Mini Reviews - Fall 2016

Hey y'all!It's the week before finals and I'm dying. I have four finals and two final papers, which is not super common for most freshmen.The nice part though is that at Washington and Lee, we can self-schedule most exams because of our honor system. Because we operate under such a standard of honesty, nobody discusses the exams or anything. Being able to have a take-home exam, and to take my hardest exam when I'm ready, is such a relief.In any case, I've been working my tail off this week to try and get my papers in before my assessments start. I had a religion presentation, helped plan exam breaks, and handled some last-minute clerical things. Despite that all, I'll be okay when it's over. Plus, I have some posts to look forward to this month.

  • Best of 2016
  • Best of 2016: Not the Books!
  • End of the Year Book Survey 2016
  • WLS Goals 2017
  • Holiday Gift Guide - if I get to it!

To reward myself for Hell Week, I'm actually working on Words Like Silver - which has been disappointingly difficult to get to lately! I love this blog, and I love the books that have been waiting on my desk, unread. I've enjoyed some picks lately though. Without further ado:

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab

Novel: This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab | GoodreadsRelease Date: July 5, 2016Publisher: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins)Format: HardcoverSource: Bought

There’s no such thing as safe in a city at war, a city overrun with monsters. In this dark urban fantasy from author Victoria Schwab, a young woman and a young man must choose whether to become heroes or villains—and friends or enemies—with the future of their home at stake. The first of two books.Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives.

I loved a lot about the way this book was set up, but the language was really the factor that put it over the edge for me. Victoria Schwab writes with such focused voice - allowing her characters to spring up through their word choice, atmosphere, flavor. She's gifted, particularly in matters of tone. It puts her directly on my auto-buy list because all her books are alluring, but in different ways.Her pacing is clearly phenomenal. That made the sinister powerplays that unwound throughout This Savage Song even more satisfying. I loved August and Kate because they were both vicious and soft in complex, often contradictory ways. This is one of those books I ignored the world for, because I wanted to sink into it for longer. Plus, it has some insane plot twists.All in all, I was a fan. A lot of This Savage Song was just fantastically done.

The Unfinished World: And Other Stories by Amber Sparks

Novel: The Unfinished World: And Other Stories by Amber Sparks | GoodreadsRelease Date: January 25, 2016Publisher: LiverightFormat: PaperbackSource: Bought

In the weird and wonderful tradition of Kelly Link and Karen Russell, Amber Sparks’s dazzling new collection bursts forth with stories that render the apocalyptic and otherworldly hauntingly familiar. In “The Cemetery for Lost Faces,” two orphans translate their grief into taxidermy, artfully arresting the passage of time. The anchoring novella, “The Unfinished World,” unfurls a surprising love story between a free and adventurous young woman and a dashing filmmaker burdened by a mysterious family. Sparks’s stories—populated with sculptors, librarians, astronauts, and warriors—form a veritable cabinet of curiosities. Mythical, bizarre, and deeply moving, The Unfinished World and Other Stories heralds the arrival of a major writer and illuminates the search for a brief encounter with the extraordinary.

I'm terrible about reading short stories. I never know which writers fit with my taste, or what to look for, since a lot of them (admittedly and ashamedly) blur together. I like a particular mixture of connection with the characters, intrigue, and language - a combination's that hard to find because I'm easily overwhelmed.Luckily - and I'm not just saying this - my old workplace Oxford Exchange curates an excellent collection. I love picking from that tiny existentialist corner because I know whatever stories are there will make me think, and that's exactly where I found this little gem.I have visceral reactions to books I love. I cry, I laugh, I throw my book across the room if it makes me angry. Still though, that's not nearly as powerful as the reaction I have to books that seem to pluck thoughts I have directly out of my head and weave them in ways more eloquent and beautiful than I ever could have. This is a book that makes me think, damn, I wish I'd written any or all of this. It's a book that I have to put down in increments so I can sit and mull over the questions brought up within it - gorgeous, philosophical ideas.

"I do not understand why we try to describe this fixed place, this telescoped speck in the universe - why we try to drape this world in words, as if that could hold or encompass it. I suppose we must try because how else to say what we long for? And that is perhaps what is hardest of all: to be full of such longing- for stone, for onions, for soap, for dawn, for familiar skies, for the dreams of others. Don't you yearn, most desperately, to know if other people's dreams resemble yours? Do you dream of something like home?"

So many lines to highlight. The characters are compelling, the stories are creative as hell, but the primary appeal of this book is the prose.

"Are they leaving? Will they be happy? Is anyone ever enough for the person they love? In the telling, it is always the same. In the telling, the lovers are mired in the past, or moored in the present. In the telling, the bear is always beautiful, the moon is always full above the burning manor, and there are never enough endings."

I dream to write like that, and I can only hope to find more books like this. I'm a little speechless over it, admittedly, so just know: it made the top three favorites of all time and that means something because that rarely changes.

What Light by Jay Asher

Novel: What Light by Jay Asher | GoodreadsRelease Date: October 18, 2016Publisher: Razorbill (PRH)Format: ARCSource: Publisher

From Jay Asher, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Thirteen Reasons Why, comes a romance that will break your heart, but soon have you believing again. . . .Sierra's family runs a Christmas tree farm in Oregon—it's a bucolic setting for a girl to grow up in, except that every year, they pack up and move to California to set up their Christmas tree lot for the season. So Sierra lives two lives: her life in Oregon and her life at Christmas. And leaving one always means missing the other.Until this particular Christmas, when Sierra meets Caleb, and one life eclipses the other.By reputation, Caleb is not your perfect guy: years ago, he made an enormous mistake and has been paying for it ever since. But Sierra sees beyond Caleb's past and becomes determined to help him find forgiveness and, maybe, redemption. As disapproval, misconceptions, and suspicions swirl around them, Caleb and Sierra discover the one thing that transcends all else: true love.What Light is a love story that's moving and life-affirming and completely unforgettable.

Admittedly, I’m a little disappointed. This is one that was really really talked up to me at the PRH booth at ALA, and I was absolutely pumped.Here’s the thing: I think Jay Asher is a wonderful person. He’s a great speaker, I know that for sure. I love that so many people have connected to his books. But each time I read one of his books, I expect it to be so much more than it is. I think that I personally don’t like his writing style. It’s too plain. His characters feel too kitschy.This one fell victim to the same. I loved the concept, I wanted to love it, but I didn’t. The dialogue was a little too corny. I didn’t really like the aspects of Caleb and Sierra’s relationships that he chose to focus on, and that ruined the rest of the development for me. Not much seemed to happen. It was fine, and I don’t like when a book is just fine for me. I can dig a lighthearted romance. But it has to have depth in some way. What Light didn’t have enough depth for me.

What have y'all read lately?

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