Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

I’ve been hearing that this book is similar to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Well, that is one of my favourite books of all time, so you know I’m going to be interested in any novel connected to it! Compared to all of the other books on my TBR list, this looked like the shortest, and since I loved the material, I figured it would be a good place to start. Here is my review:

 

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Synopsis (Goodreads): The world as we know it is ending. Evolution has reversed itself, affecting every living creature on earth. Science cannot stop the world from running backwards, as woman after woman gives birth to infants that appear to be primitive species of humans. Twenty-six-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, adopted daughter of a pair of big-hearted, open-minded Minneapolis liberals, is as disturbed and uncertain as the rest of America around her. But for Cedar, this change is profound and deeply personal. She is four months pregnant.

Though she wants to tell the adoptive parents who raised her from infancy, Cedar first feels compelled to find her birth mother, Mary Potts, an Ojibwe living on the reservation, to understand both her and her baby’s origins. As Cedar goes back to her own biological beginnings, society around her begins to disintegrate, fueled by a swelling panic about the end of humanity.

There are rumors of martial law, of Congress confining pregnant women. Of a registry, and rewards for those who turn these wanted women in. Flickering through the chaos are signs of increasing repression: a shaken Cedar witnesses a family wrenched apart when police violently drag a mother from her husband and child in a parking lot. The streets of her neighborhood have been renamed with Bible verses. A stranger answers the phone when she calls her adoptive parents, who have vanished without a trace. It will take all Cedar has to avoid the prying eyes of potential informants and keep her baby safe.


Review: While I knew that there would be a strong focus on the pregnancy issue, I was hoping that there would be an equally strong focus on the devolution taking place. That didn’t happen. Instead, this was a story that just gave more detail to The Handmaid’s Tale. 

Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Handmaid’s Tale is a story that doesn’t really take too much time to show how things got to where they were. In Future Home of the Living God, we get to see from Cedar’s perspective how things started to shift into chaos and what led to the corralling of all fertile women. I just wish this had been done better.

Part 1 of the book is really tedious to get through. The story, told entirely from Cedar’s perspective, is in the form of a diary/letter that she is writing for her unborn child. But she just prattles on and on about things that I don’t necessarily care about. I did appreciate reading about her inner turmoil about her present situation, as well as the glimpses of the unease that was settling in around the country as people tried to get a handle on this devolution situation. But I wish there had been more of that. I wanted more instances of devolving, more of how everyone was researching this phenomenon, and the rationale behind herding pregnant women in and taking their babies. There was this time when Cedar decides to go visit her birth parents, which was interesting … but it felt very disconnected with the things happening around her.

Part 2 of the book was more interesting because there was a lot more action, and a lot less philosophizing. Again, the focus was on the pregnancy rather than the environmental changes but at least it was fast-paced and filled with fervor and action. This was the dystopian thriller aspect that I had been promised and I enjoyed it immensely.

But then came Part 3, and it was more of the same of Part 1. There’s very little that actually happens and just more talking and musing. Gone was the survival mode that I had enjoyed from Part 2. It was very difficult for me to finish this last part, because I just couldn’t care. The ending of the novel was also extremely disappointing for me, because nothing was resolved. In a sense, this ending would probably have been a great segue or introduction into how things are set up in The Handmaid’s Tale. But I don’t think that was what the author had in mind.

There were 2 main reasons that I was really upset about this story. One is that I really didn’t like Cedar. She is an aloof character, making it hard to connect with her. Even though more than half of the book is her talking about her thoughts and opinions, I never actually felt like I understood her. One minute, she is talking about religion and God and DNA, and then she’s going on about how she must survive and her survival skills flit in, and then they just disappear and she goes back to philosophizing. None of it was useful, none of it was insightful. It just bogged the story down. The second thing I didn’t like is that the different parts did not come together to create a cohesive story. Part 1 and 3 should be grouped as one thing because of their whole theme of literary fiction, and Part 2 should be the actual dystopian story.

Overall, I found this to be a vague story about a situation where we somehow end up reversing evolution, and for some reason this means that all fertile women must be rounded up and made to give birth. There was too much of a literary component to this story that didn’t add anything substantial, and too little uniqueness to the dystopian story. It was disappointing. I’m giving it a 1.5/5 stars, and that’s only because Part 2 had some adventure to it.

Happy reading ~

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Green by Sam Graham-Felsen

The year is almost ending, and Christmas is approaching, and I have soooo many books I want to finish!! I’m home right now with my family, which is great because I can spend some quality time with them, but not so great in terms of getting through my book list. However, I’m going to do my best to keep reading and writing posts. Starting with this one:

Boston, 1992. David Greenfeld is one of the few white kids at the Martin Luther King Middle School. He has no friends, and he struggles to fit in because his hippie parents refuse to buy him anything dope. Unless he tests into the city’s best public high school, he’ll be friendless for the foreseeable future. But when Marlon Wellings sticks up for Dave in the cafeteria, Dave thinks that maybe his luck has changed for the better. Mar’s a loner from the public housing project on the corner of Dave’s own gentrifying block, and he confounds Dave’s assumptions about black culture: he’s nerdy, obsessed with the Celtics, and not down to show off like all the other black kids. Together, the two boys are able to resist the contradictory personas forced on them by the outside world, and before long, Mar’s coming over to Dave’s house every afternoon to watch vintage basketball tapes and plot their hustle to Harvard. But as Dave welcomes his new best friend into his world, he realizes how little he knows about Mar’s. Cracks gradually form in their relationship, and Dave starts to become aware of the breaks he’s been given–and that Mar has not.

I thought that this was a very interesting coming-of-age story that deals with some very difficult issues involving race and religion, but not in a heavy-handed way. I liked that the author maintained the slang and vocabulary from the 1990s and made references to what was hip back then; it made the story relevant and also gave me some insight to what was going on back in those days. I also really liked Dave and Mar’s friendship. Their characters were really well developed and their camaraderie was sweet to see. The story is told entirely from Dave’s perspective, and I liked that a lot because it allowed the reader to see the growth and change in Dave as he witnesses events happening to him and to Mar. However, I found the plot to be a little slow. There was no variety to the events and it seemed that a lot of repetitive instances had to take place before the author decided that he had made his point and could move on. This was really one of the main reasons why it was hard for me to get through the novel. But I think that the entire story was really well-written and had great characters. I’m giving this a 3/5 stars and would recommend this to anyone who likes coming-of-age books that look at divisions of race and class.

Thanks to Penguin Random House and the First to Read program for this ARC in exchange for my honest review.

Happy reading ~

Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell – Lychford #1

Yay for urban fantasy stories featuring witches! I really wanted to get myself into a short book, and what better way than to read a novella?

When a supermarket wants to build a major branch, the villagers of Lychford are divided. Some are open to the prospect of new employment opportunities, while some object to the modernization of the local environment. But Judith Mawson, local crank and hedgewitch, knows the truth: Lychford lies on the boundary between 2 worlds and the construction of the supermarket will destroy this border, opening the gateways to maleovalent beings beyond imagination. No one is ready to listen to the words of an old woman … but maybe she can get help from some unlikely allies…

This novel was a lot lighter than I thought it would be. There are 3 main characters: Judith who is not the friendliest neighbour you can have, a local vicar, and the owner of a shop that deals with all things magic. They are the weirdest trio to face against evil, but I really liked them. I found the story to be interesting, and events moved along quite quickly. The humor in this novel is very dry but very good. The witchy aspects of this novel are more fae-like and have a lot to do with symbols and herbs, so if you were looking for something more intense, then this might not be right for you. I thought the use of the supermarket as the force for evil was really interesting and entertaining and unique! My overall feeling was one of enjoyment but I always wanted more. I wanted to learn more about the characters and see more of the magical beings … which is why I’m going to give the next novella in the series a try! If you like novellas from the urban fantasy genre and are looking for something with a dry humor, then give this one a shot!

Happy reading ~

Tarry This Night by Kristyn Dunnion

I’m always fascinated by cults and I always grab any book that deals with this subject matter so that it might help me understand the mentality behind cults better. What could possess people to give everything up and believe in one person who claims they know the future? What could cause people to wholeheartedly give in to a completely different way of life? These are just a few of the questions that I try to answer through fiction and non-fiction on this fascinating topic. Anyways, I stumbled upon this book and thought it would be a great read for me. Here is my review:

As a civil war brews in America, there lies a cult ensconced in an underground bunker, waiting for the conflict to end. Father Ernst is the leader of this cult, and his “Family” depends on him to guide them through this troubling time and into the period of Ascension promised to them. But when “The Family” runs out of food, one among them must go out and forage for supplies, leaving behind the rest to the madness of Father Ernst. Ruth is a young girl but she is soon to come of age. Terrified of serving as Ernst’s next wife, she must choose between obeying her faith and fighting for survival.

I thought this was a very interesting cult fiction with dystopian elements thrown into it. The summary is quite apt: there is a cult with its leader living in an underground bunker waiting out the civil unrest happening above ground, but tensions are high and they are on the brink of starvation. It’s the perfect setting for desperation to settle in and for something climactic to happen. I really liked that the story was told from multiple perspectives; it allowed us to understand the main characters better, while also showing us the situation they were in and how being a part of this cult had changed them. There are characters across all ages, each with their own unique experience and viewpoints. This is a gritty story that explores many different themes: the divide between blind faith and the ability to make one’s own choice, the loss of innocence, the desperation to survive, and the meaning of happiness and freedom. I really enjoyed the story but I just wish it had been longer! A longer story would have given more tension, and would have made me feel more satisfied about the ending. Overall, a really good story that I wish had been longer so that I could have enjoyed it more! 3/5 star rating from me!

Happy reading ~

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

I received this novel as an advance copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

This novel intrigued me because it was completely out of the norm. I don’t really read books that discuss religion, philosophy, and politics, but this story was just too interesting for me to pass on. Here is my review:

While on her way to a dinner party in Istanbul, Peri, a wealthy married Turkish woman, is robbed. As she wrestles to get it back, a photograph falls to the ground. It’s an old polaroid of 3 young women and their university professor, a relic from a past that Peri has held onto while also trying to forget. Over the course of dinner, terrorist attacks occur across the city. Competing in Peri’s mind, however, are the memories invoked by her almost-lost polaroid, of the time years earlier when she was sent abroad for the first time to attend Oxford University. There, she had become friends with the charming, adventurous Shirin, a fully assimilated Iranian girl, and Mona, a devout Egyptian-American. Their arguments about Islam and feminism find focus in the charismatic but controversial Professor Azur, who teaches divinity, but in unorthodox ways. As the terrorist attacks come ever closer, Peri is moved to recall the scandal that tore them all apart.

I thought that this novel was quite interesting. Peri’s character takes us on a journey into the past and the present through alternating chapters. In this way, the reader gets to understand Istanbul, the country of her birth, and what it means to be Muslim. I really liked the time the author spent explaining Peri’s experiences to the reader; it gave me a new perspective to consider. This novel also talks about tensions in the family, and how secrets and frustrations can upset family dynamics. I will admit, I was more interested in the past than in the present events, but I found Peri’s grown-up character (during the present) to be wonderfully mature in her views on politics, religion, and the role of females. I also loved watching Peri grow up and become confused about her views and identity, especially once she attends Oxford. I wish there had been more tension in the events that occurred in the past, and wish certain things had been explained in more detail because they seemed to happen out of nowhere and caught me off-guard. After all the lovely explanations about Islam and the cultural mosaic in Istanbul, I wanted the author to help me understand more of Peri’s actions. I also wish there had been some tie-in to explain how Peri got to where she was in the present time, as that would have been a good transition. Overall, I found this novel to be thought-provoking and insightful, but not a thriller in any sense. This is a slower novel but it is beautifully written and I would recommend it to anyone interested in philosophy and religion, and the way these 2 aspects can shape a person’s identity. 3/5 stars from me!

Happy reading ~

The Shoe on the Roof by Will Ferguson

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Having done a major in psychology, I’m always interested in social psych and child development. The premise of this novel involves both; the main character underwent experimentation as a child and now, as an adult, he plans on conducting a social experiment. This was enough to make me curious and so, I happily accepted this ARC. Here is my review:

When his girlfriend ended their relationship, Thomas Rosanoff’s life went downhill. A gifted med school student, he has spent his entire life trying to escape his father’s legacy. His father, an esteemed psychiatrist used Tommy as a test subject; Thomas lived his entire young life in a box, watched by researchers behind 2-way glass. But now, Thomas is the researcher, and his subjects are 3 homeless men who all claim to be Jesus. But no 3 people can be the messiah. Thomas is determined to “cure” the 3 men of their delusions and thus, save his career – and potentially his love life. But when Thomas’s father steps in, events spin out of control, and Thomas is forced to confront the craziness of his own mind.

I really wanted to like this book, and there were times when I did enjoy the story. But overall, this one just didn’t do it for me. The premise was definitely intriguing and I really liked the way the author introduced Thomas as this cocky, confident, and slightly eccentric student. It was fun to read about his escapades and his conquests. Did I think the plan to get his girlfriend back was crazy? Absolutely! But I was willing to go through with reading about it. I liked the 3 homeless men and the way they made Thomas reevaluate his notions about the world. In fact, they made ME reevaluate my own beliefs. When Thomas’s father stepped into the picture, the story went towards the dark side. I didn’t actually mind this transition as it created this really awesome downward spiral. All of the above aspects I mentioned are positive. However, there were quite a few things I didn’t like. There were quite a few parts in the story that dragged the pace and I found it really hard to push myself past these points; I wanted to get to the good stuff and these parts just seemed like fillers. There was a random murder aspect thrown into the story that really didn’t add anything; instead of heightening my reading experience, it served to dampen it. I also thought that Thomas’s childhood could have had more focus than it did in the novel; I would be really eager for a glimpse into it and then I would only get a tidbit and feel disappointed. While the plot and character development was intriguing, the pacing was slow, there were too many fillers, and some plot aspects really should have been omitted. For those reasons, I’m giving this a 2.5/5 stars.

Happy reading ~

The Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter

Something about this book just captured my attention right away. Maybe it was the cover, with its medieval times look. Maybe it was the fact that this story combines fantasy, historical fiction, and the Devil. Either way, it’s been on my mind for a while and now seemed like the best time to get into this story (which has a sequel, by the way!) so here is my review:

13th century Bohemia is a religious place, where anything that defies God and the Church is considered a danger to humanity. This makes it a dangerous place for Mouse, a girl born with unnatural powers and an uncanny intellect. Some call her a witch, others call her an angel…. but Mouse doesn’t know who – or what – she is. When young King Ottakar shows up wounded at the Abbey, Mouse breaks church law to save his life. Astounded by her medical abilities, the King insists on taking her with him back to Prague as his personal healer. When Mouse arrives at the castle, she is caught in the midst of court politics. Soon, Ottakar and Mouse find themselves drawn to each other, as they work together to uncover the identities of those who are against him and unravel the mystery of Mouse’s identity. But when Mouse’s unusual gifts give rise to violence and strength, she is forced to ask herself if she is prepared for the future that awaits her.

This is a book that I still haven’t been able to pin an opinion on. There were so many things that I loved about this novel and I read this book in record time. However, there were also certain elements of the novel that didn’t work for me. Let me start by talking about the things I liked:

  • Mouse having powers was the thing that really drew me to this novel. I love fantasy and a female protagonist with “gifts” during a time period when people like her would be considered witches or worse …. well, that is my weakness!
  • I really liked that the author didn’t just focus on Mouse’s powers; she took the time to explore Mouse’s life, her emotions, and all of the other factors that influenced Mouse. It made Mouse come alive, made her more than just your usual protagonist trying to figure out her identity. Mouse falling in love, suffering, and rising from that was just as important to the story as her powers.
  • I liked the historical backdrop of the story a lot. This novel takes place in a variety of different settings and the author does a really great job transitioning from one to the other.
  • While the story has its slow points in the middle, it definitely ramps up closer to the end and it kept me on my toes until the very last minute. It was worth the dull stuff to get to that last page!

So now that I’ve covered the good stuff, here are some of the things I disliked:

  • Mouse’s character was not as strong as I would have liked. For someone who has badass powers, she didn’t really do much to discover them and I wasn’t too happy with the fact that she never properly embraced them.
  • The author made Mouse very submissive … and that bothered me a lot. I understand that she may have wanted to maintain some kind of historical accuracy, as the times in which this novel took place, there was no feminism movements…. but Mouse had POWERS! She really shouldn’t have been placed in such submissive roles, she should have been way more badass and strong. This really bothered me in the story and I wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as I had hoped because of this aspect.
  • The dull moments were … dull. If the author had included some magical power stuff, then it would have been a bit easier to get through those parts.

Overall, this story was gripping and original. I really enjoyed the overall plot and made my way through this book quite quickly. While there were some elements that I didn’t enjoy, the book was mostly amazing and I am definitely going to be reading the sequel!

Happy reading ~

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett – The Divine Cities #3

At last! The final novel in this amazing trilogy! What I love about this series is that each novel takes place a few years after the previous one, and it focuses on a different character each time; this means that you can manage to read it as a standalone if you are strapped for time – though I would recommend reading the entire series in order to really understand everything. In the first book, the protagonist was Shara Komayd. In the second, it was Mulagesh. And now, we hear from Sigrud, who was always one of my favorites. Anyways, here I go with my review:

Siigrud je Harkvaldsson is very good at one thing: revenge. So when he learns that his oldest friend, Prime Minister Shara Komad, has been assassinated, he knows exactly what he is going to do. Yet as Sigrud pursues Shara’s killers, he begins to fear that this mission may be unsuccessful. Because discovering the truth behind Shara’s death means taking part in a secret, decades-long war, facing down an angry young god, and unraveling the mystery of Bulikov, the city of miracles.

It was definitely a good thing that I read the previous books in the series because the magnanimity of the truths revealed in this novel was just … WOW. And you really can’t understand how amazing these are unless you read the previous novels. So while I’m sure you can enjoy and understand what is happening in this novel without reading anything else in the series, I would strongly advise against that; take the time and read the first 2 books before getting into this one, so that you can truly fall in love with this serie like I have!

Sigrud…. I love him. This book did him such justice. His personality is just so …. amazing and one cannot help but appreciate him for his kindness, his loyalty, and his ruthlessness. He comes off as simple but the more you read, the more you see his complexity. The author definitely did an amazing job when creating Sigrud! I also loved all of the other characters that were a part of this story; each one was unique and had so much depth that you felt like you truly knew them!

The story and world-building in this novel are incredible but I expected nothing less from the author of this series. I wasn’t expecting all of the mysteries to be revealed in the way it did, which was a really awesome surprise. I really can’t complain at all about anything in terms of the story, characters, or world-building.

This was a stunning conclusion to an epic series and I strongly urge anyone looking for an awesome fantasy series to read this series. You will not be disappointed!

I received this novel from Blogging for Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Happy reading ~

 

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

When I first heard about this book, I had my doubts. The story sounded interesting but I worried that it would fall into the trap that a lot of fantasy stories based on fairy-tales get into. I am so glad that I chose to read this book anyways, because it was absolutely fantastic!

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind – it means more time with her wonderful siblings, listening to their nurse’s fairy tales. When Vasilisa’s father decides to remarry after the death of his wife, it is in the hopes that the new wife will be a good influence for Vasilisa. Fiercely devout, Vasilisa’s stepmother forbids her family from practicing any “pagan” rituals and honoring the household spirits. While the family does her bidding, Vasilisa worries about the consequences of these actions. When crops begin to fail and misfortune plagues the village, Vasilisa’s concerns prove to be true. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows even harsher in her desire to confine Vasilisa and make her conform. As danger looms ever closer, Vasilisa must defy everyone to protect her family.

This was an absolutely beautiful book. I devoured it in one sitting and it is one of my favorite books of this year. I rarely rave about a YA fiction novel but this one deserves all the praise I can give it! I remember reading some of the traditional folk tales native to Russia and I was very happy to see them incorporated so well in this story. It made these folk stories come alive and seem so vibrant! Not only is this story rich in culture, it also has great characters. Vasilisa, also known as Vasya, is such a strong female character and I absolutely adored her. She is not beautiful in terms of traditional forms of beauty, but she manages to capture everyone’s attention with her fire and energy. I love that she is independent and strong and unafraid. I like how there are characters that complement her and that function as points of comparison. The character of the stepmother and the priest were very interesting to me; I liked that the author didn’t just label them as evil but rather, built layers of complexity for them. The mythical creatures were also so interesting and wonderful and I loved reading about Vasya’s interactions with them all. Suffice to say, this novel hit every note and was amazing in every way. I was thrilled to hear that there is a sequel to this novel and I cannot wait to read it when it comes out. Regardless of if you are a fan of YA fiction or not, this is a novel I would recommend to anyone who likes fantasy and strong female protagonists!

Happy reading ~

Plague by C. C. Humphreys

I really like historical fiction novels but I don’t read many books in this genre. Perhaps it’s because I always find myself being recommended thrillers or fantasy novels. I was looking at what book to read next and decided that this historical fiction had an interesting enough premise to give it a shot… so here is my review:

London, 1665. It has been 5 years since Charles II was restored to the throne, and he has spent these years enjoying everything London has to offer. Cockpits, brothels, and the theatre run rampant, with both women and men performing alongside each other. But not everyone is happy with these developments. Some see this “liberation” as a new Babylon and decide that it is time to clean up London… through murder. And no one is spared from the scalpel of this cruel killer, be it a royalist member of Parliament or a whore. But they all have 2 things in common: they are found with gemstones in their mouths and it is evident that they have been … sacrificed. Amidst all of this pandemonium comes the plague, back in full force leaving no one safe… and so, murder has found a new friend.

I thought I would enjoy this novel a lot more than I did. The characters were quite interesting, and I really liked the way the author introduced each one, giving them all their own chapter and spotlight at the very beginning of the book. The language of the book was perfectly written to fit in with the surroundings; the author did a great job setting the scene. However, I felt that the plot itself was lackluster, at times dragging and at times rushed. Some parts of the plot were quite unnecessary and that just made it harder for me to get through this novel. I thought that the plague would play more of a role than it did but it just served to set the scene. Overall, this book had interesting characters and a perfect setting, but lacked in a strong and interesting plot. I would recommend this to anyone looking for an adventure story.

Happy reading ~