The Wolf Road – Beth Lewis

61GODxCcISL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Publisher: Crown

Publication Date: July 5th, 2016

Page Count: 368 (Hardcover)

From the Jacket:

Elka barely remembers a time before she knew Trapper.

She was just seven years old, wandering lost and hungry in the wilderness, when the solitary hunter took her in. In the years since then, he’s taught her how to survive in this desolate land where civilization has been destroyed and men are at the mercy of the elements and each other.

But the man Elka thought she knew has been harboring a terrible secret. He’s a killer. A monster. And now that Elka knows the truth, she may be his next victim.

Armed with nothing but her knife and the hard lessons Trapper’s drilled into her, Elka flees into the frozen north in search of her real parents. But judging by the trail of blood dogging her footsteps, she hasn’t left Trapper behind—and he won’t be letting his little girl go without a fight. If she’s going to survive, Elka will have to turn and confront not just him, but the truth about the dark road she’s been set on.

The Wolf Road is an intimate cat-and-mouse tale of revenge and redemption, played out against a vast, unforgiving landscape—told by an indomitable young heroine fighting to escape her past and rejoin humanity.

The Wolf Road drew me in from the first page and had me on the edge of my seat, white knuckled and breathless until I reached the end. Beth Lewis has fully captured my attention with this stunning debut that is unlike anything I’ve ever read. Using stark, simple prose, the story is brilliantly narrated by Elka, a young girl, orphaned and raised in the wild. Set in a series of small gold rush towns where vigilante justice is law, the Wolf Road tells the story of a post apocalyptic world set back to zero after a cold war mistake.

I’ve had this book on my shelves for MONTHS and at this point I cannot remember why I put it off for so long. I finished it last night and just sat there, mouth agape, saying wow over and over until my wife started to look at me funny. This is the third book I’ve read this year, that has been narrated by a young girl and I’m starting to think it’s my new favorite thing. I initially thought i was going to be put off by the style of language she used, but that only lasted for a couple of pages. Elka is one of the most interesting, flawed, and heart breaking characters I’ve ever read.

The story opens with a scene near the end of the book and then makes its way back to it from the beginning. This is a style I particularly enjoy, and it took what was already a quickly moving plot to break neck speeds as I raced to the end both needing to know and desperately not wanting to find out the fates of the characters. It feels odd to say that I enjoyed this book because so much of it is incredibly dark, but I did. So much. And this is one of those books that you could use as a test of character. Recommend it and if the person loves it as much as you, you’ll know you’ve found your people.

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Final Thoughts: If you enjoy post-apoctalyptic fiction but are starting to feel like they’re all sort of the same READ THIS BOOK. It’s full of lush descriptions of nature set against graphic descriptions of the damage caused by the war. The characters are complicated and unforgettable and Lewis has a way of causing visceral reactions that make you wonder how you would handle the same situation. I’ll be waiting with baited breath to read whatever she comes up with next, and you can read more about her here.

Rating: Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 10.58.06 PM

Favorite Characters: Elka, Penelope, Wolf

Memorable Quotes:

I tried picturing all those places on that map of BeeCee. That’s what we call our country now, just letters of its real name what most people have forgot or don’t care to remember. The map said that old name behind all the scribblings, all the new borders and territories my nana drawn on, but I could only read letters then, not whole words. All I know is that one day all the maps became useless and we had to make our own. The old’uns called that day the Fall or the Reformation. Nana said some down in the far south called it Rapture. Nana was a babe when it happened, said her momma called it the Big Damn Stupid. Set everything back to zero. I never asked why, never much cared. Life is life and you got to live it in the here- now not the back- then. And the here- now for little me was the Thick Woods, with night coming fast.

One a’ them rules is don’t go trusting another man’s path…People do it, they do what their mommies and daddies did, they make them same mistakes, they have them same joys and hurts, they just repeating. Trees don’t grow exactly where their momma is; ain’t no room…I weren’t following no one up through life.

Smell a’ bacon. Ain’t nothing in this world like it. Salt-cured, sliced thick, line a’ juicy fat crisping up in the pan. Anyone what tells you they don’t like bacon is either stupid or lying. Either way that ain’t no one you can trust.

Way I reckon it, men killed more wolves than wolves ever killed men. I know who I’m more afraid of.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

 

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Goodbye, Vitamin – Rachel Khong

51+SgqT67tL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

Publication Date: July 11th, 2017

Page Count: 208 (Hardcover)

From the Jacket:

Freshly disengaged from her fiancé and feeling that life has not turned out quite the way she planned, thirty-year-old Ruth quits her job, leaves town and arrives at her parents’ home to find that situation more complicated than she’d realized. Her father, a prominent history professor, is losing his memory and is only erratically lucid. Ruth’s mother, meanwhile, is lucidly erratic. But as Ruth’s father’s condition intensifies, the comedy in her situation takes hold, gently transforming her all her grief.
Told in captivating glimpses and drawn from a deep well of insight, humor, and unexpected tenderness, Goodbye, Vitamin pilots through the loss, love, and absurdity of finding one’s footing in this life.

When I initially read the jacket for this book, I considered not starting it. Expecting a sad, despairing narrative about a young woman watching her father slowly decline from Alzheimer’s disease, I was very pleasantly surprised to find Goodbye, Vitamin really isn’t about that at all. Ruth does in fact, return home to care for her father, Howard, who is losing his memory. However, the plot focuses on a year they spend together, while Khong expertly weaves in details from the past. It’s about love and the complexities and dysfunction of families. Written in journal entires that flow together almost like a stream of consciousness, it is impossible to put down. Khong’s prose is so stark and tender and I think it’s the simplicity of it that pulled me in.

This story is so quirky and bittersweet. Ruth’s father keeps a journal of all of the things she says to him as a young child, and these tidbits were my favorite part. The limitless imagination of children is perfectly rendered in these entries and they pulled mightily at my heart strings. Each one a reminder of how fleeting the time is when children are young and full of wonder. Despite being exhausting, and often feeling like each day is just surviving to the end of it, it made me pause and remember to cherish these moments with them.

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Final Thoughts: This book is heartwarming and tender and quirky and even funny, despite the dark subject matter. The overall impression is very bittersweet, but I still enjoyed it immensely. It’s a quick read and the writing is truly terrific. I will definitely pick up more by this author in the future.

Rating: Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 11.10.19 PM

Favorite Characters: The Howard who writes the journal entries

Memorable Quotes:

If I were you is something I’ve never really understood. Why say, “If I were you”? Why say, “If I were you,” when the problem is you’re not me? I wish people would say, “Since I am me, ” followed by whatever advice it is they have.

What imperfect carriers of love we are, and what imperfect givers. That the reasons we can care for one another can have nothing to do with the person cared for. That it has only to do with who we were around that person — what we felt about that person.

At one point Dad emerges, shirtless, into the kitchen, to brew himself coffee. I get my nipples from him, I realize, alarmed.

The Fate of the Tearling – Erika Johansen

51KHOIyge8L._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Publisher: Harper

Publication Date: November 29th, 2016

Page Count: 496 (Hardcover)

From the Jacket:

The thrilling conclusion to the New York Times bestselling Tearling trilogy.

In less than a year, Kelsea Glynn has transformed from a gawky teenager into a powerful monarch. As she has come into her own as the Queen of the Tearling, the headstrong, visionary leader has also transformed her realm. In her quest to end corruption and restore justice, she has made many enemies—including the evil Red Queen, her fiercest rival, who has set her armies against the Tear.

To protect her people from a devastating invasion, Kelsea did the unthinkable—she gave herself and her magical sapphires to her enemy—and named the Mace, the trusted head of her personal guards, regent in her place. But the Mace will not rest until he and his men rescue their sovereign, imprisoned in Mortmesne.

Now, as the suspenseful endgame begins, the fate of Queen Kelsea—and the Tearling itself—will finally be revealed.

Note: If you have not read the other books in the Tearling trilogy, this review in an of itself will be a spoiler. However, I will not be posting any spoilers for the Fate of the Tearling, which is the final installment.

I initially saw these books all over bookstagram and was intrigued by their beautiful covers. After receiving the first two for Christmas, I placed them on my bookshelves and there they languished, until I found the audio versions on Hoopla. I’m always on the hunt for audio versions of books in my TBR, because there simply isn’t enough time in my life to sit and read the print version of all of them. Now that isn’t to say I do not want the print versions (wife if you are reading this, please do not stop buying me ALL THE BOOKS), it’s just that realistically, I cannot get to them all when I’d like to.

I mention this because the first installment, The Queen of the Tearling, is narrated by a lady named Katherine Kellgren. She made these characters come alive for me, giving each distinct personalities that were larger than life, and larger, certainly, than what my brain would have come up with left to its own devices. Very unfortunately for me, the second installment, The Invasion of the Tearling, was given a new narrator, who completely changed the tone and I was disappointed and underwhelmed. Because of this, I decided to read the third book so I could remember the characters that Kellgren helped bring to life. It was her voice I heard in my head while reading, and it was really wonderful. For anyone who has not started this trilogy, I seriously recommend listening to the first one, and reading the next two.

In the Tearling trilogy, Johansen has created a deliciously wonderful genre salad full of high fantasy, dystopian speculative fiction, sci-fi, and even, some paranormal details. It was wonderfully jarring to be reading about castles and horse drawn carriages one minute and the next be thrown into a futuristic house with self cleaning countertops. My brain could not make sense of it at first and it was really surprising and delightful.

In this final installment, all of the details from the first two books are woven in, and come together to create a powerful conclusion. Kelsea must face the Red Queen, whose identity we have finally learned.  Johansen goes into the history of the Town after the crossing and we are given a new narrator in Katie. We see the Mace grudgingly handling his new role. Simultaneously trying to rescue Kelsea while staying true to the vision she had for the Tearling. We find out who the Fetch is and the identity of the creature in the fire. We learn the origin stories of the sapphires and follow Kelsea through to the end of her journey of self discovery.

The choices Johansen made in this conclusion are so bold and creative. There is always so much pressure for the final book to get it right, and give the characters we’ve grown to know and love, a fitting conclusion. And while I do not agree with all of the choices she made, I can appreciate them, even while my heart was being ripped out and mended again. If I had it my way, there would have been at least five more chapters tacked on to the end.

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Final Thoughts: I love this series more than I can express with words, and certainly much more than I thought I would going into it. So many times while reading, I hugged the book to my chest and thought, THIS IS SO GOOD! Johansen is a bold and brave writer and these have made me a forever fan. She has written characters that I love deeply and I have no doubt I will come back to these again and again.

Rating: Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 10.58.06 PM

Favorite Characters: The Mace, Kelsea, Aisa

Memorable Quotes:

As always, the story was the compelling thing, worth all of its suffering to find out the ending.

Hell? Hell is a fairy tale for the gullible, for what punishment could be worse than that we inflict upon ourselves? We burn so badly in this life that there can be nothing left.

Entire countries would close their borders and build walls to keep out phantom threats. Can you imagine?

Empathy. Carlin always said it was the great value of fiction, to put us inside the minds of strangers.