Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

While Wanderers has and will continue to garner comparisons to Stephen King’s The Stand, it is almost unfair to do so. Yes, they both involve a mysterious illness, and they both have a group of people traveling across the country. One might even be able to argue that both have a battle between good and evil. However, one is more metaphysical, and the other is a bit more couched in reality. Both are excellent novels in their own right.

Wanderers is an exciting and frightening story that involves everything from religious extremism, racial hatred, computer sentience, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, climate change, and overpopulation. Its character arcs are fantastic, allowing for the natural growth that comes with maturity and a greater understanding of the immediate situation and of the larger picture. Even with its religious elements, it never feels preachy. Plus, even though it clocks in at over 800 pages, it doesn’t feel as long as that as it engages all of your senses. Wanderers is simply a great but chilling warning about your current decisions and their lasting impact.

Turbulence by David Szalay
I normally go out of my way to avoid reading short story collections, and on the surface that is exactly what David Szalay’s latest novel is. Turbulence is a collection of stories about different people who have nothing in common with each other. Except, the brilliance of Turbulence is how Mr. Szalay highlights the invisible strings that connect the characters to each other. Not only do these links enforce the connectivity of each and every one of us, but they also help to flesh out the characters and provide us insight with little exposition. These links also remind us that a person may appear one way on the surface but has an entire unknown lifetime of worries, doubts, fears, sorrows, and happiness happening internally and that there is a danger in making assumptions. Mr. Szalay’s writing is gorgeous and masterful, adding depth to characters and stories in a few simple words. He brings the characters to life in a way not typically seen in short stories, which is why I avoid them. However, give me something like Turbulence, with its connected vignettes because I love seeing those ties that bind. Done well, as is Turbulence, it can be a profound reading experience.

Salvation Day by Kali Wallace
Salvation Day should be my jam. After all, there are very few things about a space thriller I would not like. In fact, I still say the premise is a good one. Plus, the execution of the story is decent. It is the ending where Kali Wallace loses me. I wanted more answers than I got, while some of the answers left much to be desired. There is a major event that feels like an easy out rather than the grand gesture Ms. Wallace intends it to be. Moreover, I never connected with any of the characters to care about their fates. She doesn’t flesh them out enough, so they remain one-dimensional and nothing but characters in a story. The virus twist is a fun one in all its aspects. Had Ms. Wallace spent more time on that, it would make a better story. Instead, she focuses on the politics at play in this futuristic world of hers that is not very interesting with characters who are less so. So very disappointing.

The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
Most of the time, when looking at potential review copies or other books to read, I make my selections based on the synopsis and whether the story sounds interesting. Every once in awhile though, my decision-making is less…deliberate. Sometimes, all it takes to sway me to read a book is a catchy title. Enter The Lager Queen of Minnesota.

I’ll admit that selecting a novel solely based on the fact the title makes you laugh or intrigues you is probably not the wisest of choices, but thankfully, this is one scenario which worked out in my favor. In reading the synopsis, The Lager Queen of Minnesota is not a book that would normally make my TBR pile, so it is very fortunate it has a great title because in this case, the synopsis is so very misleading. It is more than a family saga. It is an ode to the midwestern woman and her formidable fortitude. We are every bit as frugal, family-oriented, methodical, driven, proud, and quirky as Helen, Edith, and Diana are, and we are proud of it. Plus, we are every bit as food and beer-obsessed as the Calder family. It gets cold here. We need something to keep us busy!

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson
I confess. I almost stopped reading Never Have I Ever several times before I reached the halfway point. I didn’t trust Joshilyn Jackson enough and thought the blackmail story was rather stupid. Plus, I never could figure out why the secret was worthy of blackmail in the first place. However, I kept with it and was rewarded with a fantastic story of secrets, guilt and much more. The elements devoted to self-worth and the definition of family alone were well worth the efforts of sticking with the book. Plus, Ms. Jackson’s descriptions of scuba diving make it sound worth the effort it would take for me to overcome my fear of deep water. Any activity that forces you to focus on the present and the peace that brings is attractive, and Ms. Jackson’s descriptions are enticing. I especially adore how she tackles some fairly sticky topics with gentle reminders that every type of lifestyle that incorporates love has value. There is so much gray area in her characters though that I can see this being the darling of the book club world. I am heartily glad I stuck with the novel, and I will never doubt Ms. Jackson’s writing choices again.

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