Teaser Tuesday: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

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Six Of Crows was easily the best YA book I had ever read, and its sequel, Crooked Kingdom, is even topping it for me.

 

Teasers:

 

“There’s a wound in you, and the tables, the dice, the cards – they feel like medicine. They soothe you, put you right for a time. But they’re poison, Jesper. Every time you play, take another sip. You have to find some other way to heal that part of yourself. Stop treating your pain like it’s something you imagined. If you see the wound is real, then you can heal it.” – Inej

This hits so hard. How many of us fall into self-soothing behavioral patterns because we are trying to tranquilize our inner wounds that we can’t even face?

 

“I don’t hold a grudge. I cradle it. I coddle it. I feed it fine cuts of meat and send it to the best schools. I nurture my grudges.” – Kaz

Classic Kaz!

 

“The thought felt like cool water cascading over the hot, shameful feeling of helplessness he’s been carrying with him for so long.” – Wylan

I felt this in my chest. Wylan deserves all the happiness in the world.

 

I am so emotionally invested in the core six – Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Nina, Matthias, and Wylan – and even the newest “member” of the crew, Kuwei!

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Film Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

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This film (an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Emily Danforth) was a bridge for me, into a world where I felt heard and seen. I had been yearning to see it for a while before I finally gained access to it. It was showing in only one theater in Boston, the historically indie Coolidge Corner theater. Going to that theater for the first time just to see this film felt like a pilgrimage. Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays the eponymous Cameron Post, has been an admirable force of nature for me since she delighted me in Kick-Ass. I have watched so much of her filmography since then, but no role has spoken to me as much as her character Cameron did.

 

Cameron Post is sent to a gay conversion camp for being caught having sex with a girl. Her discomfort in that space is palpable. Chloe Moretz is adept at using microexpressions to instill real feelings of awkwardness in the viewer. The camera, up close and personal, captures all of her wariness all over her face. The camp is honestly not too different from a glorified boarding school in high school, and the need to keep the kids under close watch was all too real for me. I could relate to the quiet chafing away at the kids’ souls.

 

So it was endlessly lovely to watch Cameron discover two kindred spirits in her new friends: Jane Fonda (a rosy Sasha Lane) and Adam Red Eagle (the intriguing Forrest Goodluck). My favorite part of The Miseducation of Cameron Post is the platonic intimacy it dwelled upon. In a world where parents would be so cruel to their kids, and love interests would throw their lovers under the bus to save themselves, her friends are patiently supportive, softly soothing, and provide much-needed levity and warmth.

 

An essential part of the film is the musical score. It swooped and dove along with the temp of the film, and reached a crescendo at the climactic turning point. I haven’t heard such a magnificent score for a film in a long time. The strings, in particular, were phenomenal. Along with the music, the tight shots gave the audience a sense of the claustrophobia of the camp for Cameron, combined with wide shots of Cameron’s secret hangout spots with her friends to signify a space where she could breathe. The golden lighting indoors was also a nice touch.

 

Some  critics of the film argue that the film is permissive of the evils of gay conversion camps. I disagree. Although the two heads of the camp, Dr. Lydia Marsh (Jennifer Ehle) and her brother Reverend Rick (John Gallagher Jr) may have been portrayed “sympathetically”, the horrors of the camp are still felt. This is no cheery summer camp, even under the guise of karaoke nights and field trips. This film does not shy away from pointing out the lasting effects of emotional abuse on LGBTQ youth, or the kind of pain that is inflicted when they are taught to condemn the very essence of themselves. Cameron herself questions this at an important turning point in the film.

 

Cameron’s growth throughout the film places it firmly as a coming-of-age masterpiece. She starts out tightly wound shut, unwilling and unable to unveil her true feelings and beliefs. By the end of the film, she is open and unafraid, seizing her life into her own hands. She moves away from withdrawing from the program internally, to proactively deciding she deserves better. The final shot of the film is seared into my brain. Cameron’s friends are looking up, hopeful, dreamy, content, while Cameron is leaning on them, her expression one of resolution instead of abject discomfort. She has grown up.

 

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Grade: A

Ember in the Ashes Review: Searing Political Fantasy

 

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An Ember in the Ashes

By Sabaa Tahir

Published April 28th, 2015 by Razorbill, and imprint of Penguin Random House

446 Pages

Read February 19th – 25th, 2018

 

Ember in the Ashes has been at the top of my to-read list for YA series, so I was thrilled to impulsively snag it at my local bookstore. I wasn’t disappointed. It was a wild ride! The action erupted in the beginning and it. Did. No. Let. Up. The double love triangle (or love square, as people have taken to calling it), was really complex, and Ms Sabaa Tahir did a masterful job of keeping me wondering who matched up better with who. Also, I found the character development really satisfying, with real growth in mind and soul in characters.

CHARACTERS

Laia

Laia started off really passive, without having much conviction for any cause (outside of saving her brother). She accepted what fed to her (by the Resistance) and was too trusting, naïve, gullible. She fell into the Black-And-White thinking of Resistance = Good and Mask = Bad, without critically thinking of underlying motives people might have. The only thing propelling her forward was her need to save her brother, without putting much thought into the greater ideals her brother was fighting for. I was so gratified when, by the end of the book, she wizened up to the Resistance’s corruption – fighting against the “Establishment” – realized the “bigger picture” (such as freeing someone like Izzi, which righted an injustice bigger than herself or her brother, and became an active player, saving herself and thinking for herself.

Elias

Elias’s soul was always in the right place. He simply needed the courage and the fortitude to follow through on his convictions and stand up to the “Establishment” that was the Blackliff Industrial Complex. He knew he wanted to be better than what they wanted to manufacture him into at Blackliff Academy. He could never be a mindless robot in their Machine. Yet, he felt trapped in the “System”. What I loved about his story is that he only became “free” when he took a stand for what he knew was Right. In the end, he did not follow along with other people’s interests, as he had been doing throughout the novel. He became bold in what he believed in. His soul became unshackled, and his body became so, too. Most importantly, he was <u>honest</u> about how he truly felt. That took Bravery.

Helene

Helene was my favorite! She deserves to be a POV character, especially after all that she went through – so I am so glad that I get to read her POV in “Torch Against the Night”! What I loved about Helene was how steadfast she was in what she believed in, and how unwavering she was in her faith in what she was doing. Although she subscribed to Martial ideals, I found it really admirable how she focused on her goals, and how driven and tenacious she was in “going for gold”. She knew what she wanted, and she kept her eye on the prize. She did not let anyone underestimate her, and she possessed a keen sense of self. Her character is inspirational. The best part is, she is capable of strategic thinking for the Greater Good. She truly wants what is best for her people and the Empire, and she was selfless in her pursuit of that. I’m glad that she wasn’t brainwashed by Blackliff in the end, and even though she had been a stringent rule follower the whole book, she broke the rules to aid Elias in Doing the Right Thing.

RELATIONSHIPS

The love square was intense! I shipped ALL of them! I genuinely had no clue who was “meant to be” and who wasn’t. Usually, it’s a little obvious who the “destined” couple are, but Sabaa Tahir pleasantly surprised me by making it more complicated – and messy! – than usual.

Laia and Keenan had that whole cute “can she melt his cold exterior” thing going on, which is always adorable. His hard edges started softening more and more around her, which was adorable.

Elias and Laia had that “insta-love”, “forbidden love”, and “opposing sides” thing happening, and it is always heartwarming to see characters that are trained to distance themselves from each other be ineffably drawn to each other, and discover their similar ideals through all the haze of exterior forces designed to keep them apart.

Helene and Elias made me so emotional! I usually am not all that into the whole “friends to lovers” thing, but they flipped that on its head! I adored their simultaneous realizations that they were Everything to each other, their need to be there for each other, and how they were such an equal match. Helene was “The Brain” and Elias was “The Heart”. The will-they-won’t-they feeling in the air had me swooning. Plus, I’m so into the whole fight-each other-but-really-love-each other thing. The fact that Helene is physically matched with Elias makes me so happy. I love when they have each other’s backs, but also adore the scene where they were sparring. That was beautiful.

My heart breaks for Helene! But Elias didn’t want to let her go in the end.  A true Tragedy.

BOOKENDS

I liked how the framing of the book showed the ending as a fulfillment of what the characters had been lacking in the beginning. Elias finally achieved the freedom he had sought for, while Laia finally had the courage to save herself – and her brother – on her own terms.

THEMES

The major themes I discovered were: overcoming fear, freedom, the soul, and the Spirit.

HISTORY/CULTURE

I found it cool how Sabaa Tahir modeled the culture of the Martials after the Ancient Romans, while modeling the culture of the Scholars after Ancient Arabs. She certainly did her research – it felt very “real”. I suspect that the Tribesmen were modeled after North African nomads, and I expect to learn more about them in “Torch Against the Night” (as well as the Mariners).

WORLD BUILDING

I’m so, so happy that the “intellectual” group, the Scholars, are the heroes and the protagonists in this series, and not the antagonists (like the Erudite in “Divergent”) nor the sidekicks (like the Ravenclaws in “Harry Potter”). Meanwhile, the “brawny” group, the Martials, are antagonistic, instead 0f heroic, for once, in contrast to the Dauntless and the Gryffindors. I appreciate that.

FAVE QUOTES

“There are two kinds of guilt, girl: the kind that drowns you until you’re useless, and the kind that fires your soul to purpose.” – Spiro Teluman

“Laia is the wild dance of a Tribal campfire, while Helene is the cold blue of an alchemist’s flame.” – Elias Veturius

“Even still, there is an animal freedom to how he moves, a controlled chaos that makes the air around him blaze. So different from Keenan, with his restrained solemnity and cool interest.” – Laia

“Fear can be good, Laia. It can keep you alive. But don’t let it control you. Don’t let it sow doubts within you. When the fear takes over, use the only thing more powerful, more indestructible, to fight it: your spirit. your heart.” – Spiro Teluman

“That’s who Helene is: Her faith is steadfast. Her loyalty. Her strength. They always underestimate me. I’d underestimated her more than anyone.” – Elias Veturius

RATING

5/5

CONCLUSION

Ember in the Ashes delighted, shocked, and moved me. I’m rushing into “Torch Against the Night”!