Book Review: Heartless

HeartlessHeartless
by Marissa Meyer
Published by: Feiwel & Friends
Form: Audiobook & Hardback
Big Themes: Fate, Freewill, Love, Friendship, Baking

Summary from Goodreads: Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love. Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.

“But hoping,” he said, “is how the impossible can be possible after all.”

My thoughts: At it’s core, this book is a tragedy about a girl trying to build her own life and everything that prevents her. Girls of today will read this and be so grateful that they don’t have to deal with the social norms and restrictions that were common for women years ago.

The theme of fate vs freewill is developed beautifully. Throughout the book, you root for Cath’s freewill–for her bakery plans to come to fruition, for her to choose Jest over the King. She knows what will make her happy, but fate and those around her keep getting in her way. The tragedy in this story is that ultimately it is one choice she actually does make that results in her losing everything.

One moment that really broke my heart was on Cath’s wedding day, when she is marrying a man she doesn’t love, her parents finally ask,

“Is this what’s going to make you happy?”
“How different everything could have been, if you had thought to ask me that before.”

Marissa Meyer did such an outstanding job of capturing the whimsy and nonsense of Wonderland in this origin story for the Queen of Hearts. The characters, dialogue, and world all felt like an authentic new addition to Carroll’s canon.

And the nods to Poe through Raven were an unexpected fun touch!

If you are a foodie or enjoy binge-watching The Great British Baking Show… this is your book. Cath is a passionate and gifted baker, and the descriptions of her baking are enough to make this book worth reading purely for that alone. One chapter in, and you’ll be craving lemon tarts.

I highly recommend the audiobook, narrated by Rebecca Soler. She was FANTASTIC as a narrator. I began this book as an audiobook and finished the last 40 pages in hardback. The audiobook really brought Marissa Meyer’s words to life and captured a tone of whimsy that was hard to recreate in my own head. I just can’t recreate the Cheshire Cat’s drawling voice like the narrator could.

Overall: A wonderful and whimsical tragedy from Marissa Meyer. Highly recommend the audiobook. 4.5 stars

January 2018 Recap

Reading Nook

By the Numbers:
Physical Books Read: 0
eBooks Read: 1
Audiobooks Read: 1
Graphic Novels Read: 0
TOTAL: 2

Wordy Hughes Awards:
Character BFF: Feyre–Her self acceptance is so admirable, and her support for her friends and sisters would make her an ideal friend!
Character Crush: Rishi–The date he planned for Dimple warmed my book-loving heart!
Place I Wish Was Real: Thesan’s palace in the Dawn Court. It’s described as being made of opalescent golden sunstone, with purple wisteria hanging from the walls. That image, along with the balconies and spiral staircases, made me wish a place of this beauty was real.

Links to Posts Published this Month:
A Court of Mist and Fury (December Read)
Ready Player One (December Read)
The Westing Game (December Read)
A Court of Wings and Ruin
When Dimple Met Rishi
On Writing: Healthy Masculinity

February TBR:
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi (currently reading)
Heartless
by Marissa Meyer (current audiobook)
The Hearts We Sold by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Saga comics
Monstress comics

Overall: I was aiming for a book a week (or four books for the month), but fell short of that. One reason for that was frustration over an audiobook being returned to the library before I was finished. ARGH. I then stopped listening to audiobooks on my commute for about a week, out of pure irritation. Also, I need to knock out some graphic novels that have been piling up, so hopefully I’ll be able to play catch-up in February to reach my goals!

Book Review: A Court of Wings and Ruin

ACOWARA Court of Wings and Ruin
by Sarah J. Maas
Published by: Bloomsbury
Form: Kobo eBook
Big Themes: Magic, War, Love, Relationships, Sisterhood, Sacrifice, Identity, Redemption

Summary from Goodreads (Book 3): Looming war threatens all Feyre holds dear in the third volume of the #1 New York Times bestselling A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

Feyre has returned to the Spring Court, determined to gather information on Tamlin’s manoeuvrings and the invading king threatening to bring Prythian to its knees. But to do so she must play a deadly game of deceit – and one slip may spell doom not only for Feyre, but for her world as well.

As war bears down upon them all, Feyre must decide who to trust amongst the dazzling and lethal High Lords – and hunt for allies in unexpected places.

My thoughts:
The final book in the series really excels in two ways: world-building and showing the costs of war.

In this book, more than any other, we get glimpses of the other Courts: Autumn Court, Winter Court, Dawn Court, and Day Court. The Dawn Court in particular was one that I loved imagining. Their palace reads like a calm, pastel paradise:

Steps and balconies and archways and verandas and bridges linked the towers and gilded domes of the palace, periwinkle morning glories climbing the pillars and neatly cut blocks of stone to drink in the gilded mists wafting by.

It’s not just places that we get glimpses of, but the people who inhabit each of the different Courts. The world really comes to life, and sets up a wealth of possibilities for future books.

I was also really impressed with how the author conveyed the costs of war. While lives lost, injury, and overall destruction were portrayed, it was the mental and spiritual toll that she highlighted in the story. Seeing war from Feyre’s point-of-view, someone who hasn’t experienced it prior, gave a glimpse of how war changes your soul. And yet why she fought and what drove her. For a series that has explored abuse, trauma, and recovery–it made sense for the author to show the toll war takes on the mind and spirit.

While not the last book in this world, this book is a solid conclusion to the trilogy that is Feyre’s story arc. Readers will be satisfied with her growth as a character and her role in protecting the world she loves.

Overall: This series was a pleasant surprise. If you enjoy lush fantasy world-building, strong female protagonists, deep ensemble cast of characters, and well-written action sequences, this series delivers. Recommended for older teens due to mature content and themes (sex, violence, abuse).

On Writing: Healthy Masculinity

Healthy Masculinity.jpgHealthy masculinity versus toxic masculinity is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. In the last ten years, the publishing industry has focused a great deal on strong girls, and I’m so very grateful. I’m seeing evidence of this feminist push every day in my classroom. I have THE BEST strong girls as students this year. Girls with dreams and voices and determination.

But our world needs healthy men, too. And I’m growing more and more concerned at what we feed our boys–through media, movies, games, TV, advertising, and literature.

The hardest part of this process is realizing that my idea of masculinity has been formed by toxic messages around me. And that I need to change my own ideas on masculinity.

A moment that woke me up was my general lukewarm feelings towards the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I couldn’t put my finger on why this movie didn’t thrill me like Harry Potter did.

Then I watched this video:

The Fantastic Masculinity of Newt Scamander

After watching the video about Newt’s version of masculinity, I learned that Newt wasn’t the type of hero I was accustomed to in film–and yet he was one that embodied many of the traits I wanted in a man. And I suddenly realized that something was wrong with my ideas of masculinity. And it was disorienting. I needed to rewire my brain.

My very first celebrity crush was Han Solo. I watched Star Wars for the first time in 2nd grade. So I was seven years old when Han Solo became the epitome of crushworthy. I know I’m not alone in my crush on Harrison Ford. But that crush gives me a sick feeling these days.

Because this video shook me to my core:

Predatory Romance in Harrison Ford Movies

I’d had a crush on a man who didn’t value consent. Who didn’t listen to women when they said no. Who trapped and coerced women. This wasn’t the kind of man I wanted in real life. I wanted one who listened to me and respected me.

With this new awareness, toxic masculinity was appearing to me everywhere. It unnerves me that my male students are likely absorbing these messages about masculinity each and every day.

What is toxic masculinity? The social construct that defines masculinity as unemotional, violent, sexually aggressive, the lesser capable parent, and more. Any traditionally feminine traits are emasculating. Men cannot: be emotional, show sympathy, need help, like cute things, and more.

I suddenly realized there were ways that, in my very classroom, I was unconsciously feeding my students this toxic masculinity without realizing it. Every year while teaching Shakespeare, I criticize Romeo for how he goes on and on about his emotions. I chastise how moody he is, swinging from depression to bliss and back again. However, in doing so, am I further sending the message to my male students that it is not okay to share how they are feeling? Am I telling them to bottle up their emotions because no one wants to hear them?

I needed to educate myself and do self reflection. So I have been. And it’s made me appreciate so many things about the men in my life.

I love that my boyfriend prefers going to art museums with me than spending his Sundays watching football. I love that he is comfortable talking about how he’s feeling, things that are bothering him, and his dreams for the future. I love that he’s a good listener. And I love that we’ve discussed the possibility of him being a stay-at-home dad. None of these things make him any less of a man to me.

I love watching my younger brother and his wife. He freely expresses how much he loves her. He dresses up as Disney characters because it makes her happy. He frequently plans and cooks dinner. None of these things make him any less of a man.

As a writer, every single thing I experience feeds my writing. How has media shaped my perceptions of the ideal man? I don’t want my subconscious to create toxic men in my books. And so I’m trying to rewire my brain with healthy examples of masculinity.

So in addition to creating strong girl characters in my stories, I will now be very conscious of the male characters I create as well. I want to fuel a new vision of masculinity:

  • Men who show emotion: love, sadness, fear, compassion, and giddy joy.
  • Male/female friendship and companionship.
  • Men who appreciate romance and the slow process of getting to know someone.
  • Men solving problems diplomatically and in non-violent ways.
  • Men who compromise.
  • Men who enjoy childcare and parenthood… and excel at it.
  • Men who ask for help, work as part of a team, and consult others for advice.

I am still learning, growing, and developing my understanding of this topic. It’s going to be a process, but awareness is the first step.

I’d love to do some follow-up posts on books, movies, TV shows that have great examples of healthy masculinity. Comment below with anything you think I should check out!

Here are some additional sources that helped inform me on the topic:

What is Toxic Masculinity?

The Unfulfilled Potential of Video Games

Male Protagonist Bingo: A Study in Cliches

We Need Better Male Literary Heroes

 

 

Audiobook Review: When Dimple Met Rishi

Dimple Met RishiWhen Dimple Met Rishi
by Sandhya Menon
Published by: Simon Pulse
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Arranged Marriage, College Life, Love, Friendship, Indian Culture, Coding, Comics

Summary from Goodreads: Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?

Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.

The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

My thoughts: This book was such a fun surprise!! It was such a fun, sweet love story. The story alternated between Dimple and Rishi’s point-of-view, which I really enjoyed. You get to see what each character is thinking and feeling as they get to know each other, and it made you so invested in seeing their love story work.

I loved how Dimple and Rishi grew and changed over the course of the story. Each character had a fear that they had to overcome in order to be truly happy. The parallel structure of their stories was a nice touch by the author.

I am a sucker for characters with passionate interests. So Dimple’s obsession with coding, and Rishi’s love of comics made the story all the more lovable.

Rishi is a great example of healthy masculinity. He is compassionate, honest, loyal, and strong. We need more male leads like him!

I also really loved a particular moment between Dimple and her mother towards the very end of the book. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it was so sweet!

HR sealofapprovalOverall: Five stars! Highly recommend! If you want a happy, feel good read–this is your book! Better for older teens due to some sexual situations.

Book Review: The Westing Game

Westing GameThe Westing Game
by Ellen Raskin
Form: Hardback and Audiobook
Big Themes: Murder Mystery, Contest, Disguise, Partnership/Friendship

Summary from Goodreads: A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger – and a possible murderer – to inherit his vast fortune, one thing’s for sure: Sam Westing may be dead… but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!

My thoughts: I can definitely see why this book is a children’s classic. Well-crafted characters, unique mystery, and unexpected twists.

My favorite characters were Angela, Turtle, and Chris Theodorakis. I appreciated how our understanding of Angela changed over the course of the book. Turtle is a spunky and a tad unlikable, but you root for her just the same. Chris Theodorakis warms your heart.

This book is a quick read, and perfect for kids ages 8-12. This is the kind of mystery that will grab a young reader and blow their minds.

My only criticism is that the red herrings are so plentiful that the mystery is near impossible for a reader to solve. I prefer mysteries where an astute reader could come to the correct conclusion.

Overall: A classic mystery for young readers.

Audiobook Review: Ready Player One

Ready Player OneReady Player One
by Ernest Cline
Published by: Crown Publishers
Form: Audiobook
Big Themes: Virtual Reality, Video Games, 80’s Pop Culture, Social Class, Corporate Power, Identity

Goodreads Summary: In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

What I Liked: The world and concept of Ready Player One is fun to read about. The idea of a virtual world wide contest and the puzzles being linked to 80s pop culture is the engaging core of the book. The idealistic nature of Oasis has relevance to the current battle of net neutrality.

Wil Wheaton is a great narrator of the audiobook. He narrates a lot of near-future, cyber-heavy books. I enjoyed his narration of Cory Doctorow’s Homeland as well.

Criticism: The book was incredibly heavy on info dumps. The author doesn’t just drop 80’s references–he explains each one. I wanted the plot to progress, and even listening to the book on 1.5 speed didn’t help the pace with these constant dumps of information.

I also wasn’t pleased with the roles the female characters played in the story. Both Aech and Art3mis existed for serving the hero’s story which really irked me.

I dreamed up an alternate ending–where Art3mis’ reluctance to be with Wade was due to the fact that her and Aech were already in a relationship. This would have forced Wade to acknowledge and consider other’s goals/wants and not just his own. Wade had to make zero sacrifices in the story to achieve a happy ending.

Instead, I felt like the ending was very much a geek fantasy:

  • Meet hot girl
  • Go from fat to muscular
  • Become famous
  • Defeat bad guy single-handedly
  • Win ultimate game
  • Get super rich
  • Get the hot girl

Wade is a bit of a Mary Sue. He’s too good at everything. I had a hard time believing he had played every video game (dozens of times), watched every TV episode (dozens of times), and watched every movie (dozens of times) at the ripe old age of 17/18? Really? He lacked flaws or anything he had to sacrifice to achieve his goals. And therefore, I had trouble rooting for him.

Overall: A fun adventure story with 80s pop culture references, but with slow pacing due to info dumps and characters who lack depth and growth.