Magonia: A Review

This book is like nothing I have ever read. The characters are unlike any characters I have ever encountered (and I've encountered quite a few), yet they also feel like people I know, people I can relate to, people I am invested in from page one, word one. Aza Ray Boyle (and later Aza Ray Quel) is a refreshingly unique heroine and Maria Dahvana Headley breathes so much life into her with vibrant descriptions and witty dialogue that at times she seems to fly off the page.

Without giving too much away, Magonia is the story of a girl who grows up on Earth, but was born in the sky. She spends most of her life feeling her difference (in part because being sky-born makes it incredibly difficult for her to breath on Earth) but not knowing just how different she actually is. Until, of course, she discovers Magonia -- the land in the sky.

This book was so original that it stretched the bounds of my imagination. I found myself reading and re-reading Headley's descriptions of this world in the sky because at first read I couldn't get a full grasp on the imagery because I I didn't really have anything to compare it to. But at the same time, everything was just so beautiful. So bright and lush and intricate. How amazing it would be to spend a day walking around in Maria Dahvana Headley's imagination.

This is a must read.

The Vault of Dreamers: A Review

I finished this book in 24 hours. Ten years ago this would not have been such a feat. Back then I had the flexibility and leisure to spend a whole day reading without coming up for air. But now with my writing schedule, appointments, meetings, 3 kids and their various schedules, spending time with my wonderful husband and making sure my house doesn't look like a tornado hit it, devoting an entire day to reading a book sounds like a fanciful vacation I would love to take, but have no idea when that will actually happen. So, the fact that I did not spend the entire day curled up in an armchair with my nose in a book, but rather found nooks and crannies and re-purposed time to devour this book is what makes it so extraordinary.

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The Vault of Dreamers explores both the high level concept of mining (read stealing) people's dreams from them while they sleeping, while also telling a tale as old as time -- that of two teenagers falling in love. And rather than one story distracting from the other, or the stories awkwardly co-mingling and being apart from one another, they feed into each other. It's really a beautiful thing to watch/read.

The other part of this book that made me really happy was the diversity of the characters. O'Brien includes characters of all sorts of ethnic, racial, familial and socio-economic statuses, without it feeling forced. What comes across is a natural reflection of the world we live in-- one that includes all sorts of people.

The aspect of the book which I may have found the most fascinating (though I am not entirely sure as there are many amazing details) is the idea of who we are in the public eye, versus our true selves. The main character, Rosie Sinclair, attends an institution called "The Forge School." At this school every waking hours (literally every hour that the students are awake) is filmed. Viewers at home can select their favorite student and follow the student's specific feed to watch them as they go about their day. The number of people that watch a student's feed initially determines whether the student can remain at the school, and later determines how much ad sponsorship they'll receive, which for economically disadvantaged students means a lot.

The constant presence of the cameras forces the students to make decisions about what aspects of their life they want the world to be privy to, and creates a situation where the students have to take extraordinary measures to keep some things private. It was a really interesting dynamic and seemed like a commentary on our current world which is engrossed in social media. Is who you are on Facebook who you really are? How much of that is a persona? How much do you post? How do you decide what to post and what not to post? How much do you let people see?

The hardest part of reading this book was knowing the next one doesn't come out until February. Usually, I wait until most or all of the books in a series are out before I start reading for precisely this reason, but The Vault of Dreamers was worth it. In the meantime, I may reread O'Brien's previous Birthmarked trilogy, which is another set of books that should make it onto your To-Read list.

Stay tuned for the review of the next book on my list Octavia's Brood, and until then, Happy Summer & Happy Reading!

Children's Books - New Classics

I realized as I was looking over my Summer Reading List (and the summer reading lists of the rest of my household), that I had unintentionally left out my two-year-old son. And while he is not quite at the independent reading stage in his life, he still very much enjoys looking at the pictures in books and being read to. So, in order to rectify this little oversight, I have compiled a list of books that we love to read together.

Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth

Zen Ties by Jon J Muth

Hi, Koo by Jon J Muth

* I swear every book on this list is not by Jon J Muth, but my son is in love with the pandas in his stories, and I love the Zen spin on his stories.

 

The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell

Hugtime by Patrick McDonnell

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What Do You Do with an Idea by Kobi Yamada

Willoughby and the Lion by Greg Foley

One Love by Cedella Marley

Love Monster by Rachel Bright

So Many Days by Alison McGhee

The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak

Skippyjon Jones by Judy Schachner

 

Now I know technically these are children's books, but there is a lot of wisdom to be found in these pages, so feel free to read them no matter what you're chronological age :)

Trigger Warning: A Review

As a general rule, I steer clear of short stories. I am almost always heartbroken or disappointed when I come to the end of one, either because I am unhappy with the story or am wondering why the author would leave me in a lurch and not just make a novel (or a series if I'm feeling greedy) out of the story. So, I generally don't read them, but I make exceptions for books gifted to me, those highly recommended by readers whose opinions I trust and respect and compilations that have been put together by one of my favorite authors. For instance, nothing could have kept me from reading Unexpected Stories by Octavia Butler last summer. Similarly, I knew I had to read this book by Neil Gaiman.

It usually takes me a little while to get my footing when reading Neil Gaiman, but I power through the first few chapters, always knowing that it will pay off. The problem is that strategy doesn't quite work when reading short stories. Which means there were a couple stories that were lost on me entirely, and others, which for me, seemed to end at the precise moment I was hooked. As you can imagine these instances were quite frustrating and reminded me of why it is so rare that I read anything besides full length novels.

There was one particular recurring theme around time that popped up in a number of stories, which really made me want a novel. I subconsciously strung those stories together trying to allow them to occupy the same universe to create a larger story, but really what I'd like is a new Neil Gaiman novel with all the nuances of these various stories more fully explored because they were fascinating. My favorite was the story that corresponded with the month of January in "A Calendar of Tales." I would tell you how glorious it was, but given how short it is, anything I would say would ruin it. So just trust that it needs to be read.

All in all, the sum total of these stories is brilliant. I actually read a few that felt like perfectly complete packages and didn't leave me feel like I'd missed out on something, which felt a bit like spotting a unicorn. The ideas explored in each of these little gems are so imaginative and intriguing, that even with the frustrations I expressed earlier, this is definitely worth the read.