Friday (Re)Reads: The Twelve

Posted 22 July, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Friday (Re)Reads: The TwelveThe Twelve by Justin Cronin
Published by Hachette UK on October 25th 2012
Genres: Fiction, General, Horror, Science Fiction, Thrillers, Suspense, Fantasy
Pages: 688
Goodreads
three-stars

In the present day, as the man-made apocalypse unfolds, three strangers navigate the chaos. Lila, a doctor and an expectant mother, is so shattered by the spread of violence and infection that she continues to plan for her child’s arrival even as society dissolves around her. Kittridge, known to the world as “Last Stand in Denver,” has been forced to flee his stronghold and is now on the road, dodging the infected, armed but alone and well aware that a tank of gas will get him only so far. April is a teenager fighting to guide her little brother safely through a landscape of death and ruin. These three will learn that they have not been fully abandoned—and that in connection lies hope, even on the darkest of nights.

One hundred years in the future, Amy and the others fight on for humankind’s salvation...unaware that the rules have changed. The enemy has evolved, and a dark new order has arisen with a vision of the future infinitely more horrifying than man’s extinction. If the Twelve are to fall, one of those united to vanquish them will have to pay the ultimate price.

So I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this trilogy, The PassageThe Twelve did not disappoint either. I re-read this book in preparation for the thrilling conclusion, The City of Mirrors.

As the second installment in the trilogy it was great to pick back up in Cronin’s expert world building and revisit the (many) characters introduced in the first novel. The Twelve expands on those characters and the situations that the characters find themselves in. Cronin does a great job continuing to develop both characters and his world. For the most part these two novels are incredibly impressive both in scope and depth. But there are points in The Twelve where I felt like it was (dare I say it) almost overdeveloped. Danny’s backstory, even April and Tim…  this book is so long and so detailed that these pieces felt a little extraneous. Admittedly, this is one of the things that may add to the excellent world building, but this book is a chunkster as it is and I’m not sure that these narratives added enough.

I wish that I had reviewed this prior to finishing The City of Mirrors, but (and we’ll get to this in another review) I didn’t, that reading kind of tainted me for the entire trilogy and I’m unable to differentiate the second and third books as well as I’d like to.

This trilogy is absolutely epic.

Reader, have you read The TwelveThe Passage? Are you looking for a new spin on vampires? 

April

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Sunday Salon: Anxiety

Posted 17 July, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in memes, musings

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Time // 6:41 PM EDT

Feeling // Wicked anxious. For no particular reason. I had a meltdown on Twitter today, at the pool. As I was saying, I’ve finally come to the point in my life, where for the most part, I don’t give a fuck what other people think about me. I’m comfortable with the way that I look, the job  that I do, the friends that I keep. Until I go out in public with The Girl. Then I lose. My. Shit. Is she bugging other people too much? Are they judging me for the way that she’s dressed? Am I paying enough attention to her? Too much attention to her? Helicoptering? Neglecting? On. And. On. And. On. My blood pressure rises, my heart starts hammering, and I usually feel frozen in place. It’s a terrible, awful, no good feeling that I don’t know how to shake. Anyway.

Reading //  I just finished up a book that I loved, except for the ending. I hate when an author takes a perfectly content atheist character and makes him/her find god. It’s so… trite. Also still working on Kathleen Glasgow’s upcoming YA(?) novel Girl in Pieces which is raw and powerful and awful in all the best ways. I’m in a reading slump and need to feel excited about something. Suggestions?

That’s all she wrote, Reader. How are you?

April

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Whatever Wednesday: Before the Fall

Posted 13 July, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Whatever Wednesday: Before the FallBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley
Published by Grand Central Publishing on May 31st 2016
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback ARC
Goodreads
three-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha's Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul's family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

I’m going to dub 2016 “The Year of the ‘You Could Do Worse on a Plane’ Book” because seriously, that’s pretty much the rating I’ve given to everything this year.

Before the Fall is by no means a bad novel, but it’s not a particularly good novel either. It’s kind of fun the reconstruction of the accident, the push and pull of the suspense, and loving to hate the Fox News-esque anchor Bill Cunningham for exploiting the death of his boss and whipping up the public into a totally unnecessary frenzy. Actually, Bill Cunnigham’s role in the novel is perhaps the most interesting thing about it. He’s so repulsive and the way he behaves (both on and off the air) is so repugnant that it really leaves the reader to question the motivations behind cable news and info-tainment anchors on both sides of the aisle.

I also enjoyed the portions about the extreme swimmer and fitness guru from the fifties. The imagery of a man swimming from Alcatraz with his wrists chained, pulling a boat was just fabulous. Come to think of it, the stronger visual parts of Before the Fall all involved swimming.

The rest of the novel is a decent enough cross between a character study and a suspense novel. Before the Fall is not a great novel for book clubs because there’s not a whole lot to talk about. Once you’ve finished the book it’s pretty cut and dry. I only mention this because it was featured at BEA’s book club speed dating event and I tried to book club it myself.

Does this kind of action, suspense, character study type novel appeal to you, Reader? Has anyone else read this? Enjoy it? Not enjoy it? Thoughts and feelings?

April

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Monday Controversy: Underground Airlines

Posted 11 July, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Controversy: Underground AirlinesUnderground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
Published by Random House on July 5th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Alternative History, General
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback ARC
Goodreads
four-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it. Except for one thing: slavery still exists.
Victor has escaped his life as a slave, but his freedom came at a high price. Striking a bargain with the government, he has to live his life working as a bounty hunter. And he is the best they’ve ever trained.

A mystery to himself, Victor tries to suppress his memories of his own childhood and convinces himself that he is just a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he is desperate to preserve. But in tracking his latest target, he can sense that that something isn’t quite right.
For this fugitive is a runaway holding something extraordinary. Something that could change the state of the country forever.

And in his pursuit, Victor discovers secrets at the core of his country's arrangement with the system that imprisoned him, secrets that will be preserved at any cost.

This is a good lesson on why to write your reviews as soon as you finish a book. I finished Underground Airlines last Monday, before (I read) the New York Times review, before (I knew about) the Twitter backlash, before the three days of violence in America. But here we are, living in the present, writing in reality. The question is, do I tackle the review or the controversy first? Let’s just see where things take us, shall we?

First, the world building is excellent. Underground Airlines, if nothing else it is well researched novel with a meticulously created world. The devil is in the details with this book and Winters does his due diligence in getting most of them. This is a novel where the plot will fail if the premise fails. If Winters had been unable to convince me that the Civil War had never happened, that slavery had been permanently enshrined in the Constitution, the the Hard Four were real, nothing else would have mattered. But the attention to detail in the world building makes the whole thing frighteningly plausible. It’s worth noting that Winters spends the first SIXTY EIGHT pages establishing his world.

Speaking of world building… I loved the literary name dropping Winters did. The subtle changing of the plot of To Kill a Mockingbird. “…about the Alabama runner [slave] who is discovered hiding in a small Tennessee town, and the courageous white lawyer who saves him from a vicious racist Deputy Marshal…” The celebration of Zora Neale Hurston’s “masterpiece” that was smuggled out of a sugarcane plantation “page by page” before Florida went free. These details are delightful to any bibliophile.

As far as the plot, stories, and characters go… these are a little more thin for me. I’m not a huge fan of crime noir novels, so the stylistic decision Winters made to frame the plot and Victor’s character in this fashion didn’t work overly well for me. I found the characters to be a little underdeveloped. What was really with Barton? (Though I did love the characterization that he had a ‘Mockingbird complex’ “…the white man is a the saver, the black man gets saved.”) Marsha’s motivation was believable, but there was still something missing with her… The point is the characters wer all pretty static and I wish that Winters had done more with them.

Overall I found this book to be immensely enjoyable and very readable. It’s thoughtful, well written, and will leave you thinking.

Meanwhile on Twitter…

I get it. I get the reality behind the diversity in books movement. I agree that Octavia Butler is an unsung hero and that it is wrong in so many ways. But (and here’s where I piss people off…), does that negate the fact that Winters has written an incredibly thoughtful book about race relations in America?

Look. When I started Underground Airlines I didn’t realize who Ben Winters was. Maybe a third of the way into the book I looked up who he was and had the thought, “Oh shit. He’s white.” At that point I had the thoughts and feelings on “Should he really be writing about this?” I was already committed to the story so I pressed on and it was a good book. Do I agree with Lev Grossman’s characterization that Winters is “fearless” for writing this novel? Not really. Do I think that it’s fair that Winters is getting backlash for writing this just because he’s white? Not really. Do I think that there are people of color who have written books with similar premises who have not gotten fair recognition? ABSOLUTELY.

I understand that people of color have an uphill battle in publishing. Hell, in life. But should we condemn a book that may reach a larger audience (because of the popular acclaim of his previous novels), which may get that audience to think about these issues? An audience that isn’t actively seeking out novels by people of color because they’re not book bloggers or social justice warriors, it’s an audience of casual readers. People who pick up crime novels because they want some beach reading, not all of them are going to be politically active – but Winters’s novel might reach them, it might make them think, it may turn someone who was previously apathetic into an ally. Is that a bad thing?

Just my take dear Reader. Respectful dissent is always encouraged. 

April

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Sunday Salon: Grief

Posted 10 July, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

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Time // 10:20 A.M. EDT

Feeling // Torn, sad, exhausted. I’m trying to figure out how to get myself off of social media because I’m losing my damn mind with it. The mental gymnastics required to be a moderate during these polarized times is exhausting. It should not be so damned hard to want basic human rights for all people and to support the brave men and women in law enforcement who put their lives on the line every day to protect our communities. I truly believe that the two are not mutually exclusive. That’s about all you’re going to get from me. If me not engaging with this on social media makes you want to categorize me as someone who is a part of the problem because I’m not ‘speaking out’… well, bye Felisha. Let’s just all remember that online presence isn’t everything. Many people do good works quietly.

Reading // … not a whole lot. Read the Alex + Ada graphic novels this past week, hopefully I will get around to doing a review. I’m still listening to the audio of The City of Mirrors. Other than that I’ve having a bit of a reading slump. I started a couple of books due out in August but nothing really took. I need to release my FOMO regarding books and just read what I want to read. Now if I could just figure out what that was.

Playing // A ton of Ticket to Ride both online and in-person. Mr. SFR said he felt like a ‘train widower’, but he bought me the tabletop version of the European map. I’ve been playing the U.S. map since about 2006 so it’s a fun new variation. I’m also currently obsessed with deck building games like Tanto Cuore, DC Comics Deck Building (nerdiness squared – comics and board games – yes, please), and Dominion.

How was your week, Reader?

April

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Sunday Salon: Hello July

Posted 3 July, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in blogging, memes, musings

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With June gone and July beginning in earnest I’m feeling the pressure of my Goodreads challenge weighing down upon me. I’m fifteen books behind schedule and I’m not sure I’m going to be able to pull out of this nosedive before the end of the year. I guess next year I’ll have to plan for job stress and family things.

I only managed to make it through four books last month and I’m hoping that I’ll do better in July. I’m working on Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines which is a thoughtful speculative fiction title due out on Tuesday. I’m also listening to Cronin’s The City of Mirrors which is the final book in The Passage trilogy.

In meteorological news, it’s so hot. I grew up in the south and have been back in Georgia for about three years now, but I never get over how damn hot it gets. We just got back from the pool. I hate the sun. I hate being tan. I hate burning more than all that. DESPITE all that I’m thinking that this summer I should take up swimming – because it’s aerobic and it keeps me cooler than running does in the 98+ degree heat. Still thinking the thoughts, trying to make a decision.

My best good friend (who also happens to be my trial assistant) came to the pool today with her boyfriend. I think that we’re about to embark on an evening of board games, booze, and fun. She has a DC Comics Deck Building Game that I suspect will be an excellent time as well as a Japanese board game that I haven’t played yet, but I am looking forward to.

Anyway. That’s my weekend thus far, Readers. What about you? Read anything worth reading? Done anything worth doing? 

April

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Wednesday Wow: The Fireman

Posted 29 June, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wednesday Wow: The FiremanThe Fireman by Joe Hill
Published by HarperCollins on May 17th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Horror, Thrillers, General, Psychological
Pages: 768
Format: Kindle Paperwhite
Goodreads
four-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.
Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.
Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.
In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.

Shortly after starting Joe Hill’s The Fireman, I loved it. Shortly after finishing The Fireman, I loved it. There were times in the middle where I didn’t love it as much. I think that the strengths and the weaknesses of this novel relate to how heavily Hill leans on certain elements of other novels.

Let me elaborate. The start of this novel feels an awful lot like Stephen King’s The Stand, down to the fact that Harper, the female lead’s middle name is Frances (as in Frances Goldsmith, a significant female character in The Stand). More importantly Harper shares personality and inner life characteristics with Frannie Goldsmith. They both have a certain naivety and (unrealistic in the circumstances) belief in the better part of people. They’re also both survivors. Also, much like The Stand there is a separation of the populace into camps of good versus evil. At first I found this obvious homage to Father King (Father Storey?) to be charming but as the pages wore on I found the homage to be more predictable and wished for Hill to strike out on his own.

To be fair, Hill readily admitted this in a recent NPR interview, and he really cracked me up:

My book does carry a lot of echoes of The Stand, which is a novel that I adored, and you know, I sometimes joked that the book is The Stand if it was soaked in gasoline and set on fire.

I eventually did shake the idea that this was just The Stand set on fire. The latter part of the novel turns into something a little different and although it does end a little predictably it’s still a hell of a good ride. The fact that this is the first novel that really calls on Hill’s chops to world-build (let’s face it, NOS4A2 didn’t require full world-building) is actually really impressive.

Overall, this is a great read for those who love the apocalypse-by-disease genre and it’s also a fairly good twist on the genre with the creation of the Dragonscale fungus. Naturally, this book comes highly recommended to all Stephen King and Joe Hill fans as well.

What do you think, Reader? Any end of the world junkies out there?

April

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Sunday Salon: Excuses Edition

Posted 26 June, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in memes, musings

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Forgive me internet, for I have sinned and it has been nineteen days since my last blog post. Well, it’s been nineteen days since my last blog post, anyway. I was going to start writing on the regular and … et cetera et cetera.

Let’s start with something relevant to the blog, like what I’ve been reading. I’m probably 100 pages shy of finishing The Fireman and it has been wholly enjoyable. I’m working my way through Before the Fall by Noah Hawley so I can book-club it with my new local-bookish-BFF who also happens to be dating my General Counsel from work. I also just got a magical care package from Catherine at Gilmore Guide to Books with Sweetbitter and an upcoming Shirley Jackson biography which was the one book I really wanted but wasn’t able to get my hands on at BEA. (I promise Catherine, that Kindle Paperwhite will be in the mail this week…)

So, what’s been going on? Well, last Sunday Salon (three weeks ago?) I told you I was taking a case to trial that I desperately didn’t want to. It was a win… ish. Eight count accusation, seven acquittals and one conviction on the charge the defense attorney went in telling the jury to convict on. Sentencing pretty much went my way though, so… win? Doesn’t matter, it’s over. While that jury was still out deliberating I had to pick another jury and try another case, it was utterly exhausting.

The Friday of the week of all the jury trials I had to leave after work to go to a intensive week long training starting the next day (SATURDAY) in BEAUUUUTIFUL Forsyth, Georgia where I proceeded to work twelve to sixteen hour days for the next six days. That was the same week that the Pulse shooting happened and that the alligator ate the baby at Disney World and I just couldn’t with the internet.

I came home and Mr. SFR was gone and The Girl was with my mother and really all I could do was collapse into my bed and watch trashy television until last Wednesday. At that point I went back to work and had to bury myself in that… so no blogging.

Which brings us to today… I think it’s time to get reading. What’s new with you, Reader?

April

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Friday (Re)Reads: The Passage

Posted 10 June, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Friday (Re)Reads: The PassageThe Passage by Justin Cronin
Published by Random House Publishing Group on June 8th 2010
Genres: Fiction, Thrillers, Suspense, Science Fiction, Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Literary, General, Fantasy, Epic
Pages: 784
Format: Kindle Paperwhite
Goodreads
four-stars

An epic and gripping tale of catastrophe and survival, The Passage is the story of Amy—abandoned by her mother at the age of six, pursued and then imprisoned by the shadowy figures behind a government experiment of apocalyptic proportions. But Special Agent Brad Wolgast, the lawman sent to track her down, is disarmed by the curiously quiet girl and risks everything to save her. As the experiment goes nightmarishly wrong, Wolgast secures her escape—but he can’t stop society’s collapse. And as Amy walks alone, across miles and decades, into a future dark with violence and despair, she is filled with the mysterious and terrifying knowledge that only she has the power to save the ruined world.

So this is my second journey through Cronin’s The Passage, I remember enjoying it immensely back in 2010 when it first came out. I only refreshed myself with the Wikipedia page when the second book in the trilogy The Twelve came out in 2012, but now with the impending release of the last book in the trilogy (City of Mirrors), I felt it was time for a full re-read.

Let me tell you, while I still enjoyed The Passage a ton, it didn’t hold up as well as I wanted it to. It is an epic, sprawling story with multitudes of characters spanning about a hundred years. What makes The Passage stand apart from other apocalypse novels is that Cronin manages to do it all. We get to see both the fall of society and the almost dystopian aftermath a hundred years later with society evolving to live with the virals. First Colony is peopled with at least half a dozen fully formed and fleshed out characters. Cronin is an excellent world builder and puts a bright new spin out in the world of vampire literature.

My problem with The Passage comes from the not-quite-heavy-handed-but-at-least-middle-handed Christ allegory that we get at the end with Amy. I don’t know a whole lot about Justin Cronin as a person except that he seemed lovely for the fifteen seconds that stood with him at BEA (but not as lovely as George Saunders), but the preachy-ness at the end of this book leaves me suspicious of Cronin the way we should have been suspicious about Creed in the late nineties.

Despite all that, I must highly recommend The Passage to all lovers of vampire, apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s a good fun read, especially if you want a fast-paced chunkster.

So Readers, I know other people out there have read The Passage. Thoughts? Feelings?

April

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Monday Madness: I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Posted 6 June, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Madness: I’m Thinking of Ending ThingsI'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
Published by Gallery/Scout Press on June 14th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Thrillers
Pages: 224
Goodreads
three-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

You will be scared. But you won’t know why…
I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It’s always there. Always.
Jake once said, “Sometimes a thought is closer to truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.”
And here’s what I’m thinking: I don’t want to be here.

In this deeply suspenseful and irresistibly unnerving debut novel, a man and his girlfriend are on their way to a secluded farm. When the two take an unexpected detour, she is left stranded in a deserted high school, wondering if there is any escape at all. What follows is a twisted unraveling that will haunt you long after the last page is turned.
In this smart, suspenseful, and intense literary thriller, debut novelist Iain Reid explores the depths of the human psyche, questioning consciousness, free will, the value of relationships, fear, and the limitations of solitude. Reminiscent of Jose Saramago’s early work, Michel Faber’s cult classic Under the Skin, and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an edgy, haunting debut. Tense, gripping, and atmospheric, this novel pulls you in from the very first page…and never lets you go.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is, as promised, very atmospheric. It’s also incredibly creepy and not to put to fine a point on it but – it’s weird. Really, more than anything this novel is weird. I generally like strange and unusual and perhaps the longer I sit and marinate with I’m Thinking of Ending Things, the more I’ll like it. But for now, about three days after finishing it… it’s just weird.

A man and woman are driving out to the country so girlfriend can meet homeboy’s parents for the first time. It’s dark, cold, and snowing. Parents are decidedly weird. The whole book is written in sentence snippets. Like this. What I guess I’m trying to say is that the first person narrative from unnamed girlfriend’s point of view is a little unnerving. But maybe that’s what the narrative is supposed to do…

Homeboy, or Jake, comes off as a pretentious asshole – and I can’t remember if Jake and girlfriend are actually supposed to be college-age kids – but that’s the vibe that I got from this novel, that’s how I imagined these characters.

Between girlfriend’s experience are chapters of two people talking to each other. Who they are is never explained but those interim chapters are an excellent tension building device that Reid uses quite effectively. If nothing else, I’m Thinking of Ending Things has dramatic tension in scads. (Or is it ‘scads of dramatic tension’? Anyway.)

The big problem with this novel is that it rests entirely on the ending. Without the ending this book is a jumbled mess. I’m not entirely sure it isn’t a jumbled mess anyway. Kind of like this review.

So Readers, who’s running out to buy this one next week? I didn’t hate this book, but I don’t know who or how to recommend it. Maybe a book club, there’s lots to talk about here. Do you have books that you don’t know how to recommend?

April

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