Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review: The Butcher’s Hook – Janet Ellis

The Butcher’s Hook – Janet Ellis

London, summer 1763. At nineteen, Anne Jaccob is awakened to the possibility of joy when she meets Fub, the butcher's apprentice, and begins to imagine a life of passion with him. 
The only daughter of well-to-do parents, Anne lives a sheltered life. Her home is a miserable place. Though her family want for nothing, her father is uncaring, her mother is ailing, and the baby brother who taught her to love is dead. Unfortunately her parents have already chosen a more suitable husband for her than Fub. But Anne is a determined young woman, with an idiosyncratic moral compass. In the matter of pursuing her own happiness, she shows no fear or hesitation. Even if it means getting a little blood on her hands.

Review: Brace yourselves.

I read a romance book.

And I liked it.

Of course, it’s a twisted, disturbing romance with a main character who murders her romantic rivals, but that’s a small detail. I’m still counting this as a romance.

Anne Jaccob is a nineteen-year-old woman living in London in the mid-1700s. She’s an upper-class lady who’s used to getting whatever she wants. Her parents have money, and Anne has servants to take care of her every whim. She’s very sheltered. Her parents rarely let her leave the house. She’s uneducated and has had very little contact with people outside her home. When the butcher’s boy, Fub, shows up at Anne’s door to deliver the family’s meat order, Anne immediately becomes infatuated with Fub’s strong body and the blood on his hands. Anne wants to marry Fub. And she’ll murder anyone who tries to stop her.

This book has mixed reviews on Goodreads, and I understand why. It’s gory and often crude. There’s sexual abuse and violent human and animal deaths. If you can’t handle reading about bodily fluids, you should avoid this book. All the fluids are present and accounted for. Anne is not a likeable character. She’s sex-obsessed and has no empathy for other humans. For Anne, people are just obstacles to overcome. She either kills them or manipulates them until they give her what she wants.

I like this book because it’s unusual. I’ve read and watched a lot of stuff about male serial killers, but you don’t often hear about women committing a string of brutal murders. To me, Anne’s behavior makes a twisted kind of sense. She’s spent most of her life in isolation, and she’s used to being handed whatever she asks for. She doesn’t know how to behave appropriately in public. When she meets Fub, she doesn’t understand why she can’t marry him. She’s never been told “no” before.

Anne’s murder spree is also a reaction to the oppression that women faced in 1700s England. Since Anne is a girl and can’t take over her father’s business, her father doesn’t see a reason to educate her. Her parents mostly ignore her. They give all their attention to her younger brother. Anne’s only purpose in life is to marry a wealthy, upper-class gentleman. Her parents have a man picked out for her, but Anne isn’t attracted to him. She wants Fub.

“Every girl hopes to find love and situation neatly bundled. It is hardly ever so.” – The Butcher’s Hook

Even as a child, Anne’s father uses her to impress his business clients. Anne’s only friend is the daughter of a rich businessman. Anne’s father encourages her to play nicely with the girl, but Anne doesn’t know how to be nice. She tries to impress her friend by showing her a rotting mouse corpse and then making her a necklace out of spit and hair.

Yeah. Anne is a strange character. She’s brilliantly messed-up. I think I’ll remember her for a long time.

“To my mind, we carry all that we need to survive, indeed to live well, in our heads and our hearts from birth. We must decide our own paths accordingly and individually. There is precious little other instruction available.”The Butcher’s Hook

I have two complaints about this novel. First, the typos. Why are there such obvious typos in a finished book? Whenever I came across a glaring error, it pulled me out of the story.

Next, the book has a saggy middle. Anne spends the middle of the novel meeting Fub in secret, having sex with him, and plotting murder. I got slightly impatient with it. I understand that Anne loves sex and only cares about Fub because he has a nice body, but I wanted to get to the murders.

Is literary historical horror fiction a genre? The Butcher’s Hook has pretty much everything I like in a story. A vivid setting, good writing, deeply flawed characters, and a few murders. I need to find more books like this.

TL;DR: Do you like historical fiction? Do you like horror? Do you have a strong stomach? If you answered “yes” to all those questions, read this book. It’s delightfully screwed-up.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: Criss Cross – Lynne Rae Perkins

Criss Cross – Lynne Rae Perkins

She wished something would happen. Something good. To her. Looking at the bright, fuzzy picture in the magazine, she thought, Something like that. Checking her wish for loopholes, she found one. Hoping it wasn't too late, she thought the word soon.

Review: When I read the synopsis for this book, I had no idea what it was about. Now that I’ve read it, I understand why the summary is so vague. Nothing happens in the book. It’s a quiet, meandering story about the transition from childhood to the teenage years.

Compared to most middlegrade books, this one has a lot of characters. All of the characters live in the same neighborhood, and their paths keep crisscrossing. The novel mostly shows them going about their daily lives. Sometimes they notice each other, and sometimes they don’t. All the young characters are becoming interested in romance and are starting to take on adult responsibilities.

“Life was rearranging itself; bulging in places, fraying in spots. Sometimes leaving holes big enough to see through, or even step through, to somewhere else.” – Criss Cross

This book doesn't really have a plot. It’s set in a small town in the early 1970s. There are two main characters, Debbie and Hector. Debbie has agreed to help an elderly woman with her housework. Hector has started taking guitar lessons and is desperate to impress a girl in his class. Debbie and Hector are acquaintances who get together every week to listen to a radio show with their mutual friends. The reader knows that Hector and Debbie could be great friends (or even something more), but the characters are so caught up in their own lives that they don’t pay attention to each other.

I’m not sure what to say about this book. I think the story and characters are pretty forgettable. It’s a sweet, slow, realistic story about growing up. The writing is where this book shines. It’s somewhat experimental and not the type of writing you’d normally find in a children’s book. First, it’s omniscient, so you’re inside all the characters’ heads at the same time. Also, there is a lot of unusual formatting. Some chapters are written in verse. One chapter is written in columns. There are mixed-media photograph/sketch things. The format makes the story feel very immediate. Each character is on his/her own trajectory, and there are many small events happening at the same time.

I like how this novel addresses the idea of soulmates. Maybe there isn’t “one person for everyone.” Maybe there are multiple people for everyone. In this book, the characters could have ended up in any combination of relationships and been happy.

“Debbie wondered if it was true that there was only one person in the world for every person, and if she had already met him, and she either had to find a way to be around him again someday or always be alone. Romance-wise. She didn't quite believe this. What seemed more likely was that there were at least five or six people scattered around the globe who you could bump into and, wham, it would be the right thing.” – Criss Cross

This story is about near misses. Sometimes we’re so caught up in our own lives that we don’t notice other people. Your future friend or lover may be standing next to you, but you have to look away from yourself to notice them.

“Their secrets inadvertently sidestepped each other, unaware, like blindfolded elephants crossing the tiny room.” – Criss Cross

I’m not sure how I would have felt about this book if I’d read it as a kid. I think I would’ve liked the formatting, but I was a profoundly stupid child. (You could ask my teachers. They’d agree.) The subtlety of the story would have been lost on me. I probably would have been confused by all the characters. There are a lot of them, and the minor characters aren’t developed very well. I probably would have gotten them mixed up.

Ultimately, this isn’t one of my favorite Newbery winning books. I think I would have gotten bored with it as a kid. It would have been too meandering for me.

TL;DR: Beautifully written with thought-provoking themes, but otherwise forgettable.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Sunday Post #139

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.

Public Service Announcement

I’m hosting a giveaway! Click here to win a book of your choice from Book Depository. The giveaway is open internationally, as long as Book Depository ships to your country.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Criss Cross by Lynn Rae Perkins.
  • On Wednesday I review The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis.
  • On Saturday there’s a book haul.

In My Reading Life

I read a lot last week, but don’t be too proud of me. They were short books. I finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Then I read The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman and Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick. Right now, I’m reading Some Possible Solutions: Stories by Helen Phillips and Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. Thank you to everyone who has entered my giveaway! You still have time to enter, if you want.
  2. I’m actually ahead on my Goodreads challenge. Who knows how long that’ll last?
  3. The Blog Stalker has been updated for the first time in . . . months? Years? I don’t know, but if you’re looking for excellent blogs to follow, check out the list in the sidebar. -->
  4. I ate an ice cream cone. It was good.
  5. My dad fixed the broken fence in the backyard. It broke because the neighbor’s snarly German shepherd crashed through it like the Kool-Aid man. Hopefully the new fence will be strong enough to stop the dogs from Kool-Aid-manning again.

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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The “In The Past” 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 of the books with historical settings I’ve gotten in the past few weeks.

The “In The Past” Book Haul

The War That Saved My Life – Kimberly Braubaker Bradley

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him. 
So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

The Wonder – Emma Donoghue

An eleven-year-old girl stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story. 
Set in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s, The Wonder—inspired by numerous European and North American cases of “fasting girls” between the sixteenth century and the twentieth—is a psychological thriller about a child’s murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes.

Salt to the Sea – Ruta Sepetys

World War II is drawing to a close in East Prussia and thousands of refugees are on a desperate trek toward freedom, many with something to hide. Among them are Joana, Emilia, and Florian, whose paths converge en route to the ship that promises salvation, the "Wilhelm Gustloff." Forced by circumstance to unite, the three find their strength, courage, and trust in each other tested with each step closer to safety. Just when it seems freedom is within their grasp, tragedy strikes. Not country, nor culture, nor status matter as all ten thousand people aboard must fight for the same thing: survival.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses – Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

In Alaska, 1970, being a teenager here isn’t like being a teenager anywhere else. Ruth has a secret that she can’t hide forever. Dora wonders if she can ever truly escape where she comes from, even when good luck strikes. Alyce is trying to reconcile her desire to dance, with the life she’s always known on her family’s fishing boat. Hank and his brothers decide it’s safer to run away than to stay home—until one of them ends up in terrible danger.

Wolf Hollow – Lauren Wolk

Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.

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

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Discussion: How Accurate Are Goodreads Recommendations?

The 2018 Discussion Challenge is hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction & It Starts At Midnight

Have you ever looked at the books that Goodreads recommends to you? Not the books recommended by other users, but the ones that the site’s robots think you’ll love? You can find them by going to Browse > Recommendations. The recommendations are based on what other readers have put on their shelves. I’ve never really looked at my Goodreads recommendations because my to-be-read list is long enough, but today I thought I’d take a look and see if I actually want to read any of them. I’m going to focus on young adult books because I’ve reviewed 136 of them. Goodreads should know my tastes, right? Let’s find out.

Here are the first 10 books that Goodreads recommended to me:

 I think we’re off to an okay start. All American Boys, The Raven Boys, and Chains are already on my TBR list. I’ll probably get around to reading them sometime in the next century. (It’s a long list, okay. Don’t judge.)

Honestly, the covers of the other 7 books are huge turn-offs. I wouldn’t be drawn to any of them based on the cover alone. But, my teachers told me not to judge books by the covers, so I’ll read the summaries like an obedient bookworm.

Terrier and Daughter of the Forest have excellent reviews, but they’re the first books in fantasy series, and that’s not usually my thing. I’m extremely picky about fantasy because most fantasy novels are too similar for my tastes. I’ll pass on both of those books. Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites is religious fiction, so no. I’ll skip that one, too.

Burn Baby Burn sounds promising. I love historical fiction, and the synopsis mentions serial killers. It also mentions romance, which I don’t like, but I can slog through a love story if there are serial killers involved. I’d read this book. Well done, Goodreads.

Even though I like books for teens, I’m kinda over books set in high schools. Once you’re an adult, all the cliques and angst just seem petty. That’s why I’d pass on reading Not Otherwise Specified. I also don’t read books about drug addicts, so no to Little Peach.

Love and First Sight is a tricky one. It sounds like a high school love story, but it’s not a traditional one. Based on the synopsis, I’d probably read this book, but the reviews mention that the author is internet famous on YouTube. Was he an author before he became internet famous? I’m asking because I’ve been burned by “celebrity” books in the past. Fans of the “celebrity” love the book, but (in my experience), most celebrities are terrible writers. I’m interested in this novel, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.

So, how did the Goodreads recommendations robot do? Out of the first 10 books it showed me, I’m interested in 5 of them. That’s not great, but it’s not horrible, either. I should probably check out the recommendations more often.

What do you think? How accurate are the recommendations that Goodreads shows you? Am I wrong about any of these books? Which should I read, and which should I avoid?  

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Review: Dinosaurs On Other Planets: Stories – Danielle McLaughlin

Dinosaurs On Other Planets: Stories – Danielle McLaughlin

A woman battles bluebottles as she plots an ill-judged encounter with a stranger; a young husband commutes a treacherous route to his job in the city, fearful for the wife and small daughter he has left behind; a mother struggles to understand her nine-year-old son’s obsession with dead birds and the apocalypse. In Danielle McLaughlin’s stories, the world is both beautiful and alien. Men and women negotiate their surroundings as a tourist might navigate a distant country: watchfully, with a mixture of wonder and apprehension. Here are characters living lives in translation, ever at the mercy of distortions and misunderstandings, striving to make sense both of the spaces they inhabit and of the people they share them with.

Review: This short story collection isn’t quite what I was expecting. It contains no dinosaurs or other planets, but it does contain realistic stories about characters whose lives have gone slightly off-course.

These are iceberg stories. You only see brief snippets of the characters’ lives, but you know that a lot is happening under the surface. Most things are left unsaid. The characters bury their feelings and don’t find it easy to express their thoughts. This isn’t a collection that a reader can race through. You have to pause after each story and think about it to really understand its meaning.

There’s nothing explicitly sad about the stories, but they all have a heavy, melancholy tone. The characters are on the cusp of major changes in their lives. The reader gets the sense that the characters are holding their breaths, waiting to see which way life shoves them next. There’s an equal chance of things getting dramatically better or dramatically worse.

Danielle McLaughlin’s writing is beautiful. These stories are very well-observed. The author definitely understands human behavior and how subtle actions can sometimes say more than words.

I love the setting. Most of the stories take place in rural Ireland. I’ve never been to Ireland, but the author makes it easy to get a sense of the landscape and the people.

My only complaint about this collection is that some of the stories are too quiet for me. Compared to most short stories, these are quite long. Since they’re long and slow, it sometimes feels like nothing is happening.

Still, I like the tone of the collection and the complex characters. I have to be vague about my favorite stories because they’re too easy to spoil. They don’t have tons of action or unexpected plot twists. Here they are:

In “The Art of Foot-binding,” a rebellious teenage girl comes home with an unusual school assignment. When the girl’s mother confronts the teacher, she learns that her daughter may know more about her parents’ failing marriage than the mother cares to admit. 

“Along the Heron-Studded River” takes place in a rural area. A husband commutes to the city for work every day, but he lives in terror that his wife will harm their young daughter while he’s gone.  

 One of my favorite-favorite stories is “Night of the Silver Fox.” A young truck driver develops an interest in the strong-minded daughter of a fur farmer. He’s devastated to learn that she’s resorting to desperate measures to keep her father’s failing farm from going bankrupt. 
“‘It’s what they’re bred for,’ she said, turning away, ‘they don’t know any different.’” – Dinosaurs on Other Planets

“Not Oleanders” is the only story that doesn’t take place in Ireland. After a breakup with her lover, Lily travels to Italy alone. To stave off loneliness, she tracks down a fellow tourist who she met on a train, but the encounter doesn’t go as planned. 
“Life, after all, was mostly the art of salvage.” – Dinosaurs on Other Planets

My other favorite-favorite is the title story, “Dinosaurs on Other Planets.” This one is about dying relationships. A grandmother wants to be involved in the life of her grandson, but she worries that all he’ll remember from his visit to her house is the sheep skull that he found in a field. (And misidentified as a dinosaur skull.)

TL;DR: If you like quiet, highly realistic short stories, this is a must-read.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Intriguing Quotes From Books I’ve Read Recently

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is all about book quotes. I chose ten intriguing quotes from books I’ve read so far in 2018. Some of these quotes come from Goodreads, so I can’t guarantee that they’re 100% accurate. Remember what Abraham Lincoln said about quotes on the internet:  

Intriguing Quotes From Books I’ve Read Recently

“My greatest wish for humanity is not for peace or comfort or joy. It is that we all still die a little inside every time we witness the death of another. For only the pain of empathy will keep us human. There’s no version of God that can help us if we ever lose that.” – Scythe – Neal Shusterman

“Small towns are best for spending Christmas, I think. They catch the mood quicker and change and come alive under its spell.” – The Complete Stories of Truman Capote – Truman Capote

“We're all monsters. We're all careless and cruel in the end.” – This Monstrous Thing – Mackenzi Lee

“Many girls at school were infatuated with his shallow athletic splendor and his golden handsome features that were biologically inherited and had nothing to do with the kind of person he might actually be.” – Criss Cross – Lynn Rae Perkins

“Human nature is both predictable and mysterious; prone to great and sudden advances, yet still mired in despicable self-interest.” – Scythe – Neal Shusterman

“The trick and the beauty of language is that it seems to order the whole universe, misleading us into believing that we live in sight of a rational space, a possible harmony.” – The Dumb House – John Burnside

“If you can't be yourself with yourself, how can you be you with other people?” – Still Points North – Leigh Newman

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 – Emma Healey

“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 neighbors 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 – Emma Healey

“The trouble with being too careful about your wishes, though, was that you could end up with a wish so shapeless that it could come true and you wouldn’t even know it, or it wouldn’t matter.” – Criss Cross – Lynn Rae Perkins

Tell me about a good book you've read recently.