Saturday, October 31, 2015
Hmm...how to review. This is a rare novel where I could detail half of the book's information and it wouldn't seem spoilery, making little sense on the surface. I'm still not quite sure I understood everything. This is classified as Fantasy, and also contains Horror/Mystery/Comedy elements. We follow an odd cast of characters assembled by "Father" to study different courses in a supernatural-type library. Each Librarian has a strict regimen of study in their own catalogue, and must not deviate from their specialty or face pretty severe punishments. When "Father" goes missing, the Librarians band together to search for him and find out why certain occurrences are happening. Beyond this, we have parallel universes, resurrections, lots of bloodshed, a pile of dark comedy, strange outfits, and a perfectly bizarre story. Trigger warning for anyone who has a hard time with blood and gory descriptions. There is also some animal death...boo (but mostly in a feral sense).
In spite of these weird aspects (or maybe because of), it kind of worked for me. The writing was quite good even though the plot and scenarios were all over the place. It was fast-paced and that was nice since I desperately wanted to know what the heck was going on. Keith Donohue (author of The Stolen Child) has a blurb on the back cover which captures the essence of this Fantasy novel quite succinctly "This book is batshit crazy." True. Very true. I noticed a couple similarities to this story and Lexicon by Max Berry. This was mostly due to the linguistic element of Carolyn's studies and how that gave her power in certain situations, like the powerful language utilized in the academy in Lexicon. I preferred this story.
While I wasn't blown away enough to consider for a reread, it was a unique experience. Go in expecting to be confused and scratching your head continuously. Hawkins has a neat style that pulls you through the book, if you don't mind feeling a little grossed out occasionally. Points for originality, and making me feel like I was in a fever dream. I recommend for anyone looking for a spooky read that is unusual indeed.
Sunday, October 25, 2015
The first thing I remember hearing about Munro (besides that she is Canadian and a Man Booker Prize winner) was that she wrote stories about ordinary people living ordinary lives. Munro's particular gift is writing about relationships. Adultery seems to be a theme, with various outcomes. I've always thought it a strange statement when people describe a book or a movie (ha, or childbirth) "It will break your heart in the best possible way." However, I felt that truth in this collection. It gets gritty in highlighting ways we disappoint each other, but manages to be subtle at the same time- which packs an emotional punch with it's realness.
As far as writing quality, she was right in there with other great short story collections I've read, from Julie Orringer's How to Breathe Underwater to Joan Wickersham's The News from Spain: Seven Variations on a Love Story. Munro doesn't need flowery language or tons of dialogue, her sentences are often sparse and spot on.
I started off loving this collection of stories, but unfortunately toward the middle they started running together for me a little. The characters and situations were different, but the prevailing issues of adultery or some other form of abandonment started to wear me down. She does write realistically and well. While I realize life is rarely a fairy-tale with a storybook ending, I felt a sense of despair reading most of them, like I was waiting for the impending shoe to drop. I wanted some ice cream and tissues after 2/3 of the book, so that was a little taxing. Of course, this could be my mood at the time I picked this up as well.
Also, the same thing that frustrates me with short stories in general raised it's ugly head with this book too... going "meh" with some, and being bummed that others ended when I wanted so much more development. I always try to think of each story like a snapshot in time, but my love for novels makes this hard to do! This is obviously a personal reading preference and no reflection on the quality of this book. I would like to read more Munro when I'm in the mood for short stories, because I admire her prose and themes. She is also immensely celebrated and prolific, with many more collections. I'll return to her great writing when I'm in the right head space for these topics.
Friday, October 23, 2015
I read Of Mice and Men years ago in high school. This is my second Steinbeck work, which might seem a strange choice since it is a reflection on many years of his life, and a rediscovery of an America he has written about for years. At age 60, Steinbeck decides to travel cross country with his French poodle Charley for three months exploring interstates, back roads, and small -town stores/diners to reflect on our vast country and the opinions/thoughts/lifestyles of the people who live here.
The opening to this book is just awesome. It's a beautifully crafted page detailing all the excuses we make at different ages not to do stuff- in this case, travel. Steinbeck also appreciates the beauty of Fall and the feeling of a chilly day, a man after my own heart: "And in the humid ever-summer I dare his picturing mind not to go back to the shout of color, to the clean rasp of frosty air, to the smell of pine wood burning and the caressing warmth of of kitchens. For how can one know color in perpetual green, and what good is warmth without cold to give it sweetness?" A most excellent argument for living in places with seasonal weather, especially the cold ones! Three cheers for Steinbeck!
Traveling books are inherently interesting to read regardless of the writer's skill (in my opinion of course!), because most of the enjoyment is living vicariously through the newness of the locations and experiences. However, coupled with Steinbeck's prose, this memoir exceeded most in quality. There was so much nostalgia in this book- from the usage of paper maps to the fascination he has with vending machine coffee and instant soups. When I had this book in a To Be Read video for my YouTube channel, a viewer commented that it would be impossible to do most of the stuff he does constantly on his travels- from the way he meets people, picks up hitchhikers, and allows strangers into his camper for a meal, conversation, and drinks. It's a sad reflection of our culture that we now have to be so guarded to maintain safety, but it's an unfortunate reality that can't be ignored.
Steinbeck writes poignantly about being present during one of the newsmaking Louisiana protests (in 1960) where protesters picket outside of a desegregated elementary school. The feeling of disappointment in the human race is heartbreaking and overwhelming in these pages, almost making you nauseous with the prejudice. He has a succinct way of describing the facts as he saw them that terrible day, and how far the country has to go in terms of race relations. We still do. Finally, I loved the end of his journey where he hopes he's presented a good picture of his travels, but will never have everything figured out- and wouldn't attempt to anyway. Regardless of whether you are a Steinbeck fan already, this travel memoir will not disappoint.
Genre: Young Adult Horror/Mystery
*I was kindly provided an e-Pub version of this novel by Jolly Fish Press in exchange for an honest review*.
This title is currently an Amazon Kindle special for October #Spookreadinggoals for $1.99 if interested Link here to purchase!
During this spooky time of year, I was hankering for a creepy read. Somehow I had managed until mid-month without one. Just in time, I received a nice email from the folks of Jolly Fish Press, asking if I would be interested in reviewing a book. After perusing the titles, I was initially attracted to the green and black imagery of the Pitch Green cover, as well as the story description. This is the first book in a three book series, with book two currently available as well, Mojave Green. I also found the author bios of the Washburn brothers quite interesting, and thought it would be so fun to collaborate with a sibling to write your dream story.
Cammy and some younger children are trick-or-treating in their old mining town of Trona, California. Cammy is the oldest, so has designated herself to babysit the little ones of the group. Her best friend Cal's little brother, Hughie, has dressed as a ghost and lags behind as they are walking. A quick distraction later, Hughie has disappeared and the case is never solved. The reader is then moved forward seven years to the aftermath of this tragedy, and how Cal and Cammy are moving forward. The mystery of these recurring childhood disappearances is brought to the surface again, and the two are pulled into the investigation.
I'm predisposed to like any old mansion or motel setting. I liked the addition of the decrepit, sulfuric smelling mining town to add to the icky feels. Any reader who passes factories or lives near one on a daily basis can relate to the stench! The permeating stink affects ones mood and the town surroundings. I also liked how the authors touched on how grief touches everyone differently- while some wallow in guilt and self-doubt, others sweep their emotions under the proverbial rug and thrown themselves into every activity.
I think this a good story for a young adult reader. I'm in my early thirties, and it is particularly hard to scare me, so I'm a bit of a tough customer for this genre. I didn't care too much for the italicized paragraphs of the monster's bloodthirsty thoughts in between the regular narrative. It is straightforward that it is some kind of monster. I felt it would have been more climactic and mysterious without them. Having children of my own, a vanishing child is enough to terrify me-I don't need the additional goading to be scared. I also like subtle psychological horror best. However, I feel it would have been fun for a young teenage reader who hasn't had that life experience. I appreciated that this is an appropriate level for it's age group. There is death and some blood, but otherwise a tame romantic element and little harsh language.
This was a fast-paced read and would appeal to those who like a good old- fashioned monster book. There is good setup for the following story. If you loved Goosebumps, this will be one you want to pick up. Thanks again to Jolly Fish Press, and I look forward to seeing what the Brothers Washburn produce next.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
I received this book in a Books & Bloggers swap from my fellow cat-loving friend Jo, who raved about the feline narrator as being one of her new favorite main characters. I had it on my wish list from the moment I saw her review, and squealed with delight when I unboxed it. The edition is beautiful, with great page quality and flaps. Luckily, the content was just as wonderful. This story is translated from Greek by Konstantine Matsoukas. Occasionally the structure felt a bit unusual, but that could have been due to the cat narrator as opposed to that it was a translated work. The language was clever and I really enjoyed the writing.
We follow Zach Sugar, a white kitten with one green and one blue eye who is on his seventh and final life. Yes, our feline narrator confirms that cats do have multiple lives. We open with his discussion on the disgusting nature and morals of his feline mother, and hear of his plans to leave the shrub he is hiding under and procure a human owner to better his position in life. He has chosen a woman referred to as "Damsel" who is attending an outdoor party. Yes, reader. Cats choose their owners, not vice versa. We learn many cat truths and get various myths debunked along the way. In addition to nuggets of wisdom, the story focuses on Zach's insistence to form a relationship with this lady who is not a cat person, and is very independent and reserved to boot.
The snarky feline narrator reminded me of the cat protagonist from Lynne Truss's Cat Out of Hell novel. Luckily, while that one fell a bit flat, this one was an improvement in that it simply told the ups and downs of a human/cat relationship, and didn't muddle itself with a weird mystery. Both books do confirm that my cat is inwardly laughing at my obsessive/fawning behavior, particularly in my constant efforts to appease her. Apparently I need to play hard to get. This book is further proof that cats are complex, observant, opinionated, and generally great for most bookish people. I laughed at Zach's plaintive speech on how his mistress obviously didn't get the memo that cats are a writer's muse.
There are chuckle-worthy twisted logic statements that have surprising truth. "I urgently need to become less of a cat. I need to let the dog in me out so she'll love me like I was human." (pg. 88). Another fantastic quote "Besides, we are all a little boring at our happiest. Like advertisements of ourselves." (pg. 87). The chapter headings are funny and often poetic, and I loved the "Meow Rules" sprinkled throughout. There are even a few pencil drawings included in various chapters.
There is some sadness, which I was anticipating. I appreciated that it came in the expected manner and in a more abrupt fashion. I can't take the long, drawn-out stuff, especially when I read about animals and children. Big wimp here. At it's heart, this novel talks about the powerful impact of the human and cat interaction- their power struggles, emotions, and bonds with each other. If you like cats, please read! If not, there's not much else in this story for you- but I hope you'll read it to see how magnificent these creatures are, and why I love them so much. Plus it's short, so what do you have to lose really? :-)
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Carriger is wonderfully consistent! As with her first novel Soulless (review found here) , the writing is witty and snappy from page one. Tarabotti has climbed the social ladder with her marriage to Lord Maccon (an esteemed Werewolf), and her hobnobbing with Queen Victoria. In this installment, something or someone is making werewolves and vampires "Changeless" in certain territories, meaning they are unable to shift from their human to animal form, leaving them vulnerable to attacks that would otherwise not be fatal. Alexia's position as muhjah is meant to act as a legislative peacekeeper between the vampire and werewolf agenda, and provide opinions and guidance to the queen. As the back cover describes, this book takes her investigations to Scotland "the backwater of ugly waistcoats". She is trying to find out what this condition means for England, while also tracking down her husband who has hurried off with no explanation.
Old characters are back in all their glory- particularly Ivy Hisselpenny with her ugly hats and a new love interest. The reader gets a few brief details on Tarabotti's deceased father, as well as some backstory on her husband Lord Maccon. I enjoyed this one just as much as the first, perhaps more because now I'm even further invested. This one also ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so that will hopefully be enough prompting for me to swiftly move onto book three, Blameless.
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Review of book one in this series- Serpents of Chaos
I'm so excited to get back to Theodosia's world, with her witty humor and demure black cat, Isis. The Serpents of Chaos are wreaking havoc again- and it's up to Theodosia and Lord Wigmere (leader of the Brotherhood of the Chosen Keepers) to eradicate them once and for all. Another secret society becomes involved in the mysterious mummy case for good measure. Theo is also aided once again by her friend Sticky Will- the pickpocket from book one.
The side story of Grandmother Throckton's search for a proper governess for Theodosia was super entertaining, especially with there being a slew of applicants before a match was found. As with many adult characters in this story, the ones who don't outright ignore her are hateful and she's forced into a battle of wits to move forward with anything. That part of the book started to get me a bit down. It's handled in a semi-comical way, but like the first installment, she's a total latchkey child as her parents go off gallivanting. Very little thought goes into leaving her food or a chaperone. Most of the other adult figures are openly hostile or form thinly-veiled insults about her being a bother or too smart for her own good. Poor Theo! Good grief. I wanted to grip all the adults by the ears and scream at them, or do worse to others (like her parents, they could have an unfortunate accident and she'd probably be better off in the care of ANYONE else).
I love the simple fact that Theodosia knows her way around a library. She is a bit like Matilda in her forced underage self-sufficiency and solitary quest for knowledge. Theo also seems like she could be the daughter of Alexia Terrabotti from Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. Theo and Alexia are head strong and resourceful, and have a similar sense of humor and manners. They also have very vocal opinions on unnecessary nonsense. I would preorder a mashup novel of those two characters immediately!
This book was just as strong as the first, even though I missed Isis a bit. However, as I saw a fellow Booktuber (Allyson) mention on her channel, the cat makes appropriate entrances throughout, making the book feel realistic. To throw her in at other random points would feel forced and contrived. This reader is just a little odd in her feline obsession. I could read any story where cats randomly jump in with no bearing on the narrative- and I'd be just peachy. I highly recommend this book to any middle grade readers or adults who love museums, Egyptology, Archeology, CATS, cheeky young heroines, and mysteries on the lighter side.
Saturday, October 10, 2015
First, big big thanks to Matt and Jess Norcross, owners of the independent booktore McLean and Eakin in Petoskey, Michigan. This book was listed in their Bookseller Recommendation session at a reader's retreat and was enticingly described. I was riveted to the crazy idea that 12 people would seek an adrenaline high by climbing Mt. Denali in no more than the weekender camping gear available in 1967. Many of them were students, and barely had the money to buy necessities and equip the car with supplies and gas needed to drive the hundreds of miles to reach the mountain base. The author is a journalist who was a small boy at the time of this tragedy. His dad was the park superintendent in Alaska. Andy Hall remembers riding around with his unusually somber father in the truck as he was trying to save the remaining climbers that fateful July.
I feel weird giving a book like this a star rating. We get a lot of necessary geographical facts, biographies of the climbers, and mind-boggling statistics on the extreme weather systems that produced a superarctic storm that had previously been unrecorded. I applaud Andy Hall for his telling of this tragedy. A book like this can be easily sensationalized for sales reasons, but he provided an unbiased account based on radio transmissions, agency records, and extensive interviews. He honestly admits when there are conflicting accounts of one situation. He presents the various statements, and will occasionally remark if one was plausible considering the conditions and supplies available, and moves on- stating simply that it's impossible to know for sure. Some things must remain a mystery. Occasionally, truth is found. In one case, a climber was obviously lying by stating a pressure release valve malfunction on a stove was the reason for a cooking fire. The model didn't even have a pressure release valve. Oops.
This story is a scary reminder of the force of human nature. At the end of the day, regardless of preparation, if the force is against you..not a lot can be done except hunkering down (if possible). In this case, the sheer brutality of the winds and temperature- sustained not over the course of a few hours but a full week, became insurmountable. Rescue planes that needed to make tight turns for crevasses while carrying additional supplies were grounded. This is an epic adventure story that will make you want to stay inside this winter (if you have my temperament at least!). This mission helped bring about important changes in rescue organization, radio communication, and requirements for climbing applications to be approved. I enjoyed that Andy Hall caught up with the survivors close to publication and gave an update on what their lives became after this harrowing event. Great, great nonfiction.
Thursday, October 8, 2015
As a young child, Natalia regularly visits the tigers at the zoo with her Grandfather. This is a beautifully detailed opening scene. Years later, she is volunteering with United Clinics to provide vaccines to children in war torn Brejevina when she gets word from her Grandmother (Bako) that her Grandfather was traveling to see her (Natalia) and was found dead under mysterious circumstances. Interspersed with Natalia and her friend Zora's work in the community, there are vignettes on her Grandfather's unusual upbringing in a rural village, folklore, and anecdotes of his life. Natalia and her Grandfather have the added connection of both being doctors.
Obreht is a wonderful writer. I enjoyed the stories featuring "the deathless man" and any discussion of her Grandfather's odd, out of the way village. I loved Barba Ivan's little Pointer dog Bis, and the obvious affection the family had for him due to the number of watercolor portraits featuring him in their house, as well as the monastery. A lot of the other animal content is rough stuff, but luckily Bis isn't one of those! There is a great scene where children are receiving shots in a subdued fashion, and Natalia is bothered because the kids don't seem to be affected like children who have not been in war torn areas. Her relief when she is kicked in the shin restores balance and is a powerful image to the reader.
I appreciated all the stories about her Grandfather....from the lighthearted ramblings to his dog "You're a dog, where are you?", to the more serious discussion concerning what specialty of medicine Natalia should pursue (pg 152 in my edition). I stopped after reading that page and read it two more times, even reading it aloud to my husband. Those were (by far) the two paragraphs in the novel that were the most powerful and honest feeling- conveying a sentiment that can be so very hard to describe. I felt like I knew this intelligent, nuanced man from Natalia's remembrances.
I did have some struggles. I know embarrassingly little of the Balkans conflicts and the Yugoslav Wars. I Wikipedia'd and found myself fascinated with the repeated uprisings and rich history of this area. I think I would have a deeper appreciation for the story if I understood more, because I still feel quite uninformed...which then translated to the reading experience and made me feel slightly disconnected.
Since there were a lot of anecdotes, the book felt a lot like a short story collection in ways...and I struggle with those. I didn't care about certain surrounding characters to the Grandfather (even though I realize this was included to give context on the people in his life), I just wanted more of Natalia and his relationship. The ending was fitting and expected for this type of book, but still left me feeling a little unsatisfied. There's also a small disconnect for me in this book besides the historical situation, and I honestly can't put my finger on it- even though I have stewed on it a few days before typing this review. I recommend this to literary fiction lovers who enjoy fables and family stories filled with reflection on relationships.
Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Published by Scholastic, 2012. Hardcover, 408 pgs
Blue Sargent's family is full of seers and fortune tellers. While she doesn't share these abilities, she amplifies energy and enhances her relative's psychic powers. Every year on St. Mark's Eve (April 24), she and her mom (in one case her aunt) travel to the church graveyard and wait for the parade of near dead souls- those who will die in the coming year. This year Blue actually sees someone in the graveyard for the first time. This boy, Gansey, is from the prep school Aglionby. The school mascot is the Raven. Through a series of events, Blue becomes involved with these Raven Boys to satisfy some of her curiosities, and becomes their friend. I can't take credit for this since I saw it on an Amazon review, but it's accurate: "This book is like if Edgar Allan Poe taught the boys from The Dead Poets Society."
I love books featuring fortune telling. It can be a tricky writing subject, because if not told in a certain way, it can sound campy and completely absurd. I listened to Jodi Piccoult's Leaving Time on audio and loved the story of a young girl trying to find her missing mom through a fortune teller. Stiefvater also delivered in writing a quirky, heartfelt family who just happened to have these psychic abilities. I loved all her crazy aunts and cousins at 300 Fox Way. Also, here's a random lovely quote: "She recognized the strange happiness that was sometimes so big it felt like sadness. It was the way she felt when she looked at the stars."
I'm from Virginia, and always appreciate reading about this location and the beautiful surrounding mountains. Since privileged characters can leave the reader feeling cold, I think it's important for the author to make them distinguishable in some way to make us care. In this case, Stiefvater creates Gansey, a boy bent on finding ley lines- invisible energy lines that connect spiritual places. An eclectic interest indeed! "From his father, Gansey had gotten a head for logic, an affection for research, and a trust fund the size of most state lotteries." I liked Gansey and his friend Adam immediately, but also disliked the Lynch brothers (Declan and Ronan) from the start. Big props to Stiefvater for addressing the issue of money and the class system in a heartfelt way through Adam. Money can create an unintentional divide among friends, and whether wealthy or poor, everyone has their own awful crap to deal with.
Blue's relationship with Maura (her mom) was of particular interest to me. Blue says when she is expected to do something it is never demanded, but the question is "phrased more as an imperative." Another scene in the kitchen where her mother is quiet "in that heavy way that was louder than talking"could describe a lot of tense teenage girl/mother mornings and interactions.
I highly recommend this book. I found it unique, and I cared about all the characters so much that I would have been really sad if they died. This might seem a callous barometer, but some characters being killed off doesn't bother me in any way (besides kids and animals of course!). I do have one complaint. I must say I wasn't crazy about the supernatural story line. I found it a bit odd that people would go to such lengths for the reasons given. I felt it was silly and too contrived- but I liked the characters so much I forgave it, even though it probably dropped the star rating from a 5 to a 4. Looking forward to book 2- Dream Thieves!