Salt Magic by Hope Larson & Rebecca Mock

Salt Magic

Information

Goodreads: Salt Magic
Series: None
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

When Vonceil’s older brother Elber returns to their Oklahoma farm after the end of WWI, Vonceil imagines things will go back to the way they were before. But Elber has changed. He’s serious and grown-up now, and he even proposes to his boring girlfriend. Then a sophisticated woman arrives all the way from France, looking for Elber–and she is furious to find Elber married. The witch curses the family’s well so it turns to salt water and, now the town people who will rely on it will likely die. So Vonceil grabs a horse and runs away to find the witch and break the spell before it is too late.

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Review

Salt Magic is the kind of enchanting tale that only comes along once in awhile. Vonceil lives what she considers a boring existence on a farm in Oklahoma. But, after a witch curses her family’s well, she has to journey into the wilderness to find the witch and reverse the spell. Along the way, she discovers that magic and adventure are not as elusive as she thought, but also that dangerous journeys always come with a price.

Though Salt Magic is set after the end of WWI, the beauty of it comes in how relatable it all feels–even with the magic. Vonceil is a young girl waiting for her life to start, and she is convinced that will happen when her beloved older brother Elber returns home. But going to war has changed Elber in ways Vonceil cannot understand; he values safety and stability and home, while all Vonceil wants is to get away. Plus, she feels alienated and betrayed when Elber marries his girlfriend; Vonceil cannot accept that someone else might be more important to Elber than she is. Vonceil’s growth comes from meeting a witch who also lashed out because she feels lonely and betrayed. In helping the witch, Vonceil also helps herself.

Plenty of magic appears in this tale, and readers will likely find themselves charmed (and alarmed!) just like Vonceil. However, the real depth and beauty comes from the character development. From Vonceil realizing that she and a witch are not so different, after all. From Vonceil realizing that a bit of good and bad resides in everyone. From Vonceil realizing that doing the right thing does not always mean a person will end up happy.

Growing up is bittersweet–and so is Salt Magic. This is the kind of story that stays with a reader. The kind of story that makes them want to return to it again and again.

5 stars

The Shadow Throne by Jennifer A. Nielsen

The Shadow Throne

Information

Goodreads: The Shadow Throne
Series: Ascension #3
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2014

Summary

The war Jaron feared has finally arrived. And King Vargan of neighboring Avenia has captured Imogen in an effort to use her against Jaron. His friends and allies advise Jaron not to go after Imogen himself and walk into an obvious trap. But Jaron, of course, does not listen–and soon he finds himself a captive, as well.

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Review

The Shadow Throne reunites the cast of the previous two books in what was originally meant to be the grand finale to this trilogy. The stakes are higher than ever before as Carthya goes to war with three neighboring nations, Imogen is kidnapped by the Avenian king, and Jaron must use all his wits to save his kingdom and rescue his love–all without getting captured or killed himself. The plot at times strains belief, but that has been true of both the previous installments, as well. Readers who made it this far will likely find this adventure satisfying.

Personally, I still think that book one, The False Prince, is the strongest in this series because Sages’s–and Nielsen’s–gifts tend to shine brighter on a smaller scale. Believing that Sage fooled one pompous nobleman and a handful of servants who never met him is easy. Believing that boyish tricks can save a nation and win a war is a little harder to swallow. Plus, Nielsen’s grasp of politics has always seemed tenuous and a bit naive. The author constantly expects readers to buy into the idea that a nation worshipfully supports a boy who makes bad decisions and only succeeds in his efforts half the time because he is lucky–not because he is smart.

Jaron’s inadequacies as a ruler are on full display here, as he decides that the best way to save his country from war is to walk into the hostile neighboring country of Avenia and get himself captured. Oh, he has his reasons, of course–once again Imogen has been taken prisoner and is being used as bait for Jaron. (How, um, feminist.) But, even though everyone including Jaron knows this is a trap, Jaron walks into it and then seems…kind of surprised that he does not succeed in getting out. The only thing that saves him from entire ruin here is that yet again his enemies are incredibly dense. Instead of just executing him on the spot or trying to leverage his capture for political gain, they keep his capture a secret and then spend apparent weeks trying to get him to reveal his war plans (even though, who knows. Maybe those plans have completely changed in the weeks Jaron disappeared and the regents were told that he is dead). Honestly, with three nations against one–Jaron’s enemeies do not really need to know what Jaron is thinking about war strategies. They probably should have just offered Jaron in exchange for a peace treaty.

To her credit, Nielsen does try to address a few of the political problems rampant in Jaron’s kingdom. For instance, he has a long and illustrious history of appointing his friends to high positions in the kingdom. Finally, someone in this book objects, and readers get to see the army struggling to follow the new captain–Jaron’s untried, untested, possibly completely unqualified teenage friend. It is a small matter in the grand scheme of Jaron’s poor political decisions, but it gives a brief moment of realism to a story that otherwise strains belief to the utmost.

Ultimately, however, the average reader who made it this far is unlikely to be overly concerned with the logic of the plot. The entertainment value of the books comes from watching a smart-mouthed teenage boy trick dense grown-ups, and that continues to happen here. Readers who enjoyed the first two books will find the same formula here, just on a bigger stage.

3 Stars

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

Information

Goodreads: O Pioneers!
Series: Great Plains Trilogy #1
Source: Gift
Published: 1913

Official Summary

(From the Penguin Classics edition)

The first of her renowned prairie novels, O Pioneers! expresses Cather’s conviction that “the history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.”

When Alexandra Bergson, the daughter of Swedish immigrants, takes over the family farm after her father’s death, she falls under the spell of the rich, forbidding Nebraska prairie. With strength and resoluteness, she turns the wild landscape into orderly fields. Born of Cather’s early ties to the prairie and to the immigrants who tamed the land, O Pioneers! established a new territory in American literature when it was first published in 1913. In her transformation of ordinary Americans into authentic literary characters, Cather discovered her own voice, exploring themes that would reverberate in her later works.

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Review

I wasn’t really sure what O Pioneers! was supposed to be about before I began, and now that I’ve finished, I’m tempted to say it’s not about much at all. Ostensibly it’s about protagonist Alexandra Bergson, but the story skips over the years of her life I personally would have found most interesting, the years where she turned a patch of land inherited from her father into a thriving and ever-expanding farm simply through her perseverance and intelligence, dragging her brothers along with her when they didn’t want to go. Since that’s all glossed over, however, I was left with a story where Alexandra seems unhappy in spite of all her accomplishments, and the whole thing was rather bland and depressing.

One could argue the main character is the land, an area where people initially struggled to get by and many gave up and returned to the cities, but which eventually grows into a profitable and enviable place to live. Alexandra seems to understand the land better than many, making her a sympathetic character one wants to see succeed. However, I personally can’t love a book simply by thinking the setting is interesting, almost a character unto itself. And the rest of the story is just lacking.

The characters I liked most fade in and out of the story, and terrible things seem to happen to them in spite of their best efforts, and overall I was just bored. Since this is a classic, I am sure some random commenter I’ve never seen on the blog before will pop out of nowhere to tell me I didn’t really understand the book because really it’s a gripping piece of genius, but I just didn’t find it interesting. I’m sure if I read it for school I could come up with something to write a paper about relating to the land or the lack of optimism where it appears optimism should be, but since I was just reading this for fun and didn’t really enjoy it, I will not be reading anything else by the author.

Briana

What Is the Ideal Posting Schedule for a Book Blog?

What Is the Ideal Posting Schedule for Book Blogs?

We post fairly frequently at Pages Unbound about our experiences gaining blog traffic. We have suggested general strategies, talked about Pinterest, and discussed how non-generic graphics could help. However, we have not yet fully touched upon the question of posting frequency. Does posting more often increase blog traffic? And is there an ideal amount that book bloggers should try to post?

Unfortunately, I do not have any hard data about the relationship between posting frequency and blog traffic, only my anecdotal experiences and personal preferences. As a reader, I do know that I consult posting frequency when visiting a new blog and deciding whether or not to follow. If a month has passed without a new post, and no notice of a hiatus, I think the blog might no longer be active and I might not bother to follow. But even if I scroll through the past posts and see that the regular posting frequency is only once a month or less, I might not decide to follow. Because I have no established relationship with or knowledge of the blogger, I do not know if the posts will continue when they seem infrequent. I have seen many blogs begin and end very quickly, and so, especially if a blog is very new, a lack of frequent posts can be a sign for concern for me, the reader.

If I am already familiar with a blogger and their work, posting frequency might matter less to me. I would in this case have some idea that so-and-so posts only infrequently, but that is just their habit. They have not disappeared and I should not remove the blog from my reader when I go to clean it out (which I do periodically). However, the key here is that I still need to be familiar with the blogger. I need to remember who they are when a new post appears again. If a blogger posts very infrequently, I might actually forget who they are and why I followed the blog in the first place. Especially if, in the interim, the blogger has changed the website design or even the focus of the entire blog. Ideally, blogs should be updated often enough that readers still recognize them and are not confused when a new post is published.

To me, a post at least once at week seems like the minimum for bloggers who want to stay on readers’ radar–especially if a blog is just starting out. Showing consistency and keeping content in front of people is really important for new bloggers because this is the time to build a brand, so to speak. Gaining that initial audience is hard–but it is even harder when that potential audience cannot find new content to read, comment on, and wait for expectantly. Once a blog has a number of regular followers, posting frequency can probably drop because there is enough back content for readers to engage with while waiting for new material.

Here at Pages Unbound, we post daily–but that is probably not an achievable goal for most. We are able to do so in part because there are two of us. Most blogs, however, only have one person doing everything–and there is a lot to do from photography to graphic design to social media to commenting to actually writing content. And real life always has to come first. What I can say from posting daily, however, is that posting frequently really does matter when it comes to gaining more views. The more content a blog has, the more there is for readers to discover, connect with, and maybe even link back to. Additionally, more content means more for people to find when using search engines. At this point of our blog’s life cycle, most of our daily traffic actually does come from search engine hits and not other bloggers. Interspersing evergreen content with other types of posts can help bloggers gain traffic this way.

Ultimately, how often one should post will come down to one’s personal schedule, preferences, and audiences. However, bloggers seeking to grow their traffic may want to keep a few tips in mind. Posting more often can result in more traffic because there is more for people to read and engage with. And bloggers just starting out should post more frequently at least in the beginning, so readers know what kind of content to expect from the blog and so they can be reassured that the blog will stay active. There is no magic formula for successful blogging. But delivering quality content with some consistency can certainly help grow an audience.

Other Resources:

The Bone Spindle by Leslie Vedder (ARC Review)

Information

Goodreads: The Bone Spindle
Series: The Bone Spindle #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: PR Company for Review
Publication Date: January 11, 2022

Official Summary

Sleeping Beauty meets Indiana Jones in this thrilling fairytale retelling for fans of Sorcery of Thorns and All the Stars and Teeth.

Fi is a bookish treasure hunter with a knack for ruins and riddles, who definitely doesn’t believe in true love.

Shane is a tough-as-dirt girl warrior from the north who likes cracking skulls, pretty girls, and doing things her own way.

Briar Rose is a prince under a sleeping curse, who’s been waiting a hundred years for the kiss that will wake him.

Cursed princes are nothing but ancient history to Fi–until she pricks her finger on a bone spindle while exploring a long-lost ruin. Now she’s stuck with the spirit of Briar Rose until she and Shane can break the century-old curse on his kingdom.

Dark magic, Witch Hunters, and bad exes all stand in her way–not to mention a mysterious witch who might wind up stealing Shane’s heart, along with whatever else she’s after. But nothing scares Fi more than the possibility of falling in love with Briar Rose.

Set in a lush world inspired by beloved fairytales, The Bone Spindle is a fast-paced young adult fantasy full of adventure, romance, found family, and snark. 

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Review

The Bone Spindle promises an exciting adventure that’s half fairy tale, half treasure hunt, with multiple points of view and romance thrown in for all. The book is ambitious in its premise and its writing, and while I don’t think it always reached the heights it was aiming for, the overall product was an enjoyable read.

The opening of the book did not catch my attention. I wasn’t invested in either Shane or Fi as characters, and I often felt as if I were being told things about their characters rather than seeing them. Shane is a great warrior with a reputation, a “huntsman for hire,” though I never figured out what was supposed to make her a “huntsman,” exactly. Fi is a historian/treasure hunter with a mysterious past that’s haunting her. However, being told Shane is force to be reckoned with or told that Fi is brilliant is different from believing it, and it took me a while to warm up to them as characters. There is a lot of information and world building that needs to be shared. I admit I felt mildly bored by the whole thing, and I was wondering what I had gotten myself into.

For me, the book really picks up with the introduction of Briar Rose. Although he’s under a sleeping spell, he’s often the most alive. I loved seeing the world through his eyes, his excitement about the quest and finally waking up and freeing his people, his pure belief that Fi and he are meant to be. He’s so in love with living that one can’t help be drawn in and think everything is beautiful and amazing, too, even when the characters are down on their luck or in danger. His adoration of Fi even convinced me she’s at least somewhat interesting as a character. I would read a whole book from his POV alone and enjoy it.

The plot also picks up once this “main quest” of breaking the curse picks up. I do think there are times the book reads the way I am plotting my own WIP, which is that whenever I get bored of writing the story I make something crazy and exciting happen, and the characters seem to get into quite a lot of sudden scrapes. But erring on the side of wild things happening every 50 pages is perhaps better than making nothing happen at all, and some of the scenes are quite entertaining. I do wish, however, that more of these obstacles and pitfalls were related to the main villain. The characters are constantly building up the villain who is going to stop them, who is going to put their entire quest in question, who is going to kill them before they get to end the curse . . . and I spent most of the book waiting for this person to bother making an appearance. It’s quite a letdown.

So, I found the story had a lot of highs and lows. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it as much as I was hoping, especially as I love YA fantasy and fairy tale retellings and lots of the elements that went into this book. However, there were times I gasped or laughed or wondered what would happen next, and the overall experience was positive. I do think I’m interested in reading the sequel, which is always a good sign.

Briana
3 Stars

The Splendor by Breanna Shields

The Splendor

Information

Goodreads: The Splendor
Series: None
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

Sisters Juliette and Clare have longed dreamed of staying at the Splendor–a hotel said to make one’s wildest dreams come true. So when Clare returns from a stay there with no memory of her sister, Juliette is determined to find out what happened. She books her own stay at the Splendor, and there she meets the illusionist Henri, whose one job is to make her vacation unforgettable. But the Splendor holds secrets, and Juliette is determined to uncover the truth, even if it means breaking Henri’s heart in the process.

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Review

The Splendor is an old school-style fantasy that focuses more on the protagonist’s emotional journey than on plot fireworks. When Juliette’s sister Clare returns from a famed hotel without any memories of her, Juliette books a stay at the hotel herself in order to find answers. There she meets an illusionist named Henri who at first tries to help her–until their search seems likely to uncover secrets from Henri’s own past. While the plot is not particularly suspenseful or surprising, there is something pleasant about reading a short standalone YA fantasy that just wants to tell a simple tale about a magical hotel.

Much of the allure of The Splendor comes, of course, from the presence of the hotel. Much like Juliette, readers will likely find themselves lured in by everything it can do and provide, from sensational chariot races to costume balls to gardens that bloom in every season. Even if readers suspect long before Juliette that something is rotten at the hotel, seeing the magic is fun! Staying at a place where quite literally anything could happen would be amazing in real life, but it is also delightful to guess at what new wonders author Breanna Shields will dream up for readers. Just hearing about the food made me want to book my own stay at the Splendor.

This book, however, obviously contains a mystery so, even as readers delight in the illusions, they will also be eager to see if Juliette can uncover the evil lurking behind the illusions. Savvy readers will know right away what the secret of the hotel is, so the incentive to keep reading comes more from watching Juliette struggle to keep focus. It is kind of like a horror movie, where viewers know that the protagonist should turn around, or not go in that room, but the protagonist does it anyway. Juliette bobs around being distracted, mislead, and ultimately threatened–and that is where most of the plot’s energy comes from.

Also engaging, however, is the romance. A lot of YA seems to be maturing these days, so it was a surprise to see a romance that is more sweet than steamy. Henri and Juliette bond over their similarities, their pasts, their future hopes. They are unsure what the other thinks about them, but they hope that their friendship is real, and maybe even something more. I enjoyed watching the pair get to know each other, and hoped that they would both escape the hotel remembering the other.

The Splendor may not be the flashiest YA fantasy out there, or the most original. Still, it is satisfying. I am always looking for a standalone fantasy and this one kept me entertained.

3 Stars

10 Discussion Posts That Tackled Hot Topics

10 Discussion Posts That Tackled Hot Topics

Over the years, we have tackled some hotly-debated topics, ranging from how publishers treat ARCs to whether monetizing a book blog seems worth it. Read on to find some of our takes on contested issues.

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1

Should Individuals Stop Referring to Their Book Exchanges as “Libraries?”

We respond to a Twitter controversy in which people decried the use of the word “library” to refer to community book exchanges, because they feared it would create a loss of support for the public library.

2

What Is the Impact of Little Free Libraries?

Little Free Libraries (a registered trademark) claims to support literacy and water book deserts. But when we looked for research, the only information we could find suggested that these claims are dubious.

Should Publishers Number ARCs?

We weigh in on the suggestion that publishers should do more to track ARCs to keep readers from selling them.

four

Should Bookish Influencers Edit Book Covers Into Photos if There Are No Physical ARCs?

Publishers seem to be giving out fewer physical ARCs, but expect great photos. Some bookish influencers have started editing their photos to make their ebooks appears like physical books, in order to get more views. But should they?

Should Public Libraries Stop Supporting Amazon?

We talk a lot about limiting purchases–especially books–from Amazon here. But plenty of public libraries have ties to Amazon. If libraries are meant to support their communities and promote equal access for all, should they stop supporting a business that keeps making the news for exploiting workers and harming authors?

Are Websites Meant to Educate Parents About Book Contents Truly Dangerous?

Twitter uses fear that websites noting book contents will result in censorship. Would a site that merely notes the content of a book be a tool that would cause more harm than good? Or is it possible that such a site could be useful, even welcomed by parents, educators, and readers?

7

Are YA Books Maturing Too Fast?

As more adults read YA, the content is seemingly becoming more mature. But where are the YA books for younger teens? And should we go back to calling YA books “teen books?”

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Can We Have College-Aged Characters in YA Books?

Even though the content of YA books seems to be maturing, many readers are not comfortable with college-aged protagonists.

nine

Do We Need a New Adult Section?

This blogger is not convinced that a NA label is needed, when readers could just seek out books with “recent college graduates” though online lists, or through curated displays.

ten

I’m Okay with Not Being Paid to Book Blog

Many book bloggers want to make money from their blog–but this one does not. Related: What Would It Take for Me to Want to Monetize My Blog? and Should Book Bloggers Make Money from Other Bloggers?

Ways to Find Free and Low-Cost Books

Looking for ways to read without emptying your wallet? Below are some suggestions for where you can find free books (sometimes to borrow, but sometimes to keep) and low-cost books.

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Places That Offer Free Physical Books

The Library

Many people seem disappointed by the materials offered by their libraries. However, not everyone knows about all the services available to connect people with the titles they want. Below are some ways to borrow books even if you do not see them on the shelf at your local branch.

Interlibrary Loan: If you don’t like the collection your library has, ask about how to request a book through ILL (interlibrary loan). Most libraries in the U.S. offer this service where they can have books from all over the country mailed to your local library for checkout.

State Libraries: Many states have one library where every resident of the state can apply for an online card and get access to digital materials (or physical, if you live close enough). You don’t have to feel like you’re stuck only with what your local library offers. (Also see “Interlibrary Loan” above.)

Purchase Requests: If you do not see the title you want available at your library, submit a purchase request and see if they will buy a copy for you. Libraries do have collection policies (which usually say something about buying up-to-date and credible materials) so they may not buy everything suggested–but most try to.

Homebound and Outreach Services: Can’t leave home? Contact your local public library to see if they have an outreach vehicle that will deliver materials directly to you. Some libraries may even mail materials to patrons.

College Students: Many college students may think that they only have access to their academic libraries. While these are certainly worth checking out (many have small spaces dedicated to popular books), college students are typically eligible to apply for a public library card if they show an ID and a piece of mail with their current (dorm/apartment) address.

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Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

This program mails free books to kids under five each month. The program has to be run/funded by a local organization, however, and the child must be a resident of that local area in order to qualify. Visit the official site and type in your zip code to see if the program is offered where you live.

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Local Literacy Organizations

Many areas have local organizations that give out free books, especially to kids. This may mean schools mail books to students over the summer, or that a local organization has a festival or building where they have free books out for people to take. Ask around to see if your friends or family know of any organizations that give out books.

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Little Free Libraries and Book Exchanges

These little book exchanges can be located anywhere from a public building to someone’s front lawn. You can check the official Little Free Library site for a list of registered LFLs or ask around to see if people know of any other book exchanges in your area.

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Goodreads Giveaways

Publishers and authors are always offering books free through Goodreads giveaways. Of course, this means you are not guaranteed a copy, but you can enter to win and hope for the best!

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Publisher Giveaways

If you sign up for publisher mailing lists, you can check emails for any free book (or bookish merchandise) giveaways being offered. Of course, you are not guaranteed to win–but you might!

Places That Offer Free Digital Books

The Public Library

Many people are surprised to learn that libraries offer not only physical books to borrow, but also ebooks. Most will provide options for download to Kindle or Nook–or an option to read in browser.

Online Resources: Check your library’s website for their digital collections. Popular services that libraries use include Overdrive/Libby and Hoopla. The difference? Overdrive/Libby provides e-books your library (or consortium) specifically buys and they have strict checkout limits (per the publishers) so you may have to put a title on hold. Hoopla is a service where libraries can buy access to different levels of titles curated by Hoopla. The library pays per checkout so there are no wait lists, but your library may limit how many items you can borrow each month. Both should offer options to download the book to a device or read in browser.

Library E-Cards: Can’t leave home? See if you can sign up for a library card online and then access digital materials from the comfort of your own couch.

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Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is perhaps the best known site for free and legal digital books. The books available are in the public domain, so are typically older.

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Riveted

Find popular and bestselling YA books available to read free online from Simon & Schuster’s RivetedLit website.

Places to Find Discounted Books for Sale

The Library

Libraries often sell weeded or donated books for very low prices. Check your library’s website to find out if they have an annual/semi-annual sale, or walk into a local branch to see if they have books out for sale all the time. Also keep in mind that sometimes academic libraries have book sales, too.

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Used Bookstores

Used bookstores, of course, sell books for less than cover price.

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Thrift Stores

People often associate thrift stores with clothes, but some sell books, too.

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Yard Sales

Stop by a local yard sale to see if there are any books being sold.

Villette by Charlotte Brontë

Villette

Information

Goodreads: Villette
Series: None
Age Category: Adult
Source: Purchased
Published: 1853

Summary

Finding herself alone in the world after a family misfortune, Lucy Snowe travels from England to the city of Villette to teach at a girls’ boarding school. There, she first falls in love with a handsome young doctor, and then an irritable professor.

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Review

Though considered by many Charlotte Brontë’s finest novel, Villette often goes unread by the general public. Perhaps it is the sheer length of the tome that deters readers. Or perhaps it is the style. Narrated by the protagonist, Lucy Snow, Villette is not a reliable novel. Lucy keeps her emotions in check almost all the time, lying apparently even to herself about her real motivations and desires. She goes through the world largely as an observer, only implicitly comparing herself first with the shallow flirt Ginevra Fanshawe and then with the beautiful and charming Paulina de Bassompierre. Readers get a sense that Lucy wishes she had something those other girls do–but to admit it out loud would be a weakness. Villette, then, is a sometimes confusing and contradictory novel, with Lucy subduing her passions in order to try to find contentment while alone and friendless, and destined to work her entire life. As a psychological study, it is a triumph–one well worth reading by those who love Brontë’s other works or those who enjoy Victorian literature.

Plot-driven Villette is not, and readers might rightly find it difficult even to summarize the story. It begins in Lucy’s childhood–one that seems happy enough at times, though it ends with an unspecified family tragedy. Left alone, Lucy has to find a way to support herself and eventually decides to travel to the French-speaking city of Villette (based on Brussels and Brontë’s own experiences there). Eventually, she becomes an English teacher at a girls’ boarding school. However, she has no friends there, rejecting the advances of the other teachers as unworthy, and finding almost all of the students immoral and stupid. Over the course of about 18 months, the novel follows Lucy simply as she meets people and observes them. All the while, however, her own extreme loneliness and despair haunt the book. Lucy may claim an even temperament, but at its heart, the book is about the fear of being alone, unloved, and single–as well as the despair of having to work for one’s daily bread an entire lifetime, while not really enjoying the work.

In a subtle way, then, Villette is a novel about the plight of the working woman, though perhaps in a more realistic way than Jane Eyre. Lucy Snowe has no pretensions to being clever or remarkable; she is not even pretty. All Lucy has are her principles, and the reader sometime gets the impression that she clings so fiercely to them because it is the only thing she can control. Others may mock, dismiss, or ignore her. Men may never even look at her because she is so homely. But at least she has morals. At least she can say she is honest. And that thought seems to get her through the day whenever she contemplates a lifetime of standing in front of a room full of bored, disrespectful girls. No handsome hero is going to save her, but she will die respectable and principled.

Despite her assertions to herself that principle is enough, however, Lucy implicitly compares herself with two other women throughout the course of the novel. In the first part, her double is Ginevra Fanshawe, a flirtatious, mercenary girl who values shallow, foppish men over men of value. Lucy repeatedly scolds Ginevra for being vain and faithless, but the reality is that Ginevra–young, beautiful, and wealthy–has the attention of men whereas Lucy–youngish, plain, and poor–has not. In fact, two-timing Ginevra has the heart of Dr. John, the very man Lucy has (silently) fallen in love with herself. Lucy never admits to being in love with Dr. John, but her jealousy is palpable. And it only turns to sadness later on when Dr. John moves on to another beautiful young woman–Paulina de Bassompierre. Lucy recognizes moral quality in Paulina, but she also recognizes that Dr. John would never bother to court Paulina, were the girl not an heiress. Repeatedly, then, Lucy faces the stark reality that a plain working woman of no means seems destined to live, and die, alone. She has many fine speeches about the value of friends, but those friends sometimes forget her; they are not the steady, stable rock of a lifelong partner.

The third part of the book, however, holds out new hope for Lucy in the person of M. Paul, an irritable professor who sometimes teaches at Lucy’s school. Readers may be cheering for Lucy and her potential new love interest here, but M. Paul does exhibit Brontë’s preference for domineering men in a way that can be uncomfortable. Certainly Brontë managed to make Rochester attractive to generations of readers, despite his love of dominating and lying to Jane, but it is questionable whether she achieves the same effect here. M. Paul initially is ascribed only negative qualities and Lucy gives the impression that he is not handsome, either. As time progresses, M. Paul seems to soften and readers learn of his kinder, more generous qualities–but it cannot be denied that Brontë really seems to have a thing for men who yell at and demean women. Readers may hope for a marriage, anyway, but it really does seem questionable if matrimony would be a happier ending for Lucy than achieving financial independence as a single woman.

Villette is a wonderfully complex book that explores one woman’s experiences teaching in a foreign country as she attempts to navigate existence as a single woman of limited financial means. It holds extra interest to many readers as being perhaps the most autobiographical of Brontë’s works; the book is based on her own feelings for a married professor she met in Belgium. However, it also works without the authorial subtext, creating an intense psychological portrait of a woman both daring enough to have passions in life, but also too scared to admit it.

5 stars

Hooky by Miriam Bonastre Tur

Hooky

Information

Goodreads: Hooky
Series: Hooky #1 (implied by ending)
Age Category: Middle Grade
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Summary

When twins Dani and Dorian miss the bus to school, they head to their aunt’s house, hoping she will teach them magic instead. But it seems like their aunt might be in league with some witches intent on reviving an old war between magic workers and the non-magical. So the twins go on the run once again. With a group of friends, they will have to figure out what the witches are up to–and what role they want to play in the approaching conflict.

Star Divider

Review

Hooky by Miriam Bonastre Tur begins a little rough–perhaps because it started as a web comic and the conventions for setting up background and characterization may be different. However, soon the story hits its stride, bringing together a lovable (and comedic) cast of characters for an exciting magical adventure. Though I initially thought of DNFing the story, by the end I was hoping for the sequel.

The start of Hooky admittedly had me baffled due to a lack of exposition. It begins in media res, with twins Dani and Dorian missing the bus to magical school, saying something about having to hide their identity as witches (even though Dani’s openly flying through the street), and then wandering off to their (obviously evil) aunt’s house, where they unquestioningly do her bidding–down to taking some hapless young man to a secret prison where (for unknown reasons) Dorian attempts to steal a dragon, leading the twins to be branded traitors (why? who knows!). It’s all kind of frenetic, which is compounded by Dani’s (and later other characters’) peppy personalities–illustrated by a lot of enthusiastic yelling and popping up with big grins. The story does not really seem to know where it is going at this point, only that it needs to keep adding exciting scenes (missed bus! evil aunt! stolen dragon!) to keep readers coming back for the next installment.

At some point, however, the story calms down and the background starts to get fleshed out a little more (even though it’s honestly still confusing and even seemingly self-contradictory). What really helps is that the story gets a main goal around which the other events can kind of cluster. Dani and Dorian have heard about a gathering of witches dedicated to taking back the kingdom from the non-magic folk and they want to check it out–whether to join or resist is still up in the air. Their friends, yes, have their own problems, like finding a lost prince and trying to reverse a spell gone awry, but the sense is that finally the story has some sort of plot that is driving the narrative. And it’s a relief.

By the end of the book, I was finally invested in the characters and interested to know what they might do next. The beginning is rough, yes, but the writing and the structure improves–and it can improve still further! The ending leaves room for a sequel and I hope that we get one!

3 Stars