Heather’s Game of Thrones Season 7 Finale Deep Dive

So my friends, here we are.  Almost to the end. I have so, so, so many thoughts about this season that I decided to get back to blogging and do a huge deep dive about the Season Finale and the penultimate season generally.  So here we go.  Join me after the jump.  And while it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway…SPOILER ALERT.

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Beware the Reality of the Game and Men in Top Hats

The grass is always greener, goes the saying.  It describes how people are never satisfied with their circumstances and seemingly always attempting and working to escape them, to something better, a place where the grass is just a bit greener. For those with insatiable greed, sometimes they desire much greener grass.

In Stephanie Garber’s new young adult fantasy novel, Caraval, we are introduced to two sisters, Scarlett (our heroine) and Donatella (Tella) Dragna  who are condemned to life with an abusive and contemptible father, the notorious Governor Dragna.  Growing up they’ve always heard the stories of the game of Caraval.  A game located on a faraway isle, and for those daring enough to play, a chance to win valuable and priceless reward.  Run by the mysterious Master Legend, Scarlett has written to him thoughout her childhood, begging him to invite her to and her sister to play or bring the Caraval to her land of Trisda.  When her letters ultimately go unanswered, Scarlett resigns herself to an arranged marriage to a Count, a man she has never met, believing the marriage is the escape her and Tella have been waiting for.  And just when she’s lost all hope, a correspondence arrives from Master Legend himself, along with two tickets to attend and play Caraval.

Tella distrusts her father’s motives and with the help of a brigand, a sailor named Julian, she attempts to persuade Scarlett that they must flee and journey to Caraval for their salvation.  But Scarlett’s fear of her father is too great and thus she refuses to agree to her sister’s harebrained scheme.  However as you will see should you choose to play (I mean read), Tella and Julian force Scarlett’s hand to leave Trisda and journey to the isle to play the game of Caraval.

Here’s the thing about Caraval, you are instructed from the beginning that nothing, nothing should be taken as true.  In fact, trust no one. (Aside: How many times in our lives, have we’ve been told that of others? End Aside). However, it becomes readily apparent that such a warning isn’t just meant for Scarlett, Ms. Garber seems to be warning the reader as well. Trust nothing in this book. Nothing is at is appears.  It is all a game, and in five days time (or by the end of the book), all will be set to rights.

I confess, never has a industry categorized “young adult” fantasy novel used such a gimmick to great advantage.  Throughout the story the reader is forced to question the characters’ motives and even Scarlett’s perception of her reality.  It is often the case that when faced with an unreliable narrator it takes a storyteller of great skill to allow such narrators to garner empathy. But such is the case with Scarlett.  I often found myself just as frustrated and confounded with the clues as she was.  She must locate her sister, because Tella has disappeared (yeah there’s that conundrum too). With nothing but a brigand for an ally she must circumnavigate this crazy world where you can never be certain of any person’s motives or even your own eyes.

Many of the story’s themes are prima facie evident early on: trust should be earned, look not just a tree but too the forest, trust your heart, your eyes will deceive you, you lie to yourself everyday, how much would you sacrifice for those that you love, and finally…question everything.

Heady stuff for a young adult novel, but as I’ve said before on this blog, I have considerable issue with the designation of these novels as “young adult”-because more often than not these stories deal expertly with “adult” issues.  That being said, since the book is marketed and targeted for teenage readers Ms. Garber should be applauded for her attempts to make teens think about the consequences of their decisions and to question everything.  A top hat doth not a gentlemen make.  Caraval teaches us that finery should not be equated with altruism immediately. Master Legend’s motives are never apparent until the very end (although arguably…maybe not).  And Scarlett’s journey leaves the reader deeply unsettled-yet that’s not at all a negative consequence.   Ms. Garber easily brings the reader into Caraval, but the question remains,  is her game really over?

 

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By the Light of the Moon; The Worlds of Sarah J. Maas

From the beginning you have to understand,  the story Ms. Maas starts to tell you won’t be the same story when she’s finished.

Looking back, I try to remember what it was exactly about Ms. Maas’ books that caused me to buy them.  I couldn’t tell you. Just a feeling, that this could be an okay story-another means of escaping a world descending into madness.  When I finally got around to her new series, A Court of Thorns and Roses, I expected excellence.  And I was justly rewarded.  The Court series is the story of Feyre (Fay-RAH) a mortal human girl who is forced to pass into the Fae realms and live at the Spring Court with it’s High Lord, Tamlin as punishment for murdering another High Fae. There she must discover the secret everyone in the palace is trying to hide.   Sound a bit like Beauty and the Beast? Good, because Thorns is loosely based on that classic fairy tale.

But here is the kicker.  This is not Beauty and the Beast.  This is not a classic.  Thorns, combined with the newly released A Court of Mist and Fury is a triumph of fantasy story-telling.  Incorrectly categorized in the YA genre (insert wide-eyed emoji here ’cause these books in no way fit or mold themselves to popular YA tropes) it is a story of strength, adventure, love, hope and the sheer force of will.   By the end of Mist, Feyre isn’t the same girl we first meet in Thorns.  She is powerful, determined, strong and projects a level of confidence that can only come forth after it’s been nurtured by that one person who is willing to believe in you and stand beside you as an equal.

What makes these novels so utterly captivating, isn’t the magic, the love or the setting, although all of that helps.  It is her effortless character development that is the soul of these novels.  A story, a good story, only works if you care.  And boy does she make you care. Not just about a Feyre, Tamlin or Rhysand, but about Lucien, Cassian, Azriel, Mor, Amren, Nesta, Elain, and the people of Velaris who remain nameless but are so realized it doesn’t matter that you don’t know all their names.  This is her secret.  This is her gift.  Her stories make you wish that you would never have to stop turning pages, and are so captivating that you would even read by the light of the moon.  For what other light would you read by when you escape to the Night Court and the worlds of the High Fae?

 

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Booking it Back Into Gear in 2016

Hello. Hello.  It has been so long since I’ve written to all of you. I hope that you are well, happy, and recovered from the crazy comings and goings of the holidays.  Where have I been? Busy. So busy.  I wanted to write, I really, really did. But, life you know? Yet I never stopped reading. I filled the final quarter of 2015 with historical romance, YA fantasy of EPIC proportions, historical romance, YA awesomeness and Mindy Kaling’s memoir.    Read Mindy Kaling’s book.  It’s short and it’s great. You will love. The BJ chapter alone is completely worth it.

So yes, books! So many books.  I’m deep, way deep, deeper than deep, fathoms actually, into historical romance novels.  I can’t even begin to describe how many I read towards the end of last year.   Some of the best included Lisa Kleypas’ Hathaway series, Wallflower series and her new novel Cold- Hearted Rake (not her best, but still wonderful). Sarah MacLean also released her long awaited new historical A Rogue Not Taken that is thoroughly delightful.  And then there was Julia Quinn, author and creator of my beloved Bridgerton family.  I read a few of her other novels and found them enjoyable as well.  So which are my favorites? Obviously The Bridgertons win “all the things,”* but Lisa Kleypas’ Hathaway series is now a very, very close second.  Cam Rohan and Kev Merripen are epic insofar as swoon-worthy heroes go.  In fact there is one particular scene in Cam and Amelia’s story that just left me utterly breathless.  And, wait for it, it has nothing to do with romantic statements or what I like to call “sexy fun time.”  The love between the Hathaway siblings is not unlike that of the Bridgertons, so there is that as well.  At the end of this post I’ll list the titles so you can check them out for yourselves-in order of my favorites.

YA novels occupied the other half of my reading life this past fall/winter. Ladies and gentlemen, the YA reading was epic and, I’m not kidding when I say loud and proud with all capital letters, EPIC.   It’s a testament that Book-sister Ronnie and I know each other so very well when it comes to libros.  She gave me the first novel I’m going to discuss and I gave her the latter series, sending each other on amazing wild, reading adventures that only friends-that-are-family can.

First there was Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On, which I need to add to my favorite books list as soon as I finish here.  Arguably a Harry Potter satire/fan fiction, it is a story whose primary virtue is the pen of Rainbow Rowell. Talk about a woman who can write.  Immediately, I am in. All in. 100%.  I cared about the characters and not about the looming mystery that lingers as a subplot in the novel.  I cared so much that I felt nothing but pure and unadulterated joy when an event/twist comes to pass.  The brilliance lies in her ability to take something that unfortunately is still controversial to some, and make it utterly normal.  Truly real. So real. So perfect.  Also it illustrates the importance of diverse books, the importance of teaching kids to see the person. Only the person.  It is humanity and love personified.  It is fantastic. I recommend times 100.

And then (dramatic pause) and then there is Ms. Sarah J. Maas.  Oh Sarah. Sarah, Sarah, Sarah.  Yes, I’m impertinent enough to speak as if I know her, because she has completely turned my reading heart upside down and inside out.  Not only did I devour her Throne of Glass series with Harry Potter -like enthusiasm, I also ran (okay I drove) to the book store to buy the first book in her new series A Court of Thorns and Roses.  Who knew this imagined Fae world of Ms. Maas’ would be so fantastically captivating.  But Throne of Glass.  Buy it. Read it yesterday.  Give yourselves book hangovers.  But you MUST read all four books to understand what I’m saying.  And no, the first two are not a waste of time, because you need to have lived through those two before you arrive at Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows.  The shifts, the turns, in all honesty I don’t even think it’s fair to call this story YA fantasy, it’s straight-up high fantasy.  I’m speaking some veritas here.   Caleana Sardothien is a heroine for the ages.  I love this series as much as I loved Daugther of Smoke & Bone in 2013/2014.  Ms. Maas’ stories stole my heart five times over and I cannot wait for the release of the next installments.  I won’t say anymore because Ronnie and I are going to go full on deep dive soon with our next joint-post about this series so look for that.  But don’t wait for us! Go buy them and read them for yourselves.

Other novels of note included Victoria Aveyard’s The Red Queen and Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea.  Both were also amazing and great get cozy by the fire winter reads.  In fact the sequel to The Red Queen is due out in early February so this month would be a good time to check her out.

So for 2016, I have so much on deck.  While I read an insane amount of books, I also bought an insane amount of books and really need to work hard in getting through them this year.  They include non-fiction, highfalutin’ fiction and books that I dub “things get real.” Recent world events have kept me away from these genres, but with a new year I’m hoping to push away the negative and objectively dive in.  Hopefully it will be worthwhile.

How about you? Anything amazing you read? I want to know! Please share with me your awesome books I have to read yesterday! I can’t wait to see what you all suggest.  Until my next post, Happy New Year and Happy Reading!

-Heather

My friend coined this phrase, so I feel I can’t use it in written conversation without air quoting. You know who you are.

___________________

The Hathaway Series by Lisa Kleypas

  1. Seduce Me at Sunrise (Win & Kev Merripen)
  2. Tempt Me at Twilight (Poppy & Harry Rutledge)
  3. Married by Morning (Leo & Catherine Marks)
  4. Mine Til Midnight (Amelia & Cam Rohan)
  5. Love in The Afternoon  (Beatrix & Capt. Christopher Phelan)

The Wallflower Series by Lisa Kleypas (whose characters show up in the Hathaway series)

  1. Devil in Winter ( Evie Jenner & St. Vincent)
  2. It Happened One Autumn (Lillian Bowman & Westcliff)
  3. Secrets of a Summer Night (Annabelle Peyton & Simon Hunt)
  4. Scandal in Spring (Daisy Bowman & Matthew Swift) –Truth I haven’t read this one, but I’m 100% confident it’s amazing.

 

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Is the Past Our Future? Discussing Erika Johansen’s “The Invasion of the Tearling”

No excuses.  I’m so sorry I’ve been negligent with the blog. But…we are back and ready to go.  As promised, today I’ll be writing about Erika Johansen’s The Invasion of the Tearling.  Last year, I reviewed the first novel of the trilogy, Queen of the Tearling, and had high hopes for this second chapter.  But where the first novel is a pure fantasy, this second book is something entirely new and unexpected. Sure, it’s still fantasy, but Kelsea’s story goes in a direction I didn’t see coming.

While the first novel is told wholly through Kelsea’s perspective, this novel is told through Kelsea and a new character named Lily, in the form of flashback chapters.   As we experience these flashbacks with Lily, so is Kelsea.  For each time a flashback occurs, Kelsea’s mind is transported and she experiences it as if she is Lily herself.  It is a risky move by Ms. Johansen but luckily she succeeds in investing us from the moment we meet Lily and learn of her precarious situation.  In the first novel, discussion of The Crossing-what it was and how and why it took place-was non-existent.  The second novel is all about The Crossing.  The people who undertook The Crossing were not fleeing an environmental disaster, they were fleeing a tyrannical American government where everything and everyone is tracked and watched, women are wholly subservient to men, and a class system is in place.  My original observation that this story has strong political undertones is proved correct in Invasion.  There are walls, separating the have from the have-nots, enclosing cities to keep out the unwanted.   It is an America, that some political groups today, aspire towards. A tyranny of the few over the many, ignoring the ideals that America was founded upon.

As for the original story we came to love, in Invasion we learn more about the history of the Fetch, the identity of the Red Queen of Mortmesne, and the love triangle I predicted comes to pass, but this is no romance. Unlike many novels that focus on the love story, this novel puts it to the side.  Much as I would adore more romance, I didn’t mind it not being central to the story.  Because, dare I argue that this is a political commentary clothed in the fantastical? Maybe.  There is obvious disdain for policies that oppress women, embrace a class-gap, and all things religious. However I don’t know how she reconciles that with establishing a monarchy after The Crossing.  More to look forward to in the third book then.

But do not despair fantasy readers! There is still a whole lot of fantasy for those of you that don’t enjoy real life encroaching into your escapist readings.  Magic is ever present; we don’t know if the sapphires are evil or good, a magical uber-villain preys upon our heroine, and so many secrets and mysteries are still left open for resolution in the next book.   I’m still rooting for Kelsea, even though she drives me crazy with her decision-making. Will Ms. Johansen bring her through it in the end? That answer is not obvious at the moment.  However, I do worry that the author may have written her characters into a “plot hole,” in other words, placing them into such impossible situations, that getting them out may prove untenable. A quick attempt to remedy it could prove messy, abrupt, and nonsensical within the entirety of the story.

All that being said, I really enjoyed Invasion and the Fetch is still my favorite character.  There wasn’t enough of him in this novel so I hope that is remedied in the next book.  Have you read it and what are your thoughts?  I would love to hear. Happy Sunday and have a great week ahead.

-Heather

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The After War: Discussing David Finkel’s “Thank You For Your Service”

It’s inevitable that in a country of 300 million plus people, so many  stories will remain untold.  That’s where the storytellers come in, to make transparent that which would otherwise remain opaque. Enter David Finkel. In the follow-up to his unbelievable book The Good Soldiers Mr. Finkel leaves the front  lines  to examine that which is taking place here at home, possibly in your communities, maybe down the street. It is a personal war being waged by so many soldiers; men and women returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.   A war with mental illness; a consequence of their time in combat.  By embedding himself into these soldiers’ everyday lives, Mr. Finkel illuminates their struggles in a way that no television news network has been able to do.   We meet Adam Schumann and his wife Saskia as they struggle to live with Adam’s PTSD.  He transports us to the kitchen table of Amanda Doster to observe how, through a sheer force of unbelievable strength, she survives every day without her husband, James.  We meet Patti a soldier family advocate trying her best to help these men and women the best she can.  We learn about Jesse who committed suicide.  And we meet General Peter Chiarelli, U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff who has made it his sole mission to help soldiers combat their mental illness and who says to the commanders of soldiers about to deploy…”if you do anything, help me eliminate the stigma.”

“Those people who drive around with ‘We Support the Troops” signs on their cars, as if a sign on a car makes any difference? the ones who have never been to war and will never go to war and say to soldiers, ‘Thank you for your service,’ with their gooey eyes and orthodontist smiles?”

What struck me most about this book is the desperation and helplessness of the problem.  These soldiers, their families, they don’t want to feel this way.  They want happiness.  They want secure jobs. They want to raise their families.  They want what everyone else wants.  His prose puts what we would rather not see, would rather ignore, pretend is not happening and almost screams, “Look! Look at what is happening.” It is a quiet siren, a call to arms to all of us to pressure politicians and bureaucrats to pay attention.  Fix the VA system, help these soldiers after they have given everything to protect us.

“Everywhere on this day, the after-war continues, as eternally as war itself…”

In the end I can’t think of a better book to enlighten you about the real-world, day-to-day problems facing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.  It is an important book, but not a joyful one. You aren’t going to close it and feel like all is right in the world, but you will feel a sense of responsibility.  A responsibility to pay attention, or better yet, a duty.

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Working Away On New Posts

Hello everyone!

I wanted to write about where we are here on the blog. Still coming are my thoughts on David Finkel’s Thank You For Your Service.  Even if non-fiction isn’t your thing reading what these soldiers are going through when they return home is important.  Upon further contemplation, I won’t be writing about the Lunar Chronicles YA series because I don’t have much to say about those books, other than they are fun, a neat twist on classic fairytales and have a refreshingly diverse group of characters. I will however be writing about Erika Johansen’s Invasion of the Tearling because the second book went in a direction that was completely unexpected but utterly captivating.

In current reading news, I’ve returned to the beloved historical romance genre after a self-imposed hiatus.  And, I am BESOTTED with Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton family.  I’ve read Books 1, 3, and 4 in the series and am waiting to receive the remaining five novels.  Lady Danbury and Violet Bridgerton really are the shining stars of this series for me, even if the focus is on the Bridgerton children. I cannot wait until my order arrives.

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer so far.  Happy reading!

-Heather

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