“Believing the strangest things. Loving the Alien.

dawn

 

Octavia Butler is a name that pops up frequently in searches for sci fi writers who aren’t white and male. Naturally when the first book in the Xenogenesis Trilogy popped up on Kindle for sale, I grabbed it up. While Dawn contains many of the same ingredients as a lot of sci fi classics (alien races, the destruction of humanity) the finished product is very different.

Lilith Iyapo has lost everything. Shortly after her husband and son are killed in a car accident, humanity destroys itself in a great nuclear war. She awakes on an alien spacecraft hundreds of years later. She and the other remnants of humanity have been rescued by an alien race called the Oankali. They have restored earth into liveable habitat and will be sending the humans back to start society from scratch. The catch, because of course there is one, is that the Oankali have survived by genetically bonding themselves with other more primitive species. So Lilith’s generation will be the last true humans to exist.

Butler maximizes the “otherness” of the Oankali. These are not the sexy green ladies favored by Captain James T. Kirk. They are grotesque to the human eye; a mass of tentacles and sensory fibers that seem to change with their mood. Lilith is the first human who does not immediately attempt to kill them at first contact. It is because of this that she is made a leader of one of the human groups that will return to to Earth. She will act as a liaison between the disoriented humans and their alien “rescuers.”

The discomfort level is high throughout this book as Lilith bonds physically and emotionally with her “rescuers.” She is clearly conflicted about her new role but she acts decisively with little waffling. The book posits the question, “Does humanity truly survive if its descendants are not completely human?”

“Better you leave here with your head still full of kitty cats and puppy dogs”

la confidential

 

My head was in a very bad place after reading this book. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a great book, but plot is so serpentine and gritty it makes the 1997 film version look like a Pixar short (opening sequence of Up notwithstanding). James Ellroy’s vision of 1950s Los Angeles is dark, mean and merciless. There are no “good guys.” There are only hard, jaded men whose demons push them to pursue some form of justice and none of them come away unscathed. That’s not hyperbole.

The three main characters, Edmund Exley, Wendell “Bud” White and Jack “Trashcan Jack” Vincennes have their fates intertwined by the “Bloody Christmas” scandal, a real-life even involving the severe beating of several civilians by LAPD officers in 1951. The subsequent departmental shake up sets all three men on a path involving police corruption, murder, drugs and vice connecting to the highest levels of society. It’s hard to say much more about the plot, not because of spoilers but because it so dense.

This book was really damned good but it’s not for the faint of heart. Everyone in it, even the protagonists, are ugly. Every awful thing that can be done to a person seems to happen at some point in this book. But it’s also very smartly written and keeps you guessing.

“Space around me where my soul can breathe”

introvert advantage

I don’t think I’ve ever read a “self help” book before. It’s not that I don’t think I could do with some improvement. I often find their advice to be overly simplistic or that they take a “one size fits all” approach to many of life’s problems. Ms. Olsen’s book has some of these issues but is generally easy to read. She divides her books into small, easy to digest sections making it easy to read before bed.

I would say one of the biggest issues with this book is that a lot of the information has become old news in the 15 or so years since it was first published. We all know that introverts get their energy from quiet time spent alone and that extroverts are just the opposite and that we prefer substantive conversations to small talk. On any given day one can find approximately 50 memes about being an introvert on their Facebook feed. I also found that she tended to view people in very black and white terms with regard to introverts and extroverts. That being said, there were some helpful tips on getting along in a society that seems to be built for the extrovert. She gives advice for relationships, the workplace, meeting people, social obligations and many other situations (I skipped the chapters on parenting).

Overall, this book is helpful if not particularly groundbreaking in 2017. I am already utilizing some of her advice at my job and it seems to be working.

“Never saw no miracle of science that didn’t always end up as something worse.”

never let me go

 

It’s been about 3 days since I finished this book and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. This is first book by Kazuo Ishigiro. This review will be a little more succinct than my typical review because it’s hard to go too deep into the plot without spoiling things. The basic story follows Kathy, Ruth and Tommy; three friends who are students at a school called Hailsham and the years after they move on from their education. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that there is something very different about Hailsham and its students. I figured out pretty quickly how things were going to go and how it would likely end but this in no way effected my enjoyment of it. While I can’t say I enjoyed this book which is deeply sad, it is beautifully written. It’s not the emotional gut punch of watching “Requiem for a Dream” but there is a pervading sense of quiet sadness throughout the book from beginning to end.

“Life itself is the proper binge”

my life in france

 

This book will remain forever on my shelf as something to read when I need to feel better about life, or for when I am feeling somewhat directionless. Julia Child’s memoir spoke to me on an extremely deep level. I already knew I loved her, now I idolize her. Watching her jump fearlessly from life in a foreign country in which she barely spoke the language, to cooking, to “cookery bookery” and finally into hosting a cooking show without allowing fear to hold her back is inspiring. I don’t typically use language like this for book reviews but I fell in love with this one from the first chapter.

“My Life in France” details Julia’s life from the time she arrived in France with her husband Paul for his job with OSIS through her return to the United States and the publication of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” volumes 1 and 2. Julia’s excitement and love for the nation of France and it’s people is evident from the start. Though told chronologically, it is more a series of memories about a pivotal time in her life. Though it is not without conflict, Julia does not dwell too much on the more difficult aspects of her life. She and Paul viewed most inconveniences and discomforts as part of a great adventure rather than anything to fret over.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Julia Child’s memoir is inspiring and lovely to read.

“We’re all wired into a survival trip now.”

transmetropolotin

The first volume of Transmetropolitin is almost twenty years old and is still as disturbingly as relevant as it was in 1998. Warren Ellis’ twisted dystopian future doesn’t seem so far fetched given current events. I didn’t catch it at in its original release, much to my shame. I was worried that it wouldn’t hold up over time. I can’t say I’m 100% pleased to discover I was wrong.

Spider Jerusalem a journalist who, by Ellis’ own admission was modeled after Hunter S. Thompson, is forced out of his self imposed exile by his publisher to whom he still owes 3 more books. In order to write, he has to live in a society that he hates. In order to make a living in the society he hates, he has to go back to reporting…the job that he hates. Despite his loathing, it’s clear that Jerusalem’s journalistic voice is deeply compelling and possibly the antidote that this ailing culture needs. He is joined on his adventures by Channon Yarrow, an assistant forced on him by his editor to make sure he gets his work done. Channon, of course has no control over Spider. But she does help keep him tethered to his basic humanity.

If you haven’t read Transmetropolitin, you really should. If you haven’t read it since its original publication, you really should. It’s an angry, vulgar but deeply intelligent comment on modern culture.

Gunpowder, gelatin. Dynamite with a laser beam

rat queens 1

 

I was skeptical about this graphic novel when I picked it up. I’d been looking for some more female-centric stories and I’ve been a Dungeons and Dragons player practically from the time I was in the womb. The description of this book sounded possibly fun but potentially more character quirks than actual story. I’m definitely glad I took a chance.

Reading Rat Queens is a bit like playing a table top RPG with your best gaming friends. The stakes are serious but the atmosphere is fun. Everyone plays characters that are unique but have aspects of their own personality. The nods to gaming are clear but not heavy handed and they definitely don’t take away from the story. I immediately added the next book to my TBR pile as soon as i finished this one. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun but not overly silly read.

This is the House. Come on in.

DEATH IN CITY OF LIGHT

 

My actual review is somewhere between a 3 and a 4 but I tend to round up for a generally well written book. The story of Dr. Marcel Petiot and his victims was likely overshadowed in the world at large by the end of the Second World War and the ensuing Nuremberg Trials but in Paris it was a media sensation and his trial had almost a carnival-like atmosphere to it.

During the Nazi Occupation of Paris, Dr. Petiot lured in those vulnerable to Nazi persecution with promises of passage out of the occupied territories and into relative safety. Many of his victims were unsavory underworld sorts whom Petiot were later claimed were collaborators (his defense in court was to claim he was working for the French Resistance) but others were simply frightened Jewish families. Though there is no doubt that Dr. Petiot killed at least 27 and as many as 100 persons, there are still many unanswered questions regarding his case. King’s book does its best to separate documented facts from rumors which flew freely during this time period.

King’s book paints a vivid picture of Paris during the Nazi occupation and it’s aftermath. The atmosphere of fear and suspicion allowed a serial killer to murder with impunity and to come very close to getting away with all of it.

I’m Holding Out for that Teenage Feeling

eleanor and park

 

I’ve spent half the day trying to properly describe how much I love this book and nothing is doing it justice. This book is such a beautifully realistic depiction of teenage love that I was equal parts nostalgic for those feeling and glad I’m a fully formed adult whose passion has been tempered with wisdom. Rainbow Rowell’s characters are realistically flawed and familiar in a way that makes you identify with them almost immediately.

Eleanor and Park takes place over the course of a school year in Nebraska over the course of a school year in 1986. Eleanor lives in poverty level conditions with her mother, siblings and abusive stepfather. She is forced to wear her limited clothing creatively to disguise the fact that she has very little to wear. Park comes from a relatively well adjusted middle-class family. However he’s quiet and likes punk, new wave and comic books. He’s also one of only two Asian kids in his school (technically he and his brother are half Korean but, as Park points out, he is the only once who looks it). The two are thrown together by chance on the school bus. While they first do their best to studiously ignore each other, they soon form a bond which grows into a deeply romantic relationship. Everything they go through should be incredibly familiar to anyone who’s experienced their first teenage love; the intensity of the feelings, the misunderstandings, the insecurities.

Although the fate of their relationship is given away at the beginning of the book, I won’t spoil anything for you. But if you’re looking for a story with realistic characters that make you care deeply for them I can’t recommend this book enough.

I still haven’t found What I’m Looking For

who killed these girls

 

This is an extremely frustrating book to read. This is not because it’s not a well researched and compellingly written work of true crime. It’s because after 25 years, the brutal murders of 4 young girls in an Austin, Texeas yogurt shop have still not been solved and likely never will.

On Friday, December 6, 1991, 17 year olds Jennifer Harbison and Eliza Thomas were working the closing shift at an I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt (aka ICBY) in Austin. Tagging along with Jennifer were her 15 year old sister Sarah Harbison and Sarah’s 13 year old friend Amy Ayers. The two younger girls had a sleepover planned that night. Sometime right around closing, unknown persons entered the store, subdued the girls, forced them to strip, shot all four of them to death and then set the store on fire to cover their tracks. The murders would rock then (then) sleepy town of Austin, Texas. Despite a great deal of media coverage and a huge public outcry, no suspects were brought to trial until well into the 2000s and those convictions would be later overturned.

There is no one person or event to blame for the lack of results in this case. There is no “ah-ha” moment like those in Making a Murderer. Many little things would contribute to its extremely frustrating outcome. But at the core of the issue was the fact that this complicated and emotional crime was simply too much for what was then a rural Texas town.