Category Archives: Books

The Girl with All the Gifts – M.R. Carey

Review (Amazon): 

Melanie is a very special girl. Dr Caldwell calls her “our little genius.”

Every morning, Melanie waits in her cell to be collected for class. When they come for her, Sergeant keeps his gun pointing at her while two of his people strap her into the wheelchair. She thinks they don’t like her. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they don’t laugh.
The Girl With All the Gifts is a groundbreaking thriller, emotionally charged and gripping from beginning to end.

My Review (spoilers):

Executive Summary: slow to get going but worth it in the end

We get introduced to ten-year-old Melanie on page 1. She is in a classroom, different than we are used to, but we only slowly get introduced to what exactly is different. Her favorite teacher is Miss Justineau, although they do have other teachers from time to time. They live in a compound to keep away from the hungries (aka zombies). The children live in cells and get wheeled into the classroom Hannibal Lector style each day, all strapped in and ready to learn. Occasionally the students leave by the hand of Doctor Caldwell and never come back, and they haven’t gotten any new students in a while.

One day the Sergeant comes in and has an issue with Miss Justineau getting “too attached” to the children, and he suggests that they aren’t even children. To demonstrate, he spits on his arm and holds it near one of the children who starts chomping and biting at him (still restrained) and so do the children near him. Melanie is very confused about what is happening.

We cut to Dr. Caldwell for a bit to determine that the children are not actually children (after she has dissected her latest two). They have a fungal parasite of some sort that Dr. Caldwell is crudely investigating. After the Breakdown, most high tech equipment is incredibly difficult to come by.

Miss Justineau and Dr. Caldwell are have very different ideas on how to interact with the children. Miss Justineau treats the children like normal children (at least as much as she can) whereas Dr. Caldwell and the Sergeant treat them worse than animals. But they all ended up in the compound under the same circumstances. They are trying to determine why some of the children that they have been finding are not mindless zombies like the other hungries, but instead can learn and reason and generally go beyond the mindless behaviors of the others. Miss Justineau and the other teachers are there to teach and observe. Dr. Caldwell is there to help create scientific revelations about the parasite to hopefully protect the other humans, and the Sergeant is there to protect all the humans in the compound both from the children, but also from the packs of hungries as well as the Junkers (bands of humans who sort of “Mad Max” about in the outside) who could attack at any time.

Dr. Caldwell requests that Miss Justineau provide a list of 1/2 the class to be dissected, and Miss Justineau is understandably having a hard time with it. Not just because she has become close to the students but she also understands how losing half the class will affect the dynamics. So she holds off on providing the list. In response, Dr. Caldwell decides to start with Melanie. Sergeant Parks gets her, and takes her in to Dr. Selkirk and Dr. Caldwell.

When Melanie doesn’t come to class, Miss Justineau realizes that something is up. She confronts Sergeant Parks who tells her where Melanie has been taken. Luckily Miss Justineau arrives just in time. She confronts Dr. Caldwell and the two break into an argument followed by a physical fight. In the midst of it, the evacuation siren goes off, and hungries break into the window. Dr. Caldwell and Miss Justineau make it out, but Dr. Selkirk does not. No one knows in the chaos what happened to Melanie so Miss Justineau goes out to find her. Instead she runs into a pack of Junkers. Luckily Melanie reappears and attacks them with full force.

Melanie, Miss Justineau and Dr. Caldwell find Sergeant Parks and one of his soldiers, Kieran Gallagher. They get into a Hummer and leave Beacon. Melanie is faced with existential challenges after killing the Junker. Justineau and Caldwell are at complete odds except that they both want Melanie to live (for different reasons) so they are able to keep Parks from killing her. Off they go to an unknown location. They stave off a few groups of hungries, and then they eventually find the Rosalind Franklin. It’s a huge armored mobile laboratory that Dr Caldwell is very familiar with. As we learn, she was fully trained on the unit, but didn’t end up making the final cut for the mission (and she’s been holding a grudge for the last twenty years). There are no humans or food inside, but all the scientific equipment is intact.

Melanie asks to speak to Parks alone, and when they reconvene after assessing what Rosalind Franklin does and doesn’t have, Melanie is gone. The generator needs to be fixed, so Parks starts on that while Justineau and Gallagher look for food. Before they leave, Justineau asks Parks where Melanie went. She was going crazy inside in close quarters with all the humans. All their e-blocker had worn off, so Parks let her go outside. He figures she can take care of herself. Justineau and Gallagher take off. They only see a few hungries. Most of them have died and have sprouted seeds for the fungus. Eventually they find a storage unit beside a convenience store that hasn’t been looted, and they take all they can back to the RF.

While everyone else is out, we learn that Dr. Caldwell has blood poisoning from the injuries she sustained during the original hungry attack. She’s trying to do what she can in terms of research before she dies. She tells Parks that it doesn’t really matter anyway. When the fungus took over the planet, it was in a juvenile form. Now it’s sprouting into an adult form and pollinating. And when it does, she doesn’t think there will be anything left.

When Justineau and Gallagher return, it’s late but Melanie hasn’t returned. So despite Parks’ arguments, Justineau decides to set off a flare. Melanie knows where the RF is; she just hasn’t wanted to return. She has spent the day looping around bigger and bigger circles until she finds something interesting–some others like her. When she returns to RF, she tells the adults that there are others out there–junkers, she says. Parks doesn’t believe her story. He believes she saw something which scared her, but it wasn’t Junkers. Justineau talks to Melanie who finally gives up the true story. She didn’t want to tell everyone because she was worried that Caldwell and Parks would round all the children up and dissect them. When everyone reconvenes, they realize that Gallagher is missing.

Unfortunately by the time Melanie, Justineau and Parks find Gallagher, the hungry children have already gotten to him, and tricked him to his death. Melanie insists that he should be honored, and as they are lighting his funeral pyre, they hear the engines of RF in the distance. Caldwell has left without them. She doesn’t get far before the hungry children encircle her. She’s trying to figure out how to capture one to dissect it before she dies. She opens the door locks and manages to close the door quickly enough to squash one. She doesn’t hurt his head though, but she needs to get the airlock fully shut because she is being shot at through the gap by the other children. She manages to get as far away as she can until she is stopped by a 40 ft high tower of the fungus for as long as she can see. She decides to dissect the head, and when Parks, Justineau, and Melanie finally find her, she won’t let them in. She’s too close to a breakthrough.

Parks sends Melanie on an exhibition to determine whether there’s a way around the fungus. There’s not. The 2 humans find a place to stay for the night. Dr. Caldwell is able to dissect the brain in peace and finds the answer she’s looking for. Once she’s done, she sees someone outside–a search party, she thinks. She goes out of RF and when she returns, Melanie is inside and wants to know the truth. The original hungries are because the fungus completely took over the bodies and then utilized them to hatch seed pods. Melanie and others like her are second generation hungries where the fungus doesn’t attack and feed on the brains.

Parks and Justineau are attacked where they are sleeping. Melanie hears shots fired on the walkie talkies and arrives to help as much as she can. Unfortunately Parks is bitten by the hungries, but she and Miss Justineau make it out unscathed. The 3 return to RF where Melanie decides to blast the fungus wall with the flame throwers. She’s outside with Parks as little bits of ash begin floating to the ground. Parks asks Melanie to shoot him before he becomes a hungry, and she agrees. But first she explains to him that it’s not ash, it’s fungus seeds. The flame thrower has opened all of the seed pods. She now knows that the original people will become hungries, but the second generation will be like her. They can end the war between the humans, the hungries, and the junkers, and create a new species. When Melanie returns to Miss Justineau, she explains again what has happened, and the book ends with Melanie introducing the hungry kids to their new teacher!

Verdict: 4 Stars

I thought the book was really creative. I am not typically super interested in zombie stories, and I’ve found that a lot of the post-apocalyptic ones are a bit overplayed at this point. So this was a breath of fresh air for me. It’s a bit slow at points, but it pays off in the end.

 

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The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins

Review (Amazon): 

EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

My Review (spoilers):

Executive Summary: pathetic and boring

I have NO IDEA what the hype was all about regarding this book. It is similar to Gone Girl, in that there’s not a single likable character in this book. But Gone Girl was actually interesting, not about a pathetic alcoholic creepily watching people while riding on a train. If I hadn’t been reading it on vacation, I’d have put it in my charity donation box unread.

Rachel, the main character, divorced from her husband 2 years prior after he was caught having an affair with Anne. Rachel moved in with a friend, started drinking heavily, and her train ride into work drives her past her old neighborhood where she had lived with her ex-husband Tom. The train always stopped so that she could look out the window and see one of the houses that was a few doors down from her old house. The couple who lived there had moved in after Rachel moved out, so she didn’t actually know them, but she concocted a story about their happy life.

Eventually Rachel’s drinking gets her fired, but she doesn’t want to tell her roommate, so she just keeps taking the train to and from the area where she worked, and mostly just drank all day. One day instead of seeing the couple outside their house, she sees the woman with another man, kissing.

When that woman goes missing, Rachel feels compelled to help the investigation. She doesn’t feel like the investigators are taking her seriously (she is an alcoholic and because she happened to be in that neighborhood at the same time as Megan went missing but was too drunk to recall anything) so she decides to reach out to the husband herself. It starts as just to try to figure out what had happened the night that she could not remember, and also to tell the husband about the mystery man, who turns out to be the shrink that Megan was seeing. Pathetic Rachel can’t let it go though because it’s really the only thing in her sad life so she keeps going over to visit the husband, but Anne keeps seeing her around the neighborhood and reaches out to the police about it. Tom was “supposed to take care of it” but he obviously hasn’t done so. She keeps calling him at all hours and now she’s hanging around. And to add to Rachel being a pathetic weirdo, she decides that she should also start going to the same shrink that Megan went to so that she can make her own assessment of whether or not he’s a killer.

As Rachel starts regaining some memories of the evening that Megan went missing, she realizes that she saw Tom near the train station, and she sees a woman get into the car. She thinks that it’s Anne, but eventually she realizes that it can’t be Anne because Anne has a baby, and she didn’t have the baby with her, and she wouldn’t have left the baby at home. So she realizes that it wasn’t Anne getting into the car, it was Megan.

She goes over to Anne’s to tell Anne that she and the baby need to leave! Anne doesn’t really believe her, but then Tom shows up. He tells Anne and the baby to go upstairs which they do, and he tells Anne how sorry that he is and that he was only sleeping with Megan when Anne was tied up with the baby. Anne realizes that Tom is just a shady person and has been using all the women he’s been with and telling them lies of his family, his military service, among other things. So once she puts the baby up, she goes back downstairs to find Rachel stab Tom in the neck with a corkscrew. Anne helps to push it in, and when the investigators come by, they have a perfect self-defense story.

Verdict: 2.5 stars

This book was so boring. It felt like a terrible reality TV show. All of the characters were pathetic and dull, and the story itself wasn’t any better. When I was at the beach, a woman asked me whether I’d recommend the book (because she like probably everyone else has heard of it), and I said definitely no. Another woman who was nearby gushed about how much she liked it, but she said that the movie was not worth seeing. Not that I was planning on it, but good to know. Even for a beach read, this book was mediocre.

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2017 Book Club List

Another year, another book club list! This year, I decided to choose historical fiction as my category (as I always like to choose a different category each year), and the three books I chose to offer up for consideration were:

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan which is the one that was chosen by book club member vote.

The others that were chosen for all genres are as follows:

January (Literary Fiction) – The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

February (Suspense/Thriller) – The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

March (Memoir) – Hillbilly Ellegy by J.D. Vance

April (Classic) – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

May (Mystery) – And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

June (Book into Movie) – Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

July (Historical Fiction) – The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan as referenced above!

August (Non-Fiction) – The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

September (Young Adult) – The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

October (Best Seller) – TBD

November – TBD

December – Book Swap!

 

If you ever want to go back to see our many previous book club lists, they can be located right here!

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2016 Book Club List

 This year’s book club list was created similarly to last year‘s list*. We have a list of genres to choose from and depending how often you actually make it to book club dictates the order in which you get to pick your genre. I had the first pick this year! I chose to pick a book made into movie. (Last year I picked literary fiction, and 2014 I chose sci-fi/fantasy. I’m trying to branch out a bit every year.) The three books that I took for consideration were: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen/Seth Grahame-Smith, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, and the one that we ended up choosing–A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

Without further ado, here’s our 2016 list**

January (Sci-Fi/Fantasy) – The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

February (Memoir) – Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr by Richard Rhodes

March (Classic) – Persuasion by Jane Austen

April (Historical Fiction) – The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

May (Young Adult) – The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

June (Non-Fiction) – Fearless by Eric Blehm

July (Mystery) – The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

August (Romance) – The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

September (Book into Movie) – A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

October (Literary Fiction) – My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

November (Best Seller) – The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

December – Book Swap

*If you want to see the last five years (pre-dating the blog) of our book choices, go here.

**The person responsible for mystery was unable to attend so that will be determined at the January meeting. We also have one less person in book club than we have months, so the November book will be chosen later in the year, either by a new attendee, or by me (!!) because I had the first choice for this year.

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2015 in Review

I’m a nerd in topics aside from books. I love breaking things down into numbers.

This past year, I read 25 books (or 2.1 books per month). That works out to a book approximately every 14.6 days. The books I read totaled 9146 pages for the year which equates to about 25 pages a day.

If you check last year’s stats, you’ll note that I’m down five books from 2014. However, I attribute at least part of that to moving over the summer, causing a large void in reading during June and July. Another thing from this year is that I didn’t finish one book (thus I didn’t count it in my stats) and I also didn’t read one of the book club picks (Beloved). Both of these are rare occurrences for me!

 

Enough about the bad facts though. Onto the remainder of the stats!

I must be getting older or something. This year, I added a category that didn’t exist in last year’s metrics–autobiography. Also, my most-read category this year is literary fiction instead of YA (but YA is a close second). I read no memoirs this year, and my romance/erotica category also significantly decreased.

2015 Genres

I also went through to see what my ratings were. I separated into “all 25 books” and “book club only (10) books (one must either be in 2014 or will be in 2016)”.  I rated the most books as 4’s (which means I either am being more optimistic or I chose better books than in 2014 where most were 3’s!). I didn’t have anything below a 2.5 or higher than 4.5 (5 is a unicorn though). My highest ranked books were not book club picks like last year so I guess that means my own personal picks are better to my own liking! My top reads can be found here and here.

2015 All Books2015 Book Club Books

I also try to keep track of where I get my books. This year, as compared to last year, the majority of my books were purchased new! However, one was a “Kindle Daily Deal” and a few of them were purchased for Kindle so they could be read on an international vacation (questionable access to getting them from the library and didn’t want to pack hard covers). I would like to try to plan better and reduce the number of books purchased new in 2016. A variety of books fall into the “Other” category–gifts, books we already had, books like The Three Musketeers that are out of copyright and can be obtained for free.

2015 Method of Attaining Books

Lastly, I got some stats from WordPress for the past year. A few interesting bits. I had my 100th post this past year. I also got my 100th follower (thanks, friends and fellow bookworms!). My most popular post was the one about The Time Keeper discussion questions.

I’ve already finished my first book in 2016 and am well on my way to a second one. I think that’s a good omen for the upcoming year!

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A Year in Provence – Peter Mayle

Summary (Amazon): In this witty and warm-hearted account, Peter Mayle tells what it is like to realize a long-cherished dream and actually move into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote country of the Lubéron with his wife and two large dogs. He endures January’s frosty mistral as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine. A Year in Provence transports us into all the earthy pleasures of Provençal life and lets us live vicariously at a tempo governed by seasons, not by days.

My Review (Spoilers!!)

Executive Summary: light-hearted

So I went skiing for the first time last weekend, and my return flight was delayed for 3 hours. We were lucky to make it out at all. The tiny airport didn’t even have a bookstore, but it did have free wi-fi. So I went through my To Read list to see if any of the books on the list were available for instant download from the library. This one was!

This book is an auto-biographical account of the author’s (and his wife’s) move from London to Provence. The book is set up with chapters for each month, which is a unique way to do it, and it does actually tie into a point at the end of the book.

I understand why people really like this story. It’s succinct but not so much that it seems stunted. It’s quirky and funny, and the characters and the atmosphere really draw you in. However, to me, it wasn’t particularly relateable. My life essentially went in reverse–moving from a small town to a big city (and then a bigger one, and then a bigger one). Maybe sometime I will move to back to a small town, in a foreign country, and understand things a bit better.  Also this book was written in 1989. I’m curious whether the last 25 years have changed things. I guess I will have to travel to Provence to find out.

Peter and his wife, after years of traveling to Provence, decide to buy an 1800s farmhouse there to live. They develop good relationships with the neighbors, even the weird ones. Their closest neighbors, Faustin and Henrietta take care of the vinyard that stretches on both their properties. In January, when the first Mistral comes, their pipes freeze, and they realize that the house needs renovations. Thus begins their year-long adventure of how time moves in Provence.

The story focuses on a lot of the mundane sort of things that everyone deals with–tourists, visitors, restaurants, neighbors, renovations, and weather. But they are all seen through the lens of a different viewpoint and told with a whimsical humor.

The book has a great ending which I will share. Peter’s wife eventually grows a bit impatient at the unfinished house projects so she decides to take matters into her own hands and invite all the contractors and their wives over for a dinner. Suddenly all the contractors are over at their house, rapidly working to finish their projects so that they can show them off to their wives (brilliant!)! The projects are finished, the dinner is a success, and everything is ready for Christmas. When they awake on Christmas, they find that their power is out so they can’t cook their lamb. Restaurants apparently would have been booked for weeks (this surprised me because in the states, nothing is open on Christmas except the occasional Chinese restaurant!) but they call the chef at one of the restaurants anyway. He is so horrified by their circumstance of not being able to have a wonderful meal for Christmas (which to me seems very French–being concerned about not having a good meal), that he sets up a small table just outside the kitchen just for them.

Verdict: 3.5 stars

This is a fun, quick read. It takes a good writer to make a story out of general grocery shopping and home improvement. However, I do think that this story will appeal more to some people than to others.

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Happy Valentine’s Day

To me!

IMG_1195

I have loved Sherlock Holmes since I was in high school. We had to read The Hound of the Baskervilles which I thought was decent. However as part of the assignment, we had to create a list of facts about Sherlock Holmes. Well, this was essentially pre-Internet, so I found Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection on my family’s bookshelf. And I read it straight through. He’s such a quirky character, and Sir Conan Doyle does such a great job of making him realistic.

Anyway, I’m thrilled about my Valentine’s Day gift, and hopefully it will tide me over until the show Sherlock returns! Hope your Valentine’s Day is as good as mine!

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