Quickie Reviews: Nightmares, Anyone?

You know what I, as someone living with generalized anxiety disorder, just love? Books that scare me so bad I can’t sleep.

Ha! But seriously, I’m glad I’m done with these because I literally cannot sleep.

Station Eleven

Station Eleven, Emily St. John MandelThis is the first book I read for my first book club meetup (squee!). It was really good, but post-apocalyptic settings have never been my jam. I keep thinking about a few specific moments in the novel and it’s freaking me the hell out. We’re discussing the book this Saturday; I’m excited to learn about what other people thought.

A Window Opens

A Window Opens, Elisabeth EganAlice lands her dream job at Scroll, a hip startup that’s going to “revolutionize reading.” But between trying to please a demanding boss, keeping her family afloat while her husband starts his own business, and squeezing in doctor’s appointments for her father, Alice is beginning to wonder if she really can have it all. This is a case of reading a well-written book at the wrong time. Not only did this book give me cold sweat-inducing flashbacks to working in the startup world, the main characters deals with some personal things that hit just a little too close to home right now. A month ago I probably would have raved about this book; but now it just makes me feel annoyed and guilty and upset.

The Curse of the Pharaohs

The Curse of the Pharaohs, Elizabeth PetersThis one didn’t scare me, but it did keep me up late reading. It’s the sequel to Crocodile on the Sandbank, and it’s just as marvelous. Lots of great characters — especially Amelia and Emerson — and a wonderful mystery.

What book is keeping you up at night?

Review: The Martian

The Martian, Andy WeirWhen the Ares 3 crew makes an emergency departure from Mars during a windstorm, they do so without their botanist. Mark Watney is killed on the way to the extraction point.

But after the dust settles on the red planet, Mark is still alive. For now. He has no way to contact his crew or NASA, and it will be over a year before the next manned mission sets down on Mars.

He’s not giving up. In fact, he’s going to do something amazing: survive alone on an inhospitable planet until help arrives.

Holy mackerel

I’m several years late to the worldwide obsession with The Martian, but I’m officially hooked.

This book was fantastic! Mostly because of the main character. Author Andy Weir makes Mark relatable and human from the word go — which is nice, because if he’d started us off with all the science that the book eventually gets into, I wouldn’t have felt so connected.

According to Neil Degrasse Tyson and a bunch of people way smarter than me, the science is pretty damn accurate (except for that one teeny, tiny, no-one-will-ever-notice-it thing). The plausibility of the entire situation makes it that much more exciting and scary.

Ignoring the fact that I’d never be chosen for a mission like this, I definitely wouldn’t survive being stranded alone on a planet. I love that one of Mark’s main weapons is his humor. At several moments it’s the only thing that keeps him from giving up.

The TL;DR is that I loved The Martian. It’s so well-written that even though I’d seen the movie, I was still on pins and needles wondering if the Hermes was going to rescue Mark.

And speaking of that inevitable comparison…

Book vs. movie

I’m usually not happy with book-to-movie adaptations; they have to cut so much that it’s just not a fair comparison.

I watched the movie The Martian sometime last year. I’d heard good things about the book, of course, but I thought it would be a bit of a “talking head” piece — and if I had to muscle through something like that, I’d rather be watching Matt Damon on a screen than picturing him in my head.

It didn’t end up being a talking head piece, and it had far more humor than I was expecting. And it even did some things better than the book. For example, even though Weir’s book had more room to flesh out other characters, the film versions felt more three-dimensional. I could see the physical differences between each of them, whereas in the book there’s not much description of what people look like.

That said, there’s a chilling moment in the book that I really wish had been included in the movie. I won’t spoil it — because it’s just that awesome — but I will say that it prompted an hour-long conversation with some friends about how one would go about field dressing human remains in space.

No matter how you choose to take in the story of The Martian, I encourage you to do so. The science gets a little heavy for laypeople, but not overwhelmingly so. Check it out!

(I read this book for the Monthly Motif Challenge. March’s challenge was to read a book set in a different dimension, a book in which time travel is involved, or a dystopian or science fiction book where reality looks very different than what we’re used to.)

Review: Unmentionable

Unmentionable, Therese OneillIf you’ve always thought that a clean, simple frock is better than low-rise jeans, that you would enjoy living in the time of Charlotte Bronte, or that the centuries before ours were simpler and better…this book is not for you.

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners will disabuse you of the laughable notion that the 19th century would be a fun place to spend any time.

Not only is there arsenic in pretty much anything you put on your face, there’s also no refrigeration, no talking to a man who’s not your husband or father, and definitely no talking about s-e-x. There’s also an astonishing array of crotchless clothing, and fat-shaming is totally a thing.

Therese Oneill’s book is an awesome examination of the horror show that was the 19th century. Let’s check out the revolting details, shall we?

Hello, slattern

I figured any book that starts with these words is probably going to be amazing. And I was right! Unmentionable is a sassy, snarky look at an era many people tend to romanticize.

Oneill starts you off with getting dressed (hide those ankles, ladies), and shares makeup tips (you know what’ll take care of those freckles? Acid!). Then it’s on to discussing periods (no matter how you manage them, it’s not the right way) and how to land a husband (by never speaking to him, apparently).

Next up we’ve got the typical “Your womb is a wandering monstrosity that makes you crazy” garbage, followed by quotes from old white dudes who thought birth control, masturbation, and visiting museums was going to lead to humanity’s downfall.

And it’s all written in the best tone ever. For example, in a section called, “Give Him NOTHING”:

You are a prize to be won. He must work to capture your affections and approval. Only the stupid and slutty trout leap out of the water to gain the fisherman’s attention. The virtuous trout simply allows the sun to gleam briefly on her shining scales and then dives back to the shadowy depths. Only a skilled man with the finest of fake bugs can ream a metal hook through her mouth. You are that trout, and the metal hook you are about to be impaled on is holy matrimony.

Unmentionable had me chortling and reading sections aloud to my husband. He didn’t think it was as funny. Maybe I let a bum fisherman catch me? Oh well. I shall comfort myself by reading this book again and thanking my lucky stars I wasn’t born in the Victorian era!

Review: Crocodile on the Sandbank

Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth PetersMiss Amelia Peabody, bluestocking and self-proclaimed “spinster,” has left England to pursue her passion for Egyptology. It’s 1884 — on the cusp of the 20th century — and she’s determined to spend her inheritance doing what she enjoys.

En route to Cairo, Amelia meets Miss Evelyn Barton-Forbes, a young woman with a shameful secret. Amelia takes the girl under her wing, and together they embark on the adventure of a lifetime.

This adventure takes them to Amarna, the ancient city established by Akhenaten more than 500 years previously. They meet up with two gentlemen they met in Cairo: Radcliffe Emerson, a prickly excavator, and his brother Walter, a master of hieroglyphics.

Something strange is happening on the outskirts of the destroyed city. The locals are nervous, especially after a mummy goes missing. Amelia, Evelyn, Radcliffe, and Walter are under siege, and their enemy may be supernatural.

Cheeky and wonderful

Crocodile on the Sandbank is the first in author Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series, and it is fantastic. Set in 1884 but published in 1975, it’s a marvelous mixture of Victorian language and modern thinking.

Amelia is my new favorite character. She’s smart, practical, and outspoken, with a soft sentimental underbelly she tries to hide. If you enjoy Beatrice and Benedick’s relationship in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, you’ll love Peters’ book.

Evelyn and Walter are younger and stupider (in Amelia’s opinion as well as mine), and it’s fun seeing Amelia boss them around and mow down their ridiculous notions like so much grass.

Although I caught onto the mystery’s final solution before it was revealed, the journey to that solution was surprising and exciting. The story and characters are fun, funny, and charming.

I loved Crocodile on the Sandbank. And the best part? There’s 19 more books in the series!

(I read this book for the Monthly Motif Challenge. February’s challenge was to read a book involving spies, detectives, private investigators, or a character in disguise.)

Quickie Reviews: Personal Stories

My 2017 reading started off slow, but I’ve kicked things into high gear in the last few weeks. So of course I have a review backlog. Let’s hit the high (and low) points, shall we?

Work Rules!

Work Rules! Laszlo BockThe subtitle on this is a mouthful: Insights from Inside Google That Will Transform How You Live and Lead. It’s got some good ideas on transforming company culture, but most of it seems pretty “pie in the sky” and a little bit “We’re Google and we’re awesome.” I’ve had some good conversations about it with co-workers, though.

The Princess Diarist

The Princess Diarist, Carrie FisherCarrie Fisher’s last book before her death in December 2016. She was a fascinating, complicated woman, and I want to learn more about her. Unfortunately I don’t think this was the right book for that. The Princess Diarist is a bit disjointed, and focuses mostly on her fling with Harrison Ford during Star Wars filming. It just not as interesting as I hoped it would be. But she’s got a great writing voice, and fortunately wrote several other books that promise to tell more about her life.

The Portable Dorothy Parker

The Portable Dorothy ParkerThis one’s been sitting on my shelf for years, and is part of my 2017 Off the Shelf Reading Challenge. I’ve gone all the way through it, but probably read only about half. I love Parker’s poetry and letters, but have trouble with her short stories (anybody’s short stories, really — I don’t often like them). She was always better at short form writing than long form. And those quips! “It is true that he is so hard-boiled you could roll him on the White House lawn.”