Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Fall Book Haul

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

The weather is getting colder, darker, and wetter. That means I’ll be spending less time outside and more time sitting on my ass, reading great literature. Here are some books that I’m hopefully going to read before the end of the year.

The Fall Book Haul

Good Bones and Simple Murders – Margaret Atwood

In this collection of short works that defy easy categorization, Margaret Atwood displays, in condensed and crystallized form, the trademark wit and virtuosity of her best-selling novels, brilliant stories, and insightful poetry. Among the jewels gathered here are Gertrude offering Hamlet a piece of her mind, the real truth about the Little Red Hen, a reincarnated bat explaining how Bram Stoker got Dracula all wrong, and the five methods of making a man. There are parables, monologues, prose poems, condensed science fiction, reconfigured fairy tales, and other miniature masterpieces—punctuated with charming illustrations by the author.

A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin

Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun. 
As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honor weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must . . . and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty. 
The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.

The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

Fatty Legs: A True Story – Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools. 
At school Margaret soon encounters the Raven, a black-cloaked nun with a hooked nose and bony fingers that resemble claws. She immediately dislikes the strong-willed young Margaret. Intending to humiliate her, the heartless Raven gives gray stockings to all the girls—all except Margaret, who gets red ones. In an instant Margaret is the laughingstock of the entire school. 
In the face of such cruelty, Margaret refuses to be intimidated and bravely gets rid of the stockings. Although a sympathetic nun stands up for Margaret, in the end it is this brave young girl who gives the Raven a lesson in the power of human dignity.

Marrow Island – Alexis M. Smith

Twenty years ago Lucie Bowen left Marrow Island; along with her mother, she fled the aftermath of an earthquake that compromised the local refinery, killing her father and ravaging the island’s environment. Now, Lucie’s childhood friend Kate is living within a mysterious group called Marrow Colony—a community that claims to be “ministering to the Earth.” There have been remarkable changes to the land at the colony’s homestead. Lucie’s experience as a journalist tells her there’s more to the Colony—and their charismatic leader—than they want her to know, and that the astonishing success of their environmental remediation has come at great cost to the Colonists themselves. As she uncovers their secrets and methods, will Lucie endanger more than their mission? What price will she pay for the truth?

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

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Liebster Award Tag

I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award Tag approximately one billion times. I’ve done it before, but not recently because I’m disorganized and profoundly lazy. (I do appreciate the nominations, though.) The most recent person to nominate me is Jenna @ J.K. I’m Exploring. I thought I’d answer Jenna’s questions.

Here’s the deal with the Liebster Award: Answer the 11 questions asked by the blogger who nominated you; ask 11 of your own questions; nominate 11 bloggers to answer them. Got it? Here we go.

Liebster Award Tag

Jenna’s questions:

1. Do you have any weird blogging habits?

I tend to blog in the middle of the night. If you find typos/stupidity/incoherence in my posts, it’s because I write them while exhausted.

2. What is a book you really wanted to read this year and haven’t yet?

A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab. It was one of my most-anticipated 2017 releases. I haven’t even gotten a copy yet. I'm waiting to find a cheap one that's not too beat up.

3. Who is your favorite blogger? (besides me . . . obviously.)

I have a Blog Stalker over there in the sidebar -->.  It needs to be updated, but those are some of my favorites.

4. Where do you write your posts?

In my office. Occasionally in my bed.

5. What inspirational book would you recommend to anyone?

I’m not an inspirational book type of person. I’m way too cynical for that kind of thing. During my first year of college, I had to read Illusions: Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah by Richard Bach. I remember liking that one. There’s a quote in it that says “I do not exist to impress the world. I exist to live my life in a way that will make me happy.” I have a depressing habit of comparing myself to successful people, so this quote has become a mantra for me.

6. What do you read blogs on? Phone, tablet, computer, combination?

On an old laptop. I don’t have a phone, tablet, or any other internet-capable device. I’m broke and low-tech.

7. How did you come across the book blogging world?

By accident. When I started this blog, I intended for it to be a diary-style blog, but I quickly discovered that I’m boring. I had nothing to write in my diary, so I started writing about books. I didn’t know that book blogging was a thing when I started. I found other book bloggers while randomly joining groups on Goodreads. Then I suddenly had friends.

8. What do you do when you’re not blogging/reading? Jobs/school/other hobbies?

I run, hike, hang out with my dogs, take bad landscape photos, retweet hilarious things. For work, I edit anthologies and literary journals. I don’t talk about that on here because of conflicts of interest. (Now that I’ve told you, I’m going to have to erase your memory.)

9. What is your favorite ship that isn’t cannon?

This is a hard question because I honestly don’t care about the romances in books. I’m not angry if my favorites don’t end up together. In a post I wrote last month, someone (maybe it was Chuckles?) suggested that Hermione Granger and Cedric Diggory would make a better couple than Hermione/Ron. I agree. (Too bad that Cedric is dead . . . )

10. If you could move anywhere, where would it be?

Which place has the fewest spiders? Antarctica? The middle of the Pacific Ocean? If there are no spiders, I’m not picky.

11. Most binge-able TV show?

Game of Thrones, definitely.

My questions:

1. If you could force any author to write any book, which author would you choose, and what would the book be about? 
2. What book has been sitting on your to-be-read shelf the longest? Why haven’t you read it yet? 
3. What’s the story behind your blog’s title? 
4. Do you ever read sample chapters of a book before you buy it? 
5. What are some of your favorite book covers? 
6. Are there keywords in a book’s synopsis that will immediately make you want to read the book? Which words/subjects get your attention? 
7. Your to-be-read shelf is overflowing with unread books. How do you choose what to read next? 
8. What are the best and worst books you were forced to read in school? 
9. Which 2017 release were you most excited to read? Have you read it yet? 
10. How do you stay motivated to keep blogging? 
11. I assume you follow a lot of blogs. I also assume that you don’t have time to read every post on every blog you follow. What makes you click on a blog post and read it?

I nominate . . .

Everyone! If you want to do the Liebster Award Tag, feel free to answer my questions. Please send me a link to your post. I’d love to see your answers.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Review: Good Bones And Simple Murders – Margaret Atwood

Good Bones And Simple Murders – Margaret Atwood

In this collection of short works that defy easy categorization, Margaret Atwood displays, in condensed and crystallized form, the trademark wit and virtuosity of her best-selling novels, brilliant stories, and insightful poetry. Among the jewels gathered here are Gertrude offering Hamlet a piece of her mind, the real truth about the Little Red Hen, a reincarnated bat explaining how Bram Stoker got "Dracula" all wrong, and the five methods of making a man. There are parables, monologues, prose poems, condensed science fiction, reconfigured fairy tales, and other miniature masterpieces—punctuated with charming illustrations by the author.

Review: The synopsis of this book isn’t wrong when it says that these stories are hard to categorize. I mean, what even are these things? I guess I’d call them flash fiction or prose poetry. Each story/poem/essay/dialogue thing is only a few pages long. They cover a variety of genres, from realism to magical realism to fairytales to sci-fi. Most of them have a strong feminist slant. Some are abstract; some are straightforward. Some are accompanied by Margaret Atwood’s weird artwork. They’re all beautifully written. I guess there’s a “thing” for everyone in here.

Here are my favorites:

In “Murder in the Dark,” the narrator (or author?) explains how she is going to manipulate the reader in this book. The reader shouldn’t believe anything she says. This is an attention-grabbing way to start the collection. It sets the dark, weird tone.

“Just remember this, when the scream at last has ended and you've turned on the lights: by the rules of the game, I must always lie.” – Good Bones and Simple Murders

“There Once Was” is a dialogue between two anonymous characters who are trying to rewrite a fairytale in a politically correct way. They get nowhere with their story and eventually give up. It’s funny.

“There once was a girl, as average-looking as she was well-adjusted, who lived with her stepmother, who was not a very open and loving person because she herself had been abused in childhood.” – Good Bones and Simple Murders

“Stump Hunting” tells you what to do if you catch a tree stump while fishing and decide to eat it. It’s very useful information. I guess. If you like eating stumps.

Another story that gives useful information is “Making A Man.” It tells you the five different ways to make a man, including out of gingerbread or as folk art.

“Let Us Now Praise Stupid Women” is an ode to all the stupid female characters in stories. As always, Atwood’s social commentary is on-point. The best-known stories in Western culture do contain a lot of women who make terrible choices.

Let us now praise stupid women, who have given us Literature.” – Good Bones and Simple Murders

“Simmering” shows what the world would be like if every man suddenly became very interested in cooking. Knives are status symbols and there are special handshakes involved. This is a funny piece of social satire. It’s also my favorite story in the collection.

Do you like choose your own adventure stories? I do. With “Happy Endings,” you can choose to give the couple a happily ever after. Or not.

In “Cold-Blooded,” moth-like aliens come to Earth and are baffled by humans. The aliens think moths are clearly the superior species. Sometimes, I agree with them . . .

Finally, there’s “Poppies: Three Variations.” This is like a writing exercise you’d do in school, but when Atwood does something, it’s not an exercise. It’s art. This story takes the words from the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae and uses them to create three distinct flash fiction stories. It’s hard to describe, but it works brilliantly. Most writers probably wouldn’t be talented enough to pull it off.

This collection reminded me why I fell in love with Margaret Atwood’s writing as a teen. It’s quirky, hilarious, and points out the absurdities in the world.

My only complaint is that some of the stories/poems/things are too abstract for my tastes. I don’t like abstract writing because I’m never sure what I’m supposed to get out of it. If I’m going to read something, I want more than just pretty language. I want a plot, characters, or a clear subject. Luckily for me, most of the things in this book aren’t too abstract. This is one of the best collections I’ve read this year.

If you’re a Margaret Atwood fan, then you need to read Good Bones and Simple Murders. This book should also be required reading for all wannabe writers. Atwood is one of those authors who always know how to choose the perfect word. She can say a lot in very little space. The things in this book are tight, clever little pieces of  . . . something.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Cult Characters

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is books that feature characters _______. I’m filling in the blank with “who are in cults.” I’m going to use the word “characters” loosely because some of these books are nonfiction.

Cult Characters


Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood And Scientology – Leah Remini

Leah Remini has never been the type to hold her tongue. That willingness to speak her mind, stand her ground, and rattle the occasional cage has enabled this tough-talking girl from Brooklyn to forge an enduring and successful career in Hollywood. But being a troublemaker has come at a cost. 
That was never more evident than in 2013, when Remini loudly and publicly broke with the Church of Scientology. Now, in this frank, funny, poignant memoir, the former King of Queens star opens up about that experience for the first time, revealing the in-depth details of her painful split with the church and its controversial practices.

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story Of Violent Faith – Jon Krakauer

At the core of Krakauer’s book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America’s fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.

Adult Fiction

The Year of the Flood (MaddAddam #2) – Margaret Atwood

The times and species have been changing at a rapid rate, and the social compact is wearing as thin as environmental stability. Adam One, the kindly leader of the God's Gardeners—a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, as well as the preservation of all plant and animal life—has long predicted a natural disaster that will alter Earth as we know it. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have survived: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked inside the high-end sex club Scales and Tails, and Toby, a God's Gardener barricaded inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible.

Survivor – Chuck Palahniuk

Tender Branson, the last surviving member of the so-called Creedish Death Cult, is dictating his life story into the flight recorder of Flight 2039, cruising on autopilot at 39,000 feet somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. He is all alone in the airplane, which will crash shortly into the vast Australian outback. But before it does, he will unfold the tale of his journey from an obedient Creedish child and humble domestic servant to an ultra-buffed, steroid-and-collagen-packed media messiah.

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.

Young Adult Books

Burned – Ellen Hopkins

It all started with a dream. Nothing exceptional, just a typical fantasy about a boy, the kind of dream that most teen girls experience. But Pattyn Von Stratten is not like most teen girls. Raised in a religious—yet abusive—family, a simple dream may not be exactly a sin, but it could be the first step toward hell and eternal damnation.  
This dream is a first step for Pattyn. But is it to hell or to a better life? For the first time Pattyn starts asking questions. Questions seemingly without answers—about God, a woman's role, sex, love—mostly love. What is it? Where is it? Will she ever experience it? Is she deserving of it?  
It's with a real boy that Pattyn gets into real trouble. After Pattyn's father catches her in a compromising position, events spiral out of control until Pattyn ends up suspended from school and sent to live with an aunt she doesn't know.  
Pattyn is supposed to find salvation and redemption during her exile to the wilds of rural Nevada. Yet what she finds instead is love and acceptance. And for the first time she feels worthy of both—until she realizes her old demons will not let her go. Pattyn begins down a path that will lead her to a hell—a hell that may not be the one she learned about in sacrament meetings, but it is hell all the same.

The Sacred Lies Of Minnow Bly – Stephanie Oakes

The Kevinian cult has taken everything from seventeen-year-old Minnow: twelve years of her life, her family, her ability to trust. 
And when she rebelled, they took away her hands, too. 
Now their Prophet has been murdered and their camp set aflame, and it's clear that Minnow knows something—but she's not talking. As she languishes in juvenile detention, she struggles to un-learn everything she has been taught to believe, adjusting to a life behind bars and recounting the events that led up to her incarceration. But when an FBI detective approaches her about making a deal, Minnow sees she can have the freedom she always dreamed of—if she’s willing to part with the terrible secrets of her past.

Brides of Eden: A True Story Imagined – Linda Crew

When, in 1903, the fiery preacher Joshua arrives in sleepy Corvallis, Oregon, Eva Mae—and the whole town—is never the same again. 
Joshua is wonderful. He's charismatic. Insisting on simplicity, he commands his converts to burn their possessions. Demanding devotion to Christ, he tells them to abandon their personal ties. 
But there's a surge of violence rising, and before it's over, families will be ripped apart and lives will be destroyed. Eva Mae's gripping true story is a stranger-than-fiction tale of a turn-of-the-century apocalyptic cult.

Middlegrade Fiction

The Patron Saint of Butterflies – Cecilia Galante

Agnes and Honey have been best friends for as long as they can remember. But everything is about to change, from their friendship to the only home they’ve ever known: a religious commune called Mount Blessing. Agnes loves being a believer and following the rules of the commune, but Honey has started to rebel. Then, when Agnes and Honey experience the outside world (on the run, no less), their friendship is tested further. After all, when everything you’ve ever known turns out to be a lie, how do you find the truth?

The Chosen One – Carol Lynch Williams

Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters, with two more on the way. That is, without questioning them much—if you don’t count her secret visits to the Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her meetings with Joshua, the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her. 
But when the Prophet decrees that she must marry her sixty-year-old uncle—who already has six wives—Kyra must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family forever.

Have you read any of these? Do you have any books to add to my list?