“Station Eleven” by Emily St.John Mendel

StationEleven

asteriaiconThe story starts in Toronto where a plague is unleashed. A flight from Russia landed at Pearson International airport, where the passengers were infected with the Georgian Flu. It soon spread very quickly in the city, and throughout the world, leveling the majority of the human population.

In the meantime, an actor, Arthur Leander, dies onstage while performing King Lear. In the city, we start to see the best and worst of humanity, as some people try to help each other, while others start looting and try to hole up in their homes until they are forced to leave.

After the plague has taken hold and society as we know it has crumbled, we fast forward to the Traveling Symphony, a band of survivors who travel through the area that used to be Southern Ontario and Michigan, entertaining what little of the human population is left. As the story progresses, we see how some of the survivors lives are intertwined, and seem to lead back to Arthur Leander.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, though admittedly, I read it right before I got on a plane to Toronto. It wasn’t a great idea, and I was mildly paranoid for a bit. But you can see just how easily an airborne disease can spread very quickly in such a huge city. Think of all of the public transit, the business core, the tourists coming from all over the world, and let’s not forget the PATH. I now pack hand sanitizer!

The author does an incredible job of writing about an apocalypse and yet keeping it exceptionally human. She focused so well on how people can touch each other’s lives, yet still feel so lonely and isolated.

The author has some of these survivors tell their children and grandchildren of what life was like before the plague wiped out everything. It really makes you think of what it would be like if the majority of people just disappeared tomorrow. What would you have to say about our lives and what our society was like?

I liked how the author told the story through different points of view, and how they bounced back and forth in time between the pre and post Georgian Flu. I also loved that she illustrated that even in humanities darkest days, we rely on art and entertainment to help us understand the world around us. If this has not been picked up for a movie, I really hope that it does. It would transfer to the big screen so beautifully!

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“Everything Everything” by Nicola Yoon

Everything

asteriaiconI picked up this novel after hearing it was going to be a movie (a movie that skipped over my small city), and honestly the pretty cover intrigued me.

The story follows Madeline, a young teenage girl who is incredibly sick. Maddy had a rare disease where she is essentially allergic to everything. She cannot leave her house, and basically lives in a sanitized bubble.

One day new neighbours move in next door and Maddy watches the new family as they unpack, from the strange gymnastic teen son Olly, to the extremely abusive father. Olly catches her looking out the window at them one day, and decides to come over and introduce himself. Naturally, a romance ensues, as these things often do. If you are going to ask how a relationship can happen when one party lives in a bubble…well…you are just going to have to read the book to find out. I can’t give everything away!

The novel was a fast read. I was done in a few hours, which isn’t easy for me, I tend to be a slow reader, but with quick simple words, some small drawings and journal entries on full pages, it is easy to fly though.

While I do like a romance, especially in a teen book, the story really isn’t believable, but I tried to let it slide, I really did try! I liked how the author used modern day and old fashioned methods for the teens to communicate such as using online chatting but also window miming. I also liked that the author made mention of the fact our lead girl is Japanese-American, yet didn’t make a huge deal of it. She was just a normal teen girl with normal teen feelings…who happens to be sick.

The ending really ruined this for me. First, I found the ending rushed. I wanted to know more of what happens to Maddy and Olly. But ultimately my biggest problem with the whole thing was the representation of someone with an illness or disability.

I applaud the author writing about someone with a disability; it really is an area with little representation. Yet I felt that there wasn’t enough research, and was not overly supportive of people with disabilities.

I can understand why Maddy was reluctant to tell Olly of her condition, but I felt that it was more due to shame. Why be ashamed? Yes she is sick, but she is also highly intelligent, and loves to read, among other things. There is more to her than her illness, and I felt her being ashamed took away everything else that she was.

The ending itself seemed to give the idea that one cannot have a happy ending if you have a disability, which really bothers me. Some of the decisions made by both Maddy and Olly seemed extremely reckless and dangerous, not to mention highly improbable. Yes, Maddy has to live her life still and not be confined by her illness, and teens will be teens, but it just seemed to give the impression of not taking a disability seriously.

Ultimately, I felt like the author tried to capitalize on a teen novel trend. The book is similar in nature to The Fault in Our Stars and All The Bright Places, and I loved both of these novels, yet these books were well researched, well thought out, and took nothing lightly. This book to me just missed the mark entirely. I am no longer upset that the movie didn’t make it in my city anymore.

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“Confessions of an ugly stepsister” by Gregory Maguire

Confessions

artemisiconThis story, as you can probably imagine, is an alternative take on Cinderella. Gregory Maguire writes fiction based on fairy tales or older stories, but writes from a different point of view – the bad guy. His other story, that was turned into a Broadway musical, was based on the Wizard of Oz, and told from the Wicked Witch’s side.

Confessions did the same thing. He wrote it from the stepsisters point of view. Now, because of the route he chooses to take with his stories, hard-core fans may not approve. He writes his stories in such a way that the “bad guy” we have come to know, is a misunderstood good guy. And the “good guy” is less so. I love seeing a different side to some of my favorite stories. The original stories are written to glorify the good guy and make them seem innocent and sweet, and the opponent horrible and cruel. But what if that story was mis-told to make the heroine seem better than she actually was?

Confessions is told from the point of view of Iris, the younger of the two sisters. Their life doesn’t start when Cinderella’s story does, it starts much earlier. After their father was brutally murdered by an angry mob, their mother took them and fled England in the middle of the night. She took the girls back to Holland where her family originated. Expecting to find a warm welcome at her Grandfathers house, she instead finds new owners that have no ties to her or obligations to help her, and a funeral notice for her Grandfather. The small family is forced back out onto the street, hungry and tired. Margarethe is then forced to beg and look for some kind of work. They eventually find an old painter who is willing to house them, so long as they clean his house and gather flowers for his paintings every day. He has no money to pay them, but instead houses and feeds them in exchange.

Another family commissions the Master to paint their daughter Clara, after seeing his painting of Iris. Clara is a willful and borderline cruel child because she has grown up raised on a platform and protected from the world. Her family has money because of her mothers dowry and their sales of tulip bulbs. She is exceptionally beautiful, but sheltered. Her mother keeps her indoors, forbidding her to go outside except for the small backyard and shed where they grow their tulips. Because Clara can not leave the house to have her painting done, the Master must go there. In return, they make a deal that as long as he is painting Clara, Iris is to assist and tutor her, and Margarethe and Ruth can help in the kitchen.

With this job Margarethe gets a small payment, and is in control of a much larger house. When Clara’s mother Henrika announces that she is pregnant, Margarethe becomes more important to the household. She has made herself indispensable, so that they have no reason to be rid of her, even though her words are cruel and she openly argues with the van den Meer’s.

Through the entire story you feel sorry for Iris and Ruth, even though Disney portrays them as ugly, cruel adults, the girls are in fact quite young and kind. Iris looks after Ruth because she is slow and cannot look after herself. Iris is actually quite intelligent, even though her mother has refused to give her any kind of schooling. She is imaginative, and the Master asks her to apprentice under him (along with his other that Iris falls in love with) because he believes she has talent in the arts.

There are very strong themes of beauty in this story. Clara’s visual beauty versus Iris’s internal beauty. The Masters ability to capture beauty, the beauty in a flower, and the beauty of charity. It’s quite interesting to read the different views Maguire has on the subject. I am a firm believer in internal beauty, and Margarethe, in her own weird way, tries to reinforce that within Iris as well. External beauty fades with age, but internal beauty never does. And Iris’s kindness and wit makes her a truly beautiful character. The way she looks after her sister, does what she can to protect and look after Clara (even though in the beginning Clara was incredibly rude to her) the way she still looks after her mother after everything Margarethe has said to her.

After Clara’s mother passes, the story starts to take a familiar path. Margarethe marries into the van den Meer family and Clara becomes her stepdaughter. Clara refuses to acknowledge her and does everything to go against what Margarethe wants.

This is where it gets really interesting. Clara is now allowed to venture outside but becomes so terrified of the town and the people that she takes to doing chores so she can stay busy and stay inside. She even goes so far as to hide whenever the door is opened, to make sure she avoids the prying eyes of older men. So instead of being forced into servitude, she goes willingly. She even starts coming up with nicknames for herself and eventually “Cinderella” becomes the commonly used term.

It is a very different take on the fairy tale. It follows the same line, but instead of clear “good” and “evil” like most fairy tales adopt, this one is just shades of grey. Margarethe is just trying to provide for herself and her daughters, and Clara is just trying to be comfortable in her own home. It is a very interesting look at the story, and it is really well written.

Even though there is no magic and fairy godmothers, there is still the sense of magic and mystery. I really enjoyed the alternate telling, and liked the different light the “stepsisters” are shown in. I really recommend this book.

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“Golden Prey” by John Sandford

GoldenPrey

asteriaiconThis review is more about the entire series than this specific book. I first picked up a book in the series when I was in university as something to read on the drive back home. Since then I have been hooked and have looked forward to the next installment every summer, and have amassed the entire collection!

The series follows Lucas Davenport, a cop with the Minneapolis P.D. He prefers to work alone as he tries to solve the Twin Cities grizzliest homicides, but there are a few detectives who make repeat appearances throughout the series. Davenport is an incredibly interesting character. He is considered to be good looking, yet has a hint of danger about him. He is also very intelligent, and very rich, having developed computer games and sold them for a hefty sum. He likes fast cars and beautiful women, yet can mingle with the cities less than reputable citizens easily, and has many informants that trust him and help him out on cases.

What sets Sandford apart from other crime authors is he tells the story not just from our protagonist’s perspective, but also from the prey’s perspective. We as readers get to watch as the characters make decisions which ultimately bring them closer and closer together. Sandford also develops his characters throughout the series. It is incredibly refreshing to watch a beloved character grow. I have read series where characters never change, they never really develop to their full potential, and it always feels so stagnant and can get boring. We read along with Davenport’s life as he goes through various relationships, eventually getting married and having kids. These characters sometimes play vital roles in the novels, while other times they have very minor parts or mentions.

Sandford’s stories are always a fun read. They are fast paced, and full of action, with smart, clever writing, and usually a heart-racing ending. The great Stephen King himself plugged Sandford’s latest book, quote “if you haven’t read Sandford yet, you have been missing one of the great summer-read novelists of all time”.

In this particular novel, Sandford’s 27th in the Prey series, Davenport is now a part of the U.S. Marshall service, who has set out to find Garvin Poole, an armed robber turned killer. Poole had gone underground for a number of years, but came out of hiding for one last big score. Poole robs a drug cartel, killing a number of people in the process, including a little girl. Now he is wanted by both the police and the drug cartel, and it’s a race to see who gets to him first!

If you haven’t read Sandford yet, I highly recommend giving him a try! The first in the Prey series is Rules of Prey, and I can guarantee you will be hooked!

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“The Limpet Syndrome” by Tony Moyle

Limpet

asteriaiconOur little book blog received a copy of this book as a request to read and provide a review. The plot sounded intriguing, though admittedly not up my alley, but I thought I would give it a whirl.

The story opens with our main character, John Hewson, dying in a car accident. His soul is sent to limbo, as it is not negatively charged (going to hell), or positively charged (going to heaven), and therefore is neutral, and needs to be assessed. John’s soul enters a vessol, a body which is designed to hold a soul, and is taken to an area for destination determination. It is decided that his soul belongs in hell, and he is taken on a tour of hell to illustrate its different layers. Hell does not work the way we have been taught. It has ten layers, much to the description of Dante’s Inferno, however, the highest level is not for the common man. This level is reserved for the worst of the worst, the most evil of souls, as they are closest to Satan’s true form, and here the soul is treated like royalty. Level one then is for the most common person, a level for those who are not overly bad, and here they suffer tremendous torture, a payment for living a mediocre existence, not being truly bad or truly good. The soul here is tortured so extensively that it becomes meaningless, and it sent back into our universe to be reincarnated.

John is given a choice. His soul can either enter hell where he will exist on the first or second levels facing unbearable torture, or find a soul that has escaped the soul catcher, and bring it back for judgement. In order to do this, John’s soul will have to possess a living body, and use that body to find a soul that can take on any form human or animal. It is an extremely difficult task, yet John makes the ultimate decision to try to find this lost soul or risk damnation. If he succeeds, he will have paid his debt to Satan, and his soul can be released to heaven. If he fails and the soul does not come through the soul catcher as it is supposed to, it could mean the end of the universe.

The missing soul is that of Sandy Logan. Sandy is a man who works for the Ministry of Homeland Security in London, England. He is also a member of J.A.W.S, Justice for Animals, Whatever Species. Sandy found out about different laboratories that were testing on animals, sets the animals free, and bombs the buildings. At his latest target, the Tavistock Institute, he find a slew of pigeons being tested on, and attempts to free them. In the process of gathering the birds, he finds out that they are being tested with a drug called Emorfed by none other than his own Prime Minister. Emorfed is designed to take away a person’s desires, be it alcohol, drugs, sex…you name it. The Prime Minister is planning on releasing the drug into the water supply of the city, turning everyone into very complacent individuals. The plan goes awry though when Sandy’s nitwit friend accidentally sets the bomb too soon, and ends up killing themselves and the pigeons.

John’s soul is released through the soul catcher back into the universe, and he ends up possessing a rock star named Nash Stevens, a man who is heavily into drugs, sex, and booze. He has to convince Nash to help him accomplish the impossible, at whatever the cost.

I found it to be a very interesting concept. It was fascinating how Moyle wrote the story in a way which married science and religion when it comes to the idea of heaven and hell. As an example, the demons in hell are made up of the dust that was created from the Big Bang. He even discusses wormholes and their role in delivering souls where they need to go. For me, it was especially thought provoking to read about where souls go, particularly for non-believers. I am a non-religious person, preferring the scientific mentality, so to read how my soul would go to hell and be tortured extensively purely for being a non-believer, no matter how much good I do in life, was rather disheartening.

I found the story hard to get into at first. It is a bit sci-fi, and religious, which are areas I have a hard time wrapping my head around.  I was afraid that the government conspiracy areas would be the hardest to read, and ended up finding them to be the easiest. Perhaps that is due to the fact that British government is structured so similarly to that of Canada. For me, the religion parts were definitely the hardest to really grasp, not that they were written poorly, I just have a hard time really understanding religion and all that it entails. My only real gripe about the writing was the use of “whilst”. I found it used too often, but then again, the author is British and I am not overly familiar with their sentence structuring with regards to that. Perhaps they tend to use “whilst” more often, where we would use “while”. I found a few grammatical and word errors, be instead of we, things like that, but it didn’t take away from the story at all.

I did find the ending very confusing, and still cannot really grasp what happened.

***SPOILER ALERT*** I was really good with the story right up until John tries to bring Sandy’s soul back through limbo. Then I just got totally lost and had no idea what happened to Sandy or even John.  Once I sunk my teeth into the story I really enjoyed it, so to not understand the ending was deeply unsatisfying for me. I am not sure if this is meant to have a sequel which might answer that question?

At any rate, overall I did enjoy the book. I liked the science and religion meeting on common grounds instead of it having to be a battle of one or the other. I liked the irony of what happens to Sandy’s soul, the entity in which it possessed. Actually that part of the story I found rather humorous. I am always up for a good conspiracy, and this one was nice and easy to follow (sometimes they can get convoluted and hard to follow). Overall it was a good read, one I would definitely recommend if only I could understand the ending!

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“Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter” by Seth Grahame-Smith

LincolnVampire

artemisiconThe story behind me getting this book is actually kind of funny. Back when the movie came out (yes, that horrible thing), there was a friend of mine who used to go to every horror movie with me so naturally Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter was a thing we had to go see. Not going to lie, I came out of the movie spitting mad. It felt like they had written two completely different movies, threw the scripts together, and whatever stuck together became the movie (in fact, I think Batman V Superman was made the same way). So, following that, for my birthday, my friend bought me the book.

It was a gift looked at with both horror and amusement.

The book has been on my shelf for roughly 5 years. Unopened. Glared at. Considered. But in the end, left alone and unread.

Until just this past weekend. I finished up Nightseer and was looking for something else to read before I jump into the next Cassandra Clare or Nora Roberts book that I have borrowed, and my eyes fell upon this book. I hummed and hawed, and decided, why the hell not?

To my surprise, it’s actually a damn good book!

Being Canadian, I don’t have a really good grasp of American politics, and a spotty memory of American History (I excelled at art and English, not history). Even with my bare knowledge, I have a feeling Lincoln being a Vampire Hunter is fiction. Just saying. But even though there is a lot of fiction throughout the book, I think a fair bit of it is threaded with Lincoln’s actual life. If it is, he was a remarkable man, enough that I am kind of curious to pick up a biography on him. That’s saying a lot because I hate non-fiction.

Now, before I get too far ahead of myself, the way the book is written, and the way it opens, actually makes the book more interesting. Grahame-Smith is writing as if HE was approached by a Vampire and given a series of journals written by Abraham Lincoln himself, and told to write a book. At first I figured it was a sort of “interview with the vampire” kind of set up, which is interesting in itself. It more or less puts meaning behind the book being written, and adds a different element to it. It wasn’t until the end of the prologue that you see it signed BY Seth Grahame-Smith. I had a moment of panic, thinking it was going to be an author insertion like Clive Cussler, and bring the book down.

Once again, I was wrong. The book is written in an odd narrative with journal excerpts thrown in. Where paraphrasing is the best, Grahame-Smith’s words are used, but where Lincoln tells it best, the book is written as a “journal clipping”. I find this style doesn’t draw away from the story like I was afraid it would. Sometimes I have to re-read because I forget who is talking at the moment, but with the way it’s done it gives you the extra details in spots that are needed, and the briefness when you don’t need to know about a years worth of nothing happening.

The story starts when Lincoln was a child, and carries on through his entire life. That sounds like it would be boring, and I think in a regular biography, it would be dry as dust, but with the supernatural element threaded though, it keeps it interesting. Lincoln finds out about Vampires as a child, after his mother dies of mysterious circumstances, and his father, in a drunken stupor, tells Lincoln the truth. Lincoln’s grandfather was killed by a Vampire, not a pack if “Indians” like his father described, and his mother’s death wasn’t mysterious, it was caused by the ingestion of a small amount of Vampire blood. The price for Lincoln Sr. not paying back his debts. From then on Lincoln swore to rid America of Vampires.

When he is older, he uses looking for work, and the odd jobs he procures to hunt Vampires. The way Grahame-Smith blends the fantastical with historical actually works! It didn’t feel like two separate stories haphazardly thrown together, it felt like it could be true.

Even when Lincoln started to run for office and tried to get away from Vampire hunting, the story didn’t feel thrown together (this is really where the movie fell apart). It’s an interesting and fun look at American History, and Abraham Lincoln. Like I said, Vampire Hunting aside, if this book has any accuracy into the life he led, Lincoln was an incredible man.

I never thought I would be recommending this book, but I am. It’s actually really interesting.

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“Nightseer” by Laurell K Hamilton

Nightseer

artemisiconI’ve been a Hamilton fan for many, many years, long before I started working at the book store. I’ve probably talked about this in my Anita Blake review, but even I knew nothing about this book. It was actually only a short while ago that I learned of this book, but didn’t know it was actually in publish any more. My best friend found a copy, the LAST copy, in a store she used to work in and bought it for me for my birthday.

Laurell K Hamilton’s debut novel. Originally published in 1992, a year before she published her first Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novel.

This novel is written in a very different style to what we are familiar with. It is written in 3rd person point of view, instead of being written through her characters, and it is a fantasy novel.

Reading this novel was interesting because you can see some influences for Anita Blake, and I also got to read one of my favorite authors before she hit it big.

Now, before I get into it, the book is NOT bad. I actually rather liked it, it was very interesting. But you could tell it was some of her first work, and still trying to figure out what style of writing was her strongest.

She always starts straight into a story, very heavily focused on her main protagonist. Usually that works, but because this is a fantasy based novel where she is world building, all it really did was confuse me. She made references to things and never really explained, and brought up lore and never really elaborated. Normally, that is fine because shortly after more information is added to elaborate on what was brought up. Instead more and more information is thrown at you without really explaining anything. Because of this, I felt like I was missing an entire book.

In her other series, there is no need for world building because it takes place in modern times in a real city. So she can focus heavily on plot and characters. When she does the same method in a world she is building, it leaves a lot of holes. Keleios is a rather vivid character that is well developed, but even with that, because there isn’t a lot of explanation to the world, certain traits don’t mean much. Half-elf princess, Herb-witch, Master; the magic system isn’t explained in more than handful of sentences, and the elves are known simply in the aspect that they’re there.

This, to me, drew away from the story because I was confused all of the time. But the plot was still well developed. A witch tortured and killed Keleios’ mother, and Keleios spent her life trying to seek revenge. There is another witch who apprenticed under the one who killed Keleios’ mother, who also spends her time trying to kill Keleios. Because of how confusing the magic system is, the plot lines surrounding a lot of the magic isn’t clear. Keleios is a prophet who prophesizes the falling of the Keep and the destruction of the library. She was good enough to be a Master, but in her 20’s, another style of magic emerged (which should have been impossible) and because she was brand new with it, the council stripped her of her Master’s title. This puts her in close proximity to the other witch trying to kill her.

All in all, it was a rather interesting story. There were a few irks I had that are basically just my personal preference (like when a character says “can you cast major healing?” I always expect the other character to respond “Let me roll this D20 and check!”), and there were some things in the story that I wished were explained in greater detail (I turned to my boyfriend and went “there are f*$%ing dragons in this story!!”).

I think this story would be really awesome if Hamilton rewrote it in her current style. It may help with the world building, and with her current knowledge of writing, make the story flow smoother and better.

Otherwise, fantasy fans might find this interesting, and I think this would be really interesting for fellow fans of Laurell K Hamilton to see where she started, and how far she has come and how her style changed so drastically in only a year!

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