Unbury Carol: A Book Review

I am so very glad that I chose to engage with my readers and include you guys in deciding what books I read and review. I’ve been exposed to some really amazing books thanks to you, so first, I’d like to say thank you! I’m branching out more than ever and finding some real gems. Like this one! Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman was April’s pick and I dove headfirst into this thriller and held on for a wild ride.

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Carol has a secret. A secret clutched so tightly in fear of what ifs, but will her allowing only a few people in her life to know the truth ultimately cause her death? From time to time, with very little warning, Carol falls into a death-like coma and dwells in a world of darkness where raspy breathing she suspects is her own slowed exhalation is her only companion. She can hear the world around her, but cannot move or speak until she wakes again, days later as if nothing was amiss. Her mother long in her grave, and her best friend newly departed leaves her gold-digging husband as the only person in her life that knows her secret, and when she falls into yet another trip to her inner prison, the opportunity is too much for him to resist. An old lover, the final keeper of Carol’s wicked secret, is notified of her death and races time and the looming gravediggers to halt the unthinkable horror of being buried alive.

This book held many surprises, not just as the plot untwisted to reveal the wholly unexpected ending. A vague setting with a western, post-civil war feel lends to the mystery and plays up the magical realism. The reader is thrust into a world where the towns are small and the Trail that connects them is wild and dangerous, home to the many outlaws who prey on the accepting occupants of a time when the law is lenient and questions thought impolite.

Malerman’s prose is loose and billowy with a casual air that disarms you, making the moments of sharp clarity, the harsh realizations, all the more gutting. You know, and you don’t know how the story will unravel and I found myself gasping, mouth open in surprise anytime I dared think I had it figured out. A backward whodunnit where your exclamations at the players still putting the pieces together are as deaf to you as Carol’s yelling from the darkness, Unbury Carol is a fun and soulfully creepy tale. I found the deranged villains perfectly believable with a toe into unnaturally sinister, a personified voice of the past that cruelly twists doubts into the fissures of the would-be hero’s mind.

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A step toward Stephen King, a Tim Burton dream, this strange and unusual story is utterly creeptastic. Malerman manages to make a two-day quest up a long dirt road feel like the ultimate test of patience and trust as you hope just one of the many threads of spun plot leads to Carol remaining above ground and not clawing for her life under six feet of earth. I recommend this book wholeheartedly to anyone who likes that prickly feeling of suspense but prefers to skip outright terror.

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The House of Broken Angels: A Book Review

As I have jumped head first into this whole “being a serious writer” thing, I’ve exposed myself to pretty incredible literature that I can’t believe I’ve been missing. I think I’ve mentioned before that I had a decades-old habit to only read old classics, or best sellers long after they’ve lost their new book luster. I think I had some twisted sense of responsibility to catch up somehow with all the books I’d missed before I read the new stuff. Like that makes sense, or is even remotely achievable. Along with featuring new publications in my book reviews, I’ve been listening to several podcasts about the current goings-on in the literary world and I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve been starving myself. Yes, the classic greats will always be great, but there are some truly incredible authors living right now, publishing right now, creating right now, that are simply too good to miss.

That is my disclaimer and poor excuse for never having read anything by Luis Alberto Urrea until now. Holy cow, can this dude write. I mean, it says “Pulitzer Prize Finalist” next to his name on the cover, so I should have known, but sometimes there’s a certain…pretentiousness in books with that honor…or books even close to that honor. There was nothing pretentious about this book. The House of Broken Angels is humble even in its striking beauty.

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The story spans two days with the De La Cruz family as they come together for a final birthday celebration for the ailing grand patriarch Big Angel. A week before the party, his mother passes away at nearly a hundred years old sweeping the family up in a blur of reminiscing and dreaming of what the future holds.The partitions between the aging generation that made their way to America from Mexico in their youth and the younger ones who barely speak Spanish are blurred, as the De La Cruz house bulges with familia and theatrics of emotion.

A slow read, its lingering sentences draw you to read them again just to bask in their light. This is a book you read a bit at a time, letting each moment sink in before you continue. The structure reminds me of music composition. The first third of the book serves as an overture, explaining the scope of the story, introducing themes and revealing backstories of the many players. You are then submerged in a dance of perspectives as you jump from character to character, what they see and experience in the forty-eight-hour period. You fall in love with their individualities, their simple pleasures and jagged pains, known, but not acknowledged by the others.

I felt entirely immersed in the culture of this family, each person so distinct but part of a powerful whole that leapt from the page. I stopped reading at one point and announced to my husband, “This man needs to write a screenplay.” The dialogue and simple painting of the picture are so pure and perfect I couldn’t help but make small exclamations of pleasure, adoring the very act of reading his work.

This is not what I would call an easy book, but it’s not hard either. The language is easy, the story is a meandering family fable with sharp gut-checking moments when a revelation hits true north. A stunning story that deserves to be savored for every delicious word. Luckily, it’s written in bite-sized portions, easily consumed in spare moments, but the words will follow you off the page to percolate through your mind long after closing the book.

As fate would have it, while I was reading The House of Broken Angels, I listened to another podcast, not literary-related, yet they referenced and quoted Urrea’s book The Devil’s Highway as they spoke about the history of border control and immigration from Mexico. Just the small bits they read were enough to prove that this guy is not a one-hit wonder. I will be reading as much of Urrea’s writing as I can get my hands on.

Children of Blood and Bone: A BONUS Book Review

This is a total indulgence, but I can’t help but talk about this book. It wasn’t what you guys voted for this month – that review is coming up next week – but after all the buzz, I couldn’t wait to read this one! I could hardly put it down during Spring Break, and I haven’t really shut up about it since. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi is a debut novel and the first of the Young Adult trilogy, The Legacy of Orisha. It’s a fantasy novel inspired by West African culture, so it combines the familiar feeling of your favorite quest sagas with a refreshing new look at magic and how it works in this intricately created world.

Adeyemi is an incredible talent with deep wisdom and clarity that she steeps into every page. The symbolism is stunning and powerful and the characters are a force to be reckoned with. Perfectly flawed and wonderfully redeemable, you are cheering for these people not just because you fall in love with them, but because you come to care so deeply about their success. Each has their own motives and unique personalities that create a dynamic that feeds the fire from the first page.

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A quick summary: Magic has been dead in the land of Orisha since Zélie Adebola was six. Her mother was part of the magi, a people gifted with a variety of powers from the Gods, but when a vengeful king eradicates them, the whisper of magic fades into nothing.

Now a young woman with a knack for finding trouble, Zélie discovers a way to bring magic back to Orisha. She races against the threat of the King, and his dutiful Crown Prince to restore power to her people. With the help of her brother and a rogue princess, perhaps her deepest desire is finally attainable.

I went into this book expecting it to be decent, but how could it possibly live up to the hype? It far surpassed my expectations, and dare I say…this is the best YA I’ve read since Harry Potter.

You can watch the book trailer here. You can follow Adeyemi on Twitter @tomi_adeyemi and I highly recommend you do. She couldn’t be more charmingly enthusiastic about how her book is being received. There may or may not be a video of her dancing in a wombat suit when Children of Blood and Bone hit number one of the New York Times Best Sellers List…

Please check it out. I’m reluctant to even share that Fox has already bought the film rights because this is something that needs to be read. Adeyemi has told a story that needs to be heard with every bit of richness she brings to the page.

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Favorite Books: A Wrinkle in Time

I recently took a rare vacation and spent four days with my husband and his family in an A-frame cabin tucked in the foothills of the Sierra Blanca mountains. Beautiful scenery and great company made for a fabulous trip full of adventures, bruises, and lots of reading tucked in bed with my three-year-old sprawled out between my husband and me after long days spent playing in the snow.

Y’all, I went skiing. I actually went snowboarding, too…except that’s generous. I tried snowboarding. Nope, let me try again: I failed to snowboard. I don’t know how people manage that skill. I never even got both feet strapped in…even after a 90-minute class. I managed about six feet worth of sliding prior to falling at my very best and barely stood up without toppling at my worst. It was not for me. Apparently, skiing is my snowy weather sport. It’s much more enjoyable to slide down a mountain with boards strapped to your feet when you can actually manage to steer and stop yourself. No, really. Steering and stopping are the best. All hail Steering and Stopping, forever and ever, amen.

We drove the nine hours to the cabin, so I had an abundance of reading time, which is my favorite part of traveling! As I’m sure you’ve heard, the film adaptation of the long-beloved middle-grade novel by Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time, was released last week. I’ve been itching for a re-read because it had been ages since my original copy wore out and had to be replaced. My new copy only got me about halfway to New Mexico between pit stops and assisting the threenager with her back seat entertainment, but I required more than a few nudges from my husband to pull me out of that sense-less reader cocoon where you honestly can’t hear the whining for another package of fruit snacks.

I’m hearing great things about the adaptation, and I’m looking forward to a date night with my son to go see it. Like most adaptations, I understand that it deviates from the book to some degree. The trailers alone, show the difference in how some of the main characters look, but the nature of the book allows, or even nurtures, this kind of change.

But enough about the movie, let’s talk about the book!

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I’ll estimate that I first read A Wrinkle in Time when I was about ten or eleven. It was assigned reading at my school, something I generally saw as a treat. I loved being introduced to new literature and talking about it with all my friends. Books were not common conversation fodder for pre-teens at the time, and while I was fortunate to have some close friends as bookish, if not more so than I, it was always exciting to have more people to talk books with. In good company with The Hatchet by Gary Paulson and The Giver by Lois Lowry, A Wrinkle in Time was a fast favorite of the grade. It’s the kind of book that encourages even the most reluctant readers into a world of imagination.

L’Engle tells the story of Meg Murry, her brilliant little brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin with the perfect balance of description and ample room for the reader to invent and imagine. She explains just enough of theoretical physics to make the children’s mode of transportation believable without losing the magic of the adventure. The Murry children and Calvin follow a most wonderfully quirky stranger and her two companions on a quest to find the Murry’s missing father and maybe save the universe along the way. With themes ranging from overcoming “otherness” and the power of faith, this 1963 winner of the Newbery Medal is still very much applicable to today’s trials. Still fresh and exciting, with nary a dull moment, if you’ve never read this gem of a book, please allow me to help with that. The passions, fears, struggles, and triumphs of these rich little characters are sure to spark recognition in the parts of you where those same traits dwell.

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High on my list of forever favorites, this book was my first elevated look at fantasy, stepping up from the fairy tales of childhood with clear morals and virtues into something a little more mature. I’d recommend it to readers ten and up. There’s some elevated thinking in this book that may be a bit confusing for the younger reader. If you’ve read it before, but didn’t realize it was the first in a series (like I didn’t, until many years later), make sure to check out the rest in the Time Quintet: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time.

I’ll leave you with a quote from the book: “We can’t take any credit for our talents. It’s how we use them that counts.”

Happy reading, friends.

2018 Reading List

I’m going to do my best to keep this post updated with all the books I read/finish in 2018! I’ve gotten to a slow start this year. It’s just so easy to get distracted, but I’m hoping this page will keep me accountable and increase my awareness of just how much available time I have to read! I’ll include whatever chapter books I read with my kiddos, too, but we read far too many picture books to keep track of here. I’m totally cool with their rooms always being at least a little bit messy because there are books all over the place. 🙂

What are you reading? Let me know in the comments! I’m always looking for new titles to add to my “to read” stack growing on my side of the bed.

Mother Of by Lauren Coffin

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (reread with my son)

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (reread)

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

The Haunted Mansion Mystery by Virginia Masterman-Smith – I read this as a kid and just finished reading it with my son ❤

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (reread with the kiddo)

Unbury Carol by Josh Malerman

Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

Tin Man by Sarah Winman