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Station Eleven

 

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Station Eleven

By:  Emily St. John Mandel
Published:  2014
# of pages: 
336

4Stars

Goodreads description:

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, 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 a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains – this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, 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.

My opinion:  On Facebook, Goodreads posted a link to an article that claims to list the best dystopian fiction.  Several people wrote that they were disappointed not to see Station Eleven on the list.  I had never heard of Station Eleven, but I looked it up after seeing it mentioned so many times.  Now I’ve finished reading it and it didn’t disappoint.

The novel follows a selection of characters that (even though not all of them know it), were all connected in the past when the world was “normal.”  We learn about Arthur, Clark, Miranda, Jeevan, and Kirsten both before and after the collapse.  The story bounces back and forth between the characters and the different time lines.  At first I wasn’t sure I liked that method since I was afraid I would lose track of what was happening with each character or that my questions wouldn’t be answered.  However, it worked very well and I enjoyed each of the stories.  The method puts the reader right into the minds of the characters and into the situation.  It’s interesting to see how the characters associated a death of an actor with the beginning of the “apocalypse.”

I’d classify this novel as both post-apocalyptic and dystopian.  We see how society is ruined and then slowly emerges as something different.  In some ways the new life is freeing and in other ways it’s terrifying.  In the questions section on Goodreads, readers were asking why, after 20 years, the society wasn’t more advanced.  But that’s what this book is about.  Survival comes first, but slowly other things take shape.  It’s interesting to think about how the arts (in this case music and theater) and preservation (teaching and displaying parts of history) fit in with survival and advancement.

What are some of your favorite post-apocalyptic and/or dystopian novels?  Have you read Station Eleven?  If so, what did you think?

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Original story line and an interesting way of thinking about “the end of the world,” didn’t completely draw me in since I feel the multiple characters kept me from completely connecting with just one or two.

Burntown

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Burntown
By:  Jennifer McMahon
Published: 
2017
# of pages: 
287
Challenge: 
Full House (2017 published)

4Stars

Goodreads description:

Eva grew up watching her father, Miles, invent strange and wonderful things in the small workshop behind their house on the river that runs through their old mill town. But the most important invention of all was the one that Miles claimed came from the mind of Thomas Edison himself–a machine that allowed one to speak with loved ones long passed. Smuggled out of Edison’s laboratory, the blueprints were passed down to Miles, and he’s been using them to protect Eva, her mother, Lily, and her brother, Errol, ever since.

Then, one night when a storm is raging and the river is threatening to flood, the machine whirrs to life on its own. Danger, it says. You’re in terrible danger. The next thing Eva knows is waking up on the side of the river and seeing her mother’s grim face. Eva’s father and brother are dead, their house has been washed away and an evil man is searching for them both. They need to hide.

Eva changes her name to Necco–a candy she always loved–and tries to put everything in her past behind her as she adapts to her new life off the grid. But when her boyfriend is murdered and her mother disappears, she knows that the past is starting to catch up to her.

What really happened the night of the flood? As Necco searches for the truth, her journey unites her with two women who are on desperate quests of their own. And as the trio follows the clues to solving the mystery of Necco’s past, they discover that sometimes it’s the smallest towns that hold the strangest secrets.

My opinion:  This was on my list of potential R.I.P. Challenge books, but I decided to save it for another year.  That is, until I saw it displayed front and center in the new books section at the library, which is conveniently located next to the check out line.  I’ve read both The Winter People and The Night Sisters by McMahon and enjoyed both.  I’m glad I decided to pick it up because it was a fast, mysterious read that kept me hooked.

In Burntown, Necco is a young woman living on the streets in a city called Ashford, Vermont.  She’s suffered memory loss, but her life is separated into two parts, before the flood and after the flood.  She doesn’t remember much about the actual flood, but her mother has told her that they are hiding from a murderer she calls Snake Eyes.  Necco doesn’t believe Snake Eyes exists until her boyfriend is clearly murdered.

I liked how Necco’s quest for the truth intertwines with Theo’s predicament and Pru’s dream.  All three women face character growth throughout the novel that is believable and inspiring.  Like the other books I read by McMahon, this one has a convenient ending, but fortunately it plays out a little slower instead of feeling rushed like the others I read.  There were a few things I found hard to understand that I can’t discuss without spoiling the plot, but if I don’t think too hard about some of the plot twists it makes this book more enjoyable!

I do wish there had been more emphasis on the paranormal aspect.  The story had some very creepy moments, but I understand that this would have been a completely different story if McMahon had decided to focus on the supernatural occurrences.

I recommend this book to people who enjoy mysteries with a bit of a paranormal aspect.  Just go along with the story line and don’t overthink and it will be a fun read.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Original story with a cool blend of paranormal and contemporary mystery, neat characters, some odd decisions made by the author that didn’t make sense.

This House is Haunted

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This House is Haunted
By:  John Boyne
Published: 
2013
# of pages: 
291
Challenge:
  R.I.P.

4Stars

Goodreads description:

Written in Dickensian prose, This House Is Haunted is a striking homage to the classic nineteenth-century ghost story. Set in Norfolk in 1867, Eliza Caine responds to an ad for a governess position at Gaudlin Hall. When she arrives at the hall, shaken by an unsettling disturbance that occurred during her travels, she is greeted by the two children now in her care, Isabella and Eustace. There is no adult present to represent her mysterious employer, and the children offer no explanation. Later that night in her room, another terrifying experience further reinforces the sense that something is very wrong.

From the moment Eliza rises the following morning, her every step seems dogged by a malign presence that lives within Gaudlin’s walls. Eliza realizes that if she and the children are to survive its violent attentions, she must first uncover the hall’s long-buried secrets and confront the demons of its past. Clever, captivating, and witty, This House Is Haunted is pure entertainment with a catch.

My opinion:  I read this book in 2 days because it was an easy,  suspenseful story.  The story follows a young woman named Eliza as her world crumbles after her father’s death in the late 1800s in London.  Still reeling from loss, she responds to an advertisement for a governess position at an estate in a remote part of England.  She is immediately confused and on edge upon arriving at the house where two children are living…alone.

Eliza tries her hardest to find answers to her many questions in the following weeks.  The reader is right there with her, not only wondering what will happen next, but also what happened in the past.

I felt that this story “flowed” better than many other modern ghost stories/suspense/Gothic/horror books.  The story is told in first person narrative by Eliza, so the reader knows what she’s thinking and why she does what she does.  However, I do wish that her relationship with the children was better developed.  She’s apparently so attached to the children that she gives up her own safety to stay with them, but it’s confusing as to how she becomes so attached.  She doesn’t seem to spend much time with them and honestly doesn’t seem to have much of a relationship with them at all.

Other than that, I was intrigued and surprised throughout the novel and enjoyed it overall.  I recommend it to lovers of paranormal suspense, Gothic tales, and ghost stories.

Why I gave this book 4/5 stars:  Suspenseful read that kept my attention throughout.  I do wish the characters and their relationships were better developed.

The Radium Girls

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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women
By:  Kate Moore
Published:  2017
# of pages:  399
Challenge:
  Full House

5Stars

Goodreads description:

The incredible true story of the women who fought America’s Undark danger.

The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.

Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive – until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.

But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come.

Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives…

My opinion:  Wow, I don’t really know how to start.  This book made a large impact on me.  I’m so thankful that Kate Moore chose to tell the story of “the radium girls,” so many courageous women who played such an important part of U.S. history.  

The book is a non-fiction that follows the stories of two groups of women who worked at two different dial painting companies that used paint containing radium to produce light up watches, clocks, and instrument panels.  One was in Orange, New Jersey and the other in Ottowa, Illinois.  Moore sketches brief biographies of many women, but she concentrates on ten women in particular: the women who chose to stand up and publicly fight the companies who were responsible for not only exposing them to radium poisoning, but purposefully deceiving them in regards to the danger.

It was horrifying to read much of this book.  I kept wishing I could go back in time and stop the women from trusting their supervisors and putting the brushes in their mouths to shape them, playing with the paint, eating at their desks, taking the paint home to let their siblings play with it, etc.  The descriptions of their physical health problems was also heartbreaking to read.  I was also so frustrated when they were trying to find both medical and legal help.  Not only do I feel so thankful to Moore for telling the stories of these women and what they went through to make the future a safer place, I feel so thankful for the few doctors, dentists, lawyers, and reporters who helped the women.  Those professionals, along with the women, are true U.S. heroes.

And one of my final thoughts – is this situation that seems so obvious to us today truly something that will stay in history?  Is there something today that we come into regular contact with/ingest/medicate with that is deemed safe by medical professionals and the government but is actually dangerous?  I’d say the average person in the U.S. is quick to say that certain vaccines, medications, etc. are safe because they are recommended by doctors, the FDA has approved them, etc, etc.  But perhaps we don’t  know everything and it’s only a matter of time before we are horrified to discover the side effects of something that seems so safe.  Just food for thought…

Why I gave this book 5/5 stars:  Kate Moore did a fantastic job making a non-fiction book, including details and statistics, interesting and she also brought the women to life.  I was amazed that I had never heard of these women or even the aftermath that industries using radium had on the environment.  It’s important to hear more about these forgotten (hidden) parts of history.