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Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

warmbodiesFull disclosure: I’m not one for zombie novels. Or zombie anything, really. And it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve seen The Walking Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, 28 Days Later and I Am Legend and I’ve read World War ZPride & Prejudice & Zombies and various other zombie stories. Aside from a couple of chuckles and a healthy sprinkle of nightmares, I got nothing. But I think I may have pinpointed the issue. Zombie novels have no real thought behind them. Wait! Before you gnaw my head open for some juicy braiiinns, let me finish. The human characters in zombie books and movies have deep thoughts about their situation and the purpose of their horrific existence. But this is all in-between fighting thoughtless murderers (in the literal sense). I mean, in the canon of zombie literature, zombies are usually without a philosophy or desires other than to feed. And I can understand the logic behind that but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. That’s why when my seeester handed me this book and said that it was “not has good as The Hunger Games but better than Twilight,” I was not expecting much.

Plot. “R” is a zombie living in a zombie colony in an airport. And yes, he does what zombies do: hunt people and eat brains. But he also desperately wants to know his name. All he can remember is the first letter. And he wants to know his zombie friend’s name. And his zombie wife’s name, which is printed on a name tag pinned to her shirt which he can’t read because he lost that ability when he turned. He also wants to converse with his fellow zombies about their lot in life, about when they turned, about whether they still dream when they sleep, about their theories on how they came to be (plague? bombs? evolution?), hell, even about the weather. But he can’t. Stringing two coherent syllables together is his personal best and he’s the most articulate of the group. What “R” craves more than anything else is humanity. He wants nothing more than to experience and share and talk again. Which is why he loves eating brains. When he bites into a person’s brain, he becomes privy to their thoughts, fears and memories – things that he lost God knows how long ago.

And this is where “R” is when he goes hunting with his friend and comes across a group of teens/adults to NOM. “R” tackles some guy and busies himself with his brain when he sees a girl out of the corner of his eye. And since he just ate her boyfriend’s brain (with all the memories and feelings he felt for this girl), he feels inexplicably attracted to her. While the rest of his zombie gang busies themselves with devouring everyone, “R” rushes over to the girl, smears her with blood to camouflage her human scent, and takes her back to the airport. He keeps telling her, through stilted words, that he’s doing this to protect her. But it’s more because she awakens things in him that have long laid dormant. Also, she knows her name and can say it: Julie. Big advantage over the wifey there.

But “R” could not have chosen a worse person to kidnap. Julie’s father kind of runs the army for the human resistance living in the arena nearby. Also, everyone can kind of tell that she’s human. And the Boneys (the members of the zombie oligarchy at the airport) want her dead because she’s not one of them. And she represents a threat to their way of life. Self-actualized zombies with a clear philosophy on non-life?! If that’s not scary, I don’t know what is. Also, they look like this:

warm-bodies-skeletons-bonies

Eeep.

This is the tension in the novel: the human philosophy versus the philosophy of the undead. Which one will win? Who will defeat whom? Can they co-exist? Are they all that different? Can Julie and “R” hope for any sort of real life together given who/what they are? Also, “R” kind of ate Julie’s boyfriend. You don’t just get over that kind of thing. Right?

This book, guys! I try rullll hard not to be all “This book is AMAH-ZING! Read it!” because then people read it and they’re like “Calm yourself. It was only all right.” So I won’t tell you just how good I think this book is or how powerful the philosophical questions are or how it made me question how I live/want to live my life. I’ll just leave you with this quote from the book where Julie gives her theory on how zombies came to be:

‘I think we crushed ourselves down over the centuries. Buried ourselves under greed and hate and whatever other sins we could find until our souls finally hit rock bottom of the universe. And then they scraped a hole through it, into some…dark place.’ 221-222

4.5 out of 5 coffees. Read the book soon; the movie comes out this Friday. Also, the soundtrack!

 
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Posted by on January 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

lets-pretend-this-never-happenedYou know that one friend that we all have who insists they had the weirdest childhood? And then when you ask for anecdotal proof, it’s always a wah-wah? Because, seriously. Who among us doesn’t have emotional scars from being raised by flawed beings?

But Jenny Lawson’s claim is not a “wah-wah.” It’s more of a “wha-what?!” Like the time she was chasing her little sister around her backyard and ran into the carcass of a deer cut open, splayed in half, and air-drying on the clothes line. And by “into” I mean ran inside of the deer and came out covered in deer insides. And THEN her father hosed her and the deer down and later served that deer as part of a meal. And then there was this other time where, after being chastised by her younger sister for being “weird” and a bit of loner, she went on a field trip with her class and ended up with her arm stuck inside of a cow’s hoo-haa. Because she was in the process of artificially inseminating it.

I am not making this stuff up, people. And neither is Lawson. And that’s what makes this book so ridiculously good. Lawson really did have an unusual childhood. And she really is an unusual adult. And she’s fine with you knowing that and even judging her. Because she doesn’t have time to care about what you think because vultures are trying to pick at the dead body of her snake-bitten dog, okay?! Or because she’s too busy convincing her husband that Jesus was, in fact, a zombie. Or that having a small, taxidermied alligator dressed as a pirate is worth having, even if it means setting off airport security alerts on the way home. She’s just too busy.

I don’t know. I might just have a soft spot for the weird and awkward. But I think this book puts you in such a shock that you realize that you shouldn’t be shy about waving your freak flag. Because everyone’s got one.

4 of out five coffees. You go, Jenny Lawson.

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

So-called minorities tend to have a tense relationship with the scientific/medical field in any society. And yes, this “tense” relationship almost always includes restricted access to good health care. Take a look at the United States right now. It doesn’t really matter where you stand on the debate on nationalized health care, it doesn’t take a dummy to realize that those well endowed with money are less likely to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, bad teeth, cancer, and most other common health problems. But that’s not all I mean when I say tense. There is an ever-present lack of trust between minorities and the health care industry. And this book by Rebecca Skloot tells one story that illustrates why through what happened with one African-American family in the 1950s.

When Henriette Lacks went into the gynecologist’s office at Johns Hopkins in 1951, she knew something was wrong. She should have gone earlier, but when you’re part of a group that has been systematically experimented on by the medical community (look into the Tuskegee Experiment, if you don’t know what I’m talking about), had bodies of your deceased relatives dug up and transported to medical facilities in barrels labeled “Turpentine” for scientific research, or heard stories all your life of people disappearing when they got too close to Johns Hopkins, you don’t really rush to get your yearly physical. By the time Henrietta made it there, the cancerous tumor in her cervix was pretty well established. Her doctors did what they could, gave her the best treatment offered to colored patients at that time, but really they knew there were only putting off the inevitable. She wasn’t going to make it. But of course, they didn’t tell her that until she was nearly dead. They also didn’t tell her that they took a sample of her cervical cells – cancerous and not – for further study. This was pretty routine procedure back then, so nobody thought much of it. In fact, everyone assumed that once her cells were taken to the lab, they would survive for a bit and die out, just like all other cells.

But they didn’t.

LONG after Henrietta Lacks died, her cancerous cervical cells, known has HeLa in the scientific community, were still being used to conduct research on the newest cancer medicine, antibiotics, HIV meds, you name it. In fact, HeLa cells are still being used today. Like, right now. Seriously – go into any lab right now and you will almost certainly find Henrietta’s cells being used in some experiment. And serious scientific breakthroughs are being made, people. Her family would be so proud. Except they had no idea what was going on for a very long time. Yup. Yeah. No one told them.

By the time the found out what was really going on with Henrietta’s cells, her children were well into their 50s, some were in and out of prison, and all of them were suffering from common health problems like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. And not a one had health insurance. Their mother’s cells were solving health problems around the world and were making millions for people in the medical field, but they couldn’t afford a visit to their general physician. And the irony is not lost on them. Add to that a lack of any real scientific knowledge and you wouldn’t have a hard time understanding how much emotional turmoil, anger, and fear the Lacks family feels toward Johns Hopkins and the medical community at large.

This book is really hard to read because it serves as proof of how disposable certain people were considered. Are considered. I don’t know. It also brings to light a very important issue in today’s world: once, say, a tumor is removed from your body, do you have rights to it and any money from medicines scientists develop though experiments with it? If so, what’s to stop people from extorting exorbitant amounts of money from research scientists, making research with cells cost prohibitive? I’d hate to be part of the committee in Congress deciding this pickle.

Four out of Five coffees.

 
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Posted by on October 14, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

So, this book has been waiting to be reviewed for ages. And it has nothing to do with the quality of this book. Or, actually, it does. It’s like a negative correlation: the better the book the harder it is for me to review it. Ah, first world problems.

What I’m trying to say is that this book is really good. It’s about these two brothers – Charlie and Eli Sister – who are basically hired guns in the mid-1800s. They are the de facto arm of the law in the western territories where state or federal government hasn’t really been established. I know what you’re thinking: vigilantes? No, fanks! But guys, these brothers don’t only answer to money or their boss. They operate under a higher and more sacred system: honor. You know when honor is involved, things get real. And quick.

So: these Sisters brothers are on their way West (near present-day California) looking for a gentlemen who has wronged their boss. And everywhere they encounter greedy-eyed cut throats in search of gold:

This perhaps was what lay at the very root of the hysteria surrounding what came to be known as the Gold Rush: Men desiring a feeling of fortune; the unlucky masses hoping to skin or borrow the luck of others, or the luck of a destination…To me, luck was something you either earned or invented through strength of character. You had to come by it honestly; you could not trick or bluff your way into it. (115-16)

Because this is the gold rush and money is what it’s all about. And whores. There are plenty of those, too. So, a little something for everyone. Well played, Mr. DeWitt.

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What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

When Alice comes to after falling off her exercise bike and hitting her head on the handle bars during her spin class, her first thought is about her unborn child. Is little Sultana (the nickname that Alice and her husband – Nick – came up with for the baby) all right? Her second thought is of Nick. He is going to be so worried about her and the baby. And once he realizes it’s no big D, he’s going to laugh at Alice’s characteristic klutzy-ness.

But it is a big D. And Alice realizes this soon after she gets to the hospital. When her sister – Elizabeth – comes to visit her, Alice can’t help but notice the coldness in her eyes and words. Her mom is also unrecognizable when she comes in. It isn’t until the doctor comes in and begins asking routine questions to check for brain damage that we realize the extent of Alice’s injury. She thinks it’s 1998. It’s really 2008.

Alice forgot everything, ya’ll. This would be bad in the best of circumstances but, you guys! Things. Have. Changed. And Alice realizes this most painfully when she calls her husband, Nick, to explain the ordeal and all she gets back is an angry and profane response accusing her of being a manipulative wretch. A dumbstruck Alice hangs up the phone after the tirade and only then is told by Elizabeth just what she’s forgotten. Alice is not 29, newly married, and expecting her first child. She is 39, has three children, and is in the middle of a divorce and a nasty custody battle.

That sucks.

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls by Patrick NessA monster calls on Conor just after midnight in the shape of a yew tree looming over his bedroom window.  But Conor is not afraid.  “I’ve seen worse,” he says.  And he has – his waking life is filled with helping care for his mother during another round of cancer treatments, a father who has largely disappeared to be with his new family in America, a gang of bullies at school, and losing faith in his one true friend.  Amid all this turmoil, it is almost a relief to be visited by the yew tree at night.  Or at least it’s a nice change of pace from the monster in his other nightmare – the one that truly frightens him.

The idea for this book came from a Young Adult author named Siobhan Dowd, who unfortunately passed away from breast cancer in 2007.  (I am not familiar with Dowd’s work, but will certainly be looking it up now.)  Patrick Ness was called in to shape the idea into book form, along with illustrator Jim Kay, and the result is something special.  The language is simple but haunting, and Conor’s pain and uncertainty show in stark and heartrending ways.  The illustrations are dark, textured, and expressive, and add immeasurably to the overall atmosphere of the book.  Simply put, this is a beautiful volume in terms of story, prose, and presentation.

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A Solitary Blue by Cynthia Voigt

You. Guys. This book! Just, okay. Before I place any value judgment on it, lemme ‘splain.

Jeff Greene comes home one day from second grade to find a note from his mom (Melody) saying she’s skipped out on him and his pops because she just wasn’t happy. Melody asks him to be brave and to not bother the Professor (the oh-so affectionate way Jeff and Melody refer to the father who is in fact a college teacher) and try to be as independent as possible. The hell, Melody? How is he supposed to mourn the loss of his mother if he can’t talk about it? He can’t. He internalizes all his pain and builds a relationship with his father based on muting his emotions, wants, and needs. And the father – being the academic Professor-type – assumes that his son just isn’t very emotional, like himself, and is handling the whole being abandoned thing just fine. Le sigh.

So it goes for years. Years, ya’ all. Jeff comes home, does his homework, make meals and goes to bed. Until one day Jeff wakes up sick and stays sick for days and then weeks. It’s not until the Professor and his friend (a monk who also teaches at the University) discover Jeff in an almost-coma that they take him to the hospital and discover he has pneumonia. That’s when the story really begins. The Professor is forced to contact Melody to get some much-needed medical information about Jeff. A few weeks later, when Jeff is almost completely well, he receives a letter from his Melody asking him to visit her in South Carolina for the summer.

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