Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Review: Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey

Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey

Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, who she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger. 
But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth's mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend. 
This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud's rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II. 
As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more than fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey's disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?

Review: This book destroyed me in the best possible way. It’s narrated by an elderly woman who is losing her memory. There are people in my family who have dementia, and that disease is freakin’ terrifying. I never want it to happen to me. Nope, nope, nope. This novel shows dementia in all its awfulness.

The story is narrated by Maud, who has lost her short-term memory, but still remembers her childhood in the years after WWII. She remembers that her sister Sukey left her house one day and never came home. Now Maud is worried that the same thing has happened to her best friend Elizabeth. She can’t remember the last time she saw Elizabeth. Her daughter and Elizabeth’s son keep telling her that her friend is safe, but Maud doesn’t believe them. She’s convinced that Elizabeth is missing, and she’s the only one who can find her.

I feel so bad for all the characters. Maud thinks nobody takes her seriously because she’s losing her memory. Maud’s daughter, Helen, is struggling to be a good caretaker. It’s hard because Maud is not an easy person to care for. She’s so obsessed with Elizabeth being missing that she tends to wander around the neighborhood and create havoc. She has an affinity for digging up the neighbors’ gardens and breaking into homes. Her loyalty to Elizabeth is very sweet, though. Nothing will stop Maud from finding her friend.

“But it’s not true. I forget things—I know that—but I’m not mad. Not yet. And I’m sick of being treated as if I am. I’m tired of the sympathetic smiles and the little pats people give you when you get things confused, and I’m bloody fed up with everyone deferring to Helen rather than listening to what I have to say.” – Elizabeth is Missing 

“I feel rather drab and shy for a few minutes. But then I remember that I am old and nobody is looking at me.” – Elizabeth is Missing

I was kind of stunned to learn that this is the author’s debut. It’s so well-written. Since the narrator is losing her memory, the story could have been confusing, but it’s not confusing at all. I’m impressed. Either the author is a superhero, or this book was incredibly difficult to write.

In this novel, you get two mysteries for the price of one. Elizabeth is missing, and Maud’s older sister is also missing. I knew that the two mysteries were linked, but the author kept me guessing about how they were linked until the very end. I kept changing my mind about if Elizabeth was really missing. Maud isn’t a reliable narrator, so I questioned everything she said. Has something bad happened to Elizabeth, or did Maud just forget where Elizabeth went? It’s a compelling mystery.

“I remember when the houses used to whiz by as I walked—nearly running—to and from home. Ma would ask me afterwards about what I’d seen, whether certain neighbours were out, what I thought about someone’s new garden wall. I’d never noticed; it had all gone past in a flash. Now I have plenty of time to look at everything, and no one to tell what I’ve seen.” – Elizabeth is Missing

It’s hard to come up with complaints about this novel, but I do have two. First, the book could have been shorter. I basically inhaled the beginning and the end, but my attention started to wander in the middle. I felt like we weren’t making much progress on either mystery. Luckily, the book has a satisfying conclusion.

Second, I questioned why Maud’s daughter couldn’t have been clearer about where Elizabeth was. I know that would’ve ruined the mystery, and then the book would be pointless, but Helen is pretty sure she knows what happened to Elizabeth. Why couldn’t she write the answer on a giant sign and stick it on Maud’s wall or something? That’s what I would’ve done. That’s what Helen did when Maud kept burning toast. Why can’t she put the “Where’s Elizabeth” sign next to the “No more toast” sign?

Those are fairly minor complaints. I really like this book. It’s one of those stories that teach you not to take your memory for granted. You never know how long you’ll have it.

TL;DR: Excellent mystery with unusual characters. I’ll happily read whatever the author writes next.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Review: The Wolf Road – Beth Lewis

The Wolf Road – Beth Lewis

In the remote wilds of a ravaged land, Elka has been raised by a man who isn't her father. Since finding her wandering in the woods when she was seven, he has taught her how to hunt, shoot, set snares and start fires—everything she needs to survive. All she knows of the world outside is gleaned from whispers of a cataclysmic event that turned the clock back on civilization by a hundred and fifty years and reduced governments and technology to shambles, leaving men at the mercy of the elements—and each other.  
Everything changes when Elka learns that the man she has been calling father is harboring a terrible secret. Armed with nothing but her knife and her wiles, she decides to escape his clutches and sets out on a long journey to the frozen north in the hope of finding her long-lost parents.  
But as the trail of blood and bodies grows in her path, Elka realizes that daddy won't be letting his little girl go without a fight. If she's going to survive, she'll have to turn and confront not just him, but the truth about what he's turned her into.

Review: I’m starting to think I don’t like road trip books, even post-apocalyptic ones. There’s just something about watching a character wander around that’s really, really . . . tedious.

Elka lives in the ruins of what was once British Columbia. As a child, her parents went north in search of gold, leaving her to be raised by a man called Trapper. Elka and Trapper live deep in the forest and rarely see other people. On one of her rare trips into town, Elka learns that Trapper is wanted for the murder of a young boy. She decides to run away and find her parents. With Trapper on her trail, the police hunting for her, and a head full of secrets, she might not make it through the wilderness.

When I opened this novel and read the first line, I immediately groaned and closed the book. It’s written entirely in dialect, like Elka is talking to the reader. I don’t like dialect because it slows down my reading so much that I get frustrated. But, I decided to plow through this book. My reading life needs challenges, right? The mystery of Elka’s past was compelling enough that I wanted to read it. I’m glad I did. The dialect isn’t too hard to understand, and I got used to the writing style fairly quickly.

“Ain't no monster. Monsters ain't real 'cept in kids' imaginations, under the beds, in the closets. We live in a world a' men and there ain't no good come out of tellin' them they monsters. Makes 'em think they ain't done nothin' wrong, that it's their nature and they can't do nothin' to change that. Callin' em a monster makes 'em something different from the rest of us, but they ain't. They just men, flesh and bone and blood.” – The Wolf Road

I think Elka is a realistic post-apocalyptic character. She’s not very likeable. She knows how to survive in the wilderness, but she’s uneducated and doesn’t have any people skills. (I can totally relate to her in the people-skills department. I don’t have those either.) She would rather do things by herself instead of relying on another person.

Actually, Elka’s character development is kind of amazing. She changes a lot over the course of the novel, and all of the changes are believable. She starts off completely denying the awful things she did while living with Trapper. As the story progresses, she struggles to live with herself because of what she’s done. Eventually, she has to admit to her past and figure out what to do with her future.

“I didn't take well to pitying yourself. It weren't worth the effort or time and it pissed people off.” – The Wolf Road 
“You can't admit to someone else what you're too damn afraid to admit to yourself.” – The Wolf Road 
“One a' them rules is don't go trusting another man's path . . . People do it, they do what their mommies and daddies did, they make them same mistakes, they have them same joys and hurts, they just repeating. Trees don't grow exactly where their momma is; ain't no room . . . I weren't following no one up through life.” – The Wolf Road

Elka is an unreliable narrator. She’s hiding some horrific secrets. If her secrets get out, she could be executed. The mysteries in Elka’s past were compelling enough to keep me reading, even though I wasn’t loving the book.

I had a really hard time getting into this story. Part of the problem was the dialect, and part of it was the slowness. Elka spends a lot of the book walking through the forest. She does occasionally run into danger, but the dangers are separated by long stretches of walking. I didn’t become truly interested in the story until halfway through, when Elka encounters Penelope. The strange and wonderful people who Elka meets are more thought-provoking than a walk in the woods.

The characters who Elka crosses paths with give the reader a better sense of the post-apocalyptic world. The world is my favorite part of the story. It has a Wild West feel. It’s lawless, unpredictable, often gory. I love the vividness of it.

I didn’t like this book as much as I thought I would. I enjoyed the world, and Elka is an intriguing character, but I was underwhelmed with the plot. I feel like I spent a long time waiting for something to happen.

TL;DR: A creepy mystery and a believable world, but you need the patience to wander through the woods first.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Sunday Post #133

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 The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis.
  • On Wednesday I review Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey.
  • On Thursday I wrap up January.
  • On Saturday there’s a book haul.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished The Dumb House by John Burnside and The Last One by Alexandra Oliva. Right now, I’m reading Bird Box by Josh Malerman and Lungs Full of Noise by Tessa Mellas.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. I finished a massive work project. For the first time in months, I actually have time to do me-stuff. Like work on the blog. And dust my rooms.
  2. I briefly caught up on my Goodreads challenge and on writing reviews. Now I’m behind again on both, but it was great while it lasted.
  3. I finished reading all the 2017 wrap-up posts. There were so many of them that I just started copying links and saving them for later. If I haven’t commented on your 2017 wrap-up or “best books” posts, please leave a link in the comments. I’d love to check it out.
  4. I cleared a massive stack of books out of my closet. Now I have credits for more books. The never-ending cycle continues.
  5. The ice from the last blizzard is mostly melted. Walking the dogs yesterday didn’t feel like a near-death experience.

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

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The “Short & Wonderful Things” Book Haul

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

Here are some short story and poetry collections I’ve picked up in the last few weeks.

The “Short & Wonderful Things” Book Haul

Dome of the Hidden Pavilion: New Poems – James Tate

Though they are diverse in scope, a theme of dialogue and communication—and often miscommunication—links these poems. Accessible yet subtly surrealist, filled with dark wit, dry humor, and a deceptive simplicity, Dome of the Hidden Pavilion confirms Tate’s continuing relevance as one of the most celebrated American poets of the modern age.

The Complete Stories of Truman Capote – Truman Capote

A landmark collection that brings together Truman Capote’s life’s work in the form he called his “great love,” The Complete Stories confirms Capote’s status as a master of the short story. 
Ranging from the Gothic South to the chic East Coast, from rural children to aging urban sophisticates, all the unforgettable places and people of Capote’s oeuvre are here, in stories as elegant as they are heartfelt, as haunting as they are compassionate.

Some Possible Solutions: Stories – Helen Philips

What if your perfect hermaphrodite match existed on another planet? What if you could suddenly see through everybody's skin to their organs? What if you knew the exact date of your death? What if your city was filled with doppelgangers of you? 
Forced to navigate these bizarre scenarios, Phillips' characters search for solutions to the problem of how to survive in an irrational, infinitely strange world. In dystopias that are exaggerated versions of the world in which we live, these characters strive for intimacy and struggle to resolve their fraught relationships with each other, with themselves, and with their place in the natural world. We meet a wealthy woman who purchases a high-tech sex toy in the shape of a man, a rowdy, moody crew of college students who resolve the energy crisis, and orphaned twin sisters who work as futuristic strippers—and with Phillips' characteristic smarts and imagination, we see that no one is quite who they appear.

The Beginning of the World in the Middle of the Night – Jen Campbell

Spirits in jam jars, mini-apocalypses, animal hearts and side shows. 
A girl runs a coffin hotel on a remote island. 
A boy is worried his sister has two souls. 
A couple are rewriting the history of the world. 
And mermaids are on display at the local aquarium.

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

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The New Year’s Book Tag

This tag originated on BookTube, but I first saw it on As Told By Tina. I realize that most of us have already given up on our New Year’s resolutions, but I’m still pumped for mine, so let’s do a tag.

The New Year’s Book Tag

How Many Books Are You Planning To Read In 2018?

My Goodreads goal is set at 100, but I’m not doing great so far. One hundred should be challenging but accomplishable.

Five Books You Didn’t Get To In 2017 but are making a priority in 2018?

I’m pretty excited for these:

I know this is six, not five. Shut up. I've never been good at math.

What genre do you want to read more of?

Middlegrade. I feel like I neglect that age group. I should probably read more poetry, too. I read lots of classic poetry in school, but I’m not too familiar with the current stuff.

Three non-bookish goals for 2018?

  • Run 10k without exploding.
  • Make more money so I’m not broke all the time.
  • Travel somewhere interesting.

A book you’ve had forever that you still need to read?

This question is tricky because I got my TBR pile down to 0 in November 2017. Almost all of the unread books I own now were bought on Black Friday, so I haven’t had them “forever.” The book that’s been on my TBR list the longest is Son by Lois Lowry. I put it on my list in March 2013. Still haven’t read it.

One word that will define your 2018?

One word? For the entire year? My first thought was Nachos, but the question probably wants something more profound than that. (Also, nachos are always my first thought.) Okay, let’s go with Change. That’s profound and slightly cryptic, right?

Do you want to do this tag? Consider yourself tagged.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Review: A Conjuring Of Light – V.E. Schwab

A Conjuring Of Light – V.E. Schwab

The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise. 
Kell—once assumed to be the last surviving Antari—begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive? 
Lila Bard, once a commonplace—but never common—thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible. 
And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

Review: This review is for book 3 in a series. I tried to avoid spoilers, but you might want to check out my (very old) reviews of book 1 and book 2.

OMG, guys, this finale is so good! Why did it take me so long to read it? Also, how am I supposed to blather about it without spoilers? Everything is a spoiler!

Okay. Deep breaths.

The third book picks up right after that heart-attack-inducing cliffhanger at the end of book 2. The doors between the parallel worlds have been opened, and something evil has escaped from Black London. It has already infected White London and Red London. Now it’s trying to worm its way into Gray London. Kell and Lila are the only ones strong enough to stop it. How many parallel worlds will fall before they can destroy the spreading darkness?

“Scars are not shameful, not unless you let them be. If you do not wear them, they will wear you.” – A Conjuring of Light

How do I review this book? The rational part of my brain keeps pointing out problems, but the rest of me is just fangirling like an idiot. There is so much Rhy in this book! Guys, I love that character. My heart almost exploded every time he was in trouble.

This series definitely isn’t a work of literary genius, but it’s so much fun. There’s adventure, and magic, and sassy badass characters. There are knife fights, and action scenes, and lots of blood. I adore the parallel Londons. They’re all unique and mysterious. I’m very happy that the author is releasing more books set in this world. There is more to see, and I’m not ready to leave the Londons yet. This world is huge. I need more magic and danger in my reading life.

“Life isn't made of choices, it's made of trades. Some are good, some are bad, but they all have a cost.” – A Conjuring of Light

My favorite part of the finale is that Kell gets to leave London. I wanted to see more of the worlds, and I finally got to see them.

All of the characters I love from the earlier books are here: Kell and his fabulous coat, Lila and her knives, Rhy and his personality. Rhy is my favorite character, and I’m happy that so much of the story is from his point-of-view. The reader gets to see him grow up and become less of a party boy and more of a ruler. Even though he’s maturing, the banter between him and Kell is still hilarious, so no worries there. In this book, the reader also gets to learn more about Kell and Rhy’s parents. Basically, there’s more backstory about all the characters. We finally get full explanations for their feuds.

“She was a thief, a runaway, a pirate, a magician. 
She was fierce, and powerful, and terrifying. 
She was still a mystery. 
And he loved her.” – A Conjuring of Light

Okay. Here come my complaints. First, what is up with the typos? I noticed them throughout the entire series. In all three books. Does Tor not have proofreaders? These are very obvious typos. They distracted me because I had to stop reading and scowl angrily every time I saw one.

I also think the pacing in this book is too slow sometimes. The book is over 600 pages. I don’t think it needs to be that long. There are times when the characters are trapped in the palace or traveling between locations, and it seems like nothing is happening. I guess I was impatient? I wanted to see the characters kick bad guy ass, not wander around.

Since I don’t read much fantasy, I spent the whole series being slightly confused by the magic system. I understand that magicians can manipulate “elements” (air, bone, fire, water, metal). Antari magicians can travel between worlds and do other types of fancy magic. (Like bring people back to life.) But, then there’s a teacher who can cast a sleeping spell over a whole city? And there are magic objects? I never felt like I understood what magic could and couldn’t do.

Despite my issues, I’d happily read a hundred more novels set in this world. I love books about parallel universes, and this is one of the more-entertaining ones I’ve found.

TL;DR: Excellent finale. I’m eagerly awaiting the companion novels.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Reasons I Forgot Your Book

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is books I read but don’t remember anything about. I’m changing the topic a little. This post is basically my apology letter to authors. Here are nine reasons why I read your beautiful book . . . and then promptly forgot everything about it.

Reasons I Forgot Your Book

1. I was tired, ill, pissed off, nervous, hungry, or otherwise distracted when I read it. I read every day. Every. Single. Day. I don’t remember the last time I skipped a day. As a result, I’m sometimes not in a brilliant mood while I’m reading. I’ll fully admit that my mood sometimes interferes with my ability to absorb information. This is especially a problem in January, when I'm trying to lose my Christmas blubber. Right now, the only thought in my mind is I'm so freakin' hungry!

2. I read the book in public. How do bookworms read with other humans around? I read The Stepford Wives while stuck in an airport. There were announcements about unattended luggage, and kids trying to outsmart a vending machine, and an old rando who thought I needed to hear his vacation plans. When I got home, I had to reread the book because I remembered nothing.

3. I read the book too fast. This doesn’t happen much anymore, but it happened constantly in college. I can’t read with deadlines. I usually don’t remember anything I skim. If I read something for a test, the info stays in my brain long enough to take the test. Then it’s gone forever. My brain basically purges it as soon as I walk out of the classroom.

4. I read too many books. My brain-meat has limited storage capacity. A lot of that storage space is dedicated to remembering all the possible toppings for nachos. The rest of the space is reserved for books. When your brain is full of non-book-stuff, and you read over 100 books a year, something is going to get forgot.

5. I read the book a long time ago. “A long time ago” means about a week ago. That’s why I have to write a review within a few days of finishing a book. Otherwise, it’s gone.

6. I’ve read too many similar books. This is why I don’t read much fantasy. I can’t keep all those Pirate Queen’s Daughter of the Smoky Bone Throne books straight. There are too many of them! The same thing happened with British classics. I read so much Brit Lit in school that it all blurred into one tedious dinner party scene. Characters in British classics sure like dinner parties. That much socialization would have killed me.

7. The characters are bland. I always forget character names. I even forget names while I’m reading the book. I usually don’t forget personalities, though, unless the character has no personality. If a character is boring, they won’t stick in my brain.

8. The book has no atmosphere. I love atmospheric books. Probably because I often remember the feel of a book more than what actually happened in the book. If a book isn’t atmospheric or doesn’t make me feel anything, then I’ll probably forget it. 

9. The book is a textbook. You know all those science, and math, and history textbooks we had to read in school? Yeah . . . I remember nothing. Please don’t make me do math.

Why do you forget books?