The Monsters of Templeton

Hello everyone! Hope you all are having wonderful summers, full of ice cream and beaches and movies (and hopefully not summer colds). And, of course, lots and lots of reading. Summer is awesome in large part because of all the time it frees up for new books, and one of the reads I’ve most enjoyed falling into this summer has been The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff.

The Monsters of Templeton transports the reader to a small town called–you guessed it–Templeton, New York, home to a baseball museum, a glimmering lake, and a monster that lurks beneath its waters. But Templeton is home to many other things, as well, including one Wilhelmina Sunshine Upton, a graduate student studying archaeology who returns to her childhood home in the middle of summer, unexpectedly and in disgrace. However, while there, Willie also begins to explore the history of the town, especially as it pertains to her own ancestors, going as far back as Templeton’s founder himself. And what she discovers are things wholly unexpected and very, very interesting.

One of the reasons I fell so completely in love with this book is the plot itself–Groff takes the reader along on Willie’s journey as she delves into her family tree, switching points of view from relative to relative to relative, while also including information on a number of Templeton’s other residents. She encompasses not only a breadth of information about Willie herself, but also Willie’s mother, her grandparents, her great-great-grandparents, etc., and all with considerable talent and balance. One could imagine the novel’s plot as consisting of innumerable little balls, but Groff juggles them so capably that it looks effortless, all with a healthy helping of mystery that makes it even harder to put the book down.

Groff also writes each character in a way that presents them to the reader as wholly human–full of flaws, but also completely engrossing and endlessly interesting. Willie herself is nowhere near perfect, having, like many of us, made a number of poor decisions in the past (and in the present). But she is also brilliant, and loves very fiercely, a fact that comes through in the book a number of times. I adored her best friend, Clarissa, and couldn’t get enough of reading about many of her ancestors. The characters, and the plot they are entangled in, make it very easy to fall into The Monsters of Templeton and never quite get out.

And, finally, the writing. While the characters are written very well, Groff’s writing itself is so engrossing, so lyrical and descriptive without ever being flowery, that it almost seems separate from the characters’ narration, more like it has a mind of its own. It is concise but also full, completely bringing the reader into Willie’s world, in a way that totally grabbed me. The writing, arguably, is the component of Monsters that most makes me want to read all of Groff’s other books, something I am very much looking forward too. It only makes the novel even more fun to lose yourself in.

The Monsters of Templeton is a book both addicting and incredibly interesting, and it left me wanting to know more even after I had closed the pages. The plot twists and turns like a sort of archaeological maze, and even though I was dying to know how it would end, I also found myself fervently wishing that it could have gone on longer. It’s a great book to dive into, and I’m so glad I picked it up. Definitely a recommended read 🙂

And now I am off to help myself to some butter pecan ice cream and some Steven Universe. Have a great week everybody!

–Nora

Quote of the Day: “Templeton was to me like a less-important limb, something inherently mine, something I took for granted. My own tiny, lovely village with great old mansions and a glorious lake, my own grand little hamlet where everyone knows your name, but with elaborate little frills that made it unlike anywhere else: the baseball museum, the Opera, the hospital that had vast arms extending into the rest of upstate, an odd mix of Podunk and cosmopolitan. I came back when I had to, to feel safe, to recharge; I just hadn’t had to in so long.” —The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy

Hi everyone! I have decided to stop being a lazy do-nothing for the day and post something. Yay for productivity!

The book of the day is Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy, written by Elizabeth Kiem. Teenage Marina, the main character, has it pretty good. Her mother is the famous and talented Svetlana Dukovskaya, the Bolshoi Ballet’s most prized dancer. Marina herself is a student at the Bolshoi. Her family’s life in Moscow is comfortable and secure. But let’s be honest here–it’s sure not going to be secure for long.

Marina’s mother is not only a very special dancer, she’s also very special in another way–she has visions of the past. And when one of those visions involves an awful government cover-up, well, things get kind of complicated. Especially when Marina’s mother shows she has no intentions of keeping quiet about it.

After Svetlana suddenly vanishes, Marina and her father find a way to escape to Brooklyn, New York. It’s safer, but it’s definitely not easy. As they both try to adjust to their new lives, while attempting to find a way of saving Svetlana, the two find themselves becoming more and more entangled in the shady business they just wanted to get away from. Preferably alive.

Some of the things I really liked about this book were the little touches. The music Marina listened to, the neighborhood she frequented in New York…those were the bits of the story I really, really enjoyed. Sometimes I cared more about those than the plot itself. The setting, the atmosphere–these special little bits really added something lovely to the story.

The plot was good, if a bit confusing at times, because I didn’t quite understand what Marina was talking about. The characters were well-written and unique, so that was an obvious plus.

The writing was really nice. Marina, who is narrating the story, has a good voice, and I especially like the way she describes things. When she is talking about her dance shoes, she describes them as feeling “hard like rock music, pliant like drum skin.”

But in hindsight, the book was definitely fast-paced. So fast-paced, really, that sometimes I just didn’t really care very much about what was going on. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, but I found that I wasn’t really very invested in what was happening. It was like whoosh, oh, that bit’s over now. Which is unfortunate, because I did like the book, and I did like the characters, and I feel that more could have been done with them, that more could have been added to the book overall. If the world Marina lived in had been expanded upon, I think I would have enjoyed reading about it to a greater extent. Or maybe that’s just me being greedy.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy it. The book was good. Not a huge page-turner, admittedly. But good!

Literary Quote of the Day: “I would like to appear at the party precisely as I see myself in the unlit theater of my windowpane. Silent, graceful, but ultimately not there.” –Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy, by Elizabeth Kiem

P.S. I don’t know if I really made this clear in the review itself, but this is definitely a young adult or teen read. There’s violence, serious stuff…just so you know. Everyone have a great weekend!

Venom

Okay, me continuously apologizing for insanely late posts is probably getting old by now, so I’m just going to jump right in for once. . .

Today’s post is on the book Venom, written by debut Young Adult author Fiona Paul. Cassandra Caravello lives near Renaissance-era Venice, on San Domenico Island, with her elderly Aunt Agnese and a number of servants. And boy, is she restless.

The rest of Cass’s life seems to consist mostly of an engagement and marriage to Luca da Peraga, a young man studying in France whom she hasn’t seen in years. The future looks bland and frightening indeed, and Cass honestly isn’t really looking forward to it. At the moment, she doesn’t really feel like she HAS much of a life, period. Until, that is, she discovers the body of a strangled girl in the graveyard near her home. Then things change. Just a bit.

Suddenly, Cass is on the trail of a crazed murderer, along with Falco, a young artist who Cass feels more and more attracted to, despite the fact that he’s obviously keeping secrets of his own. And when you catch a boy sneaking around graves late at night, can you really trust him?

One thing’s for sure: This story is bursting with detail. It throws you into the world of Venice, complete with masquerade balls, politicians, gossiping nobles, and murky canal waters. It’s original, and the plot is often gripping. The characters are pretty unique, and while I was sometimes annoyed by them (including Cass), overall they were entertaining and well-written. Cass’s character may not be as original as some of the others, but for me it doesn’t really hurt the story as a whole. Even if the writing itself is occasionally less than great, most of it was definitely good and enjoyable.

All in all, Venom is a pretty good read, and I would definitely recommend it to Young Adult and mystery lovers. So, what about that sequel? 🙂 Everyone have a great day!

Literary Quote of the Day: “. . .evil flows silently among us like venom. We are at its mercy.” –The priest in Venom, by Fiona Paul