In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire | Book Review

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In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire

Rating: ★★★★★

This book has been sitting on my nightstand for months. I devoured the first two books in this series, and quickly added them to my list of favorites, but I was hesitant about reading this latest installment. Why? The third Wayward Children book, Beneath the Sugar Sky, was a huuuuuuge disappointment. It lacked the magic of the first two books. Reading that book and discovering it to be nothing like the first two books was profoundly disappointing, and I kept putting off reading this book because I was worried that it would be similarly disappointing.

Was I ever wrong.

In an Absent Dream may very well be my new favorite book in the series (or perhaps my second favorite book, after Every Heart a Doorway). McGuire is back. This book is every bit as magical and wonderful and beautiful as her first Wayward Children books. I know a lot of people were disappointed with Beneath the Sugar Sky, but please, don’t let that stop you from reading In an Absent Dream. Trust me!

Goodreads Synopsis: 

This fourth entry and prequel tells the story of Lundy, a very serious young girl who would rather study and dream than become a respectable housewife and live up to the expectations of the world around her. As well she should.

When she finds a doorway to a world founded on logic and reason, riddles and lies, she thinks she’s found her paradise. Alas, everything costs at the goblin market, and when her time there is drawing to a close, she makes the kind of bargain that never plays out well.

BookishBlond Reviews:

This book is about Lundy, the childlike counselor/right-hand man to the school’s headmaster, who was a supporting character in the first book. In the first book, we learn that she ages very slowly and backward, kind of like Benjamin Button. In this book, we learn the story behind her anti-aging, but the book isn’t simply telling that one story. Lundy was a kid just like the other Wayward Children, who stumbled down a doorway into a Wonderland tailored just for her. In an Absent Dream tells Lundy’s story – who she was as a child, what world drew her in and why, and, of course, why she couldn’t stay, and where she went afterward.

This book was much more of an emotional read for me than the earlier installments in the series (especially Beneath the Sugar Sky), which are more whimsical. In an Absent Dream is a true coming-of-age story. I had SO MANY FEELINGS after finishing this book, and I’m still not entirely recovered.

“Of such commonplace contradictions are weapons made. Katherine Lundy walked in the world. That was quite enough to set everything else into motion.”

I felt more of a connection with Lundy than I have with any other Wayward Children. At first, her character seems a little bit bland – she’s the principal’s daughter, a bookworm, a rule follower. Quiet. She definitely isn’t as distinct as some of McGuire’s other heroes, but that’s exactly what sets her apart. She is a normal girl, perhaps a bit of a loner, living in the 1960s, with a normal family. I was drawn to her quiet bookishness. Each of McGuire’s Wayward Children books feature a different type of child who ends up in a (very) different type of world. Following my connection with Lundy, I feel like if I opened one of McGuire’s doors, it would lead me to a world very similar to Lundy’s Goblin Market.

I looooooved the Goblin Market. It’s different from McGuire’s other worlds in that children are able to freely travel back and forth between their home world and through the Doorway to this one, at least until their 18th birthday. McGuire’s other worlds aren’t so readily accessible, and it’s interesting to compare Lundy’s experience with the experiences of the other Wayward Children, who only went down the doorway once and then spent years trying to find it again. But… this feature doesn’t work out so well for Lundy, which absolutely broke my heart. The flexibility of traveling to this world made Lundy’s journey less ominous and less urgent than the journeys in the other books, where the children only get that one chance to decide whether to stay forever or to go home. McGuire is tricky, though – she lulls us into a false sense of security then hits us with a sucker punch to the heart. It hurts so good.

The Goblin Market is definitely one of my favorite worlds, right up there with the world the twins went to in Down Among the Sticks and Bones. There are centaurs, birds, children turning into birds, and a complex yet intuitive system of rules. I love rules (which is maybe why I went to law school), so this world really resonated with me. And the characters from this world! The Archivist, who I imagine as an ancient librarian, guides Lundy like Virgil leading Dante through the Inferno. And, of course, Moon. Lundy doesn’t have any friends in her home world, but she meets Moon, her best friend, at the Goblin Market. Their friendship was one of my favorite things about this book.

I love this book so much. It is absolutely one of my favorite reads of 2019. Please, please, please… read this book. If you haven’t read the rest of the series, start here.

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Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson | Book Review

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Bridge to TerabithiaRating: ★★★

I somehow escaped elementary/middle school without ever reading this book. Ever since the film came out a few years ago, I have felt like the only person who hasn’t crossed the Bridge to Terabithia. I’m trying to read more books that I should have read already, and at under 200 pages, this book was a great place to start tackling that goal.

Everybody has that book (or books!) that they just don’t like, even though everybody else seems to love it. For me, Bridge to Terabithia is one of those books. I just don’t get it. I do not understand the hype behind this book. Yes, yes, I’m 26, not 12, but I’m pretty sure this book would have bored me when I was the age of the intended reader.

Goodreads Synopsis: 

Jess Aarons’ greatest ambition is to be the fastest runner in his grade. He’s been practicing all summer and can’t wait to see his classmates’ faces when he beats them all. But on the first day of school, a new girl boldly crosses over to the boys’ side and outruns everyone.

That’s not a very promising beginning for a friendship, but Jess and Leslie Burke become inseparable. Together they create Terabithia, a magical kingdom in the woods where the two of them reign as king and queen, and their imaginations set the only limits.

BookishBlond Reviews:

For some reason, I thought this book was fantasy (it’s even shelved as “fantasy” on Goodreads!), but it’s not. Yes, this book is about children who invent a magical imaginary world, but Paterson never actually shows us what Terabithia looks like. At least, not really. It’s possible I missed those passages, but after finishing the book, all I know about Terabithia is that it has a queen. Paterson presents Terabithia as an imaginary world Jess and Leslie escape to while playing in the woods, but she doesn’t flesh it out. Hearing “Narnia” evokes images of satyrs and talking animals, but “Terabithia” doesn’t bring anything to mind. I was expecting something Narnia-esque, and I was profoundly disappointed that Paterson didn’t deliver.

Similarly, I was disappointed in the characters. Jess was boring and vaguely irritating. His sisters and his relationship with them was nothing special… it must have been mandatory to write sibling relationships like that in the 1970s. I did like Leslie, though. She was a little badass and her parents seemed pretty cool, too. I wish we got more of them. But when I compare Paterson’s characters with other “classic” children’s books like the Narnia series, and L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time books, these characters are so flat.

I’m going to discuss some spoilers in the next paragraph, so if you’re one of the rare people (like me!) who haven’t read the book, you might want to stop reading here!

Leslie’s death seemed so pointless. In the Afterward, Paterson explains that she was inspired to write the book after her son lost a childhood friend, which explains why Leslie had to die more than anything else. I really wish I had read the Afterward before diving into the book; I would probably be less disappointed if I had. Paterson wasn’t writing her own version of Narnia. She was writing about her son’s experience coping with the loss of her friend. So Leslie had to die because Jess/Paterson’s son needed to come to terms with her death. But without that context, her sudden death is senseless. I still mostly feel like her death was senseless, but I did appreciate Jess’s emotional development afterwards. Really, the only redeeming thing about Jess’s character is how he deals with losing his friend, which he had betterdo well, since that’s the whole point of the book. In sum, Leslie’s death was a plot device that drove the book. I don’t like it, but it is what it is.

I really didn’t care for this book. It’s boring, and there’s a disconnect between how the book is portrayed and how it actually is. I understand that I’m reading the book as an adult, but there are so many wonderful children’s books available that are both magical and emotionally satisfying that I don’t think my age is the problem here. I’m disappointed in Bridge to Terabithia, but I didn’t hate it, so I’ll give it 3 stars.

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WWW Wednesday | May 22, 2019

WWW Wednesday is hosted by Taking On a World of Words. Every Wednesday, the posters discuss 3 Ws:

  1. What are you currently reading?
  2. What did you recently finish reading?
  3. What do you think you’ll read next?

This is my second time participating in WWW Wednesday, and I’m excited to compare the post I wrote last week with this week’s post. I did start writing on Wednesday, but didn’t quite have the time to finish, so I’m posting a day late this time.

This week is my second week at my new job. I’m very excited to be working in this position, but I’ve been so tired at the end of the day that I haven’t been reading. Instead, I’ve been watching reality tv on Hulu, which I’m ashamed to say is my guilty pleasure. But I’m planning on reading the entire holiday weekend. I can’t wait!

What are you currently reading?

Blood and Money: The Classic True Story…On Immunity: An InoculationThe Last Wish (The Witcher, #1)Perfect Murder, Perfect Town: The Uncen…Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Miss…The Butterfly Mosque

  1. Blood and Money by Thomas Thompson: I left my kindle at my parents’ house in Texas, so I’ve been kindle-less (at least without my physical kindle…) for over a week now… but my wonderful parents mailed my kindle back to me, so I’ll be diving back into this one soon! Unfortunately, I haven’t touched it since last week.
  2. On Immunity by Eula Biss: I’ve been reading this book sporadically at work, on the kindle app for my computer. This book is… interesting. I’m almost certain it originated as a dissertation on Dracula and modern medicine that somehow was expanded into a 200-page book. I’ll probably finish it soon, and I already have a LOT to say in my review.
  3. The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski: I already ordered the second book in this series, and I’m ready to dive in once I finish this one! I also saw that there is  a Witcher series coming to Netflix, which is pretty exciting.
  4. Perfect Murder, Perfect Town by Lawrence Schiller: Maybe it’s time to officially DNF this one.
  5. Playing Big by Tara Mohr: Ditto.
  6. The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson: Dammit, I WILL finish this book soon!

What did you recently finish reading?

Saga, Vol. 8 by Brian K. VaughanSaga, Vol. 9 by Brian K. VaughanThe Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina KhanThe Perfect Nanny by Leïla Slimani

  1. Saga, Volume 8 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: God, I love this series. I’ll admit that this book wasn’t my favorite Saga installment, but it’s still a 5-star read for me.
  2. Saga, Volume 9 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: And this one broke my heart! I cannot believe that Saga is on hiatus… what am I supposed to do in the meantime?? And that ending?? I just can’t.
  3. The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan: I was hesitant about this book after reading some reviews giving it very mediocre ratings (I highly recommend checking out Vicky Who Reads’ review), but I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It’s about a gay Bangladeshi-American girl who gets caught kissing her girlfriend and her parents scheme to marry her off to a nice Bangladeshi boy. It does have a feel-good happy ending (that is probably pretty unrealistic) and I understand the criticism, but it’s YA so I didn’t have as much of a problem with the ending. Full review to come!
  4. The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani: Huuuuuuge disappointment. I wasn’t impressed with the story, the characters, or the writing style. I’m very surprised that the New York Times Book Review praised this book as one of the best of 2018. Read my full review here!

What do you think you’ll read next?

In an Absent Dream (Wayward Children, #4)The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed & Lorraine WarrenThe Weight of Our SkyI Miss You When I Blink: Essays

  1. In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire: I love the Wayward Children series, but I’m been low-key dreading reading this book because I didn’t love the last book in the series. We’ll see.
  2. The Demonologist by Gerald Brittle: I’ve been dying to read this book. I love horror movies, and The Conjuring is such a fun movie… I can’t wait to read about the real couple who inspired the film! The reviews are mixed, which worries me, but I’m staying positive!
  3. The Weight of Our Sky by Hanna Alkaf: The reviews for this book are AMAZING. Another library book I can’t wait to read!
  4. I Miss You When I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott: Just picked this one up from the library yesterday. I haven’t heard much about it, but it looks fun.

I didn’t make much progress since last week, but hopefully that changes the next time I check in. I hope you all have a wonderful rest of your week, and enjoy the holiday weekend if you’re American 🙂

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The Perfect Nanny by Leila Slimani | Book Review

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The Perfect Nanny

Rating: ★★

What a disappointment.

I picked this book up after hearing it praised by the New York Times Book Review podcast as one of the best books of 2018. It had been on my TBR – albeit briefly – before that, but I think I deleted it because of the very low ratings on Amazon, of all places. I really wish I had listened and not wasted my time on this one. It’s barely 200 pages, but it took me over a month to finally finish reading it. Yes, it’s true that I was busy with school and didn’t have as much time to read, but I also just didn’t care about the story. At all.

Goodreads Synopsis: When Myriam decides to return to work as a lawyer after having children, she and her husband look for the perfect nanny for their son and daughter. They never dreamed they would find Louise: a quiet, polite, devoted woman who sings to the children, cleans the family’s chic Paris apartment, stays late without complaint, and hosts enviable kiddie parties. But as the couple and the nanny become more dependent on one another, jealousy, resentment, and suspicions mount, shattering the idyllic tableau. Building tension with every page, The Perfect Nanny is a compulsive, riveting, bravely observed exploration of power, class, race, domesticity, motherhood, and madness—and the American debut of an immensely talented writer.

BookishBlond Reviews:

I think part of the reason why I didn’t really care for this book is the fact that it’s a translation. I have nothing against translated books – some of my favorite books are translated into English – but it seems like something was lost in translation here. The sentences were choppy and somewhat awkward. This wasn’t an easy book to just sit down and read – it’s a “thriller,” but the story doesn’t flow, and it really affected my overall enjoyment of the book and my desire to actually sit down and read it. Maybe I’m mis-attributing the sentence structure to the translator, or maybe it was done purposefully to capture the original French, but something was missing.

The Perfect Nanny opens with a gruesome murder scene – two small children are dead, and their corpses are being zipped into body bags. Ugh. We know from the first chapter who has murdered them – their nanny – but not why she murdered them. Unfortunately, 200 pages later, I’m still not exactly clear as to the why. The nanny, Louise, barely has a voice, and her character is pieced together episodically. Supplementary anecdotes are provided by a few people from her past, but even these chapters didn’t flesh out Louise’s character. I just don’t think Slimani wrote enough to successfully explain why Louise the creepy nanny murdered her two wards, children she doted over for most of the book. There wasn’t just enough there. Maybe Slimani wants you to read between the lines, and make a connection between Louise’s background, her increasingly strange behavior, and the murders, but I feel like that’s asking a lot of readers when the book is only 200 pages. There’s just not enough to work with.

This book is definitely really creepy, but I just don’t get the why. Not just why the murders happened, but what Slimani was trying to do in the first place. It only takes a few hours to read The Perfect Nanny, but those are hours I wish I’d spent doing something else.

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Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley | Book Review

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Where Things Come Back Rating: ★★★★

Does John Corey Whaley know how to write!

Goodreads Synopsis:

Winner of the 2012 Michael L. Printz and William C. Morris Awards, this poignant and hilarious story of loss and redemption “explores the process of grief, second chances, and even the meaning of life.” Kirkus Reviews

In the remarkable, bizarre, and heart-wrenching summer before Cullen Witter’s senior year of high school, everything he thinks he understands about his small and painfully dull Arkansas town vanishes. His cousin overdoses; his town becomes absurdly obsessed with the alleged reappearance of an extinct woodpecker; and, most troubling of all, his sensitive, gifted fifteen-year-old brother, Gabriel, suddenly and inexplicably disappears.

As Cullen navigates a summer of finding and losing love, holding his fragile family together, and muddling his way into adulthood, a young, disillusioned missionary in Africa searches for meaning wherever he can find it. And when those two stories collide, a surprising and harrowing climax emerges that is tinged with melancholy and regret, comedy and absurdity, and above all, hope.

BookishBlond Reviews:

This book is such a treat to read, primarily because of Whaley’s masterful plot construction. The plot is split – one story follows Cullen Witter as he navigates the summer between his junior and senior year of high school, following his cousin’s fatal overdose and his younger brother’s disappearance. The second story first follows a young missionary in Africa, whose eventual return to the States triggers a series of events that’s larger than his own story. At first, the two plotlines seem completely unrelated, but when Whaley does end up bringing them together… ooooohh boy. I didn’t predict it at all. Nothing surprises me, but the conclusion of Where Things Come Backmade my jaw drop in the best way.

Even so, I’m torn between giving this book three and four stars. In addition to the plot construction, I think the strongest aspect of this book is the small-town setting. Cullen’s story is set in rural Arkansas, but it really could be any small American town. The poverty and the hopelessness will be familiar to anyone who has lived in a small town. Cullen’s resignation that he, like his parents, will be stuck in his hometown forever rang true.

But I felt like Whaley’s characters were weak. Cullen reminded me too much of John Green’s typical hero – awkward, melancholy, sensitive, and very irritating. Cullen has an annoying habit of breaking into third person, i.e., “when one is doing X, he will think Y…” that is absolutely infuriating, especially when the technique is used in every chapter. Cullen also imagines those around him as zombies, which I presume is a coping mechanism after going through the trauma of a family member’s death and another’s disappearance. I guess I don’t mind this, but it was annoying to read so many zombie passages, especially since they weren’t exactly framed as separate occurrences from Cullen’s real life. Maybe Whaley was going for some magical realism?

The other characters – especially the girls – are beginning to bleed together in my memory. Not only does everyone have a similar name, but their voices are similar as well.

did enjoy this book’s quirks – The Book of Enoch, a holy book not included in the Christian Bible, is a prominent feature. I loved that. I also enjoyed the mythology of the Lazarus woodpecker. These topics lurk in the background of the book’s plot, and it’s just delightful. They’re unique, and I really appreciate Whaley’s decision to introduce them.

Overall, I am impressed with this book as a debut novel. Whaley knows how to construct a plot! But his characters could use some work. I didn’t feel emotionally connected to any of his characters, but I have no doubt that his characterization will improve as he continues to write. I will definitely be reading more of his novels in the future!

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The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides | Book Review

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Rating: ★★

The Silent Patient

This book just goes to show that you should always trust your instincts!

When I first read the synopsis, I was unimpressed. But then I saw the praise: Blake Crouch and Douglas Preston had very, very good things to say about The Silent Patient. So I decided to give it a try. Never again.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Alicia Berenson’s life is seemingly perfect. A famous painter married to an in-demand fashion photographer, she lives in a grand house with big windows overlooking a park in one of London’s most desirable areas. One evening her husband Gabriel returns home late from a fashion shoot, and Alicia shoots him five times in the face, and then never speaks another word.

Alicia’s refusal to talk, or give any kind of explanation, turns a domestic tragedy into something far grander, a mystery that captures the public imagination and casts Alicia into notoriety. The price of her art skyrockets, and she, the silent patient, is hidden away from the tabloids and spotlight at the Grove, a secure forensic unit in North London.

Theo Faber is a criminal psychotherapist who has waited a long time for the opportunity to work with Alicia. His determination to get her to talk and unravel the mystery of why she shot her husband takes him down a twisting path into his own motivations—a search for the truth that threatens to consume him….

Everything about this book is mediocre. Flat. The writing, the plot, the characters. I’m honestly flabbergasted at the sheer number of 5-star reviews praising this book for its “twist” and for being “unputdownable.” I was bored with this book from the beginning, and I ultimately had to force myself to finish it. The plot is nothing new – we have a psychologist and his patient, a now notorious artist who has spent the last six years locked up in a mental institution after killing her husband. Insanity defense, of course. Even though the psychologist has just started working there he is instantly able to get on her case, and spends all his time obsessing over her and tracking down people she knew before she was locked up (which would never happen – this violates so many ethical rules).

Much of the book takes place in the mental hospital, but it was like Michaelides was writing from what he had seen in movies, and not from research about how a mental hospital actually operates. One of the reasons I disliked the book so much was how unrealistic the hospital was – all of the staff act incredibly unethically (and I mean Ethical Rules unethically, not morally unethically), the psychologist basically takes over the place on the first day – even dictating how the actual medical doctors should treat patients, and the patients have waaaaay too much freedom.

I can’t even remember the psychologist’s name. There was absolutely nothing interesting about him as a character. Much of the plot focuses around two of his relationships – with his patient Alicia, and with his wife. There was just no substance to either of these relationships. In one passage he’ll be talking about how passionate he is about his wife, and describing all these intense feelings he has, but that text is juxtaposed to him not doing anything to show us how he feels. The strong emotional language next to physical inaction is very awkward to read. It doesn’t match up. He’s also supposedly a brilliant psychologist – he does, after all, somehow get a patient who has been practically catatonic for six years to respond to his fantastic therapy – but at the same time, he’s baffled by his interactions with people outside the hospital, and doesn’t seem to understand basic human emotions. All of this really stuck out to me as I was reading. I do believe that this could be fixed; hopefully Michaelides’ writing improves as he continues to write.

Alicia, the Silent Patient herself, was also uninteresting. She was supposedly a celebrated artist before she was committed, but her paintings sound so boring. A picture of her husband as Jesus on the cross? Yawn. The plot is driven by the psychologist investigating the mystery behind what happened on the day Alicia killed her husband, but I just didn’t care. It’s difficult to make a reader care about a character who doesn’t talk or have any internal dialogue. Michaelides tries to overcome this by giving Alicia a voice in some diary entries, but it didn’t work for me because there weren’t enough diary entries to flesh out her character. They also conveniently provided insight into whatever the psychologist was investigating at the time, so they functioned more to flesh out his story rather than to give Alicia a story. But I guess this book is about the psychologist, not about Alicia. Which is a shame, because I might have liked it more if we got to know her better.

Obviously, I am very much in the minority here. Maybe I just love to hate on popular books. If you like thrillers, you might very well like this one. But everything about this book fell flat for me, and I’m very disappointed in that “twist” ending. I definitely will listen to my gut reaction about books in the future!