BOOK REVIEW: Suspicious Minds by Gwenda Bond

Title: Suspicious Minds

Author: Gwenda Bond

Book Length: 304 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Science Fiction, Thriller

Read Start Date: December 9, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 24, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: A mysterious lab. A sinister scientist. A secret history. If you think you know the truth behind Eleven’s mother, prepare to have your mind turned Upside Down in this thrilling prequel to the hit show Stranger Things.

It’s the summer of 1969, and the shock of conflict reverberates through the youth of America, both at home and abroad. As a student at a quiet college campus in the heartland of Indiana, Terry Ives couldn’t be further from the front lines of Vietnam or the incendiary protests in Washington.

But the world is changing, and Terry isn’t content to watch from the sidelines. When word gets around about an important government experiment in the small town of Hawkins, she signs on as a test subject for the project, codenamed MKUltra. Unmarked vans, a remote lab deep in the woods, mind-altering substances administered by tightlipped researchers . . . and a mystery the young and restless Terry is determined to uncover.

But behind the walls of Hawkins National Laboratory—and the piercing gaze of its director, Dr. Martin Brenner—lurks a conspiracy greater than she could have ever imagined. To face it, she’ll need the help of her fellow test subjects, including one so mysterious the world doesn’t know she exists—a young girl with unexplainable, superhuman powers and a number instead of a name: 008.

Amid the rising tensions of the new decade, Terry Ives and Martin Brenner have begun a different kind of war—one where the human mind is the battlefield.

My Review: I have loved the show Stranger Things since it premiered. I am waiting eagerly for the next season to drop, which by all accounts might not be for a while. When I was in Nashville for a girls weekend, I visited a book shop of course, because well, I am addicted to books. As I was perusing the shelves, I saw Suspicious Minds and was instantly intrigued. I hadn’t known there was a book — actually there are several!

Suspicious Minds is a prequel to the events of Stranger Things. Even though this book is set in the world of the Netflix show, there is a whole new cast of characters (99% of whom we have never met before) and so if you have never seen the show (stop reading this blog and go watch it now!), you will still be able to read the book and enjoy it. The three characters from the show are Dr. Martin Brenner, the head of the highly classified “research” Project at the Hawkins laboratory in Indiana, Terry Ives, the mother of Eleven, and Eight (as a child in the book), one of the test subjects who exhibit special powers. In Eight’s case it is the ability to make people see illusions/what she wants them to see.

It’s 1969 (14 years before Season 1 of Stranger Things) and Terry Ives, a college student and waitress, takes her roommate’s place at a government sanctioned (paid) test program. Terry needs the money — and she is more than a little intrigued. Terry is currently involved in a relationship with another college student named Andrew, who is luckily not eligible for the draft as he falls under the college exception. I liked how Gwenda Bond included the history and politics of the era (namely the Vietnam war), so this book not only takes place at the lab, but also out in the larger world, with all the angst, protests and sentiments of that time in US history.

While the show eludes to the testing that Terry Ives had undergone at the hands of sinister Dr. Martin Brenner, the book really goes into the details of what happened to her, and really showed that the indifference to human life that Brenner exhibited in Stranger Things is a character trait he has been exhibiting for some time. We never learn why Brenner is performing these tests or for what purpose though, so this was a little disappointing.

The show also never mentioned that Terry and Kali (Eight, who we meet briefly in Season 2 of Stranger Things) knew each other or had such a prolonged interaction. However, in the book, the relationship between Terry and Kali is very important to the plot. There was also never any mention of the other test subjects in the show and I liked learning about them in the book.

While I definitely liked this book, I came away from it with more questions than answers. Yes, now we know the origin story of Eleven and how she came to be in the clutches of Brenner. We know the backstory of Terry Ives. However, the book ends with the birth of Eleven, but we don’t really meet Eleven in the Netflix show until she is basically a teenager, and in later seasons, they show her as a young child (maybe around 8 years old?). What happened from her birth until then? What happened to the other test subjects?

We learn in the book that Alice (one of the test subjects) when given LSD and electroshock therapy, could see into the Upside Down (and into the future), and that Brenner becomes aware that such a place exists. However, we never learn whether this was the catalyst for what happened with Eleven, or whether it was merely a coincidence. In other words, what did Brenner actively do with this information?

I guess if you read this book without watching the show first, these same questions may not pop up and your experience of the book might be different. It might just add to the mystery of the story, rather than prompting more questions.

I know there are other Stanger Things books out there, but I don’t think they are a sequel to Suspicious Minds. I want to know what happens between 1970 and the start of the show! We need another book! Universe, please work on this!

At the moment, this book has only a 3.61 rating on Goodreads, which I feel is not a true reflection of my experience. I tried to find other reviews on WordPress, but found only one (and great) review from G does Films.

While I think that anyone can read and enjoy this book, I think that it definitely helps if you are already a fan of the show.

BOOK REVIEW: The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake

Title: The Atlas Six

Author: Olivie Blake

Audiobook Length: 15 hours and 59 minutes

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, LGBT, Science Fiction

Read Start Date: November 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: December 9, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: The Alexandrian Society is a secret society of magical academicians, the best in the world. Their members are caretakers of lost knowledge from the greatest civilizations of antiquity. And those who earn a place among their number will secure a life of wealth, power, and prestige beyond their wildest dreams. Each decade, the world’s six most uniquely talented magicians are selected for initiation – and here are the chosen few…

– Libby Rhodes and Nicolás Ferrer de Varona: inseparable enemies, cosmologists who can control matter with their minds.
– Reina Mori: a naturalist who can speak the language of life itself.
– Parisa Kamali: a mind reader whose powers of seduction are unmatched.
– Tristan Caine: the son of a crime kingpin who can see the secrets of the universe.
– Callum Nova: an insanely rich pretty boy who could bring about the end of the world. He need only ask.

When the candidates are recruited by the mysterious Atlas Blakely, they are told they must spend one year together to qualify for initiation. During this time, they will be permitted access to the Society’s archives and judged on their contributions to arcane areas of knowledge. Five, they are told, will be initiated. One will be eliminated. If they can prove themselves to be the best, they will survive. Most of them.

My Review: The synopsis on Goodreads sounded so good that I thought I’d really like this book, but it just fell flat for me. Basically, there is a secret society of “Medians” (those who can cast magic). The ones chosen for the society are the best of the Medians and have special skill sets. While the society has all this knowledge, the book never goes into that really. WHAT kind of knowledge do they have? Like specifically?

With respect to the audiobook version, it is not great. Tristan is supposed to be South African, but the guy narrating for him is British. And the woman narrating for Parisa just makes her sound like this breathy seductress…which maybe the character is, but it got annoying really fast. Plus, since each character has their own narrator, each character sounded different when told from the perspective of the other character. So for example, Parisa sounded breathy in her chapters, but didn’t when having a role in another character’s chapter.

It is my understanding that this book used to be a self-published book before it was picked up by a traditional publisher. I would have thought that the various issues with the book would have been corrected by the publisher’s editors, but I guess not.

Knowing how hard it is to write a book, I try never to give bad reviews. But I couldn’t help it in this case. I read this book because it was on the list of “popular” books at the library, so it wasn’t a recommendation or anything like that.

I gave it only two stars because honestly, I grew a little bored. The book is supposedly taking place over a time span of 1 year, but the time passing by is really disjointed. Not all characters were given the same airtime — e.g. the focus was on certain characters of the “Atlas Six”, and others seemed only to be ancillary characters. The book was basically all character backstory with a sprinkling of magic thrown in. I was always looking for action, for spell casting etc., but there was nothing like that really.

As nothing…literally almost nothing…happens in this book, it’s all character driven; however, I wasn’t invested in the characters. I didn’t care which of them was the one to be eliminated in the end and which 5 were to progress to the next step in the secret society.

In reading other reviews, I am not the only one who picked up on these issues. Serendipity’s blog states as follows regarding the plot: “Yes, the book really didn’t have a plot. Barely anything interesting actually happened, it was mainly the characters playing mind games with each other and being full of themselves. For some reason I was holding out for an amazing plot twist that would save the whole book and give everything that happened some meaning. Then the plot twist came and it was far from amazing- it was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever read. I don’t want to go into spoilers, but I felt extremely cheated as instead of giving the book meaning, the ending made the book even more meaningless than it already was.”

On the other hand, Past Midnight gave the book 4 stars, so the review (which can be found here) was more positive. Down the Rabbit Hole also gave the book 4 stars (the review is here.) All in all, I think that you either love the book or hate it. I have seen both type of reviews, and the book has only 3.75 rating on Goodreads, so this seems to support a mixed reception.

I will not be reading the second book, but you should make your own decision!

BOOK REVIEW: Snow by Ronald Malfi

Title: Snow

Author: Ronald Malfi

Book Length: 311 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Sci-fi, Folklore-Monsters, Paranormal

Read Start Date: October 23, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 29, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Todd Curry wants nothing more than to spend Christmas with his son. But when a brutal snowstorm cancels his flight from Chicago to Des Moines, Todd and a few other stranded passengers decide to rent a Jeep and make the trip on their own.

During the drive, they pick up a man wandering through the snow, who claims to be searching for his lost daughter. He is disoriented and his story seems peculiar. Strangest of all are the mysterious slashes cut into the back of the man’s coat, straight down to the flesh…

When they arrive at the nearest town, it appears deserted. Windows dark, car abandoned, fired burning unattended. But Todd and the rest of the travelers soon learn the town is far from deserted, and that they are being watched…

My Review: I LOVED THIS BOOK. I couldn’t wait to crawl into bed so that I could read it again, and that rarely happens.

Todd Curry is traveling to Des Moines to see his young son. HIs connecting flight in Chicago is cancelled due to a bad snow storm, but he is anxious to get home. He promised his son that he’d be there by morning. Todd and his son’s mother are separated, and he rarely sees the boy, so it’s important to keep his promise. Todd has the idea to rent a car and drive to Des Moines. Storm be damned.

The woman in front of him at the rental car counter gets the last SUV. Kate Jansen, a woman Todd had met at the airport bar while waiting to hear the fate of his flight, offers to give Todd a lift. He accepts gladly. Fred and Nan Wilkinson, a “silver-haired couple in their late sixties”, are also stranded at the airport. They decide to join Todd and Kate and together all 4 set off to Des Moines, with Todd at the wheel.

They have barely left the city, when they encounter a strange man in the middle of the highway, alone in the snow storm. “Suddenly, the figure was in the middle of the road, only a few yards in front of them as if he had materialized out of thin air.” Todd crashes into a snow bank and wrecks the SUV. They climb out of the car, to find a lone man standing in the road. The man’s name is Eddie Clement and his daughter, aged eight, is lost somewhere in the storm.

Something isn’t right about Eddie, or his story. “Kate put a hand on Eddie’s broad flannel back and led him to the Cherokee. Todd noticed two rips in the fabric of Eddie Clement’s flannel coat, one at each shoulder blade, each one perhaps five inches long. The fabric around each slit looked frayed.”

They four-some in the vehicle are skeptical. A man out in the bitter cold, alone, looking for his daughter for who knows how long…how isn’t he a popsicle? Why would his daughter run off in this weather? Nothing seems to make sense. As a reader, you get the feeling that something is terribly off with Eddie and it adds a layer of tension to the story. At this point, we are only 39 pages in, and the tension only increases with each page.

Seeking shelter, they walk to the nearest town. What they find there would change their lives forever, if they manage to survive that is.

By page 69, we learn that the town is virtually deserted. Where did everyone go? And then they encounter someone:

“A man was standing directly behind Nan, no more than five feet away. His clothes hung off him in tattered ribbons and were splattered with blood. The man’s eyes were dead in their sockets, his face as expressionless as an Egyptian mummy.” …

“The sound of the rifle fire was almost deafening.

In the street, the man’s head evaporated into a red mist. The body sagged forward, then dropped straight to the ground, its legs folded neatly beneath it.

Nan screamed and Fred cursed. Kate clawed at the back of Todd’s neck, gripping a fistful of hair.

Then something else happened. The headless body in the street bucked once, twice, three times. Hot blood spurted from the abbreviated neck and coursed like an oil slick across the ice. There was the impression of levitation, although the dead man never actually left the ground; rather, something from within the man’s body was rising up, up. For one insane moment, Todd actually believed he was witnessing the dead man’s soul vacating the body.

But this was no one’s soul. What rose up was a hurricane swirl of snow, funneled and compacted so that it was nearly tangible. It held the vague form of a human being, though as it continued to withdraw itself from the man’s body, Todd could see its arms–or whatever served as arms–were nearly twice the length of a normal person’s. It had no definable characteristics beyond the vague suggestion of humanity. And as it peeled away from the corpse–from out of the corpse–it hovered briefly above the body, nearly solid and comprehensible, before it dispersed into a scattering of snowflakes and was gone.

The silence that followed was thundering.”

Snow by Ronald Malfi, pages 68-69

I got chills reading that again — soooo good! At this point in the story, I was already hooked, but this entrenched me in the story further.

This book is probably one of the best horror stories I’ve read this year. I would give it 10 out of 5 stars (if that were possible). The writing is fantastic. I love the way Malfi paints the picture. The monsters were super cool, the storyline creepy as hell. I had a hard time putting this book down. A must read.

BOOK REVIEW: This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub

Title: This Time Tomorrow

Author: Emma Straub

Audiobook Length: 8 hours and 31 minutes

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction, Time Travel, Contemporary, Magical Realism

Read Start Date: October 1, 2022

Read Finish Date: October 4, 2022 

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: With her celebrated humor, insight, and heart, beloved New York Times bestseller Emma Straub offers her own twist on traditional time travel tropes, and a different kind of love story.

On the eve of her 40th birthday, Alice’s life isn’t terrible. She likes her job, even if it isn’t exactly the one she expected. She’s happy with her apartment, her romantic status, her independence, and she adores her lifelong best friend. But her father is ailing, and it feels to her as if something is missing. When she wakes up the next morning she finds herself back in 1996, reliving her 16th birthday. But it isn’t just her adolescent body that shocks her, or seeing her high school crush, it’s her dad: the vital, charming, 40-something version of her father with whom she is reunited. Now armed with a new perspective on her own life and his, some past events take on new meaning. Is there anything that she would change if she could?

My Review: I liked this book, but I wouldn’t say I loved it. After a few too many drinks on the eve of Alice’s 40th birthday, she finds herself passing out in the guardhouse of her childhood home. The next morning she wakes up on her sixteenth birthday, in her sixteen year old body, but with her forty year old mind. She has the chance to do it all over again — the infamous night when she didn’t hook up with the “one that got away.” What strikes Alice about her sixteen year old self, is her forty year old father, who is, in the present day, dying. He seems so young, so full of life, and she finds herself just wanting to be close to him. To spend time with him.

Nevertheless, Alice goes to the party, sleeps with the one that got away, and wakes up on her 40th birthday to find that she is now married (to the one who (previously) got away) with children. What I didn’t like about this reiteration of Alice is that she almost despises her children. She has no memory of the past 24 years of her “new” life, which I find strange — wouldn’t she have remembered both time lines? Since she has no memories of her children, she feels no connection with them. She doesn’t feel like their mother, and so, she doesn’t want to be their mother. She doesn’t want the life with the husband she must love, right? Did Alice at 39 and 364 days love her family and then when she wakes up at 40 she is a different person (because she doesn’t remember her new past)? This just doesn’t square with me.

Anyway, Alice goes back in time again and does it all over again and again trying on new lives like new jackets. Each time she doesn’t remember how she got there — she is perpetually the original Alice in a new life she doesn’t remember living. Then she compares her old life with the aspects of the new life and makes a determination about which life is better — I don’t think this is a fair comparison. She has no memories, no emotions, etc. of her new timeline. How can she really judge which is best?

While it was nice that she got to spend time with her father again and again in the past, I was ultimately dissatisfied with the ending. I won’t go into too much detail, but it felt like the book was about a futile journey. Since the father didn’t remember each timeline, the only one developing a longer, lasting relationship was Alice. And what happened from the age of 16 to 40 in the timeline she chose last? All of the new memories she would have had with her father, anything she started to build on the do-over night of her 16th birthday, was just nonexistent in her mind.

As of the writing of this post, This Time Tomorrow has a 3.83 rating on Goodreads, which seems to mean that it has mixed reviews. So I guess on this one, I’m not that far off the mark with my assessment. Nevertheless, I think that if you like time traveling stories with themes of father-daughter relationships, then this book is for you.

BOOK REVIEW: The Last Storm by Tim Lebbon

59431951._SY475_Title: The Last Storm

Author: Tim Lebbon

Book Length: 368 pages

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Horror, Sci-Fi, Thriller, Post Apocalyptic

Read Start Date: May 30, 2022

Read Finish Date: September 7, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: A gripping road trip through post-apocalyptic America from Tim Lebbon, New York Times bestseller and author of Netflix’s The Silence.

Struck by famine and drought, large swathes of North America are now known as the Desert. Set against this mythic and vast backdrop, The Last Storm is a timely story of a family of Rainmakers whose rare and arcane gift has become a curse.

Jesse stopped rainmaking the moment his abilities became deadly, bringing down not just rain but scorpions, strange snakes and spiders. He thought he could help a land suffering from climate catastrophe, but he was wrong. When his daughter Ash inherited the tainted gift carried down the family bloodline, Jesse did his best to stop her. His attempt went tragically wrong, and ever since then he has believed himself responsible for his daughter’s death.

But now his wife Karina––who never gave up looking for their daughter—brings news that Ash is still alive. And she’s rainmaking again. Terrified of what she might bring down upon the desperate communities of the Desert, the estranged couple set out across the desolate landscape to find her. But Jesse and Karina are not the only ones looking for Ash. As the storms she conjures become more violent and deadly, some follow her seeking hope. And one is hungry for revenge.

My Review: I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This book took me so long to finish because the first 20% or so was a little slow going. But wow, after that it got really good, and I ended up finishing it in only a few days. The Last Storm follows the POV of several characters: Jesse, a Rainmaker. Katrina, Jesse’s wife. Ash: Jesse’s daughter, who is also a Rainmaker. Cee, a woman who befriends Ash, and Jimi, a son of a murdered man out for revenge against Jesse.

I loved the characters in this book. Jesse, a Rainmaker who gave it all up when his gift accidentally killed three people. To make rain, Jesse plugs himself into an “apparatus” of his own construction, transporting him to what seems to be an alternate reality. From this reality, the rain is brought to our reality through Jesse, as though he were a conduit of some sort. In his last attempt it all went wrong, and creatures came with the rain. He tried to teach his daughter in the ways of Rainmaking, to avoid the same mistakes, but when she started to bring down creatures, just as Jesse had, he became afraid. “What if it got much, much worse than anything [he] was ever capable of? What if she did that in a city?”

Jesse injected her with a serum, trying to suppress her rainmaking abilities. “She was far more dangerous than me, even at that young age. What happened to me was worse than anything my mother brought down, and her father before her. It’s a pattern, a degeneration that seems to follow what’s happened here to the climate. The effect we’ve had on the world. I believe it was reflected in my place, the Shore. Maybe Ash’s Skunkville is even more affected. And no on can control that.”

Mistaking it for attempted murder, Ash ran away — and did not come back. For nine years Jesse lived alone, apart from other humans, tortured with the guilt that he had killed his daughter. His wife, Katrina left in search of Ash, and followed her without success for nine years. Hardened by her time of the road, Katrina is barely recognizable to Jesse when she appears on his doorstep. Ash is trying to assemble another apparatus to start bringing down the rain again, and her parents must find her before its too late. Will they succeed? Or will Ash bring down unimaginable terror with the rain?

Rainmaking is in Ash’s blood and the storm is calling for her. When she’s trapped in the tumult she blacks out for days, weeks, months at a time, finding peace only in the eye of the internalized storm. Ash needs to get it out, but at what cost? She thinks she can control it with the help of Cee, a woman she finds on the road, but she will soon realize that the storm is just too dangerous.

Jimi, the son of the one of the three people Jesse killed all those years ago, thought that the Rainmakers were gone. When he finds out that Ash is alive, he seeks her out to exact his revenge of her and Jesse.

As the character’s paths come closer and closer to crossing, the tension mounts, making for a fantastic page turner.

I also loved the world building in this book  — near future US where climate change has reduced parts of the country into desert — basically wastelands where only the most hardened of people can survive. I also really loved the alternate reality, different for each Rainmaker. A place of tumult and creatures, waiting to use the Rainmakers as a gateway into our world. Will Ash be the Earth’s salvation, bringing only the rain? Or will she instead bring destruction?

I highly recommend this book.

10 Book Reviews

Professional Reader

Reviews Published

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: The Shadow Glass by Josh Winning

58661569Title: The Shadow Glass

Author: Josh Winning

Book Length (Audiobook): 10 hours and 16 minutes

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Read Start Date: March 10, 2022

Read Finish Date: March 13, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Jack Corman is failing at life. Jobless, jaded and facing the threat of eviction, he’s also reeling from the death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, but the film flopped on release and Bob was never the same again.

In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying childhood home, where he is confronted with the impossible — the puppet heroes from The Shadow Glass are alive, and they need his help. Tipped into a desperate quest to save the world from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with an excitable fanboy and a spiky studio exec to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy and ignite a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do Bob proud.

My Review: I received this audiobook from Netgalley as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I wanted to read this book because it was likened to stories such as The Neverending Story, The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth, all stories which I remember fondly from my childhood. From the very beginning of this book, I was enthralled. Jack Corman, son of film maker and creator of the Shadow Glass cult film Bob Corman, is desperate for money and intends to sell Dune, one of the puppets from the film. But when he arrives at his father’s home to collect the puppet after Bob Corman’s death, Jack finds more than what he bargained for. The puppets are alive! The world that his father created is real and it is in danger, and only Jack can save it.

To be honest, it’s a little hard to write a review about this book. I really liked it, but can’t place my finger exactly on what about it I liked (other than just everything!).

I was invested in the story. I was sad when characters died. I WANTED Iri to be saved. I was rooting for the evil puppets to get what was coming to them. This book made me feel so many things…much more than I was initially expecting.

I was never bored reading this book; it is action packed from beginning to end. The characters are also great, from the Shadow Glass fanboys to the Kettu puppets. Winning really captures the truth of these characters. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but I felt like I knew the characters, like nothing about them was fake. Fanboys really would help in the quest to save Iri. A warrior Kettu really would call Jack a a manchild. I don’t know…I just really liked it.

The narrator’s voice makes the book all the better; it was a pleasure to listen to.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you are into 80s nostalgia.

P.S.: I listed this as “science fiction” because that is how it is tagged on Netgalley, but honestly, I don’t see it. I didn’t see anything particularly “science” about this work of fiction. Fantasy seems to be the appropriate tag here.

10 Book Reviews

Professional Reader

Reviews Published

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

20170404._SX318_SY475_Title: Station Eleven

Author: Emily St. John Mandel

Book Length (Audiobook): 10 hours and 41 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dystopia, Post-Apocalyptic

Read Start Date: March 7, 2022

Read Finish Date: March 10, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

My Review: Although another book about a plague, it was far enough removed from COVID, that I wasn’t turned off. This book was published in 2014, but in 2022 was listed as one of the most popular books at the library, which is why I checked out an audiobook copy. I think the recent popularity of the book is due to the release of the limited television series on HBO Max. Unfortunately, in Austria I do not have access to this channel, so I am a little disappointed that I won’t be able to watch it.

One of the opening scenes in the book, a group of people gather at a bar. The author informs us that within three weeks, all of them would be dead. Not from COVID, or even a corona virus, but from a deadly strain of the flu. I loved the foreshadowing in this sentence.

This book reminded me a little bit of Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr (you can see my review of Cloud Cuckoo Land here), in that a book–in this case a graphic novel written and illustrated by Miranda, the first wife of the famous Hollywood actor referenced above–connects the stories of several of the main characters.

In general I liked the story, the writing was great, and the overall premise was intriguing. However, the reason why I couldn’t give it 5 stars, was that it fell flat for me in several places. For example, I would have liked more background into the prophet and his community. Secondly, the book takes places almost 15 years after the plague wiped everyone out, but it still felt like the plague had just happened. There are huge unexplained gaps between pre-plague and 15 years on in the stories of the characters. What happened in the middle? Why was civilization still fractured? Was no one left alive that could figure out how to turn the power back on?

Additionally, we the readers know the connection between the characters, but the characters themselves seem to have missed it, which was a little disappointing.

In any event, all in all its a great book and I would recommend it.

BOOK REVIEW: Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

56783258._SY475_Title: Cloud Cuckoo Land

Author: Anthony Doerr

Book Length (Audiobook): 14 hours and 52 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction

Read Start Date: January 27, 2022

Read Finish Date: February 2, 2022

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Thirteen-year-old Anna, an orphan, lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople in a house of women who make their living embroidering the robes of priests. Restless, insatiably curious, Anna learns to read, and in this ancient city, famous for its libraries, she finds a book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. This she reads to her ailing sister as the walls of the only place she has known are bombarded in the great siege of Constantinople. Outside the walls is Omeir, a village boy, miles from home, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the invading army. His path and Anna’s will cross.

Five hundred years later, in a library in Idaho, octogenarian Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses five children in a play adaptation of Aethon’s story, preserved against all odds through centuries. Tucked among the library shelves is a bomb, planted by a troubled, idealistic teenager, Seymour. This is another siege. And in a not-so-distant future, on the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in a vault, copying on scraps of sacking the story of Aethon, told to her by her father. She has never set foot on our planet.

My Review: This book is told from the point of view of various characters, who’s stories eventually come together in the end. Each story is connected through the long lost Greek story of Aethon, a man who wants to turn into a bird and fly to a heaven-like place called Cloud Cuckoo Land (hence the name of the book).

I read a lot of reviews which stated that Doerr’s language / description is overdone, but I actually like it. Especially in audiobook format, the descriptive language really flows nicely, like it’s singing to you.

As far as the individual storylines go, my favorite was that of Konstance. We meet Konstance as she is alone in a vault (save for the AI robot tasked with keeping Konstance safe), piecing together the story of Aethon, which had been told to her by her father. At the beginning of the book we do not know why Konstance is all alone on a interstellar ship hurtling through space, but we come to find out piece by piece. The twist at the end was very unexpected and left me a little annoyed, and with more questions then answers. I wanted more, but the book was over. Sigh.

While I was the least enamored with Anna’s storyline (I didn’t find it all that interesting), hers is perhaps the most important, as it is the catalyst for the story itself. Without her act of stealing the book of Aethon’s story, it would not have been damaged, rearranged out of sequence, and barely readable 500 years later. The physical state of the book is almost as important as the story itself, as the message of the story has been misinterpreted for years, the truth to be rediscovered only by children in the present day.

I don’t want to give too many spoilers, so I will just say that the way that the storylines are interwoven was really clever, especially that of Seymour and Konstance. In general, I really loved the characters and there were definitely tear-jerking moments in the stories of Omeir and Seymour.

Although fiction, each storyline, even that of Konstance, was believable. Each story could have really happened (or could really happen in the future). Therefore, I’m not sure why the book is marked as “fantasy” on Goodreads. This seems incorrect to me, but okay.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you liked Doerr’s other book, All the Light We Cannot See. You can check out my review of that book here.

BOOK REVIEW: Scarecrow Has a Gun by Michael Paul Kozlowsky

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Title: Scarecrow Has a Gun

Author: Michael Paul Kozlowsky

Audiobook Length: 8 hours and 10 minutes

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Science Fiction

Read Start Date: February 21, 2022

Read Finish Date:

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Sean
Whittlesea was there when his wife was murdered. He saw the light leave her eyes. He held her dead body in his arms. He knows he wept, but he cannot recollect a single other detail. Tormented by the tragedy, Sean relives the horror over and over again. As he struggles to recall what really happened, his imagination serves up an endless chain of scenarios. The truth, however, remains hidden in the vault of his memory, and
the key is nowhere to be found. Nearly two decades later, Sean, now remarried and a father of two, wins a bizarre contest hosted by his eccentric boss. The prize is the Memory Palace, a state-of-the-art black box that purportedly allows its possessor to relive every moment he has ever experienced, playing out all the memories on a screen.

While the small machine at first appears to be the answer to the mystery surrounding the death of his wife, it instead upends Sean’s life. He pushes his family further and further away as the Memory Palace forces him to confront harsh realities and difficult questions that he lacks the strength to face or answer. Spiraling downward, Sean encounters increasingly harrowing challenges that force him to
realize that his memory is not the only thing at stake. To recover the truth about his past, Sean must fight for his very life.

My Review: I received this book from Netgalley as an ARC Audiobook. I gave this book 4 stars, as my overall impression of the book was positive. Let’s start with the cover. My first impression, having not read the synopsis of the book, was that the book was a mystery / thriller starring a detective. I was under this impression due to the title “Scarecrow Has a Gun.” I was not correct in the slightest. The title is actually an obscure reference to the fact that in the movie Wizard of Oz, the Scarecrow at some point in the film has a pistol, but that nobody seems to remember this fact. This reference is so obscure, that until the author made reference to it in the last 25% of the book, I had no idea. And even when the character in the book explained this reference, I am still not 100% sure I understand it in the context of the book — maybe that memories are not what they seem? That reality is not what we remember? I wasn’t too impressed either with the cover image itself. 34430839I think it is supposed to be a picture of the memory palace, but when I compare it to the cover of e.g. Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King (see the image on the right), which is another book about a mysterious box, then the cover of Scarecrow Has a Gun seems rather dark and does not draw the eye. Based upon the cover, I’m not sure I would have picked it up at the bookstore.

Regardless, of my initial impression of the cover and title, I have to say that I really enjoyed the book overall. We meet Sean
Whittlesea as he is competing for a prize in his boss’s “widowers club.” Essentially, this is a invitation only exclusive club which is only open to widowers. Every so often (and at random intervals) the widowers compete in a contest to win an undisclosed prize. After several attempts, Sean finally wins. His prize: the memory palace. The memory palace is a box that when plugged into your brain, shows you past memories. Upon seeing such memories, Sean is convinced that there is something wrong with the box because nothing is as he had previously remembered it. Unfortunately, it is all too real and what the box reveals about his wife’s death will alter his life forever.

I really liked the premise of the book: memories are not what they seem. What we actually remember is only an illusion. It made me think whether there are certain memories of mine that are incorrect, or that I am not remembering correctly. Did I really see my grandfather being driven away in an ambulance when I was four? Or is this a memory I have reconstructed from stories told by my parents?

Although this book purports to be science fiction, I didn’t really see any elements of that. To me it would have been better classified as a “mystery” or even a “thriller”.  I mainly listened to this book while feeding my 6 month old baby or going for walks, cleaning the house, etc. It is an easy read and doesn’t require too much concentration. It is a great story to pass the time. The story is engaging and I definitely did not see the twist at the end coming. However, the ending left me a little unsatisfied. It seemed a bit rushed. I would have liked to have it drawn out more. It’s like we waited the entire book to find out what happened, and then in one or two scenes everything is explained and then its over.

The most interesting part of the book for me was actually the widowers club, and how the person running this club (Sean’s boss) was essentially “creating” better people so that they could benefit the company. It reminds me of certain cults. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more regarding the widowers club in the book. I would be interested to read more books in a series about the widowers club. I wonder if the author has this in mind, or if this book was just a one off.

This book will be published in August 2022. I would definitely recommend adding it to your TBR list.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

BOOK REVIEW: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

7260188Title: Mockingjay

Author: Suzanne Collins

Book Length (Audiobook): 11 hours 19 mins

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Young Adult, Post Apocalyptic 

Read Start Date: November 24, 2019

Read Finish Date: December 2, 2019

Brief Summary of the Plot from Goodreads: Katniss Everdeen, girl on fire, has survived, even though her home has been destroyed. Gale has escaped. Katniss’s family is safe. Peeta has been captured by the Capitol. District 13 really does exist. There are rebels. There are new leaders. A revolution is unfolding.

It is by design that Katniss was rescued from the arena in the cruel and haunting Quarter Quell, and it is by design that she has long been part of the revolution without knowing it. District 13 has come out of the shadows and is plotting to overthrow the Capitol. Everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans – except Katniss.

The success of the rebellion hinges on Katniss’s willingness to be a pawn, to accept responsibility for countless lives, and to change the course of the future of Panem. To do this, she must put aside her feelings of anger and distrust. She must become the rebels’ Mockingjay – no matter what the personal cost.

SeriesMockingjay is the third and final book in the 3-part series.

Catching Fire is the second book in the 3-part series. You can see my review of the book by clicking on this link.

The Hunger Games is the first book in the 3-part series. You can see my review of the book by clicking on this link.

My Review: If you haven’t read the first or second book yet, then I would not read this review, as there will be many spoilers. In the first book, Katniss and Peeta won the Hunger Games, becoming for the first time in its 74-year history co-winners. Usually, the Capital only allows 1 victor per game, but as the last 2 standing tributes, neither would kill the other. They decide instead to trick the Capital into letting them both live by threatening to eat poison berries, thereby killing themselves, and giving the Capital no Victor — and there must always have a victor.

In Catching Fire the 75th Hunger Games (the 3rd quarter quell) has been announced. The tributes were chosen from among the victors. This means of course that Katniss and Peeta had to return to the arena to once again fight to the death. However, there was no winner, since the revolution had begun against the Capital. Katniss was rescued from the games and whisked away to District 13, but Peeta falls into the hands of the Capital to be used as a pawn against the rebels.

In the third book there are no games; instead, there is a war between the Capital and the districts. As you can imagine, war is messy and brutal, and the plot of this book is no different. Favorite characters will die, and there will be triumphs and defeats. Although I liked this book (it was as fast paced as the other books) I have to say that this is not my favorite out of the three books. Maybe it was the lack of the Hunger Games, or maybe it was that the ending was too tidy for me, like a neatly packed gift under the Christmas tree, but there was just something about it that didn’t leave me satisfied.

Having said that, I read through the series twice, and if push came to shove, I would probably read it a third time.