• Emily

Alphabet challenge check-in: M, N, O, and P

Updated: Nov 6

Martin, Valerie- The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

North, Claire- The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

Olson, Neil- Before the Devil Fell

Perrotta, Dave- The Leftovers


I'm going to have successfully worked my way through the alphabet by year's end. I'll have to read three alphabet books once or twice, but I can handle that. It's been fun to go through the library's fiction stacks and look at all the different authors that I didn't know.

I picked out two of these books thinking that they'd be scary, but neither one was. I don't know how I missed The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August when it came out a few years ago; it's just the kind of thing that I like. And I can't believe that it took me 10 years to read The Leftovers. I remember how popular it was when it came out, and I thought that the idea behind it was so interesting. I'm going to watch the series soon.


Martin, Valerie- The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

Not scary, but there are some supernatural touches. I'm always picking up books with ghost in the title thinking that they'll be scary and they're not, but I really liked this book, and there are a few ghosts. It has some sad stories in it; it's about a seafaring family with some bad luck. The author used Arthur Conan Doyle as a character and I usually don't like it when real people are co-opted into a fiction story that isn't based on their life, but he was interesting. My favorite character was an intrepid girl reporter.

The story switches viewpoint from time to time, going from third-person narration to a young woman's journal to other journals. It's never confusing to keep up with who is talking, even though the connection to the overall story isn't always apparent at the beginning. It always kept my interest, no matter who the focus was.

I think that most fans of historical fiction would like this, especially any who like a supernatural or nautical bend to the stories. If you like both, grab a copy of this.


North, Claire- The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

This book really grabbed me, and I went through it fast. I did my usual thing and started picking holes in it, but honestly, it holds up. The idea is that there are some people who loop through their lifetime over and over, meaning that when they die, they are reborn in the same time and place as before. They remember many things from their past lives, so instead of going over the same territory again and again, they can make changes. It starts out reading like a sci-fi, but about halfway through it's more like spy vs. spy, as the main character is in conflict with another of his kind who is making changes that will bring about the end of the world.

One thought that distracted me was that when a person was re-born back where they started, everyone else resets, too, so really, everyone is living in a loop. The only difference is that some people are unaware of it. And among people who are aware, there are differing levels of memory retention. It's probably best not to think about it too much.

I'd recommend this for anyone who likes alternate realities or multiple timelines. It reminded me of the show Sense8, because and the group of people who are experiencing life in a different way than the rest of us do. It also reminded me of "Understand," a short story in The Stories of Your Life by Ted Chiang. That story also has two super-intelligent beings in conflict. (I need to read more Ted Chiang.)


Olson, Neil- Before the Devil Fell

Like The Ghost of the Mary Celeste, this was disappointingly not-scary. I read it anyway, but it got on my nerves sometimes. It's like a family drama set in a community with weird supernatural practices. I didn't love it or hate it. It's a quick read.


Perrotta, Dave- The Leftovers

I knew that this was based on the religious idea of the Rapture, when the good people will be whisked away and the rest of us left behind to have bad times until The End of Days, but in this book, the disappearance happens randomly. Some of the devoutly religious are left behind, and some of the people who are taken up (or wherever, no one knows), are frat bros. The story isn't as much about when this happens, as about the people left behind and how they deal with their grief, fear, and confusion. How do you make plans for your life when people can just disappear like that? Naturally, cults form and many other things fall apart.

A couple of the male characters got on my nerves. One of them ogles one woman giving a speech and then assesses another woman's body while reminiscing about the time they made out in high school and how good her boobs were then. He's just getting started. And then (SPOILER, BUT FOR A BOOK THAT CAME OUT TEN YEARS AGO, SO) then his grown son is fixated on the sixteen-year-old "bride" of his boss, who is pregnant. He keeps assessing her breasts. He's clearly supposed to be a good guy, but the fact that he thinks that he is kind of amazing for not making a move on her while she is pregnant and dependent on him kind of ruins it.

I liked the other characters, and the whole thing is riveting.


So onto Q and R for September...


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