BooklyBox – Unveiling!

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My only experience with subscription boxes in the past have been with the popular vegan snack box, Vegan Cuts, and the ever popular YA book subscription, OwlCrate.  I ultimately ended up taking a break from both (a decision that definitely made my bank account happy).

Since I stopped my monthly OwlCrate delivery, I noticed an increase in monthly book subscription boxes – many that looked equally fantastic.  Although YA fiction holds a special place in my heart, I felt it was time to branch out and try a few other subscriptions to see what else was out there.

After some research, I decided to start with BooklyBox.  For $29.99 a month, BooklyBox ships a book (you get to choose the genre! And there’s flexibility in switching genres each month if that’s something that appeals to you) along with some other bookish items and tea.

The two additional aspects of BooklyBox that I think make it stand out as a monthly book subscription is that:

  1. each box purchased allows the organization to donate books to high poverty/high need areas around the world.  The box includes a card with information about the particular community that your purchase helped that month.  My September box focused on Beitbridge, Zimbabwe
  2. purchasing a subscription gives you access to entire online community through their website.  I’ve connected with other readers, can participate in a forum dedicated to the genre I subscribe to, and can essentially participate in an online book club each month!  The website also has added bonuses such as BooklyPal, an online version of penpal communication, and BooklyNights, an interactive movie night!

 

For my first box, I chose the Mystery genre.  My September box included:

  • Runaway by Peter May
  • A “feather” pen
  • A bookmark
  • 2 bags of Tazo tea (refresh mint and wild sweet orange)
  • A “field notes” small notepad

Overall, I am very happy with what BooklyBox has to offer and am definitely planning on continuing my subscription for as long as my bank account will allow! I’m looking forward to starting my new book and engaging in some online discussion as well!

For anyone interested in trying BooklyBox (which everyone definitely should!), use the discount code “PAGESANDPINTS” in order to receive 10% off!

 

The Motion of Puppets

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In the Old City of Québec, Kay Harper falls in love with a puppet in the window of the Quatre Mains, a toy shop that is never open. She is spending her summer working as an acrobat with the cirque while her husband, Theo, is translating a biography of the pioneering photographer Eadweard Muybridge. Late one night, Kay fears someone is following her home. Surprised to see that the lights of the toy shop are on and the door is open, she takes shelter inside.

The next morning Theo wakes up to discover his wife is missing. Under police suspicion and frantic at her disappearance, he obsessively searches the streets of the Old City. Meanwhile, Kay has been transformed into a puppet, and is now a prisoner of the back room of the Quatre Mains, trapped with an odd assemblage of puppets from all over the world who can only come alive between the hours of midnight and dawn. The only way she can return to the human world is if Theo can find her and recognize her in her new form. So begins a dual odyssey: of a husband determined to findhis wife, and of a woman trapped in a magical world where her life is not her own.

The Motion of Puppets by Keith Donohue

Publication Date: October 4, 2016 by Picador

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

Kay’s notions of order were disturbed, so she found a dark corner in which to hide and contemplate and take exception to just who ruled the world.

When I saw that Keith Donohue had a new book coming out, I couldn’t get onto Netgalley fast enough to request the ARC. When I saw the glorious email confirming my request, I immediately began the book that night – everything else took the backseat.

I’ve only read one other book by Donohue, The Boy Who Drew Monsters, and it’s one of the most uniquely creepy and frightening books I’ve ever read. I knew to expect the unexpected in The Motion of Puppets which I think helped me to brace for some of the events that unfold as part of the plot.

What I enjoy most about Donohue’s work is that his books don’t easily fit into one particular genre. The Motion of Puppets has romance, comedy, and horror and each of these areas fits so nicely into the storyline. I was quickly invested in Kay’s future and wanted desperately for Theo to figure her fate out for himself. Without risking spoiling it for those who haven’t read it yet, Donohue isn’t the type of author whose plot is easy to follow or predict, so I definitely felt some heartbreak upon making discoveries along the way when I was holding out hope for certain events to happen.

Although The Boy Who Drew Monsters still holds is place as my favorite Donohue novel, The Motion of Puppets was a fantastic read! Thank you, Netgalley and Picador for giving me the opportunity to read this book before its publication next week!

Unnatural Deeds

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Secrets. Obsession. Murder. Victoria is about to discover just how dangerous it can be to lose yourself.

Victoria Zell doesn’t fit in, but she’s okay with that. All she needs is the company of her equally oddball boyfriend, Andrew. She doesn’t care what anyone else thinks…until magnetic, charming, mysterious Z comes into her life, and she starts lying to everyone she knows in an effort to unravel his secrets.

And then something terrible happens. Someone is dead and it’s time for Victoria to come clean. Interspersed with news clippings and police interviews, Victoria tells her story to Andrew, revealing her dark, horrible secrets…secrets that have finally come back to haunt her.

Unnatural Deeds by Cyn Balog

Publication Date: November 1, 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

This book is definitely character-driven rather than plot-driven and that means it’s right up my alley!

The narrator, Vic, is not likable. In fact, as many others have shared in their reviews, her character is difficult to empathize with and obsessive in her focus on her classmate, Z. We get glimpses into Vic’s difficulty with socializing right from the very beginning and she shares an even more obvious struggle with severe and often debilitating anxiety – an issue that clearly has lasting impacts on her relationships with both peers and adults.

As the new kid in school and a person who immediately shows interest in Vic, it seems a no brainer that our narrator is destined to develop feelings for Z. As an outsider, I think it’s easy for the reader to judge Vic for her unhealthy obsession with Z, but I found those feelings to be realistic, despite how frightening and cringeworthy they become as the plot progresses. And since Vic is our only source of direct information, it’s important for the reader to also recognize how hard it can be to gain the full picture of events when our narrator is so unreliable and appears unhinged at times.

And it is that unreliability that I loved most about Unnatural Deeds. As the story slowly unravelled, I found myself questioning what I really understood about other character’s motives since I only could gain information through Vic’s skewed perception. This ability to make me doubt everything I’ve come to learn is an impressive quality to Balog’s writing!

This was different, I told myself. With addiction, the drug owns you. But we owned each other. Equally.

While the reader may see how illogical Vic’s reasoning is, there’s plenty of information provided that easily defends how Vic could quickly become so entwined in unhealthy relationships and so while it might be easy to become distracted by Vic’s obsessive line of thought about Z, I found it tragic yet fascinating to watch the slow unravelling towards the book’s finale. This is definitely one of those novels that you have to go into with an open mind, but for those who love character-driven stories with both unreliable and often unlikable personalities, it won’t disappoint!

Thank you Netgalley and Sourcebooks Fire for allowing me the opportunity to read this book before its publication date! I look forward to reading more by Cyn Balog.

Beautiful Maids All in a Row (Iris Ballard, #1)

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Dr. Iris Ballard’s glory days are behind her, so when Luke Hudson, her former FBI partner and onetime lover, asks for help constructing a psychological profile of an elusive serial killer who murders single mothers and dumps their bodies in the woods, Iris turns him away. She just wants to be left alone with her infomercials, her German Shepherd, and her vodka. That is, until she gets a peek at the case files.

The media has dubbed him “the Woodsman.” But after Iris learns the sickening details held back from the press, and as she sets foot onto the scene of his latest crime, she assembles a portrait of a more complicated, enigmatic, meticulous man. Control is his motivation. He thrives on it. Soon he even tries to manipulate the investigation by contacting Iris, hoping to rattle the woman he considers an intellectual equal.

The game is on. Iris thinks she has a read on her target, enough to push his buttons, to make him lose control. But when the Woodsman gains the upper hand, Iris faces the most painful reckoning of all—with her own violent past.

Beautiful Maids All in a Row by Jennifer Harlow

Publication Date: October 11, 2016 by Alibi

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

I tend to stay away from crime series, especially those that focus on one particular detective (police officer, FBI agent, etc.) just because they’ve never really appealed to me. It’s possible that I just haven’t found the “right one”, which is why they often seem too cookie-cutter in their plot and/or their characters.

I wanted to give Beautiful Maids All in a Row a try because it’s a book about a woman written BY a woman – something that appealed to me since it seems that many of the more popular crime series are written by men about men. While I’m still planning on (someday soon!) starting the Harry Hole series by Jo Nesbo, I find I’m more attracted to psychological thrillers starring strong female leads.

There were aspects of this book that I found really appealing – the fast paced plot, the badass Iris Ballard, and the constant thrill of wanting to see how it would all end – all details that need to work in a crime series in order for it to be successful (at least for this reader).

But then there were other pieces that are typical of these types of books that are exactly the reason I find myself often disappointed by the genre – the predictable finale, the dialogue filled with snarky quips, and an awkward sexual attraction that generated several unnecessary paragraphs describing the “Adonis-like” characteristics of the “hot” male character – all things that resulted in too much eye-rolling on my part.

Despite its flaws, I appreciated Beautiful Maids for its fast pace and the introduction to a female lead who despite my prior gripes, is someone I would consider reading future books about!

Thank you Netgalley and Alibi for allowing me the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review!

Red Queen (The Chronicles of Alice #2)

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The land outside of the Old City was supposed to be green, lush, hopeful. A place where Alice could finally rest, no longer the plaything of the Rabbit, the pawn of Cheshire, or the prey of the Jabberwocky. But the verdant fields are nothing but ash—and hope is nowhere to be found.

Still, Alice and Hatcher are on a mission to find his daughter, a quest they will not forsake even as it takes them deep into the clutches of the mad White Queen and her goblin or into the realm of the twisted and cruel Black King.

The pieces are set and the game has already begun. Each move brings Alice closer to her destiny. But, to win, she will need to harness her newfound abilities and ally herself with someone even more powerful—the mysterious and vengeful Red Queen…

The Red Queen by Christina Henry

Publication Date: July 12, 2016 by Ace

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

I absolutely LOVED the first book in this trilogy and so I started Red Queen with very high expectations. Unfortunately, the second book fell a bit flat compared to the pace of the trilogy’s introduction and I found it a little harder to connect with.

I think the major reason for my disappointment was the focus on Alice’s romantic feelings for Hatcher. Although they make a badass duo, the first book was much more subtle about their relationship and while it was easy to see the tension between them in Alice, it felt like the author went a little overboard in sharing Alice’s feelings for Hatcher in Red Queen. Alice’s repeated internal dialogues about how Hatcher would soon look at her as a woman and not a girl kept reminding me of this song from Sunny in Philadelphia’s musical episode:

 

I have nothing against romance as part of a novel, but I felt that this particular focus on relationship took away from the intensity of the storyline that Alice initially introduced. I wanted to hear more of Alice’s adventures – not her love of Hatcher.

There was also a bit more repetition of certain pieces of information (in addition to Alice’s feelings for Hatcher) that felt a bit forced. Alice keeps reminding herself (and in turn, the reader) that she is strong and independent – she doesn’t need anyone to save her! She’s not a damsel in distress! And while Alice clearly exhibits some major badass, feminist qualities (without giving spoilers, Alice is the heroic one all on her own in this book – girl power!), her constant need to remind herself of that started to feel a little overdone:

‘I don’t belong to anybody but myself,’ she whispered.

‘I am not a prize,’ Alice said. Really, why did she feel like she had to say this over and over? Why did every man she encountered want to put her in a box and keep her there?

These types of statements on their own would have felt empowering, but Alice’s self-doubt would immediately resurface after such strong statements and I started to feel like Alice’s wavering self-confidence was becoming a bit too borderline on Bella’s doormat status in Twilight.

Certain creative aspects of the trilogy that I loved in the first book were still somewhat there in Red Queen (the white queen’s cruelty, the woods and the terrifying goblin that stalks them) which is why I ultimately gave Red Queen three stars instead of two. There are plenty of other great trilogies out there that haven’t necessarily held five star status for me throughout all three books, which is why I’m holding out with the hope that the third and final book will give me more of that dark, science fiction action that Alice introduced!

For the Love of Meat

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FOR THE LOVE OF MEAT combines whimsical and surreal illustrations with engaging, intimate encounters that explore the depths of human experience. Unique and diverse in setting, with touches of magical-realism, these nine stories will tug at the wandering, romantic heart, setting it delightfully ablaze.

In Wander the Desert, Sister Aurelia, a nun from the early 20th century, finds herself stranded in the Mexican desert with nothing but a few cobs of corn and a stray horse who becomes her faithful companion. In Stumble and Fall, we meet Dara, a young Londoner hungry for adventure who, unwilling to settle for the safety and comfort of home, travels to Vancouver, city of immigrants, where a handsome stranger entices her to take a leap into the unknown. The Kid takes us to Granada, Spain, to the fix-it shop of Rubén, and his encounters with a young traveler, whose flirtations spark memories of a past love that both haunts and hinders him. The Two explores the tender bond between two young cousins, growing up in 1940s Philadelphia, who are as inseparable as light and shadow.

Jenny Jaeckel’s compelling storytelling takes us across the world and through the ages, with remarkable insight and soul-moving moments Her language, imagery and attention to detail plunge the reader into these memorable lives, soaking us in tales of adventure, courage, love, loss, longing and all the hope in between.

For the Love of Meat by Jenny Jaeckel

Publication Date: June 20, 2016 by Raincloud Press

Goodreads


My Thoughts:

The stories in this collection offer a brief glimpse into people’s lives that span both time and place. The Teteriv takes place in 15th century Poland while other stories like The Kid (Grenada, Spain in 1995) and the title story, For the Love of Meat (Los Angeles, CA in 1981) are much more contemporary.

As the book’s summary states, Jaeckel’s collection of short stories explore human experience through narrations that although short and often abrupt, are very personal. While each story may connect through this one specific theme, Jaeckel manages to tell nine unique tales and so there is definitely a strong sense of diversity when reading this collection.

While I enjoyed all nine stories, Stumble and Fall really stood out from all the others to me, most likely because I can relate to the character’s wanderlust and longing for change. Because of the vast span of time and location that Jaeckel writes about within this collection, it’s easy for the reader to find a particular storyline to connect to, and because of how diverse each short story is, it’s no wonder that I was able to find one specific experience that I could feel I related to. If this was part of Jaeckel’s intent when writing this collection, she clearly achieved her goal!

Overall, this was a quick and enjoyable read and I would recommend it to those who can appreciate a collection of stories that manages to celebrate diversity while also demonstrating how truly alike people can be despite where they come from or what they look like.

Hag-Seed

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When Felix is deposed as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival by his devious assistant and longtime enemy, his production of The Tempest is canceled and he is heartbroken. Reduced to a life of exile in rural southern Ontario—accompanied only by his fantasy daughter, Miranda, who died twelve years ago—Felix devises a plan for retribution.

Eventually he takes a job teaching Literacy Through Theatre to the prisoners at the nearby Burgess Correctional Institution, and is making a modest success of it when an auspicious star places his enemies within his reach. With the help of their own interpretations, digital effects, and the talents of a professional actress and choreographer, the Burgess Correctional Players prepare to video their Tempest. Not surprisingly, they view Caliban as the character with whom they have the most in common. However, Felix has another twist in mind, and his enemies are about to find themselves taking part in an interactive and illusion-ridden version of The Tempest that will change their lives forever. But how will Felix deal with his invisible Miranda’s decision to take a part in the play?

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

Publication Date: October 11, 2016 by Hogarth

Goodreads


 

My Thoughts:

Your profanity, thinks Felix, has oft been your whoreson hag-born progenitor of literacy. Along with your whoreson cigarettes, may the red plague rid them.

This book is so much fun! In her usual fashion, Margaret Atwood has been able to take an idea and make it completely her own without taking away from the original play (much like her take on The Odyssey in her book The Penelopiad. While there are aspects of the story that are funny enough to have put me in awkward situations where strangers wonder why I’m laughing aloud in public places, there is also a genuine and moving storyline that slowly develops as the novel progresses towards its finale.

While not solely a commentary on the justice system, Atwood does provoke some questions regarding how we treat those who are incarcerated and from her notes about her research, it is clear that was her intention. Although our narration is solely from Felix’s point of view, we slowly get to see the personalities come out of the adult men he works with every day and while at times their statements or actions seem a bit ridiculous, Atwood manages to allow the reader a fairly intimate view of their different characters which helps to avoid these men becoming laughable, one dimensional figures in the plot. (Also, side note: Anne-Marie may be one of my favorite Atwood characters EVER).

For all of Felix’s plans for revenge, it is clear there is much more he needs to deal with than just feeling ousted from his job. The reader learns early on about the death of both his wife and young daughter (I promise this isn’t a spoiler!) and Atwood creates a parallel world to Shakespeare’s The Tempest as the reader comes to understand the depths of Felix’s grief. Where perhaps any other author might have complicated the plot too much by sharing this bit of Felix’s life, Atwood does an amazing job of tying in all the different story lines to connect them all in the end and the whole play-within-a-play method is so much fun!

I was lucky enough to begin this book with a full understanding of Shakespeare’s The Tempest since I studied it in depth in college (despite being a long time ago, my knowledge of the play apparently stayed with me!). I would definitely recommend that those unfamiliar with Shakespeare’s play take the time to learn about it before beginning this book. There’s a lot of in depth discussion about the characters which could really throw someone for a loop if they don’t have a basic grasp of the plot (or perhaps that’s just me, since I’m horrible at remembering names).

I’d recommend this book equally for those who love Shakespeare and those who wouldn’t touch his work with a ten foot pole. Atwood is one of my favorite authors and her writing style not only makes a piece of Shakespeare’s work that might seem inaccessible to some enjoyable and easy to read, but she manages to make it into a contemporary piece of literature that once again (hellooooo, The Handmaid’s Tale) speaks volumes about not only our society, but human nature as well.

Thank you, Netgalley and Hogarth for allowing me to read this before it’s release date!

Under the Harrow

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When Nora takes the train from London to visit her sister in the countryside, she expects to find her waiting at the station, or at home cooking dinner. But when she walks into Rachel’s familiar house, what she finds is entirely different: her sister has been the victim of a brutal murder.

Stunned and adrift, Nora finds she can’t return to her former life. An unsolved assault in the past has shaken her faith in the police, and she can’t trust them to find her sister’s killer. Haunted by the murder and the secrets that surround it, Nora is under the harrow: distressed and in danger. As Nora’s fear turns to obsession, she becomes as unrecognizable as the sister her investigation uncovers.

A riveting psychological thriller and a haunting exploration of the fierce love between two sisters, the distortions of grief, and the terrifying power of the past, Under the Harrow marks the debut of an extraordinary new writer.

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

Publication Date: June 14, 2016 by Penguin Books

Goodreads


 

My Thoughts:

‘What’s your favorite thing about Cornwall?’ I asked her, but it wasn’t what I meant, I meant what’s your favorite thing about being alive.

In a world where now every single psychological thriller that is released is praised as the next Gone Girl, it’s hard to find the real gems out there that stand on their own.

Under the Harrow is a fast-paced read that never lets the reader feel comfortable in their thoughts and opinions both about the narrator, Nora, or the surrounding characters Nora suspects to be guilty of her sister’s horrific murder. As Nora slowly starts to unravel more and more towards the novel’s end, the fact that she becomes an unreliable narrator helps to heighten the suspense of the story as a whole. What ultimately makes this enjoyable is that the author, Flynn Berry, does this in her own unique way – this is no Gillian Flynn copy cat.

The only gripe I have about this book is that the ending felt a bit rushed and neatly tied together. For all the beautiful language the author uses throughout the novel, the ending leaves you feeling a bit breathless in how quickly it comes upon you. Because of how much I enjoyed the rest of the storyline and can appreciate not being left in the dark as to who really murdered Nora’s sister, Rachel, I’m quick to forgive this slight detail. This is a great first novel and I’m looking forward to the next book Flynn Berry writes!

Dark Matter

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“Are you happy with your life?” Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable–something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Publication Date: July 26, 2016 by Crown

Goodreads


 

My Thoughts:

Nothing exists. 

All is a dream. 

God-man-the world-the sun, the moon, the wilderness

of stars-a dream, all a dream; they have no existence.

Nothing exists save empty space- and you... 

And you are not you-you have no body, no blood, no 

bones, you are but a thought. 

Mark Twain

Science fiction for the win!

It’s extremely hard to review this book without giving everything away, but I feel like the above quote does a good job of giving an overview of the story. Still confused? Perhaps that’s the point!

All I can say is that I LOVED this book – I actually read it in one sitting. The writing style is so smooth and easy to immediately delve into that any of the existential and/or physics-related discussions/rants/explanations are much easier to follow. What perhaps I would have found to be a bit out of my realm in other settings (I took a philosophy class way back in college and all I’ll say is that Kant and I are not friends), felt perfectly at home within this novel’s plot.

And what a plot it is! Am I being too vague? That’s because there’s no way to discuss the details of Dark Matter without destroying it for those who haven’t read it yet. I’ll finish by sharing that while the twist at the end may seem a little bit “out there” it was also unique and in a world where there never seems to be an end to what can be turned into a remake, I’ll always prefer the absurd over the predictable.

Gold Fame Citrus

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In a parched southern California of the near future, Luz, once the poster child for the country’s conservation movement, and Ray, an army deserter turned surfer, are squatting in a starlet’s abandoned mansion. Most “Mojavs,” prevented by armed vigilantes from freely crossing borders to lusher regions, have allowed themselves to be evacuated to encampments in the east. Holdouts like Ray and Luz subsist on rationed cola and water, and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise.

For the moment, the couple’s fragile love, which somehow blooms in this arid place, seems enough. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins.

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vay Watkins

Publication Date: September 29, 2015 by Riverhead Books

Goodreads


 

My Thoughts:

This book was a bust for me. The synopsis sounded intriguing enough, but like shiny objects lure in a cat, I think I was tricked by the gorgeous cover art (so pretty!)

I’m not the type of person who needs to love the characters in order to love a book; in fact I prefer a good villain or a complicated personality (Adelina from The Young Elites or Teo in Perfect Days. But the characters in Gold Fame Citrus fell flat for me again and again.

Because the reader spends the most time getting to know Luz, it was particularly painful to have such a flawed female character who seems to hero worship the men in her life (even when they clearly don’t deserve such admiration). From the very first pages of the novel, I found myself frustrated reading about Luz trying on fancy dresses while Ray is outside working on irrigation issues. There’s something irrational and silly about her and there never seems to be any growth despite the events that happen throughout the course of the novel.

Unfortunately, the reader doesn’t spend enough time with Ray to really formulate a real understanding of his character and too often I found myself not really caring what happened to him. The only other character that played a major role, Levy, was no better. While he was a bit more visible throughout the story than Ray, I was in awe of how so many people could see him as their capable leader when all I could see was a God complex and a serious touch of crazy. Because I just finished this book after reading Emma Cline’s The Girls, it was easy to draw parallels between the two stories (what is it about cults that are so fascinating?!), but while Cline’s novel left me twisted up over Evie at times, I did not feel any sort of connection to Luz.

The format of the novel is also difficult to really explain and it was just as difficult for me to grasp. Luz’s and Ray’s journey is interrupted throughout the story by chapters that read more like an encyclopedia – some describing how the state of the planet came to be, others that were more philosophical (two words – mole man) and difficult to really understand in relation to the main plot. I initially enjoyed the interruptions, but found as the story progressed that I really didn’t have the concentration necessary to even read through them all.

I’m a huge fan of dystopians (anything Margaret Atwood writes is sacred) and there are books similar to Gold Fame Citrus that I would recommend to anyone looking for a good apocalypse – The Road, Bird Box, and Rivers are just the first few that come to mind. As is bound to happen once in awhile, Gold Fame Citrus was just not my dystopian cup of tea.