Book Review – The Illusionists by Rosie Thomas

illusionists - book coverRosie Thomas’ novel, The Illusionists is one that I bought a few years ago after reading The Night Circus and rewatching a few of my favorite magic/illusion movies (The Illusionist, Scoop, The Prestige except for the last few scenes, etc.). I don’t remember now why I had put off reading it but it has inspired me to do another rewatch. The Illusionists captures more than just the wonder of the illusions the novel’s central troupe performs, it captures the ways that reality and illusion play into each of their lives as well.

Devil Wix is a struggling magician looking for more regular work than what he gets performing in the streets. He stumbles across a dwarf by the name of Carlo Boldoni who has a knack for devising illusions as well as gift for performing them. The two prove to be effective collaborators as their competitive sides drive them both forward. Nabbing a recurring act on the stage of the newly reopened Palmyra Theater, their biggest obstacle to success becomes the theater’s owner, a greedy man called Jacko Grady who knows nothing about marketing or talent. The pair aren’t the only ones dissatisfied with Grady and soon the performers and their friends outside the theater begin to form an alliance and finally a company of their own. Heinrich is an engineer who builds automatons but is socially awkward and has difficulty grasping the line between real and machine, the controllable and those with free will. Jasper knows Devil’s real name and history having grown up together as boys, but his waxwork models prove valuable to Boldoni and Wix’s illusions. Eliza becomes a focal point for most of the men in the company as she challenges so many expectations of women during the time in which the novel is set but knowing what she needs from a relationship in order to maintain her sense of independence, she cannot make them all happy though she aims to keep them balanced without losing herself. Continue reading

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Book Review – Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

shadow of night - book coverSince I read and posted my review of A Discovery of Witches, I’ve heard that there will actually be more books in the series than just the initial trilogy. Having gotten further attached to the characters in the Shadow of Night, the second book in the trilogy, I’m excited that the next book won’t be the end—though I’m perhaps more excited to see how things played out in the present timeline while Diana and Matthew were in the past as well as how this particular plot ultimately wraps up.

Despite Diana’s familiarity with the history of Elizabethan England, when she and Matthew arrive after timewalking there, she has a lot to learn—about how to behave and live in the sixteenth century, about Matthew’s family and past, and about who she is and how her magic works. The tasks they set out for themselves—finding a witch to educate Diana and locating the Ashmole 782 text—aren’t as simple as they had hoped or planned them to be. Matthew becomes conflicted as he must act in accordance with his sixteenth century self though many of his beliefs have shifted drastically; Diana must come to terms with her magic, training so she can protect herself from those who covet her powers or might wish her harm. In the present, those Matthew and Diana have left behind wait and watch for signs of a changing history and portents of their return. Continue reading

Book Review – 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die #170

2001 a space odyssey - book coverI’ve been working my way through some of the “classic” science fiction books to see and understand more of the genre’s origins and how it’s evolved. The science fiction titles on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list feel like a good way to kill two birds with one stone. What I knew about Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey before reading it was mostly just two things strongly connected to the film—the music from Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra and the bit of dialogue referencing the pod bay doors—and neither of which turns out to have given much of anything away from the story at hand.

Beginning with the early education of mankind as he evolved from man-apes, 2001: A Space Odyssey follows a rather disjointed structure that makes pinning down the main plot a bit difficult. Some sort of extra-terrestrial force arrive in the African plains and study and educate those early ancestors of mankind in part one. By part two, man had already established working colonies on the Moon and made an unexpected discovery while exploring and excavating the Moon’s surface—a monolith that dates back to the days before mankind had fully evolved. A clear indication that intelligent life has or continues to exist in the greater universe, the rest of the book is much more focused on the mission to make contact—though who knows about the discovery and the true nature of the mission is kept pretty quiet. Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole are the two active crew-members as the ship Discovery—with the assistance of a supercomputer, HAL—embark for Jupiter while their three companions wait in suspension to be reawakened upon arrival when they will conduct their experiments. Before they can reach Jupiter, however, the secrets of the “true mission” begin to cause problems with the HAL computer system. Continue reading

Book Review – The Godfather by Mario Puzo, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die #169

godfather - book cover Unlike when I started reading The Shining, I have seen the film adaptation of Mario Puzo’s The Godfather—in fact, it was part of an assignment back in my high school psychology class (I no longer remember or care what we had to do for the assignment but it remains one of my favorites). Though it’s been a few years since I saw the movie, they did a fantastic job of remaining true to the book and the characters—The Godfather is one of those instances of book to screen adaptations where both are genuine masterpieces. Even if I hadn’t already seen the quintessential mafia movie, Puzo’s prose provides a crystal clear picture for every scene.

On his daughter’s wedding day, Don Vito Corleone has meetings with several men who seek favors. His youngest son, Michael, attends the wedding with his WASP girlfriend, Kay Adams, trying to make light to her what the family business is and why so many people revere and fear Don Corleone. Michael insists to her—and anyone who knows him is already aware—that he has not part in the family business and has no intention of ever getting involved in it. But a short time later, Don Corleone’s polite refusal of a business deal is taken the wrong way and he is attacked, putting the fate of the Corleone family at risk and Michael realizes staying out of things is easier said than done. Continue reading

Book Review – The Heir by Kiera Cass

the heir - book coverI wasn’t blown away by The Elite or The One from the Selection Series so I came into The Heir with reservations similar to those I had when starting the series and was pleased to find that in many ways, The Heir has renewed my interest in the series. Now I’ve reached the end of the series’ published books and must wait for the next to be published later this year.

Twenty years after America married Maxon, The Heir is told from the perspective of their oldest child, Eadlyn. The first female heir in the monarchy’s history, she grew up in a very different, caste-less Illéa than the one readers came to know in the first three books. But the dissolution of the castes hasn’t been as smooth as her parents hoped and the Selection has been resurrected to buy them all some time to figure out how to handle the growing unrest in their post-caste country. But with Eadlyn at the center of the Selection and thirty-five young men staying at the palace, it’s a Selection unlike any before. Continue reading

Book Review – The One by Kiera Cass

book cover - the oneMy number finally came up for my library’s copy of The One by Kiera Cass and after finishing it I had to laugh at the timing having just finished Sophie Perinot’s Médicis Daughter (though you’d probably have to both to understand why). There were definitely some surprises in this third installment of Cass’ Selection Series—I’ve already put my name in for the The Heir—surprises that were an improvement on some of the disappointments in The Elite but there are still areas I think could have been stronger.

Having made up her mind to fight for Maxon, America must navigate the more treacherous Selections tasks that King Clarkson puts before her. Still doubtful about both whether she wants the responsibilities that would come with being a princess and where she ranks in Maxon’s affections, America also learns more about the larger political situation the palace and her country are embroiled in—the differences between the northern and southern rebels and what their goals are. She must also confront telling Maxon the truth about her history with Aspen. Continue reading

Book Review – The Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die #167

glimpses of the moon - book coverAnyone who’s read my blog for a while should know by now that I’m a fan of Edith Wharton. In working my way through the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, I love that I have an excuse to discover the less-famous works of authors I already love. This works out better for my opinions of some authors rather than others—Edith Wharton is one of the former. The Glimpses of the Moon is not a novel of hers that I have heard discussed much as far as what gets recommended when Wharton’s work is brought up—but it should be.

Susy Branch, like many Wharton heroines, has been born and raised in the wealthiest circles of society and struggles to maintain her place there though much of her family’s fortune is gone. She sustains herself through the kindness—and favors—of her female friends. Accepting their castoffs and presents comes with a price and while Susy may occasionally despise her position, she doesn’t see any way out of it. When she meets Nick Lansing, he shares a similar place in their circle and they are able to commiserate and find themselves drawn each other. With the way their set sees marriage, Susy proposes that they go ahead and marry each other using the generosity of their friends’ gifts—checks, jewelry, offers of a few weeks or a month at various vacation houses around Europe—to sustain themselves for a year. At the end of that year when their funds dry up, they would release each other (a.k.a. divorce) so that they could then make more profitable though less personally desirable matches. They embark on marriage in agreement over the theory but putting it into practice proves a greater challenge as personal feelings, principles, and simply being around their “set” begins to affect how they each view themselves, each other, and the dictates of their arrangement.

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Book Review – The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra by Helen Rappaport

the romanov sisters - book coverI was ten when the animated film Anastasia hit theaters and my mother took me to see it. That was the first I learned about the Romanovs and what happened to them—I believe I began asking questions after the movie and my dad explained a little more about what really happened as opposed to the simplified and happier version in the cartoon. But that was the beginning of my minor obsession with Russian history and literature. When Helen Rappaport’s recent The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra showed up on various New Releases pages if frequent, I quickly added it to my library list.

Beginning with Alexandra’s upbringing—as it would affect her own maternal philosophy—Rappaport relies heavily on the few primary sources that have survived, quoting the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria, and Anastasia as often as possible to tell the story of their experiences in their own words. In order to understand the sisters and why they led the surprisingly sheltered lives they did, it is important for some greater historical context to be given and—especially during Nicholas and Alexandra’s attempts for a son and heir—public and international attention was very focused on the royal family and the daughters they kept producing. The historical context grows increasingly important as the narrative reaches the events of World War I and the Russian revolutions of 1917 as they led to the end of the Imperial Family.

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Book Review – The Selection by Kiera Cass

selection - book coverI think I mentioned in my review of Cress that I’ve been wary of YA series lately given my disappointment over Allegiant. The Lunar Chronicles have been enjoyable with Cress going a long way to getting me excited for Winter’s publication later this fall, but in the mean time, I’ve been trying to figure out which YA series to try next. I’ve heard so many good things about Kiera Cass’ Selection Series but given the premise, I was hesitant and put off starting the first book for a while (I’m not a fan of reality television in general and the Bachelor/Bachelorette series are probably at the bottom of the list of programs I can even stomach). I was actually shocked that I enjoyed The Selection as much as I did and am looking forward to reading The Elite when my number comes up at the library.

America Singer is a five in the caste system of Illéa – in a system with eight castes, things could be worse. She’s in love with her childhood friend, Aspen, and they must keep their relationship quiet because he’s only a six. When the nation’s Prince Maxon comes of age and the Selection is announced, America is surprised by the fact that Aspen wants her to put her name in as much as her mother wants her to. Though she has no desire to trade her home and family for a chance at becoming a princess, America obliges, only to be selected to represent her province in the Selection – much to her mother’s satisfaction and her own personal misery. But the palace and Maxon aren’t what she was expecting and America begins to wonder just what her future could hold.

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Book Preview – Footprints in the Desert by Maha Akhtar

book cover - footprints in the desertI was able to preview Orhan’s Inheritance earlier this year and have noticed more about the Armenian genocide in Turkey during WWI this year – in part because the novel heightened my awareness of the subject and also because this year marks the hundredth anniversary of most of those killings. When I read the description for Maha Akhtar’s upcoming Footprints in the Desert, I was under the impression it would also address the Armenian genocide. While it does involve the role of Turkey in WWI, I was wrong about the Armenian genocide being brought up. Instead, Footprints in the Desert focuses on the guerrilla and espionage tactics taken by orchestrators and participants in the Arab revolt – and the important role played by the women supporting them at home in the Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo.

Salah Masri is one of several college friends involved in spying on Turkish and German movements in Izmir, but he is the only one of his friends to escape capture and execution, fleeing to his mother’s home in Cairo. He soon learns that Noura, the widow of one of those friends, is moving to Cairo to stay with relatives and her infant daughter while she rebuilds her life. His mother proves to be a valuable friend for Noura, introducing her to a small, tight-knit community of women in the bazaar, many of whom are widows that have been forced to similarly rebuild their lives. As Noura grieves, Salah continues with the work to generate and support an Arab revolt, pushing for an independent Arab state when the end of the war inevitably comes. Working alongside T.E. Lawrence, who would come to be called Lawrence of Arabia, Salah recruits more friends to the cause while evading and outwitting Turkish officers who want to catch the spy and make an example of him. Continue reading

Book Review – Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

9780307408860_p0_v3_s260x420I put myself on the library’s wait list for Erik Larson’s latest book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, as soon as I saw they had it and after a few months of waiting, my number finally came up. I was already a fan of his from having read The Devil in the White City and In the Garden of the Beasts but the fact that the subject was the sinking of the Lusitania meant I was already three-quarters of the way to liking the book (I went through a phase where I was obsessed with the Titanic a year or two before the film came out; I was fascinated by the history and the science of Ballard locating the wreck site). My excitement to read the book only grew when I found out he was live-tweeting the events of the Lusitania’s final voyage on the hundredth anniversary early last month – and I wasn’t disappointed when I finally got the chance to read Dead Wake.

By the end of April 1915, World War I was in full swing in Europe. The trenches of the western front were dug deep and thousands of men had been killed on both sides. At sea, the British navy was still considered the best in the world but Germany’s use of submarines was growing and the tactics of war at sea were changing. America under Woodrow Wilson remained steadfastly neutral in the conflict, continuing to conduct regular business with both sides. But Britain wanted America in the war on the Allies’ side and Germany was beginning to test the patience of America’s neutrality as their U-boats began sinking ships with an increasing disregard for the vessels’ origins, cargo, or passengers. It was under a veil of threat that the Lusitania set sail from New York on May 1, 1915.

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Book Review – The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns feat. Shelly Davies

cover57457-mediumEvery once in a while I like to read a collection of short stories to take a break from novels. There are some collections of short stories where the pieces do a fantastic job of working together as a cohesive unit while maintaining their ability to stand solidly at an individual level. The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns is one such collection. Comprised of eight of Burns’ stories focused on British emigrants’ experiences in colonial New Zealand and one story by Shelly Davies providing a native’s perspective on the new comers, the collection takes care to look at an array of experiences that crosses the lines of both class and gender.

The hopes and dreams that brought individuals from their homes in Great Britain are tested as they face the realities of life in New Zealand. While some crossed for love or marriage, others sought to escape their pasts or otherwise difficult circumstances. What they all have in common is that none of them found the new land quite what they expected, whether to their benefit or detriment. But the emigrants brought more than just themselves, and as they try to transplant their own lives, they also wind up transplanting some of the structures of the society they left behind (the very same that some of them were actively fleeing). Continue reading

Book Review – The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (Sort Of) Challenge #159

9780062073563_p0_v1_s260x420Agatha Christie is one of the greats when it comes to mysteries and psychological thrillers. Unfortunately, I started with what I consider her all-time best, And Then There Were None. Years later, I read Murder on the Orient Express which was also fantastic and is similarly famous for its climactic reveal. I hadn’t heard much about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd but since it was on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list, I figured it would have a similarly iconic twist and I was not disappointed.

One of Christie’s Hercule Poirot novels, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is narrated by Dr. James Sheppard. Soon after the death of a local woman, Mrs. Ferrars, a local gentleman, Mr. Roger Ackroyd who had been romantically involved with Mrs. Ferrars, seeks an audience with Dr. Sheppard. Combined with the personal complications of living with his dependent sister-in-law and niece, the money problems of his stepson, and a household staff with secrets of their own, there are many issues weighing on the man’s mind. Dr. Sheppard offers what counsel he can before leaving for the evening. Several hours later, Dr. Sheppard receives a mysterious call that Mr. Ackroyd had been murdered. Arriving to find Mr. Ackroyd still shut up in his study, the door locked from the inside. Lucky for Dr. Sheppard and the local authorities, the recently retired Hercule Poirot has just moved to the neighborhood. Continue reading

Book Review – Night and Day by Virginia Woolf, 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (Sort of) Reading Challenge #157

9781593082123_p0_v4_s260x420After reading Vanessa and Her Sister, I was reminded of how much I’d enjoyed The Voyage Out when I’d read it a few years ago. So I decided it was time to revisit Virginia Woolf, this time in the form of Night and Day. With a different understanding of her as a writer and with more experience and awareness of certain feminist issues, I found Night and Day an intriguing look at the way that love and marriage were presented and understood by society in Woolf’s day contrasted with the thoughts and feelings of characters that resonate with a transcendent timelessness.

Katherine Hilbery is the granddaughter of a nationally renowned poet, giving her family a certain level of prestige and putting them under added social scrutiny. Because of the literary nature of their brand of fame, Katherine is used to people making assumptions about her own poetic tendencies, though in reality, they are nonexistent. She is used to being around people who are unaware of their own false illusions of her. Katherine develops a jaded view of love and marriage but desires the freedom that marriage and a home of her own can offer. Her friends and family offer their own understandings and advice on the subject and a new acquaintance, young solicitor Ralph Denham, serve to further confuse Katherine’s feelings and beliefs. Soon all the young adults in her circle of friends find themselves asking what is love? How does one know one is in love? And if you are in love, what can you do about it? Continue reading

Book Review – Betwixt and Between by Jessica Stilling

9781935439844_p0_v1_s260x420I’m a sucker when it comes to reimagining classic children’s stories, perhaps none more so than Peter Pan. I loved Brom’s The Child Thief when I read it a year and a half ago. When I stumbled across Betwixt and Between by Jessica Stilling and read the description, I got excited. One of my favorite ideas is that Neverland is where the souls of deceased children go so reading that idea fleshed out into a novel was something I had to do. However, Stilling’s novel is less fleshed out than I had hoped.

Neverland is a place between Before and After, where young boys who have died go while their parents mourn their loss. Peter Pan watches over them and ushers them on when the time comes. Ten-year-old Preston Tumber’s arrival in Neverland is unconventional and Peter takes notice. Having been poisoned in the Before, Preston thought he knew who was behind it, but when it turns out he and those in the world he left behind were wrong, Preston sets out to find his real killer and protect his friends who might still be in danger. Back in the Before, Preston’s mother, Claire, struggles to cope with the loss of her son and the questions surrounding his murder. Continue reading

Book Review – The Guns of Napoleon by Peter Lean

UnknownPeter Lean’s time-travel novel, The Guns of Napoleon is a self-published novel that, with a little bit of work, could easily have been published through a specialty-publishing house. Unfortunately, finding such small, niche publishers can be challenging but the self-publishing medium can help such writers and publishers find each other. Here’s hoping that my little blog can help Lean and a publisher find one another for his second book as I continue to try and give promising self-publishing writers some of the attention their efforts deserve. Though The Guns of Napoleon has some tightening up and editing to do, the premise, plot, and writing itself show that Lean has what it takes to write a good story.

Victor Sirkov is a history professor in modern Russia whose field of specialty and passion are for Napoleon and his failed Russian campaign. One Friday evening, two men appear on his doorstep asking that he accompany them to a state-of-the-art facility for a mysterious consulting job. When Victor arrives, he learns that the institute’s director, Martin Roche, wants Victor to be part of an experiment centered on a wormhole that the institute was built around. From all their tests, they have determined that the wormhole will deposit anyone or anything into Russia in 1812 and they want Victor to be one of the first human test subjects. Jumping at the opportunity, Victor does not go through the wormhole alone but what awaits him on the other side is more than the simple mission he signed on for and could forever alter the course of world history. Continue reading

Book Review – Where She Went by Gayle Forman

9780142420898_p0_v2_s260x420As soon as I finished Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, I had to go put myself on the library hold list for the sequel, Where She Went because what bothered me most about the first book was where it ended. This wasn’t because of how it ended but because the part of Mia’s story I was most interested in wasn’t included (the book actually ended the only way that would really make sense based on the way the narrative was set up). While Where She Went doesn’t pick up where the last book left off, it does address the part of the story I had wanted but which wasn’t in the first book.

Three years after the accident that claimed the lives of Mia’s parents and brother, Where She Went follows Adam instead of Mia and in the intervening years, Adam and his band have hit the big time in a big way. Despite the success, Adam is not in a good place and knows it. The album he wrote, the one that made the band famous was written after Mia left for Julliard and he never saw her again. Almost three years later with his life a mess of paparazzi, pills, and planes, he finds himself with some free time to kill and an advertisement for Mia’s cello concert in front of him. Continue reading

Book Review – The Midnight Queen by Sylvia Izzo Hunter

9780425272459_p0_v4_s260x420I was originally aiming for this to be a preview, as Sylvia Izzo Hunter’s The Midnight Queen was first released last Tuesday, Sept. 2, but it took me longer to get through my last book than I’d planned. Another novel with magic as a central feature, I wish I’d skipped ahead to The Midnight Queen earlier. Aimed at a young adult audience, The Midnight Queen doesn’t take itself too seriously. It addresses issues related to sexism and women’s rights, but without being too heavy handed or preachy. This particular approach to magick weaves in many different (though largely European) cultures, languages, and legends. The Midnight Queen was a very welcome change of pace. It’s not the next Harry Potter, but it will appeal to those of us who will never be quite ready to let go of that kind of world.

Graham “Gray” Marshall is a Fellow at Merlin College until something goes horribly wrong one night when he’s on a mysterious errand with some classmates. His tutor, Professor Callendar, brings him home with him for the summer holidays in what seems like a punishment. But while staying with the professor’s family, Gray meets and befriends the Professor’s inquisitive and studious middle daughter, Sophie. Though the Professor doesn’t like the idea of his daughters learning magick, there’s something about it that draws Sophie in, leading her to urge Gray to tutor her in the subject. As his stay progresses, suspicious visitors and surprising happenings begin to uncover a larger plot against the head of the college and beyond, with Gray and Sophie leading the charge to unravel the scheme and prevent it from being realized. Continue reading

Book Preview – We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt

9780385742573_p0_v1_s260x420We Are the Goldens by Dana Reinhardt was not a book I specifically sought to preview but I’m glad that the opportunity to do so presented itself. The novel focuses on two sisters whose close relationship is put to the test as younger sister, Nell, joins older sister, Layla, in high school. It shows Nell’s struggle to come to terms with her identity within the sister relationship as well as what to do when faced with a conflict that pits Layla’s desires and sisterly-loyalty against what is best for Layla.

The novel is structured with Nell narrating to Layla. Beginning with their first day of high school, it at first seems that the distance Nell laments is simply one that can naturally occur as siblings outgrow one another and develop interests independent of each other, that it’s simply a symptom of being teenagers. But as the novel progresses, Nell’s reasons for concern become more and more concrete, leaving her torn between actions that might be “the right thing” and her desire not to betray Layla’s trust. Continue reading

Book Review – And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

9781594631764_p0_v5_s260x420In an approach strikingly similar to that used by Toni Morrison in Home (which I reviewed just last week), And the Mountains Echoed goes to the lengths I had hoped Home would. With each chapter told with a focus on a different character, Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed covers a lot of ground both in the length of time addressed and in the geographic settings. Touching on many different issues in the history of Afghanistan from social issues to the long years of war and regime changes, And the Mountains Echoed is balanced, character driven, and layered with more than one compelling story.

Beginning with a touching if sad bedtime story, each of the characters’ narratives is tied, some more directly than others, to one family’s painful dissolution as a result of poverty and circumstance and the struggle some of them undergo to reconnect. Hosseini makes the most of the freedom that his approach affords by playing with how each shift of character focus is executed. Some are presented as first person narratives while others are third person limited. One of the longest is presented as a reflective letter while another is intercut with excerpts from a magazine interview.

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Book Review – Home by Toni Morrison

9780307740915_p0_v1_s260x420I was lucky enough to get to hear Toni Morrison give a reading as well as a brief question and answer session at Northeastern University just over a year ago as part of the university’s celebration of Martin Luther King Day. The selection she chose to read was from her then recently released, Home, which found its way into my To Read pile only a week or two later, though, given that she’s one of my favorite writers and I’ve read almost all of her novels, it’s hardly surprising. What is surprising is how long it’s taken me to actually read it, especially since I found the reading she gave so compelling.

Frank Money returns from the war in Korea understandably haunted by the experience. Losing two close friends from childhood, he struggles to readjust to civilian life while suffering from the then unrecognized PTSD. News that his sister is in danger and might die sends Frank on a journey back down south to Georgia and the hometown he hasn’t seen since coming back from the war. Continue reading

Book Review – The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

9780525478812_p0_v1_s260x420John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is another book that appeared on so many must-read lists in the last year or two. So onto the library’s waiting list I went. I went through a phase when I was about ten where I was a fan of Lurlene McDaniel and her many novels about teens dealing with serious illnesses, debilitating accidents, and love. But after a point, they became not just predictable, but predictable in a depressing way (I think I only read two or three books where none of the characters died). So going into The Fault in Our Stars, I knew pretty early on exactly what was going to happen. Whether it’s just been long enough since I stopped reading those books (fifteen years or more) or that I went in knowing how easily I could wind up disappointed, but I found The Fault in Our Stars quite compelling and sentimental but not in an annoying or preachy way.

Hazel Lancaster knows she’s living on borrowed time when she heads to a support group for teens living with cancer diagnoses. When she meets Augustus Waters one week, she finds it difficult to open up to him completely because she doesn’t want to hurt him even though he knows better than others what he’s in for as far as her illness is concerned. Confronting mortality and the roller coaster of teenage hormones, the voices John Green gives to his characters, narrator Hazel in particular, are fresh and keep the novel grounded.

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Book Review – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

9780307588364_p0_v1_s260x420For the last few months, I’ve seen Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl lauded in lists of the best books of the last few years. I’ve seen the buzz about the movie adaptation due out later this year and that Flynn, who is writing the screenplay for that film, is rewriting the big twist ending so that the film will be able to surprise even those who have read the book. I was intrigued and the waitlist for the library also promised a highly regarded page-turner. And while it was undeniably well written, I was ultimately underwhelmed.

On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne’s wife, Amy, vanishes from their home. In the days that follow, evidence piles up which points to Nick having murdered and disposed of Amy. Told from both Amy and Nick’s perspectives and jumping back and forth in time, Gone Girl becomes an examination of our true-crime obsessed and media driven culture.

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Book Review – Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver

9780061978074_p0_v1_s260x420After a brief break from young adult fiction in the wake of finishing the Divergent trilogy and taking another stab at the Lorien Legacies, I decided to return to the genre with the second installment of the Delirium trilogy by Lauren Oliver, Pandemonium. While Delirium spent a lot of its time setting up a world in which love has nearly been eradicated using a mandatory medical procedure at age eighteen, Pandemonium delves into the lives and tactics of those who have escaped and/or resisted that government. Presumably, the last installment will center around the confrontation between the two but I will have to wait a little longer before I get to Requiem.

In the trilogy’s second installment, the reader flashes back and forth with Lena from the days immediately following her escape from Portland to her work as an active part of the resistance in Manhattan. Initially found by a young woman, not much older than herself, who goes by Raven, Lena is taken into a small community of survivors in the Wilds. After spending some time recovering and learning more about what happened outside of the protected communities, Lena agrees to join several of her new friends in the resistance movement.

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Book Review – What Remains by Nicole R. Taylor

2940045331609_p0_v1_s260x420What remains after a mysterious virus wipes out most of the population? Nicole R. Taylor explores just that, creating a world where those who survive the illness into some kind of mutant-zombies and the rest who escaped infection are left to endure in a greatly altered landscape. What Remains examines the effects of isolation and the emotional impact of having to do horrible things in the name of survival.

Prue Ashford hasn’t spoken to another human in three years, at least, not to another human who wasn’t trying to kill her. Armed with a samurai sword and a few years of cathartic martial arts training, she’s been surviving alone in the Australian bush since narrowly escaping the desperate government quarantine designed to contain the virus (though it ultimately fails). Already having a bad day, having been very seriously wounded by an old hunter’s trap, Prue crosses paths with a stranger who takes a shot at her before she gets the upper hand. Passing out from the wound, the stranger carries her to a village community that miraculously escaped the virus and survived, saving her life. Prue struggles to come to terms with what she had to in the name of survival and being around people again, specifically, learning how to trust again. Continue reading