Review: Head On by John Scalzi

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This book was so good! SO GOOD! In a near future, folks with Haden’s disease are locked into their bodies and interact with the outside world via androids, Chris Shane is an FBI agent and a Haden who has to solve a crime involving a Haden-related sport.

The sport, called Hilketa, is a game in which one player is the goat and the other players have either try to rip their head off and use it as a ball to score points or to defend their teammate and help them keep their head on. At an exhibition game, player Duane Chapman gets his head ripped off and never recovers. This leads Chris and his partner down a rabbit hole of league politics, national politics, and Haden affairs.

This book was so interesting. There is politics, conspiracy, bad business practices, betrayals, characters you love and cheer for, characters you loathe. There is mystery and intrigue. I ripped through this novel. I couldn’t put it down.

Head On is billed as a standalone novel, but it is related to Scalzi’s novel Lock In, which I now feel like I have to look for at the library. And, to think, I wouldn’t have picked it up if the library hadn’t made it seem so enticing with its “no reserves, no renewals, 10-day check outs only) sticker.

This Month in Reality: I stumble through a review of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

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I finished listening to this read-by-the-author audio book well over a week ago and I’ve been trying to decide what exactly I wanted to say about it. On the one hand, it was a touching memoir about surviving with grit, perseverance and the support of your family (or, at least, the pieces of your family who had gotten themselves together enough to provide support). On the other hand, the wider cultural moment that this book was released into has kind of positioned it in this place where people can trot it out to say, “Look! White people suffer, too!” whenever a person of color points to some systemic issue that is causing a lot of suffering. And, while it does make some good points about the wider culture and how people are struggling and the systems we have in place aren’t adequate to support us, they were points that I had read elsewhere. Drug abuse, incarceration, broken families, and intergenerational trauma are things that have definitely been subjects of discussion for awhile, just maybe not in the mainstream.

But, that’s maybe not a problem of the book itself but its reception?

So, on the one hand, I shouldn’t blame a book for its reception and its use or misuse by its readership. On the other hand, if we’re not going to have these conversations now about how, “yes, there are class issues in America, but no they are not entirely independent of race and ethnicity and engaging with one without engaging with the others doesn’t paint the full picture”, then when are we going to have them?

So, I’m in this weird place where I was really touched by the narrative, and happy to have been given an example of another American life (because J.D. Vance’s childhood is pretty far away from my Suburban middle class upbringing). But, I still see this book in a wider context in which, if we addressed some of the race-related structural issues scholars, activists and politicians have highlighted over the years (for example, here, in Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow), people like Vance would also benefit. I mean, if we decriminalized drug addiction and made more money available for treatment and support, maybe Vance’s story would be a little different.

So, I don’t know. It was a really touching story and it has given me a lot to think about. This is a worthy result for any book, but especially a book of non-fiction. And, its not that I don’t recommend it, it’s probably more that there are other things that I’d recommend about class, family and culture in America before I recommended this.

Review: We are Where the Nightmares Go and Other Stories by C. Robert Cargill

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So, I’ve taken to strolling through that section of the library where they put new books and books that they want to highlight and picking something up if it catches my eye. Since I’m already reading a bunch of horror this summer, when I saw this book, I thought, “What the heck? Why not?” It’s got a creepy tentacled skull on the cover and nightmare in the title. Let’s do this thing.

 

This collection wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be. I thought it would be a little more…horrory? I guess I was expecting more gore or at least to be kept up a little at night. But, of my two favorite stories in the collection, one of them wasn’t really horror at all. “Jake and Willy at the End of the World” is a story about Jake and Willy, sitting and waiting for a mob that’s looting through town during the apocalypse to make it to where they are so they can defend it. It was…funny. But, I didn’t think it was suspenseful or scary and it certainly wasn’t gory.  And, “Hell Creek” is a zombie story with a twist. I really, really liked “Hell Creek”. It was great. (the twist is apparent in the first two pages, but I still don’t want to spoil it because I really enjoyed discovering it for myself.)

 

Anyway, some of the other stories that were more of what I was expecting were good and there were a few that were related to other pieces (for example, one was set in a Clive Barker world and had originally been published in an authorized collection. There are notes that made it clear when something was part of a wider universe.) that were fine, even if if I didn’t have the context for them. So, in all, this was a pretty good collection and I’m glad I picked it up.

 

So, if you are looking for a little scare and you like short stories. Give this a whirl.

What I’m Reading Now: Head On by John Scalzi

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I really enjoy John Scalzi‘s web presence (I feel like I’ve learned a lot about sandwiches…but maybe I’m confusing him with someone else on twitter? Oh, and kittens. He’s posted some cute kitten pictures on twitter) but I’ve never read any of his books. The book flap said, “stand alone novel” and the library said,  “Hot pick! 10-day loans only! No renewals or reserves!” so I picked this up. I mean, I had to, right? It was there. I was there. It was serendipity.

The library really knows what its doing with its marketing.

Quick Review: Restore Me by Tahereh Mafi

restore me It’s been a couple of years ago that Tahereh Mafi completed her Shatter Me trilogy but I guess she wasn’t finished with it because here we are with book 4.  I feel like I should went back and read the original series because there were so many things I forgot about.  The one thing I didn’t forget about is how the Mafi’s writing style changed as Juliette’s mind because more stable.  As she becomes less isolated and understands her power the writing style because more fluid and less choppy.  In this one, as things start to unravel for Juliette and Warner we start to see a return to the choppy phrasing from earlier books.  I knew as soon as Juliette’s journal appear that things are not going to end well.  Not to get too far ahead, let’s start at the beginning.  Restore Me begins a little more than two weeks after the end of the last novel.  Juliette has taken over as Supreme Commander of North American and soon discovers she is way over her head.  Not only does she know very little about politics but the people she trust have been keeping things from her.  Things start to spiral out of control when the kids of the other Supreme Commanders start showing up.  Juliette learns that as much as she wants to run from her past she can’t because in truth she doesn’t even know her past and what she doesn’t know just might get everyone killed.  I really enjoyed this and I’m glad Tahereh returned this world because clearly there is a lot to explore in Juliette’s story.

What I’m Reading Now: What Language is by John McWhorter

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Well Kate is almost finished with her homework assignment so I guess I better get going on mine.  Pretty excited to dive into my sister’s world.

Review: West Cork by Sam Bungey and Jennifer Forde

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This podcast is an audible original and I picked it up for free when it first became available. My carpool buddy and I listened to the Dirty John podcast last fall and were really taken in by it, so when we heard about this one, we thought it might be something we would try. True crime isn’t really a fave genre for either of us, but it is nice to try new things.

West Cork is the story of a murder of Sophie Toscan du Plantier that happened around Christmas in 1996. It is also about the town of West Cork and the prime suspect. We were definitely taken in. The murder of Sophie is so tragic and the progress of the case was part infuriating and part just plain upsetting (which seems like a feature of true crime). It was interesting to be reminded about how technology has progressed so quickly. This was a time before cell phones and everyone having 6 email addresses and facebook. Sophie was out at her quiet vacation home in the middle of nowhere without any of the technology we have to stay connected today. Not that it would have made a difference necessarily, if the crime had taken place ten years later.

Some of the descriptions did get a little graphic, but overall Bungey and Forde do a really nice job of showing you the community of West Cork, the crime, and why the conclusion to this case so far has been no conclusion.

So, if you’re into true crime or you want to try something investigative, this is something you might want to check out!