I devoured this book. I can't even place my finger on why it gripped me so much, but it did. I could barely drag myself away to fulfill responsibiliti...moreI devoured this book. I can't even place my finger on why it gripped me so much, but it did. I could barely drag myself away to fulfill responsibilities, like cooking and eating supper. The main character is so smart and broken and brave, and her prospects so bleak, that I couldn't imagine a happy ending for her, but desperately wanted it nonetheless. And then there's the mystery: what happened to Judith's friend Lottie? Why would someone kidnap Judith for two years, then cut out half her tongue?
All the way through, I felt vaguely uneasy, expecting to be let down by the ending. Without spoiling anything, I'll just say that I definitely wasn't. The story was rapidly-paced, the world was well-built, and the ending was a satisfying conclusion that drew all the pieces together.
The unusual writing style (the book is written in choppy pieces, to Judith's longtime love, referring to him in second person) might not work for everyone, but it did for me.
I must confess: I am a bit obsessed with dystopian and post-apocalyptic YA fiction. For me, as with most people, it probably started with The Hunger G...moreI must confess: I am a bit obsessed with dystopian and post-apocalyptic YA fiction. For me, as with most people, it probably started with The Hunger Games, and grew from there. Soon after reading The Hunger Games, I found Carrie Ryan’s haunting, claustrophobic The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and I was hooked. Though those two series are very different, they share a kind of raw desperation that I found beautiful, and I’ve been searching for more of it ever since.
I started “Empty” with high hopes. The cover is well-done, and the premise sounded timely in a compelling way. I think we’re all aware that our connected modern lives are powered by a non-renewable resource, and I was excited to find a YA book addressing what might happen once that resource starts running out.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed. I tried to like the book, but its flaws were numerous and glaring enough to keep me from getting absorbed in the story. The writing seems stilted and amateurish, and the characters frequently spout awkward, paragraph-long info-dumps. So many anvils are dropped that I’m surprised I finished the book without a concussion. I love books in which the message is a organic part of the story; in “Empty” the message has been shoe-horned in as frequently and loudly as possible.
Then there were the characters, all too often flat and cliché. The worst offender was the stereotypical cheerleader, whose “character growth” moment was deciding it was okay to wear glasses instead of contacts. (Not even because she had come to understand that appearance didn’t matter much in a world gripped by crisis—more because she realized she still looked pretty in glasses.) A few of the second-tier characters had the potential to be interesting, but they got sadly little attention.
To my total lack of surprise, the ending was incongruous, bordering on deus ex machina. (view spoiler)[The main female character finds a random abandoned house in the woods, complete with garden and self-sustaining energy source. Hallelujah, we’re saved! (hide spoiler)]
I still think the premise of the book is good, but the execution leaves much to be desired. My advice: read Paolo Bacigalupi’s excellent Ship Breaker instead.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I was excited to read this book; the premise sounded intriguingly different from the norm. And at first, I liked it. That was before the book began to...moreI was excited to read this book; the premise sounded intriguingly different from the norm. And at first, I liked it. That was before the book began to descend into madness. Disgusting, disgusting madness.
The writing is vivid. This is not a compliment. Read this book if you would like to spend extensive amounts of time inside the head of a disturbed, hallucinating, middle-aged rapist fantasizing about what he's going to do to a teenage girl. Plus: graphic, almost torture-porn descriptions of his vicious abuse of his dog! And, as an aside, a lovely little anecdote about a young male dog raping an older male dog so brutally that the older dog dies!
If none of this sounds like it would bother you, then feel free to read this book. The writing quality is good, and the plot actually is original and interesting (though the end is perhaps a bit too tidy). I just couldn't get past the revolting details. I don't consider myself an especially fragile little snowflake, but my brain felt dirty for several days after reading this book. You have been warned.(less)
I wanted to love this book. I really, really did, in part because the cover was lovely. I usually have an incredible soft spot for stories about famil...moreI wanted to love this book. I really, really did, in part because the cover was lovely. I usually have an incredible soft spot for stories about families who protect and care for each other. The prose is very beautiful, and the Vermont landscape is lovingly described. However... there were a couple of things about this story that drove me completely crazy by the end.
1) Everything that could possibly go wrong, does. I do mean EVERYTHING. Every time the sisters take initiative and come up with an idea, it fails catastrophically within pages. To the point that I almost started to wonder if the moral of the story is "Don't ever take initiative! YOU WILL DIE!" Every idea these two little girls have just leads to more pain and struggle. It was depressing and eventually felt annoying and a bit contrived.
2) This section is spoilery: (view spoiler)[The girls' great journey, the one that causes so much pain and hardship, that ends with them badly injured and one of them almost dying? It is for NOTHING. Absolutely pointless. The journey, quest if you will, that takes up almost the entire book... It avails them nothing. At the end, they're right where they started, just injured and traumatized. There's a pretty sentiment tacked on about how "love is the greatest magic", and it's a nice thought, but for me it wasn't enough to make up for the pointlessness of most of the book. (hide spoiler)]
In conclusion: The author definitely has potential, but I'd skip this one.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I really liked this book. It was a well-paced, quick read. It definitely resonated with me, because I was a teenager who struggled with suicidal ideat...moreI really liked this book. It was a well-paced, quick read. It definitely resonated with me, because I was a teenager who struggled with suicidal ideation for years.
Reading through other reviews, I am stunned by the number of people commenting and saying Hannah's reasons for committing suicide were "trivial." You are all missing the point.
Hannah, as portrayed, is severely depressed.
She does not see the world the same way mentally healthy people do. Events do not look the same to her or feel the same to her as they do to you. I know, because I was a depressed teenager who almost committed suicide over nothing. Seriously. Nothing. I was homeschooled; I never got bullied. The world just looked huge and overwhelming and terrifying to me because I was not a mentally healthy person. It had very little to do with what was going on in the outside world, and almost everything to do with what was going on inside my head.
Even so, there were triggering events. I overheard my grandmother complaining that I was irresponsible because I'd forgotten to do a chore. To a mentally healthy person's ears, that's "Great, she's annoyed, I'd better remember next time." To my depressed ears, it meant that I was worthless and would never, ever be good enough, and that I had lost the love and respect of everyone that mattered to me. I barely managed to talk myself out of suicide that day.
Now I'm in my 20s. I'm not depressed anymore. I've finished college. I'm happy and well-adjusted. But it still chills me to the bone when I see people talking ignorantly and dismissively about a character with mental illness, and failing to see how mental illnesses change the way you perceive and react to the world.
The fact that people commit suicide for reasons that aren't "good enough" does not for a second make it okay to dismiss the reality of their pain. We should all be looking for warning signs, all the time. Even in people who haven't experienced severe trauma. Because that isn't how mental illness works; it doesn't require severe trauma. We should all remember that we can't really know the mental state of the people we're interacting with, and as much as is in our power, avoid cruel acts--even ones that seem small to us--which might serve as the last straw.
Sometimes, there aren't any reasons at all, just illness and a broken mind. That doesn't make any suicidal person's pain any less real, or their life any less valuable. Just because they don't have "valid reasons" doesn't make them not worth fighting for.(less)
The first time I read FORTUNATELY, THE MILK, I was on a road trip with my sister's family. Her kids (9-year-old twin girls, 5-year-old boy) were antsy...moreThe first time I read FORTUNATELY, THE MILK, I was on a road trip with my sister's family. Her kids (9-year-old twin girls, 5-year-old boy) were antsy and bored, and begged to be read to. I had a new book on my Kindle that I thought they might enjoy, though I myself had not read it yet.
I read this book aloud to a carful of people who all ended up listening, whether they'd intended to or not. By the end, everyone was laughing--me, the kids, the kids' parents, and our cousin who had come along for the trip.
As soon as I finished the final words, the kids begged for it to be read again.
So that's how I wound up reading a book aloud, twice in a row, on a car trip, and having more fun than should probably be legal.
FORTUNATELY, THE MILK is fun, light-hearted, full of absurd British humor, and deeply sweet--all about a father's love for his children (and flair for creative storytelling). Read it. I don't care if you're grown. Read it anyway.(less)
This is a deeply enjoyable little story: not complex, but lovely and magical. My initial impression was that it would be a dark take on a traditional...moreThis is a deeply enjoyable little story: not complex, but lovely and magical. My initial impression was that it would be a dark take on a traditional fairy tale. Instead, it turned out to be sweetness hidden beneath a thin layer of darkness, which is just fine with me. The characters are compelling, though drawn with simple strokes: I especially loved the deep, quiet, fierce love between the Woodcutter and his wife of twenty years.
Is the story without flaws? Not at all. The pacing is somewhat uneven, and it sometimes felt as though the author were cramming in as many fairy tale characters and scenarios as possible. I had to roll my eyes and smile fondly at some of the fairy tale conventions that came into play (true love! at first sight! conquers all!). But for me, the likeable characters and simple, beautiful prose more than made up for the shortcomings. I am excited to see where the author will go from here.(less)
This book made me sad, because I really liked Reena. She was well-developed and kind of awesome. Except when she was around Sawyer. As Reena's best fr...moreThis book made me sad, because I really liked Reena. She was well-developed and kind of awesome. Except when she was around Sawyer. As Reena's best friend Shelby said: Whenever Sawyer was around, Reena forgot how responsible and smart she was. I think the title of this book should be "How to Have a Destructive, Dysfunctional Relationship". Has a ring to it, right?
And Sawyer was a jerk. Just an epic a-hole. I wanted to kick him in the crotch. Hard.
Very disappointing story from a writer who obviously has a lot of skill.(less)
One of my all-time favorites, "Till We Have Faces" is unique among Lewis's works. It is a dark, complex retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, foc...moreOne of my all-time favorites, "Till We Have Faces" is unique among Lewis's works. It is a dark, complex retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, focusing not on the beautiful Psyche, but rather on her ugly older sister Orual.
Lewis creates a beautifully realized world, a gritty land of myth in which threads of truth are woven into the tapestry of paganism. Like his world-building, Lewis's characters have great depth, all being capable of both good and evil. Orual in particular is one of my favorite characters ever: ugly, strong, loving, selfish, courageous... A warrior and a leader, in defiance of the physical unattractiveness that caused her to be deemed "worthless" as a child. She makes big mistakes, and she does great things, and in the end her life is defined by love in ways she didn't even realize. Anyone who doubts Lewis's ability to write well-rounded female characters should meet Orual.
When pitching this book to others, as I often do, I tell them not to be intimidated by its depth and complexity: yes, it is different from Lewis's other works, and slowly paced in places, but it is a beautiful tale and well worth discovering.(less)
**spoiler alert** I did not like this book. I did not like it at all. That is disappointing, because I was very excited about reading it. (I am a pret...more**spoiler alert** I did not like this book. I did not like it at all. That is disappointing, because I was very excited about reading it. (I am a pretty-cover junkie, and just LOOK at that cover!)
1) Love triangle (please God, make authors just stop already) in which both of the main character's options are controlling jerks. One of them (Jeb, her childhood friend) is also rather bland and undercharacterized; the other (Morpheus, the shape-changing moth creature) is outright evil, with rapey overtones. I cannot articulate the depths of my hatred for the latter character, so I will not even try. Most of his actions are indefensible to a point that I cannot imagine how anyone, including Alyssa, could ever care for him at all.
2) Shallow female characters. We have: bland, swept along by others' decisions, largely lacking in agency (Alyssa); locked up in a mental institution (Alyssa's mother); jealous (Gossamer); heartbroken and imprisoned (Ivory Queen); evil and manipulative (Red Queen); beautiful bitchy prep (Taelor).
3) It wasn't all bad. The twisted take on Wonderland had its moments of beautiful, sparkling prose, and some of the creatures were interesting. I was fairly indifferent on the plot; neither memorable nor terrible, in my opinion. But the characters were a deadly hybrid of bland and utterly unlikeable, and that killed the story for me.(less)
I've long been a fan of Sarah Beth Durst. Her stories cover a wide variety of genres, and are always worth reading. This book was quite unlike anythin...moreI've long been a fan of Sarah Beth Durst. Her stories cover a wide variety of genres, and are always worth reading. This book was quite unlike anything else I'd ever encountered, and while it isn't my favorite of Durst's, it's still interesting.
My favorite character in "Vessel" was the desert. It is beautifully described, and despite the difficulty of living in such a harsh place, I came to understand the fierce love that Liyana and the other desert people had for their home. I also loved the mythical creatures that inhabited the desert, particularly the sand wolves and sky serpents.
The human and deity characters were more or less interesting as well, though they will not be counnted among my all-time favorites. Liyana is mostly practical and competent, with moments of passion and emotion. I am a practical person, and female characters whose main characteristic is "practicality" are few and far between in fiction, so I enjoyed seeing the world of "Vessel" through her eyes.
My main problem with this story--the thing that kept me from giving it 5 stars--is the pacing and plot development. I felt that the pacing was uneven; so much of the story was spent just traveling from tribe to tribe, without a clear endgame. I kept waiting for the "real plot" to start, and then realized I was more than halfway through the book. The ending seemed abrupt and too easily resolved, and not all my questions were answered. (view spoiler)[(So what happens with the drought now? You know, the big problem that was killing the desert people AND the people of the empire?) (hide spoiler)]
The Empire was underdeveloped, as well. I came away from the book with only a vague, amorphous idea of what it was even supposed to be. (A big empire that's suffering from drought, basically. Very little idea about its people or culture or customs. I would have loved to see that better developed, and by extension, the character of the Emperor. He is a very major character by the end, but still I felt that I barely knew him at all.)
Bottom line for me: This book is worth reading. It has some interesting characters, among which the desert itself is the most fascinating. The quandary about the vessels and the deities that "kill" them to inhabit their bodies provokes thought about the nature of sacrifice. Pacing is uneven and the plot seemed a bit muddled and meandering, but I would still recommend giving this one a chance. 3.5 stars.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Children in the Night is a story set in total darkness. The Askirit people live in an underground world that has no sun, moon, or stars, and is too da...moreChildren in the Night is a story set in total darkness. The Askirit people live in an underground world that has no sun, moon, or stars, and is too damp for fire. The only light they have ever seen is the light of sparks and luminous sea creatures. Within this world, we follow two major characters: Yosha, a tormented boy who is caught between his desire to seek light and his desire to avenge his father's death; and Asel, a strong-minded young female warrior who challenges her people's isolationism and fear of the "barbarians" who live outside their lands.
This is a tale that spans many years, and takes place against an intricately constructed background. Harold Myra spent ten years on this story, and the detail of the world he created makes it clear why. It cannot be easy to write a story in which every character is functionally blind, but Myra succeeds in creating a setting that is detailed and vivid enough to be engaging. The book starts off a bit slow, but once I got into it, I was quickly caught up in the details, the characters, and the overarching story. Yosha and Asel fascinated me, as did the trio of orphan children Asel rescued from the "barbarian" lands--and, of course, Auret, the battered, disabled boy who changes every life he touches.
Children in the Night is a Christian allegory, but I never felt beaten over the head by it, and I found it enjoyable as a stand-alone story. I read it first as a young teenager, and I strongly identified with the tale of two young people seeking the truth, challenging what they had been told, and fighting for their freedom and that of their people.(less)
**spoiler alert** I liked "Feed" a lot, even though it had some problems (such as the repetition mentioned by many other reviewers, and extremely one-...more**spoiler alert** I liked "Feed" a lot, even though it had some problems (such as the repetition mentioned by many other reviewers, and extremely one-dimensional villains), and even though Mira Grant is coming from a different political perspective than I am. The way it ended was completely unexpected and, in my opinion, took it to the next level, despite the flaws.
Then came book two. And I liked it, mostly. Shaun was a complete asshole, to everyone, but I understood that, for the same reason I understood Katniss Everdeen's behavior in "Mockingjay." Trauma does things to people, and it usually isn't pretty. But the way that book ended... well, to say I'm disappointed that Grant undid the one truly gutsy thing she'd accomplished in this series is a bit of an understatement.
Still, I figured I'd give "Blackout" a try. And what I found was:
-The plot, always thin, has devolved into something my four-year-old nephew would find nonsensical. -Not only did Grant undo George's death, she did it for no reason that could ever in a million years actually make sense. -And, for me, the crowning moment of disgust and disappointment... INCEST! Which we are expected to accept as normal and even sweet! I suppose some people are fine with it since George and Shaun aren't biologically related, but... no. They were raised as brother and sister, they still present themselves and refer to each other as brother and sister.
I find myself now wishing I had stopped after "Feed," that I had never known the rest of the series existed.(less)
One of my favorite books of all time. Moseley's prose is gorgeous and evocative (the landscape is a character in itself), and there are no stereotypes...moreOne of my favorite books of all time. Moseley's prose is gorgeous and evocative (the landscape is a character in itself), and there are no stereotypes here, no caricatures; the characters are complex and interesting. The main ones are Miranda, widow, mother of 6, struggling to escape from her oppressive, legalistic, cult-like church; and Jack, divorced college professor, a man of both faith and reason, who is equal parts angry and sad to see the life in which Miranda and her children are trapped. Both characters are intelligent, capable of great kindess and love, and like most people, struggling with their own kinds of damage.
This book isn't just exceptionally well-written. (I'm normally not a fan of romance, but the one in this book was so well-done that I didn't mind it one bit.) This book is important. It addresses a world that needs to be better known: the world of Quiverfull fundamentalist homeschooling separatists. Now, Moseley is not implying that all homeschoolers are like this. Obviously not; she herself homeschooled her 3 children. But she is shining a light on a homeschooling subculture that exists, and is a prison to everyone within it. I know. I have a number of friends who grew up in it. Some are still struggling years later.
The Quiverfull movement at its most extreme gives all women, regardless of temperament or gifting or ability, exactly one role in life: to have as many babies as possible, homeschool them all, cook and clean and practice extreme submission. Men are the ultimate, unquestionable authority. (Which many of them feel trapped into, as well--imagine being a sensitive, indecisive guy in a system like this!) Children are harshly forced into unqualified, unquestioning obedience, rather than being taught how to think for themselves and make good choices. Performance and conformity are valued far above grace and courage.
Moseley does a tremendous job of writing a vivid story set against the backdrop of that world, without infodumps and without reducing the characters to bland, powerless stereotypes. Miranda and her children are all so believable that I felt like I knew them, by the end; and despite being trapped in such a stifling world, none of them are without agency. Miranda in particular is done with being controlled; when Jack tries to give her orders, though they come from the opposite of the Quiverfull mentality, she lets him know that her life will no longer be run by men. She will be making her own decisions. She is discovering grace and freedom, the way we all must: not at anyone else's behest, but between herself and God.
I will be leaping to buy any further books by this author.(less)
Really enjoyed this one. Fast-paced, well-edited, gloriously creepy. (And on a shallow note: GORGEOUS cover.) The book has a lot of action, but there...moreReally enjoyed this one. Fast-paced, well-edited, gloriously creepy. (And on a shallow note: GORGEOUS cover.) The book has a lot of action, but there is enough time spent on character development to allow readers to connect with the protagonists. The characters, and their interactions with each other, rang true to me; for example, though Abe and Anne obviously care about one another, there is no forced sudden romance.
Great quick read: nothing incredibly dense or mind-bending, just a fun story with intriguing characters and sufficient body horror to make you squirm for days after you've finished the book.
And now that I've lavished the book with praise, I'm going to address the one thing that drove me nuts:
A town of 30,000 people is not a tiny town. It's not even particularly small.
I grew up in the country and the closest town of any size was about 15,000 people. It has a movie theater, grocery store, Wal-Mart Supercenter, two hardware stores, two auto parts stores, five or six motels, one nice hotel with actual suites, and about fifteen restaurants. A town twice that size would not be a "small town" with just a run-down diner and one cheap motel. For that you want a population more like 800 or 1,000.
Small detail that probably wouldn't bother most people at all, but for me it was a glaring case of Did Not Do the Research.(less)
I was fourteen when I found this book hiding on the shelves of my small-town library. My mother had had a psychotic break when I was six weeks old, wa...moreI was fourteen when I found this book hiding on the shelves of my small-town library. My mother had had a psychotic break when I was six weeks old, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and institutionalized. For as long as I could remember, I had been tiptoeing around the gaping hole in my life. I knew hardly anyone else in the same situation.
This is the book that told me I wasn't alone. In beautiful, wrenching, spare poetry, Sones paints a picture of a child's life, lived in the shadow of a mentally ill loved one. Her anger, confusion, grief, love, and resentment bleed onto the page, as vividly as I remember from my own childhood. This is the book that told me it was okay to feel all those things at once.
**spoiler alert** I hated this book. Hated hated hated. Yes, there was cheesiness, and the characters were not terribly well-drawn, but that wouldn't...more**spoiler alert** I hated this book. Hated hated hated. Yes, there was cheesiness, and the characters were not terribly well-drawn, but that wouldn't have garnered a one-star review for me if not for the ending. I haven't read all the other reviews--there are many--but among those I have read, almost no one has mentioned the thing that bothered me the most about this story.
Keturah gives up everything she's ever wanted--all her dreams, all her plans, all her aspirations--to be with emo, dark-cloak-wearing Lord Death. The story presents this as noble on her part, as right, as the only good decision.
Lord Death gives up nothing for Keturah.
If I ever have daughters, this is not what I want their fairy tales to tell them.
I'm not surprised to see that this book has stellar reviews and that it has won multiple awards. This kind of story seems to be wildly popular and to...moreI'm not surprised to see that this book has stellar reviews and that it has won multiple awards. This kind of story seems to be wildly popular and to get great acclaim.
Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the story at all. It was relentlessly dark and depressing (to the point that it sometimes felt contrived), with a side order of confusing. It didn't help that I strongly disagreed with some of the moral and philosophical opinions expressed (especially in the monster's stories). This is one of those unfortunate cases where a book is relatively well-written, but just did not work for me as an individual reader.(less)
Jumbled mess of a fairy tale retelling, in which Sleeping Beauty is inexplicably a cruel sociopath. I think we are meant to care about her. Somehow. T...moreJumbled mess of a fairy tale retelling, in which Sleeping Beauty is inexplicably a cruel sociopath. I think we are meant to care about her. Somehow. Though she tortures small animals for fun.
There is also an incomprehensible backstory about her aunts' dead brother who was gay, or under a spell, or both maybe? (I felt sad for him, but he was given very little character development.)
What there isn't, sadly, are many sympathetic characters, or a plot that makes any sense, or a comprehensible ending. Seriously, I still have no idea what happened.(less)
Could not get into this one. There were too many points of view, too many characters (many of them poorly developed), and too little explanation for w...moreCould not get into this one. There were too many points of view, too many characters (many of them poorly developed), and too little explanation for why anything was happening. It was very much like a horror movie: poor world-building, short on plot, lots of pointless gore. Horror movies aren't my thing, so I could barely bring myself to finish this jumble of a book.(less)