Guest Reviewer: A Toe-To-Toe Annihilation

By: Nick Coffman

Jeff VanderMeer‘s novel Annihilation caught on the adapted screenplay train rather quickly. Just four years after being released to sci-fi lovers in hardback, the story is being shown on the silver screen, with Natalie Portman on board. The book is the first in the Southern Reach trilogy and tells the story of four women who set off to explore Area X, a remote area filled with mystery. As members of the twelfth expedition, Lena (Portman) and the others try to determine what has caused Area X to appear. Searching for answers, they are instead stricken with paranoia of what may lurk beyond each corner.

It’s only natural that movies and the books that they’re the based off will be compared to one another. Therefore, it’s time to go toe to toe with Annihilation: book versus movie.

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Who Run the World?

Back in 1969, women were not running the world. Sorry, Bey. They weren’t running Newsweek either. In fact, they were so far removed from running the newsmagazine that these talented individuals were relegated — and forced to reside inevitably — in research … until they got pissed off and did something about it. The Good Girls Revolt gives us the account of how 46 women at Newsweek said enough is enough and set a huge precedent.

Sometimes the content speaks for itself, and obviously The Good Girls Revolt spoke to me on a professional and personal level. Lynn Povich is a storyteller though, and she made me feel like I was right there alongside these women as they fought for what they deserved. Combining her writing abilities with a story that needed to be told made for the most lit book I’ve read in a long time.

The Good Girls Revolt

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So Much for My Happy Ending

  • What: Miss You
  • Who: Kate Eberlen
  • Pages: 433
  • Genre: Chick lit; romance
  • Published: 2016
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

Let’s get one thing straight: A happy ending isn’t always sunshine and daisies. Sometimes they don’t end up together; sometimes the person with the terminal disease doesn’t miraculously pull through; sometimes questions are left unanswered. For me, a happy ending doesn’t mean being overjoyed; it simply means it’s powerful. It proves that sometimes a story ends with a little roughness around the edges because not everything in life is so cut and dry, perfect and jubilant. As long as the storytelling ends on a solid note, I’m a content reader.

I’m not sure Miss You got that memo. Because I read this 2016 novel en route from Florence to Rome and then to New York, I had a lot of uninterrupted time to become acquainted with the characters, to really dive into their lives. I felt a connection, like I was walking through life with them. That says a lot about the writer, Kate Eberlen, and that’s also why the ending seemed to serve such an injustice to 400 pages of beautiful writing and character development. I’d spent 16 wonderful years with these characters before a too-perfect finish skewed my opinion of the book.

Miss You

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A Room with a Bad View

Traveling obviously gives me life and just perpetuates my wanderlust. For book lovers, one of its perks is uninterrupted hours of reading during long flights, especially of books set in your destination. As I embarked on my first Italian holiday, I had two novels in tow, and I was ready to immerse myself in this beautiful land, both physically and in my imagination. Unfortunately, one of those books was a chore to finish.

I had read a Goodreads comment that One Summer Day in Rome had a poor plot but intriguing details about the Roman landscape. At least I knew what I was getting into. The excitement of reading about landmarks and neighborhoods that I was about to or just explored wasn’t enough to bump up this novel’s excitement. I was looking for gelato and ended up with soft serve.

One Summer Day in Rome

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If I Can Make it There

Y’all know how much I love books that take place in New York (thankfully, so many do). It’s been my home for almost four years, and I can’t imagine life without it. It’s not just books that take place here, though. I love those that really capture my feelings toward this place, the ones that identify its grandness but also don’t skirt around the anxiety, the annoyances, the exhaustion. Sure, everyone who lives here loves it, but that doesn’t happen the moment you step off the plane; nothing here is ever instantaneous.

Anna Pitoniak exquisitely describes all these feels in her debut novel, The Futures. Maybe it’s the play on words in the title (for my colleagues, #sfiseverywhere) that really roused me. Or maybe it was that one of the two main characters works in finance. Maybe it’s the sprinkling of chick lit. Really, though, this book gets four flames because I felt a sense of myself in the two main characters. Their hardships were mine. Their triumphs were mine. Their love-hate relationships with this beautiful place were mine. I’m not saying The Futures is my life, but Pitoniak gets pretty damn close.

The Futures

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Sad, Beautiful, Tragic

Writing about religion takes a certain gall (not to mention talent to really nail it). It has such an impact on some people’s lives that it’s hard to capture its enormous weight as well as the life it bears to those who practice it. Alice McDermott doesn’t shy away from this challenge in her novel, The Ninth Hour, another top contender in 2017. She exquisitely hits the aura that religion provides with just the right amount of suspense, weariness, and hope. The foreboding, though, that her writing evokes fails to come to fruition in the plot, which ultimately knocks down some stellar language to three flames.

The Ninth Hour

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Poetic (In)justice

  • What: Sing, Unburied, Sing
  • Who: Jesmyn Ward
  • Pages: 285
  • Genre: Contemporary fiction
  • Published: 2017
  • The lit: 1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px1463390917-2400px of 5 flames

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Something Borrowed gave me life. It taught me to go after what I want even if it comes with pain and isn’t easy. It also provided a good deal of practical information. For example, it taught my 16-year-old self what sartorial means (lord, what a great word) and gave me insight into some pertinent acronyms, including “DBCD” (duty, breach, causation, and damages or, more importantly, Dex Buys Celebratory Dinner [take a hint, Rach!]) and “TTH” i.e., trying too hard. Rachel refers to a man when she explains it, but TTH could also be used to describe the last book I read.

It’s not that I didn’t like Sing, Unburied, Sing; it wasn’t on a lot of Best of 2017 lists for nothing. The story line was intriguing with descriptive scene-setting, but the language was almost too poetic. Yes, Ward wrote many beautiful lines, but I also had to reread several passages due to lack of clarity. It simply seemed as if Ward was trying too hard to write elegantly when she already had an interesting narrative in front of her, and TTH is grounds for three flames.
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