Book Review: The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

It has been a few weeks since I’ve posted and this is not due to a dearth of reading material, let me tell you. I just started my summer job and it’s been a little exhausting trying to find a moment for myself while juggling my job and other responsibilities and still trying to have some summer fun. I feel a little more at ease now and am happy to return to my blog! My other issue was that I had been weirdly locked out of my WordPress Account for a week or two so I’m glad to be back with full access! I’ve also been racing to get my visa paperwork through for my impending move to France which has been a slog but I can finally see the light! I actually finished this book in the same week as the other two in the trilogy but was unable to take time for put down my thoughts. After having finished all three books, I can still say that I loved the trilogy and enjoyed the ride. Each book had a different flavor and overarching themes but I really enjoyed them all. I will say that Pullman seems to have shifted direction a little bit in the last book but I still loved the story. So without further ado, The Amber Spyglass!

At the end of the Subtle Knife, Will gained possession of the Subtle Knife and Lyra was stolen away by her own mother, ostensibly for her own protection. The Magisterium is hot on Mrs. Coulter’s trail and decides to destroy Lyra for her role in the upcoming battle between Lord Asriel and the Magisterium. However, Lyra and Will find themselves pursuing a parallel adventure in search of Roger, Lyra’s old friend from her days at Oxford College. At the end of the book, the Magisterium and the Authority battle with Lord Asriel for cosmic control of the universe while Lyra discovers just how painful the sacrifices can be. Honestly, I was about halfway through this book while getting my car serviced and I legitimately began to cry in the middle of a car dealership because of how invested I had gotten and how painful things were in the book. Pullman did a wonderful job of animating each character and you can feel their joy and happiness and pain and sorrow just as if it was your own. This book really did destroy me a little bit and I do not regret that experience. I would recommend reading the whole series, I would absolutely not read this as a stand alone book as it is too intertwined with the broader narrative within the trilogy. I also didn’t think that it was as blasphemous as was claimed before I read the book. I’ll leave it there because to give much more detail would spoil the book. I hope I haven’t been too vague about the book, I just don’t want to give away precious details that the reader should discover on their own. I loved the trilogy and I hope that all young adults get the chance to read it. Happy Reading!

Book Review: The Nine Realms by Sarah Kozloff

The reason that I’ve decided to do a mega book review rather than individual reviews for each book is for the simple reason that I finished all these books on the same day. They were that good. Oh man, I almost wished that I had spend more time savoring them but these books truly told small sections of the larger saga and the continuity between them is absolutely seamless. I previously reviewed “The Hidden Queen”, the first in this series a few weeks ago. In the interim, my lovely boyfriend took the time to track down the rest of the series through the local library and let me borrow them all! I was pleased to have them all in hand, especially because Sarah Kozloff released them all at the same time, rather than waiting to drop them a year or two apart. I believe that was a FANTASTIC decision because it enabled me to really dive into the story of Cerulia and the Nine Realms in a way that is hard to do without an entire finished series in hand. But enough about my voracious reading addiction, I have to tell you about the amazing read that this series has been!

At the end of the first novel, Cerulia, our fearless protagonist, has been forced to flee her home for lands unknown without any sort of plan. All she knows is that she is being pursued by the same men who orchestrated her mother’s demise and that she must find some way to regain her throne to restore order to her realm. However, the entire balance of the Nine Realms has been thrown off kilter due to the desperation of the people of Oromondo, the Oros, to feed themselves after poisoning their own lands. Throughout the novel, we hear from perspectives across the Nine Realms, from Cerulia herself, from Thalen, a fearless Free Stater student who must rise to the occasion and from the head general of the Oros, Sumroth and his quest to feed his people through conquest. It’s an enthralling series and I must recommend reading the whole series. It’s such a wild ride and I cannot emphasize enough just how enjoyable it was to devour the entire thing. I hope you treat yourself to this series in the near future and happy reading!

Book Review: Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik

Oh my gosh folks, it’s yet another memoir about living in Paris! So this book continues my recent track record of reading as many memoirs about living in Paris as humanly possible. As my move gets closer and closer, I’m getting more excited and nervous to be leaving the East Coast behind and launching on my next adventure. I was really excited to read this memoir because it is much more recent than most of the ones I’ve read so far. Gopnik lived in Paris in the 1990s and into the early 2000s and chronicled his experiences in the Paris Journals for the New Yorker as well as within this memoir. Gopnik explores the difficulties of being an American in Paris as well as becoming a new father shortly before his move across continents.

I really loved this book. Gopnik is pensive and truthful and uproariously funny even under difficult circumstances. Gopnik details the minutiae of living in Paris and the daily battles of an American trying to adapt to a new home, specifically in a home so disdainful of the brand of American globalism that Mr. Gopnik represents. I found the reflections on his life to be touching and made me unafraid to move to Paris today. I think my favorite part of the book was the series of Christmas Journals, a reflection from the holiday season in Paris. Gopnik wrote a Christmas Journal for each year he was in Paris and it’s thought-provoking to read through his year end tabulation of the joys and disappointments of the outgoing year. I would absolutely recommend this book and I’m going to give this one to my mom when I return home for the summer. I hope you are able to find a copy, mine was courtesy of Thriftbooks so I suggest you start there! Happy Reading!

Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

I loved this book so much! It’s so rare these days to find an entire fantasy series encompassed by one novel, however large that novel may be. This book was gigantic but I read it pretty quickly because I was so entranced by the story! Samantha Shannon does an excellent job of building an entirely new world full of mythical creatures and strong women who don’t take no for an answer! I first saw this book at a bookstore while I was in Spain last January and immediately put it on my booklist. I knew I couldn’t buy it then because it would’ve added at least five pounds to my bags but my brother kindly purchased it for me for my recent birthday. I’m so glad he did because this is a gem of a novel.

The Priory of the Orange Tree begins with the story of Ead Duryan, a highly trained warrior priestess who has been assigned to protect Queen Sabran of House Berethnet, ruler of Inys and leader of Virtudom. The House of Berethnet has kept “the Nameless One” at bay for a thousand years and has benevolently ruled Inys but no longer. The minions of the Nameless One are on the rise and Ead must find a way to protect Sabran and all of Virtudom before the Nameless One conquers all. The Priory of the Orange Tree tells Ead’s tale through her eyes and all those around her which I found enchanting for filling out the world that Shannon created. The novel is also very inclusive with a diverse set of characters. I really enjoyed that aspect of the novel because it didn’t seem forced but a natural extension of the world that Shannon built. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to anyone who is willing to trudge through all 800 pages. I appreciated its length because I felt that the story was able to truly develop each character. However I did feel that the ending was a little rushed but it did the job. It was a wonderful escape to another world and I hope you get a chance to enjoy Shannon’s writing sometime soon. She is also the author of a pretty popular series, The Bone Season, so that may be next up on my reading list! Happy reading!

Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

This book was brought to my attention by my boyfriend. I don’t believe I had ever picked up a book by Ken Follett until this one and I was utterly enchanted. When we first started dating, I vaguely remember Jason mentioning that he thought that I would like this book but never gave it another thought outside of that conversation. He actually brought me his personal copy earlier in this semester and I was intrigued, but intimidated by the size. This novel clocks it at 806 pages which is nothing to sneeze at and was a mountain even for me! I am really glad that I read this book because it transported me to another world. It was first published in 1989 and since then Ken Follett remains a prolific fiction writer. I hope to read some more of his work but it may have to wait until I work my way through my stack of unread books! But without further ado, I give you my take on The Pillars of the Earth.

The novel is written through multiple perspectives, that of Philip, Tom Builder, and others. I think the way Jason described the plot to me still rings very true; it is a book about a town trying to build a cathedral. But it is about so much more than just the stone building and the people who inhabit the surrounding area. It is a story of resilience and perseverance through the worst that life has to throw at you. It really cheered me up because if these characters can survive through the novel, I can also survive through the pandemic! I loved reading this book which I cannot stress enough. As a scholar of medieval history, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I thoroughly enjoyed myself and found the book to be well researched. To me, there were no glaring historical inaccuracies and the way the novel swept through the history of the unification of England into part of the Angevin empire was fascinating. I would recommend this novel wholeheartedly. I think that it has something for everyone but that perhaps it should be read by those 14 and up. It is a little racy at times and a trigger warning is highly necessary for the first part of the book. Other than that, I cannot recommend this book enough to people! Do yourself a favor and book yourself a pandemic escape with this amazing read! Happy reading!

Book Review: When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

This book was a huge hit this year! After the protests over the summer, I remember seeing this book on a ton of recommended reading lists. I sort of picked this one up on a whim and am glad that I did! The story was thrilling and kept me enthralled until the last moment! Ostensibly just a thriller, this novel examines deeper societal anxieties that are contained within the move to gentrify so much of the inner city. I found it informative as a primer on the other side of gentrification. As someone who had never lived in a city before coming to college, I hadn’t really understood why gentrification was fundamentally opposed by so many people in those neighborhoods. This book really helped me to grasp the feeling of loss and loss of control within the lives of people whose neighborhoods are being or have been gentrified. It’s not so much that the shops and new developments are totally out of the original resident’s price range but also the loss of all the familiar places and people that comes along with gentrification.

We meet our protagonist ,Sydney Green, at a moment of crisis. Her neighborhood is gentrifying, she’s unemployed for the summer and freshly back in Brooklyn after a painful divorce. From the first moments of the book, there’s a feeling that nothing is as it seems. Sydney’s mother along with multiple neighbors seem to have disappeared and a new pack of white neighbors have suddenly bought their homes. Sydney is barely hanging on to her own home supported only by her best friend. Soon, Sydney crosses path with Theo, her unassuming new neighbor and they begin a quest to discover the true history of their Brooklyn neighborhood. Sydney and Theo are led down a twisted path of treachery and discover more about their neighborhood than they thought possible. Their friendship survives the book but barely! The story kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time and I read this one quickly, in one or two days. I think my only issue was that there seemed to be some pretty major plot leaps in the final few pages that felt rushed. I felt like the conclusion just sort of slaps you in the face and I felt underwhelmed. However, I would still recommend reading this one, it is fun and thought-provoking, the best of both worlds. Happy reading!

Book Review: The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

Spoiler alert. If you really want to be totally surprised when reading the Neapolitan novels, read no further! If you don’t mind a few little hints about the future of Elena and Lina, read on! “The Story of a New Name” is the second installment of the Neapolitan novels, which I promptly tore through once I finished “My Brilliant Friend”. Again, I’m glad I waited for long time before diving into these books so that I would never be left hanging unlike the adventurous readers who first picked this book up! I read this book in a couple days, sucked in by the existing knowledge of the Neapolitan novels and by the cliffhanger at the end of the first book. The end of the first novel really sets the tone for the second in a way that is entirely enjoyable to devour but heartbreaking all the same. Another shout-out to my boyfriend, this was my second surprise after coming back to school and it was lovely. I’m so glad someone had the forethought and insight on how much I would enjoy these novels because I don’t know what I would have done with myself if I hadn’t had this to devour after finishing the first novel.

“The Story of a New Name” picks up immediately after the end of “My Brilliant Friend”. Lina returns from her honeymoon with a rocky start to her new marriage while Elena goes off to college. I was shocked at how much goes on in this novel in a comparatively short time frame, it only covers about three or four years of Elena and Lina’s lives compared to the first which covered a decade and a half. Elena and Lina’s relationship remains like the ocean, ebbing and flowing based on the tides or whatever happens to being going on in their lives. Elena grapples with coming to terms with her feelings of profound loneliness and her perceived inability to belong anywhere at all. Throughout the novel, Lina and Elena continue to grapple with their true desires and how to get them in a world that accords a woman so little. I did really love this novel. I think it hit a deeper spot in my heart than “My Brilliant Friend” because I am in college and I relate to the emotional trials and tribulations of Elena in trying to establish who she is without losing who she was. I would absolutely recommend this one to all. I think it was better than the first novel, but I don’t think you can skip around in this series because you will lose a lot of context for why the characters act in specific and seemingly illogical ways. Let me know what you think, and as always, Happy Reading!

Book Review: My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

This is a very, very popular book. I don’t think I’ve been in a bookstore in the past five or so years without seeing this book. I hadn’t read this before because I was previously put off by the picture on the cover, it seemed a little old-fashioned and too “adult” for me. And it definitely was! I’m glad I waited until I was a young adult to crack this one open because it was truly a delight that was definitely not appropriate for my younger self to read. One aspect of any of Ferrante’s novels is the mystery and debate around the author herself, people trying to find out who are they really and are they really a woman?? I don’t really care about the ~mystery~ of the author, but I really appreciate a good story and this was one! It took me a while to get sucked into the novel but it eventually caught me like it has so many other readers. Also, quick shoutout to my lovely boyfriend who purchased this for me as a surprise for when I came back to school. I love receiving books from the ones that I love, so thank you very much! Shout-out to my parents for also feeding my lifelong book addiction, it was and is much appreciated.

Back to the book! Ferrante’s novel follows Elena Greco, a young woman from Naples through her childhood in “My Brilliant Friend”, the first in the Neapolitan Novels. Elena’s fate is intertwined with that of her best friend, Lina, a seemingly surly and unlikable girl. This novel follows the two girls from infancy into their mid-adolescensce and is told through the eyes of Elena. Ferrante’s novel examines the complicated nature of relationships of all sorts, our friendships, our romantic relationships, and even our familial relationships. Our protagonist Elena is extremely self-aware and this lends itself to her critical evaluation of every moment, for better or for worse. I liked this novel a lot more than I thought I would! It didn’t suck me in immediately and that was disappointing, but I now realize that Ferrante’s writings caught me in complex web that just took time to get stuck in! I would recommend this for 18+ both because of the complex themes and the tendency of Ferrante to include the occasional racy scene. Find it second-hand if you can, I’m sure there are many copies out there! Happy reading!

Book Review: The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee

This book was a wild ride!!! It was another one of my Christmas books and I was very happy to see it! I saw this in the same bookstore as “Hidden Valley Road”, which was Old Town Books in Alexandria, Virginia. This being said, I implore you all to try and patronize your local or independent bookstores as much as you can during this never-ending pandemic. Often books from local or independent sellers can be pricier than Amazon or other larger sellers, but when I have the extra money to do so, I try to think of the higher price as part of an investment in my community. Local bookstores provide so much more for their communities than Amazon can ever do so try to support them if you can! Back to the book! As I mentioned, reading this book is a journey and it was one that I thoroughly enjoyed with some minor misgivings about the author’s style. As a novel about opera singers, it is written as a love story to the art of opera and I would highly recommend listening to the operas or just specific songs as they are mentioned in the book. I didn’t do this and I think my reading would have been richer for doing so because I am not super familiar with opera.

The book follows Lilliet Berne, a fictional soprano from the Fin de Siecle in France. The book follows her recollections of her curious ascent to the heights of operatic fame and the cost of such a journey to herself and others. I loved the story which was inspired by Jenny Lind who ended her career touring America with PT Barnum and his circus. Lilliet’s life is full of twists and turns that were delightful to explore! My only issues with the book were stylistic. Mr. Chee chooses to not differentiate his lines of dialogue from the rest of his prose which can be confusing. I did get used to it eventually but not without irritation on my part. Furthermore, Mr. Chee writes the novel in a mix of past and present which can be jarring but I didn’t take as much umbrage at this as I did with the dialogue. I really loved the story, it absolutely drew me in but I was so frustrated with Mr. Chee’s style at certain points that I almost stopped reading. I’m glad I didn’t because the novel was delicious to devour but future reader, be warned! Happy reading and please support your local bookstore if you can! (My copy of The Queen of the Night was from Vroman’s in Pasadena, a fabulous bookstore that ships nationwide!)