Saturday, March 31, 2018

Book Haul: Nonfiction And Children

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. I get to show off all the books I’ve gotten recently. These books are either nonfiction or involve children in some way.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Review: Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Scythe by Neal Shusterman

Series: The Arc of a Scythe #1
Pages: 435
Genre: Young Adult Dystopia
Publisher: Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 2016

A world with no hunger, no disease, no war, no misery. Humanity has conquered all those things, and has even conquered death. Now scythes are the only ones who can end life—and they are commanded to do so, in order to keep the size of the population under control.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to apprentice to a scythe—a role that neither wants. These teens must master the “art” of taking life, knowing that the consequence of failure could mean losing their own.

I’m pretty sure that Neal Shusterman is my favorite author of dystopias. I love his Unwind series, and I may have lost my chill a little when I first heard about Scythe. Shusterman puts so much thought into his dysfunctional worlds. They’re far-fetched, but they’re sooo complex.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Countries Where More Books Should Be Set

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s topic is books that take place in another country. I feel like I’ve written enough posts that focus on non-US books, so I thought I’d try something different. It’s time for a geography lesson. We’re going to take a tour of those countries you’ve vaguely heard of but don’t know anything about. I think all of these would make excellent book settings. Here are ten countries where more books should take place.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Review: Missing May by Cynthia Rylant

Missing May by Cynthia Rylant

Pages: 89
Genre: Middlegrade Contemporary
Publisher: Yearling Newbery
Publication Date: 1992
Since Summer was six years old, she lived with dear Aunt May and Uncle Ob. Now, six years later, Aunt May has died. Summer, who misses May with all her might, is afraid something will happen to Ob. Most days Ob seems like he doesn't want to go on. But then Ob feels May's spirit around him and he wants to contact her. Cletus Underwood, a strange boy from school, reads about someone who could help him do that. Summer wants to hear from May too. 

Ob and Summer don't know what to expect when they set off on their search for some sign from May. They only know they need something to ease their sorrow and give them strength to go on living—always knowing they will never stop missing May.
My mission to read all the Newbery winners continues with Missing May, the winner from 1993. This book is tiny—only 89 pages—but it has a lot of depth. The Newbery winners I’ve read so far have been hit or miss (mostly miss) with me. Sometimes, I have no idea what the award committee is thinking. Luckily, I didn’t have that problem with Missing May. This little book deserves its Newbery.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Sunday Post #141

Reading while walking should be considered an extreme sport. That lady is about 2 seconds away from wandering into traffic. Sorry, lady. Been there, done that.

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.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Book Haul: Look What The Wind Blew In

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

Usually, I organize my book hauls into themed groups. For this haul, there is no theme. These are just some random books I picked up recently. I’ll let you come up with a creative title for the batch. *Update: Barb @ Booker T's Farm suggested the title "Look What The Wind Blew In." So, my haul has a name!

The “Look What The Wind Blew In” Book Haul

Far From the Tree – Robin Benway

Being the middle child has its ups and downs. 
But for Grace, an only child who was adopted at birth, discovering that she is a middle child is a different ride altogether. After putting her own baby up for adoption, she goes looking for her biological family, including: 
Maya, her loudmouthed younger bio sister, who has a lot to say about their newfound family ties. Having grown up the snarky brunette in a house full of chipper redheads, she’s quick to search for traces of herself among these not-quite-strangers. And when her adopted family’s long-buried problems begin to explode to the surface, Maya can’t help but wonder where exactly it is that she belongs. 
And Joaquin, their stoic older bio brother, who has no interest in bonding over their shared biological mother. After seventeen years in the foster care system, he’s learned that there are no heroes, and secrets and fears are best kept close to the vest, where they can’t hurt anyone but him.

The Shadow of the Wind РCarlos Ruiz Zafón

Barcelona, 1945—just after the war, a great world city lies in shadow, nursing its wounds, and a boy named Daniel awakes on his eleventh birthday to find that he can no longer remember his mother’s face. To console his only child, Daniel’s widowed father, an antiquarian book dealer, initiates him into the secret of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a library tended by Barcelona’s guild of rare-book dealers as a repository for books forgotten by the world, waiting for someone who will care about them again. Daniel’s father coaxes him to choose a volume from the spiraling labyrinth of shelves, one that, it is said, will have a special meaning for him. And Daniel so loves the novel he selects, The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax, that he sets out to find the rest of Carax’s work. To his shock, he discovers that someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book this author has written. In fact, he may have the last one in existence. Before Daniel knows it, his seemingly innocent quest has opened a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets, an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love. And before long he realizes that if he doesn’t find out the truth about Julian Carax, he and those closest to him will suffer horribly.

Bodily Harm – Margaret Atwood

Rennie Wilford, a young journalist running from her life, takes an assignment to a Caribbean island and tumbles into a world where no one is what they seem. When the burnt-out Yankee Paul (does he smuggle dope or hustle for the CIA?) offers her a no-hooks, no strings affair, she is caught up in a lethal web of corruption.

The Knowing – Sharon Cameron

Samara doesn't forget. And she isn't the only one. Safe underground in the city of New Canaan, she lives in a privileged world free from the Forgetting. Yet she wonders if she really is free, with the memories that plague her and secrets that surround her. Samara is determined to unearth the answers, even if she must escape to the old, cursed city of Canaan to find them. 
Someone else is on their way to Canaan too . . . a spaceship from Earth is heading toward the planet, like a figment of the city's forgotten past. Beck is traveling with his parents, researchers tasked with finding the abandoned settlement effort. When Beck is stranded without communication, he will find more in Canaan than he was ever trained for. What will happen when worlds and memories, beliefs—and truths—collide?

The Power – Naomi Alderman

In The Power the world is a recognizable place: there's a rich Nigerian kid who lounges around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge with devastating effect. Teenage girls now have immense physical power—they can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Review: Crispin: The Cross of Lead – Avi

Crispin: The Cross of Lead – Avi

“Asta's Son” is all he's ever been called. The lack of a name is appropriate, because he and his mother are but poor peasants in 14th century medieval England. But this thirteen-year-old boy who thought he had little to lose soon finds himself with even less—no home, no family, or possessions. Accused of a crime he did not commit, he may be killed on sight, by anyone. If he wishes to remain alive, he must flee his tiny village. All the boy takes with him is a newly revealed name—Crispin—and his mother's cross of lead.

Review: Can you believe I’ve gone my entire life without reading a book by Avi? He’s written, like, a hundred children’s books. I’ve seen them around, but this is the first one I’ve read. You gotta start somewhere, I guess.

Crispin is a little like Game of Thrones for kids. It’s book #1 in a series. It’s got the medieval setting, some royal scandals, some death, some fight scenes, some characters who can’t be trusted, some orphaned kids who need more parental supervision. Basically, it has all the elements of an excellent middlegrade adventure story.

Crispin’s name wasn’t always Crispin. He starts the book as “Asta’s Son.” He doesn’t know his real name, and he can’t read or write. Crispin and his mother are so poor that they’ve never left their village. One day, his mother is murdered, and Crispin is accused of a crime he didn’t commit. A bounty is placed on his head. The most powerful family in the village wants him dead. He flees to the woods and meets up with a traveling juggler, but can the juggler be trusted? And why do so many important people suddenly want Crispin dead?

I think I would have liked this book way back when I was part of its target audience. The beginning is a bit info-dumpy, but the action starts pretty quickly and doesn’t let up. Crispin is constantly surrounded by danger. Anyone who recognizes him can murder him on-sight and claim the reward. He has to be resourceful to get himself out of trouble. He has quite a few close brushes with death.

I’m definitely not an expert on 14th century England, but the setting seems well-researched to me. The info-dump at the beginning helps make peasant life accessible to young modern readers. (As long as the young readers have the attention spans required to plow through the dry information being forced upon them. It’s only a few pages, but I know that feels like an eternity to a kid.)

I like that this book doesn’t ignore religion. Christianity was a massive deal in 14th century England. The church basically controlled everything. Crispin is a Christian. When he runs away from his village, the only thing he takes from home is a lead cross engraved with writing (that he can’t read). Religion is an important part of Crispin’s life. As he begins uncovering the secrets that his mother hid from him, he starts to wonder if God has bigger plans for him than just being a peasant.

“I kept asking myself if I felt different, if I was different. The answer was always yes. I was no longer nothing.” - Crispin

This book might be fun for (very patient) children, but as an adult, I found it extremely predictable. Within the first few chapters, I knew what was written on Crispin’s cross, and I knew why the ruling family wanted him dead. It’s all painfully obvious.

I also think Crispin is a flat character. This novel is mostly all action and history lessons. The reader doesn’t learn much about him as a person.

However, I’m not the target audience, so my opinions probably don’t matter.

TL;DR: An adventurous way to learn history, but I didn’t love it enough to continue with the series.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: The Shell Collector: Stories – Anthony Doerr

The Shell Collector: Stories – Anthony Doerr

The exquisitely crafted stories in Anthony Doerr's acclaimed debut collection take readers from the African coast to the pine forests of Montana to the damp moors of Lapland, charting a vast physical and emotional landscape. Doerr explores the human condition in all its varieties—metamorphosis, grief, fractured relationships, and slowly mending hearts—and conjures nature in both its beautiful abundance and crushing power. Some of his characters contend with tremendous hardship; some discover unique gifts; all are united by their ultimate deference to the mysteries of the universe outside themselves.

Review: If I was forced to make a list of my all-time favorite books, All the Light We Cannot See would probably be on it. Since I love that giant novel so much, I wondered what Anthony Doerr could do with a short story collection. The Shell Collector was published over a decade before All the Light We Cannot See, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I was (mostly) impressed. These world-spanning stories are beautifully written. They take place on beaches and mountains; in sunny Africa and snowy Lapland; in rivers and forests. Each setting is so precisely described that the reader can almost feel the fictional weather. An astounding amount of research must have gone into these stories.

Even though the settings are varied, the stories deal with similar topics. They’re about small mistakes that have dire consequences. The characters are all struggling to survive in a world that’s bigger and more powerful than they’ll ever be.

“Studying ice crystals as a graduate student, he eventually found the basic design (equilateral, equiangled hexagon) so icily repeated, so unerringly conforming, that he couldn't help but shudder: Beneath the splendor—the filigreed blossoms, the microscopic stars—was a ghastly inevitability; crystals could not escape their embedded blueprints any more than humans could. Everything hewed to a rigidity of pattern, the certainty of death.” – The Shell Collector

I know that this is a story collection, and that stories in a collection usually deal with similar topics, but most of the stories in this book are too similar for my liking. For example, many of them involve fishing. The only thing more boring than watching people fish is reading about people fishing.

Since most of the stories blurred together in my mind, there are only two that really stand out for me:

The title story “The Shell Collector” has everything I love in a short story. An unusual setting, an unusual protagonist, and a whole lot of secrets. It’s about a blind scientist and his guide dog who live in a hut on the coast of Kenya. They spend their days finding and cataloging different kinds of seashells. One day, the scientist stumbles across a snail that is thought to be poisonous. He inadvertently discovers that the snail’s venom may actually have healing properties. When news of the healing snail becomes public, chaos ensues.

“The shell collector was scrubbing limpets at his sink when he heard the water taxi come scraping over the reef. He cringed to hear it—its hull grinding the calices of finger corals and the tiny tubes of pipe organ corals, tearing the flower and fern shapes of soft corals, and damaging shells too: punching holes in olives and murexes and spiny whelks, in Hydatina physis and Turris babylonia. It was not the first time people tried to seek him out.” – The Shell Collector

My other favorite story is “The Caretaker.” A refugee from Liberia ends up in the US after losing his home and family. He accepts a job as a caretaker in a remote lodge, but he’s unable to perform his caretaker duties. He gets fired. Since he can’t get another job, he moves into the woods near the lodge and tries to rebuild his life from nothing. This story is realistic. It pisses me off when people are hateful and judgmental toward refugees. Most people have no idea what a refugee has lived through.

“‘It’s an issue of duty.’ Her voice tremors; inside, he can see, she’s raging. ‘I told him not to hire you. I told him what good is it hiring someone who runs from his country at the first sign of trouble? He won’t know duty, responsibility. He won’t be able to understand it. And now look.’” – The Shell Collector

TL;DR: Not as good as All The Light We Cannot See, but readers who love nature (and fishing) would probably enjoy this collection.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Sunday Post #140

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 The Shell Collector: Stories by Anthony Doerr.
  • On Tuesday I show you my disturbing Spring TBR.
  • On Wednesday I review Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi.
  • On Saturday there’s a book haul.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished Some Possible Solutions: Stories by Helen Phillips and Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton. Then I read Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson. Right now, I’m reading The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts by Laura Tillman.


In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. Today is my birthday. If you want to celebrate with me, you could enter my giveaway. Please let me give you free stuff!
  2. Hamburgers!
  3. I participated in my first Twitter chat. It was intense. I can’t type that fast, people!
  4. I got new books. Not that I needed more books, but I got some, and I’m happy.
  5. The weather has been nice for running outside. It’s not snowing on me anymore.

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

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The “Another Newbery” Book Haul

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

This year, I’m going to try really hard to read a bunch of Newbery winners. Here’s my most recent batch of them.

The “Another Newbery” Book Haul

. . . And Now Miguel – Joseph Krumgold

Every summer the men of the Chavez family go on a long and difficult sheep drive to the mountains. All the men, that is, except for Miguel. All year long, twelve-year-old Miguel tries to prove that he, too, is up to the challenge. He, too, is ready to take the sheep into his beloved Sangre de Cristo Mountains. 
When his deeds go unnoticed, he prays to San Ysidro, the saint for farmers everywhere. And his prayer is answered . . . but with devastating consequences. 
When you act like an adult but get treated like a child, what else can you do but keep your wishes secret and pray that they'll come true?

It’s Like This, Cat – Emily Cheney Neville

My father is always talking about how a dog can be very educational for a boy. This is one reason I got a cat. 
Dave Mitchell and his father yell at each other a lot, and whenever the fighting starts, Dave's mother gets an asthma attack. That's when Dave storms out of the house. Then Dave meets Tom, a strange boy who helps him rescue Cat. It isn't long before Cat introduces Dave to Mary, a wonderful girl from Coney Island. Slowly Dave comes to see the complexities in people's lives and to understand himself and his family a little better.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead – Avi

"Asta's Son" is all he's ever been called. The lack of a name is appropriate, because he and his mother are but poor peasants in 14th century medieval England. But this thirteen-year-old boy who thought he had little to lose soon finds himself with even less—no home, no family, or possessions. Accused of a crime he did not commit, he may be killed on sight, by anyone. If he wishes to remain alive, he must flee his tiny village. All the boy takes with him is a newly revealed name—Crispin—and his mother's cross of lead.

The Tale of Despereaux – Kate DiCamillo

Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other's lives.

Kira-Kira – Cynthia Kadohata

Glittering. That's how Katie Takeshima's sister, Lynn, makes everything seem. The sky is kira-kira because its color is deep but see-through at the same time. The sea is kira-kira for the same reason and so are people's eyes. When Katie and her family move from a Japanese community in Iowa to the Deep South of Georgia, it's Lynn who explains to her why people stop on the street to stare, and it's Lynn who, with her special way of viewing the world, teaches Katie to look beyond tomorrow, but when Lynn becomes desperately ill, and the whole family begins to fall apart, it is up to Katie to find a way to remind them all that there is always something glittering—kira-kira—in the future.

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

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.