Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Sunlight Pilgrims

By Charlotte
Book Review: The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan
Official FC Rating: 

This is going to be a short review because I wasn't overly fond of this book. 

This book takes place in 2020 when the world is experiencing the worst winter in 200 years. The story line is promising. I love a good dystopian story, but... this one didn't quite do it for me. It felt overly poetic and slow. I know that some people love poetic writing, but I'm not generally one of them. I think I may try and give this book another go sometime in late winter, because I really am intrigued. But my first read of it was dismal. I'm giving it three stars even though I didn't like it because I can tell it's a good book and that it's mostly just my own preferences coloring my view of it. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Blogging For Books program in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Gregor and the Code of Claw

By Charlotte
Book Review: Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins (Book 5 in The Underland Chronicles)
Official FC Rating:

This review was originally posted on my personal blog, To Harriet Louise.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote up a little review of how I felt about the fourth book in The Underland Chronicles - Gregor and the Marks of Secret. I loved it and thought it was a good continuation of the series, if a little slower paced than the other books. I also mentioned not remembering quite as much detail since it's been months since I've read the books... it's obviously the same deal with this book. But I think I can still give a pretty decent idea of what this book is about and whether or not you should read it (you should!). 

Like I've said in each of these reviews, this series is amazing. (For those who like kidlit/have kids and are familiar with it: this series is better than Percy Jackson but not quite as good as Harry Potter.) It tackles discrimination, oppression, war, right vs. wrong, morality, and this time, fate. By now Gregor has fought in Underland several times, trying to do what is right (and to be honest, just trying to figure outwhat is right). He learns of a prophecy that calls for his death (this story line is sort of getting old? I say this as though it ever stops me from reading anything...) and must decide if he's still willing to fight. I guess I won't give the answer away but it's pretty obvious considering it's a novel... 

But anyway. We once again deal with Solovet and her grimy tactics. She's basically America. She wants to look good and fair and all, and she says she stands for justice and peace, but... she tries to "achieve" justice and peace by, like, violent tactics. So... 

Gregor is not a fan. 

A lot of this story is simply battle. We still have some issues and we're not entirely sure who is bad and who is good. I think the ending is mostly a morally sound one. We do not get to know every detail about what happens once the novel is over (big things like "does peace last?" and small things like "what happens to Luxa and Gregor?"), which annoys me a bit. But I thought we were given some clarity on the war and on morals and I think the "right" things happened. (I'm trying and failing to describe this without giving anything away.) Essentially, none of the bad guys truly win. The morally bad characters - whether obnoxiously, Donald Trump-esque bad like Bane or more subtly, Hillary Clinton-esque bad like Solovet are ultimately seen for what they are. It is a dark, hard ending. There are major losses. I cried and I imagine it'd be difficult for kids, but that's true of this story in general once we hit the third book. I'd want to read it with a kid instead of them reading it alone. 

So this whole time we have one species fighting another species, some species driving other species out of their homes, species trying to kill off other species, etc. etc. And throughout this whole thing we see some members, particularly of the oppressor groups, employ awful means. There is little regard for life by these characters, and especially for life that doesn't resemble their own. (Sound familiar? Regalia is America, for real.) And at the very end of the series, our young hero Luxa and the scrappy Ripred, a rat leader, do something completely unprecedented and totally moving (to me, anyway) to change the way things are done and I don't think Collins could have given us a better ending. I don't want to spoil it so I can't say much more, but I think Collins just ended it on such a good and appropriate note. 

Overall as a series these books teach readers to question war, to stand up for the oppressed, to wonder about free will, and to choose good. I don't think it gets much better. I really think I might like this series better than The Hunger Games. I 100% recommend it.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Gregor and the Marks of Secret

By Charlotte
Book Review: Gregor and the Marks of Secret by Suzanne Collins (Book 4 in The Underland Chronicles)
Official FC Rating:

This review was originally posted on my personal blog, To Harriet Louise.

Whoa. It has been nine months since I posted the review of the third book in this series. Nine months! I could have gestated a child in the time it took me to get my act together enough to post this review. A HUMAN CHILD. That's how long I've procrastinated. 

And unlike a child, which would have grown stronger and more defined over time, the nine month break means my memory of the book is fainter, the impression it left lighter. Which makes for a lackluster review. Lackluster, my middle name.

Despite all that, my overwhelming feeling toward this book is that it was fantastic. I don't remember as many details as I did two minutes after reading it, obviously (and my computer did me a solid and deleted my general review of the whole series). But I remember the plot well enough (and was smart enough to dog-ear pages with quotes that struck me) and I definitely remember the themes Suzanne Collins explores and I know that I finished this book feeling like I absolutely needed to get my hands on the fifth book. I appreciated Collins even more than I already did after reading this book. I still am awed by her ability to talk about war and politics in ways that are appropriate for kids (and still interesting for adults). Somewhere between reading the third book in this series and the fourth book, it occurred to me that I might like The Underland Chronicles more than I like The Hunger Games.

The fourth book, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, is a bit different from its predecessors in that we don't have a direct prophecy or end point this time. The plot is a bit more mysterious and open ended. Basically, Luxa (I gave some character descriptions here), the future queen, is sent a message of distress and she and Gregor go searching for an answer. They find out that the mice of the Underland are once again being driven out of their homes by a more powerful species. (Sound familiar? Collins' stories are political ones.) But when she and Gregor explore, they realize that (spoiler alert - though this isn't a huge reveal and won't ruin the series for anyone, probably...) this time, the mice aren't just being driven out of their homes; they're being murdered. It's a genocide orchestrated by the Bane and the rats. We see some more character development in this one, especially with Luxa as she begins to truly come into her role. Ultimately, she declares war on the rats.  

Needless to say, this book is dark. It's the darkest in the series, in my opinion. If I had kids, I'd want to read it with/to them. I wouldn't want them to read it alone. That said, I still think it's an age-appropriate exploration of war and politics and hatred and fear.

And if you happen to be reading it now, be prepared for some scary real-life parallels:

"He will find followers, because he’s the Bane. He’s got the white coat, and the size, and enough hatred brewing inside him to wipe out the Underland as we know it. Most rats will overlook the fact that he’s unbalanced, because he’ll be telling them exactly what they want to hear. They’ve been starved too long, and then so many died from the plague... especially the pups. No, the gnawers won’t care who he is or what he does if he brings them revenge."

Familiar, right?

While it's a not as conclusive as the previous books, it's still pretty excellent. It's sad, of course. But we get to watch as our characters consider whether there are things worth going to war over, if there are things that justify killing. (And as the series goes on, I tend to think that most of the "good" characters make the right decisions, which is why I think this series is so good for kids. Like it or not, we're currently living in a war-obsessed country and I think it's great for kids to question such values. This book will prompt those questions.) It's also nice to see the characters face trials bravely. Obviously courage and bravery and sacrifice are good things in books and good things in real life.

Neville knows. He would like The Underland Chronicles.
So basically, loved this book. I didn't love it as much as the third book, but it's an important step in the series and sets us up for the fifth and final book. It doesn't work as a stand alone novel, though, so you'll have to start from the beginning. A very good place to start.

You won't regret it. Go pick up this book/series, pronto.

Reviews for earlier books in The Underland Chronicles:

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Reading Round-Up

It has been a hot minute since we've posted a Reading Round-Up. Forgive us. We've seen a bunch of great book-related things on the internet that we're excited to share. 

Most importantly, perhaps, given the recent events in Dallas, the continued unjust killing of black men by police in this country, and the growing protests are these three articles: 

Of course, sometimes you just want to cope by picking up a favorite book or series (a la Harry Potter, LotR, a Jane Austen, you know). That's cool too. 

I (Charlotte) am starting to enjoy science fiction and fantasy more than I ever thought was possible. I saw this article of May's best sci-fi picks a couple weeks ago and I've had my eye on The Admiral ever since. Something that's compared to The Martian and Jurassic Park has got to be good.

This computer "reads" books and then creates a graph to show how the books made it feel (happy or sad). It is pretty wild. And it makes Jane Eyre look like book goals with it's constant ups and downs. 

Modern Mrs. Darcy is reading a few books right now solely because they were recommended by her husband and kids. (The book recommended by her husband sounds particularly good.) Do you all read books just because your family/friends ask you to? We're of the opinion that the best kinds of friends are the ones who read your book recommendations! 

Sharing this simply because the title is funny: 31 Books You Need to Bring to the Beach This Summer. Yes! Me, my beer, and my thirty one books. Kidding aside, there are some good ones on there. Love Walked In is one of my favorites. 

Buzzfeed also took to Facebook to share one of their oldies - a list of books to read in your twenties.

Listen Buzzfeed, we're happy for you and I'mma let you finish, but Filthy Casket had one of the best 20's Book Lists of all time.  


We are looking forward to Gilmore Girls with just as much excitement as the next person. Looks like Lauren Graham's new book, in which she talks about the show and her life in between filming the original and the new episodes, is coming out in November. Yes!

Speaking of TV, here's a little something to infuriate us all: a show based on Nancy Drew won't be airing because it's "too female," supposedly. Ugh.

I'm always looking for Harry Potter tattoo ideas, so I was happy to see this list of "insane" HP tattoos and this list of "subtle" HP tattoos (tbh most of them aren't subtle). I am positively smitten with the idea of an outline of Hogwarts for a tattoo! 

Speaking of Harry Potter, we're both in agreement with these people - there should be a Harry Potter Go app (similar to the new super popular Pokemon app). WHAT FUN. Yer a wizard, Harry. 

And since we're sort of on a Harry Potter roll now.... some people think that J.K Rowling is going overboard with all of the Harry Potter-related things she keeps creating. We are not some of these people. Please, Queen Rowling, never stop bringing us to the Wizarding World. Also, if you're a fan, go check this out. Amazing!! And one last HP-post! Here's an oldie but goodie - your Middle Earth race based on your Hogwarts house! (Or just cheat: Gryffindor: Dwarf, Hufflepuff: Hobbit, Ravenclaw: Elf, Slytherin: Wizard.)

We both read this article that assigns literary characters to Meyers-Briggs personality types. We're of mixed opinions overall, but both think there are some discrepancies (Dudley's "sorting" seemed off to me). 

And, finally - obsessed with this Pinterest page for book-lovers.

Til next time!
Liz & Char 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

New Favorite Book

By Charlotte
Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Official FC Rating:

I just returned this book to the library and now I'm sitting in a puddle of my own tears, totally pining for it. 

If you'll remember, Jane Eyre was one of Liz's favorite books she read in 2015. When we wrote down our reading goals for 2016, we also agreed to set challenges for each other. I challenged Liz to read the Harry Potter series (for the sake of her soul!) and she challenged me to read three books from her list of 2015's favorites. I chose Jane Eyre first because I didn't realize it was 680 pages long. The nerve. I'm glad I didn't realize just how heavy it was, because I might have shrunk away in fear. But! Things worked out, I read the book, and I am better for it. Damn, it was amazing. It is, I think, my new favorite (not counting Harry Potter). (Actually, I think it is going to be my forever favorite. You know how people are asked what their favorite book is and they can immediately answer, "Pride and Prejudice!" or whatever? This may sound odd, but I feel like I've never been able to do that, since no book has spoken to me quite like Harry Potter, and Harry Potter is, um, seven books. Charlotte Bronte has solved this problem for me. Thank you, Queen Bronte. And I guess thank you, Lizette, too. ;) 

Yes, anyway, back to Jane Eyre. The writing takes some getting used to. That's true of most classics, I think. But it's great writing, once you get the hang of it. It took me about 70 pages before I started to appreciate just how beautiful the actual writing was. I don't need to go on about the writing - it's a classic, everyone knows it's good. I'm just saying, if you're like me and usually struggle with classics for a hot minute, stick with it. You'll get used to it.

There's not a ton to say since it's a classic and people have been reading it, and writing about it, for literal generations. Here are my main thoughts:

I loved the independence and resilience of Jane.

I loved her ability to stay humble while still understanding her worth. (Though I was mad at/for her several times throughout the novel when she'd accept no compliment or treat.)

I was intrigued by Rochester. I adored him (not at first). 

I liked how many themes Bronte played with. She did so brilliantly.

It dealt with the ideas of atonement and redemption and forgiveness well. And I love when a novel does this well. (Unlike, to an extent, The Kite Runner. Ahem.)

I really liked some of the other characters, particularly Diana. I think it was Diana, anyway... 

"My pale little elf" is my newest favorite term of endearment. 

The dialogue between Jane and Rochester was enchanting. 

I liked that I felt as though I was reading a beautiful love story while reading about a woman overcoming abuse and neglect while reading about morality. Again, a nod to Charlotte Bronte. 

Basically I loved everything about this book. If you're new to classics, pick this one. If you're looking for strong female characters, pick this one. If you're looking for a bit of feminism, pick this one. If you're looking for a romance, pick this one. Just pick this one.

Liz said Jane Eyre, as a character and as a novel, will stick with her for years to come. I quite agree. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

If You Love Soup...

By Charlotte
Book Review: Broth and Stock from The Nourished Kitchen
Official FC Rating:

...then you need this book. 

This book was delivered to the house and approximately three hours later I'd finished reading it. And then passed it along to others to read. It's been a hit with everyone. It's organized terrifically, beginning with lessons on how to make broth (obviously) and then listing recipes by type (poultry, meat, fish, vegetable). So it's good if you happen to be one of those freaks who smile at all well-organized things (hand in the air) and if you're into any kind of soup. This book is just as useful for the carnivore as it is for the vegan. I'm a Ron Swanson kind of person when it comes to food and I tend to joke-mock people who don't eat meat (all in good fun...) but let me tell you, this book has got me reconsidering my priorities. 

Don't get me wrong, I'll make and love some of the meat recipes. But for the first time maybe ever I read some of the vegetable recipes and thought, "whoa, I need to make this!" Highly unusual, and, I think, a testament to the quality of this book. 

I'd recommend this book to anyone. I often lament my lack of basic kitchen knowledge, and this book may just put an end to that. I know how to cook well enough, but I'm excited to use broth I make myself instead of buy. You know. Also! Cuts down on food waste since it tells you how to use virtually every piece of meat, bone, etc. (There's even a "kitchen scrap broth" that includes using peels and skins you'd normally throw in a compost bin.) And we all know cutting down on waste is hot.

If nothing I'm saying sounds surprising to you because you're some kind of kitchen wiz, buy the book for the recipes. If the things I'm saying are new to you - I've never heard of using onion peels for broth - then buy the book for the nice basics and for the recipes. Basically if you're a human person and you need to eat food to stay nourished and alive, buy the book. 

The pictures are nice, too. ;)  

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Blogging For Books program in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Book of Esther: A Novel

By Charlotte
Book Review: The Book of Esther: A Novel by Emily Barton
Official FC Rating:

Badass, feminist, imaginative, historical.  

I devoured this book. Or maybe it devoured me. 

Let me start by saying that this book is a lot. Barton's writing is awesome, but dense. The vast majority of the reviews I've read for this book mention "info-dumping" and the use of other languages without translation. They're not wrong, but... I almost feel as though these reviewers can't have actually finished the book. The first chapter is the hardest. I put the book down twice (to pick up Harry Potter, of course) because I just couldn't get into the first chapter. But I finally pushed through it, and hot damn I'm glad I did. I went on to finish it in two days because I could not put it down

THAT SAID, I don't necessarily recommend you immediately drop everything and buy the book. Rent it from your library. Or finish this review and read other reviews before dropping $25 on it. 

Because the people who didn't love this book bring up good points. I've seen folks complain that there are too many mystical elements. There are animated clay figures called Golems. There are mechanical horses in the 20th century. There's a man who was born a woman but transformed into a man when he prayed for it while bathing. There's a werewolf. There's also the fact that hundreds rally behind a teenage girl, willfully following her into war. Naturally, people complain that it's a lot to believe. To which I say: just get past it! In the beginning of the book I also struggled to believe everything that was put in front of me. But once I just stopped thinking so hard about it (it's historical fiction, after all), I was able to just relax and thoroughly enjoy the book.

The other major complaints I've seen, and which I feel I need to address before telling anyone to go buy it, are the complaints of language and too much info. Barton uses language throughout the novel that most of us won't understand (Hebrew? Yiddish? Combo? I don't know.) She often translates it, but not always. It was occasionally frustrating, but mostly I thought it was easy enough to understand through context. When I couldn't guess the meaning, I just... got over it. It really doesn't happen enough to distract from the story. Despite not always understanding the occasional blurbs of other-language, I understood and followed the plot. It didn't interfere with character development or rising action or, or, or. And yet, many, many people seemed to really dislike this feature of the book. So I figure it's worth mentioning. If you think this would bother you, it might not be worth reading. And then there's the issue of "info-dumping." There were some parts of the book that were just crazy laden with info - I don't mind it. I thought it was necessary to the story. But if you are more a dialogue and action guy or gal, it's something to consider. For all the info-dumping, though, I thought it was paced just fine. I never got bored.  

And yet, I really, really want to urge everyone to try this book out. It's one of the best books I've read in the last year (up there with The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra and The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy). The writing was perfection - the kind that makes you think of silk and caramel and hot chocolate and tea and blankets and that attic from A Little Princess. I know you know what I mean. 

~Break to go watch A Little Princess. My dear, dear Sara.~ 

So other than the writing, what did I love about this book? First of all, it's historical fiction. It's one of my favorite genres, and I find it interesting. That said, it really stretches the genre since it flat out alters the world. There's a massive Jewish state between Germany and Russia during WWII. So we're not just reading a fictional story that feels real - we're reading something of fantasy. Also, the characters. Ah, the characters. We have Esther, of course. A young woman living in a society that has strict rules and expectations for women. She's high-born. She's set to marry (joyfully, it's to someone she loves). And yet she feels strongly that there's more to be done to defend her homeland when the Germanii begin to attack. ......So she does something. This book is feminist, and it's badass. We get a lot of other great characters as well, and they span young to old, religious to heretical to atheists to soulless. It was all at once exciting and nerve-wracking to watch how these characters would interact, how the story would unfold with so many different kinds of people needing to live among each other. 

I loved that I was never bored, despite how long it took to get to the climax of the book. I love that there were so many moments throughout the book that forced readers to hold their breath in suspense. There was plenty of action. I also happen to love war stories, don't know why, so I appreciated the latter half of the book just as much as the former. (It read historical fiction --> military fiction.)

And though I think it's a bold endeavor that could have been disastrous, I really loved that Barton mashed so many different genres together. At times this book felt religious. At times it felt like fantasy. It was fiction that felt real. I can't say enough good things about this book. 

Of course, I wasn't entirely pleased. Esther isn't perfect by any means. I found her lovable, but she was disappointing from time to time (nothing like Amir though, thank God). I also didn't love the ending - I thought it left too much unanswered. But it wasn't a bad ending, so I'm alright with that. 

Over all, I thought it was an amazing book. I love when we're given strong heroines. I love when my imagination has to stretch. I love reading really good writing. If you love these things too, I'd suggest getting your hands on this book. 

p.s. If any of you read this book and also happen to be Jewish, let me know what you think of it! I'm Catholic and have only a basic understanding of Judaism, and throughout the book I wondered if being Jewish might change the perception of the book. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Blogging For Books program in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Word for World is Forest

By Liz
Book Review: The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin
Official FC Rating: 

My partner, Sean, and I have a lot in common, but an area where we definitely differ is the genre of sci-fi. Sean loves sci-fi. When he isn’t reading something non-fiction, his fiction genre of choice is frequently of the sci-fi variety. Me? Not so much. As much as I enjoy weird elements in the novels I read, with limited exceptions, I’ve never really gravitated towards sci-fi.

Sean highly recommended I read The Word for World is Forest by Ursula LeGuinn, who is a renown sci-fi writer. He told me some of the themes of the novel, and I decided I’d give it a shot. This may sound odd, but I did enjoy the themes of the novel, but I didn’t really like the novel itself.

The Word for World is Forest takes place in the distant future where humans are colonizing other planets in the galaxy. It is implied that we essentially destroyed Earth’s natural resources and thus rely on resources from planets far from Earth (referred to as Terra, in the future). As a logging military branch from Terra colonizes the planet, Athshe, they terrorize, enslave, torture and destroy the habitat of the natives, Athsheans, who are described as being like small men, but covered in green fur and hair. Before the humans, referred to as “yumens” by the Athsheans, arrived, Athshe was known for its peacefulness and was covered in a luscious forest. Led by the Athshean Selver, the Athsheans are eventually left with no choice but to abandon their peaceful nature and strike back against their bloodthirsty masters. The story follows through the war that ends up taking place on Athshe.

A clear commentary on the evils of colonialism, greed, racism, and environmental destruction, the themes of this novel are important, and I very much agreed with Le Guin’s perspective. However, I felt that the execution of the novel itself fell flat for me. It was just too strange for my taste, and I always struggle with novels when I can’t get close to any particular character. Maybe I just don’t get sci-fi, but what frustrated me most was just the odd setting of this novel. I feel like the messages Le Guin gets across loud and clear in this novel could have been made in a setting that was slightly less bizarre.

Ursula Le Guin is a respected sci-fi novelist, and while I didn’t particularly enjoy this novel, I entirely respect Le Guin’s writing and skill. This brand of sci-fi might just not be for me; however, for those that are socially conscious and are also sci-fi fans, this book will be a perfect fit for you. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Eleanor: A Novel

By Liz
Book Review: Eleanor: A Novel by Jason Gurley
Official FC Rating: 

How does one single decision, or event, impact the future? It’s a question that many people think at some point or another. Every so often thoughts like these may cross our minds: “What if I had done this instead of that? Could it have prevented that from happening? Could I have done something to change these circumstances? Is it my fault?” These are a few of the questions explored in Jason Gurley’s surreal and heart wrenching novel, Eleanor (which has nothing to do with Eleanor Roosevelt, since I was asked this 800 times while I was reading this).

Long before Eleanor was born, tragedy strikes her family that seems to leave them with a family curse. Then, in 1985, Eleanor’s twin sister tragically dies, which puts her entire family in further emotional turmoil. Eight years later, when Eleanor is 14, she walks through a door in her school cafeteria, and exits into another world. She doesn’t return to her own world until many hours later. From that point onwards, her life is never the same.

You’d think based on that summary that I would understand going in this book was going to be sad, but nope. I was not prepared for ALL OF THE ACTUAL TEARS I WOULD SHED. Gurley certainly did an amazing job conveying emotion and creating stunning images through his words. I loved how he described the other worlds, especially the realm that he calls the rift. It was one of those novels that evoked both feelings and imagery, which makes for a great novel. The novel also deals with some fascinating themes, which Gurley handled in ways that I found both exceptional at points, and disappointing at others.

Death. Alternative universes. A dysfunctional family. Bending of time. These are all intriguing concepts to me that are featured in Eleanor. The themes of this novel actually reminded of a couple novels I read in the summer of 2015, A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, and Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami. However, in my opinion, Eleanor differs greatly from those two novels in how the main conflicts in its plot were addressed. Gurley, in some ways, uses escapist plot devices rather than tackle depression, specifically, in any kind of realistic way. I think this is likely a classic case of Deus ex Machina because the conclusion of this novel was almost too satisfying.  

From this point forward there will be some major spoilers. Don’t continue reading if you plan to read Eleanor yourself!

Ozeki, Murakami, and Gurley’s novels all use surrealism in fantastic ways that make you question our own world. Each of their novels have bizarre elements, but unlike Ozeki and Murakami, Gurley uses the other worldly aspects of his story to literally solve the conflict his characters were facing. This brings us back to the main theme of the novel, which is the question of “what impact could one event, one decision, have upon the future?” Gurley’s answer to this in Eleanor is everything. The decision Eleanor’s namesake, her grandmother, made to swim into the sea while she was pregnant, thus killing herself and her unborn child alter her family’s future. This event devastates the family to such a degree that the answer to fixing the problem was, in the end, setting the clock back so Eleanor’s grandmother never kills herself.

It was one of those conclusions that really shouldn’t have surprised me, and admittedly, certain elements of the book became predictable, like Mea actually being Eleanor’s dead twin sister, Esmerelda. I don’t mind predictability in novels (unless it is painfully cliché), but in the case of Eleanor, what bothered me was that the other worlds became the tool to handle problems in Eleanor’s family that are very much the result of real problems we have in society.

Eleanor’s grandmother was very clearly battling depression. She married very young, and got pregnant with Eleanor’s mother shortly after her marriage, which led to her having to drop out of college and quit her passion, competitive swimming. As she is pregnant with her second child, she begins to question her choices, and, to some degree, resent motherhood due to her depression. She doesn’t want to go through a second pregnancy because she feels that, at times, motherhood has taken away some of her happiness, and of her own self.

The depression Eleanor’s grandmother faces, her feelings of disappointment with motherhood, and the fact that she didn’t really want to be a mother to begin with, are real problems that women face today. And Gurley, not only doesn’t address these problems in a meaningful way, but uses Eleanor’s grandmother’s depression as the central point of the whole novel. She was the sole reason the lives of her family members were ruined. I don’t think this is the message we should send to young women. Now, should Eleanor’s grandmother have killed herself? No, but Eleanor’s actions were the reflection of a society that puts too much on women’s shoulders (to put it lightly).

It also leaves the message that a woman should sacrifice everything to put her family first. The novel wouldn’t have necessarily set that message if the novel goes on to show how Eleanor’s grandmother does end up resolving her issues without committing suicide. But nah. It’s just implied that everything gets magically fixed, more or less.

~~End Spoilers~~

From all that, it sounds like I disliked the novel, but I truly didn’t! It was a wonderful, albeit sad, book to read. I do recommend this book, but it’s a novel to be taken at face value. While the novel doesn’t examine societal or philosophical problems in a way I usually prefer, the fantastical elements were grabbing and Gurley’s descriptions were fun in a way that makes you want to draw out the scene. If you’re down for a good cry, or three, and enjoy fantasy, this novel is up your alley. 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Blogging For Books program in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Mapmaker's Children

By Charlotte
Book Review: The Mapmaker's Children by Sarah McCoy
Official FC Rating:

Let me just start off with the one important thing you need to know: The Mapmaker's Children, by Sarah McCoy, is a very good book. It's The Twelve Tribes of Hattie meets Sarah's Key. If you know how I feel about those two books, you know that's high praise from me.

The book is written in alternating narration. We've got Eden, a woman living in current day Virginia, and Sarah, the daughter of John Brown (of Harper's Ferry) living before and during the Civil War. I admit I'm tiring of this kind of writing (seems like more and more authors are turning to it), but McCoy pulls it off. 

Sarah, probably the more likable and interesting protagonist of the two, is independent, willful as her father, and extremely loyal to the people she loves and to truth and goodness. While her mother and sisters take to grieving after her father is executed, Sarah instead vows to carry on his abolitionist work. She cannot have children, but she decides she will carry on his legacy more than any of his other children can. Sarah is a gifted artist, and she paints maps for the slaves and abolitionists of the Underground Railroad. She adopts as family her father's "trusted friends," other people who hold the same values. 

Eden is 36 or 37, married to a good man, and emotionally unstable after miscarriages, infertility, and years of hormonal IVF treatments. She is bitter as hell. She's very snappy and closed off to everyone. To be honest, for the first three quarters of the book I really didn't like her chapters. Eventually we start to see some character development. She's living in the same area as some of those "trusted friends" of Sarah's father lived 150 years ago. 

Just like Sarah's Key, we've got a mystery in this book. Our current characters stumble upon random, old objects and wonder where they're from. And we read the book and figure it out. :) 

Aside from our mystery, we have two women dealing with the prospect of never becoming mothers, one of them more upset about it than the other. We've got distant lovers. We have war. This book is historical fiction, it's romance, it's feminism, it's more than we can ask for in any one book.

The writing itself was good. I mentioned earlier that it was a cross between The Twelve Tribes of Hattie and Sarah's Key. I'd say the writing is better than the latter, not as good as the former (but close!). It gets a four out of five because it took too long to make me feel invested in Eden. For so much of the book I was just wishing I could have a novel about Sarah and Freddy (I mentioned distant lovers!) and the abolitionists, and bemoaning the fact that I needed to read about Eden's struggles. I ended up enjoying Eden's story toward the end, but I definitely think the pace could have been better.

Over all, I would recommend this to my friends. Go get a copy now!!


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Blogging For Books program in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Summer Reading List

Memorial day is upon us! Which can only mean one thing... 


We're both looking forward to accomplishing some reading goals this summer. So without further ado... 

Charlotte's Summer Reading List

My summer reading list looks more ambitious than it is. Yes, it’s 16 books. But if we say summer consists of June, July, and August that shakes out to just about five books a month. Which is good, because I planned on reading 60 books this year. (Actually – I am behind! I’m only at 23 right now. But I’ll catch up.) I didn't go with any particular summery theme. I've actually read a lot of "junk" books lately, so.. I should use the summer to make up for it. Plus I'm not going to be on the beach this summer! I'm going to be in the mountains. I don't know why that makes a difference in my mind when it come to what genre to read, but it does!! Nonsensical. I imagine Les Mis will take at least a week and a half, and that’s if I’m really devoted to it. But a lot of the others should be easy reads to make up for it. At least five of these books are kids’ books, and a few are rereads for me, so that makes it go a bit faster. 

1. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

This is on my list of books to read in my twenties. I’ve decided I’d like to read it this summer because… well because I keep watching and loving the movie. It’s time. Also, I was reading a bit about John Brown today and I came across this quote from author Victor Hugo: 

“Politically speaking, the murder of John Brown would be an uncorrectable sin. It would create in the Union a latent fissure that would in the long run dislocate it. Brown's agony might perhaps consolidate slavery in Virginia, but it would certainly shake the whole American democracy. You save your shame, but you kill your glory. Morally speaking, it seems a part of the human light would put itself out, that the very notion of justice and injustice would hide itself in darkness, on that day where one would see the assassination of Emancipation by Liberty itself.” 

So it’s another reason to love Victor Hugo, and it’s pushed me to read his book sooner rather than later. 

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 

One of my general life goals is to read more classics. Jane Eyre is a classic! Not only that, but Liz challenged me to read three of her favorite books of 2015, and this is one of them. Two birds, one stone. Of the books Liz challenged me to read, I initially chose this one to be first since “I have it already!” Well I took a look through my books today. It turns out I do not in fact own it. BUT tis easy to retrieve from the library. 

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I know I’ve mentioned this about 500 times on here, but man. I can’t finish this book! WHY? It’s a mystery. It’s not even as though I don’t like it – so far, I do!! But I just haven’t finished despite reading it for over a year now. What’s wrong with me? I’m vowing to finish it this summer. If I don’t, I’ll have disappointed myself and all of you. 

4. Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown

I’m about half way through this book and I am mostly enjoying it, though sometimes it irks me. I’ll explain more when I finish it and write a review. But I most definitely intend to finish it this summer. 

5. The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien 

This will be the first time I’m reading The Silmarillion. I’ve loved each book I’ve read of Tolkien’s, so I’m excited about this one. And I found it nice and cheap at a used book store. ;) 

6. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
7. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien
8. The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Rereads for me. Very excited. May have to have a movie marathon, too. 

9. The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
10. Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

I already own The DaVinci Code and have read some of it. I loved both of the movies. I’m constantly telling myself to read these two, and yet, I never do. WHY? It’s time. 

11. The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke by Suze Orman 

Because help. 

12. Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan: 
The Lightning Thief
The Sea of Monsters
The Titan’s Curse
The Battle of the Labyrinth
The Last Olympian

This series has been on my list since a kid I worked with told me I “NEED TO READ THEM.” The kid also loved Harry Potter and LOTR so I’m going to go ahead and give this series a try.

Liz's Summer Reading List

So, my list is significantly shorter than Charlotte's because: 1) I am easily distracted and 2) my work life is nuts, but slightly less nuts in the summer. That being said, I can probably manage two books a month from June through August, maybe more if I am lucky and/or learn how to manage my time better. This will keep me in line with my reading goal for this year.

I have a tendency to read lighter reads in the summer, like YA novels. But this summer, I really just need to continue to make a dent in all of these books I have literally piled up throughout my apartment that I have yet to read. That being said, the books that have made my list are books I definitely want to have read this summer. If I can get to more books, awesome, but these are the one's that I'm prioritizing.

1. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

This is the book I am currently reading, and I am getting a lot out of it so far! I'm a decent way through the book, but it's unlikely I will finish this before June (this time of year is literally the busiest time of year for me at work), so this will be my first summer-read to complete. It's already making me think differently about how to be happier and what lifestyle changes I should aim to make. It could lead to some productive self-development projects this summer...

2. After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Y'all should be proud at how long I've held off from reading another Murakami novel. Anyway, I read somewhere that May is short story month, so I intended to start reading this short stories collection by Murakami two weeks ago. Naturally, I've had essentially no time to add another book to read for this month, so chances are I won't get my start on this until next week in June. I've heard excellent things about After Dark - I think it'll be a great first read for summer 2016! #cantstopwontstopreadingMurakami

3. Ada by Vladimir Nabokov

I love Nabokov's writing - he's easily one of my favorite authors of all time. This has been written  by others time and time again about Nabokov, but his writing style is so beautiful. I've also said this before, but I love a book that forces you to think critically, and Nabokov's novels never fail to do this. I'd even say his novels are actually what constitutes a perfect novel. The plots are always captivating, his themes always reveal something meaningful about society and human nature, and the writing is sophisticated while still being accessible. I read Lolita for the first time a few summers ago; Ada should make for an excellent summer read as well.

4. Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

The whole series would be god damn ambitious for me to finish in one summer (though it would be possible if I didn't want to read as many other things). BUT, I want to start reading the books this summer along with my other reads. It'll be nice to have something easy and pleasant to alternate reading with my other books. I'd also like to be able to stretch the series out through the fall, because what better time of year to read HP than the fall?? Lastly, and most importantly, Charlotte would actually kill me if I didn't start reading them this summer.

5. At the Water's Edge by Sara Gruen

It has been a hot minute since I read Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants, but I remember how much I had absolutely loved it. Water for Elephants was definitely one of my summer reads when I had read it, and At the Water's Edge is right up my alley for a traditional summer read. It has romance, some historical fiction, and fantastical elements (it features the Loch Ness monster! I'm sold).

6. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

I have been waiting to read this since it was announced that it was finally going to be published. Earlier this month I was able to get my hands on a really cheap copy, so now it is finally time to get my eyes on those pages! To Kill a Mockingbird is, obviously, a classic, and it has also always been one of my favorite go-to summer reads. This summer, I finally will get to learn about Scout as an adult, and also get to see her father, Atticus, in a new light.

Let's talk about how sexy Atticus was in the To Kill a Mockingbird movie adaptation. So sexy.
7. Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury

I plan to make Farewell Summer my very last book to read this summer. I know you're probably rolling your eyes and thinking, "wow how corny!" But hear me out first. Farewell Summer is Ray Bradbury's long awaited sequel to his novel, Dandelion Wine. Dandelion Wine is meant to be read in the summer. It's a collection of short stories that take place during the summer in a small midwestern town, and the stories center around two young brothers and the people in their community. Ray Bradbury's writing makes you feel summer. Bradbury's descriptive writing style is so perfect, it's as if you can feel the summer breeze in your living room, and can smell the dirt on your hands. In Dandelion Wine, he captured the essence of childhood summers. SO, with that said, Farewell Summer will likely encapture the transition of summer into fall and winter in a beautiful way to conclude my own summer.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Royal We

By Charlotte
Book Review: The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Official FC Rating:

Is it weird that I feel a pang of guilt whenever I give books I enjoyed a three star rating? If I find a book relatively pleasant and engaging, I automatically want to give it at least four stars. But then I have to remind myself that I can't give every single book I read a near-perfect rating, or this whole site would be useless. This book was fun to read, but it's not like I came out of it any smarter. Or better. 

This book is a love story. It's based almost entirely on the royal family (obviously) and Will and Kate's relationship. Which means... I may or may not have been embarrassed that I had interest in the book at all. I mean, it's cheap entertainment, right? 

Yes, probably right. 

But I grabbed my nose straight out of the air and pulled it down a bit. I read a free preview on le kindle, and... wanted more. I mocked myself and Liz mocked me, too. This book is definitely much meatier than a regular old romance novel, but it's not hefty. I swore I'd dedicate time to read the classics and here I am with a book about the royal couple. I read it nonetheless. Here are my thoughts: 

The writing itself was fine. I wasn't blown away, but I wasn't rolling my eyes, either. It was nice.

The characters were actually fantastic. I didn't love the protagonist, to be honest. (I didn't dislike her, though.) The supporting cast, as it were, was awesome. There's a core group of friends and each one has a distinct personality and dialogue, which is a pleasure to read. In truth, I think my favorite thing about the book is the way the secondary characters interact. Also, they've got great names (Gaz! Bea!) and excellent nicknames (Lady Bollocks. Best. [I think Gaz is a nn too, but it's what he's always called throughout the book.]). 

The story was predictable, but interesting and exciting. I think it speaks to the author(s) whenever this is the case. When you can pretty much guess the line but your attention is still grabbed? That's a mark of talent, I think. 

I would definitely recommend this book if you're into love stories and/or easy reads. It was a good pace (for the most part - I did skip 5-10 pages during [spoiler] Bex and Nick's short lived break-up - it got redundant for a bit there). It was fun and at times hilarious. It was often charming and sweet. Read it for the background characters. Hell, read it for the main characters. They are, after all, based on real people and if I'm being honest, I click on almost every Buzzfeed post I see about the royals. (Shame. I know.) So it makes sense that I'd want to read this book. 

And if you don't read it for yourself, here's a spoiler-filled recap:

American girl studies abroad to see the world and take artistic opportunities.

Girl, Kate Bex, meets boy, embarrasses self. 

Bex finds out boy is Prince William Nick. Feels even worse. But turns out, Nick is a cool guy. 

I find this so fun to watch, it's embarrassing.
Bex is deemed trustworthy, and she and Nick become friends who watch nerdy shows and stuff. 

They largely keep their goings-on a secret, lest anyone find out they love cheesy tv shows.

Nick and Bex both have meaningless romantic relationships with other people. 

A bunch of stuff happens and Nick and Bex start dating after Bex blabs that she loves him (it's clearly mutual), but they keep it mostly private. 

Things are dandy. At first. 

Of course, there are some who doubt the relationship can last. (Lady Bollocks, ahem.)

But most of their friends are supportive. 

Oh my gosh. I forgot to mention! Bex has a twin sister, Lacey. Lacey is supportive, if sometimes bitter. (She can't be with Nick's brother, Harry Freddie, because a Porter sister with both the heir and the spare is too much.) Lacey is more outgoing than Bex, and likes to have more fun. 

Nick's dad is awful and Nick feels too much pressure to keep things secret and he gets tightly wound. 

Nick and Bex break up. 

Nick and Bex are both sad. Lacey and Bex are sad. A bunch of random stuff happens, we see more of the friends, they date other people, there's some family bonding time, etc. Lacey and Bex's dad dies. Nick decides fuck it, he wants to be with Bex, regardless of his family and the public. 

Bex agrees.

There's still some drama, though. Bex and Lacey stop talking (now Lacey is really mad - partially over Freddie, partially over other things. I won't ruin it all for you). Nick is away for a long time and Bex gets extremely lonely and sad... 

spoiler ahead she turns to Freddie. 

OOPS. They're both remorseful and agree not to tell Nick. Then things go a little calm, and then a little nutty. And I'll say Lacey and Bex make up:

But I won't say what, if anything, happens with Nick and Bex. You'll have to read it yourself. And, it's being turned into a film by Lauren Graham!! So there's extra incentive to get thee to a library and read this book. You won't regret it.