Todd’s Review of Hope by Victoria Ferrante

Although I’m not usually one to harp on a book’s cover (insert obligatory joke about judging a book by its cover), this one definitely caught my eye.  The tortured soul on the front cover of this book made me pause and wonder what would cause such pain.  I knew the book was about Autism, but I know that the spectrum of this disorder is so varied that I really had no idea what I was in for.  So, with so many looming questions, I decided to get right to it and dive in to the book!

Ferrante tells the story of Christina Borysowki, a woman from the Midwest who gives birth to a daughter with autism spectrum disorder in the early 1990’s.  Originally, Christina is overjoyed at her daughter’s birth and feels an incredible bond with her daughter, who has beautiful blue eyes and a bubbly disposition.  Over time, however, things begin to change.  Her daughter, optimistically named Hope, begins to become withdrawn.  She does not respond to her name, or any normal stimulus that children her age react to.  Her now gray eyes seem to have lost their sparkle, and Hope looks out with empty, emotionless eyes at the world.  Although most of her family and friends dismiss the idea that anything is seriously wrong with Hope, Christina eventually brings her to numerous doctors, eventually gaining a diagnosis of autism, a relatively new and unheard of disorder at the time.  Christina’s life then becomes a whirlwind of doctor’s meetings, questions, medications, and more, as she tries to give Hope the best life she can muster given the circumstances.  Although she often feels overwhelmed, Christina is motivated by a desire to find the passion that she knows is hidden in her daughter’s mysterious and ever-changing personality.  All this changes, however, at the dramatic twist at the end of the novel that no one sees coming.

As a disclaimer, I had a very hard time deciding what to write for this review.  I too have experience with a disabled family member, as my twin brother Dan has Cerebral Palsy and is a quadriplegic due to CP and other additional factors.  It is because of this fact that I viewed this book differently than someone who may not have a person in his/her life that is disabled.  I give Ferrante a lot of credit for writing this work; I understand that she has a child who is profoundly autistic herself and therefore may have used the writing of this story as a type of therapy or vehicle in which to create a story similar to her own.  These things are really important, as a support structure is vital to the family of someone with a disability as it helps them during the inevitable hard times.  The thing I took issue with, however, was the overall tone of the book.  I understand that Christina would be incredibly frustrated and alienated at times with having to deal with this disorder day in and day out.  It was the high amount of negativity that struck me, however, and made it harder to read as time went on.  Yes, I know that there were moments of brevity and connection between Christina and Hope, but they were few and far between.  Perhaps that was the point, that it’s not easy at all to have a profoundly autistic daughter.  And I would assume it is, although I have no direct experience in the matter.  I do, however, have direct experience with a brother that can’t do many of the things (both physically and mentally) that we take for granted.  And because of this, I know that it’s very, very important to focus on the positives.  It’s easy to question everything and get caught up in the negative, but it’s not the right way.  Every day is a gift, and we need to be reminded of this.  To majorly focus on the bad things and keep the plot development on a downward spiral was not helping.  I think the material may be there, but the focus of the work needed some tweaking.  I do applaud Ferrante for her honesty and ability to show us all the daily battles that go in to caring for someone with this type of autism through Christina’s story.  It can’t be easy and her writing definitely showed that.  I perhaps was just too emotionally invested in this type of story that I couldn’t give it an appropriate rating.

Hope by Victoria Ferrante
iUniverse Incorporated (2011)
Paperback: 232 pages
ISBN: 9781462062362

Special thanks to Author Solutions for my review copy!

#93 A Review of The Walking Dead (Hardcover Book Five) by Robert Kirkman

Todd and I want to apologize for the major gap that has occurred between our Walking Dead reviews!  If you need a refresher, here are our reviews of books one, two, three, and four.  To continue with the tradition, we’re doing a joint review of book five!

Book five of the series begins after the horrible battle at the prison and subsequent loss of many characters from the previous books in the series.  We’re reunited with Rick and Carl, who are on their own and separated from any other possible survivors of the massacre.  There is a particularly poignant scene where Rick comes down with a sudden infection and is rendered unconscious.  Carl asserts his independence and tells his dad (who is passed out) that he doesn’t need his help and that he’d be fine alone.  Soon thereafter, Carl realizes that he isn’t nearly as brave as he thought, and in a moment of panic almost shoots Rick as Rick slowly (and in a zombie-like manner) comes to.  After he recovers, Rick and Carl reunite with Michonne, and the three of them travel together until they stumble upon the remaining survivors of the prison attack.  After a brief moment of actual happiness in the post-apocalyptic doom, they then meet a group of three survivors who are traveling to Washington, DC: Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita.  Abraham, an army Sargent, challenges Rick as the head of the group, and is the focal point for the remainder of the novel.  What happens next though, catches everyone off guard, and puts all of their lives in immediate danger…

Kim: So I truly love the underlying social commentary themes that are woven into these books.  I like how in book five we focus a lot on the children who have survived to this point.  When we finished reading the book, Todd and I started discussing our thoughts and I said the following: I think that as adults we have the ability to adapt for survival faster than children do.  As adults we understand what we need to survive.  It’s an inherent trait in ourselves to adapt for our survival.  In the case of children, they are taken care of by adults.  A child does not inherently understand survival at the level an adult would.  In book five we begin to see the effects that this “zombie apocalypse” has had on them.  Sophia is looking at any of the females caring for her as her actual mother.  When Carl asks her about her birth mother Sophia acts like she has no idea who he’s talking about.  The trauma of her mother’s suicide, coupled with the rest of the events of the books have taken such a toll on her, that her mind has blacked out the traumatic events.  Consequently, Carl has a scare when Rick become so sick that he passes out for several days.  Carl acts like everything is fine and that he can take care of himself, but the reality soon sets in that he is a child and shouldn’t have to fend for himself.  It’s these transformations (and others) that makes these books the “must reads” I think they are.  They are so much more than just zombie novels.  They are true experimental evaluations of the human condition!

Todd: I definitely agree.  I think it’s interesting that Carl has to mature (physically and emotionally) in this world while all of the adults are obviously much older and have a greater frame of reference for a time that wasn’t infested with walking corpses.  Of course it accelerates Carl’s maturity, but in other aspects it makes him even more messed up, with little to no stability in his life to rely on.  Fortunately, Rick tries his best to be a good father figure, and for the most part it works, but the ever-mounting flood of death and destruction takes its toll, especially when Carl tells his father that he wanted to help him kill the man who almost molested him.  When he tells Rick that he is scared of the violence of his thoughts sometimes, it offers us a window into how his mind is adjusting to the new surroundings.  Rick perhaps puts it best: “We’re doing whatever it takes to survive… The people without the switch– those who weren’t able to go from law-abiding citizens to stone-cold killers… those are the ones shambling around out there– trying to eat us.”

Kim: Speaking of Rick’s mental state, it’s fascinating to see how the events at the end of book four have completely transformed him into a “mental patient”.  The conversations with his dead wife and his serious lack of confidence in himself and his decision-making skills showcase a Rick that we have never glimpsed before.  Kirkman’s ability to highlight a transforming psychological climate for all of these characters is truly what makes this series stand out, and why he’s still publishing new issues of this series monthly.

Todd: I think it’s interesting you bring up Rick’s mental state, because although this book wasn’t nearly as big on action as the previous one, I think it’s actually scarier.  To see what the continued toll of dealing with what has happened to them has on all the characters is really frightening.  We’ve always had Rick as the pillar of the group, right or wrong, and to see him in such a diminished state makes me nervous for what will happen in the future.  I hope the remaining survivors can pull it together!

Make sure you keep a lookout for the next review of book six in this series.  Although we haven’t read it yet, if the speed in which we read this book is any indication, you won’t need to wait long!

Todd’s Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars

Kim’s Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Image Comics (2010)
Hardcover 304 pages
ISBN: 9781607061717

Todd’s Review of Waiting For Daybreak by Amanda McNeil – Blog Tour

As the resident zombie expert at Reflections of a Book Addict, I feel compelled to give any novel that mentions our favorite half-dead friends a good read and review.  As I’ve stated before, it’s definitely one of my favorite sub-genres within the greater context of the postapocalyptic world genre.  Ever since reading World War Z and The Walking Dead graphic novels, I’ve been basically hooked.  Fortunately, Waiting for Daybreak by Amanda McNeill was a great addition to this genre.

Taking place in modern-day Boston, Waiting for Daybreak chronicles the life of Frieda, a twenty-something microbiologist who works in a diagnostic lab in a hospital.  Unfortunately for her, she is the only known survivor of an outbreak of an incredibly virulent virus that causes its hosts to transform into cannibalistic, half dead zombies.  For nearly a year, she has subsisted in her apartment on the fourth floor of an apartment building, using a combination of scavenging for supplies and growing a garden as a means of nourishment and survival.  As far as in the infected are concerned (or “the afflicted” as she calls them), Frieda has become skilled with the use of various knives and other non-projectile objects in luring the zombies to her and dispatching them when necessary.  All of this changes when her cat, Snuggles, becomes afflicted with parasitic worms, and Frieda must travel to the local ASPCA office to find medicine to treat her.  Unfortunately, the office is far from her current location, and Frieda faces untold dangers in getting there.  Most interesting, however, is what happens along the way.  She comes into contact with a man named Mike, the first uninfected person she’s seen since the outbreak.  What happens between them is predictable, but it’s what happens after that which is something no one could have seen coming.

I’ve always said (in regards to zombie movies/books/etc), that the lessons learned from this type of story are more about what happens to people after the rise of these zombies instead of what happens with the zombies themselves.  Basically, the terrifying effects created by the catastrophic destruction of society serve to strip down the survivors and find out what they’re really made of.  With no outside interference, people become who they really are, deep down.  In this case, Frieda has been diagnosed with a mental illness and struggles with feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem.  However, the longer that she survives in the zombie apocalypse, the more clear-headed and confident she becomes.  This is interesting, as when the general public (that is also generally uneducated about mental illness) thinks about any kind of mental illness, they would assume that any kind of stress or isolation would serve to reinforce this problem and make it worse, rather than better.  In Frieda’s case, the time alone has given her an opportunity to think and do a lot of self-evaluation, which has made her come to the conclusion that she is a strong and self-sufficient woman, albeit with a good dose of self-doubt that kicks in every once in a while.  Despite this intermittent self-criticism, Frieda is doing better than she ever has before, and her interaction and eventual course of action with Mike only serves to reinforce the fact that this apocalypse has caused her to become the strong, resourceful person that she really always was, and just needed this external stimulus to bring out.

In all, it is an awesome read that really gets you in tune with Frieda’s struggle with the undead.  There are a few minor zombie-centric details, such as the believability of the actual virus and the way that the zombies act that could have used some reworking, but as I said before, zombie books are more about the live folks rather than the undead.  In that regard, McNeil did a wonderful job.

4 out of 5 stars

Waiting for Daybreak by Amanda McNeil
CreateSpace (2012)
Paperback: 172 pages
ISBN: 9781478153764

Special thanks to Ms. McNeil for the review copy.  To follow along with the rest of the blog tour, click on the image below.

Todd’s Review of The Psychology of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Edited by Robin Rosenberg, Ph.D. and Shannon O’Neill

If you’re like me, then the thought of psychological analysis makes you a little confused.  It’s not that I don’t understand the basic tenants of psychology (I did fairly well in psych 101 in college!), but the finer points of psychoanalysis make me glad that I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist.  I’m used to hard data, such as percent oxygen, protein yields, and absorbance values.  To observe one’s character and make a complete analysis just based on personality traits or familial history alone is pretty cool.  I just have no idea how it’s done.  Hence, my decision to tackle this interesting field segued well into reading The Psychology of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Edited by Robin Rosenberg (also a contributor) and Shannon O’Neill, The Psychology of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo compiles the analyses of many experts on the subjects of psychology, psychiatry, medicine, and various other subjects to study the inner workings of the characters within Steig Larsson’s amazing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (You can read my joint reviews with Kim on Larsson’s books here, here, and here)  Chiefly, this focus on Lisbeth Salander, the main protagonist of the work, is a huge psychoanalytical undertaking.  Due to her troubled past and history of clashes with a society that attempts to subdue her, Lisbeth has trouble finding herself and finding peace.  The expert analysis begins with Lisbeth’s exterior, examining first why people alter their appearance, whether it be through dress, tattoos, piercings, or other modifications.  Then, the authors focused on Lisbeth, examining why her appearance is radically different than most “normal” individuals, encompassing images that are aimed at provoking others rather than trying to fit in.  After exploring Lisbeth’s appearance, the essays delve deeper into her personality, examining her past and focusing on those around her, both good and bad.  A good deal of work is put into analyzing the relationships that Lisbeth creates with those around her, especially Bloomkvist.  Finally, the work ends on a more positive note, outlining Salander’s achievements, and examining her as a sort of superhero.

Through reading this book I’ve found that there are a series of these works dedicated to analyzing the “psychology of … (insert popular book title here)”.  Although I think it’s an interesting idea, out of all the titles available I feel that this one has the most merit.  The subject material is ripe for psychoanalysis; just judging by appearance alone one can tell that Salander is different, and the types of people she has dealt with in her life are just as psychologically damaged and complex as she is.  A whole book could have been written for each major character, but I’m glad that the editors put most of the focus on Lisbeth, and after reading this work I definitely saw her in a new light.  I never considered her to be an exceptionally strong character (at least in the first book), and I viewed her more as a loaner who finally lets someone (Bloomkvist) in to her personal life.  However, after reading this book and finally elucidating the parts of Lisbeth’s childhood that made her the person she is in the first novel, it’s plain to see that she is an amazingly strong and resilient character who is several times smarter than the average individual.  I definitely have a new respect for her character, and in addition a new respect for Larsson’s work, in that he could create such an innovative and amazingly complex story that integrates all of these multi-layered characters.  In all, it’s definitely an educational read that would benefit those who are having a hard time understanding the motives behind the characters in the Millenium Trilogy.  Definitely give it a shot!

4 out of 5 stars

The Psychology of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo edited by Robin Rosenburg, Ph.D. and Shannon O’Neill
Smart Pop (2011)
Paperback: 304 pages
ISBN: 1936661349

Special thanks to Smart Pop books for my review copy!

#62 A Review of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Years ago I had seen Sophia Coppola’s film The Virgin Suicides and fell in love with the oddness of it.  How unusual of a story that follows the dreary lives of five sisters, who all eventually commit suicide?  When I found out the film was based on a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides it was immediately added to my to-read list.  When Adam over at Roof Beam Reader created the TBR Pile Challenge I knew I had to sign up, and make this one of my choices.

Set in Michigan in the early 1970’s, The Virgin Suicides details the lives of the five Lisbon sisters.  Ranging in age from 13 to late teens, the sisters were raised in a rigid household that aimed to conform to all the social norms heaped upon a suburban family in that era.  The story is not told from their perspective, but rather from a retrospective look back through the eyes of a local boys who admired the sisters from afar. Told as a dark and uniquely complex coming-of-age tale, Eugenides book details the downward spiral of the sisters as they slowly become distant and disconnected after the suicide of their youngest sister, Cecilia.  After Cecilia’s death, the four sisters are pulled from school by their father in the belief that it will help them recover from what they have undergone.  Instead, the sisters become objects of intense fascination by the narrators and others in the town.  Their ultimate suicides are the culmination of immense pressure and speculation about what is happening to the girls, and their violent end is a fitting conclusion to this dark and interesting tale.

The best way to describe this novel is that it’s 100% a character driven drama, that tries to delve into the psyche of the Lisbon girls and the boys that loved them from afar.  I REALLY wanted to love this novel, but when I was reading it, it felt like I was going around in repetitive circles that never took me anywhere.  When the novel was finished I said to myself, “ok self, there was a point to this novel, I just don’t know what.”  I know that it is trying to take a look at suburban life in the 70’s and isn’t JUST about the girls.  While the story revolves around their short lives, it also reflects on the way the town and local media dealt with their suicides, how the neighbors reacted to living next door to the family, etc.  It makes bold statements about how the world keeps moving, never slowing and never stopping to heal from grief or allow for condolences.  An interesting side storyline in the novel is how there is a strike going on at the local cemetery.  When the girls kill themselves they have to be stored somewhere until the strike ends before they can be buried.  None of the striking grave diggers feel any remorse to allow for “scabs” to enter the cemetery to bury the sisters.  It’s little tidbits of information thrown into the story like this that highlight these bold statements about society that Eugenides has written.

The social commentary of the novel, as well as Eugenides thought-provoking writing style are its saving graces.  I’d recommend the novel for its unique story but forewarn those who do read it as it is a.) depressing and b.) extremely repetitive making it a very slow read.

3 out of 5 Stars

This is my first completed review for the TBR Pile Challenge

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Gardners Books (2002)
Paperback: 249 pages
ISBN:  9780747560593

#43 A Review of The Canterbury Tales (Graphic Novel) by Geoffrey Chaucer and Seymour Chwast

If I remember correctly, the first time I was introduced to The Canterbury Tales was in high school.  I remember instantly falling in love with Chaucer’s tongue-in-cheek humor and how he infused that humor with parables that left one with a lesson learned.  When I was at the bookstore and found that a graphic novel version existed, I of course needed to buy it and see how creative Seymour Chwast was in his interpretation of Chaucer’s great work.

For those of you not familiar with The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer writes the tale of 30 pilgrims that are making their way to the Canterbury Cathedral.  Chaucer originally intended for each pilgrim to tell a tale to and from the Cathedral, for a total of 60 works.  Unfortunately, he died after completing 24 tales, of which we will never know the true order in which they are meant to be told.  What is complete, however, are the funny, serious, intriguing, intelligent, and overall entertaining tales of these pilgrims.  From the shockingly raunchy and funny tale of the Wife of Bath to the pious tale of the Prioress, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales cover the whole emotional spectrum and evoke both laughter and sorrow from the reader.

One thing that I think makes people frightened to read The Canterbury Tales or any other Medieval literature is the language barrier.  When I first read the tales it was when I was still in school, and was therefore being taught how to translate the text.  Once I was able to understand fully what each tale was about, why certain themes were important, and what made them funny, I developed a love of them.  What’s great about the graphic novel version is that it’s written not in its original text but a hip, modernized version of today’s English language.  Even the illustrations got in the “modern game”, depicting the pilgrims riding motorcycles instead of horses.  In doing this Chwast has opened up The Canterbury Tales to  not only a new generation of readers, but also a whole new audience in general.

My only critique of the graphic novel is that some of the tales’ adaptations weren’t written cohesively.  The Canterbury Tales is a huge undertaking in its normal format, so to squeeze all of that into 144 pages of text and illustrations is definitely not a simple job.  I felt that some of the stories could have used a little more tender loving care in their adaptation.  Despite this, the humor and morality of the tales still shone through well enough for any newcomers to the tales.

4 out of 5 Stars

This is my twelfth completed review for the Around The Stack In How Many Ways Challenge

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and Seymour Chwast
Bloomsbury USA (2011)
Hardcovers: 144 pages
ISBN: 9781608194872

Todd’s Review of The Parallax by Donald R. Rickert + GIVEAWAY

Not knowing what to expect when I first received a copy of The Parallax, I was excited to give this novel a try.  The back cover of the novel states that it’s author, Dr. Rickert, is a professor whose “teaching and research focuses on managing change and improving personal effectiveness.”  I’ll admit, I am a skeptic when it comes to those who preach the power of personal change and the like.  Don’t get me wrong, I feel that people who help others come to realizations about who they are serve an important place in our society, I just think that this can easily become a way to ensnare folks into thinking and acting in ways that they shouldn’t if done incorrectly.  Nevertheless, I opened the book and began reading.  And boy was I wrong in my assumption.

The first portion of The Parallax tells the story of Francis and Sarah on their 25th wedding anniversary.  They have taken a trip to Colorado to revisit memories of the earlier days of their marriage, in which they often hiked around the area.  Unfortunately, this particular day also happens to be September 11th, 2001, and their day consists of a mixture of worriment at the events that are unfolding around the nation and trying to work on old issues that have come between them in their marriage.  In short, Frank begins to realize the effect that his actions over the course of their marriage have been having on Sarah, which have been compounded by her diagnosis of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).  The second half of the book focuses on a seminar type discussion in which the perspective changes from the first person (Frank) to the third person, observing the seminar.  In it, Frank’s tale, which we have just read ourselves, is discussed and its effect on the lives of those around the room is debated.  In closing, a few other surprises are in store, but I won’t reveal them here.

As I stated before, I’m quite skeptical when it comes to discussion and workshops that attempt to make one rethink one’s whole existence or point of view.  I am typically of the mindset that no amount of lecturing or inspirational videos, talks, or small group discussions have the power to really change most anyone.  However, after reading this work I do believe that it is possible to start such a change, if only to plant a seed that later grows into a new understanding of one’s self.  It all has to do with perspective.  “Parallax” means an apparent change in perspective due to a change in position in view of an object.  It could be literally interpreted as seeing a new side of a sculpture because you walked around it to see the portion you could not see before.  However, when taken metaphorically, as this book attempts to do, giving your life a new perspective can often create new ideas and a new outlook on your life when you metaphorically change the way you look at yourself.  The way this is done in the book is in forcing everyone at the seminar to connect to Frank’s story, no matter how obscure or strange the connection, even if part of your own connection is fictitious.  For example, some of the members of the seminar wrote about portions of their own life that Frank’s story sparked in them, but from different points of view (i.e. a woman wrote of her dying grandfather’s final days from his point of view instead of her own).  This forced the participants to change how they looked at themselves, even if it seemed odd or inconsequential.  I believe that this is the key: the process of listening to someone’s story can affect you just as much as it affected the person who wrote it.  The interconnection is important in showing that we’re all here for a finite time, and we should be the best people we can while we have the opportunity.  So, in a sense, this book worked for me as well, as it made me rethink how others see me.  Will it work for you?

4 out of 5 stars

The Parallax by Donald R. Rickert, Ph.D.
Abbott Press (2011)
Paperback: 116 pages
ISBN:  9781458200587

Special thanks to Jesse at Author Solutions for sending me my review copy!

Giveaway

One lucky person will have the opportunity to win their own copy of The Parallax by Donald Rickert.  Simply leave a comment below by midnight on Friday, April 13, 2012.  Winner will be picked at random and announced on Saturday, April 14, 2012.  Giveaway open to residents of US and Canada only. Good luck! 

Todd’s Review of H10N1 by M.R. Cornelius

When Kim first asked me to review H10N1 by M.R. Cornelius, I was definitely excited.  Not only was it a book that was a post-apocalyptic thriller, which is right up my alley, but it was also about a deadly strain of the influenza virus.  For those of you who don’t know, I work for a company that researches influenza and is producing a seasonal and pandemic vaccine.  So, not only was I excited to read this book for its genre, but I was also excited because it’s about a subject near and dear to my heart.

The novel begins with the pandemic already in full swing with a fraction of the population alive and holed up in safe areas, attempting to sort the remaining survivors into safe camps and study those infected by the virus.  Dr. Taeya Sanchez is an epidemiologist who currently works at the Army Medical Center in New York, one of a few government-run medical centers left in the country that exists to treat and sort the incoming population into appropriate safe zones, or if necessary, facilitate their disposal if infected.  A problem arises when Dr. Sanchez voices her opinions over the mass euthanization of infected individuals to the facility’s director, and her credentials are revoked.  Fearing that she will be soon fired and left to fend for herself, she prepares to leave the facility, stocked with supplies and medicine, when she runs into Rick DeAngelo.  Rick is one of the facility’s drivers, and convinces her to leave with him in an armored van that he normally pilots for the facility.  Although Sanchez is not the biggest fan of Rick based on her observations of his attitude and demeanor towards her previously, she decides to take him up on the offer and escape with him.  What follows is a tale packed with action and adventure as the pair wind their way towards a farm in Arkansas and then on to a bio-containment dome in Arizona.  Will they be able to find help?  Will they learn to trust each other and put their differences aside?  Will a cure be discovered?

As I’ve said before, the scariest and most intriguing part of post-apocalyptic fiction is the interactions between the survivors.  More than the external threat, whether it’s zombies or a virus or a disease, is the threat of human nature.  When pushed to the limit, there is no telling what lows people will sink to in order to survive.  This is just as true in H10N1, as Sanchez and Rick must fight off attacks from other survivors as they make their way across the country.  Preconceived notions make Rick almost shoot a pregnant woman, and they fend off attacks from gangs hell-bent on attacking them to steal their supplies and vehicle.  These events go to show that the heightened emotions of the situation can make even the most calm and collected individual a completely different person.  Additionally, there isn’t a lot of scientific information about this particular strain of virus (and that’s ok!) because the real threat comes from those around the main characters.  It’s very interesting how survival mechanisms take away most senses of right and wrong in order to protect the individual.  The key is to not let these take over, and to remain human in the face of the horrors that surround everyone.  In doing so Sanchez and Rick maintain their cool and are better off than those frantically trying to survive based on instinct alone.  While I would have liked a little more scientific information about the specific disease (what can I say, I’m a nerd…), the book was a fantastic read from start to finish.  Cornelius really knows how to tell a story, and multiple times I felt as if I were in that van with Sanchez and Rick rolling across America in search of a safe haven.  She really knows how to set the story, the character development is solid, and the plot is well-developed.  I applaud this, her first publication, as a great success, and can only hope to read what else she has in store.  If you’re a fan of Contagion or The Walking Dead, this will be perfect.  Go grab a copy!

5 out of 5 Stars

H10N1 by M. R. Cornelius
iUniverse (2011)
Paperback: 322 pages
ISBN: 9781450295659

Special thanks to M.R. Cornelius for sending me my review copy!

Adam’s Review of Clarice: Her Journey Through Life by Harriet Maxwell + GIVEAWAY

What is it to be perfect?  Is this even an attainable goal?  Should every human being have a role model, someone to look up to and emulate?  Are things always what they seem from the outside looking in?  These are all questions that we ask ourselves, making us ponder our existence and purpose in society every day.  These are the questions the main character in Harriet Maxwell’s Clarice: Her Journey Through Life asks on her journey down the road to discover who she really is and what the deeper meanings of her life are.

Clarice leads a far from perfect life.  She grows up in England with an abusive, alcoholic father who goes on all-night drinking binges only to come home and take his anger out on the family.  Her mom is a people pleaser, always acquiescing to her husband’s drunken demands.  Her younger sister, Prue, is her father’s favorite child, and her younger brother is far from being the perfect son.  Born with only 3 fingers on one of his hands, he isn’t the son his father imagined having.  Clarice drops out of school at 16 and begins working as a nanny for a young boy and girl.  She begins to emulate the mother of the family she works for through an unhealthy cycle of dealing with her problems using food.  She doesn’t consider herself fat, but after one weekend at home hearing some of her mother’s hurtful comments, she begins a cycle of bulimia.  She moves on from being a nanny and creates a new life for herself, always keeping the cycle of bulimia as her little secret.  After a session with a fortune-teller, words from a past lover begin to haunt her.  Will she ever be able to end her battle with bulimia? Will she figure out why these words are haunting her?

To start, the book was really well written.  I kept comparing it to a mix between Catcher in the Rye and Bridget Jones’ Diary.  I think most coming of age stories are about people figuring out themselves, weaknesses and all, in their teenage years.  This book takes a uniquely different approach in that it takes place later in life.  It asks the question,
“What if figuring yourself out came later in life?”

Maxwell was able to write the book in a way that made the characters seem relatable and like people we actually know.  My favorite character by far was Terry: the love of Clarice’s life, husband, and father to her child.  He seemed like such a genuine person and the author wrote about him in such a kind way that he seemed like a good human being.  His love for Clarice, flaws and all, really became the heart of the story.  It also made Clarice the most comfortable than she had ever been and really allowed the character to have a sense of normalcy.

This book really opened my eyes to something that has personally impacted me throughout my whole life: food addiction. Dealing with a food addiction is something that puts a lot of shame on the character of Clarice, but allows her to deal with her problems in her own way.  I felt a connection with Clarice because I have used food as a crutch for a good portion of my life.  Anyone who has ever had an eating disorder, whether it’s anorexia, bulimia, over-eating, emotional eating, etc knows what role food can play.  It’s a drug.  It’s something we’re so ashamed to abuse, but it’s also something so necessary for our daily survival.  The author made the idea of  food addiction so true to life and true to the character that I felt like I was reading am intriguing news article rather than a book.

With all that being said, I would recommend Clarice: Her Journey Through Life to anyone!  This story is very different from most coming-of-age novels because it takes place over the course of 20+ years.  She comes to be her own person slowly but surely, and her struggles are written so well and so realistically that it made them jump right off the page.  This is a must read for anyone who has ever had issues with food or anyone who knows someone who has.

4 out of 5 Stars

Clarice: Her Journey Through Life by Harriet Maxwell
AuthorHouse (2011)
Paperback 208 pages
ISBN:  9781456777500

Special thanks to Jessie from Author Solutions for sending me my review copy!

Giveaway

One lucky person will have the opportunity to win their own copy of Clarice: Her Journey Through Life by Harriet Maxwell.  Simply leave a comment below by midnight on Tuesday, March 6, 2012.  Winner will be picked at random and announced on Wednesday, March 7, 2012.  Giveaway open to residents of US and Canada only. Good luck! 

#7 A Review of The Walking Dead (Hardcovers Book 4) by Robert Kirkman

Todd and Kim here! Back to review the next book in The Walking Dead series. (If you’ve missed our prior reviews you can find them here: Book One, Book Two, Book Three) This series has quickly become one of our favorites to read and watch on TV.  (The show is quite different then the books, so we enjoy the fact that we still get to be surprised week after week!)

We’ve now followed Rick and the other survivors through hell and back, as they’ve inhabited an abandoned prison and taken up residence.  Unfortunately for them, they’re not alone (and their company is more than zombies).  The Governor and his cronies, irritated by Rick, Michonne, and Glenn’s escape from their compound only weeks before, suddenly discover their location after the survivors blow up a National Guard fuel depot near the prison.  Now that they are discovered, Rick and his fellow survivors must fend off a massive attack by The Governor (who has somehow survived the attack by Michonne) and all of his followers.  Will they be able to make it past this seemingly insurmountable roadblock?  What will happen to Rick and his family?

Todd:  I definitely think this is the most depressing book so far.  Although it is bleak, it is a necessary step in the evolution of the series.  Every story has its low points, and this book contains some of the lowest.  This is not to say that it isn’t a great work (as Kirkman usually turns out amazing stuff), but I’ve never seen this type of dark and moody writing from him before.  Although some might say that this turns the entire focus of the series to a dark and depressing tone, I think it is necessary to do so in order to advance the plot and further the storyline.  As much as we don’t like to see Rick and his fellow survivors in trouble, it is a realistic outcome, and we have to deal with it accordingly.

Kim: I’m still in complete shock from finishing this graphic novel.  NO ONE is safe here, proving the point that in this new society you shouldn’t be too comfortable.  Many of the characters talk about how they’ve forgotten how dangerous it is outside the prison walls.  This was an interesting development in my opinion because I really can’t imagine ever forgetting the horrors that they witnessed in the first 3 books.  Their struggle for survival, their family and friends dying or becoming zombies…I don’t know how they could essentially play house.  Granted the feeling of safety probably does wonders to calm a person’s psyche, but not remaining vigilant in that world has its consequences, which Kirkman clearly expresses in book four.

Todd: I agree that it’s definitely difficult to imagine that these people could be lulled into a false sense of security considering what has happened in the past, but I think Kirkman has done a great job sticking to his original intent when he first began writing these novels.  The true horror here is not what the undead do to the living, but what the living do to those who are still living.  The unspeakable horrors of the Governor and those who harbor his terrible values are not finished.  Although I, like Kim, imagined that certain characters could not be harmed, I was sadly mistaken.  I believe that Kirkman wrote the novel in this way to show the reader the true horrors inherent to the situation.  No one is safe, and it is the actions of other humans that bring this about, as sad as that seems.  I applaud Kirkman for this unflinching portrait of the human experience, and I can’t wait to see what else he has in store.

Kim: Todd, I 100% agree that true intent of the novels is to show what horrors the living inflict on their fellow living.  It makes you take a step back and question what goes on in our own society, and gives suggestions as to and how we can try to help curb the hatred that flows.  It’s been fascinating to see the changing themes over the course of the story thus far.  Kirkman has touched upon just about everything in a society, with the largest themes including social customs, laws/ruling bodies, and now war.  There are glimpses of our society in each of these books, which makes me wonder: is the zombie apocalypse storyline really just a front to delve into discussion and observation about our own society?

Overall, Kirkman has yet again worked his magic to make a hell of a novel.  Even though the material of this book is much darker and sinister, it had to be done in order to move the plot along.  Many accolades to Kirkman for a job well done, and both of us are eager to find out what is in store for the fifth book and beyond!

Todd’s Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Kim’s Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Image Comics (2008)
Hardcover 304 pages
ISBN: 9781607060000