September 2022 Book Club: All the Stars and Teeth

Cover art for All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace.

I really liked this one, in fact, I liked it so much that I immediately picked up a copy of the second book (something I almost never do!). There’s something to be said about a narrator that has their world tipped upside down, where everything they believed to be true is a lie and everything that is true would be easier to swallow if it was a lie.

It’s hard to imagine a greed so powerful that it shapes the world, but then again I suppose we see it every day. The flip side of this greed is curse magic, was it really fair for generations to be affected by one person’s poor choice? To have magic that has the power to be beautiful trapped and tainted in a bloodline seems as cruel as the person who it was meant to punish.

We didn’t read the second one together, but it’s worth a read because continues an interesting and fun story. In book two, Amora has to cope with being cursed twice while determining what running a kingdom should be. I liked it because it wasn’t trying to tie up too many loose ends, just wanted to further build out the world that Grace had created in the first book.

All the Stars and Teeth (and All the Tides of Fate) stumbled across my path at the right moment, when my attention span required easy reading and my heart desired a story full of hope. If I had to complain about the book, it would be that Amora mistakes strength for being caustic and that I really feel like she should have gotten together with Vataea in the end (or no one at all, it would have been fine without the romances).

One more month of sea-themed books (not sure if that’s a lie or not, we’ll see next month!), for October we’ll read The Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh. Recommended to me by GoodReads because of another fantasy book I consumed, it will be fun to visit the ocean in a world without pirates (or at least where they’re not one of the main characters).

Cover art for the Girl Who Fell Beneath the Sea by Axie Oh.

Deadly storms have ravaged Mina’s homeland for generations. Floods sweep away entire villages, while bloody wars are waged over the few remaining resources. Her people believe the Sea God, once their protector, now curses them with death and despair. In an attempt to appease him, each year a beautiful maiden is thrown into the sea to serve as the Sea God’s bride, in the hopes that one day the “true bride” will be chosen and end the suffering.

Many believe that Shim Cheong, the most beautiful girl in the village—and the beloved of Mina’s older brother Joon—may be the legendary true bride. But on the night Cheong is to be sacrificed, Joon follows Cheong out to sea, even knowing that to interfere is a death sentence. To save her brother, Mina throws herself into the water in Cheong’s stead.

Swept away to the Spirit Realm, a magical city of lesser gods and mythical beasts, Mina seeks out the Sea God, only to find him caught in an enchanted sleep. With the help of a mysterious young man named Shin—as well as a motley crew of demons, gods and spirits—Mina sets out to wake the Sea God and bring an end to the killer storms once and for all.

But she doesn’t have much time: A human cannot live long in the land of the spirits. And there are those who would do anything to keep the Sea God from waking…

August 2022 Book Club: The House in the Cerulean Sea

Cover art for The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.

This post should probably start by saying this book was a much better read than the non-fiction I attempted last month. For starters, the writing draws you in from the beginning because as much as you don’t want to relate to Linus, it’s easy to. We’ve all had jobs that we do because they’re a paycheck and we’re good at them. They’re safe and easy, why put yourself out of your comfort zone if you don’t need to? Then there’s his desire to fit into society: his dieting, rule-following, and people-pleasing ways. Why stand up to your neighbor if it’s not so bad? You do have to live next to them after all and who’s to say it will improve things? I cheered when Linus stood up and quit his job because I’ve been there. I’ve felt the relief of coming to the decision that I deserve better and the excitement that comes from taking a risk. After all, let’s be clear here, DICOMY would be a toxic department to work for.

Then there’s the children, each special in their own way and each looking to be loved. I think that’s the big thing that Klune is trying to stress as we get to know them, even though they’re different and they don’t quite fit in with the world around them, they’re still just children who are in need of a loving home. It’s a friendly reminder that all children, I’m thinking of those outside the story now, are looking for the same things. They want to feel safe and loved, and when they do they have the ability to really thrive. We see it in each of them – Lucy wanting to feel safe from his nightmares and interact with the world through music, Chauncey dreaming of helping people, then there are dreams of creating beautiful gardens and writing poetry, all different and about being accepted for who they are and what excites them.

Fear is, unfortunately, one of the powerful emotions in this book that is often translated into hate. Linus fears being seen so he hates how he looks and interacts with the world. The villagers fear the children on the island, so they hate them. Arthur fears the children being mistreated, so he hates the idea of them ever leaving the island. Fear and hate hold everyone back, it wasn’t until everyone allowed their bubble to be popped that they were able to move forward and face their fears.

All in all, I love this book because it’s about finding the place you belong and the people you belong with. It’s about popping your comfort bubble so that you can let in those who have the potential to help you grow into the best version of yourself, not the version the world believes you capable of. It’s about letting go of your past hurts so that you can move forward a stronger person that can stand up for themselves. The House in the Cerulean Sea is a beautiful story, I was sad when it reached its conclusion.

Cover art for All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace.

For September, let’s continue our enjoyment of islands and magic with All the Stars and Teeth by Adalyn Grace. If I’m being honest, the cover drew me in and the description lead me to decide to read it. So while I’m not judging a book by its cover, it did lead me to pick it up ;]

Set in a kingdom where danger lurks beneath the sea, mermaids seek vengeance with song, and magic is a choice.

She will reign.

As princess of the island kingdom Visidia, Amora Montara has spent her entire life training to be High Animancer — the master of souls. The rest of the realm can choose their magic, but for Amora, it’s never been a choice. To secure her place as heir to the throne, she must prove her mastery of the monarchy’s dangerous soul magic.

When her demonstration goes awry, Amora is forced to flee. She strikes a deal with Bastian, a mysterious pirate: he’ll help her prove she’s fit to rule, if she’ll help him reclaim his stolen magic.

But sailing the kingdom holds more wonder — and more peril — than Amora anticipated. A destructive new magic is on the rise, and if Amora is to conquer it, she’ll need to face legendary monsters, cross paths with vengeful mermaids, and deal with a stow-away she never expected… or risk the fate of Visidia and lose the crown forever.

I am the right choice. The only choice. And I will protect my kingdom.

July 2022 Book Club: The Design of Everyday Things

Cover art for the Design of Everyday Things by Donald A Norman.

I really wanted to like this one but had the hardest time getting into it. Perhaps I need to give it a second try at a later date, but I honestly struggled to make it past the second chapter. Though the writing was dry, it reminded me of a time I enthusiastically purchased a teapot-cup combo from a thrift shop. In theory, it was genius. The teapot stacks inside the mug for easy storage and was designed so that you could enjoy two cups of tea using the included mug – perfect for a morning where you’re not sharing a pot with someone. In practice, however, the handle on both items was too small to use. This meant that you inevitably burned your fingers pouring the tea and again trying to drink it (the material of the pot was also too small. Despite paying $2 USD for the items, I couldn’t help but attempt to use them again and again over the course of two years before finally donating them.

I think this concept of design is interesting and can be applied to everyday life. There are things that seem like a good idea, but when you try them out it turns out they’re not a good fit. Maybe because it adds too much driving time to your commute so you never make the trip. Maybe the goal didn’t actually fit into your lifestyle. Perhaps the real point is that you give the idea the freedom to fail and then learn from your mistakes to improve the design. In thinking of my teapot/mug combo, the design would have worked better if the set was made of a thicker clay or if both items had a more practical handle. I will acknowledge here that sometimes items are donated to a thrift store for a reason and I should consider that when purchasing.

Back to fiction for August, which I tend to enjoy more by default. One of my friends lent me her copy of The House in the Cerulean Sea and it seems like the perfect book to slip into in the heat of summer:

Cover art for the House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune.

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

June 2022 Book Club: Practical Magic

After our plot-driven May book club, Practice Magic offered a slower more relationship-focused story. It was interesting to watch Sally and Gillian experience the same things as children and internalize them differently. One child became dependable and predictable while the other child couldn’t get away from what she knew fast enough. This in turn shaped the women they grew into and caused them to grow apart. Gillian needed adventure and constantly fell for the wrong man. Sally wanted to be normal and found herself falling quickly for the two men in her life.

The same can be said of Sally’s children. They started the story close and then grew apart when they left the Aunt’s house. Almost as if the physical location of the Aunt’s house provided a glue that kept both sets of sisters together. As the outside world wedged them apart, it was that same world that provided a humbling experience that brought them back together.

This begs the question, is it destiny that the Owens women stick together in the end or, is it the bonds of family are strong them when the going gets tough? Just as, is it destiny that men who fall in love with Owen’s women have something terrible happen to them or, is it simply circumstance? One of the things that Practical Magic does very well is display magic in a way that makes you feel as if it’s both all around you while also being just out of your reach, which makes answering these questions hard (although I’m inclined to believe there’s something to be said of destiny and fate, perhaps even that you have some control of it).

All in all, this was a comforting read that provided as many layers as the reader was interested in discovering. I picked up Magic Lessons (the prequel) after finishing Practical Magic and think that it’s an interesting companion novel. Although I thought about putting it down several times, I enjoyed that Magic Lessons took on this question of destiny vs the past catching up with you and recommend it as a read if you’d like to hear more about how the Owens family line came to be.

Cover art for the Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman.

I’ve had a growing interest in how the design of something has an effect on its use and was recommended the Design of Everyday Things. Not necessarily the steamy beach read that July tends to call for, but a nice quick read that may lead to some ah-ha moments never the less.

First, businesses discovered quality as a key competitive edge; next came science. Now, Donald A. Norman, former Director of the Institute for Cognitive Science at the University of California, reveals how smart design is the new frontier. The Design of Everyday Things is a powerful primer on how-and why-some products satisfy customers while others only frustrate them.

May 2022 Bookclub: The Turn of the Key

Cover art for The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware.

The Turn of the Key drew me in within two or three paragraphs and quickly became a stressful book that I couldn’t put down. I genuinely enjoyed the way that Ruth Ware started (and then proceeded to tell) the story as if Rowan (Rachael?!) was writing a letter to a lawyer in hopes of getting her side of the story out. It reminded me of reading Amanda Knox’s memoir where you want to believe her but also want to know what happened to her roommate that night (Note: Amanda Knox’s story is one that I’ve been following since the beginning, I’m glad she’s back in the states with her family).

One of the early images that stuck with me early on was Rowan describing how she didn’t belong in the prison, only to look in the mirror and see that she had been transformed by her environment. It was fantastic foreshadowing of how she was going to be shaped by the nannying job and provided insight that Rowan was possibly someone who could be influenced by those around her.

When I read books like this, I’m often left pondering the “real or not real” question. In other words, does Rowan actually hear someone pacing in the attic every night or was it actually a bird and her imagination? Where did the doll head actually come from? Do the little girls have the ghosts of the little girls who died speaking to them on a regular basis? If Rowan hadn’t been primed that the previous nanny’s had quit due to superstition, would she spend so much time questioning her surroundings?

Having completed the story, I can’t help but be amazed by the ending. What a little girl. What a thing to have to live with for the rest of her life. This book was fantastic and I didn’t see it coming! This begs the question, what exactly happened to Rowen. It’s clear that the letters are never sent and that they “don’t really matter” when found in the future, does that mean she’s found not guilty? Or does it mean that she kept the secret and took a life sentence?

Cover art for Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman.

As the weather gets warmer, I find myself itching to get out and start foraging again. In honor of wandering through the woods and learning about how plants can be used, we’ll be reading Practice Magic by Alice Hoffman for June’s book club. Since this is a movie I’ve seen a handful of times, it will be interesting if I can let go of picturing Sally as Sandra Bullock and Gillian as Nicole Kidman.

The Owens sisters confront the challenges of life and love in this bewitching novel from New York Times bestselling author Alice Hoffman.

For more than two hundred years, the Owens women have been blamed for everything that has gone wrong in their Massachusetts town. Gillian and Sally have endured that fate as well: as children, the sisters were forever outsiders, taunted, talked about, pointed at. Their elderly aunts almost seemed to encourage the whispers of witchery, with their musty house and their exotic concoctions and their crowd of black cats. But all Gillian and Sally wanted was to escape.

One will do so by marrying, the other by running away. But the bonds they share will bring them back—almost as if by magic…