Category Archives: Sci-fi/Fantasy

“The Circle” By Dave Eggers

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“SECRETS ARE LIES

SHARING IS CARING

PRIVACY IS THEFT”-pp. 305

 

Technology can make our lives seemingly more simple while at the same time complicating them in unforeseeable ways.  The Circle by Dave Eggers is best summarized by the age old question popular in science/technology based dystopias: “How far is too far?”  Unlike other dystopian novels however, that question is never answered explicitly, and is ultimately up to the reader to decide.

Let me take a step back:

The Circle chronicles the evolution of Mae Holland, a 20-something post-grad that is stuck in an all-too-familiar-to-millenials rut.  She is working a crappy job, has student loan officers harassing her daily, and is living with her parents.

Her life suddenly changes when her best friend from college, Annie, helps her secure a job at “The Circle,” a fancy new tech company that is eerily reminiscent of Epic Systems (a software company in Madison, WI. The author also happens to be from Chicago, so I’m further convinced this place might have inspired him).  Compared to her previous job, The Circle is a utopia.  She has a living wage and supervisors who support her.  There are fancy themed department buildings, cafeterias where famous chefs offer succulent dishes, parties on campus at night, sports facilities, and even dormitories where you can sleep if you work late.  She can’t believe her fortune to work for a company like this.

While Mae finds herself more drawn in to life in The Circle, she finds life outside to be less exciting and grim.  What starts as a blissful fairy tale of a promising career starts to take a darker turn as The Circle expands its influence and power.  Suddenly people who openly express worry that The Circle is becoming a monopoly start to have their metaphorical dirty laundry once protected online exposed to the media.  Workers at The Circle develop technology that raises questions of what should be considered private versus publicly accessed information.

A lot of reviews of this book equate The Circle to 1984.  While I would agree that both illustrate a dystopia (one in development in The Circle) that rests on the value that personal privacy is a threat to national security, this book is much more complicated than that.  This novel is timely in that a lot of the young characters grew up hearing about terrorist attacks, school shootings, and corrupt politicians.  Not only that, their desire to be connected to others and validated on social media contributes to the paranoia and anxiety that fuels The Circle’s  power.  The Circle’s mantra quoted above expresses the shared values of these young characters who want to hold people accountable for atrocious actions and share their lives and find instant (yet ironically meaningful) connections on social media.

Eggers manages to handle these modern issues, questions, and controversies without lecturing the reader.  Unlike 1984, most characters in The Circle eagerly give up their rights to privacy for the sake of professional transparency and security (all for different reasons that are explored in the book).  What’s chilling is that in this novel, it doesn’t take government force to make people give up their rights; it’s the pressure to follow the example of their peers and “get with the times.” Concerns expressed by people who are wary of The Circle are dismissed by Mae and her colleagues with a pitying and condescending eye-roll.  They are, after all, pioneers of the new wave of technology. Resistance is futile…in fact resistance is blasé and a sign of moral flaws. 

Overall, The Circle isn’t solely a dire warning or a lecture on the potential harms of unchecked technological advancement.  Its power lies in its ability to creep into your subconscious and find yourself pondering “What if..?” when you next find yourself at a social gathering surrounding by peers tapping away at their I-phones.  Without giving away the ending, I’ll just say that the last lines of the book sent a shiver down my spine and have since made me contemplate the roles social media and technology play in our lives, as well as the effects lack of privacy and unrestricted access to information can have on society and the human psyche.  Another question The Circle raises is: Do we really want to know everything about ourselves, our friends, our family, or our history? 

The other big theme in this book was about human connection, which I would struggle to discuss without revealing major spoiler alerts.  In a nutshell, I would agree with the author’s suggestion that technology has, and will continue, to change how humans interact and relate to each other on personal and professional levels. Suffice to say that this book will make you think about a lot of aspects of human society and struggle with questions that don’t have an easy or apparent answer.

As I read over what I’ve typed so far, I realize that this book is very intricate in its layers of meaning.  There are many themes that I could have discussed here, but I chose to focus on the ones that resonated the most with me.

A final note on Eggers as a writer: this is the first book I’ve read by him and I was very impressed.  Part of what makes this novel so effective is his writing style, especially his insertion of metaphorical scenes that give you goosebumps without really knowing why at first.  I still shudder when I think about the symbolic scene with the company shark, who greedily eats every other sea creature in its tank.  Such visceral moments as these add to the foreboding undertone lurking parallel to the dialogue.

Have any of you read The Circle?  Let me know what you thought in the comments!

 

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A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

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‘Had I but known, Tam-Lin, she said
What defeat this night I’d see
I’d’ve stolen both thine eyes
and changed thee fast into a tree.

‘Had I but known, Tam-lin, she said
before we left this night to roam,
I’d’ve et thy heart of flesh
and left thee with a heart of stone!’ -Tam Lin

 

Tam-Lin is a beautiful ballad that describes a teenage girl facing off against the Queen of the Faeries as she claims her inheritance of Cartenhaugh manor and her love for captive Tam-Lin.  I still have a beautiful picture book version of this tale that I would bring out each year on Halloween, aka the night that the Fairy Court allegedly rides out into the human world.

Anyone who knows me even the slightest is aware that my favorite Disney movie and fairy tale is Beauty and the Beast.  Stockholm Syndrome be damned, I think it is a lovely tale of learning to accept others for who they are, being ok with who you are, and that beauty is only skin deep.

This all ties into A Court of Thorns and Roses because the book is essentially a reimaginig of Beauty and the Beast with overtones of Tam-Lin.  In this case, the protagonist Feyre is held captive in the fairy world by a High Fae Lord named Tamlin after she unknowingly kills his friend while hunting.  Feyre, like Belle, is an outcast in her village.  Her family is impoverished, her mother had long ago passed away, and she is responsible for supporting her family.  Tamlin appears as a beast, but later transforms into a man, but with a mask that he cannot take off.  In fact, everyone in his court is stuck wearing masks, because of a blight that was cast long ago.

I bet you can imagine where this is going.  Feyre hates Tamlin at first for taking her away from her family and everything she has known, but as they become acquainted, save each others lives on several occasions, and Tamlin offers her an art gallery (unlike Belle, she’s an artist not a reader), their relationship gets steamy.  As a side note, I could not believe this book is considered “teen” fiction but perhaps I am becoming more sensitive in my (26 years) old age.  Anyways, this book is full of romance, adventure, fairies, an evil Queen, and pretty much everything fans of the fantasy genre will love.  While there are a lot of familiar elements in this book, it manages to be unique enough to create an engaging tale.  It’s passionate, it’s fast-paced, it’s the perfect summer escapist book.  If you haven’t read the ballad of Tam-Lin, I recommend doing so before starting this novel.

If I haven’t convinced you enough how enjoyable this book is, I just found out it’s a series and as much as I hate getting roped into them, I have to find out what happens next!

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Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

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Summer is in full swing and for a few months I am not a student who is also working two part time jobs. That means that my schedule is full of opportunities to read, and reading I have been doing. Guilty pleasure reading that is. My plan to tackle the behemoth that is Infinite Jest was put on the back burner when I stumbled across the horror novel Let Me In by the Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist. An anti-Twilight vampire romance/horror novel? My curiosity thus piqued, I began the ultimate descent into a Swedish vampire nightmare.

The book begins with introducing a young boy Oskar, who is a loner and frequently bullied at his school. One day he meets a young girl, Eli, at his apartment whom he befriends and falls in love with; even as he becomes more aware of her increasingly bizarre habits and behaviors. Peppered in with the central story are other characters within the town. There’s a group of poor alcoholic peers dealing with their own issues and the mysterious murder of one of their friends, the bully’s point of view, and a teenage boy living in Oskar’s apartment complex. Eli’s “father” is given his own storyline as well. I am still deciding whether or not I like this tactic. On one hand, using multiple characters and perspectives, Lindqvist transforms the novel from a simple bloody horror fest to a sort of social commentary on the poor and overlooked population in Sweden. However, I found myself caring more about Oskar and Eli and wished their relationship and plot line had been more flushed out.

This is a heavy, dark book, and not just because of the vampire aspect. Pedophilia, genital mutilation, violence, alcoholism, poverty, and loneliness are all equally prominent themes which together create a sense of pure dread. I took longer to read this book than I expected because I needed to take frequent breaks and watch something funny on Netflix to mitigate the effects this story had on me.

On the other hand, this book is very well written and fans of the horror genre will not be disappointed. It’s creepy in a way that it sneaks up on you, making you feel like you’re walking down a dark street and are positive someone is following you, even though you keep turning around and see nothing.

As people have said before, this is the ultimate anti-Twilight book. It’s a vampire love story, but it’s not sparkly skin and Robert Pattinson’s pouty expression. It takes the erotic themes associated with vampires and twists them in a way that is satisfyingly disturbing to a horror fan like me.

Curl up in a blanket, and invite this book in.

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“Cloud Atlas” By David Mitchell

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Do you remember the first time you encountered nesting dolls? You saw an ornately painted wooden figure and picked it up out of curiosity.  Then you noticed a crack running through its midsection.  Puzzled, you pulled both halves apart to find another, smaller wooden doll on the indside.  You repeated the process again and again, until finally you were left with a tiny replica of the original figure, and the disassembled parts of the larger dolls.  Next, you put the smallest figure into the one that was slightly bigger, and so on, reversing the process until you are left at the beginning.  You weren’t quite sure of what exactly the purpose of the nesting doll was until you had reached the center, and returned to where you started.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell is a literary nesting doll.  The book consists of six novellas.  The first five novellas stop mid story.  When you reach the six novella, there is no interruption in the plot.  From there, the stories pick back up and finish, but in the opposite direction.  To put it simply, if each novella were assigned a number, the structure is: 1-2-3-4-5-6-5-4-3-2-1.

Each of the novellas has a different genre within itself, but the overall book is a complex exploration of religion, science, philosophy, and reincarnation.  The unifying theme is a comet birthmark, which makes its appearance in each story on one of the characters.

The message of the book, which is that we are all connected by time and souls that float from one body to the next, becomes obvious as the reader progresses from one novella to the next.  Each novella is fairly weak when examined apart from the other novels, but perhaps this was an intentional strategy.  Like a nesting doll, you need to read the entire book to fully appreciate the message.

My biggest critique of the book was that the delivery of the moral lacked the literary punch I was expecting.  Perhaps Mitchell was trying to achieve too much in this behemoth that his main message was overwhelmed by sub-meditations and revelations.  I found myself wondering what exactly he wanted the reader to take away from this ambitious novel.  It was only after I watched the movie and couldn’t fall asleep that night that I realized: if anything, this book makes you think.  There I was, lying awake at night, trying to decipher all of the complexities and subtleties and finding myself going around in mental circles.  I can’t remember the last time a book has affected me in this way.

My recommendation to readers is to watch the movie after reading the book.  Even for the seasoned bibliophile, this book is complicated and seeing the action on screen helps in peeling away the layers of the story.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars for being thought provoking, but falling short of delivering a novel, mind-blowing message that it promised.

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Sci Fi and Horror Short Stories…Oh My!

Last week I wondered whether I was becoming a literary masochist.  Between the two volumes of short stories I read, I bounced between being horrified and depressed.  All that influenced my reading choices however was that both of the authors happen to be my two favorite novelists.  With that, let me dive into the scary one first:

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Night Shift by Stephen King

Just when I think that King can’t frighten me anymore and that I’ve read enough of his work that I know what to expect from him, he shocks me again.  Though some of these stories have ties to his other novels, such as Salem’s Lot, The Stand, and Christine, there is plenty of new horror to experience in this anthology.  Many of his short stories in this book have been made into movies, such as Children of the CornQuitters Inc., and The Ledge.  

Just as he does in his novels, each short story starts out slowly, with characters surprisingly well developped given how condensed the action is, and by the time you start to notice the goosebumps rising on your arms, the climax whacks you in the face and you suddenly feel yourself shifting uncomforably in your seat.  King is a master of what I consider to be the key to creating good horror: he takes a seemingly normal situation you would feel comfortable in, then turns the plot completely around, making you realize no one is safe and evil can lurk anywhere.

Best story in the book: it’s a tie between Graveyard Shift and The Ledge.  Graveyard Shift is terribly frightening for any one who has even a sliver of disdain for rats.  The Ledge is less scary but is suspenseful and has one of the greatest literary twists at the end.  It will have you on the edge of your seat, pun intended.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

After I read Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury became one of my all time favorite authors.  Although I am not a huge fan of science fiction, he uses the genre as a way to promote his warnings about humans and violence and our dependency on technology.  In that way, his books are powerful and dreamlike.

The Illustrated Man is a collection of short stories with an encompassing theme: in the prologue a man meets a tattooed carnie in Wisconsin.  Each tattoo tells a story.  Following are the stories that are pictured on the tattooed man’s body.  Many of the stories are about space travel, Mars, and aliens.  The sub plot in these novels is about how advances in technology have caused man to become isolated, either physically or mentally from others.  The other main theme is the generation gap between parents who hold onto old traditions and books, and the younger generation that embraces technology and distances themselves, again physically or mentally, from their forefathers.

This anthology is sometimes depressing, sometimes scary, but overall thought provoking.  It never ceases to amaze me that Bradbury warned us of a world of people dependent on technology and passionate about violent media in the 1950s, before TV had become ubiquitous.

Without a doubt, the best short story is The Veldt, which is about two children who live in a smart house.  They come to love their nursery, essentially a room completely composed of TV screens, more than their parents.  This story is completely terrifying and makes you question your own dependence on techonolgy.  If you aren’t a fan of science fiction, I recommend you at least read The Veldt.  

Rating:  4 out of 5 stars

I was trying to articulate why it is I love short stories so much.  The fact that you can read them quickly is, of course, a plus, but the reason goes deeper than that.  David Sedaris said: “A good [short story] would take me out of myself and then stuff me back in, outsized, now, and uneasy with the fit.” I don’t think I could explain my sentiments better than that.  Great short stories, such as the ones I’ve talked about in this post, have done just that.  They achieve what a great novel does in a fraction of the pages: leave you dizzy, unoriented, and somehow different.

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Kilts, Scots, and Horrifying Medical Practices: “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

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I’d like to start this post by thanking the Overdrive App for existing. Without it, I wouldn’t have read as many books here in my little apartment in Turkey.

Moving on…

You could say that my trend in reading reflects my dating pattern in college: each new book I read tends to be completely different from the one before. The last books I’ve read recently have been serious and frightening (thankfully, “frightening” has never applied to any men I’ve dated). It was time for a change. A fun “affair” was what I needed to cleanse my palate from my recent Stephen King binge.

As if answering my prayers, the Overdrive God made “Outlander” available for me to download.

At that point, I didn’t care if the book didn’t live up to its hype. Reading about a nurse in the 1940s who travels back in time to 18th century Scotland and falls in love with a handsome highlander seemed like the escapist novel I needed.

The book was finished in two days. I was left breathless following the intense action and romance. Not being a huge fan of romance novels, “Outlander” managed to avoid what I consider to be the major pitfall of the genre: cliche metaphors for anatomy. Additionally, the protagonist, Claire, was a strong and well developed character. She didn’t play the damsel in distress, despite being thrown into a time period where she was expected to be fragile and helpless. Lastly, there was a plot. I didn’t feel like I was reading a romance novel with some action thrown in to move from one love scene to another. It’s a historical fiction novel with its fair share of romance.

Every now and then it’s nice to pick up a novel that you can thoroughly enjoy, then toss away. Like meeting a cute guy in a foreign city, I had a nice flirtation with “Outlander,” but finished the novel without desiring more. The vacation was over and I had no desire to write a postcard or return anytime soon. What I mean is that there are eight more books in the series, but I will not be reading them. The book ended with a cliffhanger, but didn’t entice me enough to come back for seconds.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars for being an enjoyable escape novel, but losing its charm at the end.

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2014 Books: A Summary

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My failure to post for the past several months is a result of moving to Turkey and being too busy getting acclimated to my new environment and reading to write.  Though my blogging has been scarce, I have gotten more reading done in the past four months than I’ve ever had the chance to do in my life.  I love my host city in Turkey, but there’s not a lot to do so I’ve been walking a lot and have discovered the wonder of audio books.  Get exercise and read at the same time?  Why haven’t I jumped on this bandwagon before?

Anyways, it would be a ridiculously long post if I wrote a review of every book I’ve read recently.  Instead, I will group them together into categories, and share my favorite book from each.

1) Dean Koontz books

Life Expectancy

Sole Survivor

Velocity

Innocence

Strange Highways

Favorite: Life Expectancy.  It’s a classic Dean Koontz novel that contains suspense, elements of science fiction, but the characters are particularly well developed in this novel.  I thought the ending was perfect as it tied up loose ends but left the reader questioning what would happen if there was a sequel.  The book had you guessing the entire time, but Koontz revealed answers slowly in a way that keeps the reader from getting too frustrated.

2) A Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R.R. Martin

A Storm of Swords

A Feast for Crows

A Dance with Dragons (started)

Favorite: it’s a tie because these books tend to run together and it’s been awhile ago since I’ve read them so I’ll just say that as a series, I’m hooked. I want to finish the latest book so I can look up fan theories without worrying about spoilers, but the next book won’t come out for at least another year.  Oye, the annoyance of being addicted to a series! It’s like Harry Potter all over again, but Mr. Martin is taking his sweet time.

3) Non-fiction books

Jesus Freaks (true crime book about the Family cult) by Don Lattin

Life After College (self help) by Jenny Blake

Wild (memoir/travelogue) by Cheryl Strayed

Hallucinations (science) by Oliver Sacks

The Good Nurse (true crime) by Charles Graeber

In Defense of Food (science) by Michael Pollan

The Red Queen (genetics, currently reading) by Matt Ridley

Favorite: In Defense of Food.  Michael Pollan strikes again with a well-researched book that makes you question your food culture.  I enjoyed The Omnivore’s Dilemma years ago and have watched many documentaries on the food industry in America, but this book offered a fresh look at the issues in the US.  What I like best about Pollan’s writing is that he bases his arguments on facts and research, not his hidden political agenda. In science writing, it’s easy to pick out certain studies and use them to promote veganism or animal rights, etc, but Pollan is clearly interested in the food industry because he is inspired by the science behind it, not the social issues (although his research leads to social issues that are easily ignored).

4) Books related to Turkey that I read right before coming, or during orientation

The Yogurt Man Cometh by Kevin Revolinski

Tulipomania by Mike Dash

An Ongoing Affair: Turkey and I by Heath W. Lowry

Favorite: The Yogurt Man Cometh.  It’s a short and snappy travelogue about one man (from my home state Wisconsin!) who teaches in Turkey and shares his misadventures.  I enjoyed reading the book while in Turkey because I could relate to some of his experiences.  His book also inspired me to be more persistent in blogging regularly.

5) Teen Books

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Favorite: The Fault in Our Stars.  I cried. So much.  Then because I loved the book so much and am an emotional masochist, I immediately went and saw the movie.  And ugly cried some more into my popcorn; the tears upping the salt content; giving me temporary hypertension.  Before reading The Fault in Our Stars, I had a bad taste in my mouth about teen books after the poorly edited, meaningless sack of literary garbage that is The Hunger Games.  The Fault in Our Stars restored my faith in the teen lit genre and hope for the future generation.  It’s a book that’s destined to be a classic.

6) Books written by celebrities that, upon looking back, I’m not sure why I read them

Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Favorite: Neither.  I think I was sucked into exploring this genre while working at BookPeople because these books were flying off the shelf like hotcakes.  Moral of the story: when it comes to bestsellers, the customer is not always right.

7) Classic novels

Little Birds by Anais Nin

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

The Crucible by Arthur Miller

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

The Secret History by Donna Tratt

Favorite: It’s a tie between A Clockwork Orange and The Secret History.  Both were very disturbing books, but they had strong messages and are guaranteed to haunt you.  The Secret History had well developed characters and was impossible to put down.  A Clockwork Orange is a classic book, but is definitely worth reading.

As a side note, The Wasp Factory is probably one of the most messed up books I’ve ever read.  I finished it in one night and immediately took a long shower afterwards.  It’s not a bad book, it’s actually quite brilliant.  But you will feel like the world is a horrible place afterwards.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

As another side note, I was very disappointed by two books. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was the first.  It’s no fault of Mr. Stevenson though.  It was incredibly well written, but the success of the book depended on the reader not knowing the big punch line.  Everyone today knows that Jekyll and Hyde are the same person, so it ruins the whole book.  The whodunnit question that I’m sure was trailing readers along eagerly over a hundred years ago is now common knowledge.  Poor Mr. Stevenson.

The other book that I may be criticized for hating is Little Women.  All the characters were so annoying.  I thought they were all spoiled, self centered, shallow, and weak.  Jo was the only character with any sort of complexity, but oh boy she learns her place in the end when she finally settles down and adheres to expectations of society.  Furthermore, I found all of the girls’ “problems” to be incredibly petty.  Beth had the best idea, which was to just sorta check out of life before she ended up living as a housewife whose only excitement would be something like her dear husband bringing her silk gloves but she, being humble and pious, would sell them to buy poor children some bread.

8) Sci-fi–Fantasy–Horror

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I can’t choose a favorite from this list, because all these books were amazing, with the exception of Night Circus.  That book was just, meh.  Warm Bodies was a captivating book that was more than just a zombie novel.  The Girl With All the Gifts was enjoyable because the author put a lot of work into making the science behind a zombie apocalypse make sense.  The two zombie books, along with Never Let Me Go were all thought provoking books that asked the question: what does it mean to be human?  The Ocean at the End of the Lane was a bizarre book, but the fantasy elements were successful in supporting the theme of childhood memories.

9) Stephen King

Christine

The Green Mile

Salem’s Lot

It (Currently reading)

Favorite: Christine.  Wow, this book packed a punch.  The character development is phenomenal, the storytelling is perfection.  The last Stephen King book I read was Carrie, and that was years ago.  This book had me hooked from the beginning.  I can see why King is such a successful writer: he adds so much color and flavor to the characters that you can picture them acting the action out in front of you.  He is also a master of slowly building up suspense.  I enjoyed his other books, but Christine especially stands out, I think because of how Arnie changed so drastically in response to Christine.  Right now, I’m reading It and I think this one will come in a close second, if not I’ll like it as much as Christine.

10) Other novels

The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger

The Goldfinch by Donna Tratt

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Favorite: It’s a tie between Me Before You and The Goldfinch.

Me Before You is a heartbreaking love story, well written and captivating.  The Goldfinch is an epic Dickens style novel that covers years of one boy’s life.  Both were enjoyable reads in their own way.  I’ve heard that some people don’t like The Goldfinch because they were expecting some sort of art history book or something like The Da Vinci Code.  If you’re going to read it, expect to enter a long, but well written novel with great character development.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 52 books this year.  Wow.  And most of the books I’ve read this year I’ve finished between September and now.  In a year, I’ve read at least one book from almost every genre in existence.  Some books haunted me, some scared me, some made me laugh, some made me wrap myself in a blanket and go through a box of tissues, some made me question society, and some shattered my ignorance.  Most importantly, they all took me on adventures and returned me as a person changed.

As Stephen King said: “Books are a uniquely portable magic.”

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The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey

Nowadays, zombie books are as prolific as YA novels. They’re everywhere. I was reluctant to buy into this new sub-genre of sci-fi/horror until I read “Warm Bodies” and was won over. 95% of the time, I like reading books with memorable characters and that have a deeper meaning than what is presented at the surface. “Warm Bodies” showed me that zombie novels can be taken seriously as literature.

The best part about working at a bookstore is that you’re surrounded by people that are just as/if not more obsessed with books as you are. A co-worker of mine at BookPeople in Texas had bought “The Girl With All the Gifts” and was telling me that the book came highly recommended to her. “Warm Bodies” was still fresh on my mind, so my curiosity was piqued when I heard that this was a zombie book. Not only that, I heard that this book was considered to be one of the best zombie novels since “World War Z.” I was determined to read TGWATG as soon as possible.

Basic premise: Melanie is a unique girl. She lives in a cell and every morning is tied to a chair and brought to class with other students. And…that’s all I will say right now because I don’t want to give away any spoliers. This book is a thriller, a horror story (quite a bit of gore), and a mediation on what it means to be human. It is a thought provoking page turner that is horrifying, saddening, and hopeful. I also appreciated the effort the author put into trying to make the science in the novel make sense.

If you enjoy sci-fi or horror novels, or liked “World War Z,” you will definitely be impressed by TGWATG. It offers everything a fan of these genres craves in a book, and to top it off it is well-crafted and has an important message at the end.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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“Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Often I chose which book I am going to read based off my mom’s recommendations.  We both have similar literary preferences and are proud book snobs.  Thus I know when she insists several times that I need to read  a particular book, I do.  It’s nice because then I have someone to discuss the book with after I’m finished.

Anyways, Never Let Me Go was one of these books.  It was written a few years ago and there is already a movie adaptation.  Perhaps you’ve heard of it.  People I’ve talked to who are familiar with the book but haven’t read it only know that it’s about organ donation.  It’s so much more than that.  The novel follows the life of Kath and her friends Ruth and Tommy as they grow up in an exclusive boarding school called Hailsham.  As they mature, they start to learn more about their fate.  Living in a modern dystopia, the children at Hailsham will all one day donate all their vital organs.  It sounds like a sci-fi novel, but it reads more like a coming of age story.

The most successful aspect of this book is that the reader is kept at a constant balance of being informed and in the dark.  In some books (cough all Dean Koontz books), the reader is desperate for the plot twist until the end of the story.  In Never Let Me Go, you feel as if you are growing up with Kath.  You start out not knowing anything, then are fed more clues throughout the novel.  Each insight into Kath’s world satisfies you until the next reveal.  It makes sense that Ishiguro writes this way because we all follow similar stages of being naive and happy as we’re younger, then starting to question everything as we become more aware of our world.  Children in any situation grow up accepting their lives as normal because they are unaware of any other way of life.  When children become young adults they start to question why their lives are the way they are, and wonder what’s the point of living; what’s the meaning of life.  In the young adult phase, they also feel nostalgia for the days when they were happy and naive.  Growing older, they again accept their reality because they acknowledge that their world, albeit flawed, is just the way things are.   Never Let Me Go perfectly displays this emotional journey through Kath’s experience.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a thought provoking novel.  If anything, you should read this book because it is a beautifully written and crafted literary treat.

Rating: 5/5 stars

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A Feast for Crows

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Since last August, I have been making my way through the A Song of Ice and Fire series.  I became addicted after getting into A Game of Thrones.  At first, I wasn’t really sure I would like the series.  Yes I enjoyed reading fantasy as a kid, but I had gotten sick of waiting for sequels to come out, and found as I got older fantasy books for adults didn’t interest me as much.

 

A Song of Ice and Fire is a breath of fresh air for the fantasy genre.  Mainly because it reads more like a historical fiction book (and I love historical fiction).  Other things I love about the series are:

1) The plethora of strong female characters who range in appearance and personality.  You read Lord of the Rings and wonder where all the characters come from considering there’s about 3 prominent female characters.  This series more accurately represents real life, in that women make up 50% of the population, and aren’t just running around having sex and seducing the main male characters.

2) It has mass appeal.  There is romance, adventure, betrayal, family drama, action, and so on.  There is so many different yet intertwined plots going on and you have to give credit to George R.R. Martin for effectively filling in plot holes and leaving the reader wanting more after the end of each book.

3) The books are well written.  I usually avoid best sellers because the quality of writing tends to be so poor, I can’t make myself finish the story.  However, Martin is a great writer, and it shows in each of his books.  He also avoids the tendency for sequels to diminish in quality.  In fact, A Feast for Crows is probably my favorite book in the series thus far.  It is frustrating that there are such long gaps between the release of each book, but when you consider the work that goes into revising and editing a 1000 page book, you have to give Martin a break.  I’d rather wait for a quality book then get a poorly written book sooner.

 

I won’t give away much about A Feast for Crows, but I will say that a lot happens, even though this book does not mention what’s been going on with Tyrion, Jon Snow, and Danaerys.  If you have just started reading the series, I encourage you to continue reading the rest of the books.  Just try to do it slowly.  In six months, I read the first four books (in addition to reading other books in between).  I can’t wait to read A Dance With Dragons next and find out if some of my fan theories are true.

 

I recommend this series to anyone who has enjoyed fantasy or historical fiction at some point in their life, or if you miss Harry Potter and wanting to get lost in a new magical world.

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