The Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold

The Question of MiraclesInformation

Goodreads: The Question of Miracles
Series: None
Source: Goodreads Giveaway
Published: February 3, 2015

Official Summary

Following the death of her best friend, Iris and her family move to Oregon for a fresh start in this middle-grade story of miracles, magic, rain, hope, and a hairless cat named Charles.

Sixth-grader Iris Abernathy hates life in Corvallis, Oregon, where her family just moved. It’s always raining, and everything is so wet. Besides, nothing has felt right since Iris’s best friend, Sarah, died.

When Iris meets Boris, an awkward mouth-breather with a know-it-all personality, she’s not looking to make a new friend, but it beats eating lunch alone. Then she learns that Boris’s very existence is a medical mystery, maybe even a miracle, and Iris starts to wonder why some people get miracles and others don’t. And if one miracle is possible, can another one be too? Can she possibly communicate with Sarah again?

Review

Following the journey of sixth grader Iris as she learns to deal with the aftermath of her best friend’s unexpected death, The Question of Miracles is a thoughtful book that asks hard-hitting question about who gets miracles and why.  As Iris searches for answers, she stumbles across a number of different belief systems and their followers, ranging from a local psychic who claims to communicate with the dead to officials from the Vatican.  Although the novel is ultimately dismissive of every option Iris investigates, it is refreshingly open-minded during the process of searching itself and encourages readers to be active participants in their own belief-formation.

Iris, perhaps due to being a single child or perhaps due to having experienced the death of a friend so young, occasionally sounds older than her middle grade age in her thoughts and dialogue.  Interestingly, the adults in the story often seem to overlook her maturity, instead focusing on how she is handling her friend’s death and worrying about all the things adults do: whether she’s too depressed, whether she is making enough friends in her new school, whether she’ll ever come to terms with the relocation.  Arnold balances these concerns and Iris’s reactions quite nicely; Iris exhibits the sass and frustration one might expect from a child who’s all too aware her parents think she’s reacting “incorrectly,” without ever coming across as overly annoying or rude.

Her friend Boris provides a nice contrast in personality.  He’s not used to having friends and is too interested in playing Magic to be considered cool.  However, even though Arnold devotes a lot of time to carefully building their friendship, the constructive mechanics behind it are sometimes a little too obvious. After some initial reluctance, Iris essentially decides they WILL be friends because she might as well be friends with someone.  Real friendship “chemistry” between the two of them is sometimes lacking.

However, the novel’s biggest flaw is the abrupt ending.  The final chapter itself actually does tie up most of the loose ends nicely; the real problem is the lack of lead-up to this chapter.  There is no progression to the concluding thought and feelings.  At one moment, the story is going along as it always has been, at the same pace, with the same open questions about miracles and religion and life.  The next moment, Iris has apparently has most of her questions solved, at least to the point of being satisfied with her life as it stands.  What leads her to this satisfaction?  There is really no indication.  Personally, I feel as if I have been gypped out of several chapters that would explain this to me.

The Question of Miracles is certainly an ambitious book, one willing to ask children to consider troublesome questions about death and the fairness of life.  Unfortunately, a thought-provoking story and unique middle grade characters are somewhat overshadowed by the feeling that a sizable chunk of the story is completely missing.  Give me three more chapters and I’ll consider joining the conversations about giving The Question of Miracles literature awards.

Movie Review: Nocturna (2007)

Nocturna-PosterInformation

Directors:  Adrià García and Víctor Maldonado
Writer: Adrià García, Víctor Maldonado, and Teresa Vilardell
Release: 2007

Summary

Tim, a young orphan boy, spends his nights looking up at his favorite star Adara, who protects him from the dark.  But then one night Adara disappears and slowly the other stars begin to go out as well.  Venturing into the dark, Tim meets the Cat Shepherd, who introduces him to Nocturna, the magical of the night filled with dream writers, hairdressers who specialize in bedheads, and more.  The Cat Shepherd believes that Moka, the head of Nocturna, will set things right, but when Moka refuses to listen, Tim knows that it’s up to him to alert the Star Keeper and save Adara before she goes out for good.

Review

Nocturna introduces viewers to an enchanting world full of strange-looking creatures responsible for everything in the night.  Hair dressers create elaborate bedheads, musicians rub sticks against the windows and roll things down the gutters, and dream writers script those horrible scenarios that have you going to school in your underwear.  The protagonist may be afraid of the dark, but Nocturna works hard to convince its audience that the night is truly magical.

At some times, the world of Nocturna does come across as a little forced.  After all, if real trees exist to rub against the windows, it seems strange that composers should have to instruct their musicians to rub branches against them, too.  Such elaborate attention to every little detail in the night almost threatens to take away its magic, rather than increase it.  The wind and the rain and trees are wonderful and awesome in and of themselves.  No need to add a funny-looking creature to them to make them more wonderful.

Questions arise, too, about Nocturna’s existence.  Lighting the sky with stars seems a noble goal, as does keeping the street lights lit and the dreams coming.  But why do the inhabitants of Nocturna, most of them apparently kind, want to steal socks, tangle covers, create bedheads, and cause children to wet the bed at night?  This is one of those fantasy worlds that audiences will just have to accept as is, reflecting that magic sometimes goes beyond understanding.

Though the premise of Nocturna perplexed me a little, I found the characters largely enchanting.  Tim, an orphan boy afraid of the dark and who thus loves the stars, captured my heart from the beginning.  He is persistent, brave, and confident with that charming confidence of youth–the kind that assumes everyone wants to do the right thing rather than the easy one.  His personality makes his new friend the Cat Shepherd a nice foil, since the Shepherd, though kind, cares first and foremost about his job–which happens to be sending Tim to sleep, not helping him to save the stars.  Of course, the two go on a journey together and meet a host of wonderful and strange characters, from the gutsy and loyal street lights to the North Star herself.

Overall, Nocturna is a lovely vision of the magic that haunts the night, skipping from character to character in a joyous celebration of the imagination while inviting viewers to revel along with them in that joy.  It is a touching story sure to resonate especially with younger viewers who long to believe that the dark is not something to fear but love for its own special beauty.

If You Like Stories with Boarding Schools, Then Read… (Part Two)

boarding schools

Villette by Charlotte Brontë

After a family tragedy, Lucy Snowe departs from England to teach at an all-girls’ boarding school in Brussels.  There she finds unexpected romance, but can a man really make her happy?

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott

Jo March dreamed of opening a school for boys and, now married with two sons, she has turned Plumfield into just that, welcoming twelve orphans into the halls that Aunt March once considered sacred.  Of course, one expects a lot of mischief with a house full of boys, but are Jo and her husband ready to take in Dan, a boy who teaches the others about cards and smoking?

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kathy and her friends grew up at Hailsham, always knowing that they were different and that their lives would be dedicated to helping others.  As children, they did not question their fates, but now, as an adult, Kathy finds herself drawn once more to her old crush Tom and wondering why things couldn’t be different.

Ordinary Magic by Caitlen Rubino-Bradway

Twelve-year-old Abby lives in a world where everyone possesses magic–everyone, that is, except her.  Shunned as an outcast, she accepts an unusual offer from the new ruler, who wishes to end the prejudice against people like her, and decides to attend school in the city.  There she will learn how to function in a magical society using her only her wits and her physical skill.  Danger lurks everywhere, however, and even the school walls cannot protect Abby and her friends from the heroic questers who wish to enslave them.

A School for Sorcery by E. Rose Sabin

When Tria receives a letter accepting her to a school for the magically gifted, she is beyond thrilled.  But magic can be used for evil as well as for good and soon Tria is not worrying about finals but rather about her life.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

MiddlemarchInformation

Goodreads: Middlemarch
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: 1871-2

Summary

As England prepares to vote on social and political reform, the inhabitants of Middlemarch find their personal lives in upheaval.  The idealistic Dorothea Brooke sacrifices herself in a loveless marriage while newcomer Dr. Lydgate finds himself ensnared by the town’s flirt.  Young Fred Vincy pines after his childhood friend, but she refuses to have him until he decides on a career.  Peter Featherstone’s relatives wait for his death while Mr. Brooke’s friends fear his public disgrace.  Meanwhile, the arrival of a young man of questionable heritage throws the entire town into panic as they consider the consequences his presence could have on the reputations of some of their leading men and women.

Review

Middlemarch presents a sweeping vision of a rural community, weaving together the stories of the rich and the poor, the young and the old, the kind and the selfish, in a stunning tapestry that illustrates the hidden connections that bind us all.  Though the upper echelons of Middlemarch desperately want to believe themselves independent of the lower orders of society, George Eliot deftly illuminates how all of us depend on each other and how anyone can make a large difference in the lives of those around them.  Some of her characters, like Dorothea Brooke and Dr. Lydgate, actively seek to do good in the world, but even those who act unthinkingly or who suppose their actions small, often create large ripple effects in the community.  Thus Middlemarch elevates itself from a mere depiction of rural life to an extended commentary on the nature of love, the role of the individual in society and in family life, and the social pressures that shape those individuals.  It is, without question, a masterful work and one that fully deserves the title of classic.

Though Middlemarch deftly balances a large cast of characters, the two most prominent are, perhaps, the idealistic Dorothea Brooke and the ambitious Dr. Lydgate, almost mirror images of each other cast in the opposite sex.  Fervently religious, Dorothea longs to do some good in the world, but finds herself stifled by her identity as a woman–society expects her to do works of mercy and to be good, but offers her few resources to wield any power.  Dr. Lydgate, meanwhile, dreams of helping hundreds through the medical profession, not only by reforming the practice but also by creating new and better hospitals and performing cutting-edge research.  Dorothea will initially throw her life away, sacrificing herself in a loveless marriage in the mistaken belief that her husband will allow her to help him in his good work.  Lydgate, meanwhile, will begin promisingly only to find himself beaten down by the small-mindedness of the society he lives in.  Their struggles to remain committed to morality in a world concerned mostly with prestige, wealth, and power, is enacted on a smaller scale by many of the other characters who surround them.

Eliot’s authorial voice occasionally intrudes upon the story, calling attention to a particular point she wishes readers to reflect upon.  Her interruptions, however, do little disservices to the story.  Indeed, one feels bound to pay close attention to what she has to say, for in Dorothea’s struggles to find her own voice and to make her mark in the world, despite the disadvantage of her womanhood, one suspects that one catches a glimpse of Eliot’s own trials as a female.  The author’s remarks thus take on a sort of poignancy, becoming more than signposts to the story and instead integrating themselves into it, almost like the thoughts Dorothea might have if she dared to express them.

Middlemarch is a work of staggering vision, intricacy, reflection, and beauty.  It is, furthermore, simply a good story filled with a host of intriguing characters and presenting a sophisticated plot that brings everything together in the manner of Dickens, but with far more subtlety.  Even a book this large cannot satisfy my need for more George Eliot.  I look forward to reading her more in the future.

Blogger Interview: Stephanie from Chasm of Books (2)

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In the continuing spirit of celebrating bloggers this month (See The Book Blogger Love-A-Thon), I’m excited to interview one of my favorite bloggers, Stephanie from Chasm of Books! We featured an interview with her in 2013, but she’s back answering all new questions!

THE INTERVIEW

Thanks for having me here today Briana and Krysta! Interviews are really growing on me so I’m excited to be able to participate in one myself!

What are some of the most popular posts or features on your blog?

I don’t really have any particular features per se but I do know that my Friday Couple (a retired feature) for Leo & Calypso from The Heroes of Olympus is definitely a favorite. A more recent favorite is 8 Blogging Tips for the 2015 Book Blogging Community, which I really enjoyed putting together.

What is your favorite book you have read so far this year?

Oh gosh, I’ve only read two books so far this year so it’s not really much of a competition. Ensnared by A.G. Howard is hands down my favorite. My first book of the year and it was definitely worth a 5 star rating. I love Howard’s Splintered series. I actually started reading Alice in Wonderland last year because of it and was really liking it. I should finish that…

Who are some of your favorite living authors?

Sarah J. Mass, Marissa Meyer, Page Morgan, Megan Shepherd, and John Flanagan. They’re all amazing. The world building and prose for all of them are fantastic. Page Morgan totally has the historical setting thing down with gargoyles. Sarah J. Mass is the current goddess of YA high fantasy. Marissa Meyer – I will read anything she writes because she is simply amazing with her world building and science fiction fairy tale retellings. Megan Shepherd does an excellent job writing wonderfully twisted stories (they’re really creepy). As for John Flanagan, he’s a childhood favorite. I’ll read anything he writes as well.

If you could live in any fictional setting, which would you choose?

Fictional setting? Well I’d have to choose Middle Earth of course because one, it’s high fantasy. Two, it’s Tolkien. And three, Middle Earth is beautiful, exciting, rich, and wonderful all at once.

What book’s movie would you most like a role in?

Now that’s a good question… if we’re talking about books that may or may not ever be made into a movie, I’d have to go with The Selection because of the dresses. Yes, I’m a sucker for fancy dresses and princess dresses are just so pretty. If I have to choose from one that’s already a movie, then I’ll have to go with Pride & Prejudice.

Who is your favorite literary couple?

You’re killing me here. My single favorite of favorites? I’m not sure how long this will be true for since I read a lot of books, but I’ll have to go with Captain Thorne and Cress from Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series. They’re so cute together. Captain Thorne has all of the charisma, charm, and good looks and Cress can be a bit of an airhead but is really smart and sweet. If that makes any sense… think Rapunzel from Tangled. That’s a good comparison personality wise.

Do you do any writing outside of book blogging?

Yes! Besides my homework, I write books. I’ve written six and three quarters of a seventh, so we’ll just go with 7. Three are science fiction, two are high fantasy, one is a murder mystery, and the other is a contemporary. I like to experiment, okay?

Can you link us to three of your favorite blogs to read?

Now there’s an easy question, even though I follow a bunch of amazing blogs. Elle & Co., Nose Graze, and Paper Fury. I love the distinct voices and styles on each blog.

FIND STEPHANIE

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Doon by Carey Corp and Lorie Langdon

DoonInformation

Goodreads: Doon
Series: Doon #1
Source: Gift
Published: August 20, 2013

Official Summary

Veronica doesn’t think she’s going crazy. But why can’t anyone else see the mysterious blond boy who keeps popping up wherever she goes? When her best friend, Mackenna, invites her to spend the summer in Scotland, Veronica jumps at the opportunity to leave her complicated life behind for a few months.

But the Scottish countryside holds other plans.

Not only has the imaginary kilted boy followed her to Alloway, she and Mackenna uncover a strange set of rings and a very unnerving letter from Mackenna’s great aunt—and when the girls test the instructions Aunt Gracie left behind, they find themselves transported to a land that defies explanation. Doon seems like a real-life fairy tale, complete with one prince who has eyes for Mackenna and another who looks suspiciously like the boy from Veronica’s daydreams. But Doon has a dark underbelly as well. The two girls could have everything they’ve longed for…or they could end up breaking an enchantment and find themselves trapped in a world that has become a nightmare.

Review

A romantic fantasy set half in Scotland and half in a magical world that can only be accessed once every hundred years, Doon has a lot going for it.  The setting is appealing and the premise intriguing.  Throw in the cute guys, and the book just gets more marketable.  Unfortunately, most of this appeal is obscured by the fact that the prose is terrible and the novel clearly needed a lot more editing before it shelves.  Doon certainly presents its readers with a myriad of hurdles before allowing them to buckle down and attempt to enjoy the world and the plot.

“Bad prose” is, of course, a subjective phrase, and one that can refer to a number of different problems; however, Doon seems to have them all.  In the first place, there is a noticeable amount of incorrect grammar, which is sure to grate on the nerves of many readers (who, you know, tend to be people who appreciate the English language).  This could potentially be attributed to the fact that the book is in first person; maybe the protagonists speak with bad grammar.  That’s realistic, right?  Unfortunately, the argument that this is an intentional artistic decision gets a lot harder to make when one realizes that the author biographies on the book jacket also have bad grammar.  This is clearly a problem that originated with the authors and/or editor.

Unfortunately, the copy editor responsible for this book also dropped the ball on consistency issues.  It is difficult to take a book seriously when it seems to have no idea what is happening, and to have no memory of what it just stated.  For example: Fairly early in the story the protagonists go on a carriage ride with a few other characters.  They make a huge deal out of the fact that one of the characters is weirdly dressed.  He’s all in black.  He has a dramatic cloak.  The hood is pulled over his eyes.  He looks depressed.  He looks like the Grim Reaper.  He looks like a Star Wars Jedi.  Whatever.  These girls cannot stop thinking about how odd and out of place this guy looks in his all-black ensemble.  Yet, just pages later, one of the girl doesn’t recognize him.   That just doesn’t make sense.

Finally, the prose has one issue that is much harder to fix than grammar mistakes or story consistency: It features what I like to call “teen-speak as imagined by adults.”  Sure, there are some teens who use copious amounts of slang.  However, it is very difficult to write such teenage voices realistically.  Doon is a case that fails.  Personally, I found both of the characters’ dialogue incredibly annoying and incredibly fake.  Reading about people who even think in slang and weird metaphors (ex. Worrying that someone will think they’re “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs”) is just not enjoyable for me.  There are also a lot of references (like Veronica and Mackenna calling each other “the girl who shares my brain”) that read as if they originated as inside jokes from the authors’ own friendship, and they don’t translate well to the novel.

Even beyond the dialogue, I have to admit I did not much care for the characters.  This is certainly a personal reaction I don’t expect to extend to all readers.  However, Veronica seems like the disagreeable popular cheerleader who ends up as the stereotypical villain in a lot of books.  And while I appreciate the authors’ attempt to do something un-stereotypical with the character mold, I still didn’t like her.  I also found her complete willingness to believe in and trust in magic unrealistic.  She does have a backstory designed to explain why she would want to find escapism in magic, but wanting to believe in magic and actually believing it are two different things.  Mackenna is perhaps more realistic on this account (aka more skeptical), but I didn’t like her much better.  Her characterization is really a fixation on a single goal, which isn’t particularly interesting, and is often out of place.  Singing show tunes cannot solve all your problems (however much I wish it could).

That said, Doon really does succeed as a romance, and it knows it.  With all the references to the smoldering hot, ridiculously buff guy in a kilt, it is clearly attempting to evoke something of the steamy period romance novel genre—just a version watered down enough that it can be marketed to teens.  So while the book may have a sincere interest in magic and Brigadoon, it is clear that its primary interest is in creating a hot Scottish fantasy.  To that end, it actually gives readers two hot guys: one who is the epitome of chivalry and good humor, and one who has wild mood swings but can probably be forced into admitting he is in love.  Readers who do not like one guy have a fallback option; they can swoon over the other.

And, yeah, I kind of fell for it.  I liked the romantic tension, and I thought parts of the book were really cute.  I’m certainly not interested in the sequel to this book for its writing, its world building, or its plot, but if I’m ever in the mood for a fluffy romantic read, I know where to look, and I’d be willing to give it a chance.  For that, I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.

2015 Book Blogger Love-A-Thon: High Five

BANNER - 2015 LOVEATHON The Book Blogger Love-A-Thon is an event hosted by Alexa Loves Books that is dedicated to spreading love for blogs and bloggers. This mini-challenge asked what’s currently making me happy in the following categories.

Book

A Theory of Adaptation by Linda Hutcheon: I love adaptations, particularly of fairy tales, and I’m so excited to have found a book that clearly lays out what’s at stake in creating, reading, and analyzing adaptations.

Genre

Fantasy: This is my favorite genre, and I’ve been luck to encounter some very satisfying fantasy novels lately, including Fairest (The Lunar Chronicles #3.5) by Marissa Meyer, Star Cursed (The Cahill Witch Chronicles #2) by Jessica Spotswood, and The Girl at Midnight (The Girl at Midnight #1) by Melissa Grey.

Author

Brandon Sanderson: Sanderson has quickly become my favorite author of modern fantasy.  His magic systems are always carefully constructed, and his books are populated by complex people with complex problems.  So far, I’ve enjoyed Steelheart, The Mistborn Trilogy, and Elantris.

Blogger

Stephanie at Chasm of Books: Last year we co-hosted a LotR events, and she always has great posts on books, blogging, and writing.

Bookish Merchandise or Book-Related Site

Hobbit tote bag: Whenever I use this bag, people stop me on the street to talk about it!

2015 Book Blogger Love-A-Thon: One Can Only Quote

BANNER - 2015 LOVEATHON The Book Blogger Love-A-Thon is an event hosted by Alexa Loves Books that is dedicated to spreading love for blogs and bloggers. This mini-challenge asked for a favorite book quote on love or friendship.

L. M. Montgomery is one of my favorite authors of both romance and friendships–and of friendships that turn into romances.  Here is one beautiful quote from Anne of Avonlea (Anne of Green Gables #2).

Anne of Avonlea Collage

2015 Book Blogger Love-A-Thon: Book Spine Poetry

BANNER - 2015 LOVEATHON

The Book Blogger Love-A-Thon is an event hosted by Alexa Loves Books that is dedicated to spreading love for blogs and bloggers. The second post is book spine poetry.

Unfortunately, a couple of these books have the title written the wrong way for convenient reading in the poem, but I hope you can see them anyway.

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2015 Book Blogger Love-A-Thon: Questionnaire

BANNER - 2015 LOVEATHON

The Book Blogger Love-A-Thon is an event hosted by Alexa Loves Books that is dedicated to spreading love for blogs and bloggers.  The opening post is a questionnaire.

1. What’s your name?

Briana

2. Where in the world are you blogging from?

The United States!

3. How did you get into blogging in the first place?

My co-blogger and I had been writing book reviews for ourselves for years when we discovered the book blogging community and decided to share our reviews with others.

4. How did you come up with your blog name?

Krysta and I went through a number of ideas before settling on Pages Unbound.  We wanted something that conveyed the idea of finding the essence of a book.

5. What genre do you read and review the most on your blog?

Fantasy, but there are also a lot of classics, science fiction, historical fiction, etc.  Contemporary realistic fiction is probably the most under-represented.

6. What other types of posts do you do on your blog, apart from reviews?

We have a bunch of things! We like doing discussion posts on writing, blogging, and publishing. We have a monthly If You Like, Then Read suggestion feature.  Our bookish personality quizzes are quite popular.  More recently, we started classic author spotlight events.  We showcased Charlotte Bronte in January and will be featuring William Shakespeare in April.

7. Best blogging experience so far?

I haven’t gotten to any book events yet, so I’d say my best experiences have been interacting with other bloggers and participating in events like this one.  I’m also a fan of the Bookish Games.

8. Favorite thing about the blogging community?

I love the variety of posts and opinions.  Whatever you’re looking for, you can find it.

9. Name the 5 books you’re most excited for this 2015!

10. What’s an underrated book or series that you think everyone should read?

I don’t think it’s underrated, but it’s probably under-read: My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok.  It’s engaging and incredibly thoughtful about art, family, and religion.

11. Which book boy or girl would be your book BFF?

Patt Gardner from L. M. Montgomery’s Pat of Silver Bush. She’s a bit quiet, but has a great heart.

12. Apart from reading, what are your other hobbies or interests?

When I have time, Scottish Country dancing and contra dancing.  I also like crafts.  Krysta and I occasionally make literary-themed crafts, too!

13. Apart from book shopping, what else do you like shopping for?

I’m not really big on shopping (and I’m on a grad student’s income!), but I do like shopping for dresses.

14. At a party, the DJ suddenly changes the song – and it’s your song. What song would be playing?

It would completely depend on my mood! My favorite song is always changing.

15. Pick out either a book you want turned into a film/TV show, or a film/TV show you want turned into a book.

I’d love to see the Lunar Chronicles adapted into a television show.

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