Book Review: If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

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Favourite quotes:

“I need language to live, like food – lexemes and morphenes and morsels of meaning nourish me with the knowledge that yes, there is a word for this. Someone else has felt it before”.

“The thing about Shakespeare is, he’s so eloquent… He speaks the unspeakable. He turns grief and triumph and rapture and rage into words, into something we can understand. He renders the whole mystery of humanity comprehensible. <…> You can justify anything if you do it poetically enough”.

“There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us, though we saw no farther than the books in front of our faces. We were always surrounded by books and words and poetry, all the fierce passions of the world bound in leather and vellum”.

 

When I heard that a blogger whom I respected for a long time was writing a book, I immediately put it on my TBR. I knew that it was going to be amazing. I also suspected that it would feature Shakespeare, alcohol and alcohol-induced poetic tragedy a la “The Secret History”.

We have seven “bright young things” – three girls and four boys – who are seniors in a prestigious theater academy somewhere in New England. Our narrator is – you guessed it – unreliable, arguably the least talented of them all, and is going for a recap. Well, to be fair, he is no less talented than the rest of them. Oliver Marks spent ten years in jail. Because the seven became the six one Wicked Halloween night. Something wicked this way comes indeed.

The loss of their leader, their Caesar, shatters the group dynamic. Amidst the brewing love affairs, the stunning productions of Shakespeare’s tragedies and the declining mental health of the members, Oliver pines for his roommate who might be a murderer. Or are they all “villains” in a sense? How blurry can the line get between a classic tragedy and the reality?

 

Tis now dead midnight (not really), and it’s been several midnights since I’ve had such a book hangover. M.L. Rio’s way of putting things into words is something I could never achieve. Of course I’ve always known she was talented, which is why I’ve been eagerly waiting for “If We Were Villains”. Was it exactly what I expected? No. But few books are. “If We Were Villains” does have some swear words, and it is definitely not a young adult novel. It reads like a modern gothic murder mystery where actors don’t know if they’re playing a part or is what’s happening really happening. The part of the school where they hang out is called “The Castle” (of course), and there is sex, and drugs, and it’s the 90s. In other words, “The Secret History” fans would LOVE this.

Although the book has seven main characters, you can see their personalities really fleshed out. M.L. Rio shows a lot, and tells less, which is what a good author should do (in my opinion). They are somewhat archetypal, but that was intentional. This is heavily based on Shakespeare, after all, which has your villains, your heroes, your lovers and your jokers. I love Shakespeare, and I would say that you do need to have at least some idea what his works are all about. I know some better than others – for example, I know little about “King Lear”, but a lot more about “Macbeth” and “Hamlet”. I saw the latter on stage a couple of times – once with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart! I did want to see James and Oliver act out Horatio and Hamlet… 

Anyway. I definitely like the idea of seeing “Julius Caesar” as a presidential election.

“If We Were Villains” is definitely a book I’d read again, and I’m looking forward to reading more of the author’s writing. My rating is 8.5/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “If We Were Villains” if you liked:

“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt;

“The Basic Eight” by Daniel Handler;

“How to Get Away with Murder”.

 

Have you read “If We Were Villains”? Do you have a favorite college ensemble mystery? Tell me in the comments and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

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Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

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Favourite quotes:

“Never live your life according to the idiots’ rules. Because they’ll drag you down to their level, they’ll win, and you’ll have a damned awful time in the process.”

“There’s always a person for every book. And a book for every person.”

“Feel-good books were ones you could put down with a smile on your face, books that made you think the world was a little crazier, stranger, and more beautiful when you looked up from them.”

 

Sara, a bookseller from Sweden, and Amy, an elderly woman from Broken Wheel, Iowa, might have very little in common.  But the one thing they do share is their love of books. That’s what brought them together in the first place, and that was how they became penpals. After months of correspondence, Amy invites Sara to Iowa to stay for a few weeks and Sara, who until then has led a very lonely life, gladly accepts. However, when she is finally in Broken Wheel, Sara is met with solemn guests at Amy’s funeral. The people of the very small town seem to know all about her, from Amy’s stories. But Sara herself is lost – can she really stay at Amy’s house with no-one but Amy’s hundreds of books for company?

The townspeople are initially wary of the newcomer, and especially of her ludicrous ideas to help everyone out. And when Sara announces that since Broken Wheel doesn’t have a bookstore, she’s going to open one – well, everyone is flabbergasted to say the least. How can a Swedish citizen with a tourist visa open a bookstore in America? In a town where few people actually read books? And even if she does, who is going to run it when her visa expires?

 

I confess – when I got the Kindle sample of “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend”, I really liked where it was going, but I wasn’t pleased with the English translation. Translation is an art and some languages translate better to certain languages than others. That was, in my opinion, the case with Stieg Larsson’s trilogy – I enjoyed the Russian translation a lot more than the English one. And the same is with “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend”. I found a lovely hardcover Russian edition, with the title translated as “Give Them a Chance”, and I was right to make that choice.

This is not an adventure story – not in the traditional sense, anyway. One can say that Sara’s sheltered life juxtaposed against her experiences in America certainly makes it sound like she’d been on the greatest adventure of her life. And she has! The touching and funny interactions with the quintessential small-town Americans of Broken Wheel, their clumsy attempts at matchmaking, and Sara’s own brave venture of setting up a bookstore with no working visa are interwoven into a tale that reminds us that real-life adventures are just as exciting as the ones books take us on. And if books are the very thing that thrusts us into real-life adventures – well, that’s every bookworm’s dream!

Indeed, this cozy novel is in its essence, a love letter to literature and bookstores. The bookstore that Sara sets up is a baffling concept to the people of Broken Wheel, but Sara (and I) believes that there is a book out there for everyone – be it “Eragon”, “Bridget Jones’ Diary” or “Fried Green Tomatoes”. I believe that “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend” would make a terrific gift to any lover of books. My rating is 8/10.

 

Recommendations:

You might like “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend” if you liked:

“The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George;

“Fried Green Tomatoes” by Fanny Flang;

“A Novel Bookstore” by Laurence Cosse.

 

Have you read “The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend”? What are your favourite books about books? Leave me a comment and don’t forget to check out my Etsy charity shop before you go!

 

Book Review: The Burning Page by Genevieve Cogman (Invisible Library, book 3)

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My reviews for books 1 and 2 of the series can be found here and here.

Favourite quotes:

“I’m quite happy to steal a book from storage where nobody’s ever going to read it. But I do feel a bit guilty about snatching it mid-read from someone’s bedside table”.

“I have spent most of my life preferring books to people. Just because I like a few specific people doesn’t change anything”.

“The only problem is that it’s difficult to imagine something entirely new. We use the words and definitions of the past to shape our ideas. Something that is genuinely the next evolutionary step is unlikely to resemble anything we can imagine. Even the best books on the subject are limited”.

At the end of “The Masked City”, Irene Winters has stopped a war between the Fae and dragons. However, the mess she’s made in the process wasn’t appreciated by her superiors of the Library, so she’s currently on probation. Which means that she’s stuck with lowly jobs that are hardly prestigious, such as snatching books from heavily chaos-infested worlds that are dangerous. And that means that her apprentice Kai (who happens to be a dragon prince) is also stuck doing these jobs with her. His Royal Dragon Family isn’t too happy, needless to say, despite the fact that they respect Irene for saving Kai from his kidnappers. One such lowly job almost ends in Irene and Kai being burnt to death just as they are about to leave a chaos-infested world and return to the Library. Turns out that the fire wasn’t accidental, and the Library Elders are very concerned. It seems that the traitor Alberich is trying to do something to the Library, but nobody knows for sure what. Since Irene is on probation, she doesn’t have much influence, but her mentor is willing to listen to her insights and assigns her a job that’s slightly more prestigious than her previous one. Irene is to snatch a book from one of the alternates ruled by the Imperial Russia.

But before she can set for St. Petersburg, Irene has to stop by Vale’s London to check on him. In the process, she and Kai are attacked by giant babboon spiders, Irene is kidnapped by werewolves, and the two Librarians find their friend Vale acting too much like his literary counterpart. On top of that, Irene’s old flame, a Fae called Zayanna whom she met in Venice, makes an appearance. And everyone knows that you can’t trust the Fae…

Will Irene and Kai be able to complete their mission and save the Library and Vale in the process? Or will traitors, giant Asian hornets, snakes and worlds that don’t seem to listen to the Language end up being too much for them to deal with?

I must admit – I’ve missed Irene, Kai and the London gang since finishing “The Masked City” almost exactly a year ago. I adore the characters of the “Invisible Library” series, and the world Genevieve Cogman has created. The third installment of the series contains even more action than the previous one, and characters barely spend any time on research or planning. We saw at least some semblance of that in “The Masked City”, when Irene tried to get to know the Guantes’, but “The Burning Page” contains very few interludes like that. Irene is actually a prime example of “act first, think later” in this book. Or maybe things just tend to happen to this “unprincipled adventuress working as a book thief”. Indeed, only in the first third of the book, she:

  • Was nearly burnt to death;
  • Was nearly trampled by furniture and stairs;
  • Was attacked by giant spiders;
  • Flew on a dragon’s back;
  • Got ambushed by an overly-friendly Fae;
  • Got rejected by a potential bedmate after finding him high as a kite;
  • Got dragged to what essentially was a staff meeting and an internal affairs squabble;
  • Got kidnapped by a bunch of werewolves.

And a bunch of other things happened. I’m sure you can imagine that the rest of the book is just as eventful. And all Irene’s ever wanted was just a good book to read…

Despite the dangers faced by a Librarian, I still have a major case of job envy. Irene indeed does have my dream job – she gets to travel to parallel worlds and meet all kinds of characters, live in the biggest library in the world, practice her language (and Language) skills on a daily basis, and of course, she has access to any book she could ever want. The Language was my favourite plot device in the first two books, and I was thrilled to see it making a huge comeback in “The Burning Page”. It has a lot of potential that wasn’t realized in “The Masked City”, so it was wonderful to see Irene and other Librarians use it a lot more frequently. And its usage in a fight between a hero and a villain was absolutely epic!

“The Burning Page” is primarily an action-and-adventure novel set in a world established in “The Invisible Library”, but we do get to learn more about Irene. If “The Masked City” focused more on Kai’s character and his family, the third book allows us some insights into Irene’s past and gives her several opportunities for character development. One of the things I’m expecting from “The Lost Plot” (Book 4, out later this year) is getting to know Irene even more. Another is seeing how the Library is managing, given the internal conflicts we’ve received a sneak peak of in this book, as well as other obvious challenges it had to overcome in “The Burning Page”.

The setting is one of my favourite part of the “Invisible Library” series, and it was lovely to see more of the Library in “The Burning Page” – we barely got to spend any time there in “The Masked City”. And of course, it featured two of my favourite cities – London and St. Petersburg. I’m convinced that whatever world they’re a part of, they would always be stunning, atmospheric and breathing with history. So it was quite wonderful to see Irene and Kai in action in these two cities. I can’t wait to find out where they’d be going next!

“The Burning Page” is just as good as its predecessor, “The Masked City”, and I look forward to reuniting with our favourites in “The Lost Plot” in a few months! My rating is 8/10.

Dreamcast:

Irene – Rebecca Hall

Kai – Godfrey Gao

Bradamant – Indira Varma

Vale – James D’Arcy

Zayanna – Holliday Granger

Recommendations

You might like “The Invisible Library” series if you liked:

“Rabbit Back Literature Society” by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläi

“Magic Ex Libris” series by Jim C. Hine

“The Librarian” movie trilogy

Have you read “The Burning Page” yet? How about other books in the series? Share your opinions in the comments! 🙂

Book Review: The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

masked city

I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. My review of the first book of the series can be found here.

We left Irene at the end of the last book just as she took on a permanent position of a “Detective” (Undercover Librarian) in one of the alternative Londons and she and Kai began working alongside their old friend Peregrine Vale. Things are going as well as they can be expected when you have a thirst for solving crimes, have taken the names of two very cunning heroines of classic literature (Irene Adler and Lady Winter) and your apprentice is a dragon. However, the fact that he is a dragon becomes quite problematic when he is suddenly kidnapped, probably by the Fae who are the sworn enemies of dragons. Unfortunately, this means that Irene has to turn to one of the least pleasant characters she knows – Lord Silver that we’ve met in the last book. He is as sleazy as ever, but he is somewhat helpful – apparently Kai’s been taken to The Masked City (Venice) for the purpose of starting a war with dragons. In short, the war would mean eternal chaos across all the alternates and all hell would quite literally break loose. Rescuing an apprentice is quite different to what Irene normally does – she usually steals books, not dragons! How much flirting, story-telling and sword-fighting would Irene have to do to free Kai and save the worlds? And would she ever simply get the chance to sit down and read a good book, which is what she’s wanted all along?

 

Irene, Kai and Vale are back in this installment and they’re as kick-ass as ever. “The Masked City” was one of my most anticipated sequels of last year but I’ve been saving it for New Year’s Day – it goes quite well with a glass of champagne and chocolates left over from Christmas, I have to say. It was quite lovely to be back in the world I began missing as soon as I finished the final page of “The Invisible Library”, and it was wonderful to see Irene again. Naturally, my major job envy hasn’t gone anywhere, although I had hoped for more time spent in The Library than I got at the end. Nonetheless, I love Italy, and Irene’s Venice was an excellent setting. This installment, for me, was less about wish fulfilment and more about enjoying a terrific action and adventure story. Indeed, “The Masked City” focuses a lot more on the action than the world-building, unlike “The Invisible Library”, but there was still a lot of room for character development and we learned quite a bit about certain aspects of the setting (well – settings).

The book’s central conflict is the war between the elitist nations of the Fae and the Dragons that’s been going on across all the alternates, as Irene learns. Lord Silver and the Guanteses (the Guantes’?) are the two sleazy villains that believe that the world quite literally revolves around them. The Fae are, however, much worse in that aspect. I’ve known quite a few people like that – they always believe that they are the protagonist of their own story and everyone else are just background characters. Silver and Lord and Lady Guantes are exactly like that, except their narcissism is amplified tenfold. The Dragons (Kai’s family) are less unpleasant, but they aren’t exactly warm and cuddly either.

These characters, and of course our favourite protagonists, are one of the best parts of the novel. I was also thrilled to see my favourite element of the last book – The Language – make a spectacular come back. At the start of the book, I was, however, quite exasperated with Irene’s excessive use of it and was waiting for it to blow up in her face. Revealing whether or not that’s what happened would be a very big spoiler though ;). It was good to see Irene make smarter decisions as the book progressed, and it was even better to see that “The Masked City” continues playing with tropes and somewhat breaking the fourth wall – a tradition that started in “The Invisible Library” and which I enjoyed immensely. “The Masked City” is quite self-aware in the way fans of this series would be familiar with by now and would certainly appreciate. We see this self-awareness in character development, the setting and of course, the research that Irene does in order to solve everyone’s problems.

“The Masked City” is a great sequel to a terrific first installment of the series, and I cannot wait to find out the title of the third, and hopefully not the final, installment of “The Invisible Library” series. My rating is 8/10.
Favourite quotes

“I just can’t stay away from a good library,’ she said, keeping to English. ‘It’s an addiction with me. Do you have the same problem?”

“‘Oh, I admit that not all stories have happy endings, but people prefer what they’re used to. If you were to actually ask them, nine out of ten would prefer a storybook existence to a mechanistic universe where happy endings never happen.”

“‘Most people don’t want a brave new world. They want the story that they know.”
Recommendations
You might like “The Masked City” if you liked:

“The Library of Shadows” by Mikkel Birkegaard
“Magic Ex Libris series” by Jim C. Hine
“The Great Library” by Rachel Caine
“Librarian” movie trilogy

Have you read “The Invisible Library” series? Did you enjoy it as much as I did? Do let me know!

Book Review: The Rabbit Back Literature Society by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen

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Recommended by Becki of awordshaker.com

Small town of Rabbit Back has been in the spotlight since the 1970s, when resident Laura White published a series of children’s books that exploded all over the world (think Harry Potter). White was the one who started the Rabbit Back Literature Society – the ten children who possessed a special kind of writing talent. Twenty years later, there are only nine members left, and each and every one of them is now a famous writer. Local literature grad student and teacher Ella Milana is the first person in years to be accepted into the Society. However, on the night of her initiation, Laura White disappears, leaving a trail of lies, unfinished manuscripts and mysterious book diseases behind her. Ella Milana is a naturally inquisitive creature and wastes no time (actually, she wastes quite a bit of time on things that will become relevant in the narrative eventually) in launching an investigation for her thesis on Laura White. After a little time, however, she realises that the Society is nowhere near as glamorous as it appears to the Rabbit Back residents. First, there is The Game – a sinister game that Ingriz Katz, Martti Winter and other members of the Society like to play at night. Second, there appears to be an outbreak of the book plague in Rabbit Back – offending presences of irregularities in Dostoyevsky’s books, which offend Ella greatly. Third, all Society members for some reason insist on keeping quiet about the mysterious tenth member. Can Ella figure out the secrets of the Rabbit Back Literature Society or will she get in too deep, losing herself in the process?

 

I’ve had this book on my Kindle for almost a year – I need to be in a special kind of mood for these kinds of literary mysteries.

Was it worth the wait?

Absolutely.

Though the book starts quite slowly and… oddly, especially for a daughter of a Russian Literature professor like me, which almost caused me to put it down, the particularities are explained later and you are pulled into the world of literature, Finnish mythology and Russian classics that serve as important plot devices, and the madness – the kind of madness only a writer understands. I am a writer, so I definitely got a lot out of this book. Most pages have at least one memorable quote about books or writing that made my heart flutter in understanding – I related to this book a lot. Which is probably not a very good thing! The Game is a particularly horrifying, yet understandable concept – “writers are the crocodiles in the river”, “the vultures”. “The Rabbit Back Literature Society” does not gloss over the dark side of writing; the members of the Society know very well, thanks to both The Game and their very nature, that “no healthy person would take up writing novels“. While that quote might be a little extreme, history suggests that “excessive thinking has always been eating writers away from the inside out“. The dark side of being a writer is arguably the main theme of the book. The Game, only played after 10 pm, involves torture, drugs, obsession… The main purpose of the Game is gathering materials for the next book, and given that the members of the Society are some of the world’s most famous writers, the book makes it sound like a very useful plotting tool.

“The Rabbit Back Literature Society” is also rich with other mysteries Ella Milana tries to solve via The Game and other means. For example, the mystery of Laura White plagues Rabbit Back months after she’s disappeared, and Ella knows that it’s likely that the mystery is more horrifying than she could possibly imagine. The author uses vivid gothic imagery and bits and pieces of the Finnish mythology to make it even darker and more tense. The mystery of the missing tenth Rabbit Back Literature Society member, whose place Ella Milana took, haunts her, and apparently the town library – or is the mysterious plague infecting Dostoyevsky’s books merely the result of Ella’s imagination?

Imagination is also a very big thing in the book. Writers “simply lived on a different plane of existence than the other people” – imagination and excessive thinking “was eating writers away from the inside out“. The author explores it, making his characters even deeper and more complex. Writers are generally very complex people, and this book doesn’t shy away from diving into that rabbit hole, with unbelievable and devastating results that linger with you long after you close the last page.

I truly enjoyed “The Rabbit Back Literature Society”. I expected it to be a blend of “The Shadow of the Wind” and “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”, but was more Donna Tartt and Fyodor Dostoyevsky than Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Mary Ann Shaffer. Elite groups of scholars, obsessions, mysterious disappearances – this was very “Secret History”! Despite several translation fails (they always happen) and a slow start, my rating of “The Rabbit Back Literature Society” is 8.5/10.

 

Favourite character

Martti Winter – a famous author who introduces Ella Milana to The Game. I felt that he was the author’s favourite, after Ella, and the way he was written was very inspiring (in a dark, most profound way). He had some very… disturbing yet effective ideas about writing, and insights about the profession. The way his insights are juxtaposed against the villain’s was fascinating and chilling – they both understood that “words can be razor sharp when it comes to tender matters of the flesh”, but they expressed that in similar, yet startingly different ways, as investigated by Ella

 

Favourite quotes

This was the hardest section to write – this entire book is quotable! Instead of my usual 2-3 quotes, I’ll therefore include five.

“You want to know how to write novels? I’ll tell you the secret: start on page one and keep going, in order, until you come to the last page. Then stop”.

“Reality was a game board for all of humanity to play on, formed from all human interaction. You could in principle make it up out of anything you wished, provided you all agreed upon it. But it was easiest if everyone used square pieces, because they would all fit perfectly together and form a seamless whole”.

“Happiness is contentment – the feeling that a person is content with the prevailing conditions. But people have an inherent need to achieve, to strive, to work at something – to always be developing. A happy creature stops developing, so happiness is a product of being content and development is a product of discontent. Happiness, in other words, is a temporary glitch in evolution”.

“Every book has its own quite unique strain of bacteria, which changes slightly whenever a new person reads it”.

“Are writers the torchbearers of humanity? It’s a romantic idea, but it’s complete rubbish. We writers are the crocodiles in the river”.

 

Recommendations

You would enjoy “The Rabbit Back Literature Society” if you liked:

“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt

“Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer

“Twin Peaks”

 

Book Review: The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

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Do you guys remember the “Librarian” movie trilogy? A very cute grad student turned badass librarian Flynn Carsen, played by Noah Wyle saving the world one rare artifact at a time? He meets a vampire Kate Beckett on one of his adventures?

Well, if you love those movies, no matter how terrible they actually are, you should get a copy of “The Invisible Library”!

Irene is a Librarian for the mysterious Library, the main purpose of which is to harvest fiction from all the realities, or “alternates”. Life as a Librarian slash Spy slash Bibliophile is all Irene’s ever known and ever wanted. Her new assignment involves training a shady apprentice while retrieving a rare edition of The Grimm Fairytales from one of the alternate Londons. However, when she and Kai arrive to meet with that alternate’s resident Librarian Dominic Aubrey, they discover that the book, which belonged to Lord Wyndham the vampire, has already been stolen by a mysterious figure from Irene’s past. Needless to say, Irene’s mission has just become a lot more complicated. Getting involved in a tangled web of politics, magical “chaos” – knowledge and balance’s mortal enemy – and most dangerous of all, a former Librarian turned traitor who may or may not also be after the book is the last thing she expected. After all – she had just wanted a good book to read and “getting chased by hellhounds and blowing things up was a comparatively unimportant part of the job”! Why is everyone and their mortal enemy so interested in that particular edition? And what’s a Librarian to do when her apprentice turns out to be a Dragon, even though they are natual to the order of all the linked worlds?

I have all kinds of crushes on “The Invisible Library”! For starters, the world-building. The world created by Ms Cogman is addictive, captivating and so elaborate that it is a shame to just waste it on one book, which is why I’m thrilled that this is just the first book in a series. The primary setting of the series seems to be a mysterious Library – a place that is all about finding “unique works of fiction and saving them in a place out of time and space”. The Library is treated as its own world, with its own laws and regulations, social hierarchy, treaties and agreements, and – my favourite part – its own language. I am a linguist and I have been since I was about six years old, so it always warms my heart when a book makes a foreign language into an important plot device, or even its own character. The author explains one of the problems us linguists face every day really well – “the problem with an evolving language that could be used to express things precisely was that, well, it evolved”. With most languages borrowing terms from English and other languages, it is sometimes hard to keep up. But, Cogman is, again, spot on in relation to this – “a simple, impersonal, uncontrollable need to know” is definitely something every linguist, and of course every reader at one point or another, comes to terms with. The power of the Language is explored quite well in this installment, but I do want more and more of it from the next ones (see my remark above about “the need to know”)! Did I mention I have a world-building crush on this series?

The fact that “The Invisible Library” breaks the fourth wall on several occasions, as well as the way it is done, was another factor why I couldn’t put this book down. Sometimes, breaking the fourth wall can make or break a work, and it is hard to toe the line. Ms Cogman, however, does so masterfully, which isn’t that surprising, given her background in gaming writing. She makes “The Invisible Library” so incredibly “self-aware” of being a “mash” of genres and all kinds of things that at no point in the book are these many things taken too far to the point of being ridiculous or over-the-top. And even if so, it is more than made up for by the general atmosphere of the book that would inevitably suck in any bibliophile! I was surprised to discover that I quite like the writing – usually I prefer “flowery, purple prose” in literary mysteries, but the fast pacing and straightforward language work quite well in this case.

I also have a massive crush on the main character’s job. She is, as I said above, a Librarian, but not the kind you would normally meet in a normal library (unless you’re reading “The Club Dumas”). She is a Librarian slash Book Thief slash Undercover “Detective” of sorts – her job involves hunting down rare pieces of fiction from all over the place, including myriads of alternate worlds. The job is not without some sinister undertones, of course – it can quite easily turn into an obsession, and if you live inside the Library and barely step into the alternates, you don’t age. It is also viewed by Irene and others as a “duty” to the Library, an institution that they don’t actually know that much about. Despite that, I know for a fact that I would never, ever turn down a job like that. Perhaps I’m being a romantic when I say that, but it’s true. This entire book is like one big wish fulfillment for me and I can’t wait for more.

I am filing “The Invisible Library” under both “Steampunk” and “Urban Fantasy” because it has elements of both – steampunk and urban fantasy elements are used both as plot devices and ways to define the genre of this book, which works perfectly for me since I don’t like limiting a book to a single genre. My rating for “The Invisible Library” is 9/10.

Favourite quotes

“It is my theory that the greater truths underlying life and death can best be understood as a parable – that is, as a fiction.”

“Sudden death was easy to cope with, seeing as you had no time to ponder. But their impending crash and burn over the British Museum was leaving too much time for dread, with an inevitable fiery doom at the end. Every second seemed to stretch out into an eternal moment of panic.”

“Are either of you two young people skilled with alligators? Do they teach alligator training in Canada?”

Dreamcast

Irene – Rebecca Hall

Kai – Godfrey Gao

Bradamant – Indira Varma

Vale – James D’Arcy

Recommendations

You might like “The Invisible Library” if you liked:

“The Library of Shadows” by Mikkel Birkegaard

“Magic Ex Libris series” by Jim C. Hines

“Librarian” movie trilogy

“Librarians” – the TV series

Book Review: I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

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The way I acquired this book was quite amusing, I must say. I ordered it at Foyles and it arrived a few days later. When I came to collect it, I had the following conversation with the sales person:

 

Me: “Hi, I ordered a book from you last week?”

Him: “Okay?”

Me: “I am the Messenger?”

Him: “Cool, what’s the title?”

Me: “I am the Messenger”

Him: “Yes, but what’s the title of the book that you ordered?”

Me: “That is the title?”

Him: “Oh sorry! I thought you were saying that you were the Messenger!” *goes to get the book*

Me: *quietly, laughing very hard inside* “No, I’m just a Book Thief.”

Ah, the Markus Zusak jokes.

 

Anyway, some of you may remember that I reviewed “The Book Thief” a few months ago and while I loved Zusak’s writing, the book didn’t exactly seal itself onto my soul like it did with some of my friends. However, I did want to read more Zusak, so my friend Becki at awordshaker.com recommended this one. This is essentially a book about people. The most ordinary people you see on the street every day. Ed Kennedy is one of them. He’s an underage Australian cab driver in a small town who spends his free time playing cards with his even more average friends and hanging out with his dog, The Doorman. That stops, however, when a mysterious Ace of Diamonds with addresses arrives in the post.

Actually, I’m wrong. Ed’s normal life has arguably hit a roadblock when he inadvertently became involved in the most ridiculous bank robbery in history. Somehow, the town makes him out to be a hero. When he gets the Ace in the post, he goes to the addresses after a while and sees that there are people living there who need help. Of course, being your average Joe, Ed doesn’t understand how he can help them. Eventually, though, he finds a unique way to help each and every one of them. But the mysterious messages don’t stop there. More Aces arrive for Ed, and each card has a short message on it he is meant to decode and work out for himself what to do. The only question is – who is behind Ed’s mission? And why Ed, of all people?

I realise by now that you’re probably bored with the plot – be it my mediocre ability to summarise or the way this book differs from “The Book Thief” – but I urge you to pick up this book. I don’t know which book Zusak has enjoyed writing more, but “I am the Messenger” somehow seems like it was closer to his heart, and not just because it’s set in his home country. Although completely different from “The Book Thief”, I began to notice certain “Zusak-isms” about halfway through. He is clearly an author who takes pride in being a words addict and aficionado. That was actually my favourite thing about “The Book Thief” – Liesel’s love for words clearly reflected that they have a special place in Zusak’s heart. Ed Kennedy says something on page 212 of “I am the Messenger” that really got to me. He says: “I didn’t know words could be so heavy”. This sentence is only seven words long, and yet so meaningful. Ed may have used it to describe the way it feels to carry a bunch of heavy books, but all Zusak’s fans would clearly understand that it goes much deeper than that. It illustrates how far Ed has come – from a guy with no real spark in his life to a person who made a difference to the lives of so many. The author arguably uses the statement to allude to the fact that even a small thing, be it a word or a simple action like buying ice cream for a soccer mum in the park, can carry a lot of weight. Even the style of his writing – the short, snippy sentences who nevertheless say so much – is an illustration of the quote. Words are heavy, indeed. A book may be written pretentiously (which I do love) and still carry less weight than a work that doesn’t use fancy words and metaphors (and vice versa, of course). It all depends on the words and the weight behind them, as Zusak continues to show us.

I am not going to lie – after I finished the book, the theme of an ordinary human being making fundamental differences in other people’s lives made me tear up. Perhaps it was also due to the fact that I was at a Pro Bono thank you event earlier that day and my supervisor told me a story of a former homeless man whose life has been changed by the actions of our Law School Pro Bono association. He now has his own place and a stable job. His children are no longer ashamed of their father. In all fairness, we are all Ed Kennedy. Our extent of ordinaryness may be relative, but every day, we make a difference to others. Remember that cashier who told you to have a nice day? Or that little kid who stuck her tongue out at you on the commute this morning? Brightened up your day didn’t it? Some may say that Ed’s actions were in a completely different league, and I agree. However, what we must remember is that if an average nineteen-year-old cab driver can find the courage to change someone’s life, than so can you. If you don’t think you are capable of giving advice, or financial support, you don’t have to be. Be inspired by Ed, friends – a perfectly ordinary man who stood up and did what we could for the people who needed it. If he can do it – well, maybe everyone can. “I am the Messenger” gives us the opportunity to believe that everyone can live beyond what they’re capable of. I can honestly say that this book has made a small dent in my rather cynical view of life. There are many things Zusak excels at – but influencing people with his words is one thing that he has mastered perfectly.

The only thing that’s keeping me from giving “I am the Messenger” a 10/10 rating is the use of sexual assault as a plot device – it’s not something I can easily accept in literature. However, I am perfectly happy to rate it 8.5/10.

Favourite character

The book’s characters are flawed, and are not supposed to be likeable. However, they are all very funny – The Doorman has to be the funniest though. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when he didn’t die!

Character who gets the most development

Ed, obviously. The book is Ed-centric.

Favourite relationship

In my review of “The Book Thief”, I said that I couldn’t pick a favourite relationship because they were all so well-written. This trend continues here. However, the story of Ed and Audrey is so lovely in the same way it is ordinary. Besides, it is rare these days to see an emotionally unavailable woman in literature who is not shamed for being who she is.

Favourite quotes

“I didn’t know words could be so heavy.”

“People die of broken hearts. They have heart attacks. And it’s the heart that hurts most when things go wrong and fall apart.”

Dreamcast

Ed Kennedy – if Heath Ledger were alive today, he’d be perfect. Otherwise, Jacob Anderson

Audrey – Jayne Wisener

Recommendations

You might like “I am the Messenger” if you liked:

“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green. Ed’s character development reminds me of Gus’s. Although Gus feared being forgotten and not making a difference in the world while Ed didn’t care, they both have come to the same conclusion by the end of their respective books – even if you only made a small difference in one person’s life, it matters.

“A Northern Light” by Jennifer Donnelly

“Paper Towns” by John Green – I haven’t read it but people keep recommending it and it seems to have similar undertones