Book Review: “A Curse So Dark And Lonely” by Brigid Kemmerer

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If you’ve been reading young adults books over the past few years, you’ll know that there are a plethora of fairy tale retellings out there. There’s nothing quite like taking a familiar story and turning it on its head for entertainment. A Curse So Dark And Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer is a well-written, fleshed-out Beauty and the Beast story.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What A Curse So Dark And Lonely gets right: This book provides an interesting look at the classic Beauty and the Beast tale, with several changes such as: more violence, more diverse characters and representation, and a fresh take on the beast’s curse.

The three main characters (Harper, Rhen, and Grey) develop strong bonds with each other over the course of the story. Each character has their own personality and voice, which I chalk up to solid writing.

What A Curse So Dark And Lonely gets wrong: I would love to see my favorite character, Grey, get some justice in the next book. He was, in my opinion, the most fleshed-out and likable character (although I liked Rhen and Harper just fine), and his cliffhanger ending was both exciting and disappointing.

There were definitely parts of the plot that I had to suspend a lot of disbelief on, but hey, it’s a YA fantasy novel. That’s par for the course. It got kind of crazy toward the end, but, to be fair, the author was setting up for another book!

One last thing: I don’t like the title. Just call it “The Curse” or something. There’s way too many nouns + two descriptors in titles these days; just look at Children of Blood and Bone A Court of Thorns and Roses, Days of Blood and Starlight, etc.

Who should read A Curse So Dark And Lonely: Fans of fairy-tale retellings, YA novels, and fantasy worlds in general.

Who shouldn’t read A Curse So Dark And Lonely: Readers who don’t enjoy fantasy.

 

A Curse So Dark And Lonely is available at the library.

Content note: A few mildly suggestive scenes; brief language.

Book Review: “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern

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The library ladies chose The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern for our second book club pick. This popular novel is a favorite among readers who enjoy books with magic, secrets, and romance.

Mild spoilers ahead.

What The Night Circus gets right: I love the magical realism in this book. Some magicians are faking it, but others have an innate gift for real magic, and it’s fascinating to read about.

The Night Circus introduces the reader to the two main characters and gets the plot going quickly. I flew through the first few chapters, excited to find out what was going to happen next and how Celia and Marco would eventually meet for their challenge.

What The Night Circus gets wrong: To be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of either of the main characters. They were both selfish and deceptive. The book only scratches the surface of the problems and baggage that they carry into their relationship.

I didn’t love the book’s ending, either. It was a little too happy and tied things up too neatly, which was a stark contrast to the darkness in the plot throughout the rest of the book.

Who should read The Night Circus: Readers who enjoy fantasy, magic, and character-driven books. People who love movies like The Prestige.

Who shouldn’t read The Night Circus: If you have a hard time reading about child abuse, then maybe skip this one for now. The book doesn’t linger on these scenes, but Celia suffers a broken wrist and damaged fingers from her father’s abuse.

 

The Night Circus is available here at the library.

Content note: abuse, a mildly suggestive scene.

Read Through The Decade: 2010-2020

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If you want to revisit the past 10 years, reading the books that were published in that time period is a great start. The major discoveries and concerns of a decade are often reflected in its literature and nonfiction. We’ve listed a book that was published in each year from 2010-2019, leaving 2020 open for new books. Which of these recent books have you read?

All of these books are available at the library. Click the links to find where they are located, or ask for help at the Circulation Desk.

 

2010

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer, yet her cells–taken without her knowledge–became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years.

 

2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Waging a fierce competition for which they have trained since childhood, circus magicians Celia and Marco unexpectedly fall in love with each other and share a fantastical romance that manifests in fateful ways.

 

2012

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Read our review of Gone Girl here.

 

2013

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A young woman from Nigeria leaves behind her home and her first love to start a new life in America, only to find her dreams are not all she expected

 

2014

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Darrow is a Red, a member of the lowest caste in the color-coded society of the future. Like his fellow Reds, he works all day, believing that he and his people are making the surface of Mars livable for future generations.  But Darrow and his kind have been betrayed. Soon he discovers that humanity reached the surface generations ago. Vast cities and sprawling parks spread across the planet. Darrow and Reds like him are nothing more than slaves to a decadent ruling class. Inspired by a longing for justice, and driven by the memory of lost love, Darrow sacrifices everything to infiltrate the legendary Institute, a proving ground for the dominant Gold caste, where the next generation of humanity’s overlords struggle for power.

 

2015

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction- if they don’t kill each other first.

 

2016

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape.

 

2017

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Memphis, Tennessee, 1936. The five Foss children find their lives changed forever when their parents leave them alone on the family shantyboat one stormy night. Rill Foss, just twelve years old, must protect her four younger siblings as they are wrenched from their home on the Mississippi and thrown into the care of the infamous Georgia Tann, director of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society. South Carolina, Present Day. Avery Stafford has lived a charmed life. But when Avery comes home to help her father weather a health crisis and a political attack, a chance encounter with a stranger leaves her deeply shaken. Avery’s decision to learn more about the woman’s life will take her on a journey through her family’s long-hidden history.

 

2018

Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Explores the life of one lighthouse as it beams its message out to sea through shifting seasons, changeable weather, and the tenure of its final keeper.

 

2019

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

Eleven-year-old George Washington Black – or Wash – a field slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, is initially terrified when he is chosen to be the manservant of his master’s brother. To his surprise, however, the eccentric Christopher Wilde turns out to be a naturalist, explorer, inventor, and abolitionist. Soon Wash is initiated into a world where two people, separated by an impossible divide, can begin to see each other as human. But when a man is killed and a bounty is placed on Wash’s head, they must abandon everything and flee.

 

2020

What will you read in 2020? Be on the lookout as new books are released and added to our shelves!

 

Reading List: Fun Books For Light Reading

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We get asked a lot about “fun” and “light” books to read. Maybe they have a playful plot, a beautiful setting, or a funny protagonist. These are the kinds of books that are perfect for a study break! We’ve compiled a list below of some fun books that will put a smile on your face (and give your brain a break, too). Click the links to see where each book is located in the library.

 

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

It’s the story of Cinderella, but with a twist: Ella is actually under a curse that she’s trying to break. Ella Enchanted is funny, romantic, and smart.

 

Wildwood by Colin Melloy

When her baby brother is kidnapped by crows, seventh-grader Prue McKeel ventures into the forbidden Impassable Wilderness (a dangerous and magical forest at the edge of Portland, Oregon) and soon finds herself involved in a war among the various inhabitants.

 

Holes by Louis Sachar

Holes is an entertaining read about a boy who is sent to a correctional camp with a mysterious history. If you liked the movie, then you’ll love the book- it has the same sense of humor and mischief!

 

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

You can’t go wrong with the classic story of the practically-perfect-in-every-way Mary Poppins. Pair the short novel with the original movie and the reboot: we have them all here at the library!

 

Greater Than Gold by David Boudia

Learn all about the inspiring story of Olympic athlete David Boudia in his book Greater Than Gold. Boudia talks about how his faith in God changed his life.

 

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To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

If you enjoy romantic comedies, then you should pick up To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before. This Young Adult book details the mishaps of teenager Lara Jean, whose secret love letters somehow get mailed to all of her crushes from throughout the years.

 

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

In 1841, rescued by an American whaler after a shipwreck leaves him and his four companions castaways on a remote island, fourteen-year-old Manjiro, who dreams of becoming a samurai, learns new laws and customs as he becomes the first Japanese person to set foot in the United States.

 

Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe

One of my all-time favorite middle-grade books, Bunnicula is the story of a rabbit that just might be a vampire and the other pets of the family who are trying to solve this mystery. Oh, and it’s absolutely hilarious.

 

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

Author Jonah Lehrer believes that creativity is not a single gift possessed by the lucky few- it’s something that everyone can use and develop. There’s a lot to learn from this creative nonfiction book!

 

How To Be A Good Creature by Sy Montgomery

A naturalist and adventurer discusses the personalities and quirks of thirteen animals who have profoundly affected her, exploring themes of learning to become empathetic, creating families, coping with loss, and the otherness and sameness of people and animals.

 

Book Review: “The Sight” by David Clement-Davies

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Have you ever picked up a book about wolves with powers and then realized that it’s really a thinly-veiled hot take on creation myths, religion, faith, and humanism? That’s what happened when I dived into The Sight, a novel I’ve been waiting to read for a long time and finally got my hands on recently. I read it in two days because I just couldn’t put it down.

Mild spoilers ahead.

 

What The Sight gets right: I loved The Sight pretty much right away. I mean, the book opens with a haunting description of a Carpathian castle; to a vampire fan like me, this is easy bait. But it’s so much more than the fascinating wilderness setting. The wolves in The Sight have their own gods and stories and, in fact, everything in nature is connected and respected (even their prey). Yet, just like with humans, not every wolf has the same beliefs, and these ideas clash as different packs are formed.

The main focus of the novel is the power of the Sight, which is essentially increased intelligence, the ability to see through another’s eyes, and the ability to see visions and recall memories (which is something most animals can’t do very well). Some wolves are afraid of the Sight, while others want to embrace its power for good or evil. Eventually, a terrifying prophecy comes into fruition as the wolf Larka struggles to protect a stolen human child and learn the ways of the Sight.

What The Sight does wrong: The Sight doesn’t have the friendliest view of religion, as some wolves come to realize that the stories they have believed in are just that, stories. The main antagonist, Morgra, uses some of the stories to make her followers obey her, using their fear to control them.

However, I think The Sight ultimately takes the view that having faith in something can be good and helpful as long as it doesn’t blind you to “the truth,” which is what the book’s protagonist, Larka, values the most. This is definitely a philosophical book that will make you think; for example, the wolves have their own version of Jesus Christ (a sacrificial wolf named Sita). At the same time, if you’re a believer, it can be disappointing that the wolves seem to reject their religion toward the end- but this is a work of fiction, after all.

Who should read The Sight: Lovers of philosophy, creation myths, Romanian history, fantasy, and wolves.

Who shouldn’t read The Sight: There are some reviews on Goodreads that call this book boring and sad? I don’t personally agree with that judgment, but I suppose some readers might get bogged down in all of the legends and folk tales that the wolves tell each other. And The Sight definitely has sad moments, but many of them are foreshadowed, and an older reader won’t be caught off guard by them.

 

The Sight isn’t currently available at the library, but you can request it through Interlibrary Loan.

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Pan’s Labyrinth”

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Pan’s Labyrinth is from the visionary and imaginative mind of writer and director Guillermo del Toro. This dark fantasy film is widely considered a masterpiece in bringing magical realism to the big screen.  Magical realism is loosely defined as adding fantastical or mythical elements into a story’s narrative when its setting is otherwise highly realistic fiction. Pan’s Labyrinth takes place in Francoist Spain in 1944. This was a dark and oppressive time period for common people living under fascism. The realistic setting is in contrast to the magic and wonder our protagonist experiences.

Ofeilia, played by Ivana Baquero, is an eleven-year-old girl who is traveling to the Spanish countryside with her mother Carmen (Airadna Gil) who is with child. They are going to live with Ofeilia’s stepfather Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez). Captain Vidal is a vile and cruel man dedicated to the fascist cause of exterminating any resistance to the Spanish regime.

One night, Ofeilia discovers a fairy that leads her through an underground labyrinth, where she meets a mysterious goat-like forest creature called a Faun. He reveals to her that she may be a long lost princess of the underworld, but to return and be with her real family, she must go on a magical quest to prove her worth.  The quest is fraught with danger as she sneaks out of her house each night to complete the tasks, each one becoming stranger and more perilous than the next.

Pan’s Labyrinth is best described as a fairy tale for adults, as some of the scenes and real world problems are too intense for young children. The film itself is in Spanish, but the subtitles are done quite well and English speakers won’t feel as if they’re having to try and keep up. Pan’s Labyrinth was highly regarded by many to be one of the best films of 2006 and still holds a score on the website Rotten tomatoes of 95% with its critic’s consensus stating:  “Pan’s Labyrinth is Alice in Wonderland for grown-ups, with the horrors of both reality and fantasy blended together into an extraordinary, spellbinding fable.” The film would go on to win three Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Makeup.

Pan’s Labyrinth is available at the Union University Library.

* This film is rated R for some graphic violence and some language.*

 

Matthew’s Monday Movie: “Hook”

In 1991, director Steven Spielberg adapted a timeless classic into a fresh take in his film Hook. This film centers around the familiar and beloved character of Peter Pan. Hook differs from all the other variations as it takes place in a future where Peter Pan left Neverland, became an adult, and forgot his past. Peter, played by the late great Robin Williams, has raised a family and become a successful lawyer and workaholic whose behavior has begun to alienate his wife, Moira, and his two children, Jack and Maggie.

The other conflict comes when a vengeful Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) leaves Neverland and steals Peter’s children in an attempt to provoke him into returning so their feud can be settled once and for all. The problem with Peter’s character is that, having grown up in the modern world, he has completely forgotten his inner child, lacks faith in his abilities, and forgotten how to fly. Tinker Bell (Julia Roberts) arrives to take Peter to Neverland and aid Peter in rescuing his children.  Upon arriving in Neverland, Peter is mocked and jeered by Hook and his crew for failing to live up to his legend. However, Tinker Bell sets up a bargain with Hook that in three days Peter will return and be his former self and the two of them can battle it out for who keeps Pan’s children.

Over the coming days Peter must regain the faith of the Lost Boys and learn to fly again. Hook seeks to humiliate Peter further by turning his son Jack against him by mentoring him and raising him to be a pirate. Peter completes his trials and learns the truth about his past and how he came to live in the modern world. In doing so he regains his innocence and inner child while at the same time maturing. Peter learns how to fly through rediscovering his happy thoughts, which turn out to be his love for his children. In the final showdown, Peter and the Lost Boys have a climactic battle with Hook and his pirates. With Hook defeated and his children safe, Peter returns home with a rejuvenated soul and new found love of life.

Hook has received some negative critical reviews in recent times, but for me, the film is immensely nostalgic. Hook has continued to amass quite a cult following mostly due to Williams’ and Hoffman’s memorable performances. The score is fantastic due to composer John Williams, and the profits for this film were around 300 million worldwide. This would make it one of the most successful pirate-themed films, second only to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

This is a great coming-of-age film where the love between a father and his child shines through in the end. Hook is rated PG and is full of fun for the whole family.

Hook is available at the Union University Library.

 

Harry Potter: Expectations and Isolation

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In this blog post, student assistant Donny Turner recounts his experience of reading the Harry Potter series for the very first time!

Warning: This Blog Post Contains Spoilers

When I was growing up, parents were skeptical about the Harry Potter fad. Like many Christian kids, I was not allowed to read the Harry Potter books until I was 13. As I grew up, the series became something of an urban myth to me- the taboo of something I felt like I was not supposed to have. In my head, the stories became something of a legend, and I kept building up how amazing the books were going to be once I turned 13. By the time I turned 13, my expectations towards the books became something that no book, no matter how good it may be, could match. So, when I ended up starting to read the first book, I was admittedly underwhelmed. The book was great, but when I found out that Harry Potter was an adventure story about a group of friends trying to save the world and it just happened to include magic, I was almost disappointed. I never even finished the first book, and for years I had no desire to read the other Harry Potter books. Throughout all of this I felt extremely out of touch and alone with a lot of my friends who had been obsessed with and read every single Harry Potter book.

Years later, in my sophomore year of high school, I stumbled upon the entire Harry Potter series in a used book store. I was able to purchase the collection for less than $50, and I was really excited about getting all of the books. I decided to attempt to read the series again, and for a while, it worked. I read through the first 3 books in less than a month, but then I stalled about 200 pages into the 4th book. For whatever reason, I just could not get past the Quidditch World Cup. I would read the first 200 pages, get busy and it would get set aside for a few months, and I would have to reread those pages again. Another few years would pass before I was able to get past those first 200 pages. Eventually, I began to read less in general; it just never took a precedence in my life.

When I first began college, I once again experienced a feeling of isolation again. I was at a new school full of new people that I had to meet. Often times I felt like an outsider at school; I had a very difficult time finding my niche. For the most part, I felt isolated and outside of the whole community. I remember thinking back to how I felt when my friends were talking about the Harry Potter books. Everyone had these shared ideas, and I couldn’t latch on to them. I felt detached from others. Eventually, I did find my groove, but those first few months of school were difficult.

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In my junior year of college, during the month of January, I found myself having to drive 4-10 hours a week and listening to music in the car was getting old; I needed something new. I realized I was able to check out the 4th Harry Potter book from the library (here), and I decided to listen to it on my long drives. While on the road, I was able to get about 400 pages into the book, and then I decided I had to start reading it in print. I flew through the last 400 pages in less than a month, and I immediately picked up the 5th book.

The 5th book is quite a bit darker than all the others. The tone is more somber and there is an edge to everything that is going on. Voldemort, the main antagonist, is on the rise, and it seems like something bad could happen at any moment. Throughout all of this Harry beings to feel more and more isolated. None of the awful things that are happening seem to be happening to anyone else. Harry begins to feel more depressed and more alone as time goes by. To top it all off there is a new professor at the school that is the literal worst. She specifically targets Harry, and she actively attempts to make Harry’s life worse. Harry feels utterly alone. The story focuses around this idea of loneliness and builds more and more that Harry has to learn to rely on his close friends. He must realize that he is not, nor was he ever, alone in any of what is happening to him. At the end of this book, the closest thing Harry has to a father figure, Sirius, dies. Once again, Harry experiences those feelings of expectations being destroyed and a great feeling of isolation. Once again I was able to relate very strongly to the character.

The 6th book of the story has some lighter tones, but ultimately ends on a very dark note. Harry is growing older, and Voldemort continues to gain more and more power. He is learning more about the history of who Voldemort is, and through these lessons, Harry learns of some of the humanity of Voldemort. The main antagonist is still extremely evil, but through multiple backstories, we are able to better understand Voldemort as a character. He is revealed to be more human, although definitely a very sociopathic human. Harry’s expectations of him change as a whole. He understands that he has love while Voldemort never will. Also, Harry’s expectations shift slightly towards the end of the story towards Draco Malfoy. Throughout the entirety of the series, Draco has been considered the antithesis of Harry Potter, and Harry absolutely suspects him of malicious intent at different times throughout the story. As the story is nearing its ending, Draco, ordered by Voldemort, matches up against a very weak Dumbledore and is poised to kill him. Yet, he cannot do it. There is a flicker of humanity in Draco, and he is unable to murder his headmaster. Harry, watching silently in the room notices this. Harry’s perception of Draco has changed in this moment, if only slightly. Where previously Harry had not seen any humanity there was some.

At this point, I was totally hooked on the books. Much of my free time was spent reading on and talking about the books. I can now say with certainty that the 6th book is my favorite, and I would tell anyone who would listen about it. Unfortunately for me, the fad of Harry Potter, while still quite prevalent, has definitely faded. I was dealing with isolation once again. Most people don’t want to listen to someone talk about how much they adore Harry Potter. Nevertheless, I persisted on towards the 7th book.

If you’ve ever read the 7th Harry Potter book, you know how different this book is compared to the rest of the series. The protagonists are no longer at Hogwarts, everything around them seems to be falling apart, and many of the main characters that you have grown to love end up being killed off. The book is gut-wrenching, and it seems like every chapter has a new main character dying. With each death, I felt more and more sadness and isolation. Throughout this book, the main characters become more and more removed from everyone as they are trying to find and destroy the horcuxes, the items that contain Voldemorts soul and ensure his survival.  At one point, Ron leaves Harry and Hermione, leaving them even more alone than they already were. Without Dumbledore, and with wicked stories of what Dumbledore has done, the main characters feel utterly alone.

As the story nears the end, however, the main characters learn of all the different people that are still on their side, supporting them. They are encouraged, and they are able to find and destroy almost every single horcrux. It is only when Harry returns to Hogwarts at the end of the story that he realizes he must sacrifice himself to save everyone. This singular moment, the moment he realizes that he must die in order for everyone to live, is a pivotal moment. This is when he reaches his most isolated, but he stays brave and dives deep into the darkness. He sacrifices himself, and through his sacrifice he is able to destroy the last bit of Voldemort that exists. Through his sacrifice, he is given the option to live again. In the moments proceeding his death, he is given a choice. He can decide to stay dead, and go on to the afterlife or whatever happens to witches and wizards after they die, or he can come back to a life that has caused him suffering and pain. He has to choose to make another sacrifice, and once again he makes the choice to come back and fight one last time to save his closest friends.

Despite his isolation and fear, Harry Potter is able to be strong and courageous when he needs to be. Sure, he absolutely makes a lot of really dumb decisions throughout the books that would have saved everyone a lot of time and pain, but I think that is what makes these books so special. Many of the characters are flawed, and even some of the main characters that seem downright evil throughout the entire series have redemption arcs. The Malfoys end up regretting their actions, and, most famously, we get to see and understand why Snape made the decisions that he did. We get to understand his love for Harry’s mother and how isolated and alone he has been throughout most of his life. Finally, the reader is able to understand why Snape acts how he does, and that he was actually acting out of love this entire time. He clings to one aspect of his life that will keep him from being completely isolated, and as a result, dies for an extremely heroic cause.

Every single Harry Potter book has some themes of isolation, and dealing with feeling misplaced or alone in the world. Reading these in the first years of college or whenever you are in a new place in your life can be especially helpful because often people feel out of place and alone at times of change. These books can help give one perspective about isolation, and they can show how one can emerge from that isolation and be a much stronger and better human being.

Plus, the books themselves are fantastic stories, with deep characters. These books are probably the most famous series of the 21st century. They personally have helped me get through a challenging time in my life. Harry Potter is absolutely incredible and 100% lives up to the hype, and if you have not read them yet, there is no time like the present.

 

*written by Donny Turner