Friday, January 26, 2018

Miracles, Magic, and Owls

All the Crooked Saints 
By: Maggie Stiefvater
Genre: YA Magical Realism

"Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.
They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect."

I haven't read many books in the magical realism genre, and the ones I have were just pain weird. Thankfully, All the Crooked Saints wasn't like that. It was weird in ways that make sense, if that makes any sense ;). I loved the symbolism spread throughout the novel, and how she creates Bicho Raro as a character in itself. When authors do this, it just adds so much more reality and depth to their characters and, in turn, their novel, for no one is anyone without the location or several locations where they grew up.

I didn't fall in love with any one specific character; Maggie drops you into everyone's tale so that you root for every character. For this tale isn't about a specific character, it's the community coming together to fight their darkness. That's unusual in novels, but it's more like real life.

The only thing that irked me about this book was the facts she throws in. Most of them I found fascinating, but toward the end of the novel, I was questioning why she had placed some of the facts in the story, as they didn't seem to add much to the plot and seemed almost to the point of showing off.

But overall, it's a great, magical tale of miracles, darkness, and owls. I give it a 4 out of 5 and recommend it for youth ages 15 and up.

What I learned: Everyone has darkness in themselves. And sometimes just seeing and realizing that truth is when the miracle unfolds.
If this novel sounds interesting, or even if it doesn't, you might also like: The Scorpio Races by Stiefvater.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Best of 2017

Below are the best books, in several different categories, of the 29 books (it doesn't look like much when I type it out!) I read this last year. I hope some of them spark your interest or bring back fond memories of your own. 

Best Classical Novel
The award goes to... Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by the creative Robert Louis Stevenson. He can definitely write more morally complex material than children's poetry and Treasure Island. Suspenseful and as deep-as-a-well, this novel is perfect for reading beside a fire on a blustery autumn night!  

Best Adult Fiction
Out of the handful of the adult fiction books I read, Timeline by Michael Crichton would have to be my favorite. I haven't gotten around to reading many of his books, but this one hooked me so that I have quite a few now on my never-ending too-read list. This book had just enough science without being too dense and plenty of fascinating medieval history without being too historical. I mean, who wouldn't want to know what it would be like to be stuck in the middle ages with only a very short time frame to return to the current age? 

Best Young Adult Fiction
The Young Elites series by Marie Lu blew me away. They were different than anything else I've read in this genre (which has been a mountain's worth, if you've taken a look at my book reviews over the last few years). The series deals with a main character who becomes a villain. It becomes darker as the series progresses, treating on the darkness that lies inside of every person. The ending was hopeful, which is one reason why I like the series so much, besides the fact that it has basically super heroes in it! This is a young adult series that is real and honest about humanity. 

Best Non-Fiction 
One-Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp wins this award. I had heard a lot about this book but thought the hype was overdone. It turns out, in this case, that it wasn't. I finally picked it up, and the book's practical message about giving thanks on a daily basis sunk deep into my heart during a time of heavy sadness. It's not magical, of course; giving thanks is work, but I enjoyed the lessons Voskamp shared from her own life and the reminder that giving thanks does bring joy in the end. She also writes the book in lovely poetic language. 

Best Biography 
I only read two. Whoops. But out of those two (Bonhoeffer's biography and Surprised by Oxford), my favorite was Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber. I was surprised by this book, as I didn't know it existed until my mom basically threw it at me a few weeks before Christmas. So it almost didn't get on my list. I loved this book because it takes place at Oxford, quotes poetry, and mentions tea every few pages. But more than that, it's about a girl who wrestles with some deep questions during her graduate program that most humans at least slap at during their lives. It's a beautiful testimony to God's greatness and persistence. 

Best Re-Read 
The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. Nothing more needs to be said about this.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Lost in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 
By: Lewis Carroll 
Genre: Children's Fantasy 

Since this popular novel about a girl falling through a rabbit hole is a classic and I'm an English major, I thought it was high time for me to venture into Wonderland and see what all the fuss is about myself. 

And it's about bizarre. There's no other good word for this book. I expected it to be weird, due to my faint memories of the movie, and it didn't disappoint. Alice encounters creatures of all kinds, from an unhelpful blue caterpillar, to a fish footman, to a mock turtle (still figuring out what that is).

I can handle odd creatures; I love me some sci-fi and fantasy. What bothered me most in this book was Alice herself. Yes, she's seeing some very odd things, but she does not deal with them at all well. She always wants to be right, and seemed quite prideful, even though she kept talking about being polite. If she truly wanted to be polite, she could have refrained from speaking at all. The illustrations also didn't help, often portraying her as an angry little girl (at least in my version of the book). They were good for a laugh, though.  

I also didn't much like that there's no plot in the story besides encountering odd things. The ending felt superficial, but I won't ruin it if you've never seen the movie or read the book. 

Thankfully it was a short read and entertaining with all of the bizarre creatures. However, I probably won't peruse it again. Due to all of the above reasons, I give Alice's lovely (or not so lovely) adventures a 2 out of 5. This book could be read by 12 year olds and up. 

What I learned: It's not always prudent to be right or logical (at least out loud). Sometimes the most polite thing one can do is to not talk at all.