circle

The Circle by Dave Eggers is the story of Mae Holland – a twenty-something working at The Circle, a GoogleAppleMicrosoft-like conglomerate that is the technology center of the country, nay, the world. Mae is awe-struck over the vastness of The Circle’s campus, and of its presence in nearly every aspect of a person’s life. After Mae’s arrival at The Circle, her colleagues push out such inventions as SeeChange (a tiny, inexpensive camera that anyone can install anywhere, including around their necks to promote transparency) and TruYouth (a tracking device injected into the bone of every infant so they can never be lost, but the device also tracks their academic standings, health records, and more). They sound harmless – helpful even – but Mae’s ex-boyfriend Mercer believes otherwise and fears The Circle’s all-encompassing control.

Mae doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid at first. She goes an entire weekend without sending one Zing (Tweet?), posting one Smile (“Like”?), or uploading pictures of her meals, her kayak trip, or of another daily activity. She is reprimanded by higher-ups who feel that her lack of posting shows she doesn’t care about sharing her experience with others. Her best friend, Annie, a heavy-hitter at The Circle, encourages her to do more with The Circle’s social scene, and Mae quickly becomes entranced by the place.

Then she goes transparent, being the first non-Congressperson to wear SeeChange for all of her waking hours. Her life is filmed, but a couple people are afraid of what will come next for The Circle, and the world, if such technology is commonplace.

The Circle is by the great Dave Eggers – Zeitoun is one of the most intriguing and affecting nonfiction books I’ve read. But unfortunately I felt this most recent one was a bit contrived. Maybe I read too much dystopia as it is, because this felt like just another on the pile. A technology company takes over the world by creating seemingly-harmless products, but those who want to maintain their privacy freak out and think it’s the end of the world. And even the “bad guys” aren’t that bad. They truly think they are doing good – keeping children safe from kidnappers, aiding in the health care system, forcing the government to be transparent and accountable for their actions – so you can’t hate them (although you do find them a bit odd and obsessed).

Recommended for:
Anyone who isn’t burned out from other dystopia or controlling-technology books. Definitely teens who like to read adult novels. Except for a couple PG sex inferences, this one is appropriate for older teens.

Read-alikes:
Machine Man
by Max Barry and Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson.

review: That Part was True by Deborah McKinlay

that partThat Part was True: a novel by Deborah McKinlay is a novel of two middle-aged pen pals whose letters cross the Atlantic Ocean at the most opportune time. Jackson Cooper is a famous author who Eve writes to, thanking him for penning such thrilling novels. He writes back, beginning a non-stop conversation that mostly discusses food and feelings. Even though neither is completely honest with the other, the themes they write of are authentic. Some letters are brief, others no more than a postcard, but the results are life-changing.

Eve’s 20-something daughter is engaged, and has asked her estranged father to play a role in her life. The result is typical for a divorcee – she feels second-best, cast aside, unwanted. Jackson has writer’s block and cannot complete his next novel or his most recent relationship. Another disappointed woman, another failed marriage. But their ability to communicate with ease has both wondering if the other is who they are meant to be with.

This is a quick read, and a good one. The character’s self-actualization is important to read, because men and women – yes, even older ones – can grow. They can become better versions of themselves. They can let go of past hardships and move towards happiness. This novel proves that.

Read-alikes:
I don’t tend to read much adult fiction like this, so I’ll go with White Truffles in Winter by N.M. Kelby, because of the food aspect. Seriously…both books will make you run for the kitchen to experiment with a new recipe, or tackle something you’ve always wanted to cook.

Recommended for:
Women who feel they are in a rut – personally, romantically, or with their families. This story is of a very weak woman slowing shedding the invisible heavy cloack that some middle-aged women seem to be carrying around their shoulders.

review: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

tkam

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the top selling books of all time, and for good reason.* It is poetic in language, sincere in theme, and impeccable in delivery. It is one of the best that I have ever read, if not the best. Just as I read Gone with the Wind about four times throughout high school (I was entranced with Scarlett O’Hara’s gumption and later, her strength), TKAM fascinated me for its poignant portrayal of one of my country’s darkest eras.

The Jim Crow Era lasted from after the Civil War/Reconstruction (1877) clear through to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. That’s right, folks…nearly 100 years was spent pushing black Americans into corners, making them use back doors and separate water fountains, and in general not treating them like human beings. In TKAM Tom Robinson is accused of raping a white woman, and despite overwhelming evidence against that accusation, he is found guilty and sent to prison. He attempts to flee the prison and is shot dead by a guard. A towns person later says of Tom’s attempt,

You know how they are. Easy come, easy go. Just shows you, that Robinson boy was legally married, they say he kept himself clean, went to church and all that, but when it comes down to the line the veneer’s mighty thin. Nigger always comes out in ’em.

That kind of blanket statement that criticized the entire race was commonplace during that era, even among the most educated people. In fact, many Christians were known for preaching about the uncleanliness of blacks, a matter that simply was not grounded in any Biblical fact whatsoever. Dill, best friend of Scout (the precocious narrator) recognizes the unfair treatment during the trail of Tom. Crying, he said to Scout and a white landowner and black sympathizer,

The way that man called him ‘boy’ all the time an’ sneered at him, an’ looked around at the jury every time he answered…It ain’t right, somehow it ain’t right to do ’em that way. Hasn’t anybody got any business talkin’ like that—it just makes me sick.

The book was set in the 1930s, but published in 1961 at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. It (pleasantly) surprises me that a white woman from Alabama would pen a book that didn’t just turn the heads of Civil Rights leaders, the Pulitzer Prize committee, educators, and the entire country – it gave them all whiplash. It was picked up by international publishers and translated into more than 40 languages. People felt drawn to the sad truth coming from the South. Most importantly, from within the South.

While blacks may have equal rights today, make no mistake that no one is granted equal treatment. Women make less in salaries than their male counterparts. Migrant (largely Hispanic) farm workers are underpaid and mistreated. Gays are not permitted to marry in most states. We are not equal. We continue to mistreat and to be mistreated. We are better than we were in the 1930s and the 1960s, but we are still so behind on the matter of equality. Read To Kill a Mockingbird to realize how far we have come. Read it again to realize how far we haven’t.

*Interesting facts: Harper Lee earns over $9,000 a day in royalties. TKAM continues to sell 750,000 to 1 million copies each year.

review: The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley


stardu

The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley is the story of astrophysicist Elle and neurosurgeon Matt, high school sweethearts whose love is told in this novel through flashbacks and diary entries. Their lifelong relationship and deep-rooted love for one another is evident, despite 15 lost years due to a careless mistake. They’ve spent the past 4 years making up for the lost time, though, living a beautiful life. Unfortunately, Elle’s continued miscarriages have scared Matt from wanting to try again, although being a mother is Elle’s deepest desire.

When Elle falls off a ladder and is declared brain dead, Matt believes his life is over. But a shocking discovery is made: Elle is 6 weeks pregnant. Matt is determined to keep the baby, despite Elle’s advanced directive that states that she should not be kept alive if she cannot breathe on her own. Matt fights with himself and Elle’s family to keep her alive until the baby can be born.

This story may not seem plausible to you, but it is currently being scrutinized in Fort Worth, Texas. Marlise Munoz was found unconscious by her husband, and the hospital could not revive her. She was found to be 16 weeks pregnant, and the state of Texas has mandated that the hospital keep her alive – despite her husband and her parent’s wishes. Texas law states that a hospital “cannot withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment for a pregnant woman”, even if her next of kin wish otherwise.

When I first heard of the Munoz family’s situation, I was saddened that the state would step in and take away the family’s rights. Then I picked up The Promise of Stardust and my emotions were jostled even more. If you want a realistic glimpse into what that family is going through in Texas, read this. If you want to understand grief and love, read this. If you are one of those people who cannot look away from a car crash or yet another episode of Maury Povich, read this. The drama and intensity is honest and palpable.

Read-alikes: 
Anything at all by Jodi Picoult. Drama, plot twists (though not so severe you need a neck brace for the whiplash), and love.

Recommended for: 
I want my mom to read this. She looooooves People Magazine and the real-life stories of common people as well as celebrities. I think this book would give her a pro-longed (read: longer than a 1-page article) glimpse into the reality behind these difficult made-for-Fox-News situations.

As for me, to love you alone, to make you happy, to do nothing which would contradict your wishes, this is my destiny and the meaning of my life. –Napoleon Bonaparte 

Wednesday reads: where have I been??

Sometimes I think to myself “Self, why didn’t you read that before now???” I didn’t read the Harry Potter series until I was 22, in 2007, and when I finally did start the series I completed it in less than 2 months. I didn’t read Jane Austen novels until 2006. I didn’t read Eragon or Artmeis Fowl or Alex Rider. I don’t need to, really. When it comes to Reader’s Advisory, when books are that popular, I don’t need to read them! I just need to know what to recommend to teens once they’ve finished those.

So you can imagine my self-loathing when I realize that I should’ve read The Help when it came out in 2009. *facepalm* But I am reading it now and love it!

help

The Help by Kathryn Stockett takes place in Jackson, Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement in 1963. It is humorous historical fiction, but makes me darn near cry at the racism that was so prevalent only 50 years ago. 50. In my father’s lifetime blacks couldn’t go to school with whites. In my grandfather’s lifetime Japanese immigrants were sent to internment camps because we feared they were spies for the Japanese military. In my lifetime, gays can’t marry in some states. Have we learned nothing?

 

end of june

To the End of June: an intimate life of American foster care by Cris Beam makes me want to shake the organizations involved with foster care. How are they doing such a poor job or helping foster kids and families? This book is riveting, and harrowing.

Wednesday reads: Dreams and Reality

A coworker loves to point out when the universe provides, or connects things in a way that seems uncanny. Last year I read Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley (about a small Arkansas town that sees the return of a long-extinct bird and the vanishing of the narrator’s brother) and, for the first time in my life, read the term “ornithologist”. That very week I was hanging out with a friend who used the term to describe her dad’s hobby, and I knew the word! Thanks, universe! I find this happens to me quite often, in fact, and when I notice it I say out loud, “Thanks, universe!”.

And it JUST HAPPENED AGAIN. Yesterday morning a coworker brought me my ID saying she found it in the parking lot. And I get into work this morning and see a chain of emails about one of my employees misplacing his own badge, but finding it shortly after the search began.

Universe, you’re killing me! I love it!

Currently I am reading a book about a boy who can pull physical objects from his dreams, and another book where a man’s reality is the stuff dreams (okay, nightmares) are made of. Okay, so this one is a bit of a stretch, but still…go, universe.

dream thieves

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater. I just haven’t had time to sit down and really get going on this, unfortunately, but only 25 pages in I can tell you I am very, very excited to keep going. I’ve read other reviews that say this is even better than the first, which is never true of the second book in a trilogy, so I’m intrigued.

 

house of

 

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I wrote two weeks ago that this was going to take me some time to get through. That fact is still true. But I book-talked it in a job interview last week; one of the interviewers jotted down the title, and another recalled its popularity back in 2002 when it was released online.

 

 

to the end

 

To the End of June by Cris Beam. Last year I read Flight by Sherman Alexie, an intense novel about a foster child whose anger at the world takes him into the lobby of a bank, holding a gun. Subsequent time-travelling to various times and places teach him about himself, about perseverance, about courage. This non-fiction expose into the world of foster care in America interests me because Alexie’s story was fiction, but for millions of children it is pure truth.

Wednesday reads: cooking and creepy stuff

I probably should have posted this yesterday. Would have been a bit more appropriate, considering it’s called Wednesday Reads and not Thursday Reads. (Wow, that doesn’t even sound intriguing…) Sorry for the lateness. it will never happen again. Until it does.

sharperThe last time I read a book by Kathleen Flinn I purchased 4 copies – one for myself and 3 as gifts. I think the same will happen this time. In fact, I already ordered my own copy and got my husband’s blessing to put “go back to Paris” on our five-year plan. I love him. And macaroons. And French accents.

On, right…reviewing…um, The Sharper Your Knife, the Less you Cry is Kathleen’s first memoir, about her experience as a student at Le Cordon Bleu. That’ll happen in my next life…

house ofHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski is…a really intersting book. An old man is found dead, and the young man who finds his writings decides to publish them. So House of Leaves is a book about a book. Right. So this one is going to take me a while.

What are yyyyoooouuu reading?