How can I put into words the masterpiece that was Ninth House?
I KNOW this book will not be for everyone. It is dark, gory, and full of the macabre. There’s violence, flashbacks to drug use & physical abuse, and there are scenes of sexual violence. However, it was just perfect, so so perfect, for this Halloween season. This was my first book by Leigh Bardugo, and I cannot WAIT to get to the Grishaverse books; she’s a phenomenal storyteller and so, so good at world building.
Imagine a world where Yale’s eight ancient secret societies we hear many famous politicians belong to — George W. Bush in Skull & Bones, for example — are actually groups dabbling in magical arts and the occult. Alex has been recruited to Yale as a member of Lethe House, which is the group that keeps the occult activity on campus in check. Alex is a freshman, and while she’d normally not be Yale material in terms of academics, she is chosen because she has been able to see ghosts since she was young.
Alex has been through a lot in her short life, and she brings to Yale and Lethe a completely new vibe. She is strong, she is cunning, and she is fierce. Darlington serves as her mentor in Lethe, and she has Dawes as a friend in Lethe as well. All of the characters we met at Yale are well thought-out and fun additions to the story.
This novel ends up being a college coming-of-age story, wrapped in a murder mystery, wrapped in a realistic world with fantastical elements. It was so, so well done. I cannot wait for the next book in this series (which I heard could be a five-book series!). This was absolutely a 5 star read for me. If you’ve read it, what did you think?
FKA USA by Reed King — I love post-apocalyptic books about the future that could befall the United States. King was great at world building and I especially loved the The Wizard of Oz-type aspects. There were some good twists and turns, but overall the book was a little too long and it took a little bit of time to understand all of the slang. Some footnotes were helpful (and made me giggle a bit), but some felt a little unnecessary. 3.5/5 stars.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood — Whtat more can be said about the glory that is this book? One of my all-time favorites. Timely and horrifying and so, so well done. 5/5 stars for my 3rd reread of this novel.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow — Review here
I Know Who You Are by Alice Feeney — This book was great at building suspense, but the ending was just GROSS. Content warnings GALORE in this book: rape, domestic violence, child abuse, animal cruelty, and incest. 2/5 stars.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger — Review here
I received an ARC of Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris through bookishfirst.com and I was really excited – which I’m aware is not the correct word for a story about surviving the Holocaust and Soviet Gulags – to receive it. I have not read Morris’ previous work, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, but I didn’t feel lost or confused at all. Morris does a skillful job of informing us of what happened previously, so I didn’t feel like I had missed something (though The Tattooist is very high on my TBR!)
The book begins with the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the Russians. She had spent her past three years as a sexual slave for an SS Officer. She is charged by the Russians for sleepign with the enemy, and is sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in a Siberian Gulag.
This is an era of history that I don’t know much about, and really only saw in Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Morris uses her narrative skills to weave together her extensive research on the real-life Cilka to paint a horribly realistic portrait of life in Siberia. Cilka is so, so resilient and her growth was phenomenal to witness. Her strength is an inspiration.
This is a very difficult and important read. We have vowed #neveragain, but yet people are living in modern-day gulags for a number of reasons. This book is both a reflection of the best parts of humanity, and also of the brutality of mankind. This book was a 4.5/5 star read for me, and I hope you pick it up on October 1!
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger was one of my September Book of the Month picks, and I absolutely savored this beautiful book. Krueger is a master storyteller, and while this is the first book I’ve read by him, I’ll certainly add his backlist titles to my TBR!
This book is about Odie and his brother Albert, orphaned and sent to live at the Lincoln Indian Training School in Minnesota in 1932. It’s a miserable existence: punishment, hunger, and hard work. They find kindness through their friendship with Mose, a fellow student who has had his tongue cut out through an act of violence due to his Native American heritage, and through Emmeline, the daughter of a teacher at the school. Tragedy strikes and Emmy’s mom is killed in a tornado, and Odie, Albert, and Mose save Emmy from the cruelty that awaits her with the headmasters who try to adopt her, the Brickmans.
The story reads like a Greek classical epic as they flee the Lincoln School in a canoe on the Gilead River, trying to make their way to St. Louis with the promise of a distant relative who may be able to help them. Along the way, they see all facets of American life: Hoovervilles, droughts, brothels, struggling small towns, opulent hotels, religious revivals. It’s a fascinating look at Depression-era America and those who inhabited it. Along the way, Odie, Albert, Emmy and Mose all learn what ‘home’ means to them, and learn infinite things about who they are.
Krueger’s writing was phenomenal. I often found myself stopping and really reflecting on his beautiful words. There are many examples, but the following is one that I loved:
“We breathe love in and we breathe love out. It’s the essence of our existence, the very air of our souls.”
This book is destined to be a modern classic! 5/5 stars.
Happy Banned Books Week! This week is all about bringing awareness to books that have been challenged in the past and thinking critically about why we, as a society, want to challenge books based on their content.
According to the American Library Association, 483 books were challenged or banned around the country in 2018. Most often, these books were challenged because of LGBTQ+ content. And most often, parents are the ones who are petitioning for the bans or challenges in order to shield children from seeing content that is considered questionable.
Here are some of my favorite banned books, and a quick reason why they’ve been challenged or banned, as well as why I love them!
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (banned for profanity, alcohol use, violence, and sexuality): I really enjoyed this coming-of-age story of an underrepresented population, Native Americans. It is such a well-written, poignant, and semi-autobiographical novel with rich insights into adolescense, especially as a minority.
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by John Oliver (LGBTQ+ content): I love this adorable book about a same-sex bunny couple! It helps me explain to Nolan that LOVE is LOVE! (And I am always 100% fine with jabs at VP Pence.)
The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney (sexual content & challenges to authority): I remember reading & re-reading this book as a middle schooler. It’s kind of a crazy story that deals with a young girl’s kidnapping, cult activity, and digging into the truth. Great for young kids with a budding interest in true crime.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (obscene language, drug/alcohol/tobacco use): Sure, let’s ban a book about BOOK BANNING. *eye roll* This is one of the first dystopias I ever read, and I devoured it. If you haven’t read this modern classic, do it now.
The Giver by Lois Lowry (obscene language, sexual content, violence): Though this book isn’t always the easiest to teach, it is one of my favorites. I love seeing the joy in the eyes of students when they figure out that the world isn’t always as it seems at first glance.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (sexual content, suicide, anti-Christian themes): I don’t think I need to talk about my love for this book, just see my review for The Testaments.
The Harry Potter Series by JK Rowling (witchcraft, violence, students in danger): I don’t think I can say anything to justify this magical world. But also, yes: things that happen at Hogwarts are absolutely ridiculously unsafe and you do need to warn kids against this 😉
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (violence): Katniss is my queen, the end.
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein (some poems encourage disobedience): The poems specifically called out for encouraging disobedience are “How Not To Have to Dry the Dishes” and “Little Abigail and the Beautiful Pony.”
Looking for Alaska by John Green (sexual content & profanity): John Green is a master at describing teenagers. This is the first book I read by Green, and probably my favorite.
My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult (sexual content, profanity, sexism): Jodi Picoult is a prolific modern author, and this is one of her most heartbreaking novels which forces you to ask yourself: how far would you go for your sister?
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (gang violence, alcohol abuse): Hands down my favorite book to teach to children! They get so into it. And the movie is AMAZING.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (sexual content, profanity): A phenomenal book about growing up and learning to embrace yourself.
The Witches by Roald Dahl (witchcraft, animal cruelty): I can say nothing bad about ANY ROALD DAHL book.
I sometimes write as The Book Queen at http://www.candorzine.com, and my first article was a list of books I enjoyed while nursing my son during the wee hours of the morning. One book I added to the list as a bonus book was The Night Circus, a book I’ve read at least five times now, and that got me through 82 hours (!!) of labor with Nolan. The setting & characters are so decadent, this book made me forget I was very impatiently waiting for my little dude to arrive.
So, needless to say, I LOVE The Night Circus. It’s in my top 10 for life. Unfortunately, SO MANY BOOKS try to be the next Night Circus, and I fall for the trap every.damn.time. AND NONE OF THEM ARE. This one…this one is close.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a story within a story, with worlds within worlds. It follows January Scaller, the ward of a rich collector named Cornelius Locke, while her father is out exploring the world to find collectible items for him, in the early 1900s. She is of ambiguous ancestry with a darker skin tone, and often hears disparaging remarks about this. (It is interesting to note that the author appears to be white, so I’m not sure how to feel about this.) January has done a lot of traveling with Mr. Locke and has seen a number of different earthly paces, but she is very lonely and often not included fully into the adventures.
The beginning of the book moves a little slowly; there’s almost too much of Harrow setting the scene. However, once the story got going, the author did a phenomenal job of building mysterious worlds within worlds. January grows so much as a character, and I loved seeing her strength emerge.
While this book is, again, NOT the next Night Circus, it definitely gave me similar vibes. There was lots of magic, a gorgeous setting, children getting forced into using magic they don’t understand, and it took place within a similar time frame. There were also stories within stories and they were tied together beautifully at the end.
I think that Harrow wrote this book as a love letter to other books, and I often was breathless by the way she wrote about reading, writing, and how those two things can take us to other worlds. The quotes page on Goodreads for this novel is full of lush phrasing gushing over how wonderful it is to read, to write, and to escape, and also not super-spoilery, so give it a glance.
This book is a 4/5 star book for me and absolutely worth your time! Savor it!
I’m going to do a fun TBR list of all the books I own and have yet to read (YIKES) with one book per letter of the alphabet! As I read, I’ll review and link on this list!
A – The Age of Light B – Beautiful Bad C – Cilka’s Journey D – The Dry E – Eligible F – The Female Persuasion G – The Gown H – Homegoing I – I Know Who You Are (mentioned in my September wrap-up; honestly I don’t want to waste the energy to write a thoughtful review it because I really DID NOT LIKE IT.) J – Josh & Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating (only one on this list I don’t own!) K – Killers of the Flower Moon L – The Last Romantics M – Mrs. Everything N – The Nix O – The Orphan’s Tale P – Pride of Eden Q – The Quintland Sisters R – Refugee S – A Spark of Light T – This Tender Land U – Uprooted V – A Very Large Expanse of Sea W – Wanderers X – ?? Y – You, Me, and the Sea Z – ??