A review of The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

Huge thank you to Harper Perennial for providing me a copy of The Oracle Year in exchange for an honest review.

As a fan of David Wong, I knew The Oracle Year by Charles Soule would be a great fit for me.  It sounded like a adventure full of questions and bizarre situations and it did not disappoint. The Oracle Year tells the story of Will Dando, a bassist living in New York City, after he wakes up with exactly 108 predictions in his head. Will, with the help of his friend, sets up a site where he can publish these predictions and make more money than he thought possible. Unfortunately, with the power Will has been given he ends up making a lot of enemies. Among them: the president of the United States, a nationally renowned televangelist, and a warlord with a live nuclear bomb.

As the world is falling apart around him, Will learns he is the only person who can put it back together. Enlisting the few people he can trust, Will’s journey takes him on an adventure that spans the globe while taking the reader on a really wild ride.

I think my favorite part of this novel is the idea that a person considered to be a “nobody” is entrusted with power on such a large scale. I also love the specificity of the predictions he receives. Starting with the number, to some of predictions themselves, Soule really created an interesting web of predictions. I like how Soule weaved everything together from beginning to end. Nothing mentioned in the beginning was not left out from later in the novel. It showed me that Soule gave great care to the world he created and didn’t want to leave a single thread hanging.

Of course, that is, for the biggest thread there is. There are many questions in this book that are answered, but there is one that isn’t. I won’t say which one so as not to spoil the novel for anyone interested in reading it, but it definitely left me wondering. That being said, I don’t think the big question not being answered detracted from the novel at all. The Oracle Year is about Will’s journey and what Will did with the knowledge he received. I cared more about that than the logistics or science behind the story.

Another thing that was great about this novel was the humor. Soule was great a bringing humor to the novel in a great way – through his characters. The humor was not too much or barely there. Soule was masterful about the way he incorporated funny remarks or actions from his characters. He created a serious novel with humorous undertones and that is hard to do.

My only complaint is that the beginning is a little slow. It took me some time to get into the novel and actually want to dive headfirst into Will’s world. It’s the only thing I wish was different.

Overall, The Oracle Year gets three and a half out of five stars from me! It was funny, intriguing, and a really interesting take on the ideas of power and faith.

Make sure you get your hands on this book when it comes out on April 3! 

Stacks on deck: My March to-be-read pile

After a very YA heavy February (I was slumping and needed some easy reads to push my through my slump), I decided to focus on some adult fiction this month.

The star of March is definitely The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I have heard nothing but good things about this book and, even though it scares me, I’m going to dive into it headfirst. Not only have I heard great things from friends about it (bookstagram friends, work friends, etc.), but the amazing Lin-Manuel Miranda is executive producing a TV series for it. Once I heard that I knew I had to read the books before it aired. I’m hoping to get started on it this week when I take the train to Chicago and have plenty of uninterrupted reading time.

My current read for March is The Oracle Year by Charles Soule. I was graciously sent a copy by Harper Perennial in exchange for an honest review. According to Harper Perennial, The Oracle Year is for fans of Joe Hill, David Wong, and other humorous sci-fi/fantasy writers. This novel follows Will Dando, a twenty-something bassist living in New York City, after he wakes up with 108 predictions in his head. Will, with the help of a close friend, takes these predictions and monetizes them becoming the most famous, most loved, and most hated person in the world. I’m about halfway through and loving every minute of it. It’s funny, it’s intriguing, and most of all it’s incredibly well written.

If you’re interested in this book, look for it at your local bookstore on April 3!

PS. It looks like The Oracle Year is being made into a TV show too!

Another book I’m really looking forward to this month is The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. Kristin Hannah’s books seem to be big hits with a lot of people and The Great Alone is not exception. I’ve been seeing multiple five-star reviews for this book all over bookstagram and Goodreads which makes me so excited to dive into this one. Another great thing about reading this book this month is that I will be reading it with some great people on bookstagram! While I’ve been impatient with buddy reads in the past, I think this book will be great to discuss with friends.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller also made my March hopeful pile this year. I’m reading it in anticipation for Circe because I really want to get a feel for the author’s writing and her take on Greek mythology. It also helps that I am a huge fan of Greek mythology and any modern take on it really interests me.

Finally, the book I think I’m going to finish out the month with is The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara. There are so many reasons I hope that I will love this book. The biggest one being that one of my best book friends gave this book a solid five-star review. I really respect her reviews and seeing her thoughts on this book made me want to read it even more. I cannot wait to get into this book, but I really want to end March on a strong note and I think this book will be that for me.

That’s my March to-be-read pile! It might change a bit because I picked from great books from Book of the Month this month and might dive into those. What are you planning to read this month?

Review of Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

“Sometimes the world don’t give you what you need, no matter how hard you look. Sometimes it withholds.”

— Sing, Unburied, Sing, Jesmyn Ward

While beautifully written, I don’t think Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward was the book for me. Knowing that Ward is a fellow University of Michigan alum and that Sing, Unburied, Sing was on Barack Obama’s 2017 reading list, I desperately wanted to love this book, but I only liked it.*

*Which, I should note, is still a good thing and I do recommend this book if you are a fan of literary fiction!

Sing, Unburied, Sing tells the story of one family, their struggles, and their strengths. The story starts with Jojo, a thirteen-year-old boy who idolizes his grandfather and wants to be a man just like him. Jojo’s mother, Leonie, is struggling even more. With her children’s father in jail, past traumas haunting her, and a drug addiction, Leonie is not equipped to raise Jojo or her daughter.

The bulk of this story revolves around the journey of the family as they go to pick up the children’s father from jail. On the road, the family face more struggles that challenge their ways of thinking and makes them question the lives they are living.

There was no question that this book was beautiful and heartbreaking. As a literary fiction, it excelled. However, some logistical problems kept me from fully falling in love with this family’s story.

Just to quickly list them out:

  • The timeline was unclear. 
    There were times when it was obvious there was a flashback happening, but other times the flashbacks or memories were nestled into the chapters. This threw me off at times and I found myself having to go back and reread sections to figure out where in time I was.
  • I didn’t truly understand the character of Richie.
    While I know Richie was a very important part of Pop’s backstory, I don’t know why he had to be included in Jojo’s story. It seemed like Jojo was not at all receptive to Richie or his message. It didn’t seem like Richie served much of a purpose except to weave some supernatural elements throughout the story.
  • The magical realism wasn’t clear.
    The magical realism throughout this novel is what left me confused most of the time. It was never clear if the “ghosts” the family were seeing were actual ghosts or hallucinations or something else entirely. While Ward wrote these moments beautifully, I didn’t quite understand how the family was seeing these supernatural occurrences and why.

My biggest issue with this novel is that, by the end, I didn’t understand why I was told this story. The issues presented at the beginning were not resolved by the end. A lot of this novel could have been removed and the ending would have stayed the same. While I felt Ward’s prose was masterful, I felt like it didn’t progress the story at times.

Despite those negatives, I do think Sing, Unburied, Sing is an important novel that needs to be out in this world. It doesn’t shy away from racism or drug abuse. It talks about these issues and doesn’t glamorize them. It shows how racism has caused many of the family’s struggles. From Pop’s time in prison to the murder of Given to Leonie’s children having a white father, the family in this novel has always faced struggles due to racism. Sing, Unburied, Sing also shows how drug use has kept Leonie from being a mother to her children and how it has pulled them away from her. This novel takes the ugly things from this world and writes about them lyrically, which left an unsettled feeling in my stomach.

Overall, I liked this book. It gets a solid three out of five stars from me.

Review of Bird Box by Josh Malerman

“How can she expect her children to dream as big as the stars if they can’t lift their heads to gaze upon them?

— Bird Box, Josh Malerman

*Note: Bird Box is the middle book in this photo. The other two novels were pretty great too!

If you’re in need of a chilling, horrifying novel, Bird Box by Josh Malerman is absolutely something you need to pick up. It didn’t matter what page of this book I was on, there was always something terrifying that took place.

Bird Box tells the story of a post-apocalyptic world in which it is not safe to open your eyes. If you do open your eyes, you risk going mad. The world is filled with “creatures” that the human mind can’t comprehend and their presence has completely changed the way the world works. Bird Box centers around Malorie who has just found out she’s pregnant as the world is falling apart around her. Five years later, Malore is trapped in an abandoned house with her two children. Her children have been raised and trained for the perfect moment to leave the house in search of a safer life. One foggy day, it’s time.

This book chronicles Malorie’s and the children’s journey down the river to safety as well as Malorie’s life leading up to this moment. Each chapter alternates years and events, but stays centered on Malorie’s story.

The premise of this novel was different from the other post-apocalyptic novels I’ve read and I thought Malerman did a phenomenal job of creating such a chilling world. He weaved tension and anxiety throughout each of the pages expertly. I was kept on my toes with each page turn, unsure of what was about to happen next. Bird Box was the perfect length. Malerman edited his book so that each word was crucial to the story and nothing was lost.

I enjoyed this read immensely and the chills stayed with me for days. Also, Josh Malerman is a metro-Detroit native just like myself so he gets even more props for that! He’s also in a local band, check out The High Strung!

A solid 4 out of 5 stars for Bird Box. If you need a chilling, horror novel then you need to pick this book up!

When good plots go bad: A review of Trenton Makes

The first thing I want to note in this review is that Trenton Makes is not for everyone. It certainly wasn’t for me. Due to it’s writing style, fans of literary fiction might enjoy the prose of this novel, but the content is what really put me off.

Trenton Makes by Tadzio Koelb is a debut novel about a woman carving out her piece of the American Dream by assuming the identity of a man. The book is split into two parts; part one being set in the 1940s and part two taking place in 1971.

In the 1940s a woman kills her husband in a domestic fight and takes over his identity. As Abe Kuntsler, he successfully secures employment at a wire factory and woos an alcoholic dancer named Inez. He begins to make a home with Inez, but realizes his transformation is incomplete until he can secure himself a son.

In 1971, Abe’s life is deteriorating. The life he has created is falling apart due to the stress and pressure of his lies. Abe becomes desperate to hold onto what he built and begins searching for solutions in his dying city of Trenton.

Content warnings for Trenton Makes:

Rape, violence against women, homophobia, murder, domestic abuse, racist/offensive language, sexual abuse, alcoholism

Unfortunately, I could not finish this book. I finished part one and had to put it down. My biggest struggle was the prose. It was very vague and flowery which made it difficult for me to read without paying super close attention. I found myself having to reread paragraphs constantly to derive some meaning, but ultimately coming away with very little. While I could appreciate that the prose was beautiful, it was very difficult to understand. There are some flashback scenes to Abe’s life before he assumes his late husband’s identity where the prose is even more of a stream of consciousness and harder to understand. It should come as no surprise that one of Koelb’s influences is William Falkner.

Despite the prose, I was still really looking forward to seeing this plot play out, but there are scenes in this novel that really ruined it for me.

Uncomfortable content ahead:

Part one of this novel ends with Abe getting his wife (Inez) and a stranger blackout drunk and raping both of them. He then proceeds to help the stranger rape his wife.
I felt it was unnecessary to the plot and it made me very uncomfortable.

These scenes, particularly the one above, made me question what the point of this novel was and why Koelb included this information. After this scene I knew I didn’t want to see where the novel was headed and that’s when I decided to put it on my DNF shelf.

Overall, I give this book one and a half out of five stars. While I feel the uniqueness of the plot deserves some praise, this book wasn’t for me. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend it; however, if you’ve read this review and still want to give it a try Trenton Makes comes out on March 20th of this year!

However, I want to give a huge thank you to Doubleday books for sending me a copy of Trenton Makes in exchange for an honest review. 

Review of The English Wife by Lauren Willig

“What a very odd thing … to live and leave no mark.”

 — The English Wife, Lauren Willig

I was really excited to read The English Wife by Lauren Willig. As a gothic murder mystery set in the late 1800s, it seemed like it would be full of mystery, intrigue, and all of the fun stuff needed for a historical fiction thriller. I did enjoy some parts of this novel (particularly ones with Mr. Burke, I think he may have been my favorite character), but it just didn’t do it for me.

The English Wife starts with Bayard Van Duyvil being found with a knife in his chest and his wife, Annabelle, missing. One side thinks Annabelle is a victim and had been drowned by the real culprit, the other side thinks she is the one who killed her husband. With the mystery surrounding this crime, the press is all over the story and Janie Van Duyvil (Bayard’s sister) sets out to find the truth. Janie forms an alliance with James Burke, a reporter hellbent on solving this case, to figure out who killed her brother and what happened to Annabelle.

My biggest issue with this book is the pacing. This book starts out fast-paced with the crime happening right in the first five pages, but then it jumps to five years prior with a character not mentioned prior or in any synopses telling the story. It then continues to jump between 1899 and the years prior (sometimes even in the middle of a chapter). For me, this threw the pacing off. The earlier chapters are very slow and build backstory to of Bayard and Annabelle’s marriage. The chapters that take place in 1899 alternate between slow and fast-paced. Some parts of the 1899 story were about solving the crime and others were building a strange relationship between all of the other characters. Honestly, I felt like I was getting whiplash from how often the pace changed.

Another issue I had with this book was the characters. I didn’t feel connected to any of them. Not Bayard, not Janie, and especially not Annabelle. They didn’t come to life on the page for me. I didn’t even feel any love between the characters. Bayard and Annabelle’s relationship felt forced and confusing. Janie seemed to have no relationship with Bayard which made me really confused as to why she was so determined to solve her brother’s murder. I didn’t understand the purpose of Anne, Janie and Bayard’s cousin, and what part she played other than to make Janie’s life difficult (also, with her name being so close to Annabelle, it just made things even more confusing).

And then there were Bayard and Annabelle’s children. I have absolutely no clue why they were in this story. They added nothing and I mean absolutely nothing. They didn’t make me believe Bay and Annabelle’s marriage more, they were kept in the dark about the crime, and they seemed to just get in the way. I’m not sure what Willig wanted to accomplish with including them, but I didn’t see a point to them.

Overall, I think Willig did succeed in creating a mystery because I wasn’t fully expecting the twist at the end, but this book gets two and a half out of five stars from me. It went on too long and I didn’t really understand the point of this story.

“I wish you more happiness than can fit in a person”: A review of We Are Okay

“I was okay just a moment ago. I will learn how to be okay again.”

— We Are Okay, Nina LaCour

There is no doubt in my mind that We Are Okay by Nina LaCour is a five-star book.

We Are Okay is a heart wrenching, beautiful, and uniquely human. LaCour did an amazing job with capturing human emotion within the pages of this book. I felt for every character – even ones who only appear for short stretches.

We Are Okay tells a story of grief, love, and betrayal through experiences of Marin. Marin leaves her hometown for the quiet, lonely sanctuary of a New York college campus. Marin has isolated herself from everyone, the only exception being her roommate, as she quietly suffers a devastating loss. It isn’t until her best friend from home, Mabel, arrives that Marin must face her grief and events from her past.

Personally, I believe the best part of this book is LaCour’s writing. She makes the reader feel Marin’s pain as her words bring grief and loss to life. Marin’s past unfolds on the pages in front of you as she is struggling to deal with the events. It is almost like LaCour wanted you, as the reader, to discover what happened to Marin as she is coming to terms with it herself.

My biggest complaint is that I wished the book were longer. I wanted to dive into Marin and Mabel’s relationship, learn how Marin became reliant on her roommate, and see into the thoughts and feelings of Marin’s grandfather. LaCour made these characters so real and I wanted to know everything about them. That being said, I think We Are Okay was the perfect telling of Marin’s story. It made the people in her life as real as she was, but ultimately was her telling of how she handled loss and betrayal.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It was a quick read, but so worth your time.