Book Of The Month is a subscription service that sends you one hardcover book per month out of five selections for a low monthly subscription fee. You can add 2 more titles to your monthly delivery for $9.99 each, and the price overall is very cheap for full-size hardcovers.
Book Of The Month is not paying me to promote their service. I just love it so much that I’ve turned my monthly deliveries into a feature on my blog 🙂 I do encourage you to try it though, because if you like hardcovers it’s a great deal.
You can use my referral link to sign up if you’re interested in trying it. You’ll get your first three months for just $9.99 each plus a cute tote. And I’ll get a free book when you join. Win, win!
I’m starting to work up some speed in catching up with my Book Of The Month reading and I hope to post reviews of a new month every 2 weeks, so I should be back on schedule by September. Fingers crossed!
When it comes to my April 2017 Book Of The Month selections, I ended up with 3 winners. American War by Omar El Akkad was amazing, Startup by Doree Shafrir was highly entertaining and The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck was very interesting if a tad dense in parts. Read my full reviews below!
American War by Omar El Akkad
Publication Date: April 4th 2017
Published By: Knopf Publishing Group
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, that unmanned drones fill the sky. And when her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she quickly begins to be shaped by her particular time and place until, finally, through the influence of a mysterious functionary, she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. Telling her story is her nephew, Benjamin Chestnut, born during war – part of the Miraculous Generation – now an old man confronting the dark secret of his past, his family’s role in the conflict and, in particular, that of his aunt, a woman who saved his life while destroying untold others.
What I Liked
How imaginative and relevant the premise is. It’s not a plot spoiler to tell you that American War is set in a dystopian future in which America is once again experiencing a civil war due to disputes over the use of oil in Southern States. Against the backdrop of the consequences of global warming which have been on everyone’s mind recently – especially with America pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord – El Akkad builds a society in which two warring ideologies are pitted against each other. The narrative reflects a whole host of modern issues which see people on either side unwilling to compromise or consider views that differ from their own. This divide is further complicated in the novel and in real life by elements of greed, corruption and power-mongering that bring any kind of progress or resolution to a standstill. Those who suffer the most in El Akkad’s world and ours are average human beings, trying to keep shelter over their heads and food on their tables. This is what makes this novel so universal and so highly topical, whether you decide it most closely mirrors the conflict in Palestine, the refugee crisis in Syria or the divisions in modern politics in America and elsewhere today.
That the protagonist is a strong and atypical female character. The protagonist of the novel is a child name Sarat, and the novel follows her entire life into adulthood. The author definitely hints at the fact that Sarat’s family is likely African American, so I really appreciated having the diversity of a female and non-white main character. Sarat is portrayed as the diametrical opposite of her non-identical twin sister Dana. While Dana is beautiful in a socially accepted way and soft, Sarat is more rugged but resourceful and skilled. She’s not the usual hero but as an original type of heroine, she’s much more relatable and interesting. Her power lies in her fierce instinct of protection toward the people she loves and in her resilience in the face of unimaginable circumstances. Both as a teenager and as a woman, Sarat is a commanding character through whom the reader will experience this unforgiving new world, rooting for her to find moments of stability and peace among violence and cruelty.
The world building. El Akkad meticulously constructs a new reality which is both alien and familiar. Among leftover elements of the past like cartoon character backpacks and old beauty magazines come new items like the congealed apricot gel packs on which refugees from the Southern States rely on for sustenance and defensive drones that have gone rogue and now bombard innocents at random. El Akkad masterfully creates an entire world, both at the larger level (with restructured governments and borders), and in the details (with its mix of timeworn and original elements). It’s quite a feat and one that the reader will feel themselves immersed in immediately. The newly imagined world of the novel has the scope of some of the most comprehensive and disturbing dystopias in fiction today, like the world of The Handmaid’s Tale. That is high praise indeed, but trust me, it’s deserved.
What I Didn’t Like
I wanted more! I think this novel would lend itself extremely well to being adapted into a TV series similarly to The Handmaid’s Tale. I felt like this was a first pass at a story and a world which have so much to offer. There were many other characters in the landscape which El Akkad could not follow further but which would have made for extremely compelling secondary storylines. Much like The Handmaid’s Tale, the potential of expanding on the narrative of American War is nearly limitless, and since its subject matter is also highly topical, I would be surprised if the TV or movie rights haven’t already been snapped up by a producer.
American War immerses the reader in a compelling and frightening dystopian future, in which a new civil conflict threatens to lead everyone in its path into destruction, including our daring heroine Sarat.
Startup by Doree Shafrir
Publication Date: April 25th 2017
Published By: Little, Brown And Company
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
From veteran online journalist and BuzzFeed writer Doree Shafrir comes a hilarious debut novel that proves there are some dilemmas that no app can solve.
Mack McAllister has a $600 million dollar idea. His mindfulness app, TakeOff, is already the hottest thing in tech and he’s about to launch a new and improved version that promises to bring investors running and may turn his brainchild into a $1 billion dollar business–in startup parlance, an elusive unicorn. Before the ink on Mack’s latest round of funding is dry, an errant text message hints that he may be working a bit too closely for comfort with a young social media manager in his office. When Mack’s bad behavior collides with journalist Katya’s search for a salacious post, TakeOff goes viral for all the wrong reasons.
What I Liked
It was thoroughly entertaining. I started this book at the beach and I think that it makes for the perfect beach read. It’s a great mix of humor, scandalous plot twists, sarcastic characters and funny vignettes of life in a tech startup in New York. I found myself if not laughing out loud, then at least smiling to myself as I read through the book. It only took me a handful of hours to get through it but I still felt that it was a rewarding read thanks to how whole and captivating the plot was and how well crafted the writing felt. In novels like these that are highly contemporary and involve a lot of casual conversation or even *gasp* texting as part of the text, the dialogue can seem superficial or trivial. However, in Startup, Shafrir did a great job of keeping her dialogue simple enough to be realistic while not making her characters seem frivolous themselves.
The complexity of the characters. There are three characters that I would consider primary in the novel, two women (journalist Katya and working mother Sabrina), and a man (startup founder Mack Mc Allister) whose lives intersect in unexpected ways during the narrative. Each of these characters felt fully formed, and the reader was privy to their inner demons and insecurities as they took over the narration in turn for different chapters of the novel. Every reader should be able to find someone to relate to and root for in this book, even as the characters stumble along from weakness to weakness and bad decision to bad decision. I tend to have a real problem with unlikable characters in novels, but Shafrir is able to keep her characters humanly flawed while somehow still making them feel sympathetic. It’s not an easy line to straddle, so I was very impressed.
The plot was deliciously scandalous. Without giving away any spoilers, the plot of Startup centers around a problem that has become a hot button topic in recent years and that implicates issues of gender discrimination and women’s rights. Though Shafrir doesn’t get overly sanctimonious about the moral ramifications of her characters’ actions (it wouldn’t be in keeping with the overall tone of the novel), the reader will still find the narrative thought-provoking. Reading this novel was kind of like watching a train wreck happening and not being able to look away. As the plot progresses, since as a reader you are privy to the thoughts and actions of all the characters, you have a much broader understanding of the repercussions that may lie ahead. Some of the plot twists you can kind of see coming from a mile away as a result, but it’s the suspense of waiting until the other shoe drops that makes this book so gripping.
What I Didn’t Like
The portrayal of the tech startup world was superficial and caricatured. It’s hard to find a major flaw with this novel, because despite it being light and easy reading, it was very well written and developed. I think the one thing that got old for me by the middle of the book was how one-dimensional Shafrir’s portrayal of tech-startup life in New York was. She kept repeating the same tropes of how many snacks are available in startup offices, or of weird onesie days organized for team-building. It felt a little lazy and like the setting of the book within the tech startup world could have been fleshed out and diversified a bit more. It’s a small caveat in an overall great book.
The entertaining and scandalous plot of a great beach read with the character development and depth of a more solid novel.
The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck
Publication Date: June 30th 2015
Published By: Simon And Schuster
Plot Teaser (from Goodreads)
An epic account of traveling the 2,000-mile length of the Oregon Trail the old-fashioned way, in a covered wagon with a team of mules–which hasn’t been done in a century–that also tells the rich history of the trail, the people who made the migration, and its significance to the country. In the fifteen years before the Civil War, when 400,000 pioneers used it to emigrate West–historians still regard this as the largest land migration of all time–the trail united the coasts, doubled the size of the country, and laid the groundwork for the railroads. Today, amazingly, the trail is all but forgotten.
Rinker Buck is no stranger to grand adventures. He was accompanied by three cantankerous mules, his boisterous brother, Nick, and an “incurably filthy” Jack Russell terrier named Olive Oyl. Along the way, Buck dodges thunderstorms in Nebraska, chases his runaway mules across miles of Wyoming plains, scouts more than five hundred miles of nearly vanished trail on foot, crosses the Rockies, and makes desperate fifty-mile forced marches for water. With a rare narrative power, a refreshing candor about his own weakness and mistakes, and an extremely attractive obsession for history and travel, “The Oregon Trail” draws readers into the journey of a lifetime.
What I Liked
The nostalgia factor. My main prior knowledge of the Oregon Trail predictably comes from long afternoons playing the original version of the computer game on very old Macs with pixelated screens back in the 90s. Before reading this book, I mainly thought the Oregon trail involved lots of stopping to hunt for food, always getting your wagon swamped if you tried to ford the river, and Mary inevitably getting cholera and forcing you to stop and rest even though it was almost winter. It was definitely a superficial introduction to the complexity of the historical realities of the mass land migration to which the game is dedicated. The book was nothing like the game of course, but it still made me think back to those elementary and middle school years, and I have to admit that I went online and found an old live version of the game to play for a few hours. I made it to virtual Oregon with my entire party alive and well but it took us almost a year and oh, so much hunting. Here is a link to the game if you want to reminisce: The Oregon Trail.
That I learned so much I didn’t know. Reading this book has significantly broadened and deepened my knowledge of what was actually involved in crossing the United States in a covered wagon in the mid 1800s. For example, did you know that most of the migrants on The Oregon Trail did not in fact use oxen but mules? And yes, people died of cholera on the Oregon trail but there were also high incidences of murder, especially around areas where large numbers of wagons congregated to regroup before particularly difficult tracts. The murderers were subject to extremely impromptu trials and typically summarily executed. I also had no idea that the Mormon church has claimed a significant part of the trail on which some Mormon caravaners traveled as religiously significant to them, and has been given permission to turn it into a Mormon retreat for historical reenactments. This is despite the fact that Mormons were actually a minority of the travelers who traversed those portions. Controversial! Every page of this book brought new discoveries and more to learn, which was absolutely mesmerizing to a history buff like me.
The inclusion of primary research and pictures in the narrative. The author did extensive research on the history of The Oregon Trail before embarking on his personal quest to recreate this journey with his brother. Buck shares a lot of the primary research artifacts he consulted during his investigation, like journal entries from various migrants on the trail and burial markings from those who lost their lives to the cruelty of the landscape. These direct anecdotes of trail life are incredibly vivid and hugely effective in making a reader feel close to the people who traveled the trail many decades ago. In addition to these primary artifacts, Buck also incorporates tailor-made technical drawings of wagon parts and picturesque vignettes of landmarks encountered on the trail. All these visual and narrative elements break up the historical account and the diary of Buck’s own journey on the trail, which kept the book engaging throughout.
What I Didn’t Like
I had a hard time connecting to the author. The book is both a history of The Oregon Trail and a memoir of Rinker Buck’s own attempt to travel the full length of the trail in modern times. The memoir portions provide a lot of insight into Buck’s life leading up to his decision to embark on this journey, his childhood, his relationship to his father and his brother, and the little peculiarities of personality that make him who he is. I didn’t dislike Buck, but since he’s an older man, I just found that some of the things that he found funny, interesting or that he had experienced were not ones that I could relate to as a younger woman. He had some weird expressions and often revealed opinions that felt dated or even closed-minded. His brother Nicholas who was travelling with him, being of the same generation, felt equally unfathomable to me.
Illuminating history of The Oregon Trail interwoven with an inspiring memoir of two men’s attempt to recreate the cross-country journey themselves in modern times.
Have you read American War, Startup and The Oregon Trail? What did you think of them? Do you agree with my ratings? Let me know in the comments.
If you want to read my previous reviews for my Book Of The Month deliveries here are links to my March 2017, February 2017, January 2017, December 2016, November 2016, October 2016 and September 2016 posts.
Here’s an image from my Instagram including 2 of my April 2017 books from Book Of The Month – American War and Startup – on a day when I read them by the Pacific.
Please note this post contains affiliate links from Book Depository.