Before I get jumped for giving a low rating, let me remind you (as I put my hands up in defense) that Goodreads doesn't have us rate books based on so...moreBefore I get jumped for giving a low rating, let me remind you (as I put my hands up in defense) that Goodreads doesn't have us rate books based on some subjective ideas of "what's good and what's bad". I rated this book based on my personal enjoyment according to the Goodreads scale of the same. The two stars aren't my judgment of the book's merit. The Hobbit is brilliant for its worldbuilding. I acknowledge that; I just didn't like my reading experience with it. So no, my stars aren't an insult to the book!
From what I've seen, those who've read The Lord of the Rings and its prelude tend to be in one camp or the other. I've only seen one person say they liked both; people who liked The Hobbit often say they didn't like The Lord of the Rings, and I'm the opposite. I first read the trilogy in junior high and loved it, then tried to read The Hobbit in my sophomore year of high school. It was the only book I'd ever quit prematurely.
I always told myself The Hobbit was the one book on all those "Must Reads for Life" lists that I could with good conscience leave unread. I felt, from my remembrance of reading those first few chapters, that it wouldn't be worth it. There were other great books out there for me to read that I could be sure of enjoying. I didn't see a worthwhile in the rest of the book, if I was to judge from my lack of enjoyment during those first chapters.
My brother always consulted me when he had confusion in any LotR details. With The Hobbit coming out, I figured he'd be appealing to me again for answers, and I didn't want to get caught out of the know, so that's what lead to me finally completing what I said I wouldn't. Of course I'd already started reading it before I found out the movie was actually gonna be three movies, and with content from Tolkien's other various works...and that we'd be seeing the movie before I'd have time to read those, too. But I still had to see it through once I started, even though I didn't have much reason anymore. I remembered it being a short book so I didn't think it'd be too much of a bother to get through...that is something I was wrong about.
Now that I've read it, I see the presumptions I'd carried were just. Yes, Tolkien's a great author, and yes, I loved The Lord of the Rings, but The Hobbit wasn't a necessary read for me. Once again I found myself fidgeting as I was reading. I was just. So. Bored. I just wanted it to end. And I couldn't figure out what it was that made me feel like that. As a finished reader looking back on the book's timeline, I have more enjoyment imagining the events of the book than I did during my reading the book. It's something in the way the story was written, rather than lack of interest in the events. Yet I loved LotR so much in contrast, so how could that be?
I do know I'm a more character-driven reader and characterization is something lacking in the book. The dwarves are all interchangeable except for Thorin, who only stands out because he's the leader and therefore given more voice; Bombur stands out for being "silly and fat". They and Bilbo get little interaction despite being a band together. We rarely get any voice, just events.
The understated details that go beneath the story itself were the redeeming qualities to this book, for me: the parallels between Frodo and Bilbo, of having the highest import to everyone's lives in contrast to their tiny size, a reminder that pure heart gets further than notions of valor and wisdom; that both hobbits despite revulsion have a game-changing moment of pity for Gollum which creates terrible problems in the future, yet also in the ultimate end proves to be the greatest saving grace. Above all, my favorite aspect being the bittersweet consideration of the journeys both little hobbits made returning them as strangers, still longing for the simplicity of their old lives but being completely out of touch to everyone who used to inhabit their inner sphere. So when they went "There and Back Again", they were forever changed (of course though in the general Bilbo and his cousin parallel in that instance, their experience of it has a wide difference, tragically for Frodo).
It's moments like that of the end of the book which left me with a feeling of satisfaction rather than annoyance with my exasperating reading experience, and pushed me to give two stars rather than one. I'll include it here so maybe you'll feel better about my review after getting to the end. You can't not smile:
" 'Surely you don't disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don't really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!'
'Thank goodness!' said Bilbo laughing, and handed him the tobacco jar."(less)
A worldwide craze for a book that's actually worthwhile, for once. I'm surprised because I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did (can you blame m...moreA worldwide craze for a book that's actually worthwhile, for once. I'm surprised because I didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I did (can you blame my skepticism, given the other currently acclaimed books? yeesh). And my review will be short, because I guess like so many others, I can only say I liked the book, without being able to explain why.
The writing is simple, with curt sentencing, which would normally bug me, but it works here, given the first-person view and circumstances surrounding the narrator. The characters are also simple. There's not much flesh to them, but they're somehow more than just flimsy puppets with visible strings leading up the author. Katniss is the kind of "strong female" which is the popular trope in fiction nowadays. This also would normally annoy me because it seems everyone's just content to put a sword in a female's hand so she can be deemed strong, to the exclusion of any personality. There's that to Katniss that doesn't just rest on that stereotype. Maybe it's because there's an unapologetic nature to her; she doesn't ask to be liked by the readers but they like her anyway (if she was meant to be "liked", her character wouldn't have mentioned such things as wanting to kill Prim's cat originally, something which normally would turn off an audience, and other such thing she says--they want their character "strong", but not hard). Peeta sees himself in the position of a young-adult fiction that generally suffers whenever a main female character's doesn't; the male offset usually is given the cardboard personality bundle, comprised of traits that are deemed attractive without having substance. Again, there's something to his character that makes him more than that.
There's something subtle at work that makes the book well-rounded. Whatever it is, it works well. (less)
Sorcery and Cecilia (Or, the Enchanted Chocolate Pot) opens with a date, so readers are immediately made aware that the story's set in England, 1817....moreSorcery and Cecilia (Or, the Enchanted Chocolate Pot) opens with a date, so readers are immediately made aware that the story's set in England, 1817. However, just a bit into it, casual mention is made of a magical academy. The England in this book is an England where magic exists, is acknowledged, and is accepted. For readers who enjoy both historical fiction and magic, this book is truly a delight. The magic fits in seamlessly with the setting and storyline, so that it doesn't disturb our formed ideas of what life was like back in the 1800s. The novel's tone successfully recalls to mind classics such as Jane Austen's, but in a modern way. I really appreciated that the authors phrases and exclamations relevent to the time period. Small tidbits like that really add to the effect of a book.
The first time I read this book was when I was thirteen; even years afterwards, I couldn't think of a modern book that reminded me of the classics as much as this book did. Even the summary on the back shows how set apart it is from other YA fiction, by imbuing humor and curiousity in a very matter-of-fact tone ("Speaking of Oliver, how long can we make excuses for him? Ever since he was turned into a tree, he hasn't bothered to tell anyone where is is"). Maybe the overall effect is attributed to how the authors started the novel as just a game! The fun they had in writing it seems to show through.
Caroline Stevermer writes as the character Kate, who's in London for her debut. Her experience becomes a bit more exciting than other girls in their seasons, as she unwittingly steps into the middle of a magic feud. Cecy--Kate's cousin, written by Patricia Wrede--has to remain in Essex, living vicariously through Kate's letters. Soon Cecy's life becomes anything but humdrum, however, as magical intrigue and mystery begin to occur around her, as well.
The two main characters express a strength in them while remaining feminine, which I truly commend the authors for. Many writers seem unable to deal with the idea of a strong woman: they don't want to make her too dainty, for fear of reproach, so they decide to make her a tomboy instead. There! Now she's a strong woman, automatically! I've seen this with so many historical fiction females. Kate and Cecy, as characters, are believeable and don't seem strained at all.
While the plot's strong and the characters aren't unlikeable, there's a bit of contrivance in there. While Kate and Cecy are smart and likeable, there's really not much difference to them. Cecy has some talent at making charm bags, as she finds out, but other than that, they don't have traits to separate their identities. It's as if they're both the same person, in two different places, writing to each other. The same is true of the male leads, who are both reminiscent of Mr. Darcy or Mr. Rochester. The plot becomes a bit cliche after the climax, complete with the oft-seen character-tells-off-those-who've-done-her-an-injustice scene, and...from the moment the male characters are introduced, you can tell what's probably going to happen in the end. I'm fine with a sprinkling of the inevitable when it comes along with good writing and plot, though; aren't you?(less)
Aza's used to the stares and discrimination she gets for her looks being unappealing, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. Her singing vo...moreAza's used to the stares and discrimination she gets for her looks being unappealing, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. Her singing voice is beautiful, but others judge too much on looks. She's taken to purposefully remaining behind the scenes at her family's inn, cleaning rooms rather than interacting with the people so she can avoid that feeling of being scrutinized.
One day, the gnome zhamM walks in on her singing, and takes a liking to her. Aza ventures to ask him if he could look into the future for her. zhamM can only tell her that they'll meet again in the Gnome Caverns, at a time when she'll be in great danger.
It's hard for Aza to imagine she'll ever even leave the Featherbed, but by some stroke of fate, Aza eventually finds herself at Ontio Castle, made into the queen's lady-in-waiting. Everything's more perfect than Aza could've imagined her life to be and zhamM's prediction of danger seems more even more unlikely now, but then Aza's entangled in a deception that threatens her newfound happiness.
I've read Ella Enchanted and The Two Princesses of Bamarre when I was a kid, and loved them, but I hadn't re-read them or anything else by Gail Carson Levine since then. My remembrances had me eager to read something else of hers after all this time, and I was just as captivated with it. It seems like Levine has a magic with her writing, which is fitting since her tales themselves deal with magic and fantasy.
It was really refreshing to read about a character who's not conventionally attractive. There seems to be a fear to have female characters in books, TV and movies be anything less than pretty which sets an impossible standard for every girl out there. Even though it's fiction, it's aggravating that the majority of it is represented by girls all with perfect figures and features, when the population of the world is so diverse in its looks. There should be equal representation of all, because everyone wants someone to identify with.
The book gets across its message without being like a moral lesson and it's something every girl can relate to. That girl who looks so pretty could have dysmorphia, for all you know; even though she looks pretty, she could be struggling with the conviction that she's the ugliest thing on earth. There's a character in Fairest like this (I won't say who just in case) and it makes Aza realize that she's better off than this girl because although this girl is pretty, her constant need to look perfect has her in a frantic state of mind constantly. The book shows that although it's true that good looks can give some advantages, being too caught up in the quest for beauty just causes continuous negativity, as Aza realized when she thought how everything went wrong.
Ultimately Aza starts to appreciate her looks for what makes them different, and realizes she'd been her own worst critic...as we all are. So I hope that helps younger girls who read this to maybe think a little differently about how they see themselves.
I did think that there was one part in the book where a character's plans and motives could be seen as a little confusing to readers, especially as it's a rushed moment, but other than that, I can't think of any criticism. I'm looking forward to reading still more from Gail Carson Levine and revisiting Ella Enchanted and The Two Princesses of Bamarre.(less)
Following the battle in the last book, Gemma finds herself with powers she alone can use. She had to bind the magic to herself in order to defeat Circ...moreFollowing the battle in the last book, Gemma finds herself with powers she alone can use. She had to bind the magic to herself in order to defeat Circe. Felicity and Ann are dependent on her now to be able to enter the Realms, but Gemma can't bring herself to conjure up the door, as hard as she tries. Finally, one night, Gemma finds herself pulled (called to) the East Wing, which is undergoing renovations. Here she finds a door waiting, and it leads to the Realms; she doesn't have to conjure a door herself, after all.
The girls rejoice in their return to a world where they're free, but Gemma soon learns that with her new powers has come responsibility. The Hajin and the forest creatures want a share in the magic after helping out in the last battle; that was the bargain made. Gemma stalls for time because she doesn't want to lose the power she has yet, the power that can change the lives of her friends. There are other problems that can't be put off, though. Gemma begins to have visions of Circe, which hint that there may be life in that terrible woman yet...and visions of a new woman in lavendar, who's trying to tell Gemma something. And in the normal world of Spence, the girls' debuts inch closer.
As time goes on, the others grow restless, because they all want what Gemma has: the magic. Gemma becomes unsure of her faith in people; who's there to trust? Who really has her best wishes at heart...if anyone does? Is EVERYONE against her? The strain of this suspicion grows stronger and stronger until Gemma's living on the edge at all times. Is there a way to destroy a new threat, and still be able to help everyone in the end?
***SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT***
This book's a rarity to the ranks of teen novels, along with its two predecessors. After all, it carries so many genres. Historical fiction, as the real world portions take place in Victorian England. Fantasy, which the Realms and the magic represent. There's horror and gothic elements as well (this trilogy is one of few books that can be considered gothic in our modern times).
I left the romance for last; these bits were tough to read through, because I was reminded of all of those awful books floating around out there that are set in earlier periods of history...settings used just for the author to place his/her smut therein. Fortunately, there aren't so many such scenes in this book, and Bray redeems herself by casting off a happy ending for the couple. The ending's made romance fans declare themselves mortal enemies to Bray. Can't they see that everything was leading up to such an ending? Bray herself explains:
But he's the character who believes in fate. He's always had a certain suicidal ideation about him. A grandiose notion of saving the world through personal sacrifice.
She's also hinted that there's hope for the relationship yet; the magic is not fully understood yet. Perhaps something can be done to tweak his fate further still. It just annoys me that people will rate a book one star just because they're butthurt that a romance didn't work out. Please see the book as a whole and judge it by that.
This book's also chock-full of conflicts of the times: there are racial issues (the gypsies near Spence being discriminated by the workers; Gemma's and Kartik's struggle with their love because of their differing positions in society). A small light is also cast on worker's rights (Pippa's group in the Borderlands are girls who've been forced to work in factories with terrible conditions, which led to them dying in a fire; most of them were forced to work at an appallingly young age).
Most of the messages Bray sticks in relate to women's rights. Through our protagonist, we get to hear the thoughts many women must've harbored in the Victorian Age. "Why don't I have a say in my own life?" Ann's a poor girl who's known all her life that she can't amount to anything because of her status. She's burdened, but accepts her fate morosely. Felicity, for all her bold nature, can't take her life by the reins simply because of the social restraints of her gender. In her indignity, she lashes out against social norms as much as possible, but even the small bit she chooses to do has put her character into question. Her ways shock those around her at times, to the point where it's unsure anyone will sponsor her for her debut. As for Gemma, not only her magic sets her apart, but her thoughts, as well. She understands that women are hampered down, and the knowledge that nothing can be done about it weighs heavily on her mind.
Some say Bray's spotlight on women's right is too overpowering. There are some bits she throws in which I think are a BIT much: trousers as a symbol for power, and Felicity saying she's going to wear them in the end; Madame LeFarge saying she'll have some say in her husband's decisions as an inspector; Felicity's offense that women have to take on the man's last name in marriage. There's also one moment I disliked extremely at the very end, where Gemma demands that Mrs. Nightwing teach the girls to rebel against their gender roles, basically. Those tiny parts are just beating the message to death, but the overall message's depth which lies WITHIN the plot does work well, I think. The outright parts do not.
Bray, through Gemma, tells us subtly that humans are the same: those who lived in past times, if they were to meet us, would still find much in common with us, despite the different conditions we grew up in. Bray makes it so that we can take what we know of our modern world and notice comparisons in the Victorian lives she portrays. This is done well with Gemma's family. Don't we all have family issues? Don't some of us have a parent who's died, or one who's been lost to addiction? Victorian girls are no different from us in that way.
Some of the Victorian-to-modern connections don't work so well for me, however. Smaller examples are Ann's cutting, Felicity's sexual abuse, and Mina's cocaine use; yes, they might have happened back then and certainly happen now, but I feel that those moments were stretches. Gemma also ruminates on her disbelief in a higher power at one point, which I kind of frowned upon just because I believe an author shouldn't come right out and say "here's my view on religion".
On a larger scale is the homosexuality which comes through later on in the book. I'm not against homosexuality and the pairing did not offend me; that's not my problem here. My issue is with the believablity of the relationship. I could definitely see an unrequited love from Felicity, but Pippa was enamored of the knight she'd met in the realms, way back before the end of the first book. Her VERY REASON for choosing to stay in the Realms was so she could be with him, more or less. So what's this about her having romantic feelings for Felicity? One could say sexuality is ambiguous and leave it at that, but why would she fawn over the knight so much if she loved Fee? Why would she choose him over Fee, even if staying with Fee meant she had to marry Mr. Bumble? Also, when Fee sees Gemma sometime later, after Pippa's death, Fee's joking and giggling. I find it hard to believe that she'd be able to act this way after losing someone so dear to her. Not to mention that when Fee encounters the illusionist's copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray, she hints that she knows about the author's sexuality and seems to disapprove of it.
I just had to say something about that, because it makes one question the reveal of Fee and Pip's romance. That being said, I DID find that I could see something between the two even before that. It was just subtext, though. Can't two people have such a close relationship without being labelled as homosexuals? Though in their case, they turned out to actually be ones. After Gemma finds out, she starts to wonder to herself if Fee had such feelings for her as well, and if maybe Gemma secretly returned those feelings in some way. These same thoughts would go through a girl's mind today, if she found out her best friend was a lesbian. However, I still think the inclusion of Gemma's thoughts was unnecessary, maybe almost too modern.
Now to get to what I loved most about the book. I really love the idea of a character being so out of place, because I can identify with that. Gemma thinks differently than most anyone in her world, especially because she's seen the possibility of a world that has more to offer...a world that most wouldn't believe in. The other girls of Spence see a bit too much, so Gemma erases their memories, except...
I leave them with one small token of their evening: doubt. A feeling that perhaps there is something more. It is nothing more than a seed.
I love that so much, the idea that she's changed them to question from now on, to see a possibility in what they would have conditioned themselves to ignore, before.
Gemma's tribulations have also changed her thoughts. She's had losses, as all protagonists of great stories have had:
The gentle laps of the river's current are but the whispered names of what had been lost: my mother, Amar, Carolina, Mother Elena, Miss Moore, Miss McCleethy, and some part of myself that I can't get back.
The best stories are those with loss, because they change the character greatly. Sometimes they can't bear the loss, but most will themselves on, and find themselves stronger for what they've had to bear. Gemma is one of the latter. After being so changed, she can't fool herself that she can fit in with this world, where girls engage in frivolities only. As she explains to her father:
I don't wish to spend my days making myself small enough to fit into such a narrow world. I cannot speak with their bit in my mouth.
Yes, there were bits that didn't work so well with me, and for whatever reason, I found that I didn't enjoy it as much as the last two. And I can't stand Gemma, personally. I never have, but the story's too great that it overcomes that for me. And quotes like the ones above impressed me very much. Thank you, Libba Bray, for doing something different.(less)
I'm obsessed with anything to do with Alice in Wonderland. I have several T-shirts, two purses, four lip glosses, two necklaces, the AiW collector's B...moreI'm obsessed with anything to do with Alice in Wonderland. I have several T-shirts, two purses, four lip glosses, two necklaces, the AiW collector's Barbie, and the American McGee's Alice soundtrack. So of course when I saw the title of this I had to pick it up. Thank God the book's price was VERY reduced.
What a disappointment. I liked the idea behind it. It COULD have worked. Unfortunately, the writing style leaves much to be desired, and Alyss is a huge Mary-Sue. The portrayal of Charles Dodgson as an ignorant man offends me. And I couldn't get into all of the battling. Maybe this is better for ten-year-old Star Wars fans who didn't know much about Alice to begin with, other than by watching the Disney movie. I don't know. I do know I'm not the only one who felt this way about the book. I read it a few years ago and thankfully I don't remember much so I can't go into much detail here. Suffice it to say that this book failed as a spinoff of a beloved novel, much as Ophelia failed as a Shakespearean play spinoff. Normally I give books a second chance by reading the second in a series, but I hated this so much I couldn't consider doing that.(less)
Just as good as the last book, though in a different way. Instead of following Menolly's life at Half-Circle Sea Hold and later her days of trying to...moreJust as good as the last book, though in a different way. Instead of following Menolly's life at Half-Circle Sea Hold and later her days of trying to survive in the wilderness, we're following her day-to-day life in the Harper Hall.(less)
This book's comprised of two of Huff's novels. The first, Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light is a modern fantasy set in Toronto. It's sort of a near-ap...moreThis book's comprised of two of Huff's novels. The first, Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light is a modern fantasy set in Toronto. It's sort of a near-apocalypse story, as the conflict's due to an Adept of Darkness (a demon, in other words) infiltrating the city. He plans to access a gate which will unleash complete chaos on the world, destroying it for what it is. An Adept of Light (basically an angel...with leather pants. w/e) sent to Earth to try to cut off the Dark Adept's plans. Rebecca, a developmentally challenged young woman, comes into contact with the Light Adept through her gift: the ability to see the fantastical creatures which inhabit the world. Through their acquaintance with her, several others become involved in the lead up to the eventual Light vs. Dark battle. There's Mrs. Ruth, a bag lady whose craziness might actually be wisdom concerning the dark/light struggle; Roland, a personable street musician who's been told his skills mean he's meant to be a Bard; Daru, the tough-minded social worker who's watched over Rebecca; and even the stray cat, Tom, does his share.
Erm, this one was just okay. I really enjoyed Roland's character, but Rebecca and Evan (the Light Adept) actually grated on my nerves a bit. It was also pretty obvious that this book was one of Huff's earliest works, evident by the writing style.
Maybe it's because more traditional fantasy stories are my preference, which leads me to The Fire's Stone, the second book in this. This one's about a fantasy setting called Cisali. Ischia--a city inside Cisali--is preserved due to the Fire Stone, which contains powers needed to keep the city's volcano from overflowing...but this stone gets stolen. Three unlikely candidates are dispatched to retrieve the stone from the city where it's suspected to be hidden. Well, originally the one chosen was Prince Darvish, who's loveable, but secretly depressed by a sense of having no belonging. Darvish happens upon Aaron, a boy who'd run away from his family expectations. When Darvish finds Aaron, Aaron's being whipped for getting caught while trying to steal a crown gem. Darvish rescues Aaron, and it's determined that Aaron's thieving skills can be of assistance on the trip. Before the two can leave, they're accosted by Princess Chandra, a young wizard with a know-it-all attitude. Her father, without her knowledge, cemented her betrothal to Darvish, without her knowing. She sneaks on board a ship into Ischia so that she can meet her fiance and tell him she refuses to get married. When she realizes the Stone--created by the pooled powers of her magical forefathers--is missing, she brings it upon her self to join the rescue mission.
I really enjoyed this story, fwiw, despite some cliches. And the characters weren't very fleshed out. I would also have liked to see more insight into one particular relationship. The magic elements were very delightful, as well as the overall plot. I know others have whined over there not being a sequel to this book...I also think I'd have liked to see one.
Also, a warning kind of similar to my last: in Gate of Darkness, Circle of Light, the Light of Adept attracts all kinds of people...in non-sexual and sexual ways. And notice I say "people". As for The Fire's Stone...in the world of Cisali, bisexuality seems to be regarded as nothing unusual, and perhaps even the norm. So...use your head. If you're not comfortable with that, these stories won't be for you.(less)