Invasive

Warning: if you decide to read this book outside while you’re laying out by the pool and you’re only a third of the way through it and then you glance down and notice ants marching underneath your chair and then suddenly you find yourself only reading the book indoors, you should not feel ashamed.

You also shouldn’t feel ashamed if you accidentally flinch every time a new chapter starts and you just so happen to read those pages a little quicker, just in case those printed ants suddenly have the power to come off the page and then rip pieces of your face off.

But Nicole, they’re just ants. Ants don’t

You obviously haven’t read Invasive by Chuck Wendig.

Yes, they can. 

*ahem*

So, I discovered this book in a sorta roundabout way. I stumbled upon Wendig’s blog, which I immediately fell in love with. There’s hardly a week that goes by when I don’t share one of his posts and wonder how he manages to write directly to me and what I needed to hear. I started following him on Twitter and had the same effect, though I suck at social media, so I didn’t follow that as often. But one day, I remember him writing about anxiety, replying to a comment from a reader who was discussing a book he’d written, called Invasive. This was months ago and I wish I could find the comment exactly, to reference it. But it was enough that I wanted to read that book. I wanted to experience what those other readers were experiencing. Honestly, I wanted some advice on how to navigate and control anxiety and I thought, hell, maybe Invasive can teach me.

Granted, it took months before I made that happen, but a trip to the library and three days later and I can successfully claim that I’ve finally, indeed, read Invasive. 

It wasn’t what I imagined it to be.

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Though I can’t recall the conversation on Twitter precisely that piqued my interest, I assumed that the anxiety the character dealt with–which, in this case, is Hannah Stander–was similar to my own. A naive assumption, because anxiety comes in so many different forms and demons. The kind that Hannah dealt with–one that was ingrained because of her survivalist parents and is brutal enough to cause panic attacks–is a kind I have never experienced and one I’m not super familiar with. But as I kept reading, it’s also the kind I can’t imagine trying to cope with, because it’s intense. It’s difficult.

Yet Hannah did.

That, in and of itself, was inspiring as hell.

Because I was intrigued about how Hannah dealt with and managed her anxiety, I didn’t really know much about the plot before I picked up the book. I had no idea it’d be a murder investigation surrounding genetically modified ants. Yet it was a great break from my traditional epic fantasy and light science fiction niche.

Honestly, I didn’t truly get into the book until the ants started killing people.

Don’t get me wrong: the first third of the book was still great. Hell, I enjoyed this entire book thoroughly and will definitely be taking a look at Wendig’s other series. But once the investigation switched from figuring out the clues and piecing together the culprit(s) to being a battle of survival, told in glorious, gruesome detail, I was hooked. I flew through the last 200ish pages like a fiend (even to the point where, when I had to go to work and only had 20 pages left, I snuck the book back out once I got in my cubicle so I could finish it. Proud to report that I only nearly got caught, because I’m a sneaky sneak thief).

It was also written in such a way that you can’t help but fly through the pages. The shorter chapters, the breaks within the chapters, the short sentences, the well-tuned balance between in-scene description and fast-paced dialogue; all of those elements together, paired with a compelling plot and a fascinating focal point through Hannah, made this book practically impossible not to inhale.

It also, inevitably, inspired both an appreciation and a fear of ants. I also experienced formication at least a dozen times.

Including now.

Dammit.

I highly recommend this book, friends. Just, maybe read it inside in a sealed room while you’re covering head to toe in anti-fungal spray.

Just to be safe.

Read on!

A Lady Awakened

Well, that was interesting.

Do you remember that time when I referenced how I don’t usually read romance novels for the intricate plot, because they all follow the same general narrative structure/arc? I didn’t mean that as a bad thing at all (obviously, as I keep reading them and really enjoying them). It’s just that if I’m looking for a story that is going to keep me at the edge of my seat, I’m not going to be looking at romance.

A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant surprised me.

Granted, I wasn’t at the edge of my seat, like I often end up when I’m reading fantasy. But while I was reading, the plot that I was expecting (e.g., lonely, unappreciated woman discovers ((usually wanton)) handsome rogue, they flirt, fall in love, something makes one of them believe they can’t be together ((often resulting from the inability to communicate between the two lovers, which is a entire blog post by itself)), and they end up together) wasn’t the plot that I was reading, despite having a lot of similar elements. You see, another aspect I associate romance novels with–the types I usually read, anyway–is where the climax of the story is. Hint: it’s the scene where the characters themselves are climaxing (if you catch my drift). It’s almost as if that act is the reward, for both the readers and the characters, after all of the shy glances, flirtatious advances and hesitant seduction. Personally, I enjoy the act of seduction more (when I get chills, it’s never during the climaxing scene. It’s always the scenes where hands brush accidentally or a kiss is delicately placed on the back of the neck or the first kiss). But enough of my personal tastes…ehm…yeah, moving on.

What was interesting about A Lady Awakened was that the entire process was reversed. Martha Russell is recently widowed but desperately wants to stay in her home, yet she was left motherless, as well as suddenly unmarried. In order to keep her home, she schemes a lie that she doesn’t know whether or not she is pregnant, buying her a month’s time. But she doesn’t spend that month idle. No, instead, she hires–literally–exiled playboy Theophilus Mirkwood to get busy with, which he agrees to and they do. Every day. Sometimes, multiple times a day. So the moment that is usually the climax of the book because the norm within the narrative arc, the rising action, if you will. Naturally, the new climax becomes the moment when Martha actually allows herself to enjoy her time with Theo instead of stubbornly not enjoying it–not letting him kiss her, touch her, etc.

And I must say, that change was ridiculously refreshing.

Of course, I’ll still be reading romances that follow the exact plot structure to a T and I’ll still definitely enjoy them. Yet reading it almost out of order, in a sense, to the traditional novel was really interesting. Particularly Martha’s POV, especially in regards to why she refused–for weeks–not to enjoy her intimacy with Theo, instead viewing it as a business transaction. To her, if she enjoyed it, the act somehow worsened, yet if she stayed resolute and didn’t fall for Theo or give into him, then what she was doing to help her town and her own life was at least forgivable. That perspective was really interesting and I didn’t get angry at Martha, like I usually do with romance heroines. I understood and I supported her.

The main aspect–perhaps the only aspect–I didn’t enjoy was the ending. I stopped reading with, what I thought, was about 20-30 pages left before work. During my dinner break, I planned to finish it. When I did, I discovered that I had been deceived by the length. My copy (i.e., the library’s) actually had a sneak preview of another one of Grant’s novels, so I actually only had a couple pages left when I thought I had at least two more chapters. After I finished it, I sat back and said, “Oh.” I won’t give away any spoilers. I just didn’t expect it to end so quickly. It felt rushed and left me with some questions that I really felt should have been answered. Plus, it also felt too easy, which I really shouldn’t be complaining about, as I always hate the chapters when the lovers quarrel. But there was a conversation between Martha and Theo that was missing that I really wanted to be there. You’ll know what I mean when you read it. So I wished I could have gotten a little bit more out of the ending; ten pages, that’s it. However, I was okay with the fact that there wasn’t an epilogue that was three pages and showed the couple together with a horde of kids running around in the sun five years later. (It’s not that these ending chapters are bad. I could just do without them.)

For me, A Lady Awakened provided a refreshing reordering of the traditional romance structure, with some laughs and the occasional caught breath to keep it interesting and entertaining for me as a reader. I’m sure I’ll find myself submersed in another Cecelia Grant romance before long and I look forward to it!

Read on!

PS: The “eight minutes” line at the end was awesome, btw. Oh so awesome.