Doomsday Friday: White Horse

Posted 8 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Doomsday Friday: White HorseWhite Horse by Alex Adams
Published by Simon and Schuster on December 18th 2012
Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, General, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 306
Goodreads
three-stars

THE WORLD HAS ENDED, BUT HER JOURNEY HAS JUST BEGUN. Thirty-year-old Zoe leads an ordinary life until the end of the world arrives. She is cleaning cages and floors at Pope Pharmaceuticals when the president of the United States announces that human beings are no longer a viable species. When Zoe realizes that everyone she loves is disappearing, she starts running. Scared and alone in a shockingly changed world, she embarks on a remarkable journey of survival and redemption. Along the way, Zoe comes to see that humans are defined not by their genetic code, but rather by their actions and choices. White Horse offers hope for a broken world, where love can lead to the most unexpected places.

First. I thought I was picking up a dystopian novel. This book is not dystopian. I don’t know where I got that idea from, but it is  apocalyptic. 

Other than that… Meeeeeh. I had my ups and downs. Places where I thought it was pretty good and really bad. A big weakness is the prose was too many metaphors and similes. Bad ones. I mean, you could say, “it grew on me like a colony of E. coli and it was room-temperature Canadian beef.” (Yeah, that’s bad intentionally.)

I also could’ve done without the end. Maybe these types of endings don’t suit me anymore. I shan’t say anything else, for fear of ruining it for someone else. 

Also, if I hadn’t been to Europe, this would have spurred me to travel to the Greek Isles. They truly are beautiful. 

Read this as your second airplane/beach read.

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Wednesday Essay: Guns

Posted 6 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wednesday Essay: GunsGuns by Stephen King
on 2013
Pages: 25
four-half-stars

In a pulls-no-punches essay intended to provoke rational discussion, Stephen King sets down his thoughts about gun violence in America. Anger and grief in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School are palpable in this urgent piece of writing, but no less remarkable are King’s keen thoughtfulness and composure as he explores the contours of the gun-control issue and constructs his argument for what can and should be done.

This piece frickin’ amazing. King churned this guy out within 48 hours of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. It doesn’t matter what side of the U.S. gun debate you’re on, there is something in here for you.

1. Maybe it’s the ‘attack’ on the modern 72 hour news cycle with tragedies like Sandy Hook.
2. Maybe it’s the reality on what the two purposes of semi-automatic weapons are for… 
3. Maybe it’s a comment on the fact our ‘so called culture of violence’ is … NOT a culture of violence (I found that part extraordinarily interesting.)
4. Or maybe it’s what happened in Australia that is a remarkable result of banning some types of assault rifles.
5. Maybe it’s just (the totally awesome) idea that everyone who watches Fox News and MSNBC should be forced to watch the opposite view for a year. 

Gun pro or not, this piece is brilliantly written and should be read for everyone.

The only reason I give it 4.5 stars is that I felt it should be a free Kindle single. At first I speculated that King might be on contract to charge something for the works that he produces for the Kindle, later I learned that the proceeds were donated to charity. 

All in all. Absolutely brilliant.

For a small taste of King’s opinion writing on something not so controversial see the piece that he wrote in the Boston Globe after the Red Sox won the World Series last week: Every Little Thing Turned Out All Right.

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Mental Health Monday: The Silver Linings Playbook

Posted 4 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Mental Health Monday: The Silver Linings PlaybookThe Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
Published by Ottawa Books on April 27th 2010
Pages: 249
five-stars

Meet Pat Peoples. Pat has a theory: his life is a movie produced by God. And his God-given mission is to become physically fit and emotionally literate, whereupon God will ensure him a happy ending—the return of his estranged wife, Nikki. (It might not come as a surprise to learn that Pat has spent several years in a mental health facility.)The problem is, Pat’s now home, and everything feels off. No one will talk to him about Nikki; his beloved Philadelphia Eagles keep losing; he’s being pursued by the deeply odd Tiffany; his new therapist seems to recommend adultery as a form of therapy. Plus, he’s being haunted by Kenny G! The former high school history teacher has just been released from a mental institution and placed in the care of his mother. Not one to be discouraged, Pat believes he has only been on the inside for a few months––rather than four years––and plans on reconciling with his estranged wife. Refusing to accept that their apart time is actually a permanent separation, Pat spends his days and nights feverishly trying to become the man she had always desired. Our hapless hero makes a friend in Tiffany, the mentally unstable, widowed sister-in-law of his best friend, Ronnie. Each day as Pat heads out for his 10-mile run, Tiffany silently trails him, refusing to be shaken off by the object of her affection. The odd pair try to navigate a timid friendship, but as Pat is unable to discern friend from foe and reality from deranged optimism, every day proves to be a cringe-worthy adventure.


The Silver Linings Playbook is beautiful. 

I wanted to do a book/movie review, but as it seems I will never get around to watching the movie that will just have to wait. NaNoWriMo looms.

It reads a bit like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time but it’s not like that. This book is about the love of family and friends and what it takes to deal with mental illness or brain-damage.. and what that means to those people suffering from such afflictions. 

I read a review that stated ‘This book ruins the endings to classic literature.” This should not be taken into account when deciding to read this. I almost didn’t read this because of that review! The protagonist briefly discusses The Scarlett Letter, The Bell Jar, and Catcher in the Rye. Don’t let that be the reason you don’t read this!

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Sunday Mystery: Inferno (Robert Langdon #4)

Posted 3 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Sunday Mystery: Inferno (Robert Langdon #4)Inferno by Dan Brown
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on May 14th 2013
Genres: Action & Adventure, Fiction, General, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 480
Goodreads
three-stars

In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno. Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.


Dan Brown, Dan Brown. 

I liken the Robert Langdon books to classical music that is put into old cartoons. An example, Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsody #2 in the Bugs Bunny short ‘Rhapsody Rabbit‘.

Anyway, my point is that the Robert Langdon novels brings art, history, culture, and architecture to increasingly xenophobic (and often uncultured) Americans. What the Robert Langdon novels do are to take these categories and water them down.. allowing appreciation, on some level, for those who might not otherwise be exposed to it. 

So the dilemma is that of the purist – is it better to have the masses exposed to bastardizations of these things rather than no exposure at all? I tend to think that the bastardization is better than nothing. 

The novel is unremarkable, but readable. Good for an airplane or beach read.

I had a nice discussion about it on Amazon here. What are your thoughts? 

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Books About People Who Love Books… Friday: The Thirteenth Tale

Posted 1 November, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Books About People Who Love Books… Friday: The Thirteenth TaleThe Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2007
Pages: 499
Goodreads
three-stars

Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise — she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story.

Both women will have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets... and the ghosts that haunt them still.

This isn’t a book I would have picked up on my own. I read it for a book club.

The writing came off as a bit pretentious to me – the constant allusions to Jane Eyre and other classics came across as the writer comparing her work to those and I found it a little irritating. 

The story itself is good and I don’t mean to say that the writing is bad. It’s a well structured frame story and I think it’s a great book club selection because there is clearly lots of symbolism, foreshadowing, other literary devices, and parallels between the frame and the story inside. 

This quote beautifully echoes why I prefer contemporary literature with open endings. It is not something I could have put into words this eloquently.

“He has described in precise, measured words the beautiful desolation he feels at the close of novels where the message is that there is no end to human suffering, only endurance. He has spoken of endings that are muted, but which echo longer in the memory than louder, more explosive denouements.”

For a one sentence baby/kinda-spoiler click here.

All the same, it’s worth a try. 

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Halloween Horror: The Haunting of Hill House

Posted 31 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Halloween Horror: The Haunting of Hill HouseThe Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
Published by Penguin Genres: Classics, Fiction
Pages: 245
Goodreads
five-stars

First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a "haunting"; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House. At first, their stay seems destined to be merely a spooky encounter with inexplicable phenomena. But Hill House is gathering its powers—and soon it will choose one of them to make its own.

Yep. I’m going to agree with the pros. The Haunting of Hill House is a defining piece of literature within it’s genre. This is the first time I had read this book and thinking back almost every supernatural horror novel that I’ve read before it contains some echo of this novel.

It’s creepy and horrible in the best way and immediately draws you in with Eleanor, who has been unable to create a life of her own because she’s spent the past 11 years as the caretaker for her dreadful mother. I especially liked this passage:

Eleanor Vance was thirty-two years old when she came to Hill House. The only person in the world she genuinely hated, now that her mother was dead, was her sister. She disliked her brother-in-law and her five-year-old niece, and she had no friends. This was owing largely to the eleven years she had spent caring for her invalid mother, which had left her with some proficiency as a nurse and an inability to face strong sunlight without blinking. She could not remember ever being truly happy in her adult life; her years with her mother had been built up devotedly around small guilts and small reproaches, constant weariness, and unending despair. 

Hill House, like Eleanor, waits, empty for someone to fill it up. The haunting may seem mundane by modern standards, but it’s the atmosphere and the character of the house itself that really creates the atmosphere which makes this novel so effective. 

One note about the forward in this edition. IT CONTAINS SPOILERS! Luckily it’s a relatively heavy piece of literary analysis and I was ready to go so I skipped it and read it afterwards. If you’ve already read this book then definitely read the forward as it is excellent, if you haven’t, then definitely take the time to read it afterwards.

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Advanced Review: Ham: Slices of a Life

Posted 29 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Advanced Review: Ham: Slices of a LifeHam: Slices of a Life by Sam Harris
Published by Simon and Schuster on October 7th 2014
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Entertainment & Performing Arts, Essays, Form, Humor, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 304
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.

Longtime recording artist and actor Sam Harris recounts stories of friendship, love, celebrity, and growing up and getting sober.In sixteen brilliantly observed true stories, Sam Harris emerges as a natural humorist in league with David Sedaris, Chelsea Handler, Carrie Fisher, and Steve Martin, but with a voice uniquely his own.  In “I Feel, You Feel” he opens for Aretha Franklin during a blizzard. “Promises” is a front-row account of Liza Minnelli’s infamous wedding to “the man whose name shall go unmentioned.” In “The Zoo Story” Harris desperately searches for a common bond with his rough-and-tumble four-year-old son. What better place to find painfully funny material than in growing up gay, gifted, and ambitious in the heart of the Bible belt? And that’s just the first cut: From partying to parenting, from Sunday school to getting sober, these slices of Ham will have you laughing and wiping away salty tears in equal measure with their universal and down-to-earth appeal. After all, there’s a little ham in all of us.


First, when I requested this book I thought it was a memoir of the atheist ‘apologist’ Sam Harris – it is not. It worked out okay however, because even though I didn’t know THIS Sam Harris by name I am a certified musical theatre dork. 

This book is honest and heartbreaking, entertaining and devastating all at the same time. It’s a little reminiscent of an Augusten Burroughs memoir, but not quite as funny/tragic. While Harris is painfully honest about coming to terms with his alcoholism, he leaves out the much more important part about recovery and how he ‘beat’ it. Another extraordinary part in the memoir is his suicide attempt in which his eleven year old brother saves his life by stepping on a darning needle the same night that Harris decided to attempt to take his own life.

There are sweet and funny parts of this memoir concerning his long-time partner and the adoption of their son. I also especially love the eventual love and acceptance that Harris receives from his father. 

Overall this is a decent memoir. Great for a short trip – but I’d read Augusten Burroughs, Tina Fey, Samantha Bee, or The Bloggess first. Still… good times. 

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Mental Health Monday: Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America’s Premier Mental Hospital

Posted 28 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Mental Health Monday: Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America’s Premier Mental HospitalGracefully Insane by Alex Beam
Published by PublicAffairs on 2009
Genres: General, Health Care Delivery, History, Hospital Administration & Care, Medical, Mental Health, Mental Illness, Psychiatry
Pages: 297
Goodreads
two-stars

Its landscaped ground, chosen by Frederick Law Olmsted and dotted with Tudor mansions, could belong to a New England prep school. There are no fences, no guards, no locked gates. But McLean Hospital is a mental institution-one of the most famous, most elite, and once most luxurious in America. McLean "alumni" include Olmsted himself, Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, James Taylor and Ray Charles, as well as (more secretly) other notables from among the rich and famous. In its "golden age," McLean provided as genteel an environment for the treatment of mental illness as one could imagine. But the golden age is over, and a downsized, downscale McLean-despite its affiliation with Harvard University-is struggling to stay afloat. Gracefully Insane, by Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam, is a fascinating and emotional biography of McLean Hospital from its founding in 1817 through today. It is filled with stories about patients and doctors: the Ralph Waldo Emerson protégé whose brilliance disappeared along with his madness; Anne Sexton's poetry seminar, and many more. The story of McLean is also the story of the hopes and failures of psychology and psychotherapy; of the evolution of attitudes about mental illness, of approaches to treatment, and of the economic pressures that are making McLean-and other institutions like it-relics of a bygone age. This is a compelling and often oddly poignant reading for fans of books like Plath's The Bell Jar and Susanna Kaysen's Girl, Interrupted (both inspired by their author's stays at McLean) and for anyone interested in the history of medicine or psychotherapy, or the social history of New England.

Tedious. This book would be better described as the history of an elite mental health institution, the likes of which most of us will never see. Indeed, at the end the only remnant left of ‘the old days’ is a ‘ward’ for the super-rich. 

It’s also painfully apparent that the author has no understanding or serious conception what mental illness (or for that matter being in a ‘standard’ 21st century mental ward) is actually like. 

Decent if you’re looking for a historical perspective of McLean, rubbish if you’re looking at empathy or understanding or destigmatization of mental illness. 

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Frightful Friday: This Way for the the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen

Posted 25 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Frightful Friday: This Way for the the Gas, Ladies and GentlemenThis Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Tadeusz Borowski
Published by Penguin on 1976
Genres: Classics, Fiction, Short Stories (single author)
Pages: 180
Goodreads
four-stars

Published in Poland after World War II, this collection of concentration camp stories shows atrocious crimes becoming an unremarkable part of a daily routine. Prisoners eat, work, sleep, and fall in love a few yards from where other prisoners are systematically slaughtered. The will to survive overrides compassion, and the line between the normal and the abnormal wavers, then vanishes. Borowski, a concentration camp victim himself, understood what human beings will do to endure the unendurable. Together, these stories constitute not only a masterpiece of Polish - and world - literature but stand as cruel testimony to the level of inhumanity of which man is capable.


This book is simply amazing. As Monty Python might say, “…and now for something completely different…”

I’ve read much literature written out of the Nazi concentration camps. It’s all dreadful. Most famously Eli Wiesel’s account in Night. One aches when they read it. 

This is just as horrible… but extraordinarily different. For one, this is written by a Pole, an ‘Aryan’, in Auschwitz. Because of this fact he was granted more ‘rights’ than the Jews. This is not an account that I have read before. What’s so dreadful about Borowski’s account is the ordinariness of which he describes the day by day life in the camp in. 

It seems as if there is a “Yes, yes. We just saw 20k people who are on their way to the gas chamber to be slaughtered — but what can I trade you for that onion?”

Fabulous. Read it.

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#556 – 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2010)


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Thinking Thursday: 1Q84

Posted 24 October, 2013 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Thinking Thursday: 1Q841Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on October 25th 2011
Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, Literary, Magical Realism
Pages: 944
Goodreads
three-stars

The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled. As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.

Whew. 1Q84 is SO. LONG. I have no issues with long books – but this just went on and on and on. There is much of it that could have been taken out. By the end of the book I didn’t care about what happened to who or why. Which was what was so enjoyable about the beginning of the book.

1Q84 is extremely cerebral. It requires effort (which again, is fine in and of itself) to put all the pieces together. Still, we are left with loose strings, what happened to Fuka-Eri? Doctrines of Sakigate? The dowager? Tamatsu? In most pieces I would find the lack of an ‘ending’ (in regards to the loose ends) satisfying and mysterious in a good way – in this novel, it’s just frustrating.

All that said, 1Q84 is extremely well written – as far as style, syntax, and character development. The name dropping of famous literary works and authors is nice, along with drops of classical music. 
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