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: 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: 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!

In Review: September, 2015

Another month has come and gone and it’s time to look back.  Welcome to another…

Month in Review blog heading

Part I. Blogging

It’s been a FANTASTIC month on Keep Your Feet!  At the beginning of September, I made the following goals:

  • Stick to my revamped posting schedule
  • Participate in Blogging University’s Writing 101 challenge
  • Follow at least five new blogs
  • Comment on at least three new blogs

For the most part, I more than met these goals.  Participating in Writing 101 made it easy.  I couldn’t help scrolling through my classmates’ posts, seeing all the interesting ways they interpreted the daily assignments.  Following and commenting came naturally and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more of my fellow bloggers.

I’m incredibly proud of the work I’ve been doing in Writing 101.  Some of the posts over the past month have meant more to me than anything I’ve written in a long time. Here’s a list of my favorites, in case you missed them.  I’d really appreciate if you checked them out and would love to hear your responses!

I freely admit that I’ve fudged my posting schedule… AGAIN.  But coming up with features on top of daily assignments is a tall order.  I don’t feel bad for not meeting it.  Last weekend, though, I pulled together several new On the Shelf reviews of books I’ve been reading lately.  Those will be posted over the next few weeks.

As for my attempts to blog about life on an apple orchard… I’m pretty sure that feature is never going to happen.  I work 50+ hours a week at the orchard and, when I’m off duty, don’t want to write about it.

Part II. Books

September was an unusually slow reading month.  I attribute this to the fact that I spent most of my time in non-fiction, which is a bit uncharacteristic.  This was supplemented by listening to the Harry Potter books on audiobook for the second time in three months.  No regrets there!

The main books I have read include:

  • Live, Love, Lead by Brian Houston
  • Love Does by Bob Geoff
  • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay
  • Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

I plan doing informal reviews on Gay, Sanderson, and Geoff’s books in the upcoming weeks.  Keep an eye out for those!

Part III. Life

This month was BUSY, to say the least!  My family’s apple orchard opened on September 3 and, ever since, we’ve all become workaholics.  I’m at the orchard six days a week.  Some days, I only have to be over there for a few hours.  Others, especially when we’re gearing up for a busy weekend, I pull multiple 10-hour-days in a row.  On Saturday night, after working in the store handling an endless stream of customers and transactions, my parents and I go to a local bar for burgers, beer (or, in my case, hard cider), and a rest from toil.

Nevertheless, I have been doing fun things!  With friends in my area, I’ve had a steady stream of movie marathons, bonfires, and girls nights.  I’ve been to my local Applebee’s more times in the past month than I have in my entire life.  A few weeks ago, I met up with one of my study abroad friends who recently moved to Minneapolis.  We went to see Ivan & Alyosha and Noah Gundersen.  My older brother and I also went to a Twins baseball game, which was a blast.  I also went to the Renaissance Festival with an old roommate.  I haven’t been since high school and loved it!  It was so fun exploring the different vendors and watching the jousting.

On the job front, I have a possible job opportunity when orchard season ends!  Nothing is official, but once my resume is approved, I’ll have a part-time job from mid-October through early January.  I’ll tell you all about what the job is once it’s official.  It’s perfect because it’s a job I’m very much interested in, but am hesitant to make a full 2-year commitment.  I love my home community, but don’t really want to put down roots and stay here.  If things work out, I’ll gain professional experience, have a source of income for the next few months, and still have wiggle-room to figure out where the next big adventure lies.

October Blogging Goals:

  • Comment on 3 blogs per week
  • Post at least 3 times per week
  • Clean up and revamp menus and pages
  • Continue using Writing 101 assignments as inspiration for non-feature posts

Photos From This Month:

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.

Fall Posting Schedule

Seasons are changing once more and, as always, we must change with them.  At the beginning of summer, I crafted a blogging schedule and my follow-through was pretty dismal.  However, the beautiful thing about failure is that it provides opportunities to learn and grow.  I’m all about learning and growing.

Here we are at the beginning of another season and it’s time for another attempt.

Without further ado, I present to you my Fall Posting Schedule!  (With new banners!)

Orchard Moments: This is a revamped version of my attempted summer feature, Pleasant Valley Thursday.  My original intent for these posts were to give insight into what it’s like to live at an apple orchard while simultaneously complaining about my field labor job.  The problem is that the formatting just didn’t work.  When it came down to it, I just didn’t want to make big long posts explaining the details of farming.

In the new feature, I’ll post brief glimpses into orchard life–photos, blurbs, funny things that happen, etc.  This way, I can still share a significant part of my life with you all without getting bogged down.  These posts will come out on Tuesdays.

OrchardMoments banner

On the Shelf: These posts became regular over the summer and quickly became one of my favorite parts of blogging.  Each week, I pick a book that I’ve recently read and do an informal review.  I provide a brief summary of the text, rate it on a five-star scale, and discuss my thoughts/experience.  If the book has been adapted into movies, I sometimes share trailers or favorite clips.  Occasionally, I share fan art.  Sometimes, I’m juggling multiple books and am not in the position to write in detail about any of them.  When this happens, I like to make a big post where I briefly touch on everything.  During the summer I published these on Tuesdays, but have decided to move them to Thursdays.  This way, I have time during the week to draft quality posts throughout the week instead of scrambling to pull them together the night before.

On the Shelf Banner

#WeekendCoffeeShare: I know several other bloggers who do these and I’ve recently joined in.  The idea is to draft a post where you discuss your week as if you’re meeting up with your readers for coffee.  It’s a great way to casually talk about things I normally wouldn’t blog about–random happenstances, complaints, and all the in-betweens that make life fun.  It’s hosted by Part Time Monster.

Month in Review: At the end of each month, I’ve decided to pause and look back, focusing on three areas: Blogging, Books, and Life.  I feel like this is a good step towards regularity–it’s a way to look back on my blogging habits and find ways of improving.  It’s also a good way to help position myself in life.  By reflecting on where I’ve been, I can figure out where I’m going–a theme at the heart of what Keep Your Feet is all about.

Month in Review blog heading

Sketchbook Corner: One of the ways I de-stress is by creating art.  I’m not amazing, but when enough art piles up, I like to post it.  This feature is infrequent, but fun.

I’ve also decided to participate in the WordPress Blogging University Writing 101 course.  This means four weeks of daily assignments that will help me find inspiration to write every day.  I attempted to take the course last month, but never received any of the emails, so I am trying again! I’m looking forward to the challenge.  It will definitely be a time commitment and I know that I might not be able to keep up perfectly.  But I’m going to try!  I really love that WordPress offers these classes.  I love polishing my site and exploring new styles of posts.  As always, I hope this opens opportunities to get to know other bloggers and find new sites to follow.

I’ll also be working on updating my features tab found at the top of the page to match the new schedule. Such things take time.

It should be a great fall!  Feel free to join with me as I embark on a season of apple orchards, books, and fun! I’m excited to see what the next few months holds for Keep Your Feet.

On the Shelf: Fairest (Levana’s Story)

I read the first three Lunar Chronicles novels last Spring and, although they certainly weren’t perfect, I fell in love with them.  I’ve been putting off reading the novella telling Levana’s story simply because I didn’t want to buy it on my Kindle.  When I saw it on the shelf at the library last week, I picked it up without hesitation.

Fairest by Marissa Meyer

My Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars

Summary from GoodreadsFans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now. Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.

My Thoughts:

The Lunar Chronicles books leave you with serious questions regarding Levana.  Why does she wear the veil?  Why is she so evil?  Was she born a tyrant or made into one?  This novella answers those questions.  Because I liked the series so much, I hoped to enjoy this.

As you can tell by my rating, I was disappointed.

The focus is completely on Levana–her life, her story, her problems.  After cracking open the book, it doesn’t take long to see that she has reason to be unhappy.  Disfigured by the cruelty of her elder sister, Levana is a lonely, insecure girl who just wants someone to value her existence.  At first, this is sad.  Pitiable, even.

But it becomes quickly apparent that the protagonist is also extremely immature, trying to fill her lonliness by forcing a palace guard to marry her, despite the fact that he is in the midst of mourning his beloved wife.  This sets Levana on a lifelong course of manipulation, self-importance, and desire for domination.

What disgusts me about Levana is that her childhood mistreatment, though horrifying, makes her feel that she deserves love, no matter what the cost.  It leads to the ruin of multiple lives.  In order to cling to the thin fabrication of love she’s worked so hard to possess, she turns to violence.

At one point, she has everything she has ever wanted: a husband, step-daughter, and even the throne.  But it’s not enough.  She becomes increasingly power-hungry and paranoid.  In attempt to become all-powerful, she destroys the very thing that she first loved.

Levana is not an admirable character, nor a likable one.  At the start, she’s pitiable.  At the end, she’s disgusting.  I don’t know why Meyer felt her story needed to be told.  It doesn’t redeem Levana in the slightest.  It just makes me hate her more.  I sure do hope that Cinder succeeds in taking her down in the final novel, which comes out in November.

You Will Like If: You enjoy fairy tales, The Lunar Chronicles, villain backstories

On the Shelf: Wildlife by Fiona Wood

Of my most recent library haul, this was my favorite.

Rating: 4 / 5 Stars

Summary from GoodreadsDuring a semester in the wilderness, sixteen-year-old Sib expects the tough outdoor education program and the horrors of dorm life, but friendship drama and an unexpected romance with popular Ben Capaldi? That will take some navigating.  New girl Lou has zero interest in fitting in, or joining in. Still reeling from a loss that occurred almost a year ago, she just wants to be left alone. But as she witnesses a betrayal unfolding around Sib and her best friend Holly, Lou can’t help but be drawn back into the land of the living.

My Thoughts:

This was one of the most poigniant YA novels I’ve read in a while.  Wood beautifully captures the awkwardness, messiness, and pain of being a teenager without making me roll my eyes once.  So often, YA protagonists are either unrealistically shallow or unrealistically intelligent.  Wood’s are somewhere in the middle.

Wildlife is all about discovery.  In a way, it’s the story we all go through as teens.  It’s about finding a way through the messiness of life and figuring out who you are.  Her main characters are beautiful and complex individuals that captured my heart.  Their stories highlight different aspects of the teenage experience that felt authentic.

Until recently, Syb had never been popular and she was always okay with that.  But when her aunt scores her a modeling gig, her face plastered on a billboard becomes her ticket to the cool table.  Suddenly, the most popular boy in her grade likes her, she’s the center of attention, and her childhood best friend is right by her side, urging her to take advantage of the opportunity.  Deep down, she knows that popularity and the behavior surrounding it just isn’t her.  But, at the same time, she really likes the popular boy.  Stuck between two worlds, she has to decide what really matters–being with the cool kids or being true to herself.

Then, there’s Lou.  Dear, dear Lou.  Devastated by the death of her boyfriend, Lou is still in deep mourning when we meet her at the beginning of the novel.  She has no desire to engage with the world.  She attends therapy, but puts on a show to make them think she’s getting better.  She’s empty inside.  All her thoughts go to the one she lost.  When all her friends go spend a term in Paris, she decides to transfer schools just in time for their wilderness survival term.  Lou steps up to the challenge, finding solace in grueling hikes and beautiful scenery.  Forced to live in close-quarters with a handful of girls, she can’t help but become slowly involved in their lives.

Wildlife isn’t the most gripping novel out there, but what strikes me most is its honesty.  Wood poses questions and gives realistic, truthful answers.  Is popularity worth it?  When is it right to start having sex?  What is it like to lose a loved one?  What does friendship look like?

The best part?  It’s all set at camp!

Sample Quote:

“The trouble is that keeping [memory] alive, giving it all that energy, will, determination, stops me being alive in the present.  I’m not stupid.  I don’t need Esthers and Merills to tell me that is not a brilliant way for a sixteen-year-old to live.  I know what you would say.  You’d say, get on with it, Lou m’Lou.  There’s a lot more to do than thinking about me.  Don’t hang out somewhere that isn’t anymore.  Don’t haunt the landlost past, you’d say… I’ve written you a hundred unsent letters.  Maybe if I keep writing and sealing them, they can sit somewhere safely.  Our story is a one-sided correspondence–I know that’s oxymoronic–and I can allow that to be it.  I can put a lid… I can just go there sometimes… I can know it’s there, safely; we are there.”

You Will Like This Book If: You enjoy Young Adult fiction, wilderness, camp life, and coming of age stories.

On the Shelf: Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen

This week, I’m delving into the realm of YA fiction.  I read two novels belonging to the genera this week: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (an old favorite) and Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen.  I considered highlighting the Zusak novel, but decided against it ’cause the review would be nothing but me raving about how much I love it.  Instead, I chose to discuss the newest Dessen book.

My Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Goodreads | Amazon

SummaryPeyton, Sydney’s charismatic older brother, has always been the star of the family, receiving the lion’s share of their parents’ attention and—lately—concern. When Peyton’s increasingly reckless behavior culminates in an accident, a drunk driving conviction, and a jail sentence, Sydney is cast adrift, searching for her place in the family and the world. When everyone else is so worried about Peyton, is she the only one concerned about the victim of the accident?  Enter the Chathams, a warm, chaotic family who run a pizza parlor, play bluegrass on weekends, and pitch in to care for their mother, who has multiple sclerosis. Here Sydney experiences unquestioning acceptance. And here she meets Mac, gentle, watchful, and protective, who makes Sydney feel seen, really seen, for the first time.

My Thoughts:

I discovered Sarah Dessen in high school and became an instant fan.  Her books Just Listen, Lock & Key, and Along for the Ride were some of my favorite reads back in the day.  She’s one of the few writers where I will read anything she writes.  (Mind you, this isn’t because she’s high-quality literature.)

Dessen’s novels are engaging, fun, and they go fast.  Although it’s nearly 500 pages, Saint Anything took only two days to plow through.  It’s the kind of book you curl up with in bed at night and end up staying up FAR too late with.  You know, the “Just one more chapter…” game.

My main issue with these books is that, although they’re enjoyable, they’re highly formulaic.  Her heroines are all the same– pretty high school/pre-college age girls trying to find themselves amid tumultuous family situations.  Along the way, they discover a new group of friends that accept her for who she is and show her how to enjoy/approach life in a new way.  Along the way, she finds love with a special, unique, insightful boy who does not see her in the way the world wants her to be, but as she really is.  This is freeing… but brief.  At some point, things go wrong, the relationship goes rocky, family troubles explode, and the heroine is left in a mess.  By the end of the novel, though, she is able to piece things back together, learns something new about herself, her family begins to heal, and she steps into the future with her boyfriend.

There.  I just summed up every single Sarah Dessen novel.  Now you don’t have to read any!  I’m kidding.  If you like reasonably well-written stories about self-discovery and summer romances, you’ll enjoy almost all these books.

I did enjoy Saint Anything… but it followed too close to the formula and, frankly, wasn’t a stand-out.  Sydney was a mildly boring, but relatable heroine.  Her friends were quirky and fun, but felt like shadow copies of more interesting incarnations of the same characters in previous novels.  The love interest, Mac, was likable, but a bit bland.  I strongly disliked her parents–they were over-protective, judgmental, and terrible judges of character.

There was a review of Goodreads that claims the most this novel did was make them want to eat pizza… and I must say, I wholeheartedly agree.  While reading the book, I enjoyed it, but don’t think I’ll be giving it a second visit.

You will like this book if you enjoy: reasonably well-written YA novels, quick reads, stories of self-discovery, family relationships, and cute summer romances.

My suggestion: Skip this book.  It’s nothing special.  If you want to read Dessen, go for one of her books written in the 2002-2009 range.  Her earlier novels fall flat and her more recent ones are too formulaic.

See you next week for more book talk!

On the Shelf: Persuasion by Jane Austen

It’s Tuesday.  Let’s talk Jane Austen.

Goodreads | Amazon

SummaryTwenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story properly begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

My Thoughts:

I read this for the first time several years ago and, honestly, wasn’t a big fan.  I found Anne boring and the plot slow.  Looking back, I think my impression was influenced strongly by the 1995 film adaptation, which I disliked.

Several years and a literature degree later, I picked Austen’s last completed novel for another go.  And, honestly, I can’t believe I ever disliked it.  I can’t even bring myself to rate the novel, I loved it so much.  This time through, I paid less attention to the love story and more to the social commentary and critique that Austen does so well.

Anne Elliot is a wonderful heroine.  Filled with intelligence, gentleness, and wisdom, she is surrounded by people who do not appreciate her.  A lady of high birth, her father and elder sister are vain and over-concerned with issues of status and appearance.  Her married sister is foolish, selfish, and hysterical and, though the neighboring Musgrove family are her good friends, their boisterous natures prevent them from paying Anne too much mind.  Instead of resenting always being shoved to the side and never getting the spotlight, Anne willingly steps aside, happy and content to soak in the friendship of others.  Her strength and constancy helps her make the most of every situation.

Eight years after being persuaded to break off an engagement with the dashing, Captain Wentworth, Anne finds herself once more in the company and social circle of her former love.  The problem is, Wentworth treats her with cool indifference and clearly hasn’t forgiven her for breaking his heart.  In the meantime, he spends his time pursuing Henrietta and Louisa Musgrove, determined to leave his history with Anne behind.  Anne, an intuitive and a careful observer, is forced to endure his dismissal and her still-roiling emotions in silence.  Of course, because she is almost universally taken for granted, no one bothers to probe beyond her surficial feelings and discover the truth.  She bears her pain regally, with grace and poise, accepting the consequence of her long-regretted decision.

I adore Anne for her meekness.  Being meek is often seen as a weakness–but I don’t think so.  I define meekness as strength under control.  Anne Elliot is an incredibly strong woman, but she holds it back.  I’m inspired by her ability to maintain her countenance while feeling severe emotional confusion and pain.  She is wise, gentle, and incredibly selfless.  She, above all, is most deserving of love, but also the most willing to sacrifice her needs for the good of others.  I honestly want to reach into the novel and smack all the characters until they learn to appreciate her.

Ultimately, Wentworth is able to overcome his resentment and is one of the few characters who sees Anne for the incredible woman that she is.

Persuasion is a novel about forgiveness.  It is a story about change, about pain, and about weathering hardships.  Often referred to as Austen’s most mature novel, it’s about remaining steadfast even when there is no hope.  It’s the kind of novel that gets better as you grow older.  I’m sure that, the next time I read it, I’ll notice something new, something deeper, and fall a little more in love.

It’s been a few years since I’ve read Austen.  I had her entire collection finished by the time I graduated high school, but revisiting her works post-college has enabled me to appreciate her in an entirely new light.  Yes, her love stories are timeless and splendid.  But Austen is so much more than that.  She’s got an incredible eye for social critique through her characters.  Heroines and their beaus aside, the background characters are really where the flavoring is.  Through the various individuals, Austen is able to point out absurdities and contradictions regarding social class and decorum.  She is scathing to Anne’s father and elder sister for their pompous vanity and disregard for those beneath them.  She paints the complex relationship between love and irritation through Mary, her unintentionally selfish, hysterical younger sister.  Through the Musgroves, she shows that good character often outshines minor failures and Lady Russell shows that advice, no matter how well-intentioned, should not always be listened to.

Most people would love to meet their favorite authors, but I don’t think I’d want to know Jane Austen.  I’d probably end up as a character in her book.  Knowing my luck, I’d probably be an endearing cat lady.

Favorite Quote:

“I do not think I ever opened a book in my life which had not something to say upon woman’s inconstancy. Songs and proverbs, all talk of woman’s fickleness. But perhaps you will say, these were all written by men.” (Captain Harville)

“Perhaps I shall. Yes, yes, if you please, no reference to examples in books. Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.” (Anne)

Check out a fan-made trailer for the 2007 movie.  The quality isn’t great, but that aside, it does a great job of highlighting the adaptation.

See you next week for another book talk!