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bestdayWhile I was reading BEST DAY EVER by KAIRA ROUDA, I made a Facebook post that said “Only 50 pages in and I want to strangle the narrator.” A friend advised that I was “allowed to put it down” and I realized I couldn’t. Just like when I tackled Flynn’s GONE GIRL, I knew I was going to have to finish this book. I needed to know what happens to the characters. I needed to know that Paul Strom was going to be punished for being truly awful.

Everything about Paul is perfect. He has the perfect life: a high-powered job, a beautiful stay-at-home wife, Mia, and two young sons. And he has planned the perfect weekend getaway with Mia at their second home in an exclusive gated community. He even assembled the perfect playlist as the soundtrack the their weekend. (Paul is prone to repetition; maybe it affected me a little.) But if everything is so wonderful, then why does Mia seem so unhappy? Why are Paul’s thoughts so dark? What are they both hiding?

As the day’s events intensify, Mia seems to know more about Paul’s darker half than he realizes. She asks questions about his work life that make him incredibly nervous. Of course, he thinks he’s too smart to be found out. She’s just a silly housewife, no threat to him whatsoever. But Paul’s overconfidence may end up being his downfall.

Written primarily from Paul’s perspective, this book is very character-driven. He is an intense, brooding, and flawed person. In many ways, he reminded me of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Is Paul a psychopath or just creepy and controlling? Or both? Or is he just an exaggerated character who is created to tell a story?

I think that Paul, while perhaps a bit embellished, is a very realistic character. He’s overly concerned with status and brand (he mentions a least a dozen times that he drives a Ford Flex). Maintaining a picture-perfect life is what he strives for. And maybe that’s what felt over the top about him. If he’s a psychopath, would he care about creating an illusion? Or would he just try not to get discovered? Regardless of these nitpicks, the story is both disturbing and compelling.

Even though I was angry at the narrator, I think that’s the mark of a successful book. Rouda managed to evoke incredibly strong emotions from me. I was filled with disgust for Paul. I rooted for Mia to confront her controlling husband. I wanted answers to all the questions brought up by Paul’s unsettling internal monologue. For the most part, I got those answers. But can you really trust the answers of someone as suspicious as Paul?

Sometimes, it’s fun to explore the scary things in the world. I think I prefer the more impossible side of scary, though. Give me vampires, werewolves, and Ancient Ones any day. Knowing that there are really people like Paul out there made Rouda’s book more unsettling for me. But, if you don’t mind getting inside the head of someone who is, frankly, unlikeable and unreliable, then BEST DAY EVER might be for you.

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epiphanyTattoos most often have a personal meaning for their recipients. Hours of thought and planning are invested before needle takes to skin. But, in the world of THE EPIPHANY MACHINE by DAVID BURR GERRARD, those who receive tattoos from the mystical machine have only one choice: whether or not to stick their arm into the jaw of the beast-like device.

For me, The Epiphany Machine is not an easy book to write a review of. Mostly, the book follows Venter Lowood from high school through college. His parents were among the first of those to use the mysterious epiphany machine. The tattoo his mother received seemingly foretold her abandoning her family. And Venter’s father’s tattoo may have contributed to his lackluster parenting. Naturally, Venter has been told to avoid the machine. We can all imagine what happens next.

One of the first rules of using the epiphany machine is: “The epiphany machine will not discover anything about you that you do not, in some way, already know.” Venter’s tattoo reads DEPENDENT ON THE OPINION OF OTHERS. While this doesn’t surprise him, he alternates, for the rest of his life, between trying to defy and follow his tattoo’s words. And this is maybe the most frustrating thing about him. I spend a fair amount of time thinking of Holden Caulfield, one of my least favorite literary characters. I have to give David Burr Gerrard credit for writing a character that evoked an emotional response, even if it was frustration.

So, what is the epiphany machine? Who created it? How does it work? What powers the machine? No one knows. But the machine’s owner, Adam Lyons, begins operating it in his New York City apartment in the 1960s. The tattoos are brief and seem to reveal a truth about each person. These truths are somewhat uncomfortable, but at the same time, offer enlightenment. Before long, even John Lennon shows up at Lyons’ apartment, puts his arm into the machine, and receives a mystical tattoo. Generations use the machine with no major incident. After 9/11, the machine takes on a more sinister connotation.

Venter’s best friend, Ismail, is Muslim and has a tattoo that reads WANTS TO BLOW THINGS UP. Unfortunately, one of the pilots who hijacked a plane on 9/11 had the same tattoo. Soon, Venter comes back to his dorm to discover government agents want information. Stuck with an impossible choice — and DEPENDENT ON THE OPINION OF OTHERS — Venter turns his friend. From there, Venter’s life bounces from one bad decision to the next.

The Epiphany Machine is, at its core, a book about choices and how we deal with them. Should we use the machine or not? Once the tattoo is there, how much weight should you give it? Should you work to change yourself, or is there some core part of our personality that cannot be changed? Though Gerrard can’t answer those questions, he does set up a story that invites readers to explore them on our own.

Did you know that our staff write book reviews every week?

We choose a wide variety of materials offered by the library and give you our thoughts on them. The reviews are published in the Sunday edition of the Joplin Globe, but are also available on our blog at https://jplbookreviews.wordpress.com!

indexGenerally speaking, I don’t read books that have to do with nature. I’m not a person who’s interested in mountain climbing or caving. So why I picked up THE WHITE ROAD by Sarah Lotz is still a bit of a mystery to me. Maybe something in the description made me think of one of my favorite horror movies, THE DESCENT. Maybe I just wanted to try something different. No matter what the reason, I’m glad I gave this one a chance.

Simon Newman and his friend Thierry run a struggling website. On the hunt for content that will bring in new readers, Thierry discovers the story of Cwm Pot. While exploring a system of caves in Cwm Pot, three men died. Their bodies were unable to be recovered due to the difficulty of the cave. Thierry and Simon decide that Simon will explore the cave to get footage of the dead men.

Simon finds a guide to lead him through the caves, he assumes everything will go well. But Simon and his guide Ed wind up trapped during a flash flood. The guide attacks Simon and dies in the resulting struggle. On his own in unfamiliar territory, Simon must decide whether he will wait for potential rescue or try to find his way out. Unable to stand the thought of being trapped with four dead men, Simon stumbles his way to rescue.

Of course, Simon’s footage goes viral. He and Thierry are on the verge of being rich, which means they need more content for their site. Thierry comes up with the idea of sending Simon to Mt. Everest to capture footage of the dead climbers at the summit. Eager for money, Simon agrees to go.

This half of the book is told from the viewpoints of Simon and a climber named Juliet. Juliet was a climber who was attempting to climb Mt. Everest with her partner Walter. Walter dies during the climb, leaving Juliet alone. She begins to see something along the way. A phantom climber that haunts her day and night. What – or who – is this entity?

Simon climbs ever closer to the summit, befriending his fellow climbers. As they get closer to the summit, he discovers that one of the other climbers, Mark, is actually the son of the lost Juliet. Mark wants to climb only to find his mother’s body. Simon is conflicted. Does he want footage for the site or to respect the journey of his new friend?

At the summit, Simon loses his grasp on reality and removes his glove. Because of the extreme environment, his hand is frozen. The guide who was leading him to the summit rescues Simon, but Mark is lost. Simon loses part of his hand to frostbite. But the footage of the climb skyrockets the website’s popularity. Despite this, Simon sinks into a deep depression and is haunted by the ghost of Ed. Discussing too much more of the plot would spoil the ending, but I will say that Simon goes on a quest to both rid himself of Ed and discover what haunted Juliet on Everest.

 More than anything, Lotz’s writing captures the extremes of the environments she writes about. The crushing depths of the cave and numbing cold of Everest are described so well that reading them was uncomfortable. The description of going through the tight spaces of Cwm Pot made me pretty sure I don’t ever want to go caving. This wasn’t quite the horror story I thought it would be, but if you’re looking for a different take on both scary situations and nature writing, THE WHITE ROAD is worth your while.

joanWhen I read the description for THE BOOK OF JOAN, I thought, “oh, interesting, a science fiction retelling of Joan of Arc.” But that’s maybe the most basic a description that could possibly be attributed to Yuknavitch’s book. Not to be trite, but this story is about the nature of humanity and love, and whether those two concepts can ever really coexist.

Humanity has nearly come to an end. Aboard the space station CIEL, the remainders of Earth’s population work to find a way to survive. As they’ve been exposed to radiation from the atmosphere, humans are pale and hairless. Standard interpretations of sex and gender have become irrelevant. They can no longer reproduce. For means of entertainment, they turn to extreme body modification, aka “grafts”.

Grafts come in different types, including elaborate skin grafts that replicate 17th century French powdered wigs. The higher one’s status, the more extreme the graft. Different artists on CIEL create these grafts. Christine is one of these artists and specializes in branding stories into skin. On her body, she has branded the story of Joan.

Joan is a rebel who fights against the leader of CIEL, Jean de Men. Joan’s story, as you can imagine, mirrors the life of Joan of Arc. As a little girl, Joan has a strange encounter where she more or less connects spiritually to a tree. From this encounter, she receives a glowing light on her right temple. This light defies all explanation; no doctor can discover where it originates. But it connects Joan to the Earth and grants her power over nature.

On CIEL, the official story is that Joan was burned at the stake for being an eco-terrorist. (In this future world, even executions are theatrical events.) But Christine discovers that Joan escaped and lives on the wasteland of Earth below. Both Joan and Christine fight against the sadistic Jean de Men, but in different ways. As the stories of Christine and Joan spiral together, the book comes to a dramatic, though not uplifting end.

More than anything, THE BOOK OF JOAN is a piece of feminist science fiction. Yuknavitch deals with bodily autonomy, reproductive rights, and gender expression in what I would describe as lurid detail. I have to admit, this is not a book I’d recommend to everyone. It’s definitely a book for readers who don’t mind a bit of the grotesque. There are scenes that vividly describe torture of various kinds, including human experimentation. Yuknavitch pulls no punches. But if you’re brave enough to give it a chance, THE BOOK OF JOAN will provide you with a lot to think about.

I can’t lie, friends, I’ve been in a reading slump. Yes, that’s right, it even happens to librarians. Sometimes there’s just a lot of pressure to pick the “right” book for a review. Sometimes life just gets in the way. Sometimes there’s a lot of knitting to be done and shows in the Netflix queue. So, to make up for my recent lack of reading, I decided to bring you some of my favorite reads from 2016 that didn’t get a review here for whatever reason.

hikeThe Hike by Drew Magary — In the words of a literature professor I know, this book is “weird, wacky stuff.” To make it very simple, a man takes a hike, gets lost, and ends up taking a journey full of mythological references, puzzles, and talking crabs. Well, just one talking crab. The Hike is definitely a weird book, but I also found it laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly compelling. Magary explores not just the wacky, but what it means for a person to choose their destiny.

Y the Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan — A graphic novel series that is (supposedly) going to make a debut as a TV series on FX sometime in the future. Vaughan deals with an interesting scenario: what if every man on Earth died suddenly and all at once? Why did it happen? What will happen to the planet now? And how will the last surviving man, Yorick, manage to survive? Lots of different issues are covered in this series and I would definitely say it’s best suited for adult readers with open minds.

todaysempleToday Will Be Different by Maria Semple — I admit, this wasn’t one of my favorite reads of the year. But as I think back on it, I find I’m more fond of the plot. Eleanor Flood is a woman who is going to change her life. She decides to make everything different, to be the woman she really wants to be. A better mother, a better wife. But then, things start to fall apart. She winds up following her husband in an attempt to discover a secret he’s been keeping from her. But I promise it’s not the secret you think it is.

Lady Killer by Joëlle Jones — A new graphic novel series that I look forward to following. Set in the 1960s, Lady Killer follows the story of Josie Schuller, perfect housewife and deadly assassin. Can she escape her past and have the ideal life? Well, no. This is definitely a graphic novel; the illustrations and plot leave little to the imagination when it comes to violence. But, it’s a different take on the whole assassin character, which makes it a fun read for me.

bestfriendhendrixMy Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix — My very first book review was of Hendrix’s book Horrorstör. If you’re a fan of comedy and horror, I have to recommend his latest endeavor. Teenage girls, cliques, the 80s, and demonic possession all come together to tell a story of the healing power of friendship. The characters are funny and real while dealing with both the everyday concerns of teenagers and the possibility that their best friend may well be possessed by a demon.

So, there we have it. Five reads from 2016 that I think are worth your while. I can assure you that, even though I’ve had a tough start with reading this year, my to-read list has continued to grow. There are definitely other great reads out there; we add them to our shelves every week at the library.

girlMelanie is a very special little girl. She’s at the top of her class. She loves her teacher, Miss Justineau. But she can’t understand why Sergeant Parks and his soldiers insist on strapping her to a wheelchair just to take her to class. Why she can’t go outside and play. Why she and her classmates are locked in cells every night.

The Girl With All the Gifts is a spin on the zombie apocalypse story. Told through several viewpoints, the most compelling is that of Melanie. She’s 10 years old and goes to class with other children around her age. But sometimes, those children leave to visit Dr. Caldwell and never return. Melanie’s also not sure why she and her classmates are strapped down, why her teachers and the soldiers keep their distance from the children.

One day, when Melanie is called to Dr. Caldwell’s laboratory, the base is attacked by outsiders known as Junkers. They’re a loosely organized group of uninfected humans who live outside the protection of the military base. The Junkers have rounded up a group of Hungries, zombies who only want to eat. When Miss Justineau is under threat during the attack, Melanie realizes what she truly is: a Hungry. She saves Justineau’s life by killing others, Junkers and Hungries alike.

The group that escapes is made up of Miss Justineau, Dr. Caldwell, Sergeant Parks, Private Gallagher, and Melanie. They decide to make their way to a nearby settlement called Beacon, figuring this is their best chance for survival. Sergeant Parks doesn’t trust Melanie, but she’s a smart girl who doesn’t trust herself either. She doesn’t want to hurt Miss Justineau, so she agrees to wear a muzzle.

As the survivors navigate toward Beacon, they discover the fungus that created the zombie plague has begun taking over the world. The Hungries that roam are in various states of decay. Some still hold on to habits from their old lives, pushing baby carriages or singing songs. But others have fallen victim to the fungus. Giant fungoid trees sprout from Hungries that have been overtaken. But other Hungries survive.

The group discovers a mobile laboratory that Dr. Caldwell recognizes. Her colleagues had used the laboratory to work toward a cure for the fungus that threatens mankind. They begin using the laboratory as a base, hoping to restore the vehicle and use it to reach Beacon safely. But the group is not alone. And now that they’ve run out of e-blocker, Melanie is getting very hungry.

It’s difficult to discuss much more of the plot without giving too much away. I found myself caught up in the urgency of the story. Many times, I had to remind myself to slow down because I was skimming in order to find out what happened next. There are a few leaps of faith you have to take in order for the world to make sense. If Melanie weren’t a genius 10 year-old, the story would fall apart pretty quickly. But isn’t that the case with lots of books?

Made into a movie starring Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, and Sennia Nanua (not yet available on DVD), this is a an interesting take on zombies. There are few changes between the book and movie, from what I can tell from clips and trailers. I’m definitely putting this on my to-watch list once it’s available on DVD.