The Court of Miracles (A Court of Miracles, #1)

The Court of Miracles (Court of Miracles, #1)

First Lines: It is a time of famine, a time of hungering want that threatens to eat you from the inside out, leaving you good only to wait for the coming of death. And Death the Endless always comes.

I swear, every time I see this title, I think it’s about The Hunchback of Notre Dame because this is the name of a song in the movie and a well-known place in the book. But it’s actually about another Victor Hugo book, Les Misérables. Well, that and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. We’ll get to that.

1828, Paris. The French Revolution has failed and the poorer streets are ruled by a group of nine criminal guilds known as the Court of Miracles. Eponine “Nina” Thenadier is a talented cat burglar who does anything and everything she can to avoid her father’s fists and protect her adoptive little sister, Cosette “Ettie”. When Ettie attracts the attention of the ruthless Guild of Flesh leader named Tiger, Nina will stop at nothing to protect her sister. But to do that, she’ll need to travel from the darkest streets to the palace of Louis XVII–and force her to make an impossible choice between saving her sister and starting a war.

It was different than I expected. While it is definitely a retelling of Les Mis, it’s done with a twist. A Jungle Book twist. It’s the urban jungle, my friends. Like, there’s a ton of animal imagery in the story. Characters are named Orso (bear) and Tiger, while the different Guilds of the Miracle Court have names like Dogs, Cats, Bats, Rats, etc. It took me a while to really get into this part of the story, or maybe it just took a while for that to start making sense, but once it works, it’s pretty interesting.

Creative, yes. But it did take some time getting used to. I was expecting a more faithful retelling than it turned out to be. Because of the Jungle Book stuff, the story does take a turn. There are something like 9 Guilds and those are entirely new to this story. On top of that, I’m pretty sure that Cosette is significantly younger than Eponine in this story rather than the same age. And one major character to the original story so far has not made an appearance. I assume he will in the next book.

I know everyone’s obsessed with Eponine and like, fine, whatever. For this story, she made a solid heroine. She’s known as Nina or the Black Cat, a thief of tremendous ability. Paris is not kind to her, forcing her into several painful situations to survive. And for some time, she’s content to live a hard life. But that changes when threats to Ettie (Cosette) start coming because of how pretty the little girl is. As I said, Paris is not kind and the people who want Ettie want to break her.

Surprisingly, one of the major players in this story is Enjolras St. Juste. It was an interesting turn of events, considering the role he plays. And can I just say for a moment how much I enjoy Grantaire? This drunk best friend has had a soft spot in my heart for a long time. And, weirdly, Montparnasse is cool?

I am getting seriously off track. There’s a lot to unpack in this story. It very clearly highlights class differences (and warfare), particularly between the royal family and the lowest of the low in the streets of Paris. Nina is able to walk both sides of that and you see clearly that there are villains on both sides, and people worth your respect. But let’s be real, I don’t think we really needed Les Mis to do this story. It could have been just as interesting, if not more so, with original characters.

This book does have dark moments. Violence, class issues, broken hearts, harsh realities of life, and of course, Death the Endless. But it tempers that with brief glimpses of humor and heartwarming moments of sisterhood. Ettie and Nina are sweet and I loved seeing such a tight sisterly bond in a story that, historically, has pitted these two against each other.

An Affair of Poisons

Image result for an affair of poisonsFirst Lines: My laboratory reeks of death.  Not of blood and flesh and decay, but the garlicky bite of arsenic, the musty essence of hemlock, and the sweet smell of oleander–like rose water and citrus.

This book caught my eye at the library because, well, it looked historical and am I really going to pass something up where the cover talks about a king killer and poison?  No, I’m not.  Not without looking a little closer first.  When it still looked good, I took it home with me.

After unknowingly helping her mother kill King Louis XIV of France, Mirabelle Monvoisin suddenly realizes her mother’s Shadow Society isn’t who they’ve always claimed they are.  They were supposed to help the poor, to aide those the king was ignoring.  It was never supposed to be about getting power and killing the king.  Josse de Bourbon is the son of a king and a maid, forced to be more of a kitchen boy than a prince.  When his father, King Louis XIV, is killed by the Shadow Society, it’s up to Josse to protect his half-siblings.  Hiding the sewers beneath the city, Josse is desperate to save his sisters, though he doesn’t know how to bring reason back to a city that seems to have lost all sense.  His path crosses with Mirabelle and the two of them begin planning.  A poisoner and a prince–the unlikely combination may be the only thing that saves Paris.

I thought this was really interesting! A genre-blending read that was something of a historical fantasy.

The story itself is fascinating and intense. Initially taken from an actual historical event, it starts with a poisoning. A poisoner named La Voisin kills King Louis XIV of France because of his decadence and neglect of his poorer subjects. (This is where it diverges from history. Louis didn’t die.) With the king dead, now La Voisin is trying to take his place as ruler, but ruling is never as easy as it looks.

Our narrators were what made the story, though. Mira’s mother is La Voisin. Mira is the alchemist in charge of making all of the tinctures and poisons she uses to help citizens. Mira’s left in the dark about the plot to kill the king and she’s devastated when she sees what her actions have caused. Mira has a good heart, but she’s a flawed character. She wants to help people, but her past keeps getting in the way. Josse is the bastard son of the king and a maid. Working as a kitchen boy, Josse becomes his half-siblings’ only means of survival because he’s the least recognizable of the five of them. His main objective is to keep his youngest half-sisters alive and he’ll do whatever he has to to secure that. He’s also a very flawed character, sometimes hotheaded and impulsive among other things.

I mean, these characters, all of them, are complex. Which is the best way to write characters. La Voisin, even, is both good and horribly despicable. None of the characters are all good or all bad and it was so refreshing to read about characters who do walk that line. You understand where they’re coming from even if it’s hard to stomach.

The fantasy elements I thought were fairly well done. Mostly that boiled down to the alchemy Mira was able to do and a little bit of magic that crept into the story. It was enough to give it a different feel to the story without making it feel like it was taking away from the actual history this was all based on.

While it took me a little while to get into the story, I did actually really enjoy this. For a debut, it’s a solid read.

A Little in Love

Image result for a little in loveFirst Lines: I’m dying.  There’s no use hoping I’ll live or telling myself, Keep going, it’s only a small wound.  There’s too much blood on the ground.

I got this book years ago from Scholastic, back before I fell in love with Les Mis this summer.  I always intended to read it and in like, March, I watched Les Mis again so I’d have a basic knowledge of who Eponine was before I started this book.  And that’s when my love began.  So really, I have this book to thank for that.  But I needed to let it all breathe before I dove back into the world of 1832 Paris.

Eponine has never known kindness in her life.  As a young girl, she started to discover it through her family’s young servant girl, Cosette.  When they cross paths nearly ten years later, Eponine needs to decide what’s worth protecting and how far she’ll go to do that.

To sum it up, this is Les Mis from Eponine’s perspective.

In the end, I only thought it was ok. Part of that is because it wasn’t always true to the source material. If you’ve only ever seen the movie/musical, then you’re probably alright. But having just read the book a little over a month ago, some of the changes were quite glaring to me.

Most of the time, it’s true to the text, I’ll admit that. And I do mean to the text, not the musical. So like when Eponine first meets Valjean, he’s wearing a yellow woolen coat. And we get details about where Eponine lived in Paris and how she met Marius. Those were all accurate to the source. I did appreciate that. And I know some of the changes to the story were made because the timeline needed to be sped up or it would have been too confusing not to mention certain details early on (like Valjean’s name), but there were other changes I just didn’t think needed to be changed.

Eponine is an interesting character. She’s always been one, I think, that people are drawn to because she’s conflicted. Eponine’s a thief and poor and selfish, but she does have one stunning moment of selflessness everyone knows about. That’s not entirely what this Eponine is like, but it’s pretty close. This Eponine wants to be good. She wants to be kind, but her family tries to train her out of it. You can’t eat kindness, so why waste your time on it? Every time Eponine steals, she feels like she needs to do a good deed in return.

As for the other characters, I thought they were pretty much what I expected. Marius is a besotted fool who can’t see past his own nose, Thenardier is cruel, Gavroche is independent and charming, and Enjolras is passionate.

This story, I think, was about trying to give Eponine something of a happier story, even though the ending never changes. I kind of get that. But maybe because I have gotten so close to the source material lately, it feels wrong to mess with the existing story.

On The Spectrum

Image result for on the spectrum jennifer goldFirst Lines: When I was four, my mother dressed me up for Halloween in a miniature tutu and pinned my still-fine baby hair on top of my head in a tight knot that matched her own.

The coincidence of me posting this today, when my school is raising awareness about autism, is making me feel all warm inside.  Ok, initially I grabbed this for one reason: Paris.  But I was quickly hooked on the idea of an autistic character and seeing how he sees the world.

Clara is the daughter of a world-class ballerina–and because of that, she’s never been good enough.  Never been skinny enough.  At 16, she has an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating and measuring out every single thing that enters her body.  After a social media disaster, Clara decides it’s best if she goes away for a while and moves to Paris to stay with her estranged dad for the summer.  This includes moving in with his new wife and Clara’s half-brother, Alastair, who is six and on the spectrum.  Put in charge of her brother, Clara and Alastair journey through Paris and see the sights.  And while Alastair is teaching Clara patience and to love without judgement, Clara may also be learning what it means to love–herself and others.

This was just beautiful. And maybe it was a case of right book, right time because it was very different from what I’ve been reading.

Clara and Alastair were so unique and special in their own ways. Alastair just doesn’t understand social cues, sarcasm, or humor. At 6, he’s old enough that he’s getting bullied by other kids for being different and he doesn’t understand why he can’t be accepted. Clara, at 16, knows how to fit in, though her push for perfection in her body has given her an eating disorder (though not the ones you’re thinking of). For the summer, Clara gets to know her little half-brother and help him through his issues while trying to sort through her own.

It’s an interesting look at so many different things, not just autism and eating disorders. There’s also bits about racism and societal pressures. It’s never preachy, never becomes overwhelming. It was all about how it fit into the story with the characters. Like Clara’s disorder isn’t always the focus, nor is Alastair’s autism. Sometimes the issues are as simple as figuring out how to talk to the dad you barely know.

This book moved me.  It reached inside to my heart and slowly turned it into this little pile of mush.  These characters (and many of the scenes in the story) have stuck with me long after I finished this book.  It was beautiful.

It was just sweet. And different. I really liked it.

Belle Epoque

First Lines: “Perfect.  Just perfect,” says the stout man.  He scrutinizes me, his suit pinching across his rotund torso, and I assume that this is Monsieur Durandeau, but he doesn’t introduce himself.

You guys are probably sick of all the series books I’ve been reading.  I’d be sick of them too, if I weren’t so fond of the series themselves.  But when I picked up 4 sequels the last time at the library, I picked this up as well to counter all the series books.  It looked promising.

Maude Pichon ran away from her home in Brittany to try to make a life in Paris, where adventure was supposed to be as present as the water.  But instead, Maude finds herself penniless and desperate.  She answers an ad for the Durandeau Agency, which has a unique product: the beauty foil.  Maude, a plain girl, will instantly make the wealthy client look prettier just by standing next to her.  Durandeau has made himself wealthy with this, and the Countess Dubern is looking for a girl to be her daughter Isabelle’s companion.  Maude is the perfect fit.  Isabelle has no idea her new friend has been hired, and Maude faces challenge after challenge of keeping her true identity a secret in Parisian society.  The longer the deception continues and the closer the gets the Isabelle, the more she has to lose…

I was really interested in this for the Parisian aspect as well as for Maude.  First of all, the story is set in the last 1800s, just as the Eiffel Tower is going up.  That was spectacular because of the reactions the people of Paris had to it.  And it was just a cool story backdrop.  And I read for Maude because she’s this “plain” girl who gets hired because “plain” is just a more polite word for “ugly”.

The theme of beauty was heavily prevalent here, and I liked what it was trying to say.  Maude never really thought about her looks until she was told she was plain and ugly, then she never seemed to stop thinking about it.  And her job forces her to think of her flaws, her ugliest physical points.  I can’t imagine doing that as my job.  It would be incredibly depressing.  She didn’t have much of a choice though.  It was take that job or starve.  But there’s a good lesson she learns along the way that makes the story worthwhile.

I also liked seeing some of the socialite interactions as well.  I’m just a fan of those things because they’re so layered and overt, even though they try to be subtle.  Like when you know there’s a rich, eligible bachelor in the room and every mother is trying to get their daughters to dance with him to catch his interest.  It’s comical, yet this is exactly how society worked for decades, and not just in Paris.  I’d like to think we’ve gotten more subtle about this in the last century or so, but I doubt it.

Anyway, it’s a good story about finding who you are, discovering what it means to be beautiful, and creating your own destiny.

Midnight In Paris

So, I had an American Literature class this past semester and the professor constantly bashed the representation of historical characters in this movie.  And since I hadn’t seen it, I didn’t know what she was talking about (honestly, I still don’t, but that’s besides the point).  I had wanted to see it because it looked sort of mysterious and, of course, I’m a fan of both Owen and Rachel.

Gil is a Hollywood screenwriter who is no longer satisfied in his job.  He wants to be a novelist in Paris like his idols, much to the chagrin of his fiance, Inez.  She just wants him to keep making the big bucks and stay in Malibu.  On a dark night at midnight, Gil happened to be out walking when he’s swept away in the world of Paris in the 1920s.  These midnight walks are a great source of inspiration for him, but they take him further and further away from his fiance.  Can they survive this?

Honestly, I’m glad I had that American Lit class before I watched this.  It was great to have the background I did on Hemingway and Stein, two famous writers that Gil meets.  I knew their history as soon as I saw them, which made some of Gil’s jokes or comments easier to understand.  Those who have no real background in this will likely still enjoy it, but you’ll probably struggle a little to keep up.

I thought the characters were odd.  Gil is Romantic (re: nostalgic) to the extreme.  And he’s nostalgic for a time period he’s never been to!  He was obsessed with it and that just seemed…weird.  Inez was very pushy and demanding in ways that made her seem like a total b***h, but in this suave way where you could still imagine yourself being friends with her.  Clever, but again, odd.  I still can’t see what Gil fell in love with about her.

There didn’t seem to be a whole lot of action taking place either.  I got bogged down.  I kept watching the clock, seeing how much more of this movie I had to go.  As one of my friends would say, it did not pass The Watch Test (wristwatch).  If you have to keep checking the time, it’s obviously not holding your interest.

Anyway, it’s an alright story.  Not fabulous and nothing really stood out, but not terrible.  It was still pretty funny to see Gil get thrown into the 20s and see him fumble over meeting his idols.