Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Book Review: Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett

"Rabbit Cake" by Annie Hartnett
First published in 2017
327 pages
My rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Short Of It:
After reading a few reviews, I was really expecting a hidden gem, but, while charming, "Rabbit Cake" was not quite what I was hoping for.

The Long Of It:
The narrator of "Rabbit Cake" is spunky, intelligent 11-year-old Elvis Babbitt, whose mother recently died by drowning while sleepwalking. Now her family is in a bit of a shambles: her sister is sleep-eating the eggs from the neighbor's chicken coop and her bereft father is walking around in her mother's lipstick and bathrobe.

There's no shortness of quirk here: there's a psychic, a parrot who speaks in Elvis's mother's voice, and a rabbit-shaped cake pan that plays a very important role in the story. Underneath all that is a theme about grief -- why do our loved ones die? How do we come to terms with it? Family is a big theme as well, as we see how Elvis and her eccentric family make it through a year and a half without their cornerstone.

The thing is, while the book was charming and unique, the quirkiness was to the point of unbelieveability. And I really had an issue with the parts of the book where Elvis is working as a teen volunteer at the local zoo -- the things they let her do are just completely out there for an 11-year-old, even a smart one like Elvis. And, though I liked Elvis, I never really became invested in her as a character, and I didn't like her sister and dad all that much. Some of the minor characters, like Miss Ida the psychic and Ms. Bernstein the guidance counselor, were downright irritating.

I also felt like, though this is technically an adult book, if you took out a few things it would really be a middle-grade novel. It reminded me a bit of "Walk Two Moons" by Sharon Creech with it's quirky characters and plot about a child making peace with the death of a parent, and I think, with a bit of editing, that's the age it should've been geared toward.

"Rabbit Cake" was a fast and easy read, but it had an 11-year-old narrator who felt 11, which is not always what I'm looking for in an adult novel, and the nuttiness factor was just too high for me. I was hoping for a delightful 5-star read but found it to be just-ok.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Half-and-Half: 5 Books About Food and 5 Books That Made Me Hungry

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is all about one of my favorite things: food! I divided my list into two parts: the first is about books that mention a certain yummy food over and over, to the point where you just need to have some! The second half of the list is books I enjoyed in which food plays an important part in the story.
food books 1

1. Cocoa from "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield
2. Cinnamon rolls from "Maybe in Another Life" by Taylor Jenkins Reid
3. Lemon bars from "Aunt Dimity Digs In" by Nancy Atherton
4. Snack cakes from the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich
5. Pancakes from "Agnes and the Hitman" by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
food 2

1. "My Life in France" by Julia Child: the famous chef's memoir of her time in France.
2. "Kitchens of the Great Midwest" by J. Ryan Stradal: the story of a chef told through vignettes in which she is a minor character.
3. "Delicious" by Ruth Reichl: a young woman moves to NYC and gets a job at a struggling food magazine.
4. "Sweetbitter" by Stephanie Danler: a coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a New York restaurant.
5. "Quentins" by Maeve Binchy: set around an Irish restaurant.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Monday Musings

Maunawili Falls hike.

My week: My mom and brother got here on Tuesday for a visit and we've had a fabulous time! We went hiking, we rented a boat and went out to a sandbar, we went to Iolani Palace and the beach and the North Shore and a luau. It's been so nice to have the week off work, play tourist and, of course, spend time with my family -- and we took Alohi us as much as we could. She went on her first long hike (and was a total champ) and on her first boat ride, where she tried (and hated) swimming for the first time. My mom and brother fly out tonight, but it's been such a treat having them here!

Reading: Not much time for reading this week, but I did squeeze in a little here and there. Monday night I finished "The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet" and I absolutely LOVED it. I can't wait to read the second book in the series. Then I started "Rabbit Cake" by Annie Hartnett, which is a quirky book narrated by an 11-year-old. It's a decent and easy read, but it's definitely not sucking me in the way "The Long Way" did.

Eating: Soooo much food! We had malasadas and bubble tea and ice cream (twice) and took my family to a bunch of our favorite restaurants.

Making: The tutu for my book fairy Halloween costume for work. It's a combination of pink, purple, light blue and white, it's ridiculously voluminous, and I love it.

Looking forward to: Watching "Guardians of the Galaxy 2" on DVD. I wanted to see it in the theater but we didn't have a chance, and it's finally come in for me at work!

*I'm linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Mom and me!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Book Review: Himself by Jess Kidd

Himself by Jess Kidd
First published in 2016
373 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5

The Short Of It:

A genre-blending novel that was rather different than I expected but ultimately enjoyable.

The Long Of It:
"Himself" is part mystery, part glimpse into life in a small Irish village, part historical fiction (it's set mostly in the '70s) and part... paranormal story? Magical realism?

Whatever you call it, Mahony sees dead people -- he sees all the priests that ever lived at the parish house, he sees the dead paramour of his elderly friend, he sees the girl who was murdered while playing in the woods, he sees the nun who was kind to him at the Dublin orphanage where he grew up.

What he doesn't see is how exactly he ended up at the orphanage. Who were his parents and why did they give him up? A chance to solve that mystery arrives in the form of a letter and a photograph of an infant Mahony with his mother in the tiny Irish town of Mulderrig.

Mahony arrives there to find that his mother, who was just a teen when she had him, was not particularly well-liked at best, reviled at worst. The townsfolk don't know what happened to Orla Sweeney -- just that one day she vanished. Did she run off? Or was the village wild child forcibly removed? As Mahony shakes up the town and its secrets, he makes some new friends, most notably the amazingly quirky, sharp and geriatric Mrs. Cauley -- whom every reader will surely fall in love with.

While there was indeed some levity thrown in, "Himself" was a pretty dark, eerie, atmospheric story. The overall feel of it reminded me a little bit of "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield, while the quaint-town's-buried-secrets aspect felt slightly reminiscent of J.K. Rowling's "A Causal Vacancy." But taken on the whole, the story was remarkably unique and the plot was only enhanced by Kidd's lovely writing. I do wish we could've gotten to know Mahony just a little bit better, but overall this was a great debut and I'll happily pick up Kidd's next novel!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Autumn Aesthetic: 14 Fall-ish Book Covers

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is about fall-ish book covers! I'm a very visual person and I love looking at book covers, so I had fun putting this post together. All the books are ones I've read or have on my to-read list. I will say, it was a little harder than I expected; apparently I'm drawn to winter-themed covers -- I have plenty of those on my lists!

Below are 14 book covers that just say "fall" -- they've got leaves, branches, and autumnal hues of gold, brown, red and orange. Ah, I could just step into a few of them!

  fall book covers

Monday, October 9, 2017

Monday Musings


My week: It was a pretty quiet week around here. We had two rainy days, which was a nice change of pace. Sunday we went to a pumpkin patch/sunflower field on the east side of the island.

Reading: I read "The Marsh King's Daughter" last week and found it to be just-ok. The premise -- the daughter of an abducted woman and her kidnapper is now an adult, and her father has escaped from prison -- was intriguing, but fell a bit flat. It definitely was not what I would call "psychological suspense" as the cover claims.

After that I spent two days trying to get into "The Keeper of Lost Things" -- another interesting premise and a gorgeous cover -- but it just wasn't what I was in the mood for. So I set it aside and did something completely uncharacteristic: despite the pile of library books I have out, I picked out one of my own books that sounded good. I'm not usually a mood reader, and I have the world's worst time actually reading the books I own, so this was a surprise!

And I'm thrilled to say I'm head-over-heels for "The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet"! It's a very charming, fun sci-fi book and I'm so glad I'm finally getting to it! I ordered it from Book Depository months ago and I've been looking forward to reading it for much longer than that.

Watching: "This Is Us," "Poldark," "Designated Survivor." We tried the new show "The Good Doctor" last week and we liked it enough to keep watching.

Movie-wise, we finally got to see "Wonder Woman"! It was just as good as everyone said it was.

Drinking: My new favorite coffee: chocolate-coconut flavor. No creamer needed, just a splash of half-and-half!

Making: My book fairy Halloween costume for the library! I'm putting together a no-sew tutu, and I made myself a pair of wings out of cardboard and a book that Alohi mutilated a while back. It took a while to decoupage the wings (something I haven't done in years!) but I'm really pleased with the way they came out. Pictures to come!

Also making:
The Halloween bulletin board at work! I'm telling you, this giant whopper of a board is a commitment! I feel like as soon as I get one month's up, it's time to start working on the next month's. In any case, I really like our Halloween board, and I had lots of help from a wonderfully creative co-worker on this one.

Monday Musings
10 Book Characters Who Are Sexy As Hell In Their Movie & TV Adaptations
Non-Fiction Review: American Eclipse by David Baron
Book Review: The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne

Looking forward to: My mom and brother will be here tomorrow for a week-long visit!

*I'm linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Book Review: The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne

The Marsh King's Daughter by Karen Dionne
First published in 2017
307 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5

The Short Of It:

Interesting premise but a little short on the execution.

The Long Of It:
Helena lived isolated in the Michigan wilderness for the first 12 years of her life with only her mother and father -- a kidnapped woman and her captor -- for company. Now, Helena is married with two daughters and finally feels some semblance of happiness in her life -- until her father escapes from prison and may very well be headed her way.

I started off pretty well invested in this dual narrative, which features Helena both tracking her dangerous father in present day and growing up as the half-feral child of a manipulative murderer and a meek and subservient and unsmiling woman, completely in the dark about her situation. They live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere, never leave their marsh, never encounter any people, and survive without running water or electricity. All of this is totally normal to young Helena.

The first half of the book was pretty good. But then about 150 pages in, it suddenly felt tedious and boring and repetitive. I was tired of reading the phrases "my father" and "I didn't know it at the time." And Helena isn't a particularly likable protagonist as a child or an adult. I was invested in the plot, but not really her character.

Another problem I had with the book is that the cover proclaims it to be "psychological suspense." That's really not an accurate description. There's really nothing psychological about it -- no twisty-turny surprises, no unreliable narrators, no dark secrets. And it's not suspenseful either. At no point was I on the edge of my seat, blazing through pages to find out what happened next, and despite Helena's present-day hunt for her father, it never really felt like a thriller. I'd probably just bill it as fiction. Too, the writing was a bit off-and-on and I found a few grammatical errors.

However, I did really like a few things about the book. I thought it was a great decision to tell the story through Helena's eyes, even though she was a bit irritating at times. While she was naive in the ways of the world, she was ahead of her years in other ways and the narration wasn't childlike as in Emma Donoghue's "Room." Too, I enjoyed the setting. I've never read a book set in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and I thought the author did a great job imbuing the atmosphere of the place, both the towns of today and the woods of Helena's childhood.

What started out as a fairly promising story ended with a bit of a whimper, and while I won't say that you shouldn't read it, I will recommend a couple other books that fall vaguely along the lines of the story with much better execution: "The Wolf Road" by Beth Lewis and "Our Endless Numbered Days" by Claire Fuller.
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