Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Wednesday Scrolls -- June Review!!

I, Persy, am here to kick off the review of last month. Which was a while ago. But don't worry about it. Everyone knows Arty and I aren't so good with schedules.

In June, I read 15 books, 7 being manga or a graphic novel. 3,044 pages total. Not bad at all for my reading life these days.

Best June Book: Probably The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams. You really can't go wrong with him.

Honorable Mentions: Ptolemy's Gate by Jonathan Stroud, Cut by Patricia McCormick, and Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann.

Worst June Book: Graphic Classics: Edgar Allan Poe, a collection of Poe stories and poems that are put to comics. It was a pretty big letdown.

Dishonorable Mention: Fantasy Lover by Sherrilyn Kenyon. A stereotypical guilty pleasure romance read, that didn't have a whole lot to it. Not awful, but not awesome (normally my girl Sherrilyn is better).

I'm really enjoying my RYFBM! Unfortunately haven't been able to just sit and read for hours like I used to for RYFBM, but I'm still getting to reread a lot of old favorites. I hope you are too!


Last month turned into "month before last," because apparently I, Arty, have issues with checking the drafts in our post list. But that's okay! Because in the month of June, I read 16 books, one of which was a graphic novel, which is a pretty fair month. Five of them were nonfiction, too, so go me!

Best June Book: I read so many good books in June! It's either Little Black Book of Stories by celebrated British author A.S. Byatt, or Through the Woods by Emily Carroll. Both were anthologies of rather eerie stories, though Through the Woods was my mentioned graphic novel. Amazing!

Honorable Mention(s): The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris, while not quite as amazing as I had hoped, was still really good!

Worst June Book: Absolutely An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir. You can read my full, wrathful review here.

Dishonorable Mention(s): Don't get me wrong, the graphic novel portions of I Am Princess X, by Cherie Priest, were fantastic. I just wish the whole book had been the graphic novel, because the surrounding story was... less than thrilling.

Coming up next, our RYFBM July Scrolls!


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Arty -- The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

We return after your abnormally scheduled hiatus! The Wednesday Scrolls roundup review will, hopefully, come next Wednesday - just in time for the July review, as well!

Anyway, onto the review.

I read The Raven Boys a little over two years ago, not right after it had come out but not long after, either. At that time, some of my favorite 1- and 2-star reviews were of Stiefvater's Shiver and sequels, so I wasn't happily inclined to it; still, I remember thinking that the beginning was intriguing and the writing wasn't terrible. After two hundred pages or so, though, I'd lost interest.

It took a lot less time to lose interest the second time around.

The basic premise(s) is this: Blue Sargent lives in a purely X-chromosomal household of psychics, including her mother and various aunts/friends. She has no powers herself, but everyone knows her fate: if she kisses her true love, he'll die. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of town (metaphorically speaking), obscenely wealthy 17-year-old Richard Gansey is searching for the lost Welsh king Glendower, while simultaneously holding court at obscenely wealthy Aglionby Academy boarding school. His friends - Sharkteeth Ooh Ha Ha hot-headed Ronan Lynch, the lowborn, timid Johnny Cade Adam Parrish, and the smudgy and otherwise un-nicknamable Noah - help him navigate both real life and the magical realm of ley lines and dreams and... um, magic stuff. Unfortunately, the two worlds are about to collide - because BLUE SEES GANSEY IN A CONTEXT WHICH MAKES IT PRETTY OBVIOUS THAT HE'LL DIE BECAUSE OF HER KISS! AND YET THEY DO NOT STAY AWAY FROM EACH OTHER AT ALL! NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT!

I will start out with the pluses. Stiefvater has no small control of the English language, technically speaking. She commits very few, if any, rookie gaffes that should have been caught by an unbiased editor. The whole book reeks of Pine Sol for writing - it's that polished. She has a good turn at atmosphere, too, and description that only makes you think she's telling you what to imagine. It's pretty cool, I'll admit that. If you ask me what anyone in this book looks like, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you; still, my brain still knows what it thinks they look like. Weird.

And, credit where credit's due, the whole concept is great! There are ravens and Virginia landscapes, Welsh kings and Latin trees, psychics and ghosts, and what can be technically classified as "banter." About 92% of this book's dialogue is made up of "banter." It's like a whole Avengers: Age of Ultron battle scene, toned down to slice-of-life and stretched out over 400 pages.

The problem is that the book is exactly as tedious as that sounds.

For all the talent she has at building technically pleasant sentences, Stiefvater has no meaning of the word 'subtlety.' Even her subtlety is unsubtle. As rife with opportunity for drama as the book is, every scene is depicted as Very Dramatic. As a result, nothing is dramatic. It's all so one-note and drenched in Gothic Undertones, the whole effect soon dries out. It becomes wearisome. When Stiefvater makes an event out of Gansey talking about his hornet allergy, I stopped caring. The drama had no place to go because she'd already hit the drama ceiling.

As exhausting as the constant drama was, Stiefvater's floral and self-conscious style is even more draining. It's the kind of style that feels pleased with itself, and how beautifully it uses words. We all know the old adage, thrown at as as soon as we picked up a pencil: "Show, don't tell." The only thing that Stiefvater shows is that she likes to tell. A line of dialogue might come after a paragraph or two of pretentious, self-absorbed navel-gazing by any one of the novel's four POV characters.

Speaking of characters! Stiefvater loves her characters. Which is good. Always love your characters, if you're writing fiction. But along with loving one's characters, a writer has to give the reader a reason to love those characters, too. This ties in with the show-don't-tell thing, too, because Stiefvater tells us about her children constantly. It often goes hand-in-hand with the aforementioned navel-gazing, too, which makes the telling even more grating. I don't want to know what the author is saying about this character's thoughts about themselves or about someone else! I just want to know what the character is thinking! If I had to hear one more sentence about Blue's "strangeness," when all that showed of this eccentricity was that she embroidered Goodwill boots and didn't obey her mother, I would have screamed. I did roll my eyes a lot. The relationships between Blue and the "raven boys" happened in the blank space between Chapter X and Chapter Y; Stiefvater informs the reader that Blue/Boys are friends and bypasses any pesky relationship growth that might get in the way.

The Raven Boys is increasingly popular, and I can see why. The writing style is ornate and dripping with prosody and metaphor. There are hot boys in all flavors. It appeals to the crowd that likes labeling themselves "quirky" and "old soul" while thinking about how they're not like the others in their demographic - as well as other, more sane crowds, but most noticeably that one. (Hey, I'm still a big fan of the Inheritance Saga - I can't throw too much shade at tastes.) And, like I said, the concept is so good! Not to mention that cover art. Dang. The covert art is why I initially picked it up, despite having Stiefvater's name on it.

Unfortunately, The Raven Boys does not live up to the hype. It's a solid-enough premise that suffers from theauthorloveshearingherownwriting-itis. It's a sophomoric attempt at writing an upperclassman idea. Which is sad. Maybe after Stiefvater graduates with some sort of concentration in "finding your chill," her execution will be better.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Persy -- Cut by Patricia McCormick

Callie is in a residential treatment facility for young women called Sea Pines. Except they all just call it Sick Minds. Most of her fellow patients are there for eating disorders or drug addictions. But none of them know why Callie is there. Callie doesn't speak. Not to the other patients, not to the doctors, not to the nurses. These days, even when she tries to speak, she can't make anything come out.

But then one day there's a new patient: Amanda. Amanda cuts herself and is unashamed. She doesn't hide the scars -- she flaunts them. Not like Callie, who hides in her long sleeves and her silence.

In the outside world, Callie's little brother has terrible asthma and her mother worries about everything. Her dad's job doesn't go so well anymore. A lot of responsibility fell on Callie every day -- but not anymore. Now she's just at Sick Minds. To get better, to get treated. So much led up to her entry into Sick Minds -- but will she ever be able to speak?

Some reviewers have said that the characters are stereotypical and flat. This is true. But that doesn't mean they're not realistic as well. Take it from someone who knows.

You also have to keep in mind that this book is only 150 pages long. It's not going on an indepth psychological journey of each and every character. It's more of a statement. A statement about an issue that doesn't really get spoken about a lot. The book itself mentions that people with problems such as eating disorders or substance abuse are relatively "normal", but cutters and self abusers... those are just freaks. For an issue so big, it's remarkably ignored.

Anyway, back to the book. I finished it in one sitting, and not just because it's so short. I really got pulled in right off the bat. For starters, it's written a little like a letter. It's all addressed to Callie's psychiatrist, which is a really cool and effective way to do it.

Also, it's incredibly realistic for only 150 pages. Admittedly, I'm a bit biased. Serious talk here, please forgive me, but I have literally been in Callie's shoes. I've spent time in residential treatment for the exact same reason, and reading Callie's story was practically a walk down memory lane. I don't know how it reads to someone without my experience, but perhaps the guarantee that it IS realistic will change the way you read it.

It's honestly not as horrifying as I was expecting. There is a deep dark secret, but it wasn't as deep and dark as I thought it would be. But that doesn't really take away from what's there.

All in all it's a short little book about a big issue, and you certainly won't waste any time giving it a read. I would DEFINITELY love to know what people who haven't spent time in a loony bin think of this little book, because it has to change your perspective. Y'know, just a little.


You might like this if you: like short little books; like books about mental disorders; like books that address big issues; want to know more about cutting and cutters; or if you are or know someone who cuts

PS. DON'T FORGET ABOUT RYFBM!! Only a few more weeks!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Arty -- Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

You know the Moonlit Library is back when our reviews are three days late! It's good to renew old traditions. Anyway, on to the review.

I'm here to tell you, not about a book, but about a story. Alif the Unseen typifies what a good story should be - it's the kind of story that you can imagine being told around a fire. Granted, that's a vague piece of criteria for a "good story," but I'd like to convince you with more evidence.

Amazon's summary goes something like this: "In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients - dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups - from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif - the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the state's electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover's new fiancé is the 'Hand of God,' as they call the head of state security, and his henchman come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen."

Sounds pretty simple, right? WRONG. Alif is filled with twists and turns, characters good and bad and in between. It's filled with beautiful musings on technology and religion and myth and story and the interplay of them all. It contains awe-inspiring descriptions of the Middle Eastern setting and of the supernatural elements that drag you right into the story. It's also very often pretty hilarious. But don't get me wrong - Wilson is never didactic with any of these topics. The characters are the perfect vehicles for the themes and topics that come up in this story.

Alif is a fantastic non-hero. He's a pretty typical basement-dwelling computer geek, except that he's really, really good at what he does. He's something of a technological prodigy, and yet he's also a really normal dude. His problems start because he goes gung-ho with a blocking program after he's dumped by his girlfriend. He's fifty shades of pathetic, and that makes him flawed, understandable, and endearing, all at the same time. Both his strengths and his flaws are a huge influence on how he reacts to the story going on around him. Wilson handles the humanity of her main character flawlessly.

The supporting characters are so good, too! Wow! Alif's childhood friend, Dina, shines as a sort of "primary side char," who never acts or speaks as if her only purpose in the novel is to be Alif's moral center (though she does sometimes fill that role). She's a well-rounded character with her own life and motivations, strengths and weaknesses. Likewise, Vikram, the first jinn that Alif meets, is a wonderful example of how to write an inhuman character. He's snarky, insensitive to humans' needs, and not always exactly moral as Alif would prefer. But he's real, as real as any of the other characters. The other, lesser side chars - the American convert, Alif's hacker friend, the Sheikh, the other jinn - not to mention the villainous characters, are just as well-drawn, just as real. In short, the characters never felt like characters who existed only as soon as they came on the page; they felt like they had always existed, and the story was just a part of their very real lives.

Like I mentioned, there's a lot of musings on religion and faith, and on art and technology. They're organically drawn into the plot of the story, which is, after all, based on computer technology and Arabic literature (mainly The Thousand and One Nights and the Quran). Not only are they not shoehorned in like sermons or platitudes, they're required by the story. It's a story that needs an intelligent, sensitive handling of faith and art, and Wilson delivers. Does she deliver.

All that rambling about pros (and nothing about cons) to say, read this book. Wilson writes beautifully about beautiful topics and beautiful characters. It's a must-read for anyone who likes good books. Period.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wednesday Scrolls -- May Review!

When I, Persy, said we were back, I MEANT IT. Here we are to give you a summary of our May reading!

In May, I read 12 books, 6 of them being manga and 1 a collection of comic books I considered to equal a graphic novel. All of this added up to 2788, which really is quite good for me these days.

Best May Book: This ends up going to Volume 6 of Skip Beat! by Yoshiki Nakamura. I just love this series so much. Even if you don't like Manga, you should read it or watch the anime, 'cause it just makes me happy.

Honorable Mention(s): Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, Breakfast at Tiffany's and Other Stories by Truman Capote, The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, and Volume 14 of Ouran High School Host Club by Bisco Hatori (of course).

Worst May Book: Volume 6 of Corpse Party: Blood Covered by Makoto Kudouin. Really it's not that bad, but it's hardly art, y'know? Mostly pantie shots and gore. It just ends winning this award because I didn't read anything truly bad this month.

Dishonorable Mention(s): There isn't one!

So far my June has been pretty good, and don't forget that July is RYFBM! Reread Your Favorite Book Month!


Welcome back, guys! Or maybe I should be saying that to Persy and myself. Oh, well.

In the month of May, I read 13 books. One of them was a two-shot manga and one was a comic collection. As usual, I'm lazy, and don't keep track of page count - I just count 13 to be pretty good for being out of the country for a week!

Best May Book: It's really a tie between the fairly new Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson, and the ever-classic Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. It should probably go to Alif, though, since everyone knows that Cyrano is amazing. And Alif was fantastic! Go read it!

Honorable Mention(s): Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson and How To Read Literature Like A Professor by Thomas C. Foster.

Worst May Book: Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes. Sigh. Incredibly generic for a pretty well-promoted YA serving, and the ending was an inch shy of preposterous.

Dishonorable Mention(s): Mordred by Vivian Vande Velde was a shocking departure for the generally super-quality Ms. Velde. Boring, and barely even about Mordred, really - more about OCs and a disappointingly-drawn Nimue than the angst-ridden titular character. Sigh again.

Get ready for RYFB Month - July will be here before you realize it!


Friday, June 5, 2015

Persy -- The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

King Arthur and Merlin and all those chaps have been a part of legend ever since they actually existed, and it's practically a genre unto itself. Sometimes it focuses on Merlin, sometimes Arthur, sometimes Lancelot, sometimes Guinevere, sometimes someone completely random. But the Arthurian legends are still going strong today.

Sorry, we're studying Anglo-Norman literature in my English class right now, so I'm trying not to slip into essay mode. Focus.

Myrddin Emrys is the bastard son of Lady Niniane, daughter of the king of Britain in Maridunum. No one knows who his father is, for Niniane refuses to tell a single soul, even her father the king. It is widely believed that little Merlin (affectionately called so by his mother and others) is the son of the demon or the devil himself, for sometimes he knows things he shouldn't and has a tendency to overhear a great many things.

One day Merlin finds himself in a cave and encounters a wise old man named Galapas, who teaches Merlin many things. Not long after this, Merlin is forced to flee the castle and ends up crossing the sea to Cornwall and in the service of Ambrosius, outcast prince. With Merlin's often supernatural assistance, Ambrosius and his brother Uther just might be able to retake all of Britain and drive the hated Saxons out.

Okay, so that summary is a bit crap, but I'm not super good at all of the Saxons war Britain king stuff. I followed along fine while I was reading, but it's not exactly what stuck with me.

What did stick was all of Merlin's adventures and powers. I really like how Mary Stewart writes him, starting with his toddler years and gradually following him as he grows up. He's not an amazing sorcerer, but no one will believe him when he tells them. He actually is just very very intelligent and likes to learn about everything. True, he's prone to a few destinies and visions every now and again... but really, he's not a magician.

Normally I don't read a lot of epic fantasy or even Arthurian tales in general -- it's just never been my fortĂ©. Arty's usually the one who reads that stuff. So I entered The Crystal Cave without much excitement. But I actually really enjoyed the whole adventure. It's definitely an epic in the sense that it moves along slowly at its own pace, unhurried and in no rush to get to the action. There's a lot of description of the war and the tactics of Ambrosius, which makes sense because it concerns Merlin quite a lot. Mary Stewart has some very nice writing suited to the genre she's chosen, though if you like fast-paced fantasy adventure then this isn't the book for you.

What really kept me reading was Merlin himself. His personality is just great. He's very no-nonsense, a bit brash, but also extremely level-headed as he matures into a young man. He knows how to use his brains and his luck, and is extremely good at coming up with something in the moment. No one else likes him much, but in the age he lived in, he wasn't exactly the popular type. Personally, I'd love to hang out with him.

If you like historical epic fantasy and/or Arthurian legends, this is definitely the book for you. There are few more books in Mary Stewart's Arthurian Saga, and I look forward to reading those at some point. They just take a long time to get through because they're each over 500 pages. Not exactly light reading.

It feels great to be reviewing books again. Let's hope it lasts!


You might like this if you: like historical epic fantasy; like Arthurian legends; like Arthurian retellings; like Merlin; like magic that's not actually magic but everyone insists is magic; like historical battle fantasy stuff; or if you sometimes have weird visions that cause all your friends to make the sign against evil and make everyone think your absent father is the devil.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Wednesday Scrolls -- RYFBM!!

It has literally been a year since the last post on this blog. Please forgive us, we are both poor busy college students.

Even though it's summer, we're both still rather busy, but I got the urge to review a book (look forward to it this weekend), plus it's almost July! No matter how busy I am, you know I'll never miss...


Yes, in the past it went by another name. RAMFAP. But... okay, so I'm in college and... y'know. That could be taken another way. I'm sorry.

So it is now Reread Your Favorite Books Month! Not quite as catchy, but it still gets the point across. Plus it's actually easier to say.

Anyway, it's my favorite month of the year. I get so stoked for this. I've got my list all planned out, and it took a lot of self control not to go ahead and get all my books out in a neat orderly stack.

I hope you take this opportunity to reread a few of your favorite books, and I hope you forgive us for being so MIA all the time!