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.

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…

April 2022 Bookclub: Stardust

Cover art for Stardust by Neil Gaiman.

Stardust has a special place in my heart. It’s a book that I can reach for again and again, without the intention of discovering something new, but rather the intention of falling into a land I wish I could go to. Portal literature (think books like Alice in Wonderland where the reader starts off in the real world before “falling down the rabbit hole”) tends to hold a special place in my heart because I love the idea that there is a magical land waiting for me to discover the door to it.

There are many different adaptations of Stardust and they all seem to tell the story just a little differently. One of the most notable differences, in my opinion, is whether or not there is a final battle between the witches and Tristian for Ivaine’s heart. In the book, the witch recognizes that Ivaine’s heart was given freely to Tristian and therefore not usable to her. Though not very sensational, this idea has always struck me as romantic and beautiful. After all the idea that a heart freely given to someone cannot be taken by someone else provides a beautiful moral to the story, be careful who you give your heart to for you have no control how gentle they will be with it or how willing they will be to protect it.

The book also feels more adult than the movie does, spending more time developing the land beyond the wall as a place as opposed to racing the viewer through it while bouncing from one plot point to the next. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy the movie (in fact it’s one of my favorites), it’s just that the two versions are very different experiences.

No matter which version you are enjoying, it’s hard to get over the idea that a bunch of brothers need to kill each other for the right to rule over the land. There’s no way that I can look at this where I end up with confidence in the final son who is allowed to rule (although perhaps that is the point considering that Tristian is said to do a good when he finally decides to take up the mantle).

May’s book club will be a little more serious than Stardust, we’ll be reading Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware. It’s been a little while since I’ve fallen into a good suspense story and The Woman in Cabin 10 was enjoyable. Let’s see if reading about a nanny working with children who ends up in jail is more intense when you have a baby sleeping in the other room!

Cover art for Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware.

When she stumbles across the ad, she’s looking for something else completely. But it seems like too good an opportunity to miss—a live-in nannying post, with a staggeringly generous salary. And when Rowan Caine arrives at Heatherbrae House, she is smitten—by the luxurious “smart” home fitted out with all modern conveniences, by the beautiful Scottish Highlands, and by this picture-perfect family.

What she doesn’t know is that she’s stepping into a nightmare—one that will end with a child dead and herself in prison awaiting trial for murder.

Writing to her lawyer from prison, she struggles to explain the unravelling events that led to her incarceration. It wasn’t just the constant surveillance from the cameras installed around the house, or the malfunctioning technology that woke the household with booming music, or turned the lights off at the worst possible time. It wasn’t just the girls, who turned out to be a far cry from the immaculately behaved model children she met at her interview. It wasn’t even the way she was left alone for weeks at a time, with no adults around apart from the enigmatic handyman, Jack Grant.

It was everything.

She knows she’s made mistakes. She admits that she lied to obtain the post, and that her behavior toward the children wasn’t always ideal. She’s not innocent, by any means. But, she maintains, she’s not guilty—at least not of murder. Which means someone else is.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, The Turn of the Key is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.