The Binding by Bridget Collins

This one was a solid 3.5 stranded between a good one and a satisfactory one.

The book gets a demoted 0.5 star for a sharp turn, the one that I did not see coming ( and unpredictability is always great for a voracious reader), BUT I do not think these two parts are organically connected. They are like slapstick pictures cut from different cards and glued together and consequently look crude and unprofessional together.

I loved the slow burner of the first part – it is a beautiful meditation on books – their hauntedness, their darkness, their confession like nature, their possessive nature, and our desire to expose ourselves and hide ourselves in books.
I liked the second part as well. It is an inventively told LGBT love story, but I also feel like the magical world of bookbinding was used as a tool for the love story, and it was too dark and tantalizing to use it just as a tool to tell the story. Besides, some moments of darkness were abandoned, and they could have been delicious parts of the book if this novel had developed differently. Alas …

I am glad that I have read it, but the book did not leave the feeling of completeness not the feeling of literary satiation. Thus. 3.5 stars

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Dystopian, fantasy, Gothic, LGBT, Literary Fiction

Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

    I did not hate it, even though this seems to be my knee-jerk reaction for young adult literature. I find juvenile literature much more sincere, mature, engaging, and relatable, and I do find YA pretentious and hyperbolic, and I guess so it should be because it reflects the unpleasant part and parcel of being a teenager.
To cut a long story short, this is most definitely a YA – a rebellious teen, some romance, some silly topics that are not important to me, but I do remember they were important to me when I was a teen, and I despise myself for being so shallow and egotistic when I was a teen, so the main character is most definitely a teen; thus, borderline obnoxious character due to her age.
Plus, we deal with some survival issue because of the asteroid hitting the Moon. I wish there was a little bit more science, but then you can not sell the book successfully to teens and anyone who does not ” do science” in everyday life and goes with the flow … Who am I kidding here? – there name is legion.
The most annoying character is Mom. I might belong to the same part of the political spectrum, but she is weird and unlikeable. She is a survivalist, a loner, and isolationist, and something else. One does not have to like the characters in the book, but this lady is the inconsistencies incarnate.

Then, there is religion in the book, and it is not portrayed in the nicest sense, and I am very uncomfortable with religion in my life as I find it that by that time, it should only be the part of our cultural past and this is the only role religion is allowed to be in my world. Having said that I would like to have any religion only as rites and rituals if it provides comfort for some people, I was still uncomfortable with the lopsided presentation in the book. I am not denying that the author might have been brutally honest about it, but it still came as crude …

The book was engaging enough to continue reading it, but the claustrophobic feeling of a family trapped in the house in the post apocalyptic world was rather told than shown. My usual peeve with fiction.

Plus, there was nothing happening in the book, and no resourcefulness, no inventiveness, no thinking out of the box, just hording and dieting.

They say, the second book has an extremely religious protagonist in it, maybe for a sense of balance or maybe the author took a lot of flak for this very unconventional, even though mostly true, portrayal of religion. I might try to read it simply for shits and giggles … Hey, I did not through the book across the room, so it is always a sign that I might read another one in the series.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Perfect Predator: A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug: A Memoir by Steffanie Strathdee and Thomas Patterson.

On a personal level, it is one of the most conflicted reviews I am posting. Let me first elaborate the positive aspects of my reading experience.
1. The book flows, and it flows well, and all the parts in it are in the right places, and nothing is excessive in the book, and chapters do not drag.
2. The book is bringing awareness to antibiotic resistant bacteria strains, and it serves its educational purpose.
3. The writing per se ( sentences, paragraphs, transitions – aka the building blocks of composition) was good,too. It was not spectacular, and it is hard to achieve deep emotional engagement with non-fiction, but it was very decent and relatable.
4. it was based on personal experience, and it always takes some guts to publish a book with the personal involvement, including some very intimate moments about bodily functions.

Now, my peeves, and many of them are subjective peeves driven by my Russian judgmental nature and my personal freelancing experience as an interpreter/translator working in the field of public health, HIV, ID, and epidemiology. It is also important to keep in mind that my degree is in ESL, linguistics, and world lit.

1. I was only exposed to this field as an interpreter, but some of moments of ignorance shocked me. Again, it is all my vitriolic Russian nature is rearing its ugly head. In Russia, once can not be an epidemiologist without taking extensive courses of infectious diseases, and vice versa, one can not be an infectious disease specialist and being totally clueless about public health and ways diseases spread. One can say that global public health is mostly WHO protocols, predictions and formulas, and it is true, but these formulas without any knowledge how diseases spread and their etiology are useless, so I simply found this lack of knowledge unbelievable.

2. Again, due to my Russian background, I heard about phages and their usages in microbiology and public health. One might attribute my knowledge to the factors Ms. Strathdee mentioned in her book, but I did hear about the biophage methods in ….. high school. High school!!!! Not college – high school! I can say many negative things about the Soviets, but formal and natural sciences were strictly science driven, rigorous, and demanding parts of curriculum.

3. Because the book is based on true events, I also think I have the right to touch upon memoir-like parts of the book. The author was absolutely right to describe the abject medical conditions in Egypt, but in my personal experience, I did visit some rural health departments in the USA, and they are as shoddy and poorly equipped as the one in Luxor. Oh, did I hear a little bit of judgment from the author? I did, and I would be opinionated, too, but it is nice to remember that one can find similarly equipped medical offices in the USA.

4. Please, do not let me start on religion and prayers that were malapropos. First, if it is a divine providence for her husband to be saved, why would phage biotechnology be used only by the Soviets, the self-proclaimed atheists of the past? Secondly, the role of prayers is highly hyperbolic. I do understand that faith is a crutch that one needs and it is an evolutionary mechanism to cope with enormous pressure, but why wouldn’t a scientist put common sense first? This is way beyond my comprehension. On the other hand, I might succumb to the same need of succor and support at the time of trial. Who knows?

5. I am sure I will get a lot of hate comments here, but this book had this weird California aftertaste – one that combines science, gaps in required knowledge, prayers, New Age life coaches, etc.

If I based my review on my peeves, I would possibly give it two stars, but because it might educate public that needs this knowledge, the book gets a three-star review.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

I might be one of the dissenting voices here as my review is not stellar. It is one of those books that I read and appreciated, but I will never take it to a desert island. It was an interesting perspective, and a perspective is truly a big thing in sci fi genre, but sometimes, the exploration of ideas is not enough for me.

On goodreads, it is shelved as a dystopian novel, but it has the twist as the events take place in a reservation and the village gradually loses all the connection with the Canadian government, including internet, phone, TV, and later electricity and water.

As readers, we can only make assumption about the end of the world and its aftermath for this community. These assumptions are strengthened by the “refugees” of the bigger world, but the end has never been explained.
Now, the biggest question one should ask if this is indeed a novel of the end of the world or the novel of rebirth. I believe it is a novel of rebirth of Anishinaabe community with their traditional lifestyle with hunting, fishing, and gathering as the cornerstones of their society.

It is a story of emotional and cultural awakening, and I am not surprised that the only white man was the evil one. He is a symbolic figure of a white man that brings havoc and destruction, and I do not blame the author for this formulaic representation after the Holocaust-like experience that white colonizers caused, but still it was a hackneyed trope.

Writing has not impressed me either – it was simple, but not simplistic, yet it lacked sophistication, even thought this simplicity was intended. Again, I can hear the European tradition of writing in me speaking loudly, and I can not suppress this voice. I DO NOT need purple prose, BUT I love smart allusiveness, I love rich styles: I also love laconic, terse and pithy styles. But this one was neither.
I felt like the author in this hypothetical situation viewed the catastrophe as a passage of transformation, as a way of returning to his roots, and there is no remorse about the lost civilization, and even no interest about the origin of this massive demise, just an opportunity to be born anew, to start life anew true to the traditions and customs of the Anishinaabe community.

To me, with my European background, that would have been a very painful experience as it means saying goodbye to everything that is part of my identity – arts, literature, storytelling, and of course, books.

I think I could not embrace this book more because of the genuine discrepancy of cultures. On the other hand, I need to view it as an eye-opening experience – what we value as accomplishments can be irrelevant to others.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, Dystopian, Sci-Fi

Places and Names by Elliot Ackerman

This is an honest review in exchange for the copy provided by the publisher.

Phew … it was a long, painful, and necessary read.
Places and Names is an ideal name for this book as it reflects its mosaic nature. Some might argue that such nature would only make reading difficult, and the book can be unreadable, and the answer is – yes and no at the same time.

Somehow, even though it does not contribute to the evenness of the narrative, it also underlines that there could not be a narrative as it is a book of recollections of people and places from different times.

Even though the perspective is mostly from the current point of view, it is also a military travelogue of sorts. In this book, Ackerman takes us to the places he visited during truce and war, and the impact is mostly on human relationship and introverted analysis.

There was something in the book that made me watch his interviews, and in one of them, he was asked about the military opponents, and he answered sarcastically that he possibly had done something sacrilegious for trying to humanize the people on the other side of the battle field. Plus, the question was really stupid and shallow – thus, kudos to the author for answering with dignity and compassion.

What I liked in this book is the emotional detachment ( not emotional coldness) – the chronicler’s POV that documents losses and death in black and white; as a result, making it even more emotionally impactful.

The last chapter was funny in the “cringeworthy” way. On one hand, his attempt to decode the dry and official report language was even hilarious, and on the other hand, it shows what is often hidden from the eyes of a layman – all pain, commitment, fatigue, exhaustion, and military action non-stop.

As I mentioned earlier, this was not the easiest read, and neither it should have been, but a necessary one, and it left a long-lasting impression that is still fresh after some time.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review, nonfiction, War

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

As many books for me recently, it started with annoyance and frustration as I could not remember the names and the relationships, but then without me remembering when, I finally tuned in and followed the story easily.
More over, 2/3 into the book, the novel became engrossing, and the massacre scene was EXTREMELY painful but also engrossing in the literary sense. At that point, everything made sense, and every piece became a part of the bigger picture, with the only exception of the modern interlude.
Eventually, after the Romeo and Juliette moment, it became an integral part of the story, and yet the story has other things it can boast, and one of them is the historical background for the story, and another is the description of the niche semi-matriarchal society of the Haenyeo. I had to google some of the information because so much of it was unheard of.

Of course, I was with Young-sook through all her troubles and tribulations, and of course, I was partial. Of course, there was a revelation that changes the story to me a bit, but it also taught me a lesson. Like Young-sook, I am not a forgiving person. I can not forgive Mi-ja. I first thought that she was a victim, and it turned out that she is even more of a victim that I suspected, but I can not still forgive her, and one of the big things why I can not forgive her is not her weakness and her defenselessness, but her seeming “redemption” through religion. I assume she chose the one that offered forgiveness for praying, and I do have moral qualms about any religion, especially the one that allows you to “undo” the past, or simply I do not know how to forgive.
This is the lesson I learned about myself. It is O’K. I still can not forgive Mi-ja ….

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye

What a lovely candy of Gothic fiction this book turned out to be!

I did skip it last year when it was published; well, honestly, I snubbed it, thinking it was some silly girly stuff, and only later did I connect the author’s name with the previous works that I read and enjoyed.
This year, it happened on the impulse, and I truly enjoyed this dark and delectable book.

It is loosely based on Jane Eyre or is a retelling of Jane Eyre or the pastiche of this iconic book. Whichever option you choose, reader, beware, it is a book of many books, at least it was for me.

You know when they tell you that intertextuality is basically when books you have read talk to each other in your head. This is what happened to me. I was re-reading the Burton and Swinburne series by Mark Hodder, I was re-reading Fingersmith and Tippling the Velvet by Sarah Waters; I was re-reading MJ Carter novels, and I even was re-reading the Wasp Factory by Iain Banks. Of course, I still had the taste of Charlotte Bronte while I was reading this book. Boy, it was a mad literary ride, but what an accomplishment for the author to stir so many literary memories.

Honestly, I think I like this Jane more than the quiet bee from the canonical novel. This Jane Steele/Stone is edgier and more tenacious, resourceful, and conniving in the most beguiling way. She is a murderer, but she is also the executioner, and Vengeance is her name.

I liked so much about this book – the urban underbelly, the tangential LGBT reference ( ” She did not love me enough – only too well”) , literary allusions, deft and apt style, a courageous heroine with a little bit of the darker twist, colonial themes, a dear reader style, and so much more.

I wish I had read it earlier. What an exciting literary journey it was!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized