House of Salt and Sorrows, by Erin Craig

Four of the twelve Thaumas sisters have died, and people are beginning to think that the family is cursed. The girls are desperate for suitors and jump greedily at the chance to use a magical door that will take them anywhere they desire.

Caveat before I begin this review: Despite spending most of the last seven years reading primarily speculative fiction, I’ve not been in the mood for it in months. It’s also been some time since I was reading young adult fiction regularly. I knew I wasn’t quite in the right mood for this one, for both of those reasons, and I probably should have sent the book back to the library. The writing was compelling enough for me to keep going anyway. So while this review is negative, I wanted to state these things – in another mood, and perhaps when I was reading a lot of YA, this might have worked for me. Right now, it did not.

So. This is a retelling of the twelve dancing princesses fairy tale. Historically, I’ve not been a fan of fairy tale retellings, but I’ve never read (or heard) this particular tale and so I thought the retelling aspect wouldn’t matter. As it turns out, it did. Fairy tales have a certain quality to them, characters who are archetypes rather than actual people with personalities, and stories that are simple and moral-driven. To make a retelling work, you have to rise above those things, and not root so deeply in the fairy tale itself. Often, retellings are too rooted in the original for me, which is why I’ve historically disliked them. And I found the same in this book. Characters changed moods and personality traits regularly, for no particular reason except that it helped the plot along. I got all the sisters, including the narrator, confused for the entire book. Because this was a novel rather than a fairy tale, it didn’t have the same air of dreaminess that would make these shifts and blurred personalities okay. Furthermore, while I can’t say if the plot stuck to the original tale (since I don’t know it), it did feel a bit forced and unnatural at times, as if moored to a previous story.

The end-result for me was a disjointed tale that felt a bit flat. There were all these elements – the dances, the sibling relationships, the island culture, the immortals, the curse, the ghosts, the love story – but none of them really meshed together. It was simultaneously too much and too little.

I feel like this could have been better with a bit of tweaking to make it come together as a whole, rather than the sum of its parts. Like I said above, it may have just been my mood. It’s a shame, though. I really wanted to like the book.

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Posted in 2019, Prose, Young Adult | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Wellness Wednesday – Potential Solution!

So last week I was dithering about carpet vs rugs vs no area to run etc etc in our living room. Everything felt way up in the air with a lot of decisions to be made. A lot can happen in a week! We’ve been going flat-out getting our house ready to put on the market, and we’ve been looking at houses to buy – many of which don’t have carpet in the living room, because everyone hates carpet these days except me. Either way, I was looking for solutions that wouldn’t eat up a lot of money (in this house or a new one, if it didn’t have carpet in a large, downstairs room for me to run in). And on one of the days Jason and I were driving to showings, I suddenly remembered how back in 2011, I bought a pair of Vibram five-finger shoes.

Those shoes look so weird, but they felt GREAT. I’d noticed that when I stood around at home, even for long periods of time, my feet wouldn’t hurt. On the other hand, when I went to BEA or other events where there was a lot of standing around in shoes, my feet would be in a lot of pain by the end of the day. I bought the Vibrams specifically for standing, but I used them periodically when I was running as well. (They didn’t do so well in trail areas, because I didn’t buy trail Vibrams, and most of my running was on trails.) Eventually, I got rid of the Vibrams. As I lost weight, I lost a size or two in my feet, and the Vibrams no longer fit well. Also, as I lost weight, my feet didn’t hurt so bad when I stood around for long periods of time. But for those few months when I used the Vibrams a lot, they were good to me, and I’d forgotten about them…until that drive with Jason this week.

I realized that I might have a solution to my current problem! I can’t run in shoes in my living room, because that whole half-running-in-place, half-moving-forward motion gives me shin splints in regular shoes. In barefoot shoes, however… The best thing about Vibrams is that they give your feet the same structure as being barefoot, while keeping them protected from whatever’s on the floor/ground. (I really, really hate walking on bare ground without shoes. My feet feel every particle of dirt as if I’m walking over rocks. Ugh.) With this in mind, I bought a pair. They’re not cheap, but certainly cheaper than carpet or rugs…

This time, I chose to fit these slightly smaller. I’m kinda between two Vibram sizes, just like in 2011, and that time, I chose to go to the larger of two choices. Since eventually that backfired on me, I’m hoping these will keep for longer. I have yet to actually run in them – our living room is currently a disaster zone as we work on house projects – but I’ve walked around in them and I think they’re going to be perfect. Yay!

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Lock Every Door, by Riley Sager

Broke, orphaned, recently unemployed, and between apartments. That’s Jules’ life when she answers the ad for an apartment sitter in the exclusive Bartholomew building. It’s the perfect job, she believes, until a fellow sitter goes missing. Jules follows a trail backwards to discover that sitters seem to go missing quite often…if not always.

Good things: This was engaging. The secondary characters especially were well-written. The mystery was intriguing. I liked the undercurrents of supernatural stuff even when I knew there would be logical answers. The book was fast-paced but not so much as to make me race through it. Jules’ life had a sufficiently complicated past that affected her modern-day psyche. In all those ways, it was an enjoyable book.

Bad things: The answer to the mystery. I didn’t like the direction that the book went. It felt a bit…overblown urban legend, maybe? I also felt like Jules fingered the culprit too early in the story, early enough that I thought it was a misdirection.

In the end, it was a middle-of-the-road book for me, a fun read but not memorable in the long run.

Posted in 2019, Adult, Prose | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Sunday Coffee – And Then There Were Four

Morrigan left home this week.

Let me take a moment to have that sink in. Morrigan left home. He didn’t leave for two weeks for Japan. He didn’t leave for a week on the Appalachian Trail. He isn’t coming back soon. He left home. He left to start his own life, as an adult, on his own, supporting himself, on his own insurance, on his own wits, with his own paycheck, in his own living situation. He left home.

My brain isn’t there yet. I’ve never been one to process these kinds of things quickly, and as you know, this all happened lightning quick. Monday, we got the final date, and Wednesday, Jason and I were driving him to the recruiter’s office. Thursday, we saw his final swearing in ceremony. That night, he landed in Chicago and texted me from the runway. Right before midnight, he left a brief voicemail on Jason’s phone to say he arrived safely at his final destination.

For the next six weeks, he’ll only be contactable through physical letters. Until I get that first letter from him, I won’t have a clue how he’s holding up. That, I think, will be the hardest thing for me personally. I’ve been a stay at home mom for the last fourteen years. It’s been my job to know how my kids were doing and to make sure they had everything they needed. Jason and I both did our best to prepare Morrigan for Real Life, but it’s always a shock, whether through college or military or just moving out. And with this Navy route, it’s a fast and complete severing of that tie. He can’t call home if he doesn’t know how to do something, or if he’s sick, or even if he’s lonely. That all adds to the surreal feeling that he’s not actually gone yet, or that he’s coming back home soon.

I had a moment this week. We have a calendar in our dining room that keeps track of which child is in charge of pouring clean water for the cats that night. The boys write out the calendar, and the days are plastered with sharpie: M A L M A L M A L etc. The other day, before Morrigan was gone, I looked up at October’s layout and had the startled realization that it was all wrong. The day that Morrigan left, I had to go back over all the dates with the sharpie, crossing out all the Ms, until it just said A L A L A L over and over. Such a little thing, but the first thing that started to make my brain fully realize: Now we are four.

Don’t misunderstand – I’m extremely proud of Morrigan and happy that he’s finally able to go do what he wants to do, and I know he’ll do really well. My brain is just struggling to keep up with the changes. Nineteen years ago, I was having my first child. Now he’s off in the world as his own adult self, poof, just like that. The mind reels. The world is suddenly a very different place.

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Wayward Son, by Rainbow Rowell

Now that the war is over and the Chosen One no longer has a Fate attached to his future, he’s depressed. Listless. Hardly ever leaves his couch. Baz and Penny are worried about Simon Snow, and Penny comes up with a radical idea to take Simon out of himself: an epic road trip through the USA, land of magical wilderness (and lawlessness).

So. In Harry Potter, you get “Nineteen Years Later” that only vaguely tells you what happens to Harry and his friends after the war is over. This book addresses the immediate after, the psychological ramifications of having a pre-determined destiny for so long, and that destiny done and gone. It deals with grief and trauma and depression. Because when the war is over, that doesn’t mean the trauma ends. As the book says:

There is no end. Bad things happen, and then they stop, but they keep on wreaking havoc inside of people.

Four years ago, I read Carry On, the story of Simon Snow and his predestined fight against Evil. What I mostly remember about the experience of reading that book was how happy it made me, and how I just wanted to hug the book over and over. How I couldn’t stop smiling. The book made me happy from beginning to end, and I thought it was the perfect little standalone story. I had no idea that a sequel would ever be released, and I was a little taken aback when I heard about Wayward Son a few months ago. Of course, I knew I would read it. It’s not part of the same story arc, and revisiting these characters would be a great nostalgic throwback for me. I knew I’d enjoy their story.

What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to receive the book from the library smack in the middle of RIP season, right after finishing tons of mysteries and detective novels. It wasn’t the right time to read Wayward Son. I wanted more mysteries and detective novels! But I also didn’t want to return the book and get in the long hold line at the library again. I dithered. I barely remembered the actual plot of Carry On, mostly just the feeling I had while reading it and some of the characters involved. Perhaps I needed to reread Carry On before Wayward Son, I could put off the experience until I was in a different reading mindset…

On a whim, I read the first few pages of Wayward Son, just to see if I would need that reread. 1) I would not. This reads as basically standalone, with a major teaser cliffhanger at the very end. 2) “The first few pages” turned into a few fast-paced hours and then the book was done. And while I wasn’t smiling as much as I did during Carry On – the subject matter here gets really, really dark in places, much thicker than I remember from the previous book – I loved it just as thoroughly. I feel like Rowell dove in and really explored these characters and their psychology on a far deeper level, and kept a perfect balance between serious and light. Humor is such an underrated talent in fiction, I sometimes feel, and Rowell definitely has it. She can make me laugh out loud even in the midst of Very Bad Things happening. My favorite quotes from the book are the ones that had me in stitches:

Penny insists on something low-profile this time – which, in America, means a giant white monstrosity called a Silverado. (Silverado, Tahoe, Tundra. Everyone gets it, America,  you’re very American.)

And:

“Thirty-one hours to San Diego?!”
“That can’t be right…That’s like driving from London to Moscow.” … “It’s the same country.”

This last one reminds me of my very favorite Texas meme ever:

In the end, this book delighted me all the way through. I never expected a sequel to Carry On, and I didn’t expect Wayward Son to end on a teaser cliffhanger, revealing that there will be further episodes to follow Simon and Baz and Penny and Agatha. I said that when I read Carry On, I just wanted to hug it the whole time. I didn’t feel exactly the same with Wayward Son, but when I closed the book, I did hug it all the same.

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Wellness Wednesday – Upstairs Bounce

Years and years and years ago, I used to do a lot of indoor running. In particular, I used to run around my giant living room while I watched TV or listened to audiobooks. I began this indoor running during the summer of 1999, and have continued fairly consistently over the last twenty years. Indoor/living room running tends to be more like jogging in place than outdoor running, but I prefer it to running in 90+ degree temps or to a treadmill. For me, an hour of jogging broken up with body weight exercises during the commercials of a show is a perfect workout.

Unfortunately, since our move to Boston five years ago, I haven’t been able to do as much of this indoor running. Every room in our Boston house was tiny, and the living room – the only room with any space at all – was above someone else’s apartment, so I was worried about making too much noise, plus I’d be in pain afterwards. I assumed this was because I had to run in a tiny 5×8 circle, constantly turning so that my knees/ankles/hips never went straight and aligned. In our next house, I broke my foot not long after we moved in and it didn’t heal before we moved again. Then in Wisconsin, I ran around our big living room often, but I experienced a lot of pain and joint stiffness that I attributed to my not-completely-healed foot. And since we moved to our current home two years ago, I’ve still been unable to take up too much indoor running. Our living room isn’t carpeted, so the only large-enough room to run in is my bedroom, and I tend to end up in pain afterwards just like in Wisconsin and Boston.

And I’ve finally, finally figured out why.

I’m sure this isn’t true of all upstairs spaces, but in all three houses I’ve run in, the upstairs floors have been bouncy, with wooden framing underneath. The give isn’t really noticeable if you’re just walking, but running makes a LOT of impact. Furniture in the room shakes when I run past it. There’s a lot of noise. Some parts of the floor are worse than others. I never really thought about that before, but can you imagine what it must do to your joints to have the floor bounce underneath you as you run?? No wonder my ankles, knees, and hips were always in so much pain, and sometimes my lower back, and all the tendons near the joints… Honestly, I’ve spent so long thinking that this was all just because of how heavy I am – even though that I know this wasn’t a problem many times in my life at this weight (or higher) – or that this is a “getting old” thing. But no.

(I miss my pre-Boston living room!!)

Two weeks ago, I decided to try running in my living room despite it not having carpet. (Note: I don’t wear shoes when I run inside. Jogging in place, or my half-jogging-in-place, while in shoes causes me severe shin splints.) I absolutely HATE being barefoot on any surface except carpet, so the experience was godawful despite me doing a lot of extra sweeping beforehand. Over the course of an hour, I ran for three chunks: 14 minutes, 8 minutes, and 12 minutes, with walking breaks between. And afterwards? Well, I had a blister under one foot from the texture of our floor, but NO joint pain at all. No bounce, no pain.

I’m not going to keep running on bare floor. But clearly I’m not going to put my joints through the upstairs bounce, either. Frankly, despite most people in the world hating carpet, I love it and wish all rooms except bathroom/kitchen/dining were carpeted. So I’m not sure what to do now. Spring to carpet our living room, despite the expense, the brand-new floors, and the decrease in sales value when we might be trying to move? (I kinda wish I’d done this last year when we had to replace our living room floor. Twice.) Buy a bunch of heavy rugs and slot them over the floor so I have space to run, even though it’ll look hideous? I’m not sure. I just know that I WANT to run! I miss my indoor running, mixed with strength training. I miss being able to dance, another activity that is too hard on my joints upstairs, but which I won’t do on bare floor. I miss aerobics, and zumba, and pretty much all kinds of high impact cardio that I currently can’t do without injuring myself because we don’t have a safe, carpeted space to do them.

In the end, I suppose it’ll depend on whether we try to move right now or wait a few more years. We’re still making that decision. In the meantime, indoor running will simply have to wait. Sadness.

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The Turn of the Key, by Ruth Ware

Rowan thinks her new nannying job in a remote part of Scotland is perfect, but she soon learns that things are too good to be true.

I was wary going into this book for a few reasons:

  1. I’d heard a lot of complaints about the end.
  2. Ruth Ware in general is hit or miss for me.
  3. I’d heard that this is a retelling of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, which I’ve read twice, still can’t remember a thing about, and found excruciatingly boring and forgettable after both reads.

Still, I was determined to read, and so I began. Immediately, I was a bit put off by the fact that this novel is basically meant to be the narrator’s letter to a lawyer. I don’t like novels that are in letters, diary entries, newspaper clippings, text conversations, interviews, etc. And of course, since all but the first and last few pages of this 336-page book make up a single “letter,” mostly told in regular prose but with occasional breaks to plead with the lawyer, it’s not in the least bit believable. However, since I’d learned ahead of time that this was a retelling of a classic, and I already knew this was a frequent technique used in that style of classic, I decided to ignore my annoyance and keep going.

What follows is a fascinating story. I do admit, the jacket description is a bit misleading (the whole “left alone for weeks at a time” when the main story takes place over less than a week. But mostly, it was a fun mystery to unravel. Then you get to the end, the part everyone complains about. My thoughts, no spoilers:

  1. I wasn’t so bothered by the ending, because like the unbelievable letter format, many classics end with this exact same style.
  2. However, I feel that part of the end is a bit of a cop-out. One reason I dislike letter/diary/etc formats is that it’s hard to get the full story. Once the letter is done, you never find out what happens afterwards. So Ware circumvented this by adding a little extra. I would have preferred the end to remain ambiguous, or to never have had the letter format in the first place.
  3. On the other hand, I can see exactly why Ware chose to add the last little bit, and I did appreciate having answers, even if I think the story would have been more interesting with that final ambiguity.

Honestly, I don’t remember The Turn of the Screw well enough to know if this bookwas a good adaptation. My vague recollections tell me it didn’t read as a whole story, just as pieces that don’t go anywhere or add up to anything. And either way, The Turn of the Key was on balance a much better book, in my opinion. It was flawed, but definitely memorable and spooky and a fun read.

Posted in 2019, Adult, Prose | Tagged , | 4 Comments