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The Black Prism

The Black Prism (Lightbringer, #1)The Black Prism by Brent Weeks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, Brent Weeks, you got me. You sucked me in to your polychromatic world, and now I’m going to have to read everything else you’ve written. The Black Prism is the first book in the Lightbringer series, an epic fantasy series with a color-based magic system. There was a truly varied and interesting cast of characters: Kip, a chubby, awkward teenager who has always been a bit of an outcast; Gavin Guile, the Prism and the Most Interesting Man in the World; and Karris, Gavin’s smoking hot bodyguard with mad skills and a bruised heart. There’s also a misguided student who has Kip drooling over her, a retired general, another Blackguard bodyguard who is as funny as he is immense, and a mysterious prisoner who is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

The characters made this story for me. I felt so much sympathy for poor, awkward Kip, but he also made me laugh and surprised me with his bravery. Gavin is just about one of the most attractive men I’ve ever read. He’s got sass and personality and kindness and determination oozing from his pores. Ironfist and Karris and Corvan were all fantastic, as well. Weeks did a great job crafting characters that I cared about. Also, I really appreciated that Weeks made warrior women so prevalent in his Blackguard and throughout his world that his central female-warrior character didn’t stand out just because she was a woman who could fight; she stood out because she was fierce and beautiful and was simply better and badder than many of her compatriots. That’s feminism, right there.

The magic system in this book was really unique. When I first started reading, the magic seemed kind of cheesy to me, to be honest. Color doesn’t seem like the most brutal basis for magic, does it? But I was wrong! The differences between the luxin of each color, and the different personality traits exhibited by each color’s drafters, were really intriguing. And getting into the differences between monochromes, bichromes, polychromes, and a Prism gives a reader a lot of food for thought. Also, Big Jasper, the island-city that is home to the Chromeria school, sounds absolutely gorgeous. I think that Heaven might look a bit like Big Jasper.

All in all, this was a fantastic read. It is definitely not a stand-alone, though. Should you choose to read it, make sure you have access to the second volume. Because the end of the book definitely leaves you hanging. One of the few things I dislike about fantasy is the plethora of cliffhangers that dominates the genre, but that just means that there’s more for me to read! Overall, I would give this a 4.5 out of 5, and will round that up to 5 stars here on Goodreads. A fantastic start to what I hope will be a fantastic series.

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The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where would the fantasy genre be without Tolkien? He gave us the first deeply developed fantasy world, and character and plot tropes that are still go-tos for fantasy writers. Are these tropes now overused? Yes, as are tropes in other genres. As King Solomon said, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” We are constantly reusing the ideas of others while trying to improve upon them and make them our own. And we have Tolkien to thank for many of those ideas. I respect him and the Middle-Earth he created immensely.

All that being said, I have always struggled with The Lord of the Rings. There’s something about Tolkien’s style of writing (excepting his style in The Hobbit, which is radically different and more easily accessible, in my opinion) that bogs me down instead of sucking me in. His scenery is beautiful, his characters interesting, his plot intriguing. I should be engrossed, but I’m not. It’s a classic of the genre, and one that I hate I can’t seem to get through. I know this is blasphemy, but I think that Peter Jackson’s movies did a better job of presenting Tolkien’s story and engaging an audience than Tolkien managed himself.

This is my second reading of The Fellowship of the Ring. It was just as difficult as the first reading. There were sections that were wonderful, but those were sprinkled throughout sections that I had to trudge through. A couple of things that the book has over the movie: First, Frodo is so much cooler. He’s not whiny and helpless, as he’s portrayed by Elijah Wood. In the novel, Frodo is funny and sturdy and dependable. Not as dependable as Sam, perhaps, but he isn’t the burden the film makes him out to be. Second, the book has Tom Bombadil! He’s one of the most interesting, mysterious characters in fiction, and I hate that he was cut from the films. But other than those two aspects, I have to admit that I really enjoyed the movie more. I give this book four stars simply because I respect so much the legacy it left behind.

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Hag-Seed

Hag-SeedHag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was fan-freaking-tastic. I adored it.

I have such immense respect for Margaret Atwood. The Handmaid’s Tale is right up there with other dystopian classics like 1984, Brave New World, and Fahrenheit 451 in its scope of influence. But that’s the only book of hers that I’ve read all the way through, and that particular book was assigned for a class. I liked it, but it was homework, which always skews my enjoyment level a bit. There are other books by Atwood that I’ve picked up, but I could never get into them. But Hag-Seed was so small. Surely I could get through that one, right?

To prepare for reading it, I assigned myself some homework; reread The Tempest, the Shakespearean play that Hag-Seed retells. And reading it definitely felt like homework. But I’m so glad that I read it, because there was a richness to Hag-Seed that I would have missed without the play fresh in my mind. Do you have to read The Tempest to enjoy Hag-Seed? Nope! There’s a short summary of the play in the back of Atwood’s book, for anyone who isn’t familiar.

So, what did I think of Hag-Seed? I adored it. Five-star reviews are usually reserved for my favorites, books that I will read again and again, but I can’t find enough fault with this book to bump it down to four stars. I was hesitant about it when I picked it up and figured that, if I did enjoy the book, it would be in the same way that I enjoy a classic or a popular novel. That I would (hopefully) like it and feel that I had checked something off of a to-do list. But I should have had more faith in Atwood. Hag-Seed was fabulous! The Tempest is a play-within-a-play, and Hag-Seed added another layer of “within-a-play” to that. Felix was pitiable in the opening chapters of the book, but he wasn’t likable. At all. His growth throughout the story was wonderful to follow. Hag-Seed was deep, and moving, and funny. And that’s all I’ll say, so as not to spoil it for anyone. I was immensely entertained, and I highly recommend it!

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The Picture of Dorian Gray

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Beauty is only skin deep. Sometimes the prettiest people are monstrous on the inside. What if you could see your soul, see exactly what each decision you made wrought upon the only part of you that truly matters? How far would you go to keep your youthful beauty, and at what cost? Those are the subconscious questions facing Dorian Gray when our tale begins.

Dorian Gray is a young member of the upper-crust of London society, and he is breathtaking. Golden hair, vibrant eyes, ruby lips, and flawless skin set him apart physically, as well as an undefinably magnetic innocence. When his friend paints an incredibly lifelike portrait of Dorian, the youth resents the fact that he will age and the portrait will not, and rages and prays and wishes that their fates and fairness could be swapped. Something, the devil perhaps, hears his plea and grants his wish.

When we first meet Dorian, he is an innocent. His insides match his outsides, if you will. Basil Hallward, a gifted artist, met Dorian and became enamored with his beauty and goodness and began making demands on the young man’s time, painting hundreds of portraits inspired by his beauty. Basil’s obsession leads to the painting of the book’s namesake. But, though obsessed with Dorian’s beauty, Basil is a good man, a good person, and begins to see his obsession with Dorian as idolatry. He repents, and tries his best to be a good friend and good example to his former idol.

If Basil is the angel on Dorian’s shoulder, Lord Henry Wotton is his demonic counterpart. When the book first opened, I thought Harry was amusing, if irreverent. But, as the book progressed, I began to see the danger of his sarcastic wit and flippant disregard of morals. Harry met Dorian through Basil, their mutual friend. Upon witnessing the thrall under which Dorian held Basil, Harry became enchanted by the youth and sought to steal him away, polluting Dorian’s mind and calling him to bask in his beauty and youth while it lasted.

In my mind, these three were the three most central characters in the novel. Outside of the picture, of course. It was a struggle of good versus evil, morality versus decadence. I know that some view this work as subtly homoerotic, and I can see that, but in my mind the philosophy of man’s internal struggle was the purpose behind the story. As I try to post mainly spoiler-free reviews, I won’t go any further into the plot. If I’ve spoiled anything for you, forgive me.

I adored this book. The Great Illustrated Classic was one of my absolute favorites when I was young, and I read if dozens of times. Because I was so familiar with the story, I never thought to take time and read the original. I’m so glad that mistake has now been remedied. Wilde’s writing is glorious. It is witty and snarky and philosophical and maudlin and beautiful. And incredibly quotable. It was like an Easter egg hunt in the snow, the vibrancy of the eggs shocking against their backdrop of white. I highlighted so much of this book. Seriously, probably a third of the text is now underlined. I’m going to need a new copy. There are dozens of quotes I could leave you with, but I believe this one sums up the message of the book well:

“Some things are more precious because they don’t last long.”

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Far from the Madding Crowd

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Love is messy. And Thomas Hardy had an incredible grasp of that messiness. Far from the Madding Crowd is only the second book I’ve read by him, Tess of the d’Ubervilles being the first, and both were about love’s ability to wreck lives. Hardy’s writing didn’t grip me as hard in this novel as it did throughout Tess, but the writing was still lovely, and the story still compelling, with a (thankfully) happier ending than Tess provided.

Bathsheba Everdene is a beautiful, headstrong, independent woman who is loved by three different men: Gabriel Oak, a steady, trustworthy farmer and shepherd; William Boldwood, a reserved, dignified landowner of means; and Francis Troy, a dashing, impulsive military sergeant. Bathsheba wants nothing more than the freedom and independence afforded her by running her own life and finds marriage unappealing. But when she does fall haphazardly in love, all four of our central characters pay a price for it.

I’m not a fan of love triangles, and am even less of a fan of love squares or pyramids or whatever you would call the train wreck of relationships in this book. But Hardy has a way of keeping me interested. Did I roll my eyes on occasion? Most definitely. But did the story move me and evoke my sympathy? It did indeed. I will tell you that I rooted for Gabriel throughout the entire book. He was just a genuinely good man who cared more about the happiness and well-being of others than he did his own. Was he rewarded in the end? Who did Bathsheba end up with, if anyone?

Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out, won’t you? 😉

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The Nightingale

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I try to live a life of thankfulness. I’ve been blessed in so many ways; with a great God, an amazing husband, a wonderful family, close friends, a tight knit church family, a beautiful home, musical talent, literacy, access to books and instruments, an imagination, a pantry full of food. The list goes on. And, as I said, I try to always remember those countless blessings, even when I’m going through hard times. The last three books I’ve read, V for Vendetta, All the Light We Cannot See, and this book, The Nightingale, have reminded me to be even more thankful. Actively thankful, if you will, appreciating every morsel of food and every blanket in my home. I’ve gone through hardship, just like anyone else. But I’m so incredibly thankful that I’ve never had to live through a war, or house the enemy in my home.

How would you handle a world war setting up camp on your doorstep? And how far would you go to protect those depending on you? Those are a few of the questions raised in The Nightingale. Vianne and Isabelle are estranged sisters in Occupied France, and the two handle the war very differently. But, in the end, they were both heroes, even if their heroics looked vastly different to the rest of the world. Both women endured atrocities I cannot even fathom. Isabelle was brash and bold and beautiful. Vianne, the older of the two, was just as lovely but more timid, and more willing to ignore the truth of what was happening in her country. But not forever. The sisters faced radically different trials and persecutions, but both carried themselves with dignity through the very worst of times. When I first started the book, I thought I had a clear favorite between the two sisters. In the end, I respected them both equally, and sorrowed with them over every loss.

There’s more I want to say about this book, but I can’t find the words at the moment. Perhaps they’ll come to me later. But, if this is all I ever say about this book, I want to tell anyone reading this that it was lovely, heartbreaking, and real. Real, most of all. Even if Isabelle and Vianne are both completely fictional characters, I know that thousands of women just like them carried France on their shoulders during World War II. I think they would be honored by their representation in The Nightingale. I leave you with the book’s parting words:

“I know now what matters, and it is not what I have lost. It is my memories. Wounds heal. Love lasts.
We remain.”

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All the Light We Cannot See

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My heart hurts. This was a beautiful tragedy. The writing was lovely, and the content was made more painful by the knowledge that it was founded upon truth. Our world as suffered horrendously in the past, by our own hands. We’ve slaughtered each other in the name of progress, ideology, and religion, razing cities and civilizations to the ground because they dared to have a different opinion, or because they were simply in our way. But even in the midst of war, there is beauty. Amazing things can rise from ashes.

Doerr’s story was incredibly well-written and very thought-provoking. The thought of a world war is horrifying, but can you imagine experiencing it without one of your senses? Marie-Laure, a blind French girl, was brilliant and resilient and brave, and loved snails and adventure stories told through Braille and the ocean. She handled the worst possible situations with grace and ingenuity and courage, and I respect her immensely, though she never breathed a breath outside of a book. And Werner! Oh, Werner was the source of my heartache. I pitied Marie-Laure, but can you imagine being drafted into the Nazi Party as a teenaged German orphan with no choice in the matter? Knowing that so many German boys were sent out the kill or serve as cannon-fodder is heartbreaking. But putting a name and a face and snowy-white hair to one of those countless child tragedies? That hurts. Werner was a brother, a friend, and a genius with radios. He was brilliant and kind, but was forced into a situation that saw his brilliance as a commodity and his kindness as a cancer in need of removal. But kindness can never be truly killed. It can be forced into hibernation, but it sleeps with one ear open, ready to reassert itself when given the chance.

I don’t want to spoil the book for anyone. But go into it knowing that it’s a story about World War II, and that war doesn’t facilitate perfectly happy endings. I’ll leave you with Marie-Laure’s words:

“To find the snails crawling along the rocks, these tiny wet beings straining calcium from the water and spinning it into polished dreams on their backs – it is enough. More than enough.

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V for Vendetta

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“Remember, remember the fifth of November; the gunpowder treason and plot. I can think of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason should ever be forgot.”

V for Vendetta is one of my favorite movies of all time. For that reason, I never read the graphic novel that inspired the movie, for fear that it would fall short. Until today, that is. And I needn’t have worried; Alan Moore’s original story was just as powerful as the movie. I wasn’t disappointed at all, and this is now my favorite graphic novel.

I think of V for Vendetta as an alternate 1984, one where Winston and Julia fought back against Big Brother and won. It’s such a powerful story that I can’t really think of how to properly describe it. Bigots and fear mongers will always twist tragedies to their own ends, and will always seek to eradicate anyone who looks different or acts different or thinks different than they do, and will do their best to cow the remainder of the population into submission. In both V for Vendetta and 1984, those bigots and fear mongers succeeded. But V for Vendetta gives us something that 1984 does not; it gives us hope. Because ideas are bulletproof, and the Thought Police and Norsefire can only reach so far. They can beat us down and even kill us, but there is an inch of us they cannot touch without our consent. Even in death, that inch, our integrity, is ours and ours alone. They cannot take it, as they cannot take hope.

There was one thing that was added to the movie that I missed in the book: V’s Alliteration Speech. Here it is below:

“Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is it vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished, as the once vital voice of the verisimilitude now venerates what they once vilified. However, this valorous visitation of a bygone vexation stands vivified, and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition. The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose vis-à-vis an introduction, and so it is my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.”

Such a superbly satisfying soliloquy, sí?

And one thing I liked better about the graphic novel was the growth of Evey. Natalie Portman did a wonderful job in the movie, but I felt like the Evey present in the final scenes of the graphic novel was stronger, harder, more fully developed.

Do I recommend the graphic novel? Wholeheartedly. Is it better than the movie? No. But they’re both wonderful and inspiring and worth consuming. Please, consume them both.

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Snow, Glass, Apples

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I love Neil Gaiman. And I’ve loved almost everything I’ve read by him. Even the books of his that I didn’t adore still made an impact on the way I think and have burrowed into my brain. And every one of them seems intent on staying within the homes they’ve carved into my gray matter. Snow, Glass, Apples is no exception. Whenever I think of Snow White from now on, his rendition is the one that will flash through my mind. Sorry, Disney. I’m not sure I can ever watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarves again without an eye twitch.

I’ve always been intrigued by the physical description of Snow White. You know, the whole “skin white as snow, lips red as blood, hair black as ebony” thing. Doesn’t that sound more like a vampire to you than a fair princess? It always has to me. So, I loved Gaiman’s take. And it still managed to surprise me. I know Halloween has passed, but if you get the urge to read something short and creepy, I recommend this story.

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Love and Freindship

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“This was too cruel, to unexpected a Blow to our Gentle Sensibility – we could not support it – we could only faint.”

I think I sprained both eyeballs from rolling them so hard and so frequently at this story. Which was most likely the point. Ms. Austen’s objective in writing this story at the tender age of fifteen was to convey that, for the most part, teenagers are kind of terrible. Or at least, that’s what I got from it. She made her point and made it well, but I can’t say that I enjoyed this story as much as the other five I’ve read by her. Lady Susan was a tasteful comedy of errors; Love and Freindship was over the top. The drama was strong with this one.

And no, I didn’t spell the title wrong.

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