Saturday, February 17, 2018

The “Vaguely Dystopian” 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 these books might not be dystopias, but they all seem to have some dystopian elements.

The “Vaguely Dystopian” Book Haul 

Grief is the Thing with Feathers – Max Porter

In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother's sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness. 
In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow—antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This self-described sentimental bird is attracted to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. As weeks turn to months and physical pain of loss gives way to memories, this little unit of three begin to heal.

We Are the Ants – Shaun David Hutchinson

Henry knows that his mom is struggling to keep the family together, and coping by chain-smoking cigarettes. He knows that his older brother is a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend. He knows that he is slowly losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s. And he knows that his boyfriend committed suicide last year. 
What Henry doesn’t know is why the aliens chose to abduct him when he was thirteen, and he doesn’t know why they continue to steal him from his bed and take him aboard their ship. He doesn’t know why the world is going to end or why the aliens have offered him the opportunity to avert the impending disaster by pressing a big red button. 
But they have. And they’ve only given him 144 days to make up his mind. 
The question is whether Henry thinks the world is worth saving. That is, until he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a secret past who forces Henry to question his beliefs, his place in the universe, and whether any of it really matters. But before Henry can save the world, he’s got to figure out how to save himself, and the aliens haven’t given him a button for that.

Good Morning, Midnight – Lily Brooks-Dalton

Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone. 
At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.

The Passion of Dolssa – Julie Berry

Dolssa is a young gentlewoman with uncanny gifts, on the run from an obsessed friar determined to burn her as a heretic for the passion she refuses to tame. 
Botille is a wily and charismatic peasant, a matchmaker running a tavern with her two sisters in a tiny seaside town. 
The year is 1241; the place, Provensa, what we now call Provence, France—a land still reeling from the bloody crusades waged there by the Catholic Church and its northern French armies. 
When the matchmaker finds the mystic near death by a riverside, Botille takes Dolssa in and discovers the girl’s extraordinary healing power. But as the vengeful Friar Lucien hunts down his heretic, the two girls find themselves putting an entire village at the mercy of murderers.

The Last One – Alexandra Oliva

It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it human-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show’s producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game. 
Alone and disoriented, Zoo is heavy with doubt regarding the life—and husband—she left behind, but she refuses to quit. Staggering countless miles across unfamiliar territory, Zoo must summon all her survival skills—and learn new ones as she goes. 
But as her emotional and physical reserves dwindle, she grasps that the real world might have been altered in terrifying ways—and her ability to parse the charade will be either her triumph or her undoing.

The Wolf Road – Beth Lewis

Everything Elka knows of the world she learned from the man she calls Trapper, the solitary hunter who took her under his wing when she was just seven years old. 
But when Elka sees the Wanted poster in town, her simple existence is shattered. Her Trapper–Kreagar Hallet–is wanted for murder. Even worse, Magistrate Lyon is hot on his trail, and she wants to talk to Elka. 
Elka flees into the vast wilderness, determined to find her true parents. But Lyon is never far behind–and she’s not the only one following Elka’s every move. There will be a reckoning, one that will push friendships to the limit and force Elka to confront the dark memories of her past.

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review: This Monstrous Thing – Mackenzi Lee

This Monstrous Thing – Mackenzi Lee

In 1818 Geneva, men built with clockwork parts live hidden away from society, cared for only by illegal mechanics called Shadow Boys. Two years ago, Shadow Boy Alasdair Finch’s life shattered to bits. 
His brother, Oliver—dead. 
His sweetheart, Mary—gone. 
His chance to break free of Geneva—lost. 
Heart-broken and desperate, Alasdair does the unthinkable: He brings Oliver back from the dead. 
But putting back together a broken life is more difficult than mending bones and adding clockwork pieces. Oliver returns more monster than man, and Alasdair’s horror further damages the already troubled relationship. 
Then comes the publication of Frankenstein and the city intensifies its search for Shadow Boys, aiming to discover the real life doctor and his monster. Alasdair finds refuge with his idol, the brilliant Dr. Geisler, who may offer him a way to escape the dangerous present and his guilt-ridden past, but at a horrible price only Oliver can pay.

Review: Guys, I love this book so much! My first five-star read of 2018. It’s not a mind-blowing, brilliant piece of literature, but that doesn’t matter because I basically inhaled this book. It’s compulsively readable. It kept me awake for most of the night because I had to know how it ended.

Alasdair is a Shadow Boy, a mechanic who builds prosthetic limbs. In 1800s Europe, this is a dangerous profession because people see the fusing of flesh and machine as disgusting and unholy. Alasdair’s family is forced to move from place to place to avoid prosecution. In one of those places, Alasdair meets Dr. Geisler, a man who is trying to do more with clockwork than just build limbs. The doctor is trying to bring corpses back to life. Alasdair doesn’t believe this is possible until his brother, Oliver, dies. Alasdair and his somewhat-girlfriend, Mary Shelley, use Dr. Geisler’s techniques to resurrect Oliver. But, Oliver comes back more monster than human. Then Mary betrays Alasdair by writing a book—Frankenstein—about their experiences. Now Alasdair really has some problems . . .

“You took my life and Oliver's life and made them into this book. You made us into monsters, both of us.” – This Monstrous Thing

I love every character in this novel. They’re all anti-heroes with complicated—and often selfish—motives. You can’t fully trust any of them. Even Alasdair (the narrator) keeps information from the reader. I can understand why. The dude has made some unfortunate decisions in his life, but he’s not so evil that I hated him. For me, he’s the perfect blend of good intentions and bad outcomes.

One of Alasdair’s flaws is that he sees what he wants to see in people instead of what’s actually there. This flaw comes back to bite him several times throughout the novel. I think it’s a relatable flaw. We all want to believe the best about people, but sometimes you’ve got to admit that certain people in your life are jerks.

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

Since the characters are anti-heroes, the plot is very twisty. Especially at the end. I finished this book in the middle of the night because I couldn’t put it down until I learned which characters survive the ending.

Originally, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read this novel because I don’t like retellings, and I think Frankenstein is a boring story. I shouldn’t have hesitated. This book isn’t a retelling because Mary Shelley is a character in This Monstrous Thing. She’s not a minor character, either. She interacts with Alasdair and has a big role in the plot. I liked seeing a real person’s life fictionalized in a novel. It’s unusual.

(Also, unpopular opinion: Mackenzi Lee is a better writer than Mary Shelley. I studied Frankenstein in school and loathed every second of it.)

“Perhaps we all said the right things at the wrong time; perhaps we couldn't help it. Perhaps words became too heavy to haul, and the moment we let them loose was always the wrong one, but they needed to be free.” – This Monstrous Thing

Okay, I have to come up with something negative about This Monstrous Thing so it doesn’t just sound like I’m fangirling. Um . . . some parts of it are slightly obvious? There were times when I saw the answer to a problem long before Alasdair figured it out. Maybe the story also could have used more Oliver? Oliver is the resurrected monster, but we barely see him.

Those are tiny complaints. This book is a fun, escapist read with complicated characters and a cool steampunk world.

TL;DR: Why are you still looking at this review? You should be buying yourself a copy of This Monstrous Thing.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Review: Ararat – Christopher Golden

Ararat – Christopher Golden

When a newly engaged couple climbs Mount Ararat in Turkey, an avalanche forces them to seek shelter inside a massive cave uncovered by the snow fall. The cave is actually an ancient, buried ship that many quickly come to believe is really Noah’s Ark. When a team of scholars, archaeologists, and filmmakers make it inside the ark for the first time, they discover an elaborate coffin in its recesses. The artifact tempts their professional curiosity; so they break it open. Inside, they find an ugly, misshapen cadaver—not the holy man that they expected, a hideous creature with horns. A massive blizzard blows in, trapping them in that cave thousands of meters up the side of a remote mountain . . . but they are not alone.

Review: I had such high expectations for this horror story. It sounds amazing, but when I finished it, I was very underwhelmed. Everything in this novel just seems so . . . average.

The first sentence of the synopsis is a lie. The newly engaged couple isn’t trapped in a cave by an avalanche. The avalanche exposes an ancient ship on the side of Mount Ararat, and the couple race up the mountain to be the first ones to explore it. Inside the ship, they find a cadaver with horns. As an archology team tries to excavate the remote site, the cadaver causes tension between the team members. Is the creature something evil? Does it prove that the world’s religions are real? Soon, the arguments over the creature turn deadly.

My main frustration with this novel is that the characters are archeologists, but they don’t discover anything. What are all these highly-educated people doing for weeks inside this cave? What else is in there besides the corpses? We don’t get any backstory about the ship, or the mummies, or why they’re on a mountain. The characters argue about whether this is Noah’s Ark, but that’s pretty much it. Whenever the author gets close to talking about the mysteries of the boat, he backs off and refocuses on the far-less-interesting personality conflicts between the archeologists. I think the story of the boat would’ve been more compelling than the angry-archeologists-murder-each-other plot.

Speaking of the plot, it’s too predictable for my tastes. I was really hoping this wouldn’t become a demon possession story because that would’ve been obvious. Guess what? It became a demon possession story.

I did like how the demon moves from person to person. The creature has an unusual way of jumping around. Still, I wondered how the demon got into the first person ever. The demon has a specific way of getting inside people, and I don’t understand how it originally found someone that met its standards. Once it’s inside someone, it can use that person to turn other people into its ideal body, but that still doesn’t explain how it got into the first person. I was hoping that question would be answered, but it wasn’t.

I’m not a big fan of the characters or writing, either. The characters are flat, and the writing feels amateurish. By the end of the book, I didn’t care about any of the characters. I just kind of shrugged when they brutally slaughtered each other.

So, I didn’t love this novel. It’s fairly fast-paced, which is good, and the religious mystery is intriguing. It just didn’t live up to my expectations.

TL;DR: Great premise, but it isn’t executed very well.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The Sunday Post #135

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 Ararat by Christopher Golden.
  • On Wednesday I review This Monstrous Thing by Mackenzi Lee.
  • On Saturday there’s a book haul.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished Dinosaurs on Other Planets: Stories by Danielle McLaughlin and Still Points North by Leigh Newman. Then I read Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins. Right now, I’m reading The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr and The Butcher’s Hook by Janet Ellis.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. It’s Girl Scout cookie time!
  2. I started applying for new jobs. Cross your fingers for me.
  3. Did you see Twitter’s reaction to Lady Doritos? It’s hilarious. I’ve never had an issue with knocking back a whole bag of regular Doritos, but no one would ever describe me as “ladylike.”
  4. I’m 1 book ahead on my Goodreads challenge. Shove it, Goodreads. You can no longer tell me I’m failing at life.
  5. It didn’t snow on me while I was running. It is snowing right now, though.

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

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The “Give Me More Favorites” Book Haul

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

These are books by authors whose work I like and need in my life.

The “Give Me More Favorites” Book Haul

Blood Red, Snow White – Marcus Sedgwick

When writer Arthur Ransome leaves his home in England and moves to Russia to work as a journalist, it is with little idea of the violent revolution about to erupt. Unwittingly, he finds himself at its center, tapped by the British to report back on the Bolsheviks even as he becomes dangerously romantically entangled with revolutionary leader Trotsky’s personal secretary. Both sides seek to use Arthur for their own purposes . . . and, as he struggles to find autonomy, both sides grow to suspect him of being a double agent. Arthur wants only to elope far from the conflict with his beloved. But when he attempts to extract himself and Evgenia from the complicated politics and politicians that he fears will lead them both to their deaths, the decisions he faces are the most dangerous and difficult of his life.

Britt-Marie Was Here – Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She is not one to judge others—no matter how ill-mannered, unkempt, or morally suspect they might be. It’s just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention. But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams, and a warmer heart than anyone around her realizes.

A Clash of Kings – George R.R. Martin

Time is out of joint. The summer of peace and plenty, ten years long, is drawing to a close, and the harsh, chill winter approaches like an angry beast. Two great leaders—Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon—who held sway over an age of enforced peace are dead, victims of royal treachery. Now, from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns, as pretenders to the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms prepare to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war.

The Arsonist – Stephanie Oakes

Molly Mavity is not a normal teenage girl. For one thing, her father is a convicted murderer, and his execution date is fast approaching. For another, Molly refuses to believe that her mother is dead, and she waits for the day when they’ll be reunited . . . despite all evidence that this will never happen. 
Pepper Yusef is not your average teenage boy. A Kuwaiti immigrant with epilepsy, serious girl problems, and the most useless seizure dog in existence, he has to write a series of essays over the summer . . . or fail out of school. 
And Ava Dreyman—the brave and beautiful East German resistance fighter whose murder at seventeen led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall—is unlike anyone you’ve met before. 
When Molly gets a package leading her to Pepper, they’re tasked with solving a decades-old mystery: find out who killed Ava, back in 1989. Using Ava’s diary for clues, Molly and Pepper realize there’s more to her life—and death—than meets the eye. Someone is lying to them. And someone out there is guiding them along, desperate for answers.

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

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Discussion: A Brief List Of Oddities Discovered Inside Used Books

If you get most of your books from libraries or used bookstores, you’ve probably experienced the joy (misfortune?) of discovering objects that previous readers have left inside the books. I thought I’d do a countdown of the oddest things I’ve found between the pages of used books.

A Brief List Of Oddities Discovered Inside Used Books

8. Candy wrappers. Books and candy just seem to go together, right? I’ve found quite a few candy wrappers inside books. I’m still eagerly awaiting the day I find candy that hasn’t already been eaten. That’ll be the best day ever.

7. Nature. Remember when you were a kid and would put flowers between the pages of books to press them flat? Protip: If you’re using a library book to flatten nature, remember to remove your nature before returning the book.

6. A receipt from 1987. I’m guessing that this book hadn’t been read in a while? It was a receipt from an auto parts store.

5. Desiccated bug corpses. I’ve found a flat-fly and a flat-spider. Yes, I did scream and throw the books across the room. I guess dead bugs are better than live ones, right?

4. A Get Well Soon card. The card said something like, I hope this book makes your hospital stay easier. Um . . . What? Why do I own this book now?! What happened to the previous owner? I really hope the hospital person didn’t die while reading the book.

3. Playing cards. Is anybody missing about 1/3 of a deck of playing cards? I’m guessing that the previous reader was using cards to mark certain pages. While I was reading, cards kept falling out of the book. It was like a wildly unimpressive magic trick.

2. Pirate homework. This one technically wasn’t in the book. It was written in the margins. The kid who owned my copy of Treasure Island before me must have read it for school. She wrote essay questions on the title page, and she annotated the first few chapters. Then she just started drawing pirates in the margins. She must have gotten as bored with the story as I did.

1. Tom Cruise. Well, I didn’t find him, exactly. I found an artsy black-and-white picture of him. He was really young in the photo. It must have been taken before he joined a cult, got weird, and bounced on Oprah’s couch. I don’t know who owned this book before I did, so if any of my blog readers have misplaced Tom Cruise, I have him here. Somewhere. He’s probably lurking inside a book.

Have you found anything odd inside a book?