Saturday, August 19, 2017

Book Review: Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater

Title: Blue Lily, Lily Blue (The Raven Cycle #3)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Date Published: October 21st, 2014

Description (from Goodreads): "Blue Sargent has found things. For the first time in her life, she has friends she can trust, a group to which she can belong. The Raven Boys have taken her in as one of their own. Their problems have become hers, and her problems have become theirs.

The trick with found things, though, is how easily they can be lost.

Friends can betray.
Mothers can disappear.
Visions can mislead.
Certainties can unravel."

Why Am I Reading This? After reading the first two books in Stiefvater's The Raven Cycle, I am hooked on the series. The characters are tremendous, and Stiefvater's magical world is immersive and fun.

Spoiler Alert: The remainder of the review will feature spoilers. 

Before continuing with this review, I'd recommend reading my review of the previous book in this series, The Dream Thieveshere. In that post, I lauded the characters, emotional tension, and magical prose of Stiefvater, and all of these praises apply to Blue Lily, Lily Blue as well. This post will focus primarily on some of the new characters introduced to the series.

The third installment of The Raven Cycle introduces a few new characters to a cast filled his highly complex and round characters. In fact, I think this book needed a flat character, or someone to serve as comic relief, and that role was filled by Jesse Dittley, A BIG MAN WHO SPEAKS IN ONLY CAPITAL LETTERS. Though this tall creature seems to be more giant than man, his sort of soft and tender side plays out especially well with Blue (who he deems Ant). He's sort of a one-trick pony and serves primarily as a sort of comic relief, but I certainly enjoyed his inclusion.

The Greenmantle's though, both Colin and Piper, are the major additions, and they serve as the primary antagonists of the third book. Colin played a minor role in the previous book as Mr. Gray's boss and the man who ordered Niall Lynch (Ronan's father) to be killed, though he only received a couple lines and little character building. His character is much more developed in this installment, and his wit and snark make for a fun villain.

Greenmantle is eerie and conniving, mysterious and quirky, real and untouchable, and he parallels Mr. Gray rather closely--both start as likable bad guys, but their humanity shines through by the end of the novel. His authority wanes throughout the book, and he becomes much more human and much less powerful as the story progresses. By the end of the novel his wife Piper is much more menacing and powerful than he, flipping the narrative established early in the book. Indeed, Piper seems to transform from a minor character to a force to be reckoned with. I'm excited to see where her arc goes heading into the final book.

Like the previous two books the third begins slowly, building to a fast-paced and action packed ending. This narrative style has worked in all three books so far, though with so much still to happen, I'm hoping the final novel works a bit quicker.

The third book of The Raven Cycle solidifies my thoughts on Stiefvater, an author with the ability to blend fascinating characters, mythical kings, and magic into a mysterious world -- Stiefvater, much like many of the characters in the series, is a magician, and spending time with this series is well worth it.

Rating5/5 Stars

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Book Review: Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Title: Drama
Author: Raina Telgemeier
Publisher: Scholastic
Date Published: September 1st, 2012

Description (from Goodreads):

"Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school's production of Moon Over Mississippi, she can't really sing. Instead she's the set designer for the drama department stage crew, and this year she's determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn't know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!"

Why Am I Reading This? My final paper at Fresno State required me to do extensive research into banned books, and this title kept popping up. When checking in on my holds at the library, I saw that this was available and thought why not? 

Spoiler Alert: The remainder of the review will feature spoilers. 

I haven't read many graphic novels in my lifetime, though that fact seems to have slowly begun to change in the past year or so. I recently finished Marjane Satrapi's beautiful Persepolis, an autobiography that takes place in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, as well as Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, a rich bildungsroman encompassing death, sexuality, and a difficult father-daughter relationship. 

But for my most recent read, I dropped down a few grade levels to Raina Telgemeier's Drama. This middle-grades graphic novel goes by fairly quick (it probably took me about an hour-and-a-half), and it's great fun. Though this book revolves around theater, it largely focuses on the stage crew and the drama happening behind the curtain -- a fun perspective not typically seen in many stories. 

I was particularly drawn to the vibrant colors and welcoming illustrations. The book is filled with color, as the cover artworks might suggest, and it certainly helps to capture the middle-grades audience -- the color palate is inviting and playful. 

Though the book is filled with amazing illustrations and a fun plot, it's frequently challenged in school's across the country. In fact, Drama was second most challenged book in 2016 according to the American Library Association (ALA). It has this to say about Drama: "Challenged because it includes LGBT characters, was deemed sexually explicit, and was considered to have an offensive political viewpoint." 

I'm still not sure what the offensive political viewpoint might be (any ideas?), though this book did feature a pair of homosexual characters and it featured one male character in a dress. Two boys kissed, which is sexually explicit because it wasn't a boy and a girl, and obviously this book needs to be removed from library shelves around the country. #Sarcasm 

But seriously, Raina Telgemeier's Drama tells a lively story with a strong message, and I think all kids should be reading this. Though drama seems to invade every aspect of Callie's life, the book's portrayal of LGBTQ+ characters is drama-free and positive. The entire book is fairly diverse, though the protagonist is still a white, cisgender character, perhaps exposing the need for more truly diverse stories. This, however, is not a knock on Drama, as the story was largely female-positive, and provides young readers with an important message.  

Though it may have benefited from a bit more character development, Raina Telgemeier's Drama was a strong book with fun artwork and a positive story -- I'd suggest you check it out. 

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Saturday, July 29, 2017

On Goodbyes and New Beginnings

One of my closest friends leaves for medical school this morning, making last night the last time we were able to hang out together (at least for a bit). Her departure is bittersweet, as it marks the end of an era of sorts: our group of friends, which we amusingly dub "The Squad", will no longer be able to grab Dim Sum on Sundays nor hang out and drink wine on Fridays in its entirety. Though that's sad to think about, the beginning of her new adventure signals the countdown to an adventure of my own.

In just a few short weeks I'll be headed across the country to begin anew in New York City (well, just east of it). I'll be attending Hofstra University for my final year of undergraduate studies, and, if all goes according to plan, I'll graduate with my BA in English, Publishing Studies and Literature.

And that is exciting. Except, it's also not.

I've lived in California my entire life and have been fortunate to be surrounded by a loving family, great friends, and awesome coworkers. When I pack my bags and fly away a month from today, I'll be saying goodbye to life as I know it, stepping into a new city with new people and new challenges. And frankly, that's terrifying.

While the move will be scary, the first year I'm in NYC will be relatively manageable. I'll have guaranteed housing on campus, a meal-plan (and tons of tasty on-campus dining options), and resources that will help me get settled in after graduation. I'll finally get to live out the traditional college experience, you know, the college life you see in every college movie ever: awesome roommates, crazy parties, and thrilling playoff football games. (Though I may pass on the latter two). Instead I'll opt to make new friends and connections, pack in as much knowledge as Hofstra lets me, work (hopefully), get an internship (hopefully). and blog (also hopefully). New York is the city that never sleeps, but I may be borrowing that moniker for a while.

But soon I'll graduate. It'll be a great time. My friends and family will come out, we'll all go to dinner and catch up, and I can bask in the glory of finally obtaining my BA after a less than straight path through higher education. Then it'll be morning and life will hit me.

I'm terrified.

Where will I live? Will I be able find a job in publishing? Did I save enough money? These questions, among many others, have been rattling around in my brain for the past few months, and I'm sure they'll continue to do so. These are all perfectly valid concerns to have, but I'm trying to stay positive.

I'n addition to all of the concerns relating to my basic ability to live in NYC, I've been contemplating which direction I want to go in the world of publishing. I've been interested in digital media for quite some time, particularly platforms that focus on sports or pop culture, though I have some reservations with online media. Getting into books, because books, has also been a serious consideration, though I'm not too sure where I'd go with that. I am particularly engrossed with children's literature at the moment, so we'll see. My girlfriend suggested I look into working as an agent, an idea I like (though commission doesn't sound super fun) and one I will continue to look into. Experience and internships will ultimately play a large role in the direction I go. I know a lot can happen in a year (c'mon winning lottery ticket!), and I'm optimistic everything will work out.

Saying goodbye to a close friend yesterday was difficult, and saying goodbye to a ton of other fantastic people in my life very soon will be also be challenging. But I'm excited to see where my next move takes me.

No matter what happens, I'm forever the optimist, and I know I'll figure it out.

Though any advice you have is also appreciated. :)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Book Review: Looking for Alaska by John Green

Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Publisher: Penguin
Date Published: December 28th, 2006

Description (from Goodreads):

Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . . 
After. Nothing is ever the same.

Spoiler Alert: The remainder of the review will feature spoilers. 

I didn't like this book. I know, I know. It gets a ton of great reviews, and people love it. I had a difficult time getting through it, so let me tell you why. 

The Nicknames: The Beast. The Colonel. The Eagle. The Weekday Warriors. Pudge. It seems every character in the book has a nickname -- Alaska isn't even her real name -- and it all feels too fake. I mean, I get the propensity for teens to use nicknames, but when everyone in the book is running around with monikers, let alone very boring ones-- did John Green find a noun in the dictionary and put a 'The' in front of it? -- it loses a sense of realism. To some degree, the nicknames make sense; they serve as a way for the characters to mask their true identities, their flawed selves -- a new name, a new persona. Despite this, the names simply fell flat and take away from the story more than they add.  

The Characters: Much of Looking for Alaska's appeal stems from its focus on flawed characters. I was excited to see how Green developed these characters and what exactly their flaws were, but I never was able to feel empathy for any of the characters, instead finding them annoying.

Miles is extremely apathetic and takes on a very passive role -- everything seems to happen to him and he never has true control over any of his actions. In fact, he seems to be just as much an observer in his own life as I am (I couldn't help but think of Bartleby the Scrivener while reading this book). He overly romanticizes Alaska, the embodiment of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and despite his own claim to growing and changing as a result of meeting her and attending the charter school, I find it hard to believe he's changed much at all. He ultimately comes to terms with Alaska's death, but he remains equally powerless by the end of the book; perhaps this development was internal, but it is never played out or explored. 

And then there is Alaska. She's the most flawed character in a book about flawed characters, and, frankly, that's why so many people love this book; however, her shtick is too overplayed and uninteresting for me. She's the beautiful yet mysterious girl, the girl everyone fawns over, but who no one really knows. Her traumatic past, perhaps the most developed aspect of her character, hangs over her head, leading to her sudden mood swings and suicide, but I have a difficult time using her past to justify her destructive behavior. Pudge seems to confuse Alaska's dark past and detrimental behavior for quirkiness, and that is problematic. Alaska's self-destructive tendencies often affect others, bordering on abuse (e.g. cheating on her boyfriend, pranking), and I have a hard time truly feeling empathy for her character. 

The Dialogue: Usually characters make or break a book for me, but my biggest knock on this book is the dialogue. Much of the back-and-forth seems forced, but it is mostly just boring. Take this encounter for instance:  
I am concussed,” I announced, entirely sure of my self-diagnosis.
“You’re fine,” Takumi said as he jogged back toward me. 
“Let’s get out of here before we’re killed.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But I can’t get up. I have suffered a mild concussion.”
Lara ran out and sat down next to me. “Are you okay?”
“I am concussed,” I said. 
This reads very clunky and just too unrealistic, and though not all of the dialogue is this bad, it certainly captures my general feeling about it. Still, there are still a handful of fantastic lines, the kinds you see on Tumblr and Pinterest, but the bulk of the novel was simply, boring, too unrealistic, and not very fun. 

I hoped for the book to pick up following Alaska's death, but the After section just made it all the more confusing. It starts as a romance, but shifts dramatically to a suicide-mystery, one that feels amateur and lacks any real denouement. 

While I certainly applaud John Green's attempt to write about flawed characters in Looking for Alaska, the characters and dialogue didn't work for me, leading to a overall mediocre read. I'm still planning on reading more John Green moving forward (I'm looking at you, The Fault in Our Stars), and I hope I find them to be more enjoyable than this one.  

Rating: 2/5 Stars

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Title: When You Reach Me
Author: Rebecca Stead
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Date Published: July 14th, 2009

Description (from Goodreads): "By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, like the local grocery store, and they know whom to avoid, like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a new kid for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then Miranda finds a mysterious note scrawled on a tiny slip of paper:

I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows all about her, including things that have not even happened yet. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late."

Spoiler Alert: The remainder of the review will feature spoilers. 

This review will probably a bit shorter than normal, as I made very few notes during my reading, and with tons going on between when I finished the book and when I'm writing this post, my memory has gotten a bit hazy on many of the details.

I do remember, however, just how delightful this novel was to read. Continuing on my summer journey to read more Children's/YA lit, this middle grade proved to be another stellar read. Most every middle grades book I've read (at least as an adult) has sounded like you'd think -- fairly simplistic language, with simple and straightforward themes, ya know, meant for kids between 8-12.  Yet, Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me seemed to transcend the traditional sound of a middle grades book, and simple it was not. The book very quickly moved into a mystery (on the very first page of my Kindle edition), one that had me trying very hard to Sherlock Holmes the ending before I reached it -- I didn't. More, the book posed deep, intellectual questions for the 12-year old narrator, Miranda, revolving around time and space, philosophy, and death. While I don't think Stead necessarily has answer to any of these questions, the book certainly got me thinking about these questions, and kept me entertained throughout.

Perhaps this is because I'm a big-time Doctor Who fan, but I absolutely loved the book's treatment of time and time travel. When You Reach Me cleverly handles time, both in the structure of the book and throughout the plot, allowing the ending to surprise even most deductive of readers. The sort of roundabout return of Marcus aka The Laughing Man feels like something I should have foreshadowed considering his seeming obsession with time travel, yet I didn't -- maybe the kids will.

The point-of-view was absolutely great, and Miranda's voice was fun to read. I'm a stickler for good characters (who isn't?), and I enjoyed the realistic and individual characters within. I also dig the setting, 1970's New York City, though I do have quite the affinity for the Big Apple, and I like many books situated there.

The story was an absolute pleasure, combining elements of sci-fi and time travel with mystery, all while handling themes of friendship, family, death, and class/race. I'd recommend this book to most every reader, and I'm looking forward to checking out more of Rebecca Stead's titles in the future.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Book Review: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

Title:  The Dream Thieves (The Raven Cycle #2)
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Date Published: September 17th, 2013

Description (from Goodreads): "Now that the ley lines around Cabeswater have been woken, nothing for Ronan, Gansey, Blue, and Adam will be the same. Ronan, for one, is falling more and more deeply into his dreams, and his dreams are intruding more and more into waking life. Meanwhile, some very sinister people are looking for some of the same pieces of the Cabeswater puzzle that Gansey is after…"

Spoiler Alert: The remainder of the review will feature spoilers. 

Review: After reading The Raven Boys, I was incredibly excited to finally get my hands on (well, not literally because ebooks are a thing) the second book in Maggie Stiefvater's wonderful Raven Cycle series, The Dream Thieves. I read The Raven Boys way back at the beginning of the year, and I was greeted with beautiful prose, good characters, and a gripping story leaving me wanting more, more, more. The Dream Thieves continued the amazing narrative of the first books and allowed me to delve even deeper into the story's magical world.

Perhaps the best thing, in a long list of best things, about this book (and the series as a whole) is the strong cast of characters. The primary set of characters (Gansey, Ronan, Noah, Adam, Blue) not only have uniquely fabulous names, but they are fully fleshed out and refreshingly real. Gansey is an old-man trapped in a teenage body with a strange obsession over the Welsh King Glendower. Ronan, the quintessential bad boy, might be rough around the edges, but he is wonderfully sensitive and empathetic, and he also has a rather kick-ass crow on his shoulder. Oh yea, and he can take things from his dreams. Adam is mysteriously dark, attempting to bridge his traumatic past with new and independent future, one he is losing control of after his agreement with Cabeswater. Even Noah, perhaps the least developed of the characters, is amazingly likable, though maybe the most mysterious out of all the Raven Boys. And Blue. The not-so-psychic daughter of a family of psychics. The girl who can't kiss her true love without killing him. The girl that often acts as the voice of reason in a group of sometimes idiotic group of teenage boys. I'm struggling to think of another novel that has me so invested in the characters, and I think Stiefvater's ability to write good characters is further cemented in the second book of The Raven Cycle. 

Much of this ability stems from her ability to create characters that are innately real. The emotions of the characters feel genuine and elicited strong empathy from me as I read. It seems anger is a major aspect of the character development in this installment, as both Ronan and Adam struggle with their ability to manage their anger, hell, their feelings in general (#puberty). In fact, much of The Dream Thieves focuses on the characters, shying away from the primary plot of finding Glendower just slightly, and the tension between characters is pushed to the forefront. Despite them being such a close group of friends, the characters seems to isolate themselves, struggling with their relationships with one another, and shifting the group dynamic created in The Raven Boys. While the book ultimately ends with the Raven Boys (yes, I include Blue in this designation) once again unified and much of the tension between them dispelled, I am expecting a growing hostility between to be explored in the final two novels.

I've been driveling on and on about the characters, and I still haven't mentioned the unabashedly charming Gray Man, aka Dean Allen. Mr. Gray's initial appearance in the novel ostensibly paints him as (one of) the primary antagonist(s) of the novel, though he was incredibly difficult to dislike, and I found him to be one of the most charming characters I've ever read. Part-time hit-man, part-time Old English academic, Mr. Gray's humanity seems to rest itself on his handling of the Graywaren (Ronan), and thankfully, he's able to escape his demons and his profession (which is oddly normalized), seemingly linking up with Blue's mom, Maura at the end of the book. I hope he continues to be a presence in the series.

Like The Raven Boys, The Dream Thieves begins slow, the language unhurried and magical as Stiefvater once again draws the reader into the dreamy and mythical world of the Raven Boys. Much of this slow start seems to stem from Stiefvater's strong development of the characters, and the story's richness that requires quite a bit of backstory and explanation to fully understand. Though perfectly following everything that happens (e.g. the magical characteristics of Cabeswater, Ronan's ability to remove things from his dreams) can be difficult at times, the plot progression and strong characters allow the story to press forward without the book from becoming boring or too encumbered by the rules of Stiefvater's world. Despite the slow start, the novel quickly becomes hard to put down, as the final third of the novel quickens, leading to a thrilling end -- one that is both satisfying and not very predictable.

I am decidedly in love with this series, and I'm looking forward to reading the next book, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, very soon. Go and pick up The Raven Boys, then very quickly check out The Dream Thieves -- it's brilliant.

Rating5/5 Stars

Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Review: The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen

Title: The Truth About Forever
Author: Sarah Dessen
Publisher: Penguin
Date Published: May 11th, 2004

Description (from the author): Macy’s summer stretches before her, carefully planned and outlined. She will spend her days sitting at the library information desk. She will spend her evenings studying for the SATs. Spare time will be used to help her obsessive mother prepare for the big opening of the townhouse section of her luxury development. But Macy’s plans don’t anticipate a surprising and chaotic job with Wish Catering, a motley crew of new friends, or … Wes. Tattooed, artistic, anything-but-expected Wes. He doesn’t fit Macy’s life at all–so why does she feel so comfortable with him? So … happy? What is it about him that makes her let down her guard and finally talk about how much she misses her father, who died before her eyes the year before? Sarah Dessen delivers a page-turning novel that carries readers on a roller coaster of denial, grief, comfort, and love as we watch a broken but resilient girl pick up the pieces of her life and fit them back together.

Spoiler Alert: The remainder of the review will feature spoilers. 

As I inch further and further away from academics and into the real world of publishing, editing, and all things books, I decided it was in my best interest to expand my horizons and delve into genres that I have little experience in reading. Though I've been on quite the YA kick recently, I had read only one or two YA romances and decided I should explore them a bit more. At the suggestion of my girlfriend, I decided to read Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever, and, once again, her suggestion was terrific.

Before starting, I was expecting a light and fairly quick-moving read, but I was surprised by the richness and depth of the story. The book started off a bit slow, focusing primarily on developing Macy, a character I found incredibly empathetic and real. Macy struggles with loss, control, and the need for perfection throughout the book, and Dessen's strong character building allowed for me to very quickly identify with Macy. The novel's focus on loss and grief was beautifully intertwined with the budding romance between Macy and Wes, as well and Macy's relationship with her mother. Nearly every character struggled with loss and moving on, creating a much heavier read than I was expecting. Still, the novel ended beautifully, seemingly linking Macy's self-discovery with the improving relationship with her mother, as well as the start of a new relationship with Wes.

Indeed, Wes appears to operate as Hope in the novel, and many of the obstacles holding Macy back are cleared away when she finally realizes the way they feel about each other. This, of course, culminates in a beautiful kiss at the end of the book, and Macy's recognition of who she really is.

Yet, the book's slow buildup to the much anticipated kiss left me feeling a bit unbalanced when the novel ended just a few pages later. Despite the strong characterization of Macy, I felt like Wes was underdeveloped, a fact that seemed to take away from the satisfaction of the ending. Many of the book's best scenes were the interactions between Macy and Wes, and I certainly wanted to see greater development with their relationship, especially following the kiss.

Still, Sarah Dessen's The Truth About Forever was a pleasure to read and certainly impacted one of my upcoming readings. While I would have loved to see more development between Macy and Wes, the novel's excellent treatment of loss and grief combined brilliantly with the romance and made for one of my favorite reads this year.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Monday, June 12, 2017

Book Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Screenplay by J.K. Rowling

Title: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay
Author: J.K Rowling
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Date Published: November 18th, 2016

Intro and Summary: A quick and fun read, Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay adds to the current, and expansive, Harry Potter universe. Set in 1920's New York City, the screenplay, released the day after the film's premier, follows Newt Scamander, a magizoologist who makes a brief stop in the United States. While there, some of Scamander's fantastic beasts escape, causing trouble and creating friendships in the Big Apple.

Spoiler Alert: The remainder of the review will feature spoilers. 

Review: I have long been an avid fan of the Harry Potter series (#Ravenclaw), and the books played an important part in my development as a reader. In fact, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is the first book I recall reading (other than picture books), and I was not allowed to see the movie until I finished reading it. I still remember rocking my bright blue Harry Potter pajamas featuring young Daniel Radcliffe and Hedwig as my grandpa drove us to the theater -- I finished the final chapter as we pulled into the parking lot. That said, I was excited to finally find the time for Rowling's first foray into screen writing. I read this without first seeing the movie, so this review will focus primarily on the text itself.

I had never read a screenplay before reading this, but it read very similarly to a play, and I cannot help but to think of The Cursed Child. Of course this is a screenplay, and it was written for the silver screen, though I think this created problems for both characterization and pacing. Textually speaking, there was a distinct lack of character depth, and I walked away from this reading slightly disappointed, especially because these characters have so much potential. Still, after watching the movie, much of the development and empathy for the characters was developed onscreen -- the text definitely benefited from the wonderful film. I'm excited to see where these characters go in the series. The pacing was also problematic for me, as the world and plot lacked development, and the story got too big too quickly. The story's magic and imagination helped overcome these developmental issues, however.

While I consider myself a Harry Potter nerd, I knew very little (if anything) about Gellert Grindelwald heading into the reading. Because the screen play starts with a sharp focus on Grindelwald, I was expecting him to be more involved in the plot, but he seems to be dismissed as soon Newt enters -- it's not until the very end that Graves is revealed to be Grindelwald. Again, the lack of character development (especially Grindelwald's) and depth overall proved to be disappointing.

That said, I still found the screenplay to be a joy to read. The 1920's NYC setting is absolutely fun, and provides a whole new world for Rowling to build. Newt's case of fantastic beasts provides the series with outstanding promise, and I am excited for more magical and imaginative creatures in the future.

Overall, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Screenplay may have been improved if written as a novel, but it's still a fun incursion into the fantastic Harry Potter universe. Give it a read and check out the movie if you haven't already.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Review: The Fifteenth Minute by Sarina Bowen

Title: The Fifteenth Minute
Author: Sarina Bowen
Publisher: Rennie Road Books
Date Published: October 13th, 2015

Intro and Summary: Perhaps the most pleasurable book I've read so far this year, Sarina Bowen's The Fifteenth Minute proved to be a good choice as my first summer read. The fifth book in the Bowen's Ivy League series, The Fifteenth Minute follows a pair of college students: Lianne, a famous actress trying to blend in as a normal college student, and DJ, a hot (wait for it) DJ for Harkness' hockey team. Both want nothing but to be with one another, but a dark secret threatens to end DJ's college career and their budding relationship.

Spoiler Alert: The remainder of the review will feature spoilers. 

Review: My girlfriend recently took a class on romance novels, and after talking with her about the different books she read over the past few months, we decided to read one together to kick off the summer. In fact, The Fifteenth Minute was my first foray into the romance genre, and I have a feeling it certainly will not be my last.

Both Lianne and DJ were both realistic and empathetic characters. Within a few pages of the novel, I not only had a good feel for the characters, but I was invested in their stories. I'm sure part of my connection to the characters, Lianne in particular, stems from the subtle allusion to the Harry Potter series (which, frankly, I'm unsure if I'll ever be unable to not fanboy over), but the both the dialogue and awkwardness of their relationship felt authentic and matched up with my own view of college life and relationships.

I think there is also something to be said about the way Bowen also flips stereotypes, especially in a romance. DJ is short, especially in comparison with his tall, athletic roommates, and in this way he does not fit the typical ideal masculinity (if there really is such a thing). On the flip side, Lianne isn't just a beautiful and rich Hollywood actress; she attempts to conceal her identity behind a baseball cap and struggles with her own physical appearance and what to wear when seeing DJ. More, Lianne is also a crazy good hacker and video game player (characteristics typically ascribed to male characters) allowing her to act as both nerd and Hollywood actress. Ultimately, both Lianne and DJ are complex characters, and their layered identities make the novel a delight to read.

Of course as a romance, the novel was abound in sexy times, and they were certainly all of the hot. Most notable about these scenes, however, was the persistent need/desire for consent. This emphasis on consent partly stems from DJ's troubled legal case, but his continued push for explicit consent made this reader happy, especially considering the rapey nature of many romance novels, at least historically.

Although this is the final novel in Bowen's The Ivy League series, The Fifteenth Minute certainly works well as a standalone. While the secondary characters have their own arcs and stories earlier in the series, it is not necessary to know their full histories in order to enjoy them as characters, though I'm sure reading the entire series would have made for an even richer reading.

Overall, The Fifteenth Minute was quite fun and has pushed me to explore the romance genre some more.

Rating5/5 Stars

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Book Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“’It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.’
‘It is the time I have wasted for my rose—’ said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.”
I sat down a couple of days ago and decided to spend some time with a small, adorable book called The Little Prince. It’s one that I’ve heard about many a time but just never made the time to get my hands on and read. After seeing an ad for Netflix’s take on the book, I decided to finally make it a priority to read. And oh boy. I was in for a treat. 
Like much of the children’s lit I’ve read, The Little Prince was absolutely magical. The Little Prince, as he’s referred to, is one of the sweetest characters I’ve ever read, and his adventures involve innocent encounters with weird adults that make trenchant observations on the human condition. 
A moral parable in the largest sense, The Little Prince also features enchanting illustrations that only serve to enhance the beautiful images created by Saint-Exupéry. I cannot get enough of the charming blue consuming the cover. 
A talking fox. An arrogant flower. A shifty snake. A lost pilot. The characters in this short story are absolutely delightful to read, and though their connections aren’t immediately apparent, their friendship with the Little Prince ultimately ties them all together. Friendship acts as one of the central themes, and although the Little Prince makes tons of friends throughout, I’m still left feeling that loneliness and sadness awaits us all. Yet, the Little Prince preservers, and I think that’s what lies at the heart of this little book.

A must-read for every reader, and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. 
5/5 Stars 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Obligatory Introduction Post

Admit it. Introduction posts are no fun. Yet here you are reading one, so the joke's on you.

If you've checked out my "About Me" you have probably learned that I am an English major with an emphasis in Publishing Studies and Literature. That means I like to write, and I'll be using this blog as an avenue to do so. Most of the time, this blog will focus on my literary interests -- you'll be able to find book reviews, commentary on contemporary literary issues, and reflections on my student life -- though I anticipate dipping into other topics that spark a thought as well. 

I'm still unsure about how often I'll post here, and I'll try to do so at least weekly or bi-weekly. That said, I don't want to write myself into a corner, so I'll simply do my best to produce as much good content as possible.

Most of my posts will fall in the four to five hundred word range, though I may post the occasional Twitter-style blurb or a long-winded rant. Regardless, I hope the content you find here is engaging and entertaining, and I certainly hope to hear from you in the comments. 

And with that, the introduction post is finally over.  Real content is on the way soon, and I hope you'll stick around and enjoy what you find here.