Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Rachel’s life is a mess. Her ex-husband is now married to the woman he had an affair with, she lost her job, is constantly drunk and is pretending to commute to work in London each morning to hide the shambles of her life from her flatmate. Rachel is struggling with the absence of everything she previously treasured; her house, her husband, her career. One of her only bright moments each day is when she gets a peek at the life of what she believes is a happily married couple through the train window.

Every day her train stops at her old neighborhood and she glimpses a couple, who she names Jess and Jason in her head, as they drink coffee and have breakfast on their deck. She begins to feel like she has a connection to them, making up the background of their life together in her imagination. They seem beautiful, happy and she admires them from afar through her despair and drunken haze.

Then one day Rachel sees something that throws everything she thought she knew about the couple into doubt. As she goes to the police with what she thought she saw, her life becomes irreversibly entangled in theirs. The deeper Rachel goes, the more people whose sordid pasts become unveiled.

“Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins is a page tuner with unreliable narrators, shifting perspectives and awful characters who perpetuate great cruelty as their entwined histories are revealed. Though we can’t help but feel deep pity for Rachel; her lying, meddling and drunken blackouts cause frustration as we try to figure out what really happened.

It becomes obvious we cannot trust any character in this book as secrets are divulged one by one, changing the story as we thought we knew it thus far. As we stumble deeper and deeper into betrayal, lies and possibly murder; we can only wonder, is anyone ever who they seem to be?

The Martian by Andy Weir

2Q== “I can’t wait till I have grandchildren. When I was younger, I had to walk to the rim of a crater. Uphill! In an EVA suit! On Mars, ya little shit! Ya hear me? Mars!” 

Mark Watney is a wise cracking, insanely intelligent and tenacious astronaut. He is abandoned on Mars, presumed dead by his team after a dust storm clobbers him with a piece of equipment and the team is forced to leave the planet to save themselves. He wakes up bleeding, but miraculously alive, and makes it back to the HAB (the NASA martian habitat) and realizes that he has to find a way to live for four years until the next team arrives. With no way to communicate, dwindling food stores, cramped quarters not designed for long term living and constant technical complications, Watney faces some pretty extreme challenges. But armed with a great sense of humor, wits and a lot of ingenuity, Watney finds a way to survive.

Whether it’s mixing his own poop into martian dirt or creating water from hydrogen and oxygen (without blowing himself up!) to grow potatoes or taking a cross mars trip in a contraption where he can’t stand up without putting a space suit on, Watney has a new adventure every day. His escapades are told through his space logs, which vary from highly detailed accounts of endurance to his complaints about the 70s TV shows and disco music left behind by the his teammates when they had to leave him behind.

Though his story can be a little technical at times, it doesn’t go beyond comprehension. The nerdy aspects of this book only add to it’s charm. Watney’s struggles to stay alive on Mars are hilarious and intoxicating. You’ll want to curl up in bed, call in sick to work and pretend to be isolated on a planet yourself just to enjoy this book at your leisure. It doesn’t matter if you’re usually a lover of fantasy, biographies, young adult or fiction, Watney’s exploits will appeal to anyone in need of a good book. “The Martian” is an adventure that will let you escape your daily tribulations here on earth to experience a new undertaking completely out of this world, with quite a few laughs thrown in for good measure.

All the Bright Places

  “I learned that there is good in this world, if you look hard enough for it. I learned that not everyone is disappointing, including me, and that a 1,257 bump in the ground can feel higher than a bell tower if you’re standing next to the right person.”

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet on the ledge of the bell tower at their school. Theodore is the sometimes strange, charming and erratic young man that often does weird things or gets into trouble at school. Violet is a popular, easygoing girl who recently lost her sister in a car accident. When they climb down off the ledge together, everyone assumes Violet is the hero – she must have saved Theodore. But in truth she was up there for her own reasons and they saved each other.

In the days that follow, Theodore reaches out to Violet and partners with her on a project where they must discover the wonders of their home state. Though hesitant at first, Violet agrees to partner with Theodore. They set out on adventures to explore places neither of them ever never knew existed. As they get to know each other, Theodore slowly helps her heal. Violet starts to write again, drive again and talk to her parents about her sister. She stops letting herself hide in the shadow of her sisters memory and begins, slowly, to live fully despite her loss.

The pairing of Violet and Theodore is uplifting and sweet in the beginning. We watch Violet heal, but as much as Theodore wants to get better, he can’t. He begins to feel the edges of what he calls being “asleep” come back to him. Those periods in his life where he fights not to disappear into his head, not lose himself for months at a time. Though at one point we get a hint of his illness when a counselor tries to speak to him about being bi-polar, he erases the counselor’s messages on his family’s answering machine and runs away.

“All the Bright Places” by Jennifer Niven is a story about loss, love, mental illness and suicide. It explores how anyone can be struggling with these issues, whether they’re the well liked cheerleader with great grades, or the school “freak” as some bullies call Theodore.

Violet and Theodore learn together that struggling with suicide doesn’t always have a definitive reason or easy cure to a happy ending. And though we wish it could be true, sometimes love is not enough.

The Strange Library by Murakami

Last night I eagerly climbed into bed and cracked open The Strange Library by Murakami. Freshly released, much anticipated – I couldn’t wait to delve into it.

15 minutes later I was done. It was over. What? WHAT?

Not that it was bad, I enjoyed the short romp into one of Murakami’s worlds… I just wish there was more! I wanted more! Why wasn’t there more?

The Strange Library is a compact, but beautiful, little story. It has intriguing illustrations incorporated into the book as the story progresses, something I haven’t seen before in Murakami’s works and which adds a whole new perspective to the story you’re enjoying. In this tale, we go on an adventure with a young man who just wanted to check out some books. (Don’t we all?) It begins as he enters the city library and returns a few volumes. The woman at the front desk tells him to go to room 107 in the basement. Suspicious, but wanting new books, he goes to room 107 and there he meets a large, angry, man. The man asks him what he wants and the boy tells him the first thing that pops into his head – he is interested in books on tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. Three large dusty tomes are fetched and the boy is instructed that he must go to the reading room to read these books. To get to the reading room he follows the large man through a labyrinth, down many dark hallways, stairways, and eventually – into a cell. Suddenly the boy finds himself locked away and in grave danger. He must read all the books he was given or he won’t be allowed to go home. The mysteriousness of his adventure continues, though I don’t want to ruin it for you. There is an odd accomplice in a sheep suit, a beautiful girl and a daring attempt at escape. There is even delicious donuts and a brave pet starling.

As always, Murakami’s writing is lovely. He’s imaginative, mystical and unique. Nothing ever quite makes sense in his stories but we don’t mind, we’re just along for the ride.

When you pick up The Strange Library, turn those pages slowly and savor it while it lasts. It’s a short but sweet escape into a library of darkness, danger, books and possibly, love. We couldn’t ask for anything more.

New releases to lose sleep over

Holidays are great aren’t they? Not only do we get to buy books for our loved ones but people give us books! And certificates for books! And money to buy MORE books! It’s the best time of the year.

Here are a few upcoming releases to be excited about this holiday season and save some of that cash for.

           To be released: December 2, 2014

Haruki Murakami will be releasing “The Strange Library” next week and if you’re a bookworm – be really excited. Book nerds like us adore authors who write about their love of literature or set their stories in a place of books. Shadow of the Wind? Dash and Lily? Ex-Libris? So many great novels revolve around books within books. “The Strange Library” is about a boy and a girl who try to escape a dark and mystical library full of nightmarish things. SO EXCITED! Who doesn’t want to read about being trapped in a dark, surreal library? It’s a dream come true.

 

 To be released: January 6, 2015

SO YOU THOUGHT FLAVIA WAS GONE? Think again. Flavia may have been packed up to be sent away from Bradshaw at the end of the last book, but her new adventures will occur in the super secret boarding school for spies. New mysteries to solve, new murders to stumble upon. And all with fellow children her age who are uncannily intelligent! It’s a whole new world and I can’t wait to see what Flavia will get tangled up in next.

 

To be released: February 17, 2015

I can only imagine this will be yet another rollicking adventure with our favorite couple, Sherlock Holmes and his badass wife Mary Russell. They are on their way to California (always an excellent choice) and decide to stop by Japan on the way over. The mystery begins aboard their steamer and continues round the world, from Tokyo to Oxford.

                  To be released: December 23, 2014

I have not actually read Sundquists’s other book but I’ve read great reviews on it and this one sounds really funny too. I’m looking forward to checking out this author and seeing if he’s worth his salt! “We should hang out sometime” is Josh humorously investigating why he can’t seem to get a girlfriend. He has many adventures and mishaps and it promises to be an amusing trip into his world.

 

I’m sure there are many more upcoming. What are some of the books you’re excited for?

An Evening with Neil Gaiman

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I’m always unsure if I want to hear one of my favorite authors speak. What if they aren’t as I imagined them? What if they fall flat? What if they’re awful and all my dreams are dashed forever and I can’t ever enjoy their writing again? What if I end up hugging a pile of their books in my home while curled up crying in a ball of pain and disillusionment?

I have been unpleasantly startled by less than thrilling presentations from great authors or odd voices. Have you ever pictured an author’s voice in your head for years – then met them and your mind is immediately blown? It’s not their fault, but sometimes you just have a voice in your head. It’s been there, keeping you company every time you cracked open their books, you heard it telling their story. It’s horrible to have that change and never be able to read their books in quite the same way again. It’s like seeing the movie rendition of a book you love, you’ll never be able to go back to how the characters looked in your head before you watched that damn thing.

But there have also been amazing authors whose appearances have only increased my admiration of them. I was lucky enough to hear one of them speak last night.

I am an ardent admirer of Neil Gaiman, he is one of my all time favorite authors. I have shoved his books into many a hand in bookstores, whether I knew the person previously or not. I’ve put them in stockings yearly and given them as random gifts for no other reason than I really want someone to experience them. They’ve shown up on the desks of co-workers, who I then pester with various renditions of “have you read it? did you love it?” until they actually do read it. Thankfully, they always end up enjoying the books so my slightly annoying dedication to making their life hell until they finally read the wonderful book I’ve purchased for them is inevitably forgiven.

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Last night Gaiman spoke at a special charity event here in Ogden. The event’s organizers went all out in honor of The Graveyard Book. Shadows of trees projected on the walls, a cemetery, a homey set on stage to instill the feeling that you’re sitting in a crumbling mansion next to a fireplace in the dark of the night. Though it felt like forever until he took the stage (I was impatient and hid it badly) once he was up there, he was everything I had hoped.

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He read a couple short stories, talked about how he became an author and spoke about how important it is to help our future generations be literate. Listening to Neil Gaiman is exactly like being inside one of his books. His voice is the one you hear in your head, describing the Other Mother or the little boy flitting from grave to grave in the fog. He was descriptive and engaging, keeping the room amused and silently spellbound by turns.

If you haven’t read his books, I can only hope you will after today. Gaiman’s stories are darkly, magically, beautiful. He creates characters and worlds that come alive, burrowing into your imagination to stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.

Though I have loved every book – short, long, for children or adults – that he has written, Neverwhere holds a special place in my heart. If I ever get to visit London, I know I’ll be trying to fall through the cracks, hoping for a chance to cross the Knightsbridge and survive a visit to the Earl’s Court to Islington. It’s one of those stories that makes you yearn, with all your book loving soul, that the places and people could actually exist.

Even the dangerous, terrifying ones. Even the ones that make you leave all your lights on when you go to bed.

If you were a child that climbed into wardrobes to find Narnia, I know you’ll love Gaiman’s books as much as I do.  You’ll spend the rest of your adult life hoping, praying, wishing that somehow, somewhere…  Gaiman’s worlds are actually there, just waiting for us to find them.

Top Ten Characters You Wish Would Get Their OWN Book

Rachel Lynde from Anne of Green Gables

I’ve always wished I could read a book from Rachel’s perspective. I’m sure it would be delightfully crotchety and full of griping and gossip and conspiracies in Avonlea.

The Cemetery of Forgotten Books from The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

OK so this isn’t precisely a character, but I would love to see a collection of short stories or a novel encompassing all of what goes on in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. The main characters always visit and it shapes their lives, but we never get to really dive into it. I want to live there, see everything.

Joey from Winger by Andrew Smith

if you haven’t read Winger yet, it’s a YA book about a young man, Ryan Dean West, who goes to boarding school and all the self-exploration and growing up he does there. It’s self deprecating and sweet most of the way through, but ends with a sad sudden occurrence in relation to a close friend of his, Joey. I wont’ ruin it but I would love to delve deeper into Joey’s story and who he was. He’s such a central character to Ryan’s story, and yet he’s not. I always felt he deserved more.

Molly Carpenter from The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher

Molly begins as Dresden’s best friend’s daughter, becomes his apprentice and then a future main/secondary character in this series. She grows from a gothy angsty high-schooler not knowing how to handle her life to confident, almost scary, powerful magical entity. It would be awesome to see the whole story from her point of view and get to know more of what she goes through, not just the bits and pieces we see in Harry’s story.

Poppet and Widget from The Night Circus

It’s not just that I want to experience more of the night circus, which I do, but the twins are awesome strange characters who wander and grow up in the circus. It’s their whole world. I would love to see a book just about them growing up as the circus grows and taking it over later.

Top Ten Tuesday is a Broke and the Bookish weekly feature that lots of book bloggers take part in.