5 Reasons Why I Loved The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian Andy Weir Book Cover Blog Review Matt Damon

Last Christmas I was extremely grateful to receive The Martian, one of my top to-read books, from my dear friend M at Rain City Reads (thank you so much!!!). I completely fell in love with the story and was captivated from start to finish. I’d meant to blog about this sooner, but somehow I never got to it. Well, better late than never, right? Since I’m sure many of you have either read this book already or have read numerous reviews, I figured I would write a list of 5 reasons why I love The Martian so much. (Read the book’s synopsis here!)

1. The cheeky narrator.

One of the first things you’ll notice after starting the book is how humourous Mark Watney, the narrator and stranded astronaut, is. Personally, I’d find it pretty impossible to be so funny and sarcastic in his situation, but his ability to be like that is what makes him so lovable. He combines logic and science (yay!) with humour and heart to become one of my favourite narrators in recent history.

2. The science.

Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about botany and engineering and my math is… functional. But Weir makes everything so believable. I really could picture Mark figuring out how to grow crops using his own biomatter as manure, and how to create his own water using his engineering and chemistry knowledge. Best of all, he made me feel like I understood everything he was saying! Sure, his plans may be far-fetched in reality, but it sure didn’t feel like it when I was reading.

3. The suspense.

Will he make it out alive??? So many elements are working against Mark, from having to grow his own food, create water in a highly combustible environment, and move his whole station to a different part of Mars where the next mission will be. There’s also incredible suspense on Earth: will NASA even be able to create a vessel to send to Mars to save Mark in time?

4. It’s not all about Mark.

Judging from what I’ve said so far about The Martian, it would be easy to assume that the book is all about Mark. But it’s not. Weir also takes the time to develop secondary characters, from Mark’s crew mates (who followed orders and left Mars thinking Mark had died, and then had to find out that he hadn’t and they had essentially abandoned him) to the NASA employees who have to put together some sort of plan. They all seem so real, so believable, and have their own voices. It makes the book so fascinating and fun to read. I can’t wait to see this on the big screen.

5. It has a great publishing story.

Okay, so maybe this isn’t really about The Martian’s content, but I love hearing a great success story. Did you know that The Martian was initially self-published on Weir’s website and then picked up by a Newmarket-based audiobook publisher Podium Publishing? Go Canada! Eventually, Weir caught the attention of traditional book publishers, and, well, the rest is history.

So there you go! 5 reasons why I loved The Martian by Andy Weir. I absolutely can’t wait to see this on the big screen and judging by the trailer, I think it’s going to be amazing! Watch it here:

Have you read The Martian? What did you think? Are you looking forward to seeing the movie?

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Book Review | The Half Brother by Holly LeCraw

The Half Brother by Holly LeCraw

[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher Random House Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]

Ohhhhh, The Half Brother. What can I say about this book? It gave me a lot of conflicting feelings, that’s for sure. I haven’t read too many prep school books, but I found this to be a fun introduction, albeit my disappointment with its ending.

The Half Brother follows Charlie Garrett’s life at Abbott School, a private prep-school where teaches English. Straight out of university, young teacher Charlie soon falls in love with the champlain’s daughter May – and her with him – and all seems to be going well for them. That is, until he resolves to break it off. Charlie thinks he’s in the clear when May moves away, but when she comes back, Charlie tries to set her up with his half-brother Nick. Will everything work out for everyone in the end? Or will this love triangle create more pain?

I have to say that I was transfixed by the first half of the book. I seriously could not put it down. Charlie’s reason for breaking up with May was intense, and I was completely invested in the Charlie-May-Nick love triangle. This continued right until the end, even though I felt like the book was slowly losing steam. Still, I was enjoying the book enough to keep reading any chance I got. (Plus, there are some genuinely great moments in the book; I especially loved watching Charlie teach and thought his unexpected reaction to reading the final lines of The Great Gatsby to his English class (as was his tradition) to be perfectly heartbreaking.) The big problem for me was the resolution. I don’t want to go too deep into my explanation as I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone (if you’ve read this book, let’s talk), but I was incredibly disappointed with how everything played out. It was just a little too perfect for me, and it was quite unsatisfying as far as endings go. Will others enjoy it? Sure, but for me, I wish it had ended just a little differently.

Verdict: An engrossing book that had me captivated early on, but delivered what I think was an underwhelming resolution.

Read if: You love prep school novels, enjoy books with love triangles, want to learn more about the Half Brother.

Have you read The Half Brother? What did you think?! (I’m itching to talk to someone about this!)

Book Review | Us by David Nicholls

David Nicholls Us Novel Book Cover Book Review Karen One More Page

[I received a copy of Us by David Nicholls from its Canadian publisher HarperCollins Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the book.]

I’ve been meaning to write this review for a long time – ever since I finished reading it in November, really – but I never quite got around to doing it. However, I am armed and ready to share my thoughts on this wonderful book today and I can’t wait! I think the fact that I still have so much enthusiasm for it even after a few weeks really says a lot about how well-written and plotted this book is.

In many ways, Douglas Petersen’s life after marriage is not what he had expected. He had dreamed of a perfect, loving, wholesome family where in reality, his relationship with his son Albie is almost non-existent and, we learn in the book’s opening scene, his wife Connie thinks she wants to divorce him. However, before Connie makes her final decision and Albie goes off to university, the Petersen family gives themselves one last chance and embark on a month-long Grand Tour spanning multiple European countries. Will this crucial vacation bring Douglas and his family together, or will it wedge them further apart?

There were many reasons why I enjoyed reading Us so much. For one, I appreciate that it depicts life after marriage, after the promised “happily ever after,” rather than focus on the cute “how they met” story (though there is that as well and fruit flies are involved – double score). It also drew me in quite quickly because it’s not only a book about a husband and wife, but also about a father and son. I couldn’t help but empathize with everyone in the family as Douglas, a biochemist, struggled to related to his artistic son, subjecting Albie to awkward and sometimes humiliating situations while embarrassing himself. Nicholls does a great job developing his characters and putting them in believable scenarios, making the story come alive in a realistic and lively way.

It was incredibly easy for me to relate to Douglas and feel connected to his story because the book is written in first person. Douglas can be a frustrating man to be with at times, but because he was the character narrating the story, I was able to hear directly from him and understand that his intentions were always well-meaning, even if it didn’t quite come across that way all the time. Being able to compare his expectations to the realities he faces in the novel made me completely empathetic towards him and I quickly found myself invested in this compelling and engaging story.

The cherry on top for me was the Grand Tour itself. I’ve never been to Europe and it was a pleasure to travel with the Petersen family while laughing and cringing at their (well, Douglas’) blunders. Through the pages I traveled all around Europe on my own Grand Tour, and it was a delight to escape from my reality into the warm European sunshine.

Whether you’re looking for a romantic story, a realistic “life after marriage” plot, or just want to escape from your side of the world and travel through Europe with the Petersens, Us has something for everyone and I cannot recommend it enough.

Verdict: An often humorous story about a family that’s barely holding it together, Us is a heartwarming and realistic novel that will make you laugh, cringe, and cheer for its characters. With its extremely short chapters and compelling writing, it is a book that you won’t want to put down once you’ve picked it up.

Read if: You loved Nicholls’ popular novel One Day, want more than just a cute romantic novel, want to travel through Europe just by turning pages.

Have you read anything by Nicholls? Did you like it? Are you a hopeless romantic or are you more pragmatic when it comes to relationships?

Book Review | Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult Leaving Time Book Review Book Cover

[I received a copy of this book from its Canadian publisher Random House of Canada. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]

If you’re a reader, I’m sure Jodi Picoult needs no introduction. Since publishing her first book in 1992, she has written 20 more novels, including Leaving Time. That’s pretty much one book a year. Impressive, right? I’m a little ashamed to say that Leaving Time was my first experience reading Picoult. However, I’m not ashamed to say that I couldn’t put the novel down once I had started it. 

Leaving Time is a detective novel of sorts, as it follows 13 year-old Jenna Metcalf as she recruits two unlikely companions to help her find her missing mother. You see, many years ago, Jenna’s parents owned and ran an elephant sanctuary until one unfortunate night where an accident happens inside an elephant enclosure and Alice Metcalf is never seen again. Where did Alice go? Is she safe? Why didn’t she bring Jenna with her? Will Jenna be able to find out the truth of what happened to her mom?

This book touches on many things that draw me into books: a missing character, a fierce immovable, hopeful love, and a group of characters yearning for second chances. Picoult uses multiple narratives to give her main characters their own voice, and they all reveal a bit of themselves to readers as time passes. It’s interesting to note that Alice is one of these narrators, though it is unclear in the beginning where she is narrating from. This adds to the intrigue of the novel, and as each of the characters involved in the “incident” come under scrutiny, readers start to question everything they thought they knew – especially when it comes to Alice. Why did Alice leave? Was it out of fear? Something else?

Though the story of Alice’s disappearance takes up a lot of the plot, one of the most endearing things about Leaving Time was the trio that sets out to uncover the truth. On her quest to find her mom, Jenna recruits Serenity and Virgil, a psychic and a former detective. It was wonderful to watch as the trio’s relationship developed, especially since Serenity believes in (or knows, rather) a more spiritual world whereas Virgil is deeply invested in science and facts. Somehow, these seemingly discordant elements find their way together in Leaving Time.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fascinating elephant observations that take up a major part of the novel. Both of Jenna’s parents were elephant researchers before the enclosure accident and much of Alice’s narration focuses on her studies, especially her findings on elephants and grief. Alice is fixated on the relationship between an elephant and her calf, and what happens if either of them are left behind. This ties in well with Jenna’s journey to find her mom and made me wonder whether we’re not so different from other creatures after all.

I’m glad that the characters, mystery, and elephant facts were such an interesting read because I did, unfortunately, find the ending to be a little anticlimactic. Though I wasn’t able to predict how the book would end, I couldn’t help but wonder if a more perceptive reader might have. That being said, a good book is as much about the journey as the destination, so I would still confidently recommend Leaving Time for anyone who wants a fast-paced and captivating read.

Verdict: A strong, engrossing read despite a somewhat anticlimactic ending. It features some very strong relationships that are wonderful to read about and a plot that will keep you turning the pages until you’re finished. Plus, there are elephant facts and jokes!

Read if: You love reading and learning about elephants, are a sucker for books that focus on mother-daughter relationships (like me), want to read a book that will keep you up reading past your bedtime. 😉

Have you read anything by Jodi Picoult? Will you be picking up Leaving Time?

Book Review | Great

Great Sara Benincasa Cover

[I won this ARC of Great by Sara Benincasa from HarperTeen through their @hccfrenzy Twitter contest. This does not affect my opinion on the book.]

Great is a contemporary young adult retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s American classic The Great Gatsby. It follows seventeen year old Naomi Rye as she navigates the social circles of East Hampton, where she “summers” (used as a verb) with her baker extraordinaire mother Anne Rye. Anne is a social climber and tries desperately to get Naomi to socialize with her influential friends. When Naomi is invited to an extravagant party next door, she attends and finds herself meeting the elusive host herself: Jacinta Trimalchio. What she doesn’t know is that Jacinta has a past that she’s been hiding and normally detached Naomi gets more involved than ever…

I started reading Great almost immediately after discussing The Great Gatsby with a friend so the source material was fresh on my mind. As I was reading, I noticed the similarities Great has with the original work but was intrigued by the new twist Benincasa added. This, to me, is the kind of retelling that works – it’s inventive enough that it doesn’t feel like all the author did was substitute names but not so far off from the original that readers don’t get the satisfaction of recognizing the source material once in a while. Gatsby’s lifestyle transitions easily to the East Hamptons, so nothing seems overly out of the place or far-fetched. I loved that the infamous green light from the original text translated to a laptop charging dock in Great.

This book is great for those who have read The Great Gatsby but also those who have not. I enjoyed the fact that Naomi is such a rounded character. She seems like the type of girl I could be really good friends with; she sees herself as a feminist, is active in the LGBT-Straight Alliance at her high school, and has the perfect amount of cynicism towards the rich socialites she’s forced to spend time with. She also names Clueless as one of her favourite movies and Anne of Green Gables the novel is an “old favourite” of hers. She’s the type of character that book lovers fall in love with and because of that, she pulls readers into the story and engages them no matter what their history with The Great Gatsby is.

I will say that some of the symbolism is lost in translation, but ultimately I don’t think that’s what Great is about. As a young adult novel, its main goal is to make a classic work more accessible and I think it has succeeded tremendously. It is a powerful book that will delight new readers and surprise The Great Gatsby worshipers. The ending is just as shocking as the original, and kept me on my toes the whole way through.

Verdict: A very strong adaptation. I would definitely recommended it to The Great Gatsby lovers and new readers alike.
Read if: You love reading contemporary retellings of classics, The Great Gatsby, and overall fun to read novels.

Will you be picking up Great? Have you read The Great Gatsby?

Book Review | The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the novel.]

It has been said before and I’ll say it again: Gabrielle Zevin’s The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is truly a novel for book sellers and book lovers. Widowed and generally down on his luck, it seems like A.J. Fikry has nothing to comfort him but his bookstore and the books that lie within it. When his rare volume of Poe poems gets stolen it seems like there really is no hope for him. But then a package is left in his bookstore and his life is changed forever…

Fikry has a tendency to be a grumpy and crotchety man, as evidenced by his interaction with Amelia, a sales rep from Kightley Press who comes to his bookstore to present him with some upcoming titles. He is unnecessarily unpleasant towards her and practically shoos her away. Yet, there is something intriguing about this guarded character. Even though he is rude and judgmental, his fierce loyalty to the books he loves is an endearing quality and the omniscient narration helps position him as a sympathetic character. Yes, Fikry is a flawed man, but who isn’t?

The turning point comes when Fikry finds the package that is left for him at the bookstore. The way he deals with the unsolicited “gift” is heartwarming and charming. This is when his character truly begins to grow and evolve. This part of the story really sucks you in and I found myself becoming really invested. The package brings to Fikry a new life – one that allows him to step out of his loneliness and into the world again.

What I enjoyed about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry was that it gave each of its main characters development and room to grow. Most of the characters we meet come with a back story and it really helps explain their motivations, making them feel rounded and real rather than mere plot devices. I loved meeting the various residents of Alice Island. Lambiase in particular was a stand-out for me. Costco, anyone?

The only bone I have to pick with this book is its ending. For a book that seems so self-aware at times I was hoping for something more. That being said, the rest of the story was very strong, so I was not overly bothered by the way it ended. This is a book about love, life, and loss and it stayed true to that right till the end. Its strong connection to books makes it an enchanting read and it was a delight watching Fikry develop. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is relatively short (being just under 300 pages) but it kept me entertained the whole way through with its wit and charm. Prepare to find yourself chuckling at the various characters’ quirks and nod your head in agreement with the things they have to say about the joy of reading. This is a book about people who love books and if you happen to be a book lover as well, you won’t be disappointed with this light-hearted ode to reading.

Verdict: Cute, heart-warming book about book lovers and book sellers. A quick, endearing read.
Read if: You love books (like me!), enjoy books with well-developed characters, like being pleasantly surprised again and again.

Will you be picking up The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry? Let me know what you think!