5-7, 7-12, Books, Children, YA (Young Adult)

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

This one goes out to all those parents, teachers, librarians, and kids who loved Wonder by R. J. Palacio and want something similar.  I gobbled it up and loved every second of it.

Title: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus
Author: Dusti Bowling
Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books
Page #: 272
Genre: Middlegrade, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

I made a video review of this one right after finishing it, watching it back several months later I realized that it took me a while to catch my footing while talking about it but if you can stick with my scattered thoughts for about a minute I get there and you can hear why I think this book is going to become an instant classic.

 

I liked it more than I liked Wonder which is blasphemy in some ways and warranted in others.  Definitely one to read to help introduce empathy and acceptance of diversity in kids, also a great way to discuss deformity, disability, and mental health at a young age.  One to pick up next week when it is published.

I look forward to Dusti Bowling’s future books because I’m sure she has a bright career ahead of her if this is any indication.  Well done.

Adult, Books

Lions by Bonnie Nadzam ARC Review

I read this book waaaaay back in February so I’m talking to you guys from the past!  Hello future me!  Hello future you!

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Title: Lions
Author: Bonnie Nadzam
Publisher: Grove Press, Black Cat
Page #: 288
Genre: Literary Fiction

This Book Will be Released on July 5th!

Now because I am writing this review after just having read the book in February something weird is going to be happening.  I have ordered a copy of Bonnie Nadzam’s first novel, Lamb and am planning to read that as well (which spoils a bit of what I’m going to say in this review, tldr; I liked it).  The reason I am saying this is because one book is called Lamb the other is called Lions they have to be connected somehow.  You don’t name things like this unless they are meant to be in some sort of conversation with each other.  There is a chance that by the time this review goes up that I have read and reviewed Lamb… in which case you already know whether or not I was disappointed that there wasn’t any repeating themes or super excited that both books gain deeper meaning when read and compared.  If not, perhaps I will do that soooooon.  SOOOOOOON.

You aren’t here for things that may or may not have happened already, you are here for a review of this book right here!  Like I said, I liked it.  I read it in one sitting despite the fact that is literary fiction.  That isn’t to say this is a light read, its just an engaging one, or at least it was for me.  It does have several trigger words associated with it that I particularly love though so I may be a bit biased (ghost story, mysterious stranger, westerns … yes please!)  It is relatively short being under 300 pages so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to spend a couple hours curled up in my nice warm bed on a snowy February evening (HI JULY HOW ARE YOU? HOT AS BALLS? PROBABLY) and escape into a summery setting.

One of the things I found most enjoyable about this books is that there are these long prosaic descriptions of the setting and everything going around in this tiny little town in Colorado.  However, whenever anyone speaks its this clipped back and forth exchange of a handful of words.  It is as if the people in this town don’t need to say a lot, everything is already known and understood, and what is unknown is left to the imagination or ignored.  For instance, the catalyst to most of the events in this novel, that mysterious stranger walking into town with his dog.  He is mostly ignored even when he stirs up a bit of trouble.

The other thing I think this book did incredibly well was to move around the idea of ghosts and haunting.  One of the character’s father dies within the first couple pages of the novel and his father’s dying wish was for him to continue his life’s work.  Now we are not privy to what that is and neither is anyone else in the town beside the now deceased father and his son just about to step out into the world for the first time.  People speculate that their family has been tasked with taking care of a sick or injured ghost.  The mysterious stranger is believed to be a ghost.  Then of course there is the theme of this dying town with all of the inhabitants moving away to something larger, something better, something bigger creating the illusion of a ghost town because it is so empty.  This theme continues through the book in different ways including the haunting of regret, the haunting of past relationships and even insanity in some cases.  It was fully explored without being too heavy handed.

There was enough mystery involved in several aspects of the story and whenever something got resolved something new sort of sparked up.  There is a lot of secrets in this town and a lot of inferring and gossiping.  There is always something new to try and glean from the sparse words you get or to parse out through the narrators description of this town and its few straggling inhabitants.

If you enjoy books about how our decisions effect us, tales of mystery, tales of young love and regret then this is definitely something you should pick up.  It creates a story through atmosphere and both gives and withholds of information with perfect timing.  This was one of the best books I’ve read so far this year (reminder this is in February I could read something earth shatteringly good two months from now but as of the 22 books I’ve read so far, this was really freakin’ good).

That’s all I have for you guys today!  I hope you enjoyed this review from the past, now back to the present!

Adult, Books

Slow Boat to China and Other Stories by Ng Kim Chew ARC Review

Disclaimer: I requested and received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge Update: 12/40
A Book About a Culture You Are Not Familiar With

Release Date: March 8, 2016

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Title: Slow Boat to China and Other Stories
Author: Ng Kim Chew
Translator: Carlos Rojas
Publisher: Colombia University Press
Page #: 304
Genre: Literary Fiction

Now despite the fact that there are a number of days between when I started this book and when I finished it I read it in only two sitting and I have to say that I recommend spacing these stories out more than I did. This is definitely a collection that needs each story to be taken in its own stride. It deserves having each story read and evaluated of its own merits because they are all thought provoking, beautiful, or haunting in their own way.

Due to the fact that I chose to push through it and read it in a handful of sittings, mostly because I put an imposed deadline on myself and for no other reason than that, I felt like the stories at the beginning were far stronger than those at the end while still constantly taking note of the fact that the stories were delicately woven and built filled with juxtaposed formal language and profanity.

I don’t plan to get into any detail of the stories individually because I honestly think this is a collection that is a must read. I will say that there are stories that involve a reporter searching for an enigmatic and completely unknown author who blew the world away with their writing, a boy eating turtles in the dark of night so that he can collect their shells obsessively to the point of fetishization, and the love between one regal tiger and an old boat long run ashore.

I feel like aside from the writing, the strength of these stories is the way that they seem to weave together seamlessly. That isn’t to say they have a continuing plot but they bring up elements, themes, or structures from the previous stories. The translator did an incredible job of making sure the order was perfect. That is one of the things that makes a good short story collection great, when they are presented in a way that facilitates the stories talking to each other and building off each other.  That is definitely the case here.

I do have to say that there were some elements that appeared so often it began to annoy me slightly, but this is most likely due to the fact that I read them all so quickly. I don’t think this feeling would persist if I reread it and spread them out over time. I do plan to reread this collection as there were many images and themes I found incredibly interesting. Why exactly does falling asleep on an ant hill have so much importance? Is it simply that the author had a traumatic experience as a child or is it something more? I feel like I can only discover this now that I know all of the stories as they are and how they stack up next to each other.

Reading this collection was like stepping into the middle of a tropical rubber forest in Malaysia and sometimes stepping out the streets of various countries in the south of Asia, places I have never been and had heard very little about but now want to visit and explore and learn about. It let me in on the tension and animosity between the Malay people and those of Chinese decent but Malaysian born. It discussed the changing times where subsistence farmers worry about sending their kids to college as is expected in the rapidly industrializing world that has just started to brush their lives, many discuss what literature means and what it can do, some focus on identity or personal gratification, but all of them have something to say and it was a wonderful experience to dip into. I would highly recommend you pick this up when it is released in March!

That’s all I have for you guys today folks!  I hope you have a lovely weekend and pick up this book when it is available to you!

Adult, Books

When We Were Alive by C. J. Fisher ARC Review

I was lucky enough to receive this beautiful thing from the publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge Update: 17/40
A Book Published in 2016

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Title: When We Were Alive
Author: C. J. Fisher
Publisher: Legend Press
Page #: 272
Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction

This book came out March 1st so you can go pick up a copy today!

I’m not going to be talking about the plot of this novel because I feel like it is important to experience it yourself, I will however link to Chelsea’s video wherein she talks about the book and that will give you an idea about what goes on in this book.

I have been watching Chelsea on YouTube for years and some of you may take this review as a fans review of the book. To which I have to say, you shouldn’t. This isn’t a book pitched at a YouTube audience. This isn’t a book meant for Teens to get their parents to shill out as much money as possible to make a quick buck on an already existing audience. I was ecstatic to receive this book, but I waited before starting in order to calm down and read it with a level head because I knew this was A BOOK, and not a piece of propaganda. I was petrified I would have to bash it online because I wanted to like it so much. Luckily, Chelsea came through and did what I knew she could, write a fucking awesome book.

Now, the reason I know this book is awesome? It almost made me cry. Now you might be wondering why I say its awesome when it didn’t succeed at making me cry. I cry any time someone says something remotely sad in movies. It is much harder to make me cry while reading. There is a level of intimacy at watching someone say something extremely heart breaking and vulnerable versus reading it in a detached third person perspective. The distance from the people and their problems usually helps me to keep a level head. Yet I was moved to tearing up while reading this book.

If you thought a book titled when we were alive featuring three empty chairs on the cover would be a happy book, I’m sorry to inform you that you may want to work on your understanding of imagery. I knew it was going to be sad but I wasn’t prepared to feel so much for these characters. We get to see all of them go through so much and then have even more go to shit. Usually when I read a book like this I feel upset by the end, like I was unfulfilled but she was able to write this in such a way that I was forlorn but not left wanting. It seemed real. However tragic and outlandish, it wasn’t beyond the scope of reality and that is what was truly scary about it.

The book has a cyclical nature spiraling in and out, returning to certain themes like love, magic, and death even to the point of repeating certain lines throughout. Different characters in different time lines all seem to ruminate on similar ideas. It is really easy to make a structure like this seem repetitive or heavy handed but I don’t think that this was. For me, I felt like this was another sign of the beauty in this books writing. While things repeat and show up time and time again it seems inevitable. It seems like a mixture of fate or perhaps a curse put upon them years ago. The things these characters ruminate on, I think, are truly at the root of the human experience. You can’t be alive without having spent time wondering about all of these things.

The last thing I wanted to mention is that there was one particular tragedy that I did not see coming. During most of the scenes where something horrible was going to happen you can feel it. She was able to build anxiety in you without it being too much. You are waiting for something bad to happen, and then it doesn’t or it does and you nod and move along. There was one particular tragedy that was alluded to throughout the book that completely blindsided me despite happening to the only character we hear from in the first person and there being little hints and clues along the way. This is brilliant writing. Not only do I think this relates completely to the tragedy I am speaking of but also to the fact that even after the entire book I was still hoping for something better for these characters.

All in all, I am so glad that I loved this book but also really want to implore you to pick it up. This isn’t a happy book but it is a really great book. This is a book that will have you hooked from the very beginning. This is a book about the strengths and weaknesses of living and loving. This is a book about how to keep going when everything goes tits up. I am going to buying myself a physical edition of this book for my shelves because it was so poignant for me. Don’t take this as a fan of the author telling you how great the author is, take this as a fan of the book telling you how worth while the book is, because its worth all the time in the world.

Books, Musings

Weekly Wrap Up/What We Read 2/21/16

Another week, another weekly wrap up.  Welcome to the wrap up folks, here we talk about everything that happened in the #betwixtthebooks family and the books that we read which may or may not make appearances on the blogs (sneak peeks folks).

Sunday: Last Week’s Wrap Up
Monday: Michaela’s Post on what to do while listening to audio books
            Gretchen’s From the Notebook: School Book Haul
Tuesday: Betwixt the Books Discuss! DNFing Books
Wednesday: Michaela’s Post on Marvel vs. DC 
Thursday: Michaela’s Poetry Review of Your Invitation to an Honest Breakfast
            Gretchen’s Thesis Thursday on Young Adult Book Cover Trends
Friday: Michaela’s Review of The Last Man
             Gretchen’s review of Lions in the Garden

Adult, Books

Uncommon Bodies Anthology ARC Review

I received this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review!

This book is already published if you want to read it by all means pick up a copy!

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Title: Uncommon Bodies
Author: Anthology (full list of authors on Goodreads)
Publisher: Fighting Monkey Press
Page #: 300
Genre: Short Story Collection

I spent a long time trying to figure out how I would review this collection. It is difficult enough to review a collection of short stories written by one author, but when there are so many people writing so many pieces the challenge becomes ever greater. I feel as if that is the beauty of this anthology though. There are so many different stories in it. Some of them I was confused by, others I was awed. Some terrified me and others had me sighing at the adorable protagonist and their love interest. All of these things are held in one book and I was dumbfounded as to how I could sum it all up, and perhaps I can’t.

I’m not going to go through all 20 stories, it would take me forever and I doubt anyone would want to read that so I will do my best to discuss what I think was done really well here, and what I think could have been improved upon.

As far as the collection as a whole goes, I definitely think that it had a great breadth of pieces. I also appreciated how many of the pieces were incredibly inclusive not only because of its seamless discussion of common ailment, disfigurements, and disabilities along side mythical or magical creatures, but its inclusion of different sexualities. I actually thought the relation of physical “deformity” with non-hetero-normative sexuality identification incredibly interesting and if I could go into more detail without spoiling you I would. It is perhaps something I will write a paper on at some point in my life.

I am not sure, however, whether or not I liked the order in which these stories were curated. The breadth of the tones and genres in here is astounding for sure but it was a little difficult for me to go from a romantic story to a horror story to a poem to something else entirely. While I feel like it does allow the book to keep the stories separate from each other it is also a little jarring.

If you want to know some of my favorite stories in the bunch then I would say that the opening and closing stories, We is We by Michael Harris Cohen and Scars: First Session by Jordanne Fuller were incredibly poignant. I think they book end this collection incredibly well. The first was moving in its portrayal of the duality of opinions in conjoined twins. Whether or not it is better to be a spectacle behind the glass or experience the real world. The latter was an incredible story about over coming years of mental and physical abuse. I also want to shout out Undead Cyborg Girl by Kim Wells for its ability to make me laugh and awe on cue.

Stories that I found uncomfortable were mainly only uncomfortable because they were not my preferred style of story. All The Devils by Keira Michelle Telford read a bit like Jack the Ripper fanfiction to me, not only because of its erotic overtones, but because the writing wasn’t pushed as far as I thought some of the other stories were, and Reserved by SM Johnson was equally uncomfortable but only because of the over-sexualization to the point of fetishization of disability. Now I don’t have a disability and I cannot say whether these stories accurately or inaccurately portray such fetishization because of this, but it made me uncomfortable and I would put that forward as my only grievance.

The stories were interesting enough to keep me engaged. I was able to read two or three a day and finish it within a week. If you have an interest in magical realism there is plenty of that in here for you, if you have an interest in connections between perceived deformity and assumed deformity I think this also has some interesting comments.

Overall I really enjoyed the collection and would recommend it to you all if you haven’t already to look into it!