Take A Peek Book Review: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher

“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)

When a beloved family dog is stolen, her owner sets out on a life-changing journey through the ruins of our world to bring her back in this fiercely compelling tale of survival, courage, and hope. Perfect for readers of Station Eleven and The Girl With All the Gifts.

My name’s Griz. My childhood wasn’t like yours. I’ve never had friends, and in my whole life I’ve not met enough people to play a game of football.

My parents told me how crowded the world used to be, but we were never lonely on our remote island. We had each other, and our dogs.

Then the thief came.

There may be no law left except what you make of it. But if you steal my dog, you can at least expect me to come after you.

Because if we aren’t loyal to the things we love, what’s the point?

My Thoughts:

A man stole my dog.

I went after him.

Bad things happened.

I can never go home.

I’ll keep this short and to the point, because it would be way too easy to veer into spoilery territory, and this book is best experienced fresh and free from a whole lot of expectations. It’s a wonderful story about love and loyalty, centered around a quest to retrieve a beloved dog, and filled with danger, unexpected alliances and moments of grace, bravery, and defiance. And yes, a little sadness too.

The title says a lot about the basics of the book. The key point is that this is a world of after — nothing is as we know it. And it’s not because of a world war or other doomsday scenario. Instead, the world basically went infertile, except for a very small percentage of people who didn’t. There was a last generation, and once they died out, the people who remained — about 7,000 worldwide — were left to live on in whatever fashion suited them. The world we know was essentially dead. Nothing new was made or created, and people survived through farming and scavenging (or, as Griz’s family calls it, “viking” — they’d go “a-viking” to see what they could find to reuse and repurpose on their own little isolated island).

Told through Griz’s first-person narration, the story takes us along Griz’s journey, across the sea and through an abandoned and alien mainland… because a stolen dog cannot be forgotten. I loved the writing, both plain and unembellished, yet full of fun word play and cadences:

And then the thing that happened happened and what happened was really three things and they all happened at once.

I really truly loved this book. It’s sad and frightening, but also lovely and inspiring. Griz is a terrific, memorable main character. The story wraps up well, neatly enough to leave me satisfied, but I still wish I could learn more about this world and the people left in it.

Highly recommended. What a treat!

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The details:

Title: A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World
Author: C. A. Fletcher
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: April 23, 2019
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Speculative/post-apocalyptic fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Shelf Control #154: The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones

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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A little note for 2019: For the next short while, I think I’ll focus specifically on books I’ve picked up at our library’s fabulous annual sales. With all books $3 or less, it’s so hard to resist! And yet, they pile up, year after year, so it’s a good idea to remind myself that these books are living on my shelves.

Title: The Salt Line
Author: Holly Goddard Jones
Published: 2017
Length: 400 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

In the spirit of Station Eleven and California, award-winning novelist Holly Goddard Jones offers a literary spin on the dystopian genre with this gripping story of survival and humanity about a group of adrenaline junkies who jump -the Salt Line.-

How far will they go for their freedom–once they decide what freedom really means?

In an unspecified future, the United States’ borders have receded behind a salt line–a ring of scorched earth that protects its citizens from deadly disease-carrying ticks. Those within the zone live safe, if limited, lives in a society controlled by a common fear. Few have any reason to venture out of zone, except for the adrenaline junkies who pay a fortune to tour what’s left of nature. Those among the latest expedition include a popstar and his girlfriend, Edie; the tech giant Wes; and Marta; a seemingly simple housewife.

Once out of zone, the group find themselves at the mercy of deadly ticks–and at the center of a murderous plot. They become captives in Ruby City, a community made up of outer-zone survivors determined to protect their hardscrabble existence. As alliances and friendships shift amongst the hostages, Edie, Wes, and Marta must decide how far they are willing to go to get to the right side of the salt line.

How and when I got it:

LIBRARY SALE!

Why I want to read it:

Hey, who isn’t up for a good apocalypse every once in a while? Although, ticks? Shudder. I love survival tales and stories about the breakdown of society and civilization. I don’t think I fully read the synopsis when I picked this book up at the sale (again — TICKS), but I’m willing to give it a try. (Unfortunately, I just saw that two of my Goodreads friends — whose opinions are usually pretty aligned with my own — DNF’d this book, which maybe isn’t the best sign.)

What do you think? Would you read this book?

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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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Book Review: The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes LastThis is one tough book to describe.

The Heart Goes Last centers on main characters Stan and Charmaine, a married couple who are living in their car as of the beginning of the story. They’ve lost their jobs and their homes as the economy in the US Northeast has completely tanked. Charmaine works at a seedy bar to earn enough for them to buy fast food and gas, but that’s about it. Gas is essential, because even when locked into the car at night, crazy or desperate people may attack, break the windows, and try to rape or kill them, and being able to drive off in case of emergency is what keeps them alive. Life really sucks, and even though they both remember what it was like to be newlyweds in love, it’s getting harder and harder to keep any affection alive when life is just that awful.

Is it any wonder that they sign on, rather blindly, to the promise of a new and better life? Stan and Charmaine are seduced by an advertisement for an experimental town called Consilience. The Consilience project offers a house, safety, security, meaningful life, and the absence of fear and worry. After a quick visit within the gated walls of the town, they’re ready to sign up. The catch is that, once in, it’s permanent, but no worries! Charmaine is too entranced by the idea of a house, her own kitchen, and a cozy couch to even consider walking away, and to Stan, it sure sounds like a great alternative to quick, unsexy sex on the backseat of the car while watching out for attackers.

Once Stan and Charmaine have committed, we start to learn more. There’s a flip side to Consilience: Positron. Positron is a prison, and here’s the deal. For one month, Stan and Charmaine live in their cozy suburban house and go off to work at their pleasant jobs. Then comes switchover day, and the two go over to the Positron Prison, don orange prison garb, and become inmates for a month. Stan goes to the men’s ward, where he tends chickens, and Charmaine goes to the women’s ward, where she’s a medications officer. The prison is safe, filled with other happy Consilience residents, offering delicious food, meaningful work, and even a knitting circle in the evenings to pass the time. Meanwhile, Stan and Charmaine’s house is now occupied by their alternates. Half the town spends each month as residents, half as inmates, and then they switch. This way, the project provides housing and occupation for all, and everyone is happy. Be happy, damn it!

Perhaps picture-perfect suburbia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be:

The hedge trimmer emits a menacing whine, like a wasp’s nest. The sound gives him an illusion of power that dulls his sense of panic. Panic of a rat in a cage, with ample food and drink and even sex, though with no way out and the suspicion that it’s part of an experiment that is sure to be painful.

Things are as weird as they seem, and weirder. There’s sexual obsession and deception, nefarious corporate goons, weird sexual fetishes, secret medical procedures, and a recurring motif of blue knitted teddy bears. Of course this utopian refuge has a dark side, and of course Stan and Charmaine become deeply involved as puppets in the greater scheme of things. When I say things get weird, I really mean it.

By the end of the book, we’re in Vegas. There are hordes of Elvis and Marilyn impersonators, Blue Man Group rip-off artists, brain wipes, and sex/love slaves. And as word of the goings-on in Consilience/Positron is leaked to the greater public:

Instantly the social media sites are ablaze with outrage. Prison abuses! Organ-harvesting! Sex slaves created by neurosurgery! Plans to suck the blood of babies! […] Talk shows roister on into the night — they haven’t had this much fun in decades — and bloggers break out in flames.

I wish I could say that The Heart Goes Last was a great read, but unfortunately, I found it somewhat problematic. I was intrigued at the outset by the set-up, by the collapse of society, and by the way Stan and Charmaine’s marital issues tied into their dilemmas and decision-making about Consilience/Positron. Unfortunately, the book keeps veering off in new and disjointed directions, and by the time the Vegas elements come around, the storyline has passed the line from odd to ridiculous.

There are some truly eerie or disturbing sequences, but eventually, as one after another scenario unfolds, the whole thing loses its power and feels too scattered to be truly affecting. The goofiness of certain plot points (Elvis… Marilyn… the bear) makes the whole story somewhat farcical. While there are some kernels of deeper meaning in there about choice and the illusion of choice, the trade-off between security and free will, and whether unwavering love adds to or subtracts from actual happiness, the lack of overall coherence blunts the impact of all of these.

“Isn’t it better to do something because you’ve decided to? Rather than because you have to.”

“No, it isn’t,” says Charmaine. “Love isn’t like that. With love, you can’t stop yourself.” She wants the helplessness, she wants…

On top of the all-over-the-place plot, the fact is that dystopias are pretty much a dime a dozen these days, and it takes quite a lot to offer something new or startling. The idea of a perfect little town paired with a prison is interesting, especially as the town seems like something out of the movie Pleasantville (the only movies shown on Consilience TV are from the 1950s, and Doris Day is everyone’s darling) — but we’ve all read enough of these new society, perfect world set-ups to know that the people in charge have ulterior motives, there’s surveillance everywhere, and that a controlled world must be intrinsically corrupt at its core. Even though there are some clever and unexpected twists, at its most fundamental level, there isn’t anything all that fresh in the overarching concept.

Sadly, The Heart Goes Last was ultimately a let-down for me. I wouldn’t NOT recommend it, but it’s not Atwood’s best work either. I was never bored, exactly, but at some point, I just kind of rolled my eyes and decided to go with it.

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The details:

Title: The Heart Goes Last
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Publication date: September 29, 2015
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley