Frank Herbert: Dune

Here is the novel that will be forever considered a triumph of the imagination. Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides, who would become the mysterious man known as Maud’dib. He would avenge the traitorous plot against his noble family;and would bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.

I thought I would read so many books on the cruise–I took five! Unfortunately, I started with Dune, and got stuck on it for the entirety of the trip. We voted this into April’s AdultBooklr readathon unanimously–but I’m terribly disappointed.

I was immediately struck by how terrible the writing is. It’s such a famous book–I was expecting something spectacular. Instead, the writing is lazy in the basics with way over complicated structure. And I bet Frank Herbert’s Thesaurus is well-thumbed. There’s nothing wrong with using unique or creative vocabulary–but he was reaching all over the place.

It’s obvious that Herbert drew inspiration from many sources all over the world for his characters and settings. If done properly, that could have been really cool. Instead, it was just a mess of cultural appropriation and awful tropes. And I do mean MESS–I don’t even know where to start with explaining them because everything was so entwined and the plot so complicated. (This was absolutely the wrong book to read when I couldn’t take detailed notes.)

I finished because of the readathon, but it was hard to keep my attention on Dune. I had intended to spend much more time reading on the ship, but never wanted to pick up in this tattered brown catastrophe.

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Margot Lee Shetterly: Hidden Figures (Young Readers’ Ed)

Now in a special new edition perfect for young readers, this is the amazing true story of four African-American female mathematicians at NASA who helped achieve some of the greatest moments in our space program. Soon to be a major motion picture.
Before John Glenn orbited the earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. This book brings to life the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, four African-American women who lived through the Civil Rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the movement for gender equality, and whose work forever changed the face of NASA and the country.

If you haven’t heard of Hidden Figures by now, you must be an naive astronaut yourself…ala Catcher Block (please tell me I’m not the only one who has watched that movie 700 times).

 

I still haven’t seen the Hidden Figures movie, but thank goodness it did not take a lifetime for the book to come available at the library. Although the edition I received was the Young Readers’ Edition…and I’m not sure how much of a difference (if there is one) between this and the regular version? I can tell you this only took me two hours to read, so do with it what you will. If there is an adult version out there, let me know what you thought of it!

I will never be over the amount of erasure that went into our school history books. Learning that might have been the biggest shock to my white privilege–I take education so seriously, and having huge chunks of information left out is unfathomable. I will slowly uncover some of what I have missed, but those who don’t care to extend their education will never know anything outside of those empty textbooks.

That is why it is so crucial for stories like Hidden Figures to be told. We learned about the space race, but all of the faces in that story were white. We never learned about the women at Langley, much less about the black computers crunching the numbers. Margot Lee Shetterly details each woman’s journey through Langley’s West Side Computing Office and into NASA.

Now, because I had the YRE, these stories were simplified. I am unsure what or if anything was left out or minimized. Nothing was extremely vivid–I have a feeling a lot of the edges were sanded down. On one hand, it was nice to have a lot of the science explained at a lower level, since I am the furthest thing from a mathematician. But I am quite interested in a more detailed depiction of these women’s lives. Also, we hardly got any information on Christine. The introduction sounds like there were four women involved, but the book is mostly about Dorothy, Mary, and Katherine. I would have liked a little bit more in her section.

I’m looking even more forward to seeing the movie now. And maybe I’ll see if the library has the full version. Maybe I just requested the wrong book–it has been known to happen! If you liked the movie, I highly recommend reading more about these women! And question your history books. What else are we missing from those pages?

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Heidi Heilig: The Girl From Everywhere

Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.

As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.

But the end to it all looms closer every day.

Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.

For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.

She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.

Or she could disappear.

BOOK SLUMPS ARE HARD.

I went back and forth so many times on this one, and it took me three days to read it! But, I suppose that is why I put my blog on hiatus, so I wouldn’t have to rush, right? Forgive me for these off reviews, I’m clearly not myself right now. Still, for the sake of consistency, I want you know what I’ve read and what I thought while I read them. My brain won’t let me do otherwise. Just take these with a grain of salt, k? I’ll let you know once I catch up to myself when all this is said and done.

The @KeepItDiverse book club chose The Girl From Everywhere for their October read. Can I first of all just say that I love living in a small town because I’m able to get book club reads right away now? No more waiting two months for popular books. Woot!

Anyway, this was a bit of a slow starter, but it may have been because I was a bit hesitant. It reminded me straight off of Passenger by Alexandra Bracken, which I could not get into, and I was afraid this was going to be the same way. I gradually started falling into the story and it picked up speed. I like the idea of popping in and out of history, seeing different events happen.

There’s a love triangle here that is very confusing. It never really resolves itself. Which, on one hand, allows you to ship (pun intended) any way you like. But it is frustrating because there are so many unresolved feelings! Perhaps it’s building up to a sequel?

Another plot hole that really bothered me was the dragon. She got this dragon from her aunt at the beginning of the book–it eats pearls and has to live in salt water. Special mention was given to the bucket it lives in:  it can’t rust, had to have a handle so she could throw it over the side and be refreshed occasionally. And then the dragon disappears for most of the book. The bucket makes a short appearance later, but it just really doesn’t play much of a role, and seemed like a big detail that meant nothing. Maybe I missed something but it seemed odd to me.

Overall, the book was entertaining. There were lots of details about Hawaiian culture–where the author is from. The jokes about those damn Victorians made me laugh. It wasn’t my favorite book ever, but right now, I don’t think anything is my favorite thing ever, so if you like time travel, don’t count this one out.

 

UPDATE–Oh MAN this review is rough. I definitely need to go back and reread this book when I’m in a better mental state. Heidi is such a fantastic person, her activism is incredible. Please don’t count her book out just because of this slumpy review. If/When I read it again, I will be sure to update this. Leaving this up for authenticity, because I was going through a really hard time when I read it. But I did want to give this disclaimer because I admire the author quite a lot, for other reasons besides just her writing.

 

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VE Schwab: A Gathering of Shadows

It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift – back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games – an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries – a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

Can I just say FU VE SCHWAB! HOLY CLIFFHANGER!

It took me a while to get into this second book in her Shades of Magic series. I loved ADSOM, and was really looking forward to AGOS and the continuation of Kell and Lila’s adventures. However, this definitely has second book syndrome–at least at the start. It’s sluggish to begin.

There’s three stories going on, Kell, Lila, and a third that I won’t spoil for you. All are fun and interesting, but until they start to merge it almost feels like they are being held back. When that happens, though, the book feels like one of my favorite movies–A Knight’s Tale–only instead of Heath Ledger being the only one hiding his identity, Shannyn Sossamon (Jocelyn) also joins him in the game. It’s great fun and very adventurous.

I’m not going to rate this as high as I did the first book, but it definitely left me excited for the third installment! And it was nice to read something not so serious after a streak of BIG books lately. It was greatly needed, since I’ve got more of those coming.

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Review: The Shadow of the Wind

Barcelona, 1945: A city slowly heals in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and Daniel, an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, by one Julián Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. In fact, Daniel may have the last of Carax’s books in existence. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.

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This book reminds me of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, in that it feels a lot older than it actually is. It was written in 2005, but as I was reading it, I thought it was actually written decades ago. Of course, it makes sense later, when the epilogue skips to 1960–but the text reads like much older literature than this millennium for sure.

The story itself is extremely complicated, with layers upon layers that build until the climax at the end. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail because there is just too much to discover here on your own, but it’s definitely one of those stories you have to focus on. It doesn’t hurt to take notes either. You never know when something insignificant might come back up again!

These historical fiction mysteries are always good for a brain workout. Goodreads has this listed as Fantasy too, but I don’t see how that is an applicable genre for this book. Definitely interesting, though, and one to pick up if you’re looking for something dark and thrilling, without being gory or overly scary.

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Review: Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1

KELLY SUE DeCONNICK (Avengers Assemble, Captain Marvel) and EMMA RÍOS (Dr. Strange, Osborn) present the collected opening arc of their surprise-hit series that marries the magical realism of Sandman with the western brutality of Preacher. Death’s daughter rides the wind on a horse made of smoke and her face bears the skull marks of her father. Her origin story is a tale of retribution as beautifully lush as it is unflinchingly savage.

I don’t always read our Adult Booklr graphic novel pick, but when I do, it’s because it has kick ass female authors. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios both have big names under their belt, so it’s pretty much no question that their work is always going to be worth reading.

The story here is fantastic, and with DeConnick behind it, that’s really no surprise. I wasn’t a huge fan of Bitch Planet‘s plot, but the writing was great, and this old school western legend is way more my style.

First thing you have to understand–the narrator here is a bunny-skeleton to a butterfly. Weird, I know–but this IS a book about the underworld. The whole thing is about Death, his daughter, and the people in His grasp. There’s a lot to take in–so much that I may read it again this weekend just because.

But even more than the creative storyline is the ART. There is so much going on at times that I almost forgot to even read the story because I just wanted to stare at every intricate detail. The pages aren’t laid out in normal comic panels. A page might be one full page drawing, with a few squares of smaller detail. Sometimes you would get a few long panels stacked on top of each other, when there was a lot of dialogue in a scene. The art overall is dark, sometimes bloody (but excepting the very first couple of pages, not exceedingly gory), and just exceptionally varied. Everything is striking. EVERYTHING.

HOW IS ANYONE ON EARTH THIS TALENTED I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

I should probably tell you that there is full on nudity, both male and female. This is definitely an adult comic, and for more than just that reason.

But you guys. YOU GUYS. It’s so beautiful.

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The Master and Margarita

Mikhail Bulgakov’s devastating satire of Soviet life was written during the darkest period of Stalin’s regime. Combining two distinct yet interwoven parts—one set in ancient Jerusalem, one in contemporary Moscow—the novel veers from moods of wild theatricality with violent storms, vampire attacks, and a Satanic ball; to such somber scenes as the meeting of Pilate and Yeshua, and the murder of Judas in the moonlit garden of Gethsemane; to the substanceless, circus-like reality of Moscow. Its central characters, Woland (Satan) and his retinue—including the vodka-drinking black cat, Behemoth; the poet, Ivan Homeless; Pontius Pilate; and a writer known only as The Master, and his passionate companion, Margarita—exist in a world that blends fantasy and chilling realism, an artful collage of grotesqueries, dark comedy, and timeless ethical questions.

I can’t do it, you guys. I can’t. I have absolutely zero idea what is happening in this book. And I have TRIED to figure it out. I wanted to show myself that I could read ONE RUSSIAN LITERATURE without failing. This one isn’t that long, right? Surely I could do it.

NOPE.

My one thought while reading this was this:  “This feels like the book that the Bohemians from Moulin Rouge would have written while high (drunk?) on absinthe.”

I’m pretty sure I saw a green fairy once or twice while trying to read it. I got a little more than halfway, but nothing made sense. There were references to Jesus and Pilate, the devil, someone got their head cut off by a street car. One of the men was schizophrenic, and maybe it was all just in his head somewhere.

Blah! I don’t know! Another Russian Lit bites the dust. This was both our AdultBooklr pick of the month AND a Boxall read, so it’s doubly frustrating. It is what it is. On to the next one.

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Go Set a Watchman

THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS IN MY ANALYSIS. I GO PRETTY DEEP, SO IT CAN’T BE HELPED THIS TIME. I WILL WARN YOU FIRST.

From Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird. Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch–“Scout”–returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in a painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past–a journey that can be guided only by one’s conscience. Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor and effortless precision–a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context and new meaning to an American classic.

First off, let me tell you–because I know how controversial this book is–I was extremely torn on whether to read GSAW. Do I read it, knowing that Harper Lee held off on publishing the book for her entire life–and it only came to surface when the capacity of her mental functions were being questioned? Do we actually know if she wanted this sent out in the world? We do not. In some ways, it feels like a betrayal to read this. In others, now that it is out there, it feels wrong not to read such a historically significant work from one of the greatest authors of our lifetime. In the end, I chose the latter, as part of our AdultBooklr readathon of To Kill a Mockingbird

I can definitely understand, though, why Harper Lee would not have published this. She wrote GSAW first, but decided she wanted to explore Jean Louise’s (Scout) youth more in depth–so this acts as a sequel to the book she wrote second, To Kill a Mockingbird. There are some overlap in her words, like descriptions of Aunty Alexandria for example. But really the characters are just DIFFERENT here. At first, I thought I was bored, that they needed more development and that’s why she moved on to TKAM. I even reached to our AdultBooklr chat to see if anyone else felt the same way.

The more I read, though, the more I realized that the characters were developing very quickly, in that Harper Lee fashion–just not the way I expected them to. GSAW felt almost as if it “undid” everything that TKAM had done. White privilege and that kind of indirect racism run rampant through this book (I say indirect in contrast to the direct violence that we saw in TKAM. More of a shunning and segregation than prison and guns. I don’t mean it to be less harmful, just different).

It was uncomfortable. I didn’t like it. I just kept thinking over and over, “This is why she didn’t publish it, it ruins TKAM. Her characters don’t match up.”

****SPOILERS AHEAD.****

But then, almost at the very end, there is a conversation about segregation and racial barriers. Atticus and Scout are completely flipped from TKAM and it finally hit me.

Was anything ever “done” in TKAM? Sure, Atticus fought against prejudice in one court case. He taught Scout some great lessons about humanity. Some of the town murmured their agreement, but in the end, he lost. The black man was still killed. Nothing changed. TKAM was a well-written book about the struggle to overcome racial prejudice, but nothing was “done.”

Just like nothing is over today. We are still fighting those exact same battles. And that is one of the points of Go Set a Watchman. Prejudice doesn’t go away overnight. This is a war. There are many battles, not just one. Love is love is love is love is love, but also change begets change begets change begets change begets change….and maybe that second one is harder.

The second point of Go Set a Watchman is that you can’t ever go home again. Not really. Once you learn the truth about something, once you see who you really are and who your people are, you cannot go back. Scout learned what white privilege is, and she was NOT happy about it. She tried to fight within her town and her family was ridiculously patronized.

I’m not sure how I feel about the way this ended. I know I feel way different about the book from when I started–it is not a secondary book to TKAM. It isn’t boring. I wish I would have paid more attention to the first half now. I’ll be adding this to my reread pile, and next time I will read it as a separate entity from TKAM. I do know that GSAW is incredibly poignant to our country right now. Harper Lee, you may not have meant for this book to be out in the world, but we very much needed it.

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I’ll Give You the Sun

Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

I’m pretty sure all of Booklr has been trying to get me to read this book since the day it came out. Especially Christa in particular–it’s her favorite thing ever…if you ask her, she will tell you. I’m amazed it’s taken us this long to read it for AdultBooklr!

Jandy Nelson’s writing is spectacular.She uses split narration–13 yo Noel, and flash forward 16 yo Jude. They are twins, so you get a before and after look which gives a very unique perspective.

I almost felt like I could read this with my eyes closed. I’ll Give You the Sun is all about sensory overload–Nelson makes you want to swim in the colors and textures of the art she creates in the page. I swear if someone would have handed me a brush and palatte I would have painted Noah’s portraits. It’s a completely ridiculous notion, since I am a terrible painter, but the imagery is so vivid that I CRAVED them. Surely someone on Tumblr has done a fanart collection. I should go look for it.

I was bothered by the age difference between Oscar and Jude. Throughout most of the book, we don’t know exactly how old he is, only that he’s in college and she is 16. It’s clear he doesn’t know quite how young she is, but it’s still just a little skeevy, especially after he asks her to pose nude for him. This does get addressed toward the end of the book, but it’s just something that made me a little uncomfortable throughout.

I’ll Give You the Sun is a coming of age story in two parts. The two perspectives allows us to see multiple facets of a teenage life, without the awkward friend circle drama we get in a lot of YA trying to show the same thing. Nelson brilliantly gives us a look into sexual discovery–both heterosexual and homosexual, coming out, divorce, grief, puberty, and a few other things, wrapped up in a beautiful, moving book.

This actually reminds me a LOT of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, if it were written from Dante’s perspective. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but if you loved that book, you’ll love this one. I am super disappointed now that I only bought this in ebook form. I NEED THIS ON MY SHELF. It’ll be a regular reread for sure.

Oh and Christa, you owe me Patrick Rothfuss.

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Giovanni’s Room

Baldwin’s haunting and controversial second novel is his most sustained treatment of sexuality, and a classic of gay literature. In a 1950s Paris swarming with expatriates and characterized by dangerous liaisons and hidden violence, an American finds himself unable to repress his impulses, despite his determination to live the conventional life he envisions for himself. After meeting and proposing to a young woman, he falls into a lengthy affair with an Italian bartender and is confounded and tortured by his sexual identity as he oscillates between the two.

I was supposed to read Giovanni’s Room in June for LGBT Month. It was one of AdultBooklr’s picks. However, my book order took forever to get here, so I’m late, as usual! We finally read a classic, and I don’t have it!!

Holy crap this is good! And SEXY. And GAYYYYY. Wowzers. I’ve read Drarry fanfiction that was not as sexy, gay, and angsty as this book was. Is all James Bald

win like this? Sign me right the hell up.

Because my brain works the way it does, I kept mixing up the time periods. This did not occur in the 1950s for me–it was all turn of the century in my head. Who the hell knows why? I know these were more bars than men’s clubs, but that’s what I was picturing. Maybe the word “patron”–old men sponsoring the young ones into their private dark wood-paneled billiards rooms.

Anyway.

I loved this. It was so short, though! Not only is it super gay literature, but there’s also a pretty fantastic feminist vs misogynist conversation going on as well. You don’t see writing like this even in today’s fiction. Giovanni’s Room is a bold statement, no matter what time period you are in, and we need so much more of it.

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