9.10.2019

After the Flood by Kassandra Montag (ARC Review)


After the Flood by Kassandra Montag
Publisher: William Morrow (September 3, 2019)
Description from the publisher:
A little more than a century from now, our world has been utterly transformed. After years of slowly overtaking the continent, rising floodwaters have obliterated America’s great coastal cities and then its heartland, leaving nothing but an archipelago of mountaintop colonies surrounded by a deep expanse of open water.
Stubbornly independent Myra and her precocious seven-year-old daughter, Pearl, fish from their small boat, the Bird, visiting dry land only to trade for supplies and information in the few remaining outposts of civilization. For seven years, Myra has grieved the loss of her oldest daughter, Row, who was stolen by her father after a monstrous deluge overtook their home in Nebraska. Then, in a violent confrontation with a stranger, Myra suddenly discovers that Row was last seen in a far-off encampment near the Artic Circle. Throwing aside her usual caution, Myra and Pearl embark on a perilous voyage into the icy northern seas, hoping against hope that Row will still be there.
On their journey, Myra and Pearl join forces with a larger ship and Myra finds herself bonding with her fellow seekers who hope to build a safe haven together in this dangerous new world. But secrets, lust, and betrayals threaten their dream, and after their fortunes take a shocking—and bloody—turn, Myra can no longer ignore the question of whether saving Row is worth endangering Pearl and her fellow travelers.

Holy moly, was this story compelling! I haven't read a post apocalyptic novel in a long time as I have found that since becoming a mother, it's harder for me to enjoy dystopian books. This could perhaps have to do with the fact that I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy when my firstborn was just a few months old and I WILL NEVER FORGET THAT EXPERIENCE - not in a good way. Despite the fact that After the Flood stares my worst fears of motherhood straight in the eye, Montag's novel has a much more action packed, empowering and, ultimately, hopeful feel than the bleakness and horror that is The Road. 
Certainly, there are some harrowing moments as Myra navigates this world of violence, child slaves, pirates, gangs and the concept of breeding ships (shudder). But I felt as if these details illustrated the desperate circumstances of this new world, while also propelling the plot forward. It's impossible to imagine putting myself in her shoes and think of what I might do to survive, to protect my children. And yet Montag's beautiful writing (unsurprisingly, she is an award winning poet) resonates so strongly that I absolutely felt connected to Myra and understood her motivations. I dogeared so. many. pages. Here are a few choice quotes.

"Children think we make them, but we don't. They exist somewhere else, before us, before time. They come into the world and make us. They make us by breaking us first."

"I knew it was sometimes easier to love ghosts than the people who were around you. Ghosts could be perfect, frozen beyond time, beyond reality, the crystal form they'd never been before, good moments to surface in my memory."

"'I keep thinking grief feels like climbing a staircase while looking down,' she said. 'You won't forget where you've been, but you've got to keep rising. It all gets farther away, but it's all still there. And you've only got one way to go and you don't really want to go on rising, but you've got to. And that tightness in your chest doesn't go away, but you somehow go on breathing that thinner, higher air. It's like you grow a third lung. Like you've somehow gotten bigger when you thought you were only broken.'"

I was rooting for Myra and those aboard her ship so fiercely that I couldn't turn the pages fast enough to learn their fate, and my heart was in my throat for the last fifty pages that were filled with battles, sacrifices, and surprises I didn't see coming. This was a highly satisfying read on all fronts: fast paced and compelling plot, complex and ever changing character dynamics, beautiful writing, and themes on love and hope that will stick with me for a long time. It will definitely go on my list of favorites for the year.
Many, many thanks to William Morrow for the gifted copy!


9.04.2019

Books I Read in August

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Kinsley
This was my first Kinsley graphic novel, but will definitely not be my last! This was such a heartwarming, funny, sweet and drool-worthy account of her coming of age through art and food. I especially loved reading about her time in the Chicago foodie scene, obviously.

The Idea of You by Robinne Lee
I didn't realize going into this novel that it is straight up Harry Styles fan fiction. I mean, I find him to be pretty darn attractive, don't get me wrong - but, I thought that this was just okay. It was a fun concept of an older woman dating a man nearly half her age, who happens to be the lead singer of her daughter's favorite boy band. There were a lot of cultural themes to analyze. One of the main ones is how we probably wouldn't bat an eye if the gender roles were reversed. But it felt repetitive, leaned heavily on steamy scenes and just sort of fizzled out at the end.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal
This was a solid and creepy thriller. Full review here.

Summer of '69 by Elin Hilderbrand
There have been pretty mixed reviews on Elin's latest summer novel. I can see how some of the Levin sisters (who's POV we get with each chapter) might be harder to connect with, but I still thoroughly enjoyed her first take on historical fiction. Indeed, from the vantage point of the year 2019, the mindset and choices that some of these women make exactly 50 years in the past seem hard to grasp. But I flew through this story just like all of her other books, and Jessie's account of the summer, as a newly minted 13 year old and all of the big feelings that come with the territory, captured my heart - as did Elin's acknowledgments that included the story of her and her twin brother's birth in the summer of 1969.

The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri
This was a novel that touched upon the global immigrant crisis, but I had mixed feelings about it - full review here

The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary
What a surprise this novel was! I went into it thinking I was in for a light romance with a cute concept: two people who share a flat with opposite working hours and never cross paths, except for the clues and post it's they leave in their wake. O'Leary deftly wove in some heavier themes about toxic relationships and how they affect victims and their families, giving this a little more heft. The tone is still upbeat and it is still a very sweet romance - highly recommend.


Books I Read in July

Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman
I listened to this on audio and it was FANTASTIC. At first the lilting Appalachian voice the narrator utilizes took me a little getting used to, but it is used to great effect. This story of a young violinist who finds herself part of a professional ensemble that ends up being a sham (Milli-Violini!), exceeded all my expectations. I thought I was getting into an expose on a well known composer and her descent into this scam, and it ends up being just the backdrop to this woman's absolutely fascinating and inspiring wit and worldliness. From her upbringing in rural West Virginia, to college at Columbia, to her study abroad in Egypt during 9/11 and crisscrossing the country with her ensemble, she uses all of her experiences to make so many profound observations about life and culture. Definitely a favorite book of the year!

Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson
This graphic novel was in my daughters library haul and I remembered hearing good things, so I gave it a read and thoroughly enjoyed it - as did my son and husband. At first I was a little confused, as it starts off as guidebook that gets cut off mid sentence and delves into the illustrated panels. Then I realized that each chapter begins with a little bit of what would be the Lumberjanes guidebook (very similar to any scouts guide) and goes into a hilarious corresponding story. I got a major Gravity Falls vibe from the stories, which is a good thing - fantastical and earthy, all in one.  I also love that there are a few LGBTQ lead characters but that their stories are not driven by their sexual orientation, it’s just one part of their who they are. Bravo!

Gravity Is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty
Didn't love this one - full review here.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber
I was looking for something light and fun to read, but not necessarily beach-y since we were NOT having beachy weather at the time. Caraval fit the bill PERFECTLY. Even though it gets quite a bit cheesy in parts, I really enjoyed this fun, adventurous, atmospheric fantasy novel. FYI, it is definitely not in The Night Circus wheelhouse, as described by some. It felt reminiscent of reading The Selection series by Kiera Cass - not similar stories, but that addictive brain candy feeling - I will probably read the next two!

Endling The Last by Katherine Applegate
This was my read aloud with my daughter this month and it was more in HER wheelhouse than mine! She loves stories about animals, dragons, fantasy, etc. and that's not where my interests lie - even when I was a kid. Alas, this was a cute concept of a world ruled by several mythical creatures and due to some dastardly evil plans, our heroine (a dog like creature called a Dairne) believes herself to be the last of her kind. She makes all sorts of friends and has many exciting adventures trying to find her place in the world and perhaps more of her kind. My daughter enjoyed it thoroughly, despite the fact that I thought it a little heavy on confusing political intrigue for kids and we've begun reading the sequel. 

Save Me the Plums by Ruth Reichl
Friends have been recommending Ruth Reichl's work for years, and now I am finally realizing how wonderful her writing is! Yes her descriptions of food were fantastic, but this one about her time at Gourmet magazine was particularly fascinating and juicy, learning about the publishing world. 

Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center
I really enjoyed this one! Full review here.

Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher
Pilcher's books are so reliably wonderful and heartwarming. I was a little dubious about starting a 900+ page book over the summer - it doesn't scream fast and breezy. But her writing and storytelling just flows so effortlessly and I breezed through this quintessential and epic coming of age story that spans the time before, during and after WWII. Judith Dunbar will go down as one of my all time favorite characters - a must read.