Everyone Dies Famous by Len Joy – Review

As a tornado threatens their town, a stubborn old man who has lost his son teams up with a troubled young soldier to deliver a jukebox to the wealthy developer having an affair with the soldier’s wife.

It’s July 2003 and the small town of Maple Springs, Missouri is suffering through a month-long drought. Dancer Stonemason, a long-forgotten hometown hero still grieving over the death of his oldest son, is moving into town to live with his more dependable younger son. He hires Wayne Mesirow, an Iraq war veteran, to help him liquidate his late son’s business.

The heat wave breaks and the skies darken. Dancer tries to settle an old score while Wyne discovers the true cost of his wife’s indifference and turns his thoughts to revenge. When the tornado hits Maple Springs, only one of the men will make it out alive.

“Everyone Dies Famous” is a story from the heartland about the uncommon lives of everyday people – the choices they make, how they live their lives, and how they die. 

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I was sent this novel from FSB Associates, and was already incredibly taken with the title before I even cracked the spine. One of my favorite Miranda Lambert songs, ‘Famous in a Small Town’, deals with the same concept; that when you’re from the smallest of communities, anything you do will be seen, heard, and scrutinized. Life in Maple Springs, Missouri is no exception. We are presented with a rural area on the verge of drawing life and visitors back to the area when disaster strikes. In the beginning chapter, a tornado rips through the sleepy area, and then we get to see the moments before tragedy. What follows is a beautiful character study divided into five separate voices, and in those accounts we see the hidden heart of Maple Springs, and the broken people keeping it alive.

I’ve lived in one small town or another my whole life, and so this novel felt like home to me. I recognized people I know and love in the faces of the jilted veteran, the grieving father, the girl and her beau with dreams far larger than the space they’re in. It was so easy to fall for these characters, and to care about each one. As they were woven into each other’s stories, you start to slowly see the connections tethering them, and how close some are to breaking. Joy has done a fantastic job of painting different shades of grief across this narrative; some with a yellow beacon of hope and others with the black tinge of despair. It was an emotional rollercoaster, especially knowing the horror that awaited these people who are trying to get their lives back together. It is extremely lifelike in that way; you never know how much time you have, and it certainly beckons the reader to rise above the waters of life that threaten to drown them.

Through its diverse cast of characters and the idyllic setting, this novel gives you stories that will live on long after you have read it. You will ache with wishes that these families that have been torn asunder will find themselves whole again. It’s a short read, but an important one. I think everyone deserves to die famous. I think Joy’s work shows that no matter what type of life you lead, there will always be whispers following you. However, it’s the people closest to you that will carry you with them. The running theme of Dancer Stonemason’s late son, Clayton, still being such a prominent figure in the hearts and minds of our narrators speaks beautifully to the book’s title, and the unlikely friendship between the father and a young National Guard soldier reminds you that even after loss, there is always another adventure to be had.

5/5 stars

Midnight Sun by Stephanie Meyer – Review

When Edward Cullen and Bella Swan met in Twilight, an iconic love story was born. But until now, fans have heard only Bella’s side of the story. At last, readers can experience Edward’s version in the long-awaited companion novel, Midnight Sun.

This unforgettable tale as told through Edward’s eyes takes on a new and decidedly dark twist. Meeting Bella is both the most unnerving and intriguing event he has experienced in all his years as a vampire. As we learn more fascinating details about Edward’s past and the complexity of his inner thoughts, we understand why this is the defining struggle of his life. How can he justify following his heart if it means leading Bella into danger?

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I have been a TwiHard for as long as I can remember. Having grown up with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The X-Files, supernatural creatures have always had a thrall over me, but none so great as vampires themselves. When I was a teenager, the Twilight Saga was incredibly popular, and as such, my self-proclaimed emo personality wouldn’t let me give into such basic pursuits. Then, the movies were released. Upon seeing Edward, Bella, and the rest of the motley crew living in Forks on the big screen lit up my curiosity. Thus, an obsession that would last me my whole life long was born. I have felt the void of the series for awhile now, longing for the tumultuous love stories of my childhood. So, when I heard that Stephanie was finally releasing Midnight Sun, I was overwhelmed with joy. Upon reading the novel, that only grew and grew.

YA readers of all ages know the story by now– the lion falls in love with the lamb and so on. However, what Midnight Sun gives us that the rest of the series never has is newfound insight to Edward’s thoughts throughout the events of Twilight. It adds much needed expatiation to the Cullen family– my favorite being that of Emmett Cullen. Through his interactions with his family and the telepathic conversations held with his brother, Edward, we seen his compassion and his humor. This extends itself through all of the characters: crowning Jessica Stanley the next Regina George, displaying Angela Weber’s pure heart, and the discordant notes of Renee and Charlie Swan’s thoughts that came together so perfectly to make the enigma that is Bella Swan. In addition, we finally get to see the mind behind the golden eyes. It gives the romance new life as we are allowed to see just how much Edward cares for Bella, and the motivation behind each of his decisions.

Yes, there have been a few re-tellings of Twilight that have come out since the series has ended, but I think that every one of them is important in its own way. Midnight Sun has been a passion project that Stephanie mostly wrote out for her curious mother– and the way she has grown as a writer through the years is undeniably apparent. The effect it all has had on the fandom in this time of uncertainty and chaos has been irreplaceable; and I speak from experience. Stepping into the comfort of these pages that I had long since left behind was just like the hugs I sorely miss. It was nostalgia and rebirth all at once. I think that it will lead new generations to the saga, and I hope that they find a home in it as much as I did once. I’m sure there are no plans to continue the series in this way, but rest assured, we fans are extremely interested. If you loved Twilight even a bit, take this monster on. You’ll let out a breath you didn’t even know you were holding. 😉

5/5 stars

The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep by Allan Wolf – Review

In powerful, vivid verse, the master behind The Watch That Ends the Night recounts one of history’s most harrowing–and chilling–tales of survival.

In 1846, a group of emigrants bound for California face a choice: continue on their planned route or take a shortcut into the wilderness. Eighty-nine of them opt for the untested trail, a decision that plunges them into danger and desperation and, finally, the unthinkable. From extraordinary poet and novelist Allan Wolf comes a riveting retelling of the ill-fated journey of the Donner party across the Sierra Nevadas during the winter of 1846-1847. Brilliantly narrated by multiple voices, including world-weary, taunting, and all-knowing Hunger itself, this novel-in-verse examines a notorious chapter in history from various perspectives, among them caravan leaders George Donner and James Reed, Donner’s scholarly wife, two Miwok Indian guides, the Reed children, a sixteen-year-old orphan, and even a pair of oxen. Comprehensive back matter includes an author’s note, select character biographies, statistics, a time line of events, and more. Unprecedented in its detail and sweep, this haunting epic raises stirring questions about moral ambiguity, hope and resilience, and hunger of all kinds.

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Most everyone knows the story of the Donner party– from historians to thrill-seekers alike. I myself am the latter; having always been morbidly interested in the humans that were so hellbent on survival that they made the hardest decision of their lives… which of course, was whether or not to feast on the flesh of their friends, lovers, and fellow travelers. Having read many a fictional account of this dangerous journey, I am always excited to see what a fresh eye will make of the tale. What Wolf has brought to the table that I have never seen before is a stunning amount of empathy woven into the most beautiful verse that actually made me take pause and consider the plight of these families instead of just satiating my gory curiosity. It was a brilliant show of emotion, history, and a dive into the ever-present eye of Hunger.

For those who may not be aware, the Donner party was made up of a hearty band of emigrants who were attempting to make it to California to settle untouched lands. They ended up using an untested route that was said to cut precious time off of their trek before winter hit, but through a series of mishaps and wrong turns, the group of farmers and their families soon found themselves stuck in the earliest snow any of them had ever seen. From there, things quickly became dire and dark. Companions were left behind, animals were sacrificed, and as the food started to run out and the pioneers themselves started to die from exposure and starvation– their loss was treated as the survivors’ gain. Man, woman, and child alike were carved into as if they were hogs led to the slaughter. It was because of this ultimate sacrifice that any of the remaining party made it out alive, as the rescue efforts to retrieve them were scantily outfitted and were only able to take a few members at a time.

I am such a sucker for unique storytelling devices, and Wolf’s triumph is littered with them. There are accounts from many prominent figures in the Donner party, all told in a form of poetry specific to them. My absolute favorites had to be Patty (the Angel), whose vignettes were all told through prayers, and the slowly deteriorating voices of Buck and Bright (Baptiste’s prized oxen) who sang a back and forth dirge. The flow between characters was seamless, and you truly fell in love with these characters. Each loss was heavily felt, and as their names were added to the snowfall between chapters, the rising tension was as present as the undeniable hunger. Which, speaking of Hunger, I thought that it was a masterful move to use the feeling as a narrator of sorts. Who better to tell the story of these wayward wanderers than the presence that fuels us all? It is in every decision we make. Our hearts hunger for connection, our minds hunger for challenge, and our stomachs hunger for sustenance in an undeniable animalistic way that cannot be ignored.

All in all, this saga of endurance and desperation that has trickled down through the centuries remains unchanged, but Wolf has breathed new life into it. Not only did he painstakingly use actual letters and accounts from the party’s own members, but he also took the time to lay these works out for the reader at the end of the novel– including some biographies of the surviving members to show how their lives progressed after the conclusion of the nightmare. It was such a personal thing to read, which I think the verse greatly lends itself to. There is a bevy of pain, loss, and longing within these pages that I couldn’t help but identify with, and for the first time, I feel like I am truly seeing these adventurers for who they are, instead of the acts that they committed. The Snow Fell Three Graves Deep is a calculated plea for empathy, which is something I feel like we all need right now. I recommend this book with full faith that readers with all kinds of hunger will enjoy.

5/5 stars