Book Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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Genre: Literary Fiction, Dystopian

Year Published: 2015

My Rating:★★★★★

This book has easily already made it into my top books of this year. I don’t know why I waited so long to read it, but golly am I glad that I finally did.

This book is half dystopian/half flashbacks to present day. In the dystopian world, the world has previously been ravaged by an almost inescapable disease that killed approximately…like… 99% of the population (scary stuff, no joke). In this post-apocalyptic time, we follow a troupe of theatre actors and musicians who travel the mid-west of the United States performing Shakespeare plays, because “survival is insufficient.” One of the actresses in this theatre group is Kirsten, and her life provides the connection to the flashback moments of the book. She once knew a famous actor named Arthur Leander, and through her memories of him, we are given flashbacks of his life and the lives of his friends and loved ones.

We see struggle in both modern day, and post-apocalyptic times. The author seamlessly connects the past to the present, all the while providing us, the readers, with beautiful writing. Mandel almost makes it seem as though that pre-apocalyptic times were more tragic than post-apocalyptic. To have the ability and success in conveying this, I think, is an immense feat.

Over-arching all of this is the message that life goes on. We live, we die (in either tragic or non-tragic ways), and we continue to move on. We see this with one of the characters we see in the beginning of the story, and don’t see again until close to the very end. The motivation to live, to overcome obstacles created not only by nature, but by other people as well, is the very definition of humanity…and I think this book conveyed just that. It was beautiful and simple, horrifying and complex, everything all at once. Much like what life is…everything. All at once.

Overall, I obviously gave this a 5/5 stars. I’ll leave you guys with some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Hell is the absence of the people you long for.”

“First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.”

“She had never entirely let go of the notion that if she reached far enough with her thoughts she might find someone waiting, that if two people were to cast their thoughts outward at the same moment they might somehow meet in the middle.”

“If you are the light, if your enemies are darkness, then there’s nothing that you cannot justify. There’s nothing you can’t survive, because there’s nothing that you will not do.”

Book Review: Under Rose-Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall

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Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Mental Health

Year Published: 2016 (UK) 2017 (US)

My Rating: ★★★★1/2

I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This is a non-spoiler review.

TRIGGER WARNING for self-harm and depression.

This was one of my most highly anticipated reads for 2017 and boy oh boy was I right in anticipating this. The reason I was anticipating this book was because the blurb indicated it was a story about a main character with agoraphobia (fear of leaving one’s home or ‘safe space’), OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), extreme anxiety, and depression. These are all things that I have suffered from, so to see a book that was coming out that explored all of these things in one character really had me intrigued. I wasn’t disappointed.

In a nutshell, this YA contemporary follows our main character Norah, a 17 (?) year old teenager living in California who suffers from all of the above mentioned. The reader follows her day to day life and how she deals with the illness she suffers from. It explores her relationship with her mother, as well as her therapist. There is also, of course, the love interest as well. The love interest comes in the form of Luke, a boy who has just moved in next door and is intrigued by Norah: the girl who sits in the open doorway of her house, watching the outside world while her mind keeps her trapped inside her house.

Right off the bat, hearing that there is a love interest to someone who has agoraphobia, or any other invisible illness, may make a reader hesitant. Is this just another book about the love interest fixing the mental illness of the main protagonist? Because that in itself is very unrealistic.

You may think this at first, but this book is far from that. The love interest in this book definitely does not fix Norah’s illness. In fact, she still has a very long way to go by the time the end of the book comes about. What he does do, and what her mother and therapist also do in this book, is help Norah deal with the day to day hurdles she has to jump through. They help her grow.

What really amplifies Norah’s internal struggles in the book is the knowledge that the author herself has suffered from all of these things. This therefore makes it an own-voices book (a book in which the author identifies with the same characteristics of the main character). Norah’s story suddenly becomes all the more real with this piece of knowledge and it really authenticates the story in this way. It authenticates that people with this mental illness think about things such as the following daily:

-Self-harm
-Low self-worth
-Wondering if this illness will ever let them have a life
-Thinking every worst situation possible will happen if they step outside their door
-Overthinking every word a person has communicated to them
-Overthinking pretty much everything in general to the point where it makes them sick

We, the readers, discover that Norah thinks about these things daily. Her struggle with these things, and slowly but surely overcoming them only to find something else blocking her path to recovery, is what this book is really all about. The romance is a cute subplot, but again, it is not the main focal point of the story.

The only thing I would have to complain about this book was that a lot of the pages that contained Norah’s internal thoughts were overflowing with metaphors and similes. A lot of what Norah would be thinking about was compared to something else. I understand that it is hard to write a book that comprises mostly of the narrators thoughts without metaphors and similes, but I feel as though the book would have benefited more if there was less of this.

Other than that, I highly enjoyed this novel. It, in my opinion, should be required reading of any teenager in high school. It really opens up the subject of mental illness and even shows that it is more common than one may think. Students, and pretty much any one of any age, will learn that they are not alone in reading this book…and I think that’s one of the most important things to remember when you have a mental illness: that you are not alone.

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Book Review: Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

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Genre: Poetry

Year Published: 2014

My Rating:★★★★☆

This collection of poetry has sky-rocketed in the past year. So, as a person who is an avid reader of poetry and is open to trying the most obscure poets as well as the most popular, I decided to pick up this collection to see what it was all about.

The first thing I noticed was the style in which it is written. The style is very short, free-verse poetry that tends to have one or two very impactful lines within the poem. For example, here is one of the poems from the collection that I particularly liked:

your name is
the strongest
positive and negative
connotation in any language
it lights me up or
leaves me aching for days

-rupi kaur

Now, many people (more specifically, avid poetry readers, especially those who pride themselves on reading the greatest names in poetry) would say this is not poetry. That it’s ‘hipster’ poetry for teenage girls.

I, as a reader of all types of poetry, having studied poetry as an English major at the previous university I attended as well as one I attended abroad (which was one of the top in the UK) strongly disagree with this. I have read the greats and have appreciated them just as much as I appreciated this collection of poetry.

Why?

Because unlike poets such as Yeats, Dickinson, Whitman, Frost, and Keats, this collection by Rupi Kaur is, in a word, accessible.

It is accessible to ALL readers and allows readers who are not as familiar with poetry to read and enjoy this. It opens up a whole new world of reading to them, and maybe somewhere down the line in their new journey of poetry reading they will reach the greats and appreciate them as well.

Moving on from the above discussion, I would like to discuss why I enjoyed the content of this collection.

Kaur has an innate talent of packing a big punch in very short poems. This is not an easy feat. To find the words, and so very few at that, that will make a person look up from the book and think “Wow. This is incredibly true and incredibly raw,” is a huge accomplishment. Not only that, but the author tackles subjects that are very touchy, such as rape. She does it in such a way that makes you want to stand up and join all of those women that were marching this past weekend and protect those who have gone through such horrendous, disgusting ordeals (women and men alike). Her poetry is empowering and puts a lot of thoughts and feelings thousands of people have stuck inside their heads onto paper for all to read and all to understand.

All of this is not to say that this is a perfect collection of poetry. There were some poems that didn’t hit home as much as they were intended to. There were some that could have been left out of the book and not have downgraded the collection by any means. However, that being said, I did still enjoy reading every poem in this collection.

The main reason I enjoyed this was because it did something for me, and I’m sure for many other avid poetry readers, that no other collection has done before: it has opened poetry up to the world again. It has made poetry more popular, and it has made poetry a genre that more people are seeking out. For that, I am grateful for this collection.

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Book Review: Whiskey Words & a Shovel II by r.h. Sin

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Genre: Poetry

Year Published: 2016

My Rating:★☆☆☆☆

This review is a short one, folks. You’ll see why as you read on.

This poetry collection, which I was SO excited for, was way over-hyped. I found it to have the following things, and more, that really irked me to the point of no return: preach-y to women (when the author is a man), likes to romanticize depression and the aftermath of abusive relationships, compares a woman’s sex to a winter jacket, continously says he’s a better man than any other man the women he’s speaking to has been with, and is filled to the brim with over-used themes and contantly eye-rolling cliches.

OH and out of the 150+ poems in here? I only liked 5 or 6 of them. OUT OF OVER 150 poems. Man. I definitely don’t think I’ll be reading any more of this author’s work, which makes me upset because I was looking forward to enjoying his work. Alas, no cigar. Hopefully I’ll be diving into some better poetry soon.

Alright, that’s enough griping of this book. I think I’m just going to leave this review at that.

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Graphic Novel Review: Bitch Planet Vol. 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick and co.

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Genre: Dystopian, Science Fiction

Year Published: 2015

My Rating:★★★★☆

I loved this first volume in this new graphic novel (or comic? I’m still not sure about these labels) series. It takes place in a world where patriarchy rules all…and you may think, wait. Isn’t that the world we already live in?

Yes.

And no.

Because this graphic novel takes place in a world where patriarchy is in the EXTREME. Women who have been “disobedient” or have presented any traits that may go against the male-vision of what they consider to be a perfect woman are sent to what is called “Bitch Planet”. It is LITERALLY a whole planet dedicated to keeping the women they deem disobedient off of planet Earth.

I seriously hope that this is not the future of Earth because although it makes for an interesting read, I would not want this to happen in real life (as I’m sure every other woman wouldn’t want it happening as well).

I don’t want to go too much into the plot, but I will say that it is thought-provoking, funny, and at times, even heart-breaking. We, in an Orange is the New Black type of style, get to know individual inmates on Bitch Planet and how they will play a role in the overall story arc. We also get to see the society of this futuristic universe and how men control every aspect of it, which was pretty sickening.

Overall I really enjoyed this first volume. The art is fantastic and the story is intriguing as well. I can’t wait to read the next volume coming out at the end of this month.

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Book Review: The Cresswell Plot by Eliza Wass

cresswell

Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary

Year Published: 2016

My Rating: ★★★1/2☆

I went into this book not knowing much about it. I thought it had something to do with some sort of buried secret, and in a way, it did. However, it wasn’t the secret at the end of the novel that was revealed that really made this an interesting read for me. What made it interesting was the uniqueness of it. I have never come across a family, in reality or in fiction, as disturbing as that of the Cresswell’s. More specifically, the father of the family. The fact that it was so disturbing really lifted the rating of this book for me, because I have not come across a book in my lifetime that has done so.

I admired our main character/narrator and her role in breaking her family out of the religious cult that her father built for the family, but in the end I think she was just a means to an end. I wish she was a little more rounded as a person. For example, we could have had her explain when the questioning of her family’s ways began; if it started early on, or if only just now the thoughts began to creep into her head. That way, we see some sort of development into the person she becomes: someone who has become openly defiant of her father and the control he has over them.

In the end I would have to give this book a 3.5/5 stars. This is because I felt as though it had the potential of being much longer, allowing the reader to get to know the characters more and what their lives have been like. Also, some of the characters seemed ambiguous in their beliefs, especially the main character’s siblings. They would defy their father, but then they would go back to submitting themselves to his will. There wasn’t much consistency there. Otherwise, I thought this was a very thrilling and different read. I would not, however, recommend this to certain people, as religion can be a touchy subject, despite the fact that it was portrayed in such a radical way that it wouldn’t usually offend anyone. However, in the end, I felt as though things were handled quite well and it was a solid read.

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Book Review: Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman

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Genre: Young Adult, Western

Year Published: 2015

My Rating:★★★★☆

I received an advanced readers copy of this novel courtesy of the publisher and the author in exchange for an honest review.

A young adult Western novel, Vengeance Road by Erin Bowman follows 18 year old Kate Thompson in 1877 Arizona. Seeking revenge for her father’s murder, Kate goes on a journey and picks up some friends along the way that help her take revenge on her father’s death. Along the way, Kate and her companions encounter love, friendships, and a shoot-out or two, all the while uncovering secrets about the Thompson family past

This was my first Western novel, let alone my first young adult Western novel. As far as I know, there aren’t that many like it on the market. Western doesn’t seem to be a popular genre in the young adult medium, but I think Erin Bowman has done quite a good job in introducing this genre to a younger, yet still mature, audience.

Kate is a very strong and willful character. I was especially surprised of her resilience after her father was murdered and how she immediately knew what she wanted to do: go after the men that killed him. I really appreciated her in that way, and I wish I could be as strong a person as she is. I do wish that her world was built a little bit more before the story of her journey to avenger her father began. The story pretty much jumps right into it, and although her life before her father’s death is alluded to throughout the novel, I still wish there was a little bit more background to her and her family before the main events of the book began.

All of the other characters in the novel—Jesse, Will, Liluye, etc.—were enjoyable and each of them served their plot purposes quite well. I wish I could have seen a little bit more of Liluye, as she was quite intriguing, but at the same time I am content with the amount of presence and importance she held in the novel. Jesse and Will were a pleasure to read, and I believe that everything that happens to them is tastefully done and there is no overkill in their individual fates.

I did see the plotwist at the end of the novel coming just a few paragraphs before it happened, and to be honest I could have done without it, but it was still an interesting twist. Overall, Vengeance Road was quite enjoyable and I am glad it was my first Western. If you are interested in young adult and are looking for something to introduce you into the world of Western, Vengeance Road will introduce it to you quite well!

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