Review: Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance

Hey Readers,

I went into Ruth Emmie Lang’s Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance not knowing very much about it and I have to say I’m kind of happy I went into it that way. I knew that it was about a boy who was raised by wolves who seems to have some magical abilities and that it was a mix of fantasy and magical realism and with that, I was sold.

“Don’t leave anything you can’t come back to.”

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance is the story of Weylyn Grey told through the perspectives of some of the people in his life who love him. Each chapter rotates between different perspectives however the novel is also split into books, and each of those books only focuses on two of the characters. I feel like that’s a convoluted way of saying what I’m trying to say, but I felt that while there were a lot of different perspectives in the novel, the fact that we were only focusing on two at a time helped keep it from getting overwhelming, and helped the story flow.

IMG_5279

This novel has a classic “once upon a time” feel to it. It reads like it is a modern day fairy tale with the different relationships that Weylyn Grey has, not only with humans but the animals that become his family, like Merlin the magical pig.  Lang writes Weylyn’s story full of vivid and beautiful descriptions and brimming with hope. It made me cry all of the happy tears.

“Actually, it’s kind of a love story.”

I will say that the only reason I didn’t give this book a full 5 stars was that I wish that we had gotten some more depth when it came to the magic that Weylyn had.

My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

– Hannah

Advertisements

Review: Once Upon A River

ONCE UPON A RIVER
BY DIANE SETTERFIELD
http://onceuponariverbook.com/
Atria Books Hardcover | 480 pages | ISBN: 9780743298070| December 4, 2018 | $28.00
eBook: 480 pages | ISBN: 9781501190230| $13.99

 

Hey Readers,

I was lucky to receive an advanced reader copy of Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield this month from Atria Books in exchange for an honest review.

FullSizeRender 3

Once Upon A River by Diane Setterfield is fantasy, mythology, folklore, and an homage to storytelling all wrapped up in one novel. It is the story of three missing children, and when one is returned under mysterious circumstances, three families are left wanting to claim her as their own. I had never read any of Setterfield’s works before, I had no idea what I was getting into but with words like atmospheric, magical, and fairy tales, being used to describe it I knew that I had to read it.

There are a lot of characters in this book, and they all are interwoven in some ways. Some are there for you to dislike, others like Robert Armstrong and Rita whom you can’t help but love. I also loved how the river felt like it was in itself its own character. Not only did the river guide the story along but it almost seems to react to what is happening in the story, ebbing and flowing with the changes and twist and turns of the story.

One of my favorite aspects of the story was its quiet discussion about grief. Without going too much into it for fear of spoiling anything, all of a sudden we are talking about grief, and the hard ways in which we do and don’t process grief, and I was shocked that I had not noticed it until that point.

At first, I thought this was a book that I was going to fly through, and I think I made an error for the first half of the book in not slowing down as I was reading it. As I started getting towards the middle of the book, I slowed down significantly, I took my time with the prose and the language and let the words wash over me. This book has a river at its center, and just like a river, the turns and courses that it might take and the changing currents, I never knew where this book was taking me. This is a slow burning novel, more character than plot driven, it’s a novel that is worth slowing down and letting the story guide you.

Overall, I wish I had gone into the novel with the awareness that it was a slow burn and not a book that one should devour and binge. Skimming will be your worst enemy when it comes to Once Upon A River, you may realize that you’ve missed something important tucked away in those beautiful descriptions. This is a novel that I would recommend if you’re in the mood for allowing yourself to be swept away in the magic of the river that is and is not the river Thames and if you love rich and traditional storytelling.

And now, dear reader, the story is over. It is time for you to cross the bridge once more and return to the world that you came from. This river which is and is not the river Thames, must continue flowing without you. You have haunted here long enough, and besides, you surely have rivers of your own to attend to.

 

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

– Hannah

  

Grab your copy of ONCE UPON A RIVER:
Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Osmegh
Barnes & Noble: https://bit.ly/2NLDxDy
Books-a-Million: https://bit.ly/2pVMjFI
iBooks: https://apple.co/2P3BQpX
Indiebound: https://bit.ly/2PCzriX
Kobo: https://bit.ly/2P3QFIV
Google: https://goo.gl/iQtXgG
Nook: https://bit.ly/2CkjJp3

Review: A Little Life

Hey Readers,

A Little Life is a modern day classic that everyone should read. It is an immersive and dark novel set in the present day about four friends who meet at college and have now moved to New York to find success. Throughout the reading of this novel, as I hurtled towards the devastating ending of A Little Life I texted a friend saying that I was in shock and that I honestly didn’t know how I was supposed to read something else after that.

IMG_2530

While A Little Life was harrowing and traumatic, it is one of my favorite books I have ever read. To be timely, if I was going to sing “thank u, next” about anything it would be A Little Life. It taught me patience, it taught me love, and boy did it ever teach me pain. We follow four friends: Jude, Willem, JB, and Malcolm as they find success in New York. We focus on Jude and the unspoken trauma that has caused him to have difficulty walking, to self-harm, and live a life full of secrets. These friendships, while they are tested as each of them struggles with betrayal, addiction, and pride, are held together by Willem, JB, and Malcolm’s complete dedication to Jude.

The true, lifelong friendships that were in this novel were the love story that I needed but never knew I wanted. I’ve read a lot of love stories about a lot of different kinds of relationships, family relationships, romantic relationships, I have never read a story about friendships as deep as the friendships Willem, Malcolm, JB, and Jude share.

“Why wasn’t friendship as good as a relationship? Why wasn’t it even better? It was two people who remained together, day after day, bound not by sex or physical attraction or money or children or property, but only by the shared agreement to keep going, the mutual dedication to a union that could never be codified. Friendship was witnessing another’s slow drip of miseries, and long bouts of boredom, and occasional triumphs. It was a feeling honored by the privilege of getting to be present for another person’s most dismal moments, and knowing that you could be dismal around him in return.”

With A Little Life, there is the need to set aside your disbelief when it comes to some of the fantastical elements of the story. For example, each character finds extreme success, JB in the art world, Malcolm as an architect, Willem as an actor, and Jude as a lawyer. The idea of all four of the friends finding success in the ways that these characters do is unlikely in reality. There is also no mention of any significant world events taking place which helps keep this novel in the present day for eternity with nothing to separate it from any other time. The lack of world events like 9/11 or the War on Terrorism, is poignant since all of the themes that are present in this novel are present in real life, in the past, and will be in the future. There is also not a steady movement of time, months come and go without being mentioned, we read about things that happen only in a few days, and then we read about years as they fly by. It reads like life does, time flying by us without us being able to stop it.

A Little Life contains scenes of extreme violence and trauma. I am one who doesn’t like trigger warnings generally, I think that in our day to day life we don’t get trigger warnings and so I tend not to use them in my reading life. I do this because I don’t want to stay away from a book because of its trigger warnings. I think A Little Life is one of those books that I would have stayed away from if I had read all of the trigger warnings. And while I can understand to some extent the want and need to stay away from topics that can be difficult, to stay away from A Little Life is taking away an experience from yourself that is worth having. It is gut-wrenching, emotional, and hard to read, Jude suffers from unspeakable traumas that he will never recover from, however, the story of his life, and the people who are a part of it, is a beautiful one.

IMG_4463

I’ll be honest, I read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara in October and I needed this past month to really reflect and think about the novel. A Little Life is the most difficult book I have ever read. It is “too much” in all aspects of that term. Everything in this novel is exaggerated, love, pain, success, trauma, etc – however, because everything is exaggerated the story itself doesn’t feel exaggerated. I cried for hours after finishing this book. It left me feeling raw and empty, but I am truly grateful for having read it. A Little Life will be a novel that will stick with me for a very, very long time.

 

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

– Hannah

Review: The Stormlight Archive

Hey Readers,

So here’s the deal, I say that this is going to be a review, and I’m going to try and make it one, but I can’t promise it won’t also be a little fan-girlish okay? Okay, now that we have that out of the way, lets dig in!

The Stormlight Archive

I started this series in late July and I could not put it down until I finished in October, and I loved it from the minute that I started it. The Stormlight Archive was my first series from Brandon Sanderson and I promise you it won’t be the last. This is an amazing epic adult fantasy series that has its own magic system, intense and developed political dynamics, complete worlds, and characters that grow throughout each book. On top of all that, it’s told from multiple points of view. I know, it’s overwhelming, But that’s what I’m here for, let’s talk about each of those things.

The Magical System: I don’t want to go too much into detail about the magic system in The Stormlight Archive, because I feel like the discovery of exactly how the magic system works is done as a plot device, and is one of the exciting things about reading the books. But I will say that the magic system is something completely different than I have read in a fantasy novel, and I have a bit of experience with those. (It’s my favorite genre.) It is an elemental based magic system, but not just in the traditional sense of water, air, earth, and fire. It goes deeper then that and it is genius. Also – when you start The Way of Kings and you start reading about spren and you’re like “what is he talking about? Spren?” don’t give up, I promise – it’s worth it.

IMG_8027.JPG

The Political System: For all of you Game of Thrones fans out there – while you’re waiting for the next book to come out… come to the light side and read The Way of Kings and I promise you it will be better (I said what I said). The Stormlight Archive series doesn’t have the gritty, gruesome to be gruesome, feel that Game of Thrones has, however, what it does have is death, blood, war, and vengeance done in a way that isn’t overwhelming and without what feels sometimes like gratuitous violence that will bog you down. Throughout the three current novels in The Stormlight Archives we learn more and more about the political intrigue, and because it’s told through multiple viewpoints, we get to learn how each of our characters play a part in the political sphere, and how their choices affect the world around them. I know some people don’t love the nitty gritty details of a worlds political system, but with these novels, the politics never feel overwhelming or that they are taking over the narrative. Instead, it blends in and is helpful to the telling of the story and overall feel of how it unfolds.

The World Building: I know I said I have only read one series by Brandon Sanderson but Sanderson is a master at world-building. I mean, he spent ten years researching and developing the world of Roshar for this series, and it paid off. I honestly don’t know of a series where I felt like I got so much beautiful information about the world. We are set in the world of Roshar and Sanderson gives us the most intricate descriptions of everything in this world. Everything from how the weather works, the creatures, history, mythology, religion, magic, the races, the different cultures, and more. Pretty much anything you can think of, Sanderson describes it. Because of this attention to detail, you really believe in this world.

IMG_8234.JPG

The Character Development: I have so much to say about all of the characters we learned about in The Stormlight Archive and I can’t say anything without getting a little spoiler-y so I won’t, (you’re welcome) but honestly these characters were EVERYTHING. In each of the books, our focus is on one particular character’s backstory, which we learn about through flashbacks that give us more depth into each character. However, don’t let that fool you, we see multiple characters perspectives in each of the books. The book’s parts, interludes, and chapters are broken up and let you know which character’s perspective you’re viewing the story through at any given moment and that is helpful. Sanderson writes the best characters, characters that drive you crazy, that make you laugh, make you cry for, basically, you’re going to be feeling all the feelings. I can’t tell you how many times I scream-ranted or literally yelled at the books, or the people around me about what was happening in the story at that moment (I’m a very passionate reader). Sanderson will capture your heart with these characters and then rip it out, and it will be worth every minute.

Audiobook Version: I also jumped between reading Oathbringer and listening to the audiobook on Audible. The narrators were Michael Kramer and Kate Reading and they were amazing. Definitely worth the listen if you have long commutes or you want to read the book but carrying around 1000+ pages is difficult!

IMG_8845.JPG

Overall Thoughts: 

These books have been my favorite reads of the year, and honestly most likely my favorite fantasy series I have ever read. I want and need everyone to read them. I have heard that some people found it slow going in the beginning when first learning about the different things that happen, but for me, I was hooked right from the Prologue. So if you find that you were finding it slow, give it about 100 pages (in a 1000 page book it’s not that much, trust me), and I’m sure it will pick up from there.

My favorite part of these books was the way that Sanderson built up the tension throughout them, between the politics, war, and emotions of the characters and watching all of their stories converge. Not just from The Way of Kings into Words of Radiance into Oathbringer, because throughout the three books the build-up was intense and the outcome was AMAZING, but also just in the individual books themselves. I always felt like there was so much tension and that we didn’t have enough book left to wrap everything up and then Sanderson did it, every time, with a BANG. Each ending left me desperate to get my hands on the next book, and the wait for the fourth one might just kill me (you may think this is me being dramatic, I disagree).

This series is for anyone who loves fantasy, or anyone who is willing and ready to give an epic fantasy a try, The Stormlight Archives is the perfect series full of everything you could ever want in a fantasy novel, it will grab your attention and run away with it. Read it, and then come find me here or on Instagram and tell me all your thoughts. I can’t wait to hear them.

Life before death.

Strength before weakness.

Journey before Destination.

My Ratings:

The Way of Kings: 5/5 Stars

Words of Radiance: 5/5 Stars

Oathbringer: 5/5 Stars

– Hannah

Review: The Butterfly Garden

Hey Readers,

When I first saw The Butterfly Garden as I was scrolling through my instagram feed, I had heard absolutely nothing about it. After I did a little digging and read the plot summary I was instantly intrigued. When I first started the book, I was hooked by the first page and just could not put it down. I ended up reading the entire book in one session.

IMG_2608.jpg

The Butterfly Garden is about a man who has kidnapped young women, tattooed intricate butterflies upon their backs, and then holds them hostage in this garden that is attached to his secluded mansion. The Gardner, as the girls call him, is obsessed with capturing and preserving what he sees as his beautiful specimens. The book starts with the girls having just been rescued, with one of them Maya being interviewed by the detectives. As she is interviewed, we learn what happened to her and the other girls in the Garden and we’re left wondering what else she could be hiding.

This book is dark, twisted and graphic and definitely not for everyone. I mean, it’s about a man who kidnaps women and then turns them into butterflies, if you didn’t expect a book like that to be at least a little dark and twisted, I’m not really sure what to tell you. However you do need to suspend disbelief for this story, because most of these characters are over the top. You keep waiting for someone to do something and nobody does, and while that ends up helping you turn the pages and feel like your on the edge of your seat, it seems unrealistic just how many people do absolutely nothing about the circumstances. Granted, who knows what I would do if all of a sudden I was trapped in a garden having a butterfly tattooed on my back. But that isn’t just about what the victims don’t do, because honestly they don’t *have* to do anything. It’s the other supporting characters who keep being faced with choices that I feel continue to make choices that aren’t very realistic.

“Some people stay broken. Some pick up the pieces and put them back together with all the sharp edges showing.” Dot Hutchison; The Butterfly Garden

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this book was that it wasn’t like all of the other serial killer books out there. Instead of watching the detective try and find the serial killer to save the victims, the detectives have already saved them, they’ve already found the killer and now they need to piece together all of the evidence to figure out what exactly had happened and why. This structure, and the way it flashed back from Maya’s time in the garden to present day when she is being interviewed by the FBI was one of the best parts of the book.

Dot Hutchison’s writing was visceral. The way that she described the harrowing events that these girls had gone through, and of Maya’s struggles prior to being kidnapped was gripping. There is a lot going on in this novel that is hard to get through, awful scenes of abuse and torture, and reveals that you weren’t prepared for. She describes all of these things without the shock value associated with a classic “slasher” thriller. Hutchison stays away from these kind of scares instead using her writing to genuinely upset the reader as they move towards the conclusion of the story.

The one element that really didn’t work for me however was the conclusion. I felt that the twist at the end of the book, and the wrap up of the story in general, felt rushed and overly dramatic. For a book that relied on the drama to keep readers enthralled with the story and to keep them so engrossed, the rushed drama of the end just felt messy and not completely thought through.

IMG_2598.jpg

Overall, I really enjoyed The Butterfly Garden and I plan on reading the next two books in The Collector series: The Roses of May and The Summer Children soon.

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

– Hannah

Review: VOX

*This review does contain a spoiler towards the end, so please keep that in mind when reading!*

One thing we have to thank this administration for is the endless ideas for feminist dystopian novels. I’ve read and loved a few of them this year already; The Power by Naomi Alderman and Red Clocks by Leni Zumas. And we can not forget Margaret Atwood’s classic, The Handmaids Tale, which has been a terrifying dystopia since it was published in 1985 and when it was turned into a TV show on Hulu in 2017. Christina Dalcher doesn’t hold back in her world in which women have only 100 words to speak a day in her novel, Vox.

We follow Jean, a thriving cognitive linguist who was on the brink of discovering a cure for individuals who were left without the ability to speak after a stroke, who has now been regulated to being a stay at home wife and mother. After the election of a totalitarian leader to the presidency, and the Pure Movement sweeps the nation, there are new laws which prevent women from holding jobs, reading, writing, and speaking. Also, don’t think about non-verbal communication, there are camera’s everywhere to make sure you don’t do that either.

FullSizeRender.jpg

The exposition of Vox is where Christina Dalcher thrived. We start the novel when the president is already in charge, laws have already been made and women have already had their speech limited. Woman from babies six months and up have been fitted with bracelets that prevent them from speaking more than 100 words a day, to be electrocuted if they go over their limit. Yet, through Jean’s reflection we see how the country got to the state that it was in. We see so many groups of people: the feminists who rallied and fought, the white women like our narrator, who sat by and did nothing, the LGBTQ+ community who have been either “converted” or imprisoned, and the men who and those who don’t agree with the politics yet are still thriving. The exposition is full of reflection of the world and how America got to where it is. Not just in the novel, but also where we are as a country today. For example; while Donald Trump wasn’t written by name, the allusion between the president in the novel and himself is very clear.

However, once we get to the action it loses track of all of the ideas and speculation that was set up by the exposition and becomes a fast paced thriller. While it does grip the reader and leaves one on the edge of their seat, the real grit of the novel fails to hold up under all of the pressure of the action. When Dalcher has set up such a intense novel with her political and social climate it is a shame the novel doesn’t keep that commentary up and instead sinks into a action movie where the plausibility doesn’t hold up with convenient, lucky and unbelievable resolutions that leave a less than feminist taste in ones mouth.

I was disappointed by this novel. I had a lot of high hopes and after hearing it compared to The Handmaid’s Tale I knew that I had to have it. I wanted more of and was expecting more of the social and political commentary and less of the face paced thriller in which our feminist novel has all of the really hard work completed by men and in which the saving of the world is done by men. In a novel that is supposed to be talking about feminism and empowerment for women, I think it really lost is message when *spoiler alert* a man is the one who ultimately saves the day and rescues our damsel in distress.

FullSizeRender copy.jpg

With that said, would I recommend this book? Absolutely. I think even with the fast paced thriller and unrealistic resolutions this book has a lot of things to unpack that really should be discussed. One of those things is the idea of the white women in America who do not do anything, who sit by and let things happen and don’t get angry until we are losing our rights. Jean is the perfect example of this, at one point when her roommate Jacko, a lesbian feminist, is upset about the currently climate, Jean says “You’re getting hysterical about it.” to which Jacko responds, “Well, someone needs to be hysterical around here.” While I think there was so much that could have been done with this novel, the message is clear and is important. We need to do more, especially those of us who have privileges that others don’t, before we don’t have the ability to anymore. We need to all be speaking up so that our feminist dystopian novels can stay novels, and not continue to be our reality.

 

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

– Hannah

Review: Where the Crawdads Sing

Hey readers,

I was lucky to receive a copy of Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens last month from Penguin Random House and Putnam Books in exchange for an honest review, and I can honestly say that this book is definitely on the short list for my top 10 books of the year. It’s that good.

IMG_0388

Delia Owens has written a beautiful first novel that is a murder mystery, coming of age story and a study of nature all in one. She tells the story of Kya Clark, a young woman raised by nature and Chase Andrews, a local man who is found murdered. Kya, known to the locals as “Marsh Girl” is immediately a suspect in the murder. Jumping back in time to 1952 when at age six, Kya’s beloved mother walks down the lane and disappears without looking back, we journey through alternating chapters between Kya’s past and present to learn how she got to where she is now.

“The sun, warm as a blanket, wrapped Kya’s shoulders, coaxing her deeper into the marsh. Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightning too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land that caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seemed away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.”

Delia Owen’s writing is lush and descriptive as she tells you the story of an abandoned six year old growing up in the marsh lands of North Carolina. She tells a magical tale as she reflects back through Kya’s own fascination with birds, insects, shifting tides and the light of the swamp. Through Kya’s eyes as she experiences the swamp and all it has to offer her, the swamp itself becomes a vivid character all on its own. Her thoughtful, poetic prose evokes emotion and tells a story that will make the North Carolina swamp lands and Kya Clark stick with readers for a long time after finishing the book.

I have a soft spot in my heart for strong female heroines and Delia Clark doesn’t let me down with Kya Clark. After her mother abandons her at age six, and then each of her four siblings leave her in turn, she is left to be with her drunk and abusive father all alone. She learns to dart between sunbeams and shadows to survive her fathers moods, and though for awhile they share a couple weeks of bliss for our young Kya, at age ten he slips back into alcoholism and abandons her as well. Her heart-breaking formative years, forces her to learn to survive on her own and miraculously after all this abandonment and time alone she allows herself to open up to people, not just the two young men who find themselves drawn to her, but to a couple who take her under their wing and treat Kya as much like a daughter as she will allow. Her resiliency, strength, and determination has definitely found her a spot among the list of my favorite female characters.

IMG_1303

Overall this novel had everything I want in a novel: hope and redemption, love and loss, loneliness and belonging, and strength and determination. I hope that everyone will read it and find themselves where the crawdads sing.

 

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

– Hannah