24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Month: May 2017

Abby Reads: A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas
Bloomsbury USA Childrens, 2016, 640 pages
YA Fantasy

Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Mist and Fury follows up on A Court of Thorns and Roses (SPOILERS ahead for A Court of Thorns and Roses). For those who read the first in the series, you might feel like the book concluded the narrative enough to not warrant a sequel — the great thing about the sequel, however, is that it turns everything of Thorns and Roses on its head. I’ve struggled with Maas’s work. I wasn’t a big fan of Throne of Glass and gave up sixty pages into the sequel the first time. But reading Thorns and Roses and its sequel convinced me to revisit the Throne of Glass series (and so far, I’m pretty glad for it, even if I still don’t love it). Mist and Fury picks up as Tamlin goes about protecting his lands from various evil forces. With Feyre still living in his castle, Tamlin determines to keep Feyre inside at all times, for the sake of her safety — this, despite Feyre being an accomplished and capable hunter, proven on multiple occasions. Honoring the deal he made with her in Thorns and Roses, Rhys shows up as Feyre makes her way down the aisle at her and Tamlin’s wedding to pluck her from Tamlin’s court and bring her to his for the week. As Feyre is passed between the two courts, Rhys notices the wear Feyre begins to show as a result of Tamlin’s control.

One of the biggest achievements of Mist and Fury is, from my perspective, its complexity. While I generally don’t love overly-political high fantasy, I think Maas strikes a pretty good balance with this series, including enough politics to make the plot plausible but not so much so as to drown the readers in policy, diplomacy, and other red tape. It is complex enough that I can’t easily add it in the summary above, but suffice to say, new players and old players come into antagonistic roles that could destroy more than just Feyre’s life. And it makes for a fascinating read.

Like most books with plenty of politics, however, there’s a whole lot of build-up involved with subtle plot turns which later become more significant with context. Except for a few exciting moments (Rhys’s appearance at the wedding being one — really, any scene with Rhys made for good entertainment; Feyre so seldom interacts with anyone due to her practical imprisonment, that really any appearance by anyone made things more interesting), the first three-hundred pages are slow. But by the end of the book, I was fangirling harder than I have in years. We’re talking approaching-Harry-Potter levels of fangirling. It was great.

Back to Rhys. Maas is an author who you can see takes criticism seriously and works to rectify it in her future writing. Characters in Mist and Fury, but especially Rhys, are developed with not just layers, but layers that make sense and tie into each character’s history and their relationships with each other. Fine subtleties in character are sprinkled throughout the book and each choice, from the way a character holds their fork to the way a character chooses to scream or not to scream in anguish in battle, is fantastically deliberate. It’s evident that Maas plans very carefully, and follows characters’ development not just in the immediate moment, but in their past and future.

I do think the exception here is Feyre. Feyre still winds up being somewhat bland and trite as far as (fantasy) female first-person narrators/main characters go. Feyre’s painting hobby comes back into play, slightly (though still not enough to warrant such a cliché, in my opinion). Even her hobby aside, Feyre does not have an extraordinary amount of personality. While her sisters, who appear in only a few scenes, feel far more real, readers can’t get a full look at Feyre beyond maybe-tough-girl who hunts and paints and is stubborn. But these traits are portrayed with superficial passages most readers will find familiar to many other similarly designed characters in other novels. Maybe this is a trait in and of itself: Feyre cannot accurately portray her own personality through her first-person narration. The series conclusion, which will be out in May, I suspect will give readers more insight on this issue.

Whatever Feyre’s deal, I’m eager for the final book, A Court of Wings and Ruin. Not only does the ominous title make me reach for the May release date, but with the amount of fangirling that went on in the final moments of Mist and Fury (really, Feyre doesn’t have more character than she does in those final moments — wow), I can only imagine what the grand finale will feel like.

❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

Paper Girls (Volume I) by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
Image Comics, 2016, 144 pages
Graphic Novel

Paper Girls, written by Brian K. Vaughan with art by Cliff Chiang, got incredibly lucky — not only was the execution fantastic, but it emerged in a year in which Netflix’s Stranger Things took off, providing fans of the show with more fantastic science fiction Eighties nostalgia revolving around kids who display maturity that adults often forget they had as kids. When Erin joins a group in the early morning hours of November 1 to deliver newspapers, she finds empowerment in being part of the first group of girls to serve as paperboys. Although twelve years old, Erin already has a solid grip on the world around her — until everything is turned upside down with two different sets of invaders in her neighborhood who seem to be at war with each other. Are they aliens? Are they from the future? Are they here to harm the people of Erin’s town? Already, the adults have lost their minds and the paper girls are on their own.

Erin’s love of scientists, evidenced by a woman scientist (I’ll keep it a surprise as to who) appearing in her dream, draws the reader in right away. While the girls in Paper Girls are girls, you won’t find any stereotypes here. Each character lives in their own flaws, toughness, capability, and sensitivity, a luxury rarely afforded to female characters particularly in this specific genre (by which I mean a sort of action-adventure about kids in the Eighties, in which you generally either have one token girl amongst a group of boys who, still, is either “girly” or a tomboy with no spectrum between the two, and neither is ever truly viewed favorably).

Instead, though each are different in nuanced ways that make them individuals you might recognize from your own childhood, Mac, Erin, Tiffany, and KJ are not terribly influenced by their gender beyond the pride of being the first of the paper girls in a town of only paperboys. Vaughan’s ability to write real girls sets Paper Girls apart from so many other stories about girls and women. This is especially impressive given that, in reality, the graphic novel is in many ways about what it is to be a girl. Vaughan creates a fascinating and apparent paradox, writing girls who are seemingly genderless by society’s and fiction’s standards while maintaining characters that are more true to girlhood than characters of other narratives that specifically highlight facets of girlhood.

Meanwhile, Vaughan refuses to ignore other important conversations on privilege. Mac, for example, is the embodiment of privileged America. Her dialogue and beliefs can be highly offensive, even within the “historical” context of the Eighties, yet without being too obvious about it, Vaughan nods to the moral issues there. Though Mac’s first utterance of a gay slur was shocking, something beneath the surface of the narrative suggests Mac is in fact being set up for major character development, which is massively exciting — it has been so rare, in my experience, to see true and meaningful character development for adolescent girls in fiction that goes beyond the role of women in relation to men. How refreshing it is to see it unfolding in Paper Girls.

The concept in plot is equally riveting. It’s difficult to say much without giving it away, but I was impressed by the complexity that develops throughout the graphic novel and felt it brought up some great questions and dilemmas, causing the reader to look both inward and outward at themselves, society now, and society in the future. The premise is loaded with relevant allegories, but is supposed heavily by a great story that promises to get even better.

Finally, a word on the art — I often, as I’ve mentioned before, struggle with art in graphic novels. Though I recognize it’s an inherent and important part of graphic novels, I typically find it distracting and overwhelming. Chiang’s illustrations for Paper Girls, however, are mind-blowing. The simplicity of colors and outlines with a jaw-dropping and buzzing palette made me want to get large prints of several of the panes to decorate my walls with. I loved this art, from the style to the execution to the concept, and I can’t overstate how engaging it made the material as a whole.

Paper Girls does have moments of confusion. As a first volume, I expect some of that is intentional as we learn more about what is actually going on and about the world in which the story takes place. I’ll be watching my libraries for Volume II, to find out what happens next and get another eyeful of that spectacular art. If you’re a fan of Eighties nostalgia revival, complex girl characters, and science fiction (or even if you’re not a fan of any of those things but trust me just a little bit), I hope you’ll join me.

❤❤❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Flicker and Mist by Mary Thompson

A while back, I started reviewing as a volunteer for School Library Journal and Library Journal. My contract with them is such that I can share the reviews I’ve published with them six months after they appear in the journal. The first review I wrote for School Library Journal was for Flicker and Mist by Mary Thompson. If your library catalog includes published reviews for materials as does the Arlington Public Library, you can see my name alongside reviews I’ve written for a handful of books so far. Check out what I had to say about Flicker and Mist below!

Gr 9 Up—Thompson serves up important questions in this dystopian fantasy about an unusual love triangle and a heroine pushed to the edge. In New Heart City, which values those without magical abilities over those with them, Myra must deny an inherited part of herself in order to stay safe. After the Flickerkin, who can become invisible at will, are blamed for planting an explosive device at a race, New Heart’s leaders begin jailing and threatening the execution of anyone with Flickerkin blood. With her mother in prison and her father in a precarious political position, the teen must rely on herself and her friends to survive. The novel starts with a heavy dose of exposition typical of this genre, and although it moves at a slower pace than action-filled works such as Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and its successors, this title invites readers to ponder big political and social questions, many of which are easily applicable to contemporary life. Myra comes across as a somewhat passive character until the climax approaches and she and her friends take things into their own hands. This change speeds up the pace and brings the narrative to an adrenaline-filled close. VERDICT For those who can’t get enough dystopian fiction, this work offers another look at governing-gone-wrong, with central themes of equality and racism.

Abby Reads: The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins

The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins
HarperTeen, 2016, 432 pages
YA Fantasy

When a great beast begins terrorizing the world of Eurona, the king issues a challenge: he that can defeat the animal will win his daughter’s, Princess Aerity, hand in marriage. Resigning herself to do what is best for her kingdom when the king’s resources are limited, Aerity watches at people from her own kingdom and beyond are destroyed by the beast’s terror. During her visits to the fighting men (and few women) who try to defend Eurona, Aerity meets one contender who, while he has no interest in marrying Princess Aerity, feels he must do what he can to protect his homeland and family. Paxton and his brother hunt alongside the others and there’s no doubt they are good — but Paxton is drawn in by Aerity’s self-assuredness, causing an internal conflict over why he is actually fighting. In a tale that recreates the Grimm Brothers’ “The Singing Bone,” The Great Hunt by Wendy Higgins is the first in the Eurona duology.

The Great Hunt came into my life because I was asked to review its sequel, The Great Pursuit. In many ways, especially after having read both books, The Great Hunt felt more like a large prologue to The Great Pursuit rather than its own book even as part of a duology. The Great Hunt lays out the foundation for The Great Pursuit but doesn’t have much of a story of its own. In fact, characters in the first novel are severely underdeveloped. This is especially obvious with the book’s main character, Princess Aerity. With little nuance, Aerity’s primary characteristic is the clichéd defiance many-a-fictional princess exhibits. The slight difference with Aerity is her willingness to go along with her father’s decree for the sake of her kingdom; this is not enough, however, to flesh her into a full being. Aerity’s one hobby — something that might help to better form her personality if done well — is merely a plot device which ultimately serves in one small scene to remove characters from trouble. Its presence in her life has no other purpose and feels, therefore, disingenuous. Other flat areas include the villain and the villain’s motivations, which otherwise begin with promise but ultimately fall.

Also troubling is the level of sluts-haming in the novel. Wyneth, who watches her betrothed die, begins to move on with other characters and one hunter in particular. She is not only seemingly punished for daring to kiss her betrothed before he dies, but is on the receiving end of sneers and other mistreatment and judgment as she develops a relationship with the hunter. The importance of monogamy in this fictional society is emphasized to the extent that it makes me wonder if the author was trying to make a point with this. While I’m on the fence as to whether we should portray humans and reality strictly as they are in fiction or condemn actions that are, in our society, generally seen as unacceptable, the fairly frequent talk of monogamy and consequences for stepping outside those boundaries in one way or another (of course more severe for women) was a bit much for me.

Higgins does a decent job with romantic moments despite her characters’ lack of personalities and even pulls off a surprise ending, but the entire premise of the book doesn’t quite add up for me. The king makes excuses for not rewarding land to the winner of the hunt by saying he needs it for his son and his other daughter’s dowry. There’s apparently no money to be had. And so he turns to…selling off his oldest daughter? Surely there were more options and, because Higgins does not explore other potential options (which causes some deficit in the world building area), readers are forced to accept that this is truly the only way.

And while a beast terrorizes the kingdom of Eurona, the stakes never felt quite high enough to warrant the tense action-adventure atmosphere Higgins tries to create. Plenty of moments in the novel are overly drawn out and slow while others are completely unnecessary, adding nothing to the plot or character development. Pursuit was certainly better, giving Hunt more of a payoff than it probably deserved, but I can’t necessarily recommend Hunt beyond that, which is why I leave it with two-and-a-half hearts.

❤❤❤ out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Abby Reads: Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Penguin Books, 2005, 832 pages
Biography

I caught the Hamilton bug last June, during which time I swore to myself again and again that I’d listen to something else for a change, just to once again, plug the Hamilton soundtrack into my ears. (The obsession gradually shifted to also include Panic! at the Disco’s Death of a Bachelor, but I still listen to Hamilton pretty heavily, discovering new layers every time — but that’s enough about my music habits.) Like pretty much the rest of the country/world, I decided I must read the original biography which inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s magnum opus in the first place. My friends, I was not prepared.

It took several months waiting on four or five different holds lists (hooray for living in a metropolitan area with reciprocal library systems!) before I finally got my digital hands on it in late August. I have never been so grateful to have checked out the digital version of a book, because this thing is massive. Not only is it eight-hundred-thirty-two pages, but the print is pretty small. But I’m never one to back down from a challenge. This little monster took me about three months and some days to read, slowly inching through it by commute and lunch reading. And it’s not because it was boring.

It took me a while to get on the biography train. I’m someone who likes a decent amount of dialogue because it helps switch up the sentence length and, therefore, the pace. And certainly there were genuinely slow parts of the biography during which the passage of time and details about Hamilton’s life were necessary to include, but did not feature any exceptionally exciting moments. Fortunately, Chernow is a master at detail and rich research, which brings the subject and other players to life in a way of which few biographers are capable. This level of detail also allows Chernow to logically draw conclusions and implications for events we cannot necessarily know for sure about. For example, while Hamilton’s exact intent for Burr and Hamilton’s duel are cloudy, Chernow makes a reasonable guess based on his research and what we know of Hamilton himself.

With all of the detail, it’s easy to get lost in Chernow’s depiction of Hamilton. Returning to the length of the book, readers might even expect to eventually get bored — surely there’s only so much to say about a person, right? Chernow again defies the odds with an engaging prose style that, while not quite reading like fiction, does read with an easy flow. Chernow’s intelligent, yet accessible prose makes Alexander Hamilton a win for most readers. Chernow highlights his writing with fascinating anecdotes from Hamilton’s life and heightened drama and stakes, even as he writes of the past.

For readers who enjoy the details of the influences on the subject, Chernow makes more excellent progress. His focus on Eliza (Schuyler) Hamilton is unprecedented, even as he acknowledges the first-hand information on her is limited. This makes the book not just a beautiful tribute to Alexander Hamilton, but of all his family, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and achievements.

The biography might have benefited from some illustrations, of course — although Chernow generally does an excellent job of explaining concepts, tools, and so forth of the past with which modern readers might not have familiarity, he often references paintings and other more visual media that might have increased the quality of the book had they been included. It’s reasonable, now, that we might simply use our phones to look up a given piece (I know I did), but when it was published in 2005, most readers did not have such a luxury and, to be sure, not everyone does now. Truly, I did most of my reading of this book underground in a Metro car. My cell service? Basically non-existent.

So, if you’re looking for something challenging in length this year, consider Alexander Hamilton. I think you’ll be as surprised as I was.

❤❤❤❤💔 out of ❤❤❤❤❤

Show Off: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

With summer approaching, readers of all ages are looking for easy going reads with happy endings. Teen fiction over the last several years has veered toward the darker aspects of life. And no surprise! The recession combined with plenty of world events that have continued to reveal the murkier side of humanity has made pessimists of authors and readers alike. We find comfort and understanding in work that reflects our reality in one way or another.

But sometimes we need a break. We need an escape. So I put together this list of titles that are lighthearted. These stories aren’t without conflict — what is a story without conflict, after all? — but they’re fun reads. Great for the beach, pool side, or a tall glass of cold water, these novels will bring a little sunshine into your life.

Each book on the list is represented as a festive triangular flag.

 

What are some of your favorite lighthearted reads?

Show Off: April Showers Bring Superpowers

Summer means blockbuster movies mean superheroes! Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 arrives in theaters next week, so what better time to feature some of the library’s materials on superheroes than now? I put together this board for April, which gave me the excellent opportunity for the “title” of the board — April Showers Bring Superpowers. While I featured a few graphic novels, I also included some fiction and nonfiction to give readers who might read exclusively graphic novels the option of something related, but in a different format. Although this door display is located in the teen section of the James M. Duncan Branch of the Alexandria Public Library system, some of the materials are located in the adult section.

At this library, teen nonfiction is interfiled with adult nonfiction (which is located on the other side of the library). I hoped that teens who might venture over for the adult nonfiction titles featured in this display might come upon some familiar YA stickers on the spines of the YA nonfiction in the stacks and realize those materials were available to them as well. Plus, the adult section of the library always felt so forbidding to me — perhaps if we specifically invite teens to that side, their transition from teen to adult fiction might be that much easier. Of course, the transition need not be a complete transition — my reading is still YA heavy and there’s no shame in reading YA as an adult. But for readers looking for something outside the usual YA parameters, this might strike them as an opportunity.

Take a look at the door below and let me know what you think!

And, for those of you who want to cry out, “You can’t include Batman! He doesn’t have a superpower!” Consider this: Batman’s superpower is being super-sad.

© 2017 24 Hour Library

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑