Ten Interesting Posts of the Week (12/11/16)

Post Round-Up

Around the Blogosphere

  1. Allison lists 9 books for women who need a little inspiration.
  2. Liselle talks about the changes to the blogger pricing at BEA.
  3. Pyschology Today explains 17 ways to tell what makes your introversion unique.
  4. Stephanie reflects on the great start to the Fantastic Beasts franchise.
  5. Lauren lists post and discussion ideas for your blog.
  6. Cristina shares 2017 releases she is looking forward to.
  7. Jordan has a gift guide for bookish people.
  8. Lola reviews I Am Malala (Young Readers Edition)
  9. Nicole compiles a list of 2017 reading and blogging challenges.
  10. Marilyn explains why authoring doesn’t pay. (Ok, it’s from Oct. but I just found the post.)

This Week at Pages Unbound

In the Beginning by Chaim Potok

in-the-beginningInformation

Goodreads: In the Beginning
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1975

Official Summary

David Lurie learns that all beginnings are hard. He must fight for his place against the bullies in his Depression-shadowed Bronx neighborhood and his own frail health. As a young man, he must start anew and define his own path of personal belief that diverges sharply with his devout father and everything he has been taught…

Review

“All beginnings are hard.”

In the Beginning differs from some of Potok’s other novels in that the narration switches seamlessly between past and present, smearing together time. This is a literary style I do not always like, as I think it is often unnecessary and therefore can come across as pretentious, but Potok makes it work. It fits the story, as David attempts to explain the origins of his people and his beliefs, how his past is so strongly connected to his present and his future.  In the Beginning, then, though different in style from many Potok books, exudes the same heart and understanding of human nature that make Potok a true master.

David starts the novel as a sickly child, weak and often afraid, particularly of that which he does not understand.  His voice, to me, sometimes comes across as odd: too adult and yet so naïve at once.  He’ll frequently tell others (close to him) about his emotions, that he’s afraid or that “It was a really bad feeling.”  David, however, is supposed to be a bit of an oddball character, a child with a big brain he does not necessarily know how to use.  Adults credit him with understanding more than he lets on.  So, while young David is a bit strange, he grows throughout the novel, slowly coming into his own—and slowly losing his openness when he learns what it can cost him.

The book will draw to mind, a little, My Name Is Asher Lev, as David also struggles with wanting to learn and do and understand things his community thinks best not to be understood.  The theme here is more educational and intellectual attainment, rather than art, and it’s perhaps less at the forefront.  The protagonist’s struggles are comparable, however.  Strangely, though I love Potok’s works, I have never done biographical research on him.  Yet In the Beginning strikes me as clearly autobiographical, and I think I begin to understand some of what Potok must have lost—and gained—while pursuing his own writing career and his own search for truth.

Potok’s works, in general, are quite readable to those readers without much knowledge of Judaism, though I think In the Beginning gives somewhat fewer context clues for terms than Potok’s other novels.  It’s nothing a quick Google search will not be able to readily resolve for a reader, however.  This story also relies a bit on the reader’s knowledge of history, but only in very broad terms.  David lives through the Great Depression, though the term is never used and child Davis is only vaguely aware that many families have money problems; readers have to fill in the gaps.  A bit of the same ambiguity is applied to the description of WWII, though the novel gets gradually more explicit (which, admittedly, is historically accurate; David’s family is shocked by what the newspapers reveal at the war’s end).

Potok’s work is always deeply personal while also offering profound insight into humanity at large.  Others of Potok’s novels are closer to my heart, but In the Beginning is certainly a masterpiece in its own right and well worth the read.  I’m sorry I took this long to get around to it.

4 stars Briana

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

red-risingInformation

Goodreads: Red Rising
Series: Red Rising #1
Source: Purchased
Published: 2014

Official Summary

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.

Yet he spends his life willingly, knowing that his blood and sweat will one day result in a better world for his children.

But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity already reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow—and Reds like him—are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class.

Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power. He will be forced to compete for his life and the very future of civilization against the best and most brutal of Society’s ruling class. There, he will stop at nothing to bring down his enemies… even if it means he has to become one of them to do so.

Review

“I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.”

Though the words “YA dystopian” now conjure up images of a washed-out fad, I believe that the strongest novels of the genre still have power to move and entertain even those readers who have read dozens of dystopians in the past several years.  Red Rising is one of those special books.  With compelling prose and an immersive plot that brings to mind elements of The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, and An Ember in the Ashes, Red Rising brings readers on Darrow’s powerful journey to discover the truth and free his people from slavery.

Part of Red Rising’s enthrallment lies in its detailed world building.  The story begins in the mines of Mars, where Reds like Darrow are forced to dig for resources that can help terraform previously uninhabitable planets.  The descriptions of the mines are rich, and Brown emphasizes the Red focus on family and community, song and dance, even when times are tough. He creates culture in addition to scenery.  The book moves on, however, to places very foreign to the mines, unimaginable to the people Darrow knows, and here, too, the descriptions are detailed and enthralling.  Brown can describe glamour as well as grit.

In his quest to break the social hierarchy that forces Reds to the bottom, Darrow moves quickly through a new world to learn how to conquer it.  The plot rarely lags, and there’s a good mix of action and reflection.  I won’t say that some parts are not predictable, particularly the catalyst that starts Darrow on his journey.  However, much of the plot is truly surprising, and it is delightful to read the new turns the story takes (even when those turns are, in fact, quite gory or appalling).

Darrow himself can be a bit of a jerk, and the fact that the novel is in first person emphasizes this.  If Brown wants to inform the reader that Darrow is handsome or talented or has done something unprecedented, Darrow himself has to be the one to say it.  Nonetheless, Darrow never walks over the edge of his arrogance to become unlikable, and, frankly, his drive and his conceit are realistic.  It does take a special type of person to overcome the status quo, someone skilled and confident enough to wield that skill.  Darrow makes sense as the protagonist of this novel in a way a gentler or more modest character might not, and the novel itself tackles this problem, asking what kind of people are dreamers or martyrs or doers.  The doers here do not kid themselves that sometimes they have to make tough choices.  Whether the decisions they make or the means they use are the right ones is left up to the reader.

Red Rising is a beautifully complex work that tackles questions about human nature and civilization, even as it takes readers on a wild ride through the many layers of the hierarchical society.  The story is action-packed, but it also has its pools of thoughtfulness and stillness.  YA readers will love this, even if they think they’ve read enough YA dystopians to last a lifetime.

4 stars Briana

Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Bone GapInformation

Goodreads: Bone Gap
Series: None
Source: ALA
Published: March 3, 2015

Official Summary

Everyone knows Bone Gap is full of gaps—gaps to trip you up, gaps to slide through so you can disappear forever. So when young, beautiful Roza went missing, the people of Bone Gap weren’t surprised. After all, it wasn’t the first time that someone had slipped away and left Finn and Sean O’Sullivan on their own. Just a few years before, their mother had high-tailed it to Oregon for a brand new guy, a brand new life. That’s just how things go, the people said. Who are you going to blame?

Finn knows that’s not what happened with Roza. He knows she was kidnapped, ripped from the cornfields by a dangerous man whose face he cannot remember. But the searches turned up nothing, and no one believes him anymore. Not even Sean, who has more reason to find Roza than anyone, and every reason to blame Finn for letting her go.

As we follow the stories of Finn, Roza, and the people of Bone Gap—their melancholy pasts, their terrifying presents, their uncertain futures—acclaimed author Laura Ruby weaves a heartbreaking tale of love and loss, magic and mystery, regret and forgiveness—a story about how the face the world sees is never the sum of who we are.

Review

Bone Gap is a beautifully unique story that brings readers to a small town with a dark mystery. The only problem: no one even believes in the mystery except Finn.  He knows his brother’s girlfriend Roza was kidnapped by a mysterious man who moves like the corn, but no one will believe him.  Finn already has a reputation in town for being odd, so the story follows him on his journey to convince others of the truth–or risk finding Roza himself.

The opening of the story is a little slow, and it will take readers time to become situated in the world of Bone Gap. Not everything magical about it is fully explained by the end of the novel (as usual with magic realism), so readers will have to content to simply go along for the ride.  Additionally, though many interesting things happen, the story is not really about the plot; it’s more about the characters finding themselves and redefining their relationships with each other.

The one part of the book I struggled with is Roza herself.  No one will stop emphasizing just how beautiful she is, the most beautiful girl in the world. Anyone would do anything for this amazingly beautiful girl.  At times, I wanted to scream, “Ok, I get it!”  Oddly enough, however, a large point of the book is that physical beauty pales in comparison to inner beauty.  So, to emphasize that Roza is the most amazing person to ever live, the author makes sure readers know she is kind, intelligent, courageous, and perceptive, too.  She is also good at cooking and gardening.  I’m not sure if she has any flaws at all, beyond potentially being occasionally naive.   Her perfection was overdone, and this was a place where the story bordered on fairy tale in a way I wasn’t sure it meant to.  Roza comes across almost as a myth, the perfect fairy tale princess.

I loved the rest of the characters with less reservation, however, and getting to know them is one of the joys of the book.  Finn and Sean have a complicated relationship, but they are also brothers and always prioritize that part of their identities.  Finn’s love interest is fantastic, as well, even if she pulls some cliche YA moves to cause a bit of romantic drama.  Small town characters pepper the rest of the novel.

I didn’t know what to expect when I first started reading Bone Gap.  I’m not sure the jacket summary really gets across the quiet magic that imbues the story.  I do know, however, that this will probably make my list of best books I read this year. Highly recommended.

4 stars Briana

Avatar: Smoke and Shadow (Graphic Novel Review)

Avatar Smoke and ShadowInformation

Goodreads:  Smoke and Shadow
Series: Smoke and Shadow (3 volumes)
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Summary

Although it has been awhile since Zuko took control of the Fire Nation, he continues to face opposition from citizens still loyal to Ozai.  Then mysterious dark spirits demand Zuko’s death.  The price if the people fail to remove him: their children will disappear.  Zuko and Aang must address this new threat fast, before everything they worked to build crumbles.

Review

Avatar Smoke and Shadow

Disclaimer: I checked out all three volumes of the story from the library and read them at once, so my review is focused on discussing the overall story, rather than evaluating each volume for pacing and such individually.

Smoke and Fire is the fourth graphic novel trilogy set after the events of the Avatar TV series.  It drops readers into the heart of the Fire Nation, revealing some of the nation’s history while showcasing the threats Zuko continues to face as the new Fire Lord.  Like any Avatar story, however, the focus here is often on family and friendship, not just an action-packed plot.

While fans might be skeptical that the graphic novels would have the heart of the show, their fears will be unfounded.  One only has to read the characters’ dialogue with their voices and personality quirks from the animated series, and the books immediately come alive.  Katara and Sokka make only a brief appearance in this series (though I’m okay with that, considering how mushy Katara and Aang can be together), but just about every other fan favorite character will be back. Iroh particularly is the start of this installment, in my opinion.

Though the graphic novels sometimes seem to rely too heavily on creating conflict between Aang’s and Zuko’s ruling styles, the plot in Smoke and Shadow seems believable to me in a way the plot of The Promise did not.  It’s quite reasonable that Zuko would face opposition from citizens who were loyal to Ozai or who simply are resistant to change and feel things must have been better for the Fire Nation before.  The conflict here is real, and this time the reasons Zuko and Aang disagree with how to deal with it also seem plausible, rather than a cheap attempt by the writers to create some drama.

I enjoyed learning more about Fire Nation history and seeing some of my favorite characters spring into action once again.  These, rather than The Legend of Korra, are the sequels fan of The Last Airbender will want.

Briana

If You Like This YA Book, Try This Classic

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If you like Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Read The Lord of the Flies by William Golding

In Brown’s YA dystopian novel, protagonist Darrow discovers the origins of his society and what actions humans are capable when the comforts of civilization break down.  Golding explores similar themes in The Lord of the Flies, when a class of young boys is stranded on a island and left to fend for themselves.

If you like the Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce

Read Ivanoe by Sir Walter Scott

If you like stories in set in medieval or medieval-inspired time periods, you’ll want to read Ivanhoe.  Scott’s work was written in the 1800s, when the Romanticists indulged their own obsessing with studying and recreating the medieval world. This means you get all the flavor of England in the Middle Ages without having to read an actual Middle English text. Plus, Scott’s protagonist has to prove his worth as a knight, a theme that will resonate with fans of Tamora Pierce.

If you like The False Prince by Jennifer A Nielsen

Read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Nielsen’s novel is all about a clever, spunky protagonist who pulls off amazing plot twists.  But no classic author does intrigue and surprising twists than Alexandre Dumas.  His books do tend to be heavy on the history, but they’re also full of passionate characters with the smarts to pull off amazingly wild schemes.

If you like Monstrous by MarcyKate Connolly

Read Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Connolly’s fantasy novel features a starry-eyed, kind-hearted protagonist who wants nothing more than to help others and have a place where she belongs.  Even though she’s not fully human, this means Kymera has a lot in common with Montgomery’s red-headed orphan Anne Shirley. Readers will fall in love with both girls and their big dreams.

If you like A School for Unusual Girls by Kathleen Baldwin

Read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Baldwin’s series introduces readers to a school of smart, sometimes sassy girls who don’t mind a bit of romance in their lies.  Fans of the Regency period will want to see where it all began with Jane Austen’s own tales of delightfully witty women finding the loves of their lives.  (Biting social commentary is also a highlight.)

If you like The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey

Read The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

If you enjoy alien stories, you can’t miss out on Wells’s classic story of an alien invasion.  Though Wells’s writing style isn’t necessarily about adding suspense and action in a way familiar to readers of YA, he does know how to tell a thought-provoking story.  Readers won’t want to miss out on his version of earth vs. aliens.

Week in Review (10/16/16)

This Week at Pages Unbound

We joined Bookstagram!

You can check out our new bookish photos here.

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We hosted an L.M. Montgomery event

Ok, this is from the past two weeks. You can find reviews for lots of L.M. Montgomery books, as well as a fun personality quiz and a review of a Youtube web series.

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We Posted Some Discussions

I Went to the Library

And got a bunch of books I haven’t even started reading.  Have you read any of these? Did you enjoy them?

library-haul

Can You Run a Book Blog without Book Reviews?

How to run a book blog without writing book reviews

Recently I’ve seen a couple book bloggers making the move to stop writing book reviews for their blogs altogether, and I’ve seen seen more bloggers mulling over the idea.  This decision seems to come from a combination of personal lack of interest in writing reviews and the frequent suspicion of the book community at large that “nobody reads reviews.”  Still, the idea that a book blog can succeed without book reviews seems baffling to many.  Can it really work?

Yes, If You Replace Reviews with Similar-Quality Content

I like reviews, reading and writing them, but I’m not going to argue with the assertion that reviews get fewer views and fewer comments than discussion posts like this one.  It’s true.  This is for all sorts of perfectly logical reasons, ranging from readers not wanting to stumble across spoilers for books they haven’t read yet to readers not wanting to read thirty reviews of the same book to readers just having no interest in the featured book at all.  Still, readers like seeing that reviews are being published on a blog, even if they don’t read every review, because reviews easily demonstrate a blogger’s personal writing style, taste in reading, and ability to talk insightfully and in detail about books.

One of the first things I do when I visit a new blog is look at the review archive. I read the reviews for a couple books I love and a couple I strongly dislike.  If the blogger and I tend to have complementary opinions on books, I look around the blog more.  If not, I move on.  Of course, a blogger can convey some of this information in another way: a list of top favorite books or genres, a list of books they hate or ones they will never read.  But usually a list doesn’t go as in-depth with reasoning for a reader’s approval or disapproval of a book, not in the same way a review can.

Readers do value in-depth content on blogs.  Lists with little content and flashy gifs have become associated to some degree with content mills like Buzzfeed.   People read and enjoy Buzzfeed, obviously, but they generally don’t refer to the site when they want quality content.  When readers think of expertise, they think of writing that’s detailed, with arguments backed up by evidence.  They want to get into the nitty gritty of things, not just the big picture, not just a random blogger’s personal opinion.  Reviews, which discuss a single book at some length, often fill this niche on book blogs. Reviews are where readers look when they what to know what a blogger thinks and why they think it. 

I have no doubt a book blog without reviews can easily succeed, as long as the bloggers replace reviews with content that performs similar functions.  It is very possible to write posts that are thoughtful and analytical and get into the meat of a story without actually writing a book review.  Stephanie’s post about Boromir from The Lord of the Rings is a good example of this, or Krysta’s post about Delphini Diggory.  It’s also possible to have a blog that features many discussion posts about individual books, literature in general, and blogging in general.  I just think that most readers want to see content on a book blog that goes beyond memes, tags, and lists.  While posting, say, a list of the YA science fiction books being published in November is useful and valuable, it’s also something that other bloggers can easily replicate.  My favorite bloggers post content that is uniquely them.

We have no plans to discontinue publishing reviews at Pages Unbound.  I find reviews valuable and love reading them on other blogs.  A book blog without book review may seem initially strange.  After all, many book bloggers begin blogging with the expectation they will be writing only reviews, and the other content gets added in later.  However, I do think that a book blog without reviews can succeed, as long as it fills the niche with in-depth, original posts.

What do you think? Would you ever stop reviewing books? Would you (or do you?) read blogs that don’t have reviews?

Briana

Lessons I’ve Learned from Anne Shirley

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The books that stay with me, the books I reread, are the ones that move and delight me, the ones that surprise me with something new each time I open the pages, and the ones that inspire me to live life a little better.  Below are some of the lessons that L. M. Montgomery’s classic heroine has taught me.

Live life to the fullest.

Anne puts her entire heart into everything she does, whether it’s studying to beat Gilbert Blythe in school, saving money to attend college, or just looking forward to the Sunday school picnic.  She works hard and gives life her best.  In return, life often gives her back, if not exactly what she wanted, at least some small happinesses.

Look for Kindred Spirits.

As Anne notes, they’re more abundant than you might initially think.  But if you’re kind and open, you may find that others open themselves up to you.

Forgive Others.

Just forgive Gilbert already, Anne!  Well, at least we all know from Anne’s experience that one shouldn’t hold grudges unless you want to miss out on a potentially beautiful friendship.

It’s Okay to Be a Little Sentimental.

Anne likes to wax poetic about the trees, the stars, the flowers, the lake….  Sometimes I feel silly pointing out things like that.   But though Anne is often ignored by her conversation partners when she expresses appreciation of nature, that doesn’t stop her from finding beauty around her and trying to share it.

You Can Recover From Mishaps.

In times of trouble, I remember that Anne dyed her hair green.  If she survived, I can, too.

Think About How Others Would Feel.

Marilla’s advice to Anne when she goes to tea at the manse is to stop worrying about how to act and think about what would be best for Mrs. Allan and make her feel comfortable.   That’s pretty deep, Marilla.

Sacrifice.

Sometimes life doesn’t go the way you planned, but if you give of yourself to others and try to do your best on whatever life path you are on, you can feel contented.

Krysta 64

Why I Don’t Collect Books

 

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In the book blogosphere, collecting books seems to be a badge of honor.  The more volumes you own and the less floor space you have to put them on, the greater your bookworm cred.  “Bookish problems: running out of room for your all your books!” is the cute little way of saying that maybe you have a problem.  However, suggesting that owning more stuff somehow gives a person increased credibility as an avowed lover of stories or a critic of literature ignores all the very good reasons an individual might not have for collecting copies of books.

My own reasons for being particular about what I buy and what I keep no doubt mirror the concerns of many.  So below I explain exactly why collecting books in your room until you can’t find your bed may not always be ideal.

The Money

Let’s face it.  Not everyone has the means to buy every latest hardcover upon release.  When a person has bills to pay, rent to make, children to care for, etc. books aren’t going to be a top priority.  And while it sounds cute and quirky to say “Who needs food?  I buy books!” this isn’t how life works and it dismisses the concerns many people have about finding ways to enjoy their favorite pastimes when they really are trying to find a way to put dinner on the table that week.

I personally buy very few books because I simply can’t afford it–and I don’t mean that in a “I can’t afford it because I spent my money on video games or a new dress this week” way.  Instead I show support for authors by checking their books out of the library (encouraging libraries to buy more of this author’s work and in turn inspiring other patrons to buy a book they borrowed and enjoyed) and by promoting their work through the blog.

The Logistics

Owning enough books to start up your own library sounds like a great idea–until you have to move.  If you’re moving out of your parents’ house, you’ll have to bring a second truck just to transport them, or maybe pay hundreds of dollars to have them shipped (and hope the post office actually delivers them all). Then you have to lug them all up the stairs only to find that your tiny new apartment actually needs to have stuff like furniture in it and you no longer have space for your hundreds of books.

Like many young people in America, you will probably change apartments frequently as you seek out lower rent or a better job and then you will have to repeat the hassle of lugging books around every few years.  Your friends will soon get tired of helping you move and will find ways to be “busy” that weekend, so then you’ll be stuck lugging your hundreds of books up the stairs alone.

It’s simply easier to cull books from your shelves before you have to move and you find yourself weeping over having to part with dozens of them at once because you can’t transport them and you don’t have the space to store them.

The Desire to Pass It On

When you own hundreds of books, it becomes increasingly unlikely that you’re going to reread them all at some point.  I take a hard look at my books and assess how likely I am ever to pick each one up again.  If I only liked a story a little bit, I remove it from my collection and donate it to the library or to an organization that provide books to children who don’t have any.  I see no reason for me to hoard dozens of books I won’t read when others don’t have access to books at all.  Besides, if I ever do want to read the book again, there’s always the library.

Krysta 64