Tag: literary fiction

Wonderful Wednesday: The Ark

Posted 17 December, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wonderful Wednesday: The ArkThe Ark by Annabel Smith

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.

The year is 2041. As rapidly dwindling oil supplies wreak havoc worldwide a team of scientists and their families abandon their homes and retreat into a bunker known as The Ark, alongside five billion plant seeds that hold the key to the future of life on Earth. But The Ark’s sanctuary comes at a price.

When their charismatic leader’s hidden agenda is revealed it becomes impossible to know who to trust. Those locked out of The Ark become increasingly desperate to enter, while those within begin to yearn for escape.

The Ark delves into the fears and concerns raised by the environmental predicament facing the world today, exploring human nature in desperate times. At its heart it asks: can our moral compass ever return to true north after a period in which every decision might be a matter of life and death and the only imperative is survival?

What do you get when you combine a brilliant dystopian novel with a unique, cutting edge epistolary style of storytelling? Why Annabel Smith’s The Ark, of course. Smith takes novel writing and the technology that we have available to us for storytelling to a whole new level. 

But let’s start with the general things about the book that I loved anyway. It’s another well written piece of literary dystopian fiction that while quite different from St. Mandel’s Station Eleven, shows a similar command of the genre. Smith takes an idea that could have easily fallen into the general tropes of apocalypse/dystopian genre fiction and makes it literature. There are deeper themes to explore, more than what is just presented on the surface. The epistolary format in which it’s written allows for expert pacing in unfolding what exactly is going on inside (and outside) the ark. 

This book written in the usual manner would be more than enough for me to have enjoyed it thoroughly and highly recommend it, but Smith’s use of the e-book to create an interactive experience really just puts the whole thing over the top in uniqueness. If possible I would highly recommend reading this on an iPad or other such tablet device (I know, it sounds like bizarre advice) – if not, you can still interact with the novel by visiting the website. 

Brilliant writing, brilliant idea on taking a story to a new level. 

What say you, Reader? How do you feel about a whole new reading experience? Are you open to it?


April @ The Steadfast Reader



Must Read Monday: Four Books for Four Different Palates

Posted 1 December, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Bellweather Rhapsody by: Kate Racculia
Genre: Suspense/Coming of age

Why I picked it up? Rory’s at Fourth Street Review review.

Quick synopsis: (Goodreads!) A high school music festival goes awry when a young prodigy disappears from a hotel room that was the site of a famous murder/suicide fifteen years earlier, in a whip-smart novel sparkling with the dark and giddy pop culture pleasures of The Shining, Agatha Christie, and Glee.

Thoughts: I found this book to be utterly delightful. Partially because I was one of those All-State band kids all four years of high-school, partially because I love haunted house stories. But do not fret my scaredy cat friends! While this book is suspenseful (and I know referencing The Shining is scaring you away) there’s lots of humor, mystery, and a beautiful coming of age novel that takes Bellweather Rhapsody out of the ‘horror’ genre and makes it something else entirely. Definitely worth the read for everyone, but people who grew up in and around the music all-state scene will find it especially nostalgic. 

Dear Committee Members by: Julie Schumacher
Genre: Epistolary fiction

Why I picked it up?  Recommended by a <gasp!> non-blogging friend.

Quick Synopsis: A curmudgeonly, yet lovable English professor at a second rate school tries to save his department as demonstrated through a series of letters of recommendations.

Thoughts: This book is funny, witty, and sharp and while Professor Jason Fitger can come off as bit of a passive aggressive ass, I found him to be lovable. There are moments of laugh out loud absurdity in this novel such as when Fitger battles technology to give letters of recommendation in e-format that won’t allow him to use his usual style of meandering on and off the topic of the person he is actually recommending. I also particularly enjoyed the letters on non-recommendation that he sent out. This is an epistolary novel that flew far too far underneath the radar this year and probably should have its own review. Again, everyone can enjoy this novel, but those working in college academia or in a position where they are called upon to provide endless references or letters of recommendation absolutely must read it.  

The Hundred Year House by: Rebecca Makkai
Genre: Literary fiction

Why I picked it up?  I heard Makkai speak on a panel at The Decatur Book festival (so I had to get a signed copy) and it came highly recommended by Shannon at River City Reading (among others).

Quick Synopsis: A generational saga, told in reverse that covers the lives of the Devorhs. Zee of the current generation (set in the nineties) living in the carriage house of a huge estate owned by her mother, Gracie, to the house being an in residence artist’s colony and  finally the story of her great-grandmother, Viola, who was rumored to have met some sort of untimely end.

Thoughts: An absolutely brilliant book. The format at the style make it something that is completely unique and worth reading. Makkai uses this backwards format skillfully and in the hands of a lesser author the book would have been a train wreck. Instead the device pushes the momentum forward (or backwards, if you prefer) leaving the reader desiring to uncover just one more secret before she puts it down. While the characters in the novel never get the whole story, you, lucky reader do – and it’s phenomenal. Read it.

Lock In by: John Scalzi
Genre: Near-future speculative fiction

Why I picked it up: Again, I heard Scalzi speak on a panel at The Decatur Book Festival and Michelle at Reader’s Respite told me I’d be totally missing out if I didn’t see him speak. She was right.

Quick Synopsis: A virus has swept the globe, leaving 1% of the population ‘locked in’ to their own bodies, awake and aware but unable to move, speak, or respond to stimulus. But then two new technologies emerge, a virtual-reality environment in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not, and the invention of ‘threeps’ robots that can be controlled by those ‘locked in’ to interact and participate in the outside world. Plus. A murder.

Thoughts: This book sounded like a fluffy speculative fiction murder mystery when I picked it up, which admittedly is right up my alley. But Scalzi does more with this book than just that. He explores what it means to be human, the deeper prejudices that we harbor and why. I totally enjoyed every part of this book, the world building was well fleshed out and believable enough. The characters were interesting and complex enough to keep up with the higher ideals that Scalzi seemed to be aiming for. Plus. Murder mystery is always fun. It should also be said that this is my first Scalzi novel, which I have heard is quite different from the rest of his body of work. I intend to read Redshirts next. People who enjoy speculative fiction are going to enjoy this most, but I think there’s something for everyone here.

All of these books were purchased by me for the express purpose of free-range reading.

Annabel asked me last time I used the ‘Must Read Monday’ title if this was new meme. It’s not really, but what the hell. If you have a book that you need to share your feelings about with the world, go ahead and link it up! We’ll see how it goes (and probably watch our TBRs grow exponentially).

Anything here look tempting, Reader? Have you read any of these? Do you have any must – reads for me? Link them up! 

April @ The Steadfast Reader



Six Degrees of Separation: 1984

Posted 15 October, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in memes

Six Degrees of Separation time, y’all! Hosted by the indomitable Annabel and Emma

1984 has been one of my favorite books since I read it… in high school? Middle school? Anyway, it’s been forever since I first read it – and I’ve read it a million (okay maybe five or six) times since. If you’re a dystopian writer and haven’t read both 1984 and

Brave New World by: A. Huxley (I can never spell his first name right and I’m too lazy to check my spelling right now…) then you’re doing it wrong. I love Brave New World (also a dystopia for the woefully unknowing) almost as much as I love 1984. I first read Brave New World my senior year of high school, it was challenging because some chapters were told in an unconventional format. Which leads me to…

Solomon the Peacemaker by: Hunter Welles – also a dystopian novel, but with such a fascinating premise I ABSOLUTELY MUST INSIST THAT YOU READ IT RIGHT NOW. It’s also told with an unconventional narrative structure. A ‘terrorist’ is in police custody and being interrogated, but all the interrogation questions are redacted. The reader must pay careful attention to the answers, in order to glean the questions. It’s successful in slowing down speed readers like myself and also leads to more questions. It’s a brilliant book, but unfortunately (like many brilliant books) largely ignored. SO! Brilliant books (somewhat) ignored in unconventional formats leads me to…

Dear Committee Members by: Julie Schumacher – an epistolary novel written in the form of correspondence and letters of recommendation from (and a few to) a delightfully curmudgeonly tenured English professor in a completely dysfunctional university. I want to be Jay. Speaking of epistolary novels…

The Divorce Papers by: Susan Rieger – another unique epistolary novel – except that instead of just correspondance from/to the main character we also get statutes and legal memoranda from the same state. As an unemployed attorney I really enjoyed it. There were also legal issues between the divorcing couple in the novel about their kids which brings us to…

The Children Act by: Ian McEwan – (god, how behind on reviews am I?) a family law judge in England is confronted with a suit on whether or not a 17 year old Jehovah’s Witness has the right to refuse lifesaving treatment. It’s an excellent character driven novel on law, relationships, and hammers home the fact that lawyers and judges are real people too. With feelings. I connect this with…

Steal the North by: Heather Brittain Bergstrom – a coming of age novel set in the background of religious extremism and the need to understand and appreciate other cultures and religions. In this novel it’s extreme fundamentalist Christianity needing to understand the Native American ‘religion’. This is a beautiful and emotionally difficult book, it’s satisfying to see the protagonist shed multiple layers of herself. The beauty of acceptance and diversity in this novel really shine through.

So! From 1984 (also set in ‘England’ [my favorite country – the real England, not the dystopian one…]) to Steal the North in six easy steps. Do you want to play? I know you do. Here’s how:

So, Reader, where do you go from 1984 ? Don’t dare tell me you haven’t read it! But, it’s okay if you haven’t… as long as you’re not writing dystopian fiction. Check out the other chains. So wildly different and creative! 

April @ The Steadfast Reader



Must Read Monday: Station Eleven (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 13 October, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: Station Eleven (A Tournament of Books Selection)Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 9th 2014
Genres: Apocalyptic & Post-Apocalyptic, Dystopian, Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
Pages: 352

2014 National Book Award Finalist. Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.   One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.   Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.   Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

I picked up this book after reading Catherine’s review (The Gilmore Guide to Books). I have been a long time enthusiast of apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, and dystopian novels… dare I say it, before they were cool. So while I find myself a little bored with the massive number of YA books in this genre that carry all too familiar tropes, I always jump on adult novels in the genre (maybe with the noted exception of zombie apocalypse novels). 

This book is beautifully written. It’s character driven, which may sound like an odd combination with the apocalyptic setting but St. John Mandel pulls it off beautifully. It’s elegant and literary. There are points with action, but it never overtakes the characters or dumbs the book down. I especially enjoyed the shifting perspectives in time, people, and places. It’s like a beautifully crafted jigsaw puzzle that you put together in your head, seeing where each character fits.

The characters are well fleshed out and believable (I kept seeing Arthur as Richard Gere, no idea why). There were a few times where a character had been gone for so long from the narrative I had to check myself with a ‘wait, who?’. Other than that, this is a fantastic book. 

I highly recommend it to literary fiction lovers, even if they feel ‘done’ with this particular genre. This book is everything I wanted Lighthouse Island to be, and more. This is not just a genre novel, it’s incredibly literary with deeper themes, symbolism and plot devices that could be great for a book club discussion.

For a more spoiler-y professional review that I agree with, pointing out some of the weaknesses of the novel, I direct you to none other than the New York Times.

So, Reader, have you been ‘done’ with this genre for awhile? Do you have any suggestions for literary novels within this genre for me? I will eat them up.


April @ The Steadfast Reader



TLC Tuesday: Gutenberg’s Apprentice

Posted 23 September, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

TLC Tuesday: Gutenberg’s ApprenticeGutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie
Published by HarperCollins on September 23rd 2014
Genres: Biographical, Fiction, Historical, Literary
Pages: 416

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.

Youthful, ambitious Peter Schoeffer is on the verge of professional success as a scribe in Paris when his foster father, the wealthy merchant and bookseller Johann Fust, summons him home to corruption- riddled, feud-plagued Mainz to meet "a most amazing man."Johann Gutenberg, a driven and caustic inventor, has devised a revolutionary—and, to some, blasphemous—method of bookmaking: a machine he calls a printing press. Fust is financing Gutenberg's workshop, and he orders Peter to become Gutenberg's apprentice. Resentful at having to abandon a prestigious career as a scribe, Peter begins his education in the "darkest art."As his skill grows, so too does his admiration for Gutenberg and his dedication to their daring venture: printing copies of the Holy Bible. But when outside forces align against them, Peter finds himself torn between two father figures—the generous Fust and the brilliant, mercurial Gutenberg, who inspires Peter to achieve his own mastery.Caught between the genius and the merchant, the old ways and the new, Peter and the men he admires must work together to prevail against overwhelming obstacles in a battle that will change history . . . and irrevocably transform them all.

I’m having a hard time on where to start with this book, so I’m just going to have at it. I’m not normally a fan of historical fiction, but historical fiction surrounding the single most important invention of the last millenia? Sure, let’s give it a shot.

Well here’s what I discovered about me: I like historical fiction more when history is merely a backdrop rather than historical fiction that revolves around actual events in history. My problem is that I get caught up in how much of this is true versus what is fictionalized … now I have to find another (non-fiction) book on the Gutenberg operation to learn more. I know, I shouldn’t bitch about being inspired to read more. Enough about my issues with historical fiction, let’s talk about the actual book.

I think that most people with their feet firmly in the (literary) historical fiction genre are going to love this book. It’s beautifully written about a time in history that is largely overlooked and/or romanticized. I don’t feel like Christie does either of these things here.  The story might have been better served by a brief introduction of the period at the beginning, but by the end of the novel it’s very clear what is going on politically in fifteenth century Germany. The Protestant Reformation is coming. The Reformation is largely considered to have really taken shape in 1517 when Martin Luther famously nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg.

Anyway. The novel is a frame story with an older, wiser Peter Schoeffer telling his tale to an abbot in 1485-1486. Most of the novel is a flashback to 1450-1454, the time it took to begin and finish 180 copies of what is now known as ‘The Gutenberg Bible’.

Christie gives us great cause to root for the coming reformation as the free-city of Mainz is held at ransom by the church who refuses to pay taxes so the peasants are starving. She makes a strong case throughout the novel of the beauty of the printed word – where everyone can have access to books – as being a gift from God. 

“It wasn’t just this book that … [they] had betrayed, but their whole status as free, thinking men – this precious gift in the working of the Bible they’d been granted.” 

Despite the historical backdrop I felt like this novel was exceptionally timely. An early quote from Chapter Four, Peter is speaking with the abbot, lamenting over ‘how little’ has been achieved with the invention of the Gutenberg press:

“The world is now flooded with crude words crudely wrought, an overwhelming glut of pages pouring from the scores of presses, springing up like mushrooms after rain. Churning their smut and prophecy, the rantings of anarchists and anti-christs – the scholars of the classics are in an uproar over how printing has defiled the book.”

Sound familiar? Yep. I’m thinking of Amazon and the outpouring of self-pubbed authors that have flocked there. I’m not going to get in to the Amazon/Hachette feud here but I freely admit that I love that Amazon has given self-pubbed authors such a voice. There’s a lot of crap out there, but there are books that never would have seen the light of day without Amazon. The one that comes to mind the most is Wool by Hugh Howey. 

The other issue that I had with this book was that at times it seemed to get overly technical. For hobbyists and artists who make and bind books in their spare time, this information is probably fascinating. I found it a bit technical and lost the thread of the story at times. Luckily this information seems to mostly abate in the second half of the novel which made for more enjoyable reading.

The two things I love the most about this novel kind of intersect. The first was the afterword – which felt more non-fiction than fiction to me, the second was the setting. Why? Because I’ve spent some considerable time in Mainz! I’ve seen one of the original 180 copies, only 48 which are known to have survived. I loved being able to recognize all the tiny obscure German cities that I visited while reading this book. Do you want pictures? Of course you do. I’ll spare you with only three.

All my Mainz pictures can be seen here, including bigger sizes of the ones above. 
Look how thin I was!

This is going to be an enjoyable read for historical fiction buffs and those interested in the technicalities of medieval bookmaking. It’s inspired me to add something to my bookish bucket list, which is to attend the Frankfurt Book Fair founded sometime before 1503 by Peter Schoeffer! 

So, Readers, are you a historical fiction buff? Does the intersection of the printed word, religious upheaval, and medieval politics intrigue you? 

I’m excited to be participating in the tour for Alix Christie’s Gutenberg Apprentice, be sure to check out the entire tour schedule here, it runs through 17 October. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Waiting on Wednesday: The Children Act

Posted 3 September, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in memes

About: (Goodreads)
Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child’s welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts. 

But Fiona’s professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears. She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses. But Jack doesn’t leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case—as well as her crumbling marriage—tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

I’ve had not one but two other bloggers tell me that I must read this book. I adore McEwan and I trust these bloggers. Hence, I can’t wait!

The Children Act is due out 9 September, published by Nan A. Talese. (That’s next week!)

What do you think, Reader? Does this look fabulous to you?

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine that spotlights upcoming releases that we’re eagerly anticipating.

April @ The Steadfast Reader



Washington State Wednesday: Steal the North

Posted 27 August, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Washington State Wednesday: Steal the NorthSteal the North by Heather Brittain Bergstrom
Published by Penguin on April 10th 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Family Life, Fiction, General
Pages: 336

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.

A novel of love in all its forms: for the land, for family, and the once-in-a-lifetime kind that catches two people when they least expect itEmmy is a shy, sheltered sixteen-year-old when her mom, Kate, sends her to eastern Washington to an aunt and uncle she never knew she had. Fifteen years earlier, Kate hadabandoned her sister, Beth, when she fled her painful past and their fundamentalist church. And now, Beth believes Emmy’s participation in a faith healing is her last hope for having a child.Emmy goes reluctantly, but before long she knows she has come home. She feels tied to the rugged landscape of coulees and scablands. And she meets Reuben, the Native American boy next door.In a part of the country where the age-old tensions of cowboys versus Indians still play out, theirs is the kind of magical, fraught love that can only survive with the passion and resilience of youth. Their story is mirrored by the generation before them, who fears that their mistakes are doomed to repeat themselves in Emmy and Reuben. With Louise Erdrich’s sense of place and a love story in the tradition of Water for Elephants, this is an atmospheric family drama in which the question of home is a spiritual one, in which getting over the past is the only hope for the future.

This book opens with sixteen year old Emmy Nolan in a rundown apartment in Sacramento. It took me a few tries to get into this book, but once I did I became swept up in the writing. The setting is different than I could have imagined. Washington State, for me, always brings thoughts of Seattle and lush green forests. Who knew that eastern Washington State was so different? 

Anyway, for the most part the story is compelling for the first two thirds of the book. The characters are well written and although romance is a central element in the story, this is not really a romance novel. In the same vein, although the primary protagonist is sixteen, I wouldn’t necessarily classify this as a YA novel. It plays on heavy themes such as family, God, race relations, and feminism. (Though I suspect the feminism was a part of my own personal reading.)  

I appreciated the juxtaposition between Reuben’s Native American faith and the fundamentalist Baptist church that Beth attends. Emmy’s searching for meaning in the world leaves both the character and the reader introspective. But this is not a Christian novel. (I mean that as a good thing.) 

The race-relations between the Native Americans and the white citizens surrounding the reservation was also timely reading for me in the wake of the tragedy that is (still) unfolding in Ferguson, MO. I found this part to be exceptionally done, with emphasis on mutual respect and the idea that if we’re ever going to have peace, we need first, (especially those of us in the majority) need to find empathy and understanding – to try to put aside our defensiveness and empathize with what our brown and black brothers and sisters have been through (and in many cases are still going through). Anyway. Enough of my preaching – just know that Bergstrom does a superb job in the book tackling this subject and the writing never becomes preachy or prosaic. 

I found the characters to be interesting and for the most part, well fleshed out. My primary problem is that Kate, our one feminist character, who is independent — almost to a fault, is continually referred to as a bitch. There is the expected mother/daughter misunderstanding, but even with Kate’s long term boyfriend, we get glimpses into his views on her bitchiness. Further, there seems to be no redemption for Kate with her independent do it yourself spirit. Instead, Bergstrom chooses to write her into standard gender roles at the end, which was a bit disappointing.

Which brings me to the end. Don’t worry – I’m not going to spoil. But the first two thirds of this book are written so beautifully, the slow reveal of who the characters are and the situations in which they are in and have been in. I won’t say that the end ruins the whole novel, but it definitely brings it down a bit. The end of the book takes us down familiar tropes that are found in YA and romance novels. This might actually appeal to many people, but the tone of the book sets itself up for an ending that could have been open-ended and very satisfying. C’est la vie. We’re all still looking for the perfect novel.  

I found this novel to be quite enjoyable. It does have its faults, but if you’re looking for a book about the unknown parts of the Pacific Northwest, or something with important themes in the undercurrent of the book. This is an excellent choice. It’s also an excellent choice if you’re not looking for these things, for while the themes are explored – they are by no means overwhelming and a surface level reading of this book could be quite enjoyable as well. (Extra points for the beautiful – textured – cover.) 

It’s also important to note that this is a debut novel. I’m looking forward to seeing what Bergstrom has in store for us in the future. 

Tell me what you’re thinking, dear Readers. Can an unsatisfying ending ruin the rest of a novel for you? Can you read a book with heavy themes in the undercurrents casually? (I have difficulty doing so, myself.) 

April @ The Steadfast Reader



Wednesday Wasteland: Lighthouse Island

Posted 13 August, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wednesday Wasteland: Lighthouse IslandLighthouse Island by Paulette Jiles
Published by HarperCollins on July 29th 2014
Genres: Coming of Age, Dystopian, Fiction, Literary
Pages: 416

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.

A beautiful and captivating dystopian tale resonant with love and hope from the acclaimed poet and New York Times bestselling author of The Color of Lightning, Stormy Weather, and Enemy WomenSee the rain forests . . . northern beauty, misted nights. Come to Lighthouse Island . . .In the coming centuries, Earth's population has exploded and covered the planet with endless cities. It is an unwelcoming world for Nadia Stepan, abandoned at age four and left with only a drawing of the Big Dipper and her mother's parting words: "Look to the North Star, and we will always be there." Nadia grows up dreaming of the vacation spot called Lighthouse Island, in a place called the Pacific Northwest where she believes her long-lost parents must be.In the meantime, this bright and witty orphan finds refuge in neglected books, and the voice of Big Radio that emanates from an abandoned satellite, patiently reading the great classical books of the world.When an opportunity for escape appears, Nadia strikes out in search of a dream. She faces every contingency with inventiveness and meets a man who changes the course of her life. Together, they head north toward a place of wild beauty that lies far beyond the megalopolis: Lighthouse Island.

I was thrilled to be reading a literary dystopia. I’ve always loved literary dystopias and quite frankly, I’m more than bored with the drivel coming out of the YA leg of the genre. Lighthouse Island is beautifully written but unfortunately it’s only relatively enjoyable.

The characters are likable enough, but during the novel, some of the situations that they get themselves out of feel a bit unbelievable. I feel like Nadia should have died at least twice during the first half of the novel. 

Jiles brings up much to think about in this novel: global warming, government surveillance, the insane ubiquity of televisions. It could be because I just finished Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl which doesn’t so much as suggest themes, choosing instead to slap you in the face with them – but I felt like the themes (all good ones!) in Lighthouse Island are a bit underdeveloped. Then again, they might just be subtle, my mind coming from a different place.

I think that my biggest problem with it is that the world building leans heavily on Orwell’s 1984, and while it’s true that no one should be writing dystopias who hasn’t read that – the overall feel of the first half of the novel felt like Jiles sat down and outlined her world with her copy of 1984 open and threw in the current issue of global warming and called it world building.  

My other major gripe, is actually something I think that was done intentionally – it’s difficult to tell the passage of time in the novel. Nadia changes her name many times throughout. The novel opens when she’s four – suddenly there’s a jump and she’s in school … and so it goes. Jiles has built a world where calendars are no longer kept in an effort for the government to break up the continuity of its citizens, I’m pretty sure that the difficulty in telling how much time has passed (has it been hours or years?) is a device being used to pull the reader into the book further – but personally, it put me off a bit because I had to come out of the world of the novel and think, “Wait, wasn’t she just in school?”

The second half of the book is completely incongruous with the first, it’s a bit weird – but the first half becomes pedantic after awhile so I feel like the change of pace was one of the things that actually saves this novel. 

I liked the incorporation of great literature and poetry in this novel. There’s a bit of delight in being able to pick out passages and poems that you know. This will appeal to literary geeks, like me.

Overall, this book is a solid three. It’s an enjoyable read, especially for lovers of literary fiction and dystopia. It’s also refreshing to see another woman, other than Margaret Atwood tackle speculative/dystopian literary fiction. Definitely worth a trip to the library.

So, Readers, how do you feel when the world building just seems too reminiscent of another book (classic or otherwise)? Does it rattle your chains a bit, or are you glad to revel back in the world of an old favorite with fresh eyes and characters? 

I’m excited to be participating in the tour for Paulette Jiles’ Lighthouse Island, be sure to check out the entire tour schedule here, it runs through 28 August and there have already been some fabulous posts on it. 

April @ The Steadfast Reader



Women’s Rights Wednesday: Silk Armor

Posted 30 July, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Women’s Rights Wednesday: Silk ArmorSilk Armor by Claire Sydenham
Published by Old Harbour Press on April 30th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Literary
Pages: 318

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.

Her name is Didem, a young Turkish university student. Though she has left her veil behind in the provincial village she grew up in, she is still watched over closely by her father and certain friends. But when she meets Victor, an American instructor at the university, and they fall in love, Didem is propelled into an entirely new and dangerous future. The obstacles and threats they face lead Didem and Victor into plans of escape, an escape Didem must keep secret. SILK ARMOR follows her adventure through her battles with her community, her culture, her traditions and conscience, leading to her realization that though these battles may be lost her war can still be won.

This book is so much more than that synopsis. It sounds a little like chick-lit, a forbidden, cross-cultural romance. All I can say to that is no. ABSOLUTELY NO. Romance in an element in this book, true – but it’s also a necessary device that is expertly used to explore the cultural significance behind the veil in modern Turkey. This is a story about the struggle of being a woman, even in a nation as secular as Turkey is.

Silk Armor is a cultural exploration of what it means to be veiled and what it means to eschew not only that tradition in Turkey, but tradition in general. Girls like Didem and Sevgi aren’t meant to go to school. This is a compelling and beautifully written piece of literary fiction about tradition, feminism, and that place where east meets west. 

Highly recommended. Had this book been picked up by a larger press it would have been on best of lists last year. It is very very good. 

Negative: That cover is awful. Even though the publisher sent me a copy, it took me ages to open up the book just because I found the cover so unappealing. Don’t let that put you off. Go read this. Now.

A better review can be found over at Guiltless Reading, where I first discovered this gem.

What do you think, Reader? Do cross-cultural books interest you? Do you have an opinion on the controversy surrounding the veil? 


April @ The Steadfast Reader



Six Degrees of Separation: The Goldfinch

Posted 7 July, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in memes

It’s a new month so it means a new Six Degrees of Separation hosted by  Annabel and Emma!

This month we get to start with Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Goldfinch. Now, again, I haven’t read The Goldfinch, but I do want to. Right after the bar exam. Now critics have all been Grumpy McGrumps about this book and how well it’s doing so let’s start out with another, perhaps surprising, Pulitzer Prize winner.

Maus by Art Spiegelman, is a surprising Pulitzer winner, it is a graphic novel, that against all odds, conveys powerfully both Spiegelman’s difficult relationship with his father and the horrors his father faced both in Hitler’s Europe and then at Auschwitz. A graphic novel doesn’t feel like it should be an appropriate medium for such dark and difficult subject matter, but it’s wonderfully executed.

Since we’re talking about the Holocaust and WWII the natural progression is to the most comprehensive and important work about the topic to date. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. This book is a huge beast of a work, covering everything from Hitler’s personal history, to culture in Germany before and during WWII, the death camps, and war maneuvers. If you haven’t read it, I highly encourage it. I’m convinced that a finer account has not been written.

Two Nazi books are enough for this list, where do we go from here? Well. How about Argentina? Lots of Nazis fled to Argentina following WWII (and Juan Peron greatly admired Mussolini) so I think that we can safely move on to the novel Santa Evita by Tomas Eloy Martinez. It’s hard to tell if this book is fiction or not, but the Library of Congress has it listed as fiction. This is the story of what happened to Eva Peron’s corpse, not the story of Eva Peron herself. Recommended for fans of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Evita.

Talking about musicals, just like last month there are a few ways I could go here… let’s go obvious. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux. The story of the ‘haunted’ Paris opera house, which let’s face it – is only remembered because of the musical adaptation. Sorry, Gaston!

Now I know I said we had enough Nazis, but we’re in Paris and there is a recent WWII novel that is just lovely, you may have heard of it? All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It’s a beautifully written novel that has a beautiful cover to match.

We might as well finish this this list off in Paris. Because I love Paris. Vicki Lesage wrote a highly amusing, absolutely charming memoir entitled Confessions of a Paris Party Girl about the life and times of an ex-pat living in Paris. Definitely check that one out!

From The Goldfinch to Confessions of a Paris Party Girl in six easy steps! Do you want to play? I know you do! Here’s how:

Thanks again to Annabel and Emma for hosting! 

Where do you go from The Goldfinch Reader? Don’t you absolutely love this monthly meme? 
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April @ The Steadfast Reader