The Iron Witch – Karen Mahoney

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This book was not recommended to me, but rather one that had intrigued me before.  It’s a long history that involves seeing the title when I was in a bookshop in Scotland, but not having the money to buy it.  I then saw it in another bookshop, but needed to keep my physical book-buying to a minimum since I was moving back to the States soon after.  A couple of months ago, I noticed it again in Borders, but this time was not entirely sure it was the book that had tickled my fancy, since the American cover was different and the story did not sound quite right.  So I went for another title instead (which ended up being the wrong one and a third in the series).  But, with Borders’ going-out-of-business sale,  I finally nabbed a copy.  Actually, a friend of mine and I got the last copy in the store. (More on the Borders closure later.)

It took me a few days to get this read, but overall it was a pretty fun read.  It’s a YA novel, fantasy focusing on the Fae and alchemy.  That combination was really the initial attraction for me.  Let me go off on the customary (and necessary) plot ramble.  The main character is Donna Underwood, a 17 year-old girl with iron and silver woven into her arms.  She was injured by a Skriker (an elvish hell-hound) as a child, and the Skriker burned her arms badly.  During the same attack, her father was killed and shortly after her mother driven crazy.  Donna wears gloves to hide her unusual tattoos, lives with her aunt, takes alchemical lessons from the local group, and has one friend named Navin.  Set in a suburb of Boston, Donna fears the wood-elves escape from a local wood.  She meets and falls for a boy named Xan, himself half-fae who was imprisoned and tortured by the wood-elves as a child.  When the wood-elves kidnap Navin, she must do whatever she can to save him.

Like I said, the book itself is pretty interesting and a rather fun read.  I was a bit disappointed to realize that it is going to have a sequel (though what book doesn’t in today’s world?).  I’m not saying the sequel isn’t warranted.  You do leave plenty of questions unanswered by the end of the book, but I was rather hoping that I had picked up a book that would not require the purchase of another.  But if there turns out to be a love triangle in the sequel, I will get a bit upset.  All YA novels have love triangles anymore.

Back to the point of the discussion.  The Iron Witch does differ from a lot of current fae novels – Donna actually exists as their enemy, and her relationship with Xan would certainly raise a few eyebrows when people finally figure it out.  I also liked that Donna was not very interested in the magic of the alchemists, even though she had seen it work.  She wants to be normal, not to embrace the purpose for which she was raised.  No sides in the book are inherently right, either.  Mahoney does a great job of building up the distrust of the alchemists, showing all sides to both Donna and the reader.  The end of the book does not come down to good and evil, but more a judgement of which side is less wrong.

I do wish that this book had been in first person, however.  Written in third-person limited, we were basically inside Donna’s head anyway.  We saw her thoughts, knew her feelings, and went even deeper into her thinking with the journal entries throughout the book.  What I did not understand was why not place it in first-person to begin with? (I just ended a sentence with a preposition!)  We would have only gained from the switch in point-of-view, especially because we never once see from another character’s POV.  Besides, with the diary entries and the closeness we get with Donna, it sort of feels like we are there anyway.  It is actually grating when you read a third-person pronoun.  So, for the sequel, she can just switch. Haha.

I guess the final assessment is that I did like this book, but it did lack a certain depth that really makes you care about the outcome.  I was pulled along the way and intrigued, and I will read the sequel(s?), but I don’t think that it will stick with me as other books have done.  Although, sometimes you want that from a novel.

The Cliche but Necessary Harry Potter Post

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Potential Spoilers – If you’re not one of the millions who have already read the books . . . .

British adult cover for Deathly Hallows

How can you describe years of memories with someone?  Especially when that someone does not technically exist – though he exists alongside millions of his friends.

I cannot really remember what made me actually read Harry Potter.  I know that I had heard some friends discussing dementors in the schoolyard one day (making me feel now very much like Petunia Dursley).  I know that my mom had been urging me to read the books with her.  But I can’t for the life of me remember when I actually picked them up.  I believe it was before Goblet of Fire was released, certainly before Order of the Phoenix.  I cannot claim that I was with Harry from the beginning, literally, but I certainly feel like I was.

I remember arguing with my roommate about the literary aspects of Harry Potter, and whether or not he was worthy of study.  I still am waffling on that – undoubtedly sentimentalism of the end of the movies makes me say “Yes!”.   There are certainly flaws in Rowling’s writing style, a few abnormalities and characters that drive fans crazy.  Heck, just a couple weeks ago, Entertainment Weekly had an article and attached forum to complain about said flaws (even though it was all devoted fans).  But fans are so devoted that we go crazy over the new website Pottermore.com because it promises to give us just a little bit more.

However, I can say with conviction that no other book has made me feel so connected with its characters.  And that makes Potter worthy of note, and of all the devotion that the books have received over the years.  I have read the books countless times, and yet I still cry each and every time – when Sirius dies, when Dumbledore dies, when Dobby dies, and even when Kreacher leads the other house elves into battle.  Just thinking about losing Fred Weasley, Lupin, and Tonks makes me tear up, because Rowling has fashioned them into real people.  She took a very plot-centric series and turned it into a character-driven drama.  While the books and all of its intricate pieces would be interesting, without the depth given to the characters that populate the world we would be less likely to go to book and movie openings at midnight.  At least I know I would.

So what makes this book so different from others?  Why should you read Harry Potter, or urge friends to read it?  I honestly can’t put my finger on it.  I never have been able to, other than to say, “It’s really good!” or “Just read it!”  I would say that at the very least, you’re able to escape completely into Harry’s world.  How many children have waited longingly for their own Hogwarts letters?  Heck, I still wonder how to get one, and I am an adult with a Masters degree in Literature.  I know when something is fantasy and when it is a reality, but Rowling effectively pulls you into her created world so well that sometimes you just might forget you’re reading a book.

Maybe that is the real reason I adore Harry Potter so much.  I have always preferred to live in fiction than in my own reality, because in books there are often happy endings, resolution, and the good guy usually triumphs.  Some people might argue for a book because of how realistic it is, and while I do find that an admirable quality, I often like to escape into novels where things are wholly unreal.  The imagination and opportunities that come within the world of fiction expand our own ideas of what is achievable.  Harry Potter has done that for so many children and adults alike.

So now, with the books written and published, and the last of the movies done, there are many of us who will feel a hole in their lives.  So I, along with millions of others, will eagerly wait for Pottermore, because maybe it will provide a small window back into that world.  And while I wait, I’ll just have to settle for reading the books again for the twentieth time.

The Hunger Games

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I came to this book pretty late in the game (Ha Ha).  I was reluctant to read it – perhaps because I was really unaware of it until Mockingjay, or more than likely because I was reading so many required books that I forgot to read for fun.  With the movie coming out in the next few months, I knew I had to read it.  I hate seeing films based on books when I have not read the book first.

My lovely fiance gave me a Kindle for my birthday, and while looking for books to add, I came across The Hunger Games. I added it, but did not read it until I had finished my Harry Potter marathon.

I wish I had read this book sooner.  I think I started a bit of it on a Saturday afternoon, wiling away some of the time at work.  And then I was hooked all day Sunday, finishing the book before I could sleep that night.  I immediately downloaded Catching Fire and Mockingjay, and finished reading the trilogy within a matter of days.

The basic plot of the first novel is that in an unspecified dystopian future, the  government forces children ages 12-18 to compete in a televised contest to the death. Only one can survive.  The children are chosen from the 12 districts, one boy and one girl, by a random lottery.  Katniss’s younger sister Prim is chosen, so Katniss volunteers to take her place.  Going to the arena with her is a young man named Peeta, someone who helped Katniss avoid starvation when she was younger.  His act of kindness causes Katniss to distrust him, but mostly to resent him and the fact that she feels in his debt.

It’s hard for me to describe just why this book resonates so much.  I guess in part, the injustices that Katniss fights are huge and ones that we cannot imagine.  Katniss is not an entirely likable character, but her will to live is so strong that you cannot help but appreciate her.  Her love of her sister and her desire to keep Prim away from any possible pain really becomes the focal point of Katniss.

You could easily say that the trilogy focuses on political rebellion, on whether war is right, and just how much we will sacrifice.  While these themes mean a lot in today’s world, it isn’t these overarching ideas that draw you in.  It’s the characters.  Even though the books have the requisite love-triangle (Peeta-Katniss-Gale [Katniss’s best friend from home]), it hardly ever feels contrived.  Perhaps it is because Katniss really wants neither of them.  Her protective nature goes so deep that she does not want children because she could not bear to watch them be chosen for the Games.  You find throughout the books just how caring this young girl is, and it is that love that brings you to her side and makes you root for her goals.

I tend to like character-driven novels the best.  While a good story is fun, how much would you care about Katniss facing her death if you knew nothing about her staunch desire to save her sister?  Would you have cried when Harry Potter discovered [SPOILER ALERT] he must die to save his friends if you did not know him?  I read a lot of young adult fiction, and we seem to have lost ourselves to the showy Transformers-plots – a lot of explosions and pretty cars, but no character substance.  I suppose that is true of all genres and age-ranges, but I absolutely love when I find something like The Hunger Games that I am still contemplating weeks later.

Books like these are the reason that I read.  To get lost in a world, to know the characters so well that they feel like friends.

To New Beginnings

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The first post of a blog is always the hardest to write.  You have an entirely blank slate, and hardly anything to say.

Well, you must have something to say since you have started a blog.  But suddenly, trying to put words on the page seems presumptuous.

The point of this blog is to discuss works of fiction.  While I will primarily focus on novels, I will branch out to include movies and television shows as well.  For me, it is the art of the story that remains so fascinating.  Not currently being in school, I have found that I need that outlet of discussion.  Not only that, but I love to talk about books and I would love a way to connect with others who feel the same.

My fiction choices will undoubtedly be a bit schizophrenic to say the least, and I will not stick to one genre.  But I will try to write mostly about books that I loved (with a few scathing pieces of criticism thrown in for good measure, of course).

I do plan on asking friends to write on the blog as well.  After all, my views are entirely biased and one-sided.  If you are interested in contributing, please let me know.