Monday, July 31, 2017

Review: Year Of Wonders: A Novel Of The Plague – Geraldine Brooks

Year Of Wonders: A Novel Of The Plague – Geraldine Brooks

When an infected bolt of cloth carries plague from London to an isolated village, a housemaid named Anna Frith emerges as an unlikely heroine and healer. Through Anna's eyes we follow the story of the fateful year of 1666, as she and her fellow villagers confront the spread of disease and superstition. As death reaches into every household and villagers turn from prayers to murderous witch-hunting, Anna must find the strength to confront the disintegration of her community and the lure of illicit love. As she struggles to survive and grow, a year of catastrophe becomes instead annus mirabilis, a "year of wonders."

Review: A story set in a town where people are dying from the plague? Yes, please.

It’s 1666 in a small English village. A widowed housemaid, Anna Frith, invites a boarder into her home to help pay the rent. She does not know that the boarder carries some infected clothing with him. Soon, people in the village start dying. The leaders make the decision to quarantine the town, so no one can get in or out. As the population dwindles, Anna is forced into roles she never expected to fill. She becomes a midwife, a doctor, an assistant to the preacher, a gardener, a medical researcher, and a friend to high-society people. Anna learns that she’s stronger than she ever thought she could be.

This book starts out brilliantly. Then it goes downhill. I have feelings about this.

“Despair is a cavern beneath our feet and we teeter on its very brink.” – Year of Wonders

I like that the novel is based on a true story. An astounding amount of research must have gone into this book. Fact and fiction are mostly blended seamlessly. The majority of the story is believable. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to sit in a quarantined village and wait to see if you’re going to die. Understandably, the characters panic. Superstition runs rampant through the town, and people turn against each other because of it. This story shows how selfless and selfish people can be. Some people will sacrifice themselves to save their friends. Other people will stop at nothing to protect themselves.

The suspense is intense. Everyone in the village has been exposed to the plague. The reader just has to wait around and hope that their favorite doesn’t die.

As a narrator, Anna is bland for my tastes, but I was still rooting for her. I wanted her and her friends to make it out alive. One of the best parts of the book is the relationship between Anna and Elinor and Michael Mompellion. It shows how difficult situations can bring people from different social classes together. Nature doesn’t discriminate. If we want to survive a disease, we can’t discriminate, either. Everyone has a better chance of survival if we take care of each other.

“I borrowed his brightness and used it to see my way, and then gradually, from the habit of looking at the world as he illuminated it, the light in my own mind rekindled.” – Year of Wonders

Here’s where the problems start: I raced through the first half of this book, but then got bogged down in the second half. There are some hokey plot twists. Anna develops romantic feelings for Michael Mompellion, and everything gets melodramatic. The epilogue left me going, What? That’s a bit . . . random. The ending might have been too fast? A lot of stuff happens very quickly, and none of it is developed enough for me to believe it. The characters suddenly become different people. I don’t get it. The second half of the book is clumsy. What happened? After loving the first part of the novel, the ending threw me off.

I guess my feelings for this one can be summed up with “Meh”? I know that’s rude, but I’m confused. I was totally into this story, and then it changed. In a way, this novel seems like two different books. One of them I loved, and one I didn’t.

“I fear the line between myself and madness is as fine these days as a cobweb, and I have seen what it means when a soul crosses over into that dim and wretched place.” – Year of Wonders

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Sunday Post #107

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 Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine Brooks.
  • On Wednesday I review Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn.
  • On Thursday I wrap up July.

In My Reading Life

I watched significantly fewer episodes of Game of Thrones last week, so I actually got some reading done. I read Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo and History is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera. Right now, I’m reading The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. Hiking.
  2. Hanging out in the dog park with my critters.
  3. Rearranging my bookshelf and figuring out what I’m going to read next month.
  4. So much blogging. I’m still binge blogging to get ahead for the rest of the year.
  5. 1000 Twitter followers! Thank you!

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

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: The Girls – Emma Cline

The Girls – Emma Cline

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

Review: This was my most-anticipated release of 2016. I didn’t read it until 2017 because I’m totally in control of my life and not a chronic procrastinator at all.

If you’ve read my reviews before, then you might know that I’m not a fan of “retellings,” but since this book is a retelling of the Manson murders, I thought I could get onboard with it.

Fourteen-year-old Evie is hitting puberty hard. In the summer of 1969, she meets Suzanne, an older girl who is everything that Evie wants to be. Suzanne is confident, charismatic, independent, beautiful. She’s constantly surrounded by friends and has no parents to order her around. Evie quickly develops a crush on Suzanne and is thrilled when Suzanne invites her to a remote ranch to meet her friends. As Evie’s obsession with Suzanne grows, she’s sucked into a world of drugs, crime, and eventually, murder.

“Girls are the only ones who can really give each other close attention, the kind we equate with being loved. They noticed what we want noticed.” – The Girls

First, Emma Cline is an extremely talented writer. I started putting sticky notes in my book to mark the passages that I liked, but I quickly gave up because I’d need to spend my life savings on sticky notes. The language is poetic and unusual. I reread whole pages multiple times because I haven’t come across many writers who have Emma Cline’s skills. I will eagerly gobble up whatever she writes next.

The novel’s narrator, Evie, is a spoiled brat, which might be a turn-off for some readers, but I think she’s realistic. She’s at an age where her body and her relationships are changing. She’s rebelling against her parents and craves approval from her friends. Even though she isn’t likeable, she’s a believable middle school girl. I could definitely see some ugly parts of my younger self in her. I think a lot of teen girls go through a stage where they desperately want to be noticed, but they’re so uncomfortable with themselves that any attention from their peers is painful. Evie is at that stage. She wants to fit in and stand out at the same time.

“You wanted things and you couldn't help it, because there was only your life, only yourself to wake up with, and how could you ever tell yourself what you wanted was wrong?” – The Girls

Remember when I said that I don’t like retellings? The reason I don’t like them is because they’re predictable, and that’s the problem I had with The Girls.

If you don’t know much about the Manson murders, you’ll probably enjoy this book more than I did. I’m a weirdo who knows way too much about Manson and his girls. For me, the layer of fiction that the author puts over the real events is too thin. I knew each character’s real-life counterpart. I knew the setting. I knew what would happen in the plot and why. While I was reading, I often found myself wishing that the book was either nonfiction or more fictional. I wanted it to deviate from the script more than it did.

Since the plot is predictable, I sometimes got frustrated with the pacing. This is literary fiction, so it’s slow and character-driven. The author tries hard (occasionally too hard) to make profound statements about women and growing up. The middle of the book dragged for me. I knew that murders were coming, and I just wanted to get to them.

So . . . I have mixed feelings. I really liked The Girls, but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. Maybe my expectations were too high? Still, I’ll happily read whatever Emma Cline writes next.

“Nobody thought until later that strangers might be anything but friends. Our love for one another boundless, the whole universe an extended crash pad.” – The Girls

Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood

Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month—swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

Review: Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors. The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake are some of my favorite novels of all time. Atwood’s books are usually beautifully written and thought provoking. Usually. I’ve been struggling with some of her recent releases. Angel Catbird made me cringe so hard that I’m surprised my face isn’t stuck in a permanent cringe. Unfortunately, The Heart Goes Last also left me thinking WTF?

Fun fact: I actually put off reading this book for a strange reason. Two of the characters have the same names as my grandparents, and they have tons of graphic sex. The characters, I mean. Not my grandparents. I know nothing about my grandparents’ sex lives. I was worried that I’d picture my grandparents as the characters during the sex scenes, and that’s just . . . *shudder*

This review is only two paragraphs long, and it’s already awkward.

Okay. Moving on. The Heart Goes Last is a dystopia set in a world with rampant crime, joblessness, and homelessness. The main characters, Stan and Charmaine, are living in their car when Charmaine sees an advertisement for an experimental community. The people in the community would get everything they need: food, homes, money, hobbies. However, every other month, they’d have to give up their freedom and become “prisoners.” They’d live in a prison and do all the hard, unpleasant jobs it takes to keep a community running. Stan and Charmaine eagerly sign up for the experiment. When they get to the community, they notice that things are not as great as they seem from the outside. There are mysterious disappearances and a strange factory that makes lifelike celebrity sex robots. Stan and Charmaine get roped into the deadly job of uncovering the community’s secrets and smuggling them to the press.

“That was the original idea, but once you’ve got a controlled population with a wall around it and no oversight, you can do anything you want.” – The Heart Goes Last

I felt very hot-and-cold about this book. There are some plot points that I loved and really got into, and other plot points that just seem . . . silly.

The mystery is the best part of The Heart Goes Last. What is going on in this utopia, and who are Stan and Charmaine’s “Alternates”? The Alternates are the people who live in Stan and Charmaine’s house while they’re in prison. Stan and Charmaine aren’t supposed to have any contact with the Alternates, but they start learning things about them based on what they leave in the house. Stan and Charmaine also have their own secret ideas (and sexual fantasies) about the Alternates’ identities. I enjoyed watching all the pieces come together.

Like all of Margaret Atwood’s books, this one raises some interesting questions. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but would you rather be free or happy? The characters are forced to make some tough choices about that.

“Oblivion is increasingly attractive to the young, and even to the middle-aged, since why retain your brain when no amount of thinking can even begin to solve the problem?” – The Heart Goes Last
“If you do bad things for reasons you’ve been told are good, does it make you a bad person?” – The Heart Goes Last

My biggest problem with this book is that it doesn’t feel like a Margaret Atwood novel to me. I love her work because she’s phenomenal at developing characters, but the characters in The Heart Goes Last are shallow. I never felt like I understood their motives. They mostly seem like pawns that the author is forcing through a silly sequence of events.

That brings me to the next issue: The characters come up with this bizarre, convoluted plan to smuggle information out of the community, and it all seems very unnecessary. Why did the plan have to be so silly? Why did we need all those details about sex robots and gay Elvis impersonators? It feels like there’s a metafictional joke somewhere in here that I didn’t understand. Maybe Margaret Atwood is just much smarter than me. My brain can’t keep up with her.

I didn’t hate this book. There are some aspects of it that I appreciate. I’ll continue to read Margaret Atwood’s work. But, I don’t think this is one of Atwood’s stronger novels.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Sunday Post #106

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 Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood.
  • On Wednesday I review The Girls by Emma Cline.

In My Reading Life

I didn’t get much reading done last week because I was re-watching Game of Thrones. Watching Game of Thrones is basically what I do with my life now. I read Cold Summer by Gwen Cole, and then I (finally) started Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. So much Game of Thrones. I’m watching the seasons backwards, so I get to see the actors and the dragons become younger and smaller. The kids were so little when the series started!
  2. So much blogging. I’ve been scheduling a lot of posts lately.
  3. I’m trying out a new hair conditioner. Hopefully it’ll tame the frizzy mess on my head.
  4. I’ve been reading a lot of YA. Sometimes I forget how much I like that genre.
  5. Tigers hunt drone. Attempt to eat it. Get confused.

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

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The “This Might Be A Bad Idea” Book Haul

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. I get to show off all the books I’ve gotten recently. I had used bookstore credits, and I decided to spend them on some books at the fringes of my comfort zone. These are books that have been described as “Meh” by reviewers I trust, or books that don’t completely sound like my kind of thing. I’m a believer in getting out of your reading comfort zone, so I’m going to give them a try. Maybe I’ll love them.

The Girl Who Drank The Moon – Kelly Barnhill

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.  
One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule—but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her—even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The Upside Of Unrequited – Becky Albertalli

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful. 
Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back. 
There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

Fantastic Mr. Fox – Roald Dahl

Fantastic Mr. Fox is on the run! The three meanest farmers around are out to get him. Fat Boggis, squat Bunce, and skinny Bean have joined forces, and they have Mr. Fox and his family surrounded. What they don’t know is that they’re not dealing with just any fox–Mr. Fox would never surrender. But only the most fantastic plan ever can save him now.

Escape From Eden – Elisa Nader

Since the age of ten, Mia has lived under the iron fist of the fundamentalist preacher who lured her mother away to join his fanatical family of followers. In Edenton, a supposed “Garden of Eden” deep in the South American jungle, everyone follows the Reverend’s strict but arbitrary rules—even the mandate of whom they can marry. Now sixteen, Mia dreams of slipping away from the armed guards who keep the faithful in, and the curious out. When the rebellious and sexy Gabriel, a new boy, arrives with his family, Mia sees a chance to escape. 
But the scandalous secrets the two discover beyond the compound’s fa├žade are more shocking than anything they ever imagined. While Gabriel has his own terrible secrets, he and Mia band together, more than friends and freedom fighters. But is there time to think of each other as they race to stop the Reverend’s paranoid plan to free his flock from the corrupt world? Can two teenagers crush a criminal mastermind? And who will die in the fight to save the ones they love from a madman who’s only concerned about his own secrets?

This book shouldn’t be in this haul because it’s a very good idea. I won it in a giveaway and am overly excited to read it. That's why I'm shoving it in this haul instead of the next one.

History Is All You Left Me – Adam Silvera

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course. 
To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart. 
If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life. 

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

This Or That Book Tag

This tag was created by Wendy @ Falconer’s Library. <-- Go check out the original. 

--> This Or That <--

Buy new or buy used?

If I was rich, I’d only buy new books, but sadly, money is extinct in my world. Almost all of my books are used books that I traded for.

Eat while you read or read while you eat?

Nooo! I’m a germophobe. What I hate most about used books is that they’re often covered in mystery stains. I’m not going to do anything that could contribute more germs to their pages. Yuck. 

Reread old favorites or preorder upcoming possibilities?

I’ve never preordered a book. (I’m broke, remember?) I do love rereading my favorites, though. 

Read every single word or skim at times?

When I was in school, I almost always skimmed my textbooks and assigned reading. No one wants to read that boring school crap. I wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. When I read for fun, I read every word.

Happy endings or tragic?

Realistic? I don’t like books that wrap everything up too neatly. That’s why I have a hard time with middlegrade fiction. The endings are too perfect. I also don’t like books that kill off characters at the very end for no reason. *Mumble* Divergent trilogy *mumble.* If an ending is realistic, I don’t care if it’s happy or tragic.

Audiobooks or ebooks?

Ebooks. I like my Kindle, especially for traveling. I’ve only listened to one audiobook and couldn’t pay attention to it. My mind kept wandering. Maybe I should try an audiobook while running? That might give me something to concentrate on besides how much my ankles hurt. I don’t even know where to find affordable audiobooks.

Multiple books at once, or one at a time?

Ideally, I’d be a book polygamist. I prefer to read one short story collection and one other book at the same time. If I don’t have any short story collections on my TBR shelf, then I’m a book monogamist. I don’t like reading multiple similar books at the same time.

Mostly one genre, or a little bit of everything?

Everything! I’m a believer in reading widely.

Lifelong obsession or later discovery?

I loathed reading when I was a little kid and refused to do it. When I was in fifth/sixth grade, I stumbled across a few books that didn’t suck, and my bookish obsession grew from there.

Classics—yea or nay?

I don’t read as many classics as I used to, but I try to finish a few each year. Classic horror is my jam right now. (Do people actually say “my jam”? Is that a thing?)

Read aloud to others or be read to?

Be read to. I hate reading aloud. That’s probably one of the reasons I disliked reading as a kid. My teachers used to make us take turns reading aloud to the class. I’m way too anxious for that. Nope, nope, not going to do it.

Absolute silence or background noise?

I need silence to read. I remember trying to read The Stepford Wives in an airport last year, and I had to start the book over when I got home because I was too distracted by airport stuff to absorb anything I read.

Cover on or naked?

I used to leave the cover on so that I didn’t lose it, but now that I have carpel tunnel, I can’t do that anymore. The cover slides around too much, which makes the book harder to hold, which murders my wrists. My books have to get naked before I hold them.

Dog-ear or bookmark?

Only demons dog-ear their books. Civilized humans don’t do that. Be a good person and use a bookmark, especially if you’re going to trade the book when you’re done with it. Nobody wants to spend their time flattening out your demonic book mutilations.

Movie covers or originals?

Originals. I hate movie covers because the characters in my head never look like the actors plastered on the cover. Also, I’m a hipster. Movie covers are way too commercial for me.