Monday, October 21, 2019


Interference by Sue Burke
Tor/Forge Books: 10/22/19
eBook review copy; 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9781250317841
Semiosis Duology #2

Interference by Sue Burke is a very highly recommended science fiction story following colonists on Pax and continuing the story from Semiosis.

"Over two hundred years after the first colonists landed on Pax, a new set of explorers arrives from Earth on what they claim is a temporary scientific mission. But the Earthlings misunderstand the nature of the Pax settlement and its real leader. Even as Stevland attempts to protect his human tools, a more insidious enemy than the Earthlings makes itself known. Stevland is not the apex species on Pax."

This is a totally engaging and fascinating science fiction story. The opening chapters set up the Earth as a disturbing dystopian society and introduce some of the new group of scientists that will be setting out to visit Pax for research. Then we are reintroduced to the planet Pax, a habitable planet fifty-six light years away, where a group of colonists already live. On Pax there is a stable community and a relationship between three species that are now living together as pacifists on the planet. The humans, who were originally colonists from Earth, are living in a community with the Glassmakers, large arthropod-like beings, and Svetland, an intelligent bamboo species. On Pax, both Glassmakers and humans coexist with Svetland, who privately considers them service animals. When the research group arrives, it upsets the balance the community has established. But there is something else afoot that is threatening every species.

I haven't read Semiosis, but I was able to follow the narrative in Interference without a problem and pick up enough clues to fill in anything I missed. (I am buying Semiosis, though, based on how good Interference is.) Svetland narrates much of the book, but chapters are also told from the point-of-view of other characters - Earth humans, Pax humans, Glassmakers, and plants. The characters newly arriving from Earth, started out their mission with conflicts that they bring to Pax, and immediately cause problems. The conflicts and tension the Earth humans introduce are compounded by a new group of humans arriving and an unknown threat.

The wide variety of characters are all interesting and well developed in relationship to the narrative as a whole. The single chapters from the point-of-view of different characters help provide a richness to the story as they furnish insight into what characters are thinking. These chapters add depth and discernment to the plot through the wide variety of opinions and thoughts. The writing is excellent, thoughtful, astute, and intelligent. It highlights how assumptions (on all sides/ from all species) can lead to problems, but also revelations. This is an outstanding novel.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Tor/Forge Books.

Sudden Traveler

Sudden Traveler by Sarah Hall
HarperCollins: 10/8/19
hardcover; 128 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062959225

Sudden Traveler by Sarah Hall is a recommended collection of seven short stories.

"The characters in Sudden Traveler walk, drive, dream, and fly, trying to reconcile themselves with their journeys through life, death, and love. Science fiction meets folktale and philosophy meets mortality.... Sarah Hall opens channels in the human mind and spirit and takes us to the very edge of our possible selves."

The writing is gorgeous in these stories. Some stories resonated with me immediately while others left me pausing to contemplate the often symbolic meaning behind the existential stories, some of which are populated with troubled or contemplative characters. Hall does not make it easy for the reader. This may be a collection that I need to return to, after some thought, and delve into the stories again, perhaps with new insight. There is no doubt that the cover is absolutely beautiful.

Contents include:
M: A woman discovers, through pain, that she has the ability to literally transform and fly.
The Woman the Book Read: A man unexpectedly sees a woman he last knew as a child.
The Grotesques: Dilly has a hard time coping with modern life - and living with her mother
Who Pays?: A well lies between two warring countries and is the site where young men from many villages gather once a year.
Orton: A woman travels to a place of strong memories to shut down her pacemaker.
Sudden Traveler: A woman sits in the car with her baby while her father and brother dig the grave for her mother.
Live That You May Live: A young girl drams of birds coming, and her mother comforts her, but has stories.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins for review purposes at TLC Book Tours

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Author Links: Website and Facebook


Monday, October 14, 2019

American Epidemic

American Epidemic by John McMillian (Editor)
The New Press: 10/22/2019
eBook review copy; 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781620975190

American Epidemic: Reporting from the Front Lines of the Opioid Crisis is a very highly recommended collection of powerful published articles on the opioid crisis. This is a heart-breaking eye-opening examination of the devastation caused by the increasing addiction to opioids and an essential introduction to the crisis.
This collection is a must read. It will focus your attention on what matters, what is happening right now. In the introduction John McMillian writes: "In 2018, drug overdose deaths in the United States set a new record. There were more than 70,000 of them, mostly due to opioids." He continues: "Let’s put this in perspective. Seventy thousand is far more than the number of Americans who died in 2017 from car accidents (40,100), or guns (39,773), or suicide (47,173). It is more than the number of American servicemen killed during the entire Vietnam War (58,220). It is far more than all of the American deaths from 9/11, the Iraq War, and the Afghanistan War, combined (39,396, as of March, 2019). Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death for Americans under fifty. Life expectancy in the United States has diminished over the past three years - a phenomenon that is unprecedented since World War II." Where is the outrage?
I know two families who have had a child die due to an opioid addiction. I can't be the only one. Why is this very real and growing catastrophe being overlooked in favor of "maybe" crises. What is actually stealing childhoods and causing harm? These pieces published between 2012 and 2018 cover the crisis and the very real people who are affected and who are dealing with this epidemic - users, families, medical personal, and law enforcement. The well-written and informative articles cover the crisis in different areas of the country, although the epidemic is worse in certain sections.  Contributors include: Leslie Jamison, Beth Macy, Tom Mashberg and Rebecca Davis O'Brien, Sam Quinones, Susan Dominus, Eli Saslow, Eric Eyre, Sarah Resnick, Germna Lopez, Christopher Caldwell, Margaret Talbot, James Winnefeld, Joe Eaton, Katharine Q. Seelye, Andrew Sullivan, Gabor Maté, Johann Hari, Adi Jaffe, Maia Szalavitz, and Julia Lurie.

I had several sections highlighted from my reading but I want to share two. One is from Christopher Caldwell in First Things (April 2017): "The culture of addiction treatment that prevails today is losing touch with such candor. It is marked by an extraordinary level of political correctness. Several of the addiction professionals interviewed for this article sent lists of the proper terminology to use when writing about opioid addiction, and instructions on how to write about it in a caring way. These people are mostly generous, hard-working, and devoted. But their codes are neither scientific nor explanatory; they are political."
The second is based on the fact that the brain isn't fully developed until people are in their mid-twenties, which made what James Winnefeld wrote in "Epidemic," from The Atlantic on November 29, 2017 eye-opening: "Because the brain is so adaptable while it’s still developing, it’s highly susceptible to dependencies, even from non-opioids such as today’s newly potent marijuana strains. We now understand that early marijuana use not only inhibits brain development; it prepares the brain to be receptive to opioids. Of course, like opioids, marijuana has important medical applications, and it seems to leave less of a mark on a fully matured brain. It’s worth examining whether it would make sense to raise the legal marijuana age to 25, when the brain has fully matured."

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of The New Press.

The Way I Heard It

The Way I Heard It by Mike Rowe
Simon & Schuster: 10/15/19
eBook review copy; 272 pages
ISBN-13: 9781982130855

The Way I Heard It by Mike Rowe is a very highly recommended collection of 35 of his favorite episodes followed by his personal stories.

As Rowe explains,"Like The Rest of the Story, the mysteries in this book tell some true stories you probably don’t know, about some famous people you probably do. Your job is to figure out who or what I’m talking about before I get to the end. Inside, you’ll find thirty-five mysteries pulled from my podcast. Think of them as tiles in a mosaic. Each of these mysteries is followed by a personal recollection. Think of those as the grout that holds the tiles together. Like the flap copy says: Mystery and Memoir for the Curious Mind with a Short Attention Span."

The Way I Heard It is a wildly entertaining collection of Rowe's favorite podcast episodes combined with a memoir. His personal anecdotes, stories, and memories, or the grout, is just as entertaining and delightful as the stories. Rowe has a personable, charming, down-to-earth manner which makes reading this a pleasure. Don't let the self-deprecating humor deceive you, the stories are all compelling and enticing, while the personal recollections are humorous, interesting, and diverting, as well as imparting some wisdom along the way.
Once I started The Way I Heard It, I looked forward to reading more, saying "just-one-more-chapter" and thus it ended way-too-soon. It was a pleasure from start to finish. The writing is excellent. The Rest of the Story segments are interesting, and Rowe's stories are varied, interesting, and entertaining. This is one of the best nonfiction books of the year, especially if I base my choices on sheer pleasure while reading. All I can say is read this book. The Way I Heard It would be a great gift.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

A Pilgrimage to Eternity

A Pilgrimage to Eternity by Timothy Egan
Penguin Random House: 10/15/19
eBook review copy; 384 pages
ISBN-13: 9780735225237

A Pilgrimage to Eternity: From Canterbury to Rome in Search of a Faith by Timothy Egan is a very highly recommended spiritual, historical, and physical travelogue.

Timothy Egan was raised Catholic but has experienced over time a lapse of faith and disillusionment with the Church, especially after the sexual abuse scandal. Egan has decided that, "It’s time to force the issue, to decide what I believe or admit what I don’t." He embarks on a pilgrimage, visiting historical sites along the 1,000-mile journey from Canterbury to Rome following the Via Francigena. "One reason I want to follow the Via Francigena is to experience layers of time on consecrated ground."

As he travels, Egan shares the historical and religious significance of the sites he visits and the events that occurred there. He walks where significant Christian figures and saints once traveled, meeting other pilgrims along the way. He starts in Canterbury, visiting the chapel where Queen Bertha introduced Christianity to pagan Britain, and makes his way along the major medieval trail leading the devout to Rome. He travels through France, Switzerland and Italy, discussing the monasteries, cathedrals, shrines, sites of miracles, and various relics along the way, while sharing the history of many of the important figures in the church who once walked in the same areas. Egan's pilgrimage ends in Rome at St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City.

The writing is excellent in this fascinating, interesting, and personal account of Egan's travels as he shares his circumspect thoughts on his journey and the history of the church. I was engrossed in following Egan's pilgrimage from start to finish. This will likely be much more interesting to those who are or were raised Catholic, but the rest of us can also find much to appreciate in Egan's historical details and following him along his journey. But this is much more than just a travelogue, it is also a memoir. Raised Catholic, and having a Jesuit education, Egan has many personal memories tied to the historical sites he visits. He openly and honestly shares his doubts, struggles, and sometimes failures when dealing with questions of faith. I really appreciated his candid honesty and regret for not raising his children in a faith. 

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Invisible as Air

Invisible as Air by Zoe Fishman
HarperCollins: 9/24/19
paperback; 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062838230
Invisible as Air by Zoe Fishman is a very highly recommended family drama with a timely topic.

Sylvie Snow does everything for her family. She's working hard at her career, taking care of her family, doing all all the housework and errands, along with the myriad of other little things that are expected of her. She's also trying to plan the  Bar Mitzvah for her son, Teddy and taking care of her husband, Paul, who has a broken ankle. It is an exhausting, pressure-filled, never ending cycle. What makes it worse is that Sylvie has never properly grieved for her stillborn daughter, Delilah, who died three years ago. It is the anniversary of Delilah's death and to get through the day Sylvie takes one of the pain pills, Hydrocodone, her husband was prescribed but refuses to take. The Hydrocodone alleviates her stress and anger, while making Sylvie feel good, happy, calm, and patient, so she decides she will allow herself to take it, once in a while, to take the edge off and help her just get through until the Bar Mitzvah is over.

Although she started out with good intentions, Sylvie doesn't take the opioid occasionally. She begins to use it regularly and is soon addicted. While they can tell something is up with Sylvie, her family has their own issues. Paul has been mourning the death of Delilah and the distant behavior of Sylvie through excessive spending and his triathlete events. Now he's almost helpless with his broken ankle. Teddy is twelve, almost thirteen, love movies, and has no friends - until he meets Krystal. Teddy is also the first to realize that his mom is addicted to pills.

In Invisible as Air, Fishman totally captured my attention and presented some of the most realistic, well-developed characters I have read recently. I was not expecting to become so involved and immersed in this novel, but I understood Sylvie. The death of a child is a tragic event and you have to grieve your loss, and talk about it - but who wants to do that with you. I wanted to shake Sylvie and tell her to talk to someone, go to the doctor and tell her how you feel. Get help, for goodness sakes! But it is easier to keep rolling along, staying in denial, trying to hide your pain while it keeps eating at you. And keep doing all the things, all the time. And the whole family is doing this, hiding their pain and not facing it. When she turns to pills, it seems inevitable she would become addicted. It wasn't until the end of the novel that I discovered why Fishman was able to describe the feeling of loss but trying to go on, bless her heart.

The writing is excellent. The narrative moves along at a fast pace as the chapters alternate between the point-of-view of Sylvie, Paul, and Teddy. More information about each character is revealed along the way, and we see some of the root causes of the ongoing pain and the void they are all experiencing, and how they are dealing with everything. Obviously, Teddy knows more than his parents realize, as is the way with tweens (and teens), and he becomes more his own person rather than just their son. Paul has been hiding his shopping addiction too - and I like that Fishman has Paul addicted to online shopping rather than falling into a stereotype.

Invisible as Air would be an excellent choice for a book club. Here is a family in crisis that appears for all intents and purposes to those around them as doing well. It covers the timely topic of an opioid addiction, as well as the loss of a loved one, other addictions, first love, and facing some hard realities. The ending was a satisfying denouement for me and I appreciated how Teddy was the one to help his parents confront everything they were avoiding. Fantastic writing and an emotionally compelling narrative make this a winner.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from HarperCollins for the TLC Book tour. 

Author Links: WebsiteTwitter, and Facebook

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Body: A Guide for Occupants

The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
Penguin Random House: 10/15/19
eBook review copy; 464 pages
ISBN-13: 9780385539302

The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson is a very highly recommended guide to the human body.

Sure we have bodies, but have you ever pondered how and why your body functions the way it does. Bryson takes us on an entertaining, compatible tour of our bodies and the modern understanding of why it works the way it does and what all the various bits and parts do. He talks to doctors and scientists, presenting facts, a scientific history, and interesting tidbits about our various body parts. He manages to present his information in an informative, fascinating, and interesting manner.
The writing is terrific. Bryson, known for his conversational style of writing, along with his dry humor and wit, makes this narrative an interesting, entertaining, and educational experience. Chapters start out with the skin and hair, microbes, the brain, and then work their way down and through the body the brain. This isn't a biology textbook so you aren't going to find all the information about everything, but it is a fascinating book full of extraordinary facts and also disproves several falsehoods, like we only use 10% of our brains. (We don't. We use more.) There are several experiments and studies presented with amazing and engrossing results. The text contains chapter notes, a bibliography, and index.

Two quick, but interesting facts: a teenager's brain is only about 80% developed and all the synapses aren't fully wired until a person is in their mid to late twenties. This explains a whole lot. Another interesting point was about MSG, which no scientists have ever found any reason to condemn, but it has a bad reputation all based on a letter, not a study or article, in the 1968 New England Journal of Medicine. And that is just a small taste of the interesting facts and stories you will discover in The Body: A Guide for Occupants.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.