A Head Full of Ghosts purposely borrows many elements from popular horror movies, embraces it, and creates a unique reading experience. The format of A Head Full of Ghosts is why the book is successful in its style. Merry is telling the story of her childhood to an interviewer that is writing a book about the possession of Merry’s sister, Marjorie, that was televised in a spooky documentary style television show. In the book A Head Full of Ghosts, we get the scenes of Merry talking to the author about her past, we read scenes of the past when Merry was just 8 years old where the majority of the story takes place, and we also read blog posts from a woman named Karen that is a horror aficionado doing an episode by episode reaction to The Possession tv show that is filmed in Merry’s home. It all works because Tremblay refers to all the horror movies and books through the blog posts. If it wasn’t for the blog posts and the interview questions, the book would just be a novelization of most horror movies, but by being more self-aware the book turns into a mockumentary style read that is highly effective.
What I really liked about this book were the blog posts written by Karen. Karen compares and contrasts the television episodes with all the horror books and movies that came before it, comparing scene shots, and going into details about inconsistencies and background information. As much as I loved the scary moments in the actual story by Majorie, it was these side sections in the book that really filled the entire novel out.
The story is up for interpretation at any time and Tremblay wants the reader to look at the story from many different angles including the possibility that Majorie is faking everything. This creates an interesting dynamic where every reader will have a different interpretation of the book and allows rereads to be more enjoyable.
I think that the more familiar you are with the horror genre, the more enjoyment you will get out of this book. There are constant nods to other horror books and movies. In fact, Tremblay even had an “extras” page in the back of the book to point out all the little references. It was fun reading those and realizing just how much this book connects to a book I just read before this, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.
If I had to be specific with my score I would give this book around a 3.5-3.75 but I’m rounding it up to a 4. It was a short read that was highly entertaining.
16/25 Possible Score
3 – Plot
3 – Characters
3 – World Building/Setting
4 – Writing Style
3 – Heart & Mind Aspect
I bought We Have Always Lived in the Castle with the intent purpose of reading it during the Halloween season. I’m going to go deep into the plot of this story so if you don’t want minor spoilers, maybe skip it. Going into this story, I was expecting a little bit of a gothic ghost story, but what I found was more of a story about eccentric young women. This wasn’t a bad thing per say but I didn’t really completely connect with the story because I didn’t feel any empathy towards these two characters. Mary is the youngest sister, an eighteen-year-old that acts more like she is 10, extremely spoiled, and a little bit of a brat. Constance, her older sister, is a nervous recluse, caused by the deaths of most of her immediate family members during a dinner. As you can see from my wording, I didn’t really care for Mary, whom Constance called Merricat.
It isn’t really fair of me to judge a story based off of my dislike for a character but I had a hard time ignoring Merricat. Jackson sets up the beginning of the story for us to have empathy with Merricat because she is being bullied when she goes into town for a food run. A lot of the people in town don’t like Constance, Mary, and the house they live in because of the deaths that occurred there and the way that family separated themselves from the town’s people. I soon find out that Mary has a vivid imagination and likes to play make believe in the yard with her cat. I’m starting to like Mary at this point but I’m waiting for the more supernatural reveal to happen. We meet the uncle that is an invalid that lives with Constance and Mary, and I can’t help but think that guy has some weird stuff going on, maybe he’s a ghost!
When a cousin comes to visit and tries to take over the house and get Constance to change, Mary gets upset and wants her way. This is when I realize that the crazy/gothic part of the story is actually Mary. Her actions against the cousin are completely preposterous, a destructive force of a bratty girl, that is actually 18. There is a really weird scene where the upstairs of the house catches fire and basically, the entire town shows up to watch the fire. The firemen put the fire out but the entire town, including firemen, watch as people break windows and furniture in this house, and no one says, “Hey stop this.” I found this really hard to believe that there wasn’t anyone in authority or in a position of power to stop the destruction of someone’s home, regardless if the town hates them. Anyway, the story progresses into Constance and Mary becoming even more reclusive and weird after this.
Yah know, I liked this story, Jackson is a good writer, and this has some great dialogue. I sometimes can be too analytical when I read stories like this and that hurts my enjoyment. This is definitely a story you will have a reaction to, good or bad. I will never forget Merricat/Mary as a character. This is without a doubt one of those stories that will get better with time as I dissect what Jackson is trying to say. The whole thing just kind of leaves an unsettled feeling that causes you to think the book over, wondering if you missed some important meaning or metaphor. At times, these are the type of books that will stay with you, and you will reread.
14/25 Possible Score
2 – Plot
3 – Characters
3 – Setting
4 – Writing Style
2 – Heart & Mind Aspect
Children are finding themselves having a hard time adjusting back to the real world after they lived in a fantasy world, but fortunately for them, there is a special school that’ll help them deal with their new, more mundane life. That is the plot premise of Every Heart a Doorway I couldn’t help but feel like I was floating in the clouds because of McGuire’s puffy and whimsical prose. This is the type of book you read slowly and kind of enjoy how the words play off each other. Nancy is the main character and we follow her as she arrives at this special school run by Eleanor West, a former portal hopper herself. Eleanor tells Nancy that every student, mostly girls, has gone to a different type of fantasy land, each unique. This is the story of Nancy dealing with being in the real world and meeting all these other individuals that went to their own portal fantasy world, but when tragedy strikes, this super light-hearted book becomes chilling.
Because this is a short novella the author introduces all the characters relatively quick and I loved that about this book because the characters were fantastic. Nancy is this dark, goth-like girl, that likes to stand completely still, is asexual, and disappears into the background. Sumi is a really highly energetic girl that loves to over exaggerate with everything and is super blunt. There are two twins, Jack and Jill, both girls, that got taken to the same fantasy world, where one becomes a mad scientist’s assistant, and the other a doting servant to her master. Another character is Kade, and he was thrown out of his fairyland because they found out even though he looked like a girl, on the inside he was a boy. There are many more minor characters and even though this is a novella the characterization is better than some books with 1,000 pages.
The book does turn into kind of a mystery solve-it type story but the characters never stop being the focus. The rules of what these kids can do or can’t do after coming back from the fantasy worlds are never really explained. We have some kids that can basically do some magic even though they are now in our world. I was a little bit put off by this aspect but chose to ignore it. One thing that was hard to ignore was the disregard for these student’s safety by not calling the police. The people at the school, including the head of the school Eleanor, decide to deal with things on their own except calling for the authorities. It kind of makes sense they wouldn’t call the police but the measures they take to keep the students safe was seriously lacking.
Every Heart a Doorway is an excellent way to spend an afternoon or evening reading. The prose sucks you into the story and the characters keep you entertained. My only advice is to not take the story too seriously. If you take the story too seriously you will see a lot of inconsistencies and plot issues. A great story for teens that don’t feel like they fit in the world that they live in. I’m looking forward to the second novella, that focuses on Jack and Jill.
17/25 Possible Score
3 – Plot
4 – Characters
3 – World Building
4 – Writing Style
3 – Heart and Mind Aspect
This being my second Kim Stanley Robinson novel, the first being the fantastic Aurora, I was super excited to be diving into this Mars Trilogy with Red Mars. The book opens up with a scene in the future after the colonists are already established on Mars, and immediately I was disappointed because I wanted to start the story in space. Come to find out, it was only the first chapter, and Robinson puts this first chapter as a sneak peak of things to come, a way to tell the reader that this Mars world is far from utopian. With the second chapter, we get introduced to our space voyaging team of 100 people, mostly scientists in their respective fields, traveling to Mars, and this is when the sciencey goodness starts and I know I’m going to enjoy this hard sci-fi book.
The book is split into 8 different parts and we get about 6 different points of view characters. The first thing I realize is that all of these characters are extremely different from each other, in fact, we later find out that the characters kind of represent types of the four temperaments that Hippocrates developed. This makes reading Red Mars a very different experience depending on the view of the world you are getting from which temperament. For example, from the point of view of Nadia, my favorite character, we get a very mellow engineering viewpoint on her job to keep things running, Maya, on the other hand, is an outgoing woman with drama to spare, Frank is a man that will do anything to succeed, and John is a natural born leader. Combining these different personalities with the fact the colonists are half American and half Russian creates a very interesting cultural dynamic.
When the focus of the book is about the science of life on Mars, how we can terraform it vs. what we should leave intact, it is amazing. I could read the science aspects non-stop and not be bored. The question of conservation vs. changing Mars is a huge part of the story. Characters argue that Mars has been virtually untouched for billions of years and to change it would wipe out possible answers to many questions that the universe contains. Eventually, terraforming begins, and the people back at Earth become covetous of the natural resources that the Mars people have.
Another large focus of the book, moving into the second half is if Mars is an extension of Earth, or it’s own entity? Because of overpopulation and a lot of civil unrest on Earth, the people of Earth see Mars as a goldmine, a way to solve all their problems. Large companies get involved in the process of developing Mars so they can get a piece of the Mars pie. Robinson treats Mars as an Earth colony and just like imperialism stripped the world of resources and hurt the indigenous population, so did they do the same thing on Mars.
I really liked this book. It caused me to think of situations that I haven’t thought about before with space exploration. I naturally just assumed that Mars and Earth would be separate entities if Mars was ever colonized but this book rightfully points out that Earth countries would really take advantage of the possibility that Mars allows. The scientists in this book wanted to create a scientific utopia, all with their own ideas of governance, but breaking the shackles of Earth was harder than they realized.
At times the book became frustratingly slow for me, especially during the political discussions, and traveling to visit the many different Mar’s sects. The payoff for these slow parts is an exciting and monumental last 100 pages that really hit me hard. If you enjoy hard science fiction, I think you can’t go wrong with Red Mars. Give yourself plenty of time to read and really think about the different avenues of discourse that Robinson brings up in this book. If you haven’t read a Robinson book, I would recommend Aurora over this one slightly for your first book by this prolific hard sci-fi writer.
20/25 Possible Score
3 – Plot
4 – Characters
5 – World Building
4 – Writing Style
4 – Heart & Mind Aspect
Revenger does not play up to the strengths that Alastair Reynolds has as an author. When I first heard about this book I was excited because Reynolds was going to try something new, a first-person story with a tight focus. I realized through reading Revenger, that Reynolds has always been a big picture guy, and that is what I love about his books, an expansive and detailed universe with nuances that blow your mind. In Revenger, he is shackled by the perspective of one character, and it just didn’t work for me.
Adrana and Arafura are sisters wanting to run away from home in search of adventure and money. They leave because their father needs money for a possible heart surgery and their lives are being stifled into a direction that means they will have next to no freedom. There are hints of their father wanting them to stay little girls with the assistance of a creepy doctor too. The two of them join a spaceship that looks for lost treasure in the universe, a mash-up of pirates and treasure hunters.
The first thing I would like to mention is that this opening to the story just did not settle right with me. The beginning felt thrown together and too convenient. Within the first 20 pages, the girls are deciding to leave their home, and join a space vessel. These girls that have never done a day’s work in their life, are found to be able to have the ability to talk with magic alien skulls, immediately making them valuable to spaceship crews. I expect this type of beginning in an older fantasy book but not in a Reynolds science fiction book.
I never became invested in the story because I felt the entire story of Arafura was being started in the wrong place. There is no need to show the scenes of how they got aboard Rackamore’s ship. It would have been better to talk about these things in dialogue with other characters. I feel the real story doesn’t start until after they are in space and the main conflict scene happens. If the story started right before the main conflict scene, that creates the entire narrative, it would have been such a better book, but instead, the story starts in a very uninspiring place with a trope about girls running away from home, but have special abilities to make themselves valuable.
During the scenes of conflict, which I don’t want to talk about in great detail because I think the book is better without knowing what happens, the book was outstanding. I also saw hints of that expansive universe world building that I love from Reynolds during the space flight scenes. Because this is a universe that is exponentially old, technology has been destroyed and rebuilt many times, so this far future is nothing like what you would expect it to be. The space flying is somewhat similar to our current day space flight capabilities but with a few more advanced things thrown in.
The space treasure hunters are looking for baubles that are floating around in space. The ships use an alien skull to “hack” into the communication of other ships to find baubles before everyone else. Inside these baubles, there are a lot of old(more technological advanced) items that can be sold on the market. The big thing is that these baubles only open during a small window and there need to be people that can break into the vaults. It’s a cool idea but because we have this limited view of the story, we never get a good explanation why these baubles are even out there and why they open and close. In fact, there are a lot of things in this book, because they weren’t explained, just made me think of possible inconsistencies. There is a possibility I missed a lot of these clues, though.
I think that a lot of people’s experience with this book will revolve around their thoughts on the main character Arafura’s character growth. Either the reader will believe her character growth as believable or not. I personally did not believe her character growth at all. She changed so drastically in such a small period of time. I know that traumatic events change people quickly but her entire personality was different by the end of the story. There is a weird story element that explains why she changed so much but I never was on board with that explanation.
Revenger isn’t a bad book per say, I thought it was just an OK read, I didn’t hate it, but I found it to be a problematic read that just didn’t engage me much beyond a few crucial scenes. Reynold’s character writing was never the reason I read his books, it was always the world building, and in Revenger, Reynolds is trying to get better at character writing, but at the expense of what I enjoy most about his books.
8/25 Possible Score
2 – Plot
2 – Characters
2 – World Building
1 – Writing Style
1 – Heart and Mind Aspect