I Didn’t Love It

I actually didn’t even really like It.

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My rating: 2 stars? 2.5?

(This review contains no spoilers. I apologize in advance if it does contain rambling.)

I’ve recently learned that It by Stephen King is a polarizing book. (For more on that check out my last post about big books.) Most people will love It or hate It, apparently.

I am, on the other hand, firmly on the fence. I’m about as lukewarm as one can be about anything. Several people who have read It are proud to have gotten through. Others are angry to have wasted so much time on so many pages. I…don’t feel anything at all.

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I debated whether I should write this review, or even rate this book, because there’s a very simple reason I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could have. At the end of the day, It just wasn’t written for me. I was not its intended audience. Probably. There’s very little in the story for me to relate to. I’m not (nor have I ever been) an adolescent boy. I didn’t grow up in a small town. And I don’t fear (or understand) the shape-shifting evil monster or the turtle who created (vomited?) the universe into existence. None of that has any meaning for me.

The reason I decided to write the review anyway is because…whatever. Why not. If you’ve read my previous posts you know I’m a King fan, so I have a good frame of reference. And I read the thing, and I’m not mad about it or crying tears of joy, so I can be objective. That’s what you really want out of a book review anyway, right?

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Though this review may err on the negative side, I’m not trying to dissuade you from reading It. That’s not why I’m here.

The Writing

There were moments in the book where the writing was pretty brilliant. The structure, for example, with the chapters alternating between the characters as kids and as adults, was handled masterfully. Though starting chapters mid-sentence felt a bit gimmicky at times, it was a smart device to help the readers not feel lost when the story went into flashbacks, or flashbacks within flashbacks within dreams, or dreams within flashbacks.

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It’s actually not as confusing as it sounds.

I’ll also admit that the characters are (mostly) solid, and at least half of the Losers gang are given some depth. They will probably be relatable to people (just not me, personally).

The main critique I hear is that the writing is too meandering and needlessly long. I think that might be true at times, but not across the board. King does have a knack for keeping things interesting, even if what he’s writing doesn’t have anything to do with the overarching narrative. But at the end of the day, yes, I suppose it could have benefited from a heavier editorial hand.

I felt irritated by a few writing choices throughout. The book doesn’t age well in terms of racist or homophobic remarks or slurs. And at the risk of being nit-picky, there was so much repetition of meaningless phrases that made me roll my eyes, like: “Hi-yo silver, away!” or “He thrusts his fists against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.” Even if that sentence meant anything, it still didn’t need to be repeated a thousand times.

I think the worst offense in terms of writing choices was that several side characters were given POV chapters toward the end of the book, and I just could not care less. Tom, Audra, Henry, It, none of their POV chapters were interesting or added anything. And giving the monster a POV, even just briefly, killed any remaining mystery or tension. This is all in my opinion, obviously, maybe others really enjoyed those bits. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t skim most of those chapters altogether.

The Fear, or Lack Thereof

It is not a scary book, unfortunately not among the ranks of freezer-worthy horror.  It didn’t keep me up at night the way I (kind of) wanted it to. But at times I found it could be genuinely creepy. The beginning chapters are the creepiest, and as the story becomes more complex, the fear level steadily declines.

It’s true that I’m decidedly unafraid of clowns, and lepers, and werewolves, and…what else does It turn into…a spider? Swamp monster? Not scared of any of those. Funnily enough, I do have a phobia of birds but the scenes with the giant bird didn’t bother me. So that might tell you something.

Not only was the monster not scary, but I also couldn’t make sense of it. I think this is because King doesn’t seem to follow his own logic or rules. King gives us more and more information about It as we go along, even going so far as to give It its own POV. I see this as a mistake in and of itself, because the more we know about it, the less scary it seems. But also, what we do learn doesn’t make any sense.

(To quickly clarify, I don’t need magic/supernatural beings in books to “make sense” or be rational or logical per se, I’m talking about the internal logic set up by the writer in the book itself.)

When you take away the logical consistency for the monster, the mystery and therefore the horror in the imagination of the reader also dissipates. As an example, one of my issues was the monster apparently appears to each person in the form of their worst fear. But it appears as a clown more often than anything else, by far, so I’m supposed to believe the assumption that most people are afraid of clowns? This assumption falls apart when you consider Georgie, the little boy in the beginning, who seems to initially trust the guy in the gutter because he’s dressed as a clown, and is offering him a balloon. Not to mention I don’t know anyone who’s afraid of clowns. Or was afraid of clowns before they watched or read It. So maybe the shape-shifting thing actually ruined it for me, because King didn’t write it in a way that worked. It’s so amorphous and sometimes silly that it lost all of its initial potential to be truly terrifying.

The Ending

So now I have to bring up the thing that makes or breaks this book for people. The oh-so-controversial ending. Ohhhh the ending of this book. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, and I kind of don’t even want to talk about it. I’m only going to say that the ending was…just…

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Still, Stephen had something here, I’m almost certain I can see the genius underneath the mess. I just didn’t get anything out of it. I think people should read this book and experience it for themselves because there are many people I respect who thought this was a masterpiece.

My question for you: If you’ve seen either movie adaptation of It, would I enjoy it better than the book? I have a suspicion that horror like this might be more conducive for the screen versus the page. Let me know if you liked the adaptations and if they’re worth watching.

Thanks for reading!

 

It

by: Stephen King

Length: 1112 pages

Published October 1st, 1987 by New English Library

ISBN: 0450411435 (ISBN13: 9780450411434)

A Short Rant about Long Books

Because if you feel that big books are too much work, why do you even read books? People who think reading is work, in my experience, don’t read. 

(In this post, I’m referring to what is my definition of a Tome, which may not be the accepted or official definition. Tome: a particularly large book. At least more than 600 pages. Sometimes, over 1000.)

I’ve recently noticed a trend. I keep hearing statements from fellow readers, like this:

“I haven’t read that book because it’s almost 1000 pages, and books that big scare me.”

“Most people won’t pick up tomes because it’s such a big commitment.”

And my favorite, when people pat themselves on the back:

“Oh my god, I DID IT! I finished this book and it’s over 600 pages, look at how long it is, and I finally finished it!

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I really wish it would stop.

I should clarify. I mostly hear these kinds of declarations on BookTube, or in Goodreads reviews. I also realize this is not as much of an issue with readers of epic fantasy. And I’m understanding of people’s tastes. Some just don’t prefer long stories but would rather their books be to-the-point. I sometimes prefer that, too! I’m actually a really slow reader, so I understand the hesitation to pick up something that might take a while to get through. So many books so little time, right?

I’m just a bit confused. Why are big books specifically scaring people away, and why are they seen as this huge commitment?

This especially came to light for me recently because I just read It and I didn’t love It (more on that in an upcoming review), and I wanted to hear what others thought about…It.

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It was quite hilarious reading the reviews on Goodreads because in many of them the reviewer was either: 1) extremely proud and congratulating themselves for tackling such a monstrous tome, or 2) angry and resentful at the King because it took so long to read and they ended up not liking it. Here are some of my favorites:

“I read this entire book in one day.”

“It is finished. Why yes, I did just complete my longest read to date.”

“Once I turned the last page of 1,153 pages, I felt like Scribner or Stephen King or someone owed me a t-shirt saying…I survived IT.”

“Wow. I’ve made it.”

“1200 pages are long. Or more like: looooong.”

“Why is this book ELEVEN-F*****G-HUNDRED pages?”

“Well, that was a load of long, drawn-out crap like I have rarely punished myself by reading in my entire life…. that f*****g book kept going on and on and on and on and ON and f*****g on…. So much time wasted…. LOOK AT ALL THOSE WORDS AND TREES THAT DIED FOR NOTHING.”

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I mean, yeah it’s longer than it really needed to be but…calm down. No one’s giving you an award, and there’s definitely no need for such rage.

I’ve been watching Brandon Sanderson lectures lately as well, and he touches on this apparent phenomenon. He talks about how publishers typically don’t publish tomes by new authors because they’re more expensive to print and, unless an author is established, readers are too afraid to purchase big books.

I understand that this is the way the business works, and publishers follow a science which determines why they print what they print. Fine. But the science is really just a reaction to the readers, and when the readers say nonsense like “big books intimidate me”, or “it’s just too big a commitment,” what they really mean is “It’s just too much work.”

And I’m trying really hard not to roll my eyes here.

Because if you feel that big books are too much work, why do you even read books? People who think reading is work, in my experience, don’t read. 

And several of the people who I’ve heard say they don’t read tomes, or who congratulate themselves when they finish a tome, are BookTubers! These are not casual readers, these are people who read because it’s their passion, so why would it be a chore for them to…you know, read?

For me, reading is fun. And if I’m enjoying a book, the longer the better! It’s not hard to keep going. It’s not a commitment. It’s an awesome adventure that I get to enjoy for 1000 or more pages, longer than some or most literary adventures give me. And that’s awesome.

And, okay, not all books deserve to be over 1000 pages (looking at you It). I recommend, if you find one of those waste-of-time tomes, and trudging through it is going to make you angry, then don’t trudge through it. Don’t hate-finish it, just so you can leave an angry review on Goodreads. Just DNF it. No one’s holding a gun to your head forcing you to keep going (unless they are in which case, read faster!).

Seriously, if you don’t finish a book, it’s not a big deal. You’re not losing anything.

 

If you agree or disagree, let me know. Or help me understand! And thanks for reading!

Birthday Book Haul

These are actually all books I got in the month of December, but my birthday was yesterday and I am ecstatic about the new books I bought/was gifted. I won’t be buying anymore books for a while because it got a little out of control this month.

Thanks for letting me share with you, and let me know what you think about these books and their editions.

Harry Potter:

Lifelong Harry Potter fan here. Lately I’ve been geeking out nonstop about HP. Pretty much since the new Fantastic Beasts movie came out. I guess my family got the hint. These additions to my Harry Potter collection are absolutely amazing, thank you family!

The first Fantastic Beasts movie might actually be my favorite Harry Potter movie. I absolutely loved the Crimes of Grindelwald as well.

My brother gave me the Prisoner of Azkaban illustrated edition last year for my birthday. I already had the first one, but was missing Chambers of Secrets until my parents sent me this for Christmas! 🤗

As soon as these special edition paperbacks came out a few years ago I knew I had to one day own them. The cover art is gorgeous, the velvet material is soft and just look at the spines! So happy to have finally acquired a new set to go alongside my well-worn originals.

Fantasy and Sci-fi:

Epic fantasy is what I’ve been drawn to most lately, and I have a feeling 2019 will be the year of the tome. I also picked up some new sci-fi books everyone’s been talking about. And of course the new Murakami!

The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss is the sequel to The Name of the Wind, part 2 of the Kingkiller Chronicles. I was blown away by The Name of the Wind when I read it this year, and just as impressed with The Slow Regard of Silent Things. So I can’t wait to read this. I think it’ll have to be my first read of 2019.

I am obsessed with big floppy trade paperbacks like this one. It’s so satisfying to hold in your hands. Anyway, I’ve heard so many people praising The Stormlight Archive and it’s supposed to be Sanderson’s best (depending who you ask). I couldn’t resist picking this one up.

YA book covers always seem to be so lovely. I read the first chapter of Strange the Dreamer in the store and I knew I had to buy it. I enjoy the writing style and am generally drawn to stories about dreams. I think some people disliked this one because it’s a slow burn, but I’ve got absolutely no problem with that.

Again, how gorgeous is this cover? Shadow of the Fox is a YA Asian-inspired fantasy about a fox shapeshifter and an assassin. Do you need more than that? I didn’t.

Mom won best present of this year with this amazing illustrated hardcover of The Princess Bride, one of my favorite books of all time.

The Three Body Problem was recommended to me by Book Riot’s new TBR program. This is supposed to be one of the most original hard sci-fi reads in recent years. It was highly acclaimed in its original Chinese. It was just translated to English this year.

More Sanderson! Skyward is a new YA science fiction book about a young girl who dreams of being a pilot. In a world where ships have minds of their own, apparently. Sanderson is a master, and this one sounds like a lot of fun!

Murakami has never not blown my mind. I’ve read 5 or 6 of his books and he’s one of my favorites. He is exactly the kind of writer I aspire to be. Killing Commendatorewell I’m not sure if I can explain what it’s about. It’s Murakami after all. But it sounds crazy interesting!

That’s everything! I’m going to start chipping away at these over the long weekend. More updates coming soon! Happy New Year!

Quick Review of Dark Run by Mike Brooks, and a Bonus Rant about Borrowing Books

(My Rating of Dark Run: 3.5 stars)

Dark Run is the first in the Keiko trilogy. It’s a basic, fun and fast-paced space opera, featuring a rag-tag team of scoundrels brought together by chance, and led by one Ichabod Drift. Captain Ichabod and the crew find themselves forced into a dangerous smuggling mission to Amsterdam on Old Earth, for a man named Nicholas Kelsier. Their cargo and the purpose of the delivery are a mystery. The book is set in a future where humans have started to colonize other planets, and cyborgs are commonplace. It’s a tale of revenge and…well, primarily revenge, but I guess friendship and stuff, too.

Though I thought the writing could be better, I did enjoy this book. It was a fast and fun read, especially for sci-fi fans who like stories in the same vein as Cowboy Bebop or Firefly. I’m not sure if I would have given this as high a rating if I hadn’t had low expectations. And maybe I was just in the right mood for a straight-forward space opera. It was, however, pretty obvious early on that there would be flaws, and that the writer is new (I believe this is his debut novel, and he’s published two sequels since). The writing is a bit heavy-handed and there are many meandering sentences. Though I loved the idea of the characters, the dialogue slightly ruined them for me. All of the characters sound the same; they have the same voice. Particularly they all have the exact same sass (maybe with one exception). When there’s only one character who’s witty, that’s special and fun, but every character being snappy and sarcastic became too much, and it was obvious that it was the writer’s own personality bleeding through.

Writing weaknesses aside, halfway through the book I was pulled in full-force by something I didn’t expect, and I couldn’t put it down after that. Overall, I enjoyed the ride…despite the fact that Starbuck didn’t want to let me read it…

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And that I actually didn’t read this book by choice.

Let me explain.

I recently moved and started a new job, which is why I haven’t blogged in months. It’s astounding the way that moving and house hunting and job hunting can consume every bit of your time. But we’re settled in now, and holy cow do I love Seattle! It’s the perfect city for me. It’s been a fun experience, and so far a very cozy winter filled with lots of books which I hope to fill you in on soon.

When I interviewed for my new job about a month ago, one of the things we talked about was that I really love to read, especially sci-fi and fantasy these days. About a week after I started my boss dumped four books on my desk that he thought I’d like, including Dark Run and its sequel Dark Sky. I think it’s great that people are considerate of my interests, and I always like new book recommendations. (The other series he lent me was Ancillary Justice, which I’ll be starting soon).

But the truth is… I slightly hate when people lend me books. Yet I don’t have the right level of tact and people skills to just say “No Thank You”, and I would have felt like the biggest jerk if I refused. So instead, I smiled and said thanks.

Borrowing books makes me uncomfortable for several reasons. The biggest reason is it puts pressure on me to move that book to the top of my list and drop anything else I’m reading. I read slowly, and I’m usually reading a dozen books at any given time, so I resent having time constraints. The library is an exception to this, obviously.

But when a friend or co-worker lends me a book (or in this case several), I feel like I’m being forced to diverge from what I’m currently reading until I finish the loans and give them back. This was only exasperated when I realized my boss has an unrealistic expectation of how quickly I read. I think his exact words were: “Now you have some things to read over the weekend.”

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Uh…okay, let’s set aside the fact that I’m not hurting for things to read, and my TBR is overwhelmingly long. I’m not reading four books in a weekend. I haven’t done that since I was a teenager. And a particularly sleep-deprived teenager at that. I’m old(er) now, with a husband-type-person, several hobbies, three animals, and a lot to take care of during my two days off. (I also ended up finishing a different book that weekend, but I didn’t tell him that). But alright, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe he was kidding, right?

Except no, he wasn’t kidding. He followed up on Monday! And seemed surprised/judgmental because I hadn’t even finished the first book yet.

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The other reason I cringe when someone gives me or lends me a book is I feel forced into liking the book. Especially when it’s my boss, and he feels the need to give me not just the first book, but also the sequels. This tells me that he assumes I’ll enjoy the first enough to want to read them all. (I do…but still.)

Maybe that makes me weird, or a jerk. But what I prefer is for someone to recommend a book, tell me why they like it, then I’ll add it to my growing TBR if it sounds up my alley. I am then free to check it out at the library or buy it in my own time.

All this is to say, if you’re someone who routinely pushes books that you like onto other people (or onto me), you are so sweet! But stop it. If you are someone who lends books to people (or me), please don’t follow up two days later. If you like my blog and you want to send me books, I think you are just the greatest. But really, I’m all set.

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Let me know your thoughts. Here are the details if you’re interested in picking up Dark Run by Mike Brooks.

Dark Run

by: Mike Brooks

Length: 432 pages

Published June 4th 2015 by Del Rey

ISBN: 0091956641 (ISBN13: 9780091956646)

An Introvert’s Review of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Extroverts Really Really Need to read this.

As someone who self-identifies as painfully introverted, I hope I can one day shake Susan Cain’s hand and thank her for this book. Or maybe just send her an email….

That being said I don’t believe this book is for introverts, not really. I loved reading it. Cain not only gives us the science behind introversion (I love science!), in-depth research and studies, but also shows the undeniable value of introverts. And who doesn’t love to read something so validating? Reading this I felt solidarity that introverts (maybe uniquely) lack.

At the risk of explaining to you something you already know, an introvert is not someone who is antisocial, but rather someone who gets energy from being alone, from isolated activities and quiet introspection. An extrovert is the opposite, gaining their energy from being around people, from social interaction. Being around people can be draining to someone who is introverted, but that doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy it, or love our fellow humans. Introversion and Extroversion are both valuable personality traits. As Cain points out, a world with only one or the other wouldn’t function very well. But we do live in a world that seems to value charisma and performance, especially in America, and sometimes introverts are overlooked or undervalued.

If you don’t know if you are introverted or extroverted, or where you may fall on the scale, I recommend taking the Myers Briggs personality test. I took the official test for a college class years ago, and found out a lot about myself (I’m an INTJ, the rarest personality type for women in America, and I’m also at the extreme for each of these types). The official test costs money but you can take free versions of this test on the internet. There are a bunch out there, and I haven’t done much research into which are the best or most accurate (I am so sorry for my laziness).

Introverts may be the target audience of this book, and there are plenty of chapters dedicated to motivating us to use our strengths to feel powerful. But if you do identify as quiet, if you read this book and relate to it, you’ll understand what I mean. Extroverts Really Really Need to read this.

The world seems to be growing increasingly louder. Between advertising, social media, youtube, blogs…. *clears throat*…we seem to have found ourselves in a era of constant performance, of living with an audience. This, despite the fact that a third of the people we know are introverted. Surrounded by all of this noise, it’s hard for the quiet ones to feel like there’s a place for them. But despite how introversion may be perceived, Cain argues that there are times when reflection and careful thought, slow and deliberate creativity, and risk aversion are the order of the day.

If you’re introverted or extroverted or (like most people) somewhere in between, read this book. Either to know your power and your strengths, or to learn more about those who differ from you. A little understanding goes a long way.

 

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

by: Susan Cain

Length: 333 pages

Published January 24th 2012 by Crown Publishing Group/Random House, Inc.

ISBN: 0307352145

World Book Day is Monday – Have Some Free Books!

World Book Day is coming up, and to celebrate, Amazon is has nine ebooks for free download, all translated works from around the world. They vary from memoir, mystery, literary, historical fiction, suspense, and fantasy. They’re great selections, including some award winners. I’ve been looking to expand my horizons and read more diverse authors. A couple of these are on my list, and I’m really excited to find out about the others. There are 4 days left to download these great reads!

Let me know what you think of this list, and comment what you’ll be reading on World Book Day!

A River in Darkness: One Man’s Escape from North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa

A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea by [Ishikawa, Masaji]

The harrowing true story of one man’s life in—and subsequent escape from—North Korea, one of the world’s most brutal totalitarian regimes.

Half-Korean, half-Japanese, Masaji Ishikawa has spent his whole life feeling like a man without a country. This feeling only deepened when his family moved from Japan to North Korea when Ishikawa was just thirteen years old, and unwittingly became members of the lowest social caste. His father, himself a Korean national, was lured to the new Communist country by promises of abundant work, education for his children, and a higher station in society. But the reality of their new life was far from utopian.

In this memoir translated from the original Japanese, Ishikawa candidly recounts his tumultuous upbringing and the brutal thirty-six years he spent living under a crushing totalitarian regime, as well as the challenges he faced repatriating to Japan after barely escaping North Korea with his life. A River in Darkness is not only a shocking portrait of life inside the country but a testament to the dignity—and indomitable nature—of the human spirit.

 

The House by the River by Lena Manta

The House by the River by [Manta, Lena]

From acclaimed Greek writer Lena Manta comes an emotionally powerful saga following five young women as they realize that no matter where life leads them, the only constant is home.

Theodora knows she can’t keep her five beautiful daughters at home forever—they’re too curious, too free spirited, too like their late father. And so, before each girl leaves the small house on the riverside at the foot of Mount Olympus, Theodora makes sure they know they are always welcome to return.

Having survived World War II, the Nazi occupation of Greece, and her husband’s death, Theodora now endures the twenty-year-long silence of her daughters’ absence. Her children have their own lives—they’ve married, traveled the world, and courted romance, fame, and even tragedy. But as they become modern, independent women in pursuit of their dreams, Theodora knows they need her—and each other—more than ever. Have they grown so far apart that they’ve forgotten their childhood home, or will their broken hearts finally lead them back again?

 

Still Water (Sandhamn Murders Book 1) by Viveca Sten

Still Waters (Sandhamn Murders Book 1) by [Sten, Viveca]

The first book in Swedish author Viveca Sten’s enormously popular Sandhamn Murders series.

On a hot July morning on Sweden’s idyllic vacation island of Sandhamn, a man takes his dog for a walk and makes a gruesome discovery: a body, tangled in fishing net, has washed ashore.

Police detective Thomas Andreasson is the first to arrive on the scene. Before long, he has identified the deceased as Krister Berggren, a bachelor from the mainland who has been missing for months. All signs point to an accident—until another brutalized corpse is found at the local bed-and-breakfast. But this time it is Berggren’s cousin, whom Thomas interviewed in Stockholm just days before.

As the island’s residents reel from the news, Thomas turns to his childhood friend, local lawyer Nora Linde. Together, they attempt to unravel the riddles left behind by these two mysterious outsiders—while trying to make sense of the difficult twists their own lives have taken since the shared summer days of their youth.

 

The Great Passage by Shion Miura

The Great Passage by [Miura, Shion]

An award-winning story of love, friendship, and the power of human connection.

Kohei Araki believes that a dictionary is a boat to carry us across the sea of words. But after thirty-seven years of creating dictionaries, it’s time for him to retire and find his replacement.

He discovers a kindred spirit in Mitsuya Majime—a young, disheveled square peg with a penchant for collecting antiquarian books and a background in linguistics—whom he swipes from his company’s sales department.

Along with an energetic, if reluctant, new recruit and an elder linguistics scholar, Majime is tasked with a career-defining accomplishment: completing The Great Passage, a comprehensive 2,900-page tome of the Japanese language. On his journey, Majime discovers friendship, romance, and an incredible dedication to his work, inspired by the words that connect us all.

 

Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin

Last Train to Istanbul: A Novel by [Kulin, Ayse]

An international bestseller by one of Turkey’s most beloved authors.

As the daughter of one of Turkey’s last Ottoman pashas, Selva could win the heart of any man in Ankara. Yet the spirited young beauty only has eyes for Rafael Alfandari, the handsome Jewish son of an esteemed court physician. In defiance of their families, they marry, fleeing to Paris to build a new life.

But when the Nazis invade France and begin rounding up Jews, the exiled lovers will learn that nothing—not war, not politics, not even religion—can break the bonds of family. For after they learn that Selva is but one of their fellow citizens trapped in France, a handful of brave Turkish diplomats hatch a plan to spirit the Alfandaris and hundreds of innocents, many of whom are Jewish, to safety. Together, they must traverse a war-torn continent, crossing enemy lines and risking everything in a desperate bid for freedom. From Ankara to Paris, Cairo, and Berlin, Last Train to Istanbul is an uplifting tale of love and adventure from Turkey’s beloved bestselling novelist Ayşe Kulin.

 

The Gray House by Miriam Petrosyan

The Gray House by [Petrosyan, Mariam]

The Gray House is enigmatic and fantastical, comic and postmodern…Rowling meets Rushdie via Tartt…Nothing short of life-changing.” —The Guardian

The Gray House is an astounding tale of how what others understand as liabilities can be leveraged into strengths.

Bound to wheelchairs and dependent on prosthetic limbs, the physically disabled students living in the House are overlooked by the Outsides. Not that it matters to anyone living in the House, a hulking old structure that its residents know is alive. From the corridors and crawl spaces to the classrooms and dorms, the House is full of tribes, tinctures, scared teachers, and laws—all seen and understood through a prismatic array of teenagers’ eyes.

But student deaths and mounting pressure from the Outsides put the time-defying order of the House in danger. As the tribe leaders struggle to maintain power, they defer to the awesome power of the House, attempting to make it through days and nights that pass in ways that clocks and watches cannot record.

A Read Russia Prize Finalist.

 

The Question of Red by Laksmi Pamuntjak

The Question of Red by [Pamuntjak, Laksmi]

From award-winning Indonesian author Laksmi Pamuntjak comes a tale of profound love against the backdrop of myth, culture, and politics.

In this sweeping saga of love, loss, revolution, and the resilience of the human spirit, Amba must find the courage to forge her own path.

Amba was named after a tragic figure in Indonesian mythology, and she spends her lifetime trying to invent a story she can call her own. When she meets two suitors who fit perfectly into her namesake’s myth, Amba cannot help but feel that fate is teasing her. Salwa, respectful to a fault, pledges to honor and protect Amba, no matter what. Bhisma, a sophisticated, European-trained doctor, offers her sensual pleasures and a world of ideas. But military coups and religious disputes make 1960s Indonesia a place of uncertainty, and the chaos strengthens Amba’s pursuit of freedom. The more Amba does to claim her own story, the better she understands her inextricable bonds to history, myth, and love.

 

The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen

The Light of the Fireflies by [Pen, Paul]

From bestselling Spanish author Paul Pen comes a haunting and hopeful tale of discovering light in even the darkest of places.

For his whole life, the boy has lived underground, in a basement with his parents, grandmother, sister, and brother. Before he was born, his family was disfigured by a fire. His sister wears a white mask to cover her burns.

He spends his hours with his cactus, reading his book on insects, or touching the one ray of sunlight that filters in through a crack in the ceiling. Ever since his sister had a baby, everyone’s been acting very strangely. The boy begins to wonder why they never say who the father is, about what happened before his own birth, about why they’re shut away.

A few days ago, some fireflies arrived in the basement. His grandma said, There’s no creature more amazing than one that can make its own light. That light makes the boy want to escape, to know the outside world. Problem is, all the doors are locked. And he doesn’t know how to get out…

 

Ten Women by Marcela Serrano

Ten Women by [Serrano, Marcela]

Award-winning Chilean author Marcela Serrano weaves a beautiful story about the universal connections between women.

For nine Chilean women, life couldn’t be more different. There is the teenage computer whiz confronting her sexual identity. A middle-aged recluse who prefers the company of her dog over that of most humans. A housekeeper. A celebrity television personality. A woman confronting the loneliness of old age.

Of disparate ages and races, these women represent the variety of cultural and social groups that Chile comprises. On the surface, they seem to have nothing in common…except for their beloved therapist, who brings them together. Yet as different as they all are, each woman has a story to share.

As the women tell their stories, unlikely common threads are discovered, bonds are formed, and lives are transformed. Their stories form an intricate tale of triumph, heartache, and healing that will resonate with women from all walks of life.

An International DUBLIN Literary Award Nominee.

 

[Image above design by: Candace]

Sandman Universe! – A Special Thursday Edition of ‘What’s Next’ Wednesday

Comic books aren’t just for kids or for superhero fans or a specific breed of nerd. They are a fine form of literature. The best proof of this that I know of is The Sandman.

Okay, so I know it’s not Wednesday, but yesterday defeated me. So here’s a special Thursday edition of What’s Next Wednesday.

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Looks like an arbitrary series of numbers (I find it particularly satisfying as 8 is my favorite number. It’s just so symmetrical). What it is is a promise. That promise is a release date. There will be, on August 8, from the mind of one of my favorite creative geniuses, Neil Gaiman, more Sandman comics. While I realize this is rather (too) far away, I can’t hold on to my excitement anymore.

I am, have always been, and will always be, in Awe of Neil Gaiman. I’ve read and reread his novels and short stories. The Sandman was an obsession of mine for years. I regularly listen to his “Make Good Art” speech, and probably know it by heart (if you haven’t heard it, you should listen to it now. Well… not now. Finish reading this first.). I’m always on his website in search of news. Angel bought me a signed leather-bound copy of Ocean at the End of the Lane for Christmas, thus winning my heart forever. I learned that my favorite episode of Doctor Who was written by Gaiman (“The Doctor’s Wife”), and found that I wasn’t even surprised. And I died a little when he stopped doing tours and book signings in the US in 2013. So, I have a bit of an infatuation. One of the reasons I’m aiming for #1 fan status is the genius that is The Sandman.

I used to be a stranger to comic books. I had my reasons, flawed though they were. If you don’t read comics, I can tell you the world gets a bit brighter after you start. This began for me many years ago on Free Comic Book Day, which comes around every May the 4th. I went mostly to keep a friend company while in line, and ended up bringing home a haul of both free comics, and not-free comics. At some point while standing in line my eyes caught the several trade books of The Sandman on prominent display. I knew I had to have them. I think I spent upward of 2 hours and 100 dollars there that day, because I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And what I didn’t know is that comic books aren’t just for kids or for superhero fans or a specific breed of nerd. They are a fine form of literature. The best proof of this that I know of is Sandman.

The original comprised 75 issues, following the god Dream. They can be bizarre, creepy, funny, dark, and even at times Shakespearean. The genius of it is, when dealing with the world of dreams, the possibilities are boundless. After the original series came The Sandman Overture. Now, we await the release of Sandman Universe.

The Sandman comics are original, artistic, brilliant. The new Universe has been confirmed to branch out further to pursue new characters and dreamscapes. Here is a peek at what’s to come, and cover art to get excited about:

Daniel, the lord of Dreams, has gone missing and it causes chaos in the kingdom of dreams…A rift between worlds has opened, revealing a space beyond the Dreaming. Meanwhile, a book from Lucien’s library of all the unwritten books ever dreamed is discovered by a group of children in the waking world.

Simultaneously, a new House appears—the House of Whispers—joining the Houses of Secret and Mystery in the Dreaming. Its proprietor is a fortune teller called Erzulie, whom the inhabitants of the Dreaming suspect may be responsible for all the strange goings on.

Elsewhere, Lucifer has fallen again, only this time he might be in a Hell of his own design.

And in London, a young boy named Timothy Hunter sleeps, in his dreams he becomes the world’s most powerful magician, but in his nightmares, he becomes the world’s worst villain, which future will become reality? (Vertigo Comics)

 

Check out another comic by Gaiman: Only the End of the World Again

 

An Afternoon with Steven Pinker – Enlightenment Now

This weekend I had the extreme fortune to meet Steven Pinker and hear him talk about his new book: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. This book presents a hopeful view of the future, and the facts that support that hope. Our media frequently presents us with one side of the story, a side that shows a world which is violent and scary. But the truth is, progress has brought us farther than we tend to acknowledge, in terms of health, safety, education, and happiness. While we are far from solving all the world’s problems — we still have a lot of work to do — there’s little or no reason to think there is doom on the horizon.

It was a refreshing message, and the best part is that Pinker doesn’t rely on blind optimism, he doesn’t rely on his own opinion, but rather on statistics, truth, and logic. He’s got the state of the world down to a science, looking at it from a global perspective, and from almost every possible angle. It is impressive how much research this man has done. But not only has he done the research, he’s absorbed all of it. He is a true expert.

One of my favorite moments was when Pinker discussed a question he often gets: Isn’t it good to be pessimistic? Surely if we all looked at the world through rose-colored glasses we would become complacent and stop making progress, right? His answer: it’s not important to be pessimistic. It is important to be accurate.

Thank you Steven, and The Tattered Cover, for a fantastic event. It was truly a breath of fresh air.

Here are some pictures from the event. The second picture is a friend from my writer’s group/book club talking to Steven.

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Here is an official synopsis of the book:

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

If you think the world is coming to an end, think again: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science.

Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing.

Far from being a naïve hope, the Enlightenment, we now know, has worked. But more than ever, it needs a vigorous defense. The Enlightenment project swims against currents of human nature–tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking–which demagogues are all too willing to exploit. Many commentators, committed to political, religious, or romantic ideologies, fight a rearguard action against it. The result is a corrosive fatalism and a willingness to wreck the precious institutions of liberal democracy and global cooperation.

With intellectual depth and literary flair, Enlightenment Now makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.

Hardcover, 576 pages
Published February 13th 2018 by Viking
ISBN: 0525427570 (ISBN13: 9780525427575)

 

 

There’s a Reason He’s Called King – A Book Review of “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams”

He doesn’t shy away from any topic, preferring honesty above all else. He’ll kill a kid in a minute. 

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is a collection of short stories by Stephen King. This book is aptly named. Much of what you’ll find in the pages feels nightmarish. Some stories err on the terrifying, others delightful, others somewhat forgettable, and a couple outright shockingI can highly recommend this collection. It is, above all else, a fun ride.

I want to start this review with some back story about myself. Allow me a bit of self-indulgence to look back on my relationship with Stephen King novels, and I suppose, books in general….

I grew up on King, and I’m always reading King. I will always adore him, as I’ll always adore the horror and thriller genres. His books are a part of my childhood. To quote the King in On Writing: “I was built with a love of the night and the unquiet coffin, that’s all.”

When I was little, my dad was always reading. He read to us at night before bed, and he could always be seen with a weighty tome in hand in between doing chores around the house. While the rest of us were watching TV he was in his chair, his glasses pushed down to the end of his nose, absorbed in a book, and you could just tell that nothing else existed to him then, not the TV, not us, just the world inside the pages.

When I picture him in his leather armchair reading, I typically picture him reading Stephen King. He reads plenty of other authors, but King stands out. My dad has read everything King’s ever written. For as long as I can remember we bought him the newest hardcover Stephen King for his birthday, and then when King started releasing them more rapidly, for Christmas and Father’s Day too. He’s read them all.

It surprised me, much later in life, when I pointed out that King was one of his favorite authors and my dad simply…shrugged. “But you’ve read every single one of his books!” I protested.

“He’s alright,” my dad said. “His books are great, usually until the end. His endings are lame.” Then he went on to tell me all of the exceptions to this. There were plenty of exceptions. I think he just never stopped being mad about the ending of It.

I could only laugh at dad’s nonchalance, because by then I understood his stoicism. My dad never gets outwardly excited about anything, for some reason. But whatever he claims, I know he’s about as big a King fan as he is a fan of anything.

I attribute my love of reading to my dad. I have the fondest memories of him reading Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to my brother and I (I’ve since worked out that Douglas Adams is, in fact, his favorite). He read me the first Harry Potter novels. He helped me with my book reports. He once told me that there was nothing to do in his tiny hometown, so when he was younger he spent all his time at the library. He would check out a large stack of books, as many as they’d let him, finish them all, bring them back and get a new stack. He did this every week. I was – and am still – amazed by this. In part because I’m not a fast reader like he is. But mostly because…people just don’t do that anymore.

I can’t say that I’ve read everything King has published. I’m still catching up. But I can say that King was my first introduction into adult books. Even before my dad was reading us Hitchhiker’s Guide, I was sneaking books off of his shelves. I think I was eight or nine when I pilfered my first one: ‘Salem’s Lot. I hid it in my backpack, read it secretly at school, careful to hide it inside of binders and notebooks. I read it at night in my room, when I was supposed to be asleep. And yes, it scared the ever-loving shit out of me. But I read the whole thing. Because my dad had told me it was his favorite. (I was maybe too young to read something so horrifying, but then again maybe I wasn’t. I think I turned out fine. This is the reason I roll my eyes when anyone insists kids can’t handle certain content. They can, but that’s a topic of discussion for another day.)

‘Salem’s Lot was the first, but not the last book I would secretly borrow from my father’s bookshelves. (I am, I might add, slightly proud of the fact that neither of my parents had any idea I did this until I told them a few years ago.) From that moment on, I was hooked on King. Part of my love for him is nostalgic in nature. But there’s a reason he’s called King…. It’s his name, yes, I know…but he is The King. With few exceptions his prose is lovely, his characters are complete, his plots both epic and honest. He doesn’t shy away from any topic, going where even horror writers hesitate to, preferring honesty above all else. As a friend of mine (a King fanatic) likes to point out, he’ll kill a kid in a minute.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams came out a few years ago. Several of these stories were published elsewhere already. Several others were previously unpublished. I had not read any of them. Bazaar was pretty far down on my TBR list, but something about it kept calling to me. Possibly it was the cover art. I am obsessed with the cover art; I mean I really just can’t look away.

I dig short story collections, though I spent years putting them on the back-burner. I’m glad I didn’t put off reading Bazaar. This was one I couldn’t stop thinking about. When I was at work, when I was hanging out with friends or with Angel (my live-in boyfriend, love of my life, and a decided non-reader), I just wanted to keep reading more stories. (Please don’t tell Angel.)

By far the most delightful story in this collection is “Ur”. In “Ur,” a college English professor decides he’ll finally join the ranks of those who read on the internet and order himself a Kindle. When it arrives, he’s surprised to discover it’s pink (this was when the Kindle was new and only came in white). He’s also surprised to discover that he can buy Ernest Hemingway novels that don’t exist, at least, not in our particular reality. If you love books, you will love this story. Though the ending was not what I expected (you’re not wrong, dad), it was so much fun. And if you know where I can buy a pink classic Kindle, please let me know.

Some of the stories are based on supernatural phenomena. This is always well done, and rarely campy, even in “The Little Green God of Agony”, which has all of the makings of a black and white horror flick from the ’60’s. And I’m still trying to figure out how, in “Mile 81”, King can make a man-eating car worthy of my worst nightmares. As if I need more reason to be afraid of cars (driving easily makes up more than half of my anxiety), there is a recurring theme of the killer car in this collection. Horrific stories of car accidents feature prominently throughout. The most important of these is “Henry Wouk is Still Alive.” There are car accidents in “Batman and Robin Have an Altercation”, “Ur”, “Tommy”, and “Bad Little Kid”. Not to mention the story “That Bus is Another World”, which takes place entirely in a car while stuck in New York City traffic. Although I’ve never been physically run over by a car as Stephen King has, I do share his fear of reckless drivers. There is enough about cars in this to make you stick to walking for at least a week.

Undoubtedly some of these stories won’t leave you. For me, there were three. “The Dune” was one (yes Mr. King, the ending to this story is absolutely perfect). The others were “Ur” and “Afterlife”. In “Afterlife”, King explores one possible theory of…you guessed it, the afterlife. It’s entirely new, as far as I know. After you read it, I can almost guarantee you’ll continue pondering the possibilities long after. It’s dark, funny, and playfully philosophical.

If you do pick up this book, check the table of contents. Make sure it’s one of the editions that includes the story “Cookie Jar”. Some early editions don’t have it, and it’s not a story you want to miss. It has elements of science fiction and fantasy. It’s an interesting portrayal of mental illness, of war, and of whimsy.

This book won’t let you down. Even in those stories that just don’t work for me (“Morality”, “Summer Thunder”, and “The Bone Church”, which is actually a poem, and certainly not my cup of tea), I found that I could appreciate something in all of them, and that they never overstayed their welcome.

 

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

By Stephen King

495 Pages

Published November 3rd 2015 by Scribner (first published 2013)

ISBN: 1501111671 (ISBN13: 9781501111679)

 

Christmas in March!

I’m having just the best week, and I’m here to share the joy (and maybe brag just a little bit). Mostly because I came home to a lovely package with “Penguin Random House” on the side of the box. It’s Christmas in March!

I’m a sucker for giveaways, which I guess just means I love free stuff. Who doesn’t! But I never win, at least until now. I was entered into this particular giveaway after becoming a member of the Penguin Random House Reader Advisory Panel, and much to my surprise, I received this bag stuffed full of new hardcovers!

(Angel was far less excited. “That’s all we need,” he said, “more books.” I guess he does have a point, since we’re moving in September, and I’ve acquired about twice the amount of books since our last move. Yes my love they’re heavy, but still, they’re free! And they look like great reads!)

Here’s what I got:

Cloister by James Carroll – Released March 6.

Father Michael Kavanagh is shocked to see a friend from his seminary days named Runner Malloy at the altar of his humble Inwood community parish. Wondering about their past, he wanders into the medieval haven of The Cloisters, and begins a conversation with a lovely and intriguing museum guide, Rachel Vedette.

Rachel, a scholar of medieval history, has retreated to the quiet of The Cloisters after her harrowing experience as a Jewish woman in France during the Holocaust. She ponders her late father’s greatest intellectual work: a study demonstrating the relationship between the famously discredited monk Peter Abelard and Jewish scholars. Something about Father Kavanagh makes Rachel think he might appreciate her continued studies, and she shares with him the work that cost her father his life.

At the center of these interrelated stories is the classic romance between the great scholar Peter Abelard and his intellectual equal Héloïse. For Rachel, Abelard is the key to understanding her people’s place in intellectual history. For Kavanagh, he is a doorway to understanding the life he might have had outside of the Church. The Cloister is James Carroll at his best.

Two Nights by Kathy Reichs

Meet Sunday Night, a woman with physical and psychological scars, and a killer instinct.

Sunnie has spent years running from her past, burying secrets and building a life in which she needs no one and feels nothing. But a girl has gone missing, lost in the chaos of a bomb explosion, and the family needs Sunnie’s help. Is the girl dead? Did someone take her? If she is out there, why doesn’t she want to be found?

It’s time for Sunnie to face her own demons—because they just might lead her to the truth about what really happened all those years ago.

Into the Fire by Elizabeth Moon – Released February 6

Ky beats sabotage, betrayal, and the unforgiving elements to lead a ragtag group of crash survivors to safety on a remote arctic island. And she cheats death after uncovering secrets someone is hell-bent on protecting. But the worst is far from over when Ky discovers the headquarters of a vast conspiracy against her family and the heart of the planet’s government itself.

With their base of operations breached, the plotters have no choice but to gamble everything on an audacious throw of the dice. Even so, the odds are stacked against Ky. When her official report on the crash and its aftermath goes missing—along with the men and women she rescued—Ky realizes that her mysterious enemies are more powerful and dangerous than she imagined.

Now, targeted by faceless assassins, Ky and her family—along with her fiancé, Rafe—must battle to reclaim the upper hand and unmask the lethal cabal closing in on them with murderous intent.

Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend

Born in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1882 to immigrant parents, Frances Frankowski covets the life of her best friend, Rosalie Mendel, who has everything Fanny could wish for—money, parents who value education, and an effervescent and winning personality. When, at age fifteen, Rosalie decides they should run away to Chicago, Fanny jumps at the chance to escape her unexceptional life. But, within a year, Rosalie commits an unforgivable betrayal, inciting Frances to strike out on her own.

Decades later, the women reconnect in San Francisco and realize how widely their lives have diverged. While Rosalie is a housewife and mother, Frances works as a secretary for the Office of Naval Intelligence. There she is introduced to Ainslie Conway, an intelligence operator ten years her junior. When it’s arranged for Frances and Ainslie to marry and carry out a mission on the Galápagos Islands, the couple’s identities—already hidden from each other—are further buried under their new cover stories. No longer a lonely spinster, Frances is about to begin the most fascinating and intrigue-filled years of her life.

Amid active volcanoes, forbidding wildlife and flora, and unfriendly neighbors, Ainslie and Frances carve out a life for themselves. But the secrets they harbor from their enemies and from each other may be their undoing.

Drawing on the rich history of the early twentieth century and set against a large, colorful canvas, Enchanted Islands boldly examines the complexity of female friendship, the universal pursuit of a place to call home, and the reverberations of secrets we keep from others and from ourselves.

God: A Human History by Reza Aslan

In Zealot, Reza Aslan replaced the staid, well-worn portrayal of Jesus of Nazareth with a startling new image of the man in all his contradictions. In his new book, Aslan takes on a subject even more immense: God, writ large.

In layered prose and with thoughtful, accessible scholarship, Aslan narrates the history of religion as a remarkably cohesive attempt to understand the divine by giving it human traits and emotions. According to Aslan, this innate desire to humanize God is hardwired in our brains, making it a central feature of nearly every religious tradition. As Aslan writes, “Whether we are aware of it or not, and regardless of whether we’re believers or not, what the vast majority of us think about when we think about God is a divine version of ourselves.”

But this projection is not without consequences. We bestow upon God not just all that is good in human nature—our compassion, our thirst for justice—but all that is bad in it: our greed, our bigotry, our penchant for violence. All these qualities inform our religions, cultures, and governments.

More than just a history of our understanding of God, this book is an attempt to get to the root of this humanizing impulse in order to develop a more universal spirituality. Whether you believe in one God, many gods, or no god at all, God: A Human History will challenge the way you think about the divine and its role in our everyday lives.

The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe learns valuable lessons about first impressions and forgiveness in this latest installment of the beloved and best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi are approached by their part-time colleague, Mr. Polopetsi, with a troubling story: a woman, accused of being rude to a valued customer, has been wrongly dismissed from her job at an office furniture store. Never one to let an act of injustice go unanswered, Mma Ramotswe begins to investigate, but soon discovers unexpected information that causes her to reluctantly change her views about the case.

Other surprises await our intrepid proprietress in the course of her inquiries. Mma Ramotswe is puzzled when she happens to hear of a local nurse named Mingie Ramotswe. She thought she knew everybody by the name of Ramotswe, and that they were all related. Who is this mystery lady? Then, she is alerted by Mma Potokwani that an unpleasant figure from her past has recently been spotted in town. Mma Ramotswe does her best to avoid the man, but it seems that he may have returned to Botswana specifically to seek her out. What could he want from her?

With the generosity and good humor that guide all her endeavors, Mma Ramotswe will untangle these questions for herself and for her loved ones, ultimately bringing to light important truths about friendship and family—both the one you’re born with and the one you choose.

Grey by E.L. James

See the world of Fifty Shades of Grey anew through the eyes of Christian Grey.

In Christian’s own words, and through his thoughts, reflections, and dreams, E L James offers a fresh perspective on the love story that has enthralled millions of readers around the world.

Christian Grey exercises control in all things; his world is neat, disciplined, and utterly empty—until the day that Anastasia Steele falls into his office, in a tangle of shapely limbs and tumbling brown hair. He tries to forget her, but instead is swept up in a storm of emotion he cannot comprehend and cannot resist. Unlike any woman he has known before, shy, unworldly Ana seems to see right through him—past the business prodigy and the penthouse lifestyle to Christian’s cold, wounded heart.

Will being with Ana dispel the horrors of his childhood that haunt Christian every night? Or will his dark sexual desires, his compulsion to control, and the self-loathing that fills his soul drive this girl away and destroy the fragile hope she offers him?