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What I Learned from Venturing Beyond the Classics

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In the first grade, my mother bought me a beautiful, dark blue, cloth-bound edition of the Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales. The cover felt like velvet and the pages smelled like vanilla cake. For years, it was my favorite book. I would carry it with me everywhere and no one was allowed to touch it. Unfortunately, I was forced to learn the whole “sharing is caring” lesson by lending it to a neighbor and I never saw my favorite book again, because someone decided to move and to take my precious book with them. Anyway, that is not the moral of the story here. Well, maybe a little, that being “Don’t lend your favorite books to people who might steal them,” but the actual point is something else. That book was what got me obsessed (and I mean, obsessed) with classic literature.

Ever since the first grade and that cherished, never-forgotten edition, I was obsessed with the classics, which I took to mean “anything published before the 2oth Century.” The only time I ever deviated from the classics was when the Harry Potter books came into existence and I became obsessed with those, too. My first editions are still hiding somewhere in my old closet back home (yes, my bookshelves weren’t big enough, so I threw out half my wardrobe and commandeered a closet for my books). It wasn’t until 2015, at the ripe, old age of 23, that I dared to venture beyond the classics again, and boy, am I glad that I did. I didn’t realize that I was limiting myself to the classics, that I was contradicting the pure essence of literature itself: to voyage beyond the realm of possibility.

I discovered Bookstagram in December of 2015 and through that community, I discovered Young Adult fiction, a genre I had previously dismissed as being frivolous and boring. At first, someone recommended Fangirl (by Rainbow Rowell), then the Shatter Me series (by Tahereh Mafi) and then, another person recommended the Throne of Glass series (by Sarah J. Maas) and after reading Fangirl and the first books in those two series, I was hooked. Now, I had read fantasy and science fiction before, but never in a YA style, because, for some reason, I thought YA was purely chick lit and teenage sob stories. I never thought that this genre would become one of my favorites so quickly.

These books weren’t frivolous or boring. They talked about depression and mental illness, awkwardness and anxiety, happiness and purpose, grief and loss, and all the things in between. The classics tended to skirt around these sorts of issues in one way or another, but I’ve found that YA books are so much more open about discussing them and incorporating them into their stories. Granted, I’m still a staunch advocate of the classics and I love seeing proper English being used. But if James Joyce has taught me anything, it’s that language is a flexible, malleable, and living entity, meant to be experimented with and played with and changed with the times. So, if I wanted to sum up what I’ve learned from daring to broaden my literary horizons, it would be these lessons:

  1. Literature is not limited to linguistic or aesthetic masterpieces; it is an infinite and ever-changing field, fueled by creativity and human expression.
  2. Never judge a book by its cover, description, or genre.
  3. Always keep an open mind and try new things, because you never know what you might end up liking and what you might not.

I’ll never stop reading and re-reading the classics, because they are what got me into reading in the first place and helped me through so many phases of my life, but now, I can add YA to that category as well. So, if there’s any genre that you’ve sworn off without ever having tried, then I suggest that you at least give it a shot. You might hate it and that is perfectly okay, thereby cementing your opinion that it’s just not for you, but you might also love it and discover a whole new world of books that you never knew existed. The moral, in the end, is: read outside of your comfort zone. So, this month (March, I mean, because February is almost done anyway), try to challenge yourself and read something from a genre you’ve never tried before and dare to venture beyond your comfort zone.

{3-in-1 Book Review} Heir of Fire, Queen of Shadows, & Empire of Storms by Sarah J. Maas

As you well know by now, I am obsessed with the Throne of Glass series, so I thought I would do a triple book review for the last three books, because I pretty much binge-read them consecutively. If you haven’t yet experienced the thrilling, magical, and witty world of Throne of Glass, then you have some serious life choices to reconsider. I was never really that interested in young adult fiction, especially not of the fantasy variety, but Maas manages to create such an intricate web of characters, backstories, and twists that you simply can’t help but become engrossed in this saga of secrets, powers, and sheer badassedry. If you are a fan of fantasy, mythology, Celtic lore, and feisty female heroines, then I would strongly recommend this series.

Spoiler-free Summary:

In Heir of Fire, the third installment, Celaena is struggling with her identity and the savage death of her dear friend, Nehemia. She travels to Wendlyn to find answers and is forced to remain and train with a dreamy yet challenging Fae warrior prince, Rowan Whitethorn, whom she grows closer to as she comes to grips with her grief and her lost identity.

In Queen of Shadows, the fourth installment, Celaena, now known by her true name, Aelin Ashryver Galathynius, vows to exact revenge against the tyrants and villains who stole her kingdom and everyone she loves. She fights for her own soul, her friends who are tortured and imprisoned by the dark evils of Erilea, and for her throne.

In Empire of Storms, the fifth and latest installment, Aelin learns more about her heritage and hones her growing powers, while traveling and attempting to raise an army to fight for her kingdom. Faced with unexpected obstacles at every turn, Aelin and her cadre of Fae warriors and loyal friends must fight to protect the assassin-turned-queen and continue working towards their shared goals of a peaceful and prosperous Erilea, free of evil ad tyranny.

What I liked:

  • The new characters: Rowan Whitethorn is possibly one of my favorite male characters of all time. He is brought in as a character who is meant to train and guide Celaena, and at first, he comes off as a very standoffish and stern character, but his tough exterior chips away to reveal a brave, honorable, and heart-melting sweetheart. Also, can we all just agree that Manon Blackbeak and Asterin are total badasses? There were many new characters introduced throughout all three books, and as always, Maas does a wonderful job of describing and developing each and every one of them.
  • The plot: I love books that keep me riveted with every turn of a page. This series is chockful of exciting and thrilling developments and surprises. You hardly have time to process one event, when another one pops up in the very next page. However, despite being overwhelming at times, this is done in such a way that it fits perfectly into the overall story and within the context of each section. I can honestly say that I was never bored while reading any of these books.
  • Maas’s writing style: Maas has an especially immersive way of writing these novels that makes the reader feel as if they were more than a third party observer. I love books that include a lot of description, especially when it comes to world creation, and Maas makes all the magical characters and kingdoms feel real enough that you want to jump into the pages and visit them all. You might want steer clear of the ridderaks, though.

What I didn’t like:

  • I can’t really think of anything that I didn’t particularly like, since I pretty much ravaged the books. Perhaps the only thing that I felt slightly 50/50 about was the aforementioned overwhelming amount of consecutive events. Sometimes, it was hard to keep track of what was happening and to whom it was happening, but in reality, it actually kept the story captivating and the pace steady.

Verdict:

  • Heir of Fire: This book deserved all 5 ★s, because it showed Celaena/Aelin’s struggle with grief and loss in a way that was raw and Her gradual recovery and development throughout the story was also very well portrayed.
  • Queen of Shadows: I’m giving this book 4 ★s, because I felt as if it was a complete detour from the expected sequence of events. Having read the next book in the installment since reading this one, I know that the plan remains on track, but it was strange reading this book and having no idea when or how Celaena/Aelin would finally get around to reclaiming her throne, and frankly, it made me rather impatient. Granted, there were many loose ends to tie up before she could go about doing that, which I know now, but I didn’t know then, and it bothered me slightly throughout this read.
  • Empire of Storms: ALL THE STARS. 5 s! A million stars! This book was an emotional rollercoaster if I ever saw one. I was rapt and obsessed and just thinking about how long I will have to wait for the next one makes me hyperventilate. This was the long-awaited crescendo to an unpredictable and enthralling symphony, packed with drama, love, loss, ass-kicking, and snarky comebacks. It also left me completely bereft. So, please hurry with that sixth book, S.J., my heart cannot bear the suspense.

{Book Review} Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

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After reading Fangirl, I knew that I had found one of my new favorite contemporary writers in Rainbow Rowell. As someone who grew up reading Harry Potter and other magical series, this novel brought back the magic and wonder of my childhood as well as the wry wit and dirty vocabulary of my adolescence. Not to mention that Baz Pitch is the most badass character to ever exist. The story of Simon Snow and his war against The Insidious Humdrum has a little bit of everything, comedy, romance, drama, action, and adventure. Borne of the Carry On fanfiction saga that was excerpted in Fangirl, this is the epic story of the young magician, who is faced with a daunting fate and an insufferable roommate.

Spoiler-free summary: Simon Snow is the prophesied mage, who is tasked with defeating the greatest threat to the magical world, The Insidious Humdrum. In his struggle to destroy this great evil, he finds himself forced to work hand-in-hand with his worst enemy, who also happens to be his roommate. Through many trials, tribulations, and unexpected twists, Simon Snow fights for his friends, his destiny, and his world.

What I liked:

  • Rowell’s storytelling: The way this story was divided into chapters and sections was quite fascinating, because rather than having one narrator, it had many. This style of storytelling made it much easier to become interested in the various characters and their own personal stories and thoughts. Additionally, every character had a different way of thinking or speaking that was portrayed perfectly, highlighting the different backgrounds and histories of characters.
  • The plot (& twists): Stories about young mages or wizards usually follow the same formula: young prodigious wizard is faced with some perilous threat and with the power of friendship, he defeats it, and everyone lives happily ever after. This story did not follow that formula, at least not in the sense where the outcomes were predictable. It wasn’t a simple story of the triumph of good over evil, but a story of secrets and surprises that made it all the more enjoyable to read.
  • The characters: Every good story needs good characters, and Rowell delivers us a platter of endearing, complex, and captivating characters in Carry On. Every character, no matter how peripheral, is developed and portrayed in a way that makes the reader understand a little more about them every time they appear. It keeps the secondary and tertiary characters from being two-dimensional and stereotypical, while giving them a personality through their words and actions.

 

What I disliked:

  • Simon Snow’s weirdness (sometimes): Don’t get me wrong. I like Simon Snow. I think he’s a wonderfully rendered hero, and his unpretentious and humble demeanor are absolutely endearing. However, he does come off as a bit of an anti-social simpleton sometimes, who doesn’t understand human nature. In truth, it does make sense to the story, since he has no frame of reference for normalcy. It just annoyed me at some points in the story, because he was being so pigheaded that I wanted to throttle him through the pages.
  • The Mage: Someone just punch him in the face. I realize the Mage is the headmaster figure, but he was a very puzzling character. I was shocked when the story shifted from referring to him as the stern but principled headmaster to the despotic weirdo he turned into at some point in the story. The change was too sudden and there was no development of his character beyond that abrupt switch in modus operandi, as if he just decided to drop the mask of normality and unleash his Looney Tunes side.

 

Verdict: 4.5★s!

I debated giving this book 5 stars, because while I did love the story and the characters, I ended loving Baz more than Simon. I felt really weird about not liking the main character as much I should have. However, the romantic aspect was adorable and I found a new favorite couple to gush over. I’ll definitely be rereading this novel in the future, because, honestly, Baz’s one liners are pure gold and the relationship between him, Simon, and Penny is delightful.