It’s Grace here, writing from the Faunce porch at Brown University, where I’m visiting for the weekend. It’s nice to get away — to eat some pumpkin pancakes and wear bell-sleeve sweaters and completely ignore the contents of my agenda — and buckle down back on the blog I love so much.
This month was a bit of a whirlwind between midterms and some intense extracurriculars, but I’m back to reading (for Halloweekend, anyways.) With that being said, I wanted to catch y’all up on what I’ve been reading lately.
Soundless by Richelle Mead
Novel: Soundless by Richelle Mead | Goodreads
Release Date: November 10, 2015
In a village without sound…
For as long as Fei can remember, no one in her village has been able to hear. Rocky terrain and frequent avalanches make it impossible to leave the village, so Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.
When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink. Many go hungry. Fei and all the people she loves are plunged into crisis, with nothing to look forward to but darkness and starvation.
One girl hears a call to action…
Until one night, Fei is awoken by a searing noise. Sound becomes her weapon.
She sets out to uncover what’s happened to her and to fight the dangers threatening her village. A handsome miner with a revolutionary spirit accompanies Fei on her quest, bringing with him new risks and the possibility of romance. They embark on a majestic journey from the peak of their jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiguo, where a startling truth will change their lives forever…
And unlocks a power that will save her people.
Soundless was well put together. It’s self-contained and well-plotted. I also loved the establishment of the senses, and the discussion of how they each impacted daily life and culture. I can’t speak to how accurate its representation may have been (I could see how in some ways it could be shown as ableist), but I enjoyed it a lot especially for a standalone. It’s simple but great.
It starts with a deaf village working at the top of the mountain, relying exclusively on a pulley system for trade. Needless to say, it has some definite Princess Academy connotations that I enjoyed translated to a slightly older audience. Also, Fei’s love for art — her dependence on it, rather — painted a passionate picture of who she was and where her priorities were. I didn’t totally buy into the sisterly bond, but her dedication was admirable. Throughout the book, all the characters exclusively use sign language, and it’s eye-opening in that regard. The progression of plot elements is logical and yet pulled together in a way that’s never boring.
Soundless doesn’t have the same pulse-pounding elements that are characteristic of Mead’s other books, but it’s solid fare. Likable characters, a romance that I loved. It’s a great palate-cleanser, and one I easily took down in one sitting.
All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
Novel: All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater | Goodreads
Release Date: October 10, 2017
Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.
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.
As always, Maggie Stiefvater writes a story that’s lush and gracefully human. I love her intense attention to detail; she curates details in a way that creates pervasive atmosphere. Her writing is stunning, and her characters are complex. Speaking generally, that’s what I expect going into a story.
All the Crooked Saints was good. It felt less urgent than her others, and that lack of tension took me aback a little bit. Her characters weren’t as memorable, although they were distinct. I did love the longing of the desert setting, which showed off Stiefvater’s strengths.
It felt the most whimsical out of any of Maggie Stiefvater’s books, which I enjoyed. You definitely have to go into it as a bit of a sidetracked read rather than her “main” books — which are explosive and gorgeous — but I still liked it a lot. One part that surprised me most was that it feels utterly timeless. It doesn’t take place in modern times, and that only occurred to me about halfway through the book because it feels so universal. Also, I loved how Stiefvater played with parallel language.
I think because she’s still in the spirit of The Raven Cycle, the characters could have used more development. They have definite specificity that is wholly unique to the way Stiefvater writes. Still, I didn’t connect quite as well to them and they didn’t feel as warm.
If you’re a fan of atmosphere or folk tales, it has that same kind of quality. A bit of a self-contained nature and layers that you can read into, rather than an in-your-face narrative. It’s rather slow, but that feels characteristic of its entire vibe: lazy and quiet. I can see it being hit-or-miss for most readers, but I love books that go out of their way to be different.
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
Novel: History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund | Goodreads
Release Date: January 3, 2017
Publisher: Grove Atlantic
Fourteen-year-old Madeline lives with her parents in the beautiful, austere woods of northern Minnesota, where their nearly abandoned commune stands as a last vestige of a lost counter-culture world. Isolated at home and an outlander at school, Madeline is drawn to the enigmatic, attractive Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. When Mr. Grierson is charged with possessing child pornography, the implications of his arrest deeply affect Madeline as she wrestles with her own fledgling desires and craving to belong.
And then the young Gardner family moves in across the lake and Madeline finds herself welcomed into their home as a babysitter for their little boy, Paul. It seems that her life finally has purpose but with this new sense of belonging she is also drawn into secrets she doesn’t understand. Over the course of a few days, Madeline makes a set of choices that reverberate throughout her life. As she struggles to find a way out of the sequestered world into which she was born, Madeline confronts the life-and-death consequences of the things people do—and fail to do—for the people they love.
Unequivocally, this is one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read. But I don’t mean that in a Flowers in the Attic or American Psycho way (source of all my nightmares), but in the sense that a lot of it burrowed its way inside my head and refused to leave. It’s a book that feels like winter. It’s another atmospheric read, one that casts the wintery woods in a more sinister and significantly more lonely light. I had to read it in phases.
Some bits were troubling. The main character is strange. She’s fascinated by her older teacher, and a girl on the edge of town. She’s almost too intimate in her perception of other people, and the details she chooses to share are off-putting. Despite that, the bravery in that expression of her voice is worth noting. She’s definitely not likable, but she paints a picture of everything that captures the actions profoundly.
I have so much to talk about in relation to this book. There are dichotomies of the way I think that are fundamentally challenged by everything that unfolds within this, and it’s all framed by this heavy image of the woods. It’s not told chronologically, and the ability of the narrator to jump forward and backward punctuated the events nicely. It hurts to read.
And the language is absolutely astonishing. Some bits are sad in a way you don’t really want to think about: “it seemed unfair to me that people couldn’t be something else just by working at it hard, by saying it over and over” and “Maybe if I’d been someone else I’d see it differently. But isn’t that the crux of the problem? Wouldn’t we all act differently if we were someone else?” The last paragraph is haunting.
In summary, I loved this book and it was beyond stimulating. It was also hard to read, so I wouldn’t recommend reading it if you’re bummed out. The language and the human nuances though are worth seeing eventually.