And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

stayThis was a  beautiful story, nicely told between standard writing and then the inclusion of the main character’s original poetry.  Emily (no actual relation to Emily Dickinson) is off at boarding school (in Emily Dickinson’s hometown) for a fresh start away from the terrible memories, looks, and stories after her boyfriend killed himself in the school library in front of her.  A fresh start is difficult and Emily is deeply scarred by the tragedy and coming to terms with it.  However, a powerful need to write poetry, along with a growing friendship with her roommate, K.T., help her through it.  I appreciated that though this was a bit sad, it was not an overwhelmingly sad or depressing book.   And how could I not love a boarding school story which includes a brief shout-out to the The Secret Language-the very first boarding school book I read and loved? The bits about Emily Dickinson, along with Emily’s original poetry, are beautifully incorporated. This was a lovely story.

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Waistcoats & Weaponry by Gail Carriger

I’ve had such a slow start to the year, in part because it’s taken me forever to read this despite being super excited to get it. It’s #3 in the Finishing School series.  Somehow I found it a bit slow? Less compelling? Sometimes it’s hard to get invested in a story where so much is made up and strange. Specifically, the aetherosphere that the Picklemen and vampires seem to fighting and plotting over. I can’t get that caught up in it because it’s all strange and makes no sense. Nonetheless, I still enjoyed all the details of things like Sophronia’s skill with the bladed fan and how all the Intelligencer girls act.  This one barely took place at all up in the air, as most of the story was land bound. Also, specifically, moving train bound! Everyone loves a story on a moving train.  The romantic triangle between Felix, Soap, and Sophronia continues (I’m rooting for Soap.) And there’s also a fair amount of backstory on werewolves which sort of went over my head.

However, I did enjoy this latest installment and hugely admire Sophronia for all her skills.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

hp4Gah! It’s been so long since I’ve finished a book. The problem lies in choosing to read a book I was super excited about, having it be the only book I brought on vacation, not being really into it. When we got back from vacation I picked up HP because the time was right having just spent two days at Universal Studios immersed in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. My slow book didn’t stand a chance against HP. So, I know I keep saying this as I am rereading this series, but I’m really really enjoying this. Possibly more than the first time? I love reading the books so much more closely together than as published because this time I’m really appreciating the story arc, the momentum, the turn towards the dark, and I’m feeling very caught up in it without having forgotten any prior details. It’s also fun to read them after we see the movies because the movie leaves out so much of the book that it’s like the movie is an exciting teaser for the full story. [I’ll probably switch to just reading the books now because I don’t think our kids are up for watching #5 yet, but I don’t want to wait to read it.]

As a reminder, this one is the one with Cedric Diggory, the tri-wizard tournament, and the ultimate return of Voldemort, leaving the ending one filled with the threat of impending danger, battle, and sides being drawn. The Malfoys are proven to be aligned with the Dark Lord, Snape continues to confound, and the Weasleys are becoming more prominent characters. Also, Ron, Hermione, and Harry are aware of boys and girls now and thus the beginnings of romantic and confusing feelings.

Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

belzharI could not WAIT to read this book. All I needed to read of the description was “boarding school for highly intelligent emotionally fragile teens” and I immediately placed myself #1 on the hold list. In fact, I didn’t even read more of the description than that so I could enjoy just letting the story unfold and surprise me. (if you like that experience you can take my word that it’s great and stop reading this review now, otherwise read on and I will give away a few details.) Let me say that I loved The Interestings, but have not been very interested (sometimes actively disinterested) in Meg Wolitzer’s other novels. But really, she is a terrific writer.

Jam (short for Jamaica) is very sad and unable to interact well with the world ever since her boyfriend died. Finally her parents send her to this boarding school, The Wooden Barn, in Vermont that specializes in teens who have had troubles.  When she arrives she finds out that she has been assigned to the mysterious “Special Topics in English” class. Her roommate tells her no one ever gets into it who applies, they only study one author, and all the students claim it changes their lives buy won’t say why. It turns out that Jam is in the class with 4 other kids and they can’t figure out what they have in common. Their teacher tells them are going to study Sylvia Plath (and only Plath) for the entire semester. In addition to other work they receive leather journals that the are required to write in. The teacher tells them she won’t read the journals, but will collect them at the end of the semester and never return them.  She also asks that the students care for and look out for one another.  It’s hard for Jam to see that happening because she’s so wrapped up in her grief and doesn’t want to make friends. But then they all write in their journals and something happens that does bind them all together.

I loved the supernatural/mysterious element of this book. I loved the surprises, the emotions, the construction of it. It was all around terrific. And I’ll be honest-I also appreciated that it wasn’t 500 pages and was a fairly quick read, very engrossing, but not dragged out.
I want to call out one bit of the book that I loved and am sure is Meg Wolitzer’s own voice coming through and to it I say, “right on sister! I totally agree and love it that you call this out so specifically.” Near the end, when Jam has had her life changing semester, she says:

“People are always saying these things about how there’s no need to read literature anymore–that it won’t help the world. Everyone should apparently learn to speak Mandarin, and learn how to write code for computers.  More young people should go into STEM fields: science, technology, engineering, and math.  And that all sounds true and reasonable. But you can’t say that what you learn in English class doesn’t matter. That great writing doesn’t make a difference….Words matter.  This is what Mrs. Q has basically been saying from the start. Words matter.  All semester, we were looking for the words to say what we needed to say. We were all looking for our voice.”

Words and stories do matter. They are worth studying, enjoying, interpreting, internalizing, and more.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

hp2See everything I said about Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone for the set-up of rereading these books.  Ditto the pleasure of the re-read and getting to read from the beginning when you know some things about how it all turns out. I read this one in the two days following seeing the movie, so I was really doing a lot of movie/book comparison as I read.  I loved the movie, but it was very satisfying to read the book right after because I found the book had a much better timeline. Which, it would because she has many pages to write in while a movie only has about 2 hours. So, lots of events that happened apparently quickly in the movie, were very drawn out in the book. Sometimes weeks would go by.  It definitely added to suspense, a build up of emotions, and the boarding school/school year aspect.  One important aspect that was in the book that they really overlooked in the movie, was Ginny’s role in helping Tom Riddle gain his strength.  Fantastic and I’m looking forward to continuing on the series. (I love being able to just go grab the next book! The first time I read these  it was as they came out-a suspenseful wait!)

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

islaFantastic! (Or should I say “fantastique”?)  It’s hard to believe that Anna and the French Kiss, Lola and the Boy Next Door, and Isla and the Happily Ever After are Perkins’s first three books. They are terrific. Though not a series, they are connected by characters and the boarding school in France.  In this one the boy love interest (Josh) was the best friend of the boy love interest in the first book (St. Clair), so there are references to what St. Clair is up to now and how his and Anna’s romance worked out.  Once again we are in Paris with teenagers such as I’ve never known.  This time it is acknowledged (I feel like it wasn’t before) that everyone there is very rich and privileged.  Isla has a French mother and two sisters who also attend/ed the school.  She’s been in love with Josh for a long time and can’t believe when they are finally getting together.  Obstacles include Josh’s apparent desire to get himself kicked out of school and worries about what it might do to Isla’s best friend, a boy with Asperger’s.  A delightful romance and also a wonderful conclusion to the three books as we get to find out what happened to the characters from the other stories.

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson

madnessI loved The Name of the Star so much when I read it last year that you’d think I would have been more on top of a sequel coming out. This came out months and months ago! That’s ok, I’m kind of at the point now where I don’t read things as they come out and get to them when I get to them. I gave this 5 stars, though I do have a couple of things that I didn’t love-namely that this felt more like part of a trilogy, whereas the first book felt very stand alone (except the last chapter which set it up as having subsequent novels), and that what I thought was being set up as the central mystery of the novel just sort of faded away. So either that all got a bigger part of the book than it deserved, or it will return in the next book. Also, I think with many books, and Johnson’s in particular, the main character is just more funny and witty than frankly anyone I’ve ever known in my life. But I feel that way about every character in books, tv, and movies, so no points off for that, and besides I like Rory.

Picking up not long after the first book finished Rory is trying to cope with the aftermath of her encounter with the Ripper, her knowledge of ghosts, and her separation from her new friends who know the truth about all of that.  A murder makes Rory think that perhaps during her encounter with the Ripper some conduit was opened to the spirit world, unleashing crazy ghosts. This book is very much about what happens next for Rory.  As I write that and think about it it makes the book sound not so great, but truly I was extremely caught up in it, read it very quickly, and found it exciting. Although any reader will catch on a million times faster than Rory did to the person who is not all she seems to be.

Small spoiler alert:

 

 

The ending was a dramatic surprise, and I think will set up a bit of a Pushing Daisies theme in the next book.