A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2)

Chantel – 1/5 stars and DNFed at 50%
Caidyn – 1/5 stars and DNFed at 80%

Review for the first book can be found here.

What can be nicely said about this book? Because there are many things that we both talked about while reading this book that weren’t so kindly phrased.

In sum: The issues both of us had for this book weren’t corrected. In fact, they got worse.

The first book had a problem with characters. Both of us thought that Kell and Lila were incredibly dull and boring. They had a backstory, but it was being kept all *~mysterious~* rather than telling it to the reader so we could understand them more. Lila was just straight up annoying and not at all what she’s being marketed as (aka, a very strong female character) when she has incredible flaws and uses her strength as a mask only for that to fall through. Which makes her do idiotic things. Kell is just dull and brooding and the typical YA male. (Not good since this isn’t a YA book, but the threads of stereotypical YA characters run deeply in Schwab’s main characters.)

How did it get worse? Lila didn’t change and got stupider. Kell got even more brooding, if that was a possibility. Not only that, but the side characters weren’t that good anymore. We loved Rhy (Chantel’s favorite character) and he was even off, although understandable from his brush with death in the last book. Then, there was Alucard, a new character for this book that, again, couldn’t save it.

There is something wrong with a book when secondary characters more life and a better backstory than the main characters do. Both of us commented that we wanted a book about Rhy and/or Alucard. We couldn’t care less about Lila and Kell just because how annoying they were.

Our second issue with the first book was the plot. All told, it was a nice plot. Super interesting and fast paced. However, it was all quickly summed up so it could have just been a novel rather than a series. (And why they put “a novel” on the cover of the book when it’s not a novel severely bothers Caidyn.)

While we had a big issue with that and discuss it in length in our review of the first book, we could both probably sum it up and make it sound super interesting with the ending as a caveat. This book? Couldn’t tell you what the point was because there was no plot. Plots have to bring the story forward and add tension. They draw the reader in and keep them worrying about the characters. This book didn’t have it. There was some sort of magical game, a baddie was doing stuff every 100+ pages or so, and that was it. Nothing happened. So, it got worse, basically.

We were left with thinking this should have been a novel, not a trilogy. There was no reason for it if this is what we get.

Then, Chantel found more typos in the book. (Note: Caidyn did not find typos in either of the books. Chantel had to send the pictures of the pages to him so he could find them.) Which reflects on the writing and the lack of editing. We get it. Typos and grammatical errors slide through the cracks all the time. But if you’re getting it professionally published, it better be polished so simple issues don’t happen.

What we’re left with from these two books is that we’re not going to finish the series as the plan was. After this disappointment, it’s best to leave this series where we have and not press on.

aint-nobody-got-time-for-that

20th Anniversary of Harry Potter

tumblr_oipycg07sm1u7s3voo1_500

The Boy Who Lived. A first chapter that changed so many lives by opening up the doors to a world that feels real and expands as the time goes by. Each time it’s read, you see a new detail that you didn’t catch before. You notice a new connection. Certainly, it changed the two bloggers here.

(Caidyn)

I was one when the book came out so, obviously, I wasn’t really conscious of its presence. That happened when the first movie came out. My mom probably took me to see it. Sadly, I don’t have a memory of seeing it for the first time, but I have a stark memory of telling my sister-in-law asking me if the Basilisk scared me after the second movie. I answered matter of factly: “No. It reminded me of my mom when she shouts.”

After that, my mom read the first and second books, decided they were close enough to the films and started on the third book. She read to me in the mornings when I was waking up, then I would run onto the bus and retell the story to my friends. Fourth grade came and I told her to stop reading to me, so I picked up the first and second books then read them to myself. Had a stutter on the fifth book (because I mean, I was nine) and I remember reading the end of the sixth book on a night train hurtling through Japan, curtains drawn with one light while I read about Dumbledore and Inferni.

My childhood was filled with magic. I loved playing pretend with my mom. Every day, I would ask her, “Who do you want to be, Mom? Who do you want to be?” I would play as Harry and Hermione, mainly. She would be whoever I needed her to be. When I was a teenager, I picked up RPing, starting with Harry Potter as a comfort zone. I wrote fanfiction as well and, yes, all of the ones I wrote are still somewhere on the internet.

Harry Potter helped me through very hard times in my life. When I questioned my sexuality and gender identity, I turned to these books. Luna helped me realize that, no matter what, I’m still normal. Lupin helped me know that my true friends wouldn’t care about things as trivial as that. Harry helped me know that being courageous doesn’t mean that you can’t be afraid; in fact, you’re usually terrified while doing it. This helped me through depression and anxiety and the loss of friends as I came out to them.

JK Rowling definitely gave me my childhood. No matter what she does that annoys me — *cough* Cursed child and random decisions to tweet out things to toss away fan theories that she should have addressed in the seven books she had *cough* — these books hold a special place in my heart.

 

(Chantel)

I cannot believe it’s been twenty years since Harry Potter was first published.

My first memory of Harry Potter was a trip to the movie theater. I vividly remember (which means it may or may not have happened) going to see Monsters Inc. at a theater. It was around the time the first movie came out and I remember seeing on one of the theaters that a movie called Harry Potte was playing. I thought it was hilarious. I pronounced it “Harry Potty” because I was young and even now I’m chuckling at twenty-five.

Anyway, I remember reading the books with my mom. I grew up with a single mom who liked moving, a lot. But we were very close and still are to this day. We both read the first few books together and then listened to them on tape. It was only then that we finally learned how to pronounce Hermione. I don’t think I can phonetically spell out how we pronounced it, but it was pretty absurd looking back on it.

As I got older and the other books kept coming out, I read them and it wasn’t until I got to the fifth book that I hit a brick wall. Then I read Half-Blood Prince in a week. I’ve never actually reread the sixth or seventh books. I’ve seen the movies countless times. I really enjoy movies more than books (says a person with a book blog), but I know I’m missing out on a lot by not reading the books multiple times. One day I’d like to read the sixth and seventh books again because I feel the sixth movie, in particular, didn’t do justice to the book.

Now that the series is over, Harry Potter certainly hasn’t diminished in my mind. Harry, Ron, and Hermione will always feel like long lost friends of mine because they are so ingrained in my childhood. I love the series and I grew up with it. It started as something I shared with my mom and even though the series was over, and goddamn it JK it’s over, it’s one that I’ve revisited countless times. Which doesn’t happen for me. I rarely reread books, but I’ve read the first three books more than any others in the series. Maybe any other books ever.

The books and movies will live on and if I ever have children you bet your ass they are going to know the world of Harry Potter and will shun Cursed Child like the dumpster fire it is.

I feel like writers especially aspire to influence and inspire so many people with their writing. I know I do, and I doubt JK could’ve anticipated what Harry Potter would become when she first started writing the first draft or the second, or even when the book was published, but in 50 years, 100 years, and beyond, people will still remember Harry Potter and it’s influence. You can count on that.

IMG_0739 (2)

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

f0a3d560-a7bb-44c6-ad34-33af768aff38-3104-0000028e6a500857
Caidyn: 3.5/5
Chantel: 3.5/5

“The people fed on the magic and the magic fed on them until it ate their bodies and their minds and then their souls.”

We want to start off this review by saying that, yes, this book is very good. It’s an excellent book with a great plot and great characters. We plan on reading the rest of the series together over the next few months.

What this book suffers from is hype. All over Goodreads are rave reviews for it. Anyone that you’re friends with likely read and loved it, then will be gushing over the third book that came out a few months ago. So, of course, you hear about it. When you finally pick it up, you have all of these wild expectations for it. However, for the both of us, we didn’t see exactly what everyone else did.

The plot is spectacular. Magic has gotten out of control. It’s dangerous, too. Not just in the hands of the wrong person, like you see in Harry Potter, but in general. It can consume people if it’s too pure.

“Purity without balance is its own corruption.”

And that’s what happened in the different Londons. Yes, there are four, as most people know. Grey London is our London, back during the reign of George III. Red London flourishes. White London starves. Black London is dead. All because of magic. Each London had different reactions to what happened in Black London. Magic is fascinating in this story. It’s elemental, not fancy. It’s uncontrollable. It’s dangerous.

That was what kept us reading, really. The general plot of dark magic breaking free and Lila (from Grey London) and Kell (from Red London) being forced to come together to protect the world from it, and to keep the Danes (rulers in White London) from getting it. We loved the characters, too. Lila was very interesting and her strength made me smile, yet she had a certain vulnerability to her. Kell was strong and I loved that his weakness was his love for his adopted brother, Prince Rhy. (Who we both loved and found a sweet little baby that we want more of.)

The writing was equally great. It was eloquently done. Although Chantel did find some typos, it was still great. Just like the plot and characters, it kept the two of us reading since it was so compelling. It went well with the plot; quick, yet well-done. There was no long, awkward rambles about emotions like some fantasy books have. Everything was contained.

However, our two biggest problems have to do with the plot and characters.

Kell and Lila both felt like cardboard characters we could pick out from any other fantasy novel. That’s not a bad thing. You have to start from an archetype, then twist it and make it your own. It didn’t feel as if Schwab got that far. They were great characters, but not their own. Both of them needed more backstory — which will hopefully come in the next couple of books — and at times it felt like the side characters had more personality than they did. Lila was strong, but it felt utterly false and awkward. Kell was the typical quiet man with a chip on his shoulder. Those aren’t bad things in characters, just that we both wanted more after hearing them raved about by other reviewers.

Same with the plot. The focus of this book wasn’t on the characters, but the plot. Yet, all for naught. Without giving any spoilers to the plot as a whole, it wrapped up like a stand-alone novel. The Danes should have been villains for the whole series. The tension of pure magic should have been stretched out. It could have been a driver throughout the series, along with finding out with Kell and Lila their own backstory. If I hadn’t known there were going to be more books, we both would have sworn it’d be a stand-alone novel. There was so much drama that was tied into a neat bow, making us both wonder where it was going to end up.

Even with our two big problems, we’re both very optimistic about the next books. The plot and characters were compelling enough that we want to know what happens to them.

Utopia by St. Sir Thomas More

Utopia Cover

Caidyn – 3/5
Chantel – 2.5/5

In terms of the writing, Book 1 was a lot more interesting than Book 2. Book 1 was a discourse of what was wrong in typically monarchical Western civilization while Book 2 was a manifesto of what Utopia was like, from their legal system, or lack thereof, to their religion. As a book, it wasn’t terribly interesting, even if the ideas put forth were.

What Sir Thomas More had in mind, however, weren’t ideas that every one of his time would agree upon. In fact, they are closer to our modern ideas in a lot of ways. When reading this, one can see a very odd combination of socialism/egalitarianism, communism,  and utilitarianism, all while keeping with traditional Christian ideas of brotherly love, the dangers of idleness, and how good works can help the whole society. These ideas don’t seem to come together. Communism called for the erasure of religion. Egalitarianism just isn’t inherent in how Christianity gets played out in reality, despite Christ’s teachings.

It’s not uncommon to read a book written a long time ago and find that things are similar to modern life. One thing in particular that stood out for me (Chantel) was the concept of slavery in Utopia, they weren’t people brought over from a foreign land against their will. No, they were people who’d committed crimes in Utopia. In a way, it’s not much different than our own prison systems. Is it humane to strip a criminal of their rights as opposed to an innocent person? Well, when things like adultery are severely punished according to the penal system, then maybe it’s not a perfect system. Just like our own system isn’t perfect.

When it comes to crime in Utopia, there’s definitely an undercurrent of strong Christian values which isn’t surprising. Sir Thomas More was incredibly religious and it shows. Things like premarital sex and adultery were the most shameful in the land of Utopia. From my (Caidyn’s) perspective, it seems that More says that Christianity is inherent to all people. At least, all “civilized” people. The Utopians are civilized, but around this time period, people were discovering new worlds full of people who had practices that were distinctly non-Christian.

There are many interesting ideas in this book that Sir Thomas More puts forth and ideas that I think are relevant even to this day. That’s incredibly progressive at the time he wrote this in the 16th Century. However, we all have our own vision of what a true utopia would be and this is just one man’s vision.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

I'm Thinking of Ending Things cover

Caidyn – 4/5

I honestly don’t know what I want to say about this book. I don’t even know how I feel about this book. It’s odd because it’s not as if I disliked it. I thought it was very interesting and intriguing and it kept me going from start to finish. Sure, I guessed the ending very early on. Yet there’s just so much more to this book. It’s one of those thrillers that’s not really a thriller. It’s not even a slow burn. Reid almost writes it as if you should know what happens in the end, however, the way that it’s written is that you honestly will want to go back and reread it from start to finish. It’s cleverly written. Who even wrote the book? Who is the narrator? Is it who we think it is or is it someone else? And the ending completely fucks with you, at least it fucked with me.

I didn’t like it, but I didn’t dislike it. I’m in an odd moot point where I’m at a loss for how I exactly feel. The whole book, I felt abstracted and dissociated from the characters. It was as if I was dissociating from the book as I read it, floating above the scene and pages. There was no real emotional pull, yet I wanted to find out what happened next. Yet, I knew the ending. It wasn’t difficult to guess.

The more I talk about it (or type about it, really) the less I feel that I understand the book as a whole. This has to be the cleverest book I’ve read in a long time, at least in the mystery department. This is a very odd little book, and I’m sticking with three stars for right now. Although I may bump it up as I think about it more.

Newer part

The same day I read this, I decided to reread it. And, I took the advice the book gives you (along with the advice of a brilliant review; Ed Lorn is the tops so you should find it). I started from the very last pages of the book and worked myself backward, chapter by chapter, to the beginning. And then, from there, I reread the first page and the last couple of chapters. I never do this with books. If I’ve read it once, I don’t feel the need to reread it right away. But with this one, I had to figure it out. I had to know exactly how it all worked together.

God, this was an amazing book. It was tightly woven, but you can’t appreciate it until you’ve read it a second time. You just have to go through the book multiple times to really understand it, and that’s so rare in a thriller. For that reason, I’m bumping my rating up another star.

Chantel – 2/5

I don’t like thrillers, but as soon as I heard about this book I was interested. I really wanted to like this book and I read it a lot faster than I expected to. I had to know what was going on and for that, I’ll give credit to Reid. He kept me reading until the last page to see if I was right about what was going on or if he was going to surprise me with something new. Up until the point where they arrived at the parent’s house, I was enjoying it, then it got really grotesque, then it lost me completely after that.

I won’t be including any spoilers but the reason why I didn’t like the book was the reveal at the end. I predicted it, then I hoped for something better, and unfortunately it was exactly what I had predicted. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the actual reveal, I think it’s overused and I would like to see new ways of fucking with the audience than this.

I know Caidyn reread the book immediately right after and it was suggested to do so, but I had no interest in rereading the book.

I’m glad I read it because it was on my radar of books I wanted to read and it was a newer book I’d heard good things about, but I was ultimately disappointed with the reveal and wished it could’ve been something more original.

Discussion

Very obviously, we disagree about this book. On Goodreads, the average rating is 3.3 stars. Right in the middle. That breaks down to 15% for five stars, 30% for four stars, 30% for three stars, 16% for two stars, and 7% for one star. Even out of people I’m (Caidyn) friends with or following on there, there’s a huge discrepancy with how people thought of this book. It’s not exactly an easy book to read and not a likable one either. It uses common tropes in the mystery genre and tries to put a unique spin on them.

Discussion Questions (Please try to avoid spoilers or clearly highlight spoilers):

  • When it comes to twists is it better to be surprised or is it better to figure it out and see how it falls into place?
  • What were ways Iain Reid used to convey suspense?
  • What do you think of the ending of the book? Do you fall more with Caidyn, Chantel, or some hybrid of the two?

A Mind of Its Own: A Cultural History of the Penis by David M. Friedman

A-Mind-of-Its-Own-Cover

Caidyn – 3/5

Hm. How to rate this book? At times, it was very good. And at times, it wasn’t. Usually at the same time, as odd as that sounds.

It’s a very informative book. It starts in the BCE and makes its way through to modern times. A whole scope, or as much as one can over in an overview of the history of the penis. There are many things that Friedman left out, I’m sure. Otherwise, this would have been a six-volume book rather than six chapters.

So, this was good. Informative, accessible, easy to understand. Hallmarks of a well-done nonfiction book that’s marketed to the general population. This isn’t one for academics alone. Anyone can understand it if they open the book and go ahead and give it a try.

However — and I’m sure anyone reading this expected this — it wasn’t great. What this book needed, for all the nice things I said about it, is a damn good editor.

For one, the chapters are far too long. Almost all of them top out at 50+ pages per chapter. If it’s not a textbook or a properly literary novel, those chapters are far too long for a book meant for the general public. I can’t think of anyone who just picked this book up for a bit of light reading would stick with something this long chapter-wise. So, there’s one thing.

Not only that, but the chapters are way too rambly. They start at one point, then they go to another that’s loosely connected to the first. And then off to another topic. And another. And another. Because the chapters are too long. A good editor would have shortened the chapters, then also split up the chapters into briefer topics.

There were more than a few things wrong besides chapter length and the issues with staying on topic. The other thing was with having no introduction or conclusion. Any good nonfiction book has a point to it, one that’s made and summed up in those. It establishes the credibility of the author, then lets me know the thesis of the whole thing. It’s pointless to have something without a thesis statement, and this book completely lacked any sort of focus, starting with not having an introduction.

A good editor, in my opinion, would have done one of a few things.

1) Had Friedman add an introduction and conclusion to it, then probably made little mini-thesis statements for each chapter so I knew what to expect. That’s just Nonfiction 101.

2) Don’t add those things, but shorten the chapters down. Keep all of the topics, but make it so they’re like mini-essays. You know, keep it focused and like a small essay on a specific topic.

3) Not jump around in the chapters. Again, keep the different topics and how they spaced out, but actually make it so it was time specific. One chapter on BCE times. Another on the Middle Ages specifically. Another on the 1900s. I mean, talk about all the conflicting viewpoints that were going on at the same time, not just focus on specific things and I have to make the connections that happened about 100 pages ago with the huge length of chapters.

So, to sum my thoughts up, a good and interesting book, but it needed some work to tighten it up before being published.

Chantel – 3/5

I added a star for the interesting topic alone.

Overall, I found the topic interesting but it was really the formatting of the book itself I had a problem with. The chapters were far too long, over fifty pages each, when they could’ve been condensed to smaller chapters that were easier to digest.

There was also a lack of citations. There were statements in the book that stood out, just a few, without citations that made me question their validity. That’s just something to be aware of when making such statements. Even if it might be statistically true, a citation where I could go look up that article or study would make me doubt it less.

There were some horrific things in this book and some really interesting things. Starting at the beginning of history to modern day is a huge amount of time to cover and I think this was a good overview, but when it comes to specifics a book could’ve been written on every chapter in this book. I found that the earlier chapters where he explored the earlier moments in history were far more interesting than his exploration of modern history.

I do think that books about men are important to feminism and gender equality as a whole, but I would’ve preferred something that was better structured. Really, it was hard to get past that.

Discussion

In a world that is largely patriarchal, men get overlooked in writing about specific history. All history books tend to focus on the conquests of different men, women being tacked on as a side topic to explore for perhaps a paragraph unless a woman was linked to a famous man. However, books don’t typically feature cultural conceptions of the penis. Many books have been written about vaginas, from histories to politics to cultural studies. Penises have contributed much the world, good and bad, and usually when they’re attached to a specific person. However, is this the best book to tackle such an expansive topic? No. A deep lack of editing, focus, and credibility mars the book from our perspective, no matter how much of an important topic penises are to feminism and gender equality.

Discussion Questions: 

  • How is the penis viewed in the modern day, and how does this change depending on what race/ethnicity you are?
  • Are we more divided as a gender now or were we more divided before?
  • Will we ever get to a point where gender and genitalia do not define us?

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness coverCaidyn- 4.5/5

Now, I’m not a huge sci-fi person. Let me explain, though. I really like sci-fi when it’s done well. However, most books I’ve read that are sci-fi aren’t what I want. A lot of them are pretty misogynistic and, well, that’s not my thing. Either the books are misogynistic themselves or the authors are, and I am the type of person who doesn’t want to support the work of people who are like that.

But, this one was very good. It’s a really good look at a planet and the political tensions in it. That’s what most of the book is comprised of. Just explaining political tensions that then lead us down the rabbit hole to something bigger. Gender. A huge discussion on gender and gender roles. And it starts off hinting at it, then it continues on, going further and further in until the end when you’re left with a profound statement. Does gender truly matter? It impacts everything that we do and are allowed to do in our culture, but does it matter?

That was a huge topic back in the 1960s when this was written. Today it’s still a big topic as more people come out under the transgender umbrella. Transsexual (which is a dying term that some transpeople find offensive — I obviously don’t), non-binary, demigender, genderfluid, gender variant/nonconformity, Two Spirits, the Third Gender, etc, etc etc. There are so many that I can’t keep track of them. And, obviously, it’s a huge talking point in politics. Look at North Carolina’s bathroom bill. (And the one being proposed in Texas. And various other states, including Kansas.) The debate still rages even between the traditional binary of men and women, leaving out the trans part of it.

And this book is still relevant for all of it. I highly recommend it and I’m definitely going to have to read it again.

Chantel – 4.5/5

I gave this book a rating of 4.5 stars because it has a slow start with a lot of political intrigue because of this it took me some time to get into the book. Once I did, I was amazed. There were also POV shifts that weren’t obvious right away and was quite jarring. However, I’d highly recommend as an important piece of science fiction literature written by an incredible female author and as a look at gender from a 1960’s point of view.

My first exposure to Ursula K. Le Guin was a story called, “The Ones Who Walked Away From Omelas”. I highly recommend it. It was an amazing story about a utopia that has a moral dilemma, and that’s all I’ll say because I encourage everyone to go read it. It was an incredible story and sticks with me to this day. From then on, I wanted to read more by her and when I heard what The Left Hand of Darkness was about I was immediately interested. A planet where there are no assigned genders and no gender roles? Of course, I’m intrigued.

As I was reading the book, I found myself getting annoyed with the protagonist and his views on the people of Winter. As a progressive Millenial living in 2017, I thought the idea of a genderless planet was incredible and would be a wonderful place to live. It’s so easy to think of how people thought then and criticize, but I constantly had to remind myself of when the book was published and how people thought back during that time. Le Guin is simply reflecting the thoughts of her time and trying to open people’s minds. I felt that Genly’s journey through the book was excellent character development and it didn’t feel unnatural or forced.

For me, this book picked up about halfway through. There’s essentially two parts to this book and once that second part hit, I was sucked in completely. From that moment on until the end of the book was a beautiful story. The writing and world building that Le Guin provides us with is remarkable. She did in this novel what I felt she accomplished, on a smaller scale, in a short story and I know this book is very popular and well respected in the science fiction world and it’s deserved.

Discussion

While we both agreed on the merit of the book, we looked at it from different perspectives. Chantel wasn’t a fan of the political aspects of it whereas Caidyn was. Caidyn looked at it from the point of view of a transman while Chantel saw it from the perspective of a liberal, progressive, cis-woman. This book is open to many perspectives beyond those two. During the time period Le Guin wrote this, sci-fi was largely dominated by male writers and readers. Having a book that asserted a genderless world and had a main character imposing his gender pronouns on characters reflected the way most readers came from, taking not only Genly through dynamic character growth but also the reader. The reader would have to be engaged in the book and perhaps be repulsed by these “men” who are feminine. In a world that grows more and more inclusive (we hope) of different gender identities and expressions, Le Guin’s book offers a glimpse into the past and a reflection on how many people feel today as gender becomes more and more muddled in the eyes of the public.

Discussion Questions:

  • How is this book is still relevant?
  • Did Genly’s POV contribute to the book in any way other than what we named?
  • What themes would be similar or different if the book was published in 2017?