Book Review: Someone Like Me by M. R. Carey

SHE LOOKS LIKE ME. SHE SOUNDS LIKE ME. NOW SHE’S TRYING TO TAKE MY PLACE.

Liz Kendall wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s a gentle woman devoted to bringing up her kids in the right way, no matter how hard times get.

But there’s another side to Liz—one which is dark and malicious. A version of her who will do anything to get her way, no matter how extreme or violent.

And when this other side of her takes control, the consequences are devastating.

The only way Liz can save herself and her family is if she can find out where this new alter-ego has come from, and how she can stop it.

There are actually two interwoven storylines focusing on two different characters in Someone Like Me. First, there’s Liz, a single mother whose ex-husband is an abusive creep. Second, there’s Fran Watts, a 16-year-old girl who’s known at school as a freak. Ever since a bizarre and traumatic abduction ten years earlier, Fran has suffered from a host of symptoms of mental illness, and fears that she’s just plain crazy.

During a particularly bad encounter with her ex, when he turns violent and seems on the verge of killing her, Liz finds herself responding by bashing Mark with a broken bottle — but she’s not the one controlling her own body. Someone else seems to be pulling the strings, and yes, it saves her life, but it also leaves her terrified.

Meanwhile, Fran is accompanied by an imaginary friend, a fox known as Jinx, who has been with her ever since the kidnapping and who’s always ready to protect her. And sometimes, Fran sees the world change — the color of a blanket or a figurine or something else in the background will change from one thing to another. Desperate, Fran returns to her psychiatrist to beg for stronger meds, anything to make these hallucinations go away. When Fran sees Liz and her teen-aged son Zac at the clinic as well, a strange connection is forged between the two teens, and they start to discover that the oddities in Fran and Liz’s lives may be linked.

Someone Like Me is a gripping story of psychological terror. We alternate between Liz and Fran, seeing their world views and the (figurative) demons they each battle. Each is desperate to just live a normal life, and fears that she’s losing her grip on sanity and reality. Of course, there’s something else going on here, and it’s weird and scary — and neither Fran nor Liz feel that they’ll be believed if they find a way to describe it to anyone.

At 500+ pages, Someone Like Me is a bit longer than it needs to be. Some of the chapters, particularly the chapters focused on Liz and her family and her struggles, seem overly long, and the story takes a while to really build up steam. Still, it’s worth sticking with. By the halfway mark, the plot really picks up and the crazy twists become more and more absorbing.

M. R. Carey knows how to tell a fast-moving story with great action sequences. I loved The Girl With All The Gifts. This book doesn’t quite measure up, possibly because it’s a story set in our day-to-day world, with just a taste of supernatural/mysterious forces/unexplained phenomena, whereas The Girl With All The Gifts was a marvelous example of horror world-building, creating an entire post-apocalyptic new world order for the characters to navigate. But leaving the comparisons aside, Someone Like Me is very good, very creepy, and very inventive. Definitely check it out if you enjoy stories of psychological horror and twisty mindgames!

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The details:

Title: Someone Like Me
Author: M. R. Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: November 6, 2018
Length: 500 pages
Genre: Psychological horror
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Shelf Control #142: The Foreshadowing by Marcus Sedgwick

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: The Foreshadowing
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Published: 2005
Length: 304 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

It is 1915 and the First World War has only just begun.

17 year old Sasha is a well-to-do, sheltered-English girl. Just as her brother Thomas longs to be a doctor, she wants to nurse, yet girls of her class don’t do that kind of work. But as the war begins and the hospitals fill with young soldiers, she gets a chance to help. But working in the hospital confirms what Sasha has suspected–she can see when someone is going to die. Her premonitions show her the brutal horrors on the battlefields of the Somme, and the faces of the soldiers who will die. And one of them is her brother Thomas.

Pretending to be a real nurse, Sasha goes behind the front lines searching for Thomas, risking her own life as she races to find him, and somehow prevent his death.

How and when I got it:

I bought this book several years ago from an online resale site.

Why I want to read it:

After reading Midwinterblood, I just had to read more by this author. I’ve read a few of his books now, and to be honest, I haven’t loved any nearly as  much as I loved Midwinterblood — but I keep trying! The synopsis of The Foreshadowing definitely caught my attention. World War I books are always harrowing, and I like the sound of the supernatural element combined with the war story.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Backlist Books I Want to Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Backlist Books I Want to Read. For my list, I’m focusing on new (or new-ish) to me authors whose books I’ve enjoyed recently — and now I want to dig deeper and discover what they’ve written earlier in their writing careers. And yes, a couple of these backlist books go WAY back.

Because I’ve read…

by…

I need to read…

Bannerless and The Wild Dead Carrie Vaughn The Kitty Norville series
Scythe and Thunderhead Neal Shusterman Challenger Deep
Rebecca Daphne du Maurier Jamaica Inn
The Calculating Stars Mary Robinette Kowal The Glamourist Histories series
The Binti books Nnedi Okorafor Who Fears Death
NOS4A2 Joe Hill 20th Century Ghosts
Eligible Curtis Sittenfeld Prep
The Great Alone Kristin Hannah Night Road
Unbury Carol Josh Malerman Bird Box
Great Expectations Charles Dickens Bleak House

 

What books are on your list this week? Please share your TTT link!

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Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 4, Episode 1

Season 4 has begun! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode soon after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.

Warning:

Spoilers

I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!

Outlander, episode 401: “America the Beautiful”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

Claire and Jamie cross paths with Stephen Bonnet, a pirate and smuggler who enlists their help. Claire illuminates Jamie on some of America’s history, leading him to wonder if it’s possible for them to lay down some roots.

My take:

Major plot points:

Aaaaaand we’re back! It’s 1767, in North Carolina:

  • Jamie’s friend Gavin Hayes, who was imprisoned with him at Ardsmuir and came on the journey last season to find Ian, has been sentenced to death for killing a man. While Jamie had an escape attempt planned, Gavin feels he deserves to pay for his crime and asks for the rescue attempt to be cancelled.
  • Gavin is hanged, but other prisoners escape.
  • Jamie and Claire plan to sail back to Scotland as soon as they can sell some gemstones in order to afford the voyage. First, they need to bury Gavin, and take his body to a cemetery.
  • They find one of the escaped prisoners hiding in their wagon, a man named Stephen Bonnet, who describes himself as a smuggler and a pirate, and asks for help in escaping. Because he claims to have been a friend of Gavin’s, Jamie agrees to help.
  • Jamie and Claire, along with Ian and Lindsay, sail upriver. They’re heading toward River Run, the plantation owned by Jamie’s aunt Jocasta.
  • On the river, they’re attacked by a band led by Stephen Bonnet. He kills Lesley, beats Jamie, and steals their gemstones and one of Claire’s wedding rings.

Insta-reaction:

Season 4 opens rather quietly, all things considered. It feels like the start of a new chapter — which it really is. Jamie and Claire are together, Culloden and the Rising are long in the past, and they have an opportunity to start a new life in a new country.

Of course, if life went smoothly, it wouldn’t be Outlander. What would Jamie and Claire do with peace and quiet?

The episode begins with a scene from 2000 BC, somewhere in North America, as a primitive tribe constructs and dances around and through a circle of stones**. Claire’s voice-over muses on the meaning of circles and the importance people attach to them as symbols… and we cut to the hangman’s noose, shortly before the execution in 1767. Jamie, being Jamie, can’t stand the idea of letting one of his men die (although he did actually kill a man, in self-defense) — but Gavin doesn’t want any thrilling heroics. He just wants to meet his end while seeing the face of a friend, and Jamie agrees.

**Sorry, I thought the dancing at the stones scene was a little silly. I suppose the show needed to demonstrate that there are stone circles everywhere, so when they stumble across one later on, it won’t be completely out of the blue… but really, 2000 BC? It came off a bit silly. (It also reminded me of the First Slayer from Buffy, but I digress.)

Anyhoo…

There’s a lovely moment later in a tavern, after Gavin is already dead, when first Lesley and then the entire group begin singing a Gailigh song in Gavin’s honor. Quite beautiful. (Of course, book people will be shaking their heads a bit, since book-Jamie is utterly tone deaf, can’t recognize songs, and certainly never sings.)

The priest has denied burial to the hanged man, so Jamie determines that he and the gang will take Gavin’s body to consecrated ground under cover of night and give him a decent burial. While driving the cart, Jamie and Claire discuss their gemstones and the plan to sell the stones so they’ll have enough money for all of them to book passage back to Scotland. Little did they know that a living man was snuggled up with the corpse in the back of the wagon… listening to every word.

At the cemetery, Jamie and Ian dig a grave. Ian has a flashback to Geillis (season 3) and freaks out, and Jamie has to talk him down. Ian describes being forced to have sex with Geillis, even though he didn’t want to, and asks Jamie if he’s ever lain with someone against his will. Yes, he has, Uncle Jamie tells Ian, and he offers him words of wisdom for getting past it. It’s a touching scene, showing Jamie at his paternal best, being strong for someone who needs him.

Stephen Bonnet turns up in the back of the wagon, and turns on his charm. He speaks fondly of Gavin, and asks Jamie to give him the chance to escape. He doesn’t seem particularly dangerous. Jamie and Claire agree to drive him in the cart into the woods and to a meeting point near the river, where he’ll find a way back to his friends. Despite a close encounter with a redcoat roadblock, they make it and say good-bye to Bonnet. Jamie and Claire settle in for some sexy cuddles and a night of camping in the woods, then wake to appreciate the beauty of the land all around them.

Back in town, Jamie and Claire prepare for a fancy dinner where they expect to meet a man who’s known for collecting expensive things, including gems. The governor of North Carolina will also be there. At the dinner, Claire wears a beautiful ruby around her neck, which definitely catches eyes as intended. Meanwhile, Jamie has caught the governor’s eye. He offers Jamie the chance to settle on his own piece of land and start a community of his own in the mountains of North Carolina. It’s a tempting offer. Claire reminds Jamie that the American Revolution is only a few years away, and they don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of history. Jamie thinks about Brianna growing up in the United States, and sees this as an opportunity to help create a country that will be a home for his daughter in the future.

Ian wants to stay with Jamie and Claire, but Jamie wants to send him home to his mother. Fergus and Marsali will stay in town, since she’s pregnant and not up to traveling. Yet another lovely bit, when everyone celebrates Marsali’s pregnancy. I love the look on Claire’s face — last season, Marsali and Claire first broke the hostility between them when Marsali asked Claire for advice on birth control. Guess she didn’t stick with the plan for very long! In any case, all are happy, and since this is Outlander, it’s actually a rare treat to see a group of happy people all at once.

And one of the most eagerly awaited moments happens this episode:

ROLLO!! Ian won a beautiful dog named Rollo in a dicing game. Awwwwww, Rollo! This is the start of a beautiful relationship. Rollo is the best.

So, things go south, as they tend to do for the Frasers. After a lovely day on a river barge on the way to visit Aunt Jocasta at River Run, near Cape Fear, the boat is tied up for the night. Stephen Bonnet turns up — because no good deed goes unpunished — and he and his men attack the Frasers’ company, beating Jamie fiercely, stealing the gemstones, slitting Lesley’s throat, and being super mean to Claire! Bonnet tries to take Claire’s rings from her. Thinking fast, she tries to swallow them, but he forces a finger into her mouth (gross, and also super intimidating) and gets the silver ring — Jamie’s ring!! — away from her.

And the episode ends, with America the Beautiful playing over the horrible scene.

Further musings:

Claire’s knowledge of the future is coming in handy once again. With the Revolutionary War on the way, America might not be the safest choice for a new home, and Jamie doesn’t want to fight any more wars — so it’s touching that he wants to help make a home for Brianna. At the same time, with the current state of affairs in 1767, sides aren’t neatly drawn, and Jamie has sworn an oath of loyalty to the King. But as Claire points out, they know the outcome of the coming war already. This time, they need to be on the right side of history.

We’ve had two scenes this episode of Claire asserting her 20th century view of the 18th century. First, when Claire describes a future US that will stretch all the way to the Pacific, Jamie asks about the people who already live there. Bad things, Claire explains. We’ll see how the show handles the upcoming encounters with native tribes. Later, Claire tries to criticize the boat captain’s treatment of his slave, only to find out that the man is free, working for a wage. Slavery will be an ongoing issue — Claire and Jamie’s next stop is Jocasta’s plantation. And yes, as you’d expect on a tobacco-growing plantation in the south, Jocasta is a slave owner.

And one more thing:

Spoilery bit ahoy: In the book, Stephen Bonnet takes Claire’s gold ring (she manages to swallow the silver ring.) Later, it’s that gold ring that catches a certain someone’s eye and leads to all sorts of trouble –and that always bothered me, because really, it’s just a plain gold band. How could someone recognize it as Claire’s while seeing it in passing in a crowded tavern, completely out of context, and with no idea that Claire’s ring had actually been stolen? So yeah, this way is much better. I’d wager all my gemstones that Claire is the only person in North American (or possibly the world at that time) with a silver ring made from a key — definitely recognizable as something quite distinct and unusual. So in my mind, the changing of the rings is big improvement. Yay, show.

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

Such a great new beginning, promising new adventures in a new land. I love the changes to the theme song, as it now sounds more like an American folk song. Lovely, lovely version.

As I said earlier, this episode mostly feels a bit quiet, but that’s okay. It has to reintroduce us into the lives of the characters, establish their new circumstances, and set out their goals and challenges. The Frasers are at a crossroads, living in the colonies but aiming to return to Scotland. Their lives are in a lull as they prepare, but they seem to mostly be enjoying their rather peaceful times together as a family. The peace and quiet don’t last, of course — the last few minutes of the episode make clear that the new land has its own dangers in store for the Frasers. Still, Jamie and Claire are obviously still very much in love, Fergus and Marsali are happy and beginning a new chapter in their own lives, and Ian is… well, Ian is precious and wonderful, as always. So this episode can be excused for feeling like a family reunion at times — it’s nice for us to get a chance to appreciate some smiles and happiness before diving back into the drama and life-threatening peril around every turn.

And furthermore…

Once again, the start of a new season makes me happy all over again that so much care has been devoted to turning our beloved books into a beautiful TV series. Kudos to the cast and crew for making it lovely and special. It’s obvious how much love goes into each and every episode.

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The Monday Check-In ~ 11/5/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak: Sadly, I did not love this new novel by the author of The Book Thief. My review is here.

Someone Like Me by M. R. Carey: Just finished last night! Review to follow.

In audiobooks:

First Test (Protector of the Small, #1) by Tamora Pierce: I’m back in Tortall! I finished listening to the first book in the Protector of the Small quartet. So much fun.

Outlander returns!

Outlander is back! Season 4 premiered last night, and the first episode was amazing. The show feels like it’s opening a whole new phase, and I’m so excited to see where it goes. I’ll be doing reaction posts for each episode, as I did last season. Stay turned for my episode 1 post, coming today or tomorrow.

Elsewhere in pop culture:

The big entertainment events for me this week:

I saw Waitress, and loved it! Now I need to go back and re-watch the movie version.

It was the final Rick Grimes episode on The Walking Dead last night. That ending. Whoa.

Fresh Catch:

The library’s Big Book Sale was this week, and I went — twice! I wrote about my first trip here… and then I went back and came home with yet more books. Here are my two book hauls from the sale:

And hey, that’s not all! I won a giveaway of The Astronaut’s Son by Tom Siegel, courtesy of Jennifer – Tar Heel Reader, and the book (plus some extra goodies) arrived this week.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Wild Dead by Carrie Vaughn: I’m so excited for this book! It’s the sequel to Bannerless, which I loved.

Now playing via audiobook:

Page (Protector of the Small, #2) by Tamora Pierce: Really enjoying this quartet!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week, aiming to finish in January.
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. An ongoing group read, two chapters per week — we’ll be finished in December. Want to join in? Ask me how!

So many books, so little time…

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Good times at the Big Book Sale

My favorite annual bookish event rolled into town this week: It’s the Big Book Sale put on by Friends of the San Francisco Public Library — and it’s awesome!

Held in a big warehouse on the waterfront, the sale is massive — according to social media posts, something like 500,000 items on sale, and everything is $4 or less! The beauty, of course, is that we can go and stock up on books and feel completely virtuous about coming home with more books than we have shelves for, because all the money goes to benefit the library.

So, yay me! I did my part.

Last night was the member preview night…

… and of course I went!

This time around, I was quite determined not to overindulge. Some years, I fill up a whole shopping cart and come home with 60+ books. Because, hey, they were all only $1 or $2, and anyway, IT’S ALL FOR A GOOD CAUSE!

But, since I’ve been doing some shelf purging recently, trying to regain some semblance of shelf control, I couldn’t really justify buying oodles of new books. Or could I?

Yes. I could. And I did.

My haul was not too shabby this time around:

All those, plus a cute little old copy of Jane Eyre:

That’s 20 books for $61 — AND IT’S ALL FOR A GOOD CAUSE! (I’m going to keep telling myself that every time someone in my house makes fun of me for getting MORE books, when I don’t have space for the ones I already have.)

In case the photo is hard to make out, here’s what I got:

  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  • Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  • The Riddle-Master trilogy by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Rosewater by Tade Thompson
  • Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson
  • The Endless Beach by Jenny Colgan
  • Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton
  • Tending Roses by Lisa Wingate
  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • The Hunger by Alma Katsu
  • The White by Debora Larsen
  • The Feed by Nick Clark Windo
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (which is actually a gift for someone else — I already have a copy!)
  • China Dolls by Lisa See
  • The Alice Network by Kate Quinn
  • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
  • The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
  • The Atomic City Girls by Janet Beard

The sale runs through this Sunday… and I might, just might, have to make a return visit before it’s all over. Who knows what treasures I’ll find?

If you live in the Bay Area, be sure to check it out! Remember…

IT’S ALL FOR A GOOD CAUSE!

 

Shelf Control #141: Things Half in Shadow by Alan Finn

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: Things Half in Shadow
Author: Alan Finn
Published: 2014
Length: 448 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Postbellum America makes for a haunting backdrop in this historical and supernatural tale of moonlit cemeteries, masked balls, cunning mediums, and terrifying secrets waiting to be unearthed by an intrepid crime reporter.

The year is 1869, and the Civil War haunts the city of Philadelphia like a stubborn ghost. Mothers in black continue to mourn their lost sons. Photographs of the dead adorn dim sitting rooms. Maimed and broken men roam the streets. One of those men is Edward Clark, who is still tormented by what he saw during the war. Also constantly in his thoughts is another, more distant tragedy–the murder of his mother at the hands of his father, the famed magician Magellan Holmes…a crime that Edward witnessed when he was only ten.

Now a crime reporter for one of the city’s largest newspapers, Edward is asked to use his knowledge of illusions and visual trickery to expose the influx of mediums that descended on Philadelphia in the wake of the war. His first target is Mrs. Lucy Collins, a young widow who uses old-fashioned sleight of hand to prey on grieving families. Soon, Edward and Lucy become entwined in the murder of Lenora Grimes Pastor, the city’s most highly regarded–and by all accounts, legitimate–medium, who dies mid-seance. With their reputations and livelihoods at risk, Edward and Lucy set out to find the real killer, and in the process unearth a terrifying hive of secrets that reaches well beyond Mrs. Pastor.

Blending historical detail with flights of fancy, Things Half in Shadow is a riveting thriller where Medium and The Sixth Sensemeet The Alienist–and where nothing is quite as it seems…

How and when I got it:

I picked this up at the library book sale two years ago. I’d never heard of it before, but once I read the back of the book, I just had to have it.

Why I want to read it:

So many great elements — seances, spiritualism, historical fiction, murder mystery — this book sounds like something I’ll really sink my teeth into! As for why I haven’t read it yet, well, blame the book sale: Each year, I come home with bags of books… and some just never make it up from the bottom of the pile.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Take A Peek Book Review: Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

Let me tell you about our brother.
The fourth Dunbar boy named Clay.
Everything happened to him.
We were all of us changed through him.

The Dunbar boys bring each other up in a house run by their own rules. A family of ramshackle tragedy – their mother is dead, their father has fled – they love and fight, and learn to reckon with the adult world.

It is Clay, the quiet one, who will build a bridge; for his family, for his past, for his sins. He builds a bridge to transcend humanness. To survive.

A miracle and nothing less.

Markus Zusak makes his long-awaited return with a profoundly heartfelt and inventive novel about a family held together by stories, and a young life caught in the current: a boy in search of greatness, as a cure for a painful past.

My Thoughts:

Have you ever devoured a book in two days, not because you loved it, but because you wanted to be done? Yeah. That. Me. This book.

Bridge of Clay is long, and involved, and made me absolutely batty. At heart, it’s the story of a family of five boys — their odd, endearing home, their unbreakable bonds as brothers, the tragedies that befall their family, and the loss of their parents. There are elements that are powerful, sad, and moving… and it’s all buried beneath writing that is just too artful and precious by far. Some may find it poetic. For me, the writing felt like slogging through mud to get to the essence of the story, and it was neither satisfying nor enriching.

What a shame. I loved The Book Thief (didn’t everybody?), and was so excited to read the author’s first new book after more than a decade. Look, maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the wrong reader for this book. I like my stories straight-forward and clear — maybe I just lack an appreciation for something that feels more like a painting in words. The timeline is backwards and forwards, there are items and words that become practically holy but without explanation until the very end, and the author presupposes some knowledge of things like horse-racing which honestly, I knew nothing about and could barely follow.

I did enjoy some portions about the Dunbar brothers, reading about their strange wildness and the way they survived together as a unit, despite the truly lousy events that seemed to plague them. Some of the brothers’ antics are almost comical, except for the thread of sorrow that runs through it all, always casting a shadow.

Clearly, I’m conflicted about this book. It packs in a lot of emotion, and there are moments of great power — yet the plot itself, so disjointed and out of order, as well as the unusual, twisty writing style, kept me from actual enjoyment while reading.

I’d love to hear from anyone who read and loved this book. Stepping away, I might be able to be convinced that there’s something more, something valuable here… but I just couldn’t find it myself.

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The details:

Title: Bridge of Clay
Author: Markus Zusak
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date: October 9, 2018
Length: 537 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Library

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The Monday Check-In ~ 10/29/2018

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: This month’s book group book! My thoughts are here.

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult: My review is here.

The Walking Dead, volume 30: New World Order: The newest trade paperback volume in the Walking Dead series. Even though I don’t retain much from one volume to the next, these books are always a good time.

In audiobooks, I finished my re-read/listen of Bannerless by Carrie Vaughn. My original review from when I first read the book is here. The story really holds up, and I enjoyed the audio version very much. Can’t wait to read the sequel!

Fresh Catch:

I bought myself a present!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak: The public library comes through for me again! I started this book with very high expectations… but unfortunately, as of about 50%, it’s just not working for me. I’ll continue, but it’s feeling like a slog.

Now playing via audiobook:

First Test (Protector of the Small, #1) by Tamora Pierce: Back to Tortall! I’m diving into Tamora Pierce’s next quartet of books. I do love the worlds she creates.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week. Slow but steady!
  • The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. An ongoing group read, two chapters per week — we’ll be finished in December. Want to join in? Ask me how!

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center—a women’s reproductive health services clinic—its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage.

After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic.

But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester disguised as a patient, who now stands in the cross hairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard.

Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day.

Jodi Picoult—one of the most fearless writers of our time—tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation . . . and, hopefully, understanding.

In A Spark of Light, Jodi Picoult presents yet another ripped-from-the-headlines scenario: At the last remaining clinic that provides abortions in the state of Mississippi, women seeking services must brave a gauntlet of protesters to get inside the doors, where they’re treated with kindness, despite the convoluted laws that dictate timing, method, and communications around care. But on the day this story unfolds, the normal tensions and emotions are disrupted by a gunman who bursts into the clinic, shooting indiscriminately and taking hostages, so blinded by his own rage that he feels no compassion for the people whose lives he’s endangering.

We see events through the eyes of multiple characters: The doctor, who flies from state to state to perform the services that give women choices; the teen seeking birth control for the first time; the older woman who trusts the clinic staff to help her understand a medical diagnosis; the woman seeking an abortion; the relative there as an escort, and more. The author has chosen an unusual approach to this story: Instead of starting at the beginning of the day and taking us through it step by step, the narrative starts at the end, at the climax of the hostage situation. From there, the story moves backward, hour by hour, so that with each chapter, we learn a little more about the people involved, the events that have already happened, and how these different people all ended up in this crisis together.

I have mixed feelings about the backwards chronology. There are plenty of “aha” moments with each chapter, as another piece of the puzzle slides into place. So THAT’s why this person came to the clinic! So THAT’s why this other character acted this way! So THAT’s how these scenarios are connected. As with all of the Picoult books I’ve read, there’s a fairly large twist toward the end that further explains things. But does this work in terms of the actual power of the story? Well, for me, not so much. Yes, it’s satisfying to see the pieces come together, yet the horrific opening scenes would have been more powerful if I’d actually felt like I knew the people involved. Instead, we start with a bunch of strangers in a terrible situation, and have to work through each chapter, each going backward by one hour, in order to get to know their backstories, their personalities, and their motivations.

At the same time, A Spark of Light does a good job of making the various sides of the reproductive rights battle comprehensible. The author does not depict anti-choice protesters as mindless fanatics. Instead, as we get to know characters from all sides of the issue, we’re given insight into why they believe what they believe. Whether we agree with a particular character’s viewpoint or not, we come out of this reading experience at least understanding why a person could feel what they do, and even more importantly, get to understand how a person’s individual experiences and struggles often play into the stance they take as adults.

To be clear, there’s a sharp distinction between belief and action, and the author in no way supports the actions of the shooter in this story. What he does is unforgivable. Still, there’s a backstory provided, to explain how a man might snap and take such extreme action. I have to say that this is where the story feels weakest to me: I don’t really buy the chain of events that led this man, in the blink of an eye, to change from family man to mass murderer.

In the author’s notes at the end of the book, the author provides some fascinating statistics about abortion law and how it’s changed, the restrictions placed on women who need care, and the ways in which choice continues to be curtailed. She also makes compelling arguments for the need for greater access to contraception and healthcare in order to reduce the need for abortions. She draws on interviews with countless medical providers, political advocates from both sides of the issues, and women who’ve contemplated or chosen termination of pregnancies, and presents a powerful portrait of what this means for the people involved.

A Spark of Light is though-provoking and absorbing. While I do feel that the backwards chronology is not effective, I still found myself caught up in the characters’ lives by the end of the book. This book has both dramatic action and interesting moral dilemmas, and is sure to be a hit with Picoult’s many fans.

Warning: In addition to the gun violence, some readers may find the graphic description of the abortion process particularly disturbing. 

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The details:

Title: A Spark of Light
Author: Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication date: October 2, 2018
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

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