Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune—New ALL-TIME Favorite Book!

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

398 pages

ISBN: 9781250217288

Published 3/17/20 by Tor Books

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Genre: Fantasy

Amazon | B&N

Goodreads Synopsis:

A magical island. A dangerous task. A burning secret.

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place—and realizing that family is yours.

Review:

What an incredible story.

There’s so much positive diversity and LGBTQ+ representation. I honestly didn’t know that this had queer representation until it happened. It doesn’t take over the story, but it’s too cute that I wouldn’t have cared if it did.

Do you ever read your new favorite book and can’t think of words to describe why you liked it? That’s me in this review. I finished this last month, and I still don’t know quite what I want to say. I just need you all to read it.

I will say that there was one point where the children got on my nerves. I think it was mainly because I listened to the audiobook while I followed along, and the voices he used for them were not my favorite. If you had the option between reading physically and listening—physically is the way to go. I didn’t drop it any stars because of that (obviously).

The ending almost made me cry happy, happy tears. Linus experiences incredible character development throughout the novel, and I could only root for his weird little soul. He’s the type of main character that you absolutely despise at first, then you realize what’s going on behind the scenes, and you immediately change your mind. The love he develops for the children and Arthur is indescribable.

There’s so much heartbreak in this book, but it’s always followed by so much love and humor. There will be words said that will piss you off. I wanted to throw the book because of how mean people were to the kids, but then I thought about all the positive words they heard from Linus and Arthur. It’s just a whirlwind of a book.

Even if you end up not enjoying the book you’ll come out of it feeling like a better person. There are so many life lessons thrown at you in this book. It’s important to let others be who they are instead of oppressing them. There are a lot of similarities between the world in the book and our world. It really hits home. All I have to say is go into this with an open mind and don’t give up on it too quickly. If you don’t like it, then you don’t like it. I just hope that you’ll give it the best chance.

I also posted a review on my Instagram, if anyone wanted to check that out.

Here are a few quotes I wanted to share with y’all:

“Sometimes, he thought to himself in a house in the cerulean sea, you were able to choose the life you wanted.”

“We are who we are not because of our birthright, but because of what we choose to do in this life. It cannot be boiled down to black and white. Not when there is so much in between. You cannot say something is moral or immoral without understanding the nuances behind it.”

“There was green. Bright and beautiful greens of waving grass, and what appeared to be flowers in pinks and purples and golds. They disappeared into white sand. And beyond the white was cerulean.”

“But as long as you remember to be just and kind like I know you are, what those people think won’t matter in the long run. Hate is loud, but I think you’ll learn it’s because it’s only a few people shouting, desperate to be heard. You might not ever be able to change their minds, but so long as you remember you’re not alone, you will overcome.”


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Book Review: Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain

391 pages

Published: 1/14/20 by St. Martin’s Press

ISBN: 9781250087331

Genre: Fiction

Rating: 5 out of 5.

B&N | Amazon

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the digital copy in exchange for an honest review!

Goodreads Synopsis:

North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.

North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.

What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies?

Review:

Trigger warnings: Sexism, rape, alcoholism, racism, mental disability: manic-depressive psychosis, murder.

You have to make peace with the past or you can never move in the future.

I loved this story so much that I made my boyfriend sit down and listen to me explain the whole plot to him. He pretended he was interested, so I’ll give him points for that.

2018. Morgan Christopher has been put in the North Carolina Correctional Facility for Women because of a crime she technically didn’t commit. Her minimum sentence is one year, but the maximum is three. Her parents are alcoholics, so she’s never really had company for the year that she’s been there, until Lisa Williams and Andrea Fuller show up. Andrea is an attorney, and Lisa is the daughter of Jesse Jameson Williams, a famous black artist. He was in the process of creating an art gallery in Edenton, North Carolina, before he died. In his will he stated that he wanted Morgan Christopher to restore a 1940s mural by August 5th of that year, or Lisa won’t be able to keep his house that she’s living in. He offered her $50,000 and extra thousands for art supplies. The problem? Morgan doesn’t know how to restore a mural.

While she figures out how to restore the mural, she is constantly being pressured by the possibility of going back to prison if she doesn’t meet the deadline. She’s constantly meeting new people that she feels like she should explain her situation to. Meanwhile, Anna Dale’s story is secretly being unveiled through old newspapers, Anna’s journal, and an old family member of Jesse’s.

1939. Anna Dale receives a letter that she is one of the winning artists in the 48-States Mural Competition, but she didn’t win for the state she lived in which was New Jersey. The judges were pleased by her work, so they offered her the opportunity to create a mural for a post office in Edenton, North Carolina. 

She agreed, and left for a three-day trip to Edenton, a break from the harrowing task of burying her mother. “The one person in the world whose love and nurturing Anna could always count on.” Before she died, she had given Anna a journal, and Anna agreed to hold on to anything her mother gave her for the rest of her life.

It stated in the letter that she needs to become familiar with the town, so the mural can represent that town as much as possible. Unfortunately, most people in the town were either upset that Martin Drapple, a long-time resident and well-known artist in Edenton, didn’t win or that she was a woman. All the men didn’t trust her ideas for the mural. There was a famous Edenton Tea Party where women stood up for their freedom, but the Mayor mentioned Edenton was tired of hearing about it.

Her plan was to leave Edenton after three days, but the Mayor insisted that she stay. She can live Myrtle Simms, a widow whose daughter just got married and left the nest. Anna can give her rent to help fix up her big house. Eventually, they find a warehouse for her to work in during the process. 

That is where the two timelines start to connect. I don’t want to spoil anything because it’s so much fun watching all the layers unfold, and let me tell you, there are A LOT of layers.

I loved both female leads. They were strong-willed, persevering, and self-aware women, who took others into account even when they don’t have to. That does become a flaw, but they’re still human after all. They deal with a lot of obstacles, especially Anna, living in the 1940’s amidst the times of sexism, racism, and everything in between. These are definitely women I would look up to and strive to be. They take on challenges that are above their heads. They confront their mistakes…eventually. Outstanding characters. 

There is the teeniest, tiniest romance that slowly forms throughout the book, but it definitely doesn’t take over the story. It’s actually quite lovely. It’s between Morgan and a man named Oliver. He helps her with the mural, and he’s the curator for the gallery when it opens. I enjoy how much they enjoy each others company.

The writing is really good! There’s nothing complicated or hard to understand. The back and forth POVs are done extremely well. I was never bored at any point throughout the story. Diane Chamberlain knows how to write a good story, and I commend her for that.

I will pick up Diane Chamberlain’s other books from the past and anything she writes in the future. This is one of my new all time favorite books. There are no plot holes that I could find, the characters have strong personalities, and the writing is beautiful. What more could I personally ask for?
I will be purchasing this when I can!  


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Book Review: To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

153 pages

ISBN: 9780062936011

Published: 9/3/19 by Harper Voyager

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: 5 out of 5.

B&N | Amazon

Goodreads Synopsis:

Ariadne is one such explorer. As an astronaut on an extrasolar research vessel, she and her fellow crewmates sleep between worlds and wake up each time with different features. Her experience is one of fluid body and stable mind and of a unique perspective on the passage of time. Back on Earth, society changes dramatically from decade to decade, as it always does.

Ariadne may awaken to find that support for space exploration back home has waned, or that her country of birth no longer exists, or that a cult has arisen around their cosmic findings, only to dissolve once more by the next waking. But the moods of Earth have little bearing on their mission: to explore, to study, and to send their learnings home.

Review:

I’m speechless at how much thought went into this short novella. The detail and insight is mind-boggling. These four intelligent humans aboard a spacecraft for ages, and the thoughts that go through their heads while they make incredible discoveries is worth the five-stars I’m awarding it. I understand that this won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it was mine, and I don’t even like tea.

Story |

It’s the turn of the 22nd century, and the four main characters are on the spacecraft, Merian, and they are making their way to other planets and other extraterrestrial bodies—icy moons, dwarf stars, super-earths, etc. They are part of the OCA—Open Cluster Astronautics—a citizen-funded spaceflight. The Lawki 6 mission is to focus on finding habitable worlds.

It’s been 50-years since they left Earth and their families behind. They awaken from torpor, which stalls the clock for the human travelers, and in twenty-eight years of space travel, Ariadne only aged two-years.

Cells divide and the heart keeps beating. We buy ourselves time while in torpor, not immortality.

They use something new called somaforming—an enzyme patch that gives the body anything extra they need to survive on other worlds.

Aecor is nothing but ice. The ice appeared black because of the sun.

They deem it as a future site for long-term ecological study.

The right things mattered on Aecor. I’m a secular woman, but that moon felt to me like a sacred place. A monastic world that repaid hard work and dogged patience with the finest of rewards: Quiet. Beauty. Understanding.

Mirabilis is the super-earth I referred to earlier. It’s double the size of Earth and body weight doubles. Everything becomes a difficult task, including wearing clothes. 

Ariadne goes into discussing how bats and bees both have wings, but they do not come from the same ancestor. They are from “wildly divergent evolutionary paths, resulting in the same essential means of locomotion.

It was little details like that throughout the book that kept me fascinated! It was so interesting to get this odd stream of consciousness. 

They knew there was life on Mirabilis, but they didn’t expect to find what they did. 

Chikrondi accidentally brings a creature on the spacecraft with him and had to kill it by shooting it five times. Elena definitely blames him for it, because that’s her just personality type. 

When they finally sit down to watch old news, they came across a video that told them that funding was low, and there was nothing to explain why that is. There were no other videos explaining the reasoning behind it.

Opera is a more conventional planet. The atmosphere was only 16% the thickness of Earth’s. It’s warm here because of its proximity to its sun, Zhenyi. It does have a cold side though. It’s tidal lock―the same face is always pointing toward its sun. It’s a place where the living organisms either died off, or they never began in the first place.

Lawki 5 gets a hold of them, and tells them that they are headed back to Earth. They’re assuming that Earth was affected by a geomagnetic storm and that is why contact is nonexistent. They have damage to their hull though. They could burn up during re-entry. Unfortunately, Lawki 6 were never contacted by them again.

They eventually find a very thin river on the deserted Opera. 

This is the world where they decide whether they should use the last of their fuel to go back to Earth or to Tiveal―another planet.

They ultimately decide that they are going to be put in torpor until they receive a message from Earth―Yes is Tiveal, and no is Earth.

You must understand the cost here–the reality of what we do. Because sometimes we go, and we try, and we suffer, and despite it all, we learn nothing. Sometimes we are left with more questions that when we started. Sometimes we do harm, despite our best efforts. We are human. We are fragile. Are we who you want out here?

The ending of the novel really hit me. It’s very open, and typically I would rage over that, but I thought it ended the right way. I was satisfied! I don’t need another novel to continue on with. Although, knowing what happens to the mission specialists would be interesting, I’m not going to lie. But if that never happens, then I’ll be quite alright. 

Either way, we will carry this torch. All we’re asking is: where will it burn brightest? We leave that question to you.

Characters |

Ariadne is the flight engineer aboard the OCA spacecraft, Merian. She is the one writing to the people on Earth, in hopes that someone, knowledgeable in science or not, will answer her beckon call. She is a very complex character with a lot of inner thought about the world and other-worldly places. She talks about her home life with her mother quite often. She was such a great character to follow along with. She had her highs, and she had her lows. I’m going to assume that being in space that long would get pretty lonely. You catch a glimpse of that loneliness closer to the end of the novella. 

Chikondi is the youngest of the group, but age showed on him the fastest. He had a bond with Ariadne that I didn’t see any others having. He actually talked her out of a life or death situation. It was actually really cute in a depressing way. I think Chikondi is my favorite character. The reader gets to witness him struggle the most. He keeps to himself for the most part. He’s a deep thinker, and he’s good to Ariadne. 

Elena is the oldest by nine years. She’s had a lot of space travel experience, and it definitely shines through. She’s very much has a “I’m the boss” type of personality. She takes charge, but she’s sometimes a little harsh. I think they needed her though. Space isn’t something you mess around with, and she did her best to keep everyone in line. 

Jack is the the last character, and probably the least important, in my opinion. He is always antsy. I just don’t have a lot to say about him. Not much character development happening on his end. He’s just another mission specialist aboard the spacecraft. He plays an important role in finding new habitable worlds. 

Not all the characters were developed as much as I hoped, but for 135 pages of story, they were developed a lot more than I thought possible. They all had little quirks and flaws. They aren’t superhumans, and I’m glad that Chambers exposes that. 

Writing |


If you’re going to go into this for anything, go into it for the writing. I read it slowly, where it is a science fiction novel, and there are facts thrown at you, but it was worth it. There’s a finesse that Chambers has. She can describe an emotion in a way that I could’ve never thought of. The different worlds created in this novel are very specific, but she never focuses on one too long, and that’s one thing I enjoyed about this. 

Overall |

This is one of the best novels I’ve read this month, alongside All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. I am slowly becoming a fan of science fiction novels. I know there are some pretty terrible ones out there, but I am making sure to do my research before diving into one. This was easy to read, funny, inquisitive. There were a few things that could have been explored, but for a novella, I think Chambers nailed it! I recommend it, but I do recognize that not everyone is a science fiction fan. Know what you’re getting into before reading this. It’s very much slow-burn. Let the story come to you.


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Blogmas Day 12: Author Interview with William Kent Krueger!

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Happy exciting BLOGMAS day 12!

I decided to stick my neck out one day and ask Atria Books if William Kent Krueger would be willing to answer some questions about his new novel This Tender Land for my blog. I woke up at 6 AM one morning to an email back from the author himself, accepting. I was so excited that I woke my boyfriend up from a deep slumber.

Thank you to Atria Books for forwarding the request. Thank you to William Kent Krueger for taking time out of his day to answer my questions and for being a kind person overall. I will remember this forever. 

I hope you all enjoy learning about this incredible novel and the mastermind behind it! I had a lot of fun. I even bought myself a signed B&N exclusive edition of This Tender Land, and I’m excited to display it on my shelves.

Links to my review for This Tender Land:

Blog | Instagram | Goodreads

Q&A

1. I read on your website that you researched childhood development at the University of Minnesota. All the children in ​This Tender Land ​ are very well developed, but I was curious to know if you learned anything new from creating characters like Odie and Mose?

WKK: I learn something new with every character I create in any story I write. For me, it’s like running into someone new and getting to know them. They have much to offer as characters, not just as elements of the story. In creating the Four Vagabonds, I learned lessons in forgiveness, lessons about grief, lessons about family and friendship. I have a lot of input on my own, of course, but the characters themselves dictate so much, and I try to give them plenty of room to breathe and act and grow.

2. I work at a library and have noticed an increase in books involving Native American characters/culture. What inspired you to write about white brothers in an all Indian school?

WKK: For more than twenty years, in my Cork O’Connor mystery series, I’ve dealt with issues that are significant to the Native community. The tragic history of the Native American boarding school system is something I’ve been aware of for a very long time. In the early stages of conceiving the story for This Tender Land, I knew that I wanted the orphans to be running from a horrific environment. I couldn’t think of anything more horrific than life in one of these boarding schools. And because I knew from the beginning that one of the kids on the odyssey the Vagabonds were going take would be Native American, it all fit together nicely.

3. Was there a specific building/place that gave you inspiration for the Lincoln Indian Training School?

WKK: I drew a lot of inspiration from the Pipestone Indian Training School, which was situated in southwestern Minnesota, but is no longer in existence. The physical layout and many of the specific elements, however, were an amalgam of elements I gleaned from my research involving many other boarding schools.

4. This novel discusses a lot about the land and the environment around these children as they make their long arduous journey to St. Louis. Is there a deeper meaning behind that?

WKK: Any good story, I believe, ought to be a doorway to a consideration of ideas and themes that have universal appeal and application. So, in my conception of the novel and what it might be, I saw the river journey representing all kinds of odysseys—spiritual, emotional, even physical. And I also believe that any good story ought to leave itself open to multiple interpretations. Readers ought to be able to read into it whatever their own lives and perceptions direct them to see. It’s not unusual for readers to point out to me something they found of significance that went completely over my head in the actual writing of the story. But once they bring it to my attention, I can see where they’re coming from.

5. I love that Odie is a storyteller. When you were brainstorming ideas for the book, did you already know he would be a storyteller? If not, was there something else he was going to be known for?

WKK: I knew all along that Odie would narrate the story, but that he was also a storyteller was something I only discovered once I began the actual writing. It seemed a natural part of his being. In the same way, I discovered the nature of Albert and Mose and all the complexity that is Emmy. Composing this story was just as much a journey for me as it was for any of the Four Vagabonds.

6. There are a ton of diverse characters throughout the book. My favorite being Herman Volz. He truly was an upstanding guy. Do you have a favorite character? Did it change while writing the book?

WKK: I always identified with Odie. There’s so much of who I am in that wonderful kid. Although I adored all the Vagabonds (and I understand your appreciation of Herman Volz), my favorite, start to finish, was Odie.

About the Author

William Kent Krueger

*Photo is from his website.

William Kent Krueger is the author of This Tender Land, published on September 3rd, 2019. He also wrote a stand-alone novel called Ordinary Grace, published March 23rd, 2013, winner of the Edgar Award. His Cork O’Connor mystery series is also a winner of many awards, including the Barry Award, the Dilys Award, the Minnesota Book Award, the Anthony Award, the Loft-McKnight Fiction Award, and the Friends of American Writer’s Prize. Krueger briefly studied at Stanford University, then dabbled in numerous jobs—freelance journalism, construction, and logging timber—before becoming a writer. He even studied childhood development at the University of Minnesota. Krueger makes his living as a full-time author and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with his lovely wife Diane, a retired attorney. You can learn more about him and his novels on his website​: https://williamkentkrueger.com/


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