Hello my lovely readers!
I hope you enjoyed the variety of genres reviewed here in May.
The book of the month for June will be:
A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today by Kate Bornstein
First reviewed in June 2013
“I strongly recommend this book to everyone, really, but especially anyone with an interest in GLBTQ history/theory/studies or an interest in the first few decades of Scientology.”
How was my reading, reviewing, and writing this month?
May books read: 5 (2 nonfiction, 3 fantasy)
May reviews: 5
Other May posts: 1 response to current events
Most popular post in May written in May: On Josh and Anna Duggar and the Fundamentalist Christian Culture of Forgiving Molesters and Abusers
Most popular post in May written at any time: Book Review: The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)
May writing: This was a rough writing month for me. It was an incredibly busy month, including a business trip that meant I wound up working twelve days in a row. I also this month really felt the stress of planning my wedding more so than other months. So that meant a lot of evenings (when I usually write) I was too stressed out to get into the zone. I hope that this month I can handle my stress better so I can get back into the groove. I would like to finish the first draft of my current project by the end of June.
Coming up in June: I have three fantasy reads for Once Upon a Time IX to post reviews for. I also have a review of a nonfiction book I got through NetGalley to post. I also participated in the book blogger interview swap for Juneterviews over on Book Bloggers International, so be keeping an eye out for a link to that.
Happy June and happy reading!
In the future, people’s memories are backed up on sticks like external hard-drives, and when someone dies, they can just be put into a new body or resleeved. Criminals are put into the brain bank for a set period of time to serve their “prison” sentence before being resleeved. Kovacs is an ex-UN envoy but he’s also a criminal, and he wakes up one day in a new sleeve on Earth, not his home planet, before his sentence is up. A rich myth–someone who has been alive for centuries in the same body, due to their wealth–has been killed. After being resleeved, the local police told him it was suicide, but he doesn’t believe them. So he’s hired Kovacs to figure it out for him. If he solves the mystery, he’ll get sent back to his home planet and get a sleeve of his choice without serving any further sentence. If he doesn’t, he’ll serve out the rest of his sentence and get resleeved on Earth, far from home. Kovacs has no choice but to try to figure out who would waste their time killing a man who has endless sleeves to burn?
I love a good noir, and I liked the futuristic scifi sound of this one (the most famous futuristic scifi noir is Blade Runner/Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, in case you were wondering). Unfortunately, in spite of the very cool resleeving concept, I was left quite bored by the plot.
The setting and ideas for this future scifi world are fantastic. Earth has colonized various planets, and each planet was colonized by different mixes of cultures. Kovacs’ planet was colonized by the Japanese and Nordic cultures. When he was a UN envoy he fought on one colonized by Middle East cultures. So each planet has its own distinct culture, and, Kovacs at least, clearly feels that Earth is quite backwards. For instance, Earth has a cadre of people who believe that resleeving is unethical and sign documents saying they are ethically opposed to being resleeved. It sounds as if no other planets have that faction. Similarly, it sounds as if only Earth has people wealthy enough to become myths–people who can afford to be resleeved in new clones of their own bodies they grow and keep safe, as well as back up their brains at frequent intervals into a cloud. So Kovacs has some immediate culture shock, which is interesting to see.
Also, obviously, the idea of people’s brains being kept on usb sticks (basically) that you can just stick into the brain stem of another body and what implications that would have is just brilliant. It’s cool to read about, and it’s an interesting take on longevity. I also particularly appreciated that people *can* still die in various ways. For instance, if you shoot someone where this brain stick goes in, you ruin their stick and they therefore can’t be downloaded into a new body. This whole setting gives both a cool futuristic vibe and a complex environment for solving murders in. It’s hard to solve for murders when people can just be rebooted, basically.
There is a lot of realistic diversity in the book. The lead cop on the assignment is a Latina woman. Takeshi Kovacs is clearly intended to be biracial (white and Japanese). There is a big bad (who I won’t reveal) who is an Asian woman. The only other major characters are the myth and his wife, both of whom are white. However, the surrounding and minor characters all demonstrate a clear melting pot of race and creed. I appreciate it when futuristic scifi is realistic about the fact that all races and cultures and creeds would most likely be present.
One thing I do want to note, although I do think the book tries to address the obvious issue of what if a person gets resleeved into a race or gender different from their own, I’m not sure it was successful. Takeshi immediately notes that he is in a Caucasian sleeve, and that irritates him some. He continues to act like his own culture and exhibits a preference for the food of his home world but he doesn’t seem to be too bothered by being in someone else’s body. (Criminals get resleeved into other criminals at random. That is part of the punishment…not getting your own body back and knowing yours is out there being used by someone else). It is explained that Takeshi is able to deal with the dysphoria because he was trained for it in the UN Envoy but I do wish a bit more explanation was given to this issue. For instance, is being resleeved into a different race usually ok for the person? Or is it difficult just like every aspect of being resleeved into a new body is difficult? Does it vary person to person? This was unclear, largely because Takeshi’s Envoy training makes it a bit of a non-issue.
Similary, at one point a male character is resleeved into a female body, specifically because sleeving across genders is perceived of as an act of torture in this world (it is a bit unclear to me if this actually happened or if it’s virtual reality, but it is made very clear that virtual reality feels exactly the same as reality to the person in question, so the fact remains). I thought this was interesting and a nice send-up to trans issues. However, in the next breath, the character mentions that he can tell he’s in a woman’s body because he FEELS THINGS MORE EMOTIONALLY. *sighs* (I would provide you with a direct quote, but I don’t always manage to successfully bookmark passages in audiobooks, and this was one of those times). I get it that this passage is supposed to be a complement to women. The man in question talks at length about how women feel things so much more and isn’t that nice and what a burden it must be and men should understand it more. Yes, ok, fine, the character is being nice about it, but it’s still sexist. The character could have had the same experience and limited to just this sleeve without making it about all women, but no. He mentions that he’s been sleeved in women’s bodies before and this is how it always is.
On a related note, I just want to mention for anyone who might be triggered by such things that there is a rather graphic scene in which the same character inside a woman’s body is raped by torturers with a rod of hot iron. Just once I would like to get through a noir book without someone being raped, just saying. (If you appreciate warnings for this type of content, see my dedicated page here).
So the characters are interesting and diverse, and the scifi world is creative, but the plot is a bit ho-hum. Part of the problem is that I just honestly cannot make myself care about the rich myth and his problem. The second issue comes up though when Takeshi ends up having a problem that intertwines with the myth’s, and I just can’t care about his either, largely because it revolves around protecting someone who the reader meets for about two minutes of audiobook, so I’m imagining that’s only a few pages of the book. It’s basically big money all coming up against each other, and that’s a plot I personally struggle to really be interested in unless there’s at least one character I can really root for, and I just couldn’t root for any of these. I also think that it didn’t help that compared to how creative the world-building was, the plot is very average. So I was given high expectations with the world-building in the first few pages only to have a been there, seen that, reaction to the plot.
What lifted the book up from 3 stars to 4 for me was actually the audiobook narration. Todd McLaren does an awesome job of producing many different voices and accents for all the different characters, helping to keep complex scenes straight. He also has a great noir detective vibe to his voice when he speaks for Takeshi. I will note, though, that I did have to speed the audiobook up to 1.25x to match my listening speed. But I tend to listen fast, so other readers would probably prefer the slower speed.
Overall, scifi readers who also enjoy noir will most likely still enjoy the read, in spite of a seen it before plot, because the world-building is unique and creative. I would recommend that readers who enjoy both print and audiobook check out the audiobook, as I feel it elevates the story.
4 out of 5 stars
Hello my lovely readers!
I mentioned at the beginning of March that I was hoping to start doing a monthly post reflecting on my reading and writing, blog happenings, and mentioning any updates that need to be mentioned. Here’s the first one!
I did quite a bit of work on the blog this month. You already know that I upgraded to my own domain name. I also totally revamped my astore. For those who don’t know, an astore is a listing of items hosted by Amazon. I use mine to conveniently list out books I have read and reviewed on this blog that I recommend. Every book listed in my astore has received 4 or 5 star reviews on this blog. Previously the lists were mostly just divided into fiction or nonfiction. That was getting unwieldy. They are now divided into much more convenient genres, such as historic fiction or urban fantasy. As always, my astore is linked to in the sidebar of the blog under “Shop 4 and 5 Star Reads,” or you can click through to it right here. I hope my readers find it useful when looking for something to read for themselves or to pick up as a gift for another.
I’ve been book blogging since March 2009. I was thinking that it would be nice to highlight some of the older books I reviewed and really enjoyed. So every month there is now going to be a book of the month. The book highlighted will be one I read and gave 4 or 5 stars to in the same month of a previous year. The book will be featured in the blog sidebar and also in the landing page of my astore. For the month of April, the book of the month will be:
My monthly updates will briefly mention the book of the month. I hope you all enjoy the monthly throwback!
The final change to the sidebar is I have added links to my publications. So be sure to check that out!
One final addition to the blog is a new page (pages are linked to on the header). The new page is called “TW Lists,” and you can view it by clicking here. Basically, I realized that I frequently find myself noting the content of rape or attempted rape in books that I am reviewing whose blurbs gave no hint as to having that content. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a book having a plot point of rape or attempted rape, but some readers seek to avoid them for personal reasons. Some readers just don’t like reading about rape or attempted rape, while others find reading about rape or attempted rape to be triggering for a mental illness they may have, such as PTSD or OCD. It is for the latter reason that a content note like the one I am providing is often called a “trigger warning,” often shortened to an acronym of “tw” followed by the content note. For instance, “tw: rape.”
The content I by far find myself needing to note in my reviews more than any other is rape or attempted rape. I thus decided to curate this list of books I have reviewed on my blog that contain rape or attempted rape. A book being included on this list does not necessarily mean I consider it a bad book or a badly written book. It is purely a content note. To see the list, click on out to the TW Lists page. I hope my readers who need to a content note on rape or attempted rape will find this listing helpful.
That’s it for the blog updates! How was my reading, reviewing, and writing this month?
March books read: 3 (1 urban fantasy, 1 scifi YA, 1 paranormal romance)
March reviews: 6
Other March posts: 1 update, 1 short story, 1 giveaway, 1 reading challenge sign-up
March writing: My current project is progressing, and I am excited at a new direction I came up with thanks to a helpful chat with my fiancé. I also posted an older short story to this blog. You can read it here.
Coming up in April: Get ready for an influx of fantasy, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology, thanks to my participation in Once Upon a Time IX (sign-up post). I have also finished reading the first of my accepted ARCs for 2015. That review will be posted, along with a giveaway!
Happy April and happy reading!
It’s 2015, and Denny Younger of New Cardiff, California, is a caste of 8. He loves reading and studying but he knows he will probably end up working in the shops just like his father. But when he takes his placement test, he’s offered a position that he is promised is better, but he can’t know anything about it until he starts working, and he must leave his family behind. Denny’s family life is in pieces, so he eagerly agrees. Before he knows it, he is re-caste as a 5 and soon discovers that he will be traveling through time as an observer, recording family histories for the elite. Even the smallest error in time-travel can have far-reaching consequences, and before he knows it, Denny finds himself racing against time (and other time-travelers) to fix everything. But what does fixing everything actually mean?
I love a good time-travel book, so when Audible offered this one up to me for review, I eagerly agreed. This is an action-packed book but with far less time-travel than it originally appears and much more parallel universes.
The basic premise of the book is that this is the year 2015 in a wold where the American Revolution never occurred. Without the American Revolution, the British Empire ended up taking over most of the world (except East Asia). Everyone is sorted into extremely strict castes, and family history is everything. These people haven’t made it to the moon yet, but they have managed to discover time-travel. And they use this discovery solely to send people called “rewinders” back in time to verify people’s ancestry to solidify their ranking in this world. Now, this was my first major problem with the book, and it’s a plot point I just never was able to let go of. This society acknowledges the risk of the butterfly effect and yet they brazenly send people willy-nilly through time risking everything for what? Geneaology. And this has been going on for decades with no ill effects. Perhaps other readers can get past the idea that a federally (er, royally) backed agency would do this, but I simply could not.
Naturally, when our brave hero goes back in time, he is the first to woops his way into a butterfly effect. He knows he’s probably done it (he causes someone to leave a location 12 seconds late), but he still pops back up into the present to check on things. Once there, it takes him days to figure out that he’s changed history. Daaaaays. It should really not take him this long to figure this thing out. Denny causes a change. Denny pops up to the present. Denny has troubling connecting to his companion (a person in the present who grounds the person time-traveling), so he gets sick for a few days. Denny then wanders through our universe’s New York City and can’t figure out what’s going on. It takes traveling to California’s New Cardiff (in our world, Los Angeles) and seeing that his family home is gone to figure out what’s happened. Really? A person who has been trained in time-travel takes this long to figure out this very basic time-travel problem? It’s hard to believe, especially after we’ve been told repeatedly how smart Denny is, that he could be that stupid.
Denny then starts living in Los Angeles to investigate this parallel universe. He naturally meets a girl and falls for her. He then has trouble deciding whether to put everything back or not. And of course there are other rewinders out there he must contend with.
The basic plot idea is interesting. What would have happened if there had been no American Revolution and how would a person from that society react if they discovered a different option for their lives? But how the author gets there isn’t fully thought-out or fleshed-out enough. There are too many logical fallacies, such as the ones I’ve laid out above. That said, it was a fun read with a different plot than what has been coming from a lot of YA recently. I was glad to see a scifi that contains some history for YA readers. I also appreciated how many women characters are present in the book, including Denny’s trainer and his nemesis. Similarly, Denny’s world is extremely lacking in diversity due to the success of the British empire and its traditionalism. When he travels to our world, he immediately encounters greater diversity, both of race and of sexuality, and he seems to appreciate that, which is a nice touch.
The narrator does a good job both keeping a good pace and setting the tone for the book. While I understand why the narrator uses a British accent for the British characters from the 1700s, the history geek in me was frustrated, since the stereotypical modern “British accent” didn’t exist back then. (I knew this from my History BA, but here’s an article that explains what I’m talking about).
Overall, this book has an interesting premise and fast-moving plot. It has some romance, but is thankfully free of any love triangles. Time-travel fans may be frustrated by how easily characters brush off the real presence of time-travel issues. The science of time-travel is simply not explored enough, nor is history. However, YA readers looking for a quick read and something different in the genre will most likely enjoy it.
3 out of 5 stars
Source: Free download from Audible in exchange for my honest review
This giveaway is slightly different from the ones I usually run. I’m giving away copies of two books written by an online friend of mine. I haven’t offered up an official review here, because I don’t feel it’s totally ethical to review books written by people I am friends with. I feel like it could skew things. However, I am more than happy to help get the buzz out there! Amanda Ramsay McNeill and I met online because our names are so similar (mine has one L, hers has two). We are not related, but we thought it was kind of cool there are two Amanda McNeil(l)’s out there writing. Anyway, she has generously offered two print copies of her scifi book to the US readers of my blog.
Title: Life Sketches
Two hundred fifty years from now, pockets of society are recovering at varying degrees from a cataclysmic revolution. Simon Wakefield lives in a risk-free society ruled by the Advocacy. Simon’s work is instrumental to the well being of the 750,000 residents of the Urban Complex. He oversees a unit of life sketchers, professionals who write the rigid agendas by which every individual in the UC lives. Simon is content until he notices flaws in the lives of those around him. His father-in-law’s agenda has been limited due to a terminal illness. The newborn son of coworker and friend Jordan Blackwood has been terminated due to a minor birth defect. His teenaged daughter is pregnant by a fellow student who doesn’t exist. Simon is mugged on the way home from an evening class. His frustrations increase when he is involved in a deadly accident on the homebound shuttle, and treated inhumanely in the health facility. Lillian Sorenson, a coworker, commiserates with Simon. She smuggles Simon and Jordan to a settlement that is the bane of the Advocacy, a place where agendas are unnecessary and autonomy is practiced. The settlement and its leader, Ivan Zimm, are the scapegoats for all the shortcomings in the Urban Complex. Simon learns that his life in his “perfect world” is nothing but stagnation and paralysis. Even more discontented when he returns home, Simon realizes that his job is important only to the Advocacy; his work gives the Advocacy total control of every resident. He feels helpless to change the society in which he is trapped. The price to live in a perfect world is too high.
There are TWO print versions of Life Sketches available, courtesy of the author, A. Ramsay McNeill
What You’ll Win: One print copy of Life Sketches by A. Ramsay McNeill
How to Enter: Leave a comment on this post stating what type of revolution you think is most likely to happen in the next 200 years.
Who Can Enter: USA only
Contest Ends: March 21st. One week from today!
Disclaimer: The winners will have their print book sent to them by the author. The blogger is not responsible for sending the book. Void where prohibited by law.
When the world is devastated by GMO plants over-running the land and destroying cropland, humanity splits into multiple factions. There’s the people who firmly believe in transforming people so that they can photosynthesize food from the sun–and have green skin. There’s the cannibals, who have returned to a hunter/gatherer way and eat humans when necessary. Unbeknownst to the green folk, there’s a holdout of Old Order Amish. They’ve changed from how they were in the past but still hold onto many of their ways. In particular, they have decided that taking green skin is the Mark of the Beast, and will not go for it.
Tula is a scientist among the green folk who is tasked with assisting cannibal children who are kidnapped and converted. Levi is an Amish who leaves the compound against orders, seeking yet another group of scientists who are supposed to live in a mountain and may have the cure to his dying son’s Cystic Fibrosis. When Levi is swept up in a green raid of cannibal land, his and Tula’s worlds collide with unimaginable consequences.
I picked this up because the cover of a green-skinned woman in a desert appealed to me, and then the description seemed like an interesting post-apocalyptic future. This is certainly and interesting and unique read for any fans of post-apocalyptic or dystopian literature.
The future is imaginative with many different groups and reactions to the botanicaust (the destruction of plant matter that is considered this world’s apocalypse). As someone who has studied the Amish, I appreciated how the author imagined how the Old Order would handle such a crisis and address it for the future. Allowing people into the compound if they are willing to convert seems logical, and showing that the Old Order did accept some technological innovation also makes sense. Similarly, the green scientists who seek to photosynthesize everyone and don’t seem to care too much if the cannibals want to be photosynthesized or not make logical sense. The scientists believe this is the solution in a world without enough food, and hey haven’t bothered to do any cross-cultural studying to see if there is any rhyme or reason or value to the cannibal lifestyle. This again is a logical position for a group of scientists to hold. The other group of scientists who live in the mountain and have managed to find the solution to not aging are a great contrast to the groups of greens. Whereas the greens do sometimes do evil but don’t intend to, they only intend to be helping (with the exception of one bad guy character), the mountain dwellers have been turned inhumane by their abnormally long lives. These three groups set up a nice contrast of pros and cons of scientific solutions and advancement. At what point do we stop being human and at what point are we being too stubborn in resisting scientific advancement? How do we maintain ethics among all of this? The exploration of these groups and these questions was my favorite part of the book.
The plot is complex and fast-paced, visiting many areas of the land and groups of people. I wasn’t particularly a fan of the romance, but I can see where others would find that it adds to the book. I just wasn’t particularly a fan of the pairing that was established, but for no reason other than it seemed a bit illogical to me. Then again, romance is not always logical.
The one thing that really bothered me in the book was the representation of Down Syndrome and the language used to refer to it and those who have it. The mountain scientists have children, but as a result of tampering with their own genetics, all of their children have Down Syndrome. First, I don’t like that this makes it appear as if Down Syndrome is a punishment to the evil scientists who went too far with science. Down Syndrome is a condition some people are born with. It is not a condition as the result of anything a parent did, such as fetal alcohol syndrome. Second, all of the characters with Down Syndrome are presented as large, bumbling oafs with hearts of gold. There is just as much variety to the personalities and abilities of those with Down Syndrome as there are in those of us without Down Syndrome. Finally, the author persists in referring to these characters as:
a Down’s Syndrome woman (loc 2794)
or of course, “a Down’s Syndrome man.” First, the preferred term for Down Syndrome is Down Syndrome, not Down’s Syndrome. This is a mistake that is easy to make, though (I have made it myself), and I am willing to give the author a pass for that. The more upsetting element in the way she refers to these characters though is that she always lists the condition first and then the person, not the other way around. It is always preferred, in any illness or condition, to list the person first and the illness or condition second. For instance, a woman with cancer, not a cancerous woman. A man with PTSD, not a PTSD man. A child with Down Syndrome, not a Down Syndrome child. I cringed every single time this happened, and it happens a lot in the section of the book that takes place in the mountain. Given that this is an indie book, and it is thus quite easy to make editing changes and fixes, I would hope that the author would go through and fix this simple aspect of language. It would be a show of good faith to the entire community of people who have Down Syndrome, as well as their families. For more on the preferred language when referring to Down Syndrome and people who have Down Syndrome, please check out this excellent guide, written by the National Down Syndrome Society.
It’s a real bummer to me that the language about Down Syndrome and presentation of these characters isn’t better, because if it was, this would have been a five star read for me.
Overall, this is an interesting and unique post-apocalyptic future with an action-packed plot. Those who are sensitive to the language used to refer to Down Syndrome and representation of people with Down Syndrome may wish to avoid it, due to an unfortunate section where characters with Down Syndrome are referred to improperly and written a bit two-dimensionally.
4 out of 5 stars
The author has written a thoughtful and kind comment on this post. You may view it by going below. To sum up, she cannot make edits to those book, due to it also having an audiobook version. However, she has promised to edit for these issues in future books containing characters with Down Syndrome. This genuine and thoughtful response is much more than the community of those with Down Syndrome and their families and loved ones often get, and it is very much appreciated.