Just finished: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Here’s the blurb:

Having just celebrated her 26th birthday in 1976 California, Dana, an African-American woman, is suddenly and inexplicably wrenched through time into antebellum Maryland. After saving a drowning white boy there, she finds herself staring into the barrel of a shotgun and is transported back to the present just in time to save her life.
During numerous such time-defying episodes with the same young man, she realizes the challenge she’s been given: to protect this young slaveholder until he can father her own great-grandmother.

My thoughts:

This is a classic for a reason. The story is compelling and consuming. You never know what is going to happen, but you can be sure it will be brutal. It was interesting to read this book for the first time in 2016 and it made me wonder how much differently it would have been read if I had read it when I was younger, or if I had been able to read it as an adult when it was released in 1979.

Kevin and Dana are a mixed race couple only 10 years after the Loving case was decided. They were facing racism in their own time and now Dana was getting pulled back into slavery. And still, there were times when I wanted to shake her and tell her to wake up. She kept thinking the white folks were going to live up to their image in her mind, even after stooping low time and time again.

The dialogue was stellar, so was the world building. The distinction between times was clear even for an audio book reader. The plot was furiously paced. There was never a boring moment, and you always want to know what was going to happen next. I wish there had been more structure for the magic of the book. It was hinted that the reason Dana kept giving white people, Rufus in particular, second chances was related to the magic that was also throwing her back and forth in time. The time intervals seemed completely random which made this side effect of the magic also seem to come out of left field.

I would recommend this to anyone that enjoys historical fiction, time travel stories, or classic sci-fi/fantasy. It is a fast read even on audiobook, clocking in at only 10 hours (translates to about 1 week of commuting for me). I am also reading Devil in a Blue Dress from Walter Moseley right now and these two books go hand-in-hand. I’ll have a review up for the Moseley piece soon.

Overall: 4 stars

Just finished: Gulp by Mary Roach

Here’s the blurb:

The irresistible, ever-curious, and always best-selling Mary Roach returns with a new adventure to the invisible realm we carry around inside.

“America’s funniest science writer” (Washington Post) takes us down the hatch on an unforgettable tour of our insides. The alimentary canal is classic Mary Roach terrain: the questions inspired by our insides are as taboo, in their way, as the cadavers in Stiff and every bit as surreal as the universe of zero gravity explored in Packing for Mars. Why is crunchy food so appealing? Why is it so hard to find names for flavors and smells? Why doesn’t the stomach digest itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis? We meet scientists who tackle the questions no one else thinks—or has the courage—to ask. And we go on location to a pet-food taste-test lab, a bacteria transplant, and into a live stomach to observe the fate of a meal.

My thoughts:

As any good audiobook must have, this narrator was excellent. I often wince when narrators are tasked with pronouncing medical terminology, but Allison Woo Zeller did a great job. She hit all the right notes and really brought the text to life.

I have been wanting to read several of Mary Roach’s novels. She writes about many biological sciences, social sciences, and current research topics. She has a delightful sense of humor that includes puns and double entendre that humanize the content without demeaning it.

I learned some new things, which is my ultimate goal for any non-fiction work I inflict upon myself. For instance, I learned that we have taste receptors in our small intestine! How cool is that? Those receptors look for the bitter and sour flavors that can indicate poison and wave the red flag when they find it. I also confirmed my long held belief that switching up cat food based on the human palate is no bueno. It’s better to stick with one thing because their digestive systems are better served by that. I have not yet rubbed this finding in my husband’s face, but I am sure that time will come.

I really loved that Mary spoke with researchers in these fields and included their candid discussions in the book. Sometimes, reading research findings can be boring and/or intentionally oblique (it is very hard to get published if your findings do not meet the expectations of your funders or your reviewers). This more informal discussion brought the research to a level at which the average person can understand and apply the knowledge.

I highly recommend this for anyone interested in the social taboos surrounding the digestive system, anyone that needs a non-fiction science book for their reading challenge this year, people who are just curious about how the body works.

Overall: 5 stars

Audio Books

google_listenI know that a lot of people really enjoy audio books.  The hosts of The Sword and Laser podcast seem to get the majority of their book fix that way.  I have to say that I just have a really hard time with this format.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some amazing voice actors out there.  I particularly like the actress that voices Patricia Cornwell‘s Kay Scarpetta books.  I recently listened to This Book is Overdue!  and loved HIllary Huber’s narration.  Granted bad voice acting can turn me off in a heartbeat, especially mispronunciations.  I didn’t even make it through one chapter of a recent audio book when the narrator pronounced the word frequently as “fruh’-kwantly.”  I had to listen to it twice just to figure out what the heck she said.

While narration can be engaging or distracting, the real problem I have with audio books is finding the right circumstance in which to listen to them.  I don’t have a long commute now, but when I did, I found that I either got wrapped up in the story and distracted from the drive, or got distracted by traffic and missed portions of the story.  As a passenger, it’s not a bad way to spend time.  Another time that I listen to, well anything really, is when I’m cooking.  This is my prime podcast listening time however, so I hate to get behind on those to listen to a book.  I have also noticed the same problem with cooking as driving.  I get distracted by either the book or the task and find myself lost in either a very good or a very bad way.

Recently I got it in my head that it would be pure genius to try and listen to an audio book while playing World of Warcraft.  “Of course,” I thought to myself, “I can do this while I do all the boring stuff like archaeology, auction house scans, and crafting.  This is one of my best ideas evar!”  Oh how wrong I was.  Although I listened quite intently while on an automated flight path, as soon as I started to concentrate on guild chat, flying my own mount, or trying to figure out why that damn survey equipment is sending me in circles, I completely lost the flow of the story.

I’ve tried listening before sleeping and setting a timer so it would automagically pause just as I was falling asleep.  That totally didn’t work either.  I fell asleep long before that 20 minutes was up.  If I try to sit and listen to an audio book the way I would sit and read my e-reader or a hard copy of the book, I find myself fidgeting and looking for something to do with myself, which normally leads to another distracting task (surfing the web, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry).  I’m I just weird or does anyone else have this problem?  Has anyone found a solution for it, or do I just need to find a reason for my husband to drive me around more often?