#CBRV Review 22: Wool by Hugh Howey

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I think I first heard of this book in Wired, when they were discussing the future of publishing. Howey began publishing his work online, first in short stories and the collected version online for Kindle, and then made a deal with Simon and Schuster to distribute print versions only. I mention this not because it has anything to do with a review, but because I am fascinated with the publishing industry in general, and Howey has had some pretty unique success in the business.

The book I read collects the first five stories that Howey wrote, with the more recently published Shift collecting the prequel stories . Wool introduces the reader to the world of the silo, a deep underground structure that seemingly contains all that is left of humanity. It is entirely self sufficient, and informally divided into collections of floors – upper (generally administration), middle (the all powerful IT) and lower (mechanical). The only view to the poisonous outside is a projection onto the wall of the uppermost cafeteria, and the view gets progressively blurrier as the wind and sand scratches the lenses.  The lenses are cleaned, periodically, by people punished by people banished from the silo and sentence to cleaning the device with wool. Given the careful use of resources required, people are unable to have children unless granted an opportunity in the lottery, which is only available when someone else dies.

Howey’s world is enormously detailed, and gives a great sense of the claustrophobia and enormously regulation the residents of the silo are forced to live with. The absolute worst crime one of the residents can commit is to express ideas about wanting to leave, wondering what exactly is out there and how things have happened. Given the tight control of the dense population, ideas are the riskiest currency  in the silo.

The book neatly ties in some elements of crime drama with the more traditional dystopian science fiction tropes. Although I felt it slowed down a little towards the end, I really thought it was a really gripping and fast paced story, particularly the opening chapters that introduced the silo.  I am really looking forward to reading Shift.

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CBR V Review 21: Gulp by Mary Roach

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Well, I love Mary Roach and her books. I reviewed Packing for Mars for CBR III a few years ago, and I loved that too. I received Gulp for my birthday, but a backlog of books kept from getting to it for a few months.

While I found this book amusing and informative as always, I did not love this one as much as her previous one. While the human body is, as always, fascinating, it just didn’t inspire quite as much awe for me as did Packing for Mars. Also, she kind of spent quite a bit of time discussing the science between some really strange physical phenomena, but was maybe a bit too jokey about the suffering of the patients described (a guy with a hole into his stomach experimented upon by a doctor for years, exploding colons, etc).  Those scenes mostly made me sad – it just seemed like a lot of suffering, although the conditions described are certainly interesting. My two favourite chapters are the two about the ones about making cat and dog food that is appealing to them, and the chapter about prison inmates and how they smuggle items into the prison. The prison chapter in particular made me giggle on a plane, laughing about the anal jokes. I guess I am still 12 years old.

The books was certainly good, but I didn’t love it like I did the space and death ones. I think part of it is that there isn’t that much mystique about the digestive system.  Plus, Roach points out there are still a number of taboos surrounding saliva and other digestive issues, so maybe I was predisposed to not like it quite as much.

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Preserving Summer

A few weeks ago I got the last box of peaches at the fruit truck, and let them ripen a bit. I ended up canning seven litres of peaches. They are just so delicious – I can’t believe I haven’t done that before. I might try to do some pears, if I can still find some fresh. I used the very simple recipe from Food in Jars.

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I also finished canning my beets when I was home sick for a few days. Sometimes it is so hard to find the time to finish a project with small kids running around, always having a class or something to do.

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My golden beets did not germinate well this year, and some of the chiogga beets were stolen from the garden, but I saved enough to do up a few litres of them together. Last year my harvest was better, so did jars made up entirely of golden beets, but the mix of the two has made for a much rosier brine. They are so pretty. The others are just normal Bull’s Blood beets – such a dark red-purple. I forgot the salt in my last batch, but the salt is for flavour rather than a key ingredient in preservation, so that should be fine. That might be it for me this year, until I do a few jars of marmalade closer to Christmas.

#CBR5 Reviews 18-20 – The Sign of Seven Trilogy by Nora Roberts

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My friend pressed Nora Robert’s The Sign of Seven trilogy on me as perfect vacation reading, knowing I tend to like supernatural and spooky books. I should have guessed, as she was the friend who also tried to get me to read the 50 Shades crap. But I love her anyways. These books, however, I do not love, although they aren’t as bad as I thought when starting them.

The story centres on the Pagan Stone, an spot in the woods that has been subject to many rumors and history in the town of Hawkin’s Hollow. Three boys go there for their tenth birthdays, each on the same day. They do a blood brother ritual at midnight, and release a demon into the world. This demon returns for seven days every seven years, starting on the anniversary of its release from its prison. The demon taunts the boys, and infects the townspeople into committing acts of violence and forgetting all about it once the week is over, and the boys grow up trying to protect the townspeople and figure out a way to destroy the demon. This is actually kind of interesting, and is largely introduced in the first of the novels, Blood Brothers. It reminds me a bit of a Stephen King novel, which is fine.

In Blood Brothers, a young woman researching a book into these events comes into town, followed quickly by her best friend and another woman who is just drawn to the town. The six of them all converge together, of course, and sparks fly. The characters all have romance names – Caleb, Fox, Gage, Quinn, Cybill and Layla.  Caleb and Quinn pair up in Blood Brothers, Fox and Layla in The Hollow, and Gage and Cybill in The Pagan Stone. It is all drawn out over the three novels. They are all beautiful and intelligent and well spoken, and the men are all the best lovers the world has ever seen. It is all so cliche, and it drags down what I thought was actually a well drawn out supernatural story, if it had been compressed into a single novel. I think I might just be the wrong audience for romance novels, because Nora Roberts sells enough books that it must be speaking to someone.

CBR V Review 17: Milking the Moon by Eugene Walter and Katherine Clark

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I love this book, unreservedly. Years ago, I ran across a reference to Eugene Walter’s in The Pat Conroy Cookbook, and searched out this oral biography. I was thinking about it again recently, and took it out again. I enjoyed it just as much the second time – Walter is a born storyteller, having lived one of the most interesting lives I have ever read about.

Katherine Clark met Walter a few years before his death in Alabama, and was immediately drawn into his circle. She knew what a rare soul he was, and knowing he would never finish an autobiography, recorded his stories about his life and wrote them in a book later, only lightly edited. He divided the world into people who were “cats and monkeys” and those who aren’t. Cats and monkeys were kind of his spirit animals, and it was how he described the people with whom he identified and liked.

Walter lived the life of an adventurer, a born raconteur who was open to everything that life might offer. He had an interesting childhood in Alabama, and embraced his Southernness throughout all his life. He was a code breaker in WWII, moved to New York where he encountered personalities like Tallulah Bankhead, and lived the life of a poet, artist, and bookseller. He fulfilled a dream of moving to Paris, and helped George Plimpton set up The Paris Review. He later moved to Rome to edit Botteghe Oscure and to translate for Felllini films. It is hard to talk about the book without just making a list of all the famous people Walter knew – Judy Garland, T. S. Eliot, Anais Nin. That feels lame, and Walter wasn’t really bragging about all the people he met; he was just a great storyteller and entertainer who valued and welcomed experience. He never made any money, but seemed to just luck into this exotic life.

Walter was a novelist, poet, editor, translator, actor, puppeteer, cook and expert party thrower. It is beyond me why he is not more famous than he is, but he seems to have been a delight and a treasure. I love this book.

CBR V Review 16: Girl Walks Into a Bar by Rachel Dratch

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I reserved Girl Walks into a Bar at the library after hearing a good review of it from another Cannonballer. I had kind of mixed feelings about it at first, as it wasn’t exactly the story I had been anticipating, but my husband read it after me and said that he found it “strangely compelling.” We actually had an interesting discussion about some parts of that book, and a month after finishing it I find it has really stuck with me.

Dratch, whose performance as Sheldon on SNL never failed to make me giggle,  opens her book with a pretty frank discussion of her life and career around the time her role on Tina Fey’s 30 Rock changed and then ended. It was insightful and wry and funny, and reminded me quite a bit of Fey’s Bossypants, particularly those sections also dealing with the creation of 30 Rock. However, soon after the opening chapter, Dratch’s book took on a less funny but more personal nature, focusing less on her work and more on personal life.

There are certainly funny moments in Girl Walks Into a Bar, but the book talks quite a bit about Dratch’s romantic relationships, and how her life just seemed to change in tone once her career kind of stalled and she approached 40, unmarried and childless. It seemed heartfelt and honest. I haven’t had the same experience, having married and had children when younger, but her worries about her career and how her life is progressing felt disturbingly familiar to me. To me, it seems like she learned to live with uncertainty to some extent, which is probably a good lesson to have learned and one I wish I was a bit better at embracing. I am glad she found so much happiness, and I wish I could see more of her television. Dratch is really charming and self- aware in this book, and I really enjoyed it.