Author: Gabriele Boland

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted cover naomi novak“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

The Dragon protects the entire valley of villages where Agnieska has lived. It’s always been this way her entire life, the Dragon and the Wood dueling. The Wood sending out waves of corruption that the Dragon stopped. And all he required was a girl from the valley, every ten years, to live in his tall tower.

Agnieska’s best friend Kasia was always meant to be taken. Beautiful, strong, and brave – where Agnieska is bumbling, apt to daydreaming, and wandering farther into the Wood than she ever should. Kasia will be chosen, and Agnieska is afraid. There’s no way for her to save her friend.

But when the Dragon comes to choose, it’s not Kasia he chooses. It’s Agnieska.

I loved Uprooted. It was overwhelming and meandering at times, but beautiful and raw as well, with layer after layer of complexity. The mythos of it had Russian origins, which, as I noted with Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo, is a refreshing variation.

It reminded me of Beauty and the Beast, right down to magical rose bushes. To be shamelessly honest, I was picturing David Tennant as the Dragon and Anne Hathaway as Agnieska. Whoops. I loved the Dragon’s brittle, curmudgeonly personality, and how he bristled at the unrefined ways of Agnieska. Her stumbling, improvising way with magic made me think that would be the way many of us would go about it

I loved the world Novik built, complete with other wizards and witches, beyond the valley. The man vs nature conflict was like a darker Studio Ghibli movie. Remember kiddies, don’t anger nature.

Kasia and Agnieska’s friendship was realistic and fortunately devoid of unnecessary drama or love triangles. The royalty in this world were also rather realistically depicted, in that they were very fleshed out characters. All of the characters were multifaceted, with hidden depths that slowly, organically were revealed, even as they grew. Well, some of them grew.

I absolutely, positively recommend this book to fantasy fans. It was darker than your typical YA fantasy, funny, and emotive. Like so many of my favorites, I miss the characters already.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

The Book is the Destination

I’ve discovered my newest favorite thing to do when I travel: Read a book that takes place in the destination. Forget travel guides totally and just bring a book (actually don’t forget the travel guides… this idea makes my Type A tendencies very, very nervous).

As literary lovers, we have the vivid imaginations that bring fictional worlds to live in our mind. I was lucky to travel for a week to Dublin where my company is headquartered. Dublin has a rich literary history, between James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, and W. B. Yeats, just to name a few. (In fact, we stayed right across from Oscar Wilde’s house and his rather flamboyant statue!)

oscar wilde statue

I decided to go another route, and be trendy and take my cue from this recent Academy Awards series. As a native New Yorker, I was fortunate to pick up Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín, which takes place in both Ireland and New York City.

I started reading it on the flight there, getting hyped about my visit. The historical aspect added another layer of interest. I could walk around the city and try to imagine what it was like in the Post-World War II era of Ireland.

Even coming back to New York, since the book also took place here, I tried to picture what it was like for Eilis Lacey, the young woman who braves the Atlantic by herself like so many immigrants did.

It was fascinating and made me notice things much more. I think this is a literary strategy I will keep in mind for whenever I travel!

How to find books about where you’re visiting?

Pretty simple—you can look up the famous authors who lived in your destination. For Japan, Haruki Murakami is often considered the Japanese contemporary author. Of course, you could go for a natively written form, like haiku of early Japanese poets like Matsuo Bashō.

trinity college library

Trinity College’s library! This would be a great place to find a book, if we were allowed to touch them…

You might have a hard time finding a book that takes place in a particular tiny village, but broadening the scope to gain knowledge about the general culture as I did with Brooklyn is equally valuable. Goodreads is another great source for this. Their lists can be as granular as they are numerous. Their whole cultural section can be found here.

And you don’t have to leave your genre either. If you’re really into thrilling action books with a mystery and visiting Italy, well, Dan Brown’s books are pretty perfect.

As for my city, well, there are countless books that take place in New York. It’d be harder to find a book that doesn’t take place here, I think! It’s worth taking the time and keeping your inner bookworm happy as you travel.

What do you think? Have you ever picked up a fiction book about the place you were traveling to?

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Review: The Two Princesses of Bamarre

The Two Princesses of Bamarre Cover“I was no hero. The dearest wishes of my heart were for safety and tranquility. The world was a perilous place, wrong for the likes of me.”  

I’ve been downsizing and that means I’ve been going through my bookshelves. And it’s something that really makes me pause when I see how well-worn some of the books I have are. There are books I read over and over and over again, so entrenched I was in their stories. And they didn’t even have to be big names.

One of them was The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine. She’s best known for writing Ella Enchanted (which in no way is at all similar to the movie).

The Two Princesses of Bamarre is set in a classic fairy tale kingdom, focusing on two royal sisters. There’s twelve-year-old Addie, who looks up to her courageous sister Meryl. Meryl wants to follow in Drualt, their legendary hero’s footsteps and do the same as he did–go on adventures and rid the kingdom of the evil beasts that lurk in the wilderness.

Addie would be content with staying at home, and not doing any of those things. After all, they already lost their mother, why risk endangering themselves any further?

But Meryl falls victim to another one of the kingdom’s evils—the illness known as the Gray Death. Finding courage she didn’t know she had, Addie sets out into her kingdom to do the impossible and find a cure.

This story reminds me of The Princess Bride because it has everything: adventure, danger, twists and turns, wit, and romance that won’t make you gag. Spectres, ogres, griffins, and even dragons lie in her path, but she keeps going for her sister. She doesn’t have strength to rely on, just her own pluckiness and willpower. As a kid who was athletically-challenged and constantly with my nose stuck in books, this appealed to me. If I ran into danger, I just had to persevere and keep fighting in spite of fear.

Acting as a backdrop against Addie and Meryl’s story is the story of the legendary hero who disappeared mysteriously ages ago. It fleshes out the kingdom’s history, a bit of world building for future readers of A Song of Fire and Ice or Lord of the Rings. 

The novel has a complex ending, one that doesn’t tie things up as nicely as you might expect in a children’s book. Like life, there is both happiness and sadness in the ending. But the one constant through the story is the sisters’ unshakable love and devotion to one another.

This is not one of your “one day my prince will come” fairy tales. Gail Carson Levine has a penchant for taking the fairy tale world and empowering girl characters within her worlds to face their fears and overcome challenges.

Even as a middle grade novel, I am ready to read this book again! And… again. Addie’s quest speaks to the feelings within all of us. About finding our inner strength, and doing what we need to for the people we love.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Reads on the Subway: Winter 2016 Edition

Last summer, I totally creeped on people on the subway to see what they were reading. Like I said in August, I love people watching and seeing what my fellow bookworms are enjoying is one of my favorite things.

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The subway is a perfect spot for reading. You’re removed from most of the distractions from the world, can tune out everyone and everything (well, except the crazy guy talking to himself, or the ‘musicians’ who say “GOOD EVENING LADIES AND GENTLEMAN” and start to sing/hassle you for money).

Seriously, aside from all that, it’s one of my favorite places to read! And people watch. Let’s check out what New York’s been reading underground this past winter.

1.Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
On the 4/5/6 line, a woman with dark and short twisted hair and a nose stud was reading this. Her hands had a bow tattoo on one of her fingers as she turned the pages of this thriller. Following in the wake of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, Jessica Knoll’s novel follows a successful woman who left a secret buried in her past that could destroy everything she holds dear.

2. The Charge by Brendon Burchard
It’s not all fiction. The Charge is a self-help book about learning to activate the ten motivators that make us most human. A young man with black slick hair, scruffy face, black jacket, jeans was reading this. He had a chevron print reusable coffee mug and had headphones in.

3. Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman
This book met its perfect match in a ginger man in his 30s, wearing a Columbia ski jacket and black beanie, with a gruff air of “manliness.” This book, was written by the Parks and Recreation actor who portrays Ron Swanson, the epitome of Murica, mustaches, and everything manly.

4. En Nødvendig Død by Jan Mehlum
An elegant woman with silver hair in a ponytail and pearl earrings was reading this novel. Quite a novelty in itself for my people-watching, the book is part of a Norwegian mystery-thriller series about a lawyer who has to solve grim cases.

5. Room by Emma Donoghue
This book’s movie adaptation scored an Oscar nomination this year. A curvy young woman with long strawberry blonde hair, wearing a magenta puffer jacket and tweed skirt was reading this. Room is about a boy who’s entire world is his Ma and the Room they’ve always been in. And what happens when they get out.

6. The Patriot Threat by Steve Berry
An older man with grey hair, a trim beard, and thick rimmed black glasses was reading this provocative political thriller. With shades of the Da Vinci Code, this book is about Cotton Malone, a retired member of an elite intelligence division, who is tasked with tracking down a rogue North Korean who stole top secret files of the National Treasury.

7. Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
One of the most anticipated books of last year, Harper Lee’s novel about Scout of To Kill a Mockingbird as an adult, was being read by a young woman in a green camouflage jacket and fuzzy blue scarf with curly blonde hair and beaded bracelets.

8. Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham
Another legal thriller for our list! What is it about winter and suspenseful, grisly novels? This book, about a lawyer who takes the cases others won’t go near, was being read by a woman in burgundy corduroy pants, wearing a silver ring with a red gem, a snakeskin black bag, and long gray hair.

9. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
A young businessman in black slacks and a black coat was reading one of my absolute favorite novels! This darkly witty novel is about an angel and a demon who’ve gotten pretty comfortable on earth, and decide maybe it’s a good idea to prevent the prophesied apocalypse.

I love seeing if books match their owners. They say that pets often resemble their owners, or maybe it’s the other way around, and it’s interesting to see which books are clearly being read by their demographic. Of course, my favorite is when people defy the genres predicted for them!

Til next time, I’ll keep my eyes open on the subways for more real life sightings of bookworms.

(photo courtesy of Matteo Merzi)

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Critters in Literature: Cats

One of my latest obsessions has been the viral app, Neko Atsume, where you leave out trinkets in a virtual yard in the hopes that little cartoon cats will come and visit you. Like the rest of the world, I too am captivated by the cuteness of cats.

Not a cat person? That’s okay (Just kidding, it’s kinda not). Check out our posts on literary fishbears, turtles, rabbits, and elephants.

I’m pretty sure future historians will look back on our current society and think we’re like the ancient Egyptians, obsessed with cats. Well, if so, maybe our famous felines of literature will show them just how cats are meant to be worshipped.

cheshire cat

Cheshire Cat from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Cheshire Cat is a morally ambiguous character, like most cats tend to be. He seems more interested in watching Alice bumble around Wonderland than actually helping her. He’s known for his distinctive leering grin that is the last thing to fade away when he vanishes. 

“We’re all mad here.” – Cheshire Cat

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Another mischievous cat, the Cat in the Hat comes to call when two children are left at home on a dreary, boring day. Seeking to make their day fun, the Cat’s antics instead unleash chaos and destruction. …Also sounds like cats.

breakfast at tiffany's cat

Cat from Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Though not a substantial figure in the book, the nameless cat of Breakfast at Tiffany’s represents Holly Golightly’s transient nature and aversion to anything permanent, even a name.

“She was still hugging the cat. “Poor slob,” she said, tickling his head, “poor slob without a name. It’s a little inconvenient, his not having a name. But I haven’t any right to give him one: he’ll have to wait until he belongs to somebody.”

crookshanks hermione

Crookshanks from Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Crookshanks is an enormous, lion-like cat. He’s ginger-colored with yellow eyes, and his face looks like he’s “run headlong into a brick wall.”. Very intelligent, Crookshanks helped Sirius Black sneak into Hogwarts, and he figured out Peter Pettigrew’s disguise before any of the Golden Trio did.

Ron Weasley: “What was that?”
Harry Potter: “It was either a very big cat or quite a small tiger.” 

Pluto from The Black Cat by Edgar Allen Poe
This cat drives the narrator to madness. After the cat is a beloved pet for years, the narrator gouges out the cat’s eye in a drunken rage. He eventually hangs the cat with a noose, angry that the cat was frightened of him. From here on, the cat haunts the narrator, leading to terrible tragedies in his life.

puss in boots shrek

Puss in Boots by Giovanni Francesco Straparola
Originally Il Gatto Con Gli Stivali, Puss in Boots is a fairytale about a cat who is clever, and use tricks to gain riches and even the hand of a princess in marriage. Puss in Boots has been adapted to other works, like Shrek and even an appearance in Pokemon, portrayed by a Meowth.

Bast from The Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan
Not quite a cat… but a cat goddess. Bast is the Egyptian goddess of felines  and in Rick Riordan’s series about modern Egyptian demigods, she protects the Kane duo, Carter and Sadie. Even if she does it while wearing questionable fashion and hissing at others. She’s a tremendous help to them, and her powers demonstrate why the Egyptians held cats in such high regard.

“My dear, I’m a cat. Everything I see is mine.” – Bast

Did I miss one of your favorites? With how beloved cats are, I’m sure I did! A special honorary mention to Garfield, of course, Bill the Cat, and Grumpy Cat, no less iconic or worthy than our other literary felines. One of my personal favorites is Angus from the Georgia Nicholson series, probably a close cousin to Crookshanks.

I’m fairly certain cats will become our supreme overlords one day, so we should be churning out praise to them in all forms. Til next time, in critters of literature! For now I’m off to read up on more cats.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.

Same Story, But Different

So, here’s a not-so-secret secret. I have a Tumblr. But Tumblr is pretty amazing for book lovers. You can reblog quotes, ogle cover-art, and follow the blogs of authors. (Psst, John Green’s Tumblr is especially hilarious)

But one thing I absolutely love Tumblr for is their ability to imagine stories in totally new ways. We’ve talked about the We Need Diverse Books movement, and the problems of sexism in YA. Tumblr users are way ahead of us. To be honest, Tumblr can actually be a bit aggressive in their campaign for acceptance. But hey, better to have a platform for tolerance than one for hate-mongering.

I love seeing users on Tumblr take time to envision alternate versions of books with characters portrayed by actors of different races, or even having their genders flipped. For those of you who don’t speak, breathe, sleep INTERNET all the time, this is referred to as race-bending or gender-bending.

Some of these originate in GIF sets (several animated pictures paired together) or text posts about potential AUs (alternate-universes).

It’s important to show more diverse characters in literature and media, for reasons that have been covered. Tumblr again does a great job of explaining why. And just imagine the possibilities. One AU text post I read proposed that

It’s spilling over into the mainstream too, as we saw with last year’s remake of Annie, with Annie portrayed by Quvenzhané Wallis and Jamie Foxx taking on the Daddy Warbucks role.

These are really fun to explore. It teeters on the edge of fanfiction, but they’re more like ideas and concepts that let you imagine what could’ve been. There are so many more iterations on Tumblr too. Crossovers, alternate settings to stories, and more. It’s no wonder that I can lose hours of my life to scrolling through all of these ‘what-ifs’.

How about Hermione of the Harry Potter series played by Antonia Thomas? In the books, Hermione does have big hair, a trait associated often with women of color.

antonia thomas hermione

Or A Song of Ice and Fire with an Asian cast? The books do lend well to Feudal Japan. I could see the game of thrones being played out by Samurai. Also, Devon Aoki would be a pretty perfect Daenarys Targaryen.

And let’s not forget about the gender benders, recreating some of our favorite characters as the opposite gender. Cosplayers are great at this! Look at Legolas and Fili as fierce ladies. What would the Fellowship have been like, if the Hobbits were women?

Or gender-bent Percy Jackson heroes! The same artist also did a version of the Marauders from Harry Potter.

Artwork by Viria of deviantart and tumblr

Artwork by Viria of deviantart and tumblr

These things start with us, the fans. With Tumblr and book blogs, we have a bigger voice than ever before. Of course, it goes beyond Tumblr. DeviantArt, Fanfiction.net, and other forums provide outlets for these re-imaginings of our favorite stories.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at Brilliant Buckets.

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

cinder marissa meyerI did it again. I started a series that wasn’t finished. I was hesitant. I mean, how many fairytale retellings does the world need? I’ve read Ella Enchanted and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, I’ve watched Once Upon a Time and I’ve played Kingdom Hearts. So when I read the blurb for a book being about a cyborg Cinderella set in futuristic New Beijing, I wasn’t expecting my mind to be totally, completely blown.

Spoiler alert. Mind was blown.

In the world of Cinder, a deadly plague decimates the world’s population, while above the skies, a dangerous race of lunar people watch and wait to take their place as Earth’s rulers. Cinder is a mechanic, a cyborg, and a fifteen-year-old girl. She doesn’t remember her past, just the day-to-day drudgery of dealing with her stepmother’s disdain. But when Prince Kai comes into Cinder’s shop, everything changes. She’s at the crux of an intergalactic crisis, a forbidden crush, oh, and the fate of Earth.

Cinder is a gritty, action girl, generally accompanied by her chipper android sidekick Iko. Cinder’s not your typical fairytale, Disney-fied princess. When she meets the prince, she is grimy, sweaty, and oh yeah: her foot’s been disconnected. But fixing the prince’s broken android becomes the least of her worries when her stepsister contracts the deadly disease, and her stepmother hatred zeroes in on Cinder with a new reverence. Soon Cinder is making choices she never thought she was capable of. Prince Kai doesn’t have it much easier, with the Lunar queen Levana breathing down his neck and demanding a marriage alliance that is sure to bring the moon’s tyranny to earth.

The series grows to encompass quite an ensemble cast, including Scarlet (Little Red Riding Hood), Cress (Rapunzel), the dashing Captain Thorne (questionable morals), and Wolf. Prince Kai is a dreamy prince charming, but he has the weight of the world on his shoulders (and a crush on a certain cyborg we love).

The story continues in Scarlet and Cress, and ends in Winter. Winter is the last book in the series, published this past November, and Winter’s story is reminiscent of Snow White. Plus, there are Marissa Meyer’s short stories between each book. Winter was a deeply thrilling conclusion to this amazing series.

For anyone who’s a fan of fairytales, check out the Lunar Chronicles series. Once upon a time starts stories even in the future.

Gabriele Boland is an aspiring grown-up. She enjoys pretending she’s in a Disney movie, letting her dork flag fly, and writing stories that will never see the light of day. The other ramblings of her mind can be found at her website.