Another Bleak and Violent Future in Teen Fiction

red

Another Bleak and Violent Future in Teen Fiction

a book review on

Red Queen By Victoria Aveyard 

Teen literature has always tended to err on the angsty side. And I love that. Sometimes you just need a good, miserable wallow in things being not what they should.

Back in my day, growing up with Potter and Bella Swan, things would get dark and lives would be in danger, but the landscape was fairly navigable from deep trauma until you were too far in the series to care about saving yourself heartache when these characters disappeared. Now…welcome to a brave new world, where every other teen fiction book is part of a series and the first book usually hits hard with death, destruction, family massacre and dystopian visions of how much our future is going to suck.

A book like Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard doesn’t stand out in the current world of teen fiction because it follows the formula they’ve all come to mimic (and to great success). There’s a teen heroine (sometimes a male, but less and less common) and she’s different. She loves her family and best male friend, and will do whatever it takes to save them from evil government/monarchy/monster mayhem. Also, it’s the future and the world is way messed up…kinda unlivable, a totally changed landscape. The differences to make the work unique with Red Queen are best summed up with an analysis  from GoodReads reviewer Rachel Carver who writes: “Red Queen is Game of Thrones with Katniss as the Mockingjay with X-Men…”

So nothing is new.

But does that mean that Red Queen is a “bad” book; not worth reading? Thankfully, no. Red Queen was a page-turner, written well, made intriguing with fun and terrifying characters, and told with a strong, admirable female narrator at the helm. I didn’t mind that it fused a lot of popular themes and story lines into one narrative. It was fun. It was also pretty traumatic.

Red Queen doesn’t pull any punches. Our main character, Mare Barrow, lives in a gritty future world on the bottom of the social totem pole, and when she’s given the chance to ascend into the ranks of hierarchy things get bloody and vicious. I’m not one to censure literature, and so if a teen has the capability to read this book and wants to, then go for it. But it reads like an adult work to me. I’m a Tarantino fan, and I was cringing at some of the blood lust.

Mayhaps, we should blame it on the changing society and violence you see just in a local newscast. Either way, Red Queen may be a captivating book, but it’s not a “nice” read.

I’ll be very interested to see what Aveyard does for the rest of the books in this series. Keeping up the momentum of this first book is going to be tricky, but she’s paved a good ground to establishing mystery and doubtful loyalties. Total kudos for making the romance that is so frequent in teen fiction more of a backdrop here, and not letting it dominate story-line or character action. Plus(!), Aveyard is just 23 years old. A work of this quality is accomplishment for any age, but that youthful element is nice to see.

Personally, I’d recommend it…but with my own “Parental Advisory” sticker in the description.

4-out-of-5-stars1

The Disease of Addiction Told Through the Eyes of the Father

beautiful

“The Disease of Addiction Told Through the Eyes of the Father.”

a book reivew of

“Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction” by David Scheff

Beautiful Boy tells the story that no parent wants to consider, let alone recount in painful detail: your child’s addiction and descent into the world of substance abuse. This bestseller by Scheff recounts David’s beginning life as a father to Nick, “his darling boy,” (the title’s reference to a John Lennon song of the same name) all the way up until the publication of this work in 2007, the time in-between his son’s childhood and adulthood holding an ongoing gut-wrenching battle against meth addiction.

This is the work that made Scheff a household name in novel writing, although his journalism background may have made his name familiar to some before this. This is the second work of Scheff’s that I have read. The first was a non-fiction work called “Clean” that detailed what recovery means in this day and age and the options available to loved ones of an addict. The work was highly-informative and helped me to understand more about addiction in a time when I was lost in the beginings of my own loved one’s recovery efforts.

Beautiful Boy is similar in nature to Clean in that it contains research and statistics on drug abuse and addiction. Beautiful Boy differs however in that its primary focus is on meth addiction, his son Nick’s drug of choice. In addition to the science of addiction and its effect on behavior and brain function, Beautiful Boy’s main purpose is to take the reader on the journey from pre-addiction, initial love affair with the substance(s), addiction and descent, and recovery. In this, what becomes clear is that the recovery process is not the final stage as the addict often relapses into the substance behavior, tries for recovery, relapses, and repeats.

The story of Nick and his father’s struggle to cope with the pain and ripping apart of his world is tragically and beautifully told. The tale does often seem repetitive as Nick tries at recovery, relapses and tries and relapses again and again. But this is a common story for addicts, and is used to illustrate David’s acceptance that Nick will have to struggle with his disease of addiction all his life. The work also gets sentimental often and much, which is also understandable for the material and David’s struggle to realize his role to his son in the fight. These two elements weaken the work, while simultaneously strengthening the messages in addiction that muddle in the emotional warfare of standing beside your lying, destructive, uncontrollable addict.

For those who seek to know more about the addiction process, and especially those who are struggling to support their own addict in recovery or pre-recovery, this work is a solid reference in feeling less alone and finding options to help your addict and yourself.

Mommy Issues That Only Kind-Of Sting

Mommy Issues That Only Kind-Of Sting

a book review on

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

bees

The Secret Life of Bees has been on my reading list for a good long while. A. Good. Long. While. The book was published over a decade ago, and was made into a movie (which I still haven’t seen) in 2008. I think its safe to say that I am late to the party on this book.

And so I will evaluate this book strictly on literary sticking power after the hype has faded. Sound fair?

From what I can tell, the main reason that Secret Life of Bees got as much exposure as it did was because it deals with two things that people are hesitant to discuss. The first: racial injustice, tension, and violence in the Civil Rights Movement years; secondly: mommy issues. The first theme pretty much speaks for itself, and by itself, the book may have not made best-seller status. But, in the shuffle, daddy issues have gotten all the press in previous works, and few have addressed the strain that the “mother” relationship, and concepts of what that is supposed to mean, has on both parties.

The Secret Life of Bees makes a tepid reach for sorting out the complex way we feel about mothers in the character of Lily Owens, who literally (accidentally) kills her mother when her mom is trying  to leave her father. Lily and Rosaleen, her surrogate mother and housekeeper, are forced to flee their hometown after Rosaleen registers to vote and provokes some white yokels and Lily feels the need to uncover her mother’s past from a photo of a black Madonna that she left behind. They make their way to Tillburn, South Carolina (written on the back of the Madonna portrait) and take up residence with three black sisters named for summer months on their honey bee farm.

The book isn’t bad, but it struggles a lot with developing a sense of place. It feels like, except for a few minor details, the story could be set anywhere. The racial interractions are a backdrop and almost prop-like. I can see how the movie would develop these themes more visually and work better in that medium. This may be one of those few books that were written with movie representation in mind to bring the full story to light.

For high school students, this book is simply written enough and clear cut so that a unit study of Civil Rights with this reading alongside may enhance the conversation. If you’ve missed the boat on it this long like I have though, you might as well just go in for the movie rental because with Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, and Dakota Fanning in the cast, that’s a pretty safe bet.

3-out-of-5-stars


Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter “Ruby”

cynthia

Ruby

by Cynthia Bond

Abandon hope, all ye who enter this 330 page gut-punch, magical unfurling, literary analysis in waiting that is known simply as Ruby. And yet, for as bleak as the atmosphere of Ruby gets, hope is its strongest weapon in the story and on the reader.

Ruby is a “Oprah’s Book Club 2.0″ selection, and like most of her selections, there is a running theme of the strength in womanhood. But Ruby is a whole lot more than a story about African-American history and angst. Ruby is real, visceral and beautifully tragic…and also (definitely) not for the faint of heart.

Ruby tells the story of the 1950’s town of Liberty, Texas, where our title character is a beautiful girl who is pushed by violence and fear to New York. With the death of a childhood friend, Ruby is pulled back into the small town weave that wants to annihilate everything she is and stands for. Her only ally to pull her up from rock bottom is a simple man, Ephram, who is dominated by his Bible-thumping sister and ghosts of his past. These characters push and pull on each other in a heart-wrenching dance, sending sparks as they meet and impacting those around them like dominoes.

Cynthia Bond’s Ruby is ripe with material for literary analysis. It will be no great shock when this book makes it to the course list for college English classes. For a first novel, this work is stunning. The comparison of Bond’s writing in Ruby to those of Toni Morrison’s Sula and The Bluest Eye are well founded. Morrison’s use of magical realism to create a compelling story are in Ruby, and with the volume turned past ten so that they sure do resonate. This book makes you feel. It’s a book you want to have discussion about.

I get a little SPOILER-Y from this point on, so feel free to stop here and grab Ruby before you go further.

I loved the symbolism of this book. Using supernatural means to express things that otherwise wouldn’t be as powerful is Bond’s forte. We come to find that the villain of the work is a Reverend (oh the symbolism!), and religion is definitely up for scrutiny as the characters encounter it time and time again in their lives. The exploration of the loss of black innocence in the black man’s quest for equality/power over white privilege/black women/self deserves so much more discussion than mere mention in this review. The line between “good men” and the bad ones that Bond calls “wolves” is a blurry one. It’s all relevant for not only this reading, but for practical knowledge. As the reader, I felt that I was learning so much by reading this work.

For me, Ruby didn’t become a five-star read until the last two emotional and intense chapters. After reading these, there was no question that it’s a keeper to literary contribution. I think that having the comparison to Toni Morrison’s work was helpful in making sense of Ruby, but with this prior schema in tow, it’s one I would recommend to everyone.

Interested? Buy it from Penguin Random House

More info on this author at: Cynthia Bond

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Do you really read THAT much? (April Edition)

Here are my selected readings for the month of April. I was just beginning to clear my “to read” shelf a little, but a trip to the used bookstore solved that problem!


Women by Charles Bukowski

find-what-you-love-and-let-it-kill-you-quote-by-charles-bukowski-in-vintage-capture-charles-bukowski-quotes-on-funny-captions-936x936

Poet Charles Bukowski, known for his wild unrepentant alcoholic status, has also been called (and self-identified as) a chauvinist. This may be true, but the paradox is that Bukowski also really loved and admired women. For all his efforts, he just couldn’t understand them and was too busy being Bukowski to care all that much. This theme, tapped into in his other novels and heavily addressed in his poetry, is center stage in his novel titled, simply, Women.

Bukowski addressed his topic through the eyes of the semi-autobiographical character of Henry Chianski that he uses in most of his novels. Chianski is an aging poet, traveling across the US for occasional poetry readings, in a consistently boozed state and with a woman in every port so to speak. Bukowski speaks crudely of these women, and alternately quite tenderly. He is candid in his ignorance of their ways, and frequently addresses the guilt he feels for the way he treats them; especially the ones he reluctantly falls in love with.

So why read about the sexual exploits and bitter grunts of an aged man in his circuit from home to racetrack to bar? In between these, Bukowski does what the poet does best. He gets raw and real, and tells the truth in ways a parent would if they could escape the urge to shelter and protect. Uncle Bukowski tells all, and in this we see the beauty in the dirt. One of Bukowski’s more engaging novels, light on the revelations and philosophy and heavy on the hard life. One for lit enthusiasts and philosophers alike.

4-out-of-5-stars1


20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

This is the third work I’ve read by Joe Hill, but the first he wrote. This collection of horror and suspense shorts is unremarkable at first glance. The only reason I imagine someone would pick it up would be once they realize who Joe Hill’s famous father is. Hint: Hill comes by the horror genre honestly.

Yet, once you read a few of the stories in Hill’s collection here, you begin to realize how greatly they have made an impression upon you. You find yourself recognizing elements from the stories, and picking them out in your world; getting goosebumps from everyday occurrences. One of Hill’s greatest assets in his writing is forming these memorable ties through his open and wholly normal characters. Once you realize this though, you’ve already fallen into his trap.

One of my favorites in this collection is “My Father’s Mask” which uses a fairyland cabin setting to upset a boy’s notion of everything he knows. The story could easily have stretched to novella length, and I wish it had. There’s also a hidden story, but I won’t tell you where. Just be sure to investigate this one cover to cover, knowing that you’re lost in the paper maze that Hill himself will elaborate on the novella of the book “Voluntary Committal.” Other favorites of this work include: “Abraham’s Boys” and “The Cape.”

4-out-of-5-stars1


Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut 

Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut

In continuing with my effort to read a Vonnegut work every month, I turned to Hocus Pocus, published in 1990. I was unprepared for the workload of this read. Most Vonnegut is easy in its flow and driving action, but this one tripped me up. The first 100 pages read like a different author with heavy political opinions, lots of negative Vietnam references, and thicker than usual black humor. It rambled and wobbled, but I nervously continued hoping for the curve that would help it find its footing.

Once that happened around page 100, it was smooth sailing. The big reveal in that our main character has had sex with the same number of people as he has killed in Vietnam doesn’t pack the punch I think the author intended. The unlovable Eugene Debs, fired as a professor for his liberal statements made in the company of conservative folk, just comes across too bitter this time.His transition to being a teacher at a Japanese run overcrowded prison helps him survive the prison break that happens, but in the end (just as Eugene echos) there seems to be little point to it all. “Little point to it all,” can similarly be used to describe Vonnegut’s opinion on Vietnam. This is one of Vonnegut’s weaker works to me, but the messages such as these have merit.

3-out-of-5-stars


Headstrong 52 Women Who Changed Science–and the World by Rachel Swaby 

Headstrong by Rachel Swary

The pivotal line of this book is delivered by Hertha Ayrton, who was a scientist, an author, a close friend of Marie Curie, and the inventor of a fan that dispersed noxious gas away from soldiers. She is quoted as saying: “Personally I do not agree with sex being brought into science at all. The idea of ‘women and science’ is entirely irrelevant. Either a woman is a good scientist or she is not; in any case she should be given opportunities, and her work should be studied from the scientific, not the sex, point of view.”

This is the standard of measure of all the women in the book Headstrong by Rachel Swaby. In this work, Swaby covers the lives and contributions of 52 women in varying branches of science including invention, physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and more. Why 52? Swaby reasons that there are 52 weeks in a year, and so in reading this book you can learn about a different female scientist each week.

Each selection is just a snapshot of their life and their lasting impact to human progress and innovation. Some of these portraits are only two pages long; the longest is only about 5 pages. Although each segment is brief, the value of having so many different contributions by women compiled together effectively drives home the point of the impact women have made to the umbrella of science area which they fall under and upon the larger world.

The work is fact-filled, interesting, full of trivia, and delivers strong evidence of the value of female scientists without harping on or getting lost in hot-button issues like male dominance in science and exclusion of women in the field. The book deals in facts, and these include the struggles women had to go to in obtaining education and standing in their passions within fields where they were the glaring minority.

My favorite profiles included those of Gerty Radnitz Cori, a Biochemistry scientist responsible for our understanding of glycogen; Virginia Apgar, who developed a test to establish newborn health standards; Marry Anning, a pioneer in paleontology and fossil discovery;  Tilly Edinger, a Jewish woman who encountered Nazi targeting in establishing paleoneurology; Rachel Carson, the voice behind environmental awareness and author of “Silent Spring”; Rosalind Franklin, whom developed a structure of DNA that was “borrowed” by Watson and Crick; Hedy Lamarr, an well-known actress who also worked in tandem to invent a system for coded radio waves to aid torpedo navigation during war-time; and household name Florence Nightingale, responsible among many other contributions for her statistics work and suggestions for improved hospital conditions like better lighting and quiet time for recuperation that are still being pursued today.

Headstrong was enlightening and kept my interest. I see this being a valuable tool for students in researching these scientists, and grasping the timeline of scientific discovery more fully through human interest stories such as these. For me, this would be a recommended reading for college freshman or AP high-schoolers. The work is well-researched and written, and with such a variety of topics of interest that spurred me to want to know more about each of these women.

I would highly-recommend this read to those who love science, history, feminism, and generally just a good read.

Interested? Buy it from Random House

More info on this author at: Rachel Swaby

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

4-out-of-5-stars1


The Postmortal by Drew Magary

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What if there was a cure for aging? Cancer, auto crashes, homicide, sickness, and all other manner of ill can still kill you, but you don’t get any physically older. Sound pretty great, right? Well, that’s what this near futuristic world created by Drew Magary thinks as anyone and everyone gets “The Cure.”

And then the problems start. The great thing about The Postmortal is that it isn’t your typical dystopian story. The ethics, laws, and moral/religious hangups associated with “playing God” are all on display here in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Actually, it all feels quite real. Presented in the form of blog entries from our main character, the story seems factual and almost verbatim news copy if and when a cure for aging was ever found in real life.

The Postmortal is a smart, and calculated read. The two opposing groups that develop around The Cure, the pro-death and pro-cure groups, mirror our current society’s antagonistic factions a little too well. For those who tend to lean on the science of science fiction, this is a crowd-pleaser.

4-out-of-5-stars1


The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum

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I’m working my way through the Oz series (in order too), and it’s a harder task than I imagined it being. Books 1-5 were easy finds (all in a single volume), but as I try to find the second half of the series (books 6-14) the used bookstores are proving less helpful. On this same note, books 1-5 of Oz were great; image laden, colorful, and cheerful.

In book six, you get the feeling that Baum is getting burnt out on Oz. He can’t get away from it and write something “adult,” because the letters he is receiving are constantly asking for more Oz! It becomes clear in The Patchwork Girl of Oz that Baum just isn’t feeling the magic.

In Patchwork, the Raggedy Ann type girl named Scraps Patchwork is only a minor character. She accompanies our unfortunate boy-munchkin character Ojo and a vain, glass cat with pink brains (you can see them work). This odd bunch sets out to gather an assortment of items needed for a magic spell to turn Ojo’s uncle back into a live man after an unfortunate accident with a petrifaction potion.

So the adventure begins. The group meets up with the scarecrow, the tin man, Dorothy, Ozma, and many other odd Oz inhabitants. The characters in this series have now reached a hefty number, and including them all and their set up/back story leaves little room left for the new story-line.

As the tale progresses, Ojo and his group find all they need for the magic spell except for a final item that is just seemingly impossible. Solution? Enter Glenda the Good and the Wizard of Oz who use magic to straighten everything out. It’s a dissatisfying ending and an abrupt one too. Basically, we learn that magic will make everything right no matter what. Listening to this on Hoopla Digtal’s audiobook rental site was the silver lining as all the voices in this book were preformed to give the story a lively narrative. Unless, you just demand on slogging through the Oz series for completion’s sake, skip this one.

2-out-of-5-stars


Serena by Ron Rash

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I read this book not too long after finishing Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and so the character of “Amazing Amy” was fresh in my mind. If you too have read Gone Girl, take that image of Amy and imagine if her psychotic self was put smack dab in the 1930’s Southern wilderness and given power over a timber empire. That’s exactly what Serena is like. A more familiar comparison, might be to Lady Macbeth, but unlike Shakespeare’s devious female, Serena hides behind no veil in her actions and, if anything, lathers the blood on her hands.

The title character of this book is ambitious, ruthless, single-mindedly driven towards power and wealth. Her husband, Pemberton, is like-minded, but we have sympathy for him perhaps because he fits into these qualities better as a male or perhaps because Serena takes all these qualities to a bitter end whereas we see slivers of conscience in his character.

The story is simple. Pemberton and Serena meet, fall in love, and attempt to conquer all that lays before them in the unforgiving, untamed North Carolina wilderness. The complications come before the reader enters the story when we find that Pemberton has had an illegitimate child in the North Carolina lumber camp before meeting Serena in Boston.  Not a huge deal to affect either party, until we find that Serena is barren. For a woman determined to have it all, this fact is what really gets the blood flowing.

I read the book in about three days. It’s beautifully written, descriptive, and action laden to keep almost all of the 400 pages turning. The ending has just as much bite as the first blood-soaked pages. Serena is ruthless, and her story will get its claws into you.

five-stars


Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

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This work is 246 pages. For the first half, the set-up is very Scooby-Doo/Mystery Gang investigation of some creepy vibes. And then…jenkies…it turns into a very different kind of story.

Our crew in this story is floor associate and wisecracker Amy, her annoying supervisor Basil, Southern-fried warm and sweet co-worker Ruth-Ann, hipster beard co-worker Matt, and paranormal obsessed slightly ditzy co-worker Trinity. One of my only gripes is that all the characters are so easily boiled down to these stereotypes. This makes them easy to identify and work with in storyline, but it also makes them slightly boring and we are less vested in what happens to them.

This cast of characters all comes together to spend a night in Orsk, an IKEA rip-off store where they all work, and where some strange events are going on at night. The characters are moving about, bumping into one another, making quips, and generally being only slightly involved in figuring out the source of the mysterious graffiti, overturned couches, broken glassware, and “substance smeared” merchandise. When the group finds a hobo hiding out in the store to avoid the elements, all (including this reader) thinks the mask has been pulled up and the problems are revealed.

Not so. This is when the horror gets put into “HorrorStor.” It’s a well-planned novel, topical, a good parody representation of big-box stores and how they effect our psyche, and there’s good action and investment to keep the reader going until the lengthy although ultimately satisfying conclusion. Visit an IKEA the weekend before reading this one to get maximum spooky effect.

4-out-of-5-stars1


The Shadow of the Wind by Carl Ruiz Zafon

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I’m not a big reader of the mystery genre, and so my comparison frame of reference for a book like The Shadow of the Wind is limited. The book is a translation from Spanish to English, and as such it’s easy to get lost in the Spanish names and war history. But the story will drive you to the end once you get caught up in the gale of it, so to speak.

The action of the book follows a young boy named Daniel from his first beloved book encounter (of the same name as this book we now read) and the subsequent fight to hold on to this book while some mysterious force that calls itself the Devil attempts to wrestle the book from him. There’s a beautiful blind girl that our main character crushes on, a childhood friend, an eccentric mentor figure, and Daniel’s father. The author of the book “Shadow of the Wind” that exists within THE Shadow of the Wind is Julian Carax, and we get his history as Daniel delves into trying to find why someone is trying to burn and erase all knowledge of Carax’s novels. Sure, it’s a little confusing, but that’s a good mystery, right? It’s intelligent and well-manipulated.

4-out-of-5-stars1


The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

photoThis book came highly recommended to me, and although it took me awhile to get to, as an animal lover, I appreciate the complex lives of a family in turmoil as seen through the eyes of the family pet. Enter Enzo: “The Wonder Dog.”

Enzo tells his story on the eve of his death from his days at a puppy mill to building a family with his humans to fighting alongside his master in a lengthy and emotional custody battle. Enzo isn’t like other dogs. He’s self-aware, and a philosopher. Above all, Enzo is hopeful, because he knows his dog body is only temporary; he’ll become a man in the next lifetime.

For me, this work only got three stars, not because it wasn’t a good story or well-written, but because it seemed just too perfectly tailored into what the masses want from a bestseller that it lacked the depth and heart it could have had. There are moments of comedy, of sadness, of insight, and of perception, but the work falls prey to the cliches and relies on tugging on heartstrings with the relate-able imagery of beloved pet death. I would recommend it in a second as a feel-good, fluffy “beach read,” but not for if you are looking for something more than surface layer philosophy. 3-out-of-5-stars


People I Want to Punch In the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges by Jen Mann

00368728159e040eba0e61895a7f020bI love sassy. Sassy, sarcastic, clever backbite is what makes the world go round. This levity and comical air is what I hoped for when I chose to listen to the audiobook “People I Want to Punch in the Throat.” Instead, I felt verbally assaulted by Jen Mann’s self-proclaimed humblebrag of “no filter.” At first…

And then, I GOT what Mann is talking about. As someone who is involved with elementary education, but with no children of my own yet, I thought I knew the landscape of the grammar school world. But as an new educator, some of the finer points of drama in this world such as the “mommy wars” had escaped my notice. Mann’s book, based on her hit blog, covers topics like these and others such as marked differences in school projects done by children and projects where the parents stepped in to “help” with the project. Mann wittily bemoans her struggles on keeping house, raising a prima donna daughter and a sensitive son, and getting by without the “yoga pants of vehicles” (the Minivan). Granted, Mann has a sassy mouth and sure doesn’t sugar coat her feelings, but I enjoyed the straight shooting attitude and feel slightly better armed in tackling carpool line with Mann’s experiences in mind.

3-out-of-5-stars


Men’s Lives edited by Michael S. Kimmel and Michael A. Messner

saveYou know you’ve crossed the line into some kind of new nerd-dom when you read textbooks for fun. And yet, that is what the reading of Men’s Lives was for me. I enjoy reading feminist perspectives, and picked up the textbook to see how one would explain how men become men. It was an educational and thought-provoking journey as I jumped from articles on what “macho” means to men to how men with disabilities still maintain their idea of masculinity. Most of the articles are written with feminist ideals and undertones, but some are not. The collection is diverse and provides a good overview on issues that were as relevant at the time this edition came out (2004) to present day.

Some of the articles I marked for further study in a classroom environment or expansion in this collection include: The Black Male: Searching Beyond Stereotypes; Gender, Class and Terrorism; The Fraternal Bond as a Joking Relationship: A Case Study of the Role of Sexist Jokes in Male Group Bonding; Why College Men Drink: Alcohol, Adventure, and the Paradox of Masculinity; The Glass Escalator: Hidden Advantages for Men in the “Female Professions”; Confessions of a Nice Negro, or Why I Shaved My Head; If Men Could Menstruate; Coming to Terms: Masculinity and Physical Disability; The Approach–Avoidance Dance: Men, Women and Intimacy; Men on Rape; The Heterosexual Questionnaire; and Strategies Men Use to Resist.save as

The article “If Men Could Menstruate,” written by feminist pioneer Gloria Steinem, was particularly intriguing, funny, and generated some new thoughts for me. Also, “Strategies Men Use to Resist,” that details reasons men use to shift housekeeping to women gave me some perspective with tackling my own division of labor in the home. Whether student, teacher, or just interested human, I think everyone can benefit from reading some of the articles in this text. The work has a strong push to make the reader realize that men and women can be comrades in arms in the fight for equality, health and happiness and I think everyone can be a little more open to this.

4-out-of-5-stars1


Thanks for reading! I’ll continue to do so, and see you next month!

Being a Good Scientist Prized Over Differentiation of Sexes in “Headstrong”

Headstrong

Headstrong 52 Women Who Changed Science–and the World 

by Rachel Swaby

The pivotal line of this book is delivered by Hertha Ayrton, who was a scientist, an author, a close friend of Marie Curie, and the inventor of a fan that dispersed noxious gas away from soldiers. She is quoted as saying: “Personally I do not agree with sex being brought into science at all. The idea of ‘women and science’ is entirely irrelevant. Either a woman is a good scientist or she is not; in any case she should be given opportunities, and her work should be studied from the scientific, not the sex, point of view.”

This is the standard of measure of all the women in the book Headstrong by Rachel Swaby. In this work, Swaby covers the lives and contributions of 52 women in varying branches of science including invention, physics, mathematics, biology, chemistry, and more. Why 52? Swaby reasons that there are 52 weeks in a year, and so in reading this book you can learn about a different female scientist each week.

Each selection is just a snapshot of their life and their lasting impact to human progress and innovation. Some of these portraits are only two pages long; the longest is only about 5 pages. Although each segment is brief, the value of having so many different contributions by women compiled together effectively drives home the point of the impact women have made to the umbrella of science area which they fall under and upon the larger world.

The work is fact-filled, interesting, full of trivia, and delivers strong evidence of the value of female scientists without harping on or getting lost in hot-button issues like male dominance in science and exclusion of women in the field. The book deals in facts, and these include the struggles women had to go to in obtaining education and standing in their passions within fields where they were the glaring minority.

My favorite profiles included those of Gerty Radnitz Cori, a Biochemistry scientist responsible for our understanding of glycogen; Virginia Apgar, who developed a test to establish newborn health standards; Marry Anning, a pioneer in paleontology and fossil discovery;  Tilly Edinger, a Jewish woman who encountered Nazi targeting in establishing paleoneurology; Rachel Carson, the voice behind environmental awareness and author of “Silent Spring”; Rosalind Franklin, whom developed a structure of DNA that was “borrowed” by Watson and Crick; Hedy Lamarr, an well-known actress who also worked in tandem to invent a system for coded radio waves to aid torpedo navigation during war-time; and household name Florence Nightingale, responsible among many other contributions for her statistics work and suggestions for improved hospital conditions like better lighting and quiet time for recuperation that are still being pursued today.

Headstrong was enlightening and kept my interest. I see this being a valuable tool for students in researching these scientists, and grasping the timeline of scientific discovery more fully through human interest stories such as these. For me, this would be a recommended reading for college freshman or AP high-schoolers. The work is well-researched and written, and with such a variety of topics of interest that spurred me to want to know more about each of these women.

I would highly-recommend this read to those who love science, history, feminism, and generally just a good read.

#4StarRead

Interested? Buy it from Random House

More info on this author at: Rachel Swaby

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Do you really read THAT much? (March 2015 Edition)

Here’s the thing. My current job allows for quite a bit of time to read between helping one customer and the next. Between this, and the 30 minute commute to and from work each day, I end up reading and listening to a lot of books.

With this in mind, I decided I would move my reviews I had been doing on GoodReads.com to my blog. This way, I could do a monthly round up of what I had read and what I thought about it. I am also using Instagram (cats_caffeine_chapters) to post photos and one to two sentence reviews on these for a more weekly update.

I’ve currently read 40 books this year, and have a goal of reading 100 by this year’s end. Although I have about 120 books on my to-read list on < https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8597152.Erica_Tuggle > , I welcome more suggestions. Because…books.

All the books below, have pretty high ratings, but I attribute that to just having a good reading selection on my shelf. The books I have there now are pretty likely to be ones I want to read. I’ll be branching out and trying suggested reads outside my typical genres soon though.


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Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville 


Oh Melville, we’ve had a history haven’t we? I initially tried reading this classic author back in high school with his most notable work: Moby Dick. That went down like a row boat with a hole in it.

Melville is descriptive. Very descriptive. And “Billy Budd, Sailor” is no exception. This slim volume that I listened to via Hoopla Digital’s audio book service had a listen time of 4 hours for a story that could have been told in about 30 minutes.

The story itself wasn’t shocking. A handsome youth at sea, young Billy Budd, is beloved by all except the churlish Master at Arms. Master at Arms sets Billy Budd up for dishonor, Billy Budd retaliates, and the plot thickens (a little).

If you are looking to read Melville and find yourself seasick at the thought of tackling the tomb of the White Whale, give Billy Budd,Sailor a try. The view painted by Melville is nice if nothing else.

#3StarRead


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The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman


Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. When I heard he had a graphic novel, published years prior to the release of Harry Potter, that detailed the story of a bespectacled boy and his owl beginning the journey of the call to magic, I knew I had to read and compare.

Fortunately, The Books of Magic series (only the first written by Gaiman) is more an ode to Joesph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.” And for the record, Gaiman defended J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series by saying they both drew from standard story archetypes but were both stories of different measure.

The artwork in books of magic is beautiful. The story was dark, intriguing, and full of Easter egg nods to Gaiman’s highly excellent Sandman graphic novel series. Read Sandman first, and then cleanse the palate with this gem.

#5StarRead


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A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons


This is a short volume that details, quite succinctly, what one marriage was like. The story is told in alternating chapters by the husband and wife, and stays true to a delightful, simple Southern tone throughout. There’s drama, passion, sadness, and truth. It smacks a bit of required school reading, but that isn’t a ding against its performance. It’s a Oprah book club selection, so you know it’s good.

For a more in depth description, see here: http://www.amazon.com/Virtuous-Woman-Oprahs-Book-Club/dp/0375703063

#5StarRead


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Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut


I’m a Vonnegut junkie. I am making it my goal to read one of his works each month until I’ve run through the whole lot. Although this one is not my favorite overall, (that honor goes to Cat’s Cradle) I enjoyed the puns and wit that Vonnegut always brings to the table.

Like many of his works, Slapstick deals with an alternate future in which an apocalypse has already commenced. The President of New York, aged and possibly senile, is recounting his life from strange birth to strange now. Light on the satire and heavy on the ridiculous imagery, this one was another pleasant read.

#4StarRead


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Shotgun Lovesongs by Nicholas Butler


This one took a long time to get through. This was not because it was a bad read, but rather it was one that I listened to via audio book on my daily commute. Yet, this story is perfect for car stereo and views of the open road. “Shotgun Lovesongs” details the story of a small town and the tight knit group that belongs to it. There is a loose character based on the musician Bon Iver in the form of the fictional character of Leeland, which may mean more to true fans than it did to me.

As it is, the novel is a solid work. The characters are vivid and lovable, even with all of their faults on display. The ending felt a bit cobbled together, but the story probably could have gone on forever, so it’s as good an ending as any. I recommend the audio book for the variety in voice actors you get that bring the story more to life.

#4StarRead


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Yes Please by Amy Poehler


Amy Poehler reminds me of a good friend I had in high school that would come by my lunch table everyday, reach over my shoulder, and pick off one of my croutons from my homemade salad. She’d tell me if the croutons were good or if my parents needed to switch brands back to the cheesy garlic kind.

Quaint, although perhaps pointless to the rest of the world, stories like these is what you are going to get in “Yes Please.” Amy Poehler wrote this book mid-career and with little enthusiasm for the idea of completing a book. I don’t blame her. Between just finishing up Parks and Recreation, raising two sons, occasional movie roles, and strong remaining ties to SNL she seems to have better things to do than to tell us her history that compares pretty closely to her Wikipedia page.

Granted, the book isn’t bad. It’s full of positive affirmations and real-talk to the 20 somethings that I imagine she primarily envisioned reading this book. She’s clever and determined and her bio-thus-far shows all this. Instead though, you’d probably benefit more from just seeing what Poehler has done with a few episodes of Parks or rifling the archives of SNL. Hell, if you’re feeling brave, rent Baby Momma.

#3StarRead


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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


I love single science subject books. Goodreads has gotten wise to this and started to recommend all in this book genre to me. The best thing about the single science subject books is that you get the knowledge of the science subject matter as well as a dollop of the humanity behind the concept and how it came to be.

Henrietta Lacks, forever known to the world for her HeLa cell contribution, was just another name before this book was published. Afterwards though, the recognition and fame that her contribution deserved was brought to light. Her life itself is a fascinating slice of Americana, her struggles are tragic, and she (like her cells that live on today) was an indomitable force. Even if you aren’t “science-y,” the story is worth knowing.

#5StarRead


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Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman


Another Gaiman? Yes, another Gaiman. Always another Gaiman.

This Gaiman work is a collection of his short stories. These bite-sized snippets were fun, but always left me hungry for more. Each of his short stories could easily become longer works.

I listened to this on audio book as read by the author, and that’s the best way to encounter Gaiman and his delightful accent. My favorite poem by Gaiman “The Day the Saucers Came” is included in this selection, and there’s enough of a mix of horror, fantasy, fiction based stories to please almost any reader.

#4StarRead


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What if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe


Have you ever wanted to know what would happen if the Earth all of a sudden stopped spinning? Have you wondered what a periodic table composed of the actual elements would look like? How long would it take for the last artificial light source to go out if all humans were gone? If you have asked yourself these questions, you are a strange one. But you are in good company, because apparently many others are asking just as strange and unsettling questions that can be answered with a little stretch of the imagination and a  whole lotta science know-how.

Former NASA engineer, Randall Munroe, answers these questions and about 50 more in this book. Some of it went way over my head, but all of it was intriguing. If you like weird science or have a thing for factual apocalypse trivia, this is a book for you. My favorite part was the “Questions from the Weird and Worrying File” segments that Munroe would do in-between chapters. (Bonus: The audio book is read by Will Wheaton who has the perfect voice for this kind of stuff)

#4StarRead


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Darkness Casts No Shadow by Arnost Lustig


This is a book about the Holocaust, and so saying that I enjoyed this book has room for misinterpretation.

Everyone has heard of Elie Wiesel, but he’s only one of many who have Holocaust survivor stories to tell. Arnost Lustig’s novel, based on his own experiences, is different from Wiesel’s “Night” though in that most of the action occurs between two boys who have escaped a transport train car and are walking the woods to their new life. The portraits of their time in the concentration camps is told by way of dream and flashback sequences.

The ending is as perfect as it gets for this subject matter. The story is just long enough to resonate and stick with you for a long time. This is a classic that slipped through the cracks somehow. For teachers and students looking for something different to remember the Holocaust, this is a must read.

#5StarRead


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Room by Emma Donoghue


Told from a child’s perspective, Room is a portrait of a boy and his mother who have been locked away in a garden shed for years. Our narrator Jack knows nothing of the world outside Room, does not even believe there is an Outside. The writing is masterful in its manipulation of the language to tell the story from his view. Room tells the story of Jack and his mother’s captivity, their escape, and what life is like Outside.

Room kept me in its thrall quite easily. It is a definite page turner that has easily earned its place on best-seller lists.

#4StarRead


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It’s a Slippery Slope by Spalding Gray


Slippery Slope is a narrative by the late Spalding Gray. The work is meant to be read aloud in an auditorium during one of Gray’s traveling tours. As such, the print version lacks what an author reading would give to it.

The story is about Gray’s attempts to learn to ski coupled with the rocky time he is having as one end of a love triangle between a long-time girlfriend and a mistress. When the mistress becomes pregnant, the real-world shenanigans ensue. Gray was having health problems as he wrote this one, and concludes the work with hopes for his health to be on the upswing. Unfortunately, this was not the case and this is one of the last things he wrote.

The work didn’t do much for me, but it may appeal to an older age range or maybe just those into skiing?

#2StarRead


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Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo


This book goes way back…like approximately the year 1709 back. As such, it has some proverbial wisdom and some really dated crazy stuff.

The book involves sayings from Tsunetomo who was a Samurai to a Lord who looked down on the practice of Seppuku (disemboweling yourself with a sword) and therefore forbid his warriors to do so upon his death. This led to Tsunetomo becoming a monk and spewing his good ole days story to anyone who would listen.

These stories in Hagakure mainly involve who Seppuku’ed who. Living with honor and not fearing death is a central theme. There are some nuggets of wisdom about living a good life, but there’s also some hate speech against women and talk of how best to behead a man. All advice may not be applicable to your life, but do what you will with it. For my part, my rating is on its usefulness to present day and readability (very easy).

#3StarRead


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God Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartolo


Ugh. This book was a workout. First off, its cover is misleading. The front talks about how a gypsy predicted main character’s true love would die young and leave her alone. Spoiler Alert: This happens. Yet, the gypsy and all that is more like an after thought that gets brought up in prologue and last chapter as a sort of deus ex machina.

The work is an obvious first novel from DeBartolo, who is trying to channel the struggling writer story and rocky love life into a novelized version. Her main character Beatrice and her love interest Jacob are vain, selfish, boring people who have kinky sex at almost every opportunity. Jacob has some misogynistic tendencies that come into the light in a disturbing “sexy rape” scene that still makes me shudder. Beatrice is a poor, basic white girl who makes a great living selling her uncomplicated jewelry. She gets her kicks making fun of everyone who isn’t as deep as she is, and she hates her doting and supportive parents almost as much as she hates when Jacob supports her.

This book…(shakes head sadly, knows she must go on just a little further to spread the truth)

Plus, there’s enough subplots within one-half of the book to sink it. There’s a dead dad, and a missing dad, and a new life plot, and a relationship, and another death, and ex boyfriends and girlfriends all over the damn place.

Painfully, I admit, that I wrote something similarly emo when I was in college. At least, I self published and kept the majority of the world from my diary-esque ramblings.

#2StarRead


That’s it for March. Hope everyone has a happy April, and look for my next book round up then. In the meantime, I’ve got a movie review podcast called Movie Vs Film that my friend Bentley Little and I are doing. Check out episode 1 at : movievsfilmpodcast.bandcamp.com