Book Review: The Song of the Lark

So, I had an unforeseen problem in taking a month off of blogging. I can’t remember what the heck I am supposed to be writing about today. *goes to scour notebooks* Aaaah. Got it. Well, before we get to our regularly scheduled book review, I have a couple announcements. (only two, don’t roll your eyes)

I have Instagram!! Why am I acting so excited about it?! Basically, a bit ago I was decided with a loud sigh that I should be more active on social media, and ya know, create an author platform. Woohoo. So now you can find me and either block or follow me with the handle @shainamerrickwriter. I have loooots of book pictures and quotes because, that is what I like! So go, laugh at my picture taking skills! (I will eventually figure out how to put the insta button on my blog side bar, eventually…)

Also, I hate quarantine. Not being able to shop for clothes or hang out with my friends sucks. On the other hand, I have more time to read, and to bang my head on my keyboard while I am pretending to write.

On to a book review!

The Song of the Lark (Great Plains Trilogy, #2)

Perhaps Willa Cather’s most autobiographical work, (isn’t ‘perhaps’ a lovely word?) The Song of the Lark charts the story of a young woman’s awakening as an artist against the backdrop of the western landscape. Thea Kronborg, an aspiring singer, struggles to escape from the confines her small Colorado (finally, a book set in Colorado and it isn’t Denver!) town to the world of possibility in the Metropolitan Opera House. In classic Cather style, The Song of the Lark is the beautiful, unforgettable story of American determination and its inextricable connection to the land. (Uuuh, I don’t know about her connection to the land, she cuts her ties pretty well!)

As much as I love all of Willa Cather’s books, this one imprinted itself on my mind and heart much more than all of the other ones.

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather is the story of an artist. One who struggles to find herself, and where she fits in the grand scheme of things, throughout her entire life.

The book starts when Thea Kronburg is, like, six, and ends when she is thirty something. Yes, it is a very fat book. And yes, it did take me a while to read.

I thought the beginning was slow. Mostly because it seemed to be more about her life, and her family’s life, than it was about who she was as an artist. Though it does lay the important groundwork about her lifelong friends, and how she develops as a musician at first.

Then we hit the middle of the book, and things pick up a bit! Which seems to be the opposite of how most book are written (hello mid book slump).

Some of my favorite characters are in the middle of the book. Including Thea’s piano teacher in Chicago who realizes that her true gift is singing, and her friend turned love interest who introduces her to the finer things in life.

What I found most interesting about the book is her transition from piano to singing. Thea has been trained for most of her childhood to be a pianist. She had the best piano teacher in her little Colorado town, and she gets the bets piano teacher in Chicago, all to help her become a concert pianist. And she is good. Good enough to teach others, good enough that her piano teacher knows that she could have a future in piano.

But she hates it. The farther she gets, the more she dislikes playing. But even so, she forces herself to practice for hours every day. To conquer every challenge thrown at her, to make perfect every song. And she is miserable for every minute of it.

And singing, well, singing is something she has always done, and while she know she is good at it, piano is what she is better at, right?

Wrong.

The first time her piano teacher hears her sing, he knows better. Her true gift, her soul, is in her voice. Piano is something she could be good at, but singing is something she could be great at.

From that moment, off she tumbles into a world of voice. The work is still hard, but it is a different kind of hard. Singing is so much a part of her that the work has become an extension of who she is, and who she wants to become.

How often do we spend hours upon hours chasing a dream, only to realize that we are better at something else? Or how much money do we spend hoping that we will become someone, only to find out that we would rather be someone else?

I would say that the second half of the book reveals how far Thea is willing to go in pursuit of become a great artist. She is willing to give up just about everything, home, family, health, in order to pursue her dream.

She decides that she will become great, or she will be nothing.

Obsessive? Well, some may say so. One may also say determined. She is determined to get what she wants, no matter what gets in her way. Be that happiness or despair.

And does she get what she wants? Well, I can’t give everything away, can I?

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: Fahrenheit 451

Welcome to my latest review *cough* obsession *cough*. This is the next book I am going to buy if I ever have spare money. *Looks to the future*. That is going to be a while.

In the meantime, I will tell everyone and their cousin that this book is amazing and you should go read it.

‘Nuff said.

Okay okay. Here is the actual review of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

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Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books, which are forbidden, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Even so, Montag is unhappy; there is discord in his marriage. Are books hidden in his house? (Really? This is not the question you should be asking. The answer is given by chapter two, and hinted at right off) The Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, (the creepiest thing in the entire book) armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

The classic dystopian novel of a post-literate future, Fahrenheit 451 stands alongside Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World as a prophetic account of Western civilization’s enslavement by the media, drugs and conformity.
(Um yes. And I think a better prophecy than the other two. This is a future that is scarily possible)

Bradbury’s powerful and poetic prose
(drool) combines with uncanny insight into the potential of technology (less the potential of tech and more the impact of media) to create a novel which, decades on from first publication, still has the power to dazzle and shock.

First, let’s talk about the fact that this book somehow managed to avoid being a love story. At all. A dystopian book that doesn’t have a love story! Do you realize how momentous this is?

Ray Bradbury crafted a tale of awakening and danger that doesn’t have any romantic love in it at all. *happy dance* Instead, you have father and daughter love, you have the love between two friends, and you have the aching memory of love in a marriage doomed to failure. So it is possible to write a compelling story without a romance side plot. Duly noted and filed away for later use.

The main theme of Fahrenheit 451 is the power of books. And what makes them so powerful. The answer may surprise you.

It begins with a fireman, Guy Montag (can we take a moment to appreciate the fact that his name is Guy?), who is lying to himself. He says that he is happy with his job, his wife, his house. Until he meets a random girl walking home in the dark. This girl, young enough to be his daughter, has interesting ideas about life, and is not afraid to share them. Honestly, she reminded me of a home-schooler, it was great.

She is the one who opens his eyes to what he really feels about life, and she is the one who gives him the courage to open the books he has stashed away in his house.

From there, it is a quick road to disaster. Guy loses everything, his house, his job, his wife, in his quest for knowledge. All he wants is to understand. Why is his job to start fires instead of stop them? Why are books banned? What is so important about these books? I won’t give the answers here, because you need to go read them for yourself. But suffice to say that the answers are not simple ones. They make you think more than the questions do.

I loved how Bradbury spoke/wrote about books. His love for the written word, and the ideas they contain, bled from his heart, onto the pages, and into my heart. This book, about burning books, made me love books even more. And yet, his definition of a book is also not the one you would expect. This is a hint to go read the book.

Guy Montag is the main character of the novel, and the entire thing is from his perspective. We are inside his head, seeing and feeling things as he sees and feels them. Other characters come in an out of the story, but none even come close to the time we have with him. By the end of the book, you know Guy as well as you know any friend, perhaps better.

I would not say that the book is a stream of consciousness, been there, read that, and I am glad Fahrenheit 451 is not one of those books. However, the book is very deep inside his head, and you might need a minute to adjust to normalcy when you come up for air while reading it.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the prose. The beautiful, lyrical prose that swells from one scene to the next. It is really hard to describe that kind of prose, because you can’t quantify it in grammatical rules. It was beautiful, and I would have read the most boring story ever if it was written in that prose.

I would recommend this book without hesitation to anyone who enjoys the dystopian genre. Also if you like classics, if you like beautiful writing, and if you have a love affair with books. So basically, just about everyone.

Though I would hesitate to give it to anyone under fourteen, because of the content. There is absolutely nothing explicit, but the book does deal with things like murder and an overdose of sleeping pills.

If I could give this book ten out of five stars, I would. Five will have to do for now I suppose.

I hope you pick Fahrenheit 451 up and enjoy the read!

Shaina Merrick

The Tales of Lunnoor: Lannie and the Brownie

Welcome back to the dangerous world of Lunnoor. Where Lannie meets a brownie, and hates him immediately. Enjoy!

“There’s a brownie in Lord Gabriel’s tent.” Lannie plopped down on the bench beside Emmy. Her friend paused with a forkful of pancakes halfway to her mouth. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

            Lannie drummed her fingers on the rough wood of the tabletop. “Nope. Lord Gabriel was wearing all of his clothes inside out and had no shoes on.”

            Emmy stuffed the forkful in her mouth and glowered at the rest of the mess tent, sparsely filled with a few early morning risers. The sun had just peered over the treetops when Lannie had seen Lord Gabriel. Emmy would have laughed at the ridiculous sight. Lannie just felt sick to her stomach.

            “It’s too early in the morning for this,” Emmy grumbled around another bite of pancakes. 

            Lannie rolled her eyes. “The sun is up, time to get to work.” She leaned around her friend to check for her bow. Good, Emmy was armed.

            “Breakfast first,” Emmy said. “Want some?” She held out a plate with a few pieces of pancake drowning in maple syrup.

            Lannie shook her head. “Eat fast.” They didn’t have time for this. Their only hope was that the brownie was alone. A whole family of them would drive the entire camp mad.

            “Considering how fastidious he is, the brownie must have been there for a while,” Emmy said thoughtfully before taking another leisurely bite.

            Lannie almost snatched the plate away from her. Could she eat any faster? “The creature has been in Lord Gabriel’s tent a month at least. He just joined camp a week ago.” That was her excuse for not noticing it until now. She had never been so close to swearing as when she had seen Lord Gabriel. Pixies, naiads, dryads, fine. She could battle them all day, warn against just obvious evils and people would listen. But brownies? Lannie scowled down at the table, scarred from countless meals.

            As soon as the danger was over, she was going to strangle Lord Gabriel. She stood up. “Come on, we need to go before our whisper-spelled lord decides that a sword sticking out of him is a good fashion choice.”

            Emmy shuddered, but she stood up. “Don’t make jokes like that, Lannie. It’s not funny.”

            Lannie bounced from one foot to the other. Why was Emmy moving so slow? “I wasn’t joking.”

            Emmy stretched, then rolled her eyes as she picked up her bow. “If you are in such a hurry, go get Lord Beldon.”

            “I tried, he’s still out on guard duty.”

            “This job wasn’t enough?” Emmy made a face. “That man is a glutton for punishment.”

            Lannie decided not to her tell her what she thought about him.

            A man with a familiar round face hustled up to clear Emmy’s plate. He beamed at the two of them even though Emmy had dripped syrup all over the table. “A brownie showed up today,” he shared cheerfully. “He is doing all the dishes for me! I haven’t had such a relaxing morning since I don’t know when.”

            Emmy’s jaw dropped. Lannie almost cursed for the second time that day. “You do know what they do to human hosts.”

            “Help them?” the man said hopefully, his smile fading a little.

            “First, they drive them mad; second, they convince their hosts to kill themselves.”

            The man leaned back, his round face looking more like a moon every second. “He would never,” he spluttered.

            “We will drop by your kitchen later,” Lannie promised and led Emmy away from the still spluttering man. No matter how attached he was to it, it was a faerie bent on his destruction, and it had to go.

            The sun had climbed above tree-covered hills. The new rays of the morning warmed the earth underneath it. Lannie took a deep breath of the invigorating, cool morning air. She was going to miss the foothills.

            “Now we have two,” Emmy sighed as they strode in step towards Lord Gabriel’s tent. “This just isn’t my day.”

            Lannie snorted. “Make it your day. Two brownies, patrol, and we have to pack. Tomorrow we break camp.”

            “Glorious!” Emmy’s fist pumped the air. “Goodbye, naiad infested streams! Where are we going?”

            “Two days into the plains,” The King had only just told Lannie this morning. “The Rebel has captured a strategic town.”

            “He has a name you know.”

            Lannie glanced at her friend. “His actions have made him unworthy of it.”

            Emmy was staring at her, compassion in her eyes. But she didn’t say anything else, just squeezed Lannie’s arm.

            Lord Gabriel’s tent was on the opposite side of camp from the mess tent, as well as about as far away from the King’s tent as you could possibly get. The walk gave them ample time to watch the beginnings of the breaking of camp. Boxes and barrels appeared out of nowhere to be stuffed with all the worldly possessions they had. The tents left unoccupied by the last battle would be taken down and distributed by their neighbors.

            Lannie turned her head away. She had already delivered too many condolence letters. There were enough tears in her memory to drown a dryad.

            There were two guards around Lord Gabriel’s tent, distinguishable even without its flag. Where had he bought such a bright orange cloth? Slouching guards with crooked helmets and half undone armor. Brownie work. One of them was eying his dagger in a way that made Lannie shiver inside.

            “Pull yourselves together,” she barked. The guards just eyed her warily, until the one in the center saw her badge. Then he snapped to attention. Lannie glared at the other one until he followed suit.

            “Messenger Lannie!” the one with the dagger greeted her. “Lord Gabriel is out at the moment, but I can pass along any letters.”

            He sounded too cheerful for someone with bags under his eyes.

            “No letters!” Emmy chirped from beside her. “We are here to fix your brownie problem!”

            “We don’t have a brownie problem,” The other guard said. Then sneezed, his helmet sliding forward over his mop of curly hair. “Ever since that brownie showed up, our job has been as easy as pie!”

            “You mean other than the nightmares?” Lannie asked blandly. “Or the incessant muttering in your ears that comes from nowhere and everywhere all at once?”

            The guard with the dagger shifted from one foot to the other.

            “I suppose you have also neglected to see Lord Gabriel’s outfit this morning.” The guards exchanged a look. “As well your friend here’s unfinished suicide note.”

            The guard with the dagger blanched, though his voice was angry. “How did you know about that?”

            The other guard gaped at his companion. “What?”

            She hadn’t wanted to be right about that. “You have a brownie,” Lannie said, though she tried to keep her voice gentle. It didn’t work well. “The rest comes from the territory.”

            “Let us do our job and your problems will be solved in no time flat!” Emmy cut in.

            The guards didn’t move.

            “Are you sure the brownie is the cause of our nightmares?” the guard with the dagger asked. His eyes glittered with hope. Good. A talk with the King and he would be alright.

            “Positive.”

            He stepped aside. The curly haired guard grunted, but the other shot him a look, and that was the end of that.

            When they stepped inside, the multiple open boxes of neatly folded clothes, as well as the made bed were just as Lannie expected them to be. Not a speck of dust anywhere inside the orange tent. Unless you counted the crumbs on the brownies face.

            The fat brownie stopped stuffing a roll in his mouth just long enough to squeak in surprise before darting under the bed.

            Lannie drew her dagger and marched to the far side of the bed. Emmy nocked an arrow to cover the near side. Months of working side by side took over. They didn’t need to speak to know what the other one was going to do.

            Emmy nodded to Lannie. On a silent count of three Emmy strode forward while Lannie dove underneath the bed, going headfirst into a nest of thread and food. Once inside its nest, the so-far-silent-to-her whispers began. The whisper song you could barely hear, but somehow still knew the words to. A haunting lullaby begging her to listen.

            Lannie ignored it and stabbed at the brownie. With a nest so close to Lord Gabriel’s head, Lannie almost felt respect for a man who had avoided insanity for so long. Almost.

            The brownie’s red eyes gleamed in the darkness. It hissed and batted away her outstretched dagger.

            “Get out!” she snarled. The brownie bared its pointy teeth at her. Why did all faeries have pointy teeth? Gurgling something, it took a swipe for her face. It was rewarded for its efforts with a gash on the arm.

            The brownie jumped away from her dagger’s range. That point happened to be just inside the range of Emmy’s bow.

            A solid thwack came from above. The gleam in the brownie’s eyes faded, and it slumped over, an arrow protruding out of its back. The whisper song ended.

            Lannie wiggled out of the nest. Emmy helped her to her feet.

            “Disgusting,” Lannie made a face and tried in vain to dust off the smear of frosting on her tunic. “Why anyone would want this thing in their house is beyond imagining.”

            Emmy shrugged and glanced around the pristine tent. “It would be nice not to have to clean my tent.”

            Lannie just stared at her. She couldn’t be serious. Under her fierce gaze Emmy threw her hands in surrender. “I was joking! You know what a joke is, right?”

            “I don’t joke about stuff like this.” There was no reply.

            On their way out, Lannie gave the guards instruction on how to dispose of the dead brownie. Her least favorite part; she would pull rank on it whenever she could.

            “Go talk to the King right afterwards,” she added at the end. “It will help with the nightmares.”

            The guard with the now-sheathed dagger nodded, his back already straighter now that the whispers had ceased.

            The curly haired guards looked away from her gaze, muttering something under his breath. One dream free night and they would both thank her.

            “Patrol?” Emmy asked hopefully as they walked back to the center of camp. “I think I prefer shooting naiads over brownies. They aren’t as round and furry.”

            “The kitchen brownie first,” Lannie said. She was going to cut off the infestation before it started. “I’ll stick it this time though.”

            Emmy sighed. “And then patrol?”

            “And then patrol.”

The moral of this story being if you see a brownie, run in the opposite direction. And don’t ever, ever feed one.

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: O Pioneers!

I have to talk about ‘O Pioneers’, or I am going to go crazy. Let me rephrase that. I already have talked about this book to anyone who would listen, now I need to again or I am going to go crazy. Yep. It was that kind of book. I mean, how could you not talk about a book that has these kinds of quotes?

‘People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in this world. It is always easier to lose that to find.’

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O Pioneers! (1913) was Willa Cather’s first great novel, and to many it remains her unchallenged masterpiece. (I think I like it better than ‘My Antonia’, and I really liked that book) No other work of fiction so faithfully conveys both the sharp physical realities (to be honest, there are not that many of these harsh realities when you get past the first couple chapters.) and the mythic sweep of the transformation of the American frontier—and the transformation of the people who settled it. Cather’s heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Hanover, Nebraska, as a girl and grows up to make it a prosperous farm. But this archetypal success story is darkened by loss, and Alexandra’s devotion to the land may come at the cost of love itself. (have you read the book? Obviously not, because her cost was not love, not really anyway)

At once a sophisticated pastoral and a prototype for later feminist novels,
(Yeah, right.) O Pioneers! is a work in which triumph is inextricably enmeshed with tragedy, a story of people who do not claim a land so much as they submit to it and, in the process, become greater than they were.

Don’t you love how there is an exclamation mark in the title? It makes the book sound so cheerful and upbeat. To that I say Ha! No no. It was not a tear jerker. But it wasn’t a enjoyable lark through the countryside either.

What I first noticed about this book was how I wanted to write everything. Every quote, every line. I wanted all of it saved forever it my notebook. But if I did that, I would just be copying the whole book word for word, and I already have the book so… The writing was beautiful, no, it was achingly gorgeous. Honestly, I would have read the whole book just for the prose alone.

But the prose wasn’t the only thing worth reading in this book. There were also characters.

This is the book that I want to shove underneath all writers noses and say, ‘This is how you write realistic characters.’

Willa Cather created characters underneath her pen that almost jumped off of the page. I could see them move and breath in my minds eye. Their strengths, weaknesses, foibles and pet peeves. They were all there for the world to see. What I think made each and every character so imminently real was their weaknesses.

While I can not read the authors mind, it seemed to me that Willa Cather did not set out to make you like her characters. She seemed to care less really. It was more like she was focusing on showing you her characters in all of their glorious mistakes. Did it matter that they were all people with blind spots and foibles? No, it didn’t. Despite every failing, I loved them anyway.

The character that the entire story is woven around is Alexandra Bergson. She inherits the farm from her father because he knows that she can run it better than her brothers. And she does. Her farm becomes the most well off in the entire county. She is hard working, diligent, cool headed, and smart. But in the novel what characterizes her most is her love for the land. She loves this Nebraska land that is so hard to farm, and after a while, you wonder if the land knows it, and so blesses her in return. She loves it, and so it loves her.

The other characters in this novel act out a play of love and loss on the backdrop of her steadfastness. She has one love, the land, and one goal, to live on the land. The rest are action to her stillness, the passion to her calmness.

Plot wise, I would not recommend this book to anyone who must have an action plot where things are happening all the time. For one thing, this small book reaches through decades of living to tell its story. For another thing, there is much introspection allowed to the characters. Things happen, and sometimes things happen quickly, but there is always ample time for the characters to think about, and react to, that particular action.

Inside the book events build and become more intense, everything is straining at the seams, until the world snaps in a single moment, and everyone is left stunned.

I will let you read the book to figure out what that event is *evil laugh*

On the whole, I would recommend this book to anyone who liked ‘My Antonia’, and to those who enjoy slower stories with rich characters. Though I would hesitate to recommend to anyone younger than thirteen, because while nothing is explicit, a couple of the things the book deals with are not for the young.

Enjoy!

Shaina Merrick

Favorite Reads of 2019

Fine. Since everyone else is doing it, I will to.

I have been keeping track of what I read, and how much I liked it, since I was… In Middle School? And all of those lists are around here somewhere. Heh. Thankfully, the list for this year is not in the depths of some journal, and easy to get to and finally organized according to month and year. (don’t ask)

I read a bunch of good books this year, so this list is not going to be short. Sorry not sorry.

The Chestnut King by N. D. Wilson

The Chestnut King (100 Cupboards, #3)

The only reason the rest of the 100 cupboards series isn’t on here is because I didn’t read them in 2019, and I had to cut myself off somewhere. This was the finale to end all finales. The perfect wrap up to the series, and a scene at the end that left me crying happy tears. You must read this series. I don’t think I can put into words how much I love all of these characters and the relationships between them. Also, this series is the reason I now like baseball. Thanks Henry.

A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews

A Thousand Perfect Notes

This, this is the book that I will fangirl over with anyone, anywhere. I was not expecting this book to bowl me over, but it did. Every scene left an ache in my heart, every word made me fall in love with the main character even more. Beck was so, so wonderful, all I wanted to do was hug him and give him a cookie. Also, there was piano. My other great love in life. This book combined my two favorite things. The way the author explained playing piano was something I knew. This was an experience I could share with Beck because I have done that. Played the song, had the nerves, hoped the soul I was bleeding over the keys would be liked by others. So yeah. It was great.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater

The Scorpio Races

I will shove this book at almost everyone in existence. I will admit, I avoided it for years because it seemed to be a combination of things I didn’t like. Ha! I was wrong, and I have never been so happy about it in my life. Scorpio Races has the most beautiful prose, and her way of describing left me in awe. All I wanted was to learn how to write like that. Well, I also wanted to figure out what happened next. But ya know, priorities.

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

Romanov

I know I have done a review on this book somewhere on this blog. But I am too lazy to look it up and link to it. Anyway. This is one of the few historical fiction I read this year, and it was also a fantasy. Two of my favorite genres! What I really loved about this book was the way she handled the Romanov family itself. I loved the relationships between them all, and how they were compassionate even in the midst of cruelty. The father showed forgiveness in the face of men who hated him, and even though in the terms of the world he ‘failed’. I think the story showed how such acts of compassion and forgiveness change people, and the world. Go read it! And bring a box of tissues with you.

Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

Fireborne (The Aurelian Cycle, #1)

Enter tears, chills of awe, and a stupid grin. I don’t think my heart will ever recover from the emotions of this book. Up and down, and down some more, and then back up we went as I followed the characters around. I literally stopped in the middle of an intense scene and started trying to figure out why I was feeling so much emotion. (yay logic) I might have figured it out. Sorta. I couldn’t believe all the things this book covered when I stepped back and looked at it. Love, friendship, politics, family, this book covers it all. Yet never feels overly full or preachy or that things are going at a breakneck pace. I adored it.

Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander

Taran Wanderer (The Chronicles of Prydain, #4)

The best word I would give this book is melancholy. The whole book was melancholy. But I loved it. Every melancholic word of it. Somehow, Taran’s journey became a rippled reflection of mine this year. Trying different things and hoping that one of them will work out. Only to realize that the one skill I ache to have may not be within my grasp at all. Can we discuss the ending for a moment? Where everything is answered and yet nothing is at all? There is inward screaming right now. I wish more books could pull off that kind of ending.

The High King by Lloyd Alexander

The High King (The Chronicles of Prydain, #5)

Yes, I am allowed to have a two books by the same author, and both in the same series, in my list. It’s my blog. Anyway, what would a list of 2019 favorites be without the last/best book of the series that made me rethink everything I thought I knew about fantasy? It wouldn’t be a list, that’s what! This book perfectly wrapped up every loose end in the whole entire series, yet still reminding you that there are more adventures to come. Every question was answered, yet there were still questions. But good questions, the ones that make you think about the book long after it has finished. The characters all came to their poetic justice, though mercy was shown to those who didn’t deserve it, yet you were glad they got it anyway. I better stop while I am ahead.

There you have it folks! A by no means complete list of my favorite reads of 2019! What did you read, and love, this year?

Shaina Merrick

Book Review: Romanov

I love history, I love books, so when someone decides to write a historical fiction, I grumble under my breath and roll my eyes. My mother lovingly calls me a history snob. Usually with a laugh, because it is right after me ranting about how this movie or that book got some history wrong. I really hate it when books get history wrong. I mean, a detail here or there isn’t so bad, but most of the time authors take the general idea of the era and then do whatever they want. Ugh.

You are probably expecting this to be a long rant on how much I hated this book. Wrong!

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The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. (might be?!? It is the only thing giving them hope at the moment!) But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them, and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of saving herself and her family are to either release the spell and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik (heh, later on anyway. At first though? Bolshevik through and through). Nastya has only dabbled in magic, but it doesn’t frighten her half as much as her growing attraction to Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her (one of my favorite romantic arcs ever).

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my opinions on ‘Romanov’ by Nadine Brandes.

I loved it. Review over.

Or not. Because I can’t help myself, and because this is such a lovely book.

For one thing, Nadine Brandes actually did her research! Don’t laugh. You would be surprised how many authors don’t research. And it shows. She, on the other hand, wrote a book that was at the same time fantasy and true to history. It was fantastic. I loved how rich in detail the book was. Everything from the setting down to their clothes had the perfect details. I knew how worn their clothes were, and what the apartments looked like, and she never had to bore me with a long page of description.

It was those details that showed the era and climate the characters lived in far more than the date and place.

That, writers, is why you research.

It can be tricky to write any historical novel, especially one that deals with such high profile people as the Romanov family. Yet once again, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of research Nadine Brandes did. I felt like I knew these people. I felt closer to them that I would have if I had picked up a biography (and believe me, I had). Yet I knew the family had been portrayed correctly. There was no let down later when I realized that she had mussed with peoples personalities and beliefs. Yes, the story was fictional and some of the scenarios. But she had drawn from real life people and events, and did those people and events justice.

I think my favorite part of the book was the characters. Each and every character captured my attention and held it. I miss those people and I have never even met them! Oh, the woes of a bookworm.

Nastya has three sisters, and each one of them has an integral part to the story. Far from being nameless backdrops to her own story, their lives and stories intertwine and intersect with her own. But by far, other than Nastya, my favorite character was her father, Nicholas Romanov. The strong man who loves his enemies and sees the good in people. He is the one who makes friends with his guards, even if his guards hate him. He is the one who strives to understand his captors. Nicholas Romanov is the rock of his family, the one who keeps them all together.

No I didn’t cry. No I am not crying. Be quiet.

I loved Nastya. The precious little person who is trying so hard to help her family. Her struggles with being gracious to her captors and not being bitter tugged at my heart. It was so hard for her to be friendly to those who obviously hated her, but she got up and did it anyway. When anything was hard, Nastya did not back down. She did it. Whether she liked it or not, she did what needed to be done to help her family.

Lets talk plot. This is by no means your typical fantasy novel with epic journies and huge battles with world wide stakes. This is a story about a family put under house arrest. A family trying to come to terms with a country who now hates them. A country they had dedicated their lives to serving.

As a result, the plot does not go swiftly. And I loved it. The long periods of rest and reflection in between the bits of action revealed the characters. You got to know them, their dreams and wishes, and why each one acted the way they did.

This isn’t to say that the book dragged on. Definitely not. Each period of rest was preceded by a tense bit of action where you are holding your breath the whole time hoping against hope that things turn out alright.

That doesn’t even mention the tension through out the whole book as the reader is wondering if the family will escape or not. Will this work? Will it not? Will they ever get out alive!?!

SPOILER ALERT: I have to say that after the Romanov family died, I was a little bit bored. I was mostly reading it for the family, and when they were gone, I felt like quite a bit of the tension leaked out of the story. It did still keep my attention though. SPOILER OVER

The pacing was very well done throughout the book. It didn’t drag at any points, and didn’t rush along helter skelter either. Each point of high stakes and heart pounding chases was tempered by a point of character interaction. Yay for balance!

Oookay, I have to touch on the romance before I leave. When Nastya and Zash meet. He immediately hates her. She is wary of him and frustrated that her attempts to befriend him fall flat. He has preconceived notions of her, she decides very quickly who he is. Obviously, they are both wrong. Here is the thing though. It doesn’t go from enemies to lovers within a chapter. They are friends first. Friends before romance, imagine that!

They talk, laugh, argue, he builds a swing for her, all things that friends do. Well, except maybe for the heated arguments about her parents.

I actually really liked those arguments. Because each of them had a valid point. Neither side had a weak argument. And they both presented them well. You were forced to see both sides of the question they were arguing, and decide for yourself who was right. Because the characters did not necessarily do that for you. Zash and Nastya pushed each other to think, to see another side, and to truly decide for themselves instead of buying into whatever they had been told. And it is out of that friendship that a romance is born.

If you love historical fantasy, and are curious and or fascinated by the Romanov family and the Russian Revolution, definitely pick up this book!

I would recommend it to mid to late teens and above, while nothing is graphic, there are many of tense situations. And one scene with quite a bit of death.

All in all, ‘Romanov’ was one of my favorite reads this year. It most definitely earned its five stars. * * * * *

Shaina Merrick

My All Time Favorite Stories

Bookworms tend to be curious little things. They always want to know what other people are reading. That one person who has her head cocked to the side because she is trying to read the title of the book a random stranger is reading. Then flushing and jerking her head away because the random stranger looked up from their book.

If you are anything like me, you enjoy any chance to add to the already ridiculously long tbr (to be read) list. So many books, so little time….

To indulge your curiosity, here is a list of my top favorite books.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Yes, I am well aware that this is an old classic that everyone and their sister knows and loves. But there is a reason that it is a classic!

Any book with strong sibling relationships is going to be high on my list. And Little Women has some of the most beautiful sister relationships out there. Sisters who squabble, annoy each other, hurt each other, yet at the end of the day they love and forgive. Choosing their sisters over their petty problems of the day.

Yes, there are some love stories (all of which are adorable), but I read it for the sisters. And for Jo, one of the most like me characters in the literary world.

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

If you haven’t heard about this one, don’t worry. No one else has either. One of the least known of the Jane Austen books, it happens to be my favorite. Yes, even over Pride and Prejudice. Don’t hate me.

Northanger Abbey is about a young, sheltered girl who goes to Bath with some family friends. Like all Jane Austens, this is a love story. However this love story is about a bookworm. A bookworm with a healthy imagination. She sees love and drama around every corner, helped along with her newfound friend who also loves books.

This is the most lighthearted of all of Jane Austens books. Throughout the story it makes fun of the popular novels of the day. It would be like an author today making fun of the fantasy genre in her fantasy book. I love it.

It is a must read for all bookworms who daydream more than is usual.

The Last Dragon by Silvana De Mari

Don’t listen to the title. Yes there is a dragon, but the book is actually about an elf. One of the most adorable elves that has ever existed.

In a world that blames elves for the never ending rain, Yorsh is saved by his grandmother and told to run far away. So he does, and while he is running he comes across two humans. Humans who alternately want to strangle him and keep him from all harm.

Begin hilarious scenes. Scenes made even funnier because Yorsh doesn’t understand a lick of sarcasm. He takes everyone at their word, exactly. Cue the humans growling in frustration and Yorsh looking at everyone wondering what the fuss is about.

It may seem that this book is just one big comedy of errors, but it isn’t. Yes, it is funny. But there is so much more to it than that. The people Yorsh comes across are literally scraping by. Sometimes unsure of where their next meal is coming from.

Things are not going well for the humans, and then here comes a tiny elf who has a little bit of magic and believes everything that is said to him. He also believes that everyone he meets is good. Even if they look like the scariest scoundrel that ever lived, he likes them. It is like a living ray of hope is dropped into a harsh world. A world that alternately hates it and wishes that it would never leave.

If you need a laugh, go read it. If you just need another excuse to procrastinate on homework, go read it. It’ll be worth it.

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Steifvater

If you haven’t read this one shame on you! Go read it at once! This book is gorgeous and everyone should read it!

I love this book because one, it is set in Colorado and two, it is set in the desert of Colorado. I live in the desert of Colorado and before I had read that book I had not been able to find a good representation of that desert. Or any desert for that matter.

But this book does it perfectly. Maggie Steifvater brings the desert to life through her book. I love how she describes it.

I also love all of her confused, struggling, beautiful characters. All of which are trying to find their place among their family and the world. The hope that they will someday figure out why they are here diffuses the whole novel.

I say again, go read it!

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Yes, I know that this book is by the same author as the last book. And?

The premise of The Scorpio Races at first turned me off. Why would I want to read a book about a girl riding in a horse race? Even if the horses are all man eating Capaill Uisce. Then I read it, and I wondered why it took me so long to do so.

I had to literally put this book down when I got to the climax for fear that my heart was going to jump out of my chest. Everything just kept building and building until the end race where everything was on the line and you just desperately wanted the main character to win.

However, what made the ending such a crazy climax was the fact that not everything in the book was tense. Sure, there were tense moments. It’s hard for there not to be when you are riding horses that would just as soon eat you as look at you. But after every tense moment was a moment that was a breath of relief. A space for the characters, and the reader, to breath.

That roller coaster of emotions made the book very, very hard to put down. (unless you were afraid that your heart was going to combust) Even when it was late and you still hadn’t gotten anything done….

Anyway. It was worth every moment, and made me obsessed with November Cakes. (still gotta make those)

Now for the honorable mentions, stories too wonderful to leave out but didn’t quite make it to my favorites list.

  • The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
  • Dear Enemy by Jean Webster
  • The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
  • 100 Cupboards by N. D. Wilson
  • A Thousand Perfect Notes by C. G. Drews

If you made it to the end, congratulations! Your patience is amazing and you should go award yourself some chocolate strawberries.

Whadja think of my list? Are any of these books on yours as well? Have you heard of any or all of them? Let me know in the comments below!

Shaina Merrick