Review: The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

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I’m pretty sure I added The Wonder to my TBR on Goodreads wayyyy back when it first got published in 2016. And then I forgot about it.

But then, while browsing the library shelves before work one Saturday, there it was, smushed between some contemporary fiction. And now we’re here.

So if you don’t know who Emma Donoghue is, she is the author of Room, which got adapted into the box office hit about a little boy and his mother with Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson. I’d go into more detail, but this review isn’t about Room, so… The Wonder has seen its own success since its publication, it’s just not a movie yet. Anyway.

The Wonder is a nice little taste of historical fiction, set in Ireland several years after the end of the Great Famine (1859 according to Donoghue). It follows Lib, a young nurse who was trained under Florence Nightingale (the mother of modern nursing) as she embarks on a job no one else wanted. Lib has taken a short job in podunk nowhere Ireland under the impression she will be doing her nursely duties for two weeks in exchange for a decent amount of money. Instead, she comes to find that there is a young girl in this Irish village who people claim has not eaten a thing for four months. Lib’s job is to watch this young girl for two weeks and report if she is actually refraining from eating.

Each of Donoghue’s character’s have their own individually elaborate stories, and carry all the depth you hope for in any good fiction story. Alongside Lib is the young girl, Anne and her colorful family, a nun, a young news correspondent, a priest from the local parish, and the doctor who was overseeing Anne’s treatment. Each of them has a major part to play, and each has a story that unfolds with such breath and detail. You love them and you hate them all. No one character ever seems to be neglected or in the background, even when they’re written as minor characters.

As the story progresses, Anne’s health declines, and against her instructions not to meddle, Lib decides she must intervene to save Anne. From there it’s a race against time as Anne’s death lingers ever closer, and Lib must find the truth behind the last four months and convince the others to save Anne’s life.

Much of the story is a clashing of philosophies. Anne, her family, and the fellow villagers believe her four month fast to be successful because of divine intervention. Her decision to begin the fast on her first communion was influenced by her deep devotion to God. Lib, a woman of science, believes otherwise. As Lib struggles to save Anne’s life, she must fight tooth and nail against everyone around her who harbors a staunch belief that God will not let Anne die.

The story ends pretty surprisingly, but it takes a lot to get there. The characters shine where the story itself does not. The book seems to drag for ages, with all the action occurring all at once in the last third of the book. The extended chapters (about 60 pages each) make the wait seem even longer. I gave the book four stars originally, but I could easily see myself giving 3.5. The premise and characters are interesting, and the ending is satisfying enough, but all the trudging in between can be a bit off putting. To be honest, I finished the book a month ago and I’m still not sure what kind of impression it left on me.


Lets talk about the F word: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

IMG_3597A really big discussion going on in libraries, and just in general, is about diversity, intersectionality, and tolerance. Bias and racism is obviously a touchy subject, and for librarians, we’re constantly talking about how to appropriately and comfortably help all of our patrons, no matter who they are. We’re also working on addressing the hidden biases we all have. I recently had the opportunity to watch Adichie’s TED talk, Danger of a Single Story. She discusses how only having or knowing one story about a person, culture, or group leads us to believe inherently damaging things about that person, culture, or group.

The discussion that followed sucked me down a rabbit hole of Adichie’s writings, and I immediately went to the library and checked out We Should All Be Feminists and one of her fictional works, Americanah.

We Should All Be Feminists is an essay adapted from another TED talk Adichie gave, and discusses her experiences with feminism throughout her life. Just as Adichie mentions in the first few pages of the essay, feminism carries a lot of negative baggage. Those of us who use the label feminist often find ourselves stuck in an argument with others that we don’t actually hate men, we don’t want to burn our bras, we’re not evil or angry, we do wear deodorant, and some of us shave our legs (and some don’t because honestly who has the time).

While Adichie discusses raising our sons differently and teaching our daughters to be who they are for themselves, she seems to be treading the line of second wave feminism. A key component of the third wave feminism that we’re experiencing currently is intersectionality and the inclusivity of all females and those who identify as feminine. This simply means that the feminism movement is no longer about simply cis-gendered women’s right to choose, it’s about supporting and fighting for transgender women and those who identify as queer femme (and really all those who identify in someway as feminine). A common point that was discussed after the first Women’s March last year is that the power of femininity does not come from having a vagina, but from embodying female power, whatever that may be for an individual person. It’s part of the reason the pussy hats got such a pushback from the LGBTQI community, and with good reason.

It’s not my place to say that Adichie’s experiences are not valid, because they most certainly are. Her essay is a great example of experiencing an extremely patriarchal environment, especially for her having grown up in Nigeria where even today the rules and laws stripping women of rights and options are infinitely more strict than those in the US. But if we want to truly create a viable feminist movement, and by extension a culture that fights racism, social injustice, and inequality on all fronts, we must be critical of our advocates and heroes.

A huge issue that runs rampant in the feminist movement over the last several decades (really since the second wave feminism movement in the 60s and 70s) has been the lack of inclusion of transgender women and really anyone who does not identify as a cis-woman. Adichie made several remarks not too long ago about transgender women that was considered transphobic. She expressed her feelings that trans women are trans women, and women are women. That while they are trans women, they grew up with the “privileges of being a man”. While it’s valid to say that the experiences of transgender women might be different prior to transition than a cis woman, they are no less valid in thefight for equality and understanding. The controversy here is that Adichie’s comments imply that trans women are not TRUE women.

When one of the most prominent voices of the global feminist movement makes these comments, we need to be wary. Our heroes and the people we’ve chosen to speak for the masses aren’t perfect, and we need to acknowledge that. That isn’t to say that other things Adichie has said haven’t had an amazing impact on the movement, but we do need to have a discussion about the not so wonderful things.

We Should All Be Feminists is a great stepping stone to more complex and exploratory social literature, but it needs to be taken with a grain of salt, like most social commentaries. And like all of us trying to address our biases and become better advocates, I hope that Adichie is doing the same. We become better by acknowledging our mistakes, understanding why they were mistakes, and working to fix them.

Books and Morals: when your favorite author is terrible

Recently I started getting into this fantastic podcast called Overdue, run by Andrew Cunningham and Craig Getting. Andrew and Craig read and review books that we all should have probably read by now. It’s fun and lets me revisit books I haven’t read in ages.

Their recent episode from December on Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card sparked a pretty big internal conflict for me that I think a number of us have maybe encountered. I adore Ender’s Game; I consider it one of my top three science fiction books. If you’ve never read it, it chronicles a young boy as he is sent into space to attend a space battle school. In this futuristic world, young talented children are trained in preparation for leading Earth’s interstellar military in battles against a hostile alien race. Ender is considered one of those elite children, in fact he’s thought to be THE future hero of the human race. It’s a wonderfully written science fiction novel, and has won multiple literary awards. They even turned it into a movie a few years back (it was horrible).

Here’s the issue. Orson Scott Card is not a nice guy. I knew all of this prior to the podcast episode, but Andrew and Craig really delve into all the ridiculous things Card has done in the past. He’s penned numerous essays with staunch homophobic stances, he’s compared Barack Obama to Hitler, and he’s been very open about his political opinions in regards to other races and sexualities. The dude has gotten so much flack, he actually has a page on his website devoted to explaining how his quotes have been misquoted, and that his critics are wrong.

In the podcast, Andrew and Craig bring up the issue of how can we as consumers of art and ideas separate the art from the artist. Or more importantly, should we?

When I pick up a book penned by a white male, I typically don’t go “oh wow, a white guy wrote this book”. When I stumble upon a book written by a POC or a queer author, one of the first things people like to comment on is that it was written by a minority. We have this ability to separate white authors from their works quite easily, but for many minority authors, their identity is at the forefront of their works. Louis CK was the example used in the podcast. This is a man who used his humor and talent to portray feminism, but it was then discovered that he did sexually inappropriate things to women. And yet even after the news broke, people still expressed their support for his standup and his art. When it comes to white artists, fans appreciate their works in a vacuum. They can separate the man from the art. “Well, he’s the worst, but this stuff he made…I love it.”

For me, it’s an internal moral conflict. Ender’s Game has been one of the most important books in my personal library. Card lives in my town. He references our town in Ender’s Game multiple times. It’s a staple of my science fiction shelf, something I used to recommend to friends avidly. But it was penned by a person who’s beliefs literally go against my own. These ideals that Card embodies and proudly shouts are things I have spoken out against. But then in the back of my head I hear this small voice go “but Melissa, should you really hold this author you’ve never even met to a higher ethical bar than what you hold your close friends and family to?” Can’t I just say that he’s crazy, but this book is iconic, and deserves appreciation in some form? And then I start to wonder if my convictions are truly iron clad.

So this is the issue that I am dealing with personally, and I hope I’m not the only one. Maybe an artist or author you love has a track record of being a pretty terrible person too. Delving into this issue made me realize just how many authors of the past we wipe the slate clean for just so we can continue reading their works. TS Eliot is another favorite of mine, and was a raging anti-Semitic. Hemingway was an absolutely abhorrent person who emotionally damaged his wives and children. The list goes on. But their works!

It is quite a confusing moral conundrum. If we flipped through the pages of history, three out of every four great artists would have a black streaked past. We’d have to boycott and toss out countless works of art, novels of grandeur, and great classical symphonies (looking at you Wagner). But we also cannot love the art and pretend who it came from was as flawless as what they created. I loved Ender’s Game, but I acknowledge that I can no longer support Card the way I did when I was younger. And for my own personal convictions, I will not be re-reading the story for quite some time, if ever. I already own the book, it was gifted to me by my brother, so it will remain on my shelf, just not on the favorites shelf.

But how do we make it black and white when it’s gray all over? If you think we can not separate the artist from the art, and you wish to not support bad artists, can you truly stop consuming all the art around you that is tainted with a bad creator? Where is the line drawn? How bad must a person be for you to stop supporting them? Is a few inappropriate comments okay, but avid racism is where you draw the line? If you think we can separate it all out, are you comfortable with supporting ALL artists? It’s a hard line to tread, and I think we’ll all have differing opinions on what is and is not okay. Art consumption is a wholly personal experience, but it must be done with a little grain of salt on the side.

If you must gain access to works by authors you know have a track record of disrepute, I recommend strictly borrowing from the library so they in no way receive royalties from a purchase you might otherwise make. And research your authors. Acknowledge that great art can come from terrible people. For so long we as a society have shoved things we disliked under the rug in favor of appreciating art because “it makes us better and more cultured people.” We must consume art, but we must acknowledge that some of the greatest works we fall in love with came from dark people. And maybe we should start asking “why?”


Review: Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

IMG_3296This one got A LOT of hype from various book bloggers and bookstagrammers. I must have seen the cover pop up a thousand times, everyone singing it’s praises. I am apparently in the minority, but truthfully the book was disappointing. I’m sensing a trend with historical fiction in that it continually lets me down.

Last Christmas in Paris is a epistolary novel that follows Thomas Harding and Evie Elliot as they exchange letters during WWI. Thomas is stationed at the front in France and Evie back in England. In between the letters, there are flash-forwards of Thomas visiting Paris in 1968, some 50 years after the end of the war. 1968 Thomas is re-reading all of the letters he and Evie exchanged, and is preparing to read the last one she wrote for him that she left after her death.

The concept is sweet and nostalgic, a blossoming romance during times of war. And the book seems original and fresh until you’re 300 pages in and bored to death of reading letters. I personally feel like the book was just too drawn out, and could have ended a lot quicker. The whole will they, won’t they trope is great for a while, but once Evie has rehashed her unsure feelings towards Thomas in a letter to her best friend for the MILLIONTH TIME, I was pretty much over it. The overall plot was fine, but as I’ve come to find with most historical fiction stories, it was full of extra fluff. It’s that much harder when you know they end up together, but you now have to read another 150 pages to get to that point. It’s like sloshing through mud.

I can say that considering how wonderful the flash-forwards were written, I think this book could have been a lot better written narratively with letters mixed in. Trying to pen an entire novel from just letters is no small feat, but it tends to come out clunky and lacking detail that narratives can provide. Maybe I just hate epistolary books. Call me biased.

All that being said, I did enjoy and appreciate the book, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Clearly I struggle with epistolary writing and historical fiction. I should really just avoid those books from here on out. The ending was quite lovely and redeemed the book for me after having trudged through the whole middle section. Someone mentioned it might be better via audio book, and that the use of multiple narraters kept it lighter and easier to get into. If you’ve listened to the audio book, let me know what you thought!

Overall, I give Last Christmas in Paris 3.5 stars. It’s a sweet concept, I just don’t think it was executed properly. I feel like it could have been a wonderfully romantic story of two people falling in love during the war, it just didn’t need to be done entirely in letters, and  the writing in the flash-forwards proves that. Unpopular opinion be damned, I think 300 pages of letters is overkill, and the readers deserved more. Sorry, not sorry.


My Top Ten Books of 2017

It is always so hard to narrow down the list each year. How do you pick just ten books when you’ve read some fantastic ones? I did my best and tried to be fair, and landed on ten great books I had the pleasure of reading this past year. So in no particular order, let’s begin!

1. A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas

I love a good fantasy series, and I’m amazed I put this one off for as long as I did. Fae, romance, and magic is always a great combination. And who doesn’t love a strong female protagonist? It was hard to pinpoint where on the spectrum this book fell; it reads like a YA fantasy, but has a lot of themes more appropriate for adults. Regardless, it’s a great book and series, and I’d highly recommend it for any fantasy lover. I’m excited to get around to the third book this year.

2. 11/22/63 by Stephen King

My last Stephen King was Dreamcatcher which leaves a lot to be desired; it’s definitely not the best King to start with, so I was fairly reluctant to try again, but I had heard nothing but amazing things about 11/22/63. It’s 900 pages, so my intention was to make it into my long winter read. I flew through it in less than two weeks… This book is a perfect balance of thrill, suspense, history, and romance. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a Stephen King that isn’t straight horror. It’s a time traveling book set around the Kennedy assassination, and I promise it’s not nearly as cheesy as it sounds. The pace of the novel keeps the page count from feeling overwhelming, so whether you’re a slower reader or a speed reader, anyone can easily tackle a tome like this. It’s versatile enough for any reader to enjoy. This definitely was a five star read for me this year.

3. The Power by Naomi Alderman

2017 was the year of diverse and feminist books, and The Power was a great example of the latter. The book is set in an alternate universe in which women now have the power to harm others simply with a touch. It follows several women as the power of men is flipped in their favor, and addresses the theoretical question of if women were in charge would the world be a better place? The story was original and creative, and while the writing was just so-so at some points, it does not leave you disappointed.

4. Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch

There’s is nothing I love more than stumbling on a sweet, quick read about first love and with a little drama. If anyone needs a good pick me up book with a happy ending, Love and Gelato is the way to go. Once I get through my book buying ban and it gets published in May, I’m really looking forward to reading Welch’s second book, Love and Luck. Her writing is perfect for a great, light read in-between those heavy books.

5. Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the perfect book to help you find new books to read, or to firmly establish that there are just some terrible books out there no one should read. Annie Spence is a librarian in Detroit and she decided to compile love letters and break up letters to different books in her life. The communal librarian hatred of Fifty Shades of Gray makes an appearance, as it should. If you’ve ever deeply loved, loathed, or felt apathetic towards a book, you’ll relate to Spence’s letters and tales. It’s a must read for every librarian and book lover out there. I laughed through pretty much every entry, and her subject headings are perfection.

6. Orfeo by Richard Powers

I have never read a book that perfectly captured the feeling of being overwhelmed and in love with music, but Powers got it spot on. Any music lover, especially those who have an appreciation and understanding of classical music, will enjoy this wonderful ode to the works of the greats. Orfeo is a wonderful combination of the thrill of science fiction and the joy of art. I’ve read few books in my life that have left me in tears, but I can honestly say that I cried when I finished this book. A little heavy at times, and it’s definitely not a quick read, but it’s well worth the time and effort. Another fantastic five star read for 2017.

7. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

I finally jumped on the Outlander train and I will never go back. I forced this book on my best friend after finishing it, I binged the show, I fell madly in love with Jamie Fraser. Scotland, hot dudes, romance, intrigue, and history? And it’s a part of a super long series that goes on forever? Sign me up. I got the third book of the series for Christmas and I’m so ready to rejoin Claire and Jamie on their adventures. Also, this book basically forced me to follow Sam Heughan on Instagram, and to be honest that was probably the best decision I made all year. If you have yet to read Outlander, or even watch the show, do it. Whether by book or by screen, you have to experience this story.

8. Caraval by Stephanie Garber

You can’t make a 2017 list without including one of the most popular fantasy books of the year. This was one of the only books this past year that I read in less than 24 hours. I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say I’m crazy excited for the second book. It’s easier YA fantasy, but as I’ve said before, life is too short to read boring books, so read the YA fiction that’s geared towards people ten years younger than you. If it’s a good book, it’s a good book, regardless of audience.

9. The Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown

Two things: the first is that Pierce Brown is science fiction’s current resident bad boy hot dude. Number two is that this trilogy gave me life. I FLEW through the books. I read a lot of books, but science fiction is hands down my favorite genre, and Red Rising gets everything right. The characters are amazingly developed, the plot has so many unexpected twists, the Greek references are perfect. I pre-ordered the fourth book as soon as it was available. Iron Gold comes out on January 16th, and you can bet your butt I’ll be sitting by the front door waiting for our mail guy to deliver it.

10. Leviathan Wakes by James SA Corey

I really did read some great science fiction this year. Corey’s Expanse series has made the rounds over the last few years, and gained a lot of popularity after it was turned into a show on Syfy. The series will be nine books in total, six of which have been published. Leviathan Wakes is a solid space opera, with all the drama and action you would expect from interstellar battles and planetary politics. I’m sorry to say that by the sixth book, things start to drag. It’s hard to keep a storyline going across that many books and not get bogged down with excessive detail. Even with all of the political drudgery, Corey has a winner with Leviathan Wakes (and pretty much books two through five).

Did you have any books that wowed you in 2017? Let me know! And keep an eye out for my Worst Books of 2017 list. They can’t all be winners and five star stories.


Review: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

img_3051.jpgHave you ever read a book that you just could not tell if you actually enjoyed it or not? That was this book. It wasn’t poorly written, but it wasn’t ‘smack me in the face’ amazing, so I’m still not very sure of how it left me.

This is Jennifer Ryan’s debut novel, and it follows the women of Chilbury during World War II, and follows the age old adage that “life goes on”. There’s romance, heartbreak, coming of age, and even death. I do think the synopsis is a bit heavy handed on the concept of the choir as it really only plays a background role to all of the other plots floating around.

For a rather short book, there is A LOT going on in this story; we get baby swapping in the first 50 pages. Because of it’s length and everything going on, a lot of the storylines develop quickly and almost at an unnatural pace. And even with all this action, the story doesn’t even really start to move forward until the last half of the book. Prior to that everything is simply moving in circles. I liken it to those battle scenes in action movies where there is a lot going on, but nothing is actually progressing the plot. All action, no movement.

The biggest thing at that made me question my enjoyment of this book was it’s written entirely as letters and diary entries from three characters. Which is all well and good, except that I have never in my life read a letter or diary entry that was written as if each character just happened to be a fiction writer on the side. The joy of fiction is that it’s believable. I find it hard to believe that someone would write a letter or diary entry as narratively as these characters have. I feel the story would work better simply as an alternating point of view narrative than attempting to make each chapter a written product from one of the woman. It makes it infinitely less believable when a letter from one of the characters quotes an entire conversation with emotional analysis, there was too much detail to make it a believable letter one sends to another.

The characters are all diverse, but fairly one dimensional; a grieving war mother, two sisters that struggle to get along, a pleasant and supportive choir director, a mean old vicar. All pretty standard tropes one finds in a small village in war stricken England. And with all the drama going on in the book, everything once again conveniently wraps up with a nice bow. Everyone gets the ending you hope and wish for them. This novel is anything but out of the ordinary. It’s simple, straight forward, and predictable.

I gave it three stars because of my so-so feelings towards the characters and this book in general. I’m sure others who enjoy nice, simple historical fiction with a bit of drama would eat this book up. It just was not my cup of tea. One day I’m going to find a historical fiction novel that doesn’t leave me feeling “meh”.


Review: Christmas Edition

Whew, it’s been a while, friends! But I’m back and ready to supply you with some new reads. This go round is actually a double review of two wonderful little seasonal reads that are perfect for Christmas time: Skipping Christmas by John Grisham and Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand. Both are fairly short, quick little reads perfect for curling up next to a well-lit tree and a warm fire (and a toasty cup of cocoa too). So pull out your Christmas sweaters and stockings, and put on the carols, because it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Skipping Christmas – John Grisham

Yes, you read that right. This christmas book was written by THAT John Grisham. Skipping Christmas is far cry from a legal thriller, and if you’ve ever watched Christmas with the Kranks a lá Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis, then you’ve essentially read this book. That being said, it still stands on it’s own in the best way. If you’re just looking for a fun, quick story that is the equivalent of watching Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas, and is well written and leaves you satisfied, John Grisham delivered.

I love Christmas with the Kranks, I think it’s a funny Christmas movie that holds up well even while competing against the big whigs like White Christmas and Christmas Vacation. I’ve seen the movie countless times, so I was interested to see what it’s literary precursor had to offer. The movie stayed pretty true to the book; Luther and Nora have decided to forgo Christmas and take a tropical cruise now that their daughter Blair is off with the Peace Corps through the holidays. They say no to all of their traditional Christmas goings on and whatsits: no party, no tree, not a thing. When you live in a very Christmas-oriented neighborhood with holiday obsessed friends, coworkers, and neighbors, you’re obviously going to get backlash. The characters are funny, quirky, and just trying to figure out how to navigate riled teens, questioning adults, and people who really just want Luther to Free Frosty!

Like I said, if you’ve seen Christmas with the Kranks, you’ve basically read this book. Book Luther is quite a bit more strict about forgoing Christmas fun than his Tim Allen counterpart, and unfortunately we don’t get a funny botox scene, but all in all, it reads wonderfully.

The book is rather short, perfect for a chilly afternoon. You could easily read this in one go. And if you never grow tired of Christmas hi-jinx like myself, then this is a perfect little read. If you’ve absolutely never seen the movie, then definitely grab this book, because it is a wonderful Christmas story that leaves you all warm and fuzzy at the end, all that true meaning of Christmas and whatnot. If you’ve seen the movie, give it a go anyway. With Grisham having penned it, it’s definitely not lacking some great writing.

Winter Street – Elin Hilderbrand

I have never read a single thing by Elin Hilderbrand, never even heard of her until I saw this book plastered all over bookstagram. The raving fans left me wanting, so I grabbed a copy for FOUR DOLLARS at our local bookstore and pushed it to the top of my TBR list.

This is actually the first of three books about the mildly dysfunctional Quinn family. Dad, Kelley, owns a little B&B on Nantucket, Mom is an illustrious news anchor for CBS, the daughter is a music teacher, the oldest son works in investments, and the middle son is a bartender with a track record of giving up. The story begins just a few days before Christmas as Kelley discovers his current wife, Mitzi, is leaving him. Winter Street follows each family member in the days leading up to Christmas as they all deal with trials, tribulations, and dysfunction individually and with each other. Patrick, the eldest son is facing major illegal activity, while his younger brother, Kevin, is planning for the future.

If you enjoy love, dysfunction, and a good outburst of drama at dinner, than this book is for you. It’s a great contemporary drama with the warmth of Christmas and wintery Nantucket thrown in. I do recommend making sure you have access to all three books, because Winter Street leaves you absolutely wanting more. The cliff hanger at the end made me so upset that I didn’t snag the other two when I grabbed the first one.

If you’ve got a favorite seasonal read or Christmas story, let me know! This is the first year I’ve attempted to read something seasonal, and I really loved it.



Review: The Girl with All the Gifts by MR Carey

In this science fiction thriller, Carey takes ‘Zombie’ to a whole new level.  It’s the perfect mix of futuristic wasteland and childhood innocence. I must admit this sat on my shelf for a while, but I’m so glad I picked it up when I did. It’s perfect for those colder winter nights when you’re ready to get cozy and read a great book.

The Girl with All the Gifts follows young Melanie as she navigates a post-apocalyptic world she knows nothing about. Full of curiosity and a love of Greek mythology,

She and her fellow classmates are treated like monsters; they awake each morning in their tiny rooms, are strapped to chairs and carted into a classroom with guns to their heads. Full of curiosity and a love of Greek mythology, Melanie just wants to keep learning from her wonderful teacher Miss Jusineau (even if it means getting yelled by soldiers). This routine never changes, until one day all hell breaks loose and Melanie is thrust out into the open and faces the truth of her own humanity as well as those around her.

The story takes the wildly common zombie/world virus theme and turns it sideways, giving us action with a little philosophical discussion on humanity tossed in. It weighs the age old argument of ‘for the greater good’ against this concept of self reliance. Can humanity perform minor atrocities if they believe it will pay off in the long run? Does being human really make you inherently good? Carey’s book is more about character development and existential philosophy than it is about zombies, but he gives the reader an exciting setting to explore these topics. I mean, if I had to choose between nonfiction existentialism and zombie existentialism, I’m going to choose the latter.

The writing and the characters get you hooked from the start and keep you hooked all the way to the unconventional ending (that I would give away in a heartbeat if I could). Carey even takes the time to develop the characters you’ll hate with a passion, and the depth he gives them will make you hate them all the more. If you’re looking for zombies, blood, and gore, this might not be the book for you. But if you want to read a character-driven story that also includes zombies and mentally twisted scientists who will stop at nothing to finish their research, then this is the perfect book for you.

There is also a movie adaptation for anyone who might prefer zombies in a more visual media format (and with Glenn Close).




Review: 11/22/63 by Stephen King

IMG_2770This was not my first Stephen King novel, in fact I read Dreamcatcher back many eons ago. I’m really glad I gave King another shot, because my opinion of him was soured after the off the wall ridiculousness of Dreamcatcher.

You will hear people talk about how wonderful 11/22/63 is, and let me tell you what, they are NOT wrong. The book is fantastic, even at almost 900 pages it only took me two weeks to read. And that was me just setting aside half an hour a night to read. I flew through this thing, and never looked back.

Jake Epping is your typical high school English teacher. He lives in a fairly nondescript New England town, and lives a fairly nondescript life until the owner of the local diner, Al, reveals that the back of his storeroom is actually a portal to 1958. Al enlists Jake’s help and requests that he go back to 1958 and change the past and hopefully save the future. What follows is a wild ride through the past as Jake tries to alter a past set in stone to save those around him, all of it culminating in the take down of Lee Harvey Oswald before he can assassinate President Kennedy. But what happens when life, love, and a past that refuses to change gets in the way?

I loved everything about this book. I often find that when fiction meets real world history, things get mishmashed and it usually leads to disappointment. But King does such a good job of seamlessly meshing the two together. It’s honestly the best science fiction meets history meets romance meets action/adventure book I’ve read to date. The writing is impeccable, the characters give you so much depth it hurts, and the story takes you up, down, and all around. It’s toted as time travel to save Kennedy, but damn do you get all kinds of plot twists that have nothing to do with Kennedy (in the best way). You know the whole thing where it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey? This book is the actual literary example of that phrase. It’s allllllllllll about the journey in this one.

There are great books and then there are great stories. This is the latter. It’s not a critically acclaimed novel that touches on social issues and family dynamics, it’s simply a story that is woven so well it pulls you in and never lets go. So to the people who say Stephen King is merely an okay author, to you I say “so what? he’s a damn good storyteller”. This was the perfect read I needed after endless “great books”. I’m deeply saddened that it’s over and I can’t read it for the first time again. Unless I find a time portal…

Anyway, this baby gets five out of five stars. I recommend this to everyone, because it’s honestly got it all. Everyone should be able to at least find one thing in the book they like. And I promise, it won’t even take that long to read, even if it is the size of a medical textbook.



October Wrap Up

img_2748.jpgI miraculously read SEVEN books in October, which is shocking considering how busy I was. As far as reads go, October was all over the map. There were thrillers, love stories, mysteries, more love stories… Anyway, here’s the complete wrap up if you’re looking for a new book to read!

Starting from the top on down, The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey was a pleasantly surprising read. It popped up my various peoples’ read lists, but it didn’t seem to have glowing reviews. I picked up knowing full well there was a good chance I’d dislike it. I don’t know, call it morbid curiosity. I went in with low standards and came out having finished a great book. It’s a pretty original take on a common trope we see nowadays: zombies. To make a zombie book successful these days requires reinventing the proverbial zombie wheel, and I think Carey pretty much pulled that off. I gave it four stars overall.

I couldn’t get through October with quintessential Agatha Christie, so The Murder of Roger Ackroyd ended up on my list. It’s Hercule Poirot at his usual, a pretty standard Christie mystery. A bit predictable on my end, but still a fun autumn read. I do have to confess though that I love Ms. Marple more. HOwever, if you’re looking for a Christie mystery that isn’t Murder on the Orient Express (which has seen a huge surge in popularity thanks to the upcoming movie),Roger Ackroyd isn’t a bad choice. Honestly, you can’t really go wrong with any of Christie’s popular ones. To be far, she’s the most published novelist in history, so…

Love and Gelato was the perfect, light, sweet, adjective-inducing read. If you want a little romantic pick me up with beautifully written Italian scenery, this is your book. My full review can be found here. It definitely harkens back to the YA I read as a teen, maybe with less vampires and werewolves.

Since we’re on the love train, Paris for One and Other Stories once again gives us classic Jojo Moyes. The woman knows how to write about twenty-somethings trapped in less than stellar relationships, and gives them the romance of a lifetime. If you’ve not read Me Before You, I recommend it for sure. After that, it’s a slow descent into fantasies of being swept off our feet with a bit of reality thrown in. The great thing about Paris for One is that the initial story is fairly quick, so Moyes follows up with a handful of other short stories. They’re very real and raw, and just what the doctor ordered. Moyes shows that love isn’t always this fantastical fleeting moment in Paris with a hot guy. Sometimes it’s compromise after 12 years of marriage, or it’s realizing that what you’ve got is better than what you thought you wanted.

The Boundless was a guilty, but not guilty read for me. Kenneth Oppel’s writes wonderful YA books (among other things), and I adore them even though they’re clearly for someone ten years younger then me. I picked up The Boundless simply because I saw Oppel’s name on it, and he once again didn’t let me down. It’s a fun read if you’re into alternative universes where huge trains miles long and flying contraptions become our main form of transportation. I liken his YA books to fantasy meets science fiction meets steam punk meets the Industrial Revolution. His Airborn series is another of my favorites.

My suspense, psychological thriller for October was Lies She Told, which came in my Book of the Month box. My full review is here, but if you don’t want to read that, just know I really liked this book. Thrillers have a habit of letting me down, they become too predictable or they’re just poorly written. Lies She Told gave me hope for the genre. It’s not the longest book, and it was fairly predictable, but it kept me reading. I knew what was coming, I just didn’t know how Holahan was going to get there. And THAT is the sign of a good thriller.

Last, but certainly not least this past month was The Power by Naomi Alderman. It was released in the UK awhile back, and just finally made its way to the US. The writing is sometimes a little off, but the overall story is great. Feminism meets fiction. I did a full write up on my thoughts regarding fictional feminist prose here. Even though the writing was lacking in some spots, I still recommend this book because it gets you thinking. Alderman penned a thought-provoking take on modern feminism and role reversal, and it deserves a good read by anyone who can get their hands on it.

I didn’t have any disappointments in October, every book was a winner. No reading slumps over here! Whether you’re looking for soft romance or a murder on a train, I highly recommend checking all of these books out.