May 20, 2015

Review | Re Jane by Patricia Park

I was pretty excited when I first heard about Re Jane. A contemporary Korean American retelling of Jane Eyre? Yes, please. It's one of my favorite classics, and one I've had success (and some failures) with the retelling thereof. Authors do love to tinker with this tale. I've read every kind of version, from scifi and fantasy to steampunk and contemporary, and I am nothing if not up for another go. So I went into Patricia Park's debut novel with somewhat high hopes, even having heard that the Rochester character's wife was in fact alive and kicking and not at all locked up in their Brooklyn brownstone's attic. I decided to give Ms. Park the benefit of the doubt. I also love this cover. So modern, so bright, so full of promise.

Jane Re has thus far lived a lackluster life by most standards. She's spent her whole life under the thumb of her unloving and unmoving aunt and uncle, slaving away in the family grocery store at all hours and never quite managing to live up to expectations or fit into her Korean American Queens neighborhood. Finally, she graduates and, against everyone's better judgement (including possibly her own), takes a job as an au pair for a somewhat unorthodox couple in Brooklyn. The Mazer-Farley household is something of an enigma. Beth Mazer flits around bound and determined to be the most nonjudgmental of free spirits and insists her adopted Chinese daughter Devon and her fellow academic husband Ed follow suit. As Jane settles into her new home, she finds the workings of this unusual family fascinating, but the deeper entrenched she becomes, the harder it is to define just what role she is to play in their lives.

So. My favorite parts of this novel were unquestionably the early sections in which Jane describes her time in Queens, her interactions with her family, and her observations on how isolated she feels from everyone around her. I followed her willingly into the Mazer-Farley's house in her pursuit of something more, of a different kind of life. Her burgeoning relationship with the little girl Devon was, I thought, well-drawn and lovely. Unfortunately, when her relationship extended to falling in something with Ed Farley, my enjoyment came to a sound close. There was some attempt to portray how ill suited Ed and Beth were for each other, to pay lip service to the slow deterioration of their marriage, and to reserve any actual acting on their feelings for after the reader could "reasonably" be expected to have made their peace with the fact (if necessary). And the truth is that my main objections were not solely related to the fact that Jane and Ed were embarking on a relationship while all three adults (all three in possession of their right minds) were living in the same house together with an already conflicted (but brilliant) child there as well. I was actually most put off by the fact that Ed Farley was utterly lifeless and Jane seemed to lose vigor and presence in her own story (and in my mind) with every moment she spent with him.

I realize this is an updated retelling of the original, that it deviates in intentional and important ways, that it is much more about Jane's arc toward independence and self-fulfillment. But. She never resurfaces from her time with Farley. She escapes, feels remorse, and embarks on a journey to her homeland and yet her entire experience in Korea seems to whittle her down even further, until there is so little of the Jane I knew and loved in the beginning that she hardly warrants the name. She makes connections with her family and her past, yes, but it remains stubbornly unclear how these connections will inform her future life. Upon her return to America, I hoped for some revivification. I hoped for some of the wisdom and independence and control the narrative had led me all along to expect at some point. But it never came, or rather it came in name only, spelled out in so many words upon the page but containing in those words none of the actual emotion or heart one might expect to accompany a young woman coming full circle and taking up the reins of her life at last. I closed the book feeling . . . empty mainly.

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May 11, 2015

Re Jane Giveaway!

I wanted to start the week off on a high note, and thanks to Penguin Books, I have a lovely giveaway of Patricia Park's debut novel Re Jane to share with you this morning. This is a contemporary retelling of Jane Eyre featuring a Korean American Jane and a whole new take on the classic tale. As you know, I am physically incapable of passing up a retelling of that particular story (my review should be up shortly), but first here's your chance to win a copy! This giveaway is open to those with U.S. mailing addresses. To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter. The giveaway will be open through Monday, May 18th.

April 23, 2015

Carry On Cover


And here it is! The cover for Rainbow Rowell's upcoming Simon Snow novel Carry On. I've spent a not inconsiderable amount of time wondering just what direction they would take this cover and I find myself both surprised and satisfied. In some ways it reminds of me the hardback Attachments cover. Rowell mentions that she wanted a cover that "made me feel a little nervous." Done and done, St. Martin's. I'm anxious, excited, nervous, pretty much all the emotions. Carry On is due out October 6th. Who else will be there the moment their bookstore opens (or conversely, have you already pre-ordered)?

April 21, 2015

The Books of My Numberless Dreams, or Angie's Top 10 18 All Time Favorite Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted @ The Broke and the Bookish

Normally I break out in hives when people ask me what my favorite book/s is/are or who my favorite author/s is/are. My oldest does this to me on a regular basis just to see me twitch. But (very) occasionally, I find myself tempted to see if I can survive having a go at whittling the giant horde down to ten or eighteen (shut up) absolute faves. Like would run back into the burning house favorites. And since this is authors and not single books, I'm not quite as close to hyperventilation as might otherwise be the case. So—despite the fact that not a one of these will surprise you, I mean my husband could probably rattle this list off with his eyes closed—my favorite authors of all time (in alphabetical order by last name). Do we share any?

See my Beloved Bookshelf for individual titles/series by each of these.


Lloyd Alexander

Jane Austen

Kristin Cashore

Susan Cooper

Charles Dickens

Madeleine L'Engle

C.S. Lewis

Juliet Marillier

Robin McKinley

Rainbow Rowell

J.K. Rowling

William Shakespeare

Sharon Shinn

Maggie Stiefvater

Mary Stewart

Megan Whalen Turner

Cynthia Voigt

Ellen Emerson White

April 9, 2015

Rainbow Bright Pretties


These bright rainbow colors just make me happy and put me in the mood for spring (even though it's currently sleeting outside). I've never read any of these authors before, but wow did they luck out in the cover department. Also titles. I can only imagine the rounds authors, editors, publishers, etc. go in selecting just the right title, but I like all of these. I'm particularly fond of '89 Walls.

Re Jane by Patricia Park
The early buzz on this one is quite good, and I am nothing if not a sucker for a Jane Eyre retelling, especially when it features contemporary issues of family, race, and culture. Highly anticipated.
Due out May 5th

First & Then by Emma Mills
Hm. A novel of first impressions proving problematic, involving football and family and secret crushes. Tell me more. That cover, though . . .
Due out October 13th

'89 Walls by Katie Pierson
1989. Politics. Blue collar boy. College-bound girl. Doomed romance in small-town Nebraska. It's like they're making a laundry list of my catnip, people.
Due out June 5th

March 30, 2015

Review | The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I've been sitting on a review of The Song of Achilles for some time now. And it's simply another case of me worrying I won't do justice not just to the book, but to (perhaps even more importantly) my feelings for the book. I was attempting to do just that a number of nights ago with a friend, and wound up choked up and slipping the tears from my eyes as I touched on a scene of inevitable sorrow. My emotions continue to ride ever so close to the surface with this book, with Patroclus and Achilles. I stayed away from Madeline Miller's debut novel for awhile for several reasons, among them my fear of said sorrow as well as the usual concern when one comes to a retelling of characters and stories one loves. But eventually that coverthe gold foil, you guys, the glorious gold foiland the parade of ecstatic reviews got to me enough that I grabbed a copy the next time I was at the library and settled down that night to see.

Patroclus has always led the uneasiest of lives. Disparaged for his slight build and his relative weakness in comparison to his father, he has been a somewhat second-class citizen in his own father's court. Then one day an accident occurs and a young nobleman dies as a result. Patroclus is deemed at fault and so is exiled to be fostered in the realm of the legendary King Peleus. It is there that he meets Peleus' song Achilles. Achilles is everything Patroclus wishes he could be, bright and brave and the most talented of warriors where Patroclus is dull and shy and physically inferior. Which is why no one is more shocked than Patroclus when Achilles takes him as his personal companion. And so the two young boys form the fastest of friendships as they live together, train together, and run wild through the olive groves together. But through it all they can never seem to escape the shadow of the coming war or the prophecy that Achilles would go on to become the greatest hero the Greeks had ever known.
If I had had words to speak such a thing, I would have. But there were none that seemed big enough for it, to hold that swelling truth.

As if he had heard me, he reached for my hand. I did not need to look; his fingers were etched into my memory, slender and petal-veined, strong and quick and never wrong,

"Patroclus," he said. He was always better with words than I.
This is the part where I confess I was vastly unprepared for the depth of feeling this novel would incite. I have been enamored of Greek mythology basically as far back as I can remember, and I recall with perfect clarity the chills that ran down my spine the first time I read the opening lines of The Iliad. I've read a number of retellings since, but I realized few of them worked hard to make Achilles sympathetic. Or at least more sympathetic than Hector. And while each incarnation left me impressed with Achilles' grandeur, I remained always firmly in Hector's camp. The Song of Achilles is told entirely from Patroclus' perspective, and his mind is as sharp and perceptive as his friend's body is honed and agile. The result is an extremely nuanced portrait of both young men. I savored the opportunity to watch them grow up together, to see Achilles handle the heavy layers of expectation and destiny, to watch how he dealt with his human father and his immortal mother. Thetis is a force to be reckoned with and I, like Patroclus, worried about the depth of her influence over Achilles. As ever with this epic tale, the question of which force will hold sway in the end is a desperate one. It's impossible to shake the feeling of dread while reading, but Miller does such a fine job of allowing you to soak up those golden moments leading up to the war, to come to know and love both Achilles and Patroclus enough that you understand why they make the choices they do in the end. And I can honestly say that my knowing what was coming in no way impeded my experience, the words were that expertly chosen and woven together with a level of skill that left my cup full to the brim.
The sorrow was so large it threatened to tear through my skin. When he died, all things swift and beautiful and bright would be buried with him. I opened my mouth, but it was too late.

"I will go," he said. "I will go to Troy."

The rosy gleam of his lip, the fevered green of his eyes. There was not a line anywhere on his face, nothing creased or graying; all crisp. He was spring, golden and bright. Envious Death would drink his blood, and grow young again.

He was watching me, his eyes as deep as earth.

"Will you come with me?" he asked.

The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one.
What an exquisite agony reading The Song of Achilles was. I wept more than once. But the sorrow was handled well, in such a way as to allow it its full and brutal impact before winding to a close so beautiful I felt the breath leave my lungs. How I loved them. Patroclus and his brilliant Achilles.

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Linkage
The Allure of Books - "If you’re interested in mythology, war or just a great love story – pick this up and prepare to be amazed."
The Book Smugglers - "My own plea is that you read this book immediately."