“Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness” by Susannah Cahalan

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One day, I woke up in a strange hospital room, strapped to my bed, under guard, and unable to move or speak. My medical records—from a month-long hospital stay of which I have no memory—showed psychosis, violence, and dangerous instability. Yet, only weeks earlier I had been a healthy twenty-four year old, six months into my first serious relationship and beginning a career as a cub reporter at the New York Post.

My memoir Brain on Fire chronicles the swift path of my illness and the lucky, last-minute intervention led by one of the few doctors capable of saving my life. As weeks ticked by and I moved inexplicably from violence to catatonia, $1 million worth of blood tests and brain scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit me to the psychiatric ward, in effect condemning me to a lifetime of institutions, or death, until Dr. Souhel Najjar—nicknamed Dr. House—joined my team. He asked me to draw one simple sketch, which became key to diagnosing me with a newly discovered autoimmune disease in which my body was attacking my brain, an illness now thought to be the cause of “demonic possessions” throughout history.

-excerpt taken from susannahcahalan.com

Review:

Oh, do I love a good memoir!  This book was fantastic.  We, as readers, are lucky that this particular circumstance happened to a skilled journalist.  Once she recovered from her harrowing journey of near comatose and possible death, she was able to ask the right questions to many different people and fill in the blanks of what she didn’t remember.  There was also video footage available from the hospital because she had been placed on a floor devoted to epilepsy, a place where they need to keep an eye on their patients who have regular seizures.  This story is so fascinating – once you’re finished reading you want to do research and watch videos of Susannah speaking and even video from her lost time in the hospital, and just catch a glimpse of this girl who had gone through one of the most devastating and incredibly interesting medical diagnoses.  Some of her behaviors are not only erratic, but kind of scary – reading this book alone at night sort of gave me the creeps – she had everything from seizures to vivid, scary hallucinations to loss of basic motor skills.  It’s interesting because I was thinking about how some of the things she describes remind me of demon possessions I had heard about over the years, or even scenes from “The Exorcist” movie.  Later in the book there is a chapter on precisely this subject, and how some people with the same disorder have been mistaken for possessed and never get the true medical help they actually need.  The disorder is so rare (only now being more commonly diagnosed) that there are many undiagnosed cases that lead to these people being institutionalized for the remainder of their lives – this girl only had the worst of the symptoms for a month and it took the better part of a year to recover.  Can you imagine going through severe symptoms, not receiving the diagnosis in a timely manner, and living in this state for years or even the remainder of your life?  How devastating and exhausting!  If only they could get diagnosed, the treatment is fairly simple for how seemingly complex and destructive the disease can be.

I give this book a 5 out of 5 stars.  I devoured this book in two days.  I couldn’t put it down or soak in the information fast enough.  In doing a little research for this blog I found that it is being made into a movie as well starring Chloe Grace Moretz as Susannah Cahalan.  I am very interested to see this movie when it comes out to see if they can capture the pure madness that is described within this memoir.  This is a great example that truth is stranger than fiction.

“The Alchemyst” by Michael Scott

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He holds the secret that can end the world.

The truth: Nicholas Flamel was born in Paris on September 28, 1330. Nearly 700 years later, he is acknowledged as the greatest Alchemyst of his day. It is said that he discovered the secret of eternal life.

The records show that he died in 1418.

But his tomb is empty.

The legend: Nicholas Flamel lives. But only because he has been making the elixir of life for centuries. The secret of eternal life is hidden within the book he protects- the Book of Abraham the Mage. It’s the most powerful book that has ever existed. In the wrong hands, it will destroy the world. That’s exactly what Dr. John Dee plans to do when he steals it. Humankind won’t know what’s happening until it’s too late. And if the prophecy is right, Sophie and Josh Newman are the only ones with the power to save the world as we know it.

Sometimes legends are true.

And Sophie and Josh Newman are about to find themselves in the middle of the greatest legend of all time.

 

Review:

Well, it’s finally happened here at New Book Smell Reviews – a book I couldn’t stand so much that I couldn’t even finish it.  This was a hard one for me.  The book comes off as a YA novel, and IMHO, should be with the subject matter, but is actually (as it turns out) written in a genre referred to as “juvenile fiction”.  That’s a good way of describing it.  I couldn’t get the word “immature” out of my head as I read it.  The part that makes me kind of confused however, is that the story isn’t bad – it’s the writing that drove me nuts.  I felt that things were over-explained, as in “Yeah, I get it.  You didn’t have to bother spelling that out for me.”  And the young teen characters made poor choices that just leave you rolling your eyes – like the time somebody tells them not to leave the room they are in because it’s not safe, and they immediately leave the room without a second thought and run into danger.  Also, the time they start looking around for cameras because they’re pretty sure they are on a hidden camera reality show had me rolling my eyes – it took away from the magic for them to go there.

Another thing that bothers me is the Harry Potter connection to this book.  I am guessing there are a huge percentage of readers (me included) who saw “The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel” and picked it up thinking it was some sort of cool spin-off.  To me, the author is capitalizing on JK Rowling’s huge success, and I guess what I am saying is leave the Harry Potter spinoffs to her.  That’s her territory, and ain’t nobody gonna do it better than JK herself.

I give this book a 2 out of 5 stars.  I gave it a 2 instead of a 1 because the story isn’t bad.  I could see a movie geared towards late elementary/middle school aged kids that would probably be better than the book, and do fairly well.  I am not 100% sure that I wouldn’t like these books myself if I were quite a bit younger.  For a 28-year-old who just came off one of the best adult novels I have ever read, this just wasn’t my piece of pie.  I won’t be finishing this series, but I may give it to my 7-year-old daughter to read in a few years.

“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins

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Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

-excerpt taken from paulahawkinsbooks.com

Review:

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book this compelling.  If my life wasn’t so busy I would have had this book finished in a day or two, but because of my schedule it took me four days (still very fast for me).  You know a book has got you hooked when you wake up early for church on Sunday so you can get a little reading in before you have to get in the shower.

This story is told mainly from the perspective of Rachel, who rides the train every day and becomes interested in a couple (whom she’s nicknamed “Jason and Jess”) she can see from the window who seemingly have the perfect life, similar to a life she used to have.  We learn fairly quickly that Rachel is a drunk.  She has been fired from her job for her drinking, and only rides the train every day to make her roommate think she is still employed.  She one day witnesses “Jess” kissing a man who is not her husband.  Rachel takes this betrayal personally having gone through infidelity in her own past relationship.  When she spies her very own “Jess” on the cover of a news article stating that she is missing she thinks she may be the only one who knows about the woman’s lover and should come forward with what she knows.

“Jason and Jess” (whose real names end up being Scott and Megan) happen to live on the same street that she used to live on herself with her ex-husband, Tom, and now the mistress he left her for, Anna.  Her interest in the couple she sees from the train oftentimes has her bumping into her ex, his new wife, and their baby more than she already had been (and had been told not to).  This does not go over well with her ex’s new wife, Anna, who wants Rachel out of their lives.

Rachel begins contacting Scott to try to help and integrates herself into the investigation.  She had been blackout drunk the night that Megan went missing and she can only remember bits and pieces of what happened and desperately tries to remember and piece together the puzzle so she can hopefully help figure out what really happened to Megan.

The book is written originally from Rachel’s POV, but then changes between Megan’s and also Anna’s POV’s as well.  The dates are off-set as well, so as you are reading you are finding out what is happening from how Rachel is seeing it as well as what was really going on from the inside with Megan’s side of the story, until you build-up to the end where the pieces finally come together.

I was pleased with how the book was set up.  I am noticing a trend with a few books recently where first person POV’s change frequently.  It can be confusing but in a way you are able to get more info because you are seeing multiple sides of the same story.  This book, unlike others I’ve read that are set up with the changing POV, states at the beginning of each section whose POV you are going to be reading – I really like that because I don’t have to spend any time trying to figure out who is “talking” and can just enjoy the subject matter.

I give this book a 5 out of 5 stars.  It is not very often that I read a book that I can’t put down.  I really didn’t want this one to end, and I don’t often feel that way.  In a way I feel relief at the end of some books just because it will be nice to take a break from a particular subject and move onto something new, but not with this one!  I’m wishing I had a sequel to look forward to.  I would definitely recommend this book if you are a fan of mysteries, thrillers, and adult fiction.

“The 5th Wave” by Rick Yancey

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After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.

Now, it’s the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother–or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

-excerpt taken from RickYancey.com

 

Review:

This story starts from the point-of-view of Cassie, short for Cassiopeia.  A survivor of the first 4 waves of an alien invasion on Earth.  She is a teenage girl who watches as many people close to her, including friends and immediate family members, are killed by the different waves of the invasion.  She is left virtually alone to try to survive – something she’s not even sure possible.  The first 4 waves killed billions of people, and so she assumes a 5th wave will drive the human race into extinction.

This book starts in a very bizarre rhythm that you kind of have to ease into.  It is from a first person point-of-view, and is just kind of quirky.  I wasn’t sure that I liked it, but it’s not as bad once you get past the first 10 chapters or so.  That may seem like a lot but the book has many chapters that are only 1-2 pages long.  I actually really like that as I can be kind of ADD and I like a chance to take a break if I see a shiny object that distracts me, or what have you.

One thing I didn’t catch onto right away is that the book changes point-of-views throughout.  It is broken apart into sections separated by black pages with a title on them. Example:

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Each time you get to a new section the POV changes between 4 different characters, beginning with Cassie.  I would’ve liked a heads up at the start of the new sections as to who is talking because I don’t like spending the first couple pages trying to figure out who’s talking instead of enjoying the story.

Cassie speaks of many people from her past, her family members, kids from school, and even people she has run into along the way who are also trying to survive.  The whole book you don’t know if these people have survived or not, which is why I’m having to be very vague with my description.  Half the fun is finding out who made it and who didn’t, and finally, what the next steps are to survive.  If I had to describe this story I would say it is a mixture of the TV show “The Walking Dead” and “The Host” by Stephanie Meyer.  Basically the alien invasion version of “The Walking Dead”.  If you’re familiar with “The Walking Dead” there is a large portion of this book that I imagined took place at Hershel’s farm.  That’s just what it sounded like to me when he described it.

I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.  The dialogue threw me for a loop at first, and at times some of the more complex descriptions had me re-reading to make sure I understood.  I am glad this story has already been made into a movie.  I’m looking forward to visualizing some of these things just to clarify for myself and see if it is anything like I imagined it to be.  I would recommend this series, and will be reviewing the next book in the series, “The Infinite Sea”, within the next month or two.

 

 

 

“Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard

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“Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood—those with red and those with silver. Mare and her family are lowly Reds, destined to serve the Silver elite whose supernatural abilities make them nearly gods. Mare steals what she can to help her family survive, but when her best friend is conscripted into the army she gambles everything to win his freedom. A twist of fate leads her to the royal palace itself, where, in front of the king and all his nobles, she discovers a power of her own—an ability she didn’t know she had. Except … her blood is Red.

To hide this impossibility, the king forces her into the role of a lost Silver princess and betrothes her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks her new position to aid the Scarlet Guard—the leaders of a Red rebellion. Her actions put into motion a deadly and violent dance, pitting prince against prince—and Mare against her own heart.

From debut author Victoria Aveyard comes a lush, vivid fantasy series where loyalty and desire can tear you apart and the only certainty is betrayal.”

-excerpt taken directly from the author’s own website – http://victoriaaveyard.com/books

 

Review:

Within the first few chapters of this book I was immediately reminded of the “Hunger Games”.  The Reds (those with literal red blood) are living in poor conditions with very little to eat and the privileged Silver (those with literal silver blood) live in glamorous fashion in the big capital city.  The Silvers require the Reds to watch matches in arenas between Silvers – all of which have different magic powers, from mind control to super strength and everything in between.  “Only Silvers can fight in the arena because only a Silver can survive the arena.  They fight to show us their strength and power.”  They have “healers” standing by so that nobody is hurt permanently or even for very long – the Silvers wouldn’t want the Reds to see them actually die.  The difference is that the story is more based on the lives of the Silver, specifically the royalty, showing their power and majesty over the Reds.

By random chance, Mare Barrow, a Red thief, is caught by a man on the street who she was trying to pickpocket.  He takes pity on her and gives her the money, stating that she needs it more than him.  The next day she is summoned to the palace where she is given a job.  Jobs are hard to come by and without one you will be “conscripted” or sent to fight in a dangerous war.  She is given the job of a server during the Queenstrials, where talented Silver girls from different houses basically perform for the Royals as well as a large crowd of houses and a new Queen and a new princess are chosen from the bunch.  She spies the Royals and soon realizes that Cal, the prince and heir to the throne, is the man in the street, and the one responsible for her job at the palace.  While serving, Mare falls and lands on a large electrical shield that is placed over the performing Silver girls, it should kill her, but instead she not only lives but produces bolts of electricity out of her hands, which earns her the name little lightning girl.  She is captured and brought before the Royals who decide to hide the fact that she is a Red with powers. They make up a story that she is a Silver whose parents died when she was very young and she was taken in by a Red family and raised a Red, not knowing she was Silver or that she had any powers.  And to top it off they force their younger son, Maven, to marry her.  Mare is immediately given a schedule consisting of etiquette, lessons, and also, how to use her newfound powers.

Meanwhile, there have been attacks against the Royals by a group calling themselves the Scarlet Guard.  It is made up of Reds who are tired of how they are treated by Silvers and want equality.  Mare joins the Scarlet Guard along with some close friends and acquaintances.  She spends the majority of the rest of the book making plans with the Scarlet Guard and trying her best to fit in with the Royals.

I don’t want to give too much away so I will end my synopsis there.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was well-written and intriguing.  There were enough plot twists to keep me on my toes, and I didn’t completely figure them all out ahead of time.  There has been an open spot in pop culture that needs to be filled now that all of the really big franchises are coming to an end, i.e. “Harry Potter”, “Twilight”, and “The Hunger Games”.  I think it may be time for “Red Queen” to take over.  I would not be surprised at all to hear this book has been picked up to be made into a movie series, and frankly would love to see it.  This is one of those books that was described so beautifully and, if done right, could be visually stunning – it would be so fun to see brought to life.

I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.  The only reason I give it 4 instead of 5 is that there are some slower parts to this book.  There is a lot of build-up (which is necessary for a complex plot) and it really sets the stage for a dramatic ending.  It leads really well into the next book however, so I am excited to get my hands on that one.  All-in-all I would definitely recommend this series to my fellow YA lovers.