STILETTO by Daniel O’Malley | Review

It’s happening, people! After months and months of saying I would reading Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley I have finally done it! *pats own shoulder with pride*

As the sequel to The Rook, this second installment in the Checquy Files continues the story of Myfanwy Thomas from a different perspective with new characters, problems, and wrinkles. Stiletto is brimming with supernatural mishaps, snarky humor, and enough plot twists to give you whiplash.

One of my favorite aspects of this series is its humor. The dialogue is quick and clever and even descriptive paragraphs are wittily written. I always looked forward to the hilarious banter between Felicity and Odette. For instance:

“[A]s someone who has seen living forms changed and twisted beyond recognition…’ She trailed off awkwardly.

‘Yeah?’

‘I hate to say it, but this dress is the worst crime against nature I have ever seen in my life.’

Felicity cringed a little. The dress lay on the bed, malignant and resentful, like an angry jellyfish. It was technically an evening grown, in the same way that dirt is technically edible.”

It takes skill to make a book about violence, war, and scary scientific advancements funny without downplaying the seriousness of the aforementioned topics. Fortunately, Daniel O’Malley seems to have mastered this skill. Though Stiletto is quite comedic, it also discusses actual problems that our society faces today (masked in supernatural elements, of course): inequality and tension between different groups of people, applying morality to scientific advancements, terrorism, family loyalty in the face of political differences, etc. It might seem like this novel is filled with fantasy, but the story actually reflects more about reality than one might initially expect.

The most remarkable aspect of Stiletto is its impressive world-building and attention to detail. The structure, history, and operations of the Checquy as a branch of the government are absolutely fascinating. I love when writers are able to create fictional elements that can be seamlessly interwoven with normal society. Daniel O’Malley almost makes it seem as though these supernatural occurrences could be right around the corner, unbeknownst to the reader; rather, the Checquy have simply taken care of it without us knowing! The most fun part about fictional worlds is becoming invested in them, which is exactly the opportunity the author provides the reader with Stiletto. 

Interestingly, this novel’s strength is also its weakness. Though the world-building is fascinating, it also slows down the pace of the story considerably. Sometimes there are too many “info dumps” (sections of the novel solely dedicated to rambling off information without actually furthering the plot). These sections aren’t explicitly necessary or relevant in the long run. I feel as though many of these “info dumps” could have been summarized instead of dragging on for pages and pages.

I might sound like a hypocrite for simultaneously praising and criticizing the intense world-building in this series; however, I believe it’s important (and possible) to find a careful balance between too many details and not enough information. Rather than criticizing the fictional world itself, I’m commenting on the way that the world is constructed.

Sometimes sequels are hit or miss, but Stiletto certainly hits the target. I highly recommend this series to anyone interested in supernatural creatures, secret government operations, and snarky banter.

What are your thoughts on Stiletto? Have you read The Rook? Have any recommendations for similar books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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7 Reasons to Read THE SOUND AND THE FURY

William Faulkner’s classic novel The Sound and the Fury holds a special place in my heart as the first book I was ever assigned to read in college. Needless to say, we were all quite confused in my Introduction to Literature class. Why was Benjy also named Maury? Who were all of these different narrators? What happened to Quentin? And why were there suddenly two people named Quentin? We were fortunate enough to have a patient professor who answered these and countless other questions that we hurled at him. Gradually I came to realize and appreciate the brilliance of the novel and I promised myself that I would pick it up again someday.

Little did I know that day would come two years later as I was preparing for my Oxford tutorials.  Rereading The Sound and the Fury magnified my appreciation of it tenfold. Now that I understood the basic plot, I could focus more on the characters, language, and structure of the novel. This experience encapsulates why I love to reread books, especially ones as complex and intense as those that Faulkner writes.

In an attempt to spread my love for this novel, here are seven reasons why you should read The Sound and the Fury:

1 || Yoknapatawpha County. This novel is a great introduction to Yoknapatawpha County, the fictional county in Jefferson, Mississippi in which many of Faulkner’s novels and short stories take place.

2 || Narrative structure. With multiple narrators, narration styles, and dates, this story is bound to make your head spin at times (which might sound awful, but it’s actually really thought-provoking and fascinating and fun).

3 || It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. Reading this novel is like putting together an enormous jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the final product is supposed to look like. Faulkner drops bits and pieces of information throughout the story, leaving the reader to make sense of the details. It feels amazing when you finally feel like you understand another aspect of the story!

4 || Names. One of the things that fascinates me about The Sound and the Fury (and Faulkner’s texts in general) is the immense power and importance of names. An obvious example is Maury, who is renamed Benjamin (shortened to Benjy) because his mother feels as though it is a better Christian name.

5 || Faulkner’s writing. It’s difficult to explain the beauty and brilliance of Faulkner’s writing—it’s much better to actually read it for yourself. (Trust me, it’s worth it.)

6 || Memorable characters. From independent Caddy and patient Dilsey to sorrowful Quentin and fiery Quentin, Faulkner’s characters are not easily forgotten. There are so many characters in this novel, yet they all have such interesting pasts and multifaceted personalities.

7 || It’ll make you think. The Sound and the Fury is a book that I could read over and over again and still walk away with something new to chew on until the next time I read it. Gender, race, class, growing up, time, truth, family, identity—you name it and Faulkner has discussed it!

Have I convinced you yet? What are your thoughts on The Sound and the Fury? What’s your favorite novel by Faulkner? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley | Review

Sometimes it seems as though certain books will never leave your TBR… until you finally force yourself to check them out of the library and read them in one sitting!

This was my situation with Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, a classic novel set in London during the year 2540. I’ve been intrigued by the synopsis ever since reading George Orwell’s 1984 a few years ago, yet for some reason I never got around to reading it until recently. (Was it Watsky’s song “Brave New World” that finally pushed me to action? Perhaps.)

Brave New World surprised me with its witty humor and snark. Of course, it’s incredibly dark humor– children are treated as mere numbers and essentially brainwashed into conforming to societal norms– but there are certainly ridiculous parts that made me laugh out loud. It’s precisely these moments of laughter when I realized the brilliance of this novel: it makes you realize that some elements of Huxley’s fictional society are also present in our modern reality. Many of us would rather be entertained and distracted rather than face actual problems that must be solved. Sometimes we treat relationships as a means to our own pleasure rather than a mutual connection between two people. We crave comfort, familiarity, and ease while simultaneously yearning for something more. Above all, we avoid things that are uncomfortable, painful, and unpleasant.

“But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.”

Throughout the novel Huxley emphasizes the importance and value of hard work, perseverance, and taking chances. The argument is that when everything comes quickly and easy to everyone, the value of things, people, and ideas are soon lost.

“The Savage nodded, frowning. “You got rid of them. Yes, that’s just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether ’tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows or outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them…But you don’t do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It’s too easy.”

…”What you need,” the Savage went on, “is something with tears for a change. Nothing costs enough here.”

As the facade fades away, the reader realizes that what appears to be a utopian world is actually a dystopian society masked in false promises and illusions. I love Brave New World for the way it makes you think about our own society and what we value in our lives today. It’s interesting to think about how this novel was first published in 1932 yet it’s still relevant almost a century later. To me, this endurance is the definition of a classic.

My only regret is not having read this book sooner. I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone!

What are your thoughts on Brave New World? Have any recommendations of similar books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

DRACULA by Bram Stoker | Review

Sometimes I reread books and love them even more the second time around.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is not one of those books.

When I read it for the first time a few years ago I enjoyed it, though it wasn’t something I ever thought I would willingly read again. (And I was right: I read it again not because I wanted to but because my required reading list told me to.) I remember wishing that Count Dracula played a larger role in the story beyond the first one hundred pages or so and that the novel in general would have been a bit shorter.

I agree with you wholeheartedly, Holly of the past.

Dracula frustrates me for a number of reasons. The absence of Count Dracula through the majority of the book is disappointing. The plot is needlessly convoluted and the pacing is too slow. At first I liked how the story is told through journal entries and letters, but as I read on I realized that this style of narration was preventing the novel from moving at a faster speed. It also felt as though I was being told the same ideas and plot points three or four times after reading about it from all of the different characters’ perspectives. After a while most of the journal entries and letters felt really redundant.

This book is also frustrating due to the prior knowledge we have about the story before we even open to the first page. We know that Count Dracula is a vampire from cultural context, meaning that the surprise is completely taken away. When Lucy becomes sick later on in the novel it’s immediately obvious that vampires are the cause, yet it takes hundreds of pages for the characters to come to that same conclusion. In a strange way, reading Dracula felt like reading a story that I’ve known my whole life.

I understand why Dracula is an iconic novel and I appreciate it for being a well-written and meticulously crafted book; however, it’s simply not something that I find engaging, entertaining, or enjoyable to read.

What are your thoughts on Dracula? Have any spooky reading recommendations for the Halloween season? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Brontë | Review

I’ll admit that when I first read Wuthering Heights a few years ago I wasn’t very impressed. The characters were ridiculously melodramatic, the names were confusing, and there seemed to be no point to this dark, tumultuous novel. However, recently reading it again for one of my courses has made me question my initial impressions. They say that some things get better with age; for me, Emily Brontë’s classic novel Wuthering Heights certainly falls into that category.

First, I am fascinated by the layered narration through which Emily tells her story within a story. Initially the reader is led to believe that Mr. Lockwood, Mr. Heathcliff’s most recent tenant, will be narrating the novel; however, one soon realizes that we are told the story by Nelly Dean through the ears of Mr. Lockwood. This layered narration adds depth and context to the story of Cathy and Heathcliff. Reading Wuthering Heights almost feels as though you are being read an unsettling bedtime story that will surely give you nightmares nights to come.

Since I had already read this book once before, I now had the luxury of reading it again without having to worry about understanding the basic plot. (Also, pro tip: creating character maps beforehand is a life saver!) Instead, I could now focus on the characters themselves and the motivations behind their behavior. Rather than be frustrated by their melodramatic tendencies, I started to admire how Emily had crafted such memorable characters that reflected and interacted with their surroundings in such interesting ways. Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange seemed almost more like characters than locations, influencing what occurred within their formidable walls.

Heathcliff caught my attention in particular; as I’m sure he does for many readers. I began to notice that most descriptions of his appearance, demeanor, and actions portray him more as an animal than a man. He is wild, savage, ruthless, and lacks any semblance of tact, courtesy, and empathy. Yet why is it that I still felt bad for this cruel “creature”? Emily’s ability to foster a connection between the reader and Heathcliff is one of the many brilliant aspects of this novel. Heathcliff may be rude and violent and unpredictable, but he is still human. The image of Heathcliff as a maltreated young orphan never quite goes away.

I wouldn’t say that Wuthering Heights is an enjoyable novel to read; rather, it is endlessly fascinating, engaging, and thought-provoking. I appreciate this text for challenging me as a reader and making me think about connections between characters, settings, and language more deeply; however, it’s not something I would choose to pick up on a whim or bring along with me for a relaxing day at the beach. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read this novel again and I can even see myself picking it up for a third time in the future.

What are your thoughts on Wuthering Heights? Do your opinions of novels change when you reread them? Have any recommendations of what I should read next? Let me know in the comment section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

TIMELINE by Michael Crichton | Review

Every now and then you read a book that blurs the lines between genres, categorization, and explanation. Leave it to the fantastic writer Michael Crichton to create such a memorable novel! Set in both medieval Europe and contemporary United States, Timeline straddles science fiction and historical fiction as it blends time travel and centuries-old ruins into one entertaining story. Though Timeline isn’t my favorite book by Crichton, it is nevertheless well worth reading.

+ Blending genres. As previously mentioned, Timeline is unique in the way it seamlessly combines science fiction and historical fiction. Elements of each genre rely on the other to create this memorable story—take away one aspect and you would completely alter the quality of the novel. It reminds me of certain Doctor Who episodes when they go back in history and are taken aback by how different it is compared to what they expected it to be like. The message is the same: no matter how much we study history, we may never be able to truly understand how people lived before our time.

+ Attention to detail. As with all of Crichton’s books, the meticulous attention to detail in Timeline is remarkable. He actually makes you believe that such advanced time travel technology is possible—and might even be hiding in plain sight in our own society. His scientific theories (both fictional and actual) are fascinating and I can only imagine the amount of research about medieval times that had to be done in order to write this book.

+ Suspense. Crichton is the king of writing suspenseful, thrilling, engaging stories that keep you guessing until the very end. He is merciless when it comes to who dies and who survives, so you can never let yourself be lulled into a sense of comfort or ease. Who knows what might be lurking around the next corner? I was surprised by how frightening living in medieval times must have been!

Despite this novel’s strengths, I wouldn’t consider it my favorite book by Michael Crichton. I felt less invested in the characters than I did when reading Jurassic Park and Sphere, perhaps because there were so many of them. Timeline also seemed more plot-driven in comparison to his other books. Overall, I still enjoyed reading this page-turner and I can’t wait to read more by Michael Crichton!

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes, if they enjoy a) Michael Crichton’s other books, b) medieval history, and/or c) time travel. But I would definitely recommend other books by Crichton before this one.

What are your thoughts on Timeline? What’s your favorite book by Michael Crichton? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy | Review

It has always been a goal of mine to read Leo Tolstoy’s classic novel War and Peace at some point in my life. Prior to this past summer, I didn’t know much about this book besides that a) it’s HUGE, b) it’s written by a Russian author, and c) it takes place in the early nineteenth century. Little did I know that I would spontaneously embark on a long endeavor to read War and Peace this past summer (on top of all of my actual required reading…). I was motivated to do so when I learned about the War and Peace Newbie Read-A-Long hosted by Laura @ Reading in Bed. It’s so much easier to read such a tome when you know that plenty of bookworms are right beside you.

To be honest, I didn’t expect to enjoy this book. I knew that it would be fascinating at times and that the writing would be brilliant; however, I didn’t think I would find it particularly entertaining or engaging.

I stand corrected, friends.

I never thought I’d be saying this, but War and Peace is a page-turner. Coupled with a large cast of characters, the wide web of interconnected plot lines makes for a suspenseful and gripping read. The length was intimidating at first– my edition is 1156 pages long!– but the way it’s divided into sections helps keep you motivated as you read. I found myself thinking about the characters and what would happen next even when I wasn’t reading– the sure sign of a great book!

My favorite character to follow is Pierre because he has such interesting thoughts about what it means to live a happy, fulfilling life. From his sudden wealth and travels to his initiation into the Freemasons and eventual imprisonment, Pierre experiences enough in this novel to make one’s head spin. In many ways he is the heart and soul of the story.

Tolstoy’s fascinating discussions about history and how it should be told were pleasant surprises. He argues that historians are foolish for focusing primarily on figures who are considered “great heroes” because often they actually had little to do with causing and shaping events. I hadn’t expected these digressions in a work of fiction, though their incorporation makes sense due to the novel’s reliance on historical events.

“If everyone fought for their own convictions there would be no war.”

Reading War and Peace has made me think about history from a different perspective. What role does history play in literature? What role does literature play in history? Are writers historians? If so, are they historians inherently or must they actively choose to be? I love books that make me ask these kinds of questions!

Overall, I was taken aback by how much I enjoyed War and Peace. If you’re at all intimidated by its length or afraid that it is too dull to sit through, I urge you to set those thoughts aside and give it a try! My only regret is not reading Tolstoy’s writing sooner.

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes!

What are your thoughts on War and Peace? Have any recommendations for other pieces of Russian literature that I should read? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

FLIPPED by Wendelin Van Draanen | Review

People change. We’re all constantly changing whether we’re conscious of it or not, yet sometimes this fact is ignored in books. In fiction, it’s common for love interests to last forever and for desires to seem set in stone once they appear; however, nothing is permanent in Flipped. In this middle grade novel, Wendelin Van Draanen tells the story of two kids whose opinions of each other change over the course of several years. The more they learn about each other the more topsy-turvy the story becomes as their attitudes flip in different directions. When one of my best friends realized I had never read Flipped as a kid she immediately urged me to read it. I’m so glad I took her recommendation!

Let me just start by saying that Van Draanen is a master at channeling her inner middle school voice. It’s so realistic that I felt as though I was reading something that could have been written by twelve-year-old me! It was really interesting to read about the same event from the different perspectives of Juli and Bryce and to see how their views of the world change over time. Flipped is yet another reminder of why I love character-driven stories.

Though Juli and Bryce are the protagonists of the novel, Van Draanen also focuses a lot on family dynamics in general. The story sets up a sort of compare-and-contrast situation between the Loski and Baker families, allowing the reader to notice telling similarities and differences. I love that there aren’t only middle schoolers and their parents in this book; rather, we get to know teenagers and grandparents as well. The relationship between the Juli’s dad and his brother is also really thought-provoking and eye-opening, though I don’t want to say too much and spoil an important detail of the story.  All in all, I think Van Draanen does a great job of showing how complicated, imperfect, and dynamic families are in real life. No family is perfect, not even in literature.

This book reflects many aspects of real life in a way that feels incredibly relatable. The story exposes a lot of things about human nature and daily life in general that we don’t always like to admit. For instance, the Loki and Baker families have lived across the street from each other for years yet they hardly know anything about one another. This disconnection leads to a striking question: How much do we really know about the people we interact with every day? How often do we take time to really get to know people rather than just gliding by with little more than surface level knowledge? Why don’t we communicate each other more genuinely about things that really matter rather than surviving on meaningless small talk? These questions are relevant to anyone at any point in their life, which is one of the many reasons I would argue that Flipped deserves to be read by people of all ages. The themes Van Draanen emphasizes touch on elements of our lives that we rarely stop and think about, making it even more important that we take the time to do so now.

Overall, I wish I had read Flipped when I was younger because I have a feeling that I would have absolutely loved it. How have I been missing out on this wonderful book all these years? If you haven’t read this book yet, please don’t make my same mistake: read it now!

Would I recommend it to a friend?: YES!!

What are your thoughts on Flipped? Have you seen the movie adaptation? Have any recommendations for other middle grade books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

THE WOMAN IN WHITE by Wilkie Collins | Review

Wilkie Collins is commonly known as a master of Victorian sensationalist fiction whose work has greatly influenced what we now know as detective and mystery genres of literature. The Woman in White was published as a full novel in 1860 after having been an extremely popular serialized publication from November 1859 to August 1860. Collins’ clever blend of supernatural elements, domestic scandal, and intriguing mystery make this novel a page-turner that isn’t easily put down.

First and foremost, I have to mention this novel’s wild entertainment factor. I can see why this novel was successful when serialized because each section leaves you wanting more and more. Not only is the plot suspenseful, but there is also a level of uncertainty surrounding the large cast of characters that makes you keep turning pages. A haze of ambiguity surrounds many characters, leaving the reader to question whether or not they can actually be trusted. The suspense of waiting to uncover the true colors of these characters is equally as exciting as the actual events of the story. And that ending… you’ll just have to read it for yourself!

Speaking of the characters, I love how each and every character has a unique, well-developed, multifaceted personality. For instance, Mr. Fairlie is unbelievably selfish and petty but also hilarious; Sir Percival Glyde is greedy, conniving, and infuriating; Count Fosco is charming yet manipulative; and Walter Hartright is so sweet that I couldn’t help but root for him the entire time I was reading. The narrative structure of this novel is really remarkable in that the reader gets to hear different parts of the story told by so many characters. It’s so fun to watch the entire story unfold as each character tells his or her version of what occurred.

The narrative style brings up many interesting questions: Can we trust these accounts? What is “true” and who can actually be considered a “reliable” narrator? Many of the narrators attempt to establish their credibility at the beginning of their testimonies, with the exception of Laura’s father. But do these assertions of credibility indicate trustworthiness or overcompensation for something that is lacking? It’s impossible not to have these questions lurking in the back of one’s mind while reading this novel; however, they add intrigue rather than confusion to the story.

Overall, I enjoyed The Woman in White far more than I had initially expected to when I turned to the very first page. Collins’ meticulous attention to details and carefully developed characters make for an impressive, memorable, suspenseful, and thrilling story. I’m so thankful that this novel was on my required reading list for this term– sometimes they contain unexpected gems!

Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely!

What are your thoughts on The Woman in White? Do you like thrillers and mysteries? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

TUCK EVERLASTING by Natalie Babbitt | Review

I never realized how many popular children’s books I neglected to read when I was younger until I started talking about them with my friends one day. This led me to read books like Matilda by Roald Dahl and Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen in the midst of all my required summer reading to take a quick break from Victorian novels. Among those books was a gem that I still cannot believe I waited twenty years to read: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.

I can’t even tell you how much I loved this book. I read it in one sitting and immediately wanted to go right back to the beginning and read it all over again. In an effort to convince you to read this amazing children’s book if you haven’t (and to reread it if you already have!), here are five reasons why you should read Tuck Everlasting:

1 || The characters. Despite this book’s short length, I somehow managed to become incredibly invested in Babbitt’s masterfully developed characters. From lovely Winnie and courageous Mae to wise Angus and adorable Jesse, I couldn’t help but root for these charming characters.

2 || The suspense. The pacing of this book is so well done. There is never a moment that drags or feels out-of-place (if anything, I wish it were longer because I loved it so much!). The climax comes at the perfect moment: when you’re lulled into a state of bliss and start to forget about the worrisome foreshadowing that happened earlier on. Even though you know in the back of your mind that everything will eventually take a turn for the worse, you can’t help but hope for Winnie’s sake that life will be okay for a little longer!

3 || The writing. Not only is Natalie Babbitt an amazing storyteller, but she’s also a brilliant writer. There are countless lines in Tuck Everlasting that just seem to leap off the page and beg to be read again and again.

“Don’t be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don’t have to live forever, you just have to live.”

4 || The themes. Be curious. Seek adventure. Live in the moment. Be present. Care genuinely and wholeheartedly about others. I could go on and on listing all of the important messages this book delivers. These themes are what makes Tuck Everlasting a sort of universal novel– Who can’t benefit from being reminded of these life lessons every one and a while?

5 || The ending. I was completely surprised by the ending of this book. The typical fairy tale conclusion, all rosy and ideal and romantic, is not what Natalie Babbitt delivers. Instead, she leaves the reader with an ending that is bittersweet but still memorable, heartwarming, and that makes sense within the context of the rest of the story.

Have I convinced you yet? What are your thoughts on this book? Have any recommendations of other children’s books I might have missed out on when I was younger? What was your favorite book when you were a kid? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY