A Post-Apocalyptic Trilogy

After the End Trilogy: The Complete Post-Apocalyptic Box Set by Mark Gillespie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This collection contained three novels: The Curse, The Sinners, and The End War. And while I would recommend reading them in order, they are each essentially self-contained.

All three of these novels are set in a post-apocalyptic America. The country has been devastated by a major international war. There are pockets of survivors throughout the country, but limited communication between the groups and no trust. We follow Eda as she makes her way out of one community into the wider, wilder land. Along the way, we meet other survivors; some good, some evil.

I found there to be more characterization in this book than I would have expected. Many characters have multiple facets and few felt cut-out. The majority of the characters we meet have at least one major surprise that kept this reader on her toes. One of my complaints about this story was that Eda is in her mid-thirties. She certainly read much younger than that. I understand she grew up in an age of war and the “wild years”, but she frequently read more like a child than a full-grown woman.

The first book, The Curse, started a little slow, but allowed the reader to understand the part of the world Eda knew. Once the action picked up, it seldom let go. The action continues through the next two installments.

Each book was on the short side, almost a collection of three novellas. I am more accustomed to longer forays into the post-apocalyptic world, but this was well-done shorter fiction. I could certainly read about more of Eda’s encounters and the next phase After the End.

I would be happy to read more works by Mark Gillespie and I will certainly watch for future installments in this world.

I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley, all thoughts in this review are my own.

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A Family Saga

A Goddess Among Men by Daniel Davidsohn

From the Publisher: “

In 1907, Julian Welch and Alan Reid meet by chance in the jungles of the Amazon attracted by the riches of the rubber boom. Pioneers in an era of uncertainty, they form an unlikely alliance and establish the foundation for a successful empire, Reid & Welch. However, with Julian’s death, the empire is left to Alan, as is the responsibility for Julian’s newborn daughter, Christel.

Yet for Christel, there’s no growing up as a privileged heiress. Instead, Alan subjects her to a life few endure, much less overcome. Through her will to survive and being as uncompromising as she is beautiful, Christel puts the horrors of her past behind her and begins to build a seemingly bright future. But when the success built on corruption starts to crumble, Christel will be forced to address the past or pay for the sins of the fathers.”

I struggled to review this one a bit. While it was ostensibly a family saga covering three generations, there was so much else going on in this book. The story begins with a tenuous relationship between two men as they become business partners, then follows the next two generations of one of the partners with the other one as an ever-present entity.

In the beginning, there were two men who had each traveled to Brazil to find their fortunes. I found these parts enlightening. I do not know much about the rubber boon in Brazil and learned a little bit about this. Mostly, I learned about how underhanded and greedy people have been for a long time. Throughout this part, I did not understand why Julian continued to be involved with Reid.

Part two took a strange turn. Part of me wishes we went deeper into the seedy sides of this part. Julian asking Reid to take his daughter was dumb, and what Reid immediately did was insane. This part was certainly more episodic than part one. We got a hint of the terribleness that was happening, but there was a lot of insinuation. Not that I want to see anyone hurt or sexually abused in detail, but the idea that we need to believe the science experiments taking place are the worst ever, we may need to see more. Maybe it doesn’t have to happen to Christel, but we can see some of the experimentation for the other children involved.

The third part felt the most episodic and rushed. This happened and then that happened and then this happened with some loose narration between scenes. In some ways this worked, but in many ways it made me feel there were more questions than answers. I never felt emotional connection with any of the characters, but I thought several of the things encountered could have been more deeply examined.

At the end of the day, I did enjoy this story. I can recommend it without too many reservations and hope that others will find the storylines original and thought-provoking, even if they are a bit brief.

Thank you to NetGalley for a free review copy. All thoughts presented here are my own.

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Reading Challenges

I talk (write) from time to time about reading challenges. I felt like now was a good time to expand upon that topic a bit.

In my personal life, I am often asked about reading challenges because it is something that occupies a part of my life and is foreign to many people in my physical world. The challenges I participate in and follow on my own are similar in style and different in execution. I like challenges that help me to choose books from my groaning pile of books to be read. This typically manifests itself in the form of ‘tasks’. Each task can help lead me to a book I may have overlooked for a long time, or introduce me to a book I may never have seen. Not all reading challenges are set up this way, but my favorites are.

Reading challenges can look very different from one another. They can be competitive or not. They are usually individual, but are sometimes team challenges. They can last for a day, a week, a month, a season, a year, or any other amount of time desired. This summer, I am planning to actively participate in one competitive team challenge and follow along with one competitive individual challenge.

My team challenge is on GoodReads and is hosted by the group Nothing But Reading Challenges. The Wheelathon 5 challenge will run for 10 weeks starting June 12. Teams have been established and we know what we are trying to accomplish as a team for the first two weeks. This challenge looks more complicated than I hope it will be. Essentially, as a team we get a phrase (Egyptian Cruise) that we read books to spell out. To spell out this phrase, we can use the title of the book, the author, the series name or the name of major characters. In addition to getting points for spelling out the phrase, there are 200 tasks that members can use to get bonus points. The team with the most points at the end of the challenge wins. There is no great prize for winning, just bragging rights!

Individually, I will be following the Seasonal Reading Challenge, also on GoodReads. This challenge will run from June 1-August 31. Tasks in this challenge can require 1-3 books and there are 65 tasks to be tackled by each reader. Tasks will be assigned points and point values range from 5 to 50 per task. If my math is correct, a reader would need to read over 100 books to complete this challenge, but for many that is the goal. I like this challenge because it is competitive, but more against yourself than other players. If you finish the challenge(!), you get to design a task for the following season. There are other awards for participants who may not manage to finish the challenge, but are still active posters. This group looks a little bit strict about posting and how things qualify, so I plan on tracking my progress this season here. If I manage to do well (and stick with it), perhaps I will join in next season.

So, what does a task look like? From the team challenge, a task might say “Read a book set in Canada” or “Read a book with a lizard on the cover”. This can make going to the library into a scavenger hunt (if your library is open) or can make an interesting adventure into your own library-physical and digital. At the SRC, many of the tasks are similar to that, but they also include things like “Pick a Listopia with the word ‘Action’ in the title and read a book off of that listopia” or “Read a book with an author whose initials can be found in the word ‘MOVIES’.” For both challenges there are also tasks about genres and specific words in the title. Planning for reading challenge reads can be almost as fun as reading the books.

My next challenge is to figure out how to read books which will work for both challenges, so I am not trying to commit myself to reading 3 books each week for my team challenge and 3 books each week for my individual challenge and maintain the rest of my life. Wish me luck!

Debut Book Review

The Name of Red by Beena Khan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

From the author: “On a rainy, winter night, a mysterious woman in a red dress seeking shelter comes inside the restaurant Kabir was busy working in —primarily the bar— and night after night, drink after drink, she comes back to the same spot. That is where he sees her for the first time.

Hundreds of patrons around her try to speak with her daily, but she dismisses them. It appears she wants to remain in a blissful peace alone with her booze and books. After seeing the mysterious woman reading a book, and because of his shy nature, Kabir gains entrance into her life by anonymously leaving books with notes for her.

The Name of Red is the story of two strangers, two different personalities who meet on a winter, rainy night who challenge each other. They have a connection which blossoms into a friendship due to their fondness of books. But they both have secrets that can bind them together or threaten their newfound relationship forever.”

I was offered a review copy of this book by the author. The premise of the book was intriguing. I enjoy literary fiction, two characters with different backgrounds sharing books, sounds like my cup of tea. Unfortunately, the execution of the story fell flat for me.

I read this book before its publication date, but have struggled to review it, as I did not enjoy it. But I understand that all mentions are (or at least can be) good. The more exposure a book gets the better off it will be, right?

For a literary work, I did not see much character growth. The characters get to know each other better, but it is much more of a character reveal than growth over the course of the novel. I liked much of the early interaction between Red and Kabir especially as they talked books. But as that waned, so did my interest in how much vodka we were drinking tonight.

The story was complete. There is a distinct beginning, middle and end. I did not, however, find the story overly captivating. There were moments of interesting tidbits: the books, the family backgrounds, etc, but much of the book was about what Red was drinking tonight, how many drinks, and how drunk she is. The flashes of interest were too spread out for me.

One of my regular concerns is of editing. This book was edited, but could still use a good overall, thorough editing. There were sentences that were poorly formatted and structured, there were a few times that I felt there was a contradiction of facts presented.

I understand the author is planning on telling the stories of additional characters from this story and I am sure that will be a fun experiment. I am definitely willing to read another story or two from this author and to watch how she grows as a writer.

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Pinebox Vendetta: A Book Review

The Pinebox Vendetta by Jeff Bond

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

From the publisher: “The Gallaghers and Pruitts have dominated the American political landscape dating back to Revolutionary times. The Yale University class of 1996 had one of each, and as the twenty-year reunion approaches, the families are on a collision course.

Owen Gallagher is coasting to the Democratic nomination for president.

Rock Pruitt – the brash maverick whose career was derailed two decades ago by his association to a tragic death – is back, ready to reclaim the mantle of clan leader.

And fatefully in between lies Samantha Lessing. Sam arrives at reunion weekend lugging a rotten marriage, dumb hope, and a portable audio recorder she’ll use for a public radio-style documentary on the Pruitt-Gallagher rivalry – widely known as the pinebox vendetta. What Sam uncovers will thrust her into the middle of the ancient feud, upending presidential politics and changing the trajectory of one clan forever.”

I saw a new book by Jeff Bond offered on BookSirens. When I checked the title, I found it was also available on Kindle Unlimited. So, I used my KU account, borrowed it and got myself comfortable for a new thriller by an author I have appreciated in the past. Out of the three books I have read, this was my least favorite. Although, I just read this may be book 1 in a new series, so maybe the future titles in the series will redeem this one.

The series may be a continuation of the two political families, who have a 200+ year feud going and essentially live on either side of the libera-conservative divide. There is a lot of promise there and Bond has already introduced a variety of characters from both families.

This book was about politics and power and greed. The storyline was limited to a long weekend, but many things occurred during that time. I found most of the characterizations to be sterotypical and stiff. There was a little bit of a twist at the end and that is part of the reason I would be willing (maybe more than) to read the subsequent books in this series.

Throughout this book, the author chose not to use much profanity, some, but not much. He would instead cut off his characters and tell the reader in less offensive words what his character may have said. I found this somewhat off-putting. Maybe I borrowed the PG version from KU? Profane language can easily become offensive. And I have certainly been taken out of a story when the cursing feels abrupt or out of character, but I think this may have been worse. At one point, we get “She strung together four or five curses, a sequence that suggested extreme bodily contortion.” and then the next paragraph begins “She painted another profane image”. This happened multiple times through the story. Not with just one character nor with every character. I found it took me out of the story a bit.

I do believe with the number of small characters, especially from the two feuding families, we could see a greater breadth of good guys and bad guys coming from both sides. I hope in the future installments we will get to see a better balance of strengths and flaws on both sides. There was some good insights from both camps that I thought could have been better explored without assigning one as evil and the other flighty.

With all that said, I will continue to read Jeff Bond’s books. I think he has interesting and original stories. I have faith that writing can be practiced and improved upon, but originality and creativity can not be. I see his originality and will continue reading for it.

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A Reading Experience

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My role as stay at home aunt has taken on many new facets in recent weeks. With schools moving to distance learning, and my two local nieces spending several days a week with me, my time is spent re-visiting some of my favorite books from childhood.

We just read From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler together. I still like this story, and my older niece liked it so much, she put it in her bag and took it home. This was my favorite book when I was in third grade, and now my third grader niece has taken it in as her own; how can I not be thrilled!

Claudia and Jamie’s adventure in 1960s New York was fun. These two young people may be a bit more mature than their present-day equivalents, but they were still kids making it work in a big city. These two kids were able to budget money, maneuver through the public transportation systems of a large city, and find inexpensive places to eat and do their laundry. All while hiding out undetected in a museum.

It was fun to read through the different parts of the museum. E and I had to pull out a book to figure out who Marie Antoinette was and why she was important (and why her bed would have been so comfortable). We did not need to look up Michelangelo thanks in part to a Magic Tree House installation. And she chose to do her ancient civilization project on Egypt in part because of our time with the mummies in the museum.

The framework of this story, older lady sharing the details with her lawyer, made it a good choice for reading out loud. As an adult, my voice did not distract from the story and reading with a 9-year-old made it so we could each have distinct parts in the story.

This story encompassed mystery, adventure, coming of age, and humor. It made for good reading for our experiment in home-schooling. The themes of independence, curiosity and perseverance were affirming and fun to talk about.

The language in this book was mature (not crass), but most of the vocabulary words were easily discovered using context clues. This book is set in the 1960s, so there were a few obsolete or out of favor activities; but for the most part, this book was easily accessible even to a 21st century child.

I loved this book as a child, and it warmed my heart to see the next generation embrace this story and love it like I did.

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What I am Reading

I have seen a handful of blogs discuss their current/upcoming reads on a weekly basis. It appears Wednesday is the day to share this information. So, I thought I would join the party. Better late than never, right?

The Poet-a book by Michael Connelly that is not part of a series. I am super excited to read this one with a forward from Stephen King!

A Goddess Among Men-this is my latest ARC read. I will happily thank Net Galley for this one.

Her Every Fear-An audio book from Hoopla. I don’t frequently advertise audio books, but whatever. I am making a new knit mask protectant and need an audio book. So, this is the one I am using.

Streams to the River, River to the Sea-a childhood favorite which I will be talking about in upcoming days. Sacagawea may be a woman to whom we should all look up to.

Physical Books

In recent years, I have become an avid digital book reader. I enjoy listening to books when my eyes or hands are otherwise engaged and I am unable to curl up with a new book. And I have found it incredibly convenient to be able to purchase or borrow digital titles any time I want. However, I have lately found that I miss the feel of a new-to-me book in my hands. With both my library and local bookstore closed, getting a new physical book into my possession has been a struggle. Of course, I have access to Kindle Unlimited, Overdrive, Libby, Hoopla, and a variety of other online sources for digital books, but when I am listening to a thunderstorm, or curling up for bed, I want a *real* book.

Audio books have a special place in my life. I prefer to listen to a good story while working out, completing a jigsaw puzzle or knitting. I have also found they help make both indoor and outdoor chores more tolerable. I don’t have the same relationship with books I listen to instead of read, but I can still appreciate the craft, the word play and can further enjoy the narration (when done well). My older niece has started to enjoy them, too. She also likes the fact that we can both listen while we use our hands to work on arts and crafts projects and we aren’t quite as stifled with one of us needing to hold and read a book. Audio books certainly have a place in my life.

Digital books have become very popular and I certainly have benefited from the medium. I love having a library of books at my fingertips. I own both a Nook and a Kindle and have apps for both of them on various devices. I pick up free and cheap books for either app on a variety of sites. And of course, I have a fantastic local library resource. The best thing about being digital, is in the middle of the night (or snow storm or nap time or whatever), I can pick up the next book in whatever series I may be reading, or that books whose title I have just now remembered. Digital books have made my life more convenient.

Physical books, however, will always be my favorite. Even with all of my other options, I was a weekly visitor to my local library and would frequently walk out with 10 or more books I just needed to have right now. I used the hold feature to make sure I had early access to new releases and less popular titles alike. Browsing the shelves was an afternoon activity for me. I own hundreds (if not more) physical books and proudly house them in a main floor library in my home. There is not a room in my house that does not have a few (or more) books in it.

During this unprecedented time of everything being closed and leaving the house being frowned upon, I have missed bringing new-to-me titles into my home. I made a comment about this to my husband last week. He immediately made a plan to visit our local dollar store, without telling me. He went there with the sole purpose of being able to inexpensively bring me home a collection of new titles. Our dollar store is awesome, it carries a wide variety of hard and soft cover books that are always $1.00. I have made some amazing finds there. So, he goes out, purportedly, for our weekly grocery shopping and comes home with two bags full of new titles for me to peruse. I am a very lucky woman!

So while there is a great variety of types and availability for books new and old, I am glad for the old standard and am glad when I feel the heft of a new exciting story. Are other people experiencing this? Have most of us readers moved to the digital world?

A New Legal Thriller

No Truth Left To Tell by Michael McAuliffe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first accepted this title from NetGalley and the publisher because the author and my mother went to the same college. The author for law school, my mother for her undergraduate studies. The college is not very big, and it is always fun to see what other alums are up to.

This book was captivating from the beginning. It was ugly sometimes, but isn’t that the way of the world? Through a courtroom drama, we are shown racism, bigotry, small-mindedness and hate. But we are also shown kindness and loving and grace. I think Mr. McAuliffe did a very nice job on his debut novel of balancing character development with story telling and, of course, revealing some truths many of us would rather ignore.

Set in a small town in Louisiana, the Federal Government has been brought in on a KKK cross burning crime. We get to see some of the thoughts and actions of people on both sides of the law and spend quite a bit of time hearing from the victims and how their lives change.

There were some interesting legal challenges brought up to help keep the suspense taut and the story fresh.

At about the 75% mark, I found this quote: “Prosecutors are empowered to seek justice, and nearly every prosecutor starts off believing in that purity of purpose. But it all flounders when justice isn’t obvious, when it’s not sitting on open ground waiting to be claimed.” There were more great quotes throughout the book, but this one hit me as most appropriate for the biggest conflict in the story: good guy versus himself.

I look forward to reading more by this author and will be recommending this book to others.

Thank you to NetGalley, the author and the publisher for my digital ARC of this book.

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Cozy Series Review

As I am still a book reviewer at heart, I thought I would share my thoughts on a series I have been reading. The Crime with Classics series by Katherine Bolger Hyde is only 4 books long (so far), but they are fast reads and entertaining. There is a little bit of escapism in them, especially for lovers of classic literature. With titles like <I>Arsenic with Austen</I> and <I>Death with Dostoevsky</I>, how can they not draw in mystery fans who love older books.

Emily Cavanaugh is a mid-fifties widow who has taken sabbatical from her professorship in Portland, Oregon, to settle her aunt’s estate. As the main beneficiary, Emily inherits a mansion (complete with amazing library) and a lot of money. She takes advantage of her position and moves, at least temporarily, to a small Oregon coast town to figure out what she wants to do with her life post-teaching, and after the death of her husband.

Unfortunately, this does not go over smoothly. She encounters several murders in and around her home. With the help of the police chief, her once and current love interest, she sets out to solve the crimes. Many of these crimes have a clue that reminds her of a book she has read. As a book-lover, I can relate to that. How many times in a week can I say, “Oh, that reminds me of that book I read”?

With money being no object, a fun cast of recurring characters and a charming protagonist, this is a cozy mystery series I hope the author manages to continue.