Monday, March 30, 2015

On Immunity: an inoculation

On Immunity: an inoculation / Eula Biss 205 pgs.

This is a lovely book that explains so many issues surrounding vaccinations and public health.  Biss has taken the time to study the issues in depth, partly as a parent who wanted to do what is best for her son.  The daughter of a doctor, science and research are familiar to her but as a mother, it is sometimes easy to get pulled into doubt when you read about others who question what is best.  What do you owe society?  How much control should the government have in matters that relate to public health?  What is herd immunity, its' benefits and who should be responsible for it?

Biss is very careful with her words and doesn't cast doubters or believers into any pot but seems to encourage conversations and points to the benefits of education and understanding the issues involved.

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The Young Elites

The Young Elites by Marie Lu, 355 pages
A 2015 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults Book

Many years ago, a sickness swept through the island of Kenettra and through the rest of the world, killing many, and marking the ones that were left. When she was four, Adelina, her sister, and their mother all got sick. Their mother died and Adelina lost an eye, but her sister, Violetta, recovered completely, becoming her father's favorite. Unfortunately for Adelina, she becomes his favorite thing to torment, especially since a malfetto daughter has caused his business to wane. Rumors start to circulate that some of those that recovered from the sickness now possess powers, calling themselves the Young Elites and fighting against the growing distrust and dislike of the malfettos, a fear which has been perpetuated by the king and queen and enforced by the Inquisition. When Adelina overhears her father selling her to a wealthy merchant to be his mistress, she runs away, only to find her father close on her heels. In her desperate struggle to get away, she discovers that she too has powers, terrible ones that can cause illusions and incite fear. Captured by the Inquisition and then saved by the Young Elites, Adelina is determined to become one of them, learning how to use and control her powers. But Teren Santoro, leader of the Inquisition, finds her and forces her to spy for him, using her sister as leverage. Can she gain the trust of the Elites around her, especially that of Enzo, their leader and rightful heir to the Kenettran throne, and control of her powers? Can she come clean about Teren and rescue her sister in time? And what will she do about the growing blackness in her heart?

While this one didn't grab me immediately like Lu's first book, Legend, I enjoyed it nonetheless. Adelina is a broken, messed up character, and Lu does a good job bringing her struggle to life as Adelina becomes more and more engrained into the Elites, and the stakes get higher and higher if they discover her spying before she has a chance to come clean. There are some pretty obvious parallels going on between the treatment of the malfettos and real-life events like the Holocaust, but what that aspect reminded me the most of was the X-Men, most likely due to the superpowers. I'm curious to see where this story goes, especially after the ending and the epilogue that followed. It's a solid story that will work well for teens and those who make a habit of reading YA.

(Read as part of YALSA's Hub Reading Challenge.)

We Were Liars

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, 225 pages
A 2015 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults Book

Prior to the release of this book, most of the reviews mentioned that the reveal was a huge, never-see-it-coming type of twist. Normally whenever I see multiple sources mentioning something like that, I get a little skeptical. I've read enough YA by now that usually I can figure out, or at least make a really good guess about, what's going to happen at the end. Not so with We Were Liars. It lived up to its twist-ending hype, and a lot of that has to do with how well E. Lockhart has crafted this story. Cady is the first grandchild of a very prominent, very rich New England family, the Sinclairs. Every summer, the entire family descends upon Beechwood Island, not far from Martha's Vineyard. The Liars - Cady, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat - are finally back together. But the summer the Liars are fifteen, things change. Eight months before, their grandmother dies, and their grandfather seems shakier and less himself. Right at the start of summer, Cady's father reveals he's been having an affair and leaves. Gat, whose uncle Ed is dating Cady's aunt Carrie and has been coming to the island since they were eight, feels even more like an outsider when he and Cady start to fall in love, and her grandfather shows increasing disapproval. Things seem more and more tense, until one night, something happens. Cady takes a swim in nothing more than her underwear, deep out into the ocean, and is found huddled on the beach with little to no memory of what happened. Taken to the hospital, they can't find a whole lot wrong with her, but she must have hit her head at some point because she begins to suffer horrible migraines. She constantly asks her mother what happened the day she must have hit her head, and her mother finally tells her that she has to remember on her own, that she can't tell Cady anymore because Cady always forgets. So the summer she's seventeen, she finally returns to Beechwood Island, ready to remember. And what she remembers might finally stick, might change her irrevocably. Cady is a perfect unreliable narrator, and Lockhart does a fantastic job taking the reader along as Cady works out the puzzle that is her memory and the changes to her behavior and the rest of her family's behavior. Despite being the epitome of the snooty rich family with secrets behind the perfect fa├žade, the Sinclairs never feel like a caricature or a satirization. A perfect, twisty mystery that will likely gut-punch you with the truth in the end. Definitely not one to miss.

(Read as part of YALSA's Hub Reading Challenge.)

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein  321 pp.

Enzo, a Labrador/terrier mix (named for Enzo Ferrari) is the narrator and devoted companion of the story of race car driver Denny Swift. With great insight and a point of view that only a dog could have, Enzo tells Denny's story, recounting his successes, failures, triumphs and tragedies with compassion and philosophical reflection. Enzo also expresses frustration at his inability to communicate with words and his lack of thumbs. The story begins with an elderly Enzo contemplating his own end and his hopes to be reincarnated as a man before telling his life story with Denny from his adoption as a puppy, Denny's marriage, the birth of a daughter, and the tragedy that follows. Enzo has that innate canine ability to judge who is and isn't a good person and laments his inability to protect Denny from those who wish him harm. This book will leave you wondering what your pet is really thinking about you. 

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed

Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda  272 pp.

Actor Alan Alda, born Alphonso Joseph D'Abruzzo, tells the story of his life from his days as a young boy traveling the vaudeville circuit with his parents. Yes, they did have the family dog, Rhapsody (named for his father Robert Alda's film "Rhapsody in Blue") stuffed with garish results. After surviving a string of bad tutors, Catholic School, Fordham University, and travels in Europe, Alan set his sights on writing and acting with mixed results. Until his acting career took off he worked a series of odd jobs including driving a cab and as a clown who appeared at business openings. When he was offered the role of Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H. his life and career changed forever. After that show ended he wrote, acted, and produced movies and became the host of the popular PBS show Scientific American Frontiers. Since then he has had recurring roles in a number of television shows. Alda tells his life story in a matter-of-fact style while being able to look at his past with humor. But he doesn't gloss over the hard parts: his mother's alcoholism and mental illness, his bout with polio and the painful treatments, counting pennies to pay the rent, and nearly dying of an obstructed bowel while on location in Chile. This isn't a scandalous tell all because Alda is not that kind of guy. His home is still in New Jersey where he raised three daughters with his wife of 58 years. He is now the grandfather of eight.

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon

Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon, 273 pages.
A lot of the stories,vignettes, and the people in them in Gordon's memoir lead you to beleive that the author assumes that the reader knows a fair amount about her, about Sonic Youth, the band she co-founded, and about her ex-husband, Thurston. This was not the case for me, I'm aware of the band, but am not familiar with their music, nor did I know anything about Gordon. She's an interesting writer, and her interests range widely. Gordon is an accomplished visual artist, has had her own fashion line,  worked on a number of interesting and groundbreaking projects in No Wave and Alternative music (and she does seem to care way more than I do about the difference between punk, hardcore, new wave, no wave, and alternative).
Gordon met and worked with a lot of interesting people, but most of them come and go quickly in her account. Her paranoid-schizophrenic older brother looms large in her life, as does her Sonic Youth co-founder and husband (now ex-husband), Thurston Moore. There's an odd, "I don't want to talk about it" vibe to Gordon's account of her marriage's end, and Sonic Youth, and touring and performing with the band don't seem to be the focus of her life or of this book.
An interesting account of one artist's life, and a great portrait of the New York art and music scenes in the eighties and nineties.
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Sunday, March 29, 2015

How to be a Husband by Tim Dowling

How to be a Husband by Tim Dowling, 271 pages

A collection of the author's weekly columns from the Guardian's weekly Weekend magazine. Most of the columns focus on Dowling's family life, his own ineptitude and his wife. They're all funny, but reading them all in one sitting sort of wears on you.
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Ghettoside: A True Story of Crime in America by Jill Leovy

Ghettoside: A True Story of Crime in America by Jill Leovy, 366 pages.
A fascinating, timely account of murder in Los Angeles, focusing largely on homicides in the African American community.
LA Times Reporter Leovy had started the Los Angeles Times' Homicide Report blog several years ago, using it as a forum to acknowledge every murder committed in Los Angeles County, to give "a story for every victim." In the book, the author starts with a similar approach but then switches gears and digs deeply into the story of one particular murder, and focuses on one particular detective.While this approach is still very interesting and compellingly readable, it weakens the book, taking it from the great down to merely good. Ghettoside is at its best when the author is looking at all the stories, exploring and explaining (at least in part) the long history of racism, discrimination, and poverty in Los Angeles that created both the shockingly high murder rate for young black men and the indifferent response by the public and the police to those murders. Still I strongly recommended the book for anyone seeking rational discussion of the high rates of violent crime in poorer communities around the country, and the seemingly uncaring response by the surrounding community and some police departments.
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The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman, 66 pages.
Neil Gaiman's illustrated version of the sleeping beauty fairy tale, wherein the endless sleeping spreads outward from the castle where beauty lays to the surrounding lands. This version of the story is richly illustrated by Chris Riddell. All of the major characters in Gaiman's telling are female: victim, villain, and hero. An engaging tale.

"The Sleeper and the Spindle" also appears as a story in Gaiman's most recent collection of stories, Trigger Warning.

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Saga: volumes 1-4 by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples

Saga: by Brian Vaughn and Fiona Staples. volumes one through four, 604 pages. (v-1,160 pages, v-2,152 pages, v-3,152 pages, v-4,144 pages).
Marko, one of the ram-horned, Wreath-born folk, and Alana, one of the winged folk from Landfall, meet while serving in their respective armed forces. Despite the long-standing war between their two races and the many problems they know they will face, they decide to make a go of it together. Once word gets out about them, they find themselves tracked all over the universe by bounty hunters, royalty from one side or the other, angry parents, and ex-girlfriends. Well written, well illlustrated and always interesting. I look forward to volume five.

Volume 1 in catalog.
Volume 2 in catalog.
Volume 3 in catalog.
Volume 4 in catalog.