Graceling by Kristin Cashore

courtesy: thefictiondiaries.blogspot.ca

Summary courtesy of Goodreads:  In a world where people born with an extreme skill – called a Grace – are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of the skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to execute his dirty work, punishing and torturing anyone who displeases him. When she first meets Prince Po, who is Graced with combat skills, Katsa has no hint of how her life is about to change.  She never expects to become Po’s friend.  She never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace – or about a terrible secret that lies hidden far away…a secret that could destroy all seven kingdoms with words alone.

Superhuman capabilities, layers of secrets, journeys across treacherous terrain, a smoldering, romantic and sensitive guy…what’s a girl to do?

Be angry.  Be full of angst.  Declare that marriage is not for her, nor are children and become the epitome of female independence.  This is Katsa.

Cashore brings to life a character that is physically strong, mentally strong, but emotionally wrought.  Katsa creates a secret council that is meant to undermine and counter the evil she is charged with committing as King Randa’s “thug” since he uses Katsa’s Grace to kill to maintain power and control over his Kingdom and adversaries.  Katsa tries to balance all the bad things she does by using the secret council to help those her uncle would hurt.

The book opens with the rescue of a fragile old man who turns out to be the father of the Lienid King.  It is here that Cashore shows off all that Katsa can do – she can even hold firm in the face of a charming, handsome stranger.  Katsa does not fall for the charisma of men.  Katsa can defend herself, she is intelligent and wishes that more women in the kingdom could live their life on their own terms.

(few small spoilers ahead)

The handsome stranger turns out to be Prince Po, grandson of the fragile old man.  Prince Po is also graced, he is intelligent, sweet, and so understanding of Katsa’s fierce desire for independence that he is willing to have any relationship with her at all – he will put his life on hold and simply be there whenever Katsa decides she needs him.

I found this really hard to believe.  Prince Po is essentially perfect.  In every aspect, he is a girl’s dream – handsome, strong, courageous, loyal, sweet, sensitive, understanding, a great lover…royalty without the pressure of being next-in-line for the throne…really, there is absolutely nothing wrong with him.  And, I find lots wrong with that.  The beauty of protagonists (or strong secondary characters) is in the way they work through their imperfections.  Perhaps he was meant to balance all of Katsa’s imperfections – but, it didn’t work because Katsa finds a balance for her flaws on her own.

A book blogger I love to read, Heather at Between the Covers recently reviewed Graceling and her take was to just get rid of the romantic relationship.  I hadn’t thought of that at all – but the more I do, the more I realize it would not compromise the integrity of the plot and it would get rid of the mess Cashore creates by having the two characters fall for each other.  I don’t think a man like Po would wait around for any woman – even someone as awesome as Katsa.

They have an incredible adventure and Katsa’s abilities surpass expectations.  I really liked the way she struggles with her grace.  Her anger is palpable, as is her confusion.  She does not readily accept her gift and realizes that she is far from perfect.  This struggle is challenging and intriguing.

Ultimately, this book is lots of fun to read. Even though it’s dense, it’s pretty easy to get through quickly.  It is fast paced and has well-rounded minor characters.  Katsa’s journey of self-discovery is inspiring as is her desire to help young women fend for themselves.  This book is the first in a series of three; the other two books do not continue Katsa’s tale, but focus on other characters introduced in Graceling.  I don’t know if I’ll read them simply because I really liked Katsa’s character and would love to read her again.

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

courtesy: silverseason.wordpress.com

Summer Read #1 Complete! Woo-hoo!  And, another Back to the Classics Challenge 2012 novel read.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez makes writing feel so damn easy!  He swept me up in romance and love, and shook me with his portrayal of aging.  Do you expect anything less from a Nobel Prize winning author?

In the beginning, the romance between Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza draws sympathy.  It is understandable why an illegitimate poor boy wouldn’t dare approach a young lady of the upper class in a time where class lines were strictly adhered to.  I felt sorry for Florentino Ariza, and though aware of the plot, a tiny part of me still hoped that they could a find a way to make their love work.  Fermina Daza comes to understand that she does not have the power to fight social norms and marries a rich, respectable doctor.  That should’ve been the end, right?  Nope.

Florentino Ariza becomes an astute stalker.  He keeps his distance, but is always aware of Fermina Daza’s life – which is not difficult since she and her husband, Dr. Juvenal Urbino, are at the forefront of their social class.  In the meantime, Florentino Ariza improves his social station and while maintaining his love for Fermina, and other women.

This guy is unbelievable!  He is so desperate for the love of one woman that he spends his life feeding off the emotions and bodies of other women. He satiates his body and claims to love the women he is with, yet lives under the illusion that his one true love is, Fermina Daza.  His goal is to outlive her husband so they can finally be together.

courtesy: thenouveaushanty.wordpress.com

**spoiler alert in next paragraph** (might wanna skip this paragraph if you want to read the novel)

Most of his exploits are ironically charming.  However, there are two occasions when I found him utterly revolting.  The first time involves the murder of one of his mistresses by her husband upon discovering her infidelity.  The second is when, in pedophile fashion, he grooms and courts his fourteen year-old relative.  He was in his sixties.  I was flabbergasted that his appetite had no limit and so disgusted.  How f*****g dare he???  And, he actually convinces himself that he loves her in order to alleviate his guilt.  Ugh.

One other thing that left me disconcerted: the reaction of Florentino Ariza’s many lovers.  Almost all of them were dying of love for him.  He had 622 sexual liaisons…and nearly none of them were left scorned.  Almost any one of them would gladly receive him back into her bed.  Even the teenager…Were they that weak?  Are we that weak, that a few romantic words will have us on our back and eradicate our common sense?  I don’t think so.  In this case I beg to differ with Garcia Marquez’s choices in his portrayal of women.

Then again, perhaps this is all a part of the use of magic realism.  Reality that is distorted…or, perhaps, reality that is real and makes us so uncomfortable that we need to label it as distorted…

The few women of strength in the novel were those that did not sleep with him: his mother, Transito Ariza; Fermina Daza (who succumbs in her seventies); and, Leona Cassiani, his assistant.  They were great characters of intelligence, fortitude and pride.  Interesting that he only preys on the weak.  Even with Fermina Daza, he wins her over when she is in mourning for the loss of her husband…

courtesy: the secondgreenrevolution.
blogspot.ca

In any case, this is a sweeping look at a country and a city during a time of great change.  I loved reading all about the geography of Colombia and talking to my mother about the places that are mentioned in the book.  The effects of the many wars suffered by the country at the hands of the Liberals and Conservatives made me think of stories of my grandfather and uncle having to leave home in the middle of the night to hide in the mountains because the Conservatives were raiding for Liberals, while my grandmother huddled in a room with her five daughters (one of them, my mother) praying for their safety.  A frightening and violent time.

Love in the Time of Cholera challenged my views on love, sexuality, aging and brought to life many moments in Colombian and world history.  It is eloquent, simple, honest and its characters are richly textured.  Definitely a worthy read.

What novels have you read that stayed with you and challenged you?

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer TBR List

(a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish)

This week’s top ten list is all about summer reading.  I recently published my summer TBR list, since then I have come across some tantalizing titles that I would love to delve into once my short summer list is done.  First you’ll see a recap of my Summer Reads (#1-5), followed by my “if-I-have-time-wanna-reads” (#6-10).

1.  Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 

2. Wild Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

3.  The Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan

4.  The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

5.  Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (kinda regretting this choice…we’ll see how it goes!)

6.  Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda – because every time I pick it up I really want to read it, but there’s other things that keep me from it.  Hope to read it by the end of the year in any case…

7.  Graceling by Kristin Cashore – found this recommended by other sights and on Goodreads.  Love novels about girls that kick ass.

8.  Something by Phillipa Gregory – girls kicking ass Tudor-style.  Or at least I’d like to think so…She has published so many books, I’m having trouble narrowing it down to one.  I’ve read one historical fiction novel (The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane) and rather enjoyed it.  Several readers recommended historical fiction as a genre.  I might take them up on it.

9.  The Night Circus by Erin Morgentsern – like Secret Daughter, this is one I pick up and put back down again – at first I felt ambivalent…but after reading a few great reviews I think it is a must read for me.

10.  As much as I’d love for there to be a #10, this spot is reserved for work-related reading I’ll have…Alice Walker, Carol Ann Duffy, Kate Chopin, Oscar Wilde…plus figure out how to teach them. Fun times ahead.

So, what’s on your Summer TBR list?

Addicted to Love in the Time of Cholera

(image courtesy: silverthreads.wordpress.com)

I’m  on page 184 of 348, and while the book is taking a turn I had not anticipated – Florentino Ariza is an absolue slime ball masking his sliminess with vast, romantic notions of love – it is still the finest piece of writing ever.  So fine in fact, (I am paraphrasing an esteemed colleague here), that we are almost convinced that Florenino Ariza truly acts out of love, not lust.

It is my humble opinion that in the history of writing, Garcia Marquez is untouchable. Here are a few of my favourite quotes so far:

She prayed to God to give him at least a moment so that he would not go without knowing how much she had loved him despite all their doubts, and she felt an irresistable longing to begin life with him over again so that they could say what they had left unsaid and do everything right that they had done badly in the past.” (47) An eloquent reminder of the regrets one holds when faced with the death of a loved one.

“…many years later, as he was combing his hair in front of the mirror, and only then did he understand that a man knows that he is growing old because he begins to look like his father.” (170) A bitter sweet moment…especially if your father (or, mother) did not grow old gracefully.

“It was in this innocent way that Florentino Ariza began his secret life as a solitary hunter.” (56) He is a hunter of women and his intention is to submerge his obssessive love for Fermin Daza with sexual liasons and relationships (note: all sexual encounters are mutually consented).  That really should’ve been my first cue that this guy was a creep.

“…when she was almost one hundred years old, they found [Hildebranda’s photo] locked in the bedroom closet hidden among the folds of perfumed sheets…Fermina Daza kept her [photo] on the first page of a family album, then it disappeared without anyone’s knowing how, or when, and came into the possession of Florentino Ariza, through a series of unbelievable coincidences…” (134) A simple observation of what happens to our most prized possessions – photos that hold memories of a better time.  They are hidden and discovered after we die or we lose them and they travel into other hands…it’s like a little part of us is in those photos that disappear…such a simple concept: the destination of a photograph, given such importance.

I also love the magic realism…the magic mixed in with he real….I could write a quote from every page that exemplifies good writing, but that would be outrageous…a little obsessive, perhaps.

If you’re reading this novel, or have read it, what were your favourite parts?  Do you have an author that you just love and could quote from every page?

Top Ten Tuesday: Beach Reads

(a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish)

Heading to the beach this summer? If you’re looking for something to read while you’re desperately trying to keep sand from sticking to your sunscreen or while you’e sneaking an extra five minutes of sunshine during your lunch break maybe my Top Eight Beach Reads can help.

Why not 10? You ask (considering it’s Top Ten Tuesday).

I had lots of trouble concocting this list – and I realized why.  I’ve spent the past several years reading classics, reading essays, reading literary theory, and devising all sorts of creative ways to deliver English curriculum in a captivating way to high school students.  Little time was left for reading things I wanted to read…even my summers were eaten up by reading for the school year.

Starting this blog was a way to get back in touch with the “Me-Who-Reads-for-Pleasure” (I really liked her).  I’m sad that I can’t offer more scintillating beach reads, but I realize that that might be where I want to go with my reading/blog: read more modern titles, and perhaps, lighter titles, too.

Well, here are some books that I think will keep you entertained this summer:

1.  The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson – a must-read for any true romantic.  Love that survives 700 years, masterful story telling, stories within a story, archetypal imagery…simply put, riveting, beautiful, will stay with you.  Hmmm, I think I really liked this book

2. Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman – a story of two different time periods: post WWII Scotland and Australia; modern-day Australia and England.  A granddaughter discovering the secrets of her grandmother’s life as she combs through the old sheep station she inherited from her grandmother.  A moving story of love, family history, self-discovery and relationships.

3.  Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert – a wonderful story that will make you totally envious that your employer doesn’t give you a $30K advance on your next book so you can travel the world and find yourself.  Seriously though, if you can’t travel, this book will take you to three awesome countries with loads of laughs, moments of sadness, nostalgia, and hope.

4.  The Help by Kathryn Stockton – hilarious, sad, thought-provoking.  Oh what women do…

5.  The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin – maybe this is your summer to do something wonderful for yourself…like become happy…or, happier.  The Happiness Project will offer many ideas to help you get there – without being overbearing or preachy.

6, 7, 8.  The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins – The Hunger GamesCatching FireMockingjay (yes, I cheated by numbering each individually…but, unless you’d like to read some essays on King Lear, you’ll go with it).  Fun, fun, fun.

So, I hope there’s something there for everyone…my mission: come up with a better list for next year.

What are your summer favourites?