Merry Christmas Muggles!

“One can never have enough socks,” said Dumbledore. “Another Christmas has come and gone and I didn’t get a single pair. People will insist on giving me books.”
― J.K. RowlingHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

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The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

“Um…is that thing tame?” Frank said.
The horse whinnied angrily.
“I don’t think so,” Percy guessed. “He just said, ‘I will trample you to death, silly Chinese Canadian baby man.’

Though I have liked reading the Kane Chronicles, I was overjoyed to get another installment in the Olympians series. And not only another installment, but we get Percy back as narrator! Whether it is simply because for many of us he is the original voice of the Olympian books, or he is just a stronger character than Jason (I think the latter), it is a relief and a joy to have him back telling the story in The Son of Neptune.

In our last adventure with The Heroes of Olympus, Jason (of the Roman camp), Piper, and Leo made their way to Camp Half-Blood and went on a quest. In The Son of Neptune, we get to visit the Roman camp at last with Percy. He has lost his memory, been trained by wolves and finds himself entering the Roman camp as a new camper. This camp is quite different from Camp Half-Blood, a little more intense, a little more.. Roman. If you make a mistake or betray someone, you can be put to death as punishment. Instead of beads, you get tattoos to mark your progress. Capture the flag is a serious game where you can build castles and use deathly weapons to defeat your opponents. But there are positives to this new camp that readers will discover quickly as well, even aspects that we wish existed in Camp Half-Blood because they give us hope for the demigods and their future.

This book did feel a little like a repeat of Percy’s first trip to Camp Half-Blood but it is enjoyable to see all the differences and experience camp the Roman way. Percy has been put to sleep for months by Juno, which is why we didn’t hear from him in the last book. Now he is finally awake, has been trained by wolves and arrives at camp in his usual hectic manner, running for his life. He quickly proves himself, gains a couple of misfit friends (doesn’t he always?) and then is off on a quest. This quest goes beyond the borders of the Roman/Greek god’s powers, which adds a new element of the unknown to the plot.

Percy is, as always, funny, charming and undeniably, badass. His sidekicks have new powers we’ve never seen before and they encounter troubling new foes. The entire book is great fun, cover to cover. Fans of the Olympian series will definitely enjoy this installment.

I am already impatiently awaiting the next book because, as we all know, the next book is when both camps come together to save the world (the world seems to get into a lot of trouble eh? ) and I think it could be the best book yet.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

  “On the boat we carried with us in our trunks all the things we would need for our new lives: white silk kimonos for our wedding night, colorful cotton kimonos for everyday wear, plain cotton kimonos for when we grew old, calligraphy brushes, thick black sticks of ink, thin sheets of rice paper on which to write long letters home, tiny brass Buddhas, ivory statues of the fox god, dolls we had slept with since we were five, bags of brown sugar with which to buy favors, bright cloth quilts, paper fans, English phrase books, flowered silk sashes, smooth black stones from the river that ran behind our house, a lock of hair from a boy we had once touched, and loved, and promised to write, even though we knew we never would, silver mirrors given to us by our mothers, whose last words still rang in our ears. You will see: women are weak, but mothers are strong.”

The Buddha in the Attic is a spellbinding emotional journey through the lives of mail order brides brought from Japan to San Francisco in the 1900s. In Otsuka’s poetic prose, it tells their story from the collective viewpoint of ‘We.’  The Buddha in the Attic explores how it felt to be a woman, a wife, a mother and of course, a Japanese American during those historic years.

We follow their lives from the beginning on the boat sailing to America, to their final experiences after Pearl Harbor. We are entranced by their memories of rice fields at sunrise, their disappointing meeting of their new husbands, their acceptance of the lies they were told to get them to America and their ensuing lives ever since.

“This is America, we would say to ourselves, there is no need to worry. And we would be wrong.

Their new American lives range from terrifying to comfortable. They are put to work as cheap farm labor, they are raped, they are loved, they are cherished, they are beaten, they are poor, they are happy and they are terribly miserable. They raise their children in fields, in laundromats, in restaurants and in big houses where they work as maids. Their children stop speaking Japanese, know perfect English, disregard traditions and are sent back to Japan for a better life. Then the war begins and their lives change once again, forever. Their stories are entrancing and heartbreaking.

On the boat we had no idea we would dream of our daughter every night until the day we died, and that in our dreams she would always be three and as she was when we last saw her: a tiny figure in a dark red kimono squatting at the edge of a puddle, utterly entranced by the sight of a dead floating bee.

Though the very last installment is from the viewpoint of the White Americans and doesn’t quite live up to the entire book thus far, Otsuka’s writing is a pleasure to read. Her many threads flow together seamlessly without losing sight of each joy or tragedy. She is able to effortlessly capture us with glimpses into each individual’s life and the collective experience in the same sentence.

We stay with each woman until the last moments of her story, and cannot help but wish for more after we turn the last page.

She left laughing. She left without looking back.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

“The circus looks abandoned and empty. But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edges of cold. The sun disappears completely beyond the horizon, and the remaining luminosity shifts from dusk to twilight. The people around you are growing restless from waiting, a sea of shuffling feet, murmuring about abandoning the endeavor in search of somewhere warmer to pass the evening. You yourself are debating departing when it happens.”

The Night Circus is, in a word, enchanting. I started this book over coffee yesterday morning and throughout my day whenever I had an appointment or a chore, all I could think was “When do I get to go back to reading The Night Circus?”

Le Cirque des Reves is a black and white circus that appears suddenly and leaves just as silently. It opens at nightfall and closes at dawn. It is filled with circular paths that lead to circular tents, each of which invite you to see an astounding environment, performer or experience. There is the ice garden, a whole crystalline world made of sculpted frozen water, from the petals of the roses to the benches at the fountain. There are the acrobats who twirl and twist in ways no human thought possible, the statues which are real people moving so slowly you can’t actually see it, the fire eaters and the fortune teller. The tents are filled with memories, mazes, magic and dreams. All of which are constantly growing, changing and new tents full of new marvels are always appearing.

The Night Circus could not exist without two people who are central to its life and this story. Celia, the Illusionist, uses her real magical abilities to put on a show as one of the acts in the circus. Marco, the proprietor’s assistant, is another magician who manipulates aspects of the circus from the outside world. Celia and Marco both grew up with rivaling teachers, they learned their magic in different ways, through pain and heartbreak for one, through books and loneliness for the other. Their whole lives they were being prepared to compete with each other in a chosen venue to prove which method was stronger. What we learn quickly is that this chosen venue is The Night Circus and though its entire existence is beautiful and wondrous, it is also a very serious and dangerous game.

What stands out in this book is not so much the characters or the plot, though both are quite engaging, but the circus itself. I could not help but wish with every tent that was visited, every amazing new aspect of this world unveiled, that there would always be more. It is completely mesmerizing.

Everything from the food “Apples dipped in caramel so dark they appeared almost blackened but remained light and crisp and sweet. Chocolate bats with impossibly delicate wings. The most delicious cider Bailey had ever tasted.

To each new act we encounter “But the figure on this platform does not move. Bailey almost thinks it is a statue, dressed in a white gown edged in matching fur that cascades beyond the platform to the ground. Her hair and skin, even her eyelashes, are an icy white. But she moves. Very, very slowly. So slowly Bailey cannot pinpoint exact motions, only slight changes. Soft flakes of iridescent snow float to the ground, falling from her like leaves from a tree.

It would be hard to explain this book further, as there are multiple storylines that twist and turn around Marco and Celia, much like the black and white paths around the tents they create. The characters that inhabit their world each add something different, whether it be sadness, magnificence or comfort as soothing as hot chocolate on a dark rainy night.

As I turned the last page of this book, I was delighted and then suddenly, overwhelmed by a deep feeling of melancholy. I realized that though I can visit Le Cirque des Reves in the pages of this book for years to come, I will never actually get to see the mysteries of The Night Circus. And for that, I will always feel a profound regret that such wondrous place doesn’t actually exist.

Stormtroopers Love to Read Too

I have been so swamped with packing, planning and trying to wrap up all my work here in Texas that I haven’t had a chance to read as much as I usually do. Therefore, no new reviews are ready yet! Arg. I feel neglectful, so I thought I’d leave you with some of my favorite bookish images this week from various articles and tumblrs. Happy Reading!

“Books are all I know and everything I love.” – Ryden Malby from Post Grad

(Images via PrettyBooks, Book Couture, Confessions of a Bookaholic)

The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan

“Everything was the same and everything had changed. Outside the city and the voluble traffic and the millions of human eyes and talking mouths and crafty habituated hands testified: The accidental epic of ordinariness goes on. A godless universe of flailing contingency – now with the hilarious difference of not being in it alone.”

Jake Marlowe is an educated, classy, thoughtful and introspective werewolf. He loves to read, drink scotch, smoke a bit and write in his journal. And hes had quite a bit to write about for the past two hundred years. These days though, with the one love of his life long gone and enough experiences to last him multiple lifetimes, Jake feels it is his time to let it all go. Hes tired, but most of all, hes lonely.

“I still have feelings but I’m sick of having them. Which is another feeling I’m sick of having. I just don’t want any more life.”

So when he finds out that he is the last werewolf alive, he accepts it and welcomes the release that will be his own death when the hunters come for him. Alas, nothing in life ever goes as planned. Instead of gaining a clean death, the situation becomes confusingly messy. The hunters have fractions within their ranks, the vampires are after Jake for unknown reasons and even random humans seem to be trying to kill him or cage him. While Jake is just trying to survive long enough to figure it all out, he instead discovers something to truly live for.

I admit, I hesitated upon picking up this book. These days anything with Werewolf in the title (especially books that also have vampires in them) tend to make me feel queasy enough to put it right back on the shelf. I always wonder, is this going to be another paranormal love triangle with no original plot or character development? This time though, it had come highly recommended and the reviews were undeniably positive, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. And I must say, The Last Werewolf was a pleasant surprise.

Jake’s story is well written with some nicely sculpted turn of phrase. He quotes poetry, literature, history and has a way with words. Though Jake may spend a little too much time examining his own life, his will to live and his reasons for living, I guess after 200 years anyone might become a little too introspective. Especially if you were suddenly surprised with something worth living for.

The Last Werewolf is hard to put down once you read the first couple plot twists. It is a little more serious and sexy than expected, but it is also more eloquent. Jake, though he is a monster, is as deeply human as a creature can be. He experiences endless regret, loneliness, stupidity, fear and eventually, is even blinded by love.

If you think supernatural creatures should be smarter, faster and less sensitive than the rest of us, this novel may change your mind. As Duncan writes it, they are simply humans trapped forever by fate, chance or accident into a life that they did not choose. And in the end they must do what we all do, accept who we truly are, inside.