Whatever Wednesday: The Last Days of Night

Posted 14 September, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Whatever Wednesday: The Last Days of NightThe Last Days of Night by Graham Moore
Published by Random House on August 16th 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Format: Kindle Paperwhite
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.

New York, 1888. Gas lamps still flicker in the city streets, but the miracle of electric light is in its infancy. The person who controls the means to turn night into day will make history—and a vast fortune. A young untested lawyer named Paul Cravath, fresh out of Columbia Law School, takes a case that seems impossible to win. Paul’s client, George Westinghouse, has been sued by Thomas Edison over a billion-dollar question: Who invented the light bulb and holds the right to power the country?

The case affords Paul entry to the heady world of high society—the glittering parties in Gramercy Park mansions, and the more insidious dealings done behind closed doors. The task facing him is beyond daunting. Edison is a wily, dangerous opponent with vast resources at his disposal—private spies, newspapers in his pocket, and the backing of J. P. Morgan himself. Yet this unknown lawyer shares with his famous adversary a compulsion to win at all costs. How will he do it?
In obsessive pursuit of victory, Paul crosses paths with Nikola Tesla, an eccentric, brilliant inventor who may hold the key to defeating Edison, and with Agnes Huntington, a beautiful opera singer who proves to be a flawless performer on stage and off. As Paul takes greater and greater risks, he’ll find that everyone in his path is playing their own game, and no one is quite who they seem.

The Last Days of Night grabbed my attention before and at BEA. The clever title and the idea of a historical fiction account of the patent war over the lightbulb between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. What I am sad to report is that for me, The Last Days of Night didn’t really deliver on this rich subject matter.

Beginning with the characters. I felt like all of the characters up to and including Paul, Agnes, Tesla, and Westinghouse were incredibly static. The dialogue was rather stilted and quite frankly I didn’t really buy into much of it, though I knew that The Last Days of Night was based on real events. Much like the way many historical fiction novels pan out for me, I found the most interesting part of this novel was the afterword where Moore explains where his novel differed and expounded on the actual events of this case.

While I know that other readers found the book too technical, especially when it came to the litigation of the patent suit, that’s actually what I would have liked more of. To be fair, my opinion on that as an attorney may be really different than that of an average reader.

I said before that I was dubbing 2016 as the year of ‘could do worse on an airplane’ books. That’s squarely where The Last Days of Night falls. What about you, Reader? Has anyone else read this one?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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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 @ The Steadfast Reader

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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
Series: The Passage #1
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 @ The Steadfast Reader

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Terrific Tuesday: Forty Rooms

Posted 17 May, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Terrific Tuesday: Forty RoomsForty Rooms by Olga Grushin
Published by Penguin on February 16th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Contemporary Women, Family Life
Pages: 336
Format: Kindle Paperwhite
Goodreads
five-stars

Totally original in conception and magnificently executed, Forty Rooms is mysterious, withholding, and ultimately emotionally devastating. Olga Grushin is dealing with issues of women’s identity, of women’s choices, that no modern novel has explored so deeply.
“Forty rooms” is a conceit: it proposes that a modern woman will inhabit forty rooms in her lifetime. They form her biography, from childhood to death. For our protagonist, the much-loved child of a late marriage, the first rooms she is aware of as she nears the age of five are those that make up her family’s Moscow apartment. We follow this child as she reaches adolescence, leaves home to study in America, and slowly discovers sexual happiness and love. But her hunger for adventure and her longing to be a great poet conspire to kill the affair. She seems to have made her choice. But one day she runs into a college classmate. He is sure of his path through life, and he is protective of her. (He is also a great cook.) They drift into an affair and marriage. What follows are the decades of births and deaths, the celebrations, material accumulations, and home comforts—until one day, her children grown and gone, her husband absent, she finds herself alone except for the ghosts of her youth, who have come back to haunt and even taunt her.
Compelling and complex, Forty Rooms is also profoundly affecting, its ending shattering but true. We know that Mrs. Caldwell (for that is the only name by which we know her) has died. Was it a life well lived? Quite likely. Was it a life complete? Does such a life ever really exist? Life is, after all, full of trade-offs and choices. Who is to say her path was not well taken? It is this ambiguity that is at the heart of this provocative novel.

There is no way I can say enough good things about Grushin’s Forty Rooms. I’ll admit that while the first two or three chapters are flawlessly written, it still took about that long for this book to really grab me. But once it did, it didn’t let go until the end.

Let’s just start with the premise. Writing a novel around the idea that people on average inhabit about forty rooms during their lifetime, each chapter being a different point in time in the life of our protagonist, starting with early childhood. The writing in each chapter is skillfully and beautifully rendered, matching the thought patterns of each period of life it’s meant to represent. We begin with the little girl in the bathroom who is reflecting with childish thoughts about what it means for different members of her family to be bathing her. The prose is just so perfect that by the time I was grabbed by this story I felt like every part of it could be related back to my own life.

Forty Rooms is fantastic. Despite that there are many people who this book did not work for. I can’t recommend this book to people who need constant action. I can’t recommend it to people who dislike introspective character studies or can’t deal with ambiguity in a novel. Everyone else should definitely read it.

For a much more eloquent and well written review visit Catherine over at Gilmore Guide to Books.

Whatcha thinking, Reader? Does Forty Rooms sound like it might be your jam?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Magnificent Monday: The Invaders (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 8 February, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Magnificent Monday: The Invaders (A Tournament of Books Selection)The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak
Published by Simon and Schuster on July 7th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary
Pages: 240
Format: Kindle Paperwhite
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Over the course of a summer in a wealthy Connecticut community, a forty-something woman and her college-age stepson’s lives fall apart in a series of violent shocks.
Cheryl has never been the right kind of country-club wife. She's always felt like an outsider, and now, in her mid-forties—facing the harsh realities of aging while her marriage disintegrates and her troubled stepson, Teddy, is kicked out of college—she feels cast adrift by the sparkling seaside community of Little Neck Cove, Connecticut. So when Teddy shows up at home just as a storm brewing off the coast threatens to destroy the precarious safe haven of the cove, she joins him in an epic downward spiral.

The Invaders, in a word, is magnificent. It’s a modern day rendering (I suspect intentionally…) of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening.

I love the parallels that it brings out in modern society (and U.S. politics) Lori, the neighbor in the upper-upper middle class neighborhood with more money than sense erecting a fence the keep ‘the Mexicans’ out. The idea that being poor is equivocal with being dangerous and the upsetting idea of people pooping in the ocean. Despite touching on points of white privilege, isolationism, and class politics it’s also a story about family and marriage.

Told through the voices of Cheryl, the second wife of a man who has lived his life behind the walls of white country club money and privilege, and Teddy, the son from his first marriage. Both voices are equally heartbreaking and at times, equally unlikable.

Despite having been married to Jeffery for ten years, Cheryl is still an outsider and wonders how these people who seemingly have nothing to be unhappy about — as they have everything — are.

I wanted to know which of these women were still having sex with their husbands. I wanted to know if I was pathetic of if this was just how it turned out for everybody.

As Cheryl’s isolation becomes more palpable, a hurricane moves in.

At the same time we have Teddy, who should be an ‘insider’ being born and raised in the country club enclave, but still somehow ends up as an ‘invader’. He has his own demons to conquer and ways of battling them that drag out in the open the idea that we can literally give our kids everything and despite that (or perhaps because of it) they will still have their problems and there’s nothing that we as parents can do to help.

For sure, The Invaders is a dark book, but it’s highly readable, with fully fleshed out, complex characters. What I don’t understand is the poor ratings that The Invaders has on Goodreads and Amazon. My only guess is that it was badly marketed as ‘women’s lit’, which I think that if you pick it up with that mindset, of course, you’re going to hate it.

What do you think, Readers? Has anyone out there read this one? I obviously think that it’s highly underrated… what about you? How do you think it will fare in the Tournament of Books?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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