What’s Ashley Reading?: The Midnight Library

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

First line: Nineteen years before she decided to die, Nora Seed sat in the warmth of the small library at Hazeldene School in the town of Bedford.

Summary: Nora Seed has decided to die. Everything is falling apart around her. She is single, her cat died, she lost her job, her parents are dead and her brother won’t talk to her. What’s the point anymore? As she dies she finds that there is a library filled with possible other lives that would have existed had she made different choices. The librarian directs her to the books of these alternate lives where she can decide if she would rather live in those instead. Which one will she choose?

“Between life and death there is a library, and within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?”

My Thoughts: I really enjoyed this story. At the beginning it can be depressing as Nora keeps having her world fall apart around her. It almost seems like an It’s a Wonderful Life situation. But this is more inventive and adds another dimension to story. Rather than seeing the world without her, it looks at the world if she had made different choices.

I liked how different each life was because of one small choice. It’s the Butterfly Effect. One decision can change so much for you and every person you come into contact with. But we also see that what may appear to be perfect can still have its challenges. Nothing is perfect.

Everyone has things that they regret. I know I do. I wish I had spent a year abroad in college. But if I did that I would never have gotten my dog, Winston. I regret not staying at K-State in order to save money on college but if I hadn’t I would not have traveled around Europe with a group from Tabor College. There is always something that could be different but with every regret there is something good you would lose too.

Even though this sounds like a depressing book, it is really uplifting. It has a great message to anyone who is struggling with life choices and how to make the best of what we are given. Find joy in the small things.

FYI: Trigger warnings: suicide, drug overdose, language.

Courtney’s Book Chat: The Astonishing Color of After

The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X. R. Pan

First Line: My mother is a bird.

Summary: Coping with her mother’s suicide, Leigh is shocked when she learns her mother has transformed into a red bird. She and her dad set off to visit her grandparents for the first time in Taiwan and find the bird. There, Leigh unravels her family history and tries to reconcile having kissed her long-time best friend Axel the day her mother died.

My Thoughts: I love this book. Emily X. R. Pan crafts lyrical prose while also retaining a decidedly distinct teen voice for her protagonist, Leigh. This book gives a nuanced portrayal over grief, family dynamics, and mental health, all while encompassing it within Taiwanese cultural norms. It resonates deeply with rich emotion and themes, which are enhanced by the deftly incorporated fantasy elements. Leigh’s character and feelings are also elegantly rendered through the use of color and art pigment. Though the amount of flashbacks surprised me and almost felt like they could have been better balanced out at times rather than clustered together, these flashbacks added depth to each character and relationship. It is the relationships that pulse at the heart of the book, both deeply-felt yet authentic with its natural dialogue. This works both for the brewing romance between Leigh and long-time best friend Axel and the relationships within Leigh’s family.

Captivating with many layers, The Astonishing Color of After is a beautiful book about family and grief through the realistic lense of a sixteen-year-old girl. It resonates with poignance and hope.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Recursion

Recursion by Blake Crouch

First line: Barry Sutton pulls into the fire lane at the main entrance of the Poe Building, an Art Deco tower glowing white in the illumination of its exterior sconces.

Summary: Barry Sutton is a New York cop who witnesses the tragic effects of False Memory Syndrome when a woman jumps from the forty first floor of a skyscraper.

Helena Smith is a researcher looking for a way to save and record memories to help Alzheimer patients.

As the world around them begins to unravel because of the mysterious FMS, they must team up to try and learn how to stop the phenomenon from continuing to plague the world. If they cannot not it can lead to the possible end of the world.

My Thoughts: From the very first page this story is off and running. There is no build up or major character development in the first twenty pages like most novels. Crouch puts us immediately into the story. This is by far one of my favorite parts of his writing. It is very easy to lose interest in a book that drags its story out too long.

When we meet Barry we also hear about False Memory Syndrome but it is not really explained. For a while it was difficult to understand what is happening to those that are affected. However, once I understood what the disease entailed it became obvious why it could be terrifying to contract.

There are several time hops which makes it very important to pay attention to the dates at the beginning of each new section.

I love how fast paced his story telling is. I was on the edge of my seat throughout.

I was never very good with science. Give me history or literature any day. Even though Recursion is very much a science fiction thriller it was not bogged down by the technicalities. When I tried reading The Martian by Andy Weir, the science is what killed the book for me. I just did not get it. But Crouch does a great job of having it as part of the story but not making it overwhelming for the everyday reader.

I cannot say enough good things about this book. Just give it a try. It is worth every minute you spend reading it.

FYI: Pick up Dark Matter by Blake Crouch. It is just as thrilling!

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Haunting of Maddy Clare

The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

First line: The day I met Mr. Gellis, I had been walking in the rain.

Summary: Sarah Piper is a poor young woman working for a temp agency in London when an unusual job becomes available. She is hired on as an assistant for a ghost hunter. Alistair Gellis, a WWI veteran and ghost enthusiast, is determined to prove the existence of ghosts. He wants Sarah’s help with the ghost of Maddy Clare. Maddy was a servant for the Clare family until she took her own life in their barn. Now her spirit is wreaking havoc on the occupants. With the help of Matthew Ryder, a former soldier and friend of Alistair’s they search for a way to help Maddy move on and solve the mystery behind her destructive behavior.

My Thoughts: Absolutely chilling! Simone St. James is by far one of the best writers, in my opinion, of the Gothic ghost story. She can weave the historical fiction, romance and spookiness together seamlessly. I have been meaning to read this for some time now. It took me just a few days to read because it was that good!

I loved the mystery behind Maddy. No one knew who she was or where she came from. She had no memory and rarely spoke. Then one day she hangs herself in the barn of her employer. That’s when the trouble really begins. Maddy’s vengeful spirit is set to attack any man who sets foot on the Clare property. What happened in her past? Sarah’s first interactions with Maddy were a little terrifying. It literally gets your blood pumping as you read it. When you pick this up be prepared to finish it. Maybe even the same day. Just saying.

FYI: If you like this then try Wendy Webb and Amanda Stevens.

Book Review: Into the Water

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

First line: I was very young when I was cracked open.

Summary: The Drowning Pool as it has been dubbed by the locals is where several women have been found dead.  Julia has not been back to her hometown in many years and rarely spoken to her sister.  However, when she gets the call that her sister, Nel, has been found in the water she has to travel back to take care of her fifteen-year-old niece, Lena.  As the police look into the two most recent deaths of Nel and a young girl named Katie, they begin to discover that they might be connected. 

Highlights: I listened to this as an audio book and was happy to find that many of the characters had different readers.  When there are, multiple points of view listening can be very difficult.  The story was suspenseful enough to keep it interesting.  I liked that several different storylines were intertwined with the main plot.  The chapters are nice and short which make the story move along quickly.  This is a fast read and great for rainy day.

Lowlights: I felt like the ending was a little predictable.  I was not 100% sure with who Nel’s killer was but it was not hard to figure out once several more pieces fell into place.

FYI: Perfect for readers of Gone Girl and The Couple Next Door.