Quite Possibly My Favorite Book of the Year

martianThis may come as a surprise after the way I raved about the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness, but I think I just read my favorite book of the year. There are still four months left, of course, and I’ve read some really great books this year (like Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell), but this latest book is easily the best adult book I’ve read. So what book is it? It’s a New York Times bestseller that actually lived up to its hype: The Martian by Andy Weir.

Goodreads Book Blurb:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Here’s what I loved about it:

1. It’s sci-fi, but believable.

There weren’t any aliens, or a time-space continuum, a meteor on an Earth-destroying path, or epic space battles. This was just a straight up mission to Mars where the astronauts were all scheduled to do some experiments, collect rock and soil samples, and return home. Easy-peasy. Or at least, that was the plan…

2. The main character had a great sense of humor.

Mark Watney could have crumbled under the despair of being abandoned on Mars. But he doesn’t. He’s calm and clever and keeps it light. Most people wouldn’t be able to do this, but he’s an astronaut. They train for the unexpected, plus they’re just cooler than the average human, right?

An example of his humor: when Mark tries using a laptop outside of his main hub, the extreme cold of Mars causes the laptop to instantly die. He teases, “Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”‘

3. The suspense kept me racing to find out what would happen next.

This may be sci-fi, but it’s really a survival story. We’ve all heard about the robots and missions where one miscalculation has led to million dollar failures. With one problem after another, will Mark survive on Mars? Will he ever make it back to Earth? How could one astronaut survive the odds?

4. The math and science-heavy parts were oddly satisfying.

I am terrible at math. My brain just doesn’t do well with numbers and complex problem solving. But I admire Watney’s ability to do those things. Math and science really do save his life. His MacGyvering skills would be useless (and a bit unbelievable) if he didn’t have the calculations to back up his plans. Also, I can appreciate the work the author put in to achieve the book’s thoroughness. The author really knew his stuff.

5. The story of how this book became a bestseller is a writer’s dream.

In the back of the e-book version of The Martian, there is a short essay by the author explaining how a nerdy idea became a bestselling novel. Just for fun, the author decided to plan out a manned mission to Mars, complete with software to calculate the crew’s trip. From there, he started thinking about all the things that could go wrong. So he wrote The Martian and posted chapters on his website. His readers asked him to make the book available on Amazon, so he formatted it into an e-book, and set the price at the lowest available: 99 cents. Lo and behold, it became an Amazon bestseller. Publishers wanted the book and so did movie studios. The book was republished and became a New York Times bestseller. In October, the movie version starring Matt Damon will hit theaters. Not too bad for a self-proclaimed nerd, eh?!

Have you read this book? What did you think? Will you see the movie?

Below is the trailer for the film. Caution: if you plan on reading the novel, I would steer clear of the trailer. It reveals a lot of the book’s content.

Casting Chaos Walking

As is the way with fantastic YA novels, Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series may be getting the film treatment. According to an article posted in October 2011, Lionsgate acquired the rights for the Chaos Walking trilogy. I hadn’t realized the series was that old! Turns out the first book was published in 2008 and the third book was published in 2010. I can’t believe it took me so long to stumble upon these books. A more recent update (if you can call August 2014 recent!) notes that the project will have a new screenplay written by Jamie Linden. Robert Zemeckis will direct (Back to the Future and Forrest Gump are among his notable films). We’ll see if this movie ever comes to fruition. Until then, here are a few casting suggestions I came up with.

chaos_castingAfter reading the novels, who would star in your dream cast?

~ Interested in Chaos Walking? Read about my gushing review of the series here and read about its awesome villain here.

One of the Best (or Worst?) Literary Villains

chaos_villains

Voldemort.

King Leck.

The White Witch.

Queen Levana.

Young Adult literature has more than a few great villains. Villains who use their power to terrify, control, and even murder others. Today, I want to talk about a villain you might not be familiar with yet: Mayor Prentiss. He is the villain of Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series, and he is a master manipulator.

Although the character appears minimally in the first book of the series, The Knife of Never Letting Go, his presence is enough to keep Todd on the run. However, in the following two books, The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men, we as readers begin to see how vile and corrupt the mayor is. In a land where all men broadcast their thoughts, feelings, intentions, and memories through a never ending cacophony of noise, the mayor is silent. This makes it hard to figure out whether he is trustworthy or not. Todd struggles with this in chapter 19 of Monsters of Men, “I also know he ain’t redeemed. I know he ain’t redeemable. (Ain’t he?) But he’s been acting like it.” Is Todd’s goodness rubbing off on the mayor, or is it all a ploy to get what he’s really after: complete control. As his abilities to control those around him improve, you’ll wonder how- and if- he can be stopped. The mayor always seems to be a step ahead of everyone else. You’ll have to read Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series to find out more about this awesomely wicked villain.

Who are some of your favorite literary villains? 

~ Read more about Chaos Walking in my gushing review of the series here.

The Next Must Read Series

chaos_postoneWow, readers. I just finished a series that was unlike anything I’ve ever read. It was thought-provoking, action-packed, suspenseful, and invigorating. It was so special that I’m going to focus three blog posts on this particular series. What series would deserve so much attention? The Chaos Walking series, made up of three novels and three short stories (one short story is at the end of each ebook). The series starts with The Knife of Never Letting Go, whose dramatic cliffhanger ending leads you right into The Ask and the Answer, and culminates with Monsters of Men. It’s a Young Adult series, but the content is pretty mature, so I would recommend it for readers over 13. Intrigued?

Have you ever wished that you knew what someone was thinking? Well, in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series, you can hear what everyone is thinking. All. The. Time. All of their most secret and mundane thoughts, hopes, dreams, and memories are broadcast as “noise” to everyone around them. Oh, and everyone can hear what YOU are thinking too. Now maybe that doesn’t sound so cool. Got a crush on someone? Everyone would know. Don’t know how to do something? Everyone would know. Tell a little white lie? Don’t even bother, because everyone would know. The animals all have noise too, so it’s practically impossible to find some peace and quiet. But wait. Are you female? Then you don’t have noise. Lucky you! Only the men have noise, which means they are jealous and mistrustful of you and all your silence. How is such a thing possible? Well, this series takes place on a new planet where settlers have landed to get away from the problems of “Old World.” When the settlers arrive, the noise is like a disease they catch. So not only are they working hard to survive and build new communities, but they are also struggling to adapt to this strange phenomenon. Communities choose to deal with this issue in different ways.

The Knife of Never Letting Go follows the story of Todd, a young boy who is about to reach the age of manhood. His community- which is the only one he believes exists- no longer has any women. It’s just a town of angry, frustrated, depressed, and noisy men. One day, Todd is out gathering apples when he comes across a pocket of silence. This silence starts a chain of events that sends Todd running from his community in fear for his life. Along the way, he discovers the truth behind his community’s history, what it means to be a man, and how love can be a powerful force. I’m going to leave it at that because I don’t want to spoil the story for you. You should know that the book may be a little strange and difficult to get into at first, but keep reading–it’s worth it!

This series has the potential to become the next big thing. Like The Hunger Games, the series is violent and brutal, and not for the easily offended. As in The Maze Runner series, the main character is a boy, instead of a girl like a lot of popular teen stories (Katniss, Katsa, Cassia, Bella, etc). Despite the heaviness of some of the events of the series, there is also a theme of tolerance, respect for the planet, and the courage to do what is right even in the toughest of times.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up The Knife of Never Letting Go at your local library, bookstore, or online outlet. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this wonderful series.


Read more about the Chaos Walking series on Goodreads:

Book 1: The Knife of Never Letting Go          + Short story “The New World”

Book 2: The Ask and the Answer                  + Short story “The Wide, Wide Sea”

Book 3: Monsters of Men                             + Short story “Snowscape”

When it’s Time to Give Up on a Book

whentogiveup

This pin on Pinterest made me stop and think: “If you read one book a week, starting at the age of 5, and live to be 80, you will have read a grand total of 3,900 books, a little over one-tenth of 1 percent of the books currently in print” (from The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop: A Memoir, a History by Lewis Buzbee).

Now, I’m not sure about the accuracy of the math or facts involved here, but I do know that there never seems to be enough time to read everything I want to read. There are so many books in the world that it seems silly to waste time reading books I don’t enjoy. What’s the point? There’s nothing to gain or prove by finishing it. While I’m mentioning four reasons why I may not finish a book, it’s usually a combination of these which leads me to abandon a book.

It may be time to give up on a book…

  1. When I avoid reading –

Normally, I’m the type of person who is never far from a book or Kindle. I’d read while going to the bathroom, while blow drying my hair, or during TV commercials. Even with a new baby, I still find plenty of time for reading (mainly while feeding her). I know I’ve got a problem with a book if I’d rather do other things during this precious down time, like search for recipes on Pinterest or read up on the MMR vaccine. If I’m not aching to find out what happens next, a book is in jeopardy.

  1. When it puts me to sleep after a few pages –

This is the book where I never seem to make any progress because I keep falling asleep while trying to read it. Perhaps the pace is too slow, or there’s not enough action, or maybe it’s the language: too dry, too technical, or too much description and flowery language.

  1. When I’m completely lost –

I know this is happening when I find myself re-reading passages or flipping back in the book to see if I missed something. I think, maybe I’m not supposed to understand yet. Maybe this is what the author intended. But as I continue reading, the frustration of not understanding wins out.

  1. When I don’t like the characters –

Isn’t connecting with the characters one of the best parts about reading? If you can’t form some kind of a bond with the characters, it’s hard to care about their plight. I want to imagine myself as the strong, brave main character, or be friends with them, or crush on the love interest. If that’s not happening, I’m not buying into the book.

Here are a few examples of books I’ve given up on:

  • Code Name Verity (lost…so very lost…)
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (all four reasons, though mainly because it was so dull at the beginning…which is as far as I made it. Read more about my thoughts here.)
  • The Monuments Men (wanted to avoid reading, and when I did, it put me asleep. Read more about my thoughts here.)
  • The Goddess Hunt (lost and didn’t connect with the characters)
  • Fallen (didn’t like the characters, and was perhaps a little confused as well)
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (zzzz…no action. Only made it through one disc of this book on CD)

How about you: do you fight your way through a book just to finish it, or are you okay with abandoning a book?