Leisure Literature: The School for Good and Evil

When I can find extra moments, there is always a list of books I want to read. Some I anticipate for months, some for years before I find the time to get to them, and some of them live up to the hype and some don’t. Leisure Literature is a book review column that details my thoughts on my recent readings.

I guess I follow New Leaf Literary in enough places to have their books and their promotions leaking through to me more frequently than others. So, I heard about The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani enough times that it sounded cool enough to read. The world is built around kids being taken away to school to graduate as either fairytale princesses and princes, or storybook villains.

One thing about this book is that the cover and the matter and a lot of how it is sold seems very MG. Perhaps the concepts in the book are MG, and you can argue the whole thing is MG, but the sophistication of writing and the overall style of the story felt more YA to me. I am technically “too old” for MG and me reading it would just be completely for fun, but this book wasn’t like that, I felt like it was worth it for me to read.

Probably the most attractive thing in this book is the worldbuilding–I love good worldbuilding. The idea of a school which trained kids to become people from fairy tales and legends sounded attractive enough to almost singlehandedly convince me to read the book and learn more about how the school worked. The mechanics of the architecture and the creatures of the world did turn out quite interesting.

I enjoyed that the author had a clear vision about the point of the story, where it was going, and the distinct personalities of the characters. It was exciting throughout and engaging, and felt worthwhile afterwards, although it lacked that inexplicable ‘wow’ factor at the end, nothing that really left me awed. The school was pretty cool, but it didn’t blow me away like I had hoped.

Each character was very well-implied; I got a very good sense of what they were supposed to be like and the important traits that defined them (and the details that went along with that personality). What they wanted was clearly defined, and there was a lot conveyed through how they interacted with other people. However, I never really got to know them on a personal level–this is okay, writing a story for the reader to spectate rather than get involved in, but of course, it’s less attaching.

Some things that didn’t work so well: Sophie was cast as a stereotypical blonde princess, but she started to get so stereotypical she nearly wasn’t an actual person; it would have been more believable if she was a really girly human rather than a idealism made to fit the stereotype. The first twist in the book is unfortunately a large selling point, so wherever you read a synopsis, or the book matter, it is already spoiled. Perhaps that is okay, to use it to capture attention, but then of course it no longer shocks you or has the same ‘ooh, twist!’ effect; it is instead an ‘I was sold this, now I’m expecting it’ plot point. There are also a couple other cliche twists that were added in the middle (which I won’t spoil), which weren’t done so well.

A random note: I really appreciated that the author of this book was a POC male. Perhaps this is some sort of non-equality-ist of me to differentiate based on race or gender but there truly aren’t a lot of writers like him in this grade level and genre. In the end, writing is writing no matter who the author is or what they are like, and he centered this story around girls’ perspectives without making me notice or complain. Well done, Mr. Chainani. Or if he or the reader wishes me to be more ‘PC’, no extra applause at all.

What was most important overall was that I enjoyed the story–the characters, the mechanics, the ending, the plot–and that it didn’t feel like it was for nothing (like Carry On did, for example). If you think you’d enjoy this genre, I would recommend it. I am going to be checking out the next books in the series soon and continuing to read this story.

Leisure Literature: The School for Good and Evil

Spasmodic Baking: Simple Sugar Cookies

As a general rule of thumb, I’m not to be trusted in the kitchen. However, I’m slightly better with the oven. I sporadically bake cake and cookies and the like (you can count on it around my birthday), and it usually turns out kind of tasty. In “Spasmodic Baking”, I share recipes I’ve done.

A couple weeks ago now, it was my grade’s turn to help bring snacks to youth ministry. Normally, I would be one of those majority who doesn’t make any effort and just comes and enjoys the snacks, but for some reason I felt like I should bring something, and then of course I was baking.

I really wanted to bake, but it was already giving of more time than was comfortable. So I decided to make the simplest cookies I could. Like it-can’t-get-any-easier than this simple. Google found me this. Off I went.

A disclaimer note: Of course, as it is with most “super easy” recipes, beware, tis only so for those who know how to bake. ‘Beginner’ and ‘easy’ are very separate, and personally, until I gained some experience baking, any recipe advertised as ‘super quick’ or ‘easy’ wasn’t actually. You may bumble if you’re not familiar with basic baking things, but you can ask someone. Hopefully your mom knows.

Ingredients (all things I wanted to already be in my kitchen, and were):

  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The only ‘difficult’ thing here is the creaming step, and I’ll say what I’ve said before: room temperature butter is very important. If you must, you can soften it in the microwave for a bit beforehand.

The oven goes at 375 F.

  1. Combine the flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar in another bowl.
  3. Beat the egg and vanilla into the butter/sugar.
  4. Blend in the dry ingredients bit by bit (not all at once).
  5. Roll into little balls and bake on ungreased foil for around 10 minutes or until golden. The tops will crack open prettily.
  6. Once they come out of the oven, let them cool on the sheets for a bit (this is important or they’ll come apart) and then let them cool more on cooling racks.

For some reason, I had some really small, tiny cookies because I was far underestimating the size of cookies. I guess I was trying to make as many as possible since the youth ministry is big, but I went too small for a couple of batches. I also had some browner ones and lighter ones; it got really varied because I forgot about one batch in the oven for two too many minutes.

Since I was just bringing it to share, I ended up piling them all on paper plates, and they received a captioning card something like, “Sugar Cookies (small or big, cooked or cooked a little more, solid or cookie cracked, all the same)” (they all did taste the same).

Due to different things, I didn’t come out to have snacks until way after everyone else was released to, but when I finally came out, the cookies were completely gone, plates and all. All I was hoping was people would like them, and it sounds like they were? I couldn’t quite watch them go or see to know, but my friend said when she went to have one they were gone. Left to guess how good they were, I suppose.

Spasmodic Baking: Simple Sugar Cookies

Leisure Literature: Carry On

When I can find extra moments, there is always a list of books I want to read. Some I anticipate for months, some for years before I find the time to get to them, and some of them live up to the hype and some don’t. Leisure Literature is a book review column that details my thoughts on my recent readings.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell follows Simon Snow in his last year at Watford, a school for magic. A vague, nondescript monster called the Insidious Humdrum is attacking the world, while warring ancient magic families have to be dealt with in the background.

I heard about this recent release sometime last year, pitched as Rowell’s take on the Harry Potter universe. There are some major base similarities between the worldbuilding, but the details get different. The world is also not the focus of the book, it is much more of a character-driven book.

Simon suffers from main character’s weakness, a dilemma I feel many writers (including me) suffer from. Simon lacks depth and connection that some of the other characters foster. It always feels easier to develop and pick out personality for the supporting cast, but it is a greater challenge to define the POV character to the same level.

The other characters are more defined, and therefore more real, yet I never got very invested in any of them. Agatha is not particularly endearing, Penelope is fun but a sort of required Hermione parallel, Baz is interesting technically but doesn’t have a ton of emotional depth.

Overall, the book is engaging, there’s no denying (I didn’t get bored or feel like I wanted to put it down); but it doesn’t seem significant or have a serious point, somewhat reminiscent of a TV drama. The book is enjoyable while you’re reading it, but not really past that.

Some things it does well includes laying out tons of string at the beginning and eventually tying it all together in a way unforeseeable at the beginning (a sensation I really enjoy and appreciate in a book). It also switches first-person point of view between at least 8 different characters, if not more, and does it quite well. I didn’t get too confused, although there were a lot. In general, Rowell really plays loosely with the format of the book and the writing itself, and gets away with all of it, which I find impressive and inspiring.

Another thing which I enjoyed was that there was never certainty as to who really were the ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’; the unreliability of the narrator is evident, but not telling. Following on that note, neither did the book try to convince you one side is good and then guessably shock you to the other side being good, which I appreciated.

Rowell also manages to do some crazy things with her plot and characters, and suspend belief. In retrospect, outside the book, I cannot believe I bought some of the plot points, so I congratulate Rowell on suspending my belief while inside the book.

The plot, on the other hand, while soap opera-level emotionally engaging, seems very melodramatic–designed to satisfy the fantasizing mind.The imagination is cool, but gets vague and a bit swimmy, especially towards the end of the book. I can understand, since my thoughts go there often, but that kind of imagination can really only be understood by its creator; once one tries to convey it to others, it becomes unclear. The ending of the book falls into a cliche category (I won’t mention which, no spoilers), which was disappointing it wasn’t more or something new or stunning, but I understand, the book just needed to end, and the number of things not already done are just getting fewer and fewer.

Overall, it was quite enjoyable, engaging, and fun while it lasted, if romance and fantasy-adventure is your genre. The moment it was over, however, it didn’t seem there was any main idea/takeaway or theme. If you’re just looking to enjoy yourself and lose yourself in a book world for a while, Carry On is that. It’s good and long, but it didn’t leave me feeling awed afterwards or in love with the story or thinking about it. So my recommendation is up to you–weigh whether not having any real gravity is worth the fun while inside the book.

Leisure Literature: Carry On

Leisure Literature: I’ll Give You The Sun

Pre-post notes: The next few posts (3 books and 1 baking) were all done by me well over a month ago. Unfortunately, I’m bad at writing so I did not complete these posts until now.

When I can find extra moments, there is always a list of books I want to read. Some I anticipate for months, some for years before I find the time to get to them, and some of them live up to the hype and some don’t. Leisure Literature is a book review column that details my thoughts on my recent readings.

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson is a newer YA book that I decided to pick up simply due to the semi-popularity of it recently. So, yes, I was just opening it and seeing what it had to offer without any real expectation.

Boy, did it deliver. For some reason, after finishing the book, I couldn’t stop raving to myself about how magic the book was. I could not explain exactly how, but I really felt an element of emotion and connection beyond logic, stuff that books aren’t supposed to be powerful enough to make one feel.

Noah and Jude (cool names, guys) are pretty well-developed characters. They each have clear wants and personalities, and admirable attitudes and realistic reactions. Yet, I never felt invested in them as people. In addition, the plot, upon zooming out, is rather unordinary, and could be cliched. So if the book is not character driven or plot driven, why was it so magical?

I think it was because it was meaning driven and word driven. I didn’t find satisfaction in Noah’s drive or Jude’s passion, but in the way things were said. In the way Noah thought, the painting titles. The metaphors used. How Jude would explain how she felt about something. And if I didn’t relate to the words every time, I definitely felt connected to how it was said. My brain works like that. I must have said “yes, exactly!” to myself fifty times. What little thoughts or lines meant in a micro sense felt more important than the book overall. That much made me feel like I understood Noah and Jude very personally. After I closed the book, though, and forgot the tiny moments that happened line by line, I was like, what made me feel like I knew them? I’m not like them at all!

One larger plot point I related to was Noah and Jude’s sibling relationship. The feeling of drifting and not wanting to, yet not feeling in a place to fix it. Hating each other, yet knowing each other better than can be explained, and still working together.

Other things: I enjoyed Noah’s artistic mind and how he can paint anything in his head, and I loved how Jude’s belief in the spirits and supernatural was so integrated into her perspective of the world. The way it was presented kept the book out of fantasy and in the real world, yet somehow brought the fantasy to the real world. I personally don’t have any inkling of bringing up in anything remotely similar to what Jude believes, but this writing made me accept it and believe it for Jude.

A couple things I wish were different: Oscar was a little too storybook to be real, and sometimes broken love stories (Noah’s) are meant to stay broken. Happy endings are cool too, but I value realistic ones even more.

Personally, for me, this book was magic. The words spoke to me personally, and something in the story connected with me beyond explaination. This is definitely a will-buy-my-own-copy-for-my-own-bookshelf book. Of course I think it’s an amazing book–you should read it, but this review is more of a personal experience I had with this story that I’m not sure everyone will have. Yet, I’m pretty sure it’s a great read even if you don’t find the same magic I did.

Leisure Literature: I’ll Give You The Sun