3 stars · beach read · Book Review · Bust · Secret Hideout · spoilers · Summer Read · thoughts

Unpopular Opinion: Where the Crawdads Sing is a beautifully written book with a stupid plot.

Thank goodness it’s a snow day because I stayed up late last night finishing up “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens and I need a nap.  This book is crazy popular right now and I was actually lucky enough to snag a copy from the library’s “Lucky Day” shelf last week.

So first things first, Where the Crawdads Sing has over 37,000 reviews on Amazon right now, with about 87% of those being 5 stars.  I’ve honestly never seen a book have so many reviews.  It’s just incredible.

*I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but with 37,000 reviews and a full Wikipedia synopsis of this book, I’m not sure what’s spoiler and what isn’t for this book.*

Set somewhere in the marshes of the North Carolina coast, the novel weaves together the story of the young beautiful feral marsh girl, Kya, with the suspected murder of the town’s golden boy, Chase.   As Owens takes readers through history and into the marsh, the chapters flash back and forth across the years of 1952-1969, eventually catching up to each other in 1969-1970.  The use of short chapters and flashing back and forth in time was well done.  Unlike Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, Owens was able to maintain her momentum and storytelling with ease throughout the entire novel.

The book is full of rich descriptions of the natural world and it’s no surprise that Owens is actually a zoologist.  While I enjoyed reading about the mashes’s flora and fauna and the incredibly world Owens creates in the marsh, it eventually burned me out and I wish there had been more editing to cull down the descriptions a bit.

The entire plot of Where the Crawdads Sing is set upon Kya’s abandonment, first by her mother who leaves six year old Kya and her four older siblings in the marsh shack with an abusive drunken father.  Her mother’s departure is followed by a slow trickling of abandonment by the four older siblings who vanish down the road without a trace until seven year old Kya is left alone with a man she fears and can’t count on to provide food or stability.  After a truce of sorts in which her father teachers her to fish and boat, he too disappears, leaving Kya to fend for herself in a shack in the middle of nowhere with no food and no money.

Depending on the skills taught by an older brother and her father, Kya survives alone for almost 17 years, a feral child living in the marsh surfacing only for meager supplies and gas for her boat.  Kya’s vulnerability draws readers in, the rich natural descriptions of the coast blending with the loneliness and heartbreak of a little girl left completely alone in the world.  Flashes of racism and prejudice flicker heavily across the pages and I couldn’t help but think that everyone in Barkley Cove comes across as a coward, an asshole or both.

In the midst of Kya’s desperate bid to survive, two local boys find Chase Andrews, the town’s hero, dead in the marsh.  The town searches desperately for a cause of death and eventually lands on a suspected murder.

Without spoilers, I found Where the Crawdads Sing to be a quick and easy read.  The story drew me in but left me wanting more rooted in reality.  I couldn’t get past an entire town knowingly and willingly leaving a little girl to survive out in the marsh alone for years.  I couldn’t get past older siblings knowingly and willingly leaving a little sister alone with a drunk abusive father.  I couldn’t get past the long list of skills that a six or seven year old would need to survive alone without food, running water or electricity in a North Carolina marsh.

I couldn’t get past Kya’s prodigal art talent or her seemingly instantaneous ability to read after 14 years of illiteracy once someone finally taught her the basics.  I couldn’t get past a child not only surviving but thriving on grits, mussels and a few random vegetables for years.

I couldn’t get past the middle-of-nowhere marsh shack being fitted out with plumbing and electricity without any details of how exactly that happened.  I couldn’t get past the terrible inconsistent accents.  I also hated all of the random poems and over technical explanations tossed into the book to make Kya appear much smarter and more cultured than the town folks.

I couldn’t get past the characters suddenly and shockingly changing character in ways that just did not make sense.

For all of my wanting to accept the story, I could not get past the absurdity of the trial or the eventual revelation of who killed Chase Andrews.

Overall, most of this book just felt too implausible.  Where the Crawdads Sing started out beautifully but left me reaching too far from reality to feel grounded in the story and too far removed from characters that seemed to flip personalities seemingly instantaneously.  This one rings somewhere around 3 stars.  Beautiful written.  Stupid plot.

Until next time, happy reading!

Cheers- R

beach read · Book Review · Books to Movies · children's books · Greek Mythology · Mythology · Secret Hideout · series books · Summer Read

Percy Jackson & The Olympians vs Harry Potter

PERCY JACKSON THE LIGHTNING THIEFAnticipating a nice slow week at the beach, I set off on Amazon and Overdrive for something interesting.  I was craving something Harry Potter-esque without the deep tomes.

Cue Percy Jackson and The Olympians.

The first book in the series book popped up on my Amazon Kindle Unlimited freebies with a heading like  “If you liked Harry Potter, you may enjoy Percy Jackson.”  Amazon was right.  I absolutely enjoyed Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief.  It was an excellent beach read that could not be put down.  I even got a sunburn because I couldn’t be bothered to move while reading!  These books are easy reading and I read the first two in two weeks.

After I’ve finished a good book, I usually head over to Amazon to check out the reviews and see if there were any insights or interesting tidbits that I missed or see if anyone else felt a certain way about this character or that event.  When skimming reviews for Percy Jackson, I was blown away by how many people felt Rick Riordan had followed a bit too closely in J.K Rowling’s footsteps.  This was interesting, because while reading the book, not once did I think “Wow..this is just like Harry Potter”.

After discussing with my favorite bibliophile, we both agreed the reviewers panning Percy Jackson as a Harry Potter knock off had done a lazy comparison of the two books.  Yes, they both involve magic.  Yes, they both have a ridiculously smart female character that the male characters depend on.  Yes, they both have a somewhat silly sidekick.  But honestly, that could be any young adult series in this genre and calling Percy Jackson a cherry pick on Harry Potter is a bit like saying The Hunger Games cherry picked from 1984 or The Maze Runner.

While the Harry Potter books derive directly from the vast imagination of their author who created an engagingly dynamic world, the PJ books overlay classical Greek mythology into modern day life.  Riordan does this incredibly well and weaves the Greek myths into a coming-of-age tale while also adding his own spin and a little bit of modernization to the personalities, stories and descriptions of the Greek Gods and mythical creatures.  His characterization of Ares, for example, as an aggressive biker thug was spot-on.   Riordan peppers the books with ancient Greek phrases that add a little dash of mysticism to the stories, while also feeling a teensy bit familiar.  I liked knowing the history and myths surrounding the Greek gods and creatures and seeing how Riordan wove them into this tale.  It’s easy to see how this series would inspire young readers to follow the PJ series with something else rooted in Greek mythology.

While there is a fair amount of magic involved in PJ, it is always limited by the original Greek myths; unlike Harry Potter, in which magic itself is a main character capable of many great and seemingly unlimited things.

Unlike Harry, who grew up an orphan with his terrible extended family, Percy has a loving mother and a distant, somewhat disappointing relationship with his father, Poseidon, the Sea God.  While Harry’s parents are lodged forever in the story as the perfect loving parents who died battling evil, Percy often grapples with anger, confusion and irritation with his missing father while balancing the usual preteen love and annoyance with his incredibly understanding and supportive mother.  Percy’s complicated relationships with his parents are handled incredibly well in an age appropriate manner that kids can relate to.  Harry’s parents, on the other hand, are put on a pedestal and frequently out of Harry’s reach, making it a bit harder to relate to that parent-child relationship.

The world J.K. Rowling created for Harry Potter was absolutely unlimited in place, description and location.  As the primary setting for the HP books, Hogwarts plays a huge role in the story of Harry Potter and with all of the quirky personality it displays, can essential be considered a character itself.  The three friends set off on the occasional adventure elsewhere, but Hogwarts occupies the majority of their adventures.

The PJ books are again limited to Greek myth and the modern world.  These books read more like the Odyssey, with Camp Half-Blood acting as a temporary home base while Percy and friends race around the world to ancient places like Mount Olympus, The Underworld, The Sea of Monsters, and the island of Polyphemus which are hidden in modern locations.  The description of LA as the secret entrance to the Underworld, for example, was particularly delicious.

And finally, we reach the comparison of Hermione to Annabeth.  Both are presented as incredibly smart and capable young ladies who seem ages older than their male counterparts.  This frequently leaves them as the voice of reason and in the case of Hermione, the default caretaker of the group.  For the most part, Hermione was a bit of a know-it-all outcast and a bit of a show-off with a chip on her shoulder.  She was frequently trying to prove herself as a Muggle Witch and maintain her place among her peers.

Annabeth, however, as the daughter of Athena, tends to show more restraint and wisdom for her age.  Her knowledge tends to show itself in her extensive planning and unlike Hermione, who tends to always be right, Annabeth has been known to falter, particularly with the Siren’s song.  Unlike Hermione who tends to always be the caretaker, Percy and Annabeth tend to share caretaker duties.  Their relationship feels a bit more equal than the relationship between Harry and Hermione.

And of course, we can’t forget about the Greek Gods who dip in and out of the PJ stories, interfering and guiding, setting traps and leaving life lines.  While Harry Potter has some minor religious undertones now and then, the PJ characters deal heavily with the presence of celestial beings.  They waiver between believing in the Gods, being a pawn of the Gods and being part of the Gods.

All in all, the PJ books are enjoyable, quick to read and I enjoyed the incorporation of the Greek Gods.  I wouldn’t classify them as anywhere near Harry Potter knockoffs, and hope those shunning this series as an HP knockoff give it another chance.

Until next time, happy reading!

 

ps.  Due to the fact that nectar and ambrosia kills mere mortals, a shot of Greek ouzo will do just fine.  Opa!

 

Book Stores · Old Book Smell · Secret Hideout · Wheat Beer

Researchers declare “Old Book” smell a piece of our cultural heritage

There was a bookstore in Denver, The Black & Read, that smelled absolutely uh-mazing.  As soon as you’d open the door, you’d be hit with a wave of that musty sweet clean bitter slightly pungent odor that only old books exude.  They sold records and sci-fi memorabilia too, so the smell there seemed to be overly potent.  On rainy days, I liked to pop in there and get lost in the shelves, the book smell lingering in my hair and clothes.  As a kid, I only read books that “smelled good”, re-shelving the antiseptic smelling new books in favor of those with a “good smell”.  This method led to some seriously fantastic reads.  My logic at 8 was that a book with a strong bookish aroma is usually well read, meaning it’s a book worth reading.

Houston has Half Price Books, which occasionally catches the old book scent, but it’s more like catching a hint of a favorite perfume on the wind but not knowing where it came from.  The scent there just can’t match any of those old teeny tiny tucked into a corner bookstores that used to be everywhere.  I love my Kindle, but it was a sad day when bookstores started closing and that smell started disappearing.

Turns out I’m not the only person with an affection for that musty old book smell.   Researchers at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage believe  “old book” is a smell that is part of our cultural heritage.  As part of their research experiment, they asked people to describe the smell of the St Paul’s Cathedral Dean and Chapter library.  100% of the folks surveyed described the library smell as woody.  Another 86% described it as smoky.  71% described it as earthy and amazingly 41% of people described that old book library smell as vanilla!

So now that they know what it smells like, can we get someone to work on making old book scented candles?  I’m serious.

Candle wish lists aside, what causes that old book smell?  Research points to the paper, ink and binding adhesives, which give off an odor during the chemical breakdown of those components.  I prefer my 2nd grade analysis that a particularly aromatic book has a collected a lot of history in its pages and is a worthy good read.

 

Subject: Enjoying that distinct “Old Book” smell

Rating: 5+ stars

Best Paired with: Any of the awesome beers found at the Alien Brew Pub in Albuquerque, NM, particularly the Crop Circle Wheat

audio books · children's books · Ice-Cream Sundae · Secret Hideout · series books

Nancy Drew & The Hardy Boys

Nancy Drew the secret of the old clock book cover

My son, who we’ll call Huck in this blog, LOVES story time and was very disappointed that Mommy couldn’t read him his favorite books while driving him to school in the morning.  I attempted a few “from memory” recitations, which never quite hit the mark, before remembering my brother and I having several books on tape that we would sit and listen to over and over and over and over again.

On our next library visit, we found the “reading kits” which contain the book for the child to read and the cd for them to listen.  We picked out several and headed home.  The ride home (and all subsequent car rides for the next week) was awesome, until it became apparent we were going to listen to the same 5 min story 15 times for each car ride.

Cue the Nancy Drew audio book in the wrong location.

The bright yellow color caught Huck’s eyes and he had to have the yellow audio book.  We checked it out and were soon absorbed in a world of 1930’s American mystery.  Unlike the children’s books, this book had chapters and it took us about a week to complete.  My kid was obsessed, OBSESSED I tell you, with the mystery and we would have to sit in the car listening until we reached the end of each chapter.

At 3, I wasn’t sure he’d be able to follow such a long complex story, but he really surprised me by not only following the story, but coming up with his own ideas, conclusions and plans for catching the bad guy.  Over the next few months, we moved through the first five of the original Nancy Drew mysteries before moving on to the Hardy Boys.

Both series are very well written.  The characters are well developed and very like-able.  The plot is always intriguing and the mystery ending always attempts to be creative.  I enjoyed the timelessness of Nancy Drew.  Despite the lack of cell phones, which would have ended quite a few of her mysteries before they started, the novels never felt dated  and it was easy to relate to Nancy and her friends.  The length and complexity of the story was just right to satisfy the literary needs of both Huck and me.

Listening to these books took me straight back to third grade and I enjoyed just as much now as I did then, how Nancy, George, and Bess were presented as strong independent young women who held their own in the mystery world.  It was particularly refreshing to “read” about Nancy’s relationships with men.  The local police force, for example, respected her ideas, opinions and appreciated her assistance on cases.  Her father, a successful lawyer, encouraged Nancy to take chances and follow leads, while also backing her up when she needed it.

The Hardy Boys books are well written as well, but at times felt a bit dated, particularly when they mention money.  The Hardy Boys were also still active in their high school social life, leading to a few more characters than Nancy’s trusty sidekicks of George and Bess.  The stories were very very good but longer than the Nancy Drew mysteries and at times a little bit more complex.  While written about high schoolers, the books seem to be written for a little bit older audience that the Nancy Drew books.

Both my husband and I enjoyed listening to these mysteries with our son, and while I have a notorious affection for F-Bombs and complex tales, I enjoyed the fact that all of the language, scenarios and situations in these books were G rated.  These two series are just as good and as satisfying to read as an adult as they were as a child, and I’m rating these as 5 stars and recommending a traditional old ice cream sundae as the choice of drink while reading.

Title: The Nancy Drew Mysteries/ The Hardy Boys Mysteries

Rating: 5 stars

Location best to enjoy: Your secret hideout, a blanket fort, or the crook of a big old tree

Best Paired with: An old fashioned ice cream sundae with the works