Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Adulthood Rites (Xenogenesis #2) by Octavia E. Butler

Ok, random fact, the pages of the book were out of order. Like 4-5 pages of the book. I was confused for a moment because the middle of the sentence dropped off and then on the next page it would pick back up on a different spot (is this a new form of writing she is experimenting with?), but then I realized that the numbers were out of order.

For a $19.00 book that BAE paid for, I am disappointed that they messed up the book. It is also the book that Queen Octavia wrote, so the publisher should be more careful in constructing the book. I think I will write them a strongly worded letter.

This is the second book out of the series, Xenogenesis. The first book, Dawn, rocked my world and I was super excited to read the second book. I read it over a long weekend while I went to Ohio to visit a good friend of mine.

The 2nd book picks up where Lillith is on Earth and has given birth to the Oankali-human species, or construct children, they are called. Her youngest child, Akin, is the first male construct to be born of a human woman.

Oh, before I forget, a major part of Dawn and now of  Adulthood Rites are the themes surrounding procreation, sex and relationships. The Oankali do things a littttttle differently than humans. Along with male and female Oankali, there is a third sex, called Ooloi, where the reproduction occurs. The Ooloi in the first book wedged itself into Lillith's and her lover, Joseph's lives and though it is sexless, many men have registered it as a male due to it's position of power. Lots o' male jealousy.

When the Oankali begin to mesh genetics with humans, construct children has up to 5 (!!!) parents. Jesus, I can barely manage 2. The Ooloi are busy blending DNA of both species and Akin noticeably looks a lot more human than it's siblings. Though Akin looks like a baby, he is extremely intelligent and composes himself quite well.

His baby/human like features will be his curse for most of the book. Humans who were saved by the Oankali were sent down to the newly habitable Earth mostly bolted from the grip of the Oankali. However, there is one catch--they cannot have children. Raiders are then in the market to steal construct children for human villages, and they swipe Akin, to mixed results.

This is a strong second novel in the series exploring the idea of consent and the idea of what humanity is, and what it takes to survive. This book and Dawn also gives me the heeby jeebies in being coerced into consenting to mate with something that is not human. Ooloi and the Oankali several times in both books comment on how they studied humans and they know what is best for humans.

Seriously, Butler. What the fuck. Way to mess with my mind and also draw parallels to colonization. I can't wait until I acquire the third book. I wonder how this series will end...

Friday, March 27, 2015

Anthem by Ayn Rand

Oh Ayn Rand. How the conservativeS sing your praises and the liberals denounce your objectivist ways. Your other books have way too many pages for me to even consider reading, but maybe in a few years where my book stack is uncharacteristically low or someone dares me $200 to read The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. I would even consider reading if a college student offered to pay me to read and analyze one of her books for an easy grade. Well, jokes on you college student, because have you seen my reviews?

Alright, so the only reason I knew about Anthem was that it was one of the books my co-teacher assigned to the 9th grade last year. Why do we have  Anthem in the book room at my school? (Realistically, book closet. The school I teach at is almost a 1 room school house.) Well, the second question I offer you is why do we have ALL the books by Ayn Rand in the book closet?

I will tell you.

The Ayn Rand Institute gives class sets of ALL her books to schools for free.

That's right. Objectivism lives on in free books. Because really, what teacher can resist anything free?

So, back to the 9th graders reading Anthem last year. I grit my teeth and helped my students through the book, though I am in the liberal camp that thinks she is absolutely nuts. We finish Anthem and we go on our merry way. When I get my batch of 9th graders, who practically read everything under the sun that I was going to assign (because really, what 8th grade ELA teacher teaches Shakespeare? KIPP, that's who), I scoured the book closet.

And came across Anthem.

There is no way they read Ayn Rand! Thus begins my slow descent into madness... though not really. In terms of books she wrote, Anthem is pretty tame even while spatting the philosophy of selfishness (you think I'm joking). The protagonist is a hunk of a man by the name of Equality... something something something. There are numbers after his name, and every single person who lives in this distopian universe also has a virtue and a set of numbers after his name.

Equality enternumbershere is so good looking (tall, built, you get the idea. Ayn Rand had an idea of what she wanted her man to be like), that everybody else is jealous of him. All he wants is to study and be smart, but they give him the job of a sweeper, with all the other idiots. Throughout the book, he also refers to himself as "WE" because you know, SYMBOLISM.

Equality talks about his fellow sweeper mates and how even though it's very clear some of them are meant to be street sweepers, Equality numbers here is not. Then all in one day he sees a lady who is very different than the other fuggos she picks food with and he also finds a box with things in it! So after he hits on the pretty lady by the name of Liberty something numbers and finds out that she's 17 and therefore hasn't gone to the house of mating yet (yeah, apparently they just go off to this house to do the deed. If Liberty Bell was made to do that, well then she's a dirty whore), he goes into this tunnel to do experiments on his box.

He creates electricity and desperate to prove that his hotness does not have to get in the way of his smartness and the World Council has nothing to fear, he presents his findings to the society.

And. All. Hell. Breaks. Loose.

It's a novella and has very good lessons on word choice and author's style, which is why this is the next book I'm teaching (ifff we don't have any snow days). Anthem on its own isn't a bad book. However, Anthem could also act as a gateway drug for Rand's other books.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Dawn By Octavia E. Butler

BAE got me this book for Christmas. I'm quite sure he ordered it off of Amazon, which I won't hate.

Dawn  is the second Octavia Butler book I read and boy, it is different from Kindred. It is the first novel in the Xenogenesis series and it is science fiction. Its a definite departure from Kindred but still runs in the same strands of the African American female experience.

Lillith wakes up in a room. The ceiling is made up light and there is no decorations or furniture in the room except a platform where Lillith can sleep. She discloses that she has been "awoken" before and that other times, there hasn't been a bathroom attached to her cell. The reader has no idea who is keeping Lillith, only that she has been Awoken more than once and that she gets pretty terrible food. Also, in the past, she was Awoken with a human boy, whom she is very attached too, but then is taken away later on.

Also, you find out that there was a war between US and USSR that ended with the apocalypse. Lillith had a family who died when the bombs came and Lillith thought she died too until now because


LEGIT ALIENS ENTER THE PICTURE. Lillith wakes up, (or is Awoken again, I don't remember) and finds that there is someone else in the room. He hides in the shadow. After they talk for a bit, he reveals himself to be a slightly humanoid alien with sensory thingies (I want to say tentacles, but they aren't quite tentacles?) strategically placed all over his body that acts like his senses. Lillith, needless to say, is freaked out.

The Oankali are very interested in Lillith and the human race. Thinking they will just self-destruct if left alone, the Oankali want to help the human race... by combining their genetics. The human race will be no more and the Oankali chosen Lillith to convince the other humans the aliens saved into working with them.

It does not go as planned.

Like Kindred,  I read this book in just a few days. Butler does not falter in her steps in revealing how Lillith, the other humans and even the Oankali develop. I find Lillith a fascinating character and I sympathize with her but at the end of the book, is also repulsed by her. Even the aliens are multi-dimensional where you simultaneously are repulsed by them but feel pity for them as well.

Octavia Butler, you haven't let me down yet.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto by Pico Iyer

First off, I find this author's name so fun to say. Say it with me: Pico Iyer! My name is Pico Iyer! Who is that over there? Oh, why, it's Pico Iyer!

Just like for The Wind Up Girl, I chose The Lady and The Monk based off the cover art and the title. Kyoto? Why, that's in Japan! I LOVE JAPAN. Well you know, as much as you can love a place without ever actually going to it.

My first impression with this book was this: "Oh wow, it is daaa-ted." (Yes, I stretched out the word and everything). I think the copyright was in the early 1990s? No cell phones, and not even a computer. Wow, how much the world changed in 20 years. Iyer goes to Japan in, I guess the way people traveled back then, without a god damn clue! He legit found a place to stay, without a clue of who they were. He walked around and talked to people until he found another place to stay!

That's so crazy (and dangerous). Mostly crazy (and slightly dangerous).

Oh! Another crazy thing! He met the other main character of his travel adventures, Sachiko, I think at a bus stop, or waiting for the train. She invites the Iyer, a strange man to her to her house for her son's birthday! Say, whhaaaa?! 

That seems to be a pattern in the novel. People are anxious to speak English and they would invite random strangers into their lives to speak English. Apparently Japanese do not think that anything bad will happen to them? Is this a thing? Was this a thing before the internet and smart phones, to invite strange people into your home without a second thought? Or is Pico Iyer just stereotyping Japanese people? Maybe meet in a public place first? Sachiko, whadda doing, girl? 

With all of that aside, this book makes me want to go to Japan much more. Before he met his Japanese "friend" (I strongly suspect they fooled around while they were together but I think he didn't want to put it in the book), he went to Japan to discover a whole different culture from his own. He wanted to discover Zen Buddhism and intermixing idea of new Japan and old Japan. 

The way he described the night life, the changing seasons, the perceptions of Japan when it comes to their own and when it comes to foreigners is fascinating. The way he and Sachiko, her relationship with her children and her husband and even to her Japan, is heartbreaking. What I also found fascinating was the way she integrated into his life by using gifts as favors so he wouldn't forget about her and leave her behind. 

Iyer writes about the escapist fantasy, which is a prevalent theme (Oh, look at that! I'm using theme) in many travel adventures. Many white men come to Japan looking to escape their own cultural expectations. Unable to find happiness in their life back in (insert country here), they go to Japan to find a woman who will be the complete opposite of back home. Iyer's friends that he encounters throughout the book does this, to varying degrees of success. Many Japanese women are also utilizing their escapist fantasies as well, finding white men who are dangerous and loud, to take them away from their duties to the mother country. They contradict each other: Men want to remain in Japan and be with a woman who is the embodiment of Japan (subservient, patient, kind, quiet), whereas women want to be free of these expectations and move to America, the home of the free. 

At the end of the book, Sachiko found her freedom against all odds as a travel guide, forsaking her mother's wishes. She stands strong, despite the confusion of her husband (who left her) and her friends, who are in the same boat she is. Iyer leaves Kyoto at the end of the year, learning new things about Japan. 

That's all well and good, but I am super jealous he got to go to Japan and live there for a year. What job did he have or who did he have to marry to get this gig? Can I go to Japan for a year, find a lonely housewife and discover things about Japan so I can stay in a love hotel after the trains stop running for the night? Come on, there will be hilarious misunderstandings and everything! 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Kindred By Octavia E. Butler

Octavia E. Butler was introduced to me by my fiance earlier in the school year. He is also an English teacher, and it was the first book he was teaching to his co-taught 9th grade classes. I read about Octavia E. Butler before but I had a stack of books to get through first before I could go on the exciting adventures with her.

BTW, I will probably always have a stack of books to get through. Now it's a different stack of books with her books intermingled. 

SIDE STORY FIRST. This year was the first year I taught 9th grade English. I am a special educator for high school, and I haven't taught my own classes since student teaching. Desperate to teach and have control over how skills are taught, I agreed to teach English 9. Let's just say it has been a rough year. The second rough year out of the 3 years I've almost taught.. but that's another long winded rant for another time. ANYHOO. At first I wanted to teach Romeo and Juliet, but when my baby 9th graders stated that they read that play in 8th grade (seriously. I don't think I would have passed 8th grade if we read Shakespeare. I think that says more about my maturity as an 8th grader than the intelligence of middle schoolers). So, coupled with the fact that they already read it and my general "fuck it" attitude that came with a rough school year, I decided to teach Kindred. 

But first, I had to actually read Kindred

So, I purchased the book off of Amazon (I know. It was infuriating that I couldn't find used books of hers at the book fair. However, I like to think that everyone is so in love with her books that no one wanted to part with them, unlike Anne Rice, whose books are in multiples at the book fair.) 

I finished the book in 2 days. It. Was. Awesome. 

Set in the 1970s, it is about a woman named Dana who suddenly possesses the power to travel back in time. She doesn't know how she acquired this ability and you never find out. Butler doesn't take the time to explain it. She doesn't need too. Dana is a riveting character who finds herself by a body of water where a woman is crying for help. A boy is drowning and she rushes in and saves him. After rescuing the boy, a shot gun is in her face and she is transported back to the present day. 

You come to find out that Dana is only transported when Rufus, the boy that almost drowned in the river, is in life threatening trouble. Rufus is one of Dana's ancestors, but the twist is that while Dana is an African-American, Rufus is a slave owner in the antebellum south. Dana realizes that she is charged with keeping Rufus alive until her ancestor, Hagar is born. 

As a white female, there is an abundance of characters that at least, look like me (which, white privilege.. I guess, yay?) However, there isn't an abundance of well rounded female character that actually has a story arc, is strong but makes mistakes as well. You know, like an actual person. Dana is an actual person and I love Butler for this. 

Normally, I'm into book series because I love to just travel the world that the author created. Kindred is a stand alone book and it does wonderfully as a stand alone book. Butler does a great job of showing the end in sight but makes the reader wonder if Dana will ever survive the ordeal. At the end of this book, I am relieved that there won't be others, simply because of Dana's and her husband, Kevin's, suffering. Kindred's setting is horrifying. I don't want to explore it further. 

Kindred is a great read. It's historical science fiction that zeroes in on the African American experience. YES. PLEASE. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Wind Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

I picked this book up at the, you guessed it, at the Baltimore Book Fair. I picked it up purely on the cover art. It looked pretty neat, and I thought the title, The Wind Up Girl, was unique. What could this book possibly be about? 

When choosing books, I usually gravitate towards historical fiction, science fiction and fantasy. Many times, it's a combination of genres, like mystery-fantasy or mystery historical fiction. Usually my tastes are never purely science fiction. This topic, "biopunk," as I researched the background of this book, is something different than what I'm used to reading. It's real science fiction, ya know?

The story follows 3-5 individuals who reside in the Thai kingdom. Due to global warming, the land is sinking, but keeps it at bay with levees. Instead of gas and coal, food is the currency, and epidemics of all sorts are a moment away. 

The main characters are a white man by the name of Anderson, and Emiko, a "wind up" girl. Anderson works for a calorie company and is undercover to seek out new foodstuff for his company. He works in a factory where these big elephant type things called mega.... something, are the only things big enough to control the machines who create energy. There is some deal with Algae that infect the other characters later in the book and cause chaos in the factory. 

Emiko is a "wind up," a non-human made for the pleasures of humans. They are sex slaves, they are toys and they are soldiers. After her former owner left her in Thailand, she goes to work for a strip club (I think it's sex performance art), and there are a few graphic chapters where Emiko is forced to do things against her will. She hates it, but she is also programmed to enjoy it too. 


I read the book, but I have to tell you that as soon as I put it down, I didn't remember half the stuff that happened. So, I went on good reads to read up on it again, and became intimidated by the reviewers who put a whole heck of a lot of thought into reviewing The Wind Up Girl, with bold essential questions and themes... 

I'm into that, but you know, not reallll into that. I did not think about any of that when I read the book. The only character I thought was interesting was Emiko and I was worried how she was going to get out of this messed up situation that was Thailand. There is a lot of political drama going on, and one of the other characters dies in the book after the government broke their promise to him. I don't remember their names but I appreciated that Bacigalupi used political corruption in many parts of the world as inspiration.  

Anyway, politics change in Thailand in a huge way, and people are violently killing each other. Anderson, who I should give two shits about, but don't care about at all, wants to find the seeds in order to keep his job as a Calorie man at this mega corporation, in you guess it, America. Emiko clings to Anderson for dear life because she knows that Anderson is her way out of the mess her past owner left her in. 

To quote Star Wars (the few quotes I know), Bacigalupi's social commentary is "strong with this one." Bacigalupi's futuristic, dystopian society is practically dripping with what he thinks our culture is turning into. 

I like my books to be easy reads and engaging. (Which I guess doesn't make me a very good English teacher). I think The Wind Up Girl had a lot to say about the future of our world and how we need to get our act together or else, buuuutttttt...... it was hard to follow for me. I don't know if it was the Asian politics, or the idea of foodstuff and calories, or the epidemics, or even the diversity of characters, but it was a tough book to read right before going to bed. 

I may give it another try again the future. You know, if I run out of books to read. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident by Eoin Colfer

I missed the Artemis Fowl YA books when I was growing up, but my best friend Capella, loved them. My mother mostly brought me series books like The Babysitters Club, The Boxcar Kids and Goosebumps. I also read the Animorphs series too. Though now that I think about it, I guess Artemis Fowl is a bit older than those series.

Anyway, I didn't read them. However, when I was looking for a book to read several years ago, the first Artemis Fowl book was on sale in the Sony E-reader store (RIP). So I bought it and liked it. I didn't LOVE it, maybe it was because it's a bit younger than YA, but I liked it.

Like I do, I found a few Artemis Fowl books at the Baltimore Book Fair (seriously, they should pay me with all the advertising I do for that fair) after failing to find any Octavia Butler books. I had no idea if they were in sequence or not, (I mean, it's YA, I'm sure I could figure out) but luck would have it, Arctic Incident is the second book in the series.

The idea is that Artemis Fowl is a young evil genius with lots of money at his disposal. There is also a fairy universe that hates him. He has a bodyguard and his arch nemesis is a fairy named Holly Short who is a fairy cop. The first book is all about Artemis Fowl obtaining fairy gold. Holly Short and the entire Fairy universe (I really want to write underverse a la Riddick style) are trying to stop him. He ends up getting the fairy gold fair and square.

The scenario for the second book is that Artemis Fowl is looking for his father, who went missing in action. Artemis procures the help of Holly Short and company, and go on this search to find him. Oh, there is also a fairy villain, but I don't remember this name or who he works with. There is lots of technology and adventure. There is also the Russian Mob and Goblins.

By far, the most interesting character in the book is Fowl's manservant, Butler. A killing machine with a shady past that has an undying devotion towards his charge. He is unstoppable. In my mind, he changes from a tough bald headed hottie to a dark haired mysterious type. He puts Fowl in his place, which the kid clearly needs. Artemis Fowl is way to smart for his own good and desperately needs some boundaries. I mean, really, why hasn't his super rich school call CPS? How has his mother been able to keep custody of him?

Yes, that is what I took away from Artemis Fowl: where the heck are his parents?

So overall, it's a decent book for young adults ages 10-13. I have another book that I acquired from the book fair, but I don't think it's the next book in series (but who cares).

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory

Man, I am having a very hard time remembering how to spell Philippa Gregory's name. Every time, I have to google her name, then copy and paste it into the title. This time, I noticed her picture next to the google search bar.

I did not expect her to look like that. It's not like she looks bad, or ugly, but I definitely had this different idea of her. Like, her nose would be smaller, and her hair was much more coiffed. Maybe pearls and lipstick? I just thought maybe Philippa Gregory would be into wearing these things often. Like, a Jessica Lang type? (I legit thought that actress' name was Angela Lansbury. The names don't even sound REMOTELY alike.) 

I do object against the picture they selected for when people search for her. Maybe she doesn't mind it, but the other pictures of her in images are far more flattering. 


So, used Book Fairs seem to have an abundance of Philippa Gregory books (and lack of Octavia Butler's books, but I digress) and so, next on the list is The Wise Woman.  Upon research on her website, this is a stand alone novel, which is unusual for her. This book, is much more magical than the other books I have read and whereas other historical books mention magic and supernaturals as sources of superstition, this book actually uses magic. So, this book is more of historical fantasy rather than historical fiction. It also has a splash of horror. (Read: really creeeeepy wax figurines and an equally creepy birth scene.) 

Like all of her books, it is centered around women and women's relationships with each other and with the men, who mostly have all the power, in their lives. The main character is Alys, who flees after her nunnery catches fire. She does not warn her fellow sisters and the Abbess and that guilt plagues her for most of the book. She goes back to the Wise Woman (get it? That's the name of the novel) named Morach, who cared for her before she went into the nunnery. Morach disapproves of her past choices and encourages her by any means necessary, to regain power in her life by using the power she has within her. 

Now what that means takes the reader through a topsy turvy adventure where by the end, the reader (namely me) does not sympathized with any of the main characters, most of all Alys. Gregory can definitely write a very good story arc. Though normally I am not into unsympathetic protagonists (is it called the anti-hero? I don't remember), and I found myself rolling my eyes at Alys' decisions, I WAS INTO IT. I also had no idea where Gregory was going with this story, right up until the last moment. 

This book had many layers to it that seemed to be lacking from her other books, like The Boleyn Inheritance. I found that book enjoyable as well, but something about the historical background of Henry VIII burning down Catholic buildings, on top of her history as a nun, then back as a wise woman, and then her life at the castle, on top of her relationships with the women in her life and how it all seems at the mercy of men, it was just... kept me engaged. 

So, I recommend this book if you like history, fantasy, well rounded women and an unsuspecting ending. Also if you like weird wax figurines. Cause there are a lot of THOSE in the book.