Rabbit Cake – Annie Hartnett

51VXza6M2kLPublisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Publication Date: March 7th, 2017

Listening Length: 7 hours and 7 minutes

From the Jacket:

Elvis Babbitt has a head for the facts: she knows science proves yellow is the happiest color, she knows a healthy male giraffe weighs about 3,000 pounds, and she knows that the naked mole rat is the longest living rodent. She knows she should plan to grieve her mother, who has recently drowned while sleepwalking, for exactly eighteen months. But there are things Elvis doesn’t yet know―like how to keep her sister Lizzie from poisoning herself while sleep-eating or why her father has started wearing her mother’s silk bathrobe around the house. Elvis investigates the strange circumstances of her mother’s death and finds comfort, if not answers, in the people (and animals) of Freedom, Alabama. As hilarious a storyteller as she is heartbreakingly honest, Elvis is a truly original voice in this exploration of grief, family, and the endurance of humor after loss.

Rabbit Cake is a coming of age story about loss and grief, full of humor and quirky characters. Despite the dark subject matter, I found myself giggling out loud and shaking my head in disbelief as I read about the crazy antics of Elvis and her family. This has been compared with Where’d You Go Bernadette, a personal favorite of mine.  And while it’s not quite as much fun as Bernadette, I soon found myself both understanding and agreeing with the comparison.  It was also very reminiscent of Ginny Moon, and I think that is because of the young age of the narrator and the innocent and analytical filter through which she views the world.

Elvis Babbitt is living a relatively normal, happy life in Alabama with her two parents, who she gets along well with, and her older sister, Lizzie, who she is convinced hates her. At ten years old, she’s getting ready to start junior high, when her mother drowns unexpectedly while sleep walking. Elvis navigates through this loss over the next eighteen months, checking each week off of her grief chart as one crazy thing after another happens. Hartnett writes in a unique and beautiful voice, of a family trying to put itself back together in the wake of this unexpected loss.

While I think I would have loved this book in any form, I’m really glad I chose the audio version of this one. Katie Schorr delivers the narration in a simple and straightforward way that completely captures the essence of Elvis. At one point, through her voice, we’re listening to Elvis describe her father, walking around in her mother’s old silk bathrobe, her lipstick on his face, while having a conversation with a parrot who can imitate her mother’s voice. This book is a bag of cats and it’s just so much fun.

Final Thoughts: I cannot recommend Rabbit Cake enough. It’s a quick read and enjoyable read that feels light despite the substantial subject matter. Annie Hartnett has one of the most original voices I’ve read in a while, and I cannot wait to see what she comes out with next. This is a truly terrific debut, and I have no doubt I’ll come back to it again. If you’ve read this, please let me know what you thought in the comments!

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Favorite Characters: It’s rare when I love all of the characters in a book, but for this one, I totally do. They are all zany and crazy and wonderful and oh so memorable.

Memorable Quotes:

It’s not easy to label people one illness or another. We’re all different combinations of crazy.

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Goodbye, Vitamin – Rachel Khong

51+SgqT67tL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

Publication Date: July 11th, 2017

Page Count: 208 (Hardcover)

From the Jacket:

Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she’d realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth’s father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief.
Told in captivating glimpses and drawn from a deep well of insight, humor, and unexpected tenderness, Goodbye, Vitamin pilots through the loss, love, and absurdity of finding one’s footing in this life.

When I initially read the jacket for this book, I considered not starting it. Expecting a sad, despairing narrative about a young woman watching her father slowly decline from Alzheimer’s disease, I was very pleasantly surprised to find Goodbye, Vitamin really isn’t about that at all. Ruth does in fact, return home to care for her father, Howard, who is losing his memory. However, the plot focuses on a year they spend together, while Khong expertly weaves in details from the past. It’s about love and the complexities and dysfunction of families. Written in journal entires that flow together almost like a stream of consciousness, it is impossible to put down. Khong’s prose is so stark and tender and I think it’s the simplicity of it that pulled me in.

This story is so quirky and bittersweet. Ruth’s father keeps a journal of all of the things she says to him as a young child, and these tidbits were my favorite part. The limitless imagination of children is perfectly rendered in these entries and they pulled mightily at my heart strings. Each one a reminder of how fleeting the time is when children are young and full of wonder. Despite being exhausting, and often feeling like each day is just surviving to the end of it, it made me pause and remember to cherish these moments with them.

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Final Thoughts: This book is heartwarming and tender and quirky and even funny, despite the dark subject matter. The overall impression is very bittersweet, but I still enjoyed it immensely. It’s a quick read and the writing is truly terrific. I will definitely pick up more by this author in the future.

Rating: Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 11.10.19 PM

Favorite Characters: The Howard who writes the journal entries

Memorable Quotes:

If I were you is something I’ve never really understood. Why say, “If I were you”? Why say, “If I were you,” when the problem is you’re not me? I wish people would say, “Since I am me, ” followed by whatever advice it is they have.

What imperfect carriers of love we are, and what imperfect givers. That the reasons we can care for one another can have nothing to do with the person cared for. That it has only to do with who we were around that person — what we felt about that person.

At one point Dad emerges, shirtless, into the kitchen, to brew himself coffee. I get my nipples from him, I realize, alarmed.

The Fate of the Tearling – Erika Johansen

51KHOIyge8L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Publisher: Harper

Publication Date: November 29th, 2016

Page Count: 496 (Hardcover)

From the Jacket:

The thrilling conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Tearling trilogy.

In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has transformed from a gawky teenager into a powerful monarch. As she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, the headstrong, visionary leader has also transformed her realm. In her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies—including the evil Red Queen, her fiercest rival, who has set her armies against the Tear.

To protect her people from a devastating invasion, Kelsea did the unthinkable—she gave herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy—and named the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, regent in her place. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign, imprisoned in Mortmesne.

Now, as the suspenseful endgame begins, the fate of Queen Kelsea—and the Tearling itself—will finally be revealed.

Note: If you have not read the other books in the Tearling trilogy, this review in an of itself will be a spoiler. However, I will not be posting any spoilers for the Fate of the Tearling, which is the final installment.

I initially saw these books all over bookstagram and was intrigued by their beautiful covers. After receiving the first two for Christmas, I placed them on my bookshelves and there they languished, until I found the audio versions on Hoopla. I’m always on the hunt for audio versions of books in my TBR, because there simply isn’t enough time in my life to sit and read the print version of all of them. Now that isn’t to say I do not want the print versions (wife if you are reading this, please do not stop buying me ALL THE BOOKS), it’s just that realistically, I cannot get to them all when I’d like to.

I mention this because the first installment, The Queen of the Tearling, is narrated by a lady named Katherine Kellgren. She made these characters come alive for me, giving each distinct personalities that were larger than life, and larger, certainly, than what my brain would have come up with left to its own devices. Very unfortunately for me, the second installment, The Invasion of the Tearling, was given a new narrator, who completely changed the tone and I was disappointed and underwhelmed. Because of this, I decided to read the third book so I could remember the characters that Kellgren helped bring to life. It was her voice I heard in my head while reading, and it was really wonderful. For anyone who has not started this trilogy, I seriously recommend listening to the first one, and reading the next two.

In the Tearling trilogy, Johansen has created a deliciously wonderful genre salad full of high fantasy, dystopian speculative fiction, sci-fi, and even, some paranormal details. It was wonderfully jarring to be reading about castles and horse drawn carriages one minute and the next be thrown into a futuristic house with self cleaning countertops. My brain could not make sense of it at first and it was really surprising and delightful.

In this final installment, all of the details from the first two books are woven in, and come together to create a powerful conclusion. Kelsea must face the Red Queen, whose identity we have finally learned.  Johansen goes into the history of the Town after the crossing and we are given a new narrator in Katie. We see the Mace grudgingly handling his new role. Simultaneously trying to rescue Kelsea while staying true to the vision she had for the Tearling. We find out who the Fetch is and the identity of the creature in the fire. We learn the origin stories of the sapphires and follow Kelsea through to the end of her journey of self discovery.

The choices Johansen made in this conclusion are so bold and creative. There is always so much pressure for the final book to get it right, and give the characters we’ve grown to know and love, a fitting conclusion. And while I do not agree with all of the choices she made, I can appreciate them, even while my heart was being ripped out and mended again. If I had it my way, there would have been at least five more chapters tacked on to the end.

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Final Thoughts: I love this series more than I can express with words, and certainly much more than I thought I would going into it. So many times while reading, I hugged the book to my chest and thought, THIS IS SO GOOD! Johansen is a bold and brave writer and these have made me a forever fan. She has written characters that I love deeply and I have no doubt I will come back to these again and again.

Rating: Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 10.58.06 PM

Favorite Characters: The Mace, Kelsea, Aisa

Memorable Quotes:

As always, the story was the compelling thing, worth all of its suffering to find out the ending.

Hell? Hell is a fairy tale for the gullible, for what punishment could be worse than that we inflict upon ourselves? We burn so badly in this life that there can be nothing left.

Entire countries would close their borders and build walls to keep out phantom threats. Can you imagine?

Empathy. Carlin always said it was the great value of fiction, to put us inside the minds of strangers.