Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Speed of Dark -Elizabeth Moon

  Summary (Amazon): In the near future, disease will be a condition of the past. Most genetic defects will be removed at birth; the remaining during infancy. Lou Arrendale, a high-functioning autistic adult, is a member of the lost generation, born at the wrong time to reap the rewards of medical science. He lives a low-key, independent life. But then he is offered a chance to try a brand-new experimental “cure” for his condition. With this treatment Lou would think and act and be just like everyone else. But if he was suddenly free of autism, would he still be himself? Would he still love the same classical music—with its complications and resolutions? Would he still see the same colors and patterns in the world—shades and hues that others cannot see? Most important, would he still love Marjory, a woman who may never be able to reciprocate his feelings? Now Lou must decide if he should submit to a surgery that might completely change the way he views the world . . . and the very essence of who he is.

My Review (SpOiLeRs!):

Executive Summary: almost

So this is our science fiction pick for the year, and it’s not really science fiction. It’s set in a future world where all people who will have autism have been corrected before being born. There is a gap generation who were too old for the full correction, but have had some procedures, allowing them to work and have semi-normal lives. No robots, aliens, or flying cars. Just a story about an autistic man named Lou.

Lou has an apartment, a car, and a job. He works in a job in a special office with only other autists. They have some special perks which the other “normal” employees do not get, but this allows them to fully channel their concentration into their work and find patterns and sequences that others cannot.

A new big boss, Mr. Crenshaw, arrives at the company, and his goal is cutting costs. He decides that this group of autists is too much work, so he comes up with a (really contrived) plan. He is going to cut costs by eliminating the perks that these autists get by making them all sign up for an experimental medical procedure which makes them “normal”. Their direct boss, Mr. Aldrin, who has a severely autistic brother, gets to work foiling his plan.

Speaking of foils, Lou’s main past time is fencing. There’s a group he goes to once a week at Tom and Lucia’s house. It took Lou a while to get the hang of it physically, but he now is quite a good competitor as he can deduce the opponent’s pattern. A bunch of others go to the fencing group, but the story focuses mostly on two–Don and Marjory. Don’s a jerk, and Lou doesn’t really see it. The others defend Lou when Don makes crass jokes about him being a retard, but really this just makes him madder that they like Lou better than they like him. Marjory is a love interest of Lou’s although it takes him a while to realize it. He struggles to understand how to manage that situation, and Tom and Lucia explain to him that “normal” people also have a lot of difficulty in this situation!

His situation at work is getting more dire as he and the others in his group don’t know that their manager is working behind the scenes to fix things, and now Lou appears to be being targeted by someone who has slashed his tires and broken his windshield. The final piece comes when someone leaves an explosive jack in the box inside his car where the battery should be. After only slight investigation, they realize that it’s Don, and he is arrested when he tries to shoot Lou at the grocery store. Lou struggles with this as Don’s punishment is to have his brain altered so that he won’t want to do bad things. Lou has been reading a lot of books that he had borrowed from Lucia about the brain to understand better his own possible treatment, so he additionally knows what will be happening to Don.

It turns out that the big boss is fired when the rest of the C levels find out what he is up to, and the program is off. Mostly. The autists can still have the procedure done if they would like, and one of them does immediately. Lou struggles with deciding whether or not to do it, and then he eventually decides that he will. He awakes from the surgery and originally has no memory. Tom comes to visit him but it takes a few visits for Lou to remember who he is, but eventually he does. He starts to remember his old life, but he decides that he wants to get into a PhD program. He eventually loses touch with his friends from his old live including Marjory.

Verdict: 3 stars

The one thing that I did really like about this book was the glimpse into the mind of an autistic person. Reading some reviews of the book, including one written by a high-functioning autist, suggest that this depiction is actually very realistic. (The author has an autistic son.) However, the actual story of the book I found to be very unrealistic and at times very dull (like the detailed pages and pages about Lou reading about the brain). I thought that aside from Lou, every character felt very flat especially Mr. Crenshaw and Don. It also felt like a snap decision that Lou made in the end, and the book ended so abruptly. And in general, I thought it was quite the stretch of calling it a science fiction book.

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2016 Book Club List

 This year’s book club list was created similarly to last year‘s list*. We have a list of genres to choose from and depending how often you actually make it to book club dictates the order in which you get to pick your genre. I had the first pick this year! I chose to pick a book made into movie. (Last year I picked literary fiction, and 2014 I chose sci-fi/fantasy. I’m trying to branch out a bit every year.) The three books that I took for consideration were: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen/Seth Grahame-Smith, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, and the one that we ended up choosing–A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.

Without further ado, here’s our 2016 list**

January (Sci-Fi/Fantasy) – The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

February (Memoir) – Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr by Richard Rhodes

March (Classic) – Persuasion by Jane Austen

April (Historical Fiction) – The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

May (Young Adult) – The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

June (Non-Fiction) – Fearless by Eric Blehm

July (Mystery) – The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

August (Romance) – The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker

September (Book into Movie) – A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

October (Literary Fiction) – My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

November (Best Seller) – The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

December – Book Swap

*If you want to see the last five years (pre-dating the blog) of our book choices, go here.

**The person responsible for mystery was unable to attend so that will be determined at the January meeting. We also have one less person in book club than we have months, so the November book will be chosen later in the year, either by a new attendee, or by me (!!) because I had the first choice for this year.

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In the Company of Others – Jan Karon

   Summary (Amazon): Jan Karon’s new Father Tim series, launched with her New York Times bestselling Home to Holly Springs, thrilled legions of Mitford devotees, and also attracted a whole new set of readers. “Lovely,” said USA Today. “Rejoice!” said The Washington Post.

In this second installment in the series, Father Tim and Cynthia arrive in the west of Ireland, intent on researching his Kavanagh ancestry from the comfort of a charming fishing lodge. The charm, however, is broken entirely when Cynthia startles a burglar and sprains her already-injured ankle. Then a cherished and valuable painting is stolen from the lodge owners, and Cynthia’s pain pales in comparison to the wound at the center of this bitterly estranged Irish family.

In the Company of Others is a moving testament to the desperate struggle to hide the truth at any cost and the powerful need to confess. Of all her winning novels, Jan Karon says this “dark-haired child” is her favorite.

My Review:

Executive Summary: pensive

I borrowed this book for our book club book swap. It’s not a book that I would have picked by myself, which is why book swaps can really be a hit or a miss. In this case, it was a little of both.

The story is about an (American) Episocopal priest, Father (Reverend) Tim Kavanaugh and his wife Cynthia.  My understanding is that this is the second book in the “Father Tim” stories, and it’s one of a bunch of books in “The Mitford Series.” (I may be incorrect. I’m unfamiliar with this author.)

Tim and Cynthia decide to go on vacation to Ireland to a little B&B that Tim had visited many years earlier when he was a bachelor. They are planning to meet with Tim’s cousin and his wife to travel all around Ireland, but things don’t exactly go as planned. While there, Cynthia goes back up to her room and there is an intruder hiding in their wardrobe. He jumps out and flees out the window, but Cynthia is so startled, she turns her ankle and is all but bedridden for most of the trip (conveniently to prolong the story, as she gets better, she slips again setting herself back in recovery).

This mystery followed with the unsettled attitude surrounding nearly every family member of the inn’s owners is the basic premise for the story. The inn is owned by Liam and Anna. Anna’s daughter Bella is also around as well as Anna’s father, William. Liam’s mother and brother live nearby, and there is a great schism in their relationship. At the same time, Cynthia finds a journal written by the original builder of Liam’s mother’s place. So all the stories become intertwined. This honestly was very confusing to me at times because it was very difficult to keep track of all of the characters (as well as the extraneous characters who were also staying at the inn and people who Tim and Cynthia knew from home).

One by one, all of the main characters who were alive (begrudgingly at times) confess what is causing them anguish to either Father Tim or in some cases (Bella) to Cynthia. The reader finds out piecemealed that Anna’s father, William, was in love with Liam’s mother, Evelyn. Back in the day, he was a boxer, and by the time he got some sense into him and came back to her, she was already married and had had Liam’s brother Paddy. Liam was born only 9 months later, causing both Liam and Anna to separately believe that they might be half-siblings. Eleanor had a hard life, being abandoned by William, and then “causing” an explosion which killed her parents and siblings. (She didn’t actually cause the explosion; she merely opened the door causing oxygen to enter the already gas-laden house). She never mentally recovered from this and took out her anguish on everyone in her reach. In her old age, she needs to withdraw from alcohol as her liver is close to failure. During this, she also falls, injuring herself and is bedridden for all of the detox. Some combination of the detox, old age, and Father Tim causes her to repent and make her amends to everyone.

At the same time, the mystery of the intruder, and later in the story, the stolen painting, is traced back to Bella. An angsty teen, she recently moved back in with her mother, and is very unhappy with the lack of music as well as the solitude of the place. A previous employee named Jack Slade (obviously a baddie with a name like that) convinced Bella that he would get some money and take her to London with him. After helping him steal the painting and seeing the after-effect anguish that it had on her mother, Bella turns him in (he’s already in jail for stabbing a guy) and makes amends with Anna and Liam.

After solving all the problems in the area, and Cynthia’s ankle healing enough to be able to travel, Tim and Cynthia head off to Dublin for a few days before heading home, promising to visit again soon.

Verdict: 3 stars

I thought the book overall was good. It was lighthearted, and was not overly forceful on the religious aspects. The main drawback for me on the book was both its length (and associated lack of plot to sustain the length) as well as the overwhelming number of characters. The descriptive sections were great of the main (living) characters. It felt almost as though you knew them and felt like you were at the place. I felt it hard to follow the story of the characters in the journal, and despite one tie-in of the book to the current time, I did not really see the point of it. I wonder if I had read the prior book, if I would have enjoyed this book more.

 

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The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North

 Summary (Amazon): STORIES CANNOT BE TOLD IN JUST ONE LIFETIME.

Harry August is on his deathbed. Again.

No matter what he does or the decisions he makes, when death comes, Harry always returns to where he began, a child with all the knowledge of a life he has already lived a dozen times before. Nothing ever changes.

Until now.

As Harry nears the end of his eleventh life, a little girl appears at his bedside. “I nearly missed you, Doctor August,” she says. “I need to send a message.”

This is the story of what Harry does next, and what he did before, and how he tries to save a past he cannot change and a future he cannot allow.

My review (major spoilers!):

Executive summary: creative

This book is SO good. I thought it was really creative, and I hope that this author puts out more stuff (Claire North is a pen name for Catherine Webb).

As you can probably guess from the title, there’s a reason why Harry August has had 15 lives. He cannot die. Every time he lives out his life, he is reborn into the exact same situation where he began with all the memories from his previous lives. His biological father raped (coerced?) his mother and Harry was born in the women’s bathroom of a train station in Northern England. His mother died during childbirth. Each life, Harry ended up being adopted by some close relatives who could not have children, and in general treated Harry just fine.

During his fourth life, he realizes that there are others like him (unfortunately too late) and upon starting life #5, The Cronus Club (made up of other ouroborons like Harry) begin to take him out of each of his lives early under the guise of special scholarships and the like so that his 100+ year old mind doesn’t have to sit through middle school over and over again. The Cronus Club operates in a sort of pay it forward type of way in that a scholarship fund of sorts is set up (they do a lot of betting on horses and the like since they know who will win) and older members are responsible for pulling out new members at the correct age when they are reborn.

Throughout lives 5-11, Harry learns and learns and learns. He travels, learns seemingly every language there is, and meets a variety of other oudoboron. They all spend their lives differently. Some prefer to engage in very risky behavior like fighting in wars. Others prefer to maximize their fun since there’s no consequences. Harry in general is fairly straight laced. He loves to learn. Sometimes he marries, other times he doesn’t. He typically lands in some sort of science-related field.

Nearing his “death” at life number 11, he is visited by a young oudoboron (he always dies for a similar reason at approximately the same time, but the only thing that is always exactly the same in every life is his birth) who passes along a message. “The world is ending, as it always must. But the end of the world is getting faster.”

He doesn’t really think too much of it because really, what does that mean? So he spends his twelfth life doing a lot of research. And he finds that technology is indeed speeding up. Following some leads to Russia, he finds a man who he had met in life #5 when he was a professor. The man, during that life, was a student named Vincent Rankis, who had big ideas even then and even bigger ideas now. Scientific curiosity convinces Harry  to join Vincent on his mission to develop a quantum mirror–something which would allow comprehension of the entire universe.  During this time, he discovers that Vincent is a mnemonic, a oudoboron who never forgets (this is quite rare as most of the others eventually begin to forget their early lives). It turns out that Harry, too, is a mnemonic, but he does not reveal this detail to Vincent.

Eventually Harry realizes that he and Vincent are the cause of the message that he received at his death bed. He decides to take a few days away from the lab (he hasn’t left in 10 years) and finds the Leningrad Cronus Club is gone. He tracks down the tomb of the one woman from there who he knew, and finds a cryptic message saying that her death was violent and unexpected (members of the Cronus Club always left messages and clues for each other throughout time). Harry knows in his mind who was behind this (Vincent) and is conflicted as to what to do. He decides to return, and Vincent confirms the suspicion. He doesn’t like the Cronus Clubs because in his mind, they don’t do anything new or different, just live the same lives over and over.

Harry decides to flee, but Vincent foils it. He restrains Harry and questions and tortures him about his point of origin. (The only way to truly kill a oudoboron is to prevent them from being born, and the only way that you can do that is to know where the person is born and who his/her mother is.) Harry refuses to give in. He convinces the main torturer to bring him poison, and Harry manages to take enough to not be able to recover. In his slow death, Vincent decides to perform a Forgetting on Harry. (This is an uncommon thing performed on oudoborons when they have had a particularly traumatizing event.) When he awakes, he realizes that the treatment didn’t work, but it doesn’t matter, Vincent has him killed.

When Harry awakes in life #13, he still remembers everything from the previous lives. And he knows that he needs to find Vincent. At six, he sends a letter, as he always does, to the London Cronus Club to save him, but no one appears. He sneaks away to find that the London Cronus Club no longer exists. Eventually when he is older, he finds out that the Cronus Club ceased to exist in 1909 due to lack of new members. Harry suspects that Victor had done a mass forgetting and heads to Vienna and proves it. He becomes a professional criminal both trying to trace Vincent and also trying to glean any information from remaining Cronus Clubs. Eventually he finds one in Beijing and learns that the forgettings began in 1965 and the pre-birth killings started no earlier than 1896 and accelerated in 1931 (presumably when Vincent can help) which gives him a good timeline to find Vincent. The Beijing Club provides a name of the original person and Harry sets off. When he finds her, he is devastated to find the woman who originally saved him so many lives ago. He initiates a forgetting on her, but never encounters Vincent. It will have to wait until life #14.

In life #14, technology is so far advanced in this life, he knows that the Vincent has been hard at work for the last few years. He makes an ally with an oudoboron whose live begins a few decades before his to help carry out the mission of stopping Vincent. Harry randomly meets Vincent at a colleague’s house, and must pretend not to know him (he should have forgotten). Vincent eventually contacts Harry and begins to get Harry to work for him. Harry does to learn about Vincent’s past. Harry is good at pretending not to remember even during particularly difficult time when Vincent marries Jenny–one of Harry’s wives from a  former life (and the one who he loved the most and told his secret to…and then she left him.) Harry dies earlier in this life, and before he dies, Vincent performs another forgetting. Again, it does not work.

His two other oudoboron acquaintances help him early in life #15 knowing that Vincent must be stopped. They suggest a forgetting but Harry knows it won’t work. So they begin on a plan. At sixteen, Vincent finds Harry at school, and it’s then obvious that Harry is being tracked until he eventually bumps into Vincent again in 1941 during the war. Again Harry pretends that the forgetting has worked, and again Vincent keeps Harry close, having him help with the research. Vincent is very close this time to completing his quantum mirror. Luckily Harry sabotages him from completing it despite his knowledge. Harry and Vincent both begin to die from radiation poisoning from being too close to the mirror for too long. Harry is dying more quickly and as he is dying, Vincent tells him everything. He tells his mother’s name, when he was born, and Harry has already figured out where he was born. Vincent performs yet another forgetting, and yet again it does not work. He checks himself out of the hospital, contacts his allies, and writes Vincent a letter. The game is over.

Verdict: 4.5 Stars

I thought this book was awesome. It’s a creative story set in a really great time period of modern history (which is important because it’s relived over and over). There are few stories that seem not to follow a predictable idea, and this was one. It integrated science and mystery with human drama. (Particularly in the last few lives, Harry struggled with being friends with Vincent while also knowing that he had to destroy him.) There were also sociological bits such as the fact that Harry continued to kill a serial killer in every life (even before the man had made his first kill). It was fascinating and I would definitely recommend it.

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2015 in Review

I’m a nerd in topics aside from books. I love breaking things down into numbers.

This past year, I read 25 books (or 2.1 books per month). That works out to a book approximately every 14.6 days. The books I read totaled 9146 pages for the year which equates to about 25 pages a day.

If you check last year’s stats, you’ll note that I’m down five books from 2014. However, I attribute at least part of that to moving over the summer, causing a large void in reading during June and July. Another thing from this year is that I didn’t finish one book (thus I didn’t count it in my stats) and I also didn’t read one of the book club picks (Beloved). Both of these are rare occurrences for me!

 

Enough about the bad facts though. Onto the remainder of the stats!

I must be getting older or something. This year, I added a category that didn’t exist in last year’s metrics–autobiography. Also, my most-read category this year is literary fiction instead of YA (but YA is a close second). I read no memoirs this year, and my romance/erotica category also significantly decreased.

2015 Genres

I also went through to see what my ratings were. I separated into “all 25 books” and “book club only (10) books (one must either be in 2014 or will be in 2016)”.  I rated the most books as 4’s (which means I either am being more optimistic or I chose better books than in 2014 where most were 3’s!). I didn’t have anything below a 2.5 or higher than 4.5 (5 is a unicorn though). My highest ranked books were not book club picks like last year so I guess that means my own personal picks are better to my own liking! My top reads can be found here and here.

2015 All Books2015 Book Club Books

I also try to keep track of where I get my books. This year, as compared to last year, the majority of my books were purchased new! However, one was a “Kindle Daily Deal” and a few of them were purchased for Kindle so they could be read on an international vacation (questionable access to getting them from the library and didn’t want to pack hard covers). I would like to try to plan better and reduce the number of books purchased new in 2016. A variety of books fall into the “Other” category–gifts, books we already had, books like The Three Musketeers that are out of copyright and can be obtained for free.

2015 Method of Attaining Books

Lastly, I got some stats from WordPress for the past year. A few interesting bits. I had my 100th post this past year. I also got my 100th follower (thanks, friends and fellow bookworms!). My most popular post was the one about The Time Keeper discussion questions.

I’ve already finished my first book in 2016 and am well on my way to a second one. I think that’s a good omen for the upcoming year!

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