mini-reviews: station eleven and the last one

I bought Station Eleven right after it came out, and of COURSE I didn’t read it until two years later. Somehow it survived my Great Purge of Stuff of 2016 in the overseas move, and I finally read it last fall. Coincidentally, I won a copy of The Last One from a Goodreads giveaway right before moving too.These two post-apocalyptic literary books are often compared, and rightly so.

I had to work a bit to get into Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, and unfortunately (for me) I only got a little ways in before I had to put it down for the move, but when I finally picked it up again I flew through it. After a lethal virus sweeps the globe, a group of actors, musicians, and artists travel the decimated Great Lakes region performing plays and concerts to the few inhabitants left in the towns they pass through. There were a few odd things (like the dearth of guns/ammo and books in America after almost all of its citizens are wiped out… wouldn’t there be an abundance of these things?) but these minor anachronisms don’t detract from the story. I really enjoyed this thoughtful and imaginative speculative fiction novel. It shifts timelines, giving you a glimpse of living through a societal collapse instead of just showing you the aftermath. Thus, rather than being strictly about survival during and after a global epidemic, the story is more about beauty, nature, music, art, literature, and culture surviving. It’s about humanity and connection. Station Eleven was one of my favorite reads of 2016. [Read in September 2016.]

Alexandra Oliva shows she is a promising, creative writer with her debut novel, The Last One. During the filming of a survival reality TV show, a pandemic killed off much of the population. The show’s contestants have been cut off from the outside world and don’t know what’s happened. One person, a woman known as Zoo, who continues believing she’s in a game rather than an apocalypse. Zoo wasn’t as kick ass as I wanted her to be and I think the book is a bit long and winding overall. I also kind of wish I (as reader) hadn’t known that the corpses, danger, and devastation Zoo comes across were real—it left me frustrated that I knew and she didn’t, having to witness her behavior based on being in the dark. But I liked the book in general. It’s thought provoking regarding the portrayal of reality in media (how much of reality TV is real?) and how it can shape your perception of people, the world, etc. I think it’s worth a read if you like post-apocalyptic stories. [Read/listened to audiobook in March 2017.]

reading recap: october 2016

I had a great month of reading in October! As you can see, I was mostly consumed by Halloween-appropriate books, with a few library holds that just happened to come through:

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  • The Fire This Time (ebook) … Jesmyn Ward, et al
  • House of Leaves … Mark Z. Danielewski
  • The Troop … Nick Cutter
  • Men Explain Things to Me (ebook) … Rebecca Solnit
  • Dead Mountain … Donnie Eichar
  • Black Earth (audio) … Timothy Snyder, read by Mark Bramhall
  • Stories from Night Shift (audio) … Stephen King, read by John Glover
  • ‘Salem’s Lot … Stephen King

I have to say, as someone who is generally chunksters-averse, I’m pretty proud of myself for getting through three (!) this month: House of Leaves (709 pages), The Troop (507), and ‘Salem’s Lot (653). Black Earth is pretty much a chunkster too, but since it was on audio it felt less daunting. Something about seeing the bulk of it intimidates me, so it usually takes a lot of pep talk to get myself to read anything longer than about 350 pages.

While I enjoyed House of Leaves overall, I may have bailed/DNF if I didn’t have so much free time at the moment—getting through this one is a real time commitment, and you have to pay close attention with all the different tangents and footnotes. It had a great premise and some genuinely creepy moments, but generally didn’t quite live up to the mythical hype for me. The Troop and ‘Salem’s Lot were perfect to get me in the Halloween mood—between the contagious gore in Troop and vampire mischief in Lot, I felt the spirit here in Singapore despite the hot, sunny weather. The audio for Stories from Night Shift was an impulse borrow from the library, to finish out the last few hours of Dewey’s 24 Hour Readthon, the first time I’ve been able to participate! Next time, if I can join again, I’ll plan ahead more (joining this time was also on last-minute impulse).

Men Explain Things to Me and Black Earth were my library holds that came in. Both were excellent, but very real and heavy material. Neither was quite what I was expecting, but I learned a lot from them and both were thought-provoking. I’m glad I was able to finally get these two books.

My favorite books of the month were The Fire This Time and Dead Mountain. EVERYONE should read The Fire This Time. This anthology is full of powerful, moving essays by several writers in a variety of styles, all different perspectives on the experience of being black in America. I will read anything Jesmyn Ward touches. Dead Mountain interested me because I’ve had a fascinating with this case for a while, ever since I saw the movie it inspired, Devil’s Pass. What exactly happened to these nine young hikers in a remote area of Siberia, resulting in their mysterious deaths?? Donnie Eichar has a compelling investigation here.

I’m thinking I might try to go back and do full reviews of the books I’ve read since my last real review post, all the way back in March! Or maybe I’ll just continue the monthly posts. We’ll see. Otherwise… I think I’ll be able to meet my 50 book goal for 2016, with only 16 books left to go. And now that it’s November, I’m going to focus on non-fiction to hopefully jump in on some Non-Fiction November fun.

What were the best books you read in October?
monthly recap image

reading recap: april 2016

All right, everybody. I didn’t finish any books in April. I have a good reason:

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I am moving to SINGAPORE!

My husband will be the new assistant professor of composition at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore this fall. I’m so, so proud of him and so excited for this adventure! So as you can imagine, there is a lot of preparation to do for this upcoming international move. You’ll have to forgive me for not posting lately and I may not finish any books in May either… maybe one by the end of June?? But yeah, writing blog posts and getting through books is the least of my concerns at the moment. There will be LOTS of time on the plane ride out there… and when I arrive jobless… for reading, haha!

I still love to see what others are reading, though! What did you read in April? Who’s ready for summer to start!?

madison audiobooks

My husband and I just got back from six wonderful days in Wisconsin, visiting family and having a ton of fun! Of course I forgot my camera, so there are no pictures. We listened to two audiobooks on the road, one new to me and one I read on paper last year. Both of these were absolutely perfect for the car.

On the way up we heard The Daily Show crew read America: The Audiobook. Sigh, I miss Jon Stewart already. Although America is slightly out of date now (released in 2004), it was still a fun and funny look at our political history. I loved how it was a group effort, with not only Stewart narrating but also Stephen Colbert, Ed Helms, Samantha Bee, and more. The only bummer was that it was abridged, which I generally try to avoid, but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything here. [Listened to audiobook on August 11, 2015.]

During our drive home we listened to Rob Delaney’s Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. I loved it as much as I loved it last year when I read it on hardcover (my review), but I enjoyed it even more hearing Delaney narrate. He’s just the best! I hope to have a chance to watch his new show Catastrophe soon, too. [Listened to audiobook on August 16, 2015.]

jurassic park

Hold on to your butts… I just re-read Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton! From Goodreads:

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now, one of mankind’s most thrilling fantasies has come true. Creatures extinct for eons now roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all the world can visit them—for a price.

Until something goes wrong…

Thanks to the new Jurassic World movie coming out this summer, I was inspired to find my old copy at my parents’ house during a recent visit and give it a reread. When the original 1993 Jurassic Park film was released, my mother wouldn’t let me see it until I had read the book. Fair enough, but then she actually ended up reading the whole thing to me on a road trip from Wisconsin to Quebec and back! And then after the movie came out, maybe a year or so later, I decided to read it again and I distinctly remember being in the “little bedroom” at my grandparents’ house in Green Bay, which was at the front of the house on the first floor. I remember the compys making an impact on me—I read and imagined compys getting in through the window and biting my toes. Reading Jurassic Park again just now transported me back to those times; I love how books do that!

Anyway, there was a lot that had stuck with me (like Grant having a beard, the compys being more prominent in the book, the lengthy science-y scenes, and some deaths) but a lot that felt fresh again. The first quarter of the book is a lot of build up, but once the action starts it really takes off—thrilling and tough to put down! Some scenes were so exciting and suspenseful (the river, hatchery, and raptor nest, to name a few) I wonder why they weren’t included in the film. It was great to come across dialogue that made it to the film verbatim.

Of course, it’s impossible not to compare. As far as the characters go, they are all so much better in the film. Grant comes off as smarter in the movie than the book, if you can believe it (everyone kinda does…) Malcolm on film is iconic and has an appropriate attitude shift when the [ahem] hits the fan; Malcolm on paper is all snotty arrogance and an unfazed “just as I predicted” to every terrifying event right to the very end. The kids! They were THE WORST in the book. I remembered they were flipped for the movie (so that Lex is the older computer “hacker” and Tim is the younger sib), but I forgot how relentlessly annoying they both are in the book. Lex, ugh. I so badly wanted a raptor (or anything) to bite her. Jurassic Park is an awesome film for girls to watch—you get to see Ellie be a kick-ass brilliant feminist just as intelligent, strong, and vital to the story as the men and Lex basically saves the day at the end with her computer smarts.

I’m glad I went back and read the book again. It was perfect for summer, a lot of fun action and adventure, and brought back great memories. Because the world building and story is so incredible and memorable, I can overlook the characters being less than stellar in the book, especially when I have their endearing, fleshed-out film portrayals to enjoy.

Read from July 28 to August 2, 2015.

the thief of always

I always seem to find my way to at least one YA book a year, and Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always was a great pick—right up my alley. From Goodreads:

Mr. Hood’s Holiday House has stood for a thousand years, welcoming countless children into its embrace. It is a place of miracles, a blissful rounds of treats and seasons, where every childhood whim may be satisfied… There is a price to be paid, of course, but young Harvey Swick, bored with his life and beguiled by Mr. Hood’s wonders, does not stop to consider the consequences. It is only when the House shows it’s darker face—when Harvey discovers the pitiful creatures that dwell in its shadows—that he comes to doubt Mr. Hood’s philanthropy. The House and its mysterious architect are not about to release their captive without a battle, however. Mr. Hood has ambitious for his new guest, for Harvey’s soul burns brighter than any soul he has encountered in a thousand years…

The Thief of Always was one of my husband’s all-time favorites as a child, one he had read many times. The night he started his recent re-read a month or so ago, he quoted the first line to me before he even opened the book:

The great grey beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.

Great opening. I wish I had read this as a kid! This was the first Clive Barker book I’ve read, and it is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman or Lemony Snicket in its inherent creepiness and sense of dread… while somehow managing to be kind of cute in a way. It’s a very imaginative story with twists and turns, and I’ve thought of it quite a few times since I finished. I loved the dank danger of the lake, and the rapid changing of the seasons. If I have a quibble, I would have liked to learned more about some of the characters, Lulu especially—the quiet girl Harvey encounters who was at the Holiday House when he arrived. And the backstories of Rictus, Marr, Jive, Carna, and the rest.

Another thing that was really great about the copy I read was Barker’s own black-and-white illustrations. They were defined, nuanced, and greatly enhanced the macabre scenes and menacing characters.

I was disappointed to learn that attempts at making a The Thief of Always movie have fallen through! It would translate fantastically to film, especially since this was a book readers of all different ages can enjoy.

Read from April 9 to 12, 2015.