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.