Andrew S · Fiction · Science Fiction · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

The Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength | by C.S. Lewis

The Space Trilogy

The Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis
(Quality Paperback Book Club, 1997, 724 pages)

As a fan of C. S. Lewis, I’ve been intending to read this trilogy for a long time. In fact, I’d read so much about these novels that I thought I already had a sense of the stories and themes before I actually started reading them. However, the universe that Lewis imagines as Ransom, a philologist and unlikely explorer of deep space, journeys to Malacandra (Mars) and Perelandra (Venus) defies easy characterization or summary. These are science fiction stories which use the devices of spaceships, inhabited foreign planets, and scientific attempts at human immortality. In fact, Lewis notes that the mode of the novels, if not the message, is heavily indebted to H. G. Wells. However, they rely as much or more on classical and medieval cosmology for the structure of the universe.

Each novel has a very distinct atmosphere. By sending Ransom to these strange planets and following him as he begins to adjust and become familiar with the landscapes and the inhabitants, Lewis gives us the opportunity to pull back and view the Earth and its place within the universe in a new and unnerving way. Ransom finds that these planets are ruled over by eldil, angelic creatures not immediately perceptible to human eyes, who can communicate with one another. He comes to discover that within the broader universe, Earth has become known as “the silent planet,” because our planet’s eldil has become “bent” and rebelled against the divine figure of Maleldil. While the rest of the planetary intelligences communicate amongst each other and as their planet’s populations, made up of various kinds of creatures, live in a state of peaceful flourishing, Earth has descended into war, strife, and interplanetary seclusion. As the novels progress, Ransom realizes his role in redeeming the Earth and restoring the planet with greater and greater clarity.

While occupying the genre of science fiction, these novels are really imaginative depictions of the Christian themes of creation, fall, and redemption. Lewis pits a scientifically reductionist view of the world against a view which is basically Christian, as well as being informed by classical metaphysics. The first two novels are particularly strong as Lewis first imagines, in Out of the Silent Planet, what an unfallen yet slowly dying world might look like. Next, in Perelandra, he depicts a planet whose inhabitants are newly created and who must mature as they encounter their first temptation toward evil. That Hideous Strength is a drastically different kind of book. The action plays out entirely on Earth as the spiritual entities encountered and discussed in the previous novels battle over the destiny of the planet. The final book combines an Orwellian plot with Arthurian mythology, and the combination doesn’t make for as successful a novel as the previous two. However, taken as the whole, the trilogy creates a world that is beautiful, tragic, and absolutely engrossing.

Fiction · Graphic Novel · Kelly M · Science Fiction

Lazarus | by Greg Rucka

Lazarus

Lazarus, Volume 1 by Greg Rucka, art by Michael Lark
(Image Comics, 2013, 96 pages)

Forever Carlyle (yes, that’s her name) is the Lazarus of the Carlyle family, which means she defends her family and its possessions, sometimes until death. Forever was actually created for this purpose—a, sort of, humanlike robot—so she’s not really a blood family member. She doesn’t know this, however. There is not only conflict with other families, but conflict within the Carlyle family. The art in this comic is amazing (although gory at times), and I really enjoyed the story. Volume 2 just came out, so I’ve been obsessively searching my library catalog waiting for it to become available to check out.

Audiobook · Fiction · Kelly M · Quick Read!

Landline | by Rainbow Rowell

Landline

Landline by Rainbow Rowell
(St. Martin’s Press, 2014, 310 pages)

I listened to the audio version of Landline by Rainbow Rowell. Georgie and Neal’s marriage is in trouble when Georgie decides to stay home in California to work for Christmas, while Neal and their two girls travel to his parents’ house in Nebraska. Georgie stays with her parents during this time because her own house reminds her of her crumbling marriage. When Georgie tries to reach Neal on his cell phone in Nebraska, either his mailbox is full, or their oldest daughter answers and says her dad isn’t around. When Georgie’s cell phone battery dies, she finally reaches Neal using the landline. It’s not her husband Neal though; it’s the Neal she was dating 15 years ago. Georgie continues to call the young Neal using the landline.

It gets interesting when she talks to Neal’s deceased father, and Neal talks to Georgie’s sister, who should have been three years old to him at that time (Georgie figures out a way to cover it up). The conversations between Georgie and Neal kept me interested although nothing terribly exciting happened. The narrator of the book did a good job switching between Georgie’s voice, her daughters, sister, and mother. It was sometimes difficult to tell the difference between her male voices, but rarely were two men in one scene. I would recommend this quick, light read.

You can also check out Julia’s review.

Fiction · Quick Read! · Sadie J

The Descendants | by Kaui Hart Hemmings

The Descendants

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings
(Random House, 2007, 283 pages)

After his wife, Joanie, is involved in a boating accident that leaves her in a coma, Matt King must suddenly take care of his two daughters on his own. Matt is usually a pretty distant father who is mostly involved with his work and deciding who to sell the family land to, which is the largest land still owned by a Hawaiian. Now that he’s getting a closer look at his daughters, he realizes what a mess they are. Scottie, his youngest, is becoming a bully and a liar while his oldest, Alex, was sent off to boarding school to kick her drug habit. After Matt learns that the hospital must remove her life support, Matt is sent into a tailspin trying to gather all their loved ones to say goodbye, including the man Joanie was having an affair with.

This was a rare occasion where I enjoyed the movie just as much as I enjoyed the book. There were only a few minor changes to the film from the book so everything still seemed authentic. The book dives a lot more into the situation with Sid, Alex’s sort of boyfriend, and why he sticks around with the Kings on their search for their mystery man. You also see more of Matt’s problems with Scottie and how baffled he is on how to help her or even how to break the news that Joanie isn’t going to get better. It was a quick read and I can see why the movie won for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars.

Audiobook · Fantasy · Fiction · Julia P · Magic · Romance · Young Adult

Shadow and Bone | by Leigh Bardugo

Shadow and Bone

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
(Henry Holt and Co., 2012, 358 pages)

The audiobook of Shadow and Bone was well-narrated. The story is set in the nation of Ravka and the land has been split thanks to the Shadow Fold, also known as the Unsea. The Fold envelops a large portion of land in complete darkness and is home to the Volcra, monstrous creatures who feast on human flesh. Alina, orphaned as a young child, is part of an army regiment required to try and cross the Fold. While she is scared, she is going in with her best friend from childhood, another orphan named Mal. The two grew up together and while they rely on one another for comfort and companionship it seems that only Alina has feelings that go beyond friendship.

As the army attempts to cross the Fold it becomes clear that Alina harbors magical abilities that no one could have imagined she had. She is what is known as a Grisha – one who contains certain powers that the rest of the world does not. As a member of the Grisha Alina is taken under the wing of the Darkling, a powerful man who is second in command to the king. He informs her that if they work on harnessing her power they can defeat the Shadow Fold. Alina struggles to embrace her new identity while at the same time trying to wrap her head around the strong attraction she feels for the Darkling. Especially when her feelings for Mal are still in the front of her mind.

The pressure on Alina is intense and while her life becomes one she never could have imagined it soon becomes clear to her that her powers might not be used for the good of the nation. Does she have it in her to stay true to herself?

This was an entertaining read and I’m curious to see where Bardugo goes with the rest of the series. It grabbed my attention pretty quickly, and even though it was narrated it still felt like it would be a fast read. I already have book two of this trilogy on hold at the library. If you’re interested in unique young adult fantasy fiction you might consider giving Shadow and Bone a try.

Fiction · Kelly M · Mystery

The Black Hour | by Lori Rader-Day

The Black Hour

The Black Hour by Lori Rader-Day
(Seventh Street Books, 2014, 331 pages)

Last year sociology professor Amelia Emmet was shot outside her office by a student she didn’t know who then turned the gun on himself. She survived; he didn’t. Walking with a cane and harboring quite a bit of PTSD, Dr. Emmet is back on campus for a new semester. First-year graduate student Nathaniel Barber approaches her to become her teaching assistant, but also ends up a chauffeur, nurse, etc., to the delicate Dr. Emmet. “Nath” came to the university aware of Dr. Emmet’s tragic accident and becomes obsessed with finding the truth behind what happened to her. Along with reporter Rory McDaniel and Dr. Emmet herself, they start to put the pieces together about what happened that night. This debut novel by Lori Rader-Day is an engaging mystery that I would recommend, especially if the backdrop of an academic setting interests you.

Audiobook · Fiction · Kelly M · Romance · Young Adult

Eleanor and Park | by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
(St. Martin’s Press, 2012, 328 pages)

I listened to the audio version of Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell, the story of young love between two teens from different worlds. Eleanor and Park is read by Rebecca Lowman and Sunil Malhotra. I enjoyed Malhotra’s portrayal of Park and, in raising the pitch of his voice, Park’s Korean mother. Set in 1986 (and the same decade I was in high school), I enjoyed the cultural references to the music and comics of the time. It was a good story, and I looked forward to turning it on in the car each day.

You can also check out reviews of this title from Julia and Sadie.

Biography · Chemistry · History · In the Library · Non-Fiction · Science · Ying L

Prometheans in the Lab | by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne

Prometheans in the Lab

Prometheans in the Lab: Chemistry and the Making of the Modern World
by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne
(McGraw-Hill, 2001, 243 pages)

This is a well-researched and well written book about nine great scientists and their contributions that changed our lives and defined our modern society.

The chapters all follow the same outline of a brief biographical sketch, the scientist’s brilliant discovery and how it improved our lives. I had a good time reading about the scientists, their lives and adventures. I find their scientific journeys to be just as exciting as the end results. What gives the book more depth is that the author doesn’t shy away from issues and consequences that were brought on by these discoveries. Thomas Midgley’s leaded gasoline and Freon refrigerants made our lives healthier and happier. But they came at the cost of thousands of poisoned factory workers who worked with high levels of lead. American biologist Rachael Carson’s best seller Silent Spring was discussed in chapter 8 which covered Swiss chemist Paul Muller. Muller’s discovery of DDT and its use in the control of vector diseases won him the 1948 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. His discovery saved millions of civilians and soldiers from insect-borne typhus and malaria during World War II. Carson’s book expressed environmental concerns of the use of DDT as pesticides. Carson and her work also inspired the environmental movement, the establishment of the EPA, and the rest is history.

Norbert Rillieux is another name you must remember if you have a sweet tooth 🙂 According to the author, “Rillieux was a straight-talking, free African American in slave-holding Louisiana and a cousin of the French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas. Norbert Rillieux’s triple-effect evaporator helped fill the world’s sweet tooth with cakes and candies” (30). American Chemical Society’s web site has this to say about the great chemist:

Norbert Rillieux (1806-1894), widely considered to be one of the earliest chemical engineers, revolutionized sugar processing with the invention of the multiple effect evaporator under vacuum. Rillieux’s great scientific achievement was his recognition that at reduced pressure the repeated use of latent heat would result in the production of better quality sugar at lower cost. One of the great early innovations in chemical engineering, Rillieux’s invention is widely recognized as the best method for lowering the temperature of all industrial evaporation and for saving large quantities of fuel.

I found the book to be informative, engaging, and even thrilling at times. I highly recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the history of science and/or biographies.

Andrew S · Humor · Memoir · Non-Fiction

The Jerusalem Syndrome | by Marc Maron

The Jerusalem Syndrome

The Jerusalem Syndrome: My Life as a Reluctant Messiah
by Marc Maron
(Broadway Books, 2001, 192 pages)

Marc Maron hosts a popular podcast where he interviews comedians, actors, directors, musicians, and writers. Before he was doing that, he was performing a one man show (which became this book) in which he obsessed over an inexplicable sense that he was unique, chosen, destined to…well he doesn’t know quite what. Sometimes this sense of calling was drug induced, sometimes not. Maron draws out the pseudo-religious qualities of his hallucinations (drug induced and otherwise), his inexplicable brand loyalties, and his fascination with his Jewish heritage. The story culminates with a trip to Jerusalem, where he is sure that this bizarre sense of calling will find some kind of fulfillment.

The book covers Maron’s childhood, his college years, his early days in stand-up (including his tumultuous relationship with the boisterous comedian Sam Kinison), and his disappointing years as a road comic. Since he has written this book, Maron has found his niche as an interviewer and thoughtful – though still angry – comedian. I enjoyed this one an awful lot, though it was a bit anti-climactic. While Maron’s rants are usually hilarious and insightful, it seemed that he was trying to get to some sort of grand revelation or epiphany that never quite manifested itself. It’s not clear to me how he comes to terms with his messianic delusions, his Jerusalem Syndrome, but by the end he seems to feel that it has been exorcised. Despite these structural flaws, anyone with an interest in Maron’s podcast or stand-up comedy should enjoy this one.

Classic · Fiction · History · In the Library · Page-Turner · Sadie J · Sooooooo Big (700+ pages)

Gone with the Wind | by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
(Scribner, 1964, 1037 pages)

Scarlett O’Hara’s mother raised her to be a Southern lady and the belle of the county. Scarlett has multiple beaus and has properly refused proposals from many suitors while she waits for Ashley, her true love, to propose. But when she hears that Ashley is about to announce his engagement to Melanie, Scarlett hatches a plan to turn everything around for her. As the Civil War and Scarlett’s jealousy rages on, she must continue to make adjustments in her life to not only survive but continue to be close to Ashley and to put up with the constant irritations from Rhett Butler. Although her mother’s teachings on how to be a lady seem to be forgotten, Scarlett promises that once she has enough money and Ashley by her side, she can return to her position as a lady.

What a beast of a book to read. There is so much scandal, war, new life, and death that I don’t think there was a stretch of time where I was bored despite the 1,000 pages. The drive that Scarlett has to get what she wants and the sacrifices that she makes whether they hurt herself or those close to her are truly remarkable. The difference between how smart and successful Scarlet is in her business ventures and how poorly she interacts and upholds her social bearings is incredibly frustrating because Scarlett really could have everything she ever wanted if she just opened her eyes a little bit more. I would recommend this read to anyone and don’t be scared off by the high page count, it is truly worth it.