Monthly Archives: March 2017

10) A Conjuring of Light

By: V. E. Schwab

Date Finished: 03.09.17

13. A Conjuring of Light

A myth without a voice is like a dandelion without a breath of wind. No way to spread the seeds.

NOTE: Since I’m going to discuss the whole series, I will use the following abbreviations for the titles
A Darker Shade of Magic = ADSOM
A Gathering of Shadows = AGOS
A Conjuring of Light = ACOL

ACOL is the final book of the Shades of London series by V. E. Schwab (not to be confused with the Shades of London series by Maureen Johnson which is also amazing). And what a satisfying ending it was. Schwab has so much respect for her readers, and while she is unapologetic about doing what’s best for the story, she doesn’t break your heart without a reason. Granted, I might have said something very different a year ago when I finished AGOS. To say that book ended abruptly is to say Antarctica is a bit on the cold side.

ACOL picks up immediately after the mania that concludes AGOS and it’s frantic until the first episode ends and at least one thing has been resolved. It’s gentler from there – in comparison – as it becomes the story of a group of messy, complicated people trying to solve an impossible and potentially world-ending problem. As you do. There are some rough seas within the book but it was not as gutting as I expected.

This series is fantasy at its best. The rules of magic are clear and the costs are high. The worldbuilding is thorough and well-articulated. By the end of ACOL you know the people, the customs, the mythology, and even bits of the language for each of the Londons (there are four total — Gray London is ours and Black London is inhabitable). It’s enough that you could navigate Red London reasonably well as a tourist. You could navigate White London, too, if you’ve had extensive self-defense training.

Just like the Londons, the characters and their relationships are rich and dynamic and deeply flawed. Every one of the main characters is heroic. Every one of the main characters is heroic in a different, very unconventional way. Every one of the main characters is plagued by demons that they don’t always defeat. ADSOM and AGOS are largely about forming friendships and strengthening loyalties. ACOL forces the cast to form alliances with the people they’d much rather murder. It also forces the reader to weep for the last person they expected to care about (or that could just be me).

I’m prone to mix up the titles of the first two books (A Darker Shade of Magic indicates that there was something less dark before) but the sequence is meaningful. Even though it throws me off, “darker” tells you exactly what to expect from the magic of this world — there’s nothing cute or charming about it. A Gathering of Shadows is a set up for the last book, yes, but it also pushes all the characters to the edge of their strength and their faith. It’s hard to see any hope at the end which is why it’s so significant that the last book is A Conjuring of Light. You know where it’s headed. You know how they’ll battle the darkness. But there is no indication that it will be easy. Schwab is the perfect guide — adept at plunging you into the deepest darkness and then leading you through to the light.

In a case of fortuitous timing, my sister posted her reactions to the series on Instagram tonight — @lizaleegrace, or, more bookishly, @lizareadsbooks. And so, with her permission, today I leave you with my sister’s thoughts.

13. Conjuring Rachel

At the end of the day: Totally for me

09) Spindle

By: Shonna Slayton

Date Finished: 02.18.17

11. Spindle

Spindle. What a lovely and thoughtful story. This Sleeping Beauty-inspired tale is set in a spinning mill in the late 1800s. It’s a concept that is brilliant in it’s simplicity; of course the world needs to see how Sleeping Beauty would navigate a room that contains hundreds of spindles.

Like Cinderella’s Dress, this is a continuation of the fairy tale rather than a strict adaptation.  There are several parallels to the original while remaining plausible in the historical context. Slayton weaves the two constructs together so well they become nearly inseparable. Naturally, we can pick at the threads in our world but the fabric of Slayton’s universe is tight and strong. Certain historical events very believably become the work of fairy magic. Meanwhile, this Briar Rose is a sixteen year old orphan with three younger siblings to care for. Mill conditions are pretty much Dickensian at the time and Briar is desperate to keep her siblings away from the workhouses – not exactly a charmed life.

Briar has a devil and an angel on her shoulder in the form of her two roommates, Ethel and Mim. Ethel is an unabashed feminist campaigning for voting rights and temperance. Mim is more invested in fashion and catching the eye of a rich suitor. They are both supportive of Briar’s efforts to keep her family together even though they have wildly different approaches. (I’ll let you decide which is the devil and which is the angel.) On the whole, the relationship between the three of them is complex and very realistic. The rest of the cast is equally well-rounded and give Briar a lot to play off of — for better or for worse. (Just forget that jerk Wheeler already!)

The setting, these relationships, they make Briar a fighter from the beginning. She’s doing the best she can with the options available and though magic turns her life upside down, Briar is always after one thing: protection for her family. Her course of action changes multiple times but her objective and her resolve never wavers. It’s an interesting thing to see in contrast to the Disney tale of a mostly passive Sleeping Beauty. I’m grateful that Slayton took the opportunity to give this Sleeping Beauty more agency than most.

As far as historical fiction fairy tale adaptations go, this one fits as perfectly as Cinderella’s magic shoe. (Psst – Cinderella’s Shoes is another great Shonna Slayton book)

At the end of the day: Definitely for me

P.S. Spindle makes for an excellent salon read!

11. Spindle Salon

08) Inside Out & Back Again

By: Thanhha Lai

Date Finished: 02.05.17

08. Inside Out & Back Again

I admit that I have stalled in writing this. It’s been hard to get words around this book when it speaks so well for itself. In the simplest terms it’s the story of a young girl, Hà, who flees Vietnam with her family and ends up in Alabama. It explores her love for her home despite the dangers there and her struggle to find her place in a culture that wants nothing to do with her.

The story is fiction but draws heavily on the author’s personal experience. It’s written in a series of free verse poems — because it’s the closest structure to Vietnamese, Lai says. The poetry also allows Hà’s emotional life to be the central story. Through that emotion, Lai captures so perfectly the universal spirit of childhood. Hà is a young girl who is frustrated by limitations. A child who is selfish at times but is also lovingly sacrificial. A human who misses her father and her country and who she might have been if the war hadn’t torn apart their home.

A year ago, this may have been a beautifully written book with a historical setting. However, it’s impossible to read it today without thinking politically. With the refugee crisis continuing and xenophobic policies gaining momentum, every natural-born American would benefit from reading this. If this book does not grow your compassion, likely nothing will.

I often start with a quote but today I will finish with one:

Mother says,
People share
when they know
they have escaped hunger.

Shouldn’t people share
because there is hunger?

At the end of the day: Absolutely for me and absolutely recommended for where we’re at in the world right now

06 & 07) Mind Games & Perfect Lies

By: Kiersten White

Date Finished: 02.06.17

06-07-mind-games-and-perfect-lies

The moment he bends over to help the sorrow-eyed spaniel puppy, I know I won’t be able to kill him. This, of course, ruins my entire day. -Mind Games

How many lies can a brain tell itself before they become truths? -Perfect Lies

God bless the depravity of Kiersten White’s brain.

These books are BRUTAL but also completely brilliant. Fia has perfect instincts and her sister, Annie, is physically blind but can see the future. The sisters are brought to a school that trains girls with superpowers like theirs and then exploits the ones who excel.

Both books are fast-paced, action-packed, what-the-what?!-inducing, and also deeply heartfelt. The bond between the sisters is powerful and beautiful and pushed past the breaking point. Annie and Fia have vastly different ways of seeing the world (not just on the physical level) and yet their protectiveness of each other is absolutely compelling. They are the centerpiece of this tornado of a story in a way that makes you feel what’s happening more intently.

The writing style is very much an extension of the character. Each chapter is told from either Fia’s or Annie’s perspective, and the voices couldn’t be more different. Every word and punctuation echoes their mental state in ways that are super cool — but I won’t share details because, spoilers! The unusual sentence structure is part of the puzzle and it was so gratifying to solve it.

I have a tendency to become deeply invested in books I like and I may yell out loud once or twice if something big happens. Never has one complete book made me scream as much as the last twelve pages of Perfect Lies alone. I. Was. Living. It.

At the end of the day: FOR ME!!