The End We Start From

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Thank you to Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of Megan Hunter’s novel, The End We Start From, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – In the not-too-distance future, a major flood has destroyed London and the unnamed narrator must try to survive with her newborn baby.

LIKE- The End We Start From is a survival story at a break-neck pace. Although due to family visiting, I had to read it in small chunks, Hunter’s novella can easily be read in a single sitting. Due to the fast pacing and intense subject of the story, I would highly recommend setting aside a few uninterrupted hours and diving in.

I liked that Hunter left a lot of mystery, she does not spell things out. Although we know that there has been extreme flood, we don’t know more details. For example, we don’t know the range and extent of the disaster. This put me in the mindset of the narrator, as she struggles to survive with a lack of direct information. The larger scope of the disaster is really irrelevant to this particular story. The focus is on her survival, the immediate situation, and deals with the rumors and misinformation that she receives as she moves to different refugee camps. She must assess her best move on the fly, including dealing with dangers.

The End We Start From reminded me of The Walking Dead or Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road. The themes and general story line are not a new idea, however, The End We Start From remains compelling because of the narrator and the exploration of how humans react in extreme circumstances.

The ending was very interesting to me. It switches from a story of physical survival to one of emotional survival. Hunter ends the story at a precarious moment. The only thing that I was left feeling certain of, is that the narrator is a survivor and will continue to survive.

DISLIKE– I’m a bit uncertain as to whether only naming the characters by their first initial was a good move. As a reader, I sometimes found it to be confusing and distracting. I had to reread sections to remind myself of a character, which took me out of the story. From a storytelling standpoint, it creates a necessary barrier that the narrator must put up for her own survival. It also quickens the pacing.

RECOMMEND– Yes. The End We Start From is a fast-paced and emotional journey. It’s filled with danger and tension. I never quite knew where it was heading and I found the ending to be quite a surprise. I’d seek out future novels by Hunter.

Millard Salter’s Last Day

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Thank you to Gallery Books for providing me with a copy of Jacob M. Appel’s novel, Millard Salter’s Last Day, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- Psychiatrist Millard Salter has decided to kill himself. The love of his life has recently died after an illness and he fears the idea of growing old with the possibility of having a disease or needing assistance. He feels that he has lived enough life and plans to hang himself, while things are still good. With this plan in mind, he spends his last couple of days tying up loose ends. He tries to wrap things up at work and visits with his ex-wife and adult children. He soon learns that leaving might not be as easy as he had anticipated.

LIKE- It took me time to get into the pacing and rhythm of Millard Salter’s Last Day, but as soon as I did (last third of the story,) I felt swept away. Appel has created a complicated protagonist in Salter and I felt the weight of his worries and sorrows. Through his characters, Appel makes a strong argument for the need to have assisted suicide and speaks to the trauma of watching a loved one battle through a terminal disease. Salter helps a loved on with assisted suicide, which is described in detail.

Although Salter is a lauded psychiatrist, his fears and depression create a situation where he justifies ending his life.  I suppose the argument could be made that people should have the freedom to live their lives ( or end their lives) as they see fit, at any stage, but I felt the overriding theme of Millard Salter’s Last Day is that Salter’s life should not end. His judgement is clouded. The worst of it, is none of the other doctor’s at the hospital where he works, even notice that something is wrong. They are too busy trying to get ahead in their careers and dealing with office politics. Salter’s family doesn’t notice either. It’s a sad and unfortunate situation all around, a commentary on how isolated people can feel and how blind we can all be to the suffering of others.

DISLIKEMillard Salter’s Last Day is pitched as a book similar to Frederik Backman’s novel, A Man Called Ove. They deal with similar themes; like Salter, Ove is hell-bent on killing himself and finds the leaving process to be more difficult than anticipated. However, that’s where the similarities end. Backman’s novel has humor and light to breakup the heavy theme. Ove undergoes a huge transformation, where as Salter stays the same. Salter’s weak story arc, my primary issue with the story.

I had compassion for Salter, but I found him to be a difficult character to stay with for an entire novel. I couldn’t read Millard Salter’s Last Day, without reading several other books at the same time. As such, it took me over a month to read, when it should have taken a day or two. As I mentioned previously, it didn’t grab me until the last third, the first two-thirds were sluggish.

RECOMMEND– Probably not. Millard Salter’s Last Day is heavy. Salter is a solid character, but he  doesn’t have a solid story.

 

The Tribulations of August Barton

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Thank you to author Jennifer LeBlanc for providing me with a copy of your novella, The Tribulations of August Barton, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– It’s difficult being a college freshman and it’s even more difficult if you’re August Barton. August is an anxious young man and his anxiety issues spike when things in his life spiral out of control. His parents are getting a divorce, he is completely uncool in the eyes of his dorm roommate, and his wild-child grandmother is causing problems in her nursing home. Can August handle all of these issues and learn to enjoy his first year at college?

LIKE– This story is nuts. It’s really outlandish and unexpected in the best possible way. August’s grandmother, Gertie is the polar opposite to August’s personality. Where he is shy and nervous, she embraces life and lives loud. She is not content to spend her remaining days in a nursing home, so she runs away, implicating August in her wild adventures. She brings along an old friend and fellow former prostitute, Tunes, and they work together to have a last hurrah, while making sure that August learns to live a little. They even join August at a college party, proving that age is no barrier to a good time or popularity.

The Tribulations of August Barton has a wonderful zest for life and a theme of seizing the day.

DISLIKE– Too short, way too short. The story felt crammed in, especially for the level of wackiness. I needed more time to understand and embrace the characters. The breakneck pace was too much for a novella and underserved the story.

RECOMMEND– Maybe. I loved the characters and the spirit of The Tribulations of August Barton, but I felt I was reading a solid draft, rather than a polished story.

Flat Broke with Two Goats

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Thank you to Sourcebooks for providing me with an advance copy of Jennifer McGaha’s memoir, Flat Broke with Two Goats, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT- Jennifer McGaha was living a comfortable, upper middle-class life in the suburbs, when her world fell apart. A combination of the 2008 financial crash and living beyond their means, created a hole that Jennifer and her husband, David, couldn’t seem to climb out of. David dropped a bombshell on Jennifer, when he revealed that they owed over a hundred thousand  in back taxes, and that their house was about to be repossessed. A small solution presented itself, by way of a bargain rental cabin deep in the Appalachian countryside. The cabin was in disrepair and lacked all of the comforts that they were used to having. It also boasted some roommates: venomous snakes, spiders, and other critters. Would Jennifer and David be able to embrace their new lifestyle as they slowly fixed their debt? Would their marriage survive?

LIKE- I liked McGaha’s frank discussion regarding her financial issues. She experiences a range of emotions, including a lack of trust towards her husband and a profound sense of loss. Although she never loses sight of the fact that she has come from a privileged background and at the end of the day, she still has a roof over her head and love from her family, she still undergoes a transition, where she has to mourn her old life and reshape herself.

Certainly, Flat Broke with Two Goats, made me think about my own finances and I took this to be a cautionary tale. Your life can easily change by any number of factors. On a much more minor level than McGaha’s experience, last year I moved to a different state and sold my childhood home, when my husband got a job transfer. I was depressed over it for about six months and I wish I had read McGaha’s memoir during that time, as it’s a great boost towards putting things in perspective. Life changes and you must roll with them.

Also, on the financial cautionary tale aspect, it was scary how long it took McGaha to be able to negotiate a repayment plan with the IRS. It’s not as if they weren’t trying to come up with a  solution, but as time passed, they had their wages garnished and had zero access to credit cards. They really had their hands tied, as they spent years in the process of trying to work out a repayment.

McGaha’s transition from a suburbia dweller to living in the country, is fascinating. She embraces her family’s pioneering, Appalachian roots. by growing crops and raising animals. She learns to raise chickens for eggs and goats for cheese. McGaha has a beautiful writing style and she really imparts the unique personalities of her farm animals to the reader. As an animal lover, it was heartbreaking to read about their animals getting ill and old, but she writes about learning to tend for farm animals with love and compassion.

DISLIKE– They is not much that I disliked about Flat Broke with Two Goats, but I did wonder about the title. There are far more than two goats in the story and it’s not like a particular two goats are more meaningful than the others. The chickens seem to play a big role too. I think it sounds nice as a title, but I wondered when the meaning would present itself and it never did.

RECOMMEND– Yes! Flat Broke with Two Goats is an inspirational story and McGaha is a engaging writer. I think this is a great pick for anyone undergoing a transition in their lives and in need of a moral boost. it’s also great as reminder to be aware of your finances and lifestyle.