book review · features · Shar

Tis the season of rereading: City of the Beasts

I hope all you Virtually Readers had a nice Christmas! We did–it’s really nice to be at home with our family. Anyway, technically the Season of rereading lasts all of December because otherwise we’d never do enough. Continue reading “Tis the season of rereading: City of the Beasts”

collabs · features · shanti · Shar

Tis the season of rereading–plot summaries or plot forgeteries?

Hi Virtually Readers! Have you been following our wildly popular (lol) blog series ‘tis the Season of Rereading? It is Christmas eve here and the air is slightly smoky from the fire and my cheeks are warm from mulled wine. Shar and I have created a fun feature where we summarise the books that the other person has reread to see what we remember. (Ingo technically was not part of the series but Shar had read it and not the Madeliene L’Engle books). Just know that there are spoilers for Ingo, the Wouldbegoods, Strange the Dreamer, and City of the Beasts; if you don’t want to know what happens or hear possibly incorrect versions of such, then click through to the normal posts! (For more thoughts, see Is it worth reading something if we won’t remember it? or Books Shanti Remembers) Continue reading “Tis the season of rereading–plot summaries or plot forgeteries?”

book review · books · discussions · features · shanti

‘Tis the Season of Rereading Strange The Dreamer

Welcome back to ‘Tis the Season of Rereading, people! I’m back where it all began (at least, this series) in India with wintry air and slow internt and a lot of gladness. It’s approprading and reviewing one of my favourite books of this year–Strange the Dreamer, and its sequel, Muse of Nightmares.

Continue reading “‘Tis the Season of Rereading Strange The Dreamer”

books · lists · Shar

‘Tis the season of rereading: Books I want to reread

Hello Virtually Readers! December seems to have totally snuck up on me. The festive season is upon us and of course I have low key lost track of time and can’t say I was *that* prepared for this blog series we do every year. As always, feel free to participate (we’ve always said that, but nobody ever has haha. That’s okay though because we don’t mind doing it by ourselves). There’s something about rereading that is comforting, like a warm hug. Kind of like what Christmas can be. So we write reviews and thoughts we have about books we’ve reread each December. Continue reading “‘Tis the season of rereading: Books I want to reread”

book review · books · discussions · shanti

‘Tis The Season of Rereading: The Austin Chronicles

Hi Virtually Readers! It is December which is half YAY ADVENT JESUS FAMILY FOOD SUMMER and half OH NO THE YEAR IS ALMOST DONE. But whether feelings of coziness drive you towards books or feelings of panic drive you towards books, our annual feature ‘Tis the Season of Rereading is back for its fifth (!) year. Way back in 2014, Shar and I decided that we really like rereading books in our holidays and wintertime, and ever since then we’ve had this recurring seasonal feature on Virtually Read. It is fun! As always, there is an open invitation to join in if you would also like to reread a book, write about it and link back to us, but no pressure. Anyway I have some gooood stuff lined up for this but the first one is rereading the Austin Chronicles. Continue reading “‘Tis The Season of Rereading: The Austin Chronicles”

discussions · features · Shar

’tis the season of rereading Alice Oseman

It’s getting to be the Christmas time of year, Virtually Readers, and that means one thing: ‘Tis the season of rereading! (Also, like trees and food and sometimes snow and presents and the birth or Jesus but mostly, rereading). It’s the first of December, so it’s time for our yearly super fun feature! Continue reading “’tis the season of rereading Alice Oseman”

books · discussions · shanti

Why Do We Reread?

Hi Virtually Readers! And Happy New Year! It’s probably going to be another awesome year of books and frenetic fangirling around here—I hope you’ll stick with us. Later this week we have an end of year book survey, but for today, there’s this discussion post: Why do we reread? You may have noticed our *fabulous* feature for the month of December (and this is the third year oh ma gosh): ‘Tis the Season of Rereading. To wrap that up, I thought I’d finish with a discussion: Why do we reread?

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I should start by saying that this post speaks for me alone, and the reasons that I reread. I know that not everyone rereads, and not everyone has the same thoughts about the value of rereading. But I think that most people could agree that you don’t reread because of the plot. The suspense mostly happens the first time around, unless you’re lucky enough to have forgotten most of it (which is fine. That’s a good reason to reread as well).

One of the main reasons that I reread is for the characters. Even if you know the story, a well written character will continue to enchant on the second, third, fourth, and fifth times reading. Chanda, from Chanda’s Secrets and Chanda’s Wars by Allan Stratton definitely does this for me, and the same goes for Tamora Pierce’s Kel and Michelle Coopers Sophia. These characters mean something to me, and every time I read about them, I get to know them better.

Another reason that I reread is that I love the world. The Harry Potter world, for example, is just so nuanced and detailed, that every time I reread it I get more out of it. The world of Harry Potter is a lovely place to be (even if it’s scary sometimes), and the same goes for the Lunar Chronicles, and Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. When the world and setting is a place you care about, the way the story can immerse you in that means something, and is a valid reason to reread. (really, there aren’t any valid reasons not to reread)

Sometimes it’s really hard to know which book to read next. And by sometimes, I mean always. What if you don’t like it? With a book you’re rereading, there is comfort, because you know what to expect. A reread book is wonderfully familiar, and that means that reading it is a totally different experience than a book you’ve read before. Karen Healey’s When We Wake, Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom sequence and Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl definitely fit into that category for me.

Once published, books never change. But you do. Books that have made you think, defined in some way who you are, are always interesting to come back to, to see how your response to the story is different. If you want to reevaluate a book, you can’t do it without rereading.(or at least, you can’t do it fairly) With the ‘Tis the Season of Rereading feature, I’ve looked at The Host (by Stephenie Meyer), Divergent, and Anne of Green Gables again, and outside of the feature, I’ve thought about The Circle and A Wicked Thing.

You might also reread because you have to read a book for class (me and this changes everything); because you feel guilty for owning a book and only reading it once; or because you want to relive some childhood nostalgia (Ingo! Harry Potter! Anne of Green Gables! The Key to Rondo! Little House on the Prairie!), or maybe reading is your only recreational activity and you have approximately 30 books, and you live in a remote area of the Himalayas where you can’t get any more so you reread the same ones over and over. (Yeah, this was me seven years ago).

I love rereading. I think it makes me love books more, most of the time, and see them differently. The thing about rereading is that if you’re doing it, the book is probably excellent, and you know you’re going to enjoy it. That’s wonderful; that’s comforting; that’s worth it.

So do you reread, Virtually Readers? Why? Tell me in the comments!

book review · books · features · shanti

‘Tis the Season of Rereading: Anne of Green Gables

Hi Virtually Readers. Another day, another ‘Tis the Season of Rereading. (because gosh, it is getting ridiculously close to Christmas.) So in July I started rereading Anne of Green Gables. In Novemeber, I finished it and promptly reread the whole series, which I mostly enjoyed. This post will contain a mini-review for each of the eight books (relatively spoiler free, but if you don’t want to know anything about this series, I would skip it altogether), then a brief discussion, then a bunch of quote illustration/poster things which you can enjoy. Ready? Ready.

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Anne of Green Gables: This is the book that started it all. It feature Anne, the lovable, vivacious orphan who desperately needs love. I love seeing how kindness and hospitality mellow Anne through the story. The hilarious scrapes (almost drowning! Dying your hair! Hitting boys!) make it a throughly entertaining story, and each character is drawn so well. This story covers a considerable period of time, and each year makes us love Anne of the wild imagination more.

Anne of Avonlea: Anne’s feud with a *certain* person is over, and she is thriving in her role as a school teacher, as well as taking on more responsibilities at home. As she struggles with being a kind, inspiring teacher, she finds herself making new friends, too– the precocious Paul Irving, the sweet Ms. Lavendar, and Gilbert. This is a story of friendship, most of all, and how you fit into the landscape of the people growing up around you. But it is not without it’s somber, beautiful moments either, and doses of hilarity, like Davy’s ‘radical’ religious questions.

Anne of the Island: This is probably my favourite Anne book. Anne is off at college, with her friends Stella (who doesn’t get enough of a focus), Priscilla, and the irrepressible Philippa. I loved seeing how Anne fits into the greater landscape, but there were some tragic moments, like everything to do with Ruby Gillis, and Anne visiting her birthplace. But the whole ‘friends and university’ thing just really clicked with me. I also love how this episode of the story questions romance (with the grotesque proposals), but also how we idealise certain qualities that we want to fall in love with. That feels fresh and relevant even almost a hundred years after it’s publication.

Anne of Windy Poplars: Anne is now off on her own, being a school principal and making friends. This novel doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the Anne narrative (it was written, I believe, after House of Dreams?), and is almost like a collection of short stories, with very little to tie the entertaining or boring episodes together. But the characters are lively, and the partial epistolary format is effective and interesting, and it’s interesting to see Anne out of a typical environment.

Anne’s House of Dreams: This story is fun, of course, and romantic (because it’s a Montgomery novel) and focuses on Anne as she begins her married life, and makes friends in a new place. This story can of course be read and enjoyed by kids, but there are allusions to darker things–abusive, alcoholic fathers and unwanted children. In terms of that, reading it with my older eyes did make for a different experience, though of course I still loved the story. I also thought the way they alluded to pregnancy was hilarious (with a terrible result). Anne’s friendship with Captain Jim, Leslie, and Miss Cornelia, as well as her shifting relationship with her husband, ties the pieces of this story together, and I would say it’s the most cohesive story in the whole sequence.

Anne of Ingleside: In this novel, the focus shifts from Anne to her children. They get little third person perspectives chronicling ther adventures and mishaps. It’s entertaining and clever (again, Montgomery trademarks), but it’s a bit of a let down after  the fluidity of House of Dreams. Still, I like that we get to know each child better, and Susan (their servant) is an absolute ‘duck’ and the few sections focussing on Anne show her growth–a fascinating comparison to the early stories.

Rainbow Valley: This is a story about Anne’s children somewhat, but the Meredith (their neighbours) kids even more. It has the usual romps both exciting and sad, and utterly character centric, and each child is delightful and well drawn. Woven through it all (and again, more noticeable for an older audience, though there’s nothing inappropriate) is a love story, and this key idea: what is the promise of love (to wives or children) What does in mean to break it?

Rilla of Ingleside: This last book of the Anne sequence, and focuses on Anne’s youngest daughter, as World War One leaves her alone at home. (no, that isn’t a spoiler. Her siblings are away, not dead. This book is set in Canada for goodness sake) This is the one where my reread really changed how I feel. Sure, Rilla is an interesting, and distinct character, and her character development (and fair share of both ‘scrapes’ and romance) hold the story together…but there was so much glorification of war. The book itself doesn’t necessarily glorify war (though it heavily implies that fighting is necessary, and the British must be right), but almost all the character (who I was pretty fond of by this point) do. The girl who didn’t want her sweetheart to go off to war is seen as ‘unpatriotic’ and a pacifist is one of the central antagonists, and off course all the characters are happily charging off to war or to help in the war effort and it just really, really irritated me. War is terrible, and I know that this is a historically accurate perspective but I could hardly stand it. And the romance (or rather, romances–everyone seems to pair off)  is under developed–not the slow, sweet gradual thing that Anne had with her husband.

What struck me about this reread was that, though I am an Indian-New Zealand pacifist whose beliefs would probably be considered fairly heretical by most of the characters, I can still relate to these characters. Yes, diversity is good, and I love many modern novels–but Montgomery is a brilliant writer, because she understands people. In the end, no matter the content of stories, a good writer will make you understand people. And L.M. Montgomery, writing from a long time ago, gets it. She gets people, and she can write about them and make you understand them. That’s why the Anne novels are so enduringly popular, despite shifts in values, despite the fact that most of the readers have never been to Prince Edward Island. That’s what makes these books worth reading. And because this post is massive, I’m going to pause my thoughts right there and show you some of the lovely quotes (and my mediocre-hopefully typo free graphics for them). Click to see them bigger, and I really hope the formatting isn’t screwed up.

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Have you read Anne of Green Gables? Do you like classics? Who is a writer that you think is stellar at writing about people? Tell me in the comments!

 

 

book review · books

‘Tis the Season of Rereading: Divergent

I read Divergent a long time ago, when I was just getting into using our ereaders, and starting to read book blogs, in December 2013. I reread it once after that, I can’t remember when, but I have since changed a lot. Since I had a paperback, I thought it would be perfect for this feature. The previous owner had marked it up and left notes in the margins, which was pretty cool, and I decided to do the same. My previous rating on goodreads was 5 stars, but I was trying to read critically, and I have to say that my opinion has changed significantly. Divergent is a fairly effective allegory/social commentary, but it doesn’t hold up as a world, and I found some issues with the plot. Obviously, you want to know all about them.

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(ps. This is ‘tis the Season of Rereading, an annual feature where Shar and I reread books and reflect on how our opinions have changed. To read previous posts, just search, or follow the tag.

So what is Divergent about? If you somehow haven’t heard of it (there’s a movie and millions of copies and so on) There is a city which is Chicago (like, the Bean and something called the Hancock building are mentioned, it’s not disguised) and it has for some unknown reason, decided to divide itself by values, so there is a group of people who are honest, a group who are peaceful, a group who are brave, a group who are selfless and a group who are intelligent. A girl discovers that (shocker) she doesn’t fit into the any of the groups, joins a group anyway, makes friends, discovers herself, falls in love, and has to make hard choices to save other people’s lives. You know, pretty standard YA.

This story is clearly a critique of the social divisions in society (race, religion, sexuality, education level, profession, ethnic background etc.) and the way that young people are almost forced to choose between different groups which will define them forever. It also plays with ideas of violence, compassion, family, and loyalty. That’s great, and it’s good that authors layer that sort of thing into their stories, because of course YA readers are smart enough to deal with that and so on (I’m sorry, but somebody I talked to last week said ‘most YA is escapist trash’ and I CAN’T EVEN) I read somewhere that Roth developed this story after taking a psychology course, and I can totally see that. With the simulations and the family aspect, there is a lot about personality, attribution theory, social psychology (e.g. groupthink) and of course nature vs. nurture here. The allegory is not that subtle. I feel like Veronica Roth had a message to tell and constructed a story to tell it, instead of letting the ideas and message develop naturally.

This rereading made me notice a lot of things that I missed earlier. One of the things, sadly, was how weak the worldbuilding of this story with. We get allusions to history classes, a school, cars, trains, computers, oceans, hamburgers, lots of different crops, fresh food, electricity and so on without any indication of where these things come from, and why the people don’t wonder about them. In fact, at one point Tris wonders what is beyond her city—but how does she know that there’s a beyond. It doesn’t feel like a new world, it feels like a thin veneer over our own world that is ultimately quite meaningless. There are a lot of holes in the worldbuilding too. For example, currently Chicago has about 3 million people. In Divergent, there are 21 (if you count one who was left behind and one who was killed) Dauntless initiates. Assuming that each faction has about the same number, there are 100 kids who turned 16 this year. If the population is fairly constant, then there are 8000 people in the city (up to age 80). This means that a lot of people have gone missing, and nobody wonders about it. Of course, some of this is made clear in Insurgent and Allegiant, but a good story (and this one was written originally as a standalone) should be logical within itself. The whole culture just doesn’t make sense, and on this reread that really bothered me.

Also, I don’t want to spoil, but the plot is also very weak. The story is focused on Tris’s initiation into the faction of Dauntless, the brave. That seems to be the main buildup into the story. But the final conflict is not what you expect. Part of this is that the antagonistic force in the story is diluted between three very different villains—Peter, another teenage initiate; Eric, a Dauntless leader; and Janine, an Erudite leader. The foreshadowing is crude and poorly developed, which makes the eventual conflict (which is violent and horrible) feel manufactured, rather than a natural conclusion of Tris’s self-discovery story. Again, some of this is addressed in Insurgent, but it doesn’t stand on it’s own.

I have a lot more to say about Divergent, but this reread made me realise that it is badly disguised social commentary with a world and plot which do not withstand scrutiny. I’ve read a lot more YA since my first experience of Divergent, and become, I think, a much more critical reader. That context makes this rereading different, and perhaps more academic. There is a lot to say about this story, and it’s not all bad (Divergent does, after all, have a healthy appreciation for baked goods). But the narritave ultimately fell short for me this time.

Have you read Divergent? How has reading YA changed how you see YA ‘classics’ like this one? What do you want to reread? Let me know in the comments!

book review

‘Tis the Season of Rereading: The Host

Okay, I’ll admit it. I read the Host (for the third time back in September) Still I think my review fits in quite well with what we’re trying to do with ‘Tis the Season of Rereading. As a side note, The Season of Rereading (aka school holidays) are almost finished. So this is either the last or second last post. Do you have any feedback?

-Shanti

Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of human hosts while leaving their bodies intact. Wanderer, the invading “soul” who has been given Melanie’s body, didn’t expect to find its former tenant refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

As Melanie fills Wanderer’s thoughts with visions of Jared, a human who still lives in hiding, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she’s never met. Reluctant allies, Wanderer and Melanie set off to search for the man they both love.

I’ve read Twilight. I don’t think it was the worst book ever, responsible for the degeneration of the nations youth, but it wasn’t fabulous. It’s easy to see why it appealed to so many people however- and why so many people disliked it. The thing is, I liked the Host. This is my third time rereading it. It was fun- the love triangle was a complex one, the premise was very well executed and I really loved how the deeper themes of identity, family and belonging were woven into the story. It wasn’t perfect- but it was perfectly enjoyable. Stephenie Meyer gets a lot of bad rap, but maybe it’s time to rethink that.
You’ve probably seen the Host around. But in case you haven’t, here is the premise: Earth has been invaded by a species of peaceful aliens, who use human bodies to live inside (Hosts, as it were) This particular soul, Wanderer, is placed in a body who resists her, and then floods her mind with images of the people she loves. Because the soul is essentially human, she starts to feel love for them too. Over the next 600 pages the consequences of that love are explored.  This whole idea was done very well- it’s pretty long and I wasn’t often bored. There are many elements to  the plot, all quite complex ones, that I could really appreciate.
This book is marketed as ‘the only love triangle to feature two bodies. This is true, I guess- there are two bodies, but as is emphasised over and over, it is the body, Melanie, who loves Jared, and Wanda is affected too, but doesn’t love him for herself, not really. The complexity of relationships when a body belongs to two ‘people’ is really interesting, and it was something I really enjoyed seeing. I liked the characters. Wanda is anti violence, meek and compassionate, and Melanie is not. It is really their relationship that is central to this novel, rather than the relationships with Jared, Jamie, Jeb or (j)Ian. All of those characters were complex too, though. I really liked how the outpost and the relationships in it kept evolving as Wanda was accepted. I also loved how complex she was- she feels the very real betrayal of her own kind, but understands the appeal of humanity as well.
Of course, you have to wonder who you are when you share a body. I could actually see some parallels to the Fifth Wave, What’s Left of Me and One in that respect here. Wanda struggles, because only some of her memories are her own, and she doesn’t know what that means. As she develops into a fully fleshed character, her struggle-and Melanie’s struggle-for individuality s very clear. And The Host also deals with the idea of family. Jamie and Jared are Melanie’s family. But who is Wanderer’s family. As Wanda makes friends, she begins to realise that family goes far deeper than blood. It was slightly clichéd, but I liked that anyway. Another theme, connected to the other two, was belonging. Do you belong among your own kind? Who is your own kind? Is it possible to belong in a stolen body? I appreciated the exploration of these themes, and really relished how the ending solidified it all. Wanda is a character easy to empathise with, and the struggles that she went through were a big part of that.
The main thing that I didn’t like about the host was the pacing. It’s a huge book, and it took me the better part of a long weekend to read. But the pacing was off. It would rush through the important weeks while Wanda/Melanie was accepted. It dragged through the getting lost in the desert. It sped through earth shaking kisses, then spent pages describing a soccer game. The worldbuilding was interspersed throughout. I don’t like info dumps, but for a first time reader, the first hundred pages could be really confusing. I also found that some of the descriptions could get repetitive. The internal and external dialogue was excellent, but some of the narration was quite boring.
The Host is a very interesting book, and I liked it. It bears rereading well, with a good plot and good characters and a good story. Sometimes, authors deserve a second chance.

Have you read the Host? What do you think of rereading books with a bad reputation? tell me in the comments!