The Road by Cormac McCarthy ★★★★★

Read 1/20/20 – 1/22/20

Cormac McCarthy is one of those authors that I’ve always been intimidated by. As such, I have avoided his books. I will do so no longer. I adore his writing. He crafts a gripping narrative of a boy and his father trying to survive in a world that is destroyed. This form of dystopian story seems like it has been done so much, but this book isn’t about the world. It’s about the characters in it. In developing this story, McCarthy constructs what seems like the barest of settings where the details are slim. All we know is an epidemic occurred. It is their struggle to survive that we care about.

McCarthy creates characters that are real, damaged and all. It is very bleak take on life in such a world, and it is one that I can really connect to. Perhaps that is because it is the most likely type of story for us. Now, I am not saying how the story ends, so don’t mistake this for a spoiler. I merely mean that it is clear that life is nearly impossible in this barren wasteland.

I mentioned my concern of McCarthy at the start, so I want to talk about how wrong that was. The story was equal parts emotional as it was easy to read and enjoy. Of course, enjoyment with this is like the enjoyment you might get from a sad song you hear on the radio. It hits you hard, and all you want to do is listen to it over and over again. 5/5 stars

Rating Break Down
Writing Style: 10/10
Plot: 10/10
Characters: 10/10
Ending: 10/10
Engagement: 10/10
Enjoyment: 10/10
Comprehension: 10/10
Pacing: 10/10
Desire to Reread: 8/10
Special: 5/10
Final Rating: 4.825/10
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance (see blog for more details).

Scythe by Neal Shusterman ★★★★★

Read 1/16/20

I’ll admit I did not have high hopes for this book. I have this irrational fear of YA novels where I always assume I won’t like them. To be fair, I often don’t, but it is hard not to hear so much praise for this series and not give it a try. What’s more, the premise is pretty cool. I made a last second decision to include this book in my January AYEARATHON because I was reading so many nonfiction novels and wanted an easy read. Obviously, I am glad I did. I have not been so excited about a book in so long. It is so refreshing to be this excited over a new series, so excited that I have to resist the urge not to drop everything and finish the series.

Let’s start with the premise. In a twisted utopia free from death, population control requires that Scythe’s be tasked with deciding who should die, albeit at a much lower rate than was once natural. Admittedly, it feels like a stretch. One could argue population is already running out of control even with the natural levels of death. One might say the better approach is to have stricter rules on certain types of care. For instance, one kid rebels by making his parents pay to have him revived after several near deaths experiences. I find it hard to believe that type of abuse of resources would be allowed. Nevertheless, this is fiction, and I am perfectly capable of accepting the premise necessary to set up the story.

The story itself is fantastic. I thought Shusterman did a great job exploring the morality of this world and the morality that Scythes have (or don’t have). What’s more, I was surprised multiple times in this novel. Every-time I thought, “I’m loving this but it is clearly going this direction”, Shusterman would prove me wrong. To me, that is part of the reason I can so readily let go of the stretched premise. It also speaks to an expert level of writing that I need more of. I am eager to read more of his books, even beyond the Scythe trilogy.

It is written in a way that is engaging and exciting. It was indeed easy to read as I had hoped, but I don’t think Shusterman had to sacrifice the substance to make that happen. To me, that is the making of a great book. Lastly, I could so easily reread this book. I rated it 8/10 on re-readability but really, it may be more. I loved it. Highly recommend. 5/5 stars

Rating Break Down
Writing Style (7%): 10/10
Plot (15%): 10/10
Characters (15%): 8/10
Ending (1%): 9/10
Engagement (5%): 10/10
Enjoyment (25%): 10/10
Comprehension (20%): 10/10
Pacing (2%): 10/10
Desire to Reread (5%): 8/10
Special (5%): 10/10
Final Rating: 4.80/5
Note, each rating is weighted based on personal importance.

Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy ★★★★☆

Reading for A Very Merry Readathon

I am so excited for this book. It is one of my most anticipated reads of December and of this readathon. It is about a woman who is in an insane asylum because she thinks she sees and can communicate with the future. The trick is, she can. This has hints of dystopian, time travel, and feminism. These are probably among my most favorite sub-genres, time travel certainly. You can find this book in a lot of the lists for the best feminist fiction books even though it isn’t talked about as much as others (The Color Purple, Handmaids Tale, etc.).

Read 12/16/19 – 12/17/19

I enjoyed this book, but I think I am still a little disappointed by it. Let me be clear, it is pretty much everything I wanted it to be. This is a deep analysis of how women have been treated as well as how doctors and asylums have operated. Much more than that, it is a visceral attack on many of the issues that we deal with today (most stemming from capitalism), and it is a dark look at what might be if we are not careful as well as what could be if we push ourselves.

I don’t have a definitive reason why it wasn’t as exciting a read as I had hoped. I just know I found myself getting disinterested at a lot of the futuristic visions our main character is seeing. It is a key, not to mention fascinating, analysis on what the future might be and what would shape it to be so. Nevertheless, I found myself disinterested at times. I also found the pseudo-anarchist utopia a little preachy more than convincing at time. I recognize utopia is subjective, and over all Piercy does a fantastic job thinking about how a lot of these issues we deal with today could be resolved.

I wish more of the novel was spent in the modern day because it’s as a commentary against modern medicine and the treatment of women that this book is most effective. In the intro to this, I presented the premise as if we know she sees the future, but I suppose it is possible we have an unreliable narrator. That is also an intriguing thought. However, I think we are meant to believe her sane. That is because she plays a key role in conveying all the injustices done against women.

Overall, I highly encourage this book. It is not only an informative commentary but a fairly engaging and entertaining read. 4.25/5 stars.

An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim ★★★★☆

Began Reading 12/12/19 (15%)

I was going to hold off reading this a week because I start a readathon Sunday, but I’m ahead of schedule and couldn’t resist. Hopefully I finish it before then because I’d rather not stop and read a bunch of books in the middle of this one. First impression: very intrigued. I love time travel but am confused. I’m worried the concept may be a little too l convoluted, but still early. I side well see if it clears up

Finished Reading 12/13/19

In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a fascinating idea with fairly good story to back it up. My initial confusion was cleared up as Thea Lim lays out the world we are in. A flu pandemic has begun (early 1980s), and if people want to afford a treatment, they can travel forward in time to work off their debt to this company. What unfolds is mildly dystopian story about a world driven by consumerism and fear where people lose their basic human rights. We follow our main character, Polly, as she tries to return to her love.

While it made sense in the end, it still feels a bit convoluted. It all seems like a very specific and round about way of addressing these issues. It reminded me a lot of Never Let Me Go but with a twist on the mechanics. It was a lovely story. Lim did a good job making me care for our main character. Unfortunately, I never quite got passed the necessary step of accepting this world as real, and that is most likely an effect of this convoluted idea. It makes for a good story.

My main reason for reading this was the time travel–perhaps my favorite thing to read about. This story though, could have worked without it. Granted it, it makes a lot things easier. Still, why have it? Why is this system in place? Why is the story set in the 80s instead of the present? Even as she is propelled forward, she only goes into the 90s. It isn’t as if we are seeing her in our time. Part of me wonders if it was a plot convenience orchestrated to avoid many of the pesky technologies that exist today.

I feel like all I’m saying are negative things about this book, but let me be clear. I really enjoyed it. I think it is a good book, if flawed. My initial instinct was to give it 4 stars, but I’m finding myself finding a lot more negative things to say than I anticipated. Therefore, I think it is more of a 3.75/5 stars. It is still a pretty good score!

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King ★★★★☆

Read 12/8/19 – 12/13/19

I absolutely adored this novel. First, the way the story was told didn’t feel like I was reading a YA novel. Of course, I may have a misconception of what it means to be YA (Ariel Bissett definitely has a more broad definition), but to me, YA is way of looking at the world. We are looking at the world through Glory’s viewpoint. That allows us to see how she perceives the world. In a way, that will be a contorted frame of reference, but what I liked about the story was that what we saw of the real world felt real. It felt like the adults were acting like adults. All the while, Glory is trying to understand them, but that doesn’t stop them from acting in adult ways. All that is to say, King doesn’t hold back. She gives us a complete and real world.

The story is about a young girl who is graduating high school, all the while living with her mothers death at a young age. In comes the dead bat, this weird thing that changes Glory’s life forever. I won’t go any deeper on the plot because it is best to go in knowing less. Although, I don’t think it is a spoiler to say that this a story about coming of age, the symmetry of history and the tragedies of the future. In a way, it is a dystopian novel about what the world could become.

The beauty isn’t just the fascinating premise but the philosophies that King is able to explore with it. Now, imagine that through the eyes of a teenage girl. It is profound and makes you think. It is weird. You don’t know what is real and what is imaginary, and that creates a dark fear for Glory and for the reader about whether or not Glory is of sound mind. All of that alters how she approaches this phase of her life. What’s more, it will decide if and what her future will be.

I loved this book, and I look forward to reading more A.S. King. The subject, premise, and form of story telling is just the kind of weirdness I want to read about. It feels different from the average novel, and I think that can be seen by some of the negative feedback on Goodreads. That said, the weirdness inevitably holds it back from resonating quite as deeply as a more traditional story. I don’t know if it is fair to dock it stars for that because I love that this weirdness exists. Still, I leave it feeling like it isn’t quite a 5 star read. It’s still the best YA I’ve read all year and one of my new favorites. 4.5/5 stars, rounding down.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro ★★★★★

Started 12/11/19 (82%)

I am loving this book. I had a rough start because the novel wasn’t the traditional dystopian novel, and I even had to double check Goodreads to make sure I wasn’t confused by what the genre was. I think that speaks to how original this story is. It starts at this sort of boarding school where we are following the point of view of one of the young students attending the school. The trick is, this isn’t a normal boarding school, and these aren’t normal students.

Ishiguro reveals details about this dark future bit by bit. The story follows this woman and those around her as they grow. Along the way, it is easy to become deceived into thinking this is the world as we know it, but we are constantly reminded that there is something off. As our characters grow, they attempt to make a life for themselves in this future that isn’t quite life as we know it. The details are minimal but just enough to unnerve us.

Finished 12/12/19 (just after midnight)

I really should be in bed. That was my intent, but then I realized I couldn’t go to bed, not until I finished this book. I am so happy with this book. I started it worried I wouldn’t be able to follow what I was expecting to be a literary novel, given its Noble Peace Prize. However, that did not impede on the readability. I’ve already given a rundown of the novel above. Having now completed it, I stand by what I said. It may start confusing, but Ishiguro brings the story full circle by the end of the novel in a heartbreaking and compelling character driven story that simultaneously works to reveal the dark reality of this dystopian world.

This is without a doubt one of my favorites of the year. I loved the concept, the themes, the writing, and the plot. It all worked so well, and I hope to reread it again eventually. 5/5 stars.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel ★★★★☆

Read 11/19/19 – 11/20/19

This is another book I chose to read for Buzzwordathon 5.0, and you can read more about why I choose Station Eleven there! This is a story about a flu epidemic wiping out the majority of Earth’s population, and it follows a group of people as they cope with this new world. The characters are one of the strongest aspects of this story. We follow a range of characters, each of them seemingly connected to Arthur, a middle aged actor who has a fairly large popularity.

The story follows a few people, or groups, as they travel or attempt to create a settlement. A large part of the books feels like an attempt to recreate so level of order, if only locally. Mandel does a good job tying past events (we spend most of our time in year 20 after the epidemic) to the current predicament by showing us how different characters are connected. I have to admit, I found the structure more distracting at first than entertaining. I kept getting invested in characters and events. Then we would jump to a different person or a different time, and I struggled to keep up on whose who.

On top of that, I found the story too tame. Don’t get me wrong, it is a perfectly good story about the end of the world, but that’s been done before. I don’t understand why this book excels above the others like it? It could have been an episode of the Walking Dead, zombies aside. I do wonder whether my own expectations ultimately shaped my view here. For some reason (perhaps the starry sky in the cover), I thought this was a story about an epidemic and an attempt to create a settlement in space for humanity to survive.

Sadly (or not, depending on how you look at it), Station Eleven isn’t a literal thing. Rather, it is a symbolic place that one of our main characters thinks about during her travels, and it is one of the things that ties her (and others) to Arthur. I appreciated the intricate story telling. However, it didn’t reach my expectations (fair or not). Let me be clear, I really enjoyed the book, and I think it is definitely worth reading. It just isn’t one of my favorites. 4/5 stars.