Fiction, Science Fiction

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I had wanted to read Station Eleven for quite a while, since I first saw it sitting on a table in a bookstore. I picked it up regularly in stores and contemplated purchasing it before finally doing so two years ago. And then it sat in my to-be-read pile for far too long. So when I decided to start my book club, The Modern Readers, I thought it would be the perfect first book! In starting a book club, I hoped that if I picked the books, I would really want to read them and it wouldn’t feel like required reading… but, confession time, alas, it sort of did feel like required reading – I was flying through most of the second half of the book while half-awake early in the morning a few hours before our first meeting.

Synopsis

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. That was also the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end.

Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves the Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as they story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

Review

Station Eleven was a book I desperately wanted to love. As the first pick for the Modern Readers, I was hoping it would just knock my socks off. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find that I was struggling just to finish it, let alone enjoy it.

I don’t know what exactly was so disappointing about Station Eleven, other than to say all of my fellow book club members seemed to feel similarly. Our overall consensus was that the idea was completely intriguing – a disease decimates most of the population and those who survived must figure out how to survive in this new and unfamiliar world. My problem, specifically, was in the characters. They really just existed in the world and their connections and relationships to each other all felt a bit forced and contrived and didn’t really add to the reader’s understanding of the characters.

There was one big exception to this – Clark, the British friend of the man who started everything, Arthur, the great actor. While Clark is absent for the vast majority of the story, when he does come back into play, his presence is not meant to only draw other story lines together, but we really get some insight into who Clark is as a character – the first and only time we really get any character motivation injected into the story.

Other than a perceived lack of character development, we collectively agreed as a book club that we would have loved to see some of the drawings and pieces of the graphic novel mentioned throughout the story that lends the book it’s title, Station Eleven.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $16.00 • 9780804172448 • 352 pages • first published September 2014, this edition published June 2015 by Vintage • average Goodreads rating 4.02 out of 5 • read in November 2015

Emily St. John Mandel’s Website

Station Eleven on Goodreads

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Station Eleven

Memoir/Autobiography, Non-Fiction

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

Seven years ago I made a remarkable discovery – Anthony Bourdain. I was, by America’s standards, ten years late to the Bourdain party, but at least I got there eventually. I have now obsessively watched just about every episode of No ReservationsThe Layover, and Parts Unknown and most of them repeatedly. In circumstances in which my sister and I would watch MK&A movies about a locale before visiting, we now watch Anthony Bourdain. So needless to say when I wanted something new and different for my vacation last week, I turned to my favorite celeb chef for inspiration.

Synopsis

In the ten years since Anthony Bourdain’s classic Kitchen Confidential first alerted us to the idiosyncrasies and lurking perils of eating out, much has changed for the subculture of chefs and cooks, for the restaurant business – and for Anthony Bourdain.

Medium Raw tracks Bourdain’s unexpected voyage from journeyman cook to globe-traveling professional eater and drinker, and even to father hood, in a series of take-no-prisoners confessions, rants, investigations, and interrogations of some of the most controversial figures in food.

Beginning with a secret, highly illegal after-hours gathering of powerful chefs that he compares to a mafia summit, Bourdain pulls back the curtain – but never pulls punches – on the modern gastronomical revolution. Cutting right to the bone, Bourdain sets his sights on some of the biggest names in the foodie world, including David Chang, the young superstar chef; the revered Alice Waters; the Top Chef contestants; and many more.

Review

First things first, if you are new to the Cult of Bourdain, I strongly suggest watching an episode of one of his many television programs before committing to reading Medium Raw or any of his other books.

Moving on. When I am considering reading a book that is more than two or three years old (which admittedly doesn’t happen often), I, like most readers, investigate the reviews on Goodreads and other blogs, and then choose whether to listen to, or disregard, their sentiments. I also hope that is what you, dear readers, do with my book review entries here – please don’t take what I have to say be the end-all-be-all of your decision whether or not to read a book. That being said, I am always surprised when reviews or reviewers write a review that seems to indicate they had absolutely no background knowledge of the book or author they are reviewing.

It amazed me how many people gave Medium Raw less than stellar reviews because it somehow wasn’t what they were expecting. Medium Raw is exactly what I expected – 110% Anthony Bourdain, but you are also now knowingly reading a review by an avid Bourdainite. If you’ve ever listened to the man for five minutes, you would know exactly what he writes about, and the synopsis is fair warning enough if you are not familiar with his extensive body of television and written work. The man behind the writing and in front of the camera swears like a sailor, is occasionally crude, and is absolutely hysterical.

The collection of essays in Medium Raw runs the gamut from rant to informal interview and his admiration for the chefs he respects is very evident. He will be the first to point out how lucky he is to be living the life he now lives, and also to admit that he wouldn’t be able to make the cut in the great kitchens of American today. His arguments against particular eaters (vegetarians) and other chefs are well reasoned, and definitely well seasoned. While I agree with him most readily on just about every position he takes, I can only hope that those who disagree don’t write off his opinions without taking a moment to thoroughly understand them.

While he may be crass and admittedly, a bit harsh on certain others in the food world, he is a talented writer and his prose reads like he speaks – I even heard his voice in my head while reading and realized that I might as well listen to the audiobook for the last few essays, which he reads himself. I highly recommend both book and audiobook, and I hope that if you do decide to read his work, you’ll take it all with a pinch of salt.

Rating: 8 out of 10 stars

Edition: Paperback • $15.99 • 9780061718953 • 281 pages • first published in June 2010, this edition published May 2011 by Ecco Press • average Goodreads rating 3.73 out of 5 • read in August 2017

Parts Unknown Website

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Fantasy, Fiction, Mythology, Young Adult

Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

FUTURE RELEASE DATE: August 29, 2017

When I first saw the trailer for Wonder Woman, I couldn’t wait to see it. When I found out that Leigh Bardugo was writing a YA adaptation, I was even more excited about it! As as new-ish fan of Wonder Woman, I have been keen to get my hands on anything relating to my new feminist hero and when I found out there would be advanced reader copies of Wonder Woman: Warbringer, my coworker and I immediately set about pestering our publisher rep to send us some!

Synopsis

She will become one of the world’s greatest heroes: WONDER WOMAN. But first she is Diana, Princess of the Amazons. And her fight is just beginning…

Diana longs to prove herself to her legendary warrior sisters. But when the opportunity finally comes, she throws away her chance at glory and breaks Amazon law – risking exile – to save a mere mortal. Even worse, Alia Keralis is no ordinary girl and with this single brave act, Diana may have doomed the world.

Alia just wanted to escape her overprotective brother with a semester at sea. She doesn’t know she is being hunted. When a bomb detonates aboard her ship, Alia is rescued by a mysterious girl of extraordinary strength and forced to confront a horrible truth: Alia is a Warbringer – a direct descendant of the infamous Helen of Troy, fated to bring about an age of bloodshed and misery.

Together, Diana and Alia will face an army of enemies – mortal and divine – determined to either destroy or possess the Warbringer. If they have any hope of saving both their worlds, they will have to stand side by side against the tide of war.

Review

I love Leigh Bardugo’s books and I love Wonder Woman. So this should have been the perfect combination of the two, right? Well, mostly right. Wonder Woman: Warbringer is the first of four books in the new DC: Icons series, and also the first book Leigh Bardugo has written that has not been published by the same publisher who did her last 5 books, all set her self-created Grisha-verse. These two facts lead me to wonder, is Wonder Woman: Warbringer truly all Leigh? Anytime one is adapting an already existing character and world, it never feels truly like it is fully the author’s own creation and having read all of Leigh’s previous books, Warbringer left me disappointed.

Comic book stories and superhero adaptations are infamous for having multiple timelines – i.e. Wonder Woman is originally set during WWII, the movie is set during WWI, and in Warbringer, Diana doesn’t leave her home, Themyscira, for the outside world until the 21st century. While many comic book and superhero fans accept multiple timelines, it does get confusing and a little frustrating to accept time and time again. I’m a fan of continuity and linear time lines, it can be difficult to accept three different timelines for the start of Diana’s story.

However, from the start of the publicity push for Warbringer, it has been made clear that this is a different, stand alone book that can be read both by existing and new Wonder Woman fans and I fully support that approach to promoting the book – it is absolutely true – if you know nothing about Wonder Woman, you will love it, and if you already love Wonder Woman, you will at least mostly enjoy it like myself.

The characters are textbook Leigh Bardugo – funny, beautifully diverse, and thick and well-rounded with details and unique qualities. Alia’s friends Theo and Nim are great supporting characters, her brother Jason has his own unique destiny to fulfill and Diana, well, she is a fully realized Wonder Woman. Despite the sense of feeling like we are going back to the beginning, there is nothing lacking in Diana’s character development. Her confidence and charisma are evident, as is her desire to protect human life, despite risks to her own self. The plot is fun and well paced, I flew through Warbringer in 2 days, it definitely kept my attention, despite my occasional frustration.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Edition: Hardcover • $18.99 • 9780399549731 • 384 pages • published August 2017 by Random House Books for Young Readers • average Goodreads rating 4.27 out of 5 • read in July 2017

Leigh Bardugo’s Website

Wonder Woman: Warbringer on Goodreads

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Wonder Woman (5)

Contemporary, Fiction

Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot

As with my review of Royally Screwed, I’ve admitted that I am an unapologetic royalist. When I was in middle school, the movie of The Princess Diaries came out and I loved it – I was mildly obsessed with the idea of finding out I was a long lost princess. When I discovered there was a book series, I immediately went out and got the first three books. While they are nothing like the movie, I did enjoy the series. So naturally, when Royal Wedding, the unbelievable 11th book in the Princess Diaries series came out in 2015 shortly after I got engaged, I figured it was high time I caught back up with Princess Mia and Michael.

Synopsis

For Princess Mia, the past five years since college graduation have been a whirlwind of activity: living in New York City, running her new teen community center, being madly in love, and attending royal engagements. And speaking of engagements. Mia’s gorgeous longtime boyfriend, Michael, managed to clear both their schedules just long enough for an exotic (and very private) Caribbean island interlude where he popped the question! Of course, Mia didn’t need to consult her diary to know that her answer was a royal oui.

But now Mia has a scandal of majestic proportions to contend with: her grandmother has leaked “false” wedding plans to the press that could cause even normally calm Michael to become a runaway groom. Worse, a scheming politico is trying to force Mia’s father from the throne, all because of a royal secret that could leave Genovia without a monarch. Can Mia prove to everyone – especially herself – that she’s not only ready to wed, but ready to rule as well?

Review

Oh Mia. Royal Wedding is the first “adult” installment in the Princess Diaries series and to be honest, it doesn’t feel like Mia’s grown up as much as I would have liked. In fact, none of the characters seem to have grown, up or otherwise, very much. Grandmere is still a shrew, Mia’s father is still making poor decisions in regards to the press, and Michael is still dutifully sticking to Mia’s side.

The Princess Diaries is a series I grew up with – pretty much year for year with Princess Mia – and it is only in the process of growing up that I’ve realized how unrealistic her story is. And I don’t mean the long-lost-princess bit. But the way she goes through life and interacting with other people. She doesn’t feel like she’s evolved as a character at all in the 15+ years that I’ve been reading about her adventures and escapades. Mia and Michael are still together, and while I’m not knocking first love and high school sweetheart relationships, the relationship between Mia and Michael doesn’t seem to make any sense outside of the high school halls. I find myself constantly confused about why they’re together. Yes they love each other, yes Michael is willing to put up with all the craziness, but why? Why?

The whole time I was reading, I just kept asking myself that question. Why should I care? Why are they behaving the way they are? Why, why, why do the characters keep making the same mistakes over and over again? Why is this book about marriage and babies when Mia could be doing so much more? SOOOOO much more with her life as princess and heir apparent of Genovia? This book was written when the idea of a princess is being re-imagined – we have Kate Middleton, we have Disney movies with princesses who are not obsessed with finding princes, we have fierce female leaders standing up for what they believe in, and Mia’s forced away from her one community passion project?

I have enjoyed so many of Meg Cabot’s books over the years, I probably have 15 of them on my shelves. I love her writing, and I thoroughly expected to love Royal Wedding. But in this day and age, Mia is not the princess character we need. Royal Wedding is not the princess narrative our world needs.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Edition: Paperback • $14.99 • 9780062379085 • 448 pages • published June 2015 by William Morrow & Company • average Goodreads rating 3.93 out of 5 • read in November 2016

Meg Cabot’s Website

Royal Wedding on Goodreads

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Royal Wedding

Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Screenplay

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J. K. Rowling

I have loved the Harry Potter world since I was in 5th grade and one of my friends brought in the first book of the series and asked our teacher to read it. When Cursed Child was announced as a published stage play, I couldn’t wait – especially for the format – I’d written so many plays, I wanted to see one professionally published. Alas, I was disappointed, but that review will come later. I still had hope, though, and was very pleasantly pleased by the script for Fantastic Beasts!

Synopsis

When Magizoologist Newt Scamander arrives in New York, he intends his stay to be just a brief stopover. However, when his magical case is misplaced and some of Newt’s fantastic beasts escape, it spells trouble for everyone…

Inspired by the original Hogwarts textbook by Newt Scamander, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay marks the screenwriting debut of J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and internationally bestselling Harry Potter books. A feat of imagination and showcasing a cast of remarkable characters, this is epic, adventure-packed storytelling at its very best. Whether an existing fan or new to the wizarding world, this is a perfect addition to any film lover’s or reader’s bookshelf.

Review

There are certain things to consider when sitting down to “read” a screenplay, the first being the fact that it is not particularly intended to be read – it is meant to be seen and experienced beyond the page. Second, reading a screenplay requires understanding that the format is different than that of a novel – it is primarily dialogue and stage directions.

One of the things that I love about stage- and screenplays is the opportunity to interpret so much more than what is on the page in one’s imagination. To read about the fantastical beasts before seeing the movie meant that I got to picture all of them in my head. Beyond the magic coming to life, the characters are very well developed, the thought and care that J. K. Rowling put into Newt’s backstory is evident – I have to imagine she’d been mulling over the story since she first started writing the Harry Potter series, or at least since Prisoner of Azkaban.

I loved the setting – I’m a sucker for a good Roaring Twenties story, and I’d always wondered what the magical world of the United States was like compared to the British world in the original 7 books. I highly recommend it, for anyone who loves Harry Potter, or just magical adventures set in the recent past.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Edition: Hardcover • $24.99 • 9781338109061 • 304 pages • published November 2016 by Arthur A. Levine Books • average Goodreads rating 4.22 out of 5 • read in November 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Website

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Fantastic Beasts

Contemporary, Fiction, New Adult

Royally Screwed by Emma Chase

I’ve always been an American Royalist, since I was a young girl and first learned about two real live princes actually existing in England and not just in Disney movies, I’ve been one of those people who follows there every move. My mother’s own love of Princess Diana certainly didn’t hurt my love for the royal family, and I was one of the people who woke up at 4am on Saturday, April 29, 2011 to watch the Royal Wedding. One of my favorite books of 2015 was The Royal We (review to come in the near future) and since then, I’ve been reading every piece of glorified royalist fan fiction that I can get my hands on!

Synopsis

Nicholas Arthur Frederick Edward Pembrook, Crowned Princes of Wessco, aka “His Royal Hotness,” is a charming, devastatingly handsome, and unabashedly arrogant – hard not to be when subjects are constantly bowing down to you.

Then, one snowy night in Manhattan, the prince meets a dark haired beauty who doesn’t bow down. Instead, she throws a pie in his face. Nicholas wants to find out if she tastes as good as her pie, and the heir apparent is used to getting what he wants.

Dating a prince isn’t exactly what waitress Olivia Hammond ever imagined it would be. There’s a disapproving Queen, a wildly inappropriate spare heir, relentless paparazzi, and brutal public scrutiny. While they’ve traded in horse drawn carriages for Rolls Royce’s and haven’t chopped anyone’s heads off lately – the royals are far from accepting of this commoner. But to Olivia – Nicholas is worth it.

Nicholas grew up with the whole world watching, and now Marriage Watch is out in full force. In the end, Nicholas has to decide who he is, and more importantly, who he wants to be: a king… or the man who gets to love Olivia forever.

Review

My sister first described Royally Screwed as a rip-off of a rip-off. Even the fictional prince’s name is the same here as it is in The Royal We. While intentional or not, it means that I find myself frequently defending my enjoyment of this book to my sister, my friends, and just about everyone I’ve allowed to see my reading it, or see it on my shelves. They’re my guilty pleasure, new adult romances. I am finally admitting it here for the first time – I do occasionally (about once a year) enjoy curling up with a dirty romance and Emma Chase writes them well.

Are the characters spectacular? Not really. But they are well rounded with thoughtful backstories and logical actions and reactions based on what the reader learns about them. Are they role models? Not really. But they are real (well, other than the prince/commoner romance bit), and they have problems that are relatable and impulses that  can sometimes lead them to leave their better judgment behind. They are human, and they are flawed and they don’t at any point feel forced or mechanical.

Is the plot spectacular? Not really. It’s pretty predictable from start to finish – but sometimes the best escapist fiction is. It’s a perfect plane, train or road trip book – compelling enough to hold even my attention and I have an admittedly very short attention span – I’m not much better than the 6th graders I used to teach in that regard, but lighthearted and, yes, predictable. Are there things I would change about the characters/plot? Absolutely, but Emma Chase didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel and it is romance – which does have a prescribed formula for plot that ensures a happy outcome. Am I going to read the rest of the series? Absolutely.

* recommended for ages 17+ *

Rating: 8 out of 10

Edition: Paperback • $16.99 • 9781682307755 • 276 pages • published October 2016 by Everafter Romance • average Goodreads rating 4.12 out of 5 • read in December 2016

Emma Chase’s Website

Royally Screwed on Goodreads

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Royally Screwed