Saturday, December 3, 2016

My take on: Station Eleven

Civilization has collapsed, wiped out by a deadly flu. Those who survive are left to ponder what now? Strip humanity of everything they love, everything they take for granted and what will they become? What lengths will they go to survive.

"What choice do I have? You know how this . . . this time we live in, you know how it forces a person to do things." -- Pg. 292

I wanted to believe the hype surrounding Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel but....I just don't. This was the hot book two years ago. I read nothing but glowing reviews on blogs, Goodreads, newspapers, and magazines. I bought the book two years, but didn't actually read it until recently. As I read this, I definitely saw the depth and creativity of the author's writing. But I just wasn't getting what made this book so great. Is something wrong with me? What am I missing? What am I not getting?

It all begins on a theater stage in Toronto. Actor Arthur Leander, famous for his many ex-wives and a favorite target for the paparazzi, is performing King Lear. The play has barely begun before Arthur collapses on stage from an apparent heart attack. Former gossip photographer turned EMT Jeevan Chaudhary leaps into action to help Arthur, but it's all for naught. Arthur dies. He dies the same night the Georgian flu spreads across the globe. In a panic, Jeevan buys out the grocery store and cocoons himself and his brother, Frank, in an apartment. Not everyone is as lucky as Jeevan. People die trying to evade the outbreak. Slowly, everyday life breaks down. Electricity becomes a thing of the past. Running water becomes a thing of the past. All the modern conveniences that people take for granted become a thing of the past.

Fifteen years after the outbreak, the people who remain are scattered in various factions. Kirsten, a former child actor, is part of the Traveling Symphony. They're a group of actors and musicians who travel from town to town performing Shakespeare. It sounds weird to be performing when life has become so hopeless for so many. But entertainment, however brief, is a welcome distraction from the people they've become. What kind of people are left on Earth? The kind that mark their kills with tattoos on their arms. The kind that create a new civilization in an abandoned airport. And, in one small town, the kind of people that follow a self-appointed prophet. A prophet who spouts Bible phrases, thinks women are sexual property, and demands obedience -- or suffer the consequences.

This is a non-linear narrative, and that's probably my biggest problem with this book. I'm not against non-linear books, but it didn't work for me here. I was often re-reading passages because I wasn't always sure when things were taking place. There are also big gaps for some of the characters. Jeevan's story takes prominence for the first couple of chapters, but then we don't hear from him again for nearly two hundred pages. Frustrating! I wanted to know more about him. I connected with his character early on, but then I found myself not really caring once Jeevan appeared again. Despite dying in the first chapter, Arthur is a big part of the novel. What led to him becoming a scandal-prone actor and eventually his demise plays prominently throughout the book. Somehow Arthur's life has touched everyone from his friends, like Clark, to his ex-wives, to his son, Tyler, and to Kirsten.

This was a display of imaginative storytelling, but it seems so reminiscent of works that already existed before this. The Walking Dead and Hunger Games come to mind, featuring characters I care about. I didn't really find myself caring about the characters in Station Eleven. I found myself a little bored, wondering when the point was going to manifest itself and it never did.

Rating: Meh

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My take on: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

A book about books for book lovers, a book that talks at length about other books, and mix in a small town full of quirky characters = SIGN ME UP!

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald has been on my TBR pile for months.

Book-crazy Sara has come all the way from Sweden to the small town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. She's come to see Amy, her equally book-crazy pen pal. But unfortunately Amy dies just before Sara arrives. The busybodies of Broken Wheel, Iowa, rally around Sara. They treat Sara as Amy would treat her. Grace, owner of the local diner, is quick to shove a burger and fries in front of Sara. George, a lonely but charming man, is thrust into the role of chauffeur and tour guide. Jen writes the town newsletter, taking on the responsibility of making Broken Wheel more appealing and charming than Hope, a larger neighboring town. Jen also makes it her business to play matchmaker with Sara and Tom, Amy's nephew. She could care less that Sara and Tom don't really want a relationship.

The only real relationship Sara has ever had has been with books. She can easily get lost in a story, in a character. She can easily lose hours of time in a book. Life can pass her by. She can find more intrigue and mystery in a book than in real life.

"What was so great about reality? Amy was dead, and Sara was stuck here in a car with a man who clearly disliked her. With books, she could be whoever she wanted , wherever she wanted. She could be tough, beautiful, charming; she could come up with the perfect line at the perfect moment, and she could . . . experience things. Real things. Things that happened to real people." -- Pg. 49 

I can totally relate to that quote. Sometimes, especially after this election, reality can really suck. Just a couple of hours with a book and you can easily forget about bills, work, and . . . . . just about everything.

With Amy gone, Sara begins to question her role in this town. Everyone is going out of their way to make her feel welcome. No one will let her pay for anything. How can Sara give back? How can Sara show how much she appreciates the generosity? Well,  it all comes back to the books. Amy's home is filled with books. Filled with the stories Amy and Sara used to write to each other about. Books were a joy they could share, and Sara is convinced she can share that joy with the town.

Using Amy's vast collection, Sara opens a bookstore. The town, a.k.a. the future readers of Broken Wheel, don't  really know what to think? What purpose does a bookstore have in a town that barely reads? But Sara's charm and vast knowledge of books begins to win people over. Slowly, Sara brings a brightness to the town that was sorely missing. People begin to see the joy in not just books but in each other. People begin opening themselves up to people, experiences, friendships, and relationships -- all because Sara exposed them to books.

What will the town of Broken Wheel do without Sara? She's not a citizen and her tourist visa will run out eventually. Of course in a town like this, people are quick to rally around Sara. Jen and the rest of the town come up with a rather wacky and illegal plan. But they do what they have to to save Sara. Overall, this was a cute story. I saw a lot of myself in Sara. My room is drowning in books! Many times this story was a bit predictable, especially the happy ending, which kept this from being a total home run for me. I'm not against happy endings, but I knew how it was going to end before I got there. But it was a fun journey, and a book worth reading.

Rating: Give it a try

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

My take on: Unlocking Worlds

"....what matters is the experience of a book, whether that book blossoms in our imaginations, whether we connect with the characters, whether the events in the story resonate, inspiring us to think and feel." --Pg. xix

This quote from Unlocking Worlds by Sally Allen, got me thinking about why I read.

I work in book publishing, so I read everyday as part of my job. But even if it wasn't part of job, I would still be reading. I read for enjoyment. I read for an escape from the daily grind. I read because it's often better than watching television. I read because I love it.

Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for Book Lovers is made for people who love books. For people who love the journey books can take them.

"Being a reader is about taking the time to have a conversation with a book, to give it my devoted time and attention, to value the efforts of its creator, to seek connection with others who have engaged in this same conversation" --Pg. 193.

Yes, to this a thousand times. As a reader, I know a lot of thought and work is put into every book that I read. Subconsciously, that's probably why it's always so hard for me to walk away from a book. I go into every book believing I will love it, but obviously that's not always the case.

In the case of Unlocking Worlds, I did enjoy the book. The book is broken into several sections, including Novels that Play with Time and Space, Novels About Connection, Community and Family, and of course Books for Book Lovers. Reading about the author's own experiences reading certain books made me a bit nostalgic. I feel like I need to read Charlotte's Web by E.B. White again. I'm quite certain I read it in second grade, and there's no way I was having deep thoughts about it back then. All I remember is that it's about a pig and a spider. Obviously, it's about more than that but I feel like I would appreciate a book about friendship much more as an adult than as a child. I loved Kindred by Octavia Butler for it's storyline. In that book, a woman in an interracial marriage time travels back to slavery. I read Kindred over the course of a 10-hour car trip. I wasn't reading it from a sci-fi perspective, but I'm thinking maybe I should re-read it. There are so many things one can miss the first time around, sometimes it's worth it to read books a second time.

Definitely read this book if you're looking for your next read. Definitely read this book if you love books about books. Definitely read this book if you just love reading. It's short and sweet.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy of the boom from Smith Publicity in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 28, 2016

My take on: Certain Dark Things

Nine times out of ten I like my books based in reality. The few times I've stepped outside of the box, I've been disappointed. But I wasn't disappointed this time. I loved Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Vampires have infiltrated the normally safe confines of Mexico City. The cops want them out. The gangs want them out. And it's not going to be easy.

Street kid Domingo knows his way around the city. The resourceful teenager knows how to survive with next to nothing. He spends his days on the streets collecting garbage and his night in the bowels of the subway. Soon he finds himself befriending a mysterious woman, Atl. She gives him an offer he can't refuse. Let her drink some of his blood and Atl will make it worth his while financially.

Atl is a vampire, descending from a long run of Aztec blood suckers. She comes from a prominent line of vampires. But now, all of her family is gone and Atl is on the run from their killers, a rival line of vampires. Atl needs help. She's afraid and reluctant to rely on Domingo. Drinking his blood satisfies her hunger and gives her strength, but it doesn't solve her larger problem. Nick Godoy, a ruthless and bloodthirsty vampire, is after Atl. He wants to torture her and kill her for starting a war with his family. So far, Atl has been one step ahead but she needs Domingo's help if she's going to get out of Mexico City safely.

Conflicted police officer Ana is after both Atl and Nick. Being a cop is often a fruitless endeavor for Ana. Her bosses don't listen to her. Solving crimes is a priority to Ana but not to others. A lucrative offer to pursue Atl and Nick is too hard to resist. The money could lead to a better life for Ana and her daughter, but at what costs? What about her integrity? What about her safety?

With so many people after Atl and Domingo, how will they survive? How that plays out makes for a very suspenseful and compulsive read. At first, Atl is an enigma. She can friendly. But she can also be a ruthless badass. What are her motives? Does she want to kill Domingo? Or does she really want his help? There are really sweet moments between them. Domingo is very naive, but Atl is able to overlook that. To Atl, Domingo is more than a companion, he's a friend. To Domingo, Atl is a friend who happens to be a vampire.

Too often I can be a bit of a book snob. If a book wasn't based in reality, it wasn't worth my time. But this book was worth my time and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received an e-galley from the publisher (Thomas Dunne Books) in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My take on: Girl Unbroken

If I ever met the Calcaterra siblings, I would want to give them a big hug. Girl Unbroken is the story of a horrific and abusive childhood, written by Regina Calcaterra and Rosie Maloney. This is the followup to Regina's book, Etched in Sand.

Girl Unbroken is Rosie's story.

The Calcaterrra siblings, Cherie, Camille, Regina, Norm, and Rosie, were saddled with the worst mother ever. Cookie Calcaterra gave birth to five children, but that doesn't make her a mother. She was in and out of her children's lives. She was known as "Hurricane Cookie," and that's a very accurate description. Cookie drank heavily, she stole from everyone, she wrote bad checks, and worst of all she took her anger out on her kids. Rosie was often on the receiving end of Cookie's rages.

Rosie and her siblings were split off into different foster homes. Rosie and Norm were able to stay together, but at a price. They bounced between dangerous foster homes and their equally dangerous mother. As a child, Rosie held tight to her belief that her sisters would save her. Unlike Cookie, Rosie knew her sisters loved her and worried about her. While in foster care, Rosie and Norm were allowed brief visits with their sisters, but Cookie thwarted them at every turn. To the outside world, Cookie put on a show and portrayed the part of a doting mother. She fooled social workers. Rosie even started to believe her mother cared about her. After complaining about the physical and emotional abuse they suffered at their last foster home, Cookie kidnapped Rosie and Norm -- eventually obtaining legal custody. Rescuing her children from the horrors of foster care was Cookie's way of showing how much she loved them. But that "love" was short lived.

Moving from one man to the next, and one seedy Long Island hotel to the next, Cookie and her kids eventually settled in a small Idaho town. Cookie latched onto a lecherous farmer named Clyde. All the while, Rosie continued to bear the brunt of Cookie's anger. Every bad thing that happened to Cookie was her children's fault, especially Rosie. Beaten physically and emotionally into submission, Rosie was forced to work the farm day and night. Norm had farm chores, but nowhere near the extent of Rosie. When she wasn't working the farm, Rosie buried herself in extracurricular activities and sleepovers with friends. She did anything and everything to avoid going home, even to the point of physical exhaustion. How would this cycle ever end? Who was going to help them? Attempts for escape, for freedom, for normalcy were always destroyed by Cookie.

I admire Regina and Rosie for being able to go back to that dark place in their childhoods. The foster care system failed this family big time. Even in the present day, the foster care system is still failing children. This is one book and one story, but hopefully it opens some eyes. This was an engaging but hard book to read. This is a story of survival and a very worthy read.

Rating: Superb

Note: I received a copy from the publisher (William Morrow) as part of a blog tour with TLC Book Tours.

Friday, October 7, 2016

My take on: When the Moon Was Ours

When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore was like nothing I've ever read before. I'm not even sure I understood everything. One of my main reading goals this year was to step outside of my comfort zone. Leave the contemporary reading world that I'm often stuck in and branch out to other genres. This book had a little bit of everything. Fantasy, magical realism, and a transgender boy as a main character. I was definitely intrigued.

Miel is different. As a little girl, Miel was discovered in the town's water tower. Her mother's dead, the river took her away. Her brother is dead, the river took him away. Right away people in town could tell Miel wasn't like them. There's something magical about Miel, literally and figuratively. Roses, beautiful and mysterious roses grow out of Miel's arm. Why and how did this start? Do the roses have some mystical powers? Maybe. Now a teenager, Miel doesn't find anything special about the roses or herself. The roses have caused Miel nothing but physical and emotional pain. The mean girls at school, the Bonner sisters, Ivy, Chloe, Lian, and Peyton, are also making Miel's life a nightmare. Not only are the Bonner sisters bullies, they happen to be witches. They each want one of Miel's roses. For what purpose? They won't tell, but they are willing to hurt not just Miel but the most important person in her life.

Sam was the first person to connect with Miel. He found her in the water tower. Over the years, Sam and Miel became friends. As teenagers, they're becoming more than just friends. Sam understands Miel better than anyone. Even better than Aracely, the friendly neighborhood witch. Aracely took in Miel when no one else would. But even Aracely has trouble cracking Miel's shell. The same applies to Sam. He's hiding who he really is, not from Miel but from himself. Sam used to be Samira. The hows and whys Sam came to life are an interesting cultural odyssey. Sam isn't sure who he is or who he wants to be. One day Sam was supposed to go back to his old body. Back to Samira. But it's frightening to admit he wants to stay just as he is. Who will like him? Who will love him? Will Miel love him?

This book had so much potential. The writing is rather poetic. But perhaps a little too poetic for my tastes. The story was hard for me to follow. It was hard to know what was real and what wasn't. There's long passages full of metaphors. To truly understand it, this seems like the type of book that needs to be read twice. Despite my problems with it, I think this is a worthy read.

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received an e-galley from the publisher (St. Martin's Griffin) in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

My take on: Behind Closed Doors

What goes on behind closed doors? You never really know. Publicly, people let you see what you want them to see. It's behind closed doors where everyone lets their hair down, where everyone can be themselves.

In her debut novel, Behind Closed Doors, B. A. Paris explores the seemingly perfect marriage of Jack and Grace Angel.

A handsome lawyer named Jack meets Grace, great. Jack meets and completely embraces Grace's sister, Millie, who has Down Syndrome, great. Jack and Grace have a whirlwind romance, great. Jack and Grace get engaged, great. Once Millie finishes school, Jack insists she move in with them, great. An accident prevents Millie from taking part in the wedding, but Jack and Grace still get married. That's when things become not so great.

Once they're married, that's when things take a turn for the worse. Jack is no longer the perfect man, who is hopelessly in love. Jack reveals himself to be a total psycho, wackadoo. Why is he this way? What is his plan for Grace? Why did he marry Grace? I can't tell you. I can't say much more without giving away the whole plot. But I will say the journey through Jack and Grace's marriage was a frustrating, yet compulsive read. What frustrated me? Both of the main characters. Jack's personality and motivations seemed a little random. It was completely out of left field, but I suppose that's the point. While they were dating, Jack said and did everything that Grace wanted to hear. He gave her no reason to suspect him of anything suspicious. But you never really know someone until you're alone with them -- alone behind closed doors. Grace was equally frustrating. It seemed like there were so many opportunities for her to break away from Jack. I get that psychological and emotional abuse can turn a person into a prisoner literally and figuratively, but there was a moment very early on for Grace to leave. A moment when most reasonable and rational people would have gotten the heck out of dodge.

Despite my frustrations with this book, my favorite character has to be Millie. It took some time, but she saw through Jack. Millie was the most rational and lovable character in the entire book. Most of Grace and Jack's friends, with the exception of Esther, aren't very perceptive. Esther knows something isn't quite right about this marriage but doesn't know what to do about it. Only Millie makes it known her disdain for Jack, and she does it in an amusing way. Overall, this was addictive read. Give it a try!

Rating: Give it a try

Note: I received a copy of the book from the publisher (St. Martin's Press) in exchange for an honest review.
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