Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grades

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

I picked this book up upon the recommendation of a fellow educator at the school book fair last spring and I read it while on vacation last summer. While I’m trying to review only books that I’ve read most recently now, I figured it best to throw this one in as well.

Synopsis

The signpost before her now was made of pale wind-bleached wood and towered above her. On the easterly arm, someone had carved in deep elegant letters: TO LOSE YOUR WAY. On the northerly arm, pointing up to the tops of the cliffs, it said: TO LOSE YOUR LIFE. On the southerly arm, pointing out to sea, it said: TO LOSE YOUR MIND. And on the easterly arm, pointing up to a little headland and a dwindling of the gold beach, it said: TO LOSE YOUR HEART.

September is a girl who longs for adventure. When she is invited to Fairyland by a Green Wind and a Leopard, well, of course she accepts. (Mightn’t you?) But Fairyland is in turmoil, and it will take one twelve-year-old girl, a book-loving dragon, and a strange and almost human boy named Saturday to vanquish an evil Marquess and restore order.

Review

September is an interesting little girl. It’s difficult to get a read on her personality but I believe, as the writing would suggest, that this is intentional. While it is not overtly stated that her father went off to fight in World War II, it is noted that her mother works in a factory a la Rosie the Riveter and September seems to have adapted a cold resilience that one may find necessary while growing up during the unpredictable 1940s.

Her adventure to Fairyland does not come across as an escape route. She goes because she is asked, not because she’s dying for someone to save her, rescue her or offer some alternative to her current circumstances. In this sense, the plot mildly resembles the Chronicles of Narnia in the sense that the children were not looking for a way out, but rather stumbled upon an opportunity they felt was worth taking. The same can be said of September’s motives for heading out the window with the Green Wind.

While traipsing around Fairyland, September encounters all sorts of fascinating creatures, any of whom could be (and I think should be) given more plot time. While the title makes it clear September will be traveling all around Fairyland, it would have been neat to see some of the creatures fleshed out a bit more. Maybe that happens in the later books…

GWCFSHOM, my abbreviation for the very long title, is written in short little chapters that break September’s adventures in Fairyland up into short vignettes. And this irked me. It felt more like a collection of little disjointed stories instead of a cohesive story book. I don’t know if that was Ms. Valente’s intention, but it made the book incredibly easy to put down without really caring what happened next. Eventually I finished it on the beach, mostly because it was the only book I had left and had finished the others I’d brought along with me.

Rating: 5 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $7.99 • 9781250010193 • 247 pages • first published May 2011, this edition published May 2012 by Square Fish • average Goodreads rating 3.97 out of 5 • read in August 2013

Catheryne M. Valente’s Website

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Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland

Fiction, Historical, Mystery, Pastiche

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

I’m not the biggest Sherlock Holmes fangirl, but when Anthony Horowitz came to the bookstore I work at, I figured I should pick out one of his books to read, and to break out of my reading comfort zone!

Synopsis

Internationally bestselling author Anthony Horowitz’s nail-biting new novel plunges us back into the dark and complex world of Detective Sherlock Holmes and Professor James Moriarty in the aftermath of their fateful struggle at the Reichenbach Falls.

Days after Holmes and Moriarty disappear into the waterfall’s churning depths, Frederick Chase, a senior investigator at New York’s infamous Pinkerton Detective Agency, arrives in Switzerland. Chase brings with him a dire warning: Moriarty’s death has left a convenient vacancy in London’s criminal underworld. There is not shortage of candidates to take his place – including one particularly fiendish criminal mastermind.

Chase is assisted by Inspector Athelney Jones, a Scotland Yard detective and devoted student of Holmes’s methods of deduction, whom Conan Doyle introduced in The Sign of Four. The two men join forces and fighter their way through the sinuous streets of Victorian London in pursuit of this sinister figure, a man much feared but seldom seen, who is determined to stake his claim as Moriarty’s successor.

Review

Technically, this is the second in Horowitz’s Sherlock-revival novels, but it can certainly be read by itself. Certain events in Conan Doyle’s established Sherlock catalog are referenced, but prior knowledge or reading in regards to said titles are not necessary for full enjoyment of Moriarty.

In starting the narrative in Switzerland, immediately after the Reichenbach Falls incident, Horowitz leaves the plot of Moriarty completely open. I always have wondered how authors who pick up already established stories/characters/settings go about deciding how they are going to make their works unique and Horowitz answers that question brilliant – fill in the gaps!

Our narrator, Chase, and companion, Jones, are after an American criminal mastermind who breaks all the rules of Moriarty’s gentleman criminal code of conduct. Determined to squash the new threat to London, they crisscross London in an effort to eradicate not only the leader, but the entire gang.

Close to the end, there is, of course, a major twist and it is challenging now to go back and review the book without giving away my newfound knowledge upon finishing the book. It took awhile to really get into the narrative, but once I did, it was indeed a page-turner!

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.99 • 9780062377197 • 384 pages • first published in the UK in December 2014, this edition published in the US in October 2015 by Harper Perennial • average Goodreads rating 3.75 out of 5 • read in January 2018

Anthony Horowitz’s Website

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114-Moriarty

Non-Fiction, Psychology

You are a Badass by Jen Sincero

Funny story. This is one of the top selling books of the year at the bookstore I work at. We’re even sponsoring an event with the author in a few weeks in Philadelphia. I did not know this when I started ranting to my boss about how much I hated it. Oops.

Synopsis

In this refreshingly entertaining how-to guide, bestselling author and world-traveling success coach, Jen Sincero, serves up 27 bitesized chapters full of hilariously inspiring stories, sage advice, easy exercises, and the occasional swear word, helping you to: Identify and change the self-sabotaging beliefs and behaviors that stop you from getting what you want, Create a life you totally love. And create it NOW. Make some damn money already. The kind you’ve never made before.

Review

Maybe I just don’t get it. I haven’t read too many self-help books, but my general understanding of the genre is that they are supposed to make you think critically about your life and make suggestions on how to change it. Please, anyone with further insights, please correct me if I’m wrong. I was so afraid I wasn’t “getting” You Are a Badass, and that I was perhaps getting unjustifiably angry, when I was about halfway through that I did something I never do mid-book – I looked up other people’s reviews on Goodreads. I’ll do it before I decide to read something and after, but not during. But I have to say after doing so that I’m glad I’m not the only one.

Now, if You Are a Badass has worked for you, I’m going to suggest that you stop reading right here. If you are looking for a practical self-help book and you are considering purchasing/reading You Are a Badass, please take the following with a grain of salt. Everyone is unique, and if you think this book will work for you, please disregard the following rant.

Gripe #1: How You Are a Badass handles anxiety. I have anxiety. If you wish to see the details, check out my review of Furiously Happy. And it is not something that I would say I have already overcome. I am in the process of “dealing and healing” as my husband puts it and anyone who tells me to just “get over it” as You Are a Badass does, well, let’s just say I don’t respond as well as I should.

Gripe #2: Lack of practical and usable advice. I’m sorry, I apparently don’t know how to connect deeper with “source energy” or change my vibration level to match that of what I would like to attract to my life. Putting out positive thoughts only works so well, and the author, in my opinion, has just been lucky.

Gripe #3: Assertion made by You Are a Badass: You are annoyed by other people’s behaviors because it reflect that which annoys you about yourself. Uh, no. People who almost hit me with their car while I’m crossing the street? No. People who ignore warnings on doors and walk right up to me with their dog and give me an asthma attack? No. People who talk loudly on their cellphones in public places? No. People who treat retail workers poorly? No. Moving on.

Gripe #4: Author freely admits that she wrote You Are a Badass very quickly and on a short deadline. It shows.

Two of my coworkers absolutely love this book. And good for them. I’m glad that they have found a book that speaks to them. Unfortunately, it really doesn’t speak to me.

Rating: 4 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback $16.00 9780762447695 254 pages published April 2013 by Running Press Adult average Goodreads rating 4.02 out of 5 read in January 2018

Jen Sincero’s Website

You Are a Badass on Goodreads

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You are a Badass

Contemporary, Fiction, Young Adult

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

A few years ago I was looking for new books to listen to on my long work drives and picked up Eleanor & Park, having seen it all over the book stores and hearing lots of wonderful things about Rainbow Rowell’s work. I almost didn’t bother listening to it after the first 5 minutes – I am not a fan of the 1980s – but I kept listening because my heart started breaking. Eleanor’s life sucks, there’s no way around it, and I had to know if she would find some happiness. 

Now, however, my opinion of E&P has fallen slightly – when I interview people at the bookstore, I ask them to find their favorite book in the store. One day, I did three interviews, and they ALL choose E&P. Each and every one. So now I, unfortunately, associate with unoriginal thought.

Synopsis

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

Review

[warning: potential spoilers ahead]

Eleanor & Park broke my heart. Rainbow Rowell reminded me that people’s lives are real and terrible and wonderful simultaneously. Eleanor is a complex character, deep and shallow, scared, and excited, open to, yet closed off from, the world around her. Park is naïve and loving, shallow and superficial, deep, and inviting, and thoroughly and completely real. They are both so real that it’s a bit terrifying.

I almost stopped listening to Eleanor & Park multiple times, I don’t like books that are so completely realistic. This is not a fairy tale, there is no guarantee of a happy ending because life has no promise of eternal happiness, just hope. All we get from life is the opportunity to hope for something better, something incredible, something that makes us feel like life is worth living – hope. Park gives Eleanor hope that even though her step father is a terrible person and her mother has turned on her and her father doesn’t care about her and the mean kids at school bully her, there’s still some hope that she can find happiness. That she can be herself without needing to hide away in a closet, a completely private place surrounded by walls, so she doesn’t, so she can’t, get hurt. She’s strange and different and, understandably, has some self-esteem issues. But with Park, she can be herself, and that’s all anyone can really hope for, to find that one person with whom we can let all our walls down, call off the guard dogs and open and share our lives.

We’re all just looking for someone to share our lives with, someone who will love us without judging our life choices, someone who understands, who really understands, who we are and where we come from. For Eleanor, that person is Park. But she knows their time is limited, they’re sixteen years old, and the impermanence of their world, their lives, is almost too overwhelming for her to really relax and let him in. Like any sixteen-year-old girl, she doubts him, her life, everything. Does he love her? How could he love her? It’s the question we all ask when we first fall in love – what’s so special about me? How did I get so lucky to have this person in my life?

Eleanor and Park live in a world that is terribly flawed and therefore completely real. And for me, that was too much to handle. I don’t like reading books that remind me that the world can be a terrible place – I want books that give me hope and a happy ending, regardless of whether it’s realistic or not, not books that remind me that hope is all I have and that happy, sunny endings are the stuff of fairy tales. I don’t like to be reminded that when I was 19, I acted exactly like Eleanor, that I ruined something potentially wonderful because my own life was too overwhelming. I wouldn’t share it with anyone and it led to heart break. I hate it, because I want Eleanor and Park to be together, not have to go their separate ways in life. I was lucky and realized that my first relationship was worthless and terrible and that my life now is far better than it ever would have been had I made different choices at sixteen and nineteen. But for Eleanor and Park, I don’t want them to have to wait to find happiness. I want them happy now, unrealistic though that may be, I don’t care.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $18.99 • 9781250012579 • 336 pages • published February 2013 by St. Martin’s Griffin • average Goodreads rating 4.11 out of 5 • read in April 2015

Rainbow Rowell’s Website

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Eleanor & Park

Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Psychology

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

I started reading Furiously Happy as soon as I finished Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I love it THAT much. There seems to be only one person who understands my anxiety better than I understand it, and that person is Jenny Lawson. Also, how awesome is a book that when you casually slip into a conversation with your boss that this is the book that has best help you understand and deal with your anxiety, he goes and buys a copy himself?

Synopsis

In Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. But terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.

Review

*NOTE: This book affected me on a personal level because I could relate to it. I’ll explain why first, before the review.*

My anxiety is a fairly recent development in my life. And maybe it’s really PTSD, but I’m choosing to go with anxiety. Just about three years ago (it’ll be actually three years on February 9th), my little Prius and I were struck by a tractor trailer on I-80 in Pennsylvania in the middle of a snow storm and I wound up stuck in a ditch, snow on either side, unable to get out of my car. I have never been more terrified in my life. My car absolutely saved my life.

And, I think most people would call this understandable, I started having panic attacks whenever I found myself in a less than comfortable driving situation. Full blown, cannot breathe, cannot feel my hands, feet, or face, panic attacks. Unfortunately, and less understandable to most people, my anxiety about driving started to seep into other (and all) facets of my life. Being diagnosed with allergy induced asthma last February didn’t help matters – now when I have an asthma attack I panic about not being able to breathe, and then I get to experience an asthma attack AND panic attack simultaneously. Isn’t that fun? No, it’s not, and the paramedics who had to try to regulate my breathing will back me up on this one.

Yes, yes, you’re probably thinking: Sarah, you know tons of people in the US suffer from anxiety and depression, right? Yes, your situation is not ideal, but other’s have it far worse. Yes, you’re absolutely right. And for all those people, and me, we have Jenny Lawson. And we are extremely lucky.

While Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny’s first book I reviewed last week, definitely falls into the memoir realm, Furiously Happy, straddles the genres of memoir and self-help. She doesn’t trivialize it any of the mental health issues she experiences, and she doesn’t discount anyone else’s. She doesn’t pretend to be an expert, she simply offers shared experiences. All with wit and humor that is unparelled to anything I’ve read before.

Rating: 9 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.99 • 9781250077028 • 352 pages • first published September 2015, this edition published February 2017 by Flatiron Books • average Goodreads rating 3.93 out of 5 • read in January 2018

Jenny Lawson’s Website

Furiously Happy on Goodreads

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Furiously Happy

Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Travel

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

My mother had a copy of A Short History of Nearly Everything in our minivan for pretty much my entire adolescence. Intrigued, I figured that when I finally wanted to read nonfiction (once it was done being assigned to me), I would read a book by Bill Bryson, especially as I planned a trip to visit my sister in the UK.

Synopsis

Twenty years ago, Bill Bryson went on a trip around Britain to discover and celebrate that green and pleasant land. The result was Notes from a Small Island, a true classic and one of the bestselling travel books ever written. Now he has traveled about Britain again, by bus and train and rental car and on foot, to see what has changed–and what hasn’t.

Following (but not too closely) a route he dubs the Bryson Line, from Bognor Regis in the south to Cape Wrath in the north, by way of places few travelers ever get to at all, Bryson rediscovers the wondrously beautiful, magnificently eccentric, endearingly singular country that he both celebrates and, when called for, twits. With his matchless instinct for the funniest and quirkiest and his unerring eye for the idiotic, the bewildering, the appealing, and the ridiculous, he offers acute and perceptive insights into all that is best and worst about Britain today.

Review

I think I made a mistake… I picked my first Bill Bryson book based on which one was available on the library Overdrive app as an audiobook for me to listen to while driving to my grandmother’s one day last week. According to everyone I talked to about Bill Bryson books once I was halfway through listening to it, I made the wrong choice.

For a little context, the description does not make is abundantly clear that you really should have read Notes from a Small Island prior to reading The Road to Little Dribbling. Not just for a bit of context for why Bill travels to the locations he visits in this book, but also to acclimate yourself to his writing and voice. Because without a little context, well, The Road to Little Dribbling reads like an alternate draft of Grumpy Old Men.

Some of the observations that Bryson makes about how Great Britain has changed are reasonable based in reality. Other times, it seems like he’s complaining and for the sake of being a jerk. One of my coworkers tried to tell me that that was the basis of his writing and he was being sarcastic, but I feel like I’m not so dense that I cannot tell when someone is being sarcastic, it is my second language after all.

And then, the more I listened, the more I felt like it was probably a generational thing. Bill Bryson is clearly a member of the Baby Boomers and I am thoroughly a millennial. And while I often rag against people disparaging against other generations, I find it is quite clear that there is absolutely a difference in each generation’s approach to life. So while I’ve decided that I’m not a fan of The Road to Little Dribbling, I might still be a fan of Bill Bryson’s and just have to accept that this one is not for me.

Rating: 6 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.95 • 9780804172714 • 400 pages • first published January 2016, this edition published October 2016 by Anchor Books • average Goodreads rating 3.71 • read in January 2018

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Road to Little Dribbling

Contemporary, Fiction, New Adult, Young Adult

Bunheads by Sophie Flack

When I was a little girl, I took many ballet classes and I loved it! Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good. In fact, I was incredibly clumsy, and as such, I never really managed to finish a recital or class without causing bodily harm to myself or someone else and therefore, I had to give it up. Then, after binge watching the entire mini season of Bunheads (created by Gilmore Girls genius Amy Sherman-Palladino!), I was on a dance kick and needed to read this book to further explore the lives of young ballerinas!

Synopsis

Until now, nineteen-year old dancer Hannah Ward has followed the Manhattan Ballet company’s unofficial mantra, “Don’t think, just dance.” But when she meets Jacob, a spontaneous musician, Hannah’s universe begins to change. With her eyes newly opened to the world beyond the theater, she must decide whether to compete against the other “bunheads” for a star soloist spot or to strike out on her own.

Review

I love when authors write about what they know as it tends to be the most realistic way to learn about a topic. Sophie Flack is particularly qualified to write this book and it would not be nearly as realistic if the author did not have Sophie’s ballet background. While the complaint of many reviews I read was that the book was littered with too many French, dance-specific terms, to the extent that it detracted from the story, I disagree – this is an exceptional and unique look into the lives of young professional dancers.

Hannah reminds me a great deal of one of my own protagonists, Natalie, my goalie girl. Hannah debates the merits of dedicating her life to ballet, a career that will last a decade, if she’s lucky, or following the path of most nineteen-year-olds in New York City and enrolling in college. My character, Natalie, debates following the seemingly impossible dream of becoming a professional goalie or going to college like most girls her age. In addition, the themes of Bunheads are marvelously true to life – so true that I found myself often wondering if Bunheads is semi-autobiographical. Hannah’s relationship with Jacob is completely recognizable as it is filled with confusion and muddled emotions and feelings – common identifying aspects of most relationships of actual young adults.

There’s a thought that crosses most young adults’ minds more than once during their college years, “Did I make the right choices so far in my life or is it time for a change?” While I found Bunheads in the young adult section of Barnes and Noble, it really embodies the new “New Adult” genre and fuels my dream to see more books about actual young adults and college-age girls trying to figure their lives out on the book shelves of my local book store.

Rating: 8 stars

Edition: Paperback • $10.99 • 9780316126540 • 320 pages • first published October 2011, this edition published October 2012 by Poppy Books • average Goodreads rating 3.73 out of 5 stars • read in June 2013

Sophie Flack’s Website

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Bunheads

Non-Fiction, Photography/Art, Travel

The Grand Tour Guide to the World by Jeremy Clarkson, James May & Richard Hammond

It’s all my husband’s fault. When we first started dating, he asked if I wanted to watch a little British show call Top Gear. “What is Top Gear?” I asked, ignorant of it’s cultural relevance. “Oh, well it’s kind of a car show, kind of a comedy show,” he answered. “Ok,” I shrugged, “let’s watch it.” Oh how little I anticipated that it would quickly become my favorite show of the decade.

Synopsis

The world is a big place full of interesting thins… And The Grand Tour has seen several of them. That’s why few people are better placed to lead you around this vast planet of ours than Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. As long as you don’t mind getting hot and lost.

In this indispensable guide you’ll discover an abundance of information, most of which is probably wrong and potentially dangerous. Alongside occasionally accurate guides to the places visited on the show, you’ll find exclusive interviews with the presenters and see how some of the show’s most spectacular sequences were made.

As well as being a factually dubious encyclopaedia, The Grand Tour Guide to the World is also a companion for anyone inspired by the Grand Tour traveling circus. Learn how to blend in with French car enthusiasts, how to speak Welsh (wrongly) and how to wow people with amazing facts about Swindon. And on top of all this, we reveal the world’s fastest cop cars and the planet’s greatest car makers. And there’s a picture of James May in an anorak.

Review

So I rambled about Top Gear at the beginning and you’re probably thinking, but Sarah, the title of the book says it’s called The Grand Tour! Yes, because the BBC fired the top presenter, Jeremy Clarkson, so he and his mates got picked up by Amazon to make a new show call The Grand Tour.

The Grand Tour started its second season shortly before Christmas and, when you’re working in a retail environment during the holidays as I was, you look for just about anything and everything to cheer yourself up and The Grand Tour fit the bill. Most of the original features of Top Gear (the news, celebrities driving cars, making fun of each other, races, etc.) are in the new series but with slightly different names. The boys can be counted on to make even the most mundane topic intriguing and entertaining. Even if you don’t really care about cars, like my sister… (ahem, Laura), you can still find something to laugh about.

The book is organized into 10 sections, one for each episode/location the show traveled to in the first series of The Grand Tour. The graphic design is stunning, and the content is, for the most part, informative. Would I recommend it as an actual travel guide? Of course not. But, if you are a fan of The Grand Tour, or you want to see what Clarkson, May and Hammond are all about, I suggest at least flipping through the pages of The Grand Tour Guide to the World. At the very least, their irreverent humor will occasionally bring a smile to your face.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $29.99 • 9780008257859 • 272 pages • published October 2017 by HarperCollins • average Goodreads rating 3.83 out of 5 • read in January 2018

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Grand Tour Guide to the World 2

 

Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

It is not often that I get the idea in my head that I absolutely must read a book at a particular time, but I decided this year before Christmas that I absolutely had to read Furiously Happy. My coworker, Jennifer, who loves Jenny Lawson, said “No, no. You have to read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened first.” And boy was she right.

Synopsis

When Jenny Lawson was little, all she ever wanted was to fit in. That dream was cut short by her fantastically unbalanced father and a morbidly eccentric childhood. It did, however, open up an opportunity for Lawson to find the humor in the strange shame-spiral that is her life, and we are all the better for it.

In the irreverent Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Lawson’s long-suffering husband and sweet daughter help her uncover the surprising discovery that the most terribly human moments – the ones we want to pretend never happened – are the very same moments that make us the people we are today.

Review

I don’t often shove a book in my husband’s face and say, “Here! You MUST read this chapter right now!” Any time I have attempted this before, he groans and shoves said book out of my face. There aren’t many books that I’ve read that strike me as books he would particularly enjoy. But, while reading Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, I did this no less than 10 times. 10! And each time, he laughed too (which was very reassuring) and agreed with my declaration that Jenny, the author, and Victor, her husband, represent the two of us in five to ten years.

There have been a few books, fiction mostly, where I have identified with the main character to the point where I declare, “me too!” (not in the present #metoo sense, but in an I-can-thoroughly-relate-to-what-you’re-saying sense). But this definitely falls into the same category of Hyperbole and a Half where I feel like I’m reading a slightly altered account of my own life. My father was a builder, not a taxidermist, I grew up in Pennsyltucky (rural PA), not rural Texas, but I also am the messy one in my marriage, met my husband in college, say things out loud at social gatherings that I really shouldn’t, and have generalized anxiety disorder, though my panic attacks are mostly triggered by driving.

As Jenny writes, these things make me human, and they make me, me. And now I  know that there are far more people like me than I previously thought. If you’re looking for a book that will make you laugh out loud and that you can thoroughly relate to, look no further than Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.

Rating: 10 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780425261019 • 363 pages • first published April 2012, this edition published March 2013 by Berkley Books • average Goodreads rating 3.9 out of 5 • read in January 2018

Jenny Lawson’s Website

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened on Goodreads

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Let's Pretend This Never Happened

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

For the past few weeks I’ve been debating picking up the book Bitterblue as I’d seen it all around the book stores. When I finally did decide to read it, I realized that it was a companion novel to Graceling, which was published first so I figured I’d give it a shot and I was hooked from the very first page.

Synopsis

Katsa has been able to kill a man with her bare hands since she was eight – she’s a Graceling, one of the rare people in her land born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she should be able to live a life of privilege, but Graced as she is with killing, she is forced to work as the king’s tug.

When she first meets Prince Po, Graced with combat skills, Kata has no hint of how her life is about to change. She never expects to become Po’s friend. She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace – or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…

Review

Graceling is the first of three related novels by Kristin Cashore and is set in a fantasy world of seven kingdoms. The capitals of each kingdom are named for their rulers and the kingdoms’ names are based on their geographical location (i.e. the Midluns are in the middle of the continent, Estill is in the east, Sunder is to south, etc.) Scattered across the kingdoms are a select group of individuals, each born with a Grace, a special ability unique to them and possessed only by that individual. They are known as the Gracelings, identified by eyes of two different colors.

Katsa, niece of the king of the Midluns, has started a secret council with the intention of using it to do some good in the seven kingdoms instead of falling into her role of court enforcer as her uncle expects. Graceling starts off with Kasta on a rescue mission of an elderly, gentle grandfather being kept in the dungeons of a neighboring king. On her way out, she runs into another Graceling with whom she spars until he, miraculously, just lets her go. She knocks him out for good measure, but she cannot stop thinking about him. When he arrives at her home court a few days later, she realizes the connection he has with the grandfather she rescued and his purpose for stopping her before.

Thus begins Katsa and Po’s adventure across the seven kingdoms to right a wrong and solve a long standing, though recently revealed, mystery. Their adventure covers rough terrain and obstacles that would make a lesser heroine turn right around. Katsa is a force to be reckoned with – sure of herself but also scared of her abilities. She is an intriguing character and she is full of spunk and zest and her relationship with Po is remarkably well developed for young adult fantasy fiction. The premise isn’t entirely unique but overall the book was enjoyable and I appreciated the great adventure with a bit of romance thrown in.

But there’s just something, and it’s probably just me, that I cannot shake. I can’t name it and it is the fault of this reviewer that my displeasure is so obtuse, but there’s something missing. And for that unshakable notion that a part of the story has gone awry, I cannot quite recommend Graceling as strongly as I hoped to be able to do.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $9.99 • 9780547258300 • 471 pages • first published October 2008, this edition published September 2009 by Graphia Books • average Goodreads rating 4.1 out of 5 • read in March 2014

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