All posts by Chelsea Smith

I am a junior high English teacher who enjoys reading, writing, video games, hockey, and running competitively. I live in the Memphis, TN area and am a proud Arkansas State University alum. I also take photos in my spare time and hang out with my pupper and husband in my full time.

Book Love: Fates and Furies

Fates and FuriesFates and Furies by Lauren Groff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Can I just say something about modern book covers before diving into this review? A brilliant and beautifully designed minimalist cover which appeals to my innermost desires of design concept will almost always yield a terrible storyline inside. But thank God, Fates and Furies isn’t a part of that. ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’ will be a saying that never leaves me because time after time its sadly proven to be true.

I came in with high hopes to Groff’s latest novel, recommended by several friends, and was initially so disappointed I almost stopped at page 60. Thankfully, I followed my gut and the story picked up enough for me to finally get into it.

I flip-flopped between issuing F+F a 3 or 4 for a long time, and here’s why: I would be reading for a long time and become so involved at some points I wouldn’t realize I hadn’t looked up in 30 minutes, and then I would stop abruptly at a poor decision on Groff’s part and wish someone had told her to scratch and revise. So, my love for this book went up and down like a cardiac rhythm strip.

Despite my initial dissatisfaction, I grew to love Groff’s descriptive and fragmented writing style. It is both beautiful and mesmerizing; the type of writing you could really lose yourself in. “She stood only when she could no longer recognize his body, like a word repeated until it has lost all meaning” (295).

At first her characterization annoyed me. Though she absolutely nails the way inspiration feels and fuels an artist, her Lotto is not likable to me. Lotto and Mathilde’s relationship never makes sense to me, and until reading from Mathilde’s perspective, I felt sorry for her. I felt even worse for her after hearing about her childhood, and despite Lotto having a hard time, I never found myself worried for him. He’s too egotistical to be amiable.

One thing I learned from their relationship was that our perceptions of loved ones is entirely different from anyone else’s. Only the two people in the relationship can understand why one still loves the other despite all of their flaws. And although others can sometimes feel the magnetism between the two, no one else will ever truly feel the deep and automatic love they share. Love is unexplainable almost all of the time and never makes sense to outsiders.

Revenge, on the other hand, is easy to comprehend. Whether rage-induced or calm and calculated, revenge is easy to explain. The ‘why’ usually makes sense. Groff’s story of love and revenge mirrors the savage plots of Shakespeare, who her Lotto loved, extremely well. Hidden beneath her pretty words and poetic description, I never expected any surprises in her plot, but there they were waiting at the end of the book.

If you are not patient, don’t pick up this book, but if you can calmly wait for a subtle surprise and appreciate craftiness, then I encourage you to pick up this novel.

 

Goodreads Rating: 3.56
Recommended for: Logophiles, Lovers, & the Theatric
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Book Love: All the Bright Places

All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“…the great thing about this life of ours is that you can be someone different to everybody.” -Finch

Niven offers two complex main characters to her readers. Violet, who lost her older sister and best friend in a car accident the previous year, and Finch, who has been labeled a freak by his peers and thinks about suicide almost daily. Both characters have been created to complement one another, yet travel in opposite social circles at school.

Their story together essentially begins when they save each other. Before you start thinking this is your typical love story of when the popular girl and alternative boy realize they have something in common, it’s not. Yes, the reader can tell the two will fall head over heels for one another and have to fight against the currents of high school in order to stay together, but the story is so much more than that and thus, deserves more credit than that. (This is coming from someone who absolutely does not care for romance and is not fooled by the usual YA themes.)

The reason I think this works is because, based on the author’s note, it is semi-autobiographical. Niven speaks from a place of loss and is able to flesh her characters out because of that. She creates characters who are so real, I could think of a match from my high school for every one of them.

Finch has the urge to be someone and make life count, but he also has the urge to end his life. Violet is coping with the death of her sister Eleanor and has given up on a lifelong dream because of it. Both have come to a place that I know we’ve all been before. Their attraction to one another moves beyond surface level rather quickly, and Niven creates a romance for them that anyone would envy. Finch is smooth despite the fact that he’s trying to figure out who he is and how he wants the world to see him. Violet is confident and smart, however, Finch is the better character when comparing the two.

One message I think Niven wanted to get across is that judgment is unavoidable. Every time we wake up and go out into the world, someone is there to offer a reaction to what we do. Something Niven does excellently is consider how we perceive ourselves compared to others’ perceptions of us. Most of us (especially girls) are too harsh on ourselves and are overly critical of our image and how others might react to it. For those of us who are self-aware, we are hyper sensitive to how people respond to us in person and on social media. Other people’s reactions to us are cues to continue or discontinue our actions. In turn, a lack of attention can offer the same. We are encouraged by positive attention and likes rather than our own personal viewpoints about how we look or how well we pull off a certain style or outfit. Rather than Niven having her female lead, Violet, be worried about these things, she fleshes these uncertainties out with Finch.

This book really brought me back to my teenage years, which were full of anxiety and worries about labels. Finch shares the same worries, as I’m sure most teenagers do. Finch’s worries expand further than the typical teenage worries, which provides the major premise for the book, which is suicide. I hesitate to say it’s a book surrounding suicide because I think Niven’s goal in writing it was to teach us how to live and how to truly explore life.

“I think I got a map in my car that wants to be used, and I think there are places we can go that need to be seen. Maybe no one else will ever visit them and appreciate them or take the time to think they’re important, but maybe even the smallest places mean something.” -Finch

Finch and Violet teach each other how to search for meaning in their lives and in people. We look different to everyone we encounter, whether we meet them on a screen or in real life. It’s not the days we remember, but the moments. We have to live for these good moments and throw out the negative ones, and we have to just be careful with how we treat others. We must display love even to those we dislike because people remember those moments. They remember how they were treated years and decades later. We linger on each other and allow others to stay with us even without meaning to. We have to shed the negativity and live in the light, allowing it to flow through us at all times.

Goodreads Rating: 4.20 Praise It
Recommended for: Strugglers, Stragglers, Wanderers, Virginia Woolf Quoters
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Book Love: The Girl With All the Gifts

The Girl With All the GiftsThe Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First of all, this cover is eye catching and definitely had me interested from the get-go. Second, this mysterious title is intriguing. Who is this girl? What are all these gifts she possesses?

I have to commend M.R. Carey on coming up with yet another word for zombies. Understandably, at this point the word “zombie” in itself should be avoided at all costs in zombie literature/movies/TV, but this new name is spot on. Zombies have plagued (see what I did there?) our airways lately, and although you may think zombies have had their allotted time in the spotlight, Carey has somehow managed to spin the situation while coming up with a few of his own original rules for his zombie-infested post-apocalyptic world. “Hungries” is how readers of The Girl With All the Gifts came to know the familiar violently dead creatures, but Carey’s rules about their movements and mannerisms are what made his world so uniquely satisfying. Carey’s premises are both logical and worth the read, avoiding many of the all too common clichés.

Another compliment I have to this novel is the voice of our narrator, Melanie, who is about 10 years old. Melanie is not your ordinary 10-year-old girl, although she would like to be. Captured in the wild several years before the book begins, she now lives on a military base and is one of several subjects being studied. In many ways she is extremely normal, craving attention, full of a desire for learning, and infatuated with her favorite schoolteacher, but it is her gifts that separate her from other kids her age. Her voice is paramount to the success of this story, because without it, it would just be another zombie text. Instead of giving us a huge infodump at the beginning of the book, Carey uses Melanie as a filter for his world, allowing us to only learn as she does. Like us, society outside of the military base is new to Melanie, which enables us to react according to Melanie’s reception alone.

Survival is usually the driving factor in a world full of zombies, but The Girl With All the Gifts manages to avoid that as well, focusing instead on scientific exploration and objectivity. He uses his other characters, a crazed over-involved scientist, a tough military official, and Melanie’s loving schoolteacher, to contrast one another on the subject of our connection to our work. He suggests that no one can come into an observation situation without being a little biased, our prior experiences affecting us whether we’re conscious of them or not. As you can imagine, a zombie apocalypse is full of death. The Walking Dead among others have shown us what it’s like to live with death, and The Girl With All the Gifts is no different in that respect. If there was anything this book taught me, it was that we are all victims of our experiences. Our past determines who we are more than most of us would like to admit, driving us to act out subconscious desires. While some of us are looking for redemption, others want to make a difference in the world, especially one as ugly as this. It wasn’t what it taught me about zombies that will stick with me; it was what I learned about how humans treat other humans that I’ll remember. Our perspective of the world has a lot to do with how we react to each and every situation, and often it is our lack of awareness of this perspective that causes us to not love other humans the way we are meant to.

All in all, Carey offers a refreshing change to a genre that has been bogged down with sameness.

Goodreads Rating: 3.91
Recommended for: Zombie Fans

Book Love: The Nightingale

The NightingaleThe Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Yes, it’s another book about the Holocaust, which is not groundbreaking, but it’s about so much more than that, as well. Although it took me close to 70 pages to begin caring about the characters in The Nightingale, before I knew it I was not just crying, but weeping for them and slamming my book shut at how the war was devastating these real people I had grown to love. I can’t accurately describe the weight of what The Nightingale has taught me about love and war, but I’ll do my best.

Vianne and Isabelle, who are two sisters living in Occupied France during WWII, and who we follow throughout the book, couldn’t be more opposite of one another. Before the war, Isabelle was just seen as a pretty face; she was a headturner, easily charming any man she passed by and acting as a source of jealousy to the women around her. Her courageous actions throughout the war are what will stick with me, though. While she fought to free minds and to preserve her country’s honor, Vianne fought the thin line separating survival from pride. Neither at first glance would be expected to participate in the war effort or a political campaign, however Isabelle proves to be resilient and impetuous, with a heart already full of rebellion, making her perfect for the French Resistance. Vianne, her older sister, tries to remain a silent figure so as not to provoke the Germans now living as their neighbors. She plays the role of a protective mother during a time of little food and much shame and is a perfect representation of tension in wartime, of making decisions that have no possible positive outcome, and of the anxiety between choosing what is right and difficult versus what is wrong but easy. Together they form a dynamic relationship that is a portrayal of all people who have experienced war closehand.

Simply put, war changes people. It creates animals out of some, it breaks others, and it almost always shows people’s true colors.

What good is it to be physically alive if we have to betray our beliefs and everything that constitutes what we live for to preserve our bodies? What use are we if we are dead in spirit and mind, devoid of emotions, just shuffling through our lives? Is a life without freedom in a devastated world even a life worth living?

Besides these, there are plenty of other questions. Kristin Hannah, my hat is off to you. You have unknowingly aided me in self-discovery, allowing me to search for more meaning to the life I take for granted.

Please, read this book for yourself, but also know that it does not come without some heartbreak. It is raw, dark, and emotional to the point where I could see the scars left on our poor world. Even with these scars, somehow war remains, leaving us behind in its wake.

Goodreads Rating: 4.53
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New Years’ Reviews

We reviewed some of our favorite books from 2015! We are hoping to make more and better videos this upcoming year, and we would like to thank all of our readers for their continued support. We are hoping for growth in 2016 and to be more involved in our community of viewers. Thanks again for a great start, fellow tome raiders.

Book Review: The Lost Track of Time

The Lost Track of TimeThe Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Punny, clever, and creative, The Lost Track of Time offers an inspirational message to young readers. Its style is reminiscent of The Phantom Tollbooth, so in a lot of ways it was nostalgic for me.

Leading lady Penelope dreams of becoming a writer, but her mother, who probably reads way too many blogs, just knows her future lies ahead in the fields of math and science. I can’t blame her for that line of thinking, but what irks me about her is her refusal to listen to her daughter’s ideas. They don’t share many of the same viewpoints when it comes to Penelope’s daily schedule, so when summer begins, Penelope’s plans include doodling and jotting down story ideas while her mother’s include filling every minute of every day with studying and productivity. Penelope desperately tries to prove to her parents she could become a successful author, but her tiring and overflowing schedule leaves her brain feeling muddled and dry, not to mention leaving her physically and mentally exhausted.

Penelope must find a way to get her creativity back while also proving to her mother and father she could have a successful future doing what she wants to do. Through her journey, she teaches some lessons imperative to anyone balancing a busy schedule. These practices are ones that always seem obvious, but they are ones that we often push aside in order to be more profitable.

1. You can’t make time, but you can and should reserve some time for yourself. I had to learn this lesson the hard way one semester when I was in college and trying to do too much for others while not doing enough for me. I worked for the newspaper, tutored student-athletes, took a full course-load, and was in a serious relationship. I was always tired, and although it did help me get where I am now, I’m lucky I only had to balance all that for 5 months. I constantly had bags under my eyes and had a short temper with everyone.

2. Time is both free and costly. We don’t pay money to have free time, but sometimes we do have to earn that free time by working overtime or putting in more work than usual in the hours we are at work. When we finally do get time to ourselves, we should make good use of that because we won’t get it back, so when we decide to binge watch The Office for the third time instead of visiting our grandparents, we need to ask ourselves which is more meaningful in the end. Spending hours with a book or my computer is usually more satisfying to me than spending hours at my grandmother’s watching Hallmark movies, but for someone who spends so much time alone, that small amount of time spent with family can bring about days and even weeks of happiness and memories.

3. The time is always now. There is literally no time like the present. Instead of saying, “In the future I will…” or, “One day I will…” we should get off our butts and do what we dream of doing. If we want to be a world traveler, we need to check our bank accounts, start packing, and look for the next flight to Iceland. If we want to be a writer, we need to stop being so afraid of failing and just start writing and asking for feedback because pretty soon now will be the past, and I don’t want to look back wishing I had spent my time more wisely. I realize not everyone knows what they want to do, even at 25. I feel like the world tells us we should know what we want to do before we get into college, but I’m starting to see that as a false speculation. These days people do not set out to be in a typical career that could be found on a card in The Game of Life. With so many niche markets, any random set of skills one possesses could ensure success and happiness in the right field. So maybe “getting off your butt” means being mindful of what your skills are and on the lookout for what it is you really want to do. Success is relative. We no longer need a world definition of success. If we decide we are successful, then we are.

Although it is middle grade fiction, if read with the right mindset, it could serve as inspiration for anyone who has pipe dreams and has yet to pursue them. Yes, the writing grew repetitive and tiresome, but the ideas will probably resonate because of it. If anything, Penelope has taught me we are all writers of our own stories, and we get to decide whether we are successful or not.

Goodreads Rating: 3.85
Recommended for: Pipe Dreamers, Timekeepers, Storytellers

Book Review: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Me and Earl and the Dying GirlMe and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was shocked I enjoyed this as much as I did, especially since I’m not a nihilist and I think meaning can be found everywhere in our lives if we only choose to look for it. Overall, I would give it a strong 3.5.

This book was brutally honest about a difficult subject {cancer} that many writers have used as a means to tell a good story and get the tears rolling. Jesse Andrews, however, did not even get close to making my eyes water and somehow managed to force a different perspective of life into my worldview.

When people, especially young people, pass away, we like to think they were loved and will be dearly missed by the world. This thought helps ease our depression and boost our confidence when we’re battling the giants life throws our way. Yes, we’d like to think we have made a profound impact on the world and people around us and haven’t gone unnoticed by everyone, but with all the uploads, downloads, selfies, advertising, and noise encircling everyone’s brains, there isn’t much room for everyone to care about everyone else. Most young people seem to only have enough energy and time to care about themselves and a select few other people, especially those in high school. Because of all that noise, there are invisible people, who often enjoy being reclusive and going unnoticed, walking among the attention-seekers of high school hallways.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl explores the idea that an invisible person can’t really be missed all that much. A true but unpopular opinion. Not all true ideas are popular ideas. People tend to avoid overly sad stories about people who didn’t make anything out of their lives, but I think it’s important for people to obtain all perspectives in life. Not all lives are full of meaning. Some people don’t try to make the most of life and don’t positively affect the people around them. Sad, but true.

Greg reminds me of most humans. We try to seem like we’re “good” people, and even if we are “good” by society’s standards, we still are selfish almost 100% of the time. We have to be in order to survive. Another unpopular truth. It’s not something most people would even admit to themselves, much less to the entire world via a young adult novel. I’ve encountered this way too many times to count. I try to put off the vibe that I’m sweet and care about the world, and I really do care about most aspects of it, but most of the time I’m only looking out for myself. I only care about the world when I feel like caring about it. In my heart I have bad thoughts about lazy people and obnoxious people and fill-in-the-blank people. I like to think we all have a person or group of people we can’t really stand, but in truth, there are only about 0.5% of people who unselfishly care about the world. That may be a high estimation, too; I’m just guessing here.

I enjoyed Me and Earl and the Dying Girl because it was witty, quick, and truthful, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for any of my students or other young adults. Although I didn’t respect Andrews’s writing much, he at least spoke some truth and made me laugh. It was enjoyable enough with all its hilarity, but I really just liked it because it was a genuine account of teenage life. Andrews produces the idea that not all teenagers think too deeply about their lives, even those faced with cancer. I would think someone facing the possibility of death at a young age would, but who really knows? I respect a good story that is hopeful and creates meaning for those who have been affected by cancer (like The Fault in Our Stars), but I can also respect a novel that is the opposite of that.

Goodreads Rating: 3.6
Recommended for: Nihilists, People who like to compare books to movies