Imperfect romance in the City of Love

Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins (2010)

Opening line: “Here is everything I know about France: Madeline and Amelie and Moulin Rouge.

Anna’s divorced parents decide she should spend her senior year at a boarding school in Paris. Why? No one’s sure, especially not Anna. And she’s not too thrilled about it either. She muses that she perhaps would have been thrilled by the option of a year in Paris, but not by the demand. After all, she has a bff, a job, and a cute boy to pine over all back in Atlanta. Instead, she’s in the City of Lights with not a friend to her name and the most minimal knowledge of French (we’re talking oui and merci).

Fortunately, her next door neighbor in the dorm is super nice and Anna has a group of friends almost immediately. Also fortunately, there’s a super cute, british-accented boy who is part of said friend group. Unfortunately, he already has a girlfriend AND the friendly next door neighbor is also in love with him.

You might be thinking, this sounds a bit formulaic and a bit cheesy, and you’d be right. It is that. And it might be easy to write this one off as just that. However, as a girl who pined after a boy who had a girlfriend during her own senior year in high school, this felt SPOT ON emotionally. The constant confusion of liking him, feeling guilty for liking him, feeling sure that you and he would make a much better couple than him and his current girlfriend, feeling inadequate for not being enough for him, etc. And I think teenage readers will connect to these feelings as well.

Not high-brow, inspiring literature, but relevant and fun escapism romance. 1.5 stars

My kind of ghost story

The Shades of London series by Maureen Johnson

The Name of the Star (2011)

The Madness Underneath (2013)

The Shadow Cabinet (2015)

The first book in this series, The Name of the Star, was a selection last year for our wonderful YA Bibiliobitches Book Club with my grad school besties, and after the first one, I was hooked. I just finished the third book in the series, and it was every bit as exciting as the first. In The Name of the Star, Rory Deveaux is a New Orleans-born fish out of water, brand new girl at Wexford Academy in London, after her parents move them across the pond for work. The day she arrives in the U.K. happens to coincide with a bunch of mysterious murders breaking out across the city, and they are suspiciously similar to those of the terrible Jack the Ripper of London’s past, making the media delve deep into Rippermania. Turns out though, that the main suspect is a guy that no video camera’s can pick up. A guy that only Rory can see.

There are a ton of twists and turns in this series that make it a thrilling page-turner. Add to that a likeable main character in Rory, sassy and clever, flawed and goofy. I was happily surprised to realize this wasn’t a trilogy, but an ongoing series. I will be anxiously anticipating the next installment.

2 stars

A new kind of magic

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman (2009)

There’s a guy that rides the same bus as me who will talk to anybody who will listen (and sometimes even when no one will). The other day I was reading this book waiting for the bus, and Talker sat down next to me. After telling me about his daughter, his wife in Iraq, and how the chocolate bar he was eating was way too expensive at $1.09, he asked me if what I was reading was a good book. I paused, looked down at page 304 that I was reading from, and realized I wasn’t sure.

“I think so,” I answered.

“Well, I’d hope so, since you’re already that far in!”

I’ve been having a lot of those lately. I read enough of a book that I’m committed, but by the end, I’m not really sure I liked it. Mockingjay, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Savvy…I don’t know if I really liked any of them.

I started reading The Magicians this summer while I was bored to tears on a Sunday night behind the cash register. It was on the “Books to Know” table by the front of the store and the back said it was like Narnia and Harry Potter and something else I was unfamiliar with all rolled into one. Sounded good to me.

Quentin Coldwater is seventeen years old, in love with his best friend’s girl, frustrated with his nothing life, and still obsessed with his favorite childhood book series, Fillory (a.k.a. Narnia). After his university interview falls through (when the alum dies suddenly) he gets lost in an old, dying garden and wanders onto the grounds of a magic school, Brakebills. There he is asked to take an exam to determine if he’s a good fit for the school and if he passes, he will be trained to become a magician. Not a card trick magician. A for real magician. (If you’re more familiar with J.K. Rowling than C.S. Lewis, think “wizard.”) And since Quentin doesn’t feel like he has much going for him in his regular life, he’s like, “Hells yeah, I wanna be a magician.” Without so much as au revoir to Mom and Pops, Quentin enrolls into Brakebills Academy with confidence that his  real life is about to begin. And the reader thinks so, too.

But not so much. And then later, after he falls in love, Quentin/the reader thinks again that his life is about to begin.

And then later, after he graduates, Quentin/the reader thinks again that his life is about to begin.

And then later, when he goes to _____ (I don’t want to give any spoilers), Quentin/the reader thinks again that his life is about to begin.

Perhaps this was Lev Grossman’s intent. His lack of plot points and increasing let-downs are meant to reflect Quentin’s struggle with his dissatisfaction with his own life. This way the reader truly got in touch with the character.

Unfortunately, that just meant I was dissatisfied with The Magicians.

The one thing I did appreciate from this book was the idea that books we read as children (such as Quentin’s Fillory experiences) can have a lasting impression on us for the rest of our lives. Books can shape who we are and who we become in a way that a parent or guardian cannot.

Interesting, but not quite interesting enough. One star.