A Note About Categories

Hello and welcome to the Literate Meerkat! Feel free to browse around and check out all the categories, but first here’s a little guide to point you in the right direction:

Literacy
I love books, and I wish that everyone else did too. Some people just don’t like to read and other people never really get the foundation for it. I’m new to the whole literacy scene, but I’ll be looking into what the facts are about this topic and how I can help. If you want to learn along with me, or if you have your own expertise that you’d like to share, this is the spot for you.

Reviews
If you’d like to read my reviews of books I’ve read recently, here they are. My rating system is completely arbitrary, though I do try to make allowances for books that I think are well written, even if I didn’t enjoy them all that much. Almost all of these titles will be new (published within the past year). I try to avoid spoilers, but sometimes a few slip in, especially when I’m discussing a book in greater detail. If you’d like to go completely spoiler free, stick with the recommendations.

Recommendations
These posts are for spoiler-free opinions. As such, I’d appreciate it if you could keep your comments in this section spoiler free as well. (Yes, even for the really old books. They’re still new to people who haven’t read them yet.) I’ll make recommendations for books that I’m also reviewing, as well as including some old favorites that I think everyone should read.

If you want to help the Literate Meerkat grow, subscribe to new posts, leave comments, and spread the word to all your friends. It’s greatly appreciated. Cheers!

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The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Rae Carson’s debut novel is a great start to a writing career. It was published in 2011, and she’s got at least 20 books now, so apparently the promise has panned out, but for now The Girl of Fire and Thorns is all I’ve got to go on. And it definitely has me ready to leap onto book two of the Fire and Thorns series, The Crown of Embers. And most of that has to do with the girl herself, Elisa, the second princess of Oravelle and chosen bearer of the Godstone, who has grown up with the unrelenting fear the she will fail to live up to the glorious destiny that she has been singled out for.

There are flaws to this book. I’m not going to pretend that it is a masterpiece. But I do try to cut authors a break on their first book, and the premise shows a lot of promise, even if the delivery didn’t always follow through.

For example, I love that Elisa is fat. I like that she deals with her insecurities by eating, even while she knows that her weight is one of the main causes of her insecurity. It’s a vicious cycle that many people really are caught in, and you hardly ever see it in a character who is the central heroine of a book.

The fact that most of Elisa’s problems go away when she loses weight is kind of problematic. I think the idea was supposed to be that as she got skinnier, Elisa grew more confident and her lack of belief in herself was her central problem all along. However, in execution what really came across was that Elisa’s biggest character flaw was that she was fat and once she lost the weight, everything magically resolved itself.

A lot of readers criticize this book for being overly religious, but I for one was glad to see religion take such a central role in a plot. Atheism is, as far as I know without doing any actual research on the subject, a fairly modern thing. Pretty much every culture around the globe throughout history has developed some sort of religion. It might take the form of monotheism, ancestral spirits, animism, a pantheon of deities, or something else entirely, but there’s almost always a spiritual aspect to a culture. So it’s nice to see a fantasy world so crucially rooted in conflicting spiritual beliefs, even amongst people who are allies.

There was a lot of telling going on in this book, instead of characters being explored through their actions. But I can forgive that in a new novelist, provided her future books show improvement on that front. But the biggest deal breaker for me was the constant focus on the handsome men around Elisa.

The book opens with Elisa’s arranged marriage to Alejandro, the king of a neighboring country who needs an alliance with her father to help him win a war. Alejandro is older, very handsome, and her husband, so it’s no surprise that Elisa swoons over him, even if he does have some pretty major character flaws. But then Elisa gets kidnapped, by a young, also very handsome man, who doesn’t have any major character flaws. It doesn’t take her long to start comparing the two men and deciding which one she likes better. This isn’t a bad story line as far as it goes, but it takes up way too much of the book. There are so many interesting relationships in this book I would love to see developed, but instead we spend entirely too much time getting lost in Humberto’s dark eyes.

Cosmé, for example, deserves to have her own book. She’s an illegitimate daughter who was forced to be a servant to her own half-sister, an incredibly competent ladies’ maid, a terrifyingly fearless spy, an intrepid desert traveler, and probably half a dozen more things I’ve left out. Her developing relationships with Elisa is a strong part of this book, and it could have done with a lot more developing.

Or Ximena, the nurse who used to be a scribe who is actually a guardian capable of taking out threats with a hair pin. More of her backstory, please! Of course, there’s also the issue of how much of her devotion to Elisa is true love (a great deal of it, I believe) and how much is really religious fervor. Let’s explore that instead of teenage love dilemmas, eh?

And we can’t forget little Rosario, even though almost everybody does. The poor little prince is in danger of becoming a spoiled brat because nobody keeps their word to him, whether it’s a promise or a threat. The courageous little guy wants so much to help the cause, but he’s constantly sidelined until Elisa takes him under her wing, painfully familiar with the feeling of being shunted aside.

There’s also Alodia, Elisa’s older sister who is confident and poised and perfectly capable of running a country. How much of her disdain for Elisa is real and how much it is Elisa projecting her own insecure opinions about herself on to other people? Alodia wasn’t a big part of this book, but I’ll be very disappointed if this relationship isn’t explored further in future installations.

As you can see, this book has no shortage of fascinating characters to be explored, including Lord Hector, the ever-loyal royal guard who is, unfortunately, also being developed into a love interest.

Objectively, I’d say this book gets 3 out of 5 stars. It was a fun and engrossing enough read, I think I’d bump it up to 4. But Carson’s going to have to step it up to keep this rating on her future books, being especially vigilant to not let teen romance drama completely eclipse the far more interesting sidelines running through the story.

 

P.S. Don’t forget to comment on Saturday’s post with your idea for a writing prompt!

 

Story Cubes #1

All right, gang, it’s time for our first writing prompt challenge. What do you make of this? Leave your prompt in the comments! Remember, you have to use at least 6 of the die.

Rory’s Story Cubes Writing Prompts

I hinted earlier this week that I was making some changes around here, and this is the big one. Like many voracious readers, I’m also a writer. Coming up with ideas is usually no problem for me (I actually have the opposite problem more often) but now and then I need some help. And I’ve found Rory’s Story Cubes to be immensely helpful. It’s a set of dice with various images on each face. You just roll the dice and use the pictures to make a story. There’s a whole collection of something like 81 dice, but the original set is 9.

It’s a helpful tool that I recommend you look into getting for yourself, but right now I’m offering to do the hard work for you. (Because rolling 9 dice simultaneously is not for the weak of wrist.) So here’s how this is going to work.

The first Saturday of every month starting this Saturday, August 4th, I’m going to post a picture of the 9 dice exactly as I rolled them that morning. You have one week to comment on the picture, turning it into a story prompt. Feel free to use all 9 dice to make your own story, but for the purpose of a one-sentence prompt, you have to use at least 6 of them. (I’m figuring this out as I go, those numbers might change.)

The second Saturday of every month I will pick my favorite writing prompt out of the ones that have been submitted in the comments section and post it as a challenge for the rest of the month. Write your own story based on that prompt and send it to stories@theliteratemeerkat.com. Why would you do that? Keeping reading to find out!

The third Saturday of every month I will post The Meerkat’s Tale, which will be my take on that month’s writing prompt. I might use characters from my works-in-progress or invent new ones just for this. It will be a good writing exercise for me, and hopefully entertaining for you. Feel free to leave feedback, but keep it constructive, please.

The fourth Sunday of every month I will post The Meerkat’s Favorite, which is exactly what it sounds like, my favorite stories of the ones submitted after the prompt is posted on week 2. At the moment all you’ll win is bragging rights and whatever exposure you get from being on my blog, but if this grows I’ll try to scrounge up some prizes for winners. The story rules are as follows: any genre is allowed, but please no explicit sex scenes, excessive swearing, or unnecessary graphic violence, all of which is determined at my discretion. No fanfiction please, original characters only, although rules were made to be broken and if you blow me away with an incredibly funny or inspiring new take on some famous literary personalities, I can make an exception. I’m not making any hard and fast rules about length at this time, but the longer it is the less likely I am to read it in its entirety.

I’m excited for the Meerkat’s Monthly Writing Challenge, and I hope you are too! See you Saturday!

An Update from the Meerkat

It’s been a busy front half of 2018, what with me working crazy hours, taking online graduate classes, and then switching jobs. I’m really enjoying my new job, particularly as it leaves me with much more time for reading and writing! As I settle into my new schedule, the Meerkat is going to be making some changes which I hope you’ll enjoy. In the meantime, I need to get you caught up on what I’ve been reading. I’m not going to try to review all the books I’ve read since the last time I posted (in March!!!) but I will give you monster list of books with my snapshot opinion of them.

The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger 3 out of 5 stars
This is a graphic novel about a mysterious bookmobile that contains everything you’ve ever read. It had some good moments and something of a surprise ending that I did manage to guess, but overall I just felt like it was trying to say something and I couldn’t figure out what.

Snoopy and “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night” by Charles Schulz 5 out of 5 stars
I loved this little gem of a book that my brother found for my birthday. I’m somewhat obsessed with a certain literary beagle, and it’s like this book was made for me. Mixed in with the fun is some great writing advice, and I highly recommend it to all aspiring authors. You can read it in under 5 minutes.

Secrets in Death by J. D. Robb 3 out of 5 stars
I’ve been a longtime fan of the In Death series, but I feel like it reached its peak a while ago. The characters aren’t really going anywhere anymore. And yet I continue to collect them and probably will as long as Robb continues to write them.

Tower of Dawn by Sarah J Maas 4 out of 5 stars
I wasn’t really looking forward to this book because I’m more interested in what is happening with the rest of the crew in the Throne of Glass series, but this was a really good way to bring Chaol out of disgrace without ignoring his past mistakes. I’m glad to see him get some beautiful character development and there are plenty of tie-ins to the larger story which I can’t wait to get back to in Kingdom of Ash, which I believe is coming out in October.

The Assassin’s Blade by Sarah J Maas 2 out of 5 stars
In an attempt to stem my Maas addiction while waiting for the next release, I read her collection of short stories about Celeana’s life as the most feared assassin in Adarlan. It didn’t really satisfy. The stories were okay, there just wasn’t enough meat there to dig into.

Heart on Fire by Amanda Bouchet 2 out of 5 stars
The Kingmaker Chronicles started out so strong, but the end was just as disappointing as the middle. The third book seemed repetitive and anticlimactic. There were a few things left dangling that might become the subject for future books, that I would be willing to read, but they won’t be top priority.

A Court of Frost and Starlight by Sarah J Maas 3 out of 5 stars
Another collection of short stories from Maas, this time following her Court of Thorns and Roses series. The stories were fine, but I honestly would have preferred for her to spend her time writing her next novel. Stop teasing me and write, Sarah!

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa 4 out of 5 stars
This story is about a math professor with short term memory loss and his relationship with his housekeeper and her son. There’s a lot of math involved. I should not have enjoyed it as much as I did, but oddly enough I really liked it. If nothing else, I think we need more books that focus on platonic relationships.

Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare 3 out of 5 stars
I really enjoyed Mortal Instruments and absolutely loved Infernal Devices, but Dark Artifices is not doing it for me. I like Emma okay, but I think the supporting characters are far more interesting and Julian is ruining the whole series for me.

Lumberjanes Vol. 2 by Noelle Stevenson 3 out of 5 stars
This graphic novel had one or two great lines, but it didn’t live up to volume one.

Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister 4 out of 5 stars
This book is loosely based on a true story, because fittingly enough it is very difficult to find details about the first female Pinkerton’s personal life. I think I liked The Magician’s Lie better, but this was a very solid, enjoyable book.

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy 3 out of 5 stars
This was a fun young adult adventure with plenty of magic sprinkled throughout. It’s the first book in a series, but even though I enjoyed it, it didn’t leave me rushing for book 2.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black 4 out of 5 stars
It took me a little while to get into this book because I think I overdid the fairies reading Cassandra Clare, but I ended up really enjoying it. I didn’t realize book 2 isn’t out yet, which was very disappointing to discover, but such is life.

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson 4 out of 5 stars
For a book that mainly revolves around made up geometry, this was really good. I devoured it. I didn’t figure out the mystery (I thought I had) and I really liked the characters. It’s looking like book 2 is going to come out sometime between now and never, but things are more or less wrapped up at the end if you want to pretend it’s a stand-alone, which it may very well be forever.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo 4 out of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this story about a bunch of teens from the seedy side of town more or less trying to do the right thing. Six of Crows was a little better, in my opinion, but Crooked Kingdom was still good. I don’t know if Bardugo is planning to use these characters some more or not, but I would definitely read it if she did.

Revolution in World Missions by K. P. Yohannan 4 out of 5 stars
This book is about the founding of Gospel for Asia and gives a look at the history of the native missionary movement. It really challenged me as someone who doesn’t think of herself as materialistic but definitely is compared to large chunks of the world.

Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris 4 out of 5 stars
NPH liked the Choose Your Own Adventure books so much as a kid, he decided to pattern his autobiography after them. It’s a fun idea, and well done, but I was never that much of a fan of that series. I made it through to his happy ending with only one misstep, but by nature of the format you miss pages, so I went back and read them all straight through, which put everything out of order and made it hard to follow. If you like this format, I could see this getting 5 stars, but even with me not loving it, it’s well-written enough to get a solid 4.

The Accidental Afterlife of Thomas Marsden

How can you not read a book with a title like that? Unfortunately, as books like The Badass Librarians of Timbuktu prove, books don’t always live up to their title. Emma Trevayne’s story of a young boy who helps support his family by robbing graves did not disappoint.

This book was written for 8 to 12 year olds, and I think it would capture that audience perfectly. The villain is suitably villainous the hero isn’t overly heroic and everyone gets the ending they deserve. The characters are developed well, the plot paces itself out perfectly and my only real complaint is that I wanted more of it.

Legends about fairies vary so much you can do just about anything you want with them. Trevayne juggles the mythology deftly, weaving it seamlessly into her story. That’s not always easy to do, but it flows so smoothly here, it seems effortless.

As an adult reader, I would have liked a little more depth to the story. Everything wrapped up a little too quickly and neatly to leave me really satisfied. On that basis, I’d give it a solid four stars. For the intended audience, an argument could be made for five out of five.

Hyperbole and a Half

If we’re judging books by their covers, Hyperbole and a Half is a very satisfying book. It’s got a great heft to it, and it has thick, glossy pages that are color coded for each chapter, or comic, or whatever you want to call each section. For content though, it falls disappointingly short.

The first section is hilarious. It had my sister in tears, which doesn’t happen very often. Brosh makes a fine, strong start to her collection of comics. But she doesn’t live up to that initial promise. There are good bits here and there, but overall it is disappointing, and made more disappointing, in my opinion, by the high expectations set at the very beginning.

Not all of the comics are funny, nor are they all meant to be. But some of them struck me as downright sad. Not the ones about depression, which I’ve never struggled with and so won’t try to comment on, but just the ones about being an adult. Yes, motivating yourself to be a productive human being can be hard, but it’s not impossible. And for some reason, those comics struck a nerve with me.

On further reflection, I decided that I didn’t like her take on being an adult because it is everything that the previous generation likes to criticize millenials about. I won’t deny that some of what they say, and some of what Bosh portrays in her comics, doesn’t hit close to home, but millenials are more than capable of being responsible, mature, functioning adults. As someone who often has to struggle at work to make my older coworkers see me as an adult, it infuriates me to see millenials portraying themselves that way.

So maybe that’s just me being overly sensitive, but it sort of ruined the book for me. Also, I love dogs, have owned dogs my entire life and plan to continue doing so, but if all I knew about having pets came from this book, I would never in a million years consider getting one. Her dogs sound terrible. And I realize the title of the book is Hyperbole and that she probably exaggerates things for comedic purposes, but it struck me as too much.

Oddly enough, I think Bosh and I would get along pretty well. From what I can tell, there’s a lot of common ground there. Which makes it all the more surprising that I just didn’t like her book. Maybe you’ll find it more to your taste than mine, but for me it rates two stars.

We Should All Be Feminists

The issue of gender equality is huge and complicated and We Should All Be Feminists is about fifty pages long, so obviously there is a lot more to be said on this topic than what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie manages to cover here, but it’s a great start. This is an essay adapted from a TED talk, so if you’re really against reading (curious: if you’re really against reading, what brought you to a book review blog?) you could go watch that instead. I haven’t, but I’m betting it’s pretty solid.

Adichie covers topics like why we call it feminism when it’s really about egalitarianism, what gender discrimination looks like in 21st century America, as well as places around the world, primarily Nigeria, which is her native country, and why men should be just as invested in this topic as women. (In other words, why we should all be feminists.)

This is a concise, well-written, excellently argued stance on the importance of feminism. I’m going to start carrying a copy around with me and anytime I find myself struggling to make a point, I’m just going to hand whoever I’m talking to the book and tell them to read it. Adichie does a much better job of explaining feminism than I ever will. It doesn’t get that elusive fifth star, but it rates a very solid four.

Lumberjanes Vol. 1

I’m in the middle of a fairly intense online class, which means my recreational reading has been cut to the bone. It seemed like a good time to revisit graphic novels. I got out Noelle Stevenson’s Lumberjanes Vol. 1 because I loved Nimona so much.

Lumberjanes are no Nimona, but I still really liked the book. I felt like I was jumping into the middle of the story, and I’d appreciate a little back story about what this camp is, what brought our cast of characters there and so on, but I’m still hoping some of that comes up in later volumes. I thought the characters had a good mix of different but complementary personalities and styles. I liked the story and the pacing and one of my favorite lines ever now has to be “I AM GOING TO CATCH A FISH BY WRESTLING IT AWAY FROM A BEAR!”

Like the pilot episode of a tv show, this volume whetted my appetite for more of the story, which should be the main purpose of any first installment, whatever medium we’re talking about. Even though it doesn’t rate Nimona’s five stars, I could gush about it for a while and really want to give it four stars.

BUT

Those field manual inserts at the beginning of each chapter were awful. They were boring and full of typos and by the third one I was skipping them. The fact that I could skip them means there was no reason to include them at all. If you want to do something like this, do it well. Throw in some jokes or some foreshadowing or at the very least proofread them.

I almost want to pretend the inserts weren’t there and give this book four stars, but they were there, and they drag the rating down to three stars. Most definitely worth reading but also most definitely room for improvement.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

I grabbed this book based purely on the title. Rhoda Janzen writes about revisiting her Mennonite roots after her marriage ends and a car accident leaves her seriously injured.

Janzen’s writing is funny and sweet and insightful, but it also seemed kind of disconnected to me. I know a memoir isn’t necessarily a linear story, but I still kept expecting things to transition into each other and instead felt like we were hopping from moment to moment with no real connectivity there.

I will applaud Janzen for facing a very difficult time in her life with humor and courage. And for furthermore having the courage and honesty to turn this slump into a well-written book. But I don’t actually know Rhoda Janzen at all and sometimes found myself wondering why I was reading all about her failed marriage and her family quirks. Some of it felt like I was reading things that are really none of my business.

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is an excellent book, but I don’t think it was a great book for me. If I was grading this based on objective execution, I’d give it four stars. (An argument could even be made for five, but I like to save that for books that really, really earned it.) For my own reading enjoyment, it gets three. I know that’s not a stellar recommendation, but I do still recommend it. You might not love it, but I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy it.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

I don’t know if the gaps in my history education are common across America’s public school system or if it’s a weakness unique to my alma mater, but I know far more about the ancient Egyptians and the Medieval serf system than I do about, say the Cold War. (My mom gets really upset when I call the Cold War history, by the way.)

My point is, my history knowledge is pretty spotty, and gets spottier the closer we get to current events. (Where is the line for that, anyways? Who decides?) I have a pretty fair grasp of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, but my understanding of World War I is sketchy and most of what I know about World War II can be learned from The Diary of Anne Frank and Schindler’s List.

So I set out to correct this with books, starting with the much-acclaimed biography of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt covers everything between his birth and his presidency. And I do mean everything. While I appreciate a thorough biography, I did not need an exact list of all of his kills on his extensive hunting trips.

It took my over a year to read this book, but only because I put it down for about ten months. I really had to slog through his childhood. Roosevelt was a sickly child, and Morris delivers a minute account of his illnesses, treatments, relapses, and everything else you never wanted to know. By the time I was reading about his courtship of his first wife, I was bored with him, which is not something I ever expected from the man who led the Rough Riders in their famous charge up San Juan Hill.

After my ten-month hiatus, I picked the book back up and finished it in about two weeks. Once his political career gets moving, everything becomes exponentially more interesting. The book ends with McKinley’s assassination and I’m looking forward to Theodore Rex, which covers Roosevelt’s time in the White House.

Morris writes a very fair and balanced biography. Roosevelt accomplishes extraordinary things, mostly through being an overly opinionated workaholic. His more questionable decisions, like his support of James Blaine’s presidential run despite his moral objections to the man, are left to stand on their own, without condemnation or excuse.

One criticism I read of the book was that it didn’t give a very good overview of the time period. If you want to know everything that happened to Roosevelt in the Spanish-American War, for instance, this book will tell you all about it. If you were hoping for an explanation of what exactly prompted the war, it’s a little more vague.

This is true enough, but my rebuttal would be that this is Roosevelt’s biography, not a history of the Spanish-American War. If that’s what you want, I’m sure there are books out there for you. Also, I think reading about Roosevelt’s political battles did leave me with a pretty good understanding of expansionism and what the political climate of the time was and how this all erupted into fighting in Cuba.

Overall, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars. If you start about 150 pages in, it might even rate a full five.