The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly

17185496by Stephanie Oakes
YA Contemporary
5 of 5 stars
Debut novel – June 9, 2015

I never expected to give a debut novel five stars, but this book blew me away! This is the type of story I’ve only encountered on-screen (think “Silence of the Lambs” or “True Story”) but I loved watching it unfold on the page. It interweaves the old folk tale The Girl with No Hands/The Handless Maiden with a modern twist.

Minnow escaped her cult for good the night the entire Community burned to the ground. The night her only outside friend, Jude, was killed. The night the Prophet was silenced forever. The detectives want to know what really happened, but Minnow isn’t talking.

What makes Minnow such a fascinating character is her strength in the midst of ignorance. Not only is she dealing with the absence of her hands, she is confronting the destruction of her entire world and all of her beliefs. She knows the Prophet was a liar, but she has nothing to fill the gaps with if she rejects the cult teachings. Her journey to knowledge of the world and of herself manages to be both heart-breaking and hopeful.

This story is gruesome and haunting and definitely worth reading! Minnow’s story is unlike anything I’ve read, but I’ll do my best with recommendations.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website, here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan – Yes, it’s a jump to zombies, but the small cult of Sisters sheltering Mary from the outside world is similar and this is an interesting read. See my review here.
  • Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis – Maren struggles to learn about her past and what is in store for her future as someone who enjoys the taste of human flesh. Maren is so much more than her condition, and her quest to find her place in the world is engrossing. See my review here.
  • A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan – Althoug Rose isn’t physically deformed, her long exposure to statis and lack of knowledge about her world gives her a similar struggle to Minnow. Her emotional journey is different but just as strong.
  • Wink Poppy Midnight by April Genevieve Tucholke – Three points of view (hero, liar, villain) tell you a creepy tale from a small mountain town. See my review here.

The Little Prince

157993by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Children’s Lit
5 of 5 stars

I am one of the few (it would seem) who didn’t grow up reading this book. The funny thing is, I remember seeing it at many of my friends’ houses, not with their books, but always in a “coffee table book” context with other large books my 8-year-old self dubbed “boring.” The cartoon cover confused me, but I decided it was a ploy to lure grownups into reading a Boring Book and resolved to ignore it. Yes–I probably spent more time thinking about this book than the average person who read it. And yes, it strikes me now that this kind of thinking sort of allies with the tone of the story.

All that aside, I finally borrowed it from the library, read it in one night, and of course, I loved it! How could you not? A pilot crashes his plane in the desert, and spends his days discussing surprisingly poignant truths with a little prince from another planet. The language was perfect, the tone was perfect, and best of all, everything the little prince learned about Earth was perfect. The satire is completely on point, and since I read the translated English version (alas, I don’t know French), this was especially pleasing. That’s part of how you know it’s telling the truth–these observations haven’t changed for nearly a hundred years. Anyway, it’s a short book, well worth reading, and I’m probably going to buy it so I can revisit it at least once a year.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, The Little Prince is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website, here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie – The quintessential story about not growing up, this makes a fine companion read to The Little Prince with a similar narrative style and equally moving truths about life. It’s so much more than a Disney cartoon. See my review here.
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl – Another story pitting a child’s intellect against grownups, featuring a little girl with a terrible home life who finds solace in books and her elementary school teacher Miss Honey. Also a social commentary on education and parenting, if you don’t get too distracted by the crazy school pranks.
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster – A rambling adventure of wordplay and smart remarks. I didn’t read this until I was older but I remember absolutely loving it.
  • The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss – This just happens to be my favorite Dr. Seuss book. Each story involves learning about racism, envy, materialism, capitalism, stubbornness, and fear, and it’s all worth remembering later in life as well. If you only vaguely remember it as a kid, or never read it, check it out.
  • The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo – Again, a children’s story I didn’t come across until much later, but so cute and so good! The story of a brave mouse fighting evil and injustice for the sake of the Princess Pea is humorous and touching, and has cute pictures to boot, so now you have no excuse not to grab it.

Made You Up

17661416by Francesca Zappia
YA Contemporary
3 of 5 stars
Debut Novel – May 19, 2015

First of all, let me just say this book was really enjoyable and I read it in 24 hours. It’s interesting and quirky and cute and if you like YA at all, you’ll probably like it. But–and this is kind of a big but–I’m pretty sure zero medical research went into this book. Like….none. At all. Why is that a big deal? Because our main character and narrator, Alexandra, suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. I’m honestly torn on my rating because as great as it is to depict mental health issues in YA, there’s basically no point if you aren’t going to be accurate.

Alex is charming, stubborn, and constantly fighting the knowledge that anything she sees or hears at a given time might not be real. The prologue’s story about the lobsters is one of the cutest things I have ever read–seriously, ever. You’ll probably like spending time in her head, but it shouldn’t be taken as an actual schizophrenic person’s perspective. Little things like the incorrect use of the word “delusion” bothered me (especially since specific vocabulary is a theme of the book) but I could let it go for the sake of the story. Things like characters requiring no recovery time after a concussion bothered me. Alex’s parents REALLY bothered me! But I wanted to see what happened next, and I liked Alex, I wanted to stick with her. As it turns out, the last hundred pages become a convoluted mess of complex issues and “resolutions” that makes this seem much more like a typical YA story and less like a bold step into deeper waters. I get the feeling that not only was research non-existent, but the author might not even know someone with a therapist of any kind. Putting a big bow on everything at the end (and I don’t use that expression lightly) damaged what little credibility remained at the end.

Ultimately, these issues kept this book firmly in the “fun” camp and took it out of the “meaningful” “emotional” “informative” camps. I’m interested to see what this author does next–she has a strong voice and talent, but she needs a little more precision if she’s going to continue in this vein.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Made You Up is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website, here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick – I’ve heard this is a more accurate portrayal of mental illness, and compared with Made You Up I would have to agree. This is a relatively short novel about Pat and his quest to become the perfect man so that God will restore his estranged wife Nikki to him. His neighbor Tiffany has her own issues, but it takes him awhile to realize they might be good friends. The writing is great, both book and movie are excellent.
  • Mosquitoland by David Arnold – Mim is not okay–she has moved hundreds of miles away from her mother to live with her father and new stepfamily. But her mother isn’t well, and Mim decides to take a solo road trip to visit her. She is not putting off dealing with her own mental health issues. See my review here.
  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma – This doesn’t deal with mental health issues but it does have an unreliable narrator and a similar sense of unreality. See my review here.
  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson – A dark and disturbing portrayal of Lia’s struggle with anorexia and related issues following her best friend’s death. See my review here.
  • When We Collided by Emery Lord – A funny and emotional story about Vivi and Jonah, who use each other in different ways to forget their troubles, until their problems become too big to ignore. See my review here.

Never Let Me Go

18515951by Kazuo Ishiguro
Science Fiction
4 of 5 stars

This has been on my “should read” list for a few years (probably since the movie came out, honestly) and I finally picked it up for a book club read. I’m so glad I did, because the writing is beautiful and I’d forgotten enough of the plot to appreciate the few twists that Kathy H. narrates. This is the kind of science fiction I tend to prefer – our world but with a few key differences that twist society.

Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth grow up at Hailsham, an isolated and exclusive English boarding school. At 31, Kathy looks back on their friendships over the years and why the guardians of the school stressed how special they were. Her gradual revelations regarding their status as clones and organ donors are haunting because they are so matter-of-fact. Kathy is perceptive and practical, and her portrayal of their gradual acceptance is wistful without begging for pity. Much of the strength came from lack of specifics as well. We don’t know what four donations the donors are expected to make, what begins their donation period, or how far apart they are. We don’t know how they get around in “normal” life as they learn to be carers and prepare for their donations.

The questions Kathy leaves us with go beyond ethics regarding cloning and organ donation. She asks us whether they were better off being sheltered from their fates, or if they should have been told from the beginning. Was it worth giving them an education, a sense of culture, or should they be treated as property, kept in ignorance? Why give them a sense of self-worth that the public doesn’t have for them?

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Never Let Me Go is available on Goodreads and on Powell’s store website, here. Powell’s has several locations in Oregon, and is one of the largest independent bookstores in the country. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – At first glance this is probably an odd recommendation to make. However, the similar simplistic narration and themes are the connecting points for me. This novel deals with the exploitation of children, gradually revealed secrets, and the feelings of the children as they realize their position as pawns. See my review here.
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – This deals with creating a perfect society rather than healthcare, but the themes of genetic manipulation, control of information, freedom, and human rights is in keeping with the questions asked in Never Let Me Go.
  • The Time Machine by H.G. Wells – A short novel that is credited as the birth of science fiction as a genre. The Time Traveler relates his adventure 800,000 years into the future and the decayed, divided society he found there.
  • Eva by Peter Dickinson – This is intended for a younger audience, but it’s still one of the strangest novels I’ve ever read. My advice is to check it out and try to avoid plot spoilers at all costs. I read this a long time ago and the uncomfortable realizations have stuck with me.

The Real Neat Blog Award

real neat blog award

Thank you Susanne Valenti for nominating me! Check out her blog here – she has a book coming out in October!

The Rules:

  1. Put the award logo on your blog
  2. Answer the 7 question set by the person who nominated you and create 7 new ones
  3. Thank the people who nominated you, linking to their blog
  4. Nominate however many people you like, linking to their blogs
  5. Let them know you nominated them

The questions for me are:

  1. Which book character would you want to meet and why? Right now I’d love to meet Manon Blackbeak from Queen of Shadows – I think she’s fascinating. I have so many questions about her life and the Thirteen. If she didn’t kill me, maybe I could score a ride on her wyvern.
  2. Which book do you wish they’d adapt into a movie or TV series? Sabriel – if done well. I think this would make an amazing movie if the magic wasn’t done in B movie quality.
  3. Who is your favourite author? If I’m being honest, probably Maggie Stiefvater. I’m kind of in awe of how precise and powerful her prose is. She created amazing characters in The Raven Cycle and it all feels so real.
  4. Which Disney character would you be? Belle, obviously. That library? Those mountains? That kitchen staff? DONE.
  5. Do you have any pets and if so what? Not yet, but I really want a cuddly dachshund to sit on my lap and inspire/distract me while I write.
  6. Is there any book that you would change the ending of and how if you would? If I don’t like a story it tends to be more than just the ending, so I don’t think I’d change anything I’ve read. Usually I’m not connecting with the character or their motivations, and that pretty much effects the entire book. 🙂
  7. What’s your idea of a perfect night in/out? Night in: roaring fire, writing/reading a good book Night out: delicious food someplace, followed by a movie or a comedy show or something

The questions for my nominees are:

  1. If you could learn any language which one would you pick?
  2. Which ongoing series are you most excited about this fall?
  3. If you could meet any author who would you pick?
  4. What is your favorite season?
  5. What is the best book you’ve read this year?
  6. What is your writing fuel? Coffee? Tea? M&Ms?
  7. What’s the best film you saw in a theater this year?

My nominees are:

Laura

Maddy

Akshaya

Check out their blogs! 🙂

Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie

6076413by Maggie Stiefvater
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
sequel to Lament

This trilogy remains incomplete, and after finishing this book I’ll join the ranks of fans awaiting Requiem. I actually enjoyed this book more than the first, partially because James is a more decisive character and it didn’t feel like the plot kept me in the dark for so long. This has the same dark magic and dangerous fey as the first book, which I loved! If you’re worried about being caught in the middle of a trilogy for a currently undetermined period of time, don’t be. The ending ties up just enough to stave off most of a book hangover.

Unlike Lament, we alternate POVs between James, the muse fey Nuala, and some text messages from Dee. This actually worked for me – I felt like all the characters brought something interesting to the plot, and the voices were all different enough (my other pet peeve with multiple narrators) that I enjoyed it. We follow James at the musical school Thornking-Ash, in the few months leading up to Halloween. Nuala marks James for her next musician to inspire–in exchange for stealing his life energy to feed herself–but the two end up discovering they are similar assholes who might actually like each other.

The descriptions are beautiful, and while the dialogue could use work in places, this is a fun read. I’d recommend it, especially if you’re already a fan of Stiefvater’s work.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Ballad is available on Goodreads and on Llewellyn’s store website, here. This bookstore sponsors Flux, Stiefvater’s publisher for the Books of Faerie. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Valiant by Holly Black – Valerie runs away to New York City for a fresh start. She makes friends with some teenagers living in the forgotten parts of the subway system, and quickly learns they have dealings with the fey and their powers. What she does with this knowledge will determine her fate in her new life.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – Hazel has grown up in the shadow of the forest housing dangerous fey and magic. She wants to become a knight and protect her town and the tourists from faery mischief, but what she doesn’t know is they want her to be a knight too. See my review here.
  • Old Magic by Marianne Curley – Kate knows Jerrod has a secret, but she when she learns what it is, they have to race against time to break his family’s curse before it kills him next. Luckily, Kate is a rather gifted witch. This is a fun YA story with time-travel and magic.
  • The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black – Trade mischievous faeries for charming, cunning vampires, and you might like this whirlwind journey. Tana wakes up in a house full of her friends’ corpses, with nobody but her infected ex-boyfriend and a mysterious boy. She has to save them before anyone finds out what happened, which means going to the one place everyone in their right mind avoids: Coldtown. I don’t normally go for vampire novels but I loved this one!
  • The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J. Maas – Jumping from urban fantasy to actual fantasy, these 5 prequel novellas follow Celaena as she explores all corners of her world and the fascinating people in between as she completes her assassin training and marches toward her destiny in the Throne of Glass series. See my review here.
  • Mermaid: A Twist on the Classic Tale by Carolyn Turgeon – Princess Margrethe watches a mermaid pull a half-drowned man to shore on the cold beach. She nurses him back to health, discovering he’s a prince that could make a useful alliance. The mermaid hasn’t forgotten the handsome man either, and will do anything to become human for a chance to win his heart. The characters could have more depth, but this is a reasonably enjoyable fairy tale retelling.

Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception

3112850by Maggie Stiefvater
YA Fantasy
4 of 5 stars
Debut novel – October 8, 2008

I’ve been a Stiefvater fan for years now, and I happened upon this and its sequel at a little independent bookstore when I was exploring Estes Park. I meant to read it but it isn’t a common find these days–so when they fell into my lap I was very excited! This is a fun peek at her earliest work. The unique descriptions and darkly thrilling plots she’s now known for are already here, but the voice is younger and less polished. The earnest writing makes up for some cheesy moments, and although Dee tends to tell you what she shouldn’t be feeling quite a bit, I can forgive it for the genuinely interesting faery world that is weaving its spells around her.

It’s so clear here that everything the author loves went into this story: Virginian small towns, Irish culture, cars, bagpipes, and music generally were given the spotlight and the characters lived among it all with stilted bravado.

But then the faeries won’t leave Deirdre alone, and their attention grows deadlier by the day. This is when it feels like the characters shed their scripts and claim their own identities, and everything flows smoothly from there. I love the twists on faerie folklore, and more than anything I loved the ending! So often in these stories the clever human finally overcomes the mischievous faeries and solves the riddle that lets everything turn out for the best. This one doesn’t do that and it’s gutsy and maddeningly good.

If you’d like to see more reviews or buy a copy for yourself, Lament is available on Goodreads and on Llewellyn’s store website, here. This bookstore sponsors Flux, Stiefvater’s publisher for the Books of Faerie. Please consider supporting your local bookstore!


Similar reads:

  • Tithe by Holly Black – Kaye lives a vaguely interesting life in New Jersey, but when a fae warrior shows up in the forest and she saves his life, she has no idea what’s about to happen to her. This is a modern retelling of the Tam Lin myth, and has a very similar style and tone to Lament. The riddles are fun, and if you need a fix when you realize the Lament trilogy is still unfinished, I would start here. See my review.
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – This is one of the best YA fantasy books I’ve ever read, and I think it’s what Tithe was meant to be. It’s dark, clever, and heart-wrenching, don’t miss it! See my review here.
  • M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman – A collection of paranormal short stories with his usual flair (note that these stories do come in other anthologies, this just happens to be the one I have). I enjoy his dark stories and writing, and I think fans of faery folklore would find tales to love here too.
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater – This YA paranormal/fantasy quartet wraps up in 2016, and the writing is amazing! Blue Sargent lives in a tiny Virginia town, and she’s about to meet four of the most intriguing private-school boys you could imagine. They’re looking for the lost Welsh king to grant them a wish, and Blue’s seen enough strange things to know they’ll probably find him. See my review here.
  • The Moorchild by Eloise Jarvis McGraw – A middle-grade tale with traditional changeling and faery lore that is beautifully done. When Saaski starts to realize she is a changeling, she decides to go into the faery mound to find her true family and the human child she replaced.
  • Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton – I admit, the cover and the fact that this is set in small-town Missouri grabbed me. (Who uses Missouri for anything?! This Missourian was very excited. Then Gone Girl happened, which was a bit more believable…) Anyway, the point is, the narration is a bit awkward, but the magic and the story here kept me interested, and I think if you enjoyed Lament you’d like this too (though faeries are not present). Tessa Gratton is one of Stiefvater’s close friends.
  • The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater – A remote island implied to be close to the UK hosts an annual race among the natives who are able to ride the water-horses (kelpies). Puck is the first girl to enter this race, but she isn’t the only one with everything to lose. This has a similar use of folklore magic and protection from magic that feels true. See my review here.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – A dark novella I absolutely love, that has the same sense of vague “rules” when it comes to interacting with supernatural creatures, be they faeries or something else. See my review here.

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