allieb's blog

Scout reviews: Future Home of the Living God

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Future Home of the Living God is a thought-provoking and unsettling book that centers on one impossible premise-- the sudden reversal of evolution-- and builds around it an eerily possible dystopian world.

The novel is formatted as a series of journal entries written by Cedar Hawk Songmaker, a young woman four months pregnant at the outset of this global catastrophe. Finding herself in a dangerous new militant America that is rounding up all pregnant women for study, Cedar makes her way with the help of both her adoptive parents, a white hippie couple from suburban Minneapolis, and her recently-rediscovered Ojibwe birth family, who own a Superpumper on a northern Minnesota reservation.

Comparisons between this book and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale are unavoidable, as both novels deal with dystopian religious hegemony and reproductive freedoms. But Future Home of the Living God more than holds up as a spiritual successor, deftly handling these themes together with others that occupy Louise Erdrich’s earlier books, such as Native American identity and reservation border politics. 

Allie reviews: The Immortalists

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If you could know the exact date of your death, would you want to find out? And, if you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It's 1969 in New York City, and the four Gold children have gotten word of a fortune teller capable of telling anyone the day they will die. Varya, the eldest, followed by Daniel, Klara, and Simon decide to seek out their fortunes. What they learn that day will shape the rest of their lives.

Simon, the youngest of the siblings, takes off for San Francisco with his older sister Klara before finishing high school. He discovers a passion for dance, and he is finally able to feel free to be who he really is. Klara is the dreamer of the family. She's had an obsession with magic from an early age, and this follows her through the years. We see her travel from New York, to San Francisco with Simon, then eventually ending up in Las Vegas, a magician at last. Daniel, the eldest son, is hostile towards his younger siblings, for leaving himself and his older sister to care for their mother. He pursues a more grounded career and becomes a military doctor. Varya, like Daniel, feels resentment towards Simon and Klara. She becomes a scientist, focusing on longevity.

Georgette reviews: The Most Dangerous Man in America

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Covering a time period from July 1971 to January 1973, this eye-opening look at a year and a half of weird history is fascinating, funny, and at moments, eerily reminiscent of what power-mad politicians in the Oval Office do when unleashed on the public. Tim Leary is known as the man who popularized the phrase "Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out", as well as championing the cause of exploring the therapeutic properties of psychedelic drugs under controlled conditions. Under the oft maniacal eye of the regime under Richard M. Nixon, his platforms on the subject came under intense scrutiny, to the point that it resembled nothing short of a witch hunt. In Minutaglio and Davis' capable hands, that strange time in history is brought back to life in entertaining form for those of us who weren't even born yet, but like to read about times that are often not found in your modern day history books.

Allie reviews: The Wrong Way to Save Your Life

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Megan Stielstra has written a fantastic essay collection, a book that easily made it into my top ten of 2017. These essays cover a range of topics, topics like fear, academia, the internet, and faith.

Whether discussing her close relationship with her father or disclosing her experiences of post-partum depression, Stielstra writes as if we are her confidants. In the titular essay, “The Wrong Way to Save Your Life,” in which her apartment building catches on fire, she compels us, the reader, to question what has value in our lives.

This book came to me at exactly the right time. I found it inspiring, beautifully written, and unflinchingly honest and human. No doubt I will be revisiting it time and time again.

Angelica reviews: The End We Start From

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Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From is a spectacular tale of motherhood, loss, and, hope. We are introduced to London sometime in the near future, as it is pushed into chaos when water begins to rise. At the center of the tale are a mother and her newborn child, Z, now refugees in a dismal new world. In efforts to find higher ground, they move north, finding comfort in the hands of strangers and in refugee camps. As loved ones appear and disappear, the bond between mother and child remain constant and unyielding amidst the uncertainty.

Hunter utilizes sparse prose, often times resembling the severity and visceral power of poetry. Instead of providing a panoramic view of a catastrophic event, Hunter zooms inward focusing on the relationship between a mother and her first child. Hunter reveals few details and instead, focuses on the disjointed thoughts of our remarkable protagonist as we wade through the chaos with her.

José reviews: Grant

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Ron Chernow's Grant details the life of a flawed individual who was also a hero because he fought against the injustices of his time. The biography begins at the end. Diagnosed with throat cancer and low on funds he wanted to provide for his family after his death, it was with the help and support of his friend Mark Twain that his memoirs would be published. The book not only became a success but became one of the most detailed and foremost accounts of the Civil War. Unfortunately, Grant did not live to see the success of his story told. As we read more about Grant we see how human and incredibly flawed he was.

Chernow's mission is to critique past biographer's assessment on who Grant was and provide us with a portrait of who he really is. Chernow tells us about all the successes and failures that Grant had to endure. In previous biographies of Grant's, ones that I couldn't find in a Civil War shop or any store elsewhere, he is often portrayed as a drunken loaf. Rumors about his needing to be tied to his horse due to drunkenness have been accepted as fact. What I found most interesting is that his name as we know it is wrong (he was born Hiram Ulysses Grant).

Frances reviews: Warcross

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For those of us seeking a proper pre-game for the Ready Player One movie coming out in March, Marie Lu’s Warcross is not a bad bet. Set in the not so distant future where technology verges on dystopian, it’s mostly the same old problems that plague our protagonist, Emika Chen. Emika’s a hacker/gamer/bounty-hunter/badass-chick with some colorful hair, but for all her attitude, she is lonely and desperate for cash. When she hacks into Warcross—the global game and simulation sensation—in order to steal a valuable item, she surprises not only herself but also the enigmatic, suit-wearing, billionaire-inventor of the game, Hideo Tanaka. Instead of a jail sentence though, Hideo offers her a job: to unmask the mysterious "Zero,” a hacker who has been hiding in the game, and to discover what his end goal is.

Although there is a romance (I wonder with whom??? It’s a thinker!), it wasn’t paced right for me, and they didn’t have much-established chemistry. Similarly, while the mystery served its purpose, it wasn’t really a page-turner. The fun of this book is in discovering the delightful game of Warcross. There are rivalries, and power-ups, and team roles, and youthful grievances: a perfect blend of nerdy and thrilling.

David reviews: Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site

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If you have (or know of) young kids (I have two) that enjoy a good story before bed, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site more than fills the bill. Sherri Duskey Rinker (author) and Tom Litchtenheld (illustrator) take us on an end-of-the-day visit to the construction site where all the hardworking trucks are preparing for a good night's sleep. The Crane Truck folds his boom back in and the Cement Truck's drum spins one last spin...

What I find most appealing about this story is the rhythm of the verse, which lends itself to creative oral interpretations. A slower singsong cadence and near whisper will surely put your child to sleep before story's end, while a faster staccato cadence and higher pitch will have the little one engaged throughout.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site has everything a child could want in a storybook including wonderful illustrations that only compliment the story. This book has become a bedtime staple in my home and I anticipate many more readings well into the future.

Seth reviews: The Core

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From the very start, Peter V. Brett's The Core, the finale of the Demon Cycle series, drew me in like the pull of the Core on Arlen just as the song of the sirens pulled Ulysses. The characters, based on the choices they made, each set up their respective journeys. In turn, they grow and evolve. As described by the late Joseph Campbell, regardless of where they fall within the scope of the world of Thesa and Krasia they all are on some aspect of the “Hero’s Journey."

Going into the final installment of the Demon Cycle, I knew each character would have a swan song of sorts. Arlen and Jardir going to The Core. Leesha Paper realizes her destiny as well as the potential role of the child she bears. Renna Bales comes to grips with following her husband while considering where the battle ahead will lead them. Inevera discovers that destiny is more telling than she thought it would be. Mixed in among them are the other wives of Jardir, Sikvah, Wonda, Gared, and so many more; each is part of this tapestry of the unfolding events. They all face the shared danger from the demon hordes that reek havoc in the night. The course is set going into The Core, each character has come to the crossroads, and the choices are aplenty. 

Angelica reviews: The Fact of a Body

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The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir is a hybrid memoir that painstakingly weaves the stories of Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich and Richard Langley. As a young Harvard law student, Marzano-Lesnevich spends the summer interning at a New Orleans defense firm for the Richard Langley case. Langley is once again convicted of the sexually motivated death of a six-year-old boy, this time to decide whether he will serve life or receive the death penalty. Despite being opposed to the death penalty, this case not only destabilizes Marzano-Lesnevich’s convictions but also unearths aspects of her own life she thought she could bury. Marzano-Lesnevich affirms that she was abused by her grandfather as a child, further complicating her ideals with her career. In The Fact of a Body, Marzano-Lesnevich analyzes her life and the life of Richard Langley, carefully taking into account their shared traumas and differing trajectories. 

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