The Martian by Andy Weir

From goodreads:

“Apollo 13 meets Cast Away in this grippingly detailed, brilliantly ingenious man-vs-nature survival thriller, set on the surface of Mars.

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there.

It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he’s stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive–and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission 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 get him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit–he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?”

I loved this book so much. It was wonderfully written. Where it could have become very technical, the author made the science and space in general very easy to understand. I could not put this novel down and finished it in record time. By far, my favorite novel of 2014 and I highly recommend it!

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Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

From goodreads:

“A debut unlike any other, Shine, Shine, Shine is a shocking, searing, breathless love story, a gripping portrait of modern family, and a stunning exploration of love, death and what it means to be human.

Sunny Mann has masterminded a life for herself and her family in a quiet Virginia town. Her house and her friends are picture-perfect. Even her genius husband, Maxon, has been trained to pass for normal. But when a fender bender on an average day sends her coiffed blonde wig sailing out the window, her secret is exposed. Not only is she bald, Sunny is nothing like the Stepford wife she’s trying to be. As her facade begins to unravel, we discover the singular world of Sunny, an everywoman searching for the perfect life, and Maxon, an astronaut on his way to colonize the moon.
Theirs is a wondrous, strange relationship formed of dark secrets, decades-old murders and the urgent desire for connection. As children, the bald, temperamental Sunny and the neglected savant Maxon found an unlikely friendship no one else could understand. She taught him to feel — helped him translate his intelligence for numbers into a language of emotion. He saw her spirit where others saw only a freak. As they grew into adults, their profound understanding blossomed into love and marriage.
But with motherhood comes a craving for normalcy that begins to strangle Sunny’s marriage and family. As Sunny and Maxon are on the brink of destruction, at each other’s throats with blame and fear of how they’ve lost their way, Maxon departs for the moon, where he’s charged with programming the robots that will build the fledgling colony. Just as the car accident jars Sunny out of her wig and into an awareness of what she really needs, an accident involving Maxon’s rocket threatens everything they’ve built, revealing the things they’ve kept hidden. And nothing will ever be the same.”

An unusual love story. I enjoyed it up to a certain point. I didn’t like the way it ended. It seemed to me like it just…stopped… Frustrating. But, up to then, I really liked it. The building of the characters stories throughout the novel was very engaging and kept me interested and wanting to know how they would end up, but that was not to be. Unfortunate. Overall though, I mostly liked the book.

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

From Goodreads:

“In 2011, Sarah Jio burst onto the fiction scene with two sensational novels–The Violets of March and The Bungalow. With Blackberry Winter–taking its title from a late-season, cold-weather phenomenon–Jio continues her rich exploration of the ways personal connections can transcend the boundaries of time.

Seattle, 1933. Single mother Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, goodnight and departs to work the night-shift at a local hotel. She emerges to discover that a May-Day snow has blanketed the city, and that her son has vanished. Outside, she finds his beloved teddy bear lying face-down on an icy street, the snow covering up any trace of his tracks, or the perpetrator’s.

Seattle, 2010. Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge, assigned to cover the May 1 “blackberry winter” storm and its twin, learns of the unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth. In the process, she finds that she and Vera may be linked in unexpected ways…”

Such a wonderful story! Sarah Jio is a gifted storyteller. She injects so much emotion into the story that you really believe it to be true. (I was in tears more than once). I highly recommend this book!

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

WOW, what a book!  Jenny Wingfield’s debut novel has all the makings of an instant classic.

From the publisher:

“The story of the Moses clan that gathers, as it always has, on the first Sunday in June, for an annual reunion on the sprawling hundred-acre family farm in Arkansas in the 1950’s. And every year, Samuel Lake, a vibrant and committed young preacher, brings his beloved wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children back for the festivities. In the midst of it all, Samuel and Willadee’s outspoken eleven-year-old daughter, Swan, is a bright light. Her high spirits and fearlessness have alternately seduced and bedeviled three generations of the family. But just as the reunion is getting under way, tragedy strikes, jolting the family to their core and setting the stage for a summer of crisis and profound change. As we follow the family through their own difficulties, Swan will make it her mission to protect Blade Ballenger, a traumatized eight-year-old neighbor, unaware of the peril facing her and those she loves.”

I almost think the title is misleading, it’s not just about Samuel, it’s also about his wife, Willadee, their kids; Noble, Swan and Bienville. Also, Willadee’s mother, Calla; her brother, Toy and his wife, Bernice. Also, central to the story are the neighbors, the Ballenger’s.  So many rich characters that just bring life to the story. You will fall in love with them, cry for them and laugh with them. This book will stay with you for a long time after reading it. I highly recommend this book.

 

The Midwife’s Confession by Diane Chamberlain

This story is about moms, daughters, sisters and friends.

From GoodReads:

“Dear Anna,

What I have to tell you is difficult to write, but I know it will be far more difficult for you to hear, and I’m so sorry…

The unfinished letter is the only clue Tara and Emerson have to the reason behind their close friend Noelle’s suicide. Everything they knew about Noelle, —her calling as a midwife, her passion for causes, her love for her friends and family —described a woman who embraced life.

Yet there was so much they didn’t know.

With the discovery of the letter and its heartbreaking secret, Noelle’s friends begin to uncover the truth about this complex woman who touched each of their lives— and the life of a desperate stranger —with love and betrayal, compassion and deceit.”

I flew through this book. I thought it was well written and had revelation after revelation. It kept you wanting to read more, right up to the end. The characters became more complex as the story unfolded and just when you think you understand…bam…not what you thought.  I definitely recommend this.

 

 

 

Neverwhere

A wonderful fantasy novel by Neil Gaiman. I really enjoyed it and I think you will too.

From the publisher:

“Richard Mayhew is an unassuming young businessman living in London, with a dull job and a pretty but demanding fiancee. Then one night he stumbles across a girl bleeding on the sidewalk. He stops to help her–and the life he knows vanishes like smoke.

Several hours later, the girl is gone too. And by the following morning Richard Mayhew has been erased from his world. His bank cards no longer work, taxi drivers won’t stop for him, his hundred rents his apartment out to strangers. He has become invisible, and inexplicably consigned to a London of shadows and darkness a city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, that exists entirely in a subterranean labyrinth of sewer canals and abandoned subway stations. He has fallen through the cracks of reality and has landed somewhere different, somewhere that is Neverwhere.

For this is the home of Door, the mysterious girl whom Richard rescued in the London Above. A personage of great power and nobility in this murky, candlelit realm, she is on a mission to discover the cause of her family’s slaughter, and in doing so preserve this strange underworld kingdom from the malevolence that means to destroy it. And with nowhere else to turn, Richard Mayhew must now join the Lady Door’s entourage in their determined–and possibly fatal–quest.

For the dread journey ever-downward–through bizarre anachronisms and dangerous incongruities, and into dusty corners of stalled time–is Richard’s final hope, his last road back to a “real” world that is growing disturbingly less real by the minute.

If Tim Burton reimagined The Phantom of the Opera, if Jack Finney let his dark side take over, if you rolled the best work of Clive Barker, Peter Straub and Caleb Carr into one, you still would have something that fell far short of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. It is a masterful debut novel of darkly hypnotic power, and one of the most absorbing reads to come along in years.”

This was my first Neil Gaiman book and I loved it.  I’m usually not into ‘fantasy’ stories, but the premise intrigued me and I decided to give it a try.  I’m glad I did! He takes you under the streets of London and introduces you to a cast of characters (rats included) that live in a world that you think could almost be real. It grabbed me from the beginning and I found myself rushing to the end.  I tried to slow myself down, but it was difficult.  I really wish he would write a sequel to this as he left it open for one, in my opinion.  I will keep my hope up that it will happen.