Outlander

“And I mean to hear ye groan like that again. And to moan and sob, even though you dinna wish to, for ye canna help it. I mean to make you sigh as though your heart would break, and scream with the wanting, and at last to cry out in my arms, and I shall know that I’ve served ye well.” (Outlander by Diana Gabaldon)

Outlander CoverGabaldon takes a standard bodice-ripper and makes it palatable to the fantasy audience, anglophiles, and intellectuals by adding magical time travel, modern British humor, and pseudo-correct Scottish history. In essence, she takes a once-embarrassing genre and adds smoke and mirrors so that the book’s inner romance is simply covered in layers of social acceptability. You may think that you’re the one fooling your neighbors, but the true joke is that we all love romance – and Gabaldon has just figured out a way to sell it to us without embarrassing our prim sensibilities.

Her second stroke of genius is that the whole series is simply one plot played over and over again. Jamie saves Claire, or Claire saves Jamie. Sometimes one saves the other from a wound. Sometimes, a mob. Occasionally, they save each other from themselves. Yet, on each repeat, this age-old plot seems fresh and urgent because of Galbadon’s creativity and flawless sense of pace. Even if you know the trick, you can’t help but want more of the same: more danger, more saving, more declarations of love, more sex scenes.

Recommended Action: BuyBorrowTBRAvoid
Length: 672 (audiobook: wonderful. Loved listening to the dialect instead of reading it)
Ending: Hopeful – directly leading to next book.
Incidental Learning: 1745 Scotland
Further reading: First, the rest of the series – then, the rest of the epic romantic-history genre, of course.

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The Broken Kingdoms

“Rising from the dead? Glowing at sunrise? What did that make him, the god of cheerful mornings and macabre surprises?” (The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin)

Broken Kingdoms CoverI always worry about second books in trilogies. They frequently disappoint and are more often than not simply a bridge between two complete works, mucking up symmetry by adding pointless characters and un-tied-up plot lines. I should have known to expect more from N. K. Jemisin. Oree is a fully developed female protagonist drawn to the magic of the newly created city of Shadow, a city recently burdened with a large number of Godlings and ‘heretic’ magic. The story from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is touched on and expanded but it grows only in the background of Oree’s fully fledged story, making this second volume a proper novel in its own right.

As I mentioned before, I love Jemisin’s take on fantasy because it is so utterly feminine. She tells her stories in the first person, which allows her to delve deeply into emotions and to write the world from a more poetic, richly detailed perspective. Instead of having a world explored through actions alone, as in most fantasy, Jemisin uses each sense to describe the taste, feel, and sound of magic and her created environments. Those of you who read it know that sex has always an integral part of the fantasy genre, and Jemisin doesn’t skimp because of any sense of feminine reticence – instead she morphs the traditional brutish talk that passes for sexual tension into richly described, otherworldly sex scenes that resemble those in good romance or erotica. Beyond that, Jemisin’s characters simply have a woman’s humor – they laugh about men and themselves in a way that feels so familiar in life, and so fresh in Fantasy.

Recommended Action: BuyBorrow TBRAvoid

Length: 432 pgs (Audiobook: 11 hours, excellent quality)

Ending: Sad, but necessary

Further Reading: Can’t wait to start her new Dreamblood trilogy.

 

 

 

Eleanor and Park

“You always look nice.’
‘I never look nice.’ she said. Like he was an idiot.
‘I like the way you look,’ he said. It came out more like an argument than a compliment.
Eleanor and Park CoverThat doesn’t mean it’s nice,’ she was whispering, too.
‘Fine then, you look like a hobo.’
‘A hobo?’ Her eyes lit.
‘Yeah, a gypsy hobo,’ he said. ‘You look like you just joined the cast of Godspell.’
‘I don’t even know what that is.’
‘It’s terrible.’
She stepped closer to him. ‘I look like a hobo?’
‘Worse,’ he said. ‘Like a sad hobo clown.’
‘And you like it?’
‘I love it.’
As soon as he said it, she broke into a smile. And when Eleanor smiled, something broke inside of him.
Something always did.” (Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell)

Well, when John Green writes a glowing review of a YA book in the NYT, there isn’t much use for my exhortation (which is the same as his: read it now), but I feel compelled to type it anyway.
So many romances these days start with blind attraction as an excuse for love that I had almost forgotten it was possible to read a book where love slowly develops out of curiosity and recognition. Rowell creates a beautiful romance by shifting between Eleanor and Park’s perspectives so that the reader falls in love with each character through the others eyes, experiencing exactly how they intrigue and fascinate each other. It is not a generic romance – not just anyone could love Park or Eleanor – but they compliment and amplify each other so very well.
Rowell writes some of the steamiest non-sex scenes I have ever read in my life. All these two have to do is hold hands, or describe each others eyebrows, and their raw emotion feels more intimate than the most graphic of erotica. My only qualm with the book is the ending. I understand that ‘literary novels’ do not have happy ones these days, but why ever not? It will be impossible for you not to feel unsatisfied and write and rewrite their stories in your head for weeks after putting down the slim volume. Which is, perhaps, the point.
Recommended Action: Buy – borrow – TBR – Avoid

Length: 336 pgs

Ending: As stated

Further Reading: John Green – all of it. This is a book to add to that short list of superb reads for smart, mature teens.

The Night Circus

“The air swirls in a tempest around them, blowing open the glass doors to the garden with a tangle of billowing curtains. Every eye in the ballroom turns in their direction. And then he releases her and walks away. By the time Marco leaves the room, almost everyone has forgotten the incident entirely. It is replaced by a momentary confusion that is blamed on the heat or the excessive amounts of champagne.” (The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern)

The Night Circus CoverFor me, reading ‘The Night Circus’ was a confusing experience; but not because of the scrambled chronology or varied perspectives. I had heard of Morgenstern’s incredible use of language, but I couldn’t see it for myself. To me, though her sentences evoked imaginative images and scenes, the language itself seemed bland, riddled with cliches and insipid metaphors. It took me a while before I realized that ‘incredible language’ meant one thing to me, and something else to all those reviewers.

I would call Morgenstern’s use of language ‘descriptive’ or ‘rich’, and make that concept clearly distinguished from ‘inventive’ or ‘literary’ language. In my mind, the former details the imagery excessively, evoking all of the senses, but without trying to make the individual words unique or interesting. The later, on the other hand, focuses on combining words and phrases in unexpected ways, and using simile and metaphor to enlarge the reader’s perspective of an object or idea. For an example, compare Morgenstern’s epithet for her enigmatic mentor figure with the far more literary Suzanne Clarke’s: ‘the man in the grey suit’ vs. ‘the man with the thistle-down hair’. They both describe similar characters, but  Morgenstern’s simply details the physical appearance of the man while Clarke’s is inventive and ambiguous. I know which one I’d rather hear over and over again: do you?  Up until reading this book, I hadn’t realized that I prefer inventive language over descriptive language, but only thought that I enjoyed any language-focused work.

I realize that this isn’t so much a review of the book as a detailing of my decisions as a reader, but I do think it is important to have your expectations clearly defined here, because those coming to The Night Circus hoping for a literary exertion will only leave disappointed.

Reading Action: BuyBorrowTBR Avoid

Length: 528 pages. Audiobook quality: good

Ending: over-wrought

Further Reading:
In my mind, ‘descriptive language’ and historical fiction go well together. But , if you’re just looking for a read-alike, I’ve heard that ‘A Discovery of Witches’ has similar efforts of magic and imagination.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

“In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.” (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin)

Hundred Thousand Kingdoms CoverTo my dismay, I have found over and over again that my taste in books does not necessarily accord with others. This was demonstrated to me most effectively in my teen books class: nearly everyone loved ‘Foreverwhile I remained partial to ‘Seventeenth Summerand ‘The White Darkness’. I discovered only this week that I have a higher tolerance for the weird and macabre than most people, for when I went to shout from the mountain tops about my recent find ‘One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’, my co-worker called to my attention some very disturbing scenes. In my mind, these scenes just made the book more original and thought provoking, but it took that comment to make me see that not everyone might agree. I am starting to come to appreciate how difficult it is to recommend a book to another person. There are so many factors and variables to personal taste that, unless the recomendee knows themselves very well, the outcome is always a mystery.

If you’ve liked other books favorably reviewed at The Booklion, I have no qualms about recommending Jemisin’s remarkable work to you. This book would especially delight the reader who may be a bit tired by the genre’s male-dominated stereotypes, as the book is written in the unusual first person by a strong, contradictory female protagonist. The female-oriented nature of the work actually stretches beyond just the genre of the protagonist, though. Jemisin includes steamy sex scenes with Gods, a thoughtful exploration of feminine strength (and male weakness), and an over-turning of standard genre roles. Yeine might be the first truly believable female character I’ve read in the fantasy genre before. I truly look forward to reading the rest of this trilogy, and to her recently published book, ‘The Killing Moon’.

Recommended Action: BuyBorrowTBRAvoid

Length: 11 hours and 46 minutes (The audiobook rendition was excellent).

Ending: Utterly satisfying and, even though it is a trilogy, perfectly self-contained. No cliff-hangers.

Further Reading: While there are a lot of excellent fantasies out there, there aren’t a lot of strong, convincing female leads. I’d follow this up with the rest of the Inheritance trilogy, and then move onto the Dreamblood trilogy.

11/22/63

“When all else fails, give up and go to the library.” (11/22/63 by Stephen King)

11/22/63 CoverWhen I originally started hearing about this book I assumed that it was some sort of historical fiction, which I thought was grand, but didn’t interest me much. Then I read a review that explicitly mentioned the key hook, so I will do the same thing here: this is a time-travel book. I would even argue that it is more a time-travel book than it is a historical fiction. The early 1960’s setting does permeate the narrative, but the sense of being a time-traveler, of being ‘other’, is more apparent.

I have never been a Stephen King fan; after leaving a horror book of his unfinished back in high-school I thought I’d never return, but the more reviews I read about 11/22/63, the more intrigued I became. People were using adjectives like ‘literary’ and ‘culmination of career’, and those words always alert my reading radar. Although I wouldn’t disagree with those opinions, I would be more inclined to say that this book is simply an excellent story. The plot is perfectly crafted, the language is rich, the characters sufficiently developed. It is a book that anyone, King fan or not, could pick up and spend a thoroughly engrossing week with.

Recommended Action: Buy Borrow TBR Avoid

Length: 928

Ending Type: Unexpected; Satisfying; Slightly heartbreaking

Further Reading: From here, I would explore the sub-genre of time-travel books. Stephen king actually gives a list of his inspirations in the back the book, which I definitely approve of.

*Disclaimer* I will be moving across the country during the next few weeks, so I don’t expect that I’ll be posting too much. However, I look forward to having a more consistent schedule in the fall and to getting back to posting 2x per week. I hope you’ll stick with me until then!

Bergdorf Blondes

“If you only get hypoglycemia around one person, the chances are actually much greater that you might be falling in love than that you have suddenly contracted a nasty sugar condition.” (Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes)

Bergdorf Blondes CoverThis champagne bubble of a book is pure pleasure. It can be read at a leisurely pace, dispersed over many sunny afternoons, or gobbled up over a few hours spent reclining outdoors. Anyway you choose to imbibe it, the result will be a better mood caused by the upbeat writing and unashamedly satisfying ending. I am not going to try to trick you into thinking that this is a masterpiece, because it just simply isn’t. What it is is a mood enhancer, and everyone needs those at some point.

Although I wouldn’t consider myself a connoisseur of upbeat adult literature, I would imagine that this is the lightest of the light. Simply nothing bad happens in the entire book. The main character may experience negative events, but as a reader, we can just laugh at them and the dramatic way she displays her diva-ish misery. And, when prince charming is found in the end, it is expected, but the series of events leading up to it  is delightfully played. Furthermore, the whole book is dripping with references to fashion, enough to stimulate the glamorous side of your imagination and satisfy the most fashion focused of us.

Recommended Action: BuyBorrowTBRAvoid

Length: 320 pages

Further Reading: As I have indicated, light adult reading really isn’t my forte, but I’ve tried to look around for other fashion-oriented, laugh-out-loud, chic-lit type books for you: One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell, and The Perfect Manhattan by Shear and Tomey seem to fit nicely.