace, where she is friends with the prince and princesses.

She has special abilities as a half-breed and she has to learn to control and use them from her uncle Orma, who acts as her music teacher and only reveals himself when other family members make their way into the story to disrupt the anniversary of the treaty being celebrated at the palace.

I don’t want to give away too much more. It does feel like a lot of plot points and locations are just thrown out there and not explored, but I sense they will come back in sequels. There is a glossary at the back of the book that I wish I had known about at the beginning, because several words happen to you and you have no point of reference to understand what they mean. I also wished for a map so I could see the layout of this fantasy realm and have an idea of where all the players are stationed.

This was a beautifully written book, and any gripes I had did not detract from the lovely story, and you will be left wondering what happens next. I plan to place the sequel onto my holds list at my library immediately to find out. Teachers should take special note as this book could turn on many light bulbs in students’ understanding.  Thanks for visiting! Happy reading!

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Luckiest Girl Alive

girl-aliveOh man. This book. The quote on the front states that this book entertains us “with the cunning and verve of Gillian Flynn but with an intensity all its own.” – Megan Abbott, author of The Fever (which I will need to read to see if this person even has a right to be up in this place giving praise).

When I saw that Gillian Flynn was invoked I mentally prepared myself for a mind fuck. I hadn’t read Gone Girl before I saw the movie, and I have to be honest I have never been so mad at a movie that made me so confused and then came to no pleasant resolution. I walked out of that Cinebistro thinking that I wanted my money back because it was (1) terrible in a mindfuck kind of way and (2) there was no happy ending. And while I understand that not all stories have happy endings, I wanted that bitch to BURN.

Anyyyyways, so I prepared myself for some twisty turnys and maybe I wouldn’t be so mad this time. Fool me once and blah blah blah. Our main character TifAni (who goes by Ani now that’s she’s nabbed herself a rich guy to marry) is in the process of getting married and deciding whether she wants to participate in a documentary about some unknown event that happened at her private high school that her poor/lower-middle-class-pretending-to-be-upper-middle-class parents sent her to.  The book proceeds to take us on a back and forth journey, moving us forward through time from her matriculation at Bradley High School to THE EVENT in the past and also from where we meet her towards her wedding day.

Even the book jacket claims that Ani has a secret, that there is something in her past that threatens to bubble up and ruin everything. What is the secret? When will we find out? As you move through some of the horrors of her experience you wonder, if it’s not this, then the secret must be pretty bad. I myself started thinking about the Gillian Flynn comparison and wondered if maybe all this was self-deprecating for advancement, that she experiences what she experiences to blackmail or coerce.

What we really get is a book-long therapy session. I won’t spoil what happens, but I will say that it wasn’t very suspenseful at all. Shocking maybe, but it was no Gone Girl. She’s shared her experiences with her new fiance and family, and her story had been all over the news prior to her adult life. In the end she realizes that her quest for money and a man with money was just a way for her to avoid being hurt, as being “poor” and an outsider at her private school had hurt her before. Her quest to be an insider would have been complete if she marries Luke, but to marry him would also mean that her life would be a constant reminder of everything she had worked so hard to escape.

When I was in college (undergrad) I was engaged to a very sweet computer engineer. We had a long distance relationship because when we met he was just finishing his master’s and I was just starting my bachelor’s, but we were together for 3 years, him working in Massachusetts and me working on my degree in Maine. He proposed at the end of our second year together, we planned the wedding, I bought a dress, we reserved a venue. And then I found a job and lived with him the summer before my senior year of college. And in just those 3 short months I realized that if I married this man, I would have to be a mother. We were not on equal ground financially, historically, emotionally, and with the distance we couldn’t have ever evened that ground. Despite the fact that I would have been financially stable for the first time in my life if I had married him, I realized that witnessing his emotional outbursts, his inability to set boundaries at work, his anxieties about what others thought of him, they would all put me into the role of caretaker and not wife and partner. And at the tender age of 21, I was not ready for that kind of relationship or responsibility.

I tell you this very shallow version of what was a very complicated and difficult stage of my life to say that I totally related to how this book ended. You can’t let an event determine the rest of your life. You have to know yourself and make decisions that will make you happy. You have to seek counseling when you experience trauma and find yourself again once you’ve been lost. A rich husband can’t make you feel safe and loved all the way inside. TifAni went through a journey in this book to realize that all her decisions were made simply to feel safe, to protect herself, when she WAS safe and didn’t need to put herself through more to artificially create safety. Sometimes you have to be brave and strike out on your own to discover who you are, or in TifAni’s case, who you’ve become. That kind of bravery does come with costs, but the benefits will far outweigh them. I am a completely different person today than I would have been if I had married that man, and while I am probably much worse off financially, I wouldn’t trade who I am now for that person.

The major disappointment is that there was no major twist. There were shocks and there were gruesome moments, but nothing that I couldn’t process. No other shoe dropped. What was her secret? There wasn’t really one. There were twists I didn’t see coming, as the book jacket advertised, but they weren’t such drastic twists that I got whiplash, they were just the next part of the story.

This was a good book, a good story, with a good ending. What made it less enjoyable to me was how it was presented on the outside, raising expectations that weren’t necessary for a book that would seem all too real to those of us that have had to raise ourselves up by our bootstraps only to want to strangle ourselves with them later.

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Secrets of the Universe

UniverseApparently this book had a lot of hype when it came out in 2012, but I am really glad that I was able to read it without any expectations other than that the cover is absolutely beautiful and I expected the story to match the drapes.

There are three main themes that this book touches on, all the while dancing around the idea that two teenage boys must find their own way to accepting that they love each other. The first is how to relate to your parents. The second is how to own your heritage. The third is simply growing up.

Dante is an only child from an openly loving family who are very affectionate with one another. Aristotle is from a family where he is the baby, his three older siblings are all grown and while his sisters have made him an uncle in his teenage years, his brother is in prison and his family does not talk about it. His father fought in Vietnam and his mother is a teacher. Each kid relates to his parents in different ways, but both families love the boys and encourage their friendship.

Something that I wish had been fleshed out a bit more was the fact that both families are of Latino heritage. The talk of being “Mexican enough” comes up from time to time. The fear that they will be perceived as “poor” despite all having jobs and educations. It made me want to learn and read more about the Mexican-American experience and how the struggle to show the people around you that you aren’t a “dirty, poor, illegal immigrant” is a constant pressure. What an unfair pressure to place on families…I just cannot imagine it. Granted, America doesn’t treat its poor very well in general, but we live in such an intolerant age when it comes to differing races and ethnicities that it makes me angry-sad. But I digress.

It was so fun to watch Aristotle grow up. Going to school, getting his first car (an old, beat up pickup truck), getting a dog, and working a part time job are all parts of his experience and are a joy to read about. And woven in his process is how he becomes closer to his dad, how he gets his mom to open up about his imprisoned brother, how he defends those he is close to, and how he expands and strengthens his universe. What a beautiful novel for young people to read and relate to, and perhaps to learn about how to be more tolerant to those who may be different, to learn that it’s fun to kiss a person you love no matter what gender they are. In fact, this book made me feel that time is so short, you should hold the people you love close and never be ashamed about who that might be.

 

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Increasing Output

I have been consistently providing book reviews now for about 22 weeks, which for me is pretty awesome. I’ve tried blogs before, but this is the first one that I’ve been really good about and I actually look forward to it, when before I felt like I HAD to post something.

So starting in October I’m going to start posting on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I made this decision in part because I feel like I’m ready, and partly because if I posted only on Wednesdays you would have reviews through the end of December based on the books I have in a stack waiting to be read right now!

I have plans for this blog. It’s something I love, but I’m taking it slow because I have a tendency to burn myself out with “plans” and I don’t want to burn this out. Thank you for reading this blog and look forward to increased posting in October! More book reviews, the Halloween treat you didn’t ask for but somehow deserved!

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