Our picks for March 2017
This month, Kelly reviews some of the titles that she read in February.
Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans At War by Mary Roach
Summary: Best-selling author Mary Roach explores the science of keeping human beings intact, awake, sane, uninfected, and uninfested in the bizarre and extreme circumstances of war. Grunt tackles the science behind some of a soldier's most challenging adversaries—panic, exhaustion, heat, noise—and introduces us to the scientists who seek to conquer them.
Kelly's comments: I love Mary Roach's books, and I respond well to her writing style: informational but also humorous. Her topics appeal to my interests, but even if they did not, I would still read the book because I know she will not disappoint me.
If you think you know about the military, think again. Roach's research for this book uncovers the things few, if any, of us think about when it comes to warfare. How does the military decide upon the uniforms; why do they choose a certain style, a particular fabric and color? Does the amount of sweat we produce indicate our ability to perform in war torn countries? How has diarrhea and hideous smells impacted our ability to win battles?
From shark repellent experiments to Hollywood style training camps, Roach brings us along on her quest to solve the mysteries (and histories) of our country's military decisions, a behind the scenes look. I never realized this before (but of course it makes perfect sense) the amount of science, research, and experiments that determine military decisions. To have your entire career be about smells and collecting and creating smells or about experimenting with different types of birds or about writing manuals for sex after genitals are destroyed in combat (and fighting those in power to acknowledge more needs to be done to help those who suffer this fate) amazes me.
I loved every chapter of this book. You don't have to be a fan of war or the military to enjoy this.
The Call by Peadar O'Guilin
Summary: Imagine a world where you might disappear any minute, only to find yourself alone in a grey sickly land, with more horrors in it than you would ever wish to know about. And then you hear a horn and you know that whoever lives in this hell has got your scent and the hunt has already begun. Could you survive the Call?
Kelly's comments: If you've had a hankering to visit Ireland, you might want to do so before you read this creepy book. Otherwise you might think twice about that vacation to the Emerald Isle. Think you like fairies? Think again. The Sidhe in this story are hellbent on destroying the Irish nation by obliterating its future by kidnapping, torturing, and ultimately killing teenagers. In an effort to fight back, Ireland offers children ages 10 -19 (or until they are called and either die or survive) training schools that attempt to prepare captured teens for their trial in the Sidhe world. This preparation is painfully brutal, and students vie against one another to curry favors from their professors and peers. The odds are against them with only 1 in 10 teens surviving, and those who return are forever scarred, physically or mentally or both, by their experience. I know what you are thinking, and I thought it, too. This has the smell of Hunger Games to it, and it does, but in an otherworldly horrifying way. Gone only 3 minutes and 4 seconds from our world, these teens must endure a full day in the land of the Sidhe. Furthermore, Ireland is completely cut off from the rest of the world; no ships or planes can arrive or leave, and no internet or other media exists anymore.
O'Guilin's descriptions are vivid and grotesque, full of Sidhe monsters in a frightening world where vengeance drives the Sidhe to destroy humans. The author also presents a united country whose rallying call of THE NATION MUST SURVIVE! perfectly sums up all actions and decisions. The plot, perhaps similar to other dystopian stories, is tightly woven, and a variety of characters with diverse personalities and many ethnicities provide chapters with multiple points of view that create a can't-put-it-down story. Protagonist Nessa's physical disability is no match for her can-do-will-not-fail personality. Here comes a little spoiler....I'm disappointed in the reason for Nessa's survival because she's such a clever girl that I expected more, but perhaps the author's trying to show us that life is nothing but luck despite all of our preparations. I love that in a good vs. evil story (that is so much more than that), sometimes it's hard to distinguish the hero from the villain. Oh, how I would love to teach this book because there are so many layers to the story.
Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Summary: Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work e-mail. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It's company policy.) But they can't quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious e-mails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives. Meanwhile, Lincoln O'Neill can't believe this is his job now- reading other people's e-mail. When he applied to be "internet security officer," he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers- not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke. When Lincoln comes across Beth's and Jennifer's messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can't help being entertained-and captivated-by their stories. By the time Lincoln realizes he's falling for Beth, it's way too late to introduce himself.
Kelly's comments: Oh, but I smiled throughout the entire reading of this book, chuckled out loud, and even guffawed a few times. In the style of Sophie Kinsella, this rom-com warms the heart with its cuteness, but it also imparts a message we would all do well to learn. The author of Eleanor and Park (a favorite YA love story), wrote this adult novel in 2011 but used a 1999 setting. This time period might be problematic for some because they are too young to remember the Y2K scare and when email and surfing the net were first introduced in the work place, but for me it was a funny reminder of the hysteria preceding Y2K and the novelty of emailing someone who was sitting right next to you. Beth and Jennifer's chapters are written in emails back and forth to each other while Lincoln's chapters reference their missives while highlighting his life as well. I loved that the story focuses on a male's perspective of a bad breakup and his subsequent infatuation with a woman he can't have. I'm smiling now writing this review. Charming and witty, I'm smiling all over again just thinking about this wonderful debut.
Asking For It by Louise O'Neill
Summary: It's the beginning of the summer in a small town in Ireland. Emma O'Donovan is eighteen years old, beautiful, happy, confident. One night, there's a party. Everyone is there. All eyes are on Emma. The next morning, she wakes on the front porch of her house. She can't remember what happened, she doesn't know how she got there. She doesn't know why she's in pain. But everyone else does. Photographs taken at the party show, in explicit detail, what happened to Emma that night. But sometimes people don't want to believe what is right in front of them, especially when the truth concerns the town's heroes...
Kelly's comments: This book shares a title with the nonfiction book Asking for It by Harding, and it, too, deals with rape culture. This is not an easy book to read, but it is one that everyone should discuss. O'Neill explores society's treatment of rape survivors in an unflinchingly honest manner that evokes every emotion imaginable - shock, horror, anger, despair, resignation - all the emotions that 18 year old Emma experiences after she is raped by four "good boys" at a party with her school friends. Discarded on her doorstep with no clear recollection of what actually happened to her, Emma is forced to navigate the rumors proliferating social media and the animosity of her friends and community when the four boys are investigated.
O'Neill's writing is razor sharp but also nuanced and subtle, and it assaults both our senses and our morals. In the beginning (before the rape) I struggled to like Emma with her focus on outward beauty, snarky competition among her friends, and her casual attitude about her personal safety and sexual partners. I wonder if O'Neill did this on purpose in order to poke and prod our moral compass and force us to admit we all have biases (that are often inaccurate). Regardless of my initial feelings about Emma, what happens to her is inexcusable and transcends personal prejudices I (or any other reader) may have. This is why this book is so good, the topic so relevant, and the writing so spot on. O'Neill doesn't try to manipulate us into believing one thing over another; she lets Emma and her sad tale help us sort through our opinions as we acknowledge that young women have an ingrained (and totally unjustified) sense of guilt when it comes to violence against us. We must question our definition of sexual consent and weigh it against what society tries to tell us.
This story is not a feminist manifesto. I expect some will rail against Emma's ultimate decision, but I think O'Neill's ending is, sadly, realistic, and it might spur us to take action more than a happy ending would because we feel the need to stop the injustice. I love that Emma's only two supporters are males (each rallying for her in different ways) even as the lack of female solidarity saddened me. I anticipate this book appealing to female readers, but we should encourage our fathers, brothers, and sons to read this story and then have honest and open discussions about rape culture.
Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman
Summary: Fifteen years ago, Alice Hoffman received a diagnosis that changed everything about the life she'd been living. Most significant, aside from the grueling physical ordeal she underwent, was the way it changed how she felt inside and what she thought she ought to be doing with her days. Now she has written the book that she needed to read then. In this honest, wise, and upbeat guide, Alice Hoffman provides a road map for the making of one's life into the very best it can be. As she says, "In many ways I wrote this book to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that's all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. There were many times when I forgot about roses and starry nights. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts sorrow and joy, and that it's impossible to have one without the other. . . . I wrote to remind myself that in the darkest hour the roses still bloom, the stars still come out at night. And to remind myself that, despite everything that was happening to me, there were still some choices I could make.
Kelly's comments:I am a big Alice Hoffman fan and have read everything she has written. Somehow, this small book slipped past me until now. About eleven years ago, I had the great fortune of attending an author gathering/raffle event that Hoffman hosted (she was raising money for the hospital that treated her for cancer). It was a magical evening for me, listening to Hoffman, Amy Tan, and Arthur Golden to name a few. This book reminded me of that evening because the book evokes a bit of the intimacy I experienced that night. I would give this little gem to someone struggling with a medical issue or to someone who has a loved one battling a disease. With honesty and kindness, Hoffman acknowledges the pain and sorrow life bestows on us (often when we least expect it or when it's not convenient for us), but she also reminds us of the joy and beauty of living (even during dark times). Hoffman probably wrote this book for herself, and it's not a true how-to/self-help guide. Instead, she offers us glimpses into what helped her and suggests we may find similar comfort as well if we choose to follow her advice. It's a lovely book that can be read at any stage in life. Don't wait until you or someone you love is ill; read this book now.
The Graces by Laurie Eve
Summary: Like everyone else in her town, River is obsessed with the Graces, attracted by their glamour and apparent ability to weave magic. But are they really what they seem? And are they more dangerous than they let on?
Kelly's comments: Not even twenty pages into this book, I thought that it felt like a mashup of the movie The Craft and the book The Virgin Suicides, so imagine my glee when the author references Eugenides' novel in this story. That made me think the author herself recognized this and decided to call herself out on it, and this made me like the book even more.
Yes, the story is about magic, but it's more about obsession, past secrets, regret, mental illness, family dynamics, friendship, and power. I guessed River's secret early on (there are enough clues), so its revelation didn't surprise much. However, this did not lessen my reading enjoyment. Eve's plot might be weak in a few spots (I did begin this review by indicating this story has been told before) and the repetition of the obsession for the Graces might have grated on my nerves, but her characters and writing are compelling.
I hope the second in this series doesn't disappoint.
Eat the Sky, Drink the Ocean edited by Kirsty Murray
Summary: Be transported into dystopian cities and other-worldly societies. Be amazed and beguiled by a nursery story with a reverse twist, a futuristic take on TV cooking shows, a playscript with tentacles - and more, much more. Plunge in and enjoy! A collection of sci-fi and fantasy writing, including six graphic stories, showcasing twenty stellar writers and artists from India and Australia
Kelly's comments: I picked this up solely because it was written by women authors from India and Australia and in response to crimes committed against women in those countries. Short stories are not my thing, but I liked this collection because the focus of many of the stories was on women's issues, and the dystopian/sci-fi/fantasy genres worked well for me. This would be good book for both Women's Lit/Women's Studies classes and Science Fiction classes.
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