On the Shelf: Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

I’ve noticed this book every time I’ve browsed through the Young Adult Fiction section at Target and finally decided to give it a shot.  Being a bit of a world explorer, I’ve always been drawn to coming-of-age-in-Europe tales and was excited to get a taste of Italy.

Love & Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

25756328“I made the wrong choice.”

Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is get back home.

But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires Lina, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.

People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.

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On the Shelf: Understanding Gender Dysphoria by Mark A. Yarhouse

I picked up this book last winter at Urbana, a student missions conference that takes place every three years in St. Louis.  It was a purchase made on a whim, a title in a large stack. With all the controversy about bathrooms this past spring, transgender issues were on my mind and I wanted to be more informed.  Although David Ebershoff’s The Danish Girl opened my mind to the nature of what it means to be transgender (I never really understood how deep the identity struggle is), there is so much I don’t know or understand.  My faith also spurs me to ask questions: How should Christians respond to transgender issues?  What does the Bible have to say on the subject?  So many of my fellow Christians have responded to transgender people with fear and hate–an attitude that makes me extremely uncomfortable.  So I picked up Yarhouse’s book to learn more. Continue reading

On the Shelf: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

This is one of those books that have been sitting on the shelf for years, waiting to be read.  I knew I’d get to it eventually… and now I have.

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

My Rating: 4 / 5

Here is the magical legend of King Arthur, vividly retold through the eyes and lives of the women who wielded power from behind the throne. A spellbinding novel, an extraordinary literary achievement, THE MISTS OF AVALON will stay with you for a long time to come….

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On the Shelf: L’Abri Reading List

With three hours of study time a day at L’Abri, I did a lot of reading.  From serious Christian texts to murder mysteries to memoirs to classics, I covered a wide variety of books.  I feel head over heels in love with Dorothy Sayers, Anne Lamott, and C.S. Lewis–to name a few.

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On the Shelf: Winter by Marissa Meyer

FINALLY, the conclusion to Marissa Meyer’s fantastic Lunar Chronicles series.  This book was released on my birthday and it was one of my favorite gifts.

This post contains spoilers.

winter-finalMy rating: 4 / 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

To answer the question in the summary: Yes they can.

I knew that these books would tie up neatly.  The tone in which they are written doesn’t imply defeat.  It was clear that all would end well, that Cinder would cast down Levana and reclaim the the Lunar throne.  I knew that the four couples would get together.

But, oh, how I loved the ride.

The thing about this series is that it’s not perfect.  To be honest, the characterization is patchy at points.  I like most of the male characters, but some of the heroines *cough*Scarlet*cough* are boring.  The plot tends to be predictable.

But what Meyer does is create a world and enjoyable that is so original that I can’t help overlook the weak points.  I loved my time in these books.  There are a lot of dystopian YA worlds out there and while the way her Earth is structured is similar to many of its contemporaries, the existence of Luna makes hers unique.  I mean, she’s got a society of magical aliens who can manipulate people’s minds who live on the moon!  How cool is that?

I adore the way Meyer merges dystopian lit with fairytales.  She balances them well.  Throughout the series, we see familiar moments: Cinderella losing her shoe, Red Riding Hood searching for her grandmother, Rapunzel escaping her tower, Snow White eating a poisoned apple.  But they’re morphed: Cinder is a cyborg and loses a foot and Cress is a computer-hacker and escapes a satellite.  Meyer strikes a wonderful balance between reteling stories from long ago while creating something new.  She has the hallmark moments, but those moments don’t overwhelm the story.  It’s almost as if the story pauses over the moments, acknowledges the source material, and then pulses forward into something entirely new.

While some of her characters get old, the rest are incredibly endearing.  Cinder is probably my favorite.  For those of you who have been with me for a while, you know I’m a sucker for a good Cinderella retelling and Meyer’s princess has stolen my heart.  I mean… she’s a cyborg mechanic!  How cool is that?  She meets the fairytale requirements, but also throws them off entirely.  I also really love Carsewell Thorne, the dashing, obnoxious thief who is the hero of the third installment of the series.  Cress is timid to the point of being annoying, but definitely grew on me.  I couldn’t help love Winter and Jacin’s relationship.  Iko, though, remained one of my favorite characters.  Even though she’s an android, she is incredibly human.  She’s the perfect companion for Cinder, matching Cinder’s quiet intensity with her bubbly charm.  More than once, her swooning and sighing over attractive men and beautiful fashion made me laugh out loud.

I won’t go too far into revealing plot details, but the story doesn’t disappoint.  Characters are constantly coming together and becoming separated, various storylines weaving together towards the final conclusion.  The final showdown between Cinder and Levanna is extremely satisfying.  The happily-ever-after wraps up all the loose ends.

When I reached the end of Winter, all I wanted to do was go back and read the series again.  Meyer’s fairytale retellings are endearing, successful, and I know they will grow on me the more time I spend with them.

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Fan art by candy8496 on DeviantArt

Be sure to check out my review of Fairest: Levanna’s Story as well!

On the Shelf: Fantasy Trilogies Galore

I’ve been reading a lot lately, but have totally shirked my book reviews.  Oops.  The stresses of my new job have me spending evenings rolling around on the couch in a sweater and leggings, avoiding anything that requires thinking.

So, until I’m able to write any focused reviews, here’s a bit of what I’ve been digging into over the past few weeks!

His Fair Assassin trilogy by Robin LaFevers:

I’ve been seeing things about this trilogy for quite a while, but never engaged until now.  I downloaded an ebook version of the first novel, Grave Mercy, from my local library and was off to the races.  I completed the trilogy in five days and loved them so much I ran online to order physical copies.

These books aren’t the most well-written in the world, but they’re incredibly fresh and original.  The premise is a convent in medieval France where they are dedicated to serving Mortain, the patron saint of Death.  Novices are trained as assassins and sent into the world to do Death’s bidding.  Each book is very different in flavor, although all have their share of romance.  Grave Mercy is, in many ways, a political thriller.  Dark Triumph is very dark and personal.  Mortal Heart is a coming-of-age tale.

If you like historical fiction, fantasy, and romance, these books are a must-read.

The Symphony of Ages trilogy by Elizabeth Haydon

I read the first three books of this now-longer series in high school and have been hankering to revisit them ever since.  That being said, I picked up Rhapsody on a Friday and had all 2,000+ pages of the series read ten days later.  You’d think that a series this long would have dull points, but I couldn’t put these down.  (And this is my second time through!)  Haydon has created a story that suck you in and doesn’t let go until the ride is done.

The books tell the story of Rhapsody, a young singer who finds herself swept into an adventure across Time to learn of a prophecy that foretells her destiny to be a key force in destroying evil.  Through her journey, she encounters a vast array of characters that are diverse, complex, and wonderful.  Haydon’s universe is vast, with deeply structured, believable cultures and religions.  Her world-building is top-notch.  The scope of the story is epic, leading up to a satisfying, memorable conclusion.

If you’re a fantasy fan, add these to your list.

Right now, I’m also re-reading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  I’m loving it even more this time around.  Maybe I’ll make a focused On the Shelf discussing it in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, when I finish that, I’m going to dig into Winter by Marissa Meyer.

Here’s to more books!  Keep an eye out for more On the Shelf posts in the coming weeks.

On the Shelf: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

A few weeks ago, I had scheduled a meet-up with a friend in a nearby town.  I left early to make time for shopping (because Target is a beautiful, beautiful place) only to receive a text pushing back our meeting time.  Of course, when I get stuck with half an hour of extra time is the ONE TIME I FORGET TO BRING A BOOK.

I remedied this by spending a long time shopping and picked up a book that’s been waiting patiently on my “To-Read” list for quite a while.  That, friends, is how I ended up with Mindy Kaling’s first memoir on my shelf.

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Summary from GoodreadsMindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?”   Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you’ve come to the right book, mostly!  In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls. Mindy Kaling really is just a Girl Next Door—not so much literally anywhere in the continental United States, but definitely if you live in India or Sri Lanka.

My Thoughts:

This book has zero substance, but is absolutely delightful.  I found myself unable to put it down.  During the three days it took to finish, I felt like Mindy Kaling was my best friend.  Which is a bit odd because we have next to nothing in common and I’m not really a comedy fan.

I suppose I enjoyed this book for the same reasons people like magazines and celebrity gossip: It gives me insight into a world completely removed from everything I know.  I’m not obsessed with fashion trends and the Hollywood lifestyle, but reading this was just interesting!  My favorite part is that Kaling’s stories lack the glitz and glamor of tabloids.  They’re honest, imperfect tales of how to make a name for yourself in a highly competitive career.

Most of these chapters are stories and Kaling is good at telling them.   She talks about her childhood, her body image, her college life, early career, and her big break writing for The Office.  Some chapters are just lists, like “Types of Women in Romantic Comedies That Are Not Real”, “Non-Traumatic Things That Have Made Me Cry”, and “Revenge Fantasies While Jogging”.  There’s even a whole chapter of narcissistic photos from her phone, which made me laugh.

Kaling is relatable.  We’re completely different in background, trade, and personality, but I still felt connected.  She isn’t afraid to point out her flaws or make fun of herself.  I feel like most girls, including myself, struggle occasionally (sometimes more than that) with body image and reading Kaling’s tales of being an average-sized women in Hollywood were really encouraging.

She’s also got some great words on high school popularity:

“Teenage girls, please don’t worry about being super popular in high school, or being the best actress in high school, or the best athlete. Not only do people not care about any of that the second you graduate, but when you get older, if you reference your successes in high school too much, it actually makes you look kind of pitiful, like some babbling old Tennessee Williams character with nothing else going on in her current life. What I’ve noticed is that almost no one who was a big star in high school is also big star later in life. For us overlooked kids, it’s so wonderfully fair.”

What a wonderful pat-on-the-back for nerdy kids like me.

This is a fun read.  It doesn’t make you think very hard, but made me laugh and gave me a glimpse into a life very different than my own.

Check out my On the Shelf page for more reviews!

On the Shelf: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Apparently, I’m on a Brandon Sanderson streak.

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Summary from GoodreadsElantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling.
Arelon’s new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping — based on their correspondence — to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god.
But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself.
A rare epic fantasy that doesn’t recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It’s also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy.

My Thoughts:

This was a quick read.  I started on a Thursday and finished it by Sunday.  Most of what I had to say in my discussion of Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy rings true here.

Sanderson is massively talented when it comes to world building.  His characters tend to be politically minded and the atmosphere he creates is diverse and realistic.  I can tell that this is his first published work, though, because although the world is a good one, it could use more depth.  I got the sense that all the countries and cultures had differences, but I didn’t quite know what those were.  The biggest strength was the allure of the fallen city of Elantris and I enjoyed watching Raoden discover its secrets.

As far as pacing goes, this book could be a lot tighter.  At one point, the focus was on rebuilding society within Elantris.  At another, it was on overthrowing the king of Arelon.  A few chapters later, the massive problem were fighting off the invading religion.  Then, suddenly, the characters rebuilding Elantris were doing completely different things.  The focus kept changing, which I found distracting.  There were also pages upon pages where it felt like nothing was happening.

Although I liked the characters for the most part, they felt a bit too perfect.  I’ve noticed Sanderson favors political idealists who have an intrinsic ability to lead and lead well.  Raoden and Sarene were like this.  They were so good at politicing that they didn’t feel real.  They also lacked major flaws.  Raoden was more interesting, as an Elantarin, his body couldn’t heal, but couldn’t die.  Any scratches or injuries were permanent, leaving him in constant and growing pain.  Sarene, though, was really cool, but also boring.  She had all the makings of a “good” heroine–outspoken, strong, intelligent, good ad fencing, etc.  But she was too stereotypical and really had no weaknesses, unless you count being crap at painting and embroidery.  Her struggles mainly came in the form of loneliness–because being so strong and independent isolates you from others.  I felt bad for her because she had pinned all her romantic hopes on her marriage with Raoden only to have them shattered.  But, besides that, she was difficult to relate with.

Elantris was an enjoyable read, but I didn’t fall in love.

Check out my On the Shelf page for more reviews and stop by my post on Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy as well!

On the Shelf: Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

This book was a lucky find and Goodwill.  Normally when I buy books secondhand, they sit on my shelf for years waiting to be read.  I picked this one up right away and am very glad I did!

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman of color while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years and commenting on the state of feminism today. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

Bad Feminist is a sharp, funny, and spot-on look at the ways in which the culture we consume becomes who we are, and an inspiring call-to-arms of all the ways we still need to do better.

My Thoughts:

This is not a perfect book.  The cover says it’s a collection of essays and, in a way, it is.  Each chapter gives Gay’s thoughts on different subjects.  If you’re looking defining essays by formal, academic standards however… this book falls short.  But falling short of academia does not mean that it has no value.

I loved this book.  My time within its pages felt less like reading a book and more like having a conversation with Gay over a cup of tea.  Her voice is informal and engaging.  She covers a wide variety of topics in this book, some relating to feminism and others not relating to it at all.

“I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.” Roxane Gay

I love the honesty of this book.  Gay openly acknowledges her contradictions because that’s part of being human.   She’s not consistent at many points, loving aspects of pop culture that directly oppose everything feminists stand for.  But she doesn’t shy away from her contradictions.  She embraces them.

I didn’t always agree with everything Gay said.  At times, she even had me squirming in my seat with discomfort.  But this isn’t a bad thing.  I’ve learned to see challenges to my opinion as extremely valuable.  They teach me to see things from a perspective may not be my own, but is still valid.

Many of the chapters in this book are dedicated to culturally relevant topics like race and privilege.  As a protestant white woman, I’m privy to all kinds of cultural privileges that, most of the time, I’m completely blind to.  Reading Gay’s words about her life, her various experiences, and her responses to certain pop-cultural icons, it hit me for the first time just how deeply the issues of race go.  Which is ridiculous because I’m not uninformed about the shootings in Ferguson, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Charleston shooting, or the Confederate flag debates.  I gave my senior seminar presentation about racial issues regarding the figure of the artist in Barbara Chaise-Riboud’s Sally Hemmings.  But what I’ve got is all head knowledge.  Gay’s words pushed through whatever barrier exists within my consciousness between what’s in my head and what I feel.  I know that I will never truly understand these issues because of my privilege, but this book brought me closer.  Gay writes:

“You don’t necessarily have to do anything once you acknowledge your privilege. You don’t have to apologize for it. You need to understand the extent of your privilege, the consequences of your privilege, and remain aware that people who are different from you move through and experience the world in ways you might never know anything about.”

This is what this book did for me.

This book was, at points, incredibly serious.  But, at other points, it was fun.  I appreciated the chapter about Gay’s time playing competitive Scrabble.  I also liked her discussion of The Hunger Games, even if it was relatively shallow.

All in all, I really enjoyed Bad Feminist.  It took several weeks to read, but was well worth the time.  This book challenged and pushed me to see the world from an individual who is very different from myself.  But it also had me nodding, agreeing, and even laughing at points.

You Will Like If You Enjoy: cultural discussions, racial issues, feminism, women’s rights, gender equality, GLBT rights

On the Shelf: Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson

It’s been far too long since I’ve read a fantasy trilogy.  Brandon Sanderson’s name seems to be cropping up everywhere lately–from fellow bloggers to my brother.  After poking around his different work on Amazon, I settled on the Mistborn Trilogy.  (My main motivation was that I could buy all three in a package on my Kindle for relatively cheap.)  I feel weird lumping three books into one post, but don’t have time to discuss them individually.

I actually finished the third book last night and DANG. What an ending!

  

Summary from Barnes & Noble: Brandon Sanderson, fantasy’s newest master tale spinner, author of the acclaimed debut Elantris, dares to turn a genre on its head by asking a simple question: What if the hero of prophecy fails? What kind of world results when the Dark Lord is in charge? The answer will be found in the Mistborn Trilogy, a saga of surprises and magical martial-arts.

Rating: 4 / 5 stars

My Thoughts

I realize that the summary isn’t very helpful.  I usually use summaries from Amazon or Goodreds, but there just weren’t any good ones out there.

The first thing I can say about this series is that it hooked me immediately.

This is my first exposure to Sanderson, but it didn’t take long to see he is a master at world building.  These books take place in an empire where the ash falls from the red sky, plants are brown and shriveled, and the land is covered in mysterious mist at night.  The majority of the population, known as skaa, are enslaved by the mysterious Lord Ruler and oppressed to the point where they don’t even try to fight.  Until one man, Kelsier, “snaps” and discovers he has the powers of a Mistborn.  Mistborns can consume and burn metals in their stomachs, which results in a bunch of super cool powers.  Despite impossible odds, Kelsier has had enough of oppression and assembles a team of thieves and begins a plot to overthrow the Lord Ruler.  Along the way, he recruits Vin, a young, distrustful street thief and fellow Mistborn.

As I said, Sanderson’s world building is fascinating.  The whole feel of his universe is so foreign that it’s compelling.  As the series goes on, he reveals more about the world’s history, religion, and systems of magic.  It’s all very well developed and engaging. Sanderson is also an excellent planner. He inserts seemingly insignificant details early on that frequently become huge plot points.

For the most part, the narrative structure is a little slow, but solid.  Hundreds of pages of exposition pass that aren’t uneventful, but not necessarily important.  Sanderson builds his story brick by brick and delivers a smashing climax.  Once you reach the last hundred and fifty pages, you can’t put the book down.

Although I am deeply attached to all the characters, the biggest weakness of these books is that the emotional components fall flat.  We know that certain characters have chemistry, but I rarely FELT it oozing through the pages.  I wouldn’t go so far as saying interactions feel forced, but they certainly lack depth.  Even in the poigniant, significant moments, the dialogue is lacking.

What Sanderson lacks emotions and dialogue, he more than makes up for in action scenes.  The series is filled with satisfying fights, chases, and show-downs. 

As a reader, I’m usually hard to surprise.  With most books, movies, and television shows, I can see the ending a mile away.  These days, just watching a trailer or reading the back of the book tells me exactly how the thing ends.  This trilogy didn’t shock me at any point, but it definitely kept me on my toes!  Each chapter had me wanting more, wondering what would happen next.  Sanderson frequently flips the tables–taking actions we perceive as good and twisting them. By the third book, he had me eating out of his hand, second-guessing everything. This doesn’t happen often and, boy, what fun it is!

One of the salient themes throughout these books is power.  When dealing with overthrowing empires and re-establishing rule, lots of questions are asked.  What makes a good ruler?  Where is the line between giving people power and taking it for the greater good?  Do people prefer enslavement because it’s easier?  Can people even rule themselves effectively?  Lots of politicking goes on and one thing Sanderson makes very clear is that, despite an overarching battle between the polar forces of Prosperity and Ruin, there is no black and white.  Even the most honorable characters are proved hypocrites–which I love. Other important themes include love and trust. One of my favorite characters is a man named Sazed, whose job is collecting and keeping safe the history of hundreds of dead religions. Through Sazed, Sanderson explores the importance and role of faith.

Overall, I REALLY enjoyed this series. I’m a big fan of well told stories and these books fit the bill! They’re excellent brain candy.  I’ll definitely be reading more of Sanderson’s work in the future.

You Will Like This Book If You Enjoy: Fantasy, engaging stories, world building, magic, action.

I believe this is from the Brazilian edition of the series. Source: Google images.