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RenTheWriter

Tea, Cats, and Books

A book is best read with tea in your hand and a cat on your lap. 

24-year-old English Major that currently works in an indie bookshop and at a local publishing house. Reviews and other bookish things. 

Briar's Book

The Healing in the Vine  - Tamora Pierce

(This review has a minor spoiler.) 

 

I continue to read The Circle of Magic/Circle Opens books in a very bizarre order, but I can at least tell any interested readers that it is not super duper necessary to read them in order. I would definitely say start with Sandry's Book/Magic in the Weaving because it sets everything up. But Pierce does a very good job of letting the stories stand on their own, and any mentions of things that have happened previously are explained enough that you can understand what's happening at the present. Moving on.

 

A plague has struck Summersea and we see the young thief-turned-mage Briar thrust into a role of responsibility. This book, like Street Magic sees Briar questioning who he is, and sees him growing and learning a lot about himself in a short period of time. I think of the four young mages Briar is one of my favorites.

 

Briar's relationship with his teacher, Rosethorn, really flourishes in this book. Or at least we see just how much Briar cares for his teacher. SPOILER! I mean, he freaking brings her back from death (with the help of his foster siblings, of course). I think I have a soft spot for lovable misfits and severe, emotionally reserved people. When these types of characters form meaningful relationships, it always warms my heart. Yay! They have some one to love and who loves them!

 

I didn't expect the cause of the plague to be what it was. But I think it sends a good message. Carelessness can lead to terrible things, even if a lack of action seems inconsequential. It's important to think about what you're doing and how it may affect people. Remember that. 

 

~Ren

Plants and Stones will kick your ass

Street Magic - Tamora Pierce

After reading the second installment in The Circle of Magic books, I see that they aren't chronological. The simply follow the four heroes introduced in the first quartet as they go on new adventures. They all seem to take place roughly four years after the events in The Circle of Magic books.

 

Street Magic follows Briar, the plant-mage. He and his teacher have gone to a distant land to help the farmers with their crops. While they are there, Briar discovers a young stone mage. He also gets wrapped up in a gang war. Since Briar himself was once part of a gang, it causes him to reflect on who he was and who he is now, something that we also saw him struggling with back in the first quartet.

 

Tamora Pierce always gives her characters very intriguing back stories. Evvy, the stone mage Briar encounters, has her own sad history. I liked that she defied Briar's expectations. She may be a street rat like he was but she never joined a gang like he did. It helps him to dismiss the sort of romanticized idea he had of gangs. Being responsible for Evvy also forces Briar to grow as a person. He was so defiant about teaching her at first but as the book progresses we see he is actually rather good at it.

 

I rather like Briar. He is a bit rough and stuck in what today would be a somewhat sexist mind set. But being surrounded by strong women has proven good for him as a character. He continues to tease his foster sisters, but he also knows what they are capable of, and he works hard to make sure Evvy will reach her full potential as well.

 

~Ren

Tris's Book

Tris's Book - Tamora Pierce

Oh, Tris. Your power is cool and amazing but you kind of bug me. Here we are at the second book in our Circle of Magic adventure. It focuses mostly on Tris, the weather witch. It hasn't been long since the four came to Winding Circle, but they went through a lot together in the last book that brought them together, but Tris seems to be the only hold out for just getting along with everyone.

 

She has a rough back story, so I can understand her being as cold and untrusting as she is, but ugh, she gets on my nerves sometimes. She's a bit too whiny for me. She's always so resistant to people trying to help, people she should know care about her. Maybe she'll come around in the last couple of books, but I found myself being annoyed by her a lot in this book.

 

My grievances with Tris aside, this book presented our young mages with all new challenges. They continue to learn more and more about their powers, and are discovering just how strong they are. There's a bit of betrayal in this book, and it touches on big issues of death and remorse. Though her books are geared toward younger audiences, Pierce never shies away from serious issues. She discusses them rationally and openly, which I respect.

 

~Ren

Bringing light to mental illness

I Was Here - Gayle Forman

I'm becoming more and more of a fan of Gayle Forman's the more I read of her. She does a good job capturing what it's like to be a teenager again: the emotions, the relationships, the fears and hopes and dreams. Her writing is easy to get through but is fun and engaging to read.

 

I Was Here, to me, is really a novel that works to bring awareness to mental illness. Over the past few years I feel like talking about mental health or having a mental health problem has become less taboo. We are more open to it and aware and we want to help (obviously not all of us, but a lot of people). This is great, though there is still work to be done. But even though people might be ready to listen it doesn't mean the people needing to be heard will speak.

 

Cody is a good example. She loved Meg, thought they were best friends, and they were, but she still was completely unaware of her condition. It was through no fault of her own, and I wouldn't even say it was Meg's parents fault. Again, their actions were dictated by a societal norm that causes more harm than good in these situations. It's sad and unfortunate but very much true.

 

This isn't the first book I've read about teen suicide, nor will it probably be the last. Those other books were great, but I appreciate this one even more because it is very clearly shining a spotlight on the way we treat mental illness and how it needs to change. I recommend reading the Author's Note at the end of the book as well.

 

~Ren

Sandry's Book

Magic In The Weaving - Tamora Pierce

Okay, so somehow I missed it on my first visit to the library, but they did in fact have the first quartet in the Circle of Magic books. So I started reading those in addition to continuing The Circle Opens quartet.

 

The first in the series is Sandry's book. This is where we are introduced to our four young heros: Sandry, Daja, Tris and Briar. All four come from very different backgrounds, and all have very different personalities. There is a continuing undertone of tension between all the characters throughout the book as they learn about each other and get used to their new lives at Winding Circle Temple.

 

The list of interesting and strong characters doesn't end there. Each young mage has an equally intriguing teacher. I've always loved Tamora Pierce for her characterization. Everyone has their own voice, their own quirks, and unique styles. She develops her relationships well, too. The dynamics between Briar, Tris, Daja and Sandry improve as time goes on, but the feel of sibling rivalry still lingers.

 

I mentioned this in my review of Magic Steps but I enjoy learning about these different kinds of magic, a kind that can be specific to a certain element, not just general magic. I might like it because it remind me a bit of Avatar and the bending of the elements. But still, it's fun!

 

~Ren

A good book with a long title

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making - Catherynne M. Valente

Great title, eh? Cat Valente's The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland is a popular children's book that follows the adventures of September as she explores the many magical (and not so magical) places of Fairyland. I heard Cat Valente speak once and she is very interested in fairytales and folklore, which is evident in this book. In this book, she has created her own magical land with its own history and stories and tales. 

 

While this book is accessible to young readers, I found it very enjoyable to read as an adult. Every chapter held some sort of whimsical and fantastical surprise. The characters were intriguing, like a wyverary, half wyvern, half library, or even 100-year-old furniture that has finally woken up. The voice of the narrator is very distinct and almost lulls you into feeling like the story is being read to you instead of the other way around.

 

I totally wasn't expecting it, but there was a twist ending! It was the kind of twist ending that broke your heart a little bit. So be prepared for that. Overall, reading this book was an adventure in itself and I look forward to reading the subsequent books.

 

~Ren 

Welcome to Emelan

Magic Steps - Tamora Pierce

I've been a fan of Tamora Pierce for a long while. She writes strong (mostly female) characters, creates vivid and unique worlds, and her plots are well-paced. I think I've nearly exhausted her collection of works, but I've still got a few series to read yet.

 

Magic Steps is the first in The Circle Opens quartet. Before I go on I should say I'm doing this a bit backwards. The Circle Opens quartet follows the Circle of Magic quartet. I didn't feel like I was missing huge chunks of information by not reading the Circle of Magic books first, the story stands on its own. But if you are anal about that kind of thing, read the Circle of Magic books first.

 

The edition I read didn't have a map in the front (humph) but I've gathered that these stories are set in a world outside of Tortall. So that's cool, the chance to learn about another world! The heroine of this book is Sandry, a young stitch witch. She must help young Pasco learn to control his magic through dance, and at the same time help track down murders using a most unusual magic.

 

Tamora Pierce once again has created a interesting world waiting to be explored. There are new kinds of magic to learn about and new evils. Sandry, still being fairly young, has lots of growing up to do. It will be interesting to see what other challenges she faces later in the series.

 

~Ren

How I fell in love with love

How They Met, and Other Stories - David Levithan

David Levithan slays me once again! This man has a beautiful gift for evoking ALL the emotions and feels in his writing. There is not one of his books that I have not liked. So, when I saw this at the library, I picked it up without hesitation.

 

How They Met is a collection of stories about love. Not just romantic love, all kinds of love. Between friends, between family, everything. That is something I really enjoyed about the book. It gave some attention to all the other places love exists in our lives. So much of what we see in movies and books (that aren't this one) is just romantic love, between two partners. We are always encourage to find our soul mate, the one. And as nice as that is, there are lots of other kinds of love that are just as nice, if not better.

 

How They Met doesn't just tell the stories of straight couples. There are also same sex couples, both male a female. There is a vast amount of diversity among the characters, from their situations, lifestyles, location, ages, and more. Every story is different. The writing style varies as well. Some are very straightforward prose and others read more like poetry or stream of consciousness.

 

This book read very quick and easy, and made me smile like a freaking idiot on at least five occasions. Sweet, insightful, and simultaneously light and heavy-hearted. Highly recommended.

 

~Ren

The Giver that keeps giving

The Giver - Lois Lowry, Ron Rifkin

The Giver is one of those well-loved books that's been around for ages that I've somehow managed never to pick up. Until now! People weren't making a fuss when they talk about how good this book is. I wouldn't call it a dystopian book, but it is set in a future where the rules and structure of society have changed dramatically.

 

Lowry introduces these differences very slowly. It starts with something small, like Jonas referring to his sister as a Seven, not that she is seven. As the book progresses, more and more terms come out that begin to illustrate just how different this world is from our own. I think Lowry was very clever in her plot progression. Everything starts of seeming very idealistic. It's different, but not dramatically so. There are rules in place so everyone is taken care of and everything is fair.

 

But then Jonas becomes the Receiver of Memory and suddenly things don't seem so perfect. The shell is cracking and Jonas is seeing through the cracks into the dark underbelly of his perfect world. So like I said, not exactly dystopian, but foul things are clearly at work.

 

This book seems a pretty good metaphor for how our own world works. Many people are comfortable and happy. They have access to the basic needs of life as well as luxuries and things that make life easy. But they don't always see all the terrible things that are happening elsewhere. And if they do, sometimes they just try to ignore it. Just because you live a perfect happy life does not mean the world is a perfect place, though. It's important for us to remember that there is no 'us' and 'them.' There are only people. We're all here together, and when some of us suffer, we all suffer.

 

If you were like me and haven't read The Giver yet, read it!

 

~Ren

More reasons to love dead people...wait, that came out wrong...

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers - Mary Roach

Okay, this book might weird some people out, but for those like me who are into science and biology and anatomy and the like, it's a very interesting read! 

 

Mary Roach explores the many different places human cadavers can find themselves once they've left the world of the living. Many of them I wasn't to surprised to hear about. Gross anatomy labs, crash test facilities, funeral homes, crematories, and even compost. Something I didn't know about before was beating-heart cadavers. These are people who have been declared brain dead (which is the official way to determine if someone is dead or not) but they are kept alive so their organs can be retrieved and given to people waiting on the organ donor list. 

 

What was really a learning experience for me was all the history Roach put into her novels regarding cadavers (be warned, it does get a bit bleak and rather gruesome at times). She covers things from graver robbers to pre-modern anatomy studies, studies exploring the location of ones soul, and even touches on the crucifixion.

 

Very much a book like no other, Mary Roach has written an accessible, insightful novel about a subject that, at some point in all our lives, will be important, and something we have to think about. If you're not too squeamish, have a general interest in science or are just looking for something unusual to read, I would recommend this book. 

 

~Ren

Life, death, betrayal...and also a cat

Sabriel - Garth Nix

A book about Necromancy! Coooool. Garth Nix is one of those well known teen fantasy authors I'm just getting around to reading now. When you have a tight budget and books are expensive, you pick up whatever is cheap and has been on your 'I'll get to it' pile for a while. Enter a used copy of Sabriel I found in a bookstore in Napier. 

 

Sabriel is a mostly normal girl living in Ancelstierre, a world similar to our own, though she was born in the Old Kingdom, which is just a short ways away on the other side of the wall. Her father is also the Abhorsen, a necromancer who works to protect the Old Kingdom from evil magics. The novel kicks off when she is thrust into a world she barely knows in order to rescue her father, who is trapped in Death, with the aid of a cat named Mogget and a soldier named Touchstone, who was trapped in a ship's hull for hundreds of years. 

 

This was a fun, fairly fast-paced read. I enjoyed reading a story that revolved around new types of magic and sorcery than haven't seen before. The world building was rich but not overbearing. There was also a map in the edition I had. Always a plus. I also liked the duality of the world. It reminded me a bit of Stardust. But I liked that the two were aware of each other, and there was crossover. One world wasn't just this mysterious scary thing on the other side of a wall. 

 

Nix is a very fluid writer and gives beautiful descriptions of the locations and items in his books. I particularly enjoyed reading the bits where Sabriel was in Death. The different concepts of what is in the afterlife always pique my interest. 

 

~Ren 

My eyes! They are buttons!

Coraline - Neil Gaiman

Gaiman strikes again with his trademark creepiness! 

 

Slowly but surely I will make my way through Gaiman's massive collection of works. Next on the list happened to be Coraline because it was cheaper(ish) and didn't have many pages. (I've been working desperately to catch up to my reading challenge.) 

 

If you want to give Coraline a moral it is, plain and simple, be careful what you wish for. Coraline is  unhappy with her parents. They don't always pay her much attention, they don't always buy her what she wants, and all those other classic kid complaints. She learns though that the grass is not always greener on the other side, in this case it is a door in the drawing room. She is also given a chance to see and learn what real love is. 

 

I'm not a person that likes horror films or thrillers or things like that, generally speaking. But Gaiman has the amazing talent of making things creepy and unsettling and disturbing without going over the top, making you jump or have nightmares for weeks (okay, maybe not always that last one). Everything is so subtle. It is just off kilter enough with the reality you know that it freaks you out. I mean, buttons for eyes? Not that different, not very gross or gory, but if you really think about it, that shit's messed up. 

 

And speaking more broadly about Gaiman's work, he just writes a good story. Simple, with a good theme, believable characters, all that. He does a very good job of capturing a child's innocence, as well as the way they think, and makes it obtainable for the adult mind that probably forgot a lot of it on the way to growing up. 

 

Fun, quick read, with the right amount of creepy. Now time to watch the movie!

 

~Ren

Brief Insights into Fuckall

Brief Interviews With Hideous Men - David Foster Wallace

Oh gosh, what to say about this book. Well, this is my first David Foster Wallace book. I've known people who think he's brilliant and then I've also talked to people who are not so fond of him. I'm not going to form an opinion off of one book, though. 

 

Brief Interviews had its moment of brilliance for me. Some of the stories, and sometimes just parts of stories, really worked for me. The collection was meant to explore the difficulties men and women have when it comes to communicating and all the sexual frustrations that can stem from there. But it never took the issue too seriously, at least not on the surface. 

 

I got the feeling that while Wallace is writing these stories to highlight or make fun of those frustrating and confusing interactions that take place between men and women, he wasn't doing it just to make light of the issue. It seemed to me it was more to point out the sheer ridiculousness of these interactions. To try and condemn this behavior, make us feel foolish for it, to try and set us on the path of not being a bunch of school children. 

 

Is there a difference between the way men and women communicate? Sure. But there are better and healthier ways of handling it than constantly bitching to our friends or therapists (another topic that plays a heavy roll in the book). There's a lot that will need to be worked on to get over this weird, flirtatious, coy, manipulative way we all seem to have taken up when dealing with the opposite sex. Things like how men and society view women, how women view themselves, and at a basic level, good communication skills.

 

Alright, feel like I went off a bit there. Anyway, it wasn't my favorite read, but it was interesting and made me think about a lot of different things, even if that maybe wasn't the "author's point." But the author doesn't get to decide how a reader reacts to their work.

 

~Ren 

No, it's not that Sirius...

Sirius: Roman - Jonathan Crown

This was a book I picked up as an impulse buy. I was in Nelson last week and stopped into Page and Blackmore, primarily to grovel for a job, but I knew, against my better judgement, I'd be walking out of there with a book.

 

Sirius was the first book I spotted. Probably because the title triggered by Harry Potter reflex. But when I picked it up to read the back my interest was piqued. I was going to try to be good and just write down the title for later but clearly that didn't end up happening.

I tend to steer clear of WW2 books. Not because I find them boring or overdone, but because they shine a light on the darkest side of humanity and that brings me down.

 

Sirius brought me down a bit, but it was mostly uplifting, a bit silly and quite cute. I view it as a book primarily about family and making the best of what you have. We see Sirius' family go from being very well off with a nice house and all the luxuries of life, then slowly that's all taken away as Hitler rises to power. They are relocated to Hollywood, where Sirius comes to the rescue and helps turn life around. But it only lasts for a while before life changes again.

 

Through all the ups and downs the family sticks together and keeps moving forward no matter what happens. And at the heart of it all is Sirius. This was a quick, fun read and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good animal book and doesn't want to read a totally depressing WW2 book.

 

~Ren

 

Wild Pork and Watercress or Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Wild Pork And Watercress - Barry Crump, Malcolm Evans

While living in New Zealand I've tried to become familiar with some Kiwi literature. I would say I've done a pretty good job with Wild Pork and Watercress. This book was first published back in 1986 but has come back into the limelight since the movie adaptation, titled Hunt for the Wilderpeople, was released earlier this year. It is very much a Kiwi book, and a Kiwi film (directed by Taika Waititi). I'm not sure the film has made it to the States yet. 

 

Crump's book tells the story of Ricky Baker and his Uncle Hec. After being bounced from foster family to foster family, Ricky finally comes to live with his aunt and uncle. But both his life and his Uncle Hec's are changed when Ricky's Aunty Bella suddenly dies. The two become fugitives hiding out in the New Zealand bush. 

 

This is very much a coming of age tale as well as a heart-warming story of two outcasts finally finding somewhere, and someone, that accepts them just the way they are. Crump's writing style reminds me a bit of Neil Gaiman and Hemingway (not that I've read much of him). It's short and to the point but still evokes all the right emotions. 

 

The story is written from Ricky's point of view and Crump does a great job capturing his voice. The language is very casual and feels like the reader is hearing the story right from Ricky's mouth instead of reading a book about it. It's a tale that captures the struggles and dangers of living in the New Zealand bush, and shows how even terrible tragedies can bring about good things. 

 

That's enough cheese. It's a quick and enjoyable read. Get you some Kiwi lit!

 

~Ren

Playing with the gods

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - N.K. Jemisin

What to say about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I did have some things to say but it has been so long now since I've finished the book that I can't remember all of them. But here we go anyway. 

 

I'd heard good things about N.K. Jemisin and knew she had a couple successful series. It was against my better judgement to pick up the first book in a trilogy while I'm traveling were I wont be guaranteed to find the second book anytime soon. But I needed something to read. 

 

The premise of the book is original. Jemisin has created a completely new world with its own laws and cultures and gods and a sordid past. The story was interesting but I think the thing I had the hardest time with was the pacing and the writing style, to a degree. 

 

The story is written in first person, which is fine, but it tends to jump around a bit as far as timing. There are moments where the main character remembers back to stories she's been told or things about her mother, and sometimes the transition back to reality is a bit confusing. Sometimes it's hard to see where the flashback and the present are meant to connect. 

 

With the pacing, it felt like there were a few false climaxes. Which itself isn't really a bad thing, that can help build the tension, but I think there were a few too many moments like that so I just found myself getting impatient for the actual conclusion of the story. 

 

I did enjoy the world building and all the originality, and there were a few surprises or two tossed in as well. Certainly not my favorite fantasy book but it was an enjoyable read and others might not have the same problems I did. 

 

(Also, totally random tidbit that has nothing to do with the book; my bookmark magically transported itself forward like 60 pages at some point so when I carried on reading things were making sense but I had no idea how I'd gotten there...until I realized. *sigh*)

 

~Ren