The Cabin at the End of the World

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The Cabin at the End of the World

By: Paul Tremblay
Published:  2018
# of pages:  272
Quote: “Wen never felt more proud of herself as when she made one of her dads laugh.”

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Goodreads description:

Seven-year-old Wen and her parents, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote cabin on a quiet New Hampshire lake. Their closest neighbors are more than two miles in either direction along a rutted dirt road.

One afternoon, as Wen catches grasshoppers in the front yard, a stranger unexpectedly appears in the driveway. Leonard is the largest man Wen has ever seen but he is young, friendly, and he wins her over almost instantly. Leonard and Wen talk and play until Leonard abruptly apologizes and tells Wen, “None of what’s going to happen is your fault”. Three more strangers then arrive at the cabin carrying unidentifiable, menacing objects. As Wen sprints inside to warn her parents, Leonard calls out: “Your dads won’t want to let us in, Wen. But they have to. We need your help to save the world.”

Thus begins an unbearably tense, gripping tale of paranoia, sacrifice, apocalypse, and survival that escalates to a shattering conclusion, one in which the fate of a loving family and quite possibly all of humanity are entwined. The Cabin at the End of the World is a masterpiece of terror and suspense from the fantastically fertile imagination of Paul Tremblay.

Review:  It’s been a crazy summer at my house so I haven’t written a review in months and I feel a little rusty.  I’ll start by saying this is the first book by Tremblay I’ve read, but it won’t be the last!

Wen is 7 years old and on a vacation with her parents in a remote cabin.  Wen is introspective and compassionate and it isn’t fair that her life is suddenly and violently interrupted by a group of four strangers who intrude into her family’s vacation.  Sudden and violent are the perfect words for how the rest of the book progresses.  The reader feels horrified and helpless reading the sequence of events.

I wanted to jump into the book to comfort Wen and her dads, talk sense into the intruders, and try to change the plot.  At the same time I wanted to put the book down and save myself the horror of sharing in the story.  It’s odd how the book can manage to be filled with hopelessness and hope at the same time.

Overall the book was intense, suspenseful, and unpredictable.  I very much enjoyed reading it in spite of the violence.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Original, well-written, interesting characters, thought provoking.

Where the Crawdads Sing

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Where the Crawdads Sing

By:  Delia Owens
Published: 
2018
# of pages:  384
Challenge:  A to ZBook Bingo
Quote:  “Kya bit her bottom lip as she watched. Wondering how it would feel to be among them. Their joy created an aura almost visible against the deepening sky. Ma had said women need one another more than they need men, but she never told her how to get inside the pride.”

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Goodreads description:

For years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

Review:  My first book read in the new year and it was worthy of five stars and a place on my favorites list!  In a way I hate reviewing amazing books because I can’t do them justice.  This book is beautifully written, has a great plot full of thought provoking subjects and an intriguing mystery, and the character of Kya is one easy to emphathize with and understand.

Kya was abandoned by her mother at age six and in the short years that follow, her siblings and father leave her as well.  She makes do in the marshes of coastal North Carolina, but while she doesn’t physically starve, she often feels emotionally starved.  In order to feel connected to the world, she falls in love with the nature that surrounds her on a daily basis.  Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of how she interacts with all of nature, that of the marsh environment and that of the townspeople floating by on the fringes of her existence.

At times this story made my heart ache, but it was also inspiring.  Kya led a rough life that no one deserves, but she made the best of it and handled situations with strength and resolve.  This would be a good book club read.  The way Kya interacts with people and the mystery that’s presented throughout the novel made me want to discuss the book with someone!  I recommend it to all adults.  And I also recommend visiting the NC coast if you haven’t done so yet, it’s a beautiful place.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Interesting plot, beautiful story, strong characters.

The Song of Achilles

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The Song of Achilles

By:  Madeline Miller
Published: 
2011
# of pages: 
352
Challenges: Full House (historical fiction)

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Goodreads description:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

My review:  I can’t remember where I stumbled upon this book, but it’s been on my TBR list for a few months.  It doesn’t sound overly fascinating, but since I’m interested in mythology and want to learn more, I decided to check it out.  I’m so glad I read it because it was great!  Miller has a true talent for taking an ancient story of a time and place that are foreign to me and made it interesting and real.  I cared about the characters and learned a lot about the story of Achilles and the Trojan War in the process.  I visited Greece many years ago and was excited to read about some of the places I’ve seen with my own eyes.

We’ve all heard of Achilles, but this story is about Patroclus, a prince who was exiled from his home to the court of Achilles’ father.  Patroclus is an awkward character and definitely doesn’t fit in with the other men of Greece who live to fight for all sorts of different reasons, including the kidnapping (run away?) of Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world.  Patroclus is also very thoughtful and for the most part, he sticks with his values.

I loved how his story and the story of Achilles is realistically woven into the mythical aspects.  The gods are a regular part of men’s lives, especially Achilles, whose mother is the sea goddess Thetis.  I don’t feel like this review does the book justice, but The Song of Achilles is now one of my favorite books and I’m eager to read more by Madeline Miller.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:

Educated

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Educated: A Memoir

By:  Tara Westover
Published:  2018
# of pages:  334
Challenge:  Full House (memoir), A to Z
Quote:  “To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else’s. I have often wondered if the most powerful words I wrote that night came not from anger or rage, but from doubt: I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

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Goodreads description:

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.

My review:  This was an incredibly interesting memoir.  My mom had told me a little about it, but I wasn’t prepared for the shock of all the details put together.  I grew up in a conservative religious homeschool community and at the risk of exaggerating my upbringing or trying to “one up” Westover’s story, I could at times see some similiarities (thankfully not the violent aspects).  I’ve said it many times over the years, but I’m glad my parents weren’t as legalistic as many of the parents in our community and now I’m even more glad.  I’ve changed a lot over the years and while I’ve retained some of my upbringing, there’s even more I’ve left behind.  Times are changing and I have hope for the future.  Westover’s memoir gives me even more hope.

The sad aspects, besides what’s stated in the book’s description, is the confusion and heartache Westover experienced as she left her family behind.  I often hear people judging women who live in abusive environments.  Why don’t they leave?  Can’t they see they aren’t safe and their life is literally at stake?  If they obviously have the means to leave, what’s keeping them in the relationship?  This problem isn’t unique to Westover.  We’ve all heard about people who remain in abusive relationships and situations, as confusing as it seems to outsiders.  So Westover’s accounts of her struggle is incredibly honest.

I also appreciated the gradual change she made in her worldview.  Not everything she had been taught was wrong, but she had to analyze everything and come to her own conclusions.  Sometimes she admitted she didn’t have the answers and didn’t understand.  I think that’s a mark of a truly educated person.  I’ve tried to do that in my own life.  Religion, politics, lifestyles…I’ve had to think about all of that and accept that other people think and live differently.  Another quality of an educated person is to continue thinking about these things and being open to change.

I wish Westover happiness and acceptance in her future.  I also recommend this book to everyone because it’s important to realize that as foreign as her previous situation sounds to many of us, it still happens to people in this modern era in which we live.  Take it from me, it’s thought provoking and will make you think about your own upbringing, beliefs, and actions.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Well written, interesting subject, thought provoking.

Mosquitoland

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Mosquitoland

By:  David Arnold
Published:
  2015
# of pages:  352 (Kindle edition)
Challenges:  Monthly Motif (vacation read)
Quote:  “Maybe I could muster the courage to speak those words so few people are able to say: I don’t know why I do the things I do. It’s like that sometimes.”

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Goodreads description:

After the sudden collapse of her family, Mim Malone is dragged from her home in northern Ohio to the “wastelands” of Mississippi, where she lives in a medicated milieu with her dad and new stepmom. Before the dust has a chance to settle, she learns her mother is sick back in Cleveland.

So she ditches her new life and hops aboard a northbound Greyhound bus to her real home and her real mother, meeting a quirky cast of fellow travelers along the way. But when her thousand-mile journey takes a few turns she could never see coming, Mim must confront her own demons, redefining her notions of love, loyalty, and what it means to be sane.

My review:  I can’t adequately describe how much I love this book.  I’ve given it a few days to soak in before writing a review, but I still don’t know exactly what to say.  My reaction to this book reminded me of my reaction to Turtles All the Way Down.  The main character, Mim, had a hard struggle with mental health issues in her past just like Aza struggles with her mental health in Turtles.  Mim’s still learning to deal with her health as well as the divorce of her parents and her dad’s sudden remarriage.

She sets out on a journey from Mississippi to Ohio.  Along the way she has all sorts of adventures and meets all sorts of interesting characters, both good and bad.  Not only is Mim a beautiful character, but I loved many of the other characters.  I also appreciate the way Mim is willing to admit when she’s wrong or change her opinion/perspective as needed.  She’s witty and makes profound statements, but that doesn’t change the fact that she’s “just” a teenager who still has more to learn.

While this is a great YA book, it does have some strong “bad language” if that’s a concern.  Also, I found myself at times thinking how great it would be to just run away from responsibilities and go on a spontaneous road trip like Mim’s.  It’s a little concerning to think that some people, especially younger teenagers, might actually consider doing that for real!  Maybe not, maybe it’s just me that has that desire (I do relate to Mim in many ways), but if I gave this to my teen to read I’d make sure to have a little talk about the dangers of a teenager being on his/her own on a cross country trip.  😉

I do highly recommend this to adults and teenagers alike and I think there’s many more positive messages than negative throughout the novel.  Also, I was initially leery of the book based on the cover.  It seemed like one of those contemporary teen books that you see everywhere, but I was amazed at the depth of emotion and thought evident in the writing.  It’s definitely worth giving it a chance.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Great characters, entertaining story, important messages.

The Fifth Season

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The Fifth Season

By:  N.K. Jemisin
Published:  2015
# of pages:  496 (Kindle edition)
Series:  The Broken Earth (#1)

 

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Goodreads description:

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

My review:  I thoroughly enjoyed this fantasy novel!  The world building was extremely unique and so were the characters.  The timeline was written in such a great way, it really meshed together in spite of the difference in years.

The story begins with Essun, a heartbroken mother who is mourning the violent loss of her youngest child.  Her discovery of the child’s murder coincides with a nationwide disaster that will have far reaching consequences.  Essun is forced to leave the town she’s peacefully lived in for years to set out on a dangerous journey to find her daughter.  Essun has lived in secrecy for years, but knowledge of her power starts leaking through the cracks as she meets other people along the way.

The reader also meets the young and scared girl Damaya, the strong young woman Syenite, the broken man Alabaster, and the confident and boisterous man Innon.  Other characters pop up throughout the novel.  They are all written so well, you can just see them in your mind.  After I finished reading the book I immediately started looking up fan art because I wanted to see what other people thought of the characters and their descriptions.  Here’s my Broken Earth Pinterest board.

I’m eager to read the next two books in the series.  I highly recommend this book to fantasy fans.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Awesome world building, great characters, unique fantasy series.

The Girls Who Went Away

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The Girls Who Went Away

By:  Ann Fessler
Published:  2006
# of pages:  354
Quote:  “According to the prevailing double standard, the young man who was equally responsible for the pregnancy was not condemned for his actions. It was her fault, not their fault, that she got pregnant. This was in that period of time when there wasn’t much worse that a girl could do. They almost treated you like you had committed murder or something.”

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Goodreads description:

A powerful and groundbreaking revelation of the secret history of the 1.5 million women who surrendered children for adoption in the several decades before Roe v. Wade

In this deeply moving work, Ann Fessler brings to light the lives of hundreds of thousands of young single American women forced to give up their newborn children in the years following World War II and before Roe v. WadeThe Girls Who Went Away tells a story not of wild and carefree sexual liberation, but rather of a devastating double standard that has had punishing long-term effects on these women and on the children they gave up for adoption. Based on Fessler’s groundbreaking interviews, it brings to brilliant life these women’s voices and the spirit of the time, allowing each to share her own experience in gripping and intimate detail. Today, when the future of the Roe decision and women’s reproductive rights stand squarely at the front of a divisive national debate, Fessler brings to the fore a long-overlooked history of single women in the fifties, sixties, and early seventies.

In 2002, Fessler, an adoptee herself, traveled the country interviewing women willing to speak publicly about why they relinquished their children. Researching archival records and the political and social climate of the time, she uncovered a story of three decades of women who, under enormous social and family pressure, were coerced or outright forced to give their babies up for adoption. Fessler deftly describes the impossible position in which these women found themselves: as a sexual revolution heated up in the postwar years, birth control was tightly restricted, and abortion proved prohibitively expensive or life endangering. At the same time, a postwar economic boom brought millions of American families into the middle class, exerting its own pressures to conform to a model of family perfection. Caught in the middle, single pregnant women were shunned by family and friends, evicted from schools, sent away to maternity homes to have their children alone, and often treated with cold contempt by doctors, nurses, and clergy.

The majority of the women Fessler interviewed have never spoken of their experiences, and most have been haunted by grief and shame their entire adult lives. A searing and important look into a long-overlooked social history, The Girls Who Went Away is their story.

My review:  I heard about this book and decided to read it for a few reasons, one of which is that adoption/fostering is something my family is considering.  I’m glad I read it and I want to start by saying that if anyone you know has surrendered a child or has been surrendered, you should tell them about this book.  Even if it wasn’t in the time period this book concentrates on, this is still relevant today.

This book stirred up a lot of feelings.  I’ve always looked at adoption from the adoptive parents’ point of view.  This changed the way I view the whole process and it really makes me wonder how things have changed in the years the 50s, 60s, 70s.  And how international adoption then and now works.  Also, thinking about the religious aspect makes me especially sad.  Even after abortion was legal, it was frowned upon by the religious community so you would still have young women feeling pressured to give up their child because abortion wasn’t a choice, but single motherhood was also frowned upon because it meant you were caught in your sin.

As far as abortion goes, it wasn’t really mentioned at all in the book.  I feel that Roe vs. Wade shouldn’t even be mentioned in the title.  It may have changed theea women’s stories to some degree, but honestly, I’m not sure it would have been any better at that point in time.  Women who choose abortion often face extreme feelings of guilt, inadequacy, low self esteem, and the “what ifs” similar to what the young women in this book went on to feel after they surrendered their babies.  It’s a decision that needs to be made carefully and followed up with counseling, which the professionals at the time didn’t think was needed for adoption and probably wouldn’t have provided it for abortion either.

I read some reviews on Goodreads and several people mentioned how tedious they thought the stories became because they were so repetitive.  However, that’s the whole point of this book.  Millions of young women went through this and it’s heartbreaking that their stories are so similar.  That’s the worst part.  It wouldn’t be so remarkable if their stories were extremely different or if only a few were shared.  The large number of stories in the book that are “just alike” make the reader realize that this was something common even if it isn’t talked about or shared, even 30+ years later.  Maybe your grandparents or parents went through this and you don’t even know.

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  The author has personal experience with the subject and that is clear in the way she wrote the book, the interviews were honest and real, the subject is important.