Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Book Thoughts- Lock In by John Scalzi

Lock In by John Scalzi
published 8/26/14
320 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. Four percent suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And one percent find themselves “locked in”—fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus.

One per cent doesn't seem like a lot. But in the United States, that's 1.7 million people “locked in”...including the President's wife and daughter.

Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can restore the ability to control their own bodies to the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, “The Agora,” in which the locked-in can interact with other humans, both locked-in and not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, meaning that from time to time, those who are locked in can “ride” these people and use their bodies as if they were their own.

This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse....

My thoughts -

Well. I know I've said before I'm a bit of a John Scalzi fangirl - I've pretty much loved everything of his I've read, I follow his blog, I think he's a smart guy AND an entertaining writer. So I'm pretty well predisposed to like this book.

That said, this was NOT my favorite of his work. I found his idea quite interesting - the subject of Lock In Syndrome is close to my heart, as my uncle has been suffering from ALS for 30 years, and has been locked in for at least half that time. I thought that creating a world in which this was almost the norm - where society has had to develop to accommodate people suffering from this syndrome - was a fascinating idea. As usual, his world building is fantastic, and his main characters nuanced and realistic.

So why did this one not hit a home run? The ending. I felt like there was so much forward momentum, and then the novel just ended. It felt rushed and abrupt, like there were chapters missing from the final pages. I can see this being the two-hour premier of a new series, where the point is to get people hooked on the characters and not necessarily care about the way the episode ends. I can only hope there are more books coming, because this felt really unsatisfying.

There is one thing Scalzi does in the novel that is REALLY cool - and I can't talk about it, because if you haven't read it I want you to go in without knowing like I did. I figured out what was going on about 1/3 of the way in, and it was a cool experience watching it play out until the end. My husband and I both had the same experience with it - and I want to know who else has read this book so I can talk to you about it!!

Anyway, not my favorite Scalzi, but let's be honest - even not my favorite Scalzi is more entertaining than a lot of other stuff. I wouldn't start here if you are new to the author, but it's worth reading for the ideas and cool thought-experiement stuff he has going on.

Finished - 9/21/14
Source - Audible.com
MPAA rating - R for language and violence
My rating - 3/4

This counts as my first book toward

LOTS of peril involved in this one!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Book Thoughts - I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
published 1970
291 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local "powhitetrash." At eight years old and back at her mother's side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man any times her age-and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns about love for herself, and the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors ("I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare") will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

My thoughts -

I have to admit that I'm not QUITE done reading this.....but Diversiverse ends tonight, and I really want to get this in before it's over, and I'll finish it before I go to bed, so......

And then, of course, there is the finding of the right words to say to describe this book. It has been a hard read, not because of it's execution but because of it's content. It makes my heart ache to think of the things that happened to this little girl - of the things that are happening today to little girls around the world. Angelou writes these events with honestly, but never gratuitously - she's not writing tragedy porn, but rather a record of the events that led to her becoming the person she finally was. It's hard reading, but so worthwhile.

Her writing is beautiful, generous, funny, and smart. She paints pictures with her words, and that leads to the difficulty in reading at times - I can see what she sees, feel what she feels, and it's often painful. But ultimately, it doesn't feel hopeless, and that's why I can keep reading.

I don't know how the story ends, but I know I will keep reading to the end. This is a powerful book. I can understand why parents would be concerned about their high school aged kids reading this, but I think it could potentially foster so many wonderful conversations that it would probably be worth it. I'm glad I finally took the chance and plunged in. I know this is a book I will not soon forget.

Finished - 9/27/14 (I AM gonna finish this tonight!
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - definitely R, for lots of places
My rating -     (TBD)

I read this book for

#Diversiverse (it's over today, so go and look at the amazing number of books I haven't read yet, but.....

And Banned Books Week, because I'm a rebel! 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Thoughts - The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
published 2010
427 pages

Synopsis -

Yeine Darr is an outcast from the barbarian north. But when her mother dies under mysterious circumstances, she is summoned to the majestic city of Sky. There, to her shock, Yeine is named an heiress to the king. But the throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is not easily won, and Yeine is thrust into a vicious power struggle.

My thoughts -

My first book for Diversiverse this year, and it was a great one. 

I should start by saying that I am predisposed to enjoy fantasy. I've seen several reviews of this novel that explore various problems readers have with the story, and while in retrospect I understand and can even agree with many of the problems - the weird, somewhat uncomfortable relationships; the abrupt transitions in time and place; the "telling" rather than "showing"; and even some issues with Yeine herself. But I have to tell you, as I was reading the novel, I was completely swept away. 

Something about fantasy just allows me to roll with elements that would normally by problematic for me. Something about fantasy lets me open up my mind in a way that completely immerses in the story - I can allow for things that don't make sense, really, because the rules of the world are already different. If the story is engaging, the critical parts of my brain just shut off, and I read for pure enjoyment. I think that's why fantasy is almost always what I choose for a "guilty pleasure" read - because I can so fully escape into this type of novel.

So after saying all that, I have to admit I loved the reading of this novel. I did not find anything in the story itself that was extremely groundbreaking, but Jemisin uses traditional fantasy tropes very well. It is quite refreshing to read a heroine in a fantasy novel that is not clearly designed to be European, and I would enjoy exploring more of Yeine's background in future novels. And I am generally a sucker for a good antihero, and Nahadoth is that in some really interesting ways. 

Sooooo.....not a particularly insightful review (but then, let's be honest - I don't have time to write those much anymore. I'm just happy to be reading!) But boy, did I enjoy reading this novel, and I will definitely read more by this talented author.

Finished - 9/19/14
Source - South side library
MPAA rating - R for fantasy violence & adult situations
My rating - 4/5

If you are interested in reading more reviews of books read for Diversiverse 2014, make sure to check them out here!!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Banned Books Week!

So in the middle of a bunch of other things going on around the book world, this week is also Banned Books week. I wanted to show you all what my library has on display for Banned Books week this year -

It's a great display. Each of the brown-wrapped books has been challenged or banned, and each has a brief description of WHY is was banned on the outside. For example - Our Bodies, Ourselves, which says "I have been challenged because I discuss female anatomy and sexuality. That's it??"

It's not complicated or flashy, but I think it makes a great statement. And it led to a really interesting discussion with my kids (age almost 4), about the idea of adults telling kids that they can't read certain books. So, THANK YOU, South Side (Des Moines) Library! You rock! (Seriously, folks, my library branch is the best.)

To celebrate Banned Books week, I'm going to sneak in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I have never read it, and it will also count as a Diversiverse read! Woo hoo!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Shorts

Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin
published 1993
303 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Maybe the Moon, Armistead Maupin's first novel since ending his bestselling Tales of the City series, is the audaciously original chronicle of Cadence Roth -- Hollywood actress, singer, iconoclast and former Guiness Book record holder as the world's shortest woman. All of 31 inches tall, Cady is a true survivor in a town where -- as she says -- "you can die of encouragement." Her early starring role as a lovable elf in an immensely popular American film proved a major disappointment, since moviegoers never saw the face behind the stifling rubber suit she was required to wear. Now, after a decade of hollow promises from the Industry, she is reduced to performing at birthday parties and bat mitzvahs as she waits for the miracle that will finally make her a star.

In a series of mordantly funny journal entries, Maupin tracks his spunky heroine across the saffron-hazed wasteland of Los Angeles -- from her all-too-infrequent meetings with agents and studio moguls to her regular harrowing encounters with small children, large dogs and human ignorance. Then one day a lanky piano player saunters into Cady's life, unleashing heady new emotions, and she finds herself going for broke, shooting the moon with a scheme so harebrained and daring that it just might succeed. Her accomplice in the venture is her best friend, Jeff, a gay waiter who sees Cady's struggle for visibility as a natural extension of his own war against the Hollywood Closet.

My thoughts -

This is the first novel I've read by Maupin, and wooah, do I get it. I get why people fall in love with his work. There were so many reasons why this novel should not have worked - I mean, it's characters are just about every stereotype you can think of, and it's "issues" practically smack you in the face. But somehow it transcends all those pieces that shouldn't work, and transforms into this somewhat magical, definitely emotional, and wholly unforgettable reading experience. I haven't read Maupin before, but I certainly will again.

Finished - 8/31/14
MPAA rating - R for language, adult situations
My rating - 4/5

In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke
published 2009
326 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

This is the way the world ends...

It was a fairy tale come true when Mark Dorn—handsome pilot, widower, tragic father of three—chose Jiselle to be his wife. The other flight attendants were jealous: She could quit now, leaving behind the million daily irritations of the job. (Since the outbreak of the Phoenix flu, passengers had become even more difficult and nervous, and a life of constant travel had grown harder.) She could move into Mark Dorn's precious log cabin and help him raise his three beautiful children.

But fairy tales aren't like marriage. Or motherhood. With Mark almost always gone, Jiselle finds herself alone, and lonely. She suspects that Mark's daughters hate her. And the Phoenix flu, which Jiselle had thought of as a passing hysteria (when she had thought of it at all), well . . . it turns out that the Phoenix flu will change everything for Jiselle, for her new family, and for the life she thought she had chosen.

My thoughts -

I was unsure about the novel for most of the time I spent reading - it seemed purely superficial, lacking some sort of depth that could truly draw me into the story. While the situation was eerily prescient for our current times, I just couldn't quite connect with Jiselle's life. And then the author gave this book the absolute perfect ending - for THIS story - and it all came together. I'm extremely happy I stuck it out until the end, because it wound up being a thoroughly rewarding experience.

Finished - 9/2/14
MPAA rating - PG-13 for scary elements and some violence
My rating - 4/5

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
published 2010
370 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

Henrietta Lacks, as HeLa, is known to present-day scientists for her cells from cervical cancer. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells were taken without her knowledge and still live decades after her death. Cells descended from her may weigh more than 50M metric tons. 

HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave.

The journey starts in the “colored” ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s, her small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia — wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo. Today are stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells, East Baltimore children and grandchildren live in obscurity, see no profits, and feel violated. The dark history of experimentation on African Americans helped lead to the birth of bioethics, and legal battles over whether we control the stuff we are made of.

My thoughts -

I think much of my reaction to this book has to do with my current profession - dealing with poor people trying to access health care, and navigating the touchy waters of privacy and medical disclosure, the majority of this book was completely appalling to me. I am thankful the medical profession has made strides to improve over much of what was done to Henrietta, but her story was a very sad one for me. While I understand the need for cells and tissues for research, it's tough for me to accept that this is the way they were collected for so many years. What an important story - it should probably be required reading for every medical student in the country!

Finished - 9/10/14
MPAA rating - PG-13 for language and adult situations
My rating - 4/5

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Book Thoughts - Little Bee by Chris Cleave

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
published 2010
266 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

(We all know the synopsis from the publisher is bad. Here's mine - two women meet randomly on a beach. Bad stuff happens, more bad stuff happens, they find each other again and try to help each other heal.)

My thoughts -

To say that the book blurb on this novel is misleading would probably be an understatement. I'm not entirely sure what the publishers were thinking, but "magic" this book is not. Intriguing? Certainly. Thought-provoking? Definitely. Magic? No.

While the writing was lovely - and it was. There were places I re-read simply for the beauty of the language - the story itself was only average. I never quite believed in Sarah's voice - I'm not sure if it was an issue of a male writer not fully inhabiting his female character, or just that Sarah herself didn't buy her own BS - and since half of the novel was written from her perspective, it made those sections difficult.

I found the time-shifting of the narrative a bit confusing at times, not really understanding where each character was in relation to the other. Once we all caught up on the secret "event", it became easier, but there were still places throughout the novel where I felt like I had missed something, somewhere. I felt like the author had some interesting ideas about the different ways people can save each other, but the story ended so abruptly that it didn't seem like he had a chance to flesh these out.

Overall, it was just okay for me. Certain parts were lovely, but in other places I felt like I was really forcing myself to keep slogging on, and that's never a good sign.

Finished - 9/13/14
MPAA rating- R for violence, language, adult situations
My rating - 3/5

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


I know, I know - I've barely returned to blogging and here I am signing up for challenges. But, you see, THIS IS WHY I'M RETURNING TO BLOGGING. Because I KNEW I would want to do this!!

RIP is a great way to ease myself into fall - what is this, you ask?

Carl, the RIP leader, says this -

Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.
That is what embodies the stories, written and visual, that we celebrate with the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event.
As time has wound on I’ve honed this event down to two simple rules:
1. Have fun reading (and watching).
2. Share that fun with others.

I think I can handle that. I will be participating in 

which just means reading 4 books that fit into the RIP categories between now and October 31. No problem. I'd also like to complete

because I've kinda been enjoying short stories lately.

Options for me this year include:
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Changeless by Gail Carriger
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
Ashfall by Mike Mullin
Advent by James Treadwell
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

And, really, whatever else grabs my fancy - it's a pretty wide and inclusive challenge. Want to join me and lots of other readers? Sign up here!