Reading Sarah J. Maas Books While Maintaining a Critical Approach

Way back in February, I went to the library and grabbed my first Sarah J. Maas book. It was her first published novel, Throne of Glass. My nervousness as a people pleaser was an all-time high. This was the case because Sarah J. Maas has been criticized a lot over the years on Book-Tube.  Reading Sarah J. Maas’ books now is a form of self-care and expression to me. Let me discuss this further.

Damsels No More

Maas’ Throne of Glass: Caleana

Maas’ first series has a typical premise, akin to The Hunger Games and Battle Royale. An assassin is ordered to be the king’s champion in a tournament. I acknowledge the criticism of Celaena as a character.

Let me tell you why Celaena matters to someone like me. She gets to be herself, unabashedly, despite the scoffing of many (male) characters. As the books get bigger, so does my love for Celaena. When people point out that she is not shown as a heartless killer, I wonder if they’ve considered Celaena’s complexity.

Because, yes, she could’ve been a ruthless killer, but the point is her inner turmoil and grief. Maas shows us a girl who had difficult circumstances, a traumatic past, a love taken away from her way too soon.

To me, Celaena is strong, not because of her assassin storyline. No, she’s strong because her heart experiences death, torture, and unfairness without ever losing her innocence. I have never seen a book character with a dog like Fleetfoot. Nor have I seen a character search for answers in stillness, in reflection, and in reaching inward.

Throne of Glass: Lysandra

I have not read Assassin’s Blade yet but Lysandra became a total favorite of mine. Her backstory was equal parts sad and unique. Her relationship with Celaena developed beautifully. Plus, she has made bold choices to break free from abusive relationships.

Besides, she and Evangeline have strong parallels in their upbringing, which strengthen their relationships.

I am here for all the girl gang love.

Throne of Glass: Elide

Oh, my favorite girl. I have never related to a character more than I have with Elide. Her timid nature, coupled with her secret, is one of the reasons I love this series so much.

I have yet to see what will happen to Elide. She is already rocking my world quite a bit.

Bonus: Nehimia

The loveliest, sassiest, and the most incredible princess in my world. I miss her.

So…What Does That Mean For Me As a Critical Reader

I recognize the flaws in Maas’ writing. There are cringe-y sex scenes in later books. Sarah J. Maas has not included enough diversity and sometimes, there are messed up gender roles in her books. My approach is to be critical of these things, but I also admit that I enjoy her stories. Her characters mean a lot to me and I fly through her stories.

You can be critical of something and still enjoy it.

 

Yesterday, I finished reading the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which is called A Torch Against
    I devoured Becky Albertalli's second novel over the course of two days. Many
Set in 1960, the film opens with the death of Ellie's mother as she prepares

Thoughts in a Review: A Torch Against the Night

Yesterday, I finished reading the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which is called A Torch Against the Night by the wonderful Sabaa Tahir. In this book, we follow the journey of Elias, Laia, and Helene as the Empire continues to enslave Scholars. Here are my thoughts wrapped into a review. Let me share my excitement with you.

A Torch Against the night’s beauty: Helene, my heart’s queen

“But you are not finished. You are my masterpiece, Helene Aquilla, but I have just begun. If you survive, you shall be a force to be reckoned with in this world. But first you will be unmade. First, you will be broken.”

The most incredible aspect of this novel is not only the pacing but also the inclusion of Helene’s point of view. I think it was such a privilege to read more from Helene’s perspective. In a way, she and Elias mirror each other’s struggle between tradition and change.

A Torch Against the Night is essentially the unfolding of a much more complex plot than I ever could have imagined. Through Elias’ best friend, we get to the internal functions of the Empire. We also experience a new Emperor (Marcus) and his interactions with the Commandant.

Helene is also pressured to find and destroy her best friend, which is something Elias refused to follow through with. But, with her, I felt that she was even more torn. Her family is known for their loyalty. But, the question is: to whom should she be loyal to? The Empire or Elias?

A torch against the night’s beauty 2: A World built further

What is truly wonderful about this book is how the world is further developed. We experience the tension between the tribes, the treatment of Scholar children, slaves’ relationship with the Commandant.

But, it is also a neat development of the characters. The way they connect with other characters is conveyed in such a compelling manner. I think of Laia and Darin, in particular. Helene and her sisters are other manifestations of relationships’ complexity within this world. It’s like people are under so much oppression and cruelty. They end up making choices that are not ideal.

And, I think this is the most surprising aspect of A Torch Against the Night: no one has the privilege of choosing what they truly want. The introduction of Marcus’ treatment by the elders of the Empire wrinkled the story further. It was not like Marcus won and was immediately welcomed into the role of emperor. No, he has to live with the loss of his brother while trying to gain the respect of the Empire.

The Commandant and the Cook

My favorite people in this story are the ones I do not know enough about so far: The Commandant and the Cook. I would love to read more about Cook. What is her backstory? How was she taken prisoner? What did she do to annoy the Commandant so much?

Besides, I want to know more about her link to Laia. Why is she so protective of her?

Cook gives Helene such a difficult time, and I was just living for that protectiveness. It’s nice to see women play powerful roles in this world.

Now, the Commandant and Elias’ battle (the literal one and the longer, more indirect one) was surprising. I was so shocked by how she alters his fate. Still, I remain hopeful for her development. She needs to have more scenes revealing her inner turmoil. Sabaa Tahir includes glimpses of the Commandant’s fury. But, I want more details.

Keenan: Called it.

I never liked this dude. It was kind of clear that he is shady as heck. That’s all I am going to say.

Overall:

I gave A Torch Against the Night a five-star rating. It was a quick and engaging read. Please check out this series for a brilliant time.

Way back in February, I went to the library and grabbed my first Sarah J.
    I devoured Becky Albertalli's second novel over the course of two days. Many
Set in 1960, the film opens with the death of Ellie's mother as she prepares

BR: The Upside of Unrequited Book Review

 

 

I devoured Becky Albertalli’s second novel over the course of two days. Many thoughts bounding around my head as I write this review at 2 AM. Hope you are ready for some serious fangirl action…and stuff.

premise

Molly Peskin-Susu is an awkward chubby girl who has had twenty-six crushes. All of them were unrequited. As her sister falls in love with her dream girl, she is confronted with her own journey to find herself (not in a cheesy way, I promise). Her sister sets her up with hipster Will. Enter Reid, her coworker, who likes all things Ren Faire and Middle-Earth. And chocolate eggs.

review

If you follow me on Goodreads, you will see that I fangirl over this novel. I loved it even more than Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens’ Agenda. This one had more complexity to it, and more nuance going on in terms of sexuality, body shapes, and relationship with siblings/family. I gave it four stars.

Here’s why.

PS: SPOILERS AHEAD.

siblings conflict

The conflict between Cassie and Molly in this novel parallels some of the tension between Nadine and Karen. While it is not exactly a mirror image of the cause of conflict, the idea is the same. Two siblings lose touch and then they’re unable to connect as much, or even see eye to eye.

In some ways, Cassie is hit with this wave of love while Molly grapples with her own place as a person without a twin. To me, this is the crux of this story truly.

body image

I also like the mirroring of Grandma’s body image issues with Molly’s own feelings towards her appearance. And, as a chubby person myself, I liked that Albertalli handles this generational disconnect in a  sensitive way. To me, I often get criticized for my body image and it felt kind of nice to see this critique as a genuine issue on the person’s part, not my own. It’s hard to divorce this shaming from fat bodies, unfortunately, and it’s quite lovely to see a novel tackle that issue in a tasteful manner.

Her body image plays into her assumptions about her self worth often. I found the whole Will thing to be a compound of two issues. First, I think Molly was unsure of whether she can be with Reid. Two, to an extent, she tries to tap into what Cassie is seeing here. Twins and best friends together? Sounds nice and neat.

You know what I really like? That she didn’t end up with Will. Seriously. Best choice ever.

romance

Overall, I like the romances here. The one between Cassie and Mina could have used some more focus, but I understand that she’s not the center of this story. Reid and Molly’s connection was charming and sweet.

The assumption that someone as nerdy as Reid can’t be a good boyfriend was challenged pretty well. Although I will say that I don’t think that being physical is what makes someone good as a partner. But, hey. I don’t know about relationships all that much. This is all guess work for me.

Okay. bye.

 

Way back in February, I went to the library and grabbed my first Sarah J.
Yesterday, I finished reading the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which is called A Torch Against
Set in 1960, the film opens with the death of Ellie's mother as she prepares

MR: Dear Eleanor

Set in 1960, the film opens with the death of Ellie’s mother as she prepares for a speech to introduce Eleanor Roosevelt to a room of 200 people. Heartbroken and reeling, she retreats further into herself and feels resentful. Her best friend Max (Max the Wax) writes to Mrs. Roosevelt and shares Ellie’s story. From there, a road trip happens and the two are off to see the former first lady. Hilarity and sweetness ensue.
Characters Delight

I have to say that this movie was absolutely delightful. The scenery was great: almost dream-like.  The characters vivid and animated, particularly Max. I adored Max’s innocence, her childlike wonder, her love for films, her willingness to dream and let others follow their dreams (in fact, she helps Ellie, Frank, and Aunt Daisy achieve their goals, no matter how far-fetched they were). I felt too close to Ellie. She was a bit dark and tortured, which is understandable. I could relate to her loss, and I think that her character was honest and real. I think as someone with mental illness, I kind of try to be more of a Max–happy, energetic, chatty, friendly. She is everything I cannot manage to do without exhaustion and, to be truthful, Max never gets tired of being this way, it’s inspiring and heartbreaking to know that I would never manage to pull it off. So, I am left admiring her, really.

Aunt Daisy was a dream. We didn’t get to see much of her, but the few moments with her are beautiful. I love that she wasn’t perfect. She was scared and different. I like the contrast between her and the other dancers: there she was, dressed in pink tutu and bodice. Meanwhile, the other dancers were in street clothes, black and white mostly. She stood out in the most endearing way ever.

Relationships and Friendships

The relationship between Ellie and Max is beautiful. One pushes the other to grow up (emotionally, sexually, in terms of identity and attitudes towards life) while the younger girl teachers her to maintain a positive view of the world and its inhabitants, to believe the best of people, to forever accept others as they are. It’s great that these two girls never feel jealous of each other. It is a story where women help each other out, support each other, love one another, and that makes it absolutely divine to see. I am happy that I have this little film. I hope you check it out, and feel inspired, too.

Way back in February, I went to the library and grabbed my first Sarah J.
Yesterday, I finished reading the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which is called A Torch Against
    I devoured Becky Albertalli's second novel over the course of two days. Many

To Book Characters: Haven’t Met You Yet

Today, a box of books appeared on ohaventmetuyet1ur front step, which is probably the most exciting thing to happen to me (yet, anyway). I love reading because I get to meet different people and worlds, wrapped in beautiful words like truffles melting on my tongue. Never does it get old and I am happy because I get this opportunity to be introduced and make this life long acquaintance (which later on grows into a friendship/relationship) with lots of awesome people.

So, I decided to list characters I am excited to meet in books on my shelves:
1. The Darkling (The Grisha trilogy).
I love a good villain, especially when they are interested in the main character romantically. Most times, I end up shipping them together. I am just saying this in advance, because I can see myself loving this character so much. I blame Sam from Thoughts on Tomes for making me love this trilogy and world. It is an overwhelming love, I admit, because I don’t know what to expect really. I just hope the Darkling has a big role in the series, because of reasons. Also: Tumblr, where you at? You better step up your game and have mood boards and character castings.
2. Blue Sargent and Richard Gansey III (The Raven Cycle)
I have read two fairy books by Maggie S. They were amazing. I hate to sound like Knives Chau from Scott Pilgrim, but, damn, that woman can write. Beautifully and hauntingly. I just feel incredibly in awe of her talents and her personality. She just has a captivating presence and spirit. It is so cool. Thanks, Tumblr. I already have headcanons and theories about the series (rhyming poet in the house!). Seriously, though, I am ecstatic to have this quartet.
3. Aristotle and Dante (Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe). 
 
For someone who grew up slashing everyone (because LGBTQ+ was virtually taboo and unheard of in my world), I don’t have enough characters in my world who are not straight. Much to my dismay. I heard amazing things about this book. I don’t like that there’s a second one coming (I know, I am in the minority here. I may be an extinct species at this point). I just like finality in one-shot stories. I don’t like it when authors revisit a world in a series of stand-alone pieces. Like, let it go (Elsa style). Anyway, I already feel attached to these two dude bros. I know I will be utterly in love with their stories.
4. Kesteral (The Winners trilogy)
Did I get her name right? I am not sure. I just love me a character who is not, not a fighter, because, listen, listen, listen, observe: strength isn’t always physical. In fact, sometimes, being clever and emotionally strong can outweigh muscle. And, that’s all I am going to say. Actually: hold that thought, because I want to complain about the new covers that I ended up getting (price is a thing). Why is she brandishing a knife/sword thing? I thought she didn’t fight! That’s the appeal for me, anyway.
5. Main character from The Girl of Fire and Thorns 
Because of medications and recovery from ED’s, I have gained a significant amount of weight over the years of my journey with mental illnesses. It is a source of much shaming and embarrassment. I heard that the character in these books is a bigger girl, and that makes me so keen to hopefully have a fictional soul sister who inspires me to be strong and unabashed by my appearance.
6. The Dragon (Uprooted) 
Way back when I was in my more hippie times, I used to really focus on mythology. One of my favorites was the Persephone and Hades storyline. Anyway, I feel like this story (along with Star Touched Queen) will satisfy this missing part of my life without me having to read the same boring stories and interpretations.
7. Karou (Daughter of Smoke and Bone) 
This is kind of a cheat, but I have read a bit of the first book in this series, and I adore Karou. She’s an artist and her power is just mind blowing. I love the world she lives in, so I can’t wait to delve in and see what will happen. Not too crazy about fallen angels; this should be interesting. Laini Taylor is a crafter of beautiful phrasings and characters. I know that much to be true.
8. Nora and Kettle (Nora and Kettle). 
I don’t know if I have mentioned this on the blog before, but I have specialized in young adult literature and children’s literature while working on my master’s degree in literature. I wrote my graduate thesis/dissertation on Harry Potter. So: naturally, I analytically read Peter Pan. When I heard of this retelling, however, I felt a strong pull toward it. I am not sure why. But, I learned to follow my gut when it comes to books.
9. Morpheus (Splintered trilogy)
Again, I felt like Alice in Wonderland was interesting especially when viewed from a lens that identifies/acknowledges mental illnesses. This retelling sounds like it would have a lot of history and depth. Very exciting.
10. Eon(a) (Eon/Eona) 
I think gender is one of those things that were unbreakable growing up. Ironically, I broke it all the time. I spent years dressing up and referring to myself as a boy in response to trauma. I am looking forward to seeing a girl kick butt in a man’s world. Also: the cultural aspects of this novel are compelling as well.
Way back in February, I went to the library and grabbed my first Sarah J.
Yesterday, I finished reading the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which is called A Torch Against
    I devoured Becky Albertalli's second novel over the course of two days. Many

Anl.: A Birder’s Guide to Everything

A Birder’s Guide to Everything is a small movie with many credits to its accomplishments of brilliance. Well acted, beautifully shot, and wondrously written, the film spans over 86 minutes full of awesomeness. I thoroughly enjoyed it, to put it bluntly, because I felt that the film was executed well, but also because it has universal themes transcending age, race, and gender.

 

Nature and Its Beauty
David is a nerd. There is no denying this fact. His friends are in a birder club, where they talk about nothing but birds. Tim tells a disgruntled member of the club, “This is not a dating service” insinuating the seriousness of the club’s tone. Losing said part of the group, the trio are stuck with Ellen as they try to photograph an extinct duck. 
Obviously, nature plays a huge role in the film. The friends can be seen identifying birds by their physical features or their sounds. And while there is plenty of beautiful scenery in the film, there is also an understanding of nature’s cruelty presented. As a vegan, I interpret the death of the duck as a symbol of humanity’s ignorance and disrespect to all beings, really. 
 
In a way, though, this demise leads David to understand that his quest is not realistic. You can’t live a life watching birds without dealing with humans and all their baggage. We see this through his grief of his mother’s death, his father’s marriage, and the death of the duck. 
Adulthood and Maturity 
 
He also has to deal with the growing changes he and his friends face: adulthood and maturity. Throughout the film, Tim mocks Peter for not being brave enough. Tim was super interesting to me, because he reminded me of myself a bit…okay, a lot. The foul mouthed, show off, who is lying about his awesomeness resonates with me. Ellen is a challenger to his beliefs and attitudes as a young man trying to find his place in school’s society and in the grander scheme of things. He gives her grief throughout the story until the annoying birders attack her which is when he defends her, “Her name is Ellen.” The tension between them could be because he sees her as a sexually mature person, and it makes him uncomfortable. In addition, he does sense that she is interested in his best friend (David) and that is unnerving. 
 
Aside from all of this, it is a funny, poignant movie. It has beautiful relationships and endearing characters. Definitely one of my new favorites, for sure. 
 
 
 
Way back in February, I went to the library and grabbed my first Sarah J.
Yesterday, I finished reading the sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, which is called A Torch Against
    I devoured Becky Albertalli's second novel over the course of two days. Many