The Book Of M – Peng Shepherd

Screen Shot 2018-06-13 at 11.06.03 AMPublisher: William Morrow

Publication Date: June 5th, 2018

Page Count: 496 (Kindle)

From the Jacket:

WHAT WOULD YOU GIVE UP TO REMEMBER?

Set in a dangerous near future world, The Book of M tells the captivating story of a group of ordinary people caught in an extraordinary catastrophe who risk everything to save the ones they love. It is a sweeping debut that illuminates the power that memories have not only on the heart, but on the world itself.

One afternoon at an outdoor market in India, a man’s shadow disappears—an occurrence science cannot explain. He is only the first. The phenomenon spreads like a plague, and while those afflicted gain a strange new power, it comes at a horrible price: the loss of all their memories.

Ory and his wife Max have escaped the Forgetting so far by hiding in an abandoned hotel deep in the woods. Their new life feels almost normal, until one day Max’s shadow disappears too.

Knowing that the more she forgets, the more dangerous she will become to Ory, Max runs away. But Ory refuses to give up the time they have left together. Desperate to find Max before her memory disappears completely, he follows her trail across a perilous, unrecognizable world, braving the threat of roaming bandits, the call to a new war being waged on the ruins of the capital, and the rise of a sinister cult that worships the shadowless.

As they journey, each searches for answers: for Ory, about love, about survival, about hope; and for Max, about a new force growing in the south that may hold the cure.

Like The Passage and Station Eleven, this haunting, thought-provoking, and beautiful novel explores fundamental questions of memory, connection, and what it means to be human in a world turned upside down.

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It has been a very long time since I’ve read a book that made me feel the way this one did. I finished it almost a week ago and have just been sitting with it, trying to put my thoughts into some semblance of an order so I could write a cohesive review instead of a rambling stream of consciousness feelings dump. I’m not sure I’ll be successful. I’ve seen this book likened with Station Eleven (another incredible book that you should read), and I have to agree that parts of it do feel reminiscent of that, however, this book is so incredibly unique that even that comparison feels like a stretch.

The Book of M follows several different people as they navigate through societal collapse after a mystery condition known as, The Forgetting, plagues people in one county after another until the entire world has been effected. We see what happens when the news breaks, the immediate aftermath, and the different choices made that ultimately bring the characters together. It’s an incredible genre bending blend of post-apocalyptic, literary, and magical realism. Shepherd weaves effortlessly between several points of view, each just as compelling as the one before it.

This book made me ask myself so many questions. What would you do to protect the ones you love if the very act of forgetting them could make them cease to exist? Where would you go if forgetting something as simple as the way a kite works could cause catastrophic consequences? And maybe even most compelling, what would you be willing to forget in exchange for the ability to do incredible magic, transforming the world around you forever?

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I do not want to go into too much detail because this book has so many delightful surprises packed in. It is astounding to me that this is the author’s debut work, because it’s written like a master class in character development and world building. The Book of M terrified me, it made me laugh, it made me cry, and it filled me full of wonder that anyone’s imagination could contain such magnitudes. Along the way I lost count of how many times I exclaimed out loud about something I was reading.

I began recommending this to everyone I knew about halfway through and haven’t let up since. If you read only a single book this year, make it this one. I promise that it will blow your mind and you’ll never forget it. If you do decide to read it, or if you have read it, please come tell me about it in the comments!

A big thank you to William Morrow and Edelweiss for the advance reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review. 

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Intraterrestrial – Nicholas Conley

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Publisher: Red Adept Publishing

Publication Date: January 15th, 2018

Page Count: 234 Pages (Kindle)

From the Jacket: Adam Helios is a bully magnet without many friends. When he starts hearing a voice that claims to come from the stars, he fears he’s losing his mind, so he withdraws even further. On the way home from a meeting at the school, he and his parents are involved in a horrible car crash. With his skull cracked open, Adam’s consciousness is abducted by the alien who has been speaking to him for months.

After surviving the wreck with only minor scratches, Camille Helios must deal with her guilt over the accident that left her husband badly injured and her son in a coma. When the doctor suggests letting Adam go, Camille refuses to stop fighting for her son’s life.

Lost among galaxies, Adam must use his imagination to forge a path home before his body dies on the operating table. But even if he does return to Earth, he may end up locked inside a damaged brain forever.

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Adam Helios (which is just the coolest name ever if we’re being honest) is reserved and quiet, he has better relationships with the characters in his comic books than he does with his real life peers, and it seems like all his parents do is fight. As if those things weren’t bad enough for a kid in junior high, now he’s hearing a strange voice in his head that claims to be from the stars. On the way home from a visit to the principal’s office, where he’s sent after a run in with a bully, Adam and his family are involved in a terrible car accident. Adam suffers a traumatic brain injury, and that’s where the real action begins.

While laying on an operating table, brain matter spilling out of his head, Adam’s consciousness is taken over by the alien voice that has been talking to him. He follows a bright light and finally meets the being behind the voice, now to be known as The Consciousness, who explains that a dark and evil force has stolen something from them, and without Adam’s help, they’ll all be destroyed. Adam ultimately agrees to help, despite feeling terrified and incredibly unqualified to assist with such a gargantuan and foreign task.

Up until this point, I was completely sucked in. Conley really is a phenomenal writer, and has a way of engaging the reader from page one with relatable characters and realistic world building. That being said, I felt like this part of the plot could have really benefited from some more fleshing out. The quest Adam goes on felt very much like the search to find an destroy all of the horcruxes in the final Harry Potter book.  In the case of Harry Potter however, readers get 6 books leading up to the finale, each providing context and motivation regarding the criticality of the task at hand. Everything happens so quickly after Adam’s accident that I had a hard time understanding not only why he agreed to help the aliens, but why it mattered if he was successful. And I do not mean that this is a plot hole, because everything is explained, but I found it hard to believe.

I also had a hard time determining who the intended audience for this book is. Adam is thirteen, so it makes sense that his observations are very juvenile in nature. However, the book itself has very adult imagery and deals with adult themes in an adult way. The juxtaposition of Adam’s immature inner monologue set against such gruesome descriptions was jarring and brought me out of the story.

One of my favorite aspects of Intraterrestrial was the dueling narratives of Adam and his mother, Camille. She has walked away from the accident with very minor injuries, but as the driver, has been left with immense guilt as she finds herself facing the possible deaths of both her husband and son. While Adam’s consciousness is away having an imaginative interstellar adventure, Camille is being pulled between the two, unsure of what will happen with either of them. Just like in Pale Highway, Conley’s gift for writing humanity shines in these chapters. I enjoyed the whole book, but found myself looking forward to the chapters written from Camille’s perspective.

After a crazy, at times terrifying, action packed, and heartfelt ride, Intraterrestrial comes to an exciting and satisfying conclusion, and I’m still thinking about these characters days after finishing. Overall, I would highly recommend this one for fans of science fiction. Conley’s style will appeal to anyone who appreciates good writing, but much of the plot is too fantastical for readers who normally stick to general fiction. I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I’m beyond grateful to have had a second chance to read and review Conley’s work. His books are so thought provoking and creative and he’s a genuinely nice guy. You can read my review of Pale Highway here (which I also enthusiastically recommend) and more about the author here.

Leah on the Offbeat – Becky Albertalli

Screen Shot 2018-05-24 at 3.26.29 PMPublisher: Balzer + Bray

Publication Date: April 24th, 2018

Page Count: 368 (Hardcover)

From the Jacket:

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic.

She’s an anomaly in her friend group: the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high.

It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

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It’s like it doesn’t even matter if I like my body, because there’s always someone there to remind me I shouldn’t.

Leah Burke is my spirit animal. Becky Albertalli has created a character that I admire the hell out of, aspire to be like, wouldn’t mind dating, and would like to be BFFs with all at the same time. She is confident, completely comfortable in her own skin, and has enough sarcasm in her inner dialogue to rival Chandler Bing. Leah on the Offbeat is the second installment in the Creekwood series, with a focus on Leah this time, but still including all of the characters we fell in love with in Simon. Thrown in with a whole bunch of Harry Potter references are, a big school play, parties, band practice, college tours, road trips, friend fights, breakups, prom, a hefty helping of angsty love, and just so much witty banter. Albertalli tackles the uncertainty that comes with moving on after high school, staying true to yourself even if it means sacrificing relationships, and being brave enough to choose a path that is entirely new.

I sat down to read a few pages of this the other night and ended up reading the entire thing in one sitting. It was hilarious and uplifting and took me right back to all of the best and most uncertain parts of my high school experience. The group is nearing the end of their senior year and everyone is preparing for prom and life after college. This is not your typical high school story, however, as we have an unapologetically fat, bisexual girl as the main character. Oh how I wish this book had been around when I was a teenager. I had really high expectations for this one because I was so enamored by Simon and really wanted more of these characters. As soon as I got my hands on a copy, I put down all of the other books I was reading to start it (sorry not sorry).

With all of the hype surrounding it and my extreme love of the first one, I was worried I’d be underwhelmed, but that wasn’t the case at all. I’m still partial to Simon and Bram, and I did miss the interactions between Simon and his family, but in Leah, we get an entirely new love story (that I was not at all expecting) to crush on and a new family dynamic. I really loved how Albertalli wrote the relationship between Leah and her mom and her mom’s boyfriend, who she is just entirely unimpressed with. Her inner dialogue anytime she is around him or is being forced to talk about him is savage and just so hilarious.

There isn’t a single thing I didn’t love about this book. It has all of the charm and wit of Simon, so if you’re looking for more of that you should definitely consider adding Leah to your list. I plan on reading all of Albertalli’s books and I just got an ARC of What if it’s Us, which she co wrote with Adam Silvera. I cannot wait to start it!

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