Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Synopsis (From Goodreads)

Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his life oscillating between enthusiastic carnivore and occasional vegetarian. Once he started a family, the moral dimensions of food became increasingly important.

Faced with the prospect of being unable to explain why we eat some animals and not others, Foer set out to explore the origins of many eating traditions and the fictions involved with creating them. Traveling to the darkest corners of our dining habits, Foer raises the unspoken question behind every fish we eat, every chicken we fry, and every burger we grill.

Part memoir and part investigative report, Eating Animals is a book that, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, places Jonathan Safran Foer “at the table with our greatest philosophers.”

My Review
4 out of 5 stars

I picked up this book because I heard that it provided the history of why we eat the animals that we eat, like why most cuisines eat primarily chicken, cows, and pigs. My thought was that it is interesting across the entire world, most people are eating those specific animals and their cuisines likely adapted to eating them. At the very least, I do not encounter many cuisines that eat other animals, such as dogs or zebras. What are the anthropological and sociological developments that lead to the common animals that we do all eat?  

While it does open with and provide a decent argument for people to eat their local stray dogs (I nor the author are truly suggesting this, but one does have to admit it is a readily available local food source), that’s not really what is covered at all. It instead focuses on the factory farming of chickens, cows, and pigs, and the author’s investigative journey to learn all that goes on within them. I have been a vegetarian for 11 years at this point, and while I initially became a vegetarian because I simply do not like eating meat, over time I have heard of or learned about the horror stories involved with the factory farming process. While it was interesting to read a detailed account of the factory farms, the general takeaway is nothing new to me. And most people that I know who still eat meat are aware that factory farming is really terrible, but they still choose to eat meat anyway. Yes, I do understand that this book is 10 years old as of me reading this, but unless you really want a more detailed perspective on factory farming, you probably already have your established preferences and morals related to eating meat. The author himself seems to have given up meat mainly due to how animals are treated within factory farming, so that is his large focus. It’s understandable as the bulk of his research for this book is literally breaking into factory farms to learn what is going on and see what they look like; that is the aspect that one is going to witness and experience. He does mention other factors, like the environmental impact, but they definitely don’t make up the “meat” of the novel. I, for one, don’t like how the animals are treated either, but they also wouldn’t exist if not to be killed for food. The main issue I have with factory farming these days is the environmental impact, and I would likely adore a book that covered all of the details relating to that aspect. If I didn’t give up meat 11 years ago, for sure I would have given up meat by today due to environmental concerns. 

Mr. Foer does try his best to not take sides– he includes various voices of those involved in the industry such as farmers who raise animals naturally, those who work in factory farming and those who staff slaughterhouses. It helps address the issue of “if people aren’t going to give up meat, how do you feed the world’s population?” I imagine if this book was published recently, he would also include a section on laboratory grown meat as well. In the end, though, it’s pretty clear he is vegetarian for a reason and you’ll know which side he is taking.

I recommend this book if you have never heard anything about factory farming and want to learn more, or if you are considering giving up meat and want a better understanding of the current ethical considerations that go into eating animals.

See this review on Goodreads.

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

Synopsis (From Goodreads)

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

My Review
3.5 out of 5 stars

In the acknowledgements of this book, Ms. Grant mentioned that she played the soundtrack of Hadestown while writing this book. I saw the musical on Broadway back in October, and thus Hadestown has been my most played music this fall according to Spotify:

hadestown

(the album cover with the lady on it is the artist who wrote Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell)

In lieu of a traditional review, please enjoy this parody of one of Hadestown’s musical numbers, “Wait for Me”:

Cast:
HERMES played by Theodore Blackwell, Imagine CEO, which is the company sponsoring the research trip to the Mariana Trench to verify the existence of mermaids, and also Dr. Jillian Toth, UCLA professor who studies mermaids

ORPHEUS played by Victoria “Tory” Stewart, graduate student who studies acoustic marine biology and grieves the loss of her sister from what is believed to be mermaids in previous Imagine expedition to the Mariana Trench

THE FATES played by the sirens of the deep

ENSEMBLE played by the Wilson Sisters. Twins Heather and Holly Wilson are both deaf. Heather is an organic chemist and Holly is an owner & operator of a deep-diving submersible. Elder Wilson sister, Hallie, is an ASL translator and expert in studying language as it applies to hand signals.

Context of the original song: Hermes is telling Orpheus the way to get to Hadestown and warning him of its dangers. Orpheus must go to Hadestown in order to rescue his one true love, Eurydice.

Lyrics

[Theodore Blackwell, spoken]
How to get to Mermaidtown:
You have to take the long way down
With a submersible, underwater, no light
Layin’ low, stayin’ out of sight
Ain’t no sonar, brother, ain’t no map
Just a shoddy signal and a Kodiak
Keep on sailin’ and don’t look back
‘Til you get to the bottomland

[Tory, to her sister]
Wait for me, I’m comin’
Wait, I’m comin’ with you
Wait for me, I’m comin’ too
I’m coming too

[Dr. Toth, spoken]
The Challenger Deep’s low and wide
Cinder bricks and razor wire
Walls of earth and pressure
Sirens howling ’round the gate
Those sirens’ll eat you alive
If you got a pulse, if you dare to dive
But if all you got is your own two legs
Just run away ‘n hide

[Tory]
Wait for me, I’m comin’
Wait, I’m comin’ with you
Wait for me, I’m comin’ too
I’m coming too

[Sirens]
Who are you?
Where do you think you’re going?
Who are you?
Why are you all alone?
Who do you-
-Think you are?
Who are you-
-To think that you can dive down deep where no one ever dove before?

[Tory]
La la la la la la
La la la la la la la

(the Sirens begin to echo and do rounds)

La la la la la la la
La la la la la

(Dr. Toth cuts them off)

[Dr. Toth]
You’re on the lam, you’re on the run
Don’t give your name, you don’t have one
And don’t look no one in the eye
That town’ll try to suck you dry
They’ll suck your brain, they’ll suck your breath
They’ll pluck the heart right out your chest
They’ll truss you up in your Sunday best
And rip out your insides

[Tory and Wilson Sisters]
Wait for me I’m coming! (I’m coming I’m coming)
Wait, I’m coming with you (I’m coming)
Wait for me, I’m coming too
I’m coming!

[Wilson Sisters]
Wait!

[Tory]
I’m coming wait for me

[Wilson Sisters]
Wait!

[Tory]
I hear the walls repeating

[Wilson Sisters]
Wait!

[Tory]
The falling of my feet and
It sounds like drumming

[Wilson Sisters]
Wait!

[Tory and Unknown Voice]
And I am not alone

[Wilson Sisters]
Wait!

[Tory]
I hear the rocks and stones

[Wilson Sisters]
Wait!

[Tory]
Echoing my song
I’m coming!

[Dr. Toth]
Coming…

[Wilson Sisters]
Coming…

See this review on Goodreads.

The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones

Synopsis (From Goodreads)

An instant IndieBound bestseller!

Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Sky in the Deep in this bewitching, historical horror novel, perfect for fans of Holly Black and V.E. Schwab.

Seventeen-year-old Aderyn (“Ryn”) only cares about two things: her family and her family’s graveyard. And right now, both are in dire straits. Since the death of their parents, Ryn and her siblings have been scraping together a meager existence as gravediggers in the remote village of Colbren, which sits at the foot of a harsh and deadly mountain range that was once home to the fae. The problem with being a gravedigger in Colbren, though, is that the dead don’t always stay dead.

The risen corpses are known as “bone houses,” and legend says that they’re the result of a decades-old curse. When Ellis, an apprentice mapmaker with a mysterious past, arrives in town, the bone houses attack with new ferocity. What is it that draws them near? And more importantly, how can they be stopped for good?

Together, Ellis and Ryn embark on a journey that will take them into the heart of the mountains, where they will have to face both the curse and the deeply-buried truths about themselves. Equal parts classic horror novel and original fairytale, The Bone Houses will have you spellbound from the very first page.

My Review
3 out of 5 stars

It’s set in a medieval village that borders a forest infested with zombies, or more elegantly referred to here as Bone Houses. Most people of the village don’t believe that the Bone Houses actually exist; only a few of the older folk that still believe in myths and Ryn, a gravedigger who frequently makes trips out into the forest to perform her job. Ryn lives with her brother and sister and a pet goat. With their parents dead, their uncle moved in to help out, but now he is missing. The town nobleman wants to declare them all orphans and kick them out of their house due to their Uncle’s debts. But Ryn’s home is in this tiny village and she can’t imagine leaving, so she must find a way to find their uncle and save their home.

Enter Ellis, a mapmaker who has journeyed to this remote village in order to map out the forest and the mountains beyond. He could use a local guide’s help to navigate the forest and ends up meeting Ryn. He offers to pay Ryn for her service as a guide, which she is more than happy to oblige. But what will they discover when they venture even further into the forest?

This is a very light, easy-to-read fantasy novel. It has a rather unique interpretation of zombies– yes they will attack but aren’t always threatening. There is a lore to the story that gets explored through the main characters’ journey and really ends wrapping up nicely in a way I did not see coming. It’s hard to say much more without spoilers.

Both Ryn and Ellis are well fleshed out characters with strong motivation to keep going. They do end up having a romance that seemingly comes out of nowhere, but, alas, young adult literature always has romance. Admittedly, if I read this when I was 14 I probably would’ve shipped them together so hard and have been happy about it when they do kiss. So I can’t fault it too hard. Overall, I enjoyed this for being a light and quick read and making zombies a little bit more fantastical and less “brAINSsss”. 3 stars for “liked it”.

See this review on Goodreads.

Ninth House (Alex Stern #1) by Leigh Bardugo

Synopsis (From Goodreads)

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?

Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

The mesmerizing adult debut from #1 New York Times bestselling author Leigh Bardugo.

My Review
3 out of 5 stars

Yale’s secret societies perform various occult activities in order to predict the future or perform glamours. Their alumni and networks rely on the occult to remain powerful figures in business and politics. Occult activities come at a price, however, and the societies need to be kept in check to make sure that Yale University itself doesn’t get caught and punished. Yale needs good press after all. That’s where Alex Stern comes in. Alex is recruited by Lethe, the organization that watches over the secret societies and makes sure they aren’t abusing their privilege. Why was Alex recruited for this task you ask? After all, she isn’t a typical Yale student– a high school drop-out, drug abuser, and no connections whatsoever. I’ll leave it to the book itself to tell you why, it’s quickly mentioned in the first chapter or so.

I love the setting and paranormal worldbuilding of this book. The occult is very ingrained into our present day, which almost gives it the feeling that these things are actually real and possible. (Yes, I know it’s not in the end, but how sad). It’s a little spooky and very eerie and at times even horrifying. Yale’s secret societies are dark things that Yale depends on to stay the elite college that it is. All that power must come at a price. But whose price is it? This book is very much a check in privilege. It’s anger at the very rich who seem to be able to control it all and get away with everything. This anger is expressed through Alex as she is an outsider, or ordinary person, looking in. Alex has had a very hard past that is not through a fault of her own, and has had to fight her way to where she is now. She doesn’t take her viewpoint for granted or choose to suck up to the Yale elite, but instead will speak for the common people.

The book is told from alternating timelines. It goes from present, the early Spring semester of Alex’s freshmen year, to the fall where she first started at Yale and working for Lethe. I really enjoyed this alternate way of telling the story as it added a mystery– one of the characters is missing in the present and the past builds up to what caused that. Additionally, since I mainly liked this book for the occult parts, it’s more interesting to be thrown into the present where Alex kind of knows whats going on, and then get an explanation in the past.

Alex is definitely a strong female character and you’ll learn why she is the way she is while reading. She has a tough and dark past, and it’s admirable how she fights through. The overall darkness of the novel truly means this book is for adults and not the traditional YA audience that Ms. Bardugo writes for. There are many reviews with trigger warnings out there already (and I personally am not the best at identifying all of them), so do your research if you think a dark adult novel may be too much for you.

This book has a lot of good qualities to it, so why am I not rating this higher? It’s just very slow going, and not much happens for a good portion of the book. Some of that is more focusing on Alex’s drive and daily life at Yale, others is just minor worldbuilding for the societies . They’re important but not necessarily the most interesting, or at least delivered in a very interesting way. I think it’s also a fault that I read a lot of YA and have read Ms. Bardugo’s own YA novels. YA books are generally very fast and pull you into the story quickly and keep you there. I wasn’t rushing to find out what happens. My expectations may have been too high. I don’t hate slow burn books, mind you, but this one isn’t really meant to be slow burn, if that makes any sense at all. I’m also not a huge murder mystery reader, and a major plot point of this book is Alex investigating one.

I think as a first adult novel for Ms. Bardugo, it’s a good book, and I’ll likely continue the series to see where it goes. I do really enjoy the paranormal elements involved and exploring the dark side to an elite college.

See this review on Goodreads.

Blog Tour: The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox

Title: The Widow of Pale Harbor
Author: Hester Fox
Genre: Domestic suspense, historical, gothic
Imprint: Graydon House
ISBN: 9781525834264
Pages: 352
On-sale date: September 17, 2019
Format & pricing: Trade paperback (16.99 U.S.)

Synopsis:

From the author of the buzzed-about THE WITCH OF WILLOW HALL comes an atmospheric follow-up novel set in historic New England, about a minister who takes a position in a small Maine town plagued by strange occurances that resemble the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, and the woman–rumored to be a witch and a murderer–presumed to be behind them.

Maine, 1846. Gideon Stone is desperate to escape the ghosts that haunt him in Massachusetts after his wife’s death, so he moves to Pale Harbor, Maine, where there is a vacancy for a new minister. Gideon and his late wife had always dreamed of building their own church, and Pale Harbor is the perfect opportunity.

But not all is as it seems in the sleepy town of Pale Harbor. Strange, unsettling things have been happening, and the townspeople know that only one person can be responsible: Sophronia Carver, a widow who lives with a spinster maid in the decaying Castle Carver on the edge of town. Sophronia is a recluse, rumored to be a witch who killed her husband.

When Gideon meets her, he knows the charming, beautiful woman cannot be guilty of anything. Together, Gideon and Sophronia realize that the mysterious events have one thing in common: they all contain an element from the wildly popular stories of Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. And when the events escalate to murder, Gideon and Sophronia must find the real killer, before it’s too late for them both.

My Review
3 out of 5 stars

I’m going to leave the given synopsis as the summary of the book mentioned above. There is certainly more to the characters and the story, but part of the book is the reader finding that all out. I would just like to say that the characters are richer than the 7-sentence synopsis implies. I found myself a little surprised in their development and Ms. Fox gave them some background and history that I was not expecting, but if I was told this ahead of time, it would have taken all of that away.

The core of the novel is the romance that develops between Gideon and Sophronia as they start working together to figure out who or what is behind the mysterious Edgar Allan Poe-inspired events occurring in the town. It has a gloomy seaside setting that sets up a very atmospheric, Gothic read. Mrs. Fox has a very accessible writing style, which is easy to read yet easy to be absorbed into. I enjoyed it as a light novel that still quenches my thirst to read spooky and atmospheric books in the fall.

While the romantic plot is predictable, the path to it was not as much. Again, there is more to the characters to be discovered. The mystery plot was a little spooky (not at all horror) and leaves you questioning characters’ loyalties. I did find the reveal a bit lacking at the end as I found myself not reacting all that much to it. I think the plot overall is simple, which is what the book is going for. It’s not meant to be a dense, hard-to-solve read.

I recommend if you’re looking for light, Gothic, and atmospheric read with a light mystery and a strong romance focus.

Thank you to Graydon House publishing for a free ARC in exchange for an honest review as well as the blog tour opportunity.

See this review on Goodreads.

Nevernight (The Nevernight Chronicle #1) by Jay Kristoff

Synopsis (From Goodreads)

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

My Review
4 out of 5 stars

I was pretty hesitant to read this. I haven’t really heard one bad thing about this book other than maybe the writing style not working for people. I also initially picked this up around the time it first came out and thought that the writing style was a bit too much and put it aside. But the constant stream of good reviews for this book that pop up in my feed finally got me to read it (on top of the final book of the trilogy coming out just this fall). And you know what? I’m pretty glad I read this as I found it fairly enjoyable.

I’m a little disappointed that I did not find this to be a  5 star read, but that’s mostly due to the writing style. Sometimes the intense descriptions and metaphors just had me skimming at times, taking me a bit out of the story. But there is just so much action and rich history to our heroine that I would always be pulled back in. I love stories about assassins because the character development, when pulled off well, always makes for intriguing characters because you want to know why they are so determined to kill other people. Why are they “bad guys”? And Mia Corvere really isn’t a bad guy per se, as she wants to get her revenge for the injustice served to her family. There is also a good mix of other side characters with rich pasts and interesting personalities as well that really just has  you reading along wanting to know more.

The school setting troupe is also one that I always enjoy due to my childhood of Harry Potter. I don’t think it’s the most interesting school setting, as it’s more of a device used to combine all of these characters together and also to give Mia a goal of being inducted into the Blades after she graduates. I didn’t find myself all that interested in the classes being taught, and really only one teacher was particularly interesting.

To wrap-up, I think the motives of the characters involved and a constant stream of actions and surprises was the highlight of the book, and I recommend if you’re looking for something along those lines (and for some reason haven’t read this already). I did end up ordering the next one, so I look forward to continuing the series.

See this review on Goodreads.

 

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

Synopsis (From Goodreads)

In the early 1900s, a young woman embarks on a fantastical journey of self-discovery after finding a mysterious book in this captivating and lyrical debut.

In a sprawling mansion filled with peculiar treasures, January Scaller is a curiosity herself. As the ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke, she feels little different from the artifacts that decorate the halls: carefully maintained, largely ignored, and utterly out of place.

Then she finds a strange book. A book that carries the scent of other worlds, and tells a tale of secret doors, of love, adventure and danger. Each page turn reveals impossible truths about the world and January discovers a story increasingly entwined with her own.

Lush and richly imagined, a tale of impossible journeys, unforgettable love, and the enduring power of stories awaits in Alix E. Harrow’s spellbinding debut–step inside and discover its magic

My Review
3 out of 5 stars

All signs point this to being at least a 4 star book for me. It’s a historical fantasy with magical portals to another world and led by a strong female character. For some reason though, I just couldn’t get into it as much as I really wanted to. I can’t really pinpoint exactly where it failed at speaking to me. I will say that I first started reading this expecting many magical portals to many magical worlds, but that is definitely not the case, which led me to setting it aside for a bit. Then, I read some reviews of people who finished the book and they spelled out the fact that the book isn’t delivering the ten thousand worlds promised in the title, but is still an enjoyable read. The Ten Thousand Doors of January is actually a book that the main character is reading in the novel, and when she does read it, the next chapter is the part of the book that she is reading. Thus, it’s a story within a story, which can also be an interesting read. The novel also has a slow start, and I set it aside rather near the beginning. I think you need to be past the halfway point for much to pick up.

Still, while reading this I found myself looking at the remaining pages and wondering just when will I finish it? I just didn’t get absorbed into the story. I think it’s partially due to the characters, as I never became attached to them. They aren’t awful characters or anything; I just couldn’t connect. The overall plot is pretty predictable, and there is a twist within the second story that I’m sure you’ll see coming from a mile away. With no love for the characters and no surprises in store, there just isn’t anything for me to rate this any higher than a three. There is also a slight touch of romance that has zero development whatsoever. I think it was mostly to be implied given the history of the two characters, but as someone who enjoys romance I care much more about its outcome if it developed on page.

The writing is still very lyrical and beautiful. I think it is a great debut and look forward to what types of books Mrs. Harrow will write next. I really like the idea of the novel here and just think it slightly missed the mark for me personally. I would like to add that 3 stars means I “liked it”, I am just disappointed that I did not like it more.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a free eARC via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

See this review on Goodreads.