What I’ve Been Reading During Winter Break

Hello everyone!

I hope you all are staying warm and taking care of yourselves in the midst of the cold and national politics. While I’m currently bracing myself for a return to the Minnesota weather, I’m trying to fit in as much reading before the spring semester as possible, along with trying to keep track of all the great books I’ve devoured in the past few weeks. So, without further ado, here is some of what I’ve been reading since classes ended:

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James

This was the first book I dove into after flying home from Minnesota for the holidays, finally done with exams and papers and trying to remember how to read for fun again. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is the first in a new trilogy from Man Booker Prize-winner Marlon James, and even if I hadn’t already wanted to read it after reading the synopsis, the cover would have been enough to draw me in. Set in a masterfully built fantasy world based on Africa and African kingdoms such as Songhai and Kush after the fall of the Roman Empire, the book is told from the point of view of Tracker, a mercenary hired to find a mysterious young boy. However, the reader is informed from the outset that by the end of the years-long search, the child is dead. While it took me a few chapters to orient myself and truly feel that the plot had begun, James’ world building and prose are both fantastic, and I was fascinated by how he constructed the many cities and kingdoms through which Tracker travels. Tracker’s narration, told in his distinctive voice, only makes it harder to put down. While the book has considerably more violence and gore than I usually read (including several scenes that reference sexual assault), I am excited to see what the next book holds. (This interview is a great look at the book’s origins, as well.)

Strong Female Protagonist (Book One & Book Two) by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag

I initially began reading Strong Female Protagonist online ages ago, but unfortunately lost track of it, despite how good it is. This means that I was thrilled when a friend lent me the first two physical books over the break and I was able to devour all of it at once. Strong Female Protagonist is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and striking superhero stories I’ve ever read/watched, centering around a young woman–Allison Green–who eventually quit heroing to attend college and learn about different modes of making the world better. What follows is an intriguing look into ethics and philosophies surrounding saving the world, told through a host of engaging characters that I adored. Molly Ostertag’s art is fantastic, as well, and I would honestly die for the power couple that is Feral and Paladin.

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Danez Smith’s second poetry collection Don’t Call Us Dead is one of those books that I want to write about but consistently end up staring at the blinking cursor instead. Clocking in at a slim 82 pages, Smith’s poems are the kind that stay in my head long after I’ve closed the covers, their urgency and craft impossible to ignore. Smith writes truthfully and at times defiantly about the dangers faced by Black men, particularly queer Black men, and their bodies. Shifting from police violence to AIDS and back again, here metaphors and allusions to gods and pigs mingle with lines that are as stark as the black words on the page: “i tried, white people. i tried to love you, but you spent my brother’s funeral making plans for brunch, talking too loud next to his bones.” These poems contain anger and pain, but also tenderness, a love for boys such as those in “summer, somewhere,” where “paradise is a world where everything/is sanctuary & nothing is a gun.” Don’t Call Us Dead is the kind of book that often feels beyond review. Instead, it leaves me wanting to simply press it into the hands of everyone I meet.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I adored Celeste Ng’s debut novel Everything I Never Told You, but it took me an embarrassingly long time to finally read her bestselling follow-up, Little Fires Everywhere. Set in the minutely planned community of Shaker Heights, Ohio, the book centers around two very different families who find themselves on opposite sides of a local custody battle, in which a white couple seeks to adopt a Chinese-American baby. However, this book is so much more than its summary–Ng’s methodical development of her characters and the lyrical prose with which she reveals their past and present makes the novel feel almost like an in-depth character study of both the families and their larger community. At times as suspenseful as a thriller, Ng’s writing never rushes, but rather lingers beautifully within each character and moment. Just as the character of Pearl is described as lingering in “the gray spaces,” so too does the book, in a way that made me feel like I had to lay in bed thinking about it for hours after I finished it.

Florida by Lauren Groff

While I’m only about a third of the way through Lauren Groff’s new short story collection, Florida has already reminded me of why I love Groff’s prose so much in the first place. Each story is eerie without being supernatural, embracing the strangeness and uncertainties that emerge in everyday lives with a sort of psychological urgency that leaves me on the edge of my seat. She writes about sisters, a lonely boy, and, often, a troubled mother, among a host of other characters. I am endlessly impressed by the ability of her writing to describe sensations and images in ways that are both surprising and cunningly accurate. The first story, “Ghosts and Empties,” is a particular favorite: “Window after window nears, freezes with its blue fog of television light or its couple hunched over a supper of pizza, holds as I pass, then slides into the forgotten. I think of the way water gathers as it slips down an icicle’s length, pauses to build its glossy drop, becomes too fat to hang on, plummets down.”

That’s all for me today–it’s time to fit in some more reading before I have to start packing. Have a great rest of your Sunday, and keep warm!

Nora

On My Unabashed Love for The Song of the Lioness

Hi everyone! Hope you all have been having a lovely week so far. I’m currently in a house on a lake in rural Wisconsin, which is pretty cool, and am looking forward to devouring as many books as I can while I’m here. But in the meantime, I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about some of my absolute favorite books–the ones that I read years ago and loved, the ones that hold a special place in my heart just by virtue of how much they meant (and still mean) to me. And one series that especially stands out is The Song of the Lioness quartet, by Tamora Pierce.

The quartet chronicles the journey and battles of Alanna of Trebond, a young girl who, determined to become one of the strongest knights in Tortall, bravely and somewhat recklessly disguises herself as her brother in an effort to achieve that dream. This sets Alanna on a long and wild path, one that will involve everything from swordfighting, to magic, to prophecies and a role in protecting the kingdom that is much larger than she ever imagined. It’s an epic, wonderful fantasy, and one that I’ve recommended enthusiastically for quite a while.

I think I read this series for the first time when I was maybe nine or ten years old, and I fell completely in love with it. Alanna’s world of magic and battles and rogues completely captivated me, and I devoured all four books in the span of a week. It was instantly added to my mental list of favorite fantasies, as well as my list of favorite books, period.

One of the reasons I love this series so very much is the pure action and excitement of it. Alanna is constantly surrounded by risks and danger–the danger of being discovered, of not succeeding, of not winning a battle. And the stakes only get higher and higher as the series goes on, finally culminating in an epic final showdown.

I think one of the most interesting things about a book series is being able to look back on it after it is finally finished–at the character development, the growing complexity of the plot, the ebb and flow of the broader story. But it is also interesting to look at those things years later, with a higher level of maturity and a new perspective.

With that in mind, one of the things that most strikes me about The Song of the Lioness is how very feminist it is. It may have been the most feminist book I’d read up to that point in my life, despite my not realizing it at the time. Alanna is a very real, very human young girl who we get to watch develop into an older teenager and then into a full adult. She is complicated, flawed, and brave, and a steadfast believer in the idea that she should have the same opportunities as any boy in Tortall, no matter how rich in money or status he may be. She knows that girls are strong, capable, and more than deserving of respect, and that message is conveyed in every book in the series. I love that Alanna recognizes the systematic sexism of her kingdom’s laws, and promptly says eff it all and does what she wants anyway. And I think that was very important to see, as a young reader, as well as pretty awesome in and of itself.

This series also never fails to make me happy in that it never shows Alanna as anything other than in complete control of her own body. Alanna is aware that her body belongs to her and never anyone else, and that what she wants to do with it is entirely her own decision. As she matures and we watch her grow up, she makes it clear that she owns herself and her sexuality, and not once is she ashamed of it. Tamora Pierce writes frankly about the female body, puberty, and even safe sex, and to me, the idea that these things can and should be discussed, and the idea that women are in charge of their bodies, is something that is very important to see in Young Adult lit–fantasy or otherwise. Seeing these feminist attitudes present throughout the series was an important reason I fell in love with it, and another reason that I recommend this series so enthusiastically.

One of the things that is so engrossing about The Song of the Lioness–and really any series–is that we as readers get to watch Alanna grow and mature throughout the whole thing. A person who began as a courageous and reckless child grows into a mature and experienced (if still somewhat reckless) woman. It’s fascinating, in its own way, and one of the great joys of reading the series in the first place (that, plus all the excitement of Alanna’s world). The Song of the Lionness is arguably one of the first series I ever read that was truly YA, and I fell completely head over heels in love with it. It’s fun, captivating, and I wanted to stay in its magical, feminist world forever. Even if I’d be useless at swordfighting.

That being said, this has been Saturday Afternoon Rambling with Nora. I hope you all have a wonderful rest of the weekend, and take care! And don’t get in too many swordfights.

–Nora

Four Favorite Comfort Reads

Hi everyone! So, I think it’s almost universally acknowledged that Summer 2016 hasn’t been the best it could be. I’ve almost given up even looking at news that isn’t books- or Nationals-related, and I’m seriously considering living under a rock until at least the end of November. 2016 hasn’t been very kind to the world so far.

It’s time like these when I often just want something fun to read–still good, still incredibly well-written, but the kind of book I can just fall into and hopefully come out of feeling a little better. Books for when the real world just doesn’t seem so inviting (although they still pack quite the emotional punch). And so, without further ado, here are four of my favorite comfort reads, the ones I want to turn to again and again.

1. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a book that I loved so much the first go-round that I had to resist the urge to just reread it right away as soon as I was done. Lara Jean’s world of love letters, romance, and cookie-baking drew me in right away, and watching her banter with her sort-of-boyfriend-sort-of-not Peter K only makes it more fun. It features sisterly love in a way that I couldn’t get enough of, and the sequel, P.S. I Still Love You, is just as good. It’s a wonderful read to just fall into and enjoy, especially when the front page of the New York Times seems like a bit too much. But be warned: There’s a strong chance it could inspire you to bake to excess, so handle with caution.

2. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Many of the books (and shows, and movies) I most like to dive into when I need to take my mind off of things are mysteries. I love the challenge and plot-twists of figuring out who did what, especially when it draws me into a whole new world. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and its sequels have an added advantage in that they also feature Flavia de Luce, arguably my favorite protagonist of any mystery ever. She’s eleven, an extremely skilled chemist with a strong interest in poisons, and precocious as all get-out to boot. I absolutely adore her, and watching her track down the story behind the dead man she finds in the garden of her English estate completely captivated me. It’s a great series to just get swept up in, poisons, murders, and all.

3. Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

However, as much as I love mysteries, there’s always going to be a special place in my heart reserved solely for fantasies (or just Tamora Pierce, to be honest). Many of my first favorite books were fantasies, and one of my first loves of that genre was  Alanna: The First Adventure, the first book in the Song of the Lioness series. Tamora Pierce spins magic and mayhem out of words, and while the books certainly have their fair share of loss and sadness, reading them, to me, always feels a little like coming home. It comes complete with plot twists and sword fights and romance, not to mention all the magic! (And the completely unabashed feminism, hallelujah.) I’m not sure that I could actually think of a fantasy I’d recommend more, although Ella Enchanted is certainly in the running. In any case, if I ever need to distract myself from the rest of the world for awhile, Alanna is one of the first things that pops into my head.

4. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

It took me ages to finally get around to reading Anna and the French Kiss, but I fell in love with it in a way that makes me want to return to it whenever I need to forget about stuff and just spend some quality time with a really good book. Anna’s story of transferring to a high school all the way across the Atlantic, becoming best friends with history-obsessed Étienne St. Clair, and trying to navigate the murky waters of friendship and love totally sucked me in, and then refused to let go. I fell in love with hilarious, film-loving Anna, and all of the other characters felt just as real and genuine. And the setting only makes diving into Anna’s world more fun–I could have happily read about her adventures in Paris for days.

I love books like these because they have the power to pull you into another world completely, spinning you away into these fun, exciting stories when the real world is just a bit too much. They are full of excellent plots, well-written characters, and magic both figurative and literal, and I loved falling into each and every one of them. The world kinda sucks sometimes, but at least there are books like these to help us along. Also chocolate 🙂

Hope you all have a great rest of the weekend, and take care!

–Nora

Quote of the Day: “Keep reading. It’s one of the most marvelous adventures that anyone can have.” –Lloyd Alexander

The Wrath and the Dawn

Hi everyone! Recently I realized that there is one thing that I forgot about summer–how easy it can make it to read more of a book in one day than you usually would in a whole week. And, you know, do barely anything else.

See, I planned to do things when I was reading this book, I swear. Maybe bake a batch of cookies, go for a run, do some more of that summer homework that’s sitting on my desk. Nice, productive things! But then after breakfast I thought, “I’ll just read a little more of The Wrath and the Dawn, maybe a couple chapters. Then I’ll do stuff.” And. Well. Honestly, I’m a little surprised I stopped long enough to make lunch.

This book (written by the wonderful Renée Ahdieh) is absolutely amazing, not to mention one of the best books I’ve read all year. It’s addictive, it draws you in and it makes you exclaim aloud as you’re reading because it is that good. I was totally bowled over, in so many ways. But now I’m just getting ahead of myself.

The Wrath and the Dawn tells the story of Shahrzad al-Khayzuran, the newest bride of Khalid al-Rashid, the eighteen-year-old Caliph of Khorasan. A boy-king known across the kingdom as a murderous madman who takes a new bride every night only to have her hanged by a silk cord at dawn. But Shahrzad does not intend to meet that same fate–she intends to exact revenge on her new husband, in retribution for the loss of her best friend, Shiva. And she refuses to fail.

Shahrzad keeps herself alive night by night, enchanting the boy-king with tails of sailors and thieves and men with blue beards, not to mention her own razor-sharp wit. But as her time in the palace lengthens, Shahrzad becomes aware of two things: That the story of Khalid and his crimes is much more complicated than she ever imagined, and that she may or may not be falling in love with her captor. Which presents a serious problem.

One of the things I absolutely adored about The Wrath and the Dawn was Shahrzad herself. Shahrzad is the star of this book, running through almost every chapter with her fierce intelligence and determination not to lose the game she and Khalid are playing. She’s brave and daring, but still human and flawed, and always ready with some biting remark, whether it be for Khalid, the Captain of the Guard, or anyone else. (Seriously, I could not get enough of her wit.) I wish I had half the guts she does, but more than that, I wish the book had gone on for at least several more chapters just so I could read more about her. Shahrzad is amazing.

And oh, Khalid. Khalid is quite possibly the most cryptic, complicated character in the whole book, but he’s also one of my favorites. He’s cold, and often distant, constantly hiding his emotions behind a blank mask, and with a quick temper to boot. But I loved watching him grow closer to Shahrzad, as well as getting to learn more about him as the story went on. He’s tortured, and more than a little terrifying, but he’s also one of the things that makes this book so incredibly hard to put down.

But Shahrzad and Khalid are by no means the only characters I fell in love with while reading. I couldn’t get enough of those around them, especially Jalal and Despina (the Captain of the Guard and Shahrzad’s handmaiden). Jalal is playful and flirtatious (not to mention endlessly clever and cocky), but also caring and so, so much fun to read about. And Despina, I absolutely loved Despina. She may be Shahrzad’s handmaiden, but she’s also not inclined to put up with anything she doesn’t want to, and is most likely the only person in the history of Khorasan to refer to the queen as the “Brat Calipha.” Despina and Shahrzad have one of the best book friendships I have ever read about, and I could watch them banter and interact forever. My love for their friendship reaches astronomical levels.

While I adored the characters in this book, the plot also reeled me in and kept me there until the very last page, hence my almost forgetting to eat lunch. Shahrzad’s world is full of danger and suspicion, as well as the very real possibility that every dawn could bring her death. But it is also full of mystery, and I couldn’t wait to find out what was really going on. It’s suspenseful and secretive, and I was on the edge of my seat almost the whole time, dying to know what would happen next but also dreading the moment when it would be over.

But one of the things that most stands out for me regarding this book is the romance. I absolutely fell in love with the chemistry between Shahrzad and Khalid, and I shipped it so much by the end of the book that I’m pretty sure there was a tiny Nora in my head flailing because THIS SHIP. It’s dark and complicated and messy but I loved being able to watch these two characters falling in love, learning to respect each other and their ideas. They’re both such strong characters on their own, and seeing them together made my reader heart do a little tap dance of shippery. It’s one of the main reasons this book left me feeling like I had the biggest book hangover ever after I was done.

But I also loved reading about the world of the book, as well as the characters, from the palace of Khorasan to the streets of Shahrzad’s city. Ahdieh gives us a world that is rich and sumptuous, painting it with a wealth of beautiful details without ever dumping too much information at once. The descriptions are wonderful, from the clothes to the food, and I felt like I could really see the palace and the world around it. It makes me remember why I love fantasies, and I want to find a way to teleport to Khorasan as soon as possible, if only to see it in person.

The book also drew me in with the absolutely gorgeous writing. Ahdieh writes with such talent and wit that I wanted the pages to go on forever, if only so I could see more. She paints Shahrzad and Khalid’s world in a way that makes it so incredibly hard to put the book down, and the dialogue both made me laugh and catch my breath. The writing is awesome, and I can’t wait (cantwaitcantwaitcantwait) to see more of it.

When I say that I loved The Wrath and the Dawn, I mean I loved The Wrath and the Dawn. It’s dark and sumptuous and imaginative, and it’s one of those books that I wanted to go on forever because it was just so good. It utterly absorbed me, and it made me feel so much, from breaking my heart to wanting to jump around with excitement because this book guys, this book! From the plot to the characters to the writing itself, I fell completely in love with it, and I’m going to be counting down the days until I can get my hands on the sequel. It’s really, really good.

Hope you’re all enjoying your summers!

–Nora

Bookish Quote of the Day: “For nothing, not the sun, not the rain, not even the brightest star in the darkest sky, could compare to the wonder of you.” —The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh

An Ember in the Ashes

Hi everyone! Summer is finally upon us, which means a number of things–no homework! More ice cream! Trying not to melt in the all-consuming inferno that is summer heat! And more time for reading/blogging! Which is good, because I have a lot of reviewing to catch up on. And number one is An Ember in the Ashes, by Sabaa Tahir.

The book centers on Laia and Elias, who at first glance couldn’t be more different. Laia is a Scholar living with her grandparents and older brother, somehow managing to survive day-to-day under the brutal rule of the Martial Empire. Elias is the most accomplished student of Blackcliff Academy, where the Empire’s most deadly soldiers are trained. But despite his high status, Elias wants nothing more than to just escape.

When Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, she serves as a spy for the Scholar Resistance, going undercover at Blackcliff in exchange for their help in freeing Darin. It is here that she and Elias meet for the first time. But there’s trouble brewing at Blackcliff, and both Laia and Elias are confronted with much more danger than either of them imagined. This is especially true once the Trials to choose a new Emperor begin.

An Ember in the Ashes is one of those books that left me feeling totally bowled over and like I need to lay down for a while and simply absorb everything about it. (Seriously. On the outside I’m calm, but on the inside there is FLAILING.) So, without further ado, I’m going to try to break down everything in some sort of logical fashion:

The World

An Ember in the Ashes is the first fantasy I’ve read in quite a while. But oh my god, what a fantasy.

The book is set in a fantasy world in which the Scholars have been conquered by the Martial Empire, led by Emperor Taius. The Scholars are brutally oppressed by the Empire, subjected to raids, murder, and slavery. It’s terrifying and violent, and Laia becomes part of fighting that when she agrees to help the Scholar Resistance. Of course, then she’s heading into the belly of the beast.

What struck me about the world of the book was how rich and detailed it was. I loved falling into it, learning more about the people’s lives and how everything worked. The Empire is perhaps the most brutal fantasy regime I’ve ever read about, but Tahir pulls it off in such a brilliant way, and I couldn’t help but be fascinated by Laia and Elias’s world. Everything is painted in such an interesting and detailed light that it just made it harder to put the book down. The courtyard of Blackcliff, the marketplace of Serra, the dunes that surround the school and the desert where the Tribes live. The magic and the setting are all so unique, not to mention non-Eurocentric, and it’s a place I can’t wait to read more about. I felt like these places were almost real, almost close enough to touch, and I loved it.

The Characters

>deep breath< Okay, I am calm, I am calm.

The setting of the book isn’t the only thing that is filled with talent and detail–the characters get a fair share of it themselves. Tahir’s characters are almost living and breathing–they range from the brutal to the cryptic to the oh-my-god-let-me-hug-you variety, but each of them is so well-drawn and unique.

I loved reading about both Laia and Elias. The book is narrated in their alternating POVs, so we get to hear from them both. Laia is so scared at the start of the story, and understandably so–she’s terrified of what she has to do, and she has no idea how she’s ever going to pull this whole spying thing off. But she grows so much throughout the book, and watching that was such a great experience. Elias is also a well-done character, and I really liked that I got to see what it’s like to be a part of Blackcliff through the eyes of someone who’s a part of it, despite how much he wishes he wasn’t. Both of their voices are original and well-written, and I can’t wait to see more of them.

The side characters are also some of the best parts of the book. The Commandant of Blackcliff Academy is terrible–and I mean terrible. She’s brutal and cruel, but also still a character with depth and a story. I was fascinated by Cook, one of the slaves Laia meets at the school, and I also liked Keenan, one of the members of the Resistance that Laia works with. (But don’t mention Mazen to me because I have FEELINGS about Mazen.) (Also Marcus. Never ever mention Marcus. I could stab Markus in the EYE.)

And oh, Helene. I could write for ages about Helene. I could write essays on Helene. Helene is quite possibly the most complex character in the whole book. Unlike Elias, she believes wholeheartedly in the Empire and what it teaches them, but there’s also so much more to her than meets the eye. She’s his best friend, and the only female soldier at the Academy, but she is also full of emotions and skill (I only wish I could wield a sword as capably as Helene). She’s a mix of light and dark and she gives me so many feelings and I need to read more.

The Plot

This plot. This plot blew my mind.

The thing about this book is that the stakes are higher than five Empire State Buildings stacked one on top of the other. Both Laia and Elias, as well as many of the other characters, are surrounded by danger–danger from the Martials, from their own friends, from other things that I don’t want to mention because SPOILERS. It is insane, and it makes it so hard to stop reading. The danger is one of the many things that made this book nearly impossible to put down.

But the mysteries were another thing I loved about the plot. This book is full of twists and turns, and there are secrets around every corner. I was dying to find out what everything meant, who Laia and Elias could trust, if they would ever actually kiss, if they would actually survive. I had to know what would happen next, and I could barely turn the pages fast enough. (There was also an angry yell at one point. I believe it was around page 389.)

I loved the action and the mystery, but I also loved the more subdued scenes and parts of the plot. The section where Laia attends the Scholar-held Moon Festival is definitely one of my favorites, and I loved the looks Tahir gives into the backstories of the characters and their relationships. She finds a wonderful balance between the dangerous, holy-crap-what-is-going-on scenes and the ones that occur in the spaces between those, where we get to see a little more of the characters, and hopefully catch our breath (right before getting it stolen again because THIS PLOT). I can’t remember ever being bored while reading this book. In short, the plot is A+++.

The Writing

(You might think that there is a limit to how many things I can love about this book, but you’d be wrong.)

Tahir’s writing is another one of the great things about An Ember in the Ashes. She writes about the characters and the amazing fantasy world they live in without ever just dumping info on the reader or making it feel stilted. While I did feel a little disoriented in the fantasy setting for the first couple chapters, the confusion was quickly cleared up and after that there was no turning back. She draws the reader in and keeps them turning the pages, and the alternating POVs worked very well (and only made me feel more invested). I adored the plot and characters, but the writing just makes the story even better.

In short, there is talent just radiating from the pages of this book. It’s one of those books that I finished in a fog one afternoon, when I couldn’t put it down and I had had had to keep going. And then afterward I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I needed the book to go on, because as badly as I wanted to know what happened next, I never wanted it to end. It’s the kind of book that you can fall into and stay there for hours. I absolutely loved Ember, and I want to shove it into the hands of pretty much everyone I meet. It’s that good. And if you want to learn more before taking the plunge into Laia and Elias’s world, there’s also this amazing website with a book trailer, character trailers, information about the world, and more.

Until next time, hope you’re all enjoying your summers! Eat some ice cream for me.

–Nora

P.S. An important note: This book does deal quite a lot with violence, and there is also a lot of mention of sexual assault and/or rape, as well as an actual instance of assault. This could be triggering.

P.P.S. Also, this book is downright GORGEOUS. The cover is all glow-y and there are two different maps on the endpapers and just look:

An Ember in the Ashes CollageHave a great day everybody!

March: Book Two

Hi everybody! As you can probably see, the book of the day is March: Book Two, written by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, with art by Nathan Powell. And I’m already sure it’s one of the best books of the year.

As I’m typing this, Congressman John Lewis is in Selma, Alabama, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday civil rights march, in which protestors marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge were assaulted by Alabama State troopers and police. The protestors were attacked with tear gas and night sticks, many injured and seventeen sent to the hospital. Congressman Lewis, one of the leaders of the march, was sent to the hospital with a head wound.

But Bloody Sunday isn’t the only march Lewis participated in, not in the least. Lewis got his start in the Civil Rights Movement by participating in sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters in Nashville, and also served as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). March, a graphic memoir told in three parts, tells the story of those experiences.

While Book One is closer to the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and focuses partly on Lewis’s childhood, Book Two is both longer and more violent, getting to the heart of the protests and the brutality they were met with. It focuses largely on the Freedom Rides of 1961, the protests against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. And Lewis and his peers are in the thick of it all.

Part of me felt like I couldn’t look away from this book. Lewis and Aydin’s writing is straightforward and eloquent, and it almost feels like Lewis is sitting in front of you, telling the story of his life. Powell’s illustrations make it even harder to put the book down–they’re striking and hard to forget, complementing the writing in a way that makes the book even better.

March also offers a look at history that you just can’t get anywhere else–from a textbook, a classroom, or Wikipedia. Lewis shows the behind-the-scenes work of the movement, from arguments over methods of protest to the orchestration of the March on Washington. He introduces the reader to other leaders and protestors, such as A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, showing the work that had to be done in order for these protests to go on. It’s absolutely fascinating to see the conflicts and discussions that went into the fight, and I already can’t wait to read more about it.

One of the main things I remember about reading this book is being angry. So, incredibly angry. It still makes me angry to think about some of the things that are described–mobs of people screaming the n-word, police setting dogs on unarmed protestors, fire hoses being turned on children. People looking at these protestors and automatically thinking of them as “less than,” and then not even understanding why that’s wrong. I’m furious that our country didn’t stop it, that these people were brutally attacked, that this racial inequality was allowed to happen in the first place. That it still happens today.

March is one of those books that you cannot forget about easily, nor do you want to. It’s hard, and brutal, and tough. It stays with the reader almost from the first page, forcing us to acknowledge the awful things that our country has done. And while reading it left me crying and furious and upset, it’s not a story about hopelessness. It’s not a story about giving up.

It’s a story about the men, women and children who fought for human dignity and the right to be treated as equals. It’s a story about marches, bus rides, and speeches given to scores of people gathered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It’s a story about facing injustice and fighting for what is right, even when those efforts are met with cruelty. It’s about history, courage, and determination. It’s about love.

But most of all, March is human. And that’s all anyone could ask for.

Bookish Quote of the Day:

“We will march through the South, through the streets of Jackson, through the streets of Danville, through the streets of Cambridge, through the streets of Birmingham. But we will march with the spirit of love and with the spirit of dignity that we have shown here today.

By the force of our demands, our determination and our numbers, we shall splinter the segregated South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of God and democracy.

We must say, ‘Wake up, America. Wake up!!!’ For we cannot stop, and we will not be patient.” –John Lewis’s speech to the March on Washington, March: Book Two, by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

P.S. You can also watch Lewis speak about the events of Bloody Sunday here.

Love Stories: Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hi everyone! So I am a bit of a hopeless romantic. I live for things like beautiful romantic gestures and cute couples and sweet love poetry. And since today is Valentine’s Day, it seems like as appropriate a time as any to post some of my favorite romances and love stories. So, let’s get to it, shall we?

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars is about many things, but it is primarily about the friendship and romance between Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster. I love Hazel and Augustus as individual characters, but I love them just as much as a couple. They’re both intelligent and flawed, and their relationship is full of nerdiness and banter and the kind of conversations that you just love to read about, about everything from An Imperial Affliction to scrambled eggs. They care deeply for each other, and I loved reading about the “third space” they entered when they talked on the phone, or how Hazel can hear his smile when he talks. They’re one of my favorite fictional couples ever. But please don’t even think of mentioning that last page because NO. >grabs tissues< (Review here.)

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

So to balance out the tears and heartache and asdfghjkl served up by TFiOS, I offer you Pride and Prejudice, which has to be one of the best love stories in literature. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are without a doubt one of my favorite pairings of all time. He’s prideful and awkward, she’s playful and reluctant to let go of first impressions. But they’re both so quickwitted and clever, and they complement each other in the best way possible. They argue and they engage in battles of wits and, despite their differences in society and class, there’s respect between them. I could listen to them banter for ages. And the walk they take in Chapter 58 made me want to bounce up and down with happiness.

3. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

This book fills me with so many feelings that I’m still not sure I can be coherent about it, despite finishing it months ago. Two Boys Kissing isn’t exactly a love story about one couple–it’s about multiple couples, or former couples, or people who are simply single. It’s about Tariq, and Harry, and Craig, and Cooper, and Avery, and a host of other characters. Some of them are in love, some of them are in like, some used to be in love but aren’t anymore. But each of the boys is completely his own, and they’re each written in a way that makes me want to read this book again and again. Also, the writing. I will never be able to stop gushing about this writing. David Levithan writes such beautiful sentences that I want to dive into this book and never come out. It’s so good. (Review here.)

4. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

I didn’t read Anna and the French Kiss for the longest time, but I am so glad I picked it up. Despite the excitement of it all, Anna Oliphant is a little bit terrified to be going to boarding school in Paris. But then she starts to make friends, one of which happens to be Étienne St. Clair, a short history nerd with absolutely amazing hair. It’s so much fun to watch Anna and Étienne’s relationship develop over time, through misunderstandings and jokes and the best series of holiday emails I have ever read. I love so many things about this book and their relationship that it would take me forever to list them all. Anna! Movies! Cuteness! Paris! It’s such a wonderful read, not to mention the fact that Stephanie Perkins writes some of the best characters ever. I may need to write a full review because I have so many feelings about it. I wanted to live in Paris with Anna forever.

5. My True Love Gave to Me ed. Stephanie Perkins

I remember reading about this book ages ago and immediately freaking out because it sounds like what dreams are made of. A holiday story anthology? Edited by Stephanie Perkins? With an absolutely perfect illustrated cover? It sounded wonderful. It was wonderful. (I literally finished it this morning, so I’m a little late, but oh well.) There are stories from a host of talented authors–Holly Black, David Levithan, Kelly Link. While not all of the stories were my cup of tea, there were quite a few that I adored. Stephanie Perkins’s has all the cuteness and romance that she does so well, Matt de la Peña’s made me decide that he is definitely becoming one of my favorite authors, and Laini Taylor’s was so magical and fantastic I never wanted it to end. I could go on. Each of these stories is so unique and original, and I may very well reread it when the holidays roll around again. Besides, that cover!

6. Love poetry

As much as I enjoy love stories, I adore love poetry just as much, if not more. Poetry can capture emotions like that so well–heartache, happiness, longing. There are so many love poems that I reread again and again, but some of my favorites are “A Red, Red Rose” by Robert Burns, “Zodiac” by Elizabeth Alexander, and “A Glimpse” by Walt Whitman. And many, many more, but by the time I was done writing about them it wouldn’t even be Valentine’s Day. (And I know Poetry Speaks Who I Am isn’t strictly love poetry, but it does have quite a few in it.)

Love stories are some of my favorite stories, and I’m not really sure why. Part of it might just be the magic of watching two people fall head over heels for each other, as they meet that one person and everything starts to click. It’s so much fun to read about characters who are wholeheartedly in love and want each other to be happy.

Loving is good. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Bookish Quote of the Day: “The right person at the right time can open all the windows and unlock all the doors.” —Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

P.S. There are many more great quotes from Two Boys Kissing here.