The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The 52 Book Club 2022 Challenge Prompt: 28. Award-winning book from your country (Alex Award Winner)

Other Possible Prompts: 14. A Character with Superhuman Ability, 22. An Unlikely Detective, 37. Set in a rural area, 42. An indie read, 43. An author who’s published in more than one genre.

WOW. I’m disappointed in myself for putting this book off as long as I did. I am absolutely astounded and flabbergasted by how much I enjoyed House in the Cerulean Sea, especially given that it is yet ANOTHER fantasy novel! Not only my second five star read of the year, starting off strong, but it’s the second fantasy book I’ve tried and loved so far in 2022.

Quiet and analytical Linus Baker has been given a classified assignment as a case worker for his employer, The Department In Charge of Magical Youth: he is to investigate an orphanage on remote Marsyas island. Six unusual charges with incredible magical abilities are led by Arthur Parnassus, and their strange circumstances and lack of communication has Extremely Upper Management taking a special interest in Marsyas Island Orphanage.

Upon his arrival, nothing is as Linus expects. Though he tries to remain analytical, the children and even Arthur surprise him at every turn. The more time he spends on the island, the harder it becomes for him to keep his distance from these children, labeled as threats, this island, bringing color to his world, and Arthur, sweet and surprising – all but capturing his heart. And Linus hasn’t the slightest clue what to do with it all.

To me, House in the Cerulean Sea is best described as a cross between 1984, the X-Men, and your favorite slow-burn romance. I can’t even pinpoint for you all the exact vibes and marks this book seems to hit upon; all I know is that their convergence is an absolute delight. I haven’t read something with so much warmth, so much wit, and so much familial lightness in such a long time. This book is truly a marvel and lifts a weight off the heart when you read it.

There is so much subtext in this book. I’m sure most people will know that going into it, but Klune does a great job highlighting it for those who may not have gotten it initially. Themes of family, of hate and fear of the unknown, of separation – they are all reflected in this book, and while our characters may be represented as magical beings, they represent a broader group of marginalized people. Which brings us, unfortunately, to the controversy.

Now, I’ve read many different accounts and recounts of where this draws from, and Klune doesn’t seem to be afraid to repeat it. House in the Cerulean Sea was a story born from the Sixties Scoop, which refers to Canada removing indigenous children from their own families and placing them into white families, which went on for about twenty years and is still having an effect today. Reparations were paid by the Canadian government for this action in 2017. Klune claims that when he heard about this, having not previously known it, he had a lot of feelings about it that birthed House. A lot of people feel this to be wrong, given he is not indigenous, he is in fact white, and that he turned this story of misery into a fantasy tale that (spoiler alert) has a happy ending. There wasn’t a lot of happy endings when it comes to the real story that inspired this one.

I think the criticism is one-hundred percent fair, and I agree that, even if it was his inspiration, this is not something Klune should’ve shared. House in the Cerulean Sea is a real sugar coating of things, if I’ve ever seen one. But what I take issue with is the complete canceling of this story. I’m not at all anti-cancel culture: I think it’s society’s brilliant invention for deciding what we will no longer tolerate, and if the masses say it goes, it sure as hell should go. However, I want to remind everyone that this book was absolutely beloved and revered prior to this news breaking. It still does tell the story of a marginalized group of people, particularly children, who overcome through love and changing the minds of those around them. It tells a story of perseverance. And it spoke to so, so many people. Even now, after many readers “canceled it” with one-star ratings, it currently has a 4.47 star rating on Goodreads. I think the substance of this book is quality, and even if it’s not an accurate representation of the Sixties Scoop in any way shape or form, it’s a damn good book. It was born out of the feelings Klune felt when he heard about this horrific event. It’s not an accurate depiction; it was an inspiration for a tale we all hope could be, of the ending we needed. And above all, Klune himself is of a marginalized group, understands a marginalized group, and advocates for marginalized groups to write more about their own experiences. So yes, his inspiration and his sharing it was problematic. Is problematic. But I don’t think we should throw out the baby with the bath water. This is a brilliant piece of fiction, and we’d be wrong to deny it that much.

I have to know: have you read The House in the Cerulean Sea? What were your thoughts?? I’ve yet to meet someone who didn’t absolutely adore it upon the first read, though I know a few who changed their tune when they learned the information above. I really hope to read Under the Whispering Door this year; I have a few areas I could fit it into my challenge, and this was such an unexpected five stars from me. I picked it up when it first became popular, then when I read the description I didn’t know if I’d actually enjoy it, then the whole controversy came about…so I didn’t know what to expect. But I certainly couldn’t have guessed I would love it THIS much!

I hope you have a fabulous week friends, and that you’ll check out this gem if you haven’t already!

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Rating: 5 out of 5.

HOLY *&%$@)%&!!! I just finished the audiobook version of Daisy Jones & The Six and then I cried, at the office. THIS is what a five star read looks like. I have so many thoughts, and they’re literally all good. Prepare yourselves.

Daisy Jones & The Six tells the story of a rock band in the 70s: what brought them together, what tore them apart, and everything in between. It’s told in a series of interviews, pieced together to create a whole picture of what happened here between Daisy Jones, Billy Dunne, and the five other bandmates who spent the late seventies making incredibly angry, romantic, heartfelt, and heartbreaking music.

You all know how much I hate band books. I think I’ve mentioned it once or twice when the trope comes up in romance novels. It feels over dramatic, repetitive, I could go on…but this? This. It’s just such good stuff! This book is so much more than glorifying the “band life”. It’s a poignant drama about seven talented artists whose lives are so entangled it becomes beautiful and messy. About love. About life. About anger. About addiction. About reality, not the dramatization of a life on the road singing songs. I adored this book. And I only picked it up because a friend told me it wasn’t something you can pass over.

Of course, this book is loosely based on Fleetwood Mac. Because of course it is. I love Fleetwood Mac, and Stevie Nicks. I could see their charm all over this book, and see some of the parallels Reid was drawing. Maybe that was part of the draw for me – but I know for sure, whatever did it, I cannot recommend this book enough.

I think part of what makes this novel so amazing is these characters. Listening to it, I thought it might be a struggle to keep track of SO many people, but they are so unique and with such unique struggles, I caught on pretty quickly. The Dunne brothers were cast with similar voices, but their personalities couldn’t have been more different, and I could pick up fairly easily who was who when they began talking.

But truly, these are some of the best written characters I have read, maybe ever. Yeah, ever. Inside of these pages, I felt I had known this band my entire life. And despite not liking the choices of many, I loved them all. I was rooting for every single one. They were all so likeable in their own way. Even Daisy, who when I first heard her description, her biography, I thought I would hate. I thought this would be a book about a normal band, torn apart by this spoiled brat Daisy Jones…but you know what? They were right when they said she was magnetic. Iridescent. Reid wrote her that way, then made it happen. You can’t not like Daisy Jones, or at least root for her. She is incredible, and this book is pulled directly into her orbit, no matter how messy that gravitational pull may be.

And Billy Dunne? You’ll think through Debut that you hate him. He makes poor choices. He’s not terribly likeable. And even as he continues to dominate conversations and spaces throughout the book, I couldn’t help but love him, too. He changes and evolves, but he is who he is. Never in my life have I rooted harder for characters than the cast of this book. Karen was admittedly my favorite; the keyboardist is voiced by Judy Greer, so she already had that going for her, but her character is just straightforward awesome. Everything she does, the way she lives her life, and her connections to the others.

Now I’m certainly not going to ruin it, but I have to say – I wasn’t expecting a twist. Any twist at all, no matter how small. But it was that very twist, that unexpected shift in thinking, that got me choked up at the office as I organized some files. I can’t wait to talk about this very thing with SOMEONE. I just thought it tied everything up so beautifully.

So I texted my friend to tell her that I had FINALLY finished this book, months after she told me to read it – and she thought I meant the show. Upon which I’m like, OH MY GOD IT’S GOING TO BE A SHOW??? And what an awesome show it’s going to be. Reese Witherspoon is producing it, so you know that someone who read it and loved it is going to be involved with it.

Now that I’ve rambled – if you haven’t read this book, it’s time to pick it up, friends. This novel is a true masterpiece. I cannot recommend this enough. Daisy Jones & The Six is not only one of the best books I read this year, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. And I don’t hand out that praise lightly.

Please, please grab yourself a copy. Right now. Like run.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Room by Emma Donoghue

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m back, y’all! Sorry for my hiatus last week, but sometimes you just have to let life win. I was nearly finished with Room when I had to make the call to put out my “Send help, and coffee” post, but just couldn’t get that far.

Years ago I watched the movie Room on Netflix and thought it simply amazing. The story had me crying all the way through, and when the credits rolled, my face was soaked. I had no intention on also reading the story, but when I won the Goodreads Choice sweepstakes a few years back, this was one of the books I received – and I decided to give it a shot. It’s literally been three years, but I get there eventually, okay?

Room is told from the perspective of Jack, a five year old boy in captivity. At age nineteen, “Ma” was kidnapped and held captive in a gardening shed by her abuser. Years later, Jack was born, and Room, with it’s 11’x11′ footprint and four walls, is all Jack has ever known.

After their kidnapper turns off the electric in the dead of winter for several days, Ma decides it’s time to escape. Together they craft a plan to get out, into the world, into the outside Jack can only imagine.

This story is truly beautiful in it’s relationships. It’s so inherently human, and that is most certainly its strength. The relationship between Ma and Jack is quintessential mother and son, the strongest love built on five years of no separation. Their life in the outside world, the angst, the anger, the depression, the curiosity…it’s so real and so well done.

Jack’s perspective can get…tiring. I think it’s extremely novel, very accurate, and the best perspective with which to tell this story. However, reading an entire book from the perspective of a five year old is much like spending your day in and day out with a five year old. Particularly, one who knows nothing at all of the world and has a lot of questions.

Jack’s vocabulary also brings up some questionable choices in the writing of this book. It just creates some plot loopholes: one moment, he won’t know what something is, then the next he’s using huge vocabulary words to describe the very same thing. It just occasionally had me saying, “Five year olds don’t know that word…even bright five year olds”. It took me out of the story, however briefly, and I just couldn’t fall all the way into it.

Overall, this story is fantastic. I think it’s a great one to absorb, no matter how you absorb it: be it through the movie or the book. Honestly, though, this is one of the few cases where I think I preferred the movie. It had more of an emotional effect on me to watch it rather than read and listen to it. I think the book brings up some intricacies that aren’t present in the movie, and are very important, but it just didn’t have the same impact for me. Like I said, I originally fell in love with the story as I cried my way through Brie Larson’s performance…but I didn’t cry once while reading the very same narrative.

I think this is a really touching story, and I recommend it in any capacity. Room is a beautiful story of a mother’s love, told through tragedy. I’m glad I finally took the time to knock it off my TBR…and if it’s been on yours for a while too, take this as your sign to pick it up!

I hope you all have a wonderful week, peeps!

The Shadows by Alex North

The Shadows by Alex North

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Good lord, why did I put this one off?!? I have had this book sitting in my to-read pile for easily, a whole year, maybe longer! And YET! I think I completely forgot just how much I had loved The Whisper Man, how much it sucked me in and gave me the creeps, and The Shadows did the very same. The Shadows is a disturbing and eerie read that’ll have you shocked at the twists and turns, as well as checking over your shoulder every few minutes with the feeling of being watched.

Paul Adams experienced tragedy as a teen. Wrapped up in a toxic friendship with other boys, he remembers a year of lucid dreaming, manipulation, dark woods, and a murder he was very nearly implicated in. He returns now to the village he grew up in to care for his mother as she lays dying, and gets wrapped up in a very similar mystery happening miles away in another small town: Detective Amanda Beck is looking into the story that started it all in attempt to solve the murder that’s just rocked Featherbank.

But something is still lingering in this town. Someone is lurking in the woods, delivering memories of a time Paul would rather put behind him. And something needs to be done about Charlie Crabtree…

This is one of those books I just know I’m going to do a horrible job describing, because there are so, so many pieces to put together and you also don’t want to spoil anything for the reader. I encourage you to read the full description of the novel, which does a far better job explaining than I can.

This book is complicated in the very best way. I love how intricate the details of this story are. There’s so much substance to it, which I guess made me realize there hasn’t been tons of substance to what I’ve been reading lately. I picture North writing this book with a huge wall in front of him, connecting characters and plots by strings and pushpins. If you’re in the mood to go “Whaaaat…” and “Oh my god noooo”, boy do I have the book for you. Around three-quarters of the way through the book, I was laying in bed listening to the story trying to figure out where the hell the curveball I’d just been thrown had even COME from (loudly), and my boyfriend leaned over and asked, “Crazy book stuff?”. Yeah, crazy book stuff.

The characters make this book. They are so well rounded – so very real to the reader, which makes it even crazier the farther you read (gosh, I am really walking the line of spoilers today, aren’t I??). There’s so many of them but they all play a really important role in this story. It’s an incredible small town tale, and everything is important: don’t write off any little detail.

My only complaint, and it’s not even really a complaint, was that some of the language is very repetitive. I think North does it on purpose to draw attention to the importance of certain statements and their bearing on the story, but after a while I felt like saying “Yeah, man, you just said that”. Other than that: the language is beautiful. Incredible. Sophisticated, even, for a horror novel, in a way that brings it up a notch in my book.

Soooo, I actually received a copy of The Shadows in exchange for an honest review by the publisher through NetGalley…approximately a year ago. Whoops. I finally got to it! At least I have great things to say! Naturally, The Shadows is already available for purchase…and I highly recommend reading it. Grab a copy if you’re looking for something to blow your mind. 🙂

Have a great week friends!

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This book hits right in the heart! I’ve been not-so-patiently awaiting The Heart Principle for literally years…and finally got my hands on it. It was well done and written with love.

Anna is a violinist stuck in a loop. After a viral video made her music famous, she can’t seem to make it through a full song without thoughts of what others think just crowding in. After her boyfriend asks for an open relationship, she decides it’s time to make some changes, and seeks a new relationship and some revelations of her own.

Quan survived a diagnosis that left him feeling less than whole, and it’s ruined his carefree lifestyle and relationship style – until now. Looking for one night to get him back on the horse, he finds Anna, and falls head over heels for this woman.

When tragedy strikes Anna’s family, and she comes face to face with a diagnosis of her own, things become too much, and it threatens the one good thing Anna and Quan always have: each other.

I’ve got to say right off, I didn’t love this book as much as I’ve loved Hoang’s other novels, and I actually feel bad about it. The Heart Principle feels kind of like a cross between a romance and a contemporary/literary fiction novel. There’s a lot of focus on the story, the character development, and relationships outside of the romantic relationship, that are more present in literary fiction. However, this book also follows the arc of a romance novel. I’m not dissatisfied, certainly, but if you’re reading this review and seeing four stars like it’s a four star romance, I don’t mean it in that way. It’s a four star book overall.

This book focuses heavily on mental health and caregiving. I don’t want to spoil any big details, but it’s split up into three parts revolving around a major health event, and then the caregiving that comes after. These parts felt the most meaningful to me: as much as I love any Hoang romance, the author’s interaction with the story during these parts definitely had a deeper quality to it, and for good reason. After reading the book, I was met with the author’s note, which explains that Hoang wrote the story over the three years she was acting as a caregiver for her mother. These parts of the story are raw and real because they’re based in reality for her, and I definitely felt that as the reader.

The romance portion is where my star is lost. I think it’s really nicely done, and I think Anna and Quan’s support for one another even in the hardest of times is emotionally heartwarming and sweet. However, it doesn’t live up to the standards of her previous books in this sense. Don’t read it expecting it to be the main event…but certainly read it. I still very much recommend this book, but be aware that it is far heavier than any of her others, and take care of yourself while reading.

A copy of The Heart Principle was provided to me by the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It will be available August 31, 2021.