Reader Reaction: An Ember in the Ashes

Reader Reaction: An Ember in the Ashes

Title: An Ember in the Ashes
Series
Author: Sabaa Tahir
Released: 9 February 2016
Favorite quote: “You are full, Laia. Full of life and dark and strength and spirit. You are in our dreams. You will burn, for you are an ember in the ashes.”
goodreads

This is a novel that my friend, Taylor, bought me for Christmas. She works at a bookstore and thought/knew that I’d love it. Well, she was right. Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes is one of those novels that makes me uncomfortable in the best way possible. On goodreads, I rated it 5 stars (though it’d be more like a 4.5, if we could do half stars). Slight spoilers, but nothing major.

Characters.

Laia, a young girl who is forced to make tough decisions and face death straight on, is the protagonist. Usually when there are inner monologues on the page that stress the discomfort and pain of the main character, I’m turned off by how it’s done. However, Laia’s “complaints” were well written and didn’t make me want to face palm myself even once. Even though she does complain at times, I think her character is what makes it more than tolerable – appreciated. (That and the fact that the situations that she’s in are outrageously stressful.) She’s a self-proclaimed coward, and yet she does what she must to save the ones she cares about. When it counts, she’s brave. Never does she say that it’s easy. In fact, she points out constantly how easy it would be to not do what she does and instead turn away, but it’s her compassion and heart that drive her to bravery. I think that Laia, in this sense, is one of the most relatable characters that I’ve read in a while.

Elias, the golden boy/literal bastard who is the sole drop of water pushing against the waves, is the (/a?) love interest. (I’m kinda confused about where the romantic side of this series is going, even after having read the last chapter. It seems like it would clear some stuff up, but I think that even though this is set up to have the Elias/Laia love plot, it’s still going to be a love triangle?) The thing that I hate about stories like this is that there’s always the head-of-class/powerful/terrifying character archetype that seems like it comes from nowhere. Why do they think differently? Because, duh, they’re special! No. No. This is unacceptable. So! When Elias’ background actually makes complete sense in building his moral code, I instantly became a happy camper. I love his character.

Cook, Izzi, Helene, Marcus, Zak, the Commandant, and the others. I know that this is rushes, but I want to make a general statement about these characters rather than go into detail. They’re refreshing. They aren’t the two-dimensional characters who are written to serve a single purpose. Everyone fluctuates as characters as they would as people. No one is really straight-forward and sure (except maybe the Commandant) because these characters are subject to change! I love that. It’s awesome to read side characters that I root for just as much (if not more than) the main protagonists.

Setting and plot.

Should I stop saying that I love everything? Because it seems a little difficult for me to stop while writing this review.

Honestly, the plot was unpredictable and the setting has as much life as the characters. The layout descriptions create this stunning yet ravaged land that furthers the plot and the develops a specific atmosphere that envelops the reader as easily as wrapping a tired child in a blanket.

The history of the land is unique and definitely something that fascinated me right off the bat. The only negative thing that I have to say about that is that it set up for a couple major plot developments later on were too clearly foreshadowed, making some things easy to pick up on (though not anything that ruins the main twists and turns!). Also, I felt that when it did get to the explanations near the end, the whole thing felt rushed, like something that you’d read in an old cliche adventure story than what I typically expect from novels now. Other than that, it was awesome.

Definitely read this novel/series if you haven’t! It’s amazing and I think it’s appropriately written to attract both males and females. Warning: mentions of rape and physical abuse, so be cautious if you are squeamish. I don’t like reading stories with rape, but there wasn’t anything direct in An Ember of the Ashes. The physical abuse in present tense was kept to a minimum, but there were tons of references to what had been done in the past. It was a bit upsetting, but nothing that made me even consider putting the book down.

Reader Reaction: Cruel Beauty

Reader Reaction: Cruel Beauty

Title: Cruel Beauty
Series
Author: Rosamund Hodge
Released: 28 January 2014
Favorite quote: “I was not born to be saved.”
goodreads

Cruel Beauty is one of those novels that has been recommended to me repeatedly on bookstagram whenever I post photos of my latest Beauty and the Beast themed read. When I’ve had so many people in the past tell me that it’s a must-read, I have rather high expectations. When Beauty and the Beast retellings are my favorite to read, it’s impossible for me not to draw comparisons to others that I’ve read. So as I sit at my desk with my pint of peanut butter ice cream (courtesy of my dear friends – Ben and Jerry) and listening to “Evermore” sung by Dan Stevens (Beast) in the new Disney film, let me tell you a thing about why this novel was okay.

The characters didn’t click. I had about the worst time trying to fall in love with the “Beast” of the story. Why? There was no spark whatsoever. Maybe other people read it differently, but the male love interest – Ignifex – fell about as flat as the floor for me. Also, I couldn’t get behind Nyx – the female protagonist. Why? I can’t put my finger on it. She’s strong and thoughtful and rigid, which is a hard combination to pull off, but she does. So why wasn’t I easily slipping myself into her shoes as I read? I think it wasn’t so much her character as it was how she was written. I’m a bit supporter of inner monologues that convey feelings, but the strands of self reflection in this novel just about killed me. They got the point across, but it felt much more character driven rather than plot because of how it was written, when in reality, the story realllllllllly moves because of the amazing plot!

So here’s another thing about this retelling: the plot is freakin’ perfect! I love it and I would recommend it to people based on the awesome happenings of the book (that have little to do with character development, because even though these action/explanation parts of the novel are what develop the characters, I’m looking at what happens as standing separate, and let me tell you: it’s awesome). The background explanation of the world, the Beast, the Sundering, and the “spirits” of the novel are truly fantastic. Towards the end, it felt like I was reading a historical fantasy without romance, which was great (except for the fact that it’s flippin’ Beauty and the Beast/Persephone and Hades…). What I’m saying is that the plot and the background information of the world and everything within it is fantastically done! There were parts that were mind-numbingly predictable, but those didn’t really bother me because the story on a larger scale was definitely not. There were twists and turns that made it all worth it.

If you want to read a good romance, don’t read this. I was disappointed by the lack of sizzle between Nyx and Ignifex… Highly disappointed. However, if you just want to read an interesting take on the original Beauty and her Beast, I recommend this novel for that alone. Hopefully you won’t be let down!

Limit on Current Reads?

So this is going to be a short post inspired by my pile of 6 current reads that I’m working through.

Do you all have a cap for the number of current reads you’ll take on and actually work toward finishing at least once or twice a week (so no books on the back burner!)?

I want to say that I usually focus on solely one novel at a time, but being an English major has changed that for me. I’m currently reading three books for school on top of the manga and novels that I’m reading for my own enjoyment. It’s different for me and I feel like I’m going a bit crazy, but logging my progress and updates on goodreads has helped so much!

The question: Can you comfortably read more than 1 book at a time? How many are you currently reading? Is it too much? Too little??

Edmund Spenser: One day i wrote her name upon the sand

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Edmund Spenser

One Day I wrote Her Name Upon the Sand

This poem by Edmund Spenser is about capturing not just a singular moment but a whole lifetime as he attempts to immortalise his loved one, despite her protestations and accusations of his vanity for trying to achieve the impossible. But as marks in the sand are washed away and the sands of time will too eventually run out, Spenser’s verse does ‘eternize’ her and them both and comes as a fine example of how poetry may just come the closest to ensuring that moments of glorious emotion and intensity do indeed last forever. This sonnet is part of one of Spenser’s most famous works, Amoretti, a sonnet cycle consisting of 89 sonnets which describe his courtship and wedding to Elizabeth Boyle (who was immortalised to an extent which she could never have imagined). It also utilises Spenser’s own…

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General Update

So I’m in college. Yes, nothing new.

I’m in college and I’ve finished mid-terms. Great!

I’m in college and we’re started 2 term papers. Not so great.

Life has been pretty hectic lately. Balancing school, writing, reading, and attempts to maintain a society life has proven to be difficult, but I’m making it work. Sadly, one of the things that I still forget about doing when I do get free time is blogging. I feel like every single time I post now, I apologize for my inactivity! But truly, I am sorry. I’m sure you all know how it goes.

So here’s a quick literary update on how my life has been going!

Academics

School is going wonderfully. Even though it’s getting busy (since it’s the middle of the semester), I’m managing well enough to stay afloat. I’ve made a couple friends in my classes. I’m not sure if I can really call them friends yet. We’ve bonded over mutual tastes in manga and novels, so that should count for something, right?

I submitted a fiction piece that I originally wrote on WordPress for a daily writing prompt challenge. How cool is that? I edited it and added some more to it, but I’m really excited to either get accepted or rejected. The sooner I know of either outcome, the better. What did I submit it to? It’s a literary “magazine” for my university. It’s called the Sequoia somethin’-rather. It’s probably a bad sign that I can’t remember the title of it, but it’s changed about 3 times in the last 20 years, so who can really blame me?

Editing

I’m so close to being done editing my novel for the third time! After talking with some people on here and Instagram who were kind enough to offer advice, I’ve decided that after I’m done editing this third and final time, I’m going to try to find a literary agent. Ta-da! That’s big news. Well, maybe not for any of you, but it’s big news for me. It’s a huge decision for me, on top of that! I’d thought that I would never need representation because my work would speak for itself. Honestly, that was probably the most naive thing that I could’ve thought and I’m extremely glad that I’ve come to realize the reality of writing/publishing. Maybe I don’t know the whole of it yet, but I’m learning. If I really want to do this in a way that would work best for me, I’m going to need someone else helping me who knows what they’re doing, because Lord knows I don’t.

Reading

I’ve been reading a lot! – a lot for school and a lot for myself. Lately, since my workload at school has increased significantly, I haven’t had much time to read novels for enjoyment. However, I have been reading more manga recently to fill in short gaps between classes or before bed. They’re too short for chapters but too long to just sit around and waste, y’know?

I’m currently re-reading A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas because I plan on having both it and A Court of Mist and Fury finished for the second time by May when the third book in the series will be coming out. Who else is flippin’ excited for its release?! I’ve talked to a couple people on Goodreads about it and everyone seems to be in agreement that this is one of the most anticipated young adult novels of 2017. Does anyone else agree?

As always, thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment and strike up a conversation. I love talking to everyone. Hope that you all have a wonderful Spring! Oh yeah. Happy first day of Spring!

LGBT Literature

This genre has been on my mind a lot lately. (Is it a genre or a theme?)

The first novel that I read featuring a homosexual protagonist was Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. (You can find my reader reaction here.) It was one of the books that I read for a book club that ran through Instagram. Actually, it was the first novel that we were reading together as a group. I was hesitant because even though I’d read books that highlighted homosexuality (like Cassandra Clare’s novels with Magnus Bane and Alec Lightwood), I hadn’t read a novel with a gay main character in a book written about their journey to realization (which is what A&DDtSotU is about). After reading it, though, I fell in love.

Since then, I’ve only read a couple books with homosexual main characters: Leo Loves Aries and TimekeeperIn my TBR list on goodreads, though, there are several more. Right now, two of my current reads are Frankenstein and The Art of Being Normal. Why am I including these? I’m reading Mary Shelley’s novel for a paper in which I’ll focus on the homosexual tendencies of Dr. Victor Frankenstein and how Robert Walton (the writer of the letters at the beginning) is his parallel to show more clearly these desires.

So why am I including The Art of Being Normal? I want to put a mini disclaimer right now that states that what follows will include slight spoilers (though nothing too big since I’m only halfway through the novel) and also that I do not have a very good grasp of what it means to be transgender. Let me be clear: I am not prejudiced in that way, but I simply haven’t ever spoken with anyone who is about it so I feel ill-qualified to talk a lot on the subject. The main character(s?) are transgender, not homosexual. This has been a very emotional read so far, but also really enlightening. My reader reaction for this will be one that I look forward to writing and (hopefully) getting comments on to spark conversation.

There are so many novels out there that feature diverse characters who face real problems that a lot of us can’t really fully understand. I highly encourage readers to gravitate toward these types of books. It’s too easy to get stuck in a loop of only reading stories that follow characters that we can fully relate to. Why? Because we want to read about ourselves in places doing things that we haven’t experienced. It’s living for us. But diverse reading lists are important, especially now.

If you have any recommendations for me from this genre, I’d love if you’d comment titles or links. Thanks for reading!

Reader Reaction: Dear Mr. Knightley

Reader Reaction: Dear Mr. Knightley

Title: Dear Mr. Knightley
Stand Alone
Author: Katherine Reay
Released: November 12, 2013
Favorite quote: “Never let something so unworthy define you.”
gooodreads

Dear Mr. Knightley was a title that I came across a few months ago but didn’t pick up until this last weekend. I had read mixed reviews on goodreads before getting the ebook, which made me even more hesitant about deciding to read it. However, since I haven’t read Daddy Longlegs, I figured that I wouldn’t have anything to compare the novel to so it’d be fine. Now to get to the actual reaction.

As dumb as this is going to sound, I didn’t think that it was going to be as religious as it was. I have no problem with religious novels, but the way it worked in Dear Mr. Knightley wasn’t my cup of tea. It felt a little forced for the protagonist, in my opinion. I know a lot of people will disagree with me on this, but it felt like it came out of nowhere, which I suppose it how finding God works for many. Again, I have no problem with reading religious novels, but this one just didn’t work for me in that aspect.

Onto a happier note! I’ll keep this quick since it’s a quick book and you should really just read it. Samantha Moore is one of the most frustrating twenty-something-year-olds I’ve ever read. However, I can completely understand how living through her experiences has led her to become a sort of recluse bibliophile. It makes sense. That was the issue that a lot of people had with the book – the main character is too naive and socially inept. But her character’s background makes sense of that. I usually hate when people write female characters who are obsessed with books and who don’t know what they’re doing in social situations, but for Dear Mr. Knightley (as with Fangirl), it works.

The idea, although not original since Jean Webster did come up with it first for Daddy Longlegs, was glorious! I loved it. The format – all letters until the last chapter – threw me off a bit, but I got over it really quickly and came to understand the importance that it played. If told in any other way, it wouldn’t have been nearly as good. (Again, I haven’t read Daddy Longlegs yet, so maybe that isn’t an original idea either.)

If you love books about books, love, family, Christianity, college, the foster care system, differing economic and social classes, and struggles, I really suggest you read this novel. It’s quick, cute, and just a great read.