Book Review: Every Day

A friend recently recommended a book to me with an intriguing premise: Every Day by David Levithan.  And it was every bit as intriguing as I hoped–and then some!

Our narrator, A, wakes up in a different body every day.  And it’s not that their body is changing–they’re entering a different person’s body every day, though always someone their own age, sixteen.  They’re still themselves, but they have control, can access their host’s memories, and generally try to live that person’s life for that day.  A has always been this way, and never known anything different.  There are drawbacks, but they do okay–until they fall in love, and want to have their own life.

Weird, right?  But SO interesting!  I listened to this on audiobook, and pretty much played it every spare minute I could until I got to the end.  I was just totally hooked to find out how A/the author would navigate the next complication to arise, and to see what life A would be visiting the next day.

This was also a very nicely done love story.  I am usually not a fan of instalove romances (they’re a pet peeve, in fact) but this was one of the rare ones that really made it work.  When A meets Rhiannon (while occupying the body of her boyfriend Justin), A is pretty immediately smitten.  But it was such a nice blend of physical attraction, really seeing who she is as a person, and sharing a very meaningful, magical afternoon together, that it worked for me.

Continue reading “Book Review: Every Day”

Book Review: NPCs

I love it when I get a good book recommendation from a friend.  I recently heard about NPCs by Drew Hayes, and was very happy to find to find it every bit as fun as promised.

The books opens with a group of tabletop gamers playing Spells, Swords & Stealth (more or less Dungeons & Dragons).  They promptly make a dumb decision and all four of their characters die in a tavern at the very beginning of their quest.  The story then shifts to the other inhabitants of the tavern–the NPCs, or non-player characters.  Fully-developed people, they have their own lives and concerns.  And a new problem–the four dead adventurers, whose deaths (though accidental) could bring the king’s wrath on their entire village.  Gnome Thistle, half-Orc Grumph and humans Eric and Gabrielle decide the only solution is to take up the adventurer mantle themselves and try to complete the quest.

I love this premise so much.  One of my favorite story angles is to tell the story from the traditionally overlooked characters (as you might be able to tell from my books…)  I love the concept that all those people just passing in the background have lives and personalities just as complex as the people the camera/story happened to be focusing on.  Hayes explores that beautifully without getting too heavy-handed about it.

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Mini-Monday: Tamora Pierce Revisited

I’ve been doing a lot of audiobooks recently, and I decided to revisit a few Tamora Pierce books–although rather than listening to favorites, I ended up revisiting a few I was on the edge about, to see how they’d feel on another read.  The results were mixed!

Street Magic

Tamora Pierce has two big, long-ranging magical series with subsets within them, Tortall and the Circle of Magic books.  While everything is good, I give a definite edge to the Tortall series.  However–Street Magic is my favorite of the Magic Circle books, and I was happy to see it held up well on a reread.

The Magic Circle books center around four young mages, Briar, Sandry, Daja and Tris.  The first four books develop their foster sibling relationship and the discovery of their respective magical gifts.  The next set of four books sends each of them on separate adventures.  Street Magic follows Briar, gifted with plant magic, as he takes on his first student, street kid Evvy, and tangles with the gangs interested in Evvy’s stone magic. Continue reading “Mini-Monday: Tamora Pierce Revisited”

Book Review: Jane Unlimited

I don’t often pick books up at random anymore, but I chanced to see an interesting title at the library the other day.  It turned out to be an excellent find: Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore.

Nineteen-year-old Jane is an orphan who recently lost her beloved Aunt Magnolia, who raised her.  Jane is unmoored and drifting when she bumps into Kiran, an old acquaintance, who on a whim invites Jane to come to Tu Reviens.  This is Kiran’s family estate, a mansion on a private island.  Jane doesn’t want to go, but her Aunt Magnolia made her promise to accept an invitation to Tu Reviens if it ever came.  It proves to be a mansion full of mysteries, and every person there has secrets.  Jane soon finds herself at a crossroads, a seemingly insignificant moment when she can choose which mystery to pursue.  Jane only can see one choice–at a time–but the reader gets to see what happens as each choice takes her down a completely different path, dividing the bulk of the book into five sections, each exploring a different direction.

This is a masterfully created book, and as a writer I am genuinely in awe at how Cashore pulled this off.  Each section of the book follows its own story, but it’s clear that all the elements from each section are happening in all of them–Jane just has different information, or sees different pieces.  Later sections still have references relevant to earlier ones, and early ones have clues that aren’t explained until later ones.  It’s incredible.

Equally as fun, I realized as I went through the book that each section is a different genre: mystery, spy thriller, horror, science fiction, and fantasy.  Each one is beautifully done, both for its genre and as part of a larger, cohesive whole.  The horror section was suitably horrifying, and the sci fi story added a little bit of meta explanation for the book’s structure–sort of. Continue reading “Book Review: Jane Unlimited”

Book Review: Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce

I mentioned recently that the long (loooong) awaited new Tamora Pierce book was finally out.  I got it from my library, and then (because life is busy) spent a couple weeks reading it.  So how did Tempests and Slaughter, Book One of the Numair Chronicles, turn out after all this time?

Well…I should say that very few things could live up to the amount of build-up that came before this book.  It reminds me of the third season of Sherlock.  The answer to the worst cliffhanger I’ve ever seen had so much pressure behind it, I had little hope that the pay-off would actually work.  The fact that it did was, in a meta kind of way, as satisfying as the actual answer.  But I mention this because of its rarity…and this is all a big, long, almost apologetic and avoidant lead-in to saying that, after all these years of waiting, Tempests and Slaughter was, well…okay.  Not a bad book!  But only okay.

The tale focuses on young Arram Draper, who will someday grow up to be the Numair we know from earlier (but chronologically later) Tortall books.  (Some spoilers to follow, but only if you haven’t read the Daine books.)  Arram is a student mage at the great Carthaki University.  He is troubled by the gladiatorial games held in Carthak, and by the acceptance of slavery within the empire, but he loves his classes and excels at them.  He becomes friends with Ozorne, a minor prince of the realm, and Varice, a lively, beautiful girl Arram harbors a crush on.

I’m not sure where to stop this summary, so I guess I’ll just stop here.  The dilemma points to what is in fact the weak point of the story–there’s not much story.  The premise is lovely, but there’s little plot, no driving direction to the book, no strong climax to pull threads together.  It’s somewhat like a Harry Potter book without Voldemort.  After all these years of waiting, this book felt more like a set-up to (the promised) book two, when presumably some hinted conflicts will finally come to the forefront.

Arram is a likable character, honorable and genuinely excited by his studies.  I did like reading about a magic-learning character who wants to learn.  So often the trope is for the main character to be largely disengaged from learning (creating opportunities for incidents through mishaps and school stress), perhaps with a friend (hi, Hermione!) who is more scholarly.  Arram has his share of mishaps, usually because his magic is too strong, and I liked his earnest desire to learn. Continue reading “Book Review: Tempests and Slaughter by Tamora Pierce”

Classic Review: The Princess Bride

Valentine’s Day was last week, so perhaps it’s an appropriate day to revisit a favorite movie with a lovely romance.  I just finished saying I don’t revise Classic Posts, but this one does require mentioning one changing view.  I think I was too hard on Buttercup–she has her moments of strength as a heroine.  She actually has two different problems–she’s oddly impassive in some key moments and, as Cary Elwes pointed out in his memoir, in a movie full of funny lines, Buttercup gets none of them.

I rewatched this movie just recently at a Fathom Events showing, and I really tried to have a different view of Buttercup.  It was maybe a little better?  But I still don’t love her.  Ah well.  It’s still a nearly perfect movie.

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I love fairy tales, and retold fairy tales, and fairy tale-inspired stories.  I have great success reading books like that, and sometimes I try a movie too.  More often those turn out to be very cheesy…but sometimes it works, as with one of my favorites, The Princess Bride.  It can be cheesy at times too, but in a good way, and all in all it’s a very nearly perfect movie.

There’s a book too, which I have read, and which is also truly excellent.  It’s been a long time since I read it, though, so that review will have to wait until I get a chance to re-read it.  In the meantime, let’s talk about the movie.  It’s at its twenty-fifth anniversary, so I’d like to assume everyone’s seen it…but I’ve learned not to assume that about any movie.  And I do have a friend who just saw it for the first time a month ago.

The Princess Bride starts with an adorable frame-story, about a grandfather reading the book The Princess Bride to his grandson, who had been ill.  The boy pretends indifference, but is drawn into the story.  It’s about the beautiful Buttercup, who is going to marry her beloved farmboy, Westley.  But Westley goes off to seek his fortune, is reportedly killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts, and Buttercup ends up unwillingly engaged to the nasty Prince Humperdinck.  She’s kidnapped shortly before her wedding, carried off by mastermind Vizzini, slow-witted and good-natured giant Fezzik, and brilliant swordsman Inigo Montoya.  They’re pursued by a mysterious man in black (whose identity will probably not turn out to be all that much of a shock). Continue reading “Classic Review: The Princess Bride”

Book Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon

I’m continuing a strong push with the Newbery Medal winners in my reading, and I recently read the most recent winner, 2017’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.  And we have a serious contender for favorite Newbery–at least of the ones I’ve been reading for this challenge!

The story starts in a very sad village in the Bog, where every year on a certain day, the youngest baby is left in the forest for the Witch, so that she won’t destroy everyone else.  We swiftly meet the Witch, Xan, 500 years old and quite unaware that anyone thinks she wants to harm them.  She rescues the babies every year, taking them through the forest to happier towns where they are adopted and cherished.  She feeds them starlight on the journey and they grow favored.  But one year she is especially taken by a baby, and mistakenly feeds her moonlight instead.  The baby grows full of magic, and Xan decides she must adopt Luna herself, adding her to a little family including Fyrian, a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, and Glerk, a grumpy, poetical bog monster.

This is a delightful story, full of fantasy, whimsy, humor and heart-tugging moments.  I knew this was going to be good as soon as Glerk and Xan appear, Xan scolding him about apologizing to Fyrian.  I love fantasy that takes the tropes (swamp monster, dragon, witch) and turns them upside down in a funny, human way. Continue reading “Book Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon”