#MakeMeRead It 2018 Read-A-Thon Poll | Vote!

It’s that time of year again! The #MakeMeRead It Read-A-Thon is just around the corner, running this year from August 6–13th. It was co-created and is still co-hosted by Ely @ Of Wonderland and Val @ The Innocent Smiley. I’m proud to say that I’ve participated (or tried to) every year since its inception in 2015!

I wasn’t sure if I was even going to try participating in #MakeMeRead this year. I have had a loose plan of the books I want to read for review each week all the way through to October. Additionally, I learned that I’d be out of town the week #MakeMeRead starts, and I don’t find it terribly easy to read on family vacations. But I didn’t want to break the chain of tradition, so I decided to make this work for me!

The books I’ve selected are books were for the most part not originally on my agenda to read in August. Realistically speaking, I think I’ll only be able to manage one book during the week of the read-a-thon. Therefore, I’ll likely just be picking the top choice. But since these are all the first books of a series I’ve yet to start, if I enjoy them I may end up binging the corresponding series!

In case you’re not familiar with any of these titles, they are all YA fiction. Heist Society is contemporary, Falling Kingdoms is fantasy, and The Diabolic is science fiction. They all sound fascinating! Personally, I’ve been most excited to start Heist Society, but after skimming the summary I’d also pretty stoked if The Diabolic wins. But it’s not my choice which I read for this read-a-thon; it’s yours! Vote in the poll down below. ☟

❧ ☙ End Note ☙ ❧

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read any of these books and what you thought! I don’t feel like these books are from very popular series, but I’m excited to finally be given a reason to reach for them now. I discovered the Throne of Glass series and the Lunar Chronicles series in past years of #MakeMeRead, so I’m excited to see what series will next join these iconic series in my history with this read-a-thon.

Also, let me know if you’ll be participating in this read-a-thon, along with links to your posts and polls! I’ll be happy to chime in ^_^

Thank you for reading!
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  1. Featured Image, base image: “Like a bright airship the New Moon sails by” by Shirley Kite
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The Unique Blogger Award | Blog Tag

Last week I was nominated for the The Unique Blogger Award by Sara @ The Bibliophagist. This is such a short and sweet little tag, I was happy to accept it and schedule it for this weekend. Especially once the week had passed and I realized I wouldn’t have a book review ready this week! I’m still reading Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, and I’m not sure how I’m going to review it yet.

It’s a bit deep but I don’t know how many people are interested in Native American literature, so I may save it for a mini-review post once I’ve read a few more books from my I-should-have-read these-for-class-but-did-not TBR shelf.

The Rules

  1. Share the link of the blogger who nominated you
  2. Answer their questions
  3. Share some love with the blogging community by nominating 8-12 people
  4. Ask three questions for your nominees

Three Questions from Sara

1. What’s your favorite quote from a book you’ve read this year?

Oh, there are so many in A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle, which I reviewed last month. It’s been years since I gave this book a reread and it was just as amazing as I remembered.

 It’s hard to let go anything we love. We live in a world which teaches us to clutch. But when we clutch we’re left with a fistful of ashes.

I find this quote so moving because it kind of explains the type of grief I feel most of us can relate to feeling at some point in our lives, whether we’ve lost someone we love or are forced to part with something that brought us happiness. Change is hard, but inevitable and often necessary.

I find many of the ideas presented in A Ring of Endless Light in coincidental conversation with the other things I’ve read this year, including my current read, Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. A quote I find my mind going back to as I read it is:

 …things which don’t shift and grow are dead things. They are things the witchery people want. Witchery works to scare people, to make them fear growth.

This passage from Ceremony is about how the Indians fear changes in their culture. The protagonist Tayo is half-Indian, half-white and finds help post-WWII in a medicine man who, like him, is the child of mixed heritage who understands the world differently from Tayo’s fellow Laguna Indians.

2. What book would you love to see made into a movie or TV series?

I would’ve loved for Ready Player One by Ernest Cline to be made into a T.V. series. The first time I read that book, I stayed up all night reading it. I couldn’t put it down. And for weeks after, I was plotting the episodes-that-could-be in my head. I never really do that for books! The characters and storylines in the book could be so wonderfully portrayed in a binge-worthy T.V. series. The movie Spielberg made, while fun, was so different from the book, almost a completely different plot (necessary because of the time constraints).

3. If you could frame one book cover and hang it up in your house, which cover would it be?

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler. It’s been forever since I read this book, but I’ve since fallen in love with Parks & Rec and admire Amy Poehler and her work to inspire women/girls so much. I also love the cover because of the hot-neon-pink words that I think sum up a beautiful motto for life that I could do better to remember.

Three Questions from Me

  1. What books have been your favorite and your least favorite this year so far?
  2. What is the strangest book you’ve ever read?
  3. If you could resurrect any dead book character, who would it be?

I Nominate:

E, My Narrative | Rose Petal Pages | Misty Book Space

End Note

I’m a bit behind on my blog plans for the month! I’ve enjoyed spending time with my mom these last couple of weeks before my Dad returns home from Israel. We’ve been Shopkicking a lot, because I have my eye on some new books that can’t justify buying right now while I’m looking for a job. I’m about a day or two away from a $25 gift card for Amazon so I may have a book haul to share at the end of the month. Fingers crossed!

Thank you for reading!
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Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter | ★★★★½

I first read Vassa in the Night in August of 2017. It was recommended by Leigh Bardugo, one of my favorite authors, in library interview I watched on YouTube. I find it really fascinating to see what works inspire my favorite authors. It causes me to look into books that I otherwise might never give a chance. In investigating Bardugo’s recommendations, I was enchanted by the summary for Vassa in the Night.

I already knew I loved fairytale retellings set in the modern world. I was unfamiliar with Vasilisa the Beautiful, but eager to check out this book that sounded so different from anything I’ve read. From skimming the top reviews on Goodreads, I can tell this book is a little polarizing. After having read it a second time, I’ve compiled a list of notes you might like to know ahead of time if you want to enjoy it.

  1. You need to suspend your disbelief and not expect there to be explanations behind the magical stuff that happens. Rules and reasons for ambiguity will emerge gradually and you just have to take them as they are, as Vassa is forced to.
  2. Two, you need to know this book is really weird. So fantastically weird. I saw one review that compared it negatively to Alice in Wonderland, however, I do not agree that it matches that level of inexplicable absurdity. The absurdities in this book have interpretable meaning.
  3. Oh! and three, this book is not for the faint of heart. It’s downright terrifying at times. Sometimes I could visualize what I was reading as if I was actually watching a horror movie. Other parts were funny in that dead-pan kind of way. It’s a bit odd, which I think makes it more scary at times.

• • • Vassa in the Night • • •

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 9.42.27 AMReleased: September 20, 2016
Pages: 296 pages (hardcover)
Theme(s): Self-discovery, honoring obligations, the strength of kindness, what makes someone somebody, compartmentalizing, dealing with grief
Genre(s): Young Adult / Urban Folklore / Fiction
Age Group: 12+

★★★★½

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…

*  ⁎   My Thoughts   ⁎ * 

I really love this book. It’s a lot of fun, very inventive in its world and plot, and provides a surprising lot to think about. Vassa in the Night is a journey of self-discovery masked as a survival story. I really like stories where characters learn more about themselves and where the magic fits neatly into the modern world.

While Vassa’s story seems to be incited by a random series of events that leads to her decision to go buy lightbulbs in the infamously dangerous convenience store, she (and readers tagging along for the ride) discover that her encounter with Babs was set in motion long before she ever needed lightbulbs. We all learn that about the people and actions that molded Vassa into the the person that she is and that she also needed help long before her life was in jeopardy.

At the beginning of the book, Babs tells Vassa that she owes her a debt that is “more than [she] owe[s] [her]self” (54). It comes off oddly at this point in the book, for it is a hint that Babs has some inexplicable knowledge about Vassa, despite that night being their first meeting. It also sticks out because it perplexes Vassa.

What did I borrow from myself and how on earth will I ever give it back?

At first, I thought that this moment was a hint at some larger universal lesson that may speak to readers. I was surprised to find it actually spoke more directly to an issue that Vassa has been avoiding and, in effect, has hides from us until the end of the novel. While Babs is the villain of this novel, but she’s also just a catalyst for a journey of self-discovery that Vassa doesn’t know she needs until she’s forced to face it.

There’s so much more I’d love to talk about in greater depth, but I don’t want to write a full-blown dissertation on this book! I will just say that there are so many more layers to this book that speak to what substance makes someone somebody, how satisfying dreams can be compared to reality, and the long-lasting effects of grief. And it’s beautifully written without trying too hard, ya know what I mean?

If this is really my last night and my last moments are jangling like coins in my pocket, then I might as well spend them on wishes.

 —✃ Craft  ✃—

Point of View • Vassa is the first-person narrator of the book, written primarily in present-tense. There are also short chapters interspersed throughout the book for the reader’s sake called interludes. They give some background information that Vassa wouldn’t have access to.

Setting The book almost entirely takes place in the dancing BY’s convenience store of Brooklyn in New York run by the witch Babs Yagg. While Vassa is trapped on the premises, she is able to escape only in her sleep on occasion shared with the motorcyclist who is also trapped and stuck circling the store perimeter during the long city nights. The store is held together with magic that makes it rotate in the sky and have a seemingly endless amount of space inside Bab’s private office, as Vassa discovers on a day-time quest to rescue her the motorcyclist and the two lawyers she sends in to surprise Babs.

Plot   After Vassa agrees to pay her “debt” to Babs with three nights of work in the store and demonstrate her character, she is given trials and tasks meant to spell her doom but which through seemingly complete chance end in her favor. But during these nights, she is also learning about the others who are drawn into BY’s orbit, including the henchmen, the unwilling “night guard”, and the bold, trouble-making teenagers.

Characterization  All the characters are written with clear and distinct voices that make them seem so real. Vassa who narrates the book has an easy-going sense of humor but also a detachment that makes her an interesting protagonist to follow. Erg, her doll, is wicked fun and very dramatic. In my head she had Kimmy Schmidt’s highly excited puppet voice. The lawyers (“attorneys at large”) were absurd and hilarious with their overly formal, professional speak.

Problems  Usually I find short chapters help to keep me turning the pages as I read, but for some reason after each one I felt like I should put the book down. That’s why it took me a little longer to finish this book than I thought I would. I also feel like the book suffers from not introducing Vassa’s mother issues earlier on. I think Vassa’s character development could have been more clearly delineated, but it got buried with the focus on the plights of other characters.

Similar Books 

Mr. Fox Shadow and Bone The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
If you like beautiful, perplexing adult fiction tinged with horror and diversity… If you want to start a YA fantasy series inspired by Russian folklore… If you want to read a beautiful YA novel that follows a matriarchal family history…

 ❧ ☙ END NOTE ☙ ❧

I’m sorry this review is coming late this week, but I hope it was worth it. I also hope you liked the changes to the format. I think it’s more fun, useful, and readable. One of the problems that I always grapple with is writing too much, which I knooowwww is for my own benefit more than others’. I think I was able I capture most of what I wanted to say about Vassa in the Night.

Tomorrow I am aiming to release two blog posts (one in the a.m. and the other in the p.m.) following up on my blog hopping journey last month! The first will likely be some lessons I hope to remember and the second my long-awaited list of favorite blogs I discovered.

Have you read Vassa in the Night? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
Follow my blog via Bloglovin’. Also find me on GoodreadsTwitter, and Instagram.

July Goals + TBR ➹

After a month like June, I kind of want to reset and take myself back to basics. I loved blog hopping, and I want that to be something I do a couple of times a week. But I also want to put less stress on myself and focus more on creating quality blog posts and developing my own unique blogging style. I don’t want to do just book reviews and the occasional tag, so I’ll also try to experiment with different posts this month.

All of my goals, which you can see below, are geared towards blog development. I’ve also got a lot of reading/reviewing plans that I can’t wait to start. For a preview of what you can expect on Betwined Reads this month, keep reading ^_^

Goals

1. Dedicate M/W/F to Writing Blog Posts

I feel like I work better under time constraints, and I also think having specific days set aside for blogging will help me not always feel guilty or residual stress about not finishing up posts. I think it’ll be easier to remember what I complete and also do other things offline that might otherwise compete for attention.

Note. While I may work on the blog on these days, that does not mean blog posts will always go up on these days. I do like to schedule posts in advance so I have a chance to polish them and catch mistakes I might miss at first glance.

2. Develop a Unique Blog Theme

I tend to make my featured images on book reviews from random searches for backgrounds that relate to the setting of my novels. I also use Unsplash a lot for base images of my featured images. I’ve noticed another blogger who uses a lot of photos I recognize from Unsplash (to awesome effect I might add), so I would like to move away from stock images (no matter how gorgeous) and take my own so that my blog has a personal touch all my own.

I’ve also really longed to use my drawing tablet, so the blog would give me a good excuse to break it out and have fun creating a graphics around a specific theme for the blog.

3. Condense my Book Reviews

I like the way I’ve written my book reviews, but I feel like I could do better to make the posts less intimidating reads by utilizing shorter sections, using more graphics that speak louder than words can, and highlighting the most important ideas I want to share. I’ve seen some awesome styles of review and I’d like to experiment by breaking away from the wordy format with which I’ve become too comfortable. It’s time to shake things up!

TBR

On July 1st I sat down with a little $1 brown calendar I bought at Target at the beginning of the year and looked at my shelves. While I am very much a mood reader, I feel like I can avoid reading slumps by keeping what I’m reading fresh and varied. So for the next three months on each Thursday I wrote down a book I’d like to see myself read and review for the blog.

In case anything changes, I don’t want to share all the books I plan to read or my anticipated blogging schedule. But I will continue to share the books I would like to read at minimum. Ideally I’ll start getting ahead on these reviews so there’s a buffer for the unexpected hiatus or vacations where it is hard to blog (I already have one trip scheduled for August)!

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling away again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair…

I read this book last fall and really wanted to review it, but I was in a bit of a blogging rut last year. I don’t see this book around much online, so I’m hoping by sharing it on my blog it will find some new readers!


Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Tayo, a young Native American, has been a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, and the horrors of captivity have almost eroded his will to survive. His return to the Laguna Pueblo reservation only increases his feeling of estrangement and alienation. While other returning soldiers find easy refuge in alcohol and senseless violence, Tayo searches for another kind of comfort and resolution. Tayo’s quest leads him back to the Indian past and its traditions, to beliefs about witchcraft and evil, and to the ancient stories of his people. The search itself becomes a ritual, a curative ceremony that defeats the most virulent of afflictions—despair.

This is one of the books I bought but never read for my Native American literature survey I took during my undergrad. I feel like it is a good time to start reading some of these works, and this one was really attractive to me because it’s on the shorter side. So hopefully I really connect with it. I’m in the mood to read about different cultures.


Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

The summer that Patty Bergen turns twelve is a summer that will haunt her forever. When her small hometown in Arkansas becomes the site of a camp housing German prisoners during World War II, Patty learns what it means to open her heart. Even though she’s Jewish, she begins to see a prison escapee, Anton, not as a Nazi — but as a lonely, frightened young man with feelings not unlike her own, who understands and appreciates her in a way her parents never will. And Patty is willing to risk losing family, friends — even her freedom — for what has quickly become the most important part of her life.

This book was one of my random purchases at 2nd & Charles in May. I’m not really sure what to expect. It’s an oldie and a historical fiction, which is a genre I love to read. I also assume it’s a romance book, but since it is an award-winning book I feel like it might be really good. I’m hoping it give me all the feels.


Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

The dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around—and Lazlo Strange, war orphan and junior librarian, has always feared that his dream chose poorly. Since he was five years old he’s been obsessed with the mythic lost city of Weep, but it would take someone bolder than he to cross half the world in search of it. Then a stunning opportunity presents itself, in the person of a hero called the Godslayer and a band of legendary warriors, and he has to seize his chance or lose his dream forever.

What happened in Weep two hundred years ago to cut it off from the rest of the world? What exactly did the Godslayer slay that went by the name of god? And what is the mysterious problem he now seeks help in solving?

The answers await in Weep, but so do more mysteries—including the blue-skinned goddess who appears in Lazlo’s dreams. How did he dream her before he knew she existed? And if all the gods are dead, why does she seem so real?

Welcome to Weep.

I bought this book on a whim last month. Maybe it’s because ARCs of its sequel are out, but I’ve been seeing so many people I follow read and gush about this book. Fortunately for me, I discovered it’s the group read of Of Wonderland‘s Book Club hosted on Goodreads, so I’ll have fun becoming involved on there this month!

✄ —– End Note ——–

You should be able to expect a book review for Vassa in the Night on Thursday and hopefully something fun and out of the ordinary this weekend. This weekend was a drag for me as I’ve had bad sinuses since Friday. I think it has something to do with the Saharan Dust that hit Texas this weekend. I’m already really susceptible to sinus problems, and now I think I have an sinus infection. I generally just wait them out with Benadryl, NyQuil, Afrin nasal spray, and loads of sleep.

But hopefully I’m not knocked down for much longer. I’ve got a lot I’m excited to do!

What do you plan to read this month?

Have you read any of the books I mentioned?

Thank you for reading!
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June Notes ➴

With June over, we are officially halfway through 2018. How crazy is that?! This month looked very different for me as I was house-sitting for most of it while my mom visited my dad in Israel. I was home alone, watching our dogs, and essentially living my best life of my inner hermit. I wish I had gotten more done (as always), but I consider it a productive month.

I learned a lot about myself. I work much better if I spend my days working mainly on one big project, instead of bouncing around between different ones. I’ve found blogging and writing are two very different tasks that pull my mind in different directions, so it’s better to stick to doing one of those per day instead of dividing up my day. Blogging and writing are not the only things I do with my life, but they do tend to require the most from me.

I’ve gotten a lot better at striking a healthy balance between my time spent online and off, but I know I could do even better so I this is one of my goals for next month.

Goals Revisited

In case you’re new around here, I like to set myself goals at the beginning of each month that I share on the blog for accountability’s sake. It works sometimes, but it most definitely did not work this month! I’m was a little too ambitious with what I wanted to accomplish, and I feel like I didn’t do anything too well. But, nevertheless, I think I did do a lot, so it’s hard to be too hard on myself. It was a fun month.

Here are the goals I set for June:

  1. READ MORE BLOGS
  2. WRITE FOR 30 MINUTES EACH DAY
  3. GET ORGANIZED

I consider my biggest success this month was in reading more blogs. At the end of May, I realized I wanted to find more blogs that I love. I was already following so many, but a few have become inactive since I followed them. I also realized I followed quite a few for their visual aesthetic and not because I loved their posts or the books they talked about.

So this month I made it habit to look at the posts that showed up in my feeds and comment on posts if I could think of anything worthwhile to say. I’m happy to say I discovered some blogs, old and new, that I really enjoy and I became closer to some of my fellow bloggers! I still intend to do a post with everything I learned and showcase some of my favorite blogs at the moment. I just need some time to get all my thoughts straight.

With regards for writing, I was less successful. Writing used to be my biggest priority and this month I found it shifted as I began to put more focus on my blog and reading those of others. I still want to write, and especially finish this novel, but I’m going to give myself a break from deadlines and see what happens when I’m writing because I want to and not because I feel like my time is running out.

As for my final goal, I did get a little more organized. My books tend to end up all over the place as I read and muse about what to read next. I had intended for them all be returned to their respective places on my bookshelves. But then I realized there are reasons for them to sit where they are so there is an organizational structure in place, even if it doesn’t look like it! I also forced myself to go through all my MacBook Pro’s desktop files and put away stuff that didn’t need to still be cluttering my digital workspace. Soon I’ll transfer stuff to my portable hard-drive.

This Month on Betwined Reads 

What I Read

June was not a very successful month for reading. I only read four books, but they were all in line with my TBR and all reviewed! The only outlier was City of the Beasts, which I opted for in place of The Young Unicorns, a much better book saved for fall.

Screen Shot 2018-07-01 at 2.53.16 PM

  1. The Arm of the Starfish by Madeleine L’Engle | ★★★★
  2. Troubling a Star by Madeleine L’Engle | ★★★½
  3. Dragons in the Waters by Madeleine L’Engle | ★★
  4. City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende | ★★★★

My favorite read was definitely The Arm of the Starfish. It was such a fun summer caper with international-thriller vibes. My least favorite was Dragons in the Waters, because I didn’t really connect with any of the characters and felt like the plot was a bit of a mess. It also took me a long time to read. I probably would have DNF-ed it if I wasn’t such a big fan of Madeleine L’Engle.

End Note

Next up on Betwined Reads, I will be sharing my plans for July! I actually began that post earlier this month as I realized things I want start doing, but I need to look it over and make sure I’m being sensible so that I don’t overload myself again! I also have a few other blog posts in the works, but I don’t want to say exactly what those are because I don’t know when they’ll be done. Does anyone else have a problem looking at screens when your allergies are bad? I do…

Thank you for reading!
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City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende

Released: October 2002 (originally in Spanish)
Pages: 408 pages (paperback)
Theme(s): Culture clash, colonization, treatment of natives, cultural values, differing perspectives, environmental protection, spiritual awareness
Genre(s): YA / Contemporary / Fiction
Age Group: 10+

★★★★

Fifteen-year-old Alexander Cold is about to join his fearless grandmother on the trip of a lifetime. An International Geographic expedition is headed to the dangerous, remote wilds of South America, on a mission to document the legendary Yeti of the Amazon known as the Beast.

But there are many secrets hidden in the unexplored wilderness, as Alex and his new friend Nadia soon discover. Drawing on the strength of their spirit guides, both young people are led on a thrilling and unforgettable journey to the ultimate discovery. . .

Forward

I wanted to read City of the Beasts after Dragons in the Waters for a few reasons. For one, I’d wanted to spend this month reviewing some middle grade fiction reads that I loved as a kid because I’ve been feeling nostalgic and also a little worried about the state of middle grade fiction these days. I’ll admit, I’m not very familiar with what kids are reading these days as I’m more familiar with popular YA. I think that’s why I’m worried, by the logic of if I’m not aware of any great middle grade books right now then maybe there’s not a lot out there.

I feel like a lot of the books I read in middle school affected who I was in high school and what I hoped to do with my life at the time. I feel like kids could benefit from literature that was produced before social media was a big deal or cyberbullying was the worse thing one could imagine happening to them. Books where kids are more aware of the world outside their hometown experiences.

City of the Beasts (CotB) nicely compliments Dragons in the Waters as it features a young male protagonist (American) who visits South America and accidentally gets exposed to international crime. But CotB features much stronger pacing, world-building, and adventure that has the protagonist really learning about a culture, land, and customs so different from his own. Although, I found the book dragged on a little at parts, I rated the book 4 stars.

My Thoughts

The book opens with Alexander Cold at home. His mother has cancer and his home life has not been ideal. When his parents come to the conclusion it is time for them to take his mother out-of-state for better treatment, Alex is sent to his grandmother who lives in New York City and is about to embark on an Amazonian adventure for International Geographic, a magazine I envision is similar to National Geographic.

While traveling along the Amazon river to find this infamous Beast that has been mysterious killing people viciously, Alex and his grandmother’s expedition find themselves feeling like they are being watched and followed. Soldiers start to disappear before being found dead. And it is only once Alex and his new friend Nadia make contact with the People of the Mist that the adventure truly begins as they learn was is at stake in further conquest of the land.

This book is really a fantastic example of how a person can be transformed by immersion in another culture. Alex undergoes tremendous character development in this story as he goes from a typical, sheltered American youth to a boy who learns how to survive in wilderness and understands social customs. I love how “magic” is interpreted in this story, especially to the natives who do not understand the foreigners’ value or their concepts such as land ownership.

This book also does a great job showing the significance of the press to protect the world’s most vulnerable. We find that there was a reason Kate and International Geographic was invited to do an exposé on the Amazon, but also that their coverage can serve to protect the People of the Mist and their Eye of the World. In that way, press works a “magic” that brings about positive change.

The main thing that surprised me in reading this book as an adult is I found the long descriptive parts meant to draw readers into the world extremely dull to read. I wasn’t here for immersive reading. I wanted to know what the heck was happening! So, obviously, that was my own hang up with the book. I don’t think it bothered me much when I was younger, although I might’ve struggle then too. I can’t remember.

I think this is an important book that kids today should read because I think even if you are not a directly descendant of Native Americans, I think that all of humanity is related in the grand scheme of life on earth and we should feel protect the innocent people who are still more primitively off the land and doing no harm to the planet. I think this book is also significant in that it could appeal to boys as much as girls.

I remember learning in my Teaching YA Literature class at ISU that boys are a demographic these days, at least in the U.S., that struggle to become passionate readers. I think this is a major problem because I strongly believe reading makes people more empathetic, compassionate, and kind, qualities we need in people for the social battles that lay ahead.

Craft

I found myself paying a lot of attention to how this book was written as I was constantly questioning why I didn’t feel as entranced by this book as I did when I was younger. In today’s review, here’s what I thought was done well and bad in City of the Beasts in list format.

The Good

  • Alex/Jaguar’s character development. I think this story was so effective because as Alex was drawn deeper into the uncharted lands of the Amazon, his perspective of the People of the Mist and their ways was increasingly accepting, even while remaining aware the exact logistics behind what the native considered divine intervention. He didn’t challenge their ways, he integrated their customs into his life with measured reason.
  • Painting People of the Mist so vividly and with dignity. When Allende was describing the Eye of the World, there were a lot of details I found really shocking to my western sensibilities (e.g. naked people, breast feeding animals). She was very plain and clear in her descriptions without making any value comparisons, which helped me as a reader become better comfortable with it in my own time.
  • Disrupting language barrier with telling through narration instead of dialogue. Over the book Alex learns that he has come to understand the language. But without needing to make up a native language or continually address the language barriers in the book between natives and the rest of the expedition, Allende reveals what is spoken not through dialogue but through narration. It becomes a fluid and and natural.
  • Humor! There’s a lot of funny scenes in this book. There’s situational humor in the anthropologist Professor Leblanc who is so ignorant and limited in survival skills despite his world-wide fame for study of different cultures. I also found Kate and Alex’s relationship hysterical because of how Kate has difficulty showing her soft and caring side to her grandson who she wants to be strong and self-sufficient. There’s also some scenes that seem like something out of Gulliver’s Travels after the People of the Mist lose their leader and are trying to figure out who will be their next one.

The Bad

  • Overly descriptive in details of environment. I generally have learned as a reader, and writer, that too much description doesn’t always have the effect of helping readers envision the world. At a certain point, the writer needs to allow the readers to fill in some of the blanks for themselves. But this is an incredibly subjective an opinion, as I realize some people might really need/appreciate more explicit detail to become emerged in a story.
  • Occasional repetition of past from others’ perspectives jarring. There were a few instances in this book where events were repeated in summary form from another group’s perspective for dramatic effect. Again, this is subjective, but I’d rather have had this redone without the repetition that removed me from the current events and action of the story, because it did happen at times that left the current timeline at a cliff-hanger!

Outgoing Message

I hoped you enjoyed this review, regardless of whether you plan to read the book or not. If I’ve helped one person become aware, or remember this book from their own childhood, I’ll be happy. I think it’d be a great gift for both young boys and girls who might be struggling readers. While I often struggle with adventure-based books, I know these kinds of books are what can bring stories and worlds alive in less avid readers.

Have you read City of the Beasts? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
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Dragons in the Waters by Madeleine L’Engle

dragonsReleased: April 1, 1976
Pages: 326 pages (paperback)
Theme(s): Fate and destiny, family history, shared human consciousness, value of ancestors, overcoming one’s past, finding one’s place
Genre(s): YA / Contemporary / Fiction
Age Group: 12+

★★1/2

A stolen heirloom painting…a shipboard murder…Can Simon and the O’Keefe clan unravel the mystery?

Thirteen-year-old Simon Renier has no idea when he boards the M.S. Orion with his cousin Forsyth Phair that the journey will take him not only to Venezuela, but into his past as well. His original plan to return a family heirloom, portrait of Simon Bolivar, to its rightful place is sidetracked when cousin Forsyth is found murdered. Then, when the portrait is stolen, all passengers and crew become suspect.

Simon’s newfound friends, Poly and Charles O’Keefe, and their scientist father help Simon to confront the danger that threaten him. But Simon alone must face up to his fears. What has happened to the treasured portrait? And who among them is responsible for the theft and the murder?

Forward

I decided to read Dragons in the Waters after Troubling a Star this month 1) because I had already owned it, 2) because it was another novel set at sea, and 3) I wondered if I’d get The Arm of the Starfish vibes, considering it’s another book that features another male protagonist who comes into contact with the young and precocious Poly O’Keefe (Meg Murray’s daughter).

I feel I remember starting this book, but I don’t remember if I ever finished it. I own it in a fairly nice condition in an older cover print. I just don’t remember when I bought it. There are a few other Madeleine L’Engle books I own but haven’t read and have since decided to keep despite the fact I’d never read them. These include the books from the Time Quartet, Many Waters and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. I’ve given them both a shot in the past, but they’re much heavier science fiction and trippy in a way I don’t like.

Not knowing why I had yet to read (or didn’t remember) Dragons in the Waters, I hoped it would nicely compliment the other L’Engle works I knew I wanted to read and showcase this month on Betwined Reads. Unfortunately, I did not really enjoy this book and actually thought about not reviewing it. But I didn’t my time spent trudging through the book to go to waste, and turned my experience into a teachable by attempting to explain what went wrong for me. So here is the review for the book I rated 2.5 stars.

My Thoughts

That’s right; this is Madeleine L’Engle novel that I did not really like or enjoy very much. I found the plot overcomplicated and the novel cluttered with useless characters that seemed were only present to serve as red herrings to the murder mystery. It’s also a novel that I don’t think would really appeal to children, despite the young characters in the novel. They’re all so unusually bright, intuitive, and precocious.

The novel opens with 13-year-old Simon Renier who is boarding a ship for a trip to Venezuela accompanied by a long-lost relative who just bought a family heirloom from his legal guardian and great aunt Leonis. He has been raised by this elderly but wise woman since he lost his parents. Poly and Charles O’Keefe comment that Simon seems like he’s from another era because of his isolation from other children. He’s a kind, intelligent, and polite boy that was raised in near poverty but with a woman who is a relic of Southern aristocracy.

…Neither Mr. Theo nor Aunt Leonis would want him to moan and groan, and he didn’t intend to. But when a memory flickered at the corners of his mind he had learned that it was best to bring it out into the open; and rather than making him sorry for himself, it helped him get rid of self-pity…

This book explores many different character points-of-view, not just staying over Simon’s shoulder. We see what his Aunt Leonis gets up to while he’s away and also get to know the intimate side of other characters on the ships that their fellow passengers don’t get to see. At first, I thought all these older side characters were just there as red herrings, but upon further reflection I realize that each of them come to terms with something in their past that was haunting them while aboard the ship.

Many of the scenes with characters I was excited to see show up in this novel felt more like they were mere cameos. I loved Mr. Theo in The Young Unicorns (a review for which is now coming later this year!) and I love “Uncle Father”, a.k.a. Canon Tallis, but their parts were so minuscule in this book. Canon Tallis in particular swooped in like Hercule Poirot, seemingly just to tell everyone what he has deduced based on his interviews with a few central characters.

This book, like Troubling a Star, has some political, social, and environmental commentary, which I have since learned is typical of a L’Engle novel, but it’s done a lot better in other of her works. If I had to decide on what is the big take away from this novel, I couldn’t tell you. That’s just how jumbled everything was in my opinion. I just found this book over-long and lacking in a unified message. There’s still a lot of heart in this book, though, and if you have patience you might be able to see this one through.

Craft

I do not know anything about Madeleine L’Engle’s writing life or insight on the work that goes into creating her books, so much of what I will say here (about Dragons in the Waters specifically, not her others works) is speculation. Something about this book feels like it was a written with less regard for plot and more reliance upon formula of elements that make a murder mystery.

If I had more time or the inclination, I think it would be a fun experiment to try and rewrite this novel with a stronger plot outline. The heart of the story is about Simon discovering who his ancestor was and how past injustices have drawn Simon to Venezuela. I think that’s a strong hook for an intriguing story. I’m all for stories where ancestors’s past actions influence the destinies of current day characters (see L’Engle do it better in Troubling a Star!)

Unfortunately L’Engle complicates this story by having a lot of side characters with unique histories that help advance Simon’s destiny and provide red herrings to the murder mystery. These side characters take up a lot of page time, without interesting me much in the slightest.

One thing I really didn’t like is how L’Engle called hispanic people Latins. I’ve never heard that before, but it read to me similarly to the way it sounds when old white people call black people negroes. I don’t at all think it was intentional racism, and I’m aware that it was a different time, but this word gnawed at me in a peculiar way. Grouping people colloquially by a name that specifies race or color so explicitly is not really something we do anymore.

Also, there were subtle implications that race was related to temperament. Many of the characters in this book were of mixed heritage, but there were specific aspects of their character/personality that L’Engle explicitly links to their hispanic roots. None of these instances were derogatory in any way, but I don’t think anyone would appreciate someone placing so much emphasis on a racial or ethnic background to explain who a person is or how they act. Even if it’s meant as a compliment.

I appreciate that L’Engle loved writing novels were American came into contact with other parts of the world and people of different nationalities. Her books always praise people based on their goodness and not their education, race, or economics. Nevertheless, this book serves as a reminder that even the most well-meaning of writers need to be careful in writing people who are of different identities.

Outgoing Message

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little series if you’ve been keeping up with each review thus far. This marks the final review I’ll be doing of Madeleine L’Engle’s works until later this year when I get to The Young Unicorns (a cosy autumnal read).

I didn’t imagine that these posts would bring in much traffic, as Madeleine L’Engle’s been gone for a while now and YA has changed so much. I used to idealize YA written in the past. I loved reading how teenagers lived before the technology and social media that emerging when I was still in middle school. I’ve realized I’m searching for something whenever I reach for a L’Engle book, although don’t ask me what that is. I’m still trying to figure that out.

Next up is my review of The City of Beasts by Isabel Allende, a fantastic hispanic author! If you want to catch up on the reviews that came before this one, here they are linked below:

A Ring of Endless Light

The Arm of the Starfish

Troubling a Star

Have you read Dragons in the Waters? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
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