Friday, August 26, 2016

Review: American Gods

Vacations are the perfect place to get some heavy reading done: with an absence of any work (or homework) standing in your path, it's one of my favorite opportunities to really take a swing at some of the titles I've been holding off on my TBR list. Hence, why I made sure to pack this title in my suitcase as we headed down on our annual trip to Oregon! 

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, follows the story of Shadow, a recent felon, released from jail, and greeted by the crippling news of his wife's death. While traveling home for her funeral, an enigmatic plane seatmate - dubbing himself Mr. Wednesday - enlists Shadow to be a part of a mysterious enterprise, tracking down ancient gods and goddesses across the United States in a final standoff against the new crowd: the burgeoning mythical brethren who guide the ideals of America today. With war on the horizon, Shadow begins to understand that the forces at play are far more powerful than he could have ever imagined... and that he, himself, could tip the balance of the world as we know it.

Okay, all hype aside - because if you're a fan of fantasy, you're sure to not just recognize this title, but the name of its prolific author - this book was awesome. Amazingly inventive, with an enthralling concept that allowed for the creation of an entire world, I was left astounded by creative characterizations, surprising plot twists, and a new paradigm with which to view the "melting pot" origins of the country.

In terms of the foundation of the story, with the idea of gods and goddesses living and walking among us, it's easy to draw comparisons, be it to a grown-up Percy Jackson, or that one Joan Osborne song. However, the ways that Gaiman classifies and explains their presence in contemporary culture make it inherently unique, as well as set up a comprehensive universe within which such powerful beings can exist alongside things we interact with every day.

One particular view that you can't necessarily get from Rick Riordan, is that the novel makes no exceptions for the more gruesome points of religion. Sacrifice, bloody and human, plays a part in too many theological contexts to go unrepresented; almighty power comes alongside a serious amount of gore. Sexual activity has always been a hallmark of ancient religion as well (ahem, Zeus), and makes its appearances within the narrative, too. While the explicit/graphic nature of some of these elements might throw some readers off, I seriously respect its inclusion, if only to remind you of the fact that religion has always been a bloody practice.

Something else I really loved about the novel was the absolutely monochrome nature of the characters: almost everyone in this novel is gray in at least one fashion. While I really liked and respected Shadow as a main character, even he had a lot of darkness to his framing, and no allowances were given in order to make individuals more or less redeemable. That way, even with the extraordinary nature of the powers at play, gods were made mortal... or, at least, humanized.

And on another side of cultural implications, I felt like the novel offered a fascinating perspective of America's consciously collaborative status: we are a nation of many peoples, and believe in a lot of different things, so to have everything from Norse to Native to many more creeds and cultures, interacting and jockeying for position and power, was pretty terrific. While it was fun to call out characters I recognized from a childhood spent devouring myths and folklore - Anansi! Kali! Loki! - it was just as much so to meet the gods of our new culture, like Media, hair-sprayed and shiny-teethed, or Technical Boy, a stylized wiz-kid who smells like burnt circuits.

Despite its 600+ pages, I zoomed through the novel. Partially, I chalk it up to interest, because once I started reading, it's all I wanted to do, but I also have to factor in language, because the more formalist elements of the novel, like diction, were still really accessible. Keeping the reading easy was only a benefit to the topic, by making imaginative and large-scoped concepts more approachable.

Final Verdict: In case you couldn't tell from my review, I really, really loved this novel. Total five stars, even if there were parts that I thought were a little squirmy. I don't have a subscription to Starz, but I feel like I'm going to have to get one, just to see how the new TV adaptation is going to play out!

It was only after I finished American Gods that my younger sister, Delaney, realized that Gaiman also wrote Stardust and Coraline! What's your favorite of his works? Let me know, in the comments below!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Review: The Girl from Everywhere

You know how growing up, everyone had one or two historical time periods or cultures they were obsessed with? For me, it was the Titanic disaster, Egyptian and Greek mythology... and Pirates. Even to this day, I know way too much about flag symbology and swashbuckler slang, and yes, I have my favorite figures among the pirate population. So, if I read a book review on Goodreads that includes the words "modern-day pirate ship," you can bet that I'm picking it up! Especially if it also involves time travel... 

In Heidi Heilig's The Girl from Everywhere, Nix's father is a Navigator: as long as he has a map and his ship, he can sail to any place - or time, for that matter - whether the destination is real, or not. She's grown up for sixteen years on that vessel, traveling through centuries and trading in exotic and impossible treasures, alongside her father's crew... and the mystery of her mother, who died in Honolulu in the 1800s, shortly after she was born. Driven to save the woman he loves, it is her father's greatest ambition to return to 1868; however, if he does, Nix might just blink out of existence entirely. She's traveled through fairy tale lands and encountered fantastical creatures, but the greatest adventure of all, might just be finding her family. 

I've been making pretty good time on my Goodreads goal for this year, with my expected summeer bump, but out of everything I've tackled so far, this book has probably summoned the most summer spirit! There's something about the sea, and adventure-type books, that makes me reminisce on reading Treasure Island for the first time, or watching Pirates of the Caribbean in theaters.

I've got to chalk up that sunny summer vibe to the exceptional world-building and involving action that forms the foundation of the entire novel. The story's concept itself is fantastic: ships + time travel + fantasy worlds = a pretty winning combination in my book, and in this one. It's a dizzying combination of elements that might be hard to tackle on their own, but are fairly well-meshed within the context of Nix's narrative.

Unfortunately, as a result, it becomes a little unevenly paced... especially in the second half of the novel, when the stakes are raised and the dates and locations become more convoluted, as the action overwhelms the execution. Of course, it has a lot to do with the fact that a comprehensive time-traveling system is always a little difficult to explain fully, so it's understandable that it got a little muddled.

Where the story truly shines, however, isn't the action or the suspense, but the historical setting and accuracy to detail, which keep the novel interesting, complex and dynamic. Integration of elements of Hawaiian and Chinese histories amplify the believability of an unbelievable concept, while a set of diverse main characters emphasizes even more cultural presence from further destinations and populations across the world.

However, at the end of the day, it's Young Adult, and there's going to have to be some points deducted for involving a love triangle (I know; all that imagination in creating a time traveling pirate ship, and you can't even let your heroine breathe without two guys tripping over themselves). At the same time, I've got to add points for a different kind of relationship you don't typically see done well in the genre, through Nix's interactions with her father: Nix's struggle to understand a significantly flawed parental figure results in differences that are actually worked on, rather than avoided, and that makes up a little for the uninspired romances.

Final Verdict: Cool and complex plot and characters sometimes ran a little ahead of themselves, to the detriment of pacing and understanding; however, the concept was too fun to pass up. I'm really glad I read this during the summer, so make sure to fit it into your TBR before September starts up!

Monday, August 8, 2016

We Went to RenFaire! : Fantasy and Festival Fun

There's plenty of reasons as to why I've dreamed about attending a Renaissance Faire. Let's be real: the kinds of books that I read throughout my adolescence and girlhood basically primed me to live in a world packed with knights and maidens, fairies and farmers, and, of course, the bubonic plague.

Tamora Pierce's complex world-building constructed what laid along the winding roads of Tortall through books like the Beka Cooper series, while Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong trilogy populated towns and cities with magical winged beasts working alongside their human counterparts. Gail Carson Levine's fairy tale re-tellings, like Ella Enchanted, raised up relatable heroines to the status of princesses, and novels that had nothing to do with the Fantasy genre  - like Karen Cushman's Matilda Bone, or Catherine, Called Birdy - made for a vividly descriptive narrative of the Renaissance time period, as well as the girls who lived through them.

As it turns out, my younger sister, Delaney, has always wanted to go to Ren Faire, too, so when I broached up the topic earlier this year, we decided that this was the summer we would finally make it happen. Soon enough, we had roped in some friends - including yet another sister, joining in as we were practically running out the front door! - and we put on some sunscreen, laced up our bodices (well, some of us), and pointed our caravan towards Bonney Lake, WA, for the Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire! 

I cannot express to you how great a time we had. As soon as we walked in the front gates, we grabbed a map and a schedule of events, in order to make sure we could fit in as much as possible into our one-day passes. Some fan favorites:

  • Jousting! We made a beeline for the tournament arena, in order to take in some good ol' (really, really ol') fashioned horseback jousting, as soon as we'd reached the Faire. Each corner of the arena was repped by a different country, and came complete with a requisite rider and accompanying retinue, straight out of A Knight's Tale. Gaps in the tournament were filled by members of these two-legged groups taking part in bouts of broadsword and hand weapon fighting, in a tournament all their own. In the end, France's steel and Germany's steeds were decided the best, but England's champion was still kind enough to talk with a us a little bit, and take a cute picture! 
  • Tournaments! Naturally, jousting and sword fights were not the only sports on display. Our youngest sister ended up striking the bulls-eye at the archery booth, thus qualifying her for the Faire-wide archery tournament, while Delaney's friend from high school did the same at the hand-axe wielding field. 
  • Turkey legs! Okay, so $12 for a giant hunk of poultry was a bit of a splurge, but it definitely fit the atmosphere! Plus lemonade, plus crepes from a nearby stand, plus delicious small-batch cream soda and root beer, we were left plenty happy and not at all hungry, despite the fact that Delaney and I both bemoaned the fact we'd overlooked the meat pie concessions stand. And due to the number of bards wandering the grounds, we were treated to a special song after we'd eaten (He left us with one of the most imaginative business cards I'd ever seen: a homemade Magic: The Gathering card of himself!). 
  • Shopping! Our youngest sister took home a blue coin skirt, while Delaney had already splurged on the outfit she wore to the event, which she had gotten off of Etsy. I picked up a commemorative tee shirt and a pair of crazy beautiful shaped-wire elf ears, and one of our friends took home a leather pouch for her D&D dice. Plenty of goods abound, including Renaissance-appropriate chain mail and other outfits, worked-leather accessories, swords, and jewelry. 
  • And, of course, much more! We took in an amazing magic show and a rat circus, and there were plenty of other performers we missed, too. You can take out bounties on friends, and get them thrown in the town jail, or you can drink the day away with mead in the Faire's two beer gardens. Plus, I can't explain to you the number of adorable dogs and children that were there... so cute! We were there for about six hours and still ran out of time to do everything we'd wanted! 

As you can see, some of us were more prepared than others. Yup, that's me in the middle! 
The most adorable baby dragons!

I Went to Ren Faire, and All I Got Was This (Gorgeous!) Tee Shirt (and these amazing shaped-wire elf ears!)

Naturally, we're already making plans for next year, which may or may not involve making use of the Faire's campgrounds, which lay adjacent to the event grounds. The Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire is multi-weekend, too, each with a different theme: "Piratical  Plunder" weekend was pretty fun, but I'm really pulling for "Fantastical Faeries" weekend on our next excursion.

It's not all good news, though: I had so much fun, I left with a pretty ridiculous sunburn, cringe-worthy dirty feet (word to the wise: do not wear sandals!), and especially tragic, a missing set of apartment keys! Still, while I'm busy hunting down some aloe vera, and coordinating schedules with my busy roommate so that I don't get locked out, I've made plenty of good memories this weekend to look back on... and that deserves a HUZZAH! 

Have you ever gone to a Ren Faire? What is your favorite novel set in a Renaissance time period? Let me know, in the comments below!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Review: One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories

Unpopular opinion time: I'm not a huge fan of The Office. My family used to watch it together - not even in real time, when it was still on TV, but after purchasing those huge, clunky collection of DVDs each season! I'd usually wander out of the room ten minutes into each episode to go upstairs and find a less cringe-inducing form of entertainment, like a good book... so it's highly ironic how two of the show's stars - Mindy Kaling and BJ Novak - would end up being two of my favorite writers! 

I've had Novak's One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, on the shelves for a long time, simply because short story collections have never really been my cup of tea. However, after tackling Kaling's Why Not Me? this past April, I knew I was going to have to bump it up in my TBR queue. I'm so glad I did: what I found was a perfectly balanced blend of levity and brevity, and I zipped through the whole collection in one night!

So, in reviewing, let's start by tackling the obvious: this book is supremely funny. Like, catch-yourself-laughing-out-loud, Snapchatting-pictures-of-pages-to-my-sister funny. However, even beyond the silly and subversive, it's also the kind of humor that knows exactly how it's making you laugh, in a subtle and almost tongue-in-cheek way: the funny is found without the self-knowing moments of a punchline in a comedy act, but more like a friend just telling you a really hilarious story over drinks. I guess I could say that it was more of conversation, than strictly comedy; just very understated, almost like it's winking at you about it at the same time it's laying out the joke.

The stories are, of course, of varying lengths, and also contain varying levels of comedy. Some are a little more edgy and gasp-inducing, while others are almost existential, making you really consider the theming and how it plays with the rest of the narratives around them. It was really some of those secondary types of stories that caught my attention: it's easy to make someone laugh, but not as easy to make someone think while they're doing it. Thought you might even be tempted to skip around the book a little for the ones you really want to read first, you're going to end up reading them all, and laugh at least a little at each (even those that are a little more on the long side).

And, of course, the cerebral nature of some of Novak's comedy really forces you to acknowledge the fact that he is smart. Not just clever in how he constructs each narrative, or how he arranges them in the greater pacing of the collection, but intelligent in choice of subject matter and style of writing (without coming off as pretentious). Also, his ability to craft an arc over the course of the entirety of the collection is superb: characters and highlights from one story might end up in another one several dozen pages later, while the flows between the subject matter of each tale never got me bogged down within the context of the work as a whole.

Final Verdict: Let's be real, we all knew this book was going to be hilarious, simply from the absolute perfection of the book trailer alone. I am incredibly impressed and look forward to reading more of his work... and I can totally see why he and Mindy Kaling are such amazing friends!

You guys... I haven't done a review - and honest-to-goodness, full-length review - since I tackled Patrick Ness' The Rest of Us Just Live Here this past May! Have you missed them? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Plus Six Arcana : Why All Fantasy Readers Should Join a D&D Party

[Note: This post was totally written and scheduled to go up tomorrow... until I saw the trending hashtag #GygaxDay on Twitter this afternoon! So, in honor of Gary Gygax himself, happy playing, and here's a new post for you!]

Earlier this year, I was absolutely blessed to join some of the most hilarious, smart, and savvy women I know to form a kick-ass Dungeons and Dragons party... and to be perfectly honest, I think you should join one, too! 

the origin story

In part, I have to blame my amazing younger sister, Delaney. Beyond being the "Ex-Cheerleader" - and current Sorority President of her chapter - she also did a stint last summer over in Yellowstone National Park, serving as a housekeeper at Roosevelt Lodge, willingly forgoing wifi and cell reception for days on end as trade for being surrounded by nature 24/7. Because of the Revenant-like technological conditions, her fellow housekeepers had taken up an inclusive game of Dungeons and Dragons as a means of passing the time, and invited her to join. Needless to say, she loved it.

Thus, one of the reasons she and I were factored into our current party. After so much time expressing admiration for Delaney's new hobby, I had been asked along for this new ride by my friends, and I requested a spot for her, as well. We soon became our party's healer and tank, which fits pretty well with our personalities, anyways. So many sessions later, I am constantly reminded of the dedication of my fellow players, the intense friendship we've formed, and the zany adventures I've loved being a part of.

[Side note:  I cannot tell you the unique and incredible perspective that I have in playing with a party made up entirely of women. Not just women, but sisters: everyone in our group is a Sigma Kappa - two of whom were also in my RC groups the two years I served with Panhellenic - with the only outlier being my own biological sister. While our characters are not all exclusively gendered, we are, and so we've been able to avoid a lot of different stereotyping or sexism that can sometimes cloud the game's presence elsewhere.]

As a group, we are by no means experts... I'm pretty sure for most of us, this is the first encounter we've had with the game. However, it hasn't impacted game play at all: figuring everything out together has been half the fun!

for fantasy fanatics

Now, for the real reason this topic made it's way into a blog post instead of just a ton of aesthetic posts on my Tumblr: a huge part of my gaming ability is also guided by the fact that I love to read! I know how story lines work best, I have practice both constructing and understanding characters based on the kinds of fantasy characters I've read in the past, and it's really like playing your own part in the construction of an epic story.

My fellow players - especially Delaney - have also poked fun at me for the fact that my character speaks so well (despite having a Charisma of +0) or that I can supply the perfect line for use in a situation. The reality is, I've already consumed so much snappy dialogue in my life, that it's gotten to be pretty easy to follow the framework!

In fact, there's plenty of reasons as to why fantasy readers should pick up a Player's Handbook

  • You already love reading about these kinds of settings, characters, creatures, and more, only this time, it's immersive. The fact is, you're a fan of fantasy, and that's already going to go a long ways in how much you get out of Dungeons and Dragons experiences (and yes, there's more to it than just dungeons or dragons). 
  • You get the chance to make the characters and stories yourself. Ever run into a narrator or love interest you didn't like, who soured the whole book for you? With D&D that's a non-issue... and if anyone ever makes you that annoyed, chances are you have a much better chance of killing them off in this arena. (My sister's character has already stabbed my character twice... in one game!) 
  • You probably have a lot of talent to contribute. Whether it's providing hilarious commentary, adding flair to your attack moves, or dreaming up just the perfect look or description, you've got a lot of history here. 
  • You might even have real-world talents to provide, too! For instance, one of the best things about our party is the fact that our DM also loves to draw, and illustrates our characters in various posts she adds to our party's Tumblr. A couple of random aesthetic posts I made for my sister and my characters earlier this Spring also got rave reviews from the group, and another friend recently made a post matching up our characters to headlines from The Onion that had me laughing until I cried. 
  • You thought your favorite fandom was cool? Wait until you start playing D&D. You have the global Dungeons and Dragons community, who are incredibly supportive and fun, not to mention enthusiastic about helping you pick your next dice set (shout out to the very cute boy who works at Golden Age Collectables in Pike Place). Even besides the people you meet out in the real world, the friendships that you form within your own party are so unique, it's like having an incredibly intense fandom with, like, eight people in it. 

Have I convinced you yet? Even if I haven't, here are some resources you can check out to determine if Dungeons and Dragons is right for you: 
  • Critical Role. An online live stream of D&D party sessions over on Geek and Sundry, this group of outgoing and enthusiastic players would already make for an interesting bunch to watch, even if they weren't all professional voice actors
  • Rat Queens comics. Following four badly-behaved, well-drawn female characters as they wreak havok across a fantasy realm, this comic book series already has a cult following, and even featured the characters from Critical Role as a cameo in a recent issue! 
  • Shit My Players Say and Out of Context D&D are hilarious Tumblrs which chronicle the silly, sordid, and downright stupid shenanigans players from around the Internet get into in their own sessions. For anyone who thinks D&D might be too intense or intimidating, there are plenty of quotes like "All departed souls go to Denny's" or "Roll a will save to ignore the chicken" to change your perspective. 
  • Honestly? Pinterest! I know it sounds nutty, but there's plenty of fun and interesting content on the world's biggest crafting and recipe receptacle, especially if you know what you're looking for. Browse through some of S. J. Maas' inspiration boards for a little inspiration of your own, or try a general search for funny memes or printable character sheets you can use yourself.

{a selection of the illustrations I use as headers for my gameplay session notes; a handful of us at a sorority event earlier this year!}

Despite the fact that I still consider myself a beginner, I can already tell that this is a hobby that's going to stick with me for a while. And it turns out that it's not just nerdy kids in a basement - or sorority girls in a well-lit, airy apartment - that play D&D, but celebrities, too: Vin Diesel, James Franco, Drew Barrymore, Stephen Colbert, and even Dame Judi Dench are all fans of the role-playing game. 

So, as you can tell by the length of this post, there's not only plenty of reasons for fantasy readers to start playing D&D, but plenty who already do! Because, let's face it: not everyone's cut out for Book Club. 

Have you played Dungeons and Dragons before, or do you do so currently? Would you want to hear more about my D&D experiences? Let me know, in the comments below!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

And Then We Were Six : My SIXTH Bloggoversary!

Yes, I know. I have no idea how we got here, either.

That's right, people. Today, this beautiful Playing in the Pages book blog turns 6. It's freaking me out, too. 

It's kind of like last year was the Sweet Sixteen... My big year of no book-buying was bisected by this one instance of being able to purchase books, so I bought five of them, in honor of my Fifth Anniversary, and I had been planning it for about a month ahead of time with a notes section I kept on my iPhone. There was a ton of build-up and decisions to make about it, and my parents had a running commentary from me about how it was all going to go down. 

This year, I forgot about it until earlier last week, and my parents didn't hear about it from me until last night (I sprung it on them during a late-night Pokemon Go session with my brother). Fifth Anniversaries are so cool, and I - and my blog - had grown so much! Now it's just like, another square in the pavement. 

Of course, that doesn't mean that things haven't changed around here since last year... or that I haven't celebrated it, either! 

how we've changed

  • For starters, as regular readers might have noticed, I recently added AdSense! I know, don't hate me too much. Basically, it's something I've been kicking around for a while now, and one afternoon this summer, I bit the bullet and tackled it all. And it really hasn't been that much of a hassle! My content isn't really that affected, and it's prompted me to work a little harder on figuring out how to make the blog monetizable. 
  • Even though I am focusing more on drawing more readers, I'm not so worried about constantly updating. I used to be in this constant panic about the fact that I wasn't uploading regular and current content, that I wasn't even enjoying the content that I did end up writing. Part of this change is due to...
  • The posts that I'm publishing now are of a lot higher caliber. I don't know if you are as proud of me as I have been about my current content, but they're a little more lengthy, a lot more informative, and way more interesting to me. I think some of my favorites have been tackling the importance of this year's Nebula Awards, recapping the contents of my Capstone on Thyra Samter Winslow, and discussing what multimedia forms of Nancy Drew have been successful. Not typical book blog fare, but they're what's cool about BookWorld to me... and hopefully, they help me stand out from the crowd a little bit. 

how I celebrated 

Well, like I said, I didn't exactly tell my parents what was really going on with me until at about 10pm last night, but this is, in my mind, how I celebrated. 

(Honorable mentions: seeing Gentleman's Guide at the 5th with family and my best friend; trying my hand at brush lettering; new Disney swag from a Tacoma thrift shop I adore)

  • Naturally, I had to go check out Barnes and Noble in order to pick up a couple presents for myself, so I made a beeline for the YA section to grab V.E. Schwab's This Savage Song. Of course, while I was running past the Recent Release table, I threw out an arm for the Hogarth Shakespeare retelling Vinegar Girl, by Anne Taylor, and when I was vaulting around the turns by the Graphic Novels department, my hand caught on volumes 2&3 of Rat Queens. 
  • Most importantly, my mother forced me to confront my status as an adult and begin sorting through the books of my childhood, as we're cleaning out the playroom of our house to prepare for a (hopefully avoidable) move home to Tacoma once my lease in Seattle ends in August. Cleaning out those old bookshelves unearthed a lot of physical memories - and a metric ton of dust and dead bugs - and I didn't think that I'd spend part of this weekend crying over the Cirque du Freak series, by Darren Shan, but lo and behold, I'm still the same person I was when I was 13. What better way to spend an anniversary than by reflecting on your youth? 

So, thank you all for journeying with me for another year around the sun, and plenty of fun around the web. This hobby of mine has turned itself into a network of friends, a portfolio of writing, a two-year fashion career, and several hundred books in my shelves and in my heart. Thank you, thank you, thank you, and if I could ever do anything for all of you in repayment, you need only ask. 

Thanks so much for spending time with me, whether it's been six years or six seconds. Love you!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Bits of Books: Callie is a Godsend and Lends Me Stuff

It's definitely not the first time I've mentioned Callie - my onetime Student Calling Center manager and current favorite book lending person I know - and it's certainly not going to be the last: Out of the eleven books I've read so far this summer, three of them are the result of a very generous book swap, courtesy of her! 

Subsequent to giggling our way through the newest Jane Austen adaptation Love & Friendship last month, we swung by her house, and after a very cute room tour, she loaded me up with three titles I'd not yet read, and sent me on my merry way. Being that we're trying to get together for coffee on Friday morning, I figured that it was a good enough time to finally upload all my impressions of those books she lent: Court of Mist and Fury, East, and Rebel Belle

a court of mist and fury, sj maas

The sequel to Maas' A Court of Thorns and Roses, the story follows Feyre adapting to her new life as a member of the High Fae. Unable to cope with what had befallen her Under the Mountain, nor feeling as connected to the Spring Court as she once had, Feyre begins to discover the truth about her newfound powers, though it may require Rhysand, High Lord of Night Court, to help her really harness them. 

Callie originally proposed this read to me in our English class this past Spring Quarter, with the tagline, "It's so much better than the first one!" She and I had both read the original, and found it to be severely lacking on a pretty spectacular scale, so the fact that she braved it and committed to reading the second one was really enough for me to do the same. And, of course, she was right. 

Almost all of the problems I had with the original were remediated and resolved in the sequel... originally fractional world-building got a massive expansion as Feyre visited some of the other Courts, underdeveloped characters got the in-depth treatment with more involved relationships and backstories, and an uninspiring cast got an exciting update via some of the newest perspectives on the Night Court. It's impossible to list all of the reasons this book was such a dramatic improvement without spoiling the whole thing, but damn. Thank goodness for Callie's stubborn need to follow through with a series.

east, edith pattou

Despite her superstitious mother's attempts to conceal the truth of her birth, Rose has always been the adventurous and troublesome type. However, even she couldn't predict the sudden trouble  of a giant white bear showing up on their doorstep, promising to save her sister and recover the family from ruin, only if Rose should come with him. What she finds through her journeys shows her there's more to the world than what's covered on her father's maps, and magic is more than possible.

Basically, it's a like a Norwegian variation on the Beauty and the Beast story, utilizing aspects of that particular country's fairy tales, while also exploring various aspects of other parts of Europe. For Callie, this book was one of her middle grade favorites - enough to still keep it on her collegiate bookshelves - and fed into a deep love of fairy tales from all over the world. Being that the latter is one of the many things we have in common, I was excited to explore this read.

The book is truly based off the tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon," a Norwegian fairy tale that does bear great resemblance to both the Cupid and Psyche mythology and the best Disney animated movie of my youth. In terms of adaptations of classic stories that still manage to differentiate themselves from the original mythology, this is an incredibly effective variation on the  narrative, with unique cultural differences providing for new opportunities to build out the story even further. While retellings can often be a miss for me - I still feel like I'm one of the only book bloggers who really doesn't like Tiger Lily - this was incredibly unique to the genre, and I think that has a lot to do with its heritage. 

rebel belle, rachel hawkins

After high school wunderkind - head cheerleader, ASB president, Homecoming Queen, debutante, and more - Harper Price encounters a strange fight between two teachers in the school bathroom, she finds herself wielding more power than just what the high school social strata would normally allow. Able to perform martial arts and exert a strength she's never had before, she finds herself taking on the additional role of "paladin" beyond her extensive after-school schedule... tasked with protecting the "oracle:" her high school nemesis, David Stark.

I typically scoff at contemporaries, and Callie knows as much, but it didn't stop her from attempting to get me to read this book. While I initially demurred, and left it to the end of the list for my planned reads, I eventually gave in, knowing that it would only be an afternoon's work to finish and would help bump up my Goodreads Challenge tally.

I was right: it was an enjoyable afternoon's read, one that had me laughing at the right moments and left me engrossed in the action when I needed to be. While some parts were a little cringe-y - I would pay YA contemporary authors not to try and describe fashion - they were easy to ignore once you'd figured out that the entire novel is basically a variation on some kind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode. Not that bad... though Callie has warned me against continuing farther in the series, being that the sequel's not that good, either. All in all, it was exactly what I had expected it to be.

So there you have it! Thank you to Callie for letting me borrow her books; I took care of them just like I said. Maybe I'll have to do another post once she finishes up the novels I'm lending to her on Friday: John Connolly's The Book of Lost Things, Steve Augarde's The Various, and Naomi Novik's Uprooted!

Do you have a book lending habit? Have you read any of the books mentioned? Let me know, in the comments below!