Monday, January 29, 2018

Humans are dangerous, to themselves...
What might the future hold?

A review of Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2003, Doubleday)

So, Atwood does seem to write about the creepiest things (dystopia, post apocalyptic earth, human horribleness), but it's so real it's worse than creepy. She sucks you in with the amazing futuristic happenings, so much SCIENCE, and making a better world... but then you begin to see the cracks and the artifice, and so forth. And, here, the narrative switches back and forth from three different periods in the protagonist's life, making it all come together near the end. It's grim and mournful, but also so gripping that it's hard to put down.

So breathtakingly sad, but also so incredibly thought provoking. We must really ponder: What are we doing to our planet? What are we doing to one another? What is really important?

It's a warning to us all.

I listened to this via Audible audio and the narrator is very good.

4/5 stars mostly because I really need something positive or pleasant to look forward to in books and this one is thin on that, of course, as it should be given the topic...

Sunday, January 21, 2018

An Academician in Midlife Crisis with Family Issues

A review of Our Lady of the Prairie by Thisbe Nissen (2018: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

So this is a fascinating and creative mix of following this theatre professor through the upheaval of a year or so of her life, including her failing marriage to another theatre professor, her often very ill adult daughter, the drama of the daughter's upcoming marriage, meeting a new lover who is also in academia, interacting with the Amish community and other locals, and her mysterious and cranky mother in law. It's a cornucopia of all sorts of characters!

Because I am an academician, the academic angle is especially interesting to me and some of it is puzzling but it's also interesting. All of this is set against the mystery of the mother in law's possible past in world war two France, as well as the 2004 US presidential election. The election provides lots of funny and not so funny commentary that is quite timely given the 2016 election craziness.

It's an enjoyable read. I found the flashback bits to the mother in law's possible past a bit lengthy but otherwise it's interesting and well written and full of interesting characters and human emotions and interactions, and lots of family and midlife issues.

A solid four stars.

4/5 stars

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Interwoven War Stories

Interwoven War Stories

A review of The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (2017: William Morrow/HarperAudio)

I've read some very good books lately but this historical fiction is completely gripping. I did not want to stop.

It jumps between World War I and post World War II, tying together the lives of several people in post-war Europe including an aging former spy, a pregnant young college student, and an ex-con with a love for automobiles. And that's just for starters. Almost everyone has lost someone in one or both of the wars and almost everyone is dealing with loss and grief. That doesn't sound exciting, but it is.

The story line switches back and forth from WWI to present day 1947 effortlessly, weaving the stories that bring together this unlikely trio trying to right wrongs and uncover secrets, or keep them covered, as may be. Every character has flaws but also has wonderful strengths in time of need.

A beautiful story of retribution and redemption, of death and life. I think anyone who reads this will enjoy it very much.

I listened to the audiobook via audible and the narrator, Saskia Maarleveld, is very good.

5/5 stars

Saturday, January 13, 2018

An Exciting Galaxy with an Interesting History

An Exciting Galaxy with an Interesting History

A review of Our Dark Stars by Audrey Gray and Krystal Wade (2018: Blaze Publishing)

What a fun and interesting read. Very sci-fi, somewhat YA, but fascinating. A vast human ruled dynasty is about to go down to the enemy in revolt, who are not human. One member of the ruling family escapes but is missing for one hundred years. When she reappears everything has changed and the galaxy is confusing. The roles of humans and non-humans have been reversed. So, one group still represses and enslave the other, predictably. Can Talia live to give the human rebels hope? Read and see.

Only one plot turn seemed implausible to me, or perhaps just not smooth enough. But it's all pretty exciting, with plenty of new things to learn about all the primary characters, and, of course, space ships, and fights of all sorts.  Just the kind of science fiction I enjoy.

Adults and young adults who like science fiction will enjoy this book.

I received a free pre-publication electronic copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

4/5 stars

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Believable Dystopia of the Near Future

A review of Red Clocks by Leni Zumas (2018: Little, Brown, and Company)

What is a woman for in a near future without reproductive freedom? What is her purpose? If you read Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale you'll imagine women are for child-bearing and sexual satisfaction and not much else. If you read Elgin's Native Tongue you'll add to that specific intellectual gifts and not much else.

Here, though, we are given a much more likely and much less extreme sort of dystopian (very near) future scenario: Abortion has been outlawed, single women are not allowed to use in vitro fertilization or adopt children. Every child needs two parents. These are not hideously shocking developments, just steps down a path that many people have wanted, probably. So this is speculative fiction of the most believable sort.

In this alternate scenario, the author visits five women seeking their purpose in their intersecting lives. A single school teacher yearning for a child. An unhappily married stay at home mother who desires time alone. An odd and mystical homeopathic woman trying to help others and wrestling with her own past. A female arctic explorer who desired exploration and research. A bright adopted pregnant teenager with few options. Each brings her own perspective,  experience, and worries to the search for purpose in this slightly off-kilter world.

The alternate view points are woven together nicely. The secondary characters bring more nuance and depth to each woman's choices or lack there of.  The story is well written and thought provoking. Given recent political events, this book is very timely for its early 2018 publication.

Who will not like this book? Those who are not interested in women have choices, in reproductive freedom, or even women's freedom to choose the course of their lives.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Cool Sci-Fi Novella

What I'm Reading Lately

I've been on a sci-fi reading binge, partly motivated by the ABC Reading Challenge on Habitica. That challenge isn't about science fiction at all but about reading books by authors with last names starting with all the letters of the alphabet. You'd be surprised how hard some letters are! But we'll talk about that another time. Because my passion is reading more books by women, I've mostly focused on female authors, and because I love science fiction, I'm mostly reading sci-fi, because I can.

I'm about 17 books into my 2017 reading and many of them have been part of the ABC Challenge [abc-read-2017 if you are looking for it on Habitica]. One of the cool things about doing these sorts of challenges it they nudge you out of your usual reading habits. I tend to read new-to-me authors when doing something like this, which means I seriously expand my repertoire of authors whose works I enjoy. What's not to like?

So far this year I've read books by female science fiction authors with last names starting with A, B, C, D, E, F, H, M, and ,W and perhaps another one or two I've forgotten for the moment. Occasionally, I can't help myself and get on a roll and read more than one by the same author - I'm looking at you Octavia E. Butler, indeed I am. Wow.

Sometimes I'm reading something recently published or about to be published (Amy DuBoff's sixth in the Cadicle series!) and sometimes it's something published in the past that I probably should have read long ago (Everything by Octavia Butler, of course) and sometimes I'm rereading something I love (Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells) because a sequel has come out (Remanence) and I want to work my way up to it.

Omega Rising by Jessica Meats

I just finished reading Omega Rising [Codename Omega #1] by Jessica Meats. She is a new author for me, although she's published several books. I was given this one to read via Net Galley.

This is an entertaining novella (just under 100 pages) with a likable and relatable protagonist who finds herself in very unusual circumstances filled with uncertainty and doubt. It's set in York, Great Britain. It's got some funky science-y things going on, and some awkward but so very normal interpersonal things going on, and it's unclear who the good guys are. The uncertainty is good, really.

I believe it's a good sign that I wanted it to continue when it ended. I'd like to know more about the main characters and what is really going on, which hopefully is or will be found in a sequel.

Since this was identified as #1 in a series, I sure hope there are more!

What's ahead?

More reading! More science fiction! More books by women! And some books that are neither by women nor science fiction, because who wants to be predictable?

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Books for International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day. The celebration of this day dates back more than one hundred years. Today we celebrate the economic, political, and social achievements of women, and we hope to raise awareness of the struggles of women world wide.

In yesterday's blog post, I suggested three books by women from three different walks of life with three very different sort of struggles. Today, I'm celebrating the diversity of women writers by suggesting three of my absolute favorite books ever, all of which address issues of immigration and change.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

9. Americanah [2013] by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie [Available on Kindle and in other formats on Amazon and elsewhere - currently cheapest as an audiobook from Audible].

Americanah is colorful and tempestuous story about race, culture, immigration, family ties, finding oneself, and love, not necessarily in that order. The author paints with a kaleidoscope of words the feelings, thoughts, and actions of two young Nigerians and their families and friends, over many years. At once breathtaking, funny, extraordinary, and ordinary, it draws the reader/listener into a whole world, a whole culture, and then pulls through to the clash of cultures, and more.

It is a splendid book full of pulsing emotions and words of wisdom. The author reminds us that life is messy, decisions are unclear, and our paths never seem to go the way we expect.

I listened to the audiobook on Audible (Recorded Books company). The narrator, Adjoa Andoh, is lovely and talented, using a variety of accents and voices to convey the characters across three different countries and continents. In this instance I highly recommend the audiobook, which is under $5 at Audible right now.

If you haven't read this book, or listened to this audiobook, start now.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

10. Interpreter of Maladies [2007] by Jhumpa Lahiri [Available on Kindle and other formats on Amazon and elsewhere including Audible].

I cannot describe this book with too many superlatives... Splendid. Superb. Subtle. Serious. Silly. Sonorous. Significant. Sublime. Sensual. Sensible.

Without a doubt this is the most enjoyable collection of short stories I've read in ages. The beautiful writing describes places and persons I have yet to see, but still feel I know their thoughts intimately now. The glimpses of Indian and Indian-American culture are priceless and thought-provoking.

I listened to this book on Audible. My only complaint is the chapters of the audiobook do not correspond in any way to the short stories. Each ends in the middle of a chapter and the next begins. Nonsensical, that.  The narrator, Matilda Novak, is quite good, though, and I have not a single critical word to add.

This book is simply awesome.

Out of Africa by Karen Blixen as Isak Dinesen

11. Out of Africa [1937] by Isak Dinesen (Pen name of Karen Blixen) [Available on Kindle and in other formats at Amazon and elsewhere].

This is one of my favorite books. I have read it many times. The author is able to paint a landscape and a diversity of persons with beautiful words. She is a consummate storyteller. She lived in a time of upheaval and change that was extreme, requiring her to marry for convenience, move to another continent, learn new languages and cultures, and work just to survive the changes around her she could not have foreseen and could not control.

It is beautifully written and a wonderful chronicle of a time both harsh and amazing.  It is a reminder that even money couldn't not assure equality.

Go Forth and Read

So go forth and read some women's history books, or books my women historians, or just books by women, period! If you want to friend me on GoodReads, you'll find me here: