[Book Review] In which I re-evaluate my bias against magic libraries

 

Book Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Canaries, this is the book I was looking for when I had my ill-fated encounter with The Eyre Affair in 2017 and swore off all book-themed fantasy novels. Little did I know that The Invisible Library was out there.

Two years later, here I am, eating my words. Fantasy books about books can be excellent.

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman (and the rest of the series) combines the high stakes of a spy thriller with the shenannigans of fantasy novel, populated with colorful characters, an intriguing and competent main lead, and several series level mysteries that kept me hooked. Continue reading

The Handmaid’s Tale gets a sequel

Testament.jpgNot to sound ungrateful, but after the success of the Hulu adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale, does it really come as a surprise that Margaret Atwood is writing a sequel?

Originally published in 1985, The Handmaid’s Tale was a standalone story – in fact, Offred’s story was framed as a collection of tapes found by an archaeologist in the far, far future. So it makes sense within that framing device that Margaret Atwood’s next installment, The Testaments, skips over to follow three completely new(?) female characters 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale ends. (Will we ever find out what happened to Offred? Unlikely. And I’m okay with that.)

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[Small Chirps] Goodreads Choice Awards 2012 – and our favorite genres!

It’s that time again, as 2012 slowly rolls on closer to the new year. Before we know it, it’ll be 2013. December is the perfect month to curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and a book – or celebrate this year’s favorite books! 1,156,852 votes (woohoo!) and Goodreads releases its top reader choice award picks for 2012!

Here are the highlights for our favorite genres:

YA Fantasy and Scifi

Dystopian YA is still the new black, with Insurgent by Veronica Roth taking first place with her oddball (albeit creative) world of factions, intrigue, and a society that’s imploding in on itself. The author, Veronica Roth also finds herself at the top of the Best Goodreads Author category, with over twenty-thousand votes, making her a three-time winner (once for Divergent in 2011, and twice again this year). I know I’m curious  whether Roth’s third book, coming out  September 26th next year, will place first at the 2013 Reader’s Choice Awards, collecting a full set of awards for the trilogy (gotta collect them all!).

We’ll just have to see.

The paranormal teen romance genre is represented with Cassandra Clare’s latest book in the Mortal Instrument (the trailer for the upcoming movie is looking pretty good!) and Richelle Mead’s Golden Lily. The android-meets-moon-prince retelling of Cinderella, coming in fourth, had our canary vote, and –

– oh, why, hello there, Rise of Nine by Pittacus Lore. In almost-fate, Rise of Nine misses ninth place by just a few votes, coming in tenth. Continue reading

Top Five: Literary Wizards

Who doesn’t want to be a wizard? In that secret little place in our hearts – the place that still thinks the admissions letter from Hogwarts might come in the mail at any moment – there’s an undying dream that one day we might discover that we can wield magic. And while we’re waiting for our powers to kick in, we consume everything there is to know about our comrades in books about magical escapades. Wizards abound in literature right now, making reading a magical event indeed.

We bring you the Canary collection of top wizards in literature.

Honorable Mention:

Septimus Heap, from the Magik series by Angie Sage

Something about this young wizard is so intriguing. It may be Sage’s straightforward writing style, but the no-nonsense, always-ready-to-do-right and eager-to-prove Septimus is just so dang endearing. The reading level is fairly low – I’d say a precocious fifth grader could tackle the books just fine – and he is a great introduction to the wizarding world. Continue reading

[ Best and Worst ] Little Lo & Big Blu

Incidentally, both the best and the worst books I’ve read were courtesy of the same professor. One was an unassigned, personal recommendation, and the other required for class. One of these books I’ve read so many times in the intervening three years that I’ve inadvertently memorized the first chapter. The other I will never, ever forgive my dear professor for implanting in my memory.

Best: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

Once again, I return to my original Lolita, with its ailing spine, peeling cover, and well-thumbed through pages. It’s the 50th Anniversary Vintage Edition, with fleshy pink lips gracing a cover that I know Nabokov would abhor. The précis, which I am fairly sure Nabokov would decry as a clumsy, cliché, and cursory sketch of his most complex novel, reads:

Awe and exhilaration – along with heartbreak and mordant wit – abound in Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov’s most famous and controversial novel, which tells the story of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Most of all, it is a meditation on love – love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

When I learned that half my task was to write about my best read, it took less than a millisecond for Lolita to burst to the forefront of my prefrontal cortex. It was instantaneous, reflexive. I’m not even sure it came from my memory, but rather my spine. However, it took only another half a second for me to say to myself, “No, Whitney, you cannot write about Lolita. I forbid it.” Continue reading

Fantasy Watch: Fairy-Tales the New Trend?

One day, they found themselves trapped in a world where all their happy endings were stolen. …our world.

Whenever a new paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction show appears on my TV watching radar, I pounce. This Halloween week, we have the pleasure of seeing two fairy-tale related premieres. Grimm, a detective-style story about a guy who can see the fairy tale creatures all around us, and Once Upon a Time, a story of fairy tale characters who find themselves in a small modern-day USA town.

The Story: Once Upon a Time…

…an evil queen got her revenge on Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) by cursing them to be sent to a parallel world, their memories wiped and their happily ever afters gone.

“Where are we going?” Snow White demands, as a maelstrom of psychedelic curse clouds consumes the walls of the nursery.

“Somewhere horrible,” the Evil Queen (Lana Parrilla) says. “Absolutely horrible.”

Modern-day state of Maine.

But the story really starts when a ten year old kid (Jared Gilmore) takes a Greyhound bus upstate, turns up on bail bondswoman Emma’s  (Jennifer Morrison)  doorstep, and announces, “I’m your son.”

Not only that, he insists that Emma needs to come back with him to Storybrooke, Maine to save everyone from the Evil Queen’s curse. Everyone there is a fairy tale character, he tells her, and they’ve all forgotten who they are.

By pairing the two worlds, Once Upon a Time promises something to both fantasy-lovers and those of us in it for the mystery, drama, and small-town angst. Each episode will spend time in both worlds, moving Emma’s story forward, even as it retraces the steps of Snow White’s happy ending and the lead up to the Evil Queen’s curse.

The performance is top-notch, with the actors playing up the melodrama of their fairy tale roles, and the gritty humanity of their modern day counterparts. Robert Carlyle (Mr. Gold aka Rumpelstiltskin) plays his creepy, mad role to perfection and there’s something so adorable about Jennifer Morrison’s frustrated confusion as the little boy demands she return to Storybrooke with him.

And of course, my personal favorite bit of the first episode? The soundtrack as the Evil Queen crashes the wedding.  Dun-Dun Dun-Dun Dun-Dun.

The pilot creates and builds on its dramatic tension. We, as viewers, know the truth about Storybrooke and we also know who everyone’s alter ego is. But it’s a secret between us, the town mayor (aka Evil Queen), and the little boy. Fairyland itself incorporates an interesting cross-section of fairy tale characters: Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio exists alongside Brothers Grimm’s Snow White and Red Riding Hood, promising variety and vivid characters.

With its premiere on ABC netting over 12 million viewers, Once Upon a Time is sure to stick around. But only time will tell if it’s a story worth watching.

Banned Books Week: What’s your reading score for the 2000’s?

So you were a Subversive Canary in our Banned Books Challenge Part 1, but how are you in the modern age?

Here are the top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for 2000-2009, courtesy of the American Library Association. How many have you read?

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

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Why We Read Banned Books

It’s Banned Books Week, so like many other readers, I find myself coming back to the question of censorship.

When I look over the list of books that most frequently get challenged or banned, my overwhelming thought is that, with a few exceptions, these are all either established classics, or stories that particularly moved me when I was growing up. It’s amazing to me, and a little fortifying, that stories still have the power to frighten and move so many people. So why are some people or groups trying to get rid of them?

Book banning stems partly from fear, of course. I’ve read before, somewhere, that horror movies are one of the best ways to tell what a culture is afraid of—zombies represent mindlessness, vampires represent sex, and so on. The same goes for what we don’t want others to read. Books tell us about who we are, and book banning tells me what we’re scared to admit about ourselves and the world we live in. Continue reading

Banned Books: What’s your reading score?

Here are is the ALA list of the 100 most frequently challenged books from 1990–1999. Which have you read?

  1. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
  2. Daddy’s Roommate, by Michael Willhoite
  3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  4. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain Continue reading

[ Best and Worst ] Breaking Hearts and Breaking Heads

Writing about my best reading experience for the The Canary Review turned out to be tougher than I imagined (writing about my worst was much, much easier, but we’ll get to that in a moment). After giving it some thought, I decided to write about the one story that changed both reading and writing for me.

That story is Break by Hannah Moskowitz.

“BREAK is a story about Jonah, a teen on a mission to break every bone in his body. Everyone knows that broken bones grow back stronger than they were before. Jonah wants to be stronger–needs to be stronger–because everything around him is falling apart. Breaking, and then healing, is the only way he can cope with the stresses of home, girls and the world on his shoulders.”

What I love most about Break is its honest portrayal of a self-destructive teen. Jonah lives with one brother who has deadly food allergies, a baby brother who is consistently covered in deadly food, and well-meaning parents who don’t seem to notice. In less capable hands, this story might have become maudlin, but not once did the author let the stress of Jonah living with a chronically ill brother or distracted parents overshadow his emotional journey. Hannah Moskowitz lets the reader relate to Jonah’s choice to injure himself as a coping mechanism without ever having to play the pity card.

This book renewed my love of young adult novels. It reminded me how much I enjoyed reading from the perspective of a teenage boy, something I hadn’t experienced since I read The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton as a kid. Break set a new standard for me in my own writing and I’ve been a fan of Hannah Moskowitz ever since.

Oh, if every reading experience could be this good. But sadly, it can’t. Because right now, as you’re reading this, someone somewhere is listening to Holden Caulfield whine.

Wait! Wait! Put down the torches and pitchforks! Please, let me explain.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I am not suggesting that The Catcher in the Rye isn’t a stunning piece of literature–it is. I wouldn’t have had such a visceral reaction to it if it weren’t. But J.D. Salinger’s portrayal of insufferable teen angst just plain got my chowder up.

As a native New Englander who grew up less than an hour from where J.D. Salinger spent the last fifty years of his life, I can tell you that Holden Caulfield wouldn’t have lasted five minutes in any New England public high school anywhere. Even Connecticut. This kid is so emotionally pathetic he makes Edward Cullen look like Bill Sikes. There wasn’t a moment during my read that I didn’t want to reach through the pages to give this punk a chowda-fisted beat down and then stuff him under the stands at Fenway. And I’m a girl.

For those of you who are lucky enough not to know, The Catcher in the Rye is the story of the sixteen year-old Holden Caulfield, a chronically disgruntled prep school drop-out. When he’s not whining about how he thinks everyone around him is a poser, he’s moping about the fact that he’s still a virgin. Lacking the testicular fortitude to confront his parents with the truth of his sudden expulsion from yet another prep school, Holden checks into a run-down hotel and waits for a vacation to explain his trip home. While he’s there, Holden annoys nuns, is obnoxious to girls (and for some reason cab drivers), and is convinced that every man who looks at him sideways is a homosexual.

I will say that there was one redeeming moment in the novel. When Holden backs out of a deal with a prostitute he hires,  Sunny has her pimp beat Holden up–even after he pays them. I remember standing up in class and clapping for that one.

Fans of the novel will say that Holden Caulfield is technically from New York and that J.D. Salinger wrote this novel before he moved to New Hampshire but it doesn’t matter. When a kid is forced to live in a state where its citizens wear Salinger like a badge, you grow to resent being identified with the myopic twit that is Holden Caulfield.

In an effort to rid myself of my impotent “post-Rye” anger, I’ve decided to combine my best read and worst read into an uber fan-fiction graphic novel. In my mind I see pages and pages of my good buddy Jonah repeatedly laying the smack down on Holden for thinking he’s “wicked smaht.” Then Jonah stuffs him under the stands at Fenway.

Go Sox.