Etta and Otto and Russell and James

Rating: .5
Author: Emma Hooper
Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
Pub. date: Jan. 2014 (read Mar. 2019)

Okay, Emma Hooper is definitely emerging as one of my favourite writers! I read her second book, Our Homesick Songs, last year and absolutely loved it! I may have been a bit biased because it’s a book about Newfoundland, but Hooper herself isn’t a Newfoundlander and I really think it’s a book that can appeal to anyone. So when I saw her debut novel on sale at Book Outlet, I had to buy it.

Hooper has a really lovely way of writing and I could see how her style wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but I really love it. I feel like joined the “Book World” last year when I started my book blog because I was suddenly exposed to all these other book bloggers and booktubers that I hadn’t before. Booktube for sure is comprised mostly of young book bloggers (like they make me feel old), so they trend towards reading a lot of YA contemporary and YA fantasy. I’ve always liked both of those genres, but when I started engaging more in the book world, suddenly I felt like this was all I was being exposed to and as a result, I started reading a lot of YA and fantasy.

This is fine, because I love both those genres, but I’ve definitely become fatigued with them over the last 4-6 months and I went on a fantasy freeze back before Christmas. I enveloped myself back in fantasy in January again and I probably should have paced myself a little because coming into March, I definitely need another fantasy break.

Anyways, this was all a long winded way of saying that I’m trying to get back into reading some more literary fiction and reading Emma Hooper’s Etta and Otto and Russell and James was like a breath of fresh air. I’ve discovered over the last few years that I prefer character-driven stories over plot-driven stories, even though they sometimes involve more of a commitment to read. I always love a good character driven story and overall I find them more rewarding.

I love Hooper’s subtle Canadian stories. I invested some time last year in reading more Canadian literature and damn, a lot of Canadian literature is just depressing. But even though both of Hooper’s books have some pretty sad themes, they are a joy to read and I love how she entwines magical elements into her stories and builds her narrative around everyday, mundane life events.

To get more to the point, Etta and Otto and Russell and James is story about people and relationships and the things we need to do in order to survive and find happiness. Etta and Otta have been married for many years when Otto wakes up one morning and finds a note from Etta saying that she needs to see the ocean and has decided to walk there. Etta and Otto live in Saskatchewan and Etta has chosen Halifax as her preferred destination. Russell is Otto’s best friend and adopted brother who lives next door and they are both affected by Etta’s absence since she has been with them since they became men.

The story follows Etta as she makes her way across Canada and Otto and Russell and they try to figure out how to live and adapt without her. We simultaneously get flashbacks to their shared childhood and the historical events that defined their lives. And like Hooper states in the synopsis, if you want to find out who James is, you’ll have to read the book.

Everything about this book is subtle, but I love how Hooper creates this sense of atmosphere throughout her novels. Do I believe Etta could survive walking across Canada without even a sleeping bag or a raincoat? Absolutely not, but Hooper makes her stories seem incredibly simple, while at the same time being very complex. I know I don’t understand even half of the nuances and themes of this story, but I like thinking about them. I love that Hooper never tells us how to feel, or even really how her characters feel. Everything is left up to our interpretation.

Like Our Homesick Songs, this is a look at the people who leave and the people who stay and how both of those journeys are impacted by that decision. Is home a place or is it the people who make up that place? How do our experiences and memories shape us?

I originally gave this book 4 stars, but after reflecting and writing this review I’m bumping it up to 4.5. I’m filled with such melancholy thinking about this book and there was honestly nothing I disliked about it. Our Homesick Songs is still my favourite of the two, but this one was wonderful too.

Advertisements

Every Book I Read in 2018

I read a whopping 120 books in 2018, totaling over 43,000 pages! This is a new personal best and I can’t quite believe that I actually read that many books. On average, that works out to 10 books a month, with the average book being 365 pages in length.

You may not have noticed, but I’ve been tracking my 2018 reads on this blog in page listed under my “Book Reviews” tab at the top of the page. However, now that it’s 2019, I need to make room for my 2019 reading list, so I’ve decided to publish this list as a blog entry so that it’s not lost. I’m publishing it more for personal reasons, but if you are interested in seeing everything I read this year, along with all the links, you can find my list below:

  1. Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe #2) – Neal Shusterman
  2. The Life She Was Given – Ellen Marie Wiseman
  3. The Star-Touched Queen – Roshani Chokshi
  4. Girl in Translation – Jean Kwok
  5. Looking for Alibrandi – Melina Marchetta
  6. On the Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta
  7. Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
  8. The Cruel Prince (Folk of the Air #1) – Holly Black
  9. American Street – Ibi Zoboi
  10. Ruined (Ruined #1) – Amy Tintera
  11. Tiger Lily – Jodi Lynn Anderson
  12. Then She Was Gone – Lisa Jewell
  13. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
  14. The Boat People – Sharon Bala
  15. Saga, Volume #8 – Brian K Vaughan
  16. The Break – Katherena Vermette
  17. The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson & the Olympians #1) – Rick Riordan
  18. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams – Wayne Johnston
  19. The Power – Naomi Alderman
  20. The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore – Kim Fu
  21. Beartown (Beartown #1)- Fredrik Backman
  22. Us Against You (Beartown #2) – Fredrik Backman
  23. The Thief (The Queen’s Thief #1) – Megan Whalen Turner
  24. This Savage Song (Monsters of Verity #1) – Victoria Schwab
  25. Before We Were Yours – Lisa Wingate
  26. The Child Finder – Rene Denfeld
  27. I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter – Erika L. Sanchez
  28. The Marrow Thieves – Cherie Dimaline
  29. Milk and Honey – Rupi Kaur
  30. The Authentics – Abdi Nazemian
  31. The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth #1) – NK Jemisin
  32. Avenged (Ruined #2) – Amy Tintera
  33. The Nowhere Girls – Amy Reed
  34. The Queen of Attolia (The Queen’s Thief #2) – Megan Whalen Turner
  35. The Poet X – Elizabeth Acevado
  36. Love, Hate & Other Filters – Samira Ahmed
  37. The Humans – Matt Haig
  38. The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead
  39. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe – Benjamin Alire Sáenz
  40. A Girl Like That – Tanaz Bhathena
  41. Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson
  42. The Death of Mrs. Westaway – Ruth Ware
  43. Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orisha #1) – Tomi Adeyemi
  44. Sometimes I Lie – Alice Feeney
  45. A Court of Frost and Starlight (A Court of Thorns and Roses #3.5) – Sarah J. Maas
  46. Allied (Ruined #3) – Amy Tintera
  47. The Astonishing Color of After – Emily X.R. Pan
  48. What You Want to See (Roxane Weary #2) – Kristen Lepionka
  49. The Dry (Aaron Falk #1) – Jane Harper
  50. The Great Alone – Kristin Hannah
  51. The Smell of Other People’s Houses – Bonnie Sue Hitchcock
  52. Emma – Jane Austen
  53. Fruit of the Drunken Tree – Ingrid Rojas Contreros
  54. Girls Burn Brighter – Shobha Rao
  55. I Was Anastasia – Ariel Lawhorn
  56. Song of a Sourdough – Robert Service
  57. Sadie – Courtney Summers
  58. My Plain Jane (The Lady Janies #2) – Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows
  59. An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
  60. Lumberjanes Vol. 7: A Bird’s Eye View – Shannon Watters
  61. Lumberjanes Vol. 8: Stone Cold – Shannon Watters
  62. Bright We Burn (the Conqueror’s Saga #3) – Kiersten White
  63. Not That Bad – Roxane Gay
  64. Rust & Stardust – T Greenwood
  65. The Map of Salt and Stars – Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
  66. Forest of a Thousand Lanterns (Rise of the Empress #1) – Julie C. Dao
  67. Leah on the Offbeat – Becky Albertalli
  68. Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #1) – Jessica Townsend
  69. Radio Silence – Alice Oseman
  70. Ten – Gretchen McNeil
  71. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #1) – Jenny Han
  72. Uprooted – Naomi Novik
  73. The Last Time I Lied – Riley Sager
  74. P.S. I Still Love You (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #2) – Jenny Han
  75. The Assassin’s Blade (Throne of Glass #0.5) – Sarah J. Maas
  76. Women Talking – Miriam Toews
  77. Circe – Madeline Miller
  78. Throne of Glass (Throne of Glass #1) – Sarah J. Maas
  79. Crown of Midnight (Throne of Glass #2) – Sarah J. Maas
  80. Always Raining Here (Volumes #1 & #2) – Hazel + Bell
  81. Heir of Fire (Throne of Glass #3) – Sarah J. Maas
  82. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
  83. The Lost Queen (The Lost Queen #1) – Signe Pike
  84. Girls of Paper and Fire – Natasha Ngan
  85. Neverworld Wake – Marisha Pessl
  86. Lethal White (Cormoran Strike #4) – Robert Galbraith
  87. Check, Please!: #Hockey, Vol. 1 – Ngozi Ukazu
  88. Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass #4) – Sarah J. Maas
  89. Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows – Balli Kaur Jaswal
  90. Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree – Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
  91. The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy (Montague Siblings #2) – Mackenzi Lee
  92. Empire of Storms (Throne of Glass #5) – Sarah J. Maas
  93. The Woman’s Hour – Elaine F. Weiss
  94. Kingdom of Ash (Throne of Glass #7) – Sarah J. Maas
  95. All Your Perfects – Colleen Hoover
  96. I Might Regret This – Abbi Jacobson
  97. For Every One – Jason Reynolds
  98. Vicious (Villains #1) – V.E. Schwab
  99. Vengeful (Villains #2) – V.E. Schwab
  100. Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay – Phoebe Robinson
  101. Wundersmith: The Calling of Morrigan Crow (Nevermoor #2) – Jessica Townsend
  102. Sea Prayer – Khaled Hosseini
  103. Saga, Volume 9 – Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
  104. Fence, Volume 1 – C.S. Pacat
  105. Fence, Volume 2 – C.S. Pacat
  106. The Simple Wild – K.A. Tucker
  107. You – Caroline Kepnes
  108. Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix (Rise of the Empress #2) – Julie C. Dao
  109. The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) – R.F. Kuang
  110. Swing Time – Zadie Smith
  111. Fence, Volume 3 – C.S. Pacat
  112. Our Homesick Songs – Emma Hooper
  113. The Feather Thief – Kirk Wallace Johnson
  114. Truly Devious (Truly Devious #1) – Maureen Johnson
  115. Code Name Verity (Code Name Verity #1) – Elizabeth E. Wein
  116. Murder in Mesopotamia (Hercule Poirot #14) – Agatha Christie
  117. Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity #2) – Elizabeth E. Wein
  118. The Wicked King (Folk of the Air #2) – Holly Black
  119. Wildcard (Warcross #2) – Marie Lu
  120. Always and Forever, Lara Jean (To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before #3) – Jenny Han

Throne of Glass

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sarah J Maas
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pub Date: Aug. 2012 (first read May 2016)
Series: Throne of Glass Book #1

I am so into this series! I wondered if time might diminish my enjoyment, but Maas has totally sucked me right back into Erilea. I’m already 100 pages into Crown of Midnight and I can now confirm that these books make so much more sense having read The Assassin’s Blade first.

I can’t believe this first book was ever passed off as a Cinderella retelling. I didn’t know it was a loose Cinderella retelling when I first read it and upon the second reading I can say it had a ball that Celaena was forbidden to go to and went to anyways, and that’s about where the parallels end. But no matter because in my opinion this is classic YA fantasy. It’s an overdone trope, but I love that there’s a competition in the first book that poses as the main thread to the story, but is really only a introduction to the world building. It is obvious that there is something way more sinister at work in the castle than just the King’s Champion competition and I loved the mystery element of Celaena trying to uncover the truth.

Celaena bugged me a bit in my first read of Throne of Glass because she’s so obsessed with both her beauty and the beauty of others, but I’ve kind of accepted now that beauty is important to Celaena and that’s okay too, so I was able to let go of that hang up in my re-read. I struggled with how quickly she became interested in Dorian and Chaol though. After the traumatic ending of TAB, I thought she would be a little more hung up on Sam and I was sad to see that none of the drama from TAB was addressed in this book. (fortunately it seems it’s going to be addressed in Crown of Midnight though, so that’s good).

Celaena’s ego has always bothered me. We’re constantly told she’s the best at literally everything, yet it doesn’t really seem that way the number of times she’s gotten herself into scrapes. Now though, I kind of see how her ego is really her major character flaw. I appreciated the final showdown between her and Cain when she finally had to rely on other people – Elena, Nehemia, Chaol – to get her through the duel.

What I like most of Throne of Glass is that you can tell the story is just getting started and that there’s so much more to this world than what is presented in the first book. I love books with scope and depth and I think that’s one of the reasons why this series stands out among other YA fantasy series.

I also love the secondary characters. Nehemia, Dorian, and Chaol are all fantastic secondary characters and I love the depth that Maas brings to their characters. I was totally surprised by my second read through of this book though because I used to be a huge Chaol fan in the first few books and always kind of dismissed Dorian as a wealthy, spoiled, womanizer. But I loved Dorian in this re-read! He has been raised by a crazy, brutal, tyrant, yet he has so much empathy and kindness. He genuinely loves his kingdom and wants to work with other nations rather than rule them like his father.

It was a bit slow getting back into this book, but I totally flew through the second half and I know I am going to devour Crown of Midnight in a few days!

The Great Alone

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 
Author: Kristin Hannah
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pub Date: Feb. 2018 (read Jun. 2018)

The Great Alone has been haunting my shelf since it first came out and I finally found time to read it as part of my June Challenge to read 3 historical novels. I read The Nightingale in 2015 and while I did like it a lot, I’ve read a lot of WWII historical fiction and had a bit of fatigue reading that genre. The Great Alone has the most gorgeous cover though (don’t pretend it doesn’t matter) and I was intrigued by a story about Alaska and a POW.

I’m so glad I finally read this because it was seriously a pleasure to read from start to finish, even though it broke my heart and tossed me into the pits of despair. The Great Alone has some of the most gorgeous writing and Kristin Hannah breathed so much life into her setting and her characters. Setting is key for this story and the author did a magnificent job a creating a sense of place. Sometimes too much descriptive imagery can bog a story down, but Hannah’s writing made me fall totally in love with a place I’ve never even been.

Alaska in the 1970’s is the last frontier of America. A place where no one really cares who you are or where you came from. A place where everyone is running to something or from something. A place where 5 of every 1,000 people goes missing and is never found. Where you’re only allowed to make one mistake, because the second one will kill you.

Ernt Albright returns from the Vietnam War a broken man. His plane crashed and he was captured early into his tour and spent years being tortured in a POW camp. When he finally returns to his family, he is broken and disillusioned with America. He was in love with his country when he signed up to go to Vietnam, but now all he can see is an America that no longer represents him – corrupt politicians and blind citizens. Between the Watergate scandal and the young girls going missing in Washington, Ernt Albright feels the whole world is just going to shit.

In his frustration, Ernt becomes an angry and volatile man, moving his family all over America before inheriting a cabin in Alaska from his late friend from Vietnam. In a last bid to find peace, he packs up his life and moves his wife, Cora, and their 13 year old daughter, Leni, to Kaneq Town in Alaska.

They arrive in Alaska in the Spring and are enchanted by the landscape. The days are long and Ernt finally has a purpose – repairing the decrepit old cottage and learning how to survive. Leni has never really had a place that she could call home, but something about Alaska calls to her. This is the great alone, where you can be whoever you want to be. There’s a real sense of community – trade is a currency and in a place where survival is all that matters, the neighbours band together to look after each other.

I’ve been living in BC for the last 5 years, and while I know it’s a lot a different than Alaska, I have become totally enamoured with the landscape here, the mountains and lakes. I spend most of my free time in the summer hiking and camping in the mountains. I also grew up in Newfoundland, which again, has little in common with Alaska, but is more remote and you spend a lot of your year suffering through a dark winter. I know the Alaskans wouldn’t be impressed with my measly camping skills when living off the land is their life, but I did feel like I could totally relate with their love of place, even though 8 months of the year that place is trying to kill you.

The author does a fantastic job with the imagery and making you fall in love with Alaska when the Allbright’s first arrive. The days are long and the flowers are in bloom, what’s not to love about Alaska. For the first time in her life, Leni sees a place where they might actually be able to be a happy family. The sun drives away Ernt’s nightmares and being responsible for your own subsistence gives them all a purpose. Plus, Leni makes her first real friend. There’s only 6 students in the tiny school in Kaneq, but Matthew Walker is 13 too and for the first time, they both have a real friend to spend time with. Matthew is the third generation of the Walker family to grow up in Alaska and he shares his love of the land with Leni and they become very close.

However, at the same time that Hannah’s writing has you falling in love with Alaska, there’s this feeling of darker things lurking on the horizon. The townspeople seem to be obsessed with winter. After school lets out, the entire summer is devoted to preparing for a long a dark winter and Leni and her family work from dawn til dusk every day doing their best to prepare. They must til the land, grow a garden, smoke and can salmon, and most important, bag a moose to see them through the long winter. And as the days start to get shorter, the long nights bring the return of Ernt’s nightmares. His temper gets shorter and Leni begins to realize that what can kill her outside the house may be second to what lurks inside their own home.

I think I could talk forever about this book. I thought it was a little slow moving at the beginning, but it didn’t hurt my enjoyment. I learned a lot about Alaska and survival, which I found just as enthralling as the character development and conflict that came later. There’s a lot going on in this book and Kristin Hannah created some truly wonderful characters. It’s hard to read about Ernt and Cora and their volatile love, as well as the heartbreak that befalls the Walker family early in the novel. But I loved watching the relationships grow. The relationships between Leni and her mother and Leni and Matthew are beautiful, as well as the relationships that develop between Leni and her mother with secondary characters like Large Marge and Tom Walker (I love both of these characters!)

This is a coming of age story for Leni and it is wrought with secrets and heartbreak. Leni loves both her parents, but she also knows they are bad for one another and she struggles to understand their love or to follow her mother’s policy of silence. Tom Walker has money and wants to invest it in the community, to promote tourism in their little piece of the world. But Ernt is opposed to change in any form and the two men find themselves at odds with one another and Ernt’s opinions threaten to tear the community apart. Leni’s friendship with Matthew and her fear of her father cause her to get caught in the middle. What matters more, her family or her future.

Like I said, this book tore my heart right out of my chest and stomped all other it. It is deeply sad, but it also makes you feel so much. It’s about the strength of women and the power of community. How some loves are good and important, but others are toxic and dangerous. There doesn’t have to be shame in our deepest, darkest secrets and that sometimes sharing them with someone else can be incredibly powerful. We don’t always have to carry our burdens alone.

This book also shines a light on some of the inequities of the past and how they still exist today. The law is not very accommodating of battered women. This hasn’t really changed. Leaving bad relationships can be the hardest thing and can sometimes even be more dangerous than staying in a bad relationship. Without help for women, sometimes there is no escape. This book will break your heart, but it will also give you that righteous anger about the way women are treated and tricked within the legal system. How in the 70’s women couldn’t even get their own credit card without a male signatory, so how are they supposed to make it on their own? But the Great Alone has some powerful characters and I loved watching Leni grow and find herself. She was forced into some tough decisions, but Alaska taught her to survive against things tougher than just nature.

I can see how this book might not be for everyone, but I absolutely loved it and now I’m dying to go visit Alaska. Recommend to everyone!

The Dry

Rating: 
Author: Jane Harper
Genres: Mystery, Thriller
Pub Date: May 2016 (read Jun. 2016)

I’ve been hearing such good things about this book and after reading Kristen Lepionka’s What You Want To See, I was in the mood for another good PI/mystery story. I had no idea “the dry” was referring to the setting (although in hindsight it’s kind of obvious looking at the cover), which is set in rural Australia during the height of a years-long drought. Everything is dry and dying and after a grizzly murder/suicide, tensions in town reach on all time high, threatening to set fire to the brush around them.

Aaron Falk is a cop in Melbourne, but returns to his childhood town when he hears the news that his childhood friend Luke has succumbed to the pressures of trying to keep a farm running at the height of a drought by murdering his wife and son before killing himself. Luke has always been a bit unpredictable and his shocking death raises questions about the death of Aaron and Luke’s friend Ellie 20 years prior. Falk had no alibi for Ellie’s death, but Luke insists the two of the them were out shooting rabbits together. Aaron is never convicted of anything, but the town was never convinced of his innocence and eventually drove him out. In light of Luke’s death, Aaron starts to wonder if maybe Luke was lying to protect Aaron, or lying to protect himself.

The setting of this book is genius. You can feel the immense strain on the town. No money from farming means no money for anything else either and everyone is starting to feel the financial strain. The heat just compounds on the town’s troubles. Even after 20 years, Aaron still isn’t welcome in town, but when the new police chief, Raco, confides that he has some suspicions about how the Haddler’s murder really plays out, Aaron decides to stick around and investigate the crime.

As Falk investigates further into Luke’s life, he raises new questions about what happened to Ellie 20 years ago. I was totally intrigued by both crimes and even though it’s a common troupe, I love stories that simultaneously examine both a past and present crime that appear to be linked. It reminded me a little of In the Woods by Tana French, but with a more satisfying ending.

I didn’t have any theories about how either crime might have been committed, but I loved the ambiguity about Falk’s role in Ellie’s death. We assume he’s innocent, but Harper never really answers that question and leaves us guessing and second guessing to the very end. I had no theories about how either crime had been committed, but I was convinced I knew who might have been involved in one of them and was a little disappointed when the plot seemed to be following that suspicion (funny how you always want to guess what happened, but are disappointed when you’re right). In this case though I was not right and that made the story all the more intriguing! Half of the red herrings in mystery novels are obvious, but I love when another red herring successfully manages to lead you astray.

Overall, I loved the traditional mystery novel aspect of this with the added person vs. nature element. I’m excited that Jane Harper already has a second book published in this series and was thrilled when I read the synopsis and discovered it would be another person vs. nature conflict! Plus it’s hikers vs. the wilderness, which I find totally intriguing as someone who loves to hike!

Can’t wait for book 2!