Book Reviews – August and September Favorites

I have been immersed in dystopian, post-apocalyptic fiction during the past two months. What’s new? Everyone knows I love that sort of story!! However, the truly outstanding reads were a memoir and two works of contemporary fiction.

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

This is an excellent novel that examines the aftermath of a police shooting of an unarmed black man through the eyes of his life-long friend Starr Carter, the only witness to the shooting other than the police officer. This book came out in February of 2017 to critical acclaim and has been made into a movie that will release on October 19. As always, I advise reading the book before going to the movie.

Angie Thomas writing allows the reader to understand the complex emotions of the teen main character who straddles the world of her mostly white prep school and her inner-city neighborhood, during the public and private reaction to the tragic death of her friend. Her deeply personal struggle is set amidst the larger issue of racial inequality.  


Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed. Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.


FANGIRL by Rainbow Rowell

Another contemporary novel that is a five-star for me was Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. (And, yes, I know that this book came out a long time ago.) If you haven’t had the chance to read anything by Rowell, you’re missing out. Her novel Eleanor & Park is one of my all-time favorites.


In Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life-and she's really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it's what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath's sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can't let go. She doesn't want to.


Now that they're going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn't want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She's got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can't stop worrying about her dad, who's loving and fragile and has never really been alone.


For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?


GOOD AS A GIRL: A MEMOIR by Ray Olderman

The memoir I just read is by Wisconsin author Ray Olderman. Good as a Girl is a funny, heart-felt trip through the author’s life as he attempts to fulfill his eight-year-old self’s promise to be as good as a girl when his mom was disappointed that her third son (Olderman’s younger brother) was not a daughter. Olderman’s observations on gender are particularly intuitive and relevant for today’s reader.


At the age of eight Ray Olderman vowed to his mother that he’d be good as a girl. His mother badly wanted a girl and had just given birth to her third son. In this funny and poignant story, Ray tells us how he carried the vow throughout his highly varied life and career. We follow his search for the “secret" of how to relate to women and understand the way they see the world—to please his mom. The story takes us on a rich ride through Ray’s experiences from the late 1940s until his mother’s death in the 1990s. Along the way he forms many friendships with women who help him in his quest. Good as a Girl offers a unique perspective on class and gender issues. As the years go by, Ray offers his own class-changing view of American social and cultural history. And because he was good friends with girls and women from an early age, he has a different story to tell about gender relations.



And back to that long list of dystopian books that I think you’ll also love. The following titles all have the typical disaster-esque themes that are at the core of this genre, but each of the titles that I’ve enjoyed the most in the past two months comes with a little twist that makes it stand out in crowded genre.

HAPPY DOOMSDAY by David Sosnowski is a witty, pop-culture infused disaster where the unlikely survivors can’t believe they’re the ones left to rebuild humanity.


The end of the world is the weirdest time to come of age. Welcome to the end of the world. One minute, people are going about their lives, and the next—not. In the wake of the inexplicable purge, only a handful of young misfits remains.

When it all went down, “Wizard of Odd” Dev Brinkman was seeking shelter from the taunts of his classmates. Goth girl Lucy Abernathy had lost her best friend and had no clue where to turn. And Twinkie-loving quarterback “Marcus” Haddad was learning why you never discuss politics and religion in polite company—or online. As if life when you’re sixteen isn’t confusing enough, throw in the challenges of postapocalyptic subsistence, a case of survivor’s guilt turned up to seven billion, and the small task of rebuilding humankind…


No one said doomsday would be a breeze. But for Dev, Lucy, and Marcus, the greatest hope—and greatest threat—will come when they find each other.


FREEZING POINT by Grace Hamilton shifts things a number of degrees—cold enough to cause an ice age that has northern hemisphere survivors fleeing a never-ending winter.


In the dawn of a new Ice Age, families everywhere are taking to the road to escape the frigid landscape—but you can’t outrun the cold. No one could have predicted the terrifying impact of human interference in the Arctic. Shifts in the Earth's crust have led to catastrophe and now the North Pole is located in the mid-Atlantic, making much of the eastern United States an unlivable polar hellscape.


Nathan Tolley is a talented mechanic who has watched his business dry up due to gas shortages following the drastic tectonic shifts. His wife Cyndi has diligently prepped food and supplies, but it’s not enough to get them through a never-ending winter. With an asthmatic young son and a new baby on the way, they’ll have to find a safe place they can call home or risk freezing to death in this harsh new world. 


When an old friend of Nathan’s tells him that Detroit has become a paradise, with greenhouses full of food and plenty of solar energy for everyone, it sounds like the perfect place to escape. But with dangerous conditions and roving gangs, getting there seems like an impossible dream. It also seems like their only choice.


SCORCHED (A Dry Earth Story) by Theresa Shaver warms us up to the point of dehydration in the near future where wells are running dry, rations are running low, and there seems to be no hope until the main character’s grandmother shows her a decades old map that may lead to their salvation. 


Claudia has never seen rain or any water that hasn’t come from the old well behind her house. Now the well’s about played out and today they closed down the ration stations, for good. The gangs are circling to rob and loot the little they have. Her only choices are go north to the slave labour camps or stay and die by the gangs.


Her grandmother wants them to run south and follow an old map that will lead them to a secret valley with all the water they will ever need. She swears it’s there but how can she drag her nine-year-old sister and an eighty-year-old woman out into the desert wasteland that surrounds them based on an old map?


Anyone Else? by Angela Scott brings us the long-awaited book two in this series as the main character, Tess, leaves the safety of her backyard bunker after a disastrous meteor storm and searches for her father and brother. She meets another survivor, Cole, who then disappears . . . or does he?


Surviving an apocalypse sucks. It totally does. Instead of counting herself lucky to be alive, Tess struggles to find the will to keep placing one foot in front of the other, especially when the most she ever had to worry about before the meteor catastrophe was whether she’d have a date to prom.


Climbing mountains—again—dealing with the lack of food, clean water, and wondering what the point of it all is doesn’t feel much like luck at all. More like punishment.


Maybe it’d be different if she had Cole by her side, as troublesome and irritating as he could be. But he doesn’t seem to be anywhere, and Tess wonders if he’d ever truly been there in the first place. Her dad and brother don’t buy her story of a lone wolf coming to her rescue, and as things become more and more difficult, she’s slowly beginning to doubt herself, too.


Real? Imaginary? A product of her delusional mind? Cole’s existence—or nonexistence—remains a mystery because this time around, there’s more than just herself and a kitten to take care of. This time, someone vulnerable depends on her strength and bravery more than ever before.


What great books have you read lately? I'd love to hear about your recent favorites.

Happy Reading, Valerie


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