Friday, November 10, 2017

November 2.0

Artemis by Andy Weir
I hear often, "I don't like sci-fi," yet I also hear from these same people how much they enjoy Star Wars, Interstellar, Star Trek and other futuristic movies.  So perhaps a person just doesn't like the 'robots are taking over the world and the book is full of impossible to understand physics concepts' kind of sci-fi - I get that.  If that is the case, Andy Weir's (The Martian) latest is anyone and everyone's type of science fiction.  Honestly, it is just that good.  This time around, the main character is a Saudi Arabian woman, Jazz, who has been raised in Artemis, the community built on the moon, since she was six years old.  Jazz has attitude...serious attitude, and is funny as hell.  She's everything I would want a daughter to be: smart, sassy, courageous, ambitious, but does take risk-taking a bit too far.  Oh, and her idea of career-building is to be the best smuggler on the Moon, but this time Jazz gets herself into some serious trouble with some very bad dudes.  This book is a rock-and-roll ride from beginning to end, with twists that will surprise you and turns you never saw coming.  Weir peoples his lunar community with a cast of unique characters; I suspect the movie will soon be in production, but do yourself a favor and read the book first - it's always better.

The Power by Naomi Alderman
This book is mind-blowing...seriously. Touted as the next generation of The Handmaid's Tale, I read this futuristic, feminist, gender-bender by a debut author in about 24 hours. The premise is unique: a set of email communications between two people explore the past history of the time period when women first experienced their 'power', as in literally electrical power. Then the story returns to that time period to track the inception and the fall-out. The author follows a variety of women as the young girls first learn that they can put out electrical shocks to people they touch, and the more they explore this 'power,' the better they get at it: a daughter of a British gangster looks to revenge a mother's death and consolidate influence, a mayor of a major city walks the line of politics while she and her daughter wrestle with the implications of this power; a foster child with the ability to morph into someone else entirely, and a young boy who tells their stories to the world. As the gender roles begin to switch, the choices society makes are questionable and intriguing. This book would provide a book club with some extremely provocative conversation.

Origin by Dan Brown
Remember that feeling of reading the first few chapters of The DaVinci Code? That sense of having sat down in a roller coaster, slowly going up that first climb, and the stomach-churning swoop down?  Yep, Dan Brown is finally back, after writing a couple of mediocre books following Davinci. Of course, Robert Langdon, our Harvard professor of symbology, is once again the wicked smart hotshot, who gets himself out of some fairly serious jams and uses his brain to lead the way. As always, he has a female sidekick, who while beautiful, does not follow the sexist stereotype of needing help from a male; she can take care of herself, and does. This time around, the premise revolves around a stupendously wealthy young man who has the attention of the world as he dangles a world-wide presentation where he will answer "Where did we come from" and "Where are we going?" Of course, author Dan Brown cannot let it be that easy so Langdon and his sidekick, Ambra Vidal, spend the rest of the book chasing down the answers and avoiding some fairly evil opponents. I found the science and religion pieces of this book to be fascinating, giving me some food for thought and some fears and hopes for the future. If you need a spellbinding vacation book, this one is a winner.

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg
This is the book you pick up after you have read a dark creepy mystery, or a psychologically disturbing thriller, or a heart-wrenching non-fiction book.  At times, I wondered if this book was a bit too saccharine, but then I realized that yes, sometimes we need hope, hope that a storybook ending truly exists, hope that other people are willing to care about strangers, and hope that the future will be better. In this new novel by veteran author Elizabeth Berg, Maddy is a young girl with a past history of loss and sadness. Motherless since infancy, with a father whose pain goes deeper than his desire to be a father, Maddy has attached herself to a rather feckless fellow who leaves her pregnant and questioning her choices. Enter Arthur and Lucille, two elderly neighbors who see a girl who needs a hand up. This book will make you laugh out loud at these two hilarious characters, especially Lucille who just doesn't 'get it' quite frequently.  And Arthur? Oh, you would want him for your next door neighbor or grandfather; what a lovely human being.  So yes, a bit overly sweet at times but don't we all need that in our lives? Nothing wrong with a book where your heart is warm and tender at the end:)

Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City By Kate Winkler Dawson
For fans of the Netflix series, The Crown, it is hard to forget the great London fog of 1952 that killed over 12,000 people. Combine that environmental disaster with the psychological disaster of a human being, Reginald Christie, Nottinghill serial killer, and a book is born. Dawson shows her journalistic past with deep research into both stories, though at times the details become slogged down in repetition and a dry voice. The science part of the deadly smog is fascinating, and scary as we watch the EPA being deliberately dismantled here in America, and the author delves deeply into the government's lack of response, a back bencher's fight to bring the media attention to a less-than-thrilling story, and one personal tale of a London family. However, I do think this part of the book would have been better served with more personal stories; it suffers from the MP's problem in getting newspapers to print more stories - one needs to make people relate, to empathize, to care, and we do that through the lives of ordinary people. However, the serial killer side of the story seems to explore the characters more deeply, though there is little suspense in the eventual ending. Overall, this was an interesting story but it would have benefitted with a more personal, compelling voice.


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