Author: David Levithan and Andrea Cremer
Release Date: 5/7/2013
Length: 358 pages
Genre: YA Paranormal Romance
Source: Review copy from publisher via Edelweiss
Challenge: Feminist Reads Challenge
Stephen was born invisible. Not even his own mother could see him, and he’s never interacted with the outside world. His father sends money, but Stephen is basically alone after his mother’s death. Until one day, unexpectedly, he is seen by his new neighbor. Elizabeth not only sees Stephen, but they become friends…and more. Of course, the fact that Elizabeth can see Stephen when no one else can brings up questions, question Stephen has never had answers for. Until now. Together, they learn of the mysterious world of cursecasters and spellseekers as they embark on the quest to cure Stephen from his curse for good.
Though it doesn’t really affect my overall feelings about Invisibility, this would be a case where I didn’t read the book blurb very well. Based on my previous experience with David Levithan (Every Day and Will Grayson, Will Grayson) and my lack of experience with Andrea Cremer, I thought this would be more contemporary romance-with-a-twist. Nope. Definitely goes in the paranormal romance category. The keywords here would be “cursecaster” and “spellseeker” in the description. Duh, Tara. Anyways, the romance in the novel happens early on and the main conflict is over how to make Stephen un-invisible (aka…visible). I wasn’t expecting that, but it ended up being okay. I was along for the ride. And I have to say, it was a pretty fun ride. I ended up really enjoying the book.
After reading the book, I did some looking into Andrea Cremer. From what I found, it appears that she is notoriously anti-feminist. Her other books must feature weak or stereotypical female characters or something. But I found that very interesting, as I was trying to decide if Invisibility is a feminist novel or not. I appreciated that Elizabeth and Stephen are equals: she’s strong, he’s strong, and both help each other. In a lot of ways, Elizabeth saves Stephen. So I found it very interesting that Cremer’s previous books have been criticized for the opposite. That being said, one criticism of the novel is that neither character felt fully “real.” They both lacked that spark that makes a good character come to life on the page. My guess is that there was just too much going on in the story, between the invisibility, the romance, the paranormal stuff, the action, the dual narration, and the back story to focus on character development.
And the ending! I wasn’t a huge fan of the ending. It wasn’t terrible, and it didn’t ruin the book, but I just…I can’t. I don’t know what to do with it. Is it just me or has it become trendy to end novels in questionable ways? Is it supposed to make us talk about the book more? Beg for a sequel? I’m not sure.
FINAL GRADE: B Overall, Invisibility was an exciting, fast-paced read. If you’d asked me at the 90% mark, I would have given it an A. It loses points for underdeveloped characters and the ending, but don’t let that deter you from giving it a go. Remember, a B is still really good! David Levithan never disappoints. It even earns the LGBT tag for having an awesome gay supporting character (Elizabeth’s brother, who plays a big part in the story…in fact, he’s the best, most developed character in the book). Fans of Levithan’s work will also be pleasantly surprised to see a direct Will Grayson, Will Grayson reference in the story, which was pretty cool.
Required Reading: Required for Levithan fans and fans of the paranormal genre. Also good for anyone looking for a quick read that’s a little different.
Library Recommendation: Appropriate for a middle or high school library. There is some scary violence (the cursecasting stuff is a little frightening) and kissing, but it’s PG-13 at the most. For parents, the main characters specifically state that they are not going to sleep together because they aren’t ready…and they don’t.
Two questions for this book: 1.) If you read the book, did you catch the Will Grayson reference? And 2.) What would you do if you were invisible for day?
Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by the bloggers over at the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers from all around create lists based on the chosen topics, and post links to the host blog to share our love of books. This week we are looking at literary crushes.
Top Ten Characters I Would Crush on If Were a Fictional Character
This is going to be a very short list. I debated on even doing this TTT, since I don’t really crush on literary characters a lot. For various reasons. I know Augustus Waters, Alex from Delirium, and Four are supposed to make my heart go pitter-patter. But they don’t. And cool lesbian characters are so few and far between.
1.) Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables – Gilbert is so sweet and selfless. He lets Anne spread her wings and be herself without getting in her way.
2.) Warner in Shatter Me – I said crush, I’m not saying I’d act on it. I don’t normally like bad boys, but Warner has my heart.
3.) Frankie Landau-Banks in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks – She’s totally straight, but totally self-confident, smart, sassy, and cool.
4.) Hermione Granger – I have a weakness for brainy girls.
5.) Nicola in Empress of the World – Brilliant, nerdy, super cute, and a little tomboyish. I wish the book had been better, but Nicola as a character is definitely crush-worthy.
So that’s it. I’d like to see a better variety of lesbian characters in books.
Which literary characters are you book boyfriends/girlfriends?
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the bloggers over at the Broke and the Bookish. Book bloggers from all around create lists based on the chosen topics, and post links to the host blog to share our love of books. This week we are talking about the books we constantly recommend. This is almost similar to my favorite books, but represents the books I think others might call a favorite, too. I probably sound a little like a broken record, but here they are:
Top Ten Books I Recommend The Most
1.) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – I love this book because it looks like the kind of sci-fi that might typically turn my friends off, but there is so much surprising amazing in there. I think pretty much everyone can enjoy the story.
2.) Looking for Alaska by John Green – John Green is my homeboy. I should probably walk around recommending The Fault in Our Stars, but I’ll stick with my personal fav of his, Looking For Alaska, as my go-to Green novel of choice.
3.) The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell – I like non-fiction, so if I have a friend who seems non-fiction-y, or who I think needs to start dabbling in the genre, I recommend this.
4.) Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – It’s such a powerful book.
5.) The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay – More recent, but the number of times I’ve recommended it in the past three months has been insane. I usually recommend it as a YA book for people who think YA is not as complex at adult fiction.
6.) Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – Because it’s fun. It’s adventure. It’s a great “can’t put down” kind of book.
7.) Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger – Another recent book. I think books that are fresh in my brain get more “rec” cred than some of the older ones. I recommend this book because I need other people to read it so we can talk about it.
8.) Every Day by David Levithan – An incredibly thought-provoking book. I recommend it to anyone who works with teens, as it can be a great book for teaching about empathy.
9.) Unwind by Neal Schusterman– If The Hunger Games was the book I was reading three years ago, claiming it was edgy and awesome, Unwind totally has that spot in my life now (even though it’s old than The Hunger Games). Imma need the Hunger Games folks to put down that book, and walk over to the real dark side.
10.) The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart – Though Ruby Oliver is my favorite, Frankie Landau-Banks is a better introduction to my favorite author. This is a fun, funny standalone novel with a feminist twist and a good message. Plus I always hope it inspired people to try Ruby Oliver.
Which books are you always recommending?
Title: Grave Mercy
Author: Robin LaFevers
Publisher/Year: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Recorded Books, 2012
Length: 14 hrs and 14 mins, 549 pages
Series?: His Fair Assassin #1
Genre: YA Historical/Paranormal
Format: Audio Book
Source: Purchased from Audible
Challenge: Feminist Reads Challenge
You heard me right.
The year is 1588. The location, Brittany. Seventeen-year-old Ismae has been rescued from the life of an arrange marriage to an awful man, and is sent to the convent of St. Mortain. There she learns that she is the daughter of St. Mortain, the god of death, and she is trained to serve him. She discovers her great powers, hones her skills, and learns of a destiny she had never imagined. At the conclusion of her training, Ismae is offered an assignment: posing as a spy in the high court, killing anyone who bears the mark of St. Mortain and attempting to discover who in the court has been a traitor to Brittany.
Okay, so my summary isn’t that great. This is a very hard book for me to describe. Check out the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads if you need a better description. Just know this: there’s romance, bad ass-ery, and poison. Lots of poison.
I can’t say this was an escapist read for me in the traditional sense. I mean, c’mon. The 1500′s were kind of gross and plague-y. And I certainly do not feel like killing people. Granted, the story does a good job of justifying the process (a god has marked the targets — you can’t argue with the gods) (…or can you?), but I’d rather be the duchess. Anyway, I don’t want to BE Ismae. But I’ll be along for her story. The 549 pages here are full of mystery and intrigue, and even a sloooooooooow burn romance. I’ll take it.
But you know what? I’m having a hard time writing this review because I just didn’t LOVE it. I picked it up because of all the gushing 5-star reviews all over ALL THE THINGS, so maybe this was an issue of hype. There wasn’t really anything wrong with it. Ismae is probably one of the best protagonists in any story I’ve read. It’s different, it introduced me to a time period I knew very little about, and somehow, still, I just thought it was good. Worth the $10 I paid on Audible, sure. Maybe not worth buying a shelf copy for a re-read.
FINAL GRADE: B I’m an anomoly. Seriously. Everyone else gave it 5 stars, so I wouldn’t take this review too seriously. I’m going to chalk this up to the format (audio book) just not holding my interest as well as a print book. Sometimes that happens. In this case I think it was because of all the French names and unfamiliar words/places. I have pretty poor auditory processing skills, so I had a hard time following who was who and where they were going and why in the beginning of the story. I’ll probably read the second book in print. Yes, this is a trilogy.
Required Reading: I’d require this to high school students and lovers of historical fiction. There is a paranormal element, but that’s not the focus of the novel.
Library Recommendations: Buy it for a high school library. I can think of about six of my more sophisticated middle school readers who would have LOVED this book, so I probably would have bought it for my library. But, honestly, I can’t see many of the under-14 set really enjoying this.
What did you think of Grave Mercy? If you loved it, inspire my readers in the comments! If you didn’t…leave me virtual fist bump of mutual understanding.
Title: Etiquette & Espionage
Author: Gail Carriger
Publisher: Little, Brown
Release Date: 2/05/2013
Length: 309 pages
Series?: Finishing School #1
Genre: YA Steampunk
Source: Review copy from publisher via Edelweiss
Challenge: Debut Author Challenge, Feminist Reads Challenge
You guys. YOU GUYS. This. Book. Is. Awesome.
I can’t tell you how fabulous it was to both reeeeeealllllyyy look forward to a book AND not be disappointed by the hype.
Etiquette & Espionage is the story of Sophronia, a mischieveous girl sent to finishing school, only to learn that “finishing” has two different definitions. At Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, the girls learn curtseys and proper dress, but they also hide simple objects in their petticoats to use as deadly weapons. Sophronia spends much of her time sneaking around the floating school, figuring out what her shady classmate, Monique, is up to while trying to stay out of trouble.
This book is lovely. Absolutely lovely. And different from what I typically read. So this review will be a little different, because I’m just going to highlight the things I loved:
This was my first experience with the genre. Though jarring at first, I was quickly enamored with the imagination involved in every detail! The Victorian technology made for fabulous mental images throughout the story. TAKE ME UP IN THE AIR SHIP, I’M SOLD!
A STEAMPOWERED MECHANICAL PET DOG, y’all. First, I want one. Second, it’s the most fun pet ever in a book. Sophronia feeds him coal and he burns it in his belly!
Soap is a boy who works in the boiler room of the airship, aka a “sootie.” He and Sophronia quickly become buddies, and their friendship is super cute. Soap was easily my favorite character in the whole book, wonderfully charming and helpful, with an adventurous streak. I can’t wait to get to know him better throughout the series.
The Feminist Slant
Loved seeing the strong women here. They are educated, polite, and ready to defend themselves at a moment’s notice. Sneaking around and curiosity are even encouraged. I love that these ladies not only put up a cunning fight against random attacks by flywaymen while traveling, but also see the flywaymen coming and calmly formulate a plan in their fancy dresses before the attack occurs.
Oh, Gail Carriger. It took me a few chapters to get used to the universe and the very formal tone. These ladies are proper ladies, and they speak like proper ladies. Delicious adjectives abound. However, the humorous, tongue-in-cheek moments are plentiful! Two of my favorite bits, which I think sum up the writing quite nicely:
“Below that was written a list of particular skills, which in Henrietta’s case appeared to be ‘Parasol manipulation, hairstyles for concealment, ballistics, quiet footsteps, fast waltz, and rice pudding.’”
“She was about to enter a ballroom certain to contain much in the way of distracting fashion and other tempting sparkly bits.”
No love triangles
In fact, romance isn’t even the focus. I have a hunch it might come into play later on, but for right now it’s about friendship and finishing. Refreshing! I don’t know how long the series is going to be, but it seems like Carriger is focused on romance in the long term, letting Sophronia have fun and just be fourteen right now.
FINAL GRADE: A I can’t wait for the sequels, I will be reading more. What a delightful, fun, imaginative, intelligent read! There’s not much more to say than that…just go read it!
Required Reading: Required for all of my 20-something friends looking for a fun YA recommendation from me. Also required for fans of steampunk and Gail Carriger’s adult series, The Parasol Protectorate (set in the same universe).
Library Recommendations: Put it in your high school library. I’m on the fence about the middle school library, since it is all very PG in nature…it wouldn’t hurt, but I think it’s geared more toward high school.
What are your thoughts on the steampunk genre? Love it? Hate it? Don’t understand it?
Title: Order of Darkness: Changeling
Author: Philippa Gregory
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Date: 3/24/2102
Length: 314 pages
Series?: Order of Darkness #1
Genre: YA historical/paranormal(ish)
Source: ARC from publisher
Challenges: Feminist Reads Challenge
When I first read the blurb for Changeling, I had a hard time figuring out what the story was actually going to be about. Now that I’ve read it, I’m going to give you the summary I would have wanted to have: Changeling is about the journey of a church detective, Luca, as he investigates strange occurrences across Italy in 1453. Luce investigates as a member of the Order of the Dragon, a secret sect commissioned by the Pope to question these strange occurrences in preparation for the end of days. But basically…he’s a church detective. His first case is a abbey where the nuns seem to be possessed by evil spirits. Lady Isolde happens to reside at the abbey, locked away when she refused to marry after her father’s death. All signs in Luca’s investigation point to Isolde’s involvement in the abbey’s unsettling events — but what’s really happening when the women go to sleep?
First off, I have to say that I have never read a Philippa Gregory book. So I am not coming at Philippa Gregory’s first stab at YA with any kind of expectations about her writing. I’ve seen some mixed reviews over this novel and, well…I don’t agree with them. I liked the book. It does feel like two different stories (the inquiry at the abbey and an inquiry about a werewolf), but I thought of it more as a detective novel. It seems like other people may have been expecting either A.) heaving bosoms and lustful glances, B.) swashbuckling action and adventure or C.) intrigue in the royal court. This is more episodic, traveling through the countryside to uncover lies and deception.
What I felt really made the book work was the characters. Luca is kind of dull (though I imagine he will develop over the series), but everyone else made for a good cast. Luca’s companion, Freize, offers some comic relief and unpredictable moments. Lady Isolde is smart and stands up for what she believes in. My favorite character by far was Ishraq, Lady Isolde’s companion and friend. Ishraq is such a fascinating character, and not just because she’s a Muslim surrounded by nuns. She definitely doesn’t follow the rules and she has a fiery side.
FINAL GRADE: B I love logic. And the use of logic. And using logic to prove that seemingly fantastic scenarios are not actually all that fantastic, a la an episode of Scooby Doo. So that’s why I enjoyed Changeling, and it’s why I know I’ll find myself reading the other books in the series. I recognize that this is a first book in a series, so I’m hoping there will be additional development of the characters, romance, and this whole “changeling” plot line (which is barely explained) over the later books. I’m also feeling like there’s some big-time stuff with the church that will come out later, too. I’m very glad I decided to try this book!
Required Reading: Required for fans of historical fiction for sure. Gregory knows what she’s doing in this genre. Also required for anyone who loves romance, since this is going to grow over the course of the series. And, as noted by the Feminist Reads Challenge note at the top, this is a good book if you love a good feminist read (but one realistic to the time period).
Library Recommendation: Appropriate for middle or high school. Be aware that there is an attempted rape early in the story, as well as a murder and a violent death. I’ve also had readers wonder how similar books portray Christianity, so I will say that the story does highlight corruption of individuals who are acting pious, but the overall goal is to reveal the corruption to save the church.
April @ Good Books and Good Wine reviewed the audiobook: “Gregory has this talent for bringing history to life and infusing it with a hefty dose of drama”
Zabet @ Reading Between Classes: “It really feels like two separate stories; one that features the nunnery and one a village with a werewolf. The stories felt disconnected, almost like two novellas that were strung together in an attempt to make a full book.”
Have you read any Philippa Gregory novels? What do you think of her writing style overall?
Title: The Madman’s Daughter
Author: Megan Shephard
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: 1/29/2013
Length: 432 pages
Series?: The Madman’s Daughter #1
Genre: YA Historical Fiction/Gothic
Format: Print ARC
Source: ARC from HarperCollins
Challenge: Debut Author Challenge, Feminist Reads Challenge
If you’ve ever read The Island of Dr. Moreau by HG Wells or if you even know the plot, then you know the story. A madman (Dr. Moreau) has been banished from London for his criminal acts of surgical cruelty on animals, leaving his wife and daughter alone as he flees to an island off Australia. After her mother dies, Juliet finds herself cleaning rooms in the medical school and hoping to find her father again. Her search leads her to that isolated island, along with her childhood friend, a shipwreck victim, and a whole host of very strange-looking villagers and staff. Juliet learns that the isolation of the island is hiding as sinister secret, and she is forced to answer the one question that has haunted her for most of her life: is her father really a madman?
The Madman’s Daugher is a novel about opposing forces: good vs. evil, animal vs. human, wild vs. domestic, jungle vs. civilization, curious vs. mad, chaos vs. order, science vs. nature, and even a good ole fashioned love triangle of the Edward/Jacob variety. While Juliet watches these opposing forces play out on the island and in her romantic interests, she also must face the opposing sides within herself. Though Juliet struggles with this opposition, she also has the brains and strength to have a hand in her own fate. Juliet isn’t a perfect heroine, and isn’t always likable, but I respected and understood her.
For a 400+ page novel, this story moves along very quickly due to the mysteries revealed and the danger at hand. AND THE TWISTS! You guys, there’s a plot twist, and I knew there’d be a plot twist, and I love a good plot twist. I kind of saw the plot twist coming, but it was still a great moment. Not to mention the cliff hanger ending, since this is definitely a trilogy. I know, I know…a trilogy with a love triangle, how cliche. How much I’ve complained about such things, right? Well, I take it all back. If Megan Shepherd wants to entertain me with two more hefty love triangle-licious volumes, I’ll read ‘em.
FINAL GRADE: B Wow. I enjoyed this way more than I thought! It loses a few points for a few ridiculous moments related to the romance, and for being a little angsty , but it was a great read. I love when authors play around with classics and bring them into modern storytelling. In fact, I may have been inspired to read The Island of Dr. Moreau next. I actually had HG Wells’ The Time Machine already downloaded to my Audible account, ready to go, so it wouldn’t be a far stretch (plus I’ve already read The Time Machine once, so it can wait).
Assigned Reading: Assigned to fans of HG Wells and anyone who likes creepy, dark historical fiction. I guess the technical genre here is historical sci-fi, but it’s definitely no steampunk. Also recommended to anyone who wants to read a REAL love triangle novel.
Library Recommendations: This would be okay, content wise, for either a middle school or high school library. I think high school students would be quite drawn to the story if you can sell it right. If you are a middle school librarian on a strict, slim budget…skip it. Otherwise, give it a go!
What do you think about classics re-imagined? Is a fun idea, cheap trick, lack of creativity?
I’d like rant a little bit today about something that has been happening in my fair state. North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory, has recently spoken out about his plans for our university system. In particular, he spoke about funding to this system. It is no secret that our system features incredibly affordable public universities, heavily subsidized by the state government. Apparently, Governor McCrory is not a fan of our system because he feels our graduates fail to get jobs. Instead of giving money to universities based on the number of students enrolled, he proposed giving money based on the number of students who get jobs.
McCrory argued, “I think some of the educational elite have taken over our education where we are offering courses that have no chance of getting people jobs,” and proceeded to cite gender studies and philosophy degrees specifically as producers of unemployable graduates. (BTW, Governor, if the educational elite shouldn’t be running education — their area of expertise — then who should be? Isn’t that the job they were trained to do? I’m confused.)
This has become, essentially, a battle between vocation and liberal arts education. It’s a very common educational debate: are we preparing student for jobs or are we preparing them to think critically with a broad base of learning experiences? I’ll say up front that I am firmly in the liberal arts camp. I went to college to get a liberal arts education, not to get a job. And this model has been highly successful at schools like UNC-Chapel Hill. It enrages me to see what politicians want to do in the name of “job creation” or “the economy.” The last thing we need is thousands of engineering students (who would rather have been philosophers) flooding the job market and making things worse.
There are many more good points stated in various articles and blog posts that I have seen posted around Facebook: businesses are actually looking for skills taught in liberal arts degrees, that Governor McCrory himself has a liberal arts degree (and a job…), that Republicans are anti-intellectual, that Republicans would have benefited from some gender studies knowledge during the 2012 elections, that the job market is too unpredictable to determine with majors will lead to jobs, etc. It just really makes me sad to see what the leader of my state values. Am I particularly surprised? No. But that does not make the verbal blow hurt any less.
If you want to know more about this issue in depth, you can read this article from The Charlotte Observer.
Or check out this blog post from Religion News Services that examines the politics of this debate.
What do you think is the value of a liberal arts education? Do you stand on the vocational side or the liberal arts side of this debate?
Recently my school has been in the news because the university has dropped the term “freshman” and replaced it with “first-year student.” The change is intended to create a more inclusive environment at the university for all students. Not only have various news sources and blogs reported on this, but the news has also found its way to my Facebook feed via re-posting of those blog posts and news articles. All of the posts I read on my wall were very negative, and some were filled with insults and name-calling. The general sentiment seemed to be, “don’t people have better things to do and bigger problems to think about?” Others seemed to think the whole thing was feminism gone too far.
I got a little mad. I’m not even going to start talking here about how members of privileged groups oppress others. I won’t get into arguments about how feminism isn’t dead and sexism still exists. We may not be burning our bras or fighting for the right to vote, but there are very real inequities that need to be addressed. Sometimes our words and our language are pieces of that puzzle.
No, I won’t go into all of that. Instead, I just have one question: Why does anyone even care? The Facebook posters were all friends of mine who never attended the university. The blogs and news articles were written by people outside of the university. We aren’t even the first college to drop the term freshman for first-year: UVA changed their terminology years ago. So did many smaller liberal arts colleges and women’s colleges. Heck, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia use the term exclusively (not just in Harry Potter novels, kids). If folks are worried that this is feminism gone too far, why are they just noticing the trend now? Oh. Right. Because it’s not a big deal.
The university officially adopted the switch in terms back in 2009. That’s three years ago. For the most part, this is a non-issue on our campus. Though the students have overwhelmingly taken on the term first-year, the term freshman does come out sometimes. Individual students can still call themselves whatever they want — there’s no ban on free speech. The policy only applies to official university media. Nobody’s hatin’ on anyone who talks about “the freshman fifteen.” However, most people switched to “first year” and never looked back. We don’t quite understand why people are talking about this out of nowhere.
So I’m talking about this on my blog, to you, because this issue has been my first glimpse into the public’s opinion of university life since I’ve been back in school. The public can be very critical of all that happens on our college campuses, and this industry that is about to become my livelihood. College is a place to question the status quo. We send our children to college to learn about the world and to learn to think critically — and then get upset when they do. I love being in this environment, listening to the intellectual banter day in and day out. I can’t imagine anyone thinking of this environment as a negative (it’s part of my compensatory differential!), but they do.
In short: haterz gon’ hate.
For now, I’m trying really hard to change my own vocabulary to “first year” instead of “freshman.” Sometimes I slip, and that’s okay. But I support the decision to drop the archaic term in favor of one that is more clear, inclusive, and accurate.
What do you think about the shift from ”freshman” to “first year?” Have you heard of/worked at/attended a school that uses this terminology?