Beating Back the Devil by Maryn McKenna

Synopsis:

6759134The universal human instinct is to run from an outbreak of disease like Ebola. These doctors run toward it. Their job is to stop epidemics from happening.

They are the disease detective corps of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the federal agency that tracks and tries to prevent disease outbreaks and bioterrorist attacks around the world. They are formally called the Epidemic Intelligence Service (EIS)—a group founded more than fifty years ago out of fear that the Korean War might bring the use of biological weapons—and, like intelligence operatives in the traditional sense, they perform their work largely in anonymity.

In this riveting narrative, Maryn McKenna—the only journalist ever given full access to the EIS in its fifty-three-year history—follows the first class of disease detectives to come to the CDC after September 11, the first to confront not just naturally occurring outbreaks but the man-made threat of bioterrorism. Urgent, exhilarating, and compelling, Beating Back the Devil takes you inside the world of these medical detectives who are trying to stop the next epidemic—before the epidemics stop us.

Review:

I’m a medical interpreter so this book is right in my sweet spot – disease! International locales! Shoe-leather epidemiology, oh my!  (It doesn’t roll off the tongue but go with me here.)

Continue reading “Beating Back the Devil by Maryn McKenna”

The Siren by Tiffany Reisz (Original Sinners #1)

Synopsis:

9780778313533_smp.inddNotorious Nora Sutherlin is famous for her delicious works of erotica, each one more popular with readers than the last. But her latest manuscript is different—more serious, more personal—and she’s sure it’ll be her breakout book… if it ever sees the light of day.

Zachary Easton holds Nora’s fate in his well-manicured hands. The demanding British editor agrees to handle the book on one condition: he wants complete control. Nora must rewrite the entire novel to his exacting standards—in six weeks—or it’s no deal.

Nora’s grueling writing sessions with Zach are draining… and shockingly arousing. And a dangerous former lover has her wondering which is more torturous—staying away from him… or returning to his bed?

Nora thought she knew everything about being pushed to your limits. But in a world where passion is pain, nothing is ever that simple.

Review:

Warning: this is not a romance novel. There is no happy ending and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Continue reading “The Siren by Tiffany Reisz (Original Sinners #1)”

One Hundred Twenty-One Days by Michele Audin

Translated by Christiana Hills

Synopsis:

26196054This debut novel by mathematician and Oulipo member Michèle Audin retraces the lives of French mathematicians over several generations through World Wars I and II. The narrative oscillates stylistically from chapter to chapter—at times a novel, fable, historical research, or a diary—locking and unlocking codes, culminating in a captivating, original reading experience.

Review:

One Hundred Twenty-One Days starts with a bang – a fairy tale introduction followed by an intriguing diary and newspaper articles. It makes the story wonderfully plotty as we follow Christian, an African boy that makes his way to Paris thanks to his mathematical ability.

From there the scope widens and the pace slows. Immediate accounts give way to lists, interview transcripts, and research materials, taking us further away from the story. What felt close and real in the first 50 pages fades away into historical analysis and hearsay. One World War turns into a second while the cast of characters (mostly mathematicians) grows and individual people become less memorable.

The Oulipo constraints, such as starting each chapter with the last words of the previous one, are fun and interesting. Some jokes are aimed at mathematicians but this language major never felt left out. Christiana Hills handily deals with numerous translation puzzles while maintaining different voices and registers for each section. But while the word candy kept my brain happy the diffuse plot kept me from falling in love.

Thanks to Deep Vellum and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Charleston Syllabus edited by Chad Williams, Kidada Williams, and Keisha N. Blain

Synopsis:

27507970On June 17, 2015, a white supremacist entered Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and sat with some of its parishioners during a Wednesday night Bible study session. An hour later, he began expressing his hatred for African Americans, and soon after, he shot nine church members dead, the church’s pastor and South Carolina state senator, Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, among them. The ensuing manhunt for the shooter and investigation of his motives revealed his beliefs in white supremacy and reopened debates about racial conflict, southern identity,systemic racism, civil rights, and the African American church as an institution. In the aftermath of the massacre, Professors Chad Williams, Kidada Williams, and Keisha N. Blain sought a way to put the murder – and the subsequent debates about it in the media – in the context of America’s tumultuous history of race relations and racial violence on a global scale. They created the Charleston Syllabus on June 19, starting it as a hashtag on Twitter linking to scholarly works on the myriad of issues related to the murder. Charleston Syllabus is a reader – a collection of new essays and columns published in the wake of the massacre, along with selected excerpts from key existing scholarly books and general-interest articles. As timely as it is necessary, the book will be a valuable resource for understanding the roots of American systemic racism, white privilege, the uses and abuses of the Confederate flag and its ideals, the black church as a foundation for civil rights activity and state violence against such activity, and critical whiteness studies.

Review:

As an American in Japan there’s literally half a world between me and events in my home country.  Major news gets clipped down by the Japanese media – “Yet another shooting in America.  Somebody shot X people because of historical hatred/current events/being psychologically unstable.  Y people are protesting. Police are investigating.”

After the Charleston shooting, where a white male shot nine black people in a racially motivated crime, I knew I needed more information.  The Japanese news didn’t have it.  The American online media added some background, but not enough.  Luckily #CharlestonSyllabus, a hashtag on Twitter started by the editors of this book, collected all kinds of books, articles, primary source documents, and even songs that related to the shooting and the history that leads up to it.  The list is extensive and deep; you can find it here and at the back of the book.

Extensive and deep is good, but it also meant I had no idea where I should start.  I put a couple of titles on my library wish list, where they still linger.

That’s where this one volume Charleston Syllabus comes in.  It’s organized into six chapters covering everything from slavery and religion to Malcolm X and Black Lives Matter.  Each section starts off with a historical overview before turning over to historical documents, scholarly analysis, and articles from the days and weeks after the massacre.  I love how all the different kinds of writing nestle up against each other – a slave’s first person account next to a song they may have sung while working, next to a scholarly article on the events of the period.  The variety and breadth of the sources help you get a deep understanding of the historical context and how it relates to today’s news.

Throughout the book I found myself thinking, how could my education have failed me so badly?  Why haven’t I studied Ida B. Wells-Barnett, a kick butt investigative journalist?  Why wasn’t an annotated Constitution of the Confederate States put before me?  There is so much more history than the cotton gin and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Charleston Syllabus filled in many of those holes in my knowledge.  It opened my eyes to topics and controversies I only heard of in passing.  It gave me a lot to think about and pointed me towards time periods and people I’d like to study more deeply.

If you’re American this book will help you grapple with the complicated mess that is racial relations in our country.  If you’re not American it will show you how current events are related to a long and terrifying history of slavery and oppression.  Charleston Syllabus is a must read for anyone that wants to understand how things went wrong and think about where we can go from here.

Thanks to University of Georgia Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Fake It by Jennifer Chance (Rule Breakers #2)

Synopsis:

51KDpuK+OoL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_New grad Anna Richardson works hard—so hard that she’s given up having a romantic life. Anna has even convinced her friends that she’s dating an amazing guy—who they’ve simply never met. But now Anna has a wedding to attend and needs to produce the hottie she’s been lying about for the past six months. Enter Jake Flynn, her infuriating, motorcycle-riding, jaw-droppingly gorgeous neighbor, who’s more than willing to fake it for a weekend. In fact, Jake won’t be satisfied until things get real.

Though Jake is only playing the role of adoring boyfriend, he’s starting to feel the heat, and judging by Anna’s sweet blush, so is she. Letting chemistry this intense go to waste would be a real shame. Soon, though, the thin line between fantasy and reality fades. Jake may not be what every buttoned-up fast-tracker wants, but he’s sure as hell what Anna needs. And if she takes a ride with him, their adventure never has to end.

Review:

I love marriages of convenience in historical romances – let’s put these two strangers together and watch sparks fly! The contemporary counterpart is a boyfriend of convenience, the hot guy that you need to have on your arm for an event, usually a wedding, to avoid gossip or discomfort. Continue reading “Fake It by Jennifer Chance (Rule Breakers #2)”

The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney

Synopsis:

23492495Anna Francis lives in a tall old house with her father and her doll Penelope. She is a refugee, a piece of flotsam washed up in England by the tides of the Great War and the chaos that trailed in its wake. Once upon a time, she had a mother and a brother, and they all lived together in the most beautiful city in the world, by the shores of Homer’s wine-dark sea.

But that is all gone now, and only to her doll does she ever speak of it, because her father cannot bear to hear. She sits in the shadows of the tall house and watches the rain on the windows, creating worlds for herself to fill out the loneliness. The house becomes her own little kingdom, an island full of dreams and half-forgotten memories. And then one winter day, she finds an interloper in the topmost, dustiest attic of the house. A boy named Luca with yellow eyes, who is as alone in the world as she is.

That day, she’ll lose everything in her life, and find the only real friend she may ever know.

Review:

This book is not what I was expecting, and sadly not in a good way. Continue reading “The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney”

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright

Synopsis:

16142053Based on more than two hundred personal interviews with both current and former Scientologists–both famous and less well known–and years of archival research, Lawrence Wright uses his extraordinary investigative skills to uncover for us the inner workings of the Church of Scientology: its origins in the imagination of science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard; its struggles to find acceptance as a legitimate (and legally acknowledged) religion; its vast, secret campaign to infiltrate the U.S. government; and its dramatic efforts to grow and prevail after the death of Hubbard.

At the book’s center, two men whom Wright brings vividly to life, showing how they have made Scientology what it is today: The darkly brilliant L. Ron Hubbard–whose restless, expansive mind invented a new religion tailor-made to prosper in the spiritually troubled post-World War II era. And his successor, David Miscavige–tough and driven, with the unenviable task of preserving the church in the face of ongoing scandals and continual legal assaults.

Review:

This book covers three kinds of crazy: Continue reading “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright”

The Earl Takes All by Lorraine Heath (Hellions of Havisham #2)

Synopsis:

26029545One summer night, Edward Alcott gives in to temptation and kisses Lady Julia Kenney in a dark garden. However, the passion she stirs within him is best left in the shadows as she weds his twin, the Earl of Greyling. But when tragedy strikes, to honor the vow he makes to his dying brother, Edward must pretend to be Greyling until the countess delivers her babe.

After her husband returns from a two-month sojourn, Julia finds him changed. Bolder, more daring, and more wicked—even if he does limit their encounters to kisses. With each passing day, she falls more deeply in love.

For Edward the embers of desire sparked on that long-ago night are quickly rekindled. He yearns to be her husband in truth. But if she discovers his ruse, she will despise him—and English law prevents him from marrying his brother’s widow. Yet he must dare to risk everything and reveal his secrets if he is to truly take all.

Review:

First things first: as hard as it is to do, this is going to be a spoiler-free review. All of the events I mention are either in the jacket copy or the first few pages of chapter one. I’ll still refer to later events, of course, but give nothing away while still getting most of my thoughts out.

Because oh, the thoughts. Continue reading “The Earl Takes All by Lorraine Heath (Hellions of Havisham #2)”

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Synopsis:

23602562In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away in Colorado Springs, her son even farther away in Grand Junction, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in houses now empty of family, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with.

Review:

Traveling from the US East coast to Japan is a long flight. Even if you cheat a little and start in Chicago you’ll spend 12, 13, 14 hours in the air with nothing but your own wits and the in-flight entertainment to keep you occupied. Books are my crack so I load up my ereader with a little bit of everything, hoping something will match my mood in the air.

After the first meal (there are two, plus a snack!) they turn out the lights because the flight goes much faster if you’re asleep. In the dark Our Souls at Night sounded like the perfect book… and it was. Continue reading “Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf”

The Downhill Lie by Carl Hiaasen

Synopsis:

6314668Bestselling author Carl Hiaasen wisely quit golfing in 1973. But some ambitions refuse to die, and as the years passed and the memories of slices and hooks faded, it dawned on Carl that there might be one thing in life he could do better in middle age than he could as a youth. So gradually he ventured back to the rolling, frustrating green hills of the golf course, where he ultimately—and foolishly—agreed to compete in a country-club tournament against players who can actually hit the ball. Filled with harrowing divots, deadly doglegs, and excruciating sandtraps, The Downhill Lie is a hilarious chronicle of mis-adventure that will have you rolling with laughter.

Review:

My second sports book in a month. I’m not a fan of golf but after the horrible Tales from Q School it deserved a second chance.

Continue reading “The Downhill Lie by Carl Hiaasen”