Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sparks of Light, by Janet B. Taylor. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017

I can’t make my mind up about this book. On one hand, some parts- like the part in the mental hospital- are very good, intense, and frightening. You can feel what kind of despair that the women in asylums back then would have felt- they may not have had evil time traveling doctors, but the treatments were just as bad. Other parts, like the amount of time spent dealing with clothing, are kind of given too much time and break the mood. Of course, the girls *are* teenagers, so being excited over clothes would be normal. But it really kills the tense mood.

I didn’t realize that this book was the second of a series when I got it, so I was a little lost about the situation. It got filled in pretty well through the book, though, so I wasn’t completely lost, but it took me a while to get my bearings.

Hope, brought up in isolation, now has a family. They are teenaged time travelers living in Scotland. Her mother has been rescued from the Middle Ages, where she was stranded, and is now suffering from PTSD. Hope has a boyfriend for the first time in her life- well, it’s the first time she has friends of any kind. She’s still getting the hang of this family and friends thing, so she has bouts of jealousy that show her immature side, but she’s doing her best.

The group’s mission is to go back to Gilded Age New York, and steal or destroy a device that, if it fell into the hands of a rival group of time travelers, could allow them to change the time line- something that Hope’s group strives to avoid. This involves the mental hospital event, a grand ball at the Vanderbilt’s, and meetings with Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, and the unhappy Consuelo Vanderbilt among others. There are lots of frantic carriage rides, intense reunions, and one extremely sad event. It’s a good book, I think, but it really needed an editor. Four stars out of five. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

 I received this book free in exchange for an unbiased review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Gwendy’s Button Box, by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar. Cemetery Dance Publications, 2017

This novella- 164 pages, I read it in an hour- is not what I expected from Stephen King. It’s not horror at all; it’s more of a parable or even just a profile of a character.

In the summer of 1974, 12 year old Gwendy runs up the Suicide Stairs every day. She is bullied at school for being overweight, and is determined to lose weight before starting middle school. One day when she comes to the top, there is a man sitting on a bench, who wants to talk to her. Despite knowing not to talk to strangers, she is lured into conversation, and he gives her a box with buttons on it (not a box of shirt buttons, as I had assumed). Some of the buttons stand for the continents (Asia, Africa, etc) and will cause a destructive incident. The red one takes out whatever she is thinking about, while the black one will cause world annihilation. Then there are two levers on the ends; one causes the box to decant a small chocolate candy that makes a person feel wonderful, want to eat only healthy food, and causes them to become thin, an ace at sports, and a straight A student. The other decants an antique silver dollar worth several hundred dollars. This is a test; Gwendy is to be the box’s caretaker and see how she deals with its power.

Despite being the queen bee at school, Gwendy never bullies, although she does slowly dump her best friend. Her life is not completely perfect; the school bully hates her because she is no longer someone he can make fun of (he used to call her ‘Goodyear’ as in ‘blimp’).

The story takes us from that incident when she is 12 until she is 22. You would think that a story of a teenager with a doomsday box would have a lot of tension and possibly horror to it, but you’d be wrong. Frankly, when I got to the end my reaction was “What??” because there was just so little drama and no real horror. Three stars. 

The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

This in no way influenced my review. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500 Year History, by Kurt Andersen. Random House, 2017

This is a very interesting, and, I think, valuable book to have come out at this time and place. Surveys he cites show that one fifth of Americans think the 9/11 attacks were an inside job by American government agents, and four fifths believe that the Bible is factual history right down to the creation story. Only a third of us believe that the current climate changes are human caused. Various religious sects believe all the others are heretic. The author states that between the 60s anything goes ideology, the huge show business influence, extreme religions, and the internet, the lines between reality and what we merely believe in have become very, very blurred. We put feelings and beliefs ahead of verifiable facts, in ways that people in the rest of the world don’t. And this loss of touch with reality brings us to the point where religious beliefs are being used to direct boards of education and medical care, and we elect politicians on what they say rather than what their voting record (or lack thereof) shows they’ve done.

American history, from the very first European settlers (barring the Vikings, who didn’t stick around), has been different from that of other countries. He goes through the details of why Americans are unique in how they see the world. He writes about not just religion and politics but immersive gaming and comic cons. (note to the author: I’ll go out on a limb and say that 99% of us who go to cons don’t believe we’re really vampires, in an alternate Victorian age where ray guns are powered by steam, or that we are capable of flying- it’s just *fun*)

The book is not overly long (over 400 pages) but it is a solid read. Despite the length and the deluge of facts, the author has an entertaining writing style that drew me in and made this a book I couldn’t put down. I think it’s an important subject to think about, and possibly reassess how our own beliefs influence our actions. Five stars

the above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.