Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Review: The Girl Who Drank The Moon – Kelly Barnhill

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 in fact a good witch who shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the 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 girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna's thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge—with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth's surface. And the woman with the Tiger's heart is on the prowl . . .

Review: I’ve always been confused about literary awards like the Newbery. It’s an award for children’s books, but it’s judged by adults. I sometimes wonder how many of the winning books actually appeal to children. The books I liked as a kid weren’t exactly highbrow. I enjoyed puke jokes and illustrations of characters in their underwear. My definition of “quality literature” changed drastically when I grew up.

My point is: The Girl Who Drank The Moon won the Newbery award, but I don’t think I would’ve had the patience to slog through it as a child.

An evil witch is stalking a fantasy village. To keep the witch happy, the village leaders select one baby every year to leave in the forest as a sacrifice. What the villagers don’t know is that the leaders are lying to them. The witch isn’t evil. She doesn’t require a baby. In fact, the witch has no idea why the leaders keep leaving babies in her forest. Whenever she comes across one of the abandoned children, she takes it to a different village and gives it to a family who wants it. The whole abandoned baby thing is part of a scheme that the leaders are using to stay in power.

The village leaders keep abandoning babies for years until the witch makes a mistake. She accidentally feeds one of the babies moonlight instead of starlight, infusing the child with magic. The baby can no longer be given to a normal human family. The witch names the girl “Luna” and decides to keep her. As Luna grows into a powerful witch, she will help bring down the village’s corrupt leaders.

I can understand why adults love this book. It’s intricately plotted, full of clever wordplay, and has important themes. There are probably some (very patient) children who would also love this book, but I wondered about the average child. How suitable is this novel for a middlegrade audience? Most of the characters are adults. The novel is nearly 400 pages, and it’s excruciatingly slow. And excruciatingly repetitive. I spent most of the book waiting for the disparate plot threads to come together and make sense. I ended up getting frustrated pretty quickly. Beautiful writing can only get you so far. Eventually, something needs to happen. For most of the book, nothing is really happening.

The book does have some awesome themes, though. The story shows the danger of politicians who use fear of outsiders to gain power. The village leaders play up the “evilness” of the witch in the forest to make the villagers compliant. Only the leaders know how to appease the witch. Without the leaders, the witch will destroy the village. Except, none of that is true. The witch is a friendly, loving old lady who has no reason to hurt the villagers. This “irrational fear of outsiders” theme is very relevant to real-life politics right now.

“Knowledge is power, but it is a terrible power when it is hoarded and hidden.” – The Girl Who Drank The Moon 
“A story can tell the truth . . . but a story can also lie. Stories can bend and twist and obfuscate. Controlling stories is power indeed. And who could benefit most from such a power?” – The Girl Who Drank The Moon

I also love how this book shows adoption and adoptive families. The abandoned babies are given to families who love them immensely. There are no evil stepparent stereotypes in here. Happy families come in all shapes and sizes.

So, there are some parts of The Girl Who Drank The Moon that I enjoyed, but mostly I was bored. The plot takes too long to get moving and start making sense. I really don’t think I would’ve had the patience to finish this book as a child.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Review: Escape From Eden – Elisa Nader

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 façade are more shocking than anything they ever imagined. While Gabriel has his own terrible secrets, he and Mia bond 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?

Review: If you’ve paid creepily close attention to my reviews, you probably know that I have a thing for cult books. I’ve read a lot of them. Like, a lot of them. Unfortunately, Escape from Eden wasn’t one of my favorites.

Sixteen-year-old Mia lives in a Jonestown-like community deep in the South American rainforest. She dreams of escaping from her life of constant backbreaking labor, but she has no idea how to go about doing it. Then she meets the rebellious (and unbearably sexy) Gabriel. Together, they uncover the secrets of their community and use them to defeat the corrupt Reverend.

If you love romance and thrillers, you’ll probably like this book a lot more than I did. Mia falls in insta-lust with Gabriel within the first few pages. Then the plot takes off and doesn’t slow down. This book is intense. If you like action, then you’ll love it.

My problem is that I don’t believe the action. The characters make decisions that don’t seem logical to me. The book starts with the Reverend murdering eleven people in front of the entire community. Nobody reacts to this. Most people don’t seem to care at all. People in cults aren’t brainless robots, so I have an issue with this mass non-reaction to murder.

Then there’s the whole escape thing. Escaping from the community seems pretty straightforward to me. There’s a road that connects the community to the nearest town, which Mia knows is 10 miles away. Mia and Gabriel have snuck past the guards before. Why is it so hard to figure out how to escape? Start walking and don’t stop.

I also had a hard time believing the personality-altering injection thing. And the ending . . . just . . . no. We all adore The Hunger Games, but . . . no. The plot is too farfetched for my tastes.

I did love that the book is Jonestown inspired. At first, I thought that would make the story predictable, but it isn’t predictable at all. Despite the believability issues, I appreciate that the author deviates from the real-life script.

The writing isn’t great. I actually got confused during one of the action scenes, but the dialogue is where this novel shines. The banter between Gabriel and Mia is kind of hilarious. I like both main characters and wanted them to live happily ever after.

“We're hiding in a tree with people chasing us. Do you really think this is an appropriate time to make suggestive comments?” – Escape from Eden

This isn’t my favorite cult novel, but I’m not the right audience for it. You’d probably love it if you like romance and action. And if you don’t mind books that push the boundaries of believability.

“‘What is the matter with you?’ 
‘You want an alphabetical list?’” – Escape from Eden

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Sunday Post #126

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 Escape from Eden by Elisa Nader.
  • On Wednesday I review The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill.
  • On Thursday I tell you what makes me DNF a book.
  • On Saturday there’s a book haul.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson. Then I read Agents of Dreamland by Caitlín R. Kiernan. Right now, I’m rereading A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. I found out that I’m getting a phone for Christmas.
  2. Chocolate and pizza.
  3. I went running in the snow and decided that freezing in winter is way better than sweating in summer.
  4. Christmas music.
  5. The Great American Baking Show is back! It finally feels like Christmas.

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

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The “Little Creepy” Book Haul

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

Some of the books I’ve gotten recently sound a little creepy. They’re probably not all creepy on the inside, but the titles and covers sure are.

The “Little Creepy” Book Haul

The Butcher’s Hook – Janet Ellis

Georgian London. Summer 1763. 
Anne Jaccob is coming of age, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. When she is taken advantage of by her tutor—a great friend of her father’s—and is set up to marry a squeamish snob named Simeon Onions, she begins to realize just how powerless she is in Georgian society. Anne is watchful, cunning, and bored. 
Her savior appears in the form of Fub, the butcher’s boy. Their romance is both a great spur and an excitement. Anne knows she is doomed to a loveless marriage to Onions and she is determined to escape with Fub and be his mistress. But will Fub ultimately be her salvation or damnation? And how far will she go to get what she wants?

The Dumb House – John Burnside

In Persian myth, it is said that Akbar the Great once built a palace which he filled with newborn children, attended only by mutes, in order to learn whether language is innate or acquired. As the year passed and the children grew into their silent and difficult world, this palace became known as the Gang Mahal, or Dumb House. In his first novel, John Burnside explores the possibilities inherent in a modern-day repetition of Akbar’s investigations. Following the death of his mother, the unnamed narrator creates a twisted variant of the Dumb House, finally using his own children as subjects in a bizarre experiment. When the children develop a musical language of their own, however, their gaoler is the one who is excluded, and he extracts an appalling revenge.

Bird Box – Josh Malerman

Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from. 
Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it's time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat—blindfolded—with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?

The Psychopath Test: A Journey through the Madness Industry – Jon Ronson

When Jon Ronson is drawn into an elaborate hoax played on some of the world's top scientists, his investigation leads him, unexpectedly, to psychopaths. He meets an influential psychologist who is convinced that many important business leaders and politicians are in fact high-flying, high-functioning psychopaths, and teaches Ronson how to spot them. Armed with these new abilities, Ronson meets a patient inside an asylum for the criminally insane who insists that he's sane, a mere run-of-the-mill troubled youth, not a psychopath—a claim that might be only manipulation, and a sign of his psychopathy. He spends time with a death-squad leader institutionalized for mortgage fraud, and a legendary CEO who took joy in shutting down factories and firing people. He delves into the fascinating history of psychopathy diagnosis and treatments, from LSD-fueled days-long naked therapy sessions in prisons to attempts to understand serial killers.

How to Survive a Summer – Nick White

Camp Levi nestled in the Mississippi countryside is designed to "cure" young teenage boys of their budding homosexuality. Will Dillard, a Midwestern graduate student, spent a summer at the camp as a teenager, and has since tried to erase that experience from his mind. But when a fellow student alerts him that a slasher movie based on the camp is being released, he is forced to confront his troubled history and possible culpability in the death of a fellow camper.

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

November Wrap-Up

November Snapshots

1. Adulting level: maximum. November started with a letter from my health insurance company. They informed me that they are raising the price of my insurance to $417 a month next year. Um . . . What?! No! Not going to happen. That’s hundreds of dollars more than I’m paying now. Do insurance companies realize how many books I could buy with $417 a month? So, I spent most of November in the mystifying world of insurance. It all worked out in the end, but this is the third time I’ve had to buy entirely new insurance since I got kicked off my parents’ plan. Is this what adulthood is? Just constantly buying insurance? I can’t handle it, guys. It’s too boring. Kill me now.

2. I ran out of stuff to read, but it’s okay, I fixed it. You know that goal everybody has of getting their TBR pile down to 0? I actually accomplished that in November. The day after I accomplished it, I acquired 59 books. That’s not an exaggeration. It was a perfect storm of Black Friday sales and a year spent hoarding used bookstore credits. My TBR went from 0 to 59 in one day. I planned on being reasonable about my TBR, but nope. I basically walked into a store and started flinging credits everywhere. “Noble book merchant, I will take all your finest used books.”

My new TBR pile.

3. Tweet more. I read some articles about how to increase your blog traffic, and they said Tweet more! Share your unique thoughts! I tried to Tweet more, but I came to the conclusion that my thoughts are better off staying inside my head. Most of them are . . . profoundly dumb. I apologize to all of humanity.

4. Aversions and the 21st century. If you’re a hardcore stalker of this blog, you may have noticed some intriguing new buttons over in the sidebar <--. One of them is for Instagram. I finally entered the 21st century and got myself an Instagram account! Unfortunately, I don’t think I can post anything on it because I don’t own a phone or any mobile devices. I guess I haven’t gone very far into the 21st century. I am able to look at other people’s accounts, so leave your info in the comments if you want me to follow you.

<-- The other new button is a tip jar (or money mug? It’s supposed to be a coffee cup, but I’m not allowed to drink coffee because it makes me squirrelly, so we’re calling it a tip jar.) You can put money in the mug if you like my blog. I honestly feel awful about asking the Internet for donations, but there are two reasons I got the jar:

Reason 1: I want to do more giveaways on the blog. The tips will be used to fund giveaways.  
Reason 2: I work volunteer and low-pay jobs. My dad says I’ll be broke forever unless I get over my aversion to being paid for my work. If I get tips, I can point to them and say, “See, Dad? I don’t have an aversion! I’m a perfectly functional human person!” Silly dad. He thinks people are supposed to get paid for work.

Books I Read

Health insurance websites don’t count as books, so I didn’t get much reading done in November. I only read 6 books. A few of them were massive, though.

Perfect Little World – Kevin Wilson
The Forest of Hands and Teeth – Carrie Ryan
Marrow Island – Alexis M. Smith
The Odyssey – Homer (reread)
The Secret History – Donna Tartt
A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin

I also made progress on my reading challenges. Click here to see how I've done.

Best Books of November

1. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
2. A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
3. The Forest of Hands and Teeth – Carrie Ryan

Most-Viewed November Reviews

Most-Viewed November Non-Reviews

All The Things!

All The Things! (AKA number of unread books on my TBR shelf) = 58 books.

I'm currently rereading A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab.

What did you do in November?

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review: We Are Unprepared – Meg Little Reilly

We Are Unprepared – Meg Little Reilly

Ash and Pia's move from Brooklyn to the bucolic hills of Vermont was supposed to be a fresh start—a picturesque farmhouse, mindful lifestyle, maybe even children. But just three months in, news breaks of a devastating superstorm expected in the coming months. Fear of the impending disaster divides their tight-knit rural town and exposes the chasms in Ash and Pia's marriage. Ash seeks common ground with those who believe in working together for the common good. Pia teams up with "preppers" who want to go off the grid and war with the rest of the locals over whom to trust and how to protect themselves. Where Isole had once been a town of old farm families, yuppie transplants and beloved rednecks, they divide into paranoid preppers, religious fanatics and government tools.

Review: Hipster preppers of the apocalypse? I was totally excited for that.

Then I read the book. Sadly, We Are Unprepared isn’t about “hipster preppers of the apocalypse.” It’s about . . . I don’t know. Boring, horrible people doing boring, horrible things to each other? That seems about right.

Ash and Pia live in a future where global warming has created superstorms. Months after moving to their dream home in rural Vermont, one of these storms starts moving up the coast of the US. Scientists predict that it will flatten everything in its path, including Ash and Pia’s dream house. The couple disagrees on how to handle the coming storm. Pia becomes a “prepper” and starts a compost heap in their living room. Ash joins the local government and frantically tries to prepare the town for flooding. As the storm approaches, Ash and Pia’s marriage falls apart. They might be able to survive the apocalypse, but can they survive each other?

This book isn’t what I expected. I’m not sure if that’s my fault or the synopsis’s fault. Probably both. I expected the superstorm to be a big part of the story, but it doesn’t show up until the last hundred pages. The majority of the book consists of Ash and Pia arguing about the storm and being horrible to each other.

I don’t mind unlikeable characters if they’re doing something interesting, but I didn’t find the storm preparations very interesting. Ash sits through government meetings. Pia goes way overboard with turning their home into a bunker. Her reactions to the oncoming storm are so extreme that Ash suspects she’s mentally ill. Instead of helping her, he goes out with his friends and meets a new girl. I feel like I spent forever waiting for the superstorm, and by the time it arrived, I was hoping it would kill all the characters. I was rooting for the storm.

The themes are where this book shines. The storm is the result of global warming, which is a relevant topic. The story also makes you think about the best way to face a disaster. Is it better for everybody to take care of themselves, or should we band together and share resources to protect the community? What happens if one selfish person puts the whole community’s safety in jeopardy? This book shows that fear of something can sometimes be more deadly than the thing itself.

I like the variety of reactions that the characters have to the storm. Impending disaster brings out the worst qualities in some people and the best qualities in others. Disasters also attract opportunistic bottom feeders. These people roll into town to sell their products (or their crooked religions) to desperate survivors, and then they roll out before they actually have to help anybody. I think this book realistically shows the range of reactions to a disaster.

There are aspects of this novel that I like, but I mostly feel let down. Maybe that’s my fault. I was expecting a different story from the one I got. If you like books about interpersonal conflicts, then you’ll probably like this novel. If you want to read about a superstorm, you’ll probably be disappointed.