Book Review: Walk on Earth a Stranger (Gold Seer #1) by Rae Carson

An impressive display of historical information and descriptions, but nothing about the plot grabbed my attention.

2.5/5 stars

cover walk on earth a stranger

Amazon Description

Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?

My Review

I’m taking an AP US history class this year, and we just passed the Gold Rush Era, so when I saw this book at a local bookstore, I decided “what the heck, let’s try it.” I wasn’t really sure how the premise would translate into a compelling story, and after reading it, I feel basically the same way.

The beginning of this book was really weak for me. It lagged in the way where I was happy when important characters got murdered because it meant the plot was finally going somewhere. The main character, Lee, was very vanilla in the exposition–young and capable, but nothing special.

About a third of the way in (and this isn’t a short book, by the way) the plot finally started to pick up, and I was drawn back into the story. Carson does an amazing job describing the trails Lee faced crossing the continent on her way to the Californian gold fields. I learned a lot of details reading this book, and I definitely felt like I had gone back in time when I was reading it. Sometimes, the descriptions were so impressively vivid or gritty that I was dragged into the story, but more often, I was left with a faint sense of exhaustion and little else. After powering through the second half of the book in one sitting last weekend, I was emotionally exhausted--I felt, in a way, that I had traveled across America with her. 

While the descriptive strength of this book can definitely be praised, it crowded out the plot in many ways. Yes, there were somewhat dramatic moments at periodic intervals in the story, but there was no clear crescendo for me; the plot never felt like it was building to a pinnacle moment. The pacing was slow and choppy. If you enjoy a meditative read that lags to allow for historical accuracy, this is a perfect fit for you. Unfortunately, I was looking for a gripping historical adventure, and Walk on Earth a Stranger left me disappointed.

There were still a lot of things I liked about this book, however. I loved a lot of the side characters, and I loved that I got to see each of them grow and develop throughout the story. Lee herself clearly grows as the book progresses, and by the last chapter, I saw her as a distinct YA hero, instead of the bland stereotype that she started the book as. Honestly, the only character that remained frustratingly flat was the love interest. (The romantic plot of WOEAS is barely present, and the story would have been stronger without it being shoved in as an additional motivation for Lee, in my opinion.)

The most powerful part of this book–for me–was its expose of sexism in society. Though the book takes place nearly two centuries ago, the sexism it demonstrates is still applicable to modern readers. Lee’s journey across the country, disguised as a man, clearly juxtaposed the way people view hardworking men and hardworking women, with a plainspoken quality that still resonates today.

WOEAS is clearly the first book in an adventure trilogy. I believe that the series could pick up in the next book, now that all of the characters have been introduced and the setting has been established (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, sorry for the vagueness). I was a fan of Lee’s by the last chapter, and I want to see some of the background characters stick around for a little while longer. The fantasy part of the plot was barely present for this book, but it will definitely build in the second one, and I’d like to see how that affects the story.

All in all, a very descriptive, but in the end disappointing, book.


What do you think? Have you read this book? How did you feel about Lee’s character throughout the book?

 

Poetry: A Moment of Silence

 

Let us bow our heads

For a moment of silence

 

Silence

That transcends religion

Location

Language and identity

 

Silence

Because there are no words

Strong enough to bear the burden

Of expressing grief like this

 

Silence

After the noise

After the screams and the shouts and the terror

Silence

As if we can say this is over

 

But what comes after

The moment of silence

How are we supposed to react?

How do we move on

When the night has not ended for so many

Across the world?

 

May we return to our lives?

May we find joy in

The simple things that brought smiles to our faces

Yesterday?

May we smile and laugh

After this moment of silence?

 

We are silent and we grieve

But at the same time

We cannot stop

From fear or from sorrow—

If we do not return to living

Then Respect is not the winner

But yet another victim

 

Let us bow our heads

For a moment of silence

And let us never live our lives so loudly

That we forget the reason for that moment

But neither let us gag ourselves

Against the joys of life

With bindings of guilt

 

A moment of silence

And then the clamor of life again

So that the world can heal.

Book Review: The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

I’ve always been a fan of Patrick Ness’s books, but this one didn’t really work for me. I wanted more from the characters and more from the world building–but I respect the story that he was trying to  tell (and succeeded at telling).

3.5/5 stars

cover the rest of us just live here

Amazon Description

What if you aren’t the Chosen One? The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions.

My Review

Patrick Ness is an autobuy author of mine, so I didn’t really look at the description before I decided I needed this book in my life. Regardless, when I did get around to reading the synopsis, I loved the idea. It’s a premise that I’ve always toyed with but never thought someone would be crazy enough to write an entire book about.

I loved the broad strokes of TROUJLH (holy crap that’s a long abbreviation). The indie kids (the Chosen Ones) were cliquish and mysterious, exactly the way I imagine kids who were destined to save the world would be. I loved the idea that every generation has seen something absolutely crazily paranormal happen that the indie kids stopped, even if the adults won’t admit that anything supernatural happened. I empathized with Mikey and his friend’s wish that the indie kids would take a break and keep the school intact until they had graduated.

My problem with this book comes with the specifics. Were the indie kids actually gifted, or were they just a clique of kids with weird names who decided to be vigilantes? I wanted it to be the former, but it seemed like the truth was the latter, and that was disappointing. (If you have read the book, please comment–did you feel the same way?) The mysterious things that happen to Mikey and his friends were interesting and creepy, but never explained fully enough for me to feel like the book was compete.

As a protagonist, Mikey was unique and stereotypical at the same time. His struggle with OCD was palpable and heart-wrenching–I honestly felt like I was trapped in his loops with him, and it was horrifying. The various traumas that the had endured in his life were realistic and important; I appreciate that Ness used this book to discuss so many mental health issues that teens face today. However, his role in the story–the damaged guy who feels like he is less than his group of friends–felt cliche.

I liked the cast of supporting characters. His friends each had their own personalities and quirks–something I loved. Even so, I felt like the characters were still filling the same molds that you would expect them to fill: gay best friend, troubled sister, unattainable love interest, guy he’s jealous of. The main plot of the book was incredibly contemporary; unfortunately, this ended up following well-worn genre paths. Yes, I empathized with each character’s struggles, and I was emotionally invested in each of their storylines–but I was never surprised.

(Honestly, this book had so many similarities to The Perks of Being a Wallflower that I imagine the MCs as the same person. Anyone else feeling this?)

This book succeeds at what it sets out to do: write a story about the non-Chosen Ones, and point out some flaws in the current YA mold. The bits of Chosen One stories in the beginning of each chapter cracked me up; they were some of my favorite moments in the book, and I definitely appreciated the satire-ization of modern YA culture. Mikey and his friends live in the shadow of dramatic plots, the unfortunate bystanders that most authors reduce to body counts at the end of battles.

But the problem is, I want to read about the Chosen One. Not necessarily the person saving the world from zombie deer and blue lights, but at least a character that is willing to take charge of their lives and do things. I want to read stories where discoveries are made, where risks are taken, where there is obvious growth–and technically, TROUJLH has all of these things. The problem is, all of those boxes are checked by the contemporary plot line, but that plot is overshadowed (purposefully) by the fantasy plot line.

I wanted discoveries and risks and growth and closure regarding whoever was trying to end the world–mainly because it was presented to me as a major focus of the book. If there were no paranormal aspects of the book, I probably wouldn’t have felt as let down by TROUJLH as I did. But they were there, tantalizingly mysterious and dangerous and needing to be solved.

There were even times when it seemed like Mikey would step into the role of savior/investigator, but he was always held back, and I was disappointed. That’s the Catch 22 of this book’s premise: I wanted him to see the problems in the world and try to figure out solutions, but if Mikey had done that, he would have been acting as an indie kid, and that would have undermined the entire purpose of the book.

Can you tell that this book was frustrating for me?

I would recommend this book for fans of realistic contemporary with powerful and well-crafted social commentary. Fantasy fans should beware that this book contains fantasy elements but purposefully avoids being a member of the genre. All in all, TROUJLH is worth reading, but I expected more from Patrick Ness.

The Seven Writing Styles in YA, and What’s To Love (Or Not) About Each

YA authors take a lot of different approaches to writing their stories, and I love them all for it. Though I’m always looking for “good writing,” this un-quantifiable label comes in many shapes and sizes. Here’s a humorous (hopefully) look at the various writing styles I’ve encountered, and what’s to love (or not) about each.

first person teenager

We’re all familiar with this one: there’s nothing especially poetic about the writing style, except that it’s voice is unmistakably teenager-y. Usually, this writing style results in less flashy or quotable prose while maximizing readability and personality. Hot guys are probably fawned over. Best friends are probably wacky and hilarious. Parents very well might suck.

Done well, I love it. Done poorly, it just serves to highlight an author’s weak writing skills and disconnect from the actual lives of teenagers today.

  • Good examples: Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
  • Bad example: Aces Up by Lauren Barnholdt

scenery description

The building’s facade is a combination of Gothic and Victorian elements, giving off a judgmental and austere air. Five feet from the building stood a dark gray, slightly rusted telephone pole that dated back to the 1830s…

Freaking shoot me. Honestly, I have a hard time focusing on long scenery descriptions, and even if I do read them, I usually end up visualizing something wrong, and it is confusing later on in the story. I’ve learned to let most scenery descriptions flow over me, getting the mood of the place but ignoring specifics.

I’ll admit, when an author pulls this off, it’s really impressive, and I love them forever.

  • Good example: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
  • Bad example: honestly, I rarely finish books that are soporifically scenery-heavy, so no examples come to mind

under the radar

This type of writer uses such a plainspoken voice to tell their story that you don’t even realize how good their writing is until you go back and think about it. I love this type of writer, though their books tend to be less “quotable.”

  • Good examples: Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, the Angle Burn series by LA Weatherly

pov lover

You know the type. Every chapter is told from a different point of view. Sometimes it switches between the two protagonists; sometimes it jumps between whatever random characters serve the narrative at that moment. (Personally, I prefer the former and get bored with the latter, usually.) Done well, this is a great way to give insight into more than one character, and it can give a growing romance all the feels. Done poorly, the story feels choppy and badly paced.

  • Good example: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Weaker example: Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas (I love the story, but the switching POVs was a bit tiring!), The Diviners by Libba Bray (again, love the overall story, but it was hard to keep track of all the different characters’ plot lines)

accidental poet

This is possibly my favorite writing style. There is nothing flashy or forced about the lyrical quality of their writing–the story just tells itself so gorgeously that the writing becomes poetry. I love these stories because they don’t make a point of being well written, don’t shove it in your face while jumping up and down and yelling LOOK AT ME BEING PRETTY–they just take your breath away. They get an A+ for being quotable, and I’ll catch myself with random sentences of theirs floating through my head days after I’ve finished them.

  • Good examples: Fire by Kristen Cashore, anything by Maggie Stiefvater, The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner
  • Bad example: whenever an author is obviously trying to be lyrical and it doesn’t really work, e.g. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon

hallucinating poet

This is hands down my least favorite writing style. The writing is so lyrical and voice-driven that the story loses touch with reality. There is probably an unreliable narrator involved. There is probably alcohol involved. There are probably some mysterious occurrences that are either paranormal happenings or just drug-induced hallucinations.

These books give me a headache, and I generally finish them feeling very unsatisfied, wondering where the real story was.

  • Bad examples: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, The Accident Season by Moira Fowley-Doyle

heartbreaker

The kind of book that makes you sob with the power of the story and its writing. I usually love this kind of book, though it’s hard to find them, because I tend to shy away from books I know will make me cry in public.

  • Good examples: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, Love and Other Unknown Variables by Shannon Alexander, The Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness

What do you think? Do you agree? Are there other types of writing that I missed (probably)?

What is your favorite writing style?

Top Ten TV Shows I Want to Read as Books

top ten tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

This week’s TTT topic was supposed to be Top Ten Book To Movie Adaptations I’m Looking Forward To or Ten Book To Movie Adaptations I Still Need To Watch. But here’s the thing—I don’t watch movies. Seriously, I watch like four a year. And I don’t seek out book to movie adaptions.

So here’s my take on it: TV Shows I’d Want to Read as a Book. 

I love watching TV, and I love reading. But they are very different experiences, and sometimes, I wish that I got to be as connected to characters from TV shows as you are when you read books.

Spoiler alert, most of the TV I watch is old and on Netflix, so bear with me. :/

(click each image to go to the sites where I found them)

  1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, from the POV of Buffy

buffy

Because of course. I know they made comic books, but I want novels. I want some one-on-one time with Buffy’s brain. Just think about the fight scenes!

2. Buffy, from the POV of Willow

willow

Second to Buffy, Willow was one of the most badass characters in the show. And by the end of the show, she was magical AF. I would read any part of her story, because she was such a complex character from season one to season seven.

3. The West Wing, from the POV of Ainsely Hayes

ainsely hayes

She was definitely the most interesting characters in the show, and her characters make me crack up—always. Her voice in a novel would be so much fun to read.

4. The West Wing, from the POV of Josh Lyman

josh lymanJosh is simultaneously the smartest and the ditziest character on the show, and being inside his head in a narrative form would be hilarious and informative.

5. Sherlock (BBC version), from the POV of Watson

watson

Because why not? Are you telling me that you don’t want to know the running commentary in his head whenever Sherlock goes crazy.

6. Firefly, from the POV of River

river

Can you imagine how COOL this would be?!?! She was the character I was the most curious about, and with the show getting canceled so early (*mandatory rant and moment of silence*), I would definitely appreciate a chance to get to know more about her “I can kill you with my mind” promise.

7. Psych, YA version

psych

Are you telling me that you wouldn’t want to see Shawn be a psychic detective as a teenager? Because you’re probably lying. This book would be honestly laugh-out-loud funny.

8. Doctor Who, from every possible POV

dw

I want River Song. I want Rose Tyler. I want Donna Noble. I want the Tenth Doctor and the Eleventh Doctor and the sorely under-appreciated Ninth Doctor. I WANT IT ALL!

9. Merlin (BBC version), from the POV of Merlin

merlin

Because the BROMANCE. Also the magic. And the talking to dragons. Pretty much everything.

10. Leverage, from Parker’s POV

parker

It would basically be a grown up Ally Carter novel–and I LOVE Ally Carter’s books. Count me in!

Weekend Words #9

Hey guys! Before I get to WW, I want to apologize for my impromptu break from blogging this week. I only had one post, and I didn’t do a lot of blog hopping. I just wasn’t motivated to finish any of the half-started posts I had, and I decided that a little break might help get my head back in the game. And guess what? It worked, because I totally miss all of you guys and I remember why I started this blog in the first place. Without further ado, here’s the ninth installment of my original weekly feature, Weekend Words.

weekend words picWeekend Words showcases inspiring quotes from books, about writing, and about life. This feature will happen every weekend, either on Saturday or Sunday, depending on my schedule. While this is a reading/writing centric blog, this feature doesn’t have to be focused on those areas–it is intentionally open-ended to give bloggers a chance to say what’s on their mind.

Everyone should feel free to take part–it would honestly make my day! Complete instructions can be found on the feature’s page. 

1. A Powerful Quote From a Recent Read

eating soot

“I don’t know if I’d want to be comforted, if I’m being honest. If I’m being forced to eat soot, I want to know that somewhere else in the world, someone else has to eat soot as well. I want to know that soot tastes terrible. I don’t want to be told that soot’s good for the digestion.” — Maggie Stiefvater, The Scorpio Races

I love the shamelessness of this quote. Sometimes, comfort and consolation are not what I need. Sometimes I don’t want to be told about all the different silver linings to my problems. And I think that this quote does a great job of expressing that frustration.

2. A Quote that Inspired or Influenced Me This Week

autum is a second spring

“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.” — Albert Camus

It’s finally getting cold in Southern California! I got to break out my sweaters and boots this week, and I am enjoying the fall spirit. This is a gorgeous quote that captures my current mood.

3. Something I’ve Been Wanting to Say

Taking a break isn’t always a bad thing. It isn’t giving up, not if you go back. Sometimes taking a break is exactly what you need to remind you how much you would hate to quit.


I hope you’re all having a great weekend! What quotes have inspired you recently?

October Wrap-Up!

october wrap up

In Life

I can’t say I’m sad this month is over. This month was crazy for me in my personal life. My school newspaper (which I’m an editor for) published twice, instead of the usual one time, so everything was hectic and rushed. I had another Speech and Debate competition, which actually went really well but was also extremely tiring.

On This Blog

I had twenty posts this month! Considering how crazy this month was, I’m proud of myself. Most of the posts were book review, but I also had some TTTs and a book haul. I made an infographic about Chicklit plots. You can see all of my posts this month here.

Also, 52 Letters got a Twitter–@52lettersbooks! Please follow me–I love being able to interact with all you bookish people on Twitter, rather than just through blog comments. Seriously, book bloggers are the best 😉

In Reading and Reviewing

October was a great month for reading and reviewing. I read ___ books, and even managed to review some of them (*gasp*). This means that I’ve basically caught up on my reviews, something I haven’t been able to say for the last few months.

Books I Read and Reviewed

Other Books I Reviewed

In Writing

I wrote three poems this month, all varying degrees of depressing, if I do say so myself.

  1. A Blood-Soaked Pebble
  2. In Which I Don’t Care What You Would Have Done
  3. Cursing at Jaywalkers

For my WIP, the news is equally depressing. I only wrote 3,500 words. The good news is that I’m almost done with the WIP, and I broke 100,000 words finally! I know that this draft still needs a lot of work, but I’m starting to feel like I’ve accomplished something. 🙂

I’m not going to be able to do NaNoWriMo this year–school is just too crazy right now–but I really want to finish my WIP this month (a month earlier than my original goal) so that I can start revising it and making it something I’m willing to show other people. To all of you (insane) people doing NaNo–you are amazing and you will do great!!!