Thursday, October 29, 2015

Side Effects May Vary by Juile Murphy

Side Effects May Vary by Julie Murphy is not another teenage cancer book. Well, it kind of is, but not like you think. Our main character, Alice, is sixteen (a teenager) when she is diagnosed with cancer (cancer book), but that is just the beginning of the story. Told in alternating viewpoints, Alice and her friend Harvey, as well as alternating time lines (when she is first diagnosed and also the present), we watch Alice's swift decline into illness, but we also watch as her illness takes a turn no one expects. Alice goes into remission. Don't worry- this isn't really a spoiler, it's a plot point. When Alice is sure she is dying, she makes a list of all the things she wants to do before it's too late. When she discovers she'll live, she realizes she will also have to live with the consequences of the things on her list.

I knew how to die. It was the living that scared me.

People love to give the advice to live as if you were dying, but that's not practical or reasonable. If I knew I were going to die next week, you bet I'd drain my savings, pull everything out of the retirement accounts and max out my credit cards to go on the most amazing vacation. But what would happen if I didn't die? I would have a mountain of debt and my savings would be gone. These are just the financial consequences. Alice has a little less travel and a lot more revenge on her list. Begrudgingly helping Alice with her list is Harvey. They have been friends since they were children and he just can't say no to her, especially because he has spent the last few years in love with Alice. Alice has accepted that she will die, but when life is back on the table, the world turns upside down for her.

One interesting thing about reading this not-another-teenage-cancer-book is that Alice is not always nice. She isn't the sweet, long-suffering, always-happy cancer patient that is so often presented in fiction. Alice, like most people, has a mean, ugly side, she gets angry about her cancer and with the people around her. She is also really amazing, adding good deeds to her list along with the not-so-good. We watch as she works through the same emotions any other girl her age would feel in addition to the cancer. This book raised some interesting points that would make for good discussion. Of course, what I really want to know is what would you do if you knew your time was coming to an end and would you worry about the consequences or let the cards fall where they may?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

Last weekend, I had a wonderful time at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, TX. One of the most enjoyable authors I heard speak was Erin Bow, author of The Scorpion Rules. Her reading of the prologue was so captivating that I immediately rushed to the book tent to purchase the book and have her sign it. Really- I heard a lot of authors read sections of their books last weekend, and Erin Bow was by far the most most intriguing, most emotive reader of them all. You know how a good audiobook sounds- well, that was Erin Bow. And she couldn't have picked a better way to introduce her book to new readers than through the voice of Talis, the AI overlord that now rules the world.

The Scorpion Rules takes place many generations in the future, after climate change has eliminated the ice caps and disease has ravaged whole populations. When widespread war breaks out, (of course people started shooting, because that's what passes for problem-solving among humans. See, guys, this is why you can't have nice things...) Talis puts a stop to our impending extinction by implementing a system of mutually assured destruction. Then he takes hostages: one beloved child from every leader of every nation.

As he says, Talis's first rule of stopping wars: make it personal.

And so he does. He creates compounds around the globe with the children of all the world leaders. When those leaders fail to peacefully solve their disputes and declare war, their children are killed, the idea being that it is a price they aren't willing to pay. For four hundred years this system has been in place when we meet Greta and her friends, the Children of Peace. When a new general is chosen in part of what used to be the United States, a new hostage is delivered. This is when we begin to see all the dirtier bits of what is required to maintain world peace. 

This book was wonderful. It has a strong message about the evils of war and our human (perhaps) inability to maintain peace.

There is a sense in which war is nothing but ritual: the magical change of blood into gold or oil or water. 

I love that statement. She goes on to discuss the "morality of altitude" and how bombs dropped from planes allow those dropping them to ignore the loss of life. Talis insists on making it personal. He says, 

If you want blood, then I want it all over your hands.

Later he says:

"Back in the day, it was always the children of the poor who fought the wars, always the Nobodies that died when the Somebodies decided that a scrap was worth snarling over. It changed things when the Somebodies got a little skin in the game."

The idea that casualties of war are just numbers on a ticker rather than real lives is barbaric and Talis intends to put a stop to that. While Greta is the main character of this novel, it is Talis's voice that I loved. He is terrible and awful, but also the one who saves us from ourselves. And in a dark, morbid way, he's really funny. Erin Bow does a wonderful job of drawing the reader in and then making that reader completely unsure of right or wrong, up or down.

I really liked this book, but this is why I hate getting in on the beginning of a series. This book was only just released a month ago. Who knows how long I will have to wait for the next installment to find out what happens next. I prefer to wait to the end of a series and then read it all at once. Unfortunately for me, I just couldn't make myself wait. And I really don't think you should wait either.

I'll leave you with the quote that begins the book and explains the title:

"We may be likened to two scorpions in a
bottle, each capable of killing the other, but
only at the risk of his own life."
--J. Robert Oppenheimer,
the scientific director of the Manhattan Project,
which developed the atomic bomb

Monday, October 19, 2015

Texas Book Festival 2015

I am still recovering from a fabulous weekend down in Austin, Texas, at the Texas Book Festival. My sister and I drove down and had a wonderful time hearing authors speak, buying books and getting our books signed by the authors. It won't surprise you to hear that I added a TON of books to my TBR list, which is a little unfortunate considering my last post about how I have two boxes full of books I need to read. However, this festival gave me back the spark for reading I've been missing over the last few months and has motivated me further to get rid of books I don't really want to read. There are just too many good books out there to waste time on something I feel like I should read. No more of that for me. As we wandered through the ginormous Barnes & Nobel book tent, I couldn't help but feel like I just want to sit and read them all.

So let me share with you a few highlights of the weekend. First of all, the festival was excellently organized. We had no trouble finding where we needed to be. If I have any complaint it's that I couldn't be in two (or three, or four) places at once. There were so many interesting panels and I think really something for everyone. The Festival even had its own app and it was very useful. The only thing they could have added was the author signing schedule.

I was able to hear so many interesting authors speak about their work and about their love of writing. Some of these authors I knew and was excited to hear, some were new to me and sparked a lot of additions to my Goodreads Want to Read list. I can't wait to read A School for Unusual GirlsA Step Toward FallingKissing in AmericaThe Great Good SummerWish Girl, and Famous in Love. Erin Bow did a reading of her book The Scorpion Rules and I ran right out to buy it and have her sign it for me. I'm starting it TODAY! I also really enjoyed Nova Ren Suma's reading of her book The Walls Around Us and Peter Kujawinski's reading of his book Nightfall. It didn't hurt things at all that those last two scary stories were read to us in the dark at the Texas State Cemetery Saturday night. Creepy and awesome! I loved hearing Jessica Day George and Michael Buckley and it was fun seeing Emory Lord again. Lauren Oliver was very high on our must-see list and my sister was completely star-struck by Marie Lu. I have heard such amazing things about Julie Murphy's book Dumplin' and hearing her panel was a great way to end the weekend.

And I have to tell you about the amazing dinner we had Saturday night. A friend suggested Gourdough's Donuts. I was really confused because I had no idea you could have dinner at a donut place. Oh, how much I had to learn. We went to the Downtown location and it was unbelievable. Donut burgers, entrees served over a hot donut, salads served with a garlic donut.

My sister had the Ron Burgundy burger:
Angus beef, lettuce, tomato, guacamole, bacon and a fried egg. She said it was delicious!

And I had the Mother Clucker:

It was two fried chicken breasts served on a hot donut, drizzled with a honey butter sauce. It was delicious, but it could have used a side salad, as silly as that may sound.

And of course, there was dessert. I ordered The Carney:

It was a hot donut with cream cheese icing, caramel, peanuts and grilled apples. I loved the caramel and cream cheese, but I flicked the apples and peanuts off to the side after a bite or two. I can't recommend this place enough and I would definitely go again. There are so many things I wanted to try!

It was a very busy, very fun weekend. We will most definitely be back!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler

We are book lovers. We read because we love books and when we love books, we tend to be book hoarders collectors. I have been trying to work my way through two boxes of books that came to my attention as unread in our last move. You know how that is- you're at a bookstore or, even better, a book sale and somehow you end up with a stack of books larger than you can really carry. Then you take them all home, put them on a shelf and start making your way through them. The only problem is that there is always another book sale (yea!) and before you know it, you are over your head in TBR.

I have recently been trying to work my way through those two boxes of TBR and Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler was up next. Who knows how long ago I picked it up, but it has a very appealing premise. Courtney is a recently unengaged young woman nearing thirty whose obsession with Jane Austen provides her with her only comfort in a world that isn't exactly going the way she'd like. When she wakes one morning to find herself in the room, life and body of a young regency-era woman named Jane, she is utterly baffled. When she tries to explain to the people around her that she isn't who they think she is, they threaten to send her to a mental asylum. Knowing that is something she wants to avoid at all costs, Courtney assumes Jane's identity as best she can.

This was a cute book, a quick read and it sparked some compelling thoughts. Courtney retains her twenty-first century mind so it is interesting to see her reactions to eighteenth century health care and hygiene. This is the first book in a series so there are still so many questions, but I'm not sure that I'll get to the other books. They would be fun to read, but as stated above, I'm a little over my head as it is. Have you read this series? Should I continue? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I'll leave you with this lovely bit of advice from a fortune teller that Courtney/ Jane meets:

"You, like everyone else, have a destiny to fulfill. You must stop resisting your destiny. Be where you are right now. Live your life. ...That is the only way to get where you're supposed to go."