Saturday, October 21, 2017

The “Can’t Wait” Book Haul

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. I get to show off all the books I’ve gotten recently.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve gotten some books that I’m very excited about. I’ve already read a few of them, and I can’t wait to read the rest.

The “Can’t Wait” Book Haul

Dreamland Burning – Jennifer Latham

When seventeen-year-old Rowan Chase finds a skeleton on her family’s property, she has no idea that investigating the brutal century-old murder will lead to a summer of painful discoveries about the past, the present, and herself. 
One hundred years earlier, a single violent encounter propels seventeen-year-old Will Tillman into a racial firestorm. In a country rife with violence against blacks and a hometown segregated by Jim Crow, Will must make hard choices on a painful journey towards self-discovery and face his inner demons in order to do what’s right the night Tulsa burns.

Turtles All The Way Down – John Green

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. 
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.

The Edible Woman – Margaret Atwood

Marian is determined to be ordinary. She lays her head gently on the shoulder of her serious fiancé and quietly awaits marriage. But she didn't count on an inner rebellion that would rock her stable routine, and her digestion. Marriage a la mode, Marian discovers, is something she literally can't stomach . . .

The Penelopiad – Margaret Atwood

In Homer’s account in The Odyssey, Penelope—wife of Odysseus and cousin of the beautiful Helen of Troy—is portrayed as the quintessential faithful wife, her story a salutary lesson through the ages. Left alone for twenty years when Odysseus goes off to fight in the Trojan War after the abduction of Helen, Penelope manages, in the face of scandalous rumors, to maintain the kingdom of Ithaca, bring up her wayward son, and keep over a hundred suitors at bay, simultaneously. When Odysseus finally comes home after enduring hardships, overcoming monsters, and sleeping with goddesses, he kills her suitors and—curiously—twelve of her maids. 
In a splendid contemporary twist to the ancient story, Margaret Atwood has chosen to give the telling of it to Penelope and to her twelve hanged maids, asking: “What led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to?”

The Secret History – Donna Tartt

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last—inexorably—into evil.

All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

Jake Whyte is living on her own in an old farmhouse on a craggy British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. Her disobedient collie, Dog, and a flock of sheep are her sole companions, which is how she wanted it to be. But every few nights something—or someone—picks off one of the sheep and sets off a new deep pulse of terror. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumors of an obscure, formidable beast. But there is also Jake's past—hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, held in the silences about her family and the scars that stripe her back—a past that threatens to break into the present.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review: The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff

The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff

It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of her family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how both she and her mother became plural wives. Yet soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death.

Review: This book sat on my to-be-read shelf for a year before I read it. It’s an intimidating book, okay? Over 500 pages of Mormon history blended with fictional plotlines. The font is tiny. I didn’t know if my limited attention span could handle it.

 Turns out, I can handle it. Actually, I kind of loved it.

 There’s a lot of stuff packed into this 500+ page brick. The story happens on two timelines. The first one is set in the 1800s. It’s a fictionalization of the life of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of the prophet Brigham Young. Ann Eliza isn’t sold on the whole polygamy thing. She’s sick of being abused by her sister wives and ignored by her husband. She decides to leave the Mormon Church and tell the world what really goes on in a polygamist household.

 The second major plotline is completely fictional. It’s set in modern times and stars twenty-year-old Jordan Scott. Jordan grew up in a fundamentalist Mormon community that still practices polygamy, but he has been kicked out. Several years after leaving his community, Jordan’s father is murdered, and his mother is arrested for the crime. Jordan doesn’t believe she’s guilty. Can he use his insider knowledge of polygamist families to prove which sister wife committed the crime?

 I’ve read an embarrassing amount of stuff about Mormon history and religion-based polygamy. Almost all the stuff I’ve read is nonfiction. I was nervous about how the topics would be handled in a novel. I hate it when religion is sensationalized and just used for shock value. I shouldn’t have worried: This book is unbelievably well-researched. History and fiction are blended so seamlessly that it can be hard to tell the difference sometimes. This is the kind of book that makes you want to Google everything to find out more.

 One of the reasons this book is so long is that religion isn’t oversimplified. The author shows all the complexities surrounding Mormon fundamentalism. There are a lot of characters and a lot of perspectives, but I think most of them are necessary for the reader to get the full picture. Some characters are pro-polygamy, some are anti-polygamy, some don’t have an opinion. Some grew up in polygamist families and don’t know anything different. There are even a few mainstream Mormon characters who have no experience with polygamy and are looking at it as curious outsiders. I love that the author doesn’t shy away from complexity. The readers are left to draw their own conclusions.

“I must say a few words about memory. It is full of holes. If you were to lay it out upon a table, it would resemble a scrap of lace. I am a lover of history . . . [but] history has one flaw. It is a subjective art, no less so than poetry or music. . . . The historian writes a truth. The memoirist writes a truth. The novelist writes a truth. And so on.” – The 19th Wife

While I was reading, I kept flip-flopping on which of the plotlines I liked more. In the end, I liked Ann Eliza’s more. I think it’s brave when authors write from the points-of-view of real historical people. Jordan’s plot is really good, though. It’s funnier than I expected. The young characters are blunt, curious, and not afraid to ask questions.

“‘Isn't a gay Mormon like an oxymoron?’ 
‘Do I look like an oxymoron to you?’ 
‘An oxymormon.’” – The 19th Wife

Like I said earlier, this book is long and has a lot of POVs. I think it’s a little too long. The pacing slows down toward the end, and I was ready for it to be over. I don’t have a 500+ page attention span.

 If you want to know about life in a Mormon polygamist family, then this book is a must-read. It’s well-researched and entertaining at the same time. I shouldn’t have waited so long to read it.

“I, of course, cherish my freedom, but I shall never want my freedom to restrict the freedom of another. In that case then I am not truly free, and none of us is truly free.” – The 19th Wife  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Foods I’d Eat If I Was Fictional

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is yummy foods mentioned in books. Unfortunately, I don’t read many foodie books, so I’m putting my own spin on the topic. Here’s what I would eat if I was a book character.

Foods I’d Eat If I Was Fictional

1. If I was in a fantasy book, I’d eat the food at Hogwarts. It’s British food, so I don’t know what all of it is, but that wouldn’t stop me from eating it. I’d just wander down the tables and sample everything. (On a related note, do wizards ever eat the magical plants and animals? I want to eat those, too.)

2. If I was in a science fiction book, I’d eat alien food. Who wouldn’t want to eat something from another planet?

3. If I was in a time travel book, I’d go back in time and eat a T-Rex. They’re going to go extinct anyway. Why not eat one while you can?

4. If I was in a road trip book, I’d plan the entire trip around nachos. We’d drive across the country and eat at all the best nacho restaurants. (There must be a ranking of “best nacho restaurants” online somewhere? If not, what is the Internet doing with its life?)

5. If I was in a fluffy contemporary romance novel, I’d date the guy who owns the cupcake shop. He would bake, and I would test the products.

6. If I was in a wilderness survival book, I’d eat anything. I turn into a raving psycho bitch when I’m hungry. No one wants to read about a lonely psycho bitch crying in the woods.

7. If I was hunting a murderer in a thriller novel, I’d argue with my partner about where we should stop for lunch. The murderer would stab us while we’re arguing. As we’re bleeding to death, my last words would be, “This is still better than eating at that sketchy Taco Bell, Kevin!”

8. If I was in a ghost story, I’d eat s’mores. S’mores and ghost stories go together. Also, the campfire might keep the ghosts away. I refuse to be one of those horror movie idiots who fumble around in the dark.

9. If I was in Fifty Shades of Grey, I’d skip all the abusive sex stuff and make Christian Grey buy me a Frrrozen Haute Chocolate at Serendipity 3 Restaurant in New York. According to The Guinness Book of World Records, the Frrrozen Haute Chocolate is the most expensive dessert in the world. It costs $25,000. (Yes, I would feel guilty about spending $25,000 on chocolate, but #YOLO.) 

10. If I was in a book where I lived multiple lives, I’d spend one of them learning how to cook. I’m a terrible cook.

What would you eat if you were fictional?

Monday, October 16, 2017

Review: Company Of Liars: A Novel Of The Plague – Karen Maitland

Company Of Liars: A Novel Of The Plague – Karen Maitland

The year is 1348. The Black Plague grips the country. In a world ruled by faith and fear, nine desperate strangers, brought together by chance, attempt to outrun the certain death that is running inexorably toward them. 
Each member of this motley company has a story to tell. From Camelot, the relic-seller who will become the group's leader; to Cygnus, the one-armed storyteller; from the strange child called Narigorn; to a painter and his pregnant wife; each has a secret. None are what they seem. And one among them conceals the darkest secret of all—propelling these liars to a destiny they never saw coming.

Review: This book is advertised as a reinterpretation of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, which made me terrified to read it. I had The Canterbury Tales forced upon me in high school English class. It was awful. Mostly because I had no freakin’ clue what was happening in that book. The Canterbury Tales is not an easy book to read, and I have zero desire to ever attempt it again. That’s why Company of Liars sat on my shelf for months before I worked up the courage to read it.

Luckily, Company of Liars is written in Modern English, so it’s already miles ahead of The Canterbury Tales in the readability department. It follows nine travelers who are walking north to avoid catching the plague. Each of them is hiding something about their past. As they travel, secrets are uncovered, stories are told, rivalries are formed, and murder is committed.

“There was a new king and his name was pestilence. And he had created a new law—thou shalt do anything to survive.” – Company of Liars

I’m definitely not an expert on 1300s England, but the setting in this novel seems well-researched and realistic to me. The church controlled everything during this time, and the characters have to guard their secrets to keep from being killed by the church. Some of the characters have committed crimes against religion. Others are involved in activities that go against the church’s beliefs. There is a sense of danger throughout the entire novel. If the characters aren’t killed by the plague, they may be executed for their crimes.

The characters are where this book shines. They’re all very unique. The most fun part of the story is trying to figure out each character’s secret before the narrator does. Some of the secrets are obvious. Others are nearly impossible to guess. You have to listen very carefully to the characters’ stories and try to put the pieces together. In some cases, one misplaced word can give a secret away.

“You've heard tales of beauty and the beast. How a fair maid falls in love with a monster and sees the beauty of his soul beneath the hideous visage. But you've never heard the tale of the handsome man falling for the monstrous woman and finding joy in her love, because it doesn't happen, not even in a story-teller's tale.” – Company of Liars

My main problem with this book is that it’s very, very long. My copy is 460+ pages, and there are a lot of words crammed onto each page. For me, there isn’t enough tension in the plot to get me through that many pages. The characters are mostly traveling aimlessly. Their only goal is to avoid plague villages. The tension comes from the secrets that the characters are keeping. Most of the secrets are pretty obvious. I even correctly guessed who was behind the mysterious murders/suicides.

Since the book is slow and predictable, I never felt hugely motivated to pick it up. I love the setting, and I wanted to know the narrator’s secret. That’s what kept me reading. I can understand why some reviewers have struggled to get through this beast.

I also wonder about the narrator’s reactions to learning the other characters’ secrets. He barely reacts to most of them. Learning the secrets doesn’t change how he feels about his traveling companions. I guess that makes sense because he’s hiding his own secrets. He has no right to judge. But, wouldn’t he judge at least a little? He’s spent his life in places where religion rules everything. Wouldn’t he have some sort of opinion about people committing crimes against the church?

“[T]he flames of a fire are not made less painful by the knowledge that others are burning with you.” – Company of Liars

I have mixed feelings about this book. I liked it enough to finish it. The characters and setting held my attention. However, when I finished it, I mostly felt disappointed. I wish it had been less predictable. I’m still searching for really awesome books set during historical plagues. (Recommendations, please?) 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Sunday Post #118

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Company of Liars: A Novel of the Plague by Karen Maitland.
  • On Tuesday I talk about what I’d eat if I was fictional.
  • On Wednesday I review The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff.
  • On Saturday there’s a book haul.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished Touching the Void: The True Story of One Man’s Miraculous Survival by Joe Simpson. Then I read The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel and Dreamland Burning by Jennifer Latham. Right now, I’m reading The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. It snowed, but not enough that I had to shovel.
  2. The animals are getting their winter fluff. I saw floofy prairie dogs, floofy deer, and a floofy coyote.
  3. New books!
  4. Have you checked out #ShatteringStigmas? It’s about mental health and YA books. You should especially check out my post on the subject.
  5. John Oliver talks about Confederate monuments. It’s a long video, but it’s funny and he has some good points.

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Rant: Can We Please Not Make Assumptions?

Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts At Midnight host the 2017 Discussion Challenge.

I don’t think I’ve ever written a rant before. I’m not the ranting type, but I decided to give it a try. There’s a first time for everything, right? Blogging gets boring if you don't mix it up once in awhile. Read this in your angriest voice. It’ll seem more like a rant that way.

Like many bookish people, I’m completely addicted to Goodreads. I’ve wasted countless hours of my life reading reviews and researching books on that site. Like all social media sites, it has some pointless drama, but I can’t quit Goodreads. I love it too much.

That being said, there’s one thing about Goodreads culture that irritates me: People on that site often make assumptions about the personal lives of other people.

The assumptions happen in reviews and in the comments on reviews. They usually have to do with the “diversity” aspect of books. I’ve seen reviews that say “This author obviously has no experience with ______ and shouldn’t be allowed to write about it.” I’ve seen comments that say “This reviewer is wrong because she doesn’t have experience with _____. If she had experience with _______ she would love/hate this book.”

I ask: how do you know? How do you know that an author or reviewer doesn’t have experience with something? You can’t tell everything about a person by reading a book/review. What if they do have experience with the topic, but they don’t want to talk about it online? Or, what if their experience with _____ is just different from yours? A different experience isn’t wrong. It’s just different.

Here’s my example: I don’t like Thirteen Reasons Why. I have real-life experience with the topics discussed in that book, and *in my opinion,* the events in the book aren’t handled well or realistically. That’s just my opinion. My opinion is based on my experiences alone. If a reviewer loves Thirteen Reasons Why, it would be rude of me to say, “Obviously, you have no experience with suicide. You’d hate the book if you did.” That’s awful. Maybe they do have experience with suicide, and their experience is just different from mine? Their experiences led them to a different opinion about the book. It's not fair to make assumptions about a reviewer’s personal life based on which books they enjoy.

The assumptions on Goodreads bother me because the author or reviewer will feel pressure to defend themselves against them. When you make assumptions, you’re basically saying, “Your writing/reviews are invalid unless you prove that you have real-life experience with this topic.” That’s crappy, guys. Reading a book or a review doesn’t entitle you to know the creator’s life story. They shouldn’t have to prove themselves. They shouldn’t feel like they’re being bullied into talking about something they don’t want to discuss.

On a related note, I get kinda weirded out when people ask authors on Goodreads if their books are #OwnVoices. What if the book is #OwnVoices, but the author doesn’t want to discuss their personal life with strangers on Goodreads? The author could say that the book isn’t #OwnVoices and then open themselves up to criticism of the “This author knows nothing” variety. Or, they can say that it is #OwnVoices and then be expected to talk about their life. I think an author should be able to write something fictional without having to share their history.

Some creators want to keep their personal lives personal. Some things just aren’t the Internet’s business.

Public service announcement: Be a good human and don’t make assumptions about the lives of strangers.

Let’s discuss: Was that ranty enough? Should I have said swear words? Just kidding. I really want to know if there are parts of online bookish culture that irritate you. Are there things that you wish people in the bookish community would stop doing?