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. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Kite Runner

By Charlotte
Book Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Official FC Rating:

I read The Kite Runner a few months ago. It's been recommended to me countless times over the years and it's just been sitting on my shelf, neglected. I picked it up one night, resolved to read "anything but Harry Potter, come on Charlotte," and tore through it over the next twelve hours. Needless to say, it was good. It was gripping. I couldn't put it down - you get it. All that good stuff. 


But. I don't know if I can say I loved it. I remember sending messages to Liz that said things such as, "I can't remember ever hating a protagonist this much before," and "I know he's a kid but I HATE HIM." Amir was not my favorite. 

(Plot details and spoilers coming. You're warned.)

Amir is always a little (nay, a lot) jealous of his friend, Hassan. Amir's father is good to Hassan, and Amir wishes his relationship with his father was different, better. Cool, I get it, and everyone's a little envious from time to time. I'm not gonna hate the kid for that. (And I know Hosseini was specifically interested in exploring family and familial relationships with his book.) But Amir was a terrible friend and child. I don't remember every specific example, but Amir taunted Hassan, dared him to do awful things, and was overall just mean. Have I mentioned how much I hated him at this point? It only got worse. Amir witnessed Hassan getting raped and beaten and he did nothing to help. Part of me is disgusted by this, and another part of me thinks he was a kid, what was he going to do? But there's no excusing the fact that he didn't run for help, that he treated his friend poorly after that, and that he ultimately made Hassan and his father leave. Oh man. The hatred I felt for him. 

The story afterward is one of guilt and redemption. I'm all about redemption... but I don't think Amir ever fully redeemed himself. Hassan dies and his son is in trouble and Amir sets out to save him (though sort of grudgingly at first). He succeeds at great personal cost - he gets the crap beat out of him. Like, hospital/almost dead/ICU level beating. In my mind this was a step forward but it wasn't total "redemption." He still kept the secret of what he did to Hassan to himself. He didn't fully apologize. When I was reading it felt more like an attempt to assuage his own guilt and to do the right thing in the present. For me redemption also involves confessing and apologizing, so.. the story felt unfinished. Toward the end of the book I still wasn't too fond of Amir. I don't like not liking the protagonist of a book I'm reading. Finally, Amir confessed his actions to his wife. This felt a little more full-circle to me, though... I don't know. I can't remember if he ever truly apologized? 

A story that's specifically about redemption, to me, needs to include actual sorrow, confession, and an apology. Amir seemed more concerned about his own guilty mind than he did about the wrongdoing itself. I would have liked more sincerity in his confessions, as well as a true apology. That's ultimately why I gave this book three stars (maybe three and a half if I'm feeling generous). 

That said, it was a good book. It was an exciting read that pulls you in. Some of the characters were lovable (I'm looking at you, Baba and Ali and Rahim Khan). It was interesting and thought provoking and pulled at the heartstrings. As far as I can remember, the writing itself was good. 

Final say: I'd recommend this book. I mean, don't expect to feel all cheerful while reading it. And maybe expect to spend most of it hating the main character. But read it nonetheless. It's good. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016


By Charlotte
Book Review: How Harry Cast His Spell: The Meaning Behind the Mania for J.K. Rowling's Bestselling Books by John Granger
Official FC Rating:

There is one major spoiler in this review. If you haven't read or watched Harry Potter, you might not want to read this.

I am slightly obsessed with Harry Potter, guys. Ever so slightly. So I was giddy as a gargoyle when I got my hot little hands on this book. I first heard of it while I was reading one of my favorite blogs - Carrots for Michaelmas (or at least.. I'm pretty sure that's where I first heard about it). I headed over to Amazon and soaked up the reviews, knowing this book would be perfect for me. It is a trifecta of good topics: Harry Potter, writing, and religion. Swoon. (And the author's name is Granger! Like Hermione! Insignificant but mildly fun, yes?)

I enjoyed this book very much. Granger makes the argument that so many people are drawn to the Harry Potter series because of its Christian symbolism and meanings. Not in an "oh! It's Christian! We need to read it!" way, rather in a subtler way. The books never mention Christianity, but they're filled with Christian themes, whether or not readers immediately recognize them (I didn't catch every Christian symbol while reading them by a long shot). Granger argues that people are drawn to these themes because they are true and good. (Side: I agree, and I think it's important to clarify: I don't think things are true because they are Christian - I think things are Christian because they're true. So for example, if I'm reading Catholic doctrine I don't go, "oh! The Catholic church is telling me this is good, so it must be true!" Instead it's "This thing is good and so the Catholic Church proclaims it to be true." The church doesn't make things true - it proclaims the truth. ANYWAY...) So yes. I get what he's saying here. Whether or not we identify as a certain religion or believe in God, we're all drawn to God and goodness which flows from Him. I dig it. That's his main argument in the book: it is chock full of Christian symbols and stories and we're therefore drawn to it.

Using bc Christians are thought to be the most judgmental bastards. eek. 
Now, when I first told my friend about it, she hypothesized that Granger probably just nit-picked parts he wanted from the books to make it seem like it was Christian, or at least stretched certain situations to fit his own theories. I admittedly worried about this myself when I first bought the book. But there were very, very few instances where I thought Granger was really stretching it to make something fit his case. Also, he mentions several instances where Rowling herself said she was using Christian symbols or that she specifically studied alchemy (which is tied to Christianity) while writing Harry Potter, so Granger's arguments are, I think, valid.

Some things he wrote about were obvious - there's no doubting the Christianity of Harry's decision to walk into the forest and sacrifice himself to save everyone else. But there are so many other things I hadn't noticed!!! They seem obvious now, of course. Example: In Sorcerer's Stone, Harry woke up three days after his struggle with Quirrel/Voldemort. Sound familiar?

Even if you don't dig the premise, the book is still worth the read. You can disagree that everyone is drawn to God in literature and still dig the really cool meanings throughout the books. Also! Granger talks about interesting names of many characters, how the characters interact with one another and how that relates to alchemy, and so much more. I don't want to give much away by describing everything I liked.

As for the things I wasn't wildly fond about.......

Sometimes (not throughout the entire book) the tone would become slightly patronizing. Not even in a very condescending way, but definitely in an "I know more than you" kind of way. It wasn't often enough to make me dislike the book or the author, but it did annoy me. Another thing, and this happened at the end of every. single. chapter., instead of smoothly transitioning into the next chapter (or just.. not mentioning the next chapter until the next chapter actually started...), Granger would say things like, "Turn the page to see what we think about ____!" or "Keep reading to find out how Goblet of Fire ______!" Unnecessary! SO UNNECESSARY. And again, while most of his examples of Christian symbolism or meaning were solid, there were a few stretches (but very few - five at most).

Over all though, I loved this book so much! I thought the structure was smart and made sense (divided into chapters like "alchemy," "names," "magical creatures," etc and then moving into the meanings of each individual book). Other than the occasional patronizing, the tone was light and fun while still being smart. It was also really helpful to me since I'd like to write a book. And most of all, it made me love Harry Potter even more, if that's possible! I ended up rereading some of the HP books while/after reading this one because I was eager to delight in even more of the meaning than I usually do. I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to write, anyone who loves Harry Potter, and people who enjoy religion.

You can never have too many Harry Potter books, after all.