Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

yearofwondersYear of Wonders tells the story of Anna, a servant to a pastor, and how she emotionally and physically survives the plague while the majority of her village falls ill around her.

I was enthralled. I listened to the audiobook on my daily commute and it was fantastic.

You get the very real drama of life in a small village mixed with the the despair that must have accompanied the plague. There’s finger-pointing, people taking advantage of other’s need and, above all, the need to rationalize why all of the deaths were occurring.

My favorite part of this book was when Anna stopped in the middle of her hectic life to reconsider how she viewed God. She uses common sense reasoning to pick apart why a deity would allow such tragedy to occur and then wonders why the young are taken rather than the old.

She comes to the conclusion that what’s happening is a biological thing rather than a divine thing. Then, once she has that straight in her mind, she’s better equipped to handle everybody else’s irrational responses to the plague without being bogged down by her own.

Anna is a great heroine. She has her flaws- a flirtation with opium addiction to dull her grief and a crush on someone else’s husband- but she tries to be a good person. Mainly, she’s just overwhelmed by what’s going on and wants to feel loved and safe.

She cares for the ill, helps an orphaned child hold on to her family’s lead mine and tries to help her village keep body and soul together.

The ending of Year of Wonders was incredibly shocking to me, but in a good way. Geraldine Brooks stayed true to her characters but took the story in such an unexpected direction, that I had to turn it off for awhile to absorb what I had just heard.

Highly recommended for book clubs or people who love historical fiction. Year of Wonders is wonderous indeed.

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We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

we were liarsThe Sinclair family is blonde, beautiful and wealthy. They gather together in the summer on a private island owned by the patriarch of the family.

Cadence Sinclair Eastman is ill. A terrible accident a few summers ago left her with debilitating migraines and a faulty memory.

Can she put together the pieces of what happened before she has to leave for the summer?

We were Liars is a fantastic coming-of-age book with an unreliable narrator, forbidden love and an excellent twist that I’ll bet you won’t see coming. (I know I didn’t.)

“We are Sinclairs. No one is needy. No one is wrong. We live, at least in the summertime, on a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. Perhaps that is all you need to know.” pg 26, ebook.

This is not a family who wears their hearts on their sleeve: “We believe in outdoor exercise. We believe that time heals. We believe, although we will not say so explicitly, in prescription drugs and the cocktail hour. We do not discuss our problems in restaurants. We do not believe in displays of distress. Our upper lips are stiff, and it is possible people are curious about us because we do not show them our hearts.” pg 55, ebook.

Cadence, her cousins and Gat, the nephew of one of the boyfriends of a Sinclair daughter, call themselves, ‘The Liars’. Why they do so is one of the biggest mysteries in the story and I won’t ruin it for you.

I loved this book. I loved the tone, the mystery and the slow reveal.

I also loved how the reader gets to know Cadence so completely. This is not a story that leaves you wondering about character motivations.

Highly recommended for fans of young adult books, coming-of-age tales and stories with unreliable narrators. We were Liars may just be one of my favorite reads of 2017.

Thanks for reading!

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

darkmatterDark Matter is a fantastic, sci-fi read about regret, love and quantum mechanics.

My book club picked this wild ride of a book and everybody took something different out of it.

We all enjoyed it, which is weird for us. Usually, we have opinions across the spectrum. This one, though, was universally loved. That’s saying something.

“In the shadow of this moment, my life is achingly beautiful. “I have an amazing family. A fulfilling job. We’re comfortable. Nobody’s sick.” pg 28. And then, something truly surprising happens. No spoilers!

I think that, as time passes, we grow comfortable in our lives, our marriages and relationships. Part of this book is about appreciating what you may take for granted. “He says, “It’s like we get so set in our ways, so entrenched in those grooves, we stop seeing our loved ones for who they are. But tonight, right now, I see you again, like the first time we met, when the sound of your voice and your smell was this new country.” pg 67.

The leader of my book club picked quotations that had to do about self-knowing and quantum mechanics. It was no surprise that mine were all about love. I’m one of the hopeless romantics of the group.

And one of the most open-minded: “We all live day to day completely oblivious to the fact that we’re a part of a much larger and stranger reality that we can possibly imagine.” pg 96. I truly believe that.

A local physics professor joined our circle and gave a short lecture on basic quantum mechanics and wave theory. But, you don’t have to be an expert on the subject to enjoy this story. It’s approachable science, like The Martian.

Recommended for book clubs, especially, but also anyone who wants an unbelievable story will probably love this too.

I heard that this is going to be made into a film- read the book anyway. It’s always better.

Thanks for reading!

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

lifeafterlifeA lovely and unusual book about reincarnation, free will and destiny.

Ursula Todd was born on a snowy day in February with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. That was the first time she died…

I loved how Kate Atkinson built this story through seemingly insignificant details. As the reincarnations progress, layers are added upon layers, so that by the end of this tale, it is a rich tapestry of events, emotions and possibilities.

I was surprised by the open-endedness of this story. I feel like Atkinson wrote a tale that reads like real life- it has the meanings that we assign it. Nothing more, nothing less.

I listened to the audiobook of Life After Life and it was very good. A few times, I wished that I had the physical book in front of me so that I could double check a date or detail. Other than that, the narration was excellent.

This story has me wondering about life, reincarnation and all of it. If, as so many world religions say, there are parts of us that are immortal, wouldn’t we all go a bit bonkers after millennia of existence? Would we get bored of it? Would we ever choose to not come back? What’s the bigger picture?

Anyway, this book will make you wonder, question and dream about existence. Which, in my mind, is one of the highest functions of a book.

Recommended for fans of historical fiction, spirituality and life itself. I think Atkinson has written a masterpiece.

Thanks for reading!

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1) by C.S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1) by C.S. Lewis

lionwitchThis is the story of four siblings who stumble through a wardrobe into a different world. They discover magic, monsters and their destiny.

One Christmas, when I was 11 or 12, my mother gave me The Chronicles of Narnia. It ignited a lifelong love of fantasy fiction and reading.

“Peter! Susan! It’s all true. Edmund has seen it too. There is country you can get to through the wardrobe. Edmund and I both got in. We met one another in there, in the wood.” pg 40.

I get the criticisms of this series- that it is heavy handed with its symbolism.

But, when I read it as a child, all of that slipped right over my head. All I knew, was that this was an adventure and I loved it.

The White Witch is one of the best villains in children’s literature: “As for you,” said the Witch, giving Edmund a stunning blow on the face as she re-mounted the sledge, “let that teach you to ask favour for spies and traitors. Drive on!” And Edmund for the first time in this story felt sorry for someone besides himself.” pg 113.

She opposes Aslan, a great golden lion and the ruler of Narnia, who hasn’t been seen for an age: “And now,” said Aslan presently, “to business. I feel I m going to roar. You had better put your fingers in your ears.” And they did. And Aslan stood up and when he opened his mouth to roar his face became so terrible that they did not dare to look at it.” pg 161.

The film did a solid job capturing the magic of this story, but nothing compares to the book.

“Once a King in Narnia, always a King in Narnia.” pg 186.

In fact, just writing up this review makes me want to read them all again.

I’ll see you on the other side of the wardrobe…

Thanks for reading!

The Dream Lover: A Novel of George Sand by Elizabeth Berg

The Dream Lover: A Novel of George Sand  by Elizabeth Berg

thedreamloverThe Dream Lover encompasses some of the best qualities that historical fiction has to offer. It transports you to the 1800’s France. It introduces you to an extraordinary person: Aurore Dupin, pen name, George Sand. Then, the reader gets to sit back and enjoy the wild ride that was her life. Talk about escapism.

For a woman in the 1800’s, George Sand had it going on. She left her husband, had a series of lovers- both male and female- became a famous author, involved herself in the political upheavals of her time… it is truly an incredible life.

Not everyone in her life accepted her for who she was: “I feel I have made a mistake, George, and that I do not love you after all. … The only thing you are passionate about is locking yourself up at night and writing your precious fiction, ignoring all that is before you here, which, if you would pay attention to it, would make your stories infinitely richer!” … It was as if I had been shot in the chest.” pg 242. But she wrote and loved anyway. Well done, Aurore, well done.

She rejected the role that society set out for her. “Tell me, George. Do you wish you’d been born a man?” … “In my youth, I wished that. … But now I find I don’t wish to be either man or woman. I wish to be myself. Why should men serve as judge and jury, deciding for us what can and cannot be done, what is our due? Why should they decide in advance of our deciding for ourselves what is best for us; why should they decide what IS us?” “But then you do wish to be a man!” “Perhaps I wish to be a woman with a man’s privileges.” pg 151. Amen.

I loved the drama in this novel as well as the romance. One would think that the sheer quantity of lovers that she had would have nullified any quality in the feelings, but Berg does a good job proving that this was otherwise. The passion that she exhibits in one, Sand seems to have shown in them all.

My only complaint about The Dream Lover is that it felt rushed because of the almost unbelievable amount of important events that peppered Sand’s life. I would have savored a 1000+ page book like Margaret George’s treatment of Cleopatra in The Memoirs of Cleopatra, but The Dream Lover appeals to the more casual reader.

Still, it would have been awesome. A bookworm can dream, can’t she?

If you enjoy Margaret George, you may like this book too for its sumptuous descriptions and tempestuous relationships. Also, you may want to pick up In the Company of the Courtesan or Marrying Mozart. Both are excellent historical fiction novels with similar themes to The Dream Lover.

I received a free advance reader’s copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. FTC guidelines: check!

Thanks for reading!

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer

annihilationA group of female scientists and professionals are sent to explore a region that is not like the world they know. Annihilation is a hypnotic science fiction/thriller that weaves its spell slowly. Then, all at once, it has your complete attention and you find yourself hanging on every word. I loved it.

Isolation from the modern world and technology places this tale in an anachronistic bubble: “One rule for an expedition into Area X was that we were to attempt no outside contact, for fear of some irrevocable contamination.” pg 7, ebook. It harkens back to the idea that, “In space, no one can hear you scream.”

They’re far from home in a surprisingly deadly world. It has already claimed eleven groups of explorers. But, we don’t know what killed most of them: “We were scientists, trained to observe natural phenomena and the results of human activity. We had not been trained to encounter what appeared to be the uncanny.” pg 46, ebook. Extraordinary things begin to happen, almost from the moment the team sets foot in Area X.

“When Area X first appeared, there was vagueness and confusion, and it is still true that out in the world not many people know that is exists. The government’s version of events emphasized a localized environmental catastrophe stemming from experimental military research.” pg 61, ebook. The government has reasons to cover this place up. But why? What is it really and what does it contain?

Creepy and enthralling, Annihilation is a treat. It is easy to see why this won the Nebula Award for Best Novel. I highly recommend it for science fiction lovers and those who enjoy experiencing a world that doesn’t behave by the usual rules.

Thanks for reading!